chap. xin. the campaign Mr. Clay's avowed opinion as to the annexation of Texas was that of the vast majority of his party, especially in the North. While not opposing an increase of territory under all circumstances, he said,— in a letter written from Raleigh, N. 0., two weeks before his nomination,— " I consider the annexation of Texas, at this time, without the consent of Mexico, as a measure compromising the national character, involving us certainly in war with Mexico, probably with other foreign powers, dangerous to the integrity of the Union, inexpedient in the present financial condition of the country, and not called for by any expression of public opinion." He supported these views with temperate and judicious reasons which were received with much gratification throughout the country.
Of course they were not satisfactory to every one, and Mr. Clay became so disquieted by letters of inquiry and of criticism from the South, that he was at last moved, in an unfortunate hour, to write another letter to a friend in Alabama, which was regarded as seriously modifying the views he had expressed in the letter from Raleigh. He now said: "I have no hesitation in saying that, far from having any personal objections to the annexation of Texas, I should be glad to see it — without dishonor, without war, with the common consent of the Union, and upon just and fair terms. . . I do not think the subject of slavery ought to affect the question one way or the other, whether Texas be independent or incorporated in the United States. I do not believe it will prolong or shorten the duration of that institution. It is destined to
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become extinct, at some distant day, in my opinion, chap.xiii. by the operation of the inevitable laws of population. It would be unwise to refuse a permanent acquisition, which will exist as long as the globe remains, on account of a temporary institution." Mr. Clay does not in this letter disclaim or disavow any sentiments previously expressed. He says, as any one might say, that provided certain impossible conditions were complied with, he would be glad to see Texas in the Union, and that he was so sure of the ultimate extinction of slavery that he would not let any consideration of that transitory system interfere with a great national advantage. It might naturally have been expected that such an expression would have given less offense to the opponents than to the friends of slavery. But the contrary effect resulted, and it soon became evident that a grave error of judgment had been committed in writing the letter.
The principal opposition to annexation in the North had been made expressly upon the ground that it would increase the area of slavery, and the comparative indifference with which Mr. Clay treated that view of the subject cost him heavily in the canvass. Horace Greeley, who should be "American regarded as an impartial witness in such a case, says, "The 4Liberty Party,' so-called, pushed this view of the matter beyond all justice and reason, insisting that Mr. Clay's antagonism to annexation, not being founded in antislavery conviction, was of no account whatever, and that his election should, on that ground, be opposed." It availed nothing that Mr. Clay, alarmed at the defection in the North, wrote a third and final letter, reiterating
chap. xiii. his unaltered objections to any such annexation as was at that time possible. The damage was irretrievable. It is not probable that his letters gained or saved him a vote in the South among the advocates of annexation. They cared for nothing short of their own unconditional scheme of immediate action. They forgot the services rendered by Mr. Clay in bringing about the recognition of Texan independence a few years before.
They saw that Mr. Polk was ready to risk everything — war, international complications, even the dishonor of broken obligations — to accomplish their purpose, and nothing the Whig candidate ^could say would weigh anything in the balance against this blind and reckless readiness. On the other hand, Mr. Clay's cautious and moderate position did him irreparable harm among the ardent opponents of slavery. They were not willing to listen to counsels of caution and moderation. More than a year before, thirteen of the Whig antislavery Congressmen, headed by the illustrious John Quincy Adams, had issued a fervid address to the people of the free States, declaiming in language of passionate force against the scheme of annexation as fatal to the country, calling it, in fact, " identical with dissolution," and saying that " it would be a violation of our national compact, its objects, designs, and the great elementary principles which entered into its formation of a character so deep and fundamental, and would be an attempt to eternize an institution and a power of nature so unjust in themselves, so injurious to the interests and abhorrent to the feelings of the people of the free States, as in our opinion, not
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only inevitably to result in a dissolution of the chap.xiii.
