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Lane and Douglas.- In the spring of 1856, shortly before the National Democratic convention, there was an evident attempt made to chafe and provoke Mr. Douglas into an affair of honor. There were doubtless many anxious to thus embroil Illinois' great senator at that particular juncture of his public career. The occasion of this was the presentation to congress of the Topeka constitution, accompanied by a forged memorial, praying admission into the Union. The genuine memorial took the high, not
, to say revolutionary, ground, that congress had no power to establish governments for the territories, and that the Kansas Nebraska act was unconstitutional and void; that the people owed no allegiance to them, and that they asserted their inherent right to overthrow the territorial government without the consent and in defiance of the authority of congress. Gen. J. H. Lane had been chosen one of the senators, and naturally desiring to take his seat as such, perceived that this document would probably not tend to further his chances to that end. A forged copy, couched in more obedient phraseology, was therefore presented to congress. The trick was disclosed, however, and Mr. Douglas, as chairman of the committee on territories, denounced it in unmeasured terms, as was his right and duty, as a fraud and forgery, and it was rejected. The quidnuncs and Washington letter writers hostile to Mr. Douglas, immediately snuffed a battle from afar. Rumors became rife of an expected hostile meeting according to the code of honor, between the fierce border general and the great champion of popular sovereignty. A determination seemed to be evinced to intensify the affair in every way possible. The time and minutest details of the expected hostile event were carefully an. nounced. Mr. Douglas, however, was not deceived. He divined the purpose to be to give the matter notoriety, provoke the sending of a hostile message, get arrested, and come out of the affair with a name for bravery. When the message of Gen. Lane, there. fore, under date of April, 1856, finally came, asking "for such an explanation of your language as will remove all imputation upon the integrity of my action or motives in connection with that memorial,” Douglas answered, reiterating in scathing phrase, all the facts of the case and concluded—“My reply is that there are no facts within my knowledge which can remove all imputation upon the integrity of your action or motives in connection with that memorial."* After that there were no further rumors of a duel, but Gen. Lane, sixty days later, published an abusive card in the Washington papers, which injured the author more than Senator Douglas.
* See Ili, State Register, May 8, 1856.
1852-1856_ORGANIZATION OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY
The Illinois Wilmot Proviso-Dissolution of the Whig Party-Repeal of the Missouri Compromise-Intense Political FeelingDouglas denied Free Speech in Chicago-Know Nothingism-Democratic and Republican Conventions of 1856-Result of the Campaign-Lincoln's Plea for Harmony at the Chicago Banquet.
After the Missouri compromise of 1820, the question of slavery, ever an angry one, did not again attain national prominence for something like 30 years. The cause of its revival grew out of the aunexation of Texas and the acquisition of territory from Mexico. The object for which the former was sought and secured-involving a war with Mexico; the avowed purpose of the most active friends of the movement, the annexation of Texas being a paramount issue of the national campaign of 1844; the influences which prevailed in securing the administration to the south ; and the overt aim and official declarations of its supporters, 'although foreign to the purpose of this work to either trace or analyze, all point to the extension of slavery.
Slavery was distasteful generally to the north, but particularly so to a large portion of the whig party at this time. It was more generally obnoxious in an early day of the government than at a later period, but it did not become a question of party fealty until efforts were made to extend its area; and bad slavery not become aggressive for territorial expansion, it would have taken a long time probably for the anti-slavery party to have risen above the contempt with which it was generally regarded in its early days.
In August, 1846, pending the deliberations of congress to appropriate $2,000,000 for the executive to prosecute negotiations with Mexico, looking to the acquisition of territory, Mr. Wilmot, of Penn., moved the celebrated proviso (almost in the words of the 6th article of the ordinance of 1787): "Slavery, or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, shall be forever prohibited in any territory which may be acquired from Mexico." When this amendment came up for action in the house it prevailed by a majority of 6, the only names from non-slave-holding States recorded against it being from Illinois, viz: Messrs. Doug. las, Ficklin, Hoge and McClernand-a fair counterpart to the action of the Illinois senators on the admission of Missouri a quarter of a century before. Mr. Douglas, subsequently, in the senate, moved a substitute for the "proviso,“ prohibiting slavery in the acquired territory north of 36d. 30m., which was lost.
