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Taylor, but an agreeable anticipation in his expected nomination and election. It shows, also, the far-reaching sagacity of the "old man eloquent" in predicting a result so soon to be ratified by the popular will:
Letter from Hon. T. L. Clingman, of North Carolina.
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, July 31, 1848.
SIR: Your note has just been received, in which you state that you have learned from the Hon. Messrs. King and Hudson that I remembered a conversation with Mr. Adams on the subject of General Taylor's election as President, and express a desire that I would detail the substance of what he said as nearly as I can remember it.
The conversation to which I presume they referred occurred under the following circumstances: It so happened that Mr. Adams and myself were among the first members to arrive at this city, previous to the assembling of the present Congress. A few days before the commencement of the session he paid me a visit at my lodgings. As the day was cloudy and cold, while I assisted him in from his carriage, I could not forbear expressing my surprise at seeing him from home in such weather. He replied, that when the weather was bad, he always rode in his carriage; but that at other times he walked a good deal. His advanced age and apparent frailty made me deeply sensible that, by his visit, he was paying me a compliment that he would soon be unable to offer to any one.
He must have remained with me nearly an hour, and, notwithstanding his extreme debility, he expressed his views with a clearness and force that surprised me. It having been reported just previously that he had declared it his purpose to support the Administration in the conquest and acquisition of the whole of Mexico, I was the more desirous to hear his opinion on this and other topics connected with it; so, in the earlier parts of the conversation, I purposely avoided intimating any opinion which might in any manner tend to induce him to modify the expression of his views. I have no reason to doubt but that, in that conversation, frank and communicative as he was, he expressed his views fully and without reserve. Though it would be impossible for me to give from memory the whole of that conversation, yet I cannot be mistaken in relation to its general import and substance, while particular expressions are strongly impressed on my recollection.
Of the war and its authors he spoke in strong terms of condemnation. "They," he said, referring to the friends of the Administration, "expect me to speak on the war, but I am not a going to do it." This was said with peculiar emphasis. "If," he added, "I were to speak, I should have to discuss slavery, and that would do harm." He then went on to say that he was for peace, and that the proper way to obtain peace was to turn out of power the present Administration. He then spoke of the presidential election, and said that General Taylor would be the candidate of the Whigs. I suggested that some persons were waiting for a further expression of General Taylor's views. He instantly replied: "Oh, he is a Whig;" or "I have no doubt but that he is a Whig;" and, while speaking of the probable nomination, he said: "The South, I take it, will be for him, and part of the North," and he added that he had no doubt that he would be the nominee of the party. Though I do not recollect any particular expression of preference to General Taylor over the other Whigs spoken of as probable candidates, yet I cannot be mistaken in saying that he had a settled conviction that he would be the candidate of the party, and that he expressed a strong desire for its success.
In fact he seemed to be as strongly identified in his feelings and views with the Whig party, and as anxious for its triumph, as he used to be in 1844, when Mr. Clay was the candidate. I was even surprised to hear him express a determination to refrain from discussing the subject of slavery, in which he usually manifested so much interest, lest by speaking on it he should jeopard the success of the party. Subsequently, during the month of January, at his own house, he referred to the subject, and said: "I did not intend to speak upon it, but I owe you one for that speech the other day," alluding to my speech on the slave question. On my replying that I hoped he would leave that among his unpaid debts, he laughed and reiterated his determination not to speak upon the subject during the session.
In conclusion, allow me to say that I have not the slightest doubt but that, were he living at this day, he would be a cordial and earnest supporter of General Taylor's election.
Very respectfully, yours, &c.,
ERASTUS BROOKs, Esq.
T. L. CLINGMAN.
This shows that Mr. Adams was so strong a party man that, during that session, the last in which he served, he forebore to speak on the great slavery issue, lest he might jeopardize the success of his party. From frequent conversations with him at previous sessions, I was satisfied that there was not on the floor of the House a member more thoroughly hostile to the Democratic party than he was.
It may not be out of place for me here to refer to a circumstance, which occurred during the Spring of 1848, that ought to be stated as an act of justice to Mr. Calhoun. In common with many others, up to that time, I had believed that Mr. Calhoun's course had been influenced by a desire to dissolve the Union, but what then occurred satisfied me that I had done him injustice. As a means of settling the slavery agitation, what was known as the Clayton Compromise, was brought forward. It was not only fiercely assailed by the Northern Whigs, who desired no settlement, and who vehemently declared to the Southern members of the party, that if the measure should pass, it would secure the election of General Cass, but as it fell short of doing the South full justice, many Southern Whigs were disinclined to support it.
