« PreviousContinue »
into the practical acknowledgment of their claims. There is no doubt that it was the policy of the shrewdest of the slaverypropagandists so to manage their party as to secure the election of a republican president. Overpowered in the nation, and hopeless of the future, they looked only for a plausible pretext for precipitating the execution of their scheme; and this could only be found in the election of a president professedly a foe to the extension of slavery.
"The Knights of the Golden Circle" were a band of secret conspirators organized in the interest of treason. The popular political leaders rose to the highest degrees in this order, and knew the whole plot, while the masses, many of whom had no real sympathy with secession, were kept in the dark, ready to be forced into measures that were in cunning and careful preparation. The Christian church of the whole South was the willing slave of this cabal. Preachers proclaimed the divine right of slavery and the doctrines of sedition from the pulpit. The press was an obedient instrument in their hands. There were traitors and plotters in the national government, industriously preparing the way for secession, and sapping the power of the government to prevent it. Mr. Cobb was squandering the national finances. Mr. Floyd, the secretary of war, was filling all the southern arsenals with arms at the expense of the government, and sending loyal officers to distant posts; and, although a northern man was at the head of the navy department, it was subsequently found, when ships were wanted, that they were very far from where they were wanted. These southern men, thus plotting, only waited for a pretext for springing their plot upon the people, and of course were not reluctant to make a pretext when opportunity offered.
This was the condition of affairs in the spring of 1860, a year which was to see a new president elected. Everybody felt that a severe political storm was ahead, though comparatively few, either at the North or the South, knew what its character would be. The South blindly followed its leaders, without perfectly knowing whither it was to be led. The North had become accustomed to threats of dissolution of the
Union, and did not believe that those then rife would be better fulfilled than those which had preceded them. No one at the North, unless it may have been a few sympathetic politicians, had any faith in the earnestness of the pro-slavery schemers. The disruption of the government was regarded as an impossibility; and the Union-loving Yankee would not believe that there were any who would push their professed enmity to any practical exhibition.
Mr. Lincoln had scarcely returned to his home before the Democratic National Convention assembled at Charleston. This convention occurred on the twenty-third of April, and collected to itself all the plotters against the Union. That they met the northern members of the democratic party with any expectation to unite with them in a platform and the selection of a candidate, is not probable. Mr. Douglas, with his popular sovereignty, and Dred Scott decision, and "don't care" policy, offered them the only ground of Union. All saw this, and all were for or against Douglas. Douglas was the pivot of the convention. Everything turned on him. The northern men felt that nothing less than Douglas, who had fought the Lecompton fraud and the administration, and had been compelled to some concessions to freedom in order to win his seat in the senate, would do for them, while the South was determined to take no man who was not fairly and squarely a proslavery man, with a clean record, and to subscribe to no platform that did not accord to them fully the rights they claimed. The South would have only a "sound man," and would fight this time only "on principle." If it could not have honest victory, it wanted defeat. No "unfriendly legislation" should exclude slavery from the territories. They must have their property protected. Mr. Yancey was present as the leader of the "fire-eaters," and could probably have foretold the explosion of the convention. There is no doubt that he intended nothing else than this, and the convention did explode, and the old democratic party that had proved invincible on so many battle-fields was rent in twain. The southern members, by a large majority, withdrew and formed
a "Constitutional Convention." The regular convention remained in session, and after fifty-seven unsuccessful ballotings, in which Mr. Douglas came near a nomination, they gave it up, and adjourned to meet in Baltimore on the eighteenth day of June, or two days after the appointed date of the Republican Convention at Chicago. The Constitutional Convention transacted no important business, and made no nomination, but adjourned to meet in Richmond on the second Monday in June.
The Charleston people were delighted with the results of the quarrel. The ladies, only a dozen of whom had been in attendance upon the regular convention, turned out and filled the hall of the seceders. All the smiles of all the beauty of Charleston were bestowed upon Mr. Yancey and his followers. They undoubtedly regarded this disruption of the party as insuring the pretext for disunion for which they so ardently wished.
