« AnteriorContinuar »
fourth of their area, and composed of New York, New Chap. II. Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, and Delaware. They have at different times borne various names, more or less arbitrarily chosen, and only expressing, as it seems, the pretensions of each to be the true representatives of the founders of the commonwealth; the Democrats were once Republicans; the Republicans of to-day are successors of the Whigs, who had originally called themselves Federalists. But these parties, each carefully disciplined, and exercised, by the recurrence of elections of all kinds at very short intervals, in frequent trials of strength, have not in reality had much to fight about beyond the disposal of offices and emoluments; for the Constitution, working with a smoothness which does honour to the sagacity of its framers, has given rise in practice to few questions on which they could directly disagree. They have thrown their strength, therefore, into other questions, often local and temporary; and they have been themselves split and traversed irregularly by subdivisions, which perplex the observer by their number and apparent capriciousness. To these circumstances to a political activity which, healthy and bracing as it is, may be called excessive compared with the objects on which it spends itself and to the vastness of the field over which every great canvass must extend, the reproach of shiftiness, which Americans themselves are apt to level at their foremost politicians, is probably due. At every election to the President's chair many different interests have to be gained, and jarring opinions harmonized by judicious management; new "platforms," or confessions of faith, have to be constructed; and the "planking" of these fabrics-that is, the choice and arrangement of the party tenets to be insisted on-is often a pattern of ingenuity and skill.
The Democratic party, which soon came to have its chief seat in the Southern States, but had a large organization everywhere and was especially strong in
New York, has usually been the more powerful of the two. Its creed was the more popular; in the foreign politics of the Union it took the more forward part; and it has been the constant champion of annexations, which are always popular. It had sided on the whole steadily enough with the South, had opposed the claim advanced on behalf of Congress to prohibit slavery in the Territories, and been warmly hostile to Abolitionism, following in these respects the bias impressed on it by its cardinal tenet, but yielding also to its party attachments and its anxiety to secure the Southern vote for party ends.
As for the Whigs, they had undergone frequent and severe reverses. More than once they had been utterly disorganized. They had resisted the extension of slavery, but not with unwavering firmness, disliking it as a body, but caring above all things for the strength and stability of the Union. Their greatest orator, Daniel Webster, had late in life employed his splendid eloquence in advocating the Compromise of 1850, and had strenuously urged the duty of enforcing with alacrity the Fugitive Slave Law. Although the strength of the party lay in the North and West, it had many adherents in the South. Their aid had carried the election of Harrison and Tyler in 1840, and of General Taylor in 1848; and Harrison, a Virginian born though resident in the North, had, as Governor of the Indiana Territory, supported the petition of the earlier settlers to be allowed to import slaves into that region. Taylor, a Louisiana man and himself a slaveholder, had earned his popularity by driving the Mexicans out of Texas and winning a new dominion for slavery.