To show that the sentiment of the north was averse to the extension of slavery, and that the northern democracy was not yet wholly in the grasp of the slave propagandists, the legislature (largely democratic), at its regular winter session of 1849, passed joint resolutions instructing our senators and representatives in congress to use all honorable means in their power to procure the enactment of such laws for the government of the territories of the U. S., acquired by the treaty of peace with Mexico as should contain the express declaration that “there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in said territories otherwise than in punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly con. victed.” The “Wilmot proviso” had had much odium cast upon it by this time, and this modification of it by omitting the word "forever" would apply to territorial conditions only, leaving States to be formed out of it free to establish or exclude slavery—a vastly different thing! The discovery of this nice distinction, practically without a difference, it was thought by no means recognized the odious "proviso," fast becoming a party test. A portion of the Illinois democracy at the time held that congress had no constitutional right to either establish, prohibit, or in anywise interfere with slavery in the territories.
The proceedings in both houses incident to the passage of these resolutions of instruction were exciting and protracted, and the debates, in which all the leading members shared, exceedingly able and not without acrimony. They were adopted' in the house by 38 to 34, all the whigs (24) and 14 democrats voting for them, while the 34 noes were all democrats; in the senate the vote stood 14 to 11, all the whigs (7) and 7 democrats voting aye, the 11 noes being all democrats.
There was some question at the time as to whether our delegates in congress would obey these instructions. Pending the compromise measures of 1850, a mass meeting in Chicago called upon Senator Douglas to obey the resolutions in their spirit as well as technical letter, or resign. Douglas had ever opposed the Wilmot proviso. Now, having written the compromise bills and reported them from the committee on territories without the proviso, an amendment was offered in the precise language of the Illinois instructions. He believed in the right of instruction, but rather than resign his seat and knowing that it would not prevail even with the vote of Illinois, he denounced it in severe terms, and then in obedience to instructions, voted for it.
At the session of the legislature in 1851, the so-called Illinois Wilmot proviso resolutions were rescinded. It was fur ther re. solved to sustain the executive of the U. S. in his determination to enforce the fugitive slave law; and as the adjustment measures passed by congress, comprising the admission of California, the establishment of territorial governments for Utah and New Mex. ico upon the principle of non-intervention, the settlement of the Texan boundary, amendment of the fugitive slave law of 1793, and abolition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia, weré eminently calculated to remove all controversy and restore peace, quietude and confidence between the two sections of the country, they met their hearty concurrence.
Our delegation in congress was further instructed to resist all attempts to disturb or unsettle them. The resolutions were adopted in the house by a vote of
49 to 11, and in the senate by 22 to 2. The democratic press congratulated the people upon the removal of this stigma from the State, which indicates the advance the question of slavery was making as a party issue. In rescinding the resolutions, both democrats and whigs largely participated, while but two years prior every whig in both houses had voted to adopt them. In the meantime the agitations incident to the great adjustment measures of 1850, which shook the Union to its centre, had taken place and been fraternally settled, and this action of the legislature was an earnest of its acceptance in good faith, and a hearty acquiesence in the national compromise of that period by both whigs and democrats.
Under this fraternal feeling the national election of 1852 resulted in favor of the democratic party by an overwhelming majority. This was hardly expected. They had cast their representative men overboard and selected Mr. Pierce, at the instance of the South (Virginia bringing him forward in convention) on account of availability, while the whigs had for their candidate a soldier chieftain of renown, who had carried our flag to victory from Canada to the City of Mexico, in the person of Gen. Scott. While many whigs had labored with patriotic zeal in the adoption of the adjustment measures of 1850, there was still a very large anti-slavery element in that party throughout the North, which gave but a sullen acquiescence to the compromise; many of the leaders spit upon the Baltimore platform. Besides, in the election of Taylor in 1848, the whigs had swerved from principle for personal considerations, and while crowned with success, forfeited the confidence of the country. With the overwhelming defeat in 1852, and the northern disaffection in its ranks, symptoms of dissolution in that grand old party were now everywhere manifest. It was pronounced in articulo mortis by its leaders, and its abandonment daily advocated.
