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“The contest and the crisis,” were very widely circulated in news papers and pamphlets.
On the 22d of December, 1855, Mr. Seward delivered the annual oration at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in commemoration of the landing of the pilgrims. At the dinner table he also made a brief but eloquent speech in response to a complimentary sentiment. His large and cultivated audience gave repeated expressions of their sympathy and deligbt, with the sentiments of the oration and the speech.
The summer of 1855 seemed to be marked by a number of occurrences showing the aggressive and tyrannical spirit of the slave power. On the 27th of July, Passmore Williamson, a respectable and benevolent citizen of Philadelphia, was thrown into prison in that city and confined fourteen weeks. He was charged with a "contempt of court." The facts of the case were, briefly, these: a Mr. Wheeler came from a slave state into Pennsylvania, bringing with him a slave woman, who became, by the laws of Pennsylvania, free on being brought into the state. This fact was communicated to her by Mr. Williamson, and she immediately left her master, never to return. In a suit growing out of these circumstances, Mr. Williamson, in his answer to a writ of habeas corpus, stated what he deemed to be the truth in the case. Judge Kane pronounced his reply a contempt of court, and sent him to prison.
A similar case occurred in New York some time previous, showing the same determination of the south to extend slavery over the free states of the north. A Mr. Lemmon, traveling from Virginia
1 The following potice of the celebration and oration is taken from one of the newspapers of the day: Plymouth was thronged on the 21st of December. The celebration was the most impressive and spirited of any which the descendants of those valiant men have made. The ** Rock" was carefully dug out for the occasion. The relics of the Mayflower and the mementoes of her passage across the ocean, and her priceless freight and great mission, were displayed in pilgrims' hall. The streets were filled with strangers, arrived from the vicinity of Plymouth not only, but from remote states.
A procession with music, religious exercises in a church, an oration, a costly and most generous dinner-feast with toasts and speeches, and a hall in the evening constituted the celebration. of the oration delivered by Governor Seward, we need but to say that it is the expression of that statesman's philosophy and policy.
Among the incidents of the dinner table, Wendell Phillips declared that he would not acknowledge the right of Plymouth to the Rock." ** It underlies " said he "the whole country and only crops out here. It cropped out where Putnam said—“Don't fire, boys, until you see the whites of their eyes." It showed itself where Ingraham rescued Martin Kötsza from Austrian despotism. Jefferson used it for his writing-desk, and Lovejoy levelled his musket across it at Alton. I recognized the clink of it to-day when the great apostle of the higher law laid his beautiful garland upon the sacred altar." (Mr. Seward remarked that he was not a descendant of the pilgrims of the Mayflower.] ** He says he is not descended from the Mayflower,"resumed Mr. Phillips; " that is a mistake.There is such a thing as pedigree of mind as well as of body,"
to Texas, with eight slaves, sailed from Norfolk to the city of New York, intending there to tranship his family and property to Texas. His slaves were, like the woman in Philadelphia, restored to freedom by the laws of the state in which they were domiciled. An expensive litigation was immediately commenced by the state of Virginia against the state of New York, which is not yet concluded.
The state courts of primary and final resort have confirmed the right of the slaves to their freedom, but an appeal has been entered to the supreme court of the United States. The democratic judges delivered dissenting opinions accepting the new dogma that slaves are property under the constitution. Their ideas were foreshadowed by the counsel for Virginia,' who reiterated in the court room the same plea for the justice and beneficence of African slavery which he had a month before presented at a public meeting in New York.
But the country was soon agitated by acts of yet greater atrocity and of more public interest. Soon after the adjournment of congress systematic efforts began to be made by the south to make Kansas a slave state. The means adopted, and the outrages, arsons and murders committed in the attempt, are still recent and well impressed on the public mind.
At the first election in the territory (March 30, 1855), large par. ties of armed intruders from Missouri took possession of the polls and returned such members to the territorial legislature as would carry out the pro-slavery plans. Of the 2,905 voters in the territory according to the census, only 831 voted, while 4,908 illegal votes were polled by the Missourians.
Governor Reeder, appointed by President Pierce, was removed from his office by the same power that had appointed him, for refusing to countenance the frauds and outrages of the pro-slavery mob.
The legislature, chosen in this fraudulent manner, passed acts, among others, making it a capital offense to assist slaves either in escaping into the territory or out of it; and felony, punishable with imprisonment for from two to five years, to circulate anti-slavery publications or to deny the right to hold slaves in the territory; requiring all voters, officers and attorneys to take an oath to support the fugitive slave law and all the acts of this pretended legislature; giving the selection of jurors to the sheriff; and admitting any person to vote who should pay one dollar, poll tax, whether a resident of the territory or not. They also adopted, in gross, the Missouri code of laws.
1 These cases seem to warrant sufficiently Mr. Seward's apprehension that the result of the slavery aggressions unchecked, will be, the spread of slavery over all the free states, as expressed in his Rochester speech. See present volume.
7 Charles O'Conor, Esq.
A convention of delegates, chosen by the real inhabitants of the territory, was held at Topeka in October, 1855, which adopted a free state constitution to be submitted to the people for approval. This constitution was subsequently adopted by the almost unanimous vote of the settlers. Under this constitution Charles Robinson was elected governor and a state government organized. President Pierce, however, in a special message to congress in January, 1856, indorsed the fraudulent legislature and denounced the formation of the Topeka government as an act of rebellion.
