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The second and last session of the thirty-third congress met on the first Monday in December, 1854. A manifestly subdued temper on the part of the majority and the absence of any exciting topic for discussion gave hopes of much healthful legislation, only however to be disappointed. Mr. Seward, with his accustomed assiduity, turned his attention to the task of rescuing from the ruins some of the beneficent measures sacrificed to the interests of slavery at the last session. Among these the Pacific railroad, the improvement of rivers and harbors and the revision of the tariff may be especially mentioned. Mr. Seward was the author of a bill, introduced by him at the previous session, for the construction of a railroad to the Pacific ocean, which seemed more practical in its character than any yet con. sidered
A bill to increase the compensation of members of congress and to raise the salaries of the judges of the supreme court was introduced early in the session. Mr. Seward opposed both propositions. In a speech on the “extension of the bounty land law” he paid an eloquent tribute to the volunteers and militia who had served in the wars of the United States, and advocated an amendment providing that they should be included in the benefits of the law the same as officers and soldiers of the regular army. On presenting a memorial from the unemployed workmen of the city of New York in favor of a homestead law, Mr. Seward feelingly portrayed the distress he had himself recently witnessed among the industrial classes in the large cities, and urged the passage of the homestead bill as a wise and inexpensive measure of relief.
His remarks on internal improvements, during the debate on the bill making appropriations for the improvement of rivers and harbors, and his speeches in favor of the Pacific railroad all abound with the most liberal and statesmanlike ideas; while those in opposition to reducing the tariff on American products and manufactures are consistent with the principles he has always maintained.
Mr. Seward insisted on the payment of the Texas debts as an obligation entered into by our government which could not now be honorably repudiated, however unwise that obligation may have been when it was assumed.
He was the early and steadfast friend of mail steamers on the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. His speech on the 27th of February,
1855, although brief, clearly presents the reasons why our government should continue to employ first class steamships in its mail service. Mr. Seward opposed the bill granting three years' credit on duties on railroad iron. He ipaintained that it was impolitic and wrong to stimulate an enterprise already unduly expanded. The wisdom of his words has been verified by the remarkable depreciation of railroad shares.
A misunderstanding having arisen among the merchants of New York in regard to a bill introduced at the last session, by Senator Fish, relating to immigrant passenger ships, Mr. Seward in a graceful speech defended his colleague from any negligence in the matter, Mr. Fish being then absent from the country seeking the restoration of his health.
Near the close of the session, Senator Toucey introduced a bill designed to strengthen the already rigid features of the fugitive slave act of 1850. It provided that all suits growing out of the enforcement of that act might be removed from any state court, in which they had been commenced, to the federal courts. On the 26th of May, 1854, the day on which the Nebraska bill passed, Authony Burns, a fugitive slave from Virginia, had been arrested in Boston by the officers of the federal government. In an unsuccessful attempt by the people to rescue him from the hands of the marshal and his vi puties, one of the latter was killed. The fugitive, having been declared by the commissioner to be a slave, was conducted from the court bouse to a revenue cutter in the harbor by a company of marines and United States soldiers, assisted by the volunteer militia of the city of Boston. Cannon loaded with grape shot were planted in commanding positions to preserve order, and the court house, surrounded by chains, was guarded by an armed police. During this extraordinary scene many acts of tyranny were practiced by the federal officers on the people occupying or passing through the streets. The civil and criminal prosecutions growing out of such acts were commenced in the courts of Massachusetts. One of the objects of Mr. Toucey's bill was to change the jurisdiction from these tribunals to the courts of the United States.
Mr. Seward aroused the attention of the senate and of the country to the enormous usurpation which the bill proposed, in a speech of stirring eloquence; reviewing the recent startling encroachments of
despotism and characterising the present one as more bold and alarming than any that had preceded it.' Other senators from the free states followed him in denouncing it, in terms no less severe and decided.
fr. Sumner, at the close of an eloquent speech against the bill, moved, as an amendment, a substitute for the whole bill, repealing the fugitive slave act of 1850. Mr. Seward gladly availed himself of the opportunity to record his vote in favor of the repeal of that odious act; but the proposition could then command only nine affirmative votes, Messrs. Brainerd of Vermont, Chase of Ohio, Cooper of Pennsylvania, Fessenden of Maine, Gillette of Connecticut, Seward of New York, Sumner of Massachusetts, Wade of Ohio, and Wilson of Massachusetts.
Mr. Toucey's bill, after a most animated discussion, passed the senate at midnight by a vote of 29 to 9. Owing to the lateness of the session its consideration in the house was never reached ; nor has it since been revived. The days of the thirty-third congress were now numbered, and on the 3d of March, 1855, both houses adjourned sine die.
