« PreviousContinue »
at a later day through Kansas, for an overgrown and redundant slave population, except for the object of agitation and excitement on the negro question that was to set the North and South farther and farther apart.
In like manner, and for the same purpose, were all those expeditions on the part of General William Walker to Nicaragua gotten up, in defiance of all the laws and obligations of neutrality, amity, and good neighborhood, and which excited the indignation of all conservative men at home, and the hostility and disquiet of all abroad.
THE SOUTHERN COMMERCIAL CONVENTIONS. Then, too, came the Southern Commercial Conventions, composed chiefly, though not entirely, of Southern secessionists (for their objects were not universally known), which conventions never did, and never were designed to do any thing more than bring together every year such a body of politicians and secessionists as would enable them to make their organization more complete and more perfect for dissolution, whenever the proper time arrived that it was necessary for the perpetuation of their power. To be sure, in their open, daily meetings, they would make grandiloquent speeches for the Southern papers on Southern commerce, direct trade, and commercial independence, what a great country the South would make, etc., etc.; but that was the last you would hear of Southern direct commerce until the year rolled on, and another meeting was held, when the same old formula was gone through with. In confirmation of what I say on this subject, let me call your attention to what the Richmond Examiner, one of the leading organs of that party, said but a few days ago, to wit, on the 27th of this month (October 27, 1861). In commenting on the proceedings of the late meeting of the Southern
Commercial Convention in Macon, the editor said, “We had supposed that the mission of this and other kindred
political conventicles would be fulfilled by the “fait accompli (accomplished fact) of secession,” etc. — thus showing that secession was, at least in the opinion of that editor, who was thoroughly in the confidence of the party, and cognizant of all their proceedings and actions, the only object that they had met to consider and digest. I myself attended one or two of these conventions as a delegate from the city of Richmond-one especially at Memphis, at which I satisfied myself thoroughly of the disorganizing and dangerous character of these meetings, and came home with a determination never to attend another.
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM.
But to come back to the more regular, open, and distinct proceedings of the party. I had brought you down to 1852, and the platform of that year. At this time every question of difficulty between the North and the South had been adjusted; there was not left one inch of territory about which a dispute could arise; harmony was happily and rapidly being restored to the country; the Northern party, it is true, every where complained of the rigor and harshness of some of the features of the Fugitive Slave Law, such as that which authorized the marshal of the district to call to his aid any citizen or citizens to assist him, not in vindicating the offended law, which was about to be resisted by a mob in an attempt to rescue a slave already in his custody, but to enable him to catch a runaway slave, which they said, and said truly, was the exaction of a distasteful and degrading duty to which no Southern man was subjected at home. Such a provision should never have been there. It ought to have been, and, under the bitter state of feeling daily growing up between the masses of the two sections, would have been modified. It was put there at the instance of a senator from this state, Mr. James M. Mason, one of the principal of the secession party in Congress; whether for the purpose of forcing the North to defeat the passage of the bill, and thereby getting up additional excitement on that subject in the South, or of defeating the whole batch of compromises, or of inviting resistance to the execution of the law, is a secret confined, perhaps, to his own breast.
DEATH OF JOHN C. CALIOUN.
Shortly after the passage of the Compromise Measures Mr. Calhoun died, leaving as a legacy to his Southern friends, in a speech carefully prepared, which he was too feeble to deliver, but which was read to the Senate at his request by this same Mr. James M. Mason, of Virginia, containing a recommendation for the establishment of two republics, or else a “dual government,” with two Presidentsone for the South and the other for the North, under the same republic: a speech so filled with gall and treason toward his government that it was a matter of astonishment to many that the Senate should have permitted it to have been read in their presence, and in the halls of legislation. Mr. Clay and Mr. Webster, the two great leaders of the Union party, soon followed Mr. Calhoun to the grave; so that when Mr. Pierce succeeded to power, and was inaugurated in March, 1853, the Union party in the South was without a head or acknowledged leader in their ranks. Jealousy and distrust of each other rendered the efforts of all who were fit to lead inoperative and useless; there was no concert of action, no harmony, and no confidence; and any political party without a leader will as certainly become
disorganized and demoralized, as will an army in the field without commanders. The Whig party thus situated, without a head, soon became thoroughly demoralized, and, consequently, many of its prominent politicians thoroughly democratized. It would be useless here to enumerate those who, at this period, went over to the strong party, or the party power, to look for a softer place on which to rest than they had been able to find in the ranks of their old associates. Some pretended that it was because General Scott was nominated, others because Mr.Fillmore—who had made a “model President,” as all parties in the South, secessionists included, represented him to be, because he sent Federal troops to Boston to enforce the law upon the
people of Massachusetts--was not nominated. But there is not wanting a pretext when a politician resolves upon a change; a reason is one thing which it is sometimes difficult to furnish, but none of that class are ever at a loss for an excuse. With them it may truly be said, Where there's a will there's always a way. Now, as I approach the most important period in the progress of secession, allow me to go back a little, and indulge in a slight repetition of what I have already gone over.
You will not have forgotten the platform of the party to which I have already referred, and upon which Mr. Pierce was elected, by which they pledged themselves “ to adhere to a faithful execution of the acts known as the Compromise Measures, settled by the Congress of 1850," and declaring "that all efforts of the Abolitionists or others to induce Congress to interfere with the question of slavery, or to take incipient steps in relation thereto, were calculated to lead to the most alarming and dangerous consequences; and that all such efforts have an inevitable tendency to diminish the happiness of the people, and endanger the stability and permanency of the Union, and ought not to be countenanced by any friend of our political institutions!”
The Whig party, in their platform, declared as follows: “We deprecate all farther agitation of the question thus settled as dangerous to our peace, and will discountenance all efforts to continue or renew such agitation whenever, wherever, or however the attempt may be made; and we will maintain this system as essential to the nationality of the Whig party and the integrity of the Union.” These were portions and the principal features in the platform of the two parties upon which they went before the country, both pledged in the most unequivocal and solemn manner against taking any incipient steps in relation to the farther agitation of the slavery question. Mr. Pierce was elected by a most overwhelming majority; General Scott got only eight electoral votes. The Whig party, who had lent their aid in breaking down the Missouri Compromise, exhibited such a want of strength in this election that many of weak knees, weaker nerves, and still weaker principles and softer brains, grew tired of working in a minority, and, like rats in a sinking ship, began at once to look about for better quarters.
UNION WHIGS TURN DEMOCRATIC SECESSIONISTS. With the great triumph they had just achieved in the election of Mr. Pierce, and the great accession to their ranks from their old .opponents, the Toombs's, Stephens's, Faulkners, and many others of less prominence and weight, the Democratic party ran wild and riotous in the exuberance of their overgrown power, and yet, with all their strength, they knew that, without some new issue on the slavery question, the continuance of their power was of great uncertainty