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ADAMS AND DOUGLAS.
to the young member from Illinois, Stephen A. Douglas, as he was speaking on the 13th of May, 1846. Mr. Delano, of Ohio, now Secretary of the Interior, had made a decided argument against annexation, which gave great satisfaction to the venerable ex-President.
Mr. Douglas said, with the courtesy which distinguished him, looking at Mr. Adams: “I perceive the venerable gentleman from Massachusetts, before me now, nods approval of the sentiment." [The sentiment of Mr. Delano.]
MR. ADAMS. “Yes, sir. Mr. Chairman, I approve and indorse every word and syllable of it.”
Thus encouraged, the wily young Illinois orator proceeded in his well-considered speech. It will be recollected that the great point in issue in 1846, so far as Texas was concerned, was the boundary between Texas and Mexico. Mr. Delano, with masterly ability, had denied that the Rio del Norte was the western boundary, and Mr. Adams had accepted the version of Mr. Delano. I can never forget the following colloquy:
MR. DOUGLAS. “Mr. Chairman, I believe I have now said all that I intended for the purpose of showing that the Rio del Norte was the western boundary of the republic of Texas. How far I have succeeded in establishing the position I leave to the House and the country to determine. If that was the boundary of the republic of Texas, it has, of course, become the boundary of the United States by virtue of the act of annexation and admission into the Union. I will not say that I have demonstrated the question as satisfactorily as the distinguished gentleman from Massachusetts did in 1819, but I will say that I think I am safe in adopting the sentiment which he then expressed, that our title to the Rio del Norte is as clear as to the island of New Orleans.”
MR. ADAMS. “I never said that our title was good to the Rio del Norte from its mouth to its source."
MR. DOUGLAS. "I know nothing of the gentleman's mental
reservations. If he means, by his denial, to place the whole emphasis on the qualification that he did not claim that river as the boundary 'from its mouth to its source,' I shall not dispute with him on that point. But if he wishes to be understood as denying that he ever claimed the Rio del Norte, in general terms, as our boundary under the Louisiana treaty, I can furnish him an official document, over his own signature, which he will find very embarrassing and exceedingly difficult to explain. I allude to his famous dispatch as Secretary of State, in 1819, to Don Onis, the Spanish minister. I am not certain that I can prove his handwriting, for the copy I have in my possession I find printed in the American State Papers, published by the order of Congress. In that paper he not only claimed the Rio del Norte as our boundary, but he demonstrated the validity of the claim by a train of facts and arguments which rivet conviction on every impartial mind, and deny refutation."
MR. ADAMS. “I wrote that dispatch as Secretary of State, and endeavored to make out the best case I could for my own country, as it was my duty. But I utterly deny that I claimed the Rio del Norte as our boundary in its full extent.
I only claimed it a short distance up the river, and then diverged to the northward some distance from the stream."
MR. DOUGLAS. “Will the gentleman specify the point at which his line left the river?”
MR. ADAMS.“I never designated the point."
The old man had evidently forgotten the dispatch he wrote as Secretary of State in 1819-twenty-seven years before—and the young man had had it recalled to his attention. It was a bombshell. It was a new thing to see John Quincy Adams retreating before anybody. He seemed to feel as if he had fallen into a trap. His solicitude to hear Douglas was perhaps a sort of explanation of his course. The House was divided
between admiration for the new actor on the great stage of national affairs and reverence for the retiring chief. I recollect my own feelings as I sat in the gallery and witnessed this conflict. Douglas was a Vermonter; Adams was a Massachusetts
Perhaps the idea that controlled their common star was the New England idea, which has done so much and dared so much in human civilization and redemption. It is curious to note the influence of this idea upon all our future. It has never failed to vindicate itself. John Adams proclaimed it, but he did not plant it. John Quincy Adams tenderly nourished it. If the grandson of the one, and the son of the other, and the sons of the last, choose to neglect it, the followers of Stephen A. Douglas will not allow it to die for want of culture and care.
[February 19, 1871.]
