Page images
[merged small][ocr errors]

elected, the slave States would secede from the Union. Little consideration, or attention was given to these threats; they were regarded as idle gasconade, only meant to influence.


The struggle between freedom and slavery, still went on. The slaveholders, elated with their triumph in the election of Buchanan, were now confident of success. The friends of freedom, so far from being discouraged by Fremont's defeat, became conscious of their power, and nerved themselves for still greater efforts. The contest of 1856 being over, they did not disband their forces and lay down their arms, but prepared for success in 1860. Old party issues and parties disappeared, and slavery extension became the vital issue. Very few, however, if any, doubted that the contest would be settled by peaceful agencies, and that the decision of the ballot box would be acquiesced in, or if not, would be appealed for new trial to the next election, as was ever the American custom.

Mr. Lincoln's opposition to slavery, became more and more intense with time, and the development of its cruelties. Writing to a friend in 1855, he said, "I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down, caught, and carried back to their stripes and unrequited toil." Seeing, in a steamboat, going down the Ohio, a dozen slaves shackled together with irons, he said, "That sight was a continual torment to me, and I see something like it every time I travel the Ohio, or any other slave border."

It was in the campaign of 1856, that no longer embarrassed by party, but standing on the platform of freedom, with which his whole soul sympathised, he exclaimed, with prophetic enthusiasm, "We will, hereafter, speak for freedom, and against slavery, as long as the Constitution guarantees free speech; until everywhere, on this wide land, the sun shall shine, and the rain shall fall, and the wind shall blow upon no man who goes forth to unrequited toil."

Ah! how little did Lincoln think, when on the prairies of Illinois, he uttered that noble sentiment, that in less than eight years, his voice should utter the potential word of

"emancipation," from the date of which, thereafter, "no man should go forth to unrequited toil."

In March, 1857, Mr. Buchanan was inaugurated and organized his cabinet; Lewis Cass was made Secretary of State, Howell Cobb, of Georgia, Secretary of the Treasury; John B. Floyd, of Virginia, Secretary of War; Isaac Toucey, of Connecticut, Secretary of the Navy; Jacob Thompson, of Mississippi, Secretary of the Interior; Aaron V. Brown, of Tennessee, Postmaster General; Jeremiah S. Black, of Pennsylvania, Attorney General.

The contest for the possession of Kansas, between freedom and slavery, still went on. The free-State men, after seeing Kansas repeatedly invaded by armed men from Missouri, the polls taken possession of, a legislature elected by non-residents, and the acts of such a Legislature recognized by the Federal officials, refused to participate in these mock elections, and calling a convention of the actual settlers, the people elected delegates, which met at Topeka, adopted a free-State Constitution, submitted it to the people, and it was almost unanimously adopted. They then proceeded to elect officers under it. This brought the contending parties into direct collision, and civil war menaced Kansas. Congress, in the winter of 1856, had appointed an investigating Committee consisting of Jacob M. Howard, of Michigan, John Sherman, of Ohio, and M. Oliver, of Missouri, which, after full investigation, reported, that every election held under the auspices of the United States officials, had been controlled, not by actual settlers, but by residents of Missouri, and that every officer, in the territory, owed his election to non-residents.

The people's officers, elected under the Topeka Constitution, had been arrested and the Legislature dispersed under orders of the President, by United States regular troops. In January, 1858, a body, calling itself the Legislature of Kansas, elected by fraud, pretended to submit to a vote of the people, a Constitution, called from the place where the Legislature had met, the Lecompton Constitution. The law by which this was submitted to a vote, contained a provision, that all votes should be "for the Constitution with slavery;



or for the Constitution without slavery;" and yet the Constitution itself recognized slavery, and contained a provision restricting the Legislature from interfering with slavery then in the territory, before 1864!

The people, by a vote of 10,226, against, to less than 200, for, this Constitution, expressed their opinion of the trick, and yet Mr. Buchanan had the shameless effrontery to urge upon Congress, the admission of Kansas under this Lecompton swindle! It was by such disgraceful means that the statesmen, so called, of the slave States, sought to force slavery upon Kansas.

The repeal of the Missouri Compromise was fatal to the supremacy of the slave power, and the attempt to force slavery upon Kansas, and surreptitiously to introduce her into the Union as a slave State, under the lead of Buchanan, shattered the democratic party, and contributed largely to the triumph of the republican or free-soil party of 1860.