Long before 1860, the advance of the slavery question, its growing magnitude and trenchant edge, had begun to threaten the demolition of both the great parties. At the election of 1848, a considerable body of Whigs and Democrats deserted their respective flags and appeared in the field under the name of Free-soilers,
with candidates of their own. At Mr. Pierce's election Chap. II. in 1852, the Free-soil vote sunk from 291,342 to 155,825; most of the seceding Democrats had been induced to return to their standard, and among the managers of the Whig party the predominant feeling was anxiety for peace. But in 1856 a great change had come. It had been discovered that the Compromise measures of 1850, the maintenance of which had formed a "plank" in the Whig platform of 1852, were regarded by the Slave States as having cancelled the older Compromise of 1820. The struggle for Kansas and Nebraska had begun; and in the spring of the year an insulting speech, as it was thought, delivered by a prominent Free-soiler, Mr. Sumner, had been resented by a violent assault within the walls of the Senate. The Whig party broke and disappeared; a large fragment joined the Free-soilers and chose the title of Republicans; the remainder clung still to a middle course, endeavoured to put the question of slavery aside, and called themselves "Americans," to denote that they had no political creed beyond the duty of upholding the laws and Constitution of the Union. This insured the success of the Democrat, but it did not escape observation that the votes recorded for the Republican and American candidates exceeded in the aggregate those given to Buchanan. During his term of office, several circumstances contributed to quicken the movement of opinion. The judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of Dred Scott was delivered immediately after the accession of the new President. It ruled, first, that Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in the Territories; secondly, that no coloured person of slave descent was or ever could be an American citizen, or entitled to sue as such in the Courts of the United States. The Constitution seemed to require amendment, if this was indeed a true interpretation of the Constitution. The petty civil war waged in Kansas betweeen the Free-soil settlers and the pioneers of slavery from Missouri did
Chap. II. more, perhaps, than any other cause to chafe the tempers of both North and South, and render the breach irreconcilable. In October 1859, a daring enthusiast who had fought in Kansas, and who, had he lived three years longer, would probably have made himself famous by the union of austere piety with the skill and dash of a partizan leader, made a desperate attempt to free and arm the slaves in North Virginia, and actually succeeded in surprising, with a little handful of devoted adherents, the Federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry.
As Mr. Buchanan's term drew to a close, it became apparent that at the next election an issue never distinctly raised before would be presented to the country; that this issue would be sharp and clear; and that it could hardly fail to complete the ruin of the old party organization. When in April and May 1860 the party conventions met, according to custom, to construct their respective platforms and choose their candidates, these anticipations were realized. The Republicans and "Americans" raised their former flags, the latter discarding their title for a more expressive one, and calling themselves the party of "Constitutional Union." But the Democrats now broke, as the Whigs had previously done, into two sections, the more moderate of which, including all the delegates of Free States, except those from California and Oregon, was content to affirm these two principles :
"That the Democratic party will abide by the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States on the questions of Constitutional Law;
That it is the duty of the United States to afford ample and complete protection to all its citizens, whether at home or abroad, and whether native or foreign."1
1 "Minority Report" adopted by the Charleston Democratic Convention, Resolutions 2 and 3.
By the more advanced it was insisted-
"1st. That the Government of a Territory organized by an Act of Congress is provisional and temporary; and, during its existence, all citizens of the United States have an equal right to settle with their property in the Territory without their rights, either of person or property, being destroyed or impaired by congressional or territorial legislation.
2nd. That it is the duty of the Federal Government, in all its departments, to protect, when necessary, the rights of persons and property in the Territories, and wherever else its constitutional authority extends.
"3rd. That when the settlers in a Territory having an adequate population form a State Constitution, the right of sovereignty commences, and, being consummated by admission into the Union, they stand on an equal footing with the people of other States; and the State thus organized ought to be admitted into the Federal Union, whether its constitution prohibits or recognizes the institution of slavery." 1
Both joined in denouncing the "Personal Liberty Laws," and in recommending the acquisition of Cuba.
The range of disagreement between the extremes on both sides may be measured by comparing the resolutions last quoted with those adapted at Chicago by the Republican Convention on the same subject:
"7. That the new dogma that the Constitution, of its own force, carries slavery into any or all of the Territories of the United States, is a dangerous political heresy, at variance with the explicit provisions of that instrument itself, with contemporaneous exposition, and with legislative and judicial precedent; is revolutionary in its tendency, and subversive of the peace and harmony of the country.
"8. That the normal condition of all the territory of the United States is that of Freedom. That, as our Republican fathers, when they had abolished Slavery in all our national territory, ordained that 'no person should be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,' it becomes our duty, by legislation, whenever such legislation is necessary, to maintain this provision of the Constitution against all attempts to violate it; and we deny the authority of Congress, of a territorial legislature, or of any individuals, to give legal existence to slavery in any territory of the United States." 2
1 66 Majority Report" rejected by the Convention, Resolutions
1, 2, and 3.
2 Resolutions 7 and 8.