NOTHING is more remarkable in history than the fact that States and statesmen often undergo entire revulsions of political sentiment and conviction. To doubt the sincerity of these changes is to question the justice of every sort of conversion. Slavery has been the most potent element; but other causes have been effective. The free-trade speech of Daniel Webster in 1824, able as it was, was not a particle more conscientious than his protection argument in Philadelphia twenty-two years later. The leading Federalist in Lancaster County from 1814 to 1827 was the same James Buchanan who, in a few years after, became the admitted Democratic chief of Pennsylvania. Henry Clay's early Democracy did not prevent him from becoming the defiant enemy of that party after Andrew Jackson took command of it. Calhoun became a free-trader after having made some of the strongest arguments for protection, thus exactly changing places with Daniel Webster. When, however, slavery began to dominate the field, we had a succession of astonishing transformations. States wheeled out of one party into another with magical celerity. Democratic fortresses like Maine, New Hampshire, Illinois, Iowa, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio, which had stood by the Democracy in every trial, and had routed the Whigs in repeated campaigns, joined the Republican column, while veteran Democrats like Hamlin of Maine, Trumbull of Illinois, Wilmot of Pennsylvania, D. K. Cartter of Ohio, Preston King and Reuben E. Fenton, of New York, Morton of Indiana, ranged themselves on the same side, not as privates, but as general officers, each with an army at his back. There was little compensation for these losses. It is true the South consolidated to save the peculiar institution, but little was gained by the halting support of such formerly intense Whig States as Maryland and Kentucky. They could not so readily forget their devotion to Clay and their hatred of Jackson. The sectionalism born of slavery also gave rise to war, and then came some of the strangest of revolutions. Hundreds of thousands of Democrats became Republicans when they saw the treatment that Reeder and Douglas, and their compatriots, had received; but the oddest sight was to see hosts of “Oldline Whigs,” who had been denouncing slavery all their lives, joining the Democrats! Hon. James Brooks, of New York, and Hon. Josiah Randall, of Philadelphia, were the pioneers in this singular diversion; and they were followed by quite a procession of men of the same school when hostilities commenced. There is now hardly a considerable town in the United States in which some “Old-line Whig” is not among the Democratic leaders. Most notable of these are the grandsons of John Quincy Adams. The living junior of that name is an accepted authority, and one of his brothers is said to be among the best of the numerous writers for the New York World, whose edito
rial columns are frequently enriched by contributions from the finished and fertile pen of William B. Reed, for long time the most brilliant and effective of the antagonists of the Democratic party in Pennsylvania. Mr. Reed was an earnest advocate of Mr. Buchanan for the Presidency in 1856. He did much for his election. He was eminently loyal to his new friend; and when he was sent forth on the Chinese mission, he was true to that friend, and entered heartily into the extreme views of those who sympathized with the rebellion. Let us not forget that his very intensity in that strife was only a copy of his intensity on the other side, and that his course in both experiences is perhaps the very best proof of his sincerity. As I read his articles in The World, so caustic and courteous, I have but one regret, and that is that they are not in logical accord with his old antislavery record. Nobody in Philadelphia who knows W. B. Reed, whatever his present feelings, will deny that if he had followed this record he would have been among the dictators of the Republican party. As I study men like Mr. Reed, and notice that Hon. Isaac E. Hiester, the Whig son of a Federal father, in the county of Lancaster, Pennsylvania—both having served that great district in the Congress of the United States, and both chosen by the anti-Democratic vote, and the son dying a few weeks ago one of the captains of the Democracy—I feel that I have no right to question motives. Hiester Clymer, who ran for Governor against John W. Geary, of the same State, in 1866, is another instance. Perhaps the most thoughtful member of the Philadelphia bar was the late George M. Wharton, an “Old-line Whig,” and yet his last hours were filled with sympathy with the Democratic party.
It is difficult, and often disreputable, to divine the motives of men who change religions or politics. Yet it is interesting to know how they excuse themselves. Consistency is often a species of moral cowardice. Many shelter themselves under this shadow, and lie through a life-time, publicly indorsing an