Slavery Rum and Romanism

The year 1852 turned out to be the last one in which the Whig party contested a presidential election. Millard Fillmore's efforts to enforce the fugitive slave law won him the support of southern Whigs for renomination. But the president had alienated antislavery Whigs, especially the Seward faction in Fillmore's own state of New York. Seward favored the nomination of Winfield Scott, a Virginian (but not a slaveholder). The Whig convention presented the curious spectacle of most southern delegates favoring a northern candidate, and vice versa, while many anti-war Whigs of four years earlier once again backed a general who had led American troops to victory in the war these Whigs had opposed. Maneuvers at the convention heightened the impression of Whig stultification. Southerners obtained enough support from northern moderates to adopt a plan pledging to "acquiesce in" the Compromise of 1850 "as a settlement in principle and substance" of the "dangerous and exciting" slavery question. All votes against this plank came from those northern Whigs who provided half of Scott's delegate support. Balloting for a presidential nominee ground through 52 roll calls as Yankee delegates furnished 95 percent of Scott's vote and southern delegates cast 85 percent of Fillmore's. On the fifty-third ballot a dozen southern moderates switched to Scott and put him over the top.1

1. Potter, Impending Crisis, 232-33; Roy and Jeannette Nichols, "Election of 1852,"

This denouement dismayed many southern Whigs. Suspecting that Seward had engineered the outcome, they feared a reprise of the Taylor debacle. When Scott's acceptance letter included only a lukewarm endorsement of the platform, they were sure of it. "If we support him," wrote a North Carolinian, "we must expect to constitute a tail to the army of abolitionists in front." Nine southern Whig congressmen led by Alexander Stephens and Robert Toombs announced their refusal to back Scott. As the campaign proceeded, defections of southern Whigs became a stampede. On election day Scott won 35 percent of the popular vote in the lower South (compared with Taylor's 50 percent four years earlier) and carried only Kentucky and Tennessee among the fifteen slave states. In the eleven future Confederate states the Whigs in 1852-53 elected no governors and merely fourteen of sixty-five congressmen while maintaining control of only the Tennessee legislature. Alexander Stephens's pronouncement that "the Whig party is dead" seemed no exaggeration in the lower South.2

The transmigration of southern Whigs into Democrats was made easier by the increasing friendliness of northern Democrats toward the South. Even the return of Barnburners to the Democratic fold seemed not to hinder this process. The Democratic national convention adopted no fewer than three planks pledging fidelity to the Compromise of 1850, and affirmed that "Congress has no power ... to interfere with questions of slavery"—except of course to help masters recover fugitives.3 Because of the party rule requiring a two-thirds majority to nominate a president, southern delegates were able to block the candidacies of Lewis Cass and Stephen Douglas, whose notions about popular sovereignty made them suspect. But the southerners could not nominate their own candidate, the pliable James Buchanan. Through forty-eight ballots the party remained apparently as deadlocked as the Whigs. On the forty-ninth they nominated dark horse Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire, a former senator and a Mexican War veteran, who was acceptable to all factions and safe on slavery despite his Yankee background. Albert G. Brown of Mississippi considered Pierce "as reliable as Calhoun himself," while a South Carolina fire-eater mused that "a nomination so in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed., History of American Presidential Elections 17891968, 4 vols. (New York, 1971), II, 943-44.

2. William J. Cooper, Jr., The South and the Politics of Slavery 1828-1856 (Baton Rouge, 1978), 330, 343.

3. Schlesinger, ed., History of Presidential Elections, II, 952.

favorable to the South had not been anticipated." Going into the campaign more united than in any election since Jackson's day, the Democrats won by a landslide.4

Pierce fulfilled southern expectations. Although his efforts to acquire Cuba failed, the administration enforced the fugitive slave law vigorously and opened the remainder of the Louisiana Purchase north of 36° 30' to slavery. But it did so at great cost to domestic tranquility, to the structure of the Democratic party, and ultimately to the Union itself.

