Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER VII.

State of Public Sentiment at the Close of the Year 1849.-California and New Mexico.-Mr.

Webster's Speech of March 7th, 1850.- Trimming Politicians.-Sentimental Politicians, - The Church as a Political Engine.—M. Clay's Compromise Resolutions.—Petition for Dissolution of the Union.-Mr. Hale, Mr. Seward, and Mr. Chase vote to receive it.Washington's Farewell Address.-Mr. Calhoun's Resolutions.-Action of Southern Members of Congress.-Mr. Webster.—

The Compromise Measures of 1850.-State Sovereignty.—The Fugitive Slave Laws of 1793 and of 1850.—The Missouri Compromise abrogated by the Measures of 1850.

At the beginning of the session of Congress, in December, 1849, both the North and the South had become wrought up to the highest pitch of excitement upon the slavery question. In the one section, the embers of the fires which had been kindled by the admission of Texas still remained a body of living coals. Other questions now arising, in regard to California and New Mexico, heaped upon them the fuel for another and a more fervent flame. Warmly as the North entered upon the discussion of this topic, the South, perhaps, even exceeded it in earnestness; for it was regarded in the latter quarter as a test point, which was to settle definitely the equality of their rights in the Union and, as they alleged, their future relation to the republic.

In fact, the Northern mind had become morbidly active on the subject. Various and powerful influences had been for some years at work to produce this effect; if not in express combination with each other, yet tending to the same general end, and conveying the impression of a united effort, in the free States, against even the constitutional guarantees of the slave States, which was very far from being the case.

1 “I left the Department of State in May, 1843, and shortly after I learned,

MR. WEBSTER UPON CERTAIN SENATORS.

179

The manœuvres of certain leading politicians in the free States had a very great effect in producing this impression. In his great speech of March 7th, 1850, Mr. Webster pointedly alluded to this circumstance. He instanced, in particular, Mr. Dix, of New York, and Mr. Niles, of Connecticut, who, as members of the Senate, had been among the most strenuous and influential in insisting upon the extremest terms for the admission of Texas, and who had opposed and voted against a resolution introduced by Mr. Berrien, of Georgia, during the war with Mexico, which declared, that the war was not prosecuted for the acquisition of territory, or for the dismemberment of that power. Mr. Webster's further remarks upon this special point are too full of instruction, and too pointedly confirm the views already expressed in these pages, not to demand their citation. He proceeded to say:

These two gentlemen, worthy and honorable and influential men—and if they had not been they could not have carried the measure—these two gentlemen, members of this body, brought in Texas, and by their votes also prevented the passage of the resolution of the honorable member from Georgia, and then they went home and took the lead in the Freesoil party. And there they stand, sir! They leave us here, bound in honor and conscience by the

though no way connected with official information, that a design had been taken up of bringing in Texas, with her slave territory and population, into the United States. I was here in Washington at the time; and the persons are now here who will remember, that we had arranged a meeting for conversation upon it. I went home to Massachusetts, and proclaimed the existence of that purpose; but I could get no audience, and but little attention. Some did not believe it, and some were engaged in their own pursuits. They had gone to their farms, or to their merchandise, and it was impossible to rouse any sentiment in New England, or in Massachusetts, that should combine the two great political parties against this annexation; and, indeed, there was no hope of bringing the Northern Democracy into that view, for the leaming was all the other way. But, sir, even with Whigs—and leading Whigs, I am ashamed to say—there was a great indifference toward the admission of Texas, with slave territory, into this Union. It went on.” — Webster's speech in the Senate, March 7th, 1850.

But they were right. It was not indifference to human freedom which influenced them, but indisposition to engage in propagandism against the South, upon peace with which they felt the safety of the Union depended.

as

resolutions of annexation; they leave us here to take the odium of fulfill. ing the obligations in favor of slavery, which they voted us into; or else the greater odium of violating those obligations, while they are at home making capital and rousing speeches for free soil and no slavery. [Laughter.] And therefore I say, sir, that there is not a chapter in our history, reflecting public measures and public men, more full of what should create surprise, more full of what does create in my mind extreme mortification, than that of the conduct of this Northern Democracy."

