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The Political Canvass of 1840.—The Whig Party Success.-A Whig Governor's Abolition
Address to the Massachusetts Legislature, in 1844.—-Revolutionary Resolutions of the same Legislature, their Presentation in Congress, and the Disposition made of them. -Resolutions of United States House of Representatives.-Appointment of a Massachusetts Commissioner to Charleston, South Carolina, and his Reception.-Its Effect. -The Expediency of the Measure considered.—Repeal of the “ 21st Rule.”—The Texas Question.—The State of Parties.-Dissolution menaced by the Legislature of Massachusetts, in 1845.
In the political canvass of 1840, the Whigs had apparently achieved a signal victory over their Democratic opponents. The administration of Mr. Van Buren had become extremely unpopular, by a course of polioy injuriously affecting the commercial interests of the country. The sufferings and dissatisfactions were shared though in unequal proportions, by men in business who had acted with both parties. When Mr. Van Buren was elected in 1836, a comparatively small popular vote had been cast, for it was generally held certain that he would come in, upon “ the footsteps of his illustrious predecessor." He then received 170 electoral votes, against 73 given for General Harrison. In 1840, although the contest was warm, and a very largely increased popular vote was cast, on both sides, the electoral ballot stood for Harrison 234, for Van Buren 60. On the former occasion, Van Buren had the majority in fifteen States and Harrison in seven; at the later election, nineteen States chose electors for Harrison, and seven only chose electors for Van Buren.
The victory was fully anticipated, and the Whigs had the opportunity presented, in their Convention, of making the most of the favorable time, by selecting one of the two most eminent statesmen of their party, Webster or Clay, for their candidate. If the conflict between the rival pretensions of those great citizens had been disregarded, and either of them had been nominated for the Presidency, it is probable that the election would have been equally safe, in the temper of the popular mind, though perhaps not equally decisive; but the result would have given an entirely different turn to the course of public events. A defeat, in a contest of principles, would have been far preferable, and far more salutary in its future consequences, than such a short-lived triumph, achieved upon doctrines of expediency, and followed by complications and general public confusion, which subsequent events turned into the sources of absolute disaster. A gentleman of more sterling worth than General Harrison could not have been fixed upon; but he was at a very advanced period of life, and though certainly distinguished by more than usual ability and much public service, was selected rather as being unobjectionable, and in order to make the victory sure, than in reference to any special individual claims for a place of such dignity and responsibility. Mr. Tyler, who succeeded him, when the brief month of life permitted to President Harrison after his inauguration, was gone, had been a member of the Democratic party, was in attendance upon the Whig Convention as a recent convert, and was good-naturedly nominated for the Vice-Presidency, in the hurry of the occasion, and upon the refusal of others who had been thought of to occupy that position. Nothing could have been more injudicious than the conduct of the Whigs, in both instances. President Harrison, verging upon seventy years of age, speedily sank under the burdens of office; and Mr. Tyler, long balancing between his present and his former political associations, at length yielded to the latter. Hence, the Whig party lost altogether the fruits of a victory, which had been hailed with unexampled exultation as a pledge of the renovated fortunes of the country. The disappointment was keenly felt; but the false step was
THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.
productive of many future evil consequences. More than ever before, politics, instead of serving as the expression of true patriotism, was fast sinking into a game of adventurers and mere self-seekers.
At the beginning of the session of the Massachusetts Legislature, in 1844, that body had hastened to follow the example of Vermont; but far exceeded the action of that State, by passing resolutions to be offered to Congress of a decidedly revolutionary character. In his inaugural address, delivered January 10th, 1844, the Whig Governor, Briggs, seems to have determined not to be outdone by his Democratic predecessor. He also must needs bring up the vexed question of slavery. He remarked to the two Houses :
"Indeed, there is reason to believe that before the existence of our Constitution, our highest court held the opinion that the Declaration of Independ. ence put an end to slavery in this State.”
