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THE LIFE OF
WILLIAM HENRY SEWARD
THE WINTER OF 1860-61: SEWARD PRESERVES THE NATIONAL STATUS
THE election of Lincoln caused almost as great an outburst of joy in Charleston and New Orleans as it did in Boston and New York. The Republicans had gained the power to prevent the extension of slavery, but they were not more confident of realizing their longcherished aim than the leaders of the cotton states were of founding a new confederacy in the near future.
Party interests had made it necessary for the Republicans to belittle the threats of secession, and they had succeeded so well that they fully deceived even themselves. Seward's past and present opinions illustrated this fact. When the jubilant citizens of Auburn crowded about him to hear his comments on the election he bade them dismiss all thoughts of the future until some new election should call them to renew their efforts in payment of the price of enduring liberty. The duty of the hour was to show magnanimity and moderation in triumph. Then came the idea, borrowed from Jefferson: "The parties engaged in an election are not, never can be, never must be, enemies, or even adversaries. We are
all fellow-citizens, Americans, brethren." An appeal would lie from the people this year by making new arguments to the people next year. This had been the custom of the Republicans in the past. If, contrary to that custom, others should attempt to take a more hurried appeal by marshalling armies and pulling down the pillars of the republic, "let us not doubt," he said, “ that if we commend our way by our patience, our gentleness, our affection toward them, they, too, will, before they shall have gone too far, find out that our way, the old way, their old way as well as our old way, is not only the shortest but the best."1
But the rumors of the secession movements called him to Washington before the end of November. There he found that the ultra-southern men were bent on disunion, not on account of grievances, as he wrote, "but from cherished disloyalty and ambition," and that the Republicans were "ignorant of the real design or danger." For himself, he said: "I begin to see my way through, without sacrifice of principle. But I talk very little, and nothing in detail." When he found that there was no harmony of opinion among the Republicans, he urged them to adopt a friendly and fraternal silence-not the sullen one of the previous year."
As yet the public had only the vaguest suspicions as to how Seward intended to deal with the serious problem, and these suspicions were derived from rumors and from some of Weed's articles in the Evening Journal. Shortly after the election Weed declared that he would favor the extension of the Missouri - compromise line to California, and also an alteration of the fugitive-slave law so as to make the counties in which slaves should be rescued liable for their value. He felt confident
14 Seward's Works, 115, 116.
* 2 Seward, 479.
2 2 Seward, 478.
that there was imminent danger of disunion; that this could be averted only by drawing out, strengthening, and combining the Union sentiment of the whole country, and that the Republicans could afford to be tolerant of southern misunderstandings of Republican principles and aims. Hence he favored a constitutional convention for hearing and correcting the grievances of each section."
In his annual message of 1860 Buchanan maintained both that a state had no constitutional right to secede and that the Federal government had no constitutional power to prevent secession. He overlooked the fact that there was not only a constitutional right but a duty to forestall an attack upon the property of the nation and to forearm against resistance to the collection of the revenue. Had he been mindful of this, and acted accordingly, it seems likely that he could have prevented secession from attaing any substantial existence. Seward wittily characterized Buchanan's reasoning by saying: "It shows conclusively that it is the duty of the President to execute the laws-unless somebody opposes him; and that no state has a right to go out of the Union-unless it wants to.""
Immediately after the message had been read an angry discussion about secession and slavery broke forth in both chambers. The leaders of the cotton states, with "knit brows and portentous scowls," pointed angry speeches at their victorious opponents; they enumerated violations of the Constitution by the Republicans, and gave notice that withdrawal from the Union would be their means of redress. Hale replied that he could show aggressions on the part of the South that would infinitely outweigh and outnumber all that could be counted against the North; that if the alternative were
'For the article of November 30, 1860, see 1 Greeley's American Conflict, 360. 22 Seward, 480.
the acceptance of secession or the waging of war against a revolt to escape the results of a constitutional election, his choice would be for the latter.' Then Iverson, of Georgia, exclaimed: "We will meet . . . all the myrmidons of abolitionism and black Republicanism everywhere, upon our soil; and . . . we will welcome you with bloody hands to hospitable graves.""" Unfortunately the advocates of resistance against secession were destined to be in a helpless minority for three months, while the secessionists had the advantage of that time in which to develop and execute their plans. So the southern extremists devoted themselves to arousing sentiment in favor of a slave-holding confederacy. On the other hand, most of the radical Republicans insisted that, as their party had not violated the Constitution, they must yield neither to the demands for compromise nor to secession, but that all the states must remain in the Union and await the effect of the changing opinion of the North.
Although each house soon appointed a special committee to consider the best means to allay the excitement, the breach widened and the strength of disunion increased. Many of the Garrisonian abolitionists rejoiced in the prospect of realizing their dogma, "No union with slave-holders.""
With vastly more injurious effect, the New York Tribune, the most influential of the Republican newspapers, had proclaimed, in November, that if several states should decide to secede, they should be allowed to depart in peace, in deference to the sacred right of revolution.* Nearly all of the Bell-Everett party, and most of the
1 Globe, 1860-61, 9, 10.
2 Ibid., 12.
3 "Sacrifice anything to keep the slave-holding states in the Union? God forbid! We will rather build a bridge of gold and pay their toll over it," exclaimed Wendell Phillips in January, 1861.-1 Speeches, 354. 4 1 Greeley's American Conflict, 359.