In Illinois the democracy were in such ascendency in 1852 that when the wbig State convention assembled to put forth a ticket, it was candidly stated by the chairman in his opening speech, that they had no hope of success, but it was highly important to make a decent show, and thus encourage and uphold their friends abroad.
After the accession of President Pierce democracy was not without its mutterings of discontent. In the election the Van Buren breach of 1848 was bridged over, it seems largely by the “cohesive power of public plunder" in prospect, but disappointment in the division of the loaves and fishes now caused a wide and deeper hostility than ever, in many portions of the country. The troubles of a country emanate from uneasy and ambitious politicians, its safety reposes in the tranquil masses.*
During a period of dead calm in general politics, the opposition for the October contest in Ohio in 1853, sought to fuse all the various party factions and upite them against the party in power, and the Republican party was in a manner forshadowed by their platform of principles: opposition to the fugitive slave law and the further extension of slavery; freedom of the public lands; equal taxation and the suppression of intemperance. This was known as the Giddings ukase. The movement met with defeat.
The various party elements released by the dissolution of the whig party, together with other disaffected elements, were at this period drifting hither and thither, ready and eager to catch or cling to this rock or that vine, to crystalize about any strong object which offered them a hopeful opposition to the party in power; but they were as yet unwilling to embrace unadulterated abolitionism. A large portion of the whigs were still conservative and disinclined to give in their adhesion to a new party. Blind to tbe plain purposes of the South, they reasoned justly that to base a party on geographical boundaries in one section of the country, rather than upon the broad constitution for the whole, was to justify the same in the opposite section, in utter disregard not only of the solemn injunction of Washington's farewell address, but revolutionary in spirit and result, if not intent, and utterly subversive of all fraternity of action in the nation at large. Reposing confidence in a continuance of the tranquility afforded by the compromise of 1850, they saw no exigency which justified the sacrifice of the peace and harmony 25,000,000 of people for the imaginary benefits to result to 3,500,000 Africans in our country.*
Some great question to convulse the tranquility of the country and awaken the slumbering sentiments of the masses to a new conflict of political opinion was therefore required; and to crystalize their first horror and astonishment into a new party was the duty of the hour. Expectants did not have to wait long. At the session of congress of 1853-4, the repeal of the Missouri Com. promise, by the organization of Kansas and Nebraska into territorial governments, presented an ample field for the arts and skill of party disciplinarians, and the opportunity was well improved. The Missouri compromise, since 1820, bad inhibited slavery from that vast and temperate region which faced the turbulent river of that name for 500 miles on the west, and extending southward to the line of 36 d. 30 m. All this extensive and supposed fertile territory was thus opened to the introduction of the blight and curse of slavery, otherwise so well adapted for millions of free and happy homes. The fact was regarded as an unparalleled outrage, and the excitement throughout the north was extraordi. nary ; nor was the public mind at all appeased by the fact that it was tendered the south by northern men.
Mr. Douglas, as chairman of the committee on territories, was the author of the Kansas-Nebraska bill, yet the superogatory amendment (according to his view), which, in express terms, repealed the restriction as to slavery, was offered by Mr. Dixon, of Kentucky, a whig. Mr. Douglas promptly accepted it, feeling that he could not consistently do otherwise, for his original bill, drawn in accordance with the principles of non-intervention, recognized in the compromise measures of 1850, of which he was the real author, rendered the inhibition in effect nugatory. While such was the case with regard to the organization of Utah and New Mexico, it is also true that the Missouri restriction was not expressly repealed; nor was it ever intimated during the protracted discussions in congress, in 1850, that such would be the effect.
• Resolutions of Whig Convention.