Innumerable outrages continued to be perpetrated on the persons and property of the free state settlers by Missourians and others, although the president declared in his annual message, on the 28th of December, " that nothing had occurred in Kansas to warrant his interference.”
The thirty-fourth congress assembled on its usual day, in December, 1855. The senate was organized without delay. In the house there was a protracted and extraordinary contest in the election of a speaker. Ballotings were continued almost daily, without suc: cess, until the 2d day of February, 1856, when the plurality rule, by a vote of one hundred and thirteen to one hundred and four, was adopted.
On the one hundred and thirty-fourth ballot, after ineffectual attempts to rescind the plurality rule, Nathaniel P. Banks, of Massachusetts, was elected speaker, having received one hundred and three votes to one hundred for William Aiken, of South Carolina. There were also eleven scattering votes, nine of which were cast by northern men hitherto counted as opponents of the Nebraska and Kansas measures. Nineteen members were absent or did not vote, and there was one vacancy. Twelve of the nineteen not voting were from northern states. A resolution declaring Mr. Banks duly elected was passed by ayes one hundred and fifty-five, nays forty.
One of the first acts of the house of representatives after its organ. ization, was to appoint a committee to proceed to Kansas to inquire into the validity of the election of the pretended legislature and
delegate to congress. Their report completely established the fraudulent character of the election and the truth of all the outrages complained of by the free state inhabitants.
In the senate a debate of considerable interest, on the “Clayton and Bulwer treaty,” occupied the first weeks of the session. Mr. Seward in several able speeches defended the rights and interests of his own country and clearly defined the nature and provisions of the treaty.
On the 24th of January, 1856, the president brought the affairs of Kansas before congress in a special message which gave rise to a protracted discussion in both houses. In the senate the subject was debated for nearly six months with little interruption.
Mr. Seward at the earliest opportunity introduced a bill for the immediate admission of Kansas into the Unions "In offering this proposition,” says Mr. Sumner, in his famous speech of the 20th of May, the senator from New York has entitled himself to the gratitude of the country. He bas, throughout a life of unsurpassed industry and of eminent ability, done much for freedom which the world will not let die; but he has done nothing more opportune than this, and he has uttered no words more effective than the speech, so masterly and ingenious, by which he has vindicated it."
On the 12th of March, Mr. Douglas, from the committee on territories, submitted a report extenuating the outrages committed in the territory and severely denouncing the action of the New England Emigrant Aid Society.
Mr. Collamer from the minority of the same committee at the same time presented an able report, taking entirely different views; views that have since been fully substantiated. On the 7th of April, Senator Cass presented the memorial of the Topeka legislature, asking for the admission of Kansas into the Union. A number of resolutions and bills were introduced at different times, by senators of both parties, providing for a settlement of the serious difficulties existing in the territory. On the 3d of July a bill passed the house for the admission of Kansas into the Union under the Topeka constitution by a vote of ninety-nine to ninety-seven. It was sent to the senate on the following Monday and referred to the committee on territories. On the 8th of July Mr. Douglas, chairman of the committee, reported a substitute for the bill, autlıorizing the people of Kansas, under certain restrictions, to form a state constitution.
The substitute passed the senate on the same day, ayes thirty, nays thirteen. The house refused to recede from its previous action. The senate declined to pass Mr. Seward's bill or the one which came from the house, substantially similar, and in this manner all relief to Kansas was denied. Mr. Seward's speeches at various stages of the extended debate are given in full in this vol
His eloquent and masterly statements of the subject will be read with equal pleasure and instruction, as the best history of the great transaction.
On the 22d day of May, 1856, a violent assault was committed in the senate chamber, immediately after the adjournment, upon Charles Sumner, by Preston S. Brooks, a representative from South Carolina. The blows were inflicted with a heavy cane while Mr. Sumner was sitting at his desk in the act of writing. A number of Mr. Brooks' friends were present, including Mr. Douglas, witnesses of the attack, none of whom attempted to prevent or arrest it. On the next morning Senator Wilson (Mr. Sumner's colleague), briefly stated the facts to the senate. Without making any motion, he said, "I leave it to older senators whose character, whose position in this body and before the country eminently fit them for the task of devising ineans to redress the wrongs of a member of this body and to vindicate the honor and dignity of the senate.” Mr. Seward waited a reasonable time for some senator in the majority to offer a resolution on the subject. He then moved that a committee of five be appointed by the president of the senate to inquire into the circumstances of the case and to report thereon to the senate. Under parliamentary usage Mr. Seward would have been placed on this committee as its chairman. To avoid doing this, the senate changed their custom and elected the committee by ballot. Neither Mr. Seward nor any personal or political friend of Mr. Sumner's was chosen a member of the committee. The committee reported that the senate had no jurisdiction in the case,' and their report was adopted!
Mr. Seward, as the intimate associate and cherished friend of Mr. Sumner, was deeply moved by the whole transaction. He, nevertheless, so disciplined his feelings that his speeches on the subject, although full of eloquent denunciation of the outrage, were characterized by his usual dignity of tone and moderation of language.
1 The house voted to expel Mr. Brooks, one hundred and twenty-one to ninety-five. The motion required a vote of two-thirds. Mr. Brooks resigned, and was re-elected. He died suddenly January 27, 1857.