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The present generation, which surveys the entire history of the development of the slavery problem, from its inception to its final solution, finds it difficult to understand how, even at this time, so dense a cloud could obscure the vision of the clearest eyes. Where moral earnestness and courage, not to recoil even before the extreme consequences which might be entailed upon the country by inviolable fidelity to principle, were wanting, there was no cause to wonder at the greatest obliquity of thought and the greatest errors of judgment. But as not a single republican in the house of representatives had voted against the Montgomery bill, the surprising retreat of the "party of principles" could evidently not be traced to these alone. Men like Giddings and Lovejoy must have been determined by other motives. The most probable supposition, in their case, is that, with heavy hearts, they made the concession to their party associates weaker in the faith, because, by so doing, they thought they would be able to prevent something worse. This at least is a view which there is no difficulty in understanding. But how are we to account for the fact that men with clear heads, great and fearless hearts and strong nerves, in one and the same breath, laid stress on their unshakable fidelity to principle and approved the Montgomery bill as a tactic maneuver? But when Chase, who had recently endeavored so strenuously to rouse Seward's conscience to a sense of not sacrificing principle to momentary considerations of expediency, saw no intrinsic contradiction in such ac
MISTAKE OF THE REPUBLICANS.
tion, even after the value of these tactics was placed in the most glaring light' by a successful counter-maneuver, no great reproof can be administered to average politicians because they were involved in the greatest darkness as to the character and import of this step.
If I have a correct conception of the entire situation at this moment, the grave mistake of the republicans in this case was due only in a very small degree to their want of moral energy. The heat of the battle had warped their judgment on the point which they should have recognized as the decisive one. Because Kansas had been, in recent years, the position most hotly contested, they had, to a certain extent, lost the consciousness that it was in itself only a part, and a comparatively small part at that, of the whole field of battle. They looked upon the slavery question as so much absorbed by the Kansas question that they were not able to rise to a recognition of the fact that, in order to be able to continue the general struggle effectually, they would have to be resigned to the loss of the territory, even if there
1 In a letter dated May 12, 1858, written, therefore, immediately after the passage of the English bill, to Pike, we read: "Resistance to it (the Lecompton iniquity) by all means not dishonorable, and to the last extremity (!), was ever my counsel to all who thought it worth asking for. I even counseled against the contingent consent proposed by the Crittenden amendment, and would never, had I been in congress, have voted for that proposed by the Montgomery ainendment, except as the only means left of defeating the direct consent to the Lecompton bill. Regarding it as the only means left, I should have acted just as our friends in the house acted, whose votes, under the circumstances, for that amendment I have constantly approved and still approve." And also: "I am very certain that the great masses of the republican party agree with me in determination to maintain republican principles without compromise (!), . . . firmly resolved not to leave our own (principle) to stand on foreign ground." First Blows of the Civil War, pp. 419, 420.
was a means of saving it. To save it now seemed to them their chief duty. They looked upon the direct triumph of the Lecompton swindle as the worst thing that could now happen to the country, and, in their opinion, there was no better means than the one they had made use of to avert that worst of evils. Hence their eyes could not be opened even by the fact that, on the very following day (April 2d), the senate rejected the Montgomery bill.' They had certainly expected this; and even if they had been able, they would not on that account have undone what they had done.
It was almost two weeks before the sweet illusion that they had deserved well of their country was disturbed by a single shock. Secession, the fire-eaters had threatened, would be the answer of the slave states if Kansas were refused unconditional admission under the Lecompton constitution, and it had now been coupled by the house with a condition which the slave states well knew would never be fulfilled. "If you show Kansas the door, Minnesota too will have to stay outside," was said then; and now, on the 7th of April, the senate passed the Minnesota bill by a vote of forty-nine to three. The senate had declared that it would stand by the Kansas bill, and the house likewise resolved that it would abide by the Montgomery substitute. Should not, nay, must not, every reasonable man, who was not made oblivious to the attainable by the desirable, have recognized all this as highly thankworthy, since, in view of the solid majority in the senate, a victory was impossible? This way of looking at the matter left one thing out of consideration: that it would end with this purely negative result was all the more improbable, as, in Kansas, a new constitutional convention had closed its labors at Leavenworth
1 By thirty-two against twenty-three votes.
A CONFERENCE COMMITTEE.
on the 3d of April, and the constitution it had drafted was to be submitted to the popular vote on the third Tuesday in May. The argument that the two houses of congress would have to unite on a positive measure of some kind, in order to prevent the affairs of the territory from becoming twisted into a disentangleable knot, could, therefore, be employed again with great force. The decisive trial whether the fall of the "shaky" ones could be prevented was yet to be made.
On the 13th of April the senate moved that a conference committee be appointed. The vote in the house on the following day was equally divided; the speaker's vote gave the decision in favor of the adoption of the motion. The republicans did not deceive themselves as to the importance of this defeat. But whether the game was irrevocably lost to them already might, however, seem doubtful. As the scales had been in equilibrium, the decision might easily depend on how the speaker would construct the committee. He appointed English of Indiana, Stephens of Georgia, and Howard of Michigan. The latter was a republican, and his and Stephens's vote offset each other. The decision had to be made by English. What had the different parties to expect from the man who considered Orr of South Carolina the fittest person to speak the word on which depended, perhaps, the fate not only of Kansas but of the Union?
English was one of the three northern democrats who, notwithstanding their vote on the Kansas-Nebraska bill, still had a seat in the house of representatives. This fact attracted all the more attention to the firmness with which he took a position, in a long and excellent speech, deliv ered on the 9th of March, against the unconditional admission of Kansas under the Lecompton constitution. He had never yet, he said, been guilty of the slightest oppo
sition to a party command. He should, therefore, claim consideration, now that he uttered a word of warning. The representatives of the north could not do certain. things even if they wished. A severe defeat had been the consequence of the Kansas-Nebraska bill, which, in the opinion of all party comrades in congress, rested on correct principles. What was to be expected from a measure" which nine-tenths of the people of the free states hold to be a fraud, and at war with the plainest principles of justice and republican government?" The statesman had to grasp "the great political facts;" and the incontestable fact that the Lecompton constitution did not give expression to the will of the people of Kansas was plain as day, and they would have nothing to do with it. It betrayed the "spirit of a Shylock" to appeal from these facts to legal subtleties suggested by the wording of the law; but these were the only arguments which it had been possible to produce for the assertion that Kansas should be admitted under the Lecompton constitution.1
This was a confession of faith which could not be misinterpreted, and English allowed it to be believed, up to the last moment, that he stood by it. In this way only could the exhortation be understood, which he addressed to the speaker before the appointment of the conference committee, in conformity with parliamentary law, to take the majority of the members of it from the majority of the house; that is, to choose them from among those who were in favor of the house bill. He had then voted for the motion, although he had received no answer to the question whether the speaker would agree to his suggestion. What sense was there in this if, in his opinion, one should not allow oneself to be forced beyond the line to which the house had gone in its concessions to
1 Congr. Globe, 1st Sess. 35th Congr., pp. 103, 104. 2 Ibid., p. 1589.