In March 1854, Anthony Burns escaped from slavery in Virginia and stowed away on a ship to Boston. There he found a job in a clothing store. But the literate Burns made the mistake of writing to his brother, still a slave. Intercepting the letter, their owner learned of Burns's whereabouts and headed north to reclaim his property. A deputy marshal arrested Burns on May 24 and placed him under heavy guard in the federal courthouse. The vigilance committee went into action, sponsoring a Faneuil Hall meeting which resolved that "resistance to tyrants is obedience to God." Suiting action to words, a biracial group of abolitionists led by thirty-year-old Unitarian clergyman Thomas Wentworth Higginson tried to rescue Burns in an attack on the courthouse with axes, revolvers, and a battering ram. Higginson and a black man broke through the door but were clubbed back outside by deputy marshals as a shot rang out and one of the deputies fell dead.

Appealed to for help, President Pierce ordered several companies of marines, cavalry, and artillery to Boston, where they joined state militia and local police to keep the peace while a federal commissioner determined Burns's fate. "Incur any expense," Pierce wired the district attorney in Boston, "to insure the execution of the law." The president also ordered a revenue cutter to stand by to carry Burns back to Virginia. Knowing that it was futile, vigilance committee lawyers nevertheless tried every legal maneuver they could think of while Bostonians raised money to purchase Burns's freedom. His owner seemed willing to sell, but the U. S. attorney refused to sanction this solution. To vindicate the law

4. Quotations from Cooper, The South and the Politics of Slavery, 334. In addition to carrying all but two slave states, Pierce won every northern state except Vermont and Massachusetts, though he would have lost also Ohio and Connecticut had not the Free Soil party attracted antislavery Whigs away from Scott. With the return of Barnburners to the Democratic party, the Free Soil share of the northern popular vote dropped to 6 percent. Pierce received 51 percent of the national popular vote to Scott's 44 percent. Democrats won control of Congress by more than a two-thirds majority in the House and a nearly two-thirds margin in the Senate.

he pushed the case to a successful conclusion. On June 2 the troops marched Burns to the wharf through streets lined with sullen Yankees standing in front of buildings draped in black with the American flag hanging upside down and church bells tolling a dirge to liberty in the cradle of the American Revolution. At the cost of $100,000 (equal to perhaps two million 1987 dollars) the Pierce administration had upheld the majesty of the law.5

The fallout from this affair radiated widely. "When it was all over, and I was left alone in my office," wrote a heretofore conservative Whig, "I put my face in my hands and wept. I could do nothing less." The textile magnate Amos A. Lawrence said that "we went to bed one night old fashioned, conservative, Compromise Union Whigs & waked up stark mad Abolitionists."6 A federal grand jury indicted Higginson, Theodore Parker, Wendell Phillips, and four other white and black abolitionists for riot and inciting to riot. After a district judge quashed the first indictment on a technicality, the government dropped the charges because it recognized the impossibility of winning a jury trial in Massachusetts. William Lloyd Garrison publicly burned a copy of the Constitution on the Fourth of July while thousands breathed Amen to his denunciation of this document as a covenant with death. The New England states passed new personal liberty laws that collided in various ways with federal law.7

Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin also passed stronger personal liberty laws after fugitive slave controversies in those states. The most poignant of these cases involved Margaret Garner, who in January 1856 escaped with her husband and four children from Kentucky to Ohio. When a posse was about to capture them, Margaret seized a kitchen knife, slit

5. Jane H. Pease and William H. Pease, The Fugitive Slave Law and Anthony Bums (Philadelphia, 1975); Stanley W. Campbell, The Slave Catchers: Enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law 1850-1860 (New York, 1970), 124-32; Philip S. Foner, History of Black Americans from the Compromise of 1850 to the End of the Civil War (Westport, Conn., 1983), 69-77; Tilden G. Edelstein, Strange Enthusiasm: A Life of Thomas Wentworth Higginson (New Haven, 1968), 155-61. A year later a committee in Boston did finally purchase Burns's freedom. He attended Oberlin College for a time before emigrating to Canada, where he died in 1862.

6. George S. Hilliard to Francis Lieber, June 1, 1854, Francis Lieber Papers, Henry E. Huntington Library; Amos Lawrence to Giles Richards, June 1, 1854, quoted in Pease and Pease, The Fugitive Slave Law and Anthony Bums, 43.