Subsequent events, however, showed clearly enough the course, the influence, and the result of these proceedings. The democratic masses, in general, stood firm to the last, though only too many of their leaders, known at a later date

“War Democrats,” were acting this double and mischievous part. On the other hand, most of the Whig leaderssome of them, doubtless, the gentlemen alluded to by Mr. Webster in the speech already cited-manifested their constancy to principle, at such sacrifices and hazards as sternly test men's characters; while the masses of the party exhibited the turn of their sentiments by voting for Fremont in 1856, and more numerously for Lincoln in 1860.

But in addition to political influences, thus able to divert men from steadfast adherence to those essential principles which had proved the source of the country's peace and prosperity, there had been other effective causes of antislavery agitation, which could not fail to attract the attention and engage the coöperation of a class of politicians strikingly vindicating their title to be reckoned" waiters on Providence.” It was sometimes made a matter of boast by the Republican party, when it had reached such a height of power, that an argument with it, on this point, might be judged as inexpedient, as the Roman officer thought one would be with the master of thirty legions—that all the literature of the country, and all persons in it of any literary distinction, were on the antislavery side. This allegation was by no means literally true, though susceptible of confirmation to a very great extent. But, after all, it does not prove very much in favor of the cause. It

may

be presumed that almost all the literary leanings of Florence were on the

LITERATURE AND THE NEGRO.

181

side of power and patronage, in 1302, when Dante was banished—the advocate of the people and the foe of tyranny; and now, after the lapse of six centuries of illustrious fame, the delegates of every refined capital in Europe have assembled in his native city to raise a monument to the memory of him, whose persecutors are best known by the record he has made of them in his own immortal verse. But, however permanent in its character most American literature may prove, it is certain that the portion of it devoted to the dis. semination of antislavery sentiments could enjoy only a very temporary vitality. This consequence must result partly from the nature of the subject, and partly from the fact that the treatment bestowed upon it was not often in correspondence with either truth or good taste.

At the period under consideration, the negro had become a very general theme for magazine writers, contributors to the daily press, and lecturers on various occasions. Directly or indirectly, he was a prominent and staple topic of verse and prose. It was so easy to fall in with the sentimental view of the subject, so difficult to summon up the dictates of reason, so troublesome to feel one's impulsive liberty of thought and feeling checked by constitutional scruples or obligations, that multitudes, of both sexes, gave way to the infatuation of the hour. The rights and wrongs of the negro did not, of themselves, afford a very wide field of discussion or illustration, and the source of inspiration was not of absolutely Castalian depth and clearness. The range of speculation was widened, therefore, by introducing disquisitions upon Southern society, in a variety of aspects, either actual or imaginary.

This society, except in its relations to slavery, differed in no very essential degree from that of the North, either in intellectual or moral characteristics. Making due allowance for the effect of climate upon temperament, a lady or gentleman from the extreme South, though they might exhibit a somewhat more ardent disposition, resembled very much those of the same order in the extreme North. There was a certain diversity of thought and of manner; but, between the two extremes, there was ample room for every shade of difference, resulting from physical or mental organization, to melt into and blend with each other. The distinction was in no respect so marked as that between Scotchmen and Englishmen, or between Irishmen and Englishmen. In both parts of the country, there were the rich, those striving for riches in the several pursuits of business, the laboring classes,

and the poor.

The picture drawn of the people of the South by the antislavery agitators represented them as consisting only of the

oligarchs,” or “lords of the lash,” the slaves, and the “mean whites.” It may be safely asserted that very few of those who thus drew upon their imaginations for their descriptions and illustrations had ever stepped an inch over Mason and Dixon's line. Mr. Garrison had scarcely enjoyed a brief, and probably not very extensive, opportunity of observation in a border State. Probably, Mr. Sumner, Mr. Wilson, Mr. Phillips, and most or all of the more conspicuous haranguers on topics connected with slavery, had never seen a plantation, or possessed any advantages of social intercourse with the people of the South. When they discoursed upon this subject they dilated upon what might have been, in other nations and other times, as if it were applicable to our own citizens and our own day. Some of them ransacked all history for instances of“ man's inhumanity to man; undertook to deduce from the fact of the existence of slavery in the United States modern parallels for every example of ancient barbarity. To audiences certainly no better informed than themselves, they related “such stuff as dreams are made of,” and inflicted upon them nightmares of troubled vision, which disturbed their nervous systems and haunted their waking hours. The sentiments which they sought to inculcate spread themselves through many of the ramifications of social life, and often embittered the gentlest bosoms, and alienated many accustomed friends.

Under the more skilful guidance of the antislavery poli

" and

« PreviousContinue »