The democratic host, as they retired in broken columns from Charleston, were jostled on the road by the members of another convention, on their way to Baltimore-the "National Constitutional Union Convention"-made up largely of old whigs who still dreamed that the party of their early love was in existence-that it was not dead, but sleeping. They met on the ninth of May-delegates from ten free states and eleven slave states. There is this to be said of this body of men-that they were in the main really anxious to save the Union, and that they had a juster appreciation of the dangers of the Union than the republicans, who were fond of ridiculing their fears. They passed a "conservative" resolution, declaring that they had no principles except "The Constitution of the country, the Union of the states, and the enforcement of the laws." The convention nominated John Bell of Tennessee for president, and Edward Everett of Massachusetts for vice-president, the former of whom, when secession came, went over to the disunionists, and the latter of whom devoted all his great influence and powers to the maintenance of the government, becoming at last a member of the. republican party and the recipient of its honors.
Before entering upon an account of the Chicago Convention, it will be best to state, in brief, the result of the democratic split at Charleston. The Richmond Convention met and adjourned to await the doings of the Baltimore Convention, the members generally going to Baltimore. There they joined in an independent convention, making all the mischief possible, and nominating for president John C. Breckinridge, then vice-president of the United States, and since a Major General in the rebel army. The regular convention nominated Mr. Douglas, though he had begged them to sacrifice him rather than the party. The party, however, was already sacrificed; and he had had no small hand in the slaughter. The antagonism between the southern and northern sections of the democracy was irreconcilable. It was impossible for the two to agree upon a platform or a man who would carry either section of the country. Mr. Lincoln had his joke and his "little story" over the disruption of the democracy. He once knew, he said, a sound churchman of the name of Brown, who was the member of a very sober and pious committee having in charge the erection of a bridge over a dangerous and rapid river. Several architects failed, and at last Brown said he had a friend named Jones who had built several bridges, and could undoubtedly build that one. So Mr. Jones was called in. "Can you build this bridge?" inquired the committee. "Yes," replied Jones, "or any other. I could build a bridge to h-l if necessary." The committee were shocked, and Brown felt called upon to defend his friend. "I know Jones so well," said he, "and he is so honest a man, and so good an architect, that if he states soberly and positively that he can build a bridge to-to-the infernal regions, why, I believe it; but I feel bound to say that I have my doubts about the abutment on the other side." "So," said Mr. Lincoln, "when politicians told me that the northern and southern wings of the democracy could be harmonized, why, I believed them, of course, but I always had my doubts about the abutment on the other side.'
Though the result of the Baltimore Convention was un
known at Chicago, it was foreseen, and it was believed that victory would come to the republican party with any respectable nominee. When the friends of Douglas left Baltimore, they left it with none but bitter feelings for those who had destroyed their party, and brought certain defeat to the man to whom they were strongly devoted. They felt that Mr. Douglas had deserved better treatment at the hands of the South than he had received, and saw, in the disruption of their party, the defeat of all their hopes.
The Republican Convention at Chicago assembled on the sixteenth of June. There was an immense crowd in attendance, casting into the shade entirely the assemblages at Charleston and Baltimore. Every hotel was crammed from basement to attic, even in that city of multitudinous and capacious hotels. It was calculated that fifteen hundred persons slept in the Tremont House alone. A huge building was erected for the sessions of the convention, which was called "The Wigwam;" and even this could not contain more than a fraction of the twenty-five thousand strangers who had assembled in the city, as delegates and interested observers.
Edward Bates, Judge McLean, Benjamin F. Wade, N. P. Banks, Abraham Lincoln, Simon Cameron, and William H. Seward, all had their partisans among outsiders and insiders; but it became evident very early that the contest was really between Mr. Seward and Mr. Lincoln. The chiefs of the party were all present, excepting, perhaps, those who imagined that they might possibly be made the recipients of the convention's favors.
Hon. George Ashmun of Massachusetts was elected to preside over the deliberations of the occasion. Canvassing, talking, prophesying, betting, declaiming, were actively in progress everywhere. On the morning of the seventeenth, Mr. Seward's friends made a demonstration in his favor, in the form of a procession, following a band of music and wearing badges. As they passed the Tremont House, they were greeted with tremendous cheers, the band playing "O, is n't he a darling?" Antagonisms were developed in every