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at Chicago, in which the Western States in general were represented, to add the force of a commanding public expression in favor of needed improvements by the Federal Government, to facilitate navigation on the great rivers and lakes. The convention met on the 5th of July, 1847, and its sessions extended through the two following days. It was presided over by Judge Edward Bates, of St. Louis, whose opening speech was greatly admired at the time, and talked of long afterward as a rare specimen of eloquence. Among the other distinguished speakers was Thomas Corwin, then in his best days, who had no superior in popular oratory. One of the distinguished Western men who notably did not attend this “ River and Harbor Convention,” so-called, was Senator Lewis Cass, whose residence at Detroit seemed to make his presence and countenance, as a man who had been so long in public life, almost imperative.
Mr. Cass was nominated for the Presidency by the Deinocratic National Convention which met at Baltimore on the 22d day of May, 1848. Soon after his nomination, being at the city of Cleveland, he had been called out, and was making thankful response to his friends, when one in the crowd asked an expression in regard to river and harbor improvements. Cass replied that the “noise and confusion” would prevent his making himself understood. It was after this last incident that Lincoln spoke on the general subject in the House. President Polk, early in the session, had vetoed a bill making appropriations for the improvement of rivers and harbors. The Baltimore convention which nominated Mr. Cass had declared in its platform against the constitutional power of the Government" to commence and carry on a general system of internal improvements,” and the nominee, in his letter of acceptance, had indorsed the platform without reservation. Citing these facts at the outset, and concluding from them that the question of such improvements was “verging to a final crisis,” Lincoln said the friends of the policy “must now battle, and battle manfully, or surrender all.” The entire speech is of more than transient value, sustaining the prevalent policy of the Government on the subject from that day to the present.
A treaty with Mexico, unofficially arranged at Guadaloupe Hidalgo in February (1848), was, after considerable delay, ratified by both governments as a final pacification, and General Scott left the Mexican capital in June. Not only was the Rio Grande conceded as the international boundary — a natural and fitting one, - but also that great domain on the Pacific, California, and what was called New Mexico, partly included now in Utah and Arizona — all confirmed by treaty stipulation, be it as indemnity, purchase, or conquest, or all these combined. Such a consummation, had nothing more serious been involved than the cost of the war and the comparatively trivial amount of purchase money, would have been brilliant enough to dazzle a gloryloving people.
There was, however, a darker side, which had already disclosed itself in the deliberations of the preceding Congress. President Polk had asked a grant of two million dollars to be used in negotiation. The acquisition of Mexican territory was understood to be in contemplation. That Congress was strongly Democratic in
both houses. Could the President for a moment doubt that a request so moderate in terms would be readily granted? Quite unexpectedly, a Democratic member from Pennsylvania, David Wilmot by name, proposed to limit the grant with a proviso that (using the terms of the Ordinance of 1787 organizing the Northwestern Territory) neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except for crime, should ever be permitted in any territory acquired from Mexico. This was the Wilmot Proviso, long to be remembered. From the Calhoun party, on the mere motion, there was a great outbreak of wrath. When a majority of the House, in February, 1847, actually voted for this proviso, the storm passed all bounds. Three years before, Benton said in secret session of the Senate, as he himself tells us, in opposing Calhoun's treaty for the annexation of Texas: “ Disunion is at the bottom, and I denounce it to the American people. Under the pretext of getting Texas into the Union, the scheme is to get the South out of it." As to the noise made over the Wilmot Proviso, Benton, writing half a dozen years after the event, was equally explicit. He avers that Calhoun really “hugged” the proviso “ as a means of 'forcing the issue' between the North and the South.” For two years, he adds, the Wilmot Proviso “ convulsed the Union.”
The Senate rejected the proviso, and the Two Million bill fell in the fight. The question remained as an inheritance to the Thirtieth Congress, and had lost nothing of its significance after an immense territorial area had been positively acquired under the ratified treaty with Mexico. In whatever form the principle came before the House for action while he was a
member, it was sustained by the vote of Abraham Lincoln.
Senator Cass, to make himself more agreeable to the South, had written a letter which many Northern Democrats thought too obsequious, wishing in particular to remove the impression created by a vote of his, that he favored legislation for “freedom in the territories.” A large number of Democrats in New York and Ohio, especially, were tending toward aggregation into a separate “ free soil” wing. Ex-President Van Buren and his close friends were known to have retained some resentment for the manner in which he was defeated in the national convention of 1844. Much discontent in the party at once manifested itself on the nomination of Mr. Cass, and as weeks wore on, this discontent rather increased than diminished. Another hopeful opportunity was presented for the Whigs. But was it possible for that party in the present state of affairs to be thoroughly united, North and South, on a Presidential ticket?
The Whig National Convention met at Philadelphia on the 8th of June. Mr. Clay had consented to accept another nomination, if tendered him, and active exertions had been made for several months to accomplish that object. There had early been much talk of nominating General Taylor as a more expedient move, and after the battle of Buena Vista the scheme had assumed strong proportions. General Scott was preferred by others. Daniel Webster had strong adherents, but few farther west or south than New York. Before the convention the choice was substantially narrowed down to Clay or Taylor.
Lincoln was one of a group of members, including Mr. Stephens and others from the South, who actively urged the nomination of General Taylor. It was not a distinctively Southern movement. One of the earliest and most influential workers in this cause was Thurlow Weed, the political adjutant of Mr. Seward (not as yet a Senator) at Albany. Lincoln wrote letters to a number of personal friends in Illinois, seeking to bring them over to his side. It has been continually asserted that he was himself a member of the Philadelphia convention, but such was not the fact. He neither led nor followed the sentiment of his own State, which sent a delegation united and unchangeable in their support of Clay. They did not see fit even to appoint Lincoln to a vacancy, though there happened to be two. He was at Philadelphia during the convention, however, and made his presence felt. *
There was much discontent among Northern Whigs in several States over the nomination of Taylor. Part of the Massachusetts delegation openly protested, and withdrew from the convention before the ticket was completed, with the name of Millard Fillmore for VicePresident. Whig and Democratic malcontents, uniting with the “Liberty" men who had voted for Mr. Birney in 1844, held a convention a little later at Buffalo, and nominated Martin Van Buren and Charles Francis Adams. One of the leading spirits of the convention
*The delegates were Isaac Vandeventer, S. Lisle Smith, James W. Singleton, Churchill Coffing, M. P. Sweet, N. G. Wilcox, Ezra Baker, R. H. Allison, J. B. Herrick. The main facts in the case were furnished to the writer in 1866, by Colonel Wilcox, one of the delegates, and a paymaster in the army, appointed by Lincoln. See also “ Complete Works” (N. & H.), I., 155.