Without staying to inquire, upon so loose a statement as this, whether it is conceivable that a highly respectable tribunal can have held, that the expression of any mere general declaratory opinion, by a convention of delegates of independent and sovereign States, can have had the legal effect of annulling the laws of those States--it may be remarked that such a view is totally inconsistent with the Articles of Confederation, agreed upon two years after the Declaration was issued, and with the Constitution of the United States, as finally adopted. Of course, if that Declaration, the object of which was simply to dissolve the bonds of allegiance of the colonies to Great Britain, could put an end to slavery in one State, it would have the same effect in all; and hence the Constitution of the United States would rest under the
* Not to cite other clauses of the Articles of Confederation, the second Article is sufficient, namely:
“Each State retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled.”
The Constitution, by Article IV., section 2, provides for the delivery of persons held to service or labor:
imputation of establishing slavery anew in all the States, elsewhere than in Massachusetts, instead of merely recognizing it as an existing fact in the States where it was to be found.
The Governor, however, having thus stated his case, proceeded to reason upon it, as if it were certain that the court held such an opinion; and as if the opinion would be of any value, if so held; and to deduce froin it conclusions scarcely to be accounted logical He said:
“With this fact in relation to slaves and slavery, in her own history, can it be a matter of surprise to any one that the people at home, and their representatives in the Federal Government, should feel bound, by every consideration of justice and humanity, to oppose the least extension of an institution which they believe to be morally and politically wrong, and to exert every power consistent with their constitutional obligations to the Union to hasten the time when every human being in this Republic shall enjoy 'the inalienable right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ?' "
This was rank abolition. It does not seem to follow necessarily from the supposed fact, that the highest court of Massachusetts had held slavery abolished in that State by the Declaration of Independence, that it became, therefore, the bounden duty of its people to exert themselves for its abolition in other States; the highest courts of which had not so decided, and in which the Constitution of the United States had left the institution standing. The abolitionists proper had by this time seen that the Constitution presented an insuperable obstacle to emancipation; and they characterized that instrument, therefore, as "a covenant with deathan agreement with hell.” The Governor held that
every exertion should be made, consistent with constitutional obligations, to hasten the time of universal emancipation; when, in fact, no exertion whatever could be made to that end, in the Unitel States, which would not necessarily be in direct derogation of constitutional obligations.
The effect of the Governor's recommendations appeared speedily in the passage of the resolutions referred to, which were approved January 16th, 1844, only six days after the
DISTURBING THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE GOVERNMENT.
delivery of the inaugural address, and forming the earliest of the series of resolutions adopted at that session of the General Court. Equal alacrity was shown in the speed with which the resolves were forwarded to Washington. Mr. Bates, of Massachusetts, presented them in the Senate, January 23d, 1844, and it appeared that they instructed the Senators au requested the Representatives of the State to seek for such an amendment of the Constitution as would allow only free persons to be represented; or, in other words, to annul the constitutional provision for the representation of a quota of the slave population. The legislature had not yet reached the point of asking that negroes in slavery might vote; but they sought to weaken the political influence of the slave States by depriving them of a part of their representation based on two-fifths of their slave population, for which they were liable to taxation, as for property, by the provision of the Constitution.
Mr. King, of Alabama, who had previously acted as President of the Senate, during three several Congresses, but was now upon the floor, and who had shown more than ordinary moderation when questions of this sort had come up in that branch of Congress, expressed his regret that a proposition should thus come from Massachusetts to dissolve the Union. Remarks were also made by other members; and Mr. Bates replied, that he felt it his duty to present the resolutions, but he wished to avoid, instead of beginning discussion on this subject, and moved that they be laid on the table and be printed. The Senate agreed to the first part of his motion, but refused to print, by a vote of 14 yeas to 26 nays.
On the same day, Mr. J. Q. Adams proposed the same resolutions in the House of Representatives, and asked a sus
ension of the rules for leave to present them; but after a brief debate, leave was refused, by a vote of 50 yeas to 105 nays. On February 5th, several members from New York brought forward petitions, praying for the amendment of the Constitution, already suggested, and for the abolition of slavery in the Southern States, which were not received.