7. Thomas D. Morris, Free Men All: The Personal Liberty Laws of the North ij8o-1861 (Baltimore, 1974), 219-20; Campbell, The Slave Catchers, 202-6.

the throat of one daughter, and tried to kill her other children rather than see them returned to slavery. The state of Ohio requested jurisdiction over Garner to try her for manslaughter, but a federal judge overruled state officials and ordered the Garners returned to their owner. That worthy gentleman promptly sold them down the river to New Orleans. On the way there one of Margaret's other children achieved the emancipation she had sought for him, by drowning after a steamboat collision.8

Even more important than the fugitive slave issue in arousing northern militancy was the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed by Congress in May 1854. Coming at the same time as the Anthony Burns case, this law may have been the most important single event pushing the nation toward civil war. Kansas-Nebraska finished off the Whig party and gave birth to a new, entirely northern Republican party.

The genesis of Kansas-Nebraska lay in the same impulse that had propelled Americans westward from the beginning. Restless settlers and land speculators had begun to cast covetous eyes on the fertile soil of the Kansas and Platte river valleys. By 1852, also, the idea of a transcontinental railroad through the region had become the dream of entrepreneurs, politicians, and frontiersmen alike. But until the government extracted land cessions from the Indians and organized the area as a territory, the region could not be surveyed and farmers could not settle there. Everyone talked about a railroad to California, growled a Missouri congressman, but "in the name of God, how is the railroad to be made if you will never let people live on the lands through which the road passes?"9 Southerners were in no hurry to organize this territory, for it lay north of 36° 30' where slavery was excluded by the Missouri Compromise. Besides, they preferred a southern route for a Pacific railroad through the already organized territory of New Mexico, with New Orleans as its eastern terminus.

It so happened that two Illinois Democrats—William A. Richardson and Stephen A. Douglas—were chairmen respectively of the House and Senate committees on territories. Both were champions of Young America's manifest destiny to expand ever westward. A large investor in Chicago real estate, Douglas had enhanced the value of his property by securing a federal land grant for a railroad from that city to Mobile. Perhaps hoping to repeat the scenario from Chicago to San Francisco,

8. Foner, History of Black Americans, 87-91; Campbell, The Slave Catchers, 244-47.

Douglas and Richardson in 1853 reported bills to organize Nebraska territory embracing most of the remaining portion of the Louisiana Purchase north of 36° 30'. The House quickly passed the measure, but opposition from southern senators tabled it in March 1853. To get his bill enacted, Douglas needed the support of at least a half-dozen southern senators. And they let him know exactly what it was going to cost.10 The most powerful Senate bloc was a quartet of southerners who boarded together at a house on F Street. This "F Street Mess," as they called themselves, consisted of James M. Mason and Robert M. T. Hunter of Virginia, Andrew P. Butler of South Carolina, and David R. Atchison of Missouri—chairmen respectively of the foreign relations, finance, and judiciary committees, and president pro tem. In this last capacity Atchison was next in line for the presidency because Pierce's vice president had died during his second month in office. Intemperate, profane, and bellicose, Atchison was the most outspoken defender of southern rights in the Senate. His slaveholding constituents opposed the organization of Nebraska territory, for Missouri would thenceforth "be surrounded by free territory. . . . With the emissaries of abolitionists around us . . . this species of property would become insecure." Atchison announced that he would see Nebraska "sink in hell" before voting to organize it as free soil. We must "extend the institutions of Missouri over the territory," pledged a meeting addressed by Atchison, "at whatever sacrifice of blood or treasure." From the F Street Mess the word came to Douglas: if he wanted Nebraska he must repeal the ban on bondage there and place "slaveholder and non-slaveholder upon terms of equality."11

Douglas knew that such action would "raise a hell of a storm" in the North. So he first tried to outflank the Missouri Compromise instead of

10. The literature on the origins of the Kansas-Nebraska Act is large and contentious. For a useful summary of much of it, see Roy F. Nichols, "The Kansas-Nebraska Act: A Century of Historiography," MVHR, 43 (1956), 187-212. The most lucid account of the origins of this legislation is Potter, Impending Crisis, 145-76. My account has also drawn upon Nevins, Ordeal, II, 88-121; Harry V. Jaffa, Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates (Garden City, N.Y., 1959), 104-80; Robert W. Johannsen, Stephen A. Douglas (New York, 1973), 374-434; Roy F. Nichols, Franklin Pierce (Philadelphia, 1958), 319-24; James A. Rawley, Race and Politics: "Bleeding Kansas" and the Coming of the Civil War (Philadelphia, 1969), 21-57; Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American Law and Politics (New York, 1978), 178-87.