During its pendency in the Senate, General Waddy Thompson, an intimate personal friend, called one morning to see me. He said he wished to consult me about a matter of importance, and remarked, "I am just from Calhoun, with whom I have had a full conversation. He says, if you and Toombs and Stephens and Preston (of Virginia) and Cabell will unite with him and his friends, in an address to the people of the South, asking them to join, without distinction of party, in holding a convention, to insist on a proper recognition of their rights, he will, this morning, in the Senate, take ground against the Clayton Compromise, and defeat it, for he is satisfied that it does not do justice to the South; but, unless you are willing to do this, he is convinced that nothing better can be done at this time, and says this measure will, for the present, at least, settle the agitation, and, for a time, give peace to the country, and that we must trust to the future." Though this attempt was not made, and Mr. Calhoun assisted in passing the measure through the Senate, yet the proposition from him satisfied me that Mr. Calhoun was really a friend of the Union on the principles of the Constitution. To a man, desirous of disunion, agitation of course was desirable. The fact that he was willing to assist in passing a measure that fell short of doing justice to his section, because it would put an end to the agitation, and for a time, at
least, give quiet to be country, was, to my mind, decisive that he did not desire a dissolution of the nion. I subsequently referred to this matter on the floor of the Senate.
In view of the much more objectionable and disastrous scheme, adopted in 1850, it is much to be deplored that the Clayton Compromise was defeated in the House by the aid of several Southern Whigs, who were misled by the pressure brought to bear on them by their Northern party associates, who affirmed that if the measure passed, it would elect Cass and destroy the Whig party in the North. They, too, declared in the strongest language again and again, that if the Southern Whigs would only aid them in defeating this scheme, which they pronounced a mere democratic trick to enable them to carry their candidate, they would, immediately after the election, aid us in passing a liberal and just measure. These promises were made repeatedly in my hearing, but I had seen by this time too much of their insincerity on this question to put any reliance on their assurances.
[The controversy in relation to the Mexican territory had been kept up throughout the years 1848 and 1849. The position of General Taylor in the canvass had enabled the Northern whigs to obtain a great preponderance in the election of members of Congress, aided as they had been most materially by the candidacy of Mr. Van Buren as the representative of the free soil party. This result had been produced in so quiet a manner that the people of the South of both parties had remained, to a great extent, in profound ignorance of the situation.
In the autumn of 1849 I was traveling in the interior of some of the Northern States, and for the first time realized the extent of the anti-slavery movement. On my return to Washington, I found my Senatorial colleague, Mr. Mangum, there. I stated to him that as far as I could ascertain the entire Whig delegation from the North were understood to be pledged to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, and the application of the Wilmot proviso to all the Mexican territory. Also, that not only would the Buffalo platform or Van Buren Democrats act with them, but that the supporters of General Cass, disappointed as they had been, were disinclined to make a longer struggle, and were not unwilling that the Wilmot proviso, &c., should be passed and presented to General Taylor for his signature. Mr. Mangum seemed very much surprised on hearing my statement and said: "Foote," (meaning Senator Foote, of Mississippi,) "was here the other day and made a similar statement, but I supposed he must be excited without sufficient cause, and must have greatly exaggerated the condition of affairs at the North;" and suggested to me that I had better see Senator Foote.
On meeting him a few days later on the street, Mr. Foote said he was fully assured that the free soil Democrats and the Whigs of the North would, immediately after the assembling of Congress, pass the Wilmot proviso. That Cass' friends, some of them from vexation and others because they regarded further resistance to the anti-slavery current as hopeless, would make no serious struggle against the passage of the measure. He said that he felt satisfied that the Virginia Senators, Messrs. Mason and Hunter, would at once retire, and go to Richmond and report to the Legislature, which would then be in session, and that as Virginia as well as the other Southern States had declared that the exclusion of the South from all the Mexican acquisition
would present a case for resistance, such action would then be taken as to dissolve the Union within six weeks after the meeting of Congress. I replied that if proper pains were taken to inform the people of the South of the danger, there would be such a manifestation of feeling and purpose that it would produce a reaction in the North, which would lead to a just settlement of the question involved, and give a permanent peace to the Union.
Senator Foote in a day or two addressed a letter to me, to which I replied in the following words:
Reply of Mr. Clingman to Mr. Foote.
CITY OF WASHINGTON, November 13, 1849.
DEAR SIR: Yours of the 10th instant has been received, in which you ask my own views, as well as my opinion, as to what will be the course of the South in either of the contingencies referred to. Your position as a Representative of one of the States, and the consideration due you personally merit alike a prompt reply.
Having on former occasions given my views in detail with reference to the whole subject, it is not necessary for me to do so at this time. I proceed, therefore, to give you simply the general results of my reflections.
