« PreviousContinue »
of Whigs at Baltimore in September — Judge Edward Bates, of Missouri, presiding.
It has been reasonably affirmed that Lincoln would have been nominated for Governor had he not in advance declined. Without the support of the Americans, the Republican candidate could have no chance of success, and this co-operation was effected on the Governorship by the nomination of Colonel William H. Bissell, a former member of Congress, who had served in the Mexican War. Lincoln, again on the electoral ticket, took a leading part in the national canvass in Illinois. Bissell was elected, showing a majority against Douglas and the Administration, but, with the opposition votes divided between Fremont and Fillmore, the electoral vote of the State was given to Buchanan.
In all the slave States except Maryland (which voted for Fillmore) Democratic electors were chosen, and also in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Indiana, Illinois, and California. All the other States voted for Fremont and Dayton. The electoral vote stood: For Buchanan, 174; Fremont, 114; Fillmore, 8. The popular vote was more equally divided, Buchanan receiving 1,838,169; Fremont, 1,341,264; Fillmore, 874,534. In New Jersey and California, as well as in Illinois, the Democrats had only a plurality of votes. Had the opposition been fully united in these States, there would have been twentytwo electoral votes less in the Buchanan column, which could have spared but three more without leaving the firal election to the House of Representatives.
James Buchanan, last Democratic President of the old regime, was not a leader. Solid, not brilliant, hy persistence and constancy in the course marked out by his party, he attained late in life its highest reward. Absence as Minister to England during the inception of the Nebraska-Kansas strife was an opportune aid to this benign result. More of absence or less of leadership at this juncture might possibly have left Douglas a prospect bright in comparison with that of his aged competitor. It was not a luxurious heritage of power to which President Buchanan succeeded. Civil war on a limited scale was prevailing in Kansas. During the late canvass he had made fair professions, no doubt heartily enough intending what he said when he promised, if elected, to maintain an equal and just policy in regard to Kansas. His party, with the help of these assurances, had barely succeeded in carrying Pennsylvania and Indiana in October - sufficient, with a nearly unanimous South, to insure his election in November. The necessity of conciliating support in the North, however, had taken him farther than the party management would allow in practice. Four of his Cabinet officers were of the South: Howell Cobb, of Georgia, Secretary of the Treasury; John B. Floyd, of Virginia, Secretary of War; Jacob Thompson, of Mississippi, Secretary of the Interior, and Aaron V. Brown, of Tennessee, Postmaster-General — all, if we except the last. who died before the close of the term, Secessionists at heart, if not already so in purpose. The three remaining places were respectively given to Lewis Cass, of Michigan, Secretary of State; Isaac Toucey, of Connecticut, Secretary of the Navy, and Jeremiah S. Black, of Pennsylvania, Attorney-General.
The second Governor of Kansas, Mr. Shannon, sent by President Pierce, had been recalled by him in a few months, and replaced by John W. Geary. President Buchanan put a distinguished man in Geary's place — Robert J. Walker, former Secretary of the Treasury, long identified with the South as a Mississippian, though born in Pennsylvania. Under his auspices a convention met at Lecompton and framed a State Constitution. The people were asked to vote in December, 1857) for the Constitution “with slavery” or without slavery,” but not allowed to reject it altogether. The Free State men, now largely in the majority, refused to participate in such a vote.
Directly after Mr. Buchanan's inauguration, the Dred Scott decision - determined the year before, and opinions written out — was announced by the Supreme Court of the United States, Chief Justice Taney speaking for a majority of the court. By a suggestive coincidence of dates, this case had come before the highest court in the same month (May, 1854) that the KansasNebraska Act was approved by President Pierce. Dred Scott, the slave of an army surgeon in Missouri, had been taken by his master to other military posts Rock Island, in Iowa, and Fort Snelling, in Minnesota — and afterward returned with him to Missouri. He claimed his freedom, on the ground that his having been taken to free territory emancipated him. The case was dismissed for want of jurisdiction - because the suitor was not a “citizen.” Judge Taney in his opinion gave new fuel to the flame by his construction of the Constitution on other questions, and especially by denying to Congress any power to exclude slavery from the territories.
There was also a little rebellion farther west than Kansas to add to the troubles of the veteran President. Polygamous Utah resisted the judicial authorities placed over its people by the Federal Government, and a military force was presently sent to suppress the insurrection.
On the stump in the summer of 1857 Douglas took upon his shoulders the new burden of the Dred Scott decision - a theme which excited the zeal of Lincoln scarcely less than the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. In his first important speech after Buchanan's inauguration, Lincoln said in opening (at Springfield, June 26, 1857):
Two weeks ago Judge Douglas spoke here, on the several subjects of Kansas, the Dred Scott decision, and Utah. I listened to the speech at the time, and have read the report of it since. It was intended to controvert opinions which I think just, and to assail (politically, not personally) those men who, in common with me, entertain those opinions. For this reason I wished then, and still wish to make some answer to it, which I now take the opportunity of doing.
I begin with Utah. If it prove to be true, as is probable, that the people of Utah are in open rebellion against the United States, then Judge Douglas is in favor of repealing their territorial organization, and attaching them to the adjoining States for judicial purposes. I say, too, if they are in rebellion, they ought to be somehow coerced to obedience, and I am not now prepared to admit or deny that the Judge's mode of coercing them is not as good as any. The Republicans can fall in with it, without taking back anything they have ever said. To be sure, it would be a considerable backing down by Judge Douglas from his muchvaunted doctrine of self-government for the Territories; but this is only additional proof of what was very plain from the beginning, that the doctrine was a mere deceitful pretense for the benefit of slavery.* The substance of the Judge's speech on Kansas is an effort to put the Free State men in the wrong for not voting at the election of delegates to the Constitutional Convention. ... I readily agree that if all had a chance to vote, they ought to have voted. If, on the contrary, as they allege, and Judge Douglas ventures not particularly to contradict, few only of the Free-State men had a chance to vote, they were perfectly. right in staying away from the polls in a body.
Of the Dred Scott decision he said:
That decision declares two propositions — first, that a negro can not sue in the United States Courts; and secondly, that Congress can not prohibit slavery in the Territories. It was made by a divided court, dividing differently on the different points. ... Judicial decisions have two uses first, to absolutely determine the case decided; and secondly, to indicate to the public how other similar cases will be decided when they arise. For the latter use they are called "precedents " and "authorities.” Judicial decisions are of greater or less authority as precedents, according to circumstances. That this should be so accords both with common sense, and the customary understanding of the legal profession. If this important decision had been made by the unanimous concurrence of the judges, and without any apparent partisan bias, and in accordance with legal public expectation, and with the steady practice of the departments, throughout our history, and had been in no part based upon assumed historical facts which are not really true; or, if wanting in some of these, it had been before the Court more than once, and had there been affirmed and reaffirmed through a course of years, it then might be, perhaps would be, factious, nay, even revolutionary, not to acquiesce in it as a precedent.
But when, as is true, we find it wanting in all these claims to the public confidence, it is not resistance, it is not factious,
*One of the sharpest arrows of the Philadelphia platform had been feathered with the exasperating phrase, "twin relics of barbarism-polygamy and slavery.”