11. Quotations from Nevins, Ordeal, II, 92-93; and Rawley, Race and Politics, 28.

repealing it. His initial version of the Nebraska bill in January 1854 reproduced the language of the Utah and New Mexico legislation four years earlier, providing that Nebraska, when admitted as a state or states, would come in "with or without slavery, as their constitutions may prescribe."12 But for southerners this did not meet the case. If the Missouri Compromise prevailed during the territorial stage, slavery could never gain a foothold. Atchison turned the screws, whereupon Douglas discovered that a "clerical error" had omitted a section of the bill stating that "all questions pertaining to slavery in the Territories . . . are to be left to the people residing therein."13 But this was not yet good enough, for the Missouri Compromise still lived despite the implicit circumvention of it by the clerical-error clause. So Douglas took the fateful step. He added an explicit repeal of the ban on slavery north of 36° 30'. More than that, his new version of the bill organized two territories—Nebraska west of Iowa, and Kansas west of Missouri. This looked like a device to reserve Kansas for slavery and Nebraska for freedom, especially since the climate and soil of eastern Kansas were similar to those of the Missouri River basin in Missouri, where most of the slaves in that state were concentrated.

This did indeed provoke a hell of a storm that made the debates of 1850 look like a gentle shower. The first clouds blew up from the Pierce administration itself. The president feared the political consequences of repudiating a covenant sanctified by thirty-four years of national life. Except for Secretary of War Jefferson Davis and Secretary of the Navy James Dobbin of North Carolina, the cabinet opposed the repeal clause. The administration drafted a vague alternative that would have referred the whole question of slavery in the territories to the Supreme Court. But this did not satisfy the F Street Mess. With Davis and Douglas they pried their way into the White House on Sunday, January 22 (Pierce disliked doing business on the Sabbath), and confronted the president with an ultimatum: endorse repeal or lose the South. Pierce surrendered. Moreover, he agreed to make the revised Kansas-Nebraska bill "a test of party orthodoxy."14

Northern Democrats and Whigs were stunned by Douglas's bill. But Free Soilers were not surprised. It was just what they had expected from the "Slave Power." And they were ready with a response to rally the

13. Potter, Impending Crisis, 159.

14. Rawley, Race and Politics, 35.

North against this "gross violation of a sacred pledge," this "atrocious plot" to convert free territory into a "dreary region of depotism, inhabited by masters and slaves." These phrases came from the collaborative pens of Salmon P. Chase, Charles Sumner, Joshua Giddings, and three other free-soil congressmen who published an "Appeal of the Independent Democrats" in the National Era—the same paper that had serialized Uncle Tom's Cabin.15

This Appeal set the keynote for an outpouring of angry speeches, sermons, and editorials in Congress and across the North. The moderate New York Times predicted that the northern backlash could "create a deep-seated, intense, and ineradicable hatred of the institution [slavery] which will crush its political power, at all hazards, and at any cost." Hundreds of "anti-Nebraska" meetings sent resolutions and petitions to Congress. "This crime shall not be consummated," declared a typical resolution. "Despite corruption, bribery, and treachery, Nebraska, the heart of our continent, shall forever continue free." Of ten northern state legislatures in session during the first months of 1854, the five controlled by Whigs denounced the bill and four of the five controlled by Democrats refused to endorse it. Only the Illinois legislature, under pressure from Douglas, approved the measure. In Congress northern Whigs unanimously opposed it. The newly elected Whig senator from Maine, William Pitt Fessenden, considered Douglas's bill "a terrible outrage. . . . The more I look at it the more enraged I become. It needs but little to make me an out & out abolitionist."16

Douglas insisted that repeal of the ban on slavery north of 36° 30' was nothing new. The Compromise of 1850, he declared, had superseded that restriction by allowing popular sovereignty in former Mexican territory north as well as south of that line. Northern senators exposed the speciousness of this argument. The Compromise of 1850 applied only to the Mexican cession, not to the Louisiana Purchase, and no one at the time—Douglas included—had thought otherwise. The supersedence theory emerged as a rationalization for a policy forced on Douglas

15. National Era, Jan. 24, 1854. Why these six antislavery leaders designated themselves Independent Democrats is not clear. Nearly all of them had been Whigs before becoming Free Soilers. The name may have been a legacy from the 1852 election, when the Free Soilers had called their party the Free Democracy.