The Federal Government, because it is the government of the United States, is the trustee and agent for all the States and their citizens. Every power, therefore, which it can rightfully exercise, it must of necessity exercise for the benefit of all the parties to it. The territory of the United States being the common property, the government is bound to administer it as far as practicable for the benefit of all the States as well as their citizens. A difference, however, exists among them in the institution of slavery. When the Constitution was formed twelve of the thirteen States were slaveholding. That instrument, though it has clauses expressly inserted for the protection of the rights and interest of slaveholders, contains no provision for the abolition of slavery anywhere. If the government, therefore, can properly exercise such a power in any instance, it must be because its duties as a general agent, acting so as to meet the interest and views of its principals, require it. But fifteen of the thirty States of the Union still maintain the institution of slavery. It is obvious, therefore, that the government could not, consistently with its powers as a general agent exclude the slaveholders as a class from all participation in the enjoyment of the territory of the United States. It is, on the contrary, under solemn obligations to respect the rights of all. It has always heretofore, as I understand its action, shown a sense of this obligation. When the much talked of ordinance was adopted, by which the territory north of the Ohio river was made free, all that portion of country south of the river to the Gulf of Mexico was left to be occupied by slaveholders. When slavery was abolished in the northern part of the Louisiana territory, the southern portion, regarded as the most suitable for slaveholders, was left to be so occupied. On the annexation of Texas, when a provision against slavery north of 36 degrees 30 minutes, was incorporated, much the larger and more valuable portion was left still for the use of slaveholders.
But it is now proposed to adopt the policy of excluding slaveholders, as such, from all the territory of the United States. This would be an entire revolution in the action of the government-a revolution which could not occur without a total violation of the spirit and essence of the Constitution. Since those citizens who do not own slaves are permitted to occupy every part of the territory of the Union, it has been doubted by many whether the government can rightfully exclude slaveholders from any portion of the
common property. But even if there should be a power to divide the public territory for convenience between the two classes, it is perfectly clear that there can be no right to exclude one class entirely. I have heretofore said that I should regard such an exclusion as being as great a violation of the Constitution as the government could possibly commit. But even if this action should be viewed simply as an enormous abuse of power, it would be not the less objectionable. The government has unlimited powers in relation to the establishment of post-offices throughout the Union. If, however, it were to withdraw all the post-offices from the slaveholding States on the ground that the citizens of those States were not worthy of the countenance and aid of the government, we should have as much reason to complain of such action as if it involved a clear infraction of the letter of the Constitution. In a word, if the government should adopt the policy of excluding slaveholders, as such, from all the territory of the United States, it would, in substance and effect, cease to be the government of the United States. While the form of the constitution might remain the same, its character would be essentially changed.
Ought the Southern States to acquiesce in this great organic change in our political system? Ought they to remain members of an association which had, in utter disregard of plain constitutional guarantees, degraded them from their position of equality? As history furnishes no record of any people who have prospered after they had forfeited their self-respect, by submitting to be degraded to a state of political vassalage, I hold it to be the duty of the Southern States to resist this change. That resistance, to be effectual, should be commensurate with the violence of the attack. This they owe to the cause of constitutional liberty, to justice, and their own honor.
With reference to the abolition of slavery, in the District of Columbia, I will simply say that, waiving all controversy in relation to constitutional right, and obligation to the adjoining States, if such an event were to occur at this time, it would not take place in obedience to the wishes of the citizens of the District, but would be brought about at the instance of the inhabitants of the States. But these persons have no right to control the local affairs of this District. Should Congress, therefore, thus act at their instigation, it would be guilty of an act of tyranny so insulting and so gross as to justify a withdrawal of confidence from such a government.
You ask, in the second place, what I believe likely to be the course of the South should such a contingency occur? There was but one of the States having any considerable number of slaves in relation to which I had any doubts. From her frontier position, and the powerful influences brought to bear on her, I had some fears as to what might be the action of Kentucky. But I have been gratified, beyond expression, by the gallant stand which that noble State has recently taken. She has thereby shown that she will not abandon her sisters in the hour of danger, but that she will, if necessary, take the front rank in the struggle for the preservation of the rights and liberties of the white race of the South. The union of both parties in Mississippi is a type of what will occur elsewhere. The Southern States ought to have but one feeling on this question, as they can have but one destiny. I have no doubt but that over the entire South there would be a vastly greater unanimity than existed in the old thirteen slave States, when they decided to resist British aggression. If a few individuals should attempt to take a different course, they would be swept away in the general current. Long before the struggle should come to the worst, the South would present an unbroken front.