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THE CAMPAIGN OF 1858. THE reader who has given attention to those pages of this book relating to the Lecompton controversy in Congress will of course be informed of many of the events connected with and leading to the most memorable election held in the State of Illinois during the year 1858. To many persons, however, it will be serviceable that, before entering upon the description of the contest of that year, a brief repetition of some leading facts, and a detailed history of others, should be given now.
When the announcement was made by telegraph from St. Louis that Mr. John Calhoun and his associates in the Lecompton Convention had, for the purpose of securing for their monstrosity a legal substance which it could never obtain at the hands of the people, wantonly and wickedly resolved to declare the Lecompton Constitution as already made, and waiting only the sanction of Congress to erect it as the government of the people of the unfortunate Territory, there was in all Illinois a universal expression of indignation. Calhoun had for many years been an active Democrat in the central part of the state, and he was believed to be a man who, whatever other failings and imperfections he might have, would never consent, under any circumstances, to embarrass or injure his party friends by rash or unjustifiable political action. In short, he was esteemed by all as a “safe and reliable” man, who could not be seduced, under any state of things, to do political acts, the effect of which was to destroy, or, to say the least, embarrass and place his party in a most unenviable position before the country. For many days those who had a personal acquaintance with the “Lord President,” as he was subsequently styled by the papers of the state, declined giving credit to the reports of the action of the convention, but these doubts were but of short duration ; letters from a number of persons in the Territory, and from Calhoun himself, soon removed all question, not only as to the action of the convention, but also as to the full participation of Calhoun in the iniquitous proceedings.
From one end of the state to the other, the Democratic newspaper press immediately and determinedly denounced the action of the convention, and of the daring attempt by Calhoun and his associates to defraud the people of Kansas of a sacred right; to violate the entire spirit of the Kansas-Nebraska Act; to repudiate the saving and most peculiar principle of the Cincinnati platform; to disregard and contemptuously set aside the peremptory and pointed instructions of Mr. Buchanan, and the earnest advice and appeals of Governor Walker. In the very expressive language of Mr. Buchanan, no Democrat in Illinois “had any serious doubt” but that the convention would submit the Constitution to the people, and each Democrat in the state felt that the convention, in utterly scorning and repudiating the instructions of Mr. Buchanan to Governor Walker, had sought, through pure wantonness, to treat the instructions of the venerable President as the “ fogyism" of old age. The Chicago Times, Springfield Register, Quincy Herald, Galena Courier, Peoria News, and Alton Democratthe daily Democratic papers of the state--without any previous consultation or understanding, simultaneously, and with all their power, proclaimed the indignant feeling of the Democracy in their respective localities, and called upon the party to take immediate action, by meetings and resolutions, to sustain Mr. Buchanan and the Cincinnati platform against the cowardly and insolent attempt on the part of the Lecompton Convention to treat both with sovereign contempt. The weekly Democratic press of the state followed with great unanimity, and within ten days from the receipt of the first intelligence of the action of the Lecompton Convention, Illinois, speaking through the Democratic press, had become unanimously pledged to the support and defense of the President in his efforts to preserve the Cincinnati platform pure and inviolate. No Democrat in Illinois believed the silly slander of a Northern senator, that “the administration was a little weak in the knees ;" and all relied implicitly that the policy of the government, so clearly and emphatically enunciated in the speeches of Governor Walker and in his instructions from the hand of General Cass, would be carried out to the last extremity, thereby vindicating the power and majesty of the great principle embraced in the Kansas-Nebraska Act, so cordially and unanimously ratified and adopted by the Democracy at Cincinnati. There was not one Democratic newspaper in all Illinois that did not, with all its power, sustain the President and Governor Walker against the unfortunate and ill-judged action of John Calhoun and his associates at Lecompton.
