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danger, simply by the preservation of the status quo, was still merely the declaration of bankruptcy of the fossil wisdom of political mediocrity — its declaration of bankruptcy skilfully formulated. The question was not whether the struggle would begin anew, but only how, and from what side, the impulse to its outbreak would
So far as the latter point is concerned the decision lay entirely with the republicans, to the extent that an opposition party is never compelled to pursue a positive policy. They needed only to wait for the end of this session, and of Pierce's presidential term, when the democrats would have to take the initiative. The latter had only a choice as to whether that initiative would be taken by congress or by the new president. If the latter wished to take it he could not be prevented, since, in his inaugural address, he had the first word. It required very great ambition and a vast amount of self-reliance to want, in this instance, to assume the dreadful responsibility of the decision. But the peculiar circumstances of the case transferred that responsibility to the president in such a way that he could not permanently escape it, no matter how ardently he might wish to do so. As the next step forward would necessarily broaden and deepen the split in the democratic party, it was useless for the president to submit everything to the "wisdom of congress." Even if it had been possible for him to remain absolutely passive, so long as congress had reached no firm resolve in the form of laws, the factions of his own party could allow him to hold no such neutral position, because none of them was strong enough to overcome the adversaries in its own camp, the republicans and the Fillmoreans. It seemed very doubtful if even the decided partisanship of the president would have weight enough
to unite a sufficient majority on any programme; but without the employment of all the pressure which the executive was able to exercise by the division of the spoils and other means, any effort in this direction would certainly have had no prospect of success.
Verily, therefore, the president found himself in no enviable position. But from one special circumstance there. arose, for Buchanan, difficulties, or at least unpleasantness, of a peculiar kind, from which no other prominent party politician, in his position, would have had to suffer to the same extent. At Cincinnati and in the presidential campaign it had been of great advantage to him that, during the controversy over the Kansas-Nebraska bill, he had been out of the country; but now, the very same reason made his position, in relation to his own party, more difficult and delicate. If the fact that no one could positively say where he stood had rendered him the best of service up to the time of his victory, he had all the less reason, on that account, to expect indulgent treatment from the faction against whom he would declare, after the battle had been won. If he wished to sit between the two stools his fall would certainly be all the worse, because an energetic effort would be made, on both sides, to keep him from doing so. And if he made a choice, the other side, embittered, would, unquestionably, declare itself shamefully cheated; and the more uncertain it was where he had stood on the issues of the last three years, the less was he in a condition to refute the charges of disloyalty and treason.
Under these circumstances, imagine what thoughts and feelings must have been awakened in Buchanan's breast by the news that the legislature of his own state, although the democrats were in a majority, small, indeed, but undisputed, in that body, had, on the 13th of January,
1857, elected the republican Simon Cameron to be a senator of the United States. What importance was to be attached to this defeat depended, of course, on its special causes. But it could not fail to make a powerful impression on friend and foe,' and this fact alone made it an event of importance. Pennsylvania was not only Buchanan's own state, but the Cincinnati convention had chosen him as presidential candidate mainly because he had been the most prominent and the best-liked politician of Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania, as a matter of fact, had turned the scales in his favor in the electoral campaign. And now he received this slap, even before he had taken possession of the White House. It was even sought to account for it by the fact that he had tried to obtain votes for one of the democratic candidates. And all the more weight was attached to it, because the greatest amount of credit for the victory of the democrats in Pennsylvania was ascribed to Colonel Forney.
The republicans here and there inferred the immediate end of democratic rule in Pennsylvania from this unexpected incident; yet such an inference might easily prove to be an over-hasty conclusion. But that that rule. would be greatly weakened, and that, in a short time, perhaps, a very small weight would suffice permanently to turn the scales, even the democrats could not conceal from themselves. Still what conclusions the party leaders, and especially Buchanan, would draw from the rec
1 A correspondent of the New York Tribune wrote from Washington to that paper on the 13th of January: "A single event has rarely produced greater sensation in political circles here than the intelligence of Mr. Cameron's election did to-day." The N. Y. Tribune, Jan. 16, 1857.
2 See his letter, in relation hereto, of January 7, 1857, to Henry S. Mott, in the New York Tribune of February 3, 1857.
ognition of this possibility, was an entirely different question. If the southern wing looked upon the event as a warning to take into account, as far as possible, at least for the moment, the pressure under which the party politicians in the northern states were kept by public opinion, in order that they might gain a stronger foothold in the doubtful states, Buchanan would have gladly lent them a friendly hand to help them to a cautious policy of reconciliation. But how if the slavocracy drew the contrary conclusion from the event, viz.: that all consideration on their part was love's labors lost, and that the iron must be forged with blows of redoubled weight?
On the 7th of February, the New York Tribune was written to from Harrisburg that, in all probability, Colonel Forney would not be called to the cabinet, because the south did not want the real views of Pennsylvania, whose vote had been sneakingly obtained only by the promise that Buchanan's election would insure the freedom of Kansas, represented in it; in October, therefore, that is, at the next election, violent storms might be expected from Pennsylvania. Three days before, the same journal had been informed, from Washington, that Buchanan had conferred with some prominent southerners like Hunter and Mason, but that of the present cabinet officers, only Jefferson Davis had been honored with an invitation. The subject of discussion was not the composition of the new cabinet. Buchanan had communicated to the gentlemen present his views respecting his inaugural address, and received a promise from Davis to support the administration so long as it held to the programme contemplated. That this intelligence deserved,
1 The N. Y. Tribune, Feb. 11, 1857.
2 Ibid., 9th and 10th of February.
as the correspondent wrote, attention as an indication of the future, could no longer be doubted, when the Tribune, on the 12th of January, was telegraphed from Washington that Buchanan had said Rusk was dead with the republican party. Even if the thought had not been. expressed thus strongly, but had been merely intimated, the despatch, that more clear-sighted democrats began anxiously to ask themselves what the party had to expect from the president, had to be believed.' But not only the democratic party but the entire country had every reason to be anxious, when, under a cloud so pregnant with the storm, a fog thus dense obscured the vision of the old man in whose hands the helm of the ship of state was to be placed during the next four years.
The pomp displayed at the festivities of the inauguration exceeded what was usual on such occasions. A mild, clear, spring day put the population of Washington and the guests who had flocked thither in great numbers in the best of humor. Buchanan tried not to dampen their spirits. Those who honored him as the "sage of Wheatland" were able to come down Capitol Hill, after listening to the inaugural address, gladder than when they had ascended it.
The president began with the assurance that, in his administration, he would be governed by no motive except the wish to serve his country faithfully and well, and to live in the grateful memory of the people, as he was resolved not to seek re-election.
Why might not a happy future be looked forward to, considering such excellent intentions? The president
166 ..the latter (Rusk), with others, argued that if such delusion could be entertained, others more serious might easily occur. There seems to be a foreboding on the democratic side that the administration is doomed, under a fatality of the president."