Union, but fully to justify it; and we not only
assert that the people of the free States ought not
to submit to it, but we say with confidence they
would not submit to it." To men in a temper like
that indicated by these words, no arguments drawn
from consideration of political expediency could be
expected to have any weight, and it was of no use
to say to them that in voting for a third candidate
they were voting to elect Mr. Polk, the avowed
and eager advocate of annexation. If all the votes
cast for James Gr. Birney, the " Liberty " candidate,
doubtful to the last. Birney received 62,263 votes,
and the popular majority of Polk over Clay was
There are certain temptations that no government yet instituted has been able to resist. When an object is ardently desired by the majority, when it is practicable, when it is expedient for the material welfare of the country, and when the cost of it will fall upon other people, it may be taken for granted that — in the present condition of international ethics—-the partisans of the project will never lack means of defending its morality. The annexation of Texas was one of these cases. Moralists called it an inexcusable national crime, conceived by Southern statesmen for the benefit of slavery,1 carried on during a term of years with unexampled energy, truculence and treachery; in both houses of Congress, in the cabinets of two Presidents, in
i This purpose was avowed "by May 23, 1836; see also Ms John C. Calhoun in the Senate, speech of February 24, 1847.
chap. xin. diplomatic dealings with foreign powers, every step of its progress marked by false professions, by broken pledges, by a steady degradation of moral fiber among all those engaged in the scheme. The opposition to it — as usually happens — consisted partly in the natural effort of partisans to baffle their opponents, and partly in an honorable protest of heart and conscience against a great wrong committed in the interest of a national sin. But looking back upon the whole transaction — even over so short a distance as now separates us from it — one cannot but perceive that the attitude of the two parties was in some sort inevitable and that the result was also sure, whatever the subordinate events or incidents which may have led to it. It was impossible to defeat or greatly to delay the annexation of Texas, and although those who opposed it but obeyed the dictates of common morality, they were fighting a battle beyond ordinary human powers.
Here was a great empire offering itself to us — a State which had gained its independence, and built itself into a certain measure of order and thrift through American valor and enterprise. She offered us a magnificent estate of 376,000 square miles of territory, all of it valuable, and much of it of unsurpassed richness and fertility. Even those portions of it once condemned as desert now contribute to the markets of the world vast stores of wool and cotton, herds of cattle and flocks of sheep. Not only were these material advantages of great attractiveness to the public mind, but many powerful sentimental considerations reen-forced the claim of Texas. The Texans were not
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an alien people. The few inhabitants of that vast chap. xm. realm were mostly Americans, who had occupied and subdued a vacant wilderness. The heroic defense of the Alamo had been made by Travis, Bowie, and David Crockett, whose exploits and death form one of the most brilliant pages of our border history. Fannin and his men, four hundred strong, when they laid down their lives at Goliad1 had carried mourning into every South-western State; and when, a few days later, Samuel Houston and his eight hundred raw levies defeated and destroyed the Mexican army at San Jacinto, captured Santa Anna, the Mexican president, and with American thrift, instead of giving him the death he merited for his cruel murder of unarmed prisoners, saved him to make a treaty with, the whole people recognized something of kinship in the unaffected valor with which these borderers died and the humorous shrewdness with which they bargained, and felt as if the victory over the Mexicans were their own.
The schemes of the Southern statesmen who were working for the extension of slavery were not defensible, and we have no disposition to defend them; but it may be doubted whether there is a government on the face of the earth which, under similar circumstances, would not have, yielded to the same temptation.