16. New York Times, Jan. 24, 1854; resolution quoted in Nevins, Ordeal, II, 127; William P. Fessenden to Ellen Fessenden, Feb. 26, 1854, quoted in Richard H. Sewell, Ballots for Freedom: Antislavery Politics in the United States 1837-1860 (New York, 1976), 259.

by southern pressure. Nevertheless, Democratic party discipline and Douglas's parliamentary legerdemain pushed the bill through the Senate in March by a vote of 41 to 17 with only five of the twenty free-state Democrats joining northern Whigs and Free Soilers in opposition.17

Northern Democrats in the House who had to face elections in the fall proved more resistant to administration pressure. Nevertheless Alexander Stephens, floor manager of the bill, applied "whip and spur" and drove it to passage on May 22 by a vote of 115 to 104. "I feel as if the Mission of my life was performed," wrote an exultant Stephens.18 Perhaps so, but only by giving the coup de grâce to the intersectional two-party system. Every northern Whig in the two houses voted against the bill, while 25 of 34 southern Whigs voted or were paired for it. Of 75 southern Democrats, 72 voted or were paired for the measure while 49 of 108 northern Democrats voted or were paired against it. Many of the latter knew that an affirmative vote meant defeat for reelection, while a negative vote meant an end to influence in the party establishment. Only seven of the northern representatives who voted Aye won reelection, while several who voted Nay left the Democratic party never to return. For northern and southern Whigs the bitter divisions caused a final parting of the ways. "The Whig party has been killed off effectually by that miserable Nebraska business," wrote Truman Smith of Connecticut, who resigned in disgust from the Senate. "We Whigs of the North are unalterably determined never to have even the slightest political correspondence or connexion" with southern Whigs.19 That was fine with southerners. "We will have no party association . . . with Northern Whigs," they declared, "until they shall give unmistakable evidence of repentance [of] the impulses of a wild fanaticism."20

17. These figures include senators who were paired or declared for and against the bill. The actual roll-call vote was 37 to 14. In addition to the northern senators who voted against the bill, two Whigs and one Democrat from slave states also voted No, mainly because they feared a northern backlash that might harm the South. See Robert P. Russel, "The Issues in the Congressional Struggle Over the KansasNebraska Bill, 1854," fSH 29 (1963), 208-9.

18. Nevins, Ordeal, II, 156; Rawley, Race and Politics, 55. The vote totals here include those paired or declared for and against the bill. The actual vote was 113 to 100.

19. Quoted in William E. Gienapp, "The Origins of the Republican Party, 18521856," Ph.D. dissertation, University of California at Berkeley, 1980, p. 323. The published version of this study, with the same title (New York, 1987), appeared too late to be cited here.

20. This is a composite quotation from the Richmond Whig, Florida Sentinel, and

Adding insult to injury, southern senators killed a bill passed by a predominantly northern vote in the House to provide settlers with a 160-acre homestead grant on public lands. Such a law, explained one southerner, "would prove a most efficient ally for Abolition by encouraging and stimulating the settlement of free farms with Yankees and foreigners pre-committed to resist the participancy of slaveholders in the public domain."21

The question was, who would pick up the pieces of the smashed political parties? In the lower South, Democrats would soon sweep most of the remaining shards of Whiggery into their own dustbin. In the upper South, Whigs clung to a precarious existence—under different names—for a few more years. In the North, matters were more complicated. Some antislavery Whigs like William H. Seward hoped to rejuvenate the party for the 1854 state and congressional elections by absorbing Free Soilers and anti-Nebraska Democrats. But the latter groups declined to be absorbed. Instead, along with many Whigs they proposed to abandon "mere party names, and rally as one man for the reestablishment of liberty and the overthrow of the Slave Power."22 New antislavery coalitions thus formed throughout the North to contest the fall elections. These coalitions called themselves by various names— Anti-Nebraska, Fusion, People's, Independent—but the one name that emerged most prominently was Republican. An anti-Nebraska rally at a church in Ripon, Wisconsin, seems to have been the first to adopt this label. A meeting of thirty congressmen in Washington endorsed the name on May 9. The new party in Michigan officially designated itself Republican in July. Conventions in numerous congressional districts, especially in the Old Northwest, chose this name that resonated with the struggle of 1776. "In view of the necessity of battling for the first principles of republican government," resolved the Michigan convention, "and against the schemes of aristocracy the most revolting and oppressive with which the earth was ever cursed, or man debased, we will co-operate and be known as Republicans."23