This congress, the first under Mr. Pierce's administration, will long be memorable not only for its entire failure to accomplish any great and beneficent acts of legislation, but also for having deliberately re-opened a discussion of the slavery question whose ultimate consequences and collateral results no prophet can foresee.
With this congress, Mr. Seward's first senatorial term expired. His individual interests and personal feelings led him to prefer a return to private life. But higher considerations prevailed, and he consented to be a candidate for reëlection. His views on this subject were well expressed in a letter to John Quincy Adams in 1841, and substantially repeated to those who now felt, as he thought, an undue anxiety that he should be reëlected. He says in his letter to his venerable friend: “As for the future, I await its developments without concern, conscious that if my services are needed, they will be demanded, if not needed that it would be neither patriotic nor conducive to my own happiness to be in public life;" sentiments whose unaffected modesty of utterance, yet epigrammatic beauty, would, if found in Roman history, attract the admiration of the world. 1 Mr. Seward's speeches on this, and other bills before noticed, will be found in succeeding Vol. IV
pages of the present volume.
The election of members of the legislature in the state of New York in the autumn of 1854, was held in view of the fact that they would be called at the coming session to elect a senator of the United States.
The reëlection of Mr. Seward, of course, formed a prominent question in the canvass. The element of “know nothingism” or "Americanism,” also greatly influenced the election of the members of the Assembly as well as of the various state officers chosen at the same time. To some extent the issue was, from this cause, confused and the result uncertain. Mr. Seward's whole life had been in opposition to secret societies and to any limitation of the political rights of the people. The new party, now at its height, was founded as he believed, substantially, on ideas directly in conflict with his matured convictions. At a time when other statesmen were courting the new element or being reticent before its influence, Mr. Seward, in the senate, frankly expressed his opposition to these secret political organizations. With such circumstances and antagonisms to overcome, with a combination of democrats and Americans against him, his past services, his devotion to the cause of freedom and humanity, and his fidelity to all the great interests of his native state and the country, were submitted to the people of New York for their verdict.
The election took place on the first Tuesday in November, and was contested with unusual vigor throughout the state. Although the democrats succeeded in electing but forty-two members of the assem. bly out of one hundred and twenty-eight, loud boasts were made by the opponents of Mr. Seward that he could not be reëlected. The most industrious efforts were made to excite new animosities and revive old prejudices against him in order to defeat his reëlection. The authors of these efforts and the character of their weapons were various. One spirit, however, animated the whole. The slave power projected or applauded every shaft of calumny that was directed at the object of its greatest fear.
The legislature met on the first Tuesday in January, 1855. The assembly chose Mr. Littlejohn speaker, eighty to thirty-eight. The senate, which held over from the last year, was divided, whigs eighteen, democrats ten, know nothings four. Before the day appointed for the election of senator, a discussion arose in the assembly, in
which Mr. Seward's public life was subjected to a searching review. As this debate proceeded his friends felt an increasing confidence in his success. At the same time his opponents, with apparent sincerity, continued to assert that his election by the present legislature was in possible. Under these circumstances the excitement rose to a great height. Throughout the Union the contest was regarded as one be. tween freedom and slavery.
On the first Tuesday in February the election took place. In the senate Mr. Seward received eighteen votes, Daniel S. Dickinson five, W. F. Allen two, Millard Fillmore, Ogden Hoffman, Preston King, Daniel Ullman, George R. Babcock, and S. E. Church one each.
In the assembly the vote stood, for Mr. Seward sixty-nine, Mr. Dickinson fourteen, Horatio Seymour twelve, Washington Hunt nine, John A. Dix seven, Mr. Fillmore four, and eleven others one each.
The senate and assembly then in joint session compared nominations and the lieutenant-governor declared William H. Seward duly elected a senator of the United States for six years from the 4th of March, 1855.
This announcement soon reached every part of the Union, and in all the free states it was received with demonstrations of joy and approval. In Washington the rejoicing among Mr. Seward's political and personal friends, in congress, and among the people of that city, was no less enthusiastic and sincere than in other portions of the country
On his return to his home in Auburn, Mr. Seward was everywhere greeted with the hearty congratulations of his friends. He, however, declined the various public ovations tendered to him in different places.
During the canvass for the annual state election in the autumn of 1855, Mr. Seward, at the earnest solicitation of his political friends, addressed the people at Albany, Auburn and Buffalo. These speeches are standard political dissertations. They produced a marked effect, not only in his own state but throughout the country. President Pierce in his annual message to congress saw fit to allude to some of the sentiments contained in the one delivered in the capitol at Albany. This speech entitled “The danger of extending slavery,” or “The privileged class," and the one delivered at Buffalo,