Douglas had the sagacity to see whither the extreme course of the administration was tending, and the courage to resist it. He led the opposition in the Senate to the Lecompton Constitution, and thereby atoned to some extent, for his instrumentality in the overthrow of the Missouri Compromise. He presented, in February, 1858, the remonstrance of the Governor and State officers elect, of Kansas, elected under the Topeka Constitution, against its admission under the Lecompton Constitution. In the debate on this question, Mr. Fessenden, of Maine, said the people of Kansas had thrown a majority of over 10,000 votes against this very Constitution. That the great question through all the Kansas struggle had been, slavery, or no slavery. The leading idea of the repeal of the Missouri Compromise was to make Kansas a slave State. This was denied by Mr. Douglas, but was reiterated by Mr. Fessenden.

A passage occurred in this debate between Mr. Fessenden and Jefferson Davis, of curious interest. Mr. Davis expressed his concurrence not only with the message of the President, but his hearty approbation of the high motives that actuated him when he wrote it. Apparently looking forward to the separation of States, he held that a Senator, while sitting in


the Senate Chamber, was in the relation of a minister to a friendly Court, and that the moment he sees the government in hostility to his own State, his honor, and the honor of his State compel him to vacate the seat he holds. "I am, said he, not in the habit of paying lip service to the Union. through a life, not now a short one, a large portion of which has been spent in the public service, I have given no better proof of my affection for this Union than my declarations, I have lived to little service indeed. Whatever evil may be in store for us, I trust I shall be able to turn to the past and say, that up to the period when I was declining into the grave, I served a government I loved, and served it with my whole heart."

Mr. Fessenden said, "I have avowed no disunion sentiments here or elsewhere. Can the Hon. Senator from Mississippi say as much?" Mr. Davis, "Yes."

Mr. Fessenden, "I am glad to hear him say so, as the newspapers have represented him as making a speech in Mississippi, in which he said he came into Mr. Pierce's cabinet a disunion man."

Although the bill passed the Senate, yet by the determined and powerful opposition of the republican members, aided by a few votes which followed Douglas from the democratic ranks, the measure finally failed.

The opposition of Douglas to their schemes exasperated the slaveholding Senators, and they sought to degrade him by removing him from the position which he had long held, of Chairman of the Committee on territories. This was done on motion of the infamous Slidell, of Louisiana.

But Douglas never exhibited more commanding ability than when he led the opposition in the Senate to the Lecompton cheat. The defeat of this scheme was for him a magnificent Congressional triumph.

Buchanan sent his tool, Slidell, to Illinois to organize a third party to defeat Douglas in the approaching canvass for the Senate.

But before approaching the great intellectual combat between the two champions of the Northwest, Lincoln and



Douglas, we must mention two or three other important topics which entered into the discussion referred to, and constitute a part of the history of the times.

We have seen that the Executive and Legislative Departments of the Government had long been under the control of the slaveholders. The Judicial Department, over which had once presided the pure and spotless abolitionist, John Jay, and the great Constitutional lawyer and intellectual giant, John Marshall, had become an object of profound reverence to the people. It had been the arena of the highest forensic discussions, involving the most important questions of private rights and Constitutional power. The great advocates of the country, lawyers whose names are classic in forensic literature, Pinckney, Henry, Emmet, Wirt, Mason, Dexter, Webster, Clay, Sargent, Ogden, and others, had there discussed with matchless ability, questions involving State rights, and National sovereignty and power, as well as the laws of Nations, and maritime and municipal law. This court had come to be regarded by the American people as the most dignified, enlightened, and august tribunal on earth. The period had now come in which the National Judiciary was to be prostituted, and American Jurisprudence disgraced by its efforts to uphold and strengthen slavery.

Dred Scott, a negro, held as a slave in Missouri, had been voluntarily taken by his master into the free State of Illinois, and subsequently to Fort Snelling, in territory lying North of the line of 36° 30", where slavery was prohibited by law.

Upon the well settled principle of law, a master voluntarily bringing a slave upon territory where slavery is prohibited, the slave becomes free. Dred Scott became a freeman, and he brought suit for his liberty, and the case went up to the Supreme Court of the United States for final decision, was argued, and was to have been decided at the term of 1855.

But a majority of the judges, in view of the pending Pre idential election, and the intense feeling then existing on the slavery question, postponed the decision until the next term, which would be subsequent to the Presidential election.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »