Page images

After the adjournment, Mr. Seward was engaged for several weeks in the circuit court of the United States at New York. His argument before that court, in favor of a bridge over the Hudson river at Albany, is remarkable for its originality and for its extensive knowledge of the subject of navigation.

The elections in the autumn of 1858 resulted in a decided rebuke of the president and his Kansas-Lecompton policy. In the state of New York, only four members of congress favoring that policy were elected; and the republican candidate for governor (Hon. E. D. Morgan) was chosen by nearly twenty thousand majority. The struggle in the state was nevertheless severe, and the result seemed to many to be doubtful. In this emergency, Mr. Seward appeared before the people, and by his speeches at Rochester, Rome, and Au. burn, rallied the strength of the republicans, and at the same time destroyed the hopes of the opposition. His speech at Rochester, especially, gave a new aspect to the contest, and turned the tide in favor of the republican party:) The following passage has acquired an enduring fame:

Hitherto, the two systems (slave and free labor) have existed in different states, but side by side, within the American Union. This has happened because the Union is a confederation of states. But, in another aspect, the United States constitute only one nation. Increase of population, which is filling the states out to their very borders, together with a new and extended net-work of railroads and other avenues, and an internal commerce which daily becomes more intimate, are rapidly bringing the states into a higher and more perfect social unity or consolidation. Thus these antagonistic systems are continually coming into closer contact, and collision results.

“Shall I tell you what this collision means? They who think that it is accidental, unnecessary, the work of interested or fanatical agitators, and therefore ephemeral, mistake the case altogether. It is an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces, and it means that the United States must and will, sooner or later, become either entirely a slaveholding nation, or entirely a freelabor nation. Either the cotton and rice fields of South Carolina and the sugar plantations of Louisiana will ultimately be tilled by free labor, and Charleston and New Orleans become marts for legitimate merchandise alone, or else the rye fields and wheat fields of Massachusetts and New York must again be surrendered by their farmers to slave culture and to the production of slaves, and Boston and New York become once more markets for trade in the bodies and souls of men. It is the failure to apprehend this great truth that induces so many unsuccessful attempts at final compromise between the slave and free states, and it is the existence of thiis great fact that renders all such pretended compromises, when made, vain and ephemeral. Startling as this saying may appear to you, fellow citizens, it is by no Teans an original or even a modern one. Our forefathers knew it to be true, and unanimously acted upon it when they framed the constitution of the United States. They regarded the existence of the servile system in so many of the states with sorrow and shame, which they openly confessed, and they looked upon the collision between them, which was then just revealing itself, and which we are now accustomed to deplore, with favor and hope. They knew that either the one or the other system must exclusively prevail.

" It remains to say on this point only one word, to guard against misapprehension. If these states are to again become universally slaveholding, I do not pretend to say with what violations of the constitution that end shall be accomplished. On the other hand, while I do confidently believe and hope that my country will yet become a land of universal freedom, I do not expect that it will be made so otherwise than through the action of the several states co-operating with the federal government, and all acting in strict conforinity with their respective constitutions.

"The strife and contentions concerning slavery, which gently-disposed persons so habitually deprecate, are nothing more than the ripening of the conflict which the fathers themselves not only thus regarded with favor, but which they may be said to have instituted."

Congress again assembled on the first Monday in December, 1858. On the first day of the session, Mr. Mason, of Virginia, in the senate, called up the bill to indemnify the owners of the Spanish schooner Amistead for the loss of its cargo of slaves. Mr. Seward remarked that he did not consider it a meritorious bill, and moved a postponement of its consideration. The subject was suffered to rest during the remainder of the thirty-fifth congress

Mr. Seward's speeches during the session were upon the Pacific railroad bill; the expenses and revenues of government; the bill to facilitate the acquisition of Cuba; the Indiana senatorial question; the consular and diplomatic appropriations; the homestead bill; the protection of American citizens abroad; and the post office, civil and naval appropriations. In the discussion of one of the latter bills, the affairs of Kansas were briefly alluded to by Mr. Seward. He expressed his satisfaction with the prospect that Kansas was soon to be admitted into the Union as a free state; and hailed the approach of the time when no successful attempt would be made in congress to bind down any future territory to come into the Union as a slaveholding state.

In the debate on the Pacific railroad bill, Mr. Seward advocated an amendment providing that preference should be given, in thu

[blocks in formation]

construction of the road, to iron of American manufacture. He gave his assent to the route proposed by the committee, although he preferred one less southern. He discarded the policy of giving the public lands to a company to build the road, preferring that the land in its vicinity should be surrendered to actual settlers, so as to secure the speediest possible production of revenue from it. He would directly employ the capital and credit of the United States, increasing the tariff on foreign importations for the purpose of defraying the cost and providing a sinking fund for the extinguishment of the debt created in the construction of the road. These views are very ably set forth in his speeches, with many practical suggestions, most of which were incorporated into the bill prepared by the committee,

Mr. Seward, in discussing the act making appropriations for the civil and diplomatic service of the United States, urged several important reforms in both departments. He believed that greater economy might be secured in their administration, without impairing their efficiency. He named a number of foreign missions that might be combined, and several that might be safely abolished. Probably no more important subject occupied the attention of congress than that of the disposition of the public lands. " A bill to secure homesteads to actual settlers on the public domain” passed the house, one hundred and twenty to seventy-six. The republicans voted for the measure./ Six northern democrats voted against, and only three southern members for it. Of the democratic votes in the house, a large majority were cast against the bill. It having thus passed the house, early in February, 1859, Mr. Wade, in the senate, on the 17th of that month, moved to take it up. His motion prevailed."

