Page images

partizans, and were successively insulted and driven from the Territory by the pro-slavery faction when in manly protest they refused to carry out the behests of the Missouri conspiracy. After a three years' struggle neither faction had been successful, neither party was satisfied; and the administration of Pierce bequeathed to its successor the same old question embittered by rancor and defeat.

President Buchanan began his administration with a boldly announced pro-slavery policy. In his inaugural address he invoked the popular acceptance of the Dred Scott decision, which he already knew was coming; and a few months later declared in a public letter that slavery "exists in Kansas under the Constitution of the United States. How it ever could have been seriously doubted is a mystery." He chose for the governorship of Kansas, Robert J. Walker, a citizen of Mississippi of national fame and of pronounced proslavery views, who accepted his dangerous mission only upon condition that a new constitution, to be formed for that State, must be honestly submitted to the real voters of Kansas for adoption or rejection. President Buchanan and his advisers, as well as Senator Douglas, accepted this condition repeatedly and emphatically. But when the new governor went to the Territory, he soon became convinced, and reported to his chief, that to make a slave State of Kansas was a delusive hope. "Indeed," he wrote, "it is universally admitted here that the only real question is this: whether Kansas shall be a conservative, constitutional, Democratic, and ultimately free State, or whether it shall be a Republican and abolition State."

As a compensation for the disappointment, however, he wrote later direct to the President:

"But we must have a slave State out of the south


western Indian Territory, and then a calm will follow; Cuba be acquired with the acquiescence of the North; and your administration, having in reality settled the slavery question, be regarded in all time to come as a re-signing and re-sealing of the Constitution.

I shall be pleased soon to hear from you. Cuba! Cuba! (and Porto Rico, if possible) should be the countersign of your administration, and it will close in a blaze of glory."

And the governor was doubtless much gratified to receive the President's unqualified indorsement in reply: "On the question of submitting the constitution to the bona fide resident settlers of Kansas, I am willing to stand or fall."

The sequel to this heroic posturing of the chief magistrate is one of the most humiliating chapters in American politics. Attendant circumstances leave little doubt that a portion of Mr. Buchanan's cabinet, in secret league and correspondence with the pro-slavery Missouri-Kansas cabal, aided and abetted the framing and adoption of what is known to history as the Lecompton Constitution, an organic instrument of a radical pro-slavery type; that its pretended submission to popular vote was under phraseology, and in combination with such gigantic electoral frauds and dictatorial procedure, as to render the whole transaction a mockery of popular government; still worse, that President Buchanan himself, proving too weak in insight and will to detect the intrigue or resist the influence of his malign counselors, abandoned his solemn pledges to Governor Walker, adopted the Lecompton Constitution as an administration measure, and recommended it to Congress in a special message, announcing dogmatically: "Kansas is therefore at this moment as much a slave State as Georgia or South Carolina."


The radical pro-slavery attitude thus assumed by President Buchanan and Southern leaders threw the Democratic party of the free States into serious disarray, while upon Senator Douglas the blow fell with the force of party treachery—almost of personal indignity. The Dred Scott decision had rudely brushed aside his theory of popular sovereignty, and now the Lecompton Constitution proceedings brutally trampled it down in practice. The disaster overtook him, too, at a critical moment. His senatorial term was about to expire; the next Illinois legislature would elect his successor. The prospect was none too bright for him, for at the late presidential election Illinois had chosen Republican State officers. He was compelled either to break his pledges to the Democratic voters of Illinois, or to lead a revolt against President Buchanan and the Democratic leaders in Congress. Party disgrace at Washington, or popular disgrace in Illinois, were the alternatives before him. To lose his reëlection to the Senate would almost certainly end his public career. When, therefore, Congress met in December, 1857, Douglas boldly attacked and denounced the Lecompton Constitution, even before the President had recommended it in his special message.

"Stand by the doctrine," he said, "that leaves the people perfectly free to form and regulate their institutions for themselves, in their own way, and your party will be united and irresistible in power.

If Kansas wants a slave-State constitution, she has a right to it; if she wants a free-State constitution, she has a right to it. It is none of my business which way the slavery clause is decided. I care not whether it is voted down or voted up. Do you suppose, after the pledges of my honor that I would go for that principle and leave the people to vote as they choose, that I

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]



would now degrade myself by voting one way if the slavery clause be voted down, and another way if it be voted up? I care not how that vote may stand. Ignore Lecompton; ignore Topeka; treat both those party movements as irregular and void; pass a fair bill-the one that we framed ourselves when we were acting as a unit; have a fair election-and you will have peace in the Democratic party, and peace throughout the country, in ninety days. The people want a fair vote. They will never be satisfied without it. ... But if this constitution is to be forced down our throats in violation of the fundamental principle of free government, under a mode of submission that is a mockery and insult, I will resist it to the last."


Walker, the fourth Democratic governor who had now been sacrificed to the interests of the Kansas proslavery cabal, also wrote a sharp letter of resignation denouncing the Lecompton fraud and policy; and such was the indignation aroused in the free States, that although the Senate passed the Lecompton Bill, twentytwo Northern Democrats joining their vote to that of the Republicans, the measure was defeated in the House of Representatives. The President and his Southern partizans bitterly resented this defeat; and the schism between them, on the one hand, and Douglas and his adherents, on the other, became permanent and irreconcilable.


The Senatorial Contest in Illinois-"House Divided against Itself" Speech-The Lincoln-Douglas Debates -The Freeport Doctrine-Douglas Deposed from Chairmanship of Committee on Territories-Benjamin on Douglas-Lincoln's Popular Majority-Douglas Gains Legislature-Greeley, Crittenden, et al.-"The Fight Must Go On"-Douglas's Southern SpeechesSenator Brown's Questions-Lincoln's Warning against Popular Sovereignty-The War of Pamphlets-Lincoln's Ohio Speeches-The John Brown Raid-Lincoln's Comment


THE hostility of the Buchanan administration to Douglas for his part in defeating the Lecompton Constitution, and the multiplying chances against him, served only to stimulate his followers in Illinois to greater efforts to secure his reëlection. Precisely the same elements inspired the hope and increased the enthusiasm of the Republicans of the State to accomplish his defeat. For a candidate to oppose the "Little Giant," there could be no rival in the Republican ranks to Abraham Lincoln. He had in 1854 yielded his priority of claim to Trumbull; he alone had successfully encountered Douglas in debate. The political events themselves seemed to have selected and pitted these two champions against each other. Therefore, when the Illinois State convention on June 16, 1858, passed by acclamation a separate resolution, "That Abraham Lincoln is the first and only choice of the Republicans

« PreviousContinue »