The campaigns in the North were intense and bitter, nowhere more

Southern Recorder, all quoted in Cooper, The South and the Politics of Slavery, 358.

21. Jabez L. M. Curry to Clement C. Clay, July ?, 1854, quoted in Nevins, Ordeal,

II, 335

22. National Era, May 22, 1854.

23. Quoted in Michael F. Holt, The Political Crisis of the 1850s (New York, 1978), 154-

than in Douglas's own state of Illinois. Douglas opened the canvass with a speech on September 1 in Chicago, where a hostile crowd shouted him down for two hours until he strode angrily off the platform and headed for friendlier districts downstate. Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln was "aroused . . . as he had never been before" by the Kansas-Nebraska Act.24 Still calling himself a Whig, Lincoln took the stump in behalf of anti-Nebraska candidates for the legislature, hoping that victory would forge a legislative majority to elect him to the U. S. Senate. Lincoln and Douglas confronted each other on the same platform in speeches at Springfield and Peoria during October. In these addresses Lincoln set forth the themes that he would carry into the presidency six years later.

The founding fathers, said Lincoln, had opposed slavery. They adopted a Declaration of Independence that pronounced all men created equal. They enacted the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 banning slavery from the vast Northwest Territory. To be sure, many of the founders owned slaves. But they asserted their hostility to slavery in principle while tolerating it temporarily (as they hoped) in practice. That was why they did not mention the words "slave" or "slavery" in the Constitution, but referred only to "persons held to service." "Thus, the thing is hid away, in the constitution," said Lincoln, "just as an afflicted man hides away a wen or a cancer, which he dares not cut out at once, lest he bleed to death; with the promise, nevertheless, that the cutting may begin at the end of a given time." The first step was to prevent the spread of this cancer, which the fathers took with the Northwest Ordinance, the prohibition of the African slave trade in 1807, and the Missouri Compromise restriction of 1820. The second was to begin a process of gradual emancipation, which the generation of the fathers had accomplished in the states north of Maryland.

Lincoln denied "that there can be moral right in the enslaving of one man by another." But he did not want to pass judgment on southern people. When they "tell us they are no more responsible for the origin of slavery, than we, I acknowledge the fact. . . . They are just what we would be in their situation. . . . When it is said that the institution exists, and that it is very difficult to get rid of it," Lincoln acknowledged that fact also. "I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself. If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Lib

eria." But a moment's reflection convinced him of the impossibility of that. "What then, free them and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite certain that this betters their condition? . . . What next? Free them, and make them politically and socially, our equals?" Even if Lincoln's own feelings would accept this, "we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not. ... A universal feeling, whether well or ill-founded, cannot be safely disregarded."

In any case, the Constitution protected slavery where it already existed. But that "furnishes no more excuse for permitting slavery to go into our own free territory, than it would for reviving the African slave trade." The great "moral wrong and injustice" of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was that it opened territory previously closed to slavery, thus putting the institution "on the high road to extension and perpetuity" instead of restricting it in order gradually to end it. Popular sovereignty was false in principle and pernicious in practice, said Lincoln. Its assumption that the question of slavery in a territory concerned only the people who lived there was wrong. It affected the future of the whole nation. "Is not Nebraska, while a territory, a part of us? Do we not own the country? And if we surrender the control of it, do we not surrender the right of self-government?" I "can not but hate" this "declared indifference, but as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of . . . the monstrous injustice of slavery." Douglas's assertion that natural conditions would prevent bondage from taking root in Kansas was a "LULLABY argument." Temperature, rainfall, and soil in eastern Kansas were the same as in Missouri and Kentucky. Five slave states already existed north of the 36° 30' line. "Climate will not . . . keep slavery out of these territories . . . nothing in nature will." Lincoln knew that Missourians had already taken slaves to Kansas. The only way to stop them was for Congress to vote slavery out.