Judge Douglas was at that time in Chicago; though no public meeting was held at which he could offer his views, there was no doubt entertained by any one, Democrat or Republican, as to his determination to sustain the President in the policy so recently declared by the administration. In a few days Democratic newspapers in other states came into Illinois sustaining the administration and denouncing the Lecomptonites. From the entire Northwest there was not a Democratic paper which opposed the administration by sustaining Calhoun. The papers of New York gave to the Democracy of Illinois the most unbounded assurance that the Democracy of that state would unite with their Western brethren in a vigorous support of the President. Some weeks later, the Washington Union, which, since the action of the Kansas Convention, had remained silent, appeared with an elaborate editorial, claiming in behalf of the slaveholder the constitutional right to carry his slaves into any state or Territory of the United States, and hold them in such state or Territory by virtue of a constitutional right, in defiance of the laws of such state or Territory. As this matter has been treated of in one of Mr. Douglas's speeches, it is unnecessary to do more here than to repeat that this article of the Union was the first indication that the Democracy of Illinois had that any change was contemplated in the policy of the administration; and following immediately upon this strange declaration of the most unsound and untenable propositions was a quasi endorsement of the Lecompton fraud, and a suggestion that the best course to pursue was to acquiesce in it, and thus get rid of a " distracting question.” Still, so complete had been Mr. Buchanan's committal to the principles of the Kansas-Nebraska Act; so acknowledged and boasted of General Cass's devotion to unrestrained squatter sovereignty; so well known Mr. Cobb's liberal views, proclaimed so eloquently upon the hills and in the valleys of Pennsylvania during 1856; so emphatic had been Mr. Toucey's endorsement of the right of self-government, that human intellect refused to understand how, in one moment, and without any rational pretense or occasion, an administration could thus suddenly give the negative to its past history and official acts, and render ridiculous at least a majority of its members by making them active supporters of proceedings planned and perpetrated in positive conflict with their opinions and speeches during a long, excited, and severe political contest of but very recent date.
Up to the appearance of these articles in the Washington Union, the Republican party had been panic-stricken. The only hope that that party could have had of perpetuating its existence in the Northwest was a want of fidelity on the part of the Democracy to the Cincinnati platform; and when the Democracy of the Northwest, without a dissenting voice, united in sustaining the administration in its Kansas policy and in repudiating the action of the Lecompton Convention, because it violated the Cincinnati platform, that party saw. its own extinction as plainly as it could be written. Its first hope was that Douglas, with a view of being considered the peculiar friend of the South, would sustain the Lecompton Convention. That hope being dissipated, the Republican party was preparing for its demise, when, from a quarter most unexpected, came words of cheering consolation, of hope, and of future glory. There is no use in disguising the fact, even were it possible to do so, that, had the administration, in December, 1857, remained true to its previously maintained policy, and urged upon Congress the duty of disregarding any and all propositions for the admission of Kansas tainted with fraud, and not approved by the free and deliberate choice of the people, the Republican party would have virtually ceased to exist as an organization in the Northwestern States. It would have at once been reduced to a mere handful of abolition fanatics, who by education, as well as natural tastes, habits, and associations, will always cling to the theory that the only way of elevating the negro is by removing every law, custom, or other hinderance to the degradation of the white man to the level of the negro. The thousands who had by their votes, during the previous three years, given a consequence and a power to the Republican party, because of a sincere belief that the policy of the Democratic party had been and would continue to be shaped and changed to promote the ends and purposes of the South as opposed to those of the North, upon the official declaration by the President that he would not sanction or approve of peace and
fraud, nor consent to a violation of the leading principle to which he owed his own election, even to secure the admission of another slave state, would have abandoned the Republican party and rallied under the Democratic flag, having no longer any doubt of the honesty of their party. But no such course was pursued by the President. He did give his official approval to the result of fraud; he did give his executive recommendation to the completion of the violation of the Cincinnati platform by the admission of a state under a Constitution to which the people were not only no party, but which had been kept from them because it was known they would repudiate it. Hence these men, instead of being restored to the Democratic party by a prompt vindication of its honesty and devotion to principle, were repelled, and confirmed in their impression that the Democratic party had but one principle, and that was to promote the ends of slavery. The golden opportunity of putting an end to an organization which, in the hands of the unprincipled managers who have heretofore and ever will control its movements, must be dangerous to the
prosperity of the nation and to the supremacy of the Constitution, was neglected and lost. The subsequent action of Congress, of the executive and his cabinet, and of some of the Northern representatives of the Democracy, supplied the Republicans with sufficient proof to enable them to argue with plausibility that the Democratic party was one devoted to the interests of the slaveholding population of the Southern States.
The annual message of Mr. Buchanan, in which he formally proclaimed his approval of Lecomptonism, was received with a most depressing effect upon the party in Illinois. Though he had never been the choice of the party in Illinois, yet, on account of his advanced age, and the fact that he must have felt how many risks the party had always undertaken in advancing him from one high position to another, despite the absence of all personal popularity on his part, and want of striking qualities in his character, Democrats in the West entertained that respect for him which years and long service always excite in the breasts of an intelligent and refined people. While they deplored what they could not but regard as a great error, viewed as a matter of governmental as well as party policy, yet no word of unkindness or reproach was uttered. The message was published in all the papers of the state; and while the