All that was now desired by the friends of the bill was a vote upon its final passage, which its opponents were determined to prevent. Mr. Seward, in brief but energetic terms, urged its friends to stand firm and insist upon its consideration. But after a desultory debate, which Senator Mason threatened should be "extended," a motion to lay aside the bill was carried by the casting vote of the vice-presilent. During the contest, Mr. Gwin left the friends of the bill and oted with its enemies. As in the house, a large majority of the democrats voted against the bill, while every republican sustained it, at every stage. Two days afterwards, Mr. Wade again called up the bill; but a motion to take up the Cuba bill, instead, prevailed.' This was again repeated on the 25th of February. After a debate on the Cuba project, protracted late into the night, another effort was made to consider the homestead bill. Mr. Seward remarked: Ja ,

1 The vote stood as follows (republicans in italics): Yeas--Messrs. Bright, Broderick, Chandler, Collamer, Diron, Doolittle, Fersenden, Foot, Foster, Gwin, Ilale, Hamlin, Harlan, Johnson of Tennessee, King, Pugh, Rice, Seward, Shields, Simmons, Smith, Stuart, Trumbull, Wade, and Wilson--2. Naya-- Messrs. Alien, Bayard, Benjamin, Bigler, Brown, Chesnut, Clay, Clinge man, Davis, Fitch, Fitzpatrick, Green, IHammond, Hunter, Iverson, Lane, Mallory, Mason, Pearce, Reid, Slidell, Toombs, and Ward-23.

After nine hours' yielding to the discussion of the Cuba question, it is time to come back to the great question of the day and the age. The senate may as well meet, face to face, the issue which is before them. It is an issue presented by the competition between these two questions. One, the homestead bill, is a question of homes, of lands for the landless freemen of the United States. The Cuba bill is the question of slaves for the slaveholders of the United States."

All efforts, however, to lay aside the Cuba bill were ineffectual, and no other opportunity occurred before the adjournment of Congress to get a vote on the final passage of one of the most beneficent measures ever presented to any legislative body. In the senate and in the house of representatives the republicans voted steadily on the side of the measure, while the democrats, with a few exceptions, were as uniformly against it. yr. Seward's speech in favor of a homestead law, delivered in the senate as early as 1851, is an elaborate defense of the measure, and may be referred to as the best exposition of the subject ever made in the senate."

The legislature of Indiana, in 1857, attempted to elect two United States senators. The two branches were of opposite politics. The senate consisted of twenty-three democrats and twenty-seven opposition, while the house numbered sixty-three democrats to thirty-seven opposition. No law existing in that state prescribing the manner of electing a senator, the constitution of the United States was the only guide in the matter. That instrument declares, that senators shall be elected by the “legislature.” The laws of Indiana define the legislature to be the senate and house." The senate consists of fifty members; the house of one hundred. Two-thirds, in each, is required to make a quorum.

1 The following is the vote to give the Cuba bill priority of consideration: Yeas--Messrs. Allen, Bayard, Bell, Benjamin, Bigler, Brown, Chesnut, Clay, Clingman, Davis, Fitch, Fitzpatrick, Green, Gwin, Hammond, Houston, Hunter, Iverson, Jones, Lane Mallory, Mason, Polk, Pushi, Reid, Rice, Sebastian, Shields, Slidell, Smith, Stuart, Toombs, Ward, Wright, and Yulee

-35. Nayr-Messrs. Broderick, Cameron, Chandler, Clark, Collamer, Diron. Doolittle, Douglas, Durkee, f essenden, Fool, Foster. Hule, Hamlin, Harlan, Johnson of Tennessee, Kennedy, king, Pearce, Seward, Simmons, Trumbull, Wade, and Wilson-24. 3 See vol. I, p. 156.

The house, with twenty-three senators, on the 4th of February, in a pretended joint convention, elected Messrs. Bright and Fitch senators of the United States; the latter to fill the vacancy then existing, and the former for the full term, commencing the ensuing 4th of March. This election was deemed invalid for the following reasons--the senate had never voted for this joint convention, but on the other hand had adopted a protest, twenty-seven to twenty, against any such meeting, a few days before it was held. Less than a quorum of the house were present, and there were several other gross informalities attending the pretended election, sufficient to render it palpably illegal and void. Twenty-seven senators and thirty-six representatives sent a protest to the United States senate, declaring that à quorum of neither house bad participated in the election; that the alleged joint convention was unauthorized by any law of the state, by any resolution of the legislature, or by any provision of the constitution of Indiana, or of the United States; and that to affirm its action would destroy the existence of the senate of Indiana as a branch of the legislature.' But a majority of the senate of the United States allowed Messrs. Bright and Fitch to take their seats and act as members of the senate.

In 1859 the legislature of Indiana, in a legal and formal manner, chose Messrs. Henry S. Lane and William Monroe McCarty, as senators, to take the places illegally held by Messrs. Bright and Fitch. One argument at the previous session of congress had been that no contestants appeared for the seats claimed by the latter gentlemen. Messrs. Lane and McCarty accordingly presented their credentials to the senate by the bands of the vice-president, with a memorial from the legislature of Indiana reciting the facts in the case.

Mr. Seward moved that the recently elected senators be allowed the privileges of the senate until their claims were considered and decided. His speech in vindication of their rights, and in condemnation of the usurpations and action of the legislature of Indiana in 1857, is a well reasoned and cogent argument of the whole question.

The senate, however, refused to adopt Mr. Seward's motion allowing Messrs. McCarty and Lane the privileges of the floor; and also

1 Certain state officers are also, by the constitution and laws of Indiana, required to be elected by a joint convention. But, although several vacancies had existed for some time, the members composing the convention which elected the two senators, did not dare to assume the duty of eleciing such officers at that or at any convention similarly constituted.

« PreviousContinue »