But such action, Douglas had protested, would be contrary to the settlers' "sacred right of self-government." Nonsense, replied Lincoln. Slavery was contrary to that right. "When the white man governs himself that is self-government; but when he governs himself, and also governs another man . . . that is despotism. . . . The negro is a man. . . . There can be no moral right in connection with one man's making a slave of another," "Let no one be deceived," concluded Lincoln:

The spirit of seventy-six and the spirit of Nebraska, are utter antagonisms. . . . Little by little ... we have been giving up the old for the new faith. Near eighty years ago we began by declaring that all men are created equal; but now from that beginning we have run down to the other declaration, that for some men to enslave others is a "sacred right of self-government." These principles cannot stand together. . . . Our republican robe is soiled, and trailed in the dust. Let us repurify it. . . . Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it. . . . If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union; but we shall have so saved it, as to make, and to keep it, forever worthy of the saving.25

This eloquent speech expressed the platform of the new Republican party. Lincoln did not formally become a Republican for another year or more, after the Whig party had crumbled beyond salvation. Nor did he go as far as many other Republicans who called for abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia and repeal of the fugitive slave law. But Lincoln's affirmation of moral opposition to slavery, his belief that the national government had a right and duty to exclude it from the territories, and his conviction that this "cancer" must eventually be cut out, became hallmarks of the Republican party. The historical basis of Lincoln's argument, of course, had some holes in it, and Douglas lost no time in driving his own oratory through the largest of them. The same supposedly antislavery fathers who had excluded slavery from the Northwest Territory had allowed it to expand into southwest territories, laying the groundwork for seven new slave states and the great cotton kingdom of the lower South. But free soilers brushed this problem aside; if the republicans of the Jeffersonian era had fallen short of the mark in some things, the new Republicans of the 1850s would not repeat the same mistake. Slavery must not expand; the party that had passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act must be repudiated.

A majority of northern voters in 1854 seemed to agree. The elections were a stunning rebuke to the Democrats. After carrying all but two northern states in 1852, they lost control of all but two free-state legislatures in 1854. The number of northern Democrats in the House would drop from 93 to 23, who would be far outnumbered by their 58 southern Democratic colleagues. Perhaps one-quarter of northern Democratic voters deserted their party in this election.26

Having elected 150 congressmen under various labels, opponents of

25. Ibid., 247-83. These quotations are from Lincoln's famous speech in Peoria on Oct. 16, 1854.

26. These election results are calculated from the Whig Almanac (published by the New York Tribune) for 1854 and 1855.

the Democrats would control the next House—if they could come together under the same political umbrella. But that was a big if. The difficulty of doing so was illustrated by Lincoln's fortunes in Illinois, where the anti-Nebraska coalition had a substantial majority on a joint ballot of the legislature. Lincoln's fellow Whigs constituted about three-quarters of this coalition. But a half-dozen anti-Nebraska Democrats refused to vote for a Whig for U. S. senator, causing Lincoln to fall short of a majority in ballot after ballot. Finally, to prevent the election of a Douglas Democrat, Lincoln threw his support to an anti-Nebraska Democrat, Lyman Trumbull, who thereby won on the tenth ballot.27

The muddy waters in Illinois were quite translucent compared with the murky depths of northern politics elsewhere. Up from the great deep came a tidal wave of nativism that seemed to swamp even the antiNebraska movement in some areas, especially in states east of Ohio. "Nearly everybody appears to have gone altogether deranged on Nativism," yelped a Pennsylvania Democrat in 1854. "The 'Know Nothing' fever is epidemic here," wrote a Pennsylvanian from another part of the state. A Connecticut politician lamented that nativists "are making havoc with the Democratic party here," while a Whig leader in upstate New York warned that his district was "very badly infected with Knowno-thingism." Variously described as a "tornado," a "hurricane," a "freak of political insanity," these "Know Nothings" swept the state elections of 1854 in Massachusetts and Delaware, polled an estimated 40 and 25 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania and New York, and made impressive showings in other parts of the Northeast and the border states.28 Who were these mysterious Know Nothings, where did they come from, and what did they stand for?

0 0

Post a comment