i This massacre inspired one of the most remarkable poems of Walt Whitman, " Now I tell you what I knew of Texas in my early youth," in which occurs his description of the rangers :
" They were the glory of the race of rangers,
Matchless with horse, rifle, song, supper, courtship,
Large, turbulent, generous, handsome, proud, and affectionate,
chap. xm. Under these conditions, the annexation, sooner or later, was inevitable. No man and no party could oppose it except at serious cost. It is not true that schemes of annexation are always popular. Several administrations have lost heavily by proposing them. G-rant failed with Santo Domingo; Seward with St. Thomas; and it required all his skill and influence to accomplish the ratification of the Alaska purchase. There is no general desire among Americans for acquiring outlying territory, however intrinsically valuable it may be; their land-hunger is confined within the limits of that of a Western farmer once quoted by Mr. Lincoln, who used to say, " I am not greedy about land; I only want what jines mine." Whenever a region contiguous to the United States becomes filled with Americans, it is absolutely certain to come under the American flag. Texas was as sure to be incorporated into the Union as are two drops of water touching each other to become one; and this consummation would not have been prevented for any length of time if Clay or Van Buren had been elected in 1844. The honorable scruples of the Whigs, the sensitive consciences of the " Liberty " men, could never have prevailed permanently against a tendency so natural and so irresistible.
Everything that year seemed to work against the Whigs. At a most unfortunate time for them, there was an outbreak of that "native" fanaticism which reappears from time to time in our politics with the periodicity of malarial fevers, and always to the profit of the party against which its efforts are aimed. It led to great disturbances in several cities, and to riot and bloodshed in Philadelphia.
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The Clay party were, of course, free from any complicity with these outrages, but the foreigners, in their alarm, huddled together almost as one man on the side where the majority of them always voted, and this occasioned a heavy loss to the Whigs in several States. The first appearance of Lincoln in the canvass was in a judicious attempt to check this unreasonable panic. At a meeting held in Springfield, June 12, he introduced and supported resolutions, declaring that " the guarantee of the rights of conscience as found in our Constitution is most sacred and inviolable, and one that belongs no less to the Catholic than the Protestant, and that all attempts to abridge or interfere with these rights either of Catholic or Protestant, directly or indirectly, have our decided disapprobation, and shall have our most effective opposition." Several times afterwards in his life Lincoln was forced to confront this same prescriptive spirit among the men with whom he was more or less affiliated politically, and he never failed to denounce it as it deserved, whatever might be the risk of loss involved.
Beginning with this manly protest against intolerance and disorder, he went into the work of the campaign and continued in it with unabated ardor to the end. The defeat of Clay affected him, as it did thousands of others, as a great public calamity and a keen personal sorrow. It is impossible to mistake the accent of sincere mourning which we find in the journals of the time. The addresses which were sent to Mr. Clay from every part of the country indicate a depth of affectionate devotion which rarely falls to the lot of a political
chap. xin. chieftain. An extract from the one sent by the Clay Clubs of New York will show the earnest attachment and pride with which the young men of that day still declared their loyalty to their beloved leader, even in the midst of irreparable disaster. "We will remember you, Henry Clay, while the memory of the glorious or the sense of the good remains in us, with a grateful and admiring affection which shall strengthen with our strength and shall not decay with our decline. We will remember you in all our future trials and reverses as him whose name honored defeat and gave it a glory which victory could not have brought. We will remember you when patriotic hope rallies again to successful contest with the agencies of corruption and ruin; for we will never know a triumph which you do not share in life, whose glory does not accrue to you in death."
CAMPAIGN FOR CONGRESS
N the months that remained of his term, after chap. xiv. the election of his successor, President Tyler pursued with much vigor his purpose of accomplishing the annexation of Texas, regarding it as the measure which was specially to illustrate his administration and to preserve it from oblivion. The state of affairs, when Congress came together in December, 1844, was propitious to the project. Dr. Anson Jones had been elected as President of Texas; the republic was in a more thriving condition than ever before. Its population was rapidly increasing under the stimulus of its probable change of flag; its budget presented a less unwholesome balance; its relations with Mexico, while they were no more friendly, had ceased to excite alarm. The Tyler government, having been baffled in the spring by the rejection of the treaty for annexation which they had submitted to the Senate, chose to proceed this winter in a different way. Early in the session a joint resolution providing for annexation was introduced in the House of Eepresentatives, which, after considerable discussion and attempted amendment by the anti-slavery members, passed the House by a majority of twenty-two votes.