« AnteriorContinuar »
slavery should be excluded. This was passed by the House, but rejected by the Senate. The Senate was long the stronghold of the South, the States having an equal representation, while in the House the greater increase of free State population gave them a fresh advantage at each new census and apportionment. The “ Wilmot proviso” was for some years the watchword of the anti-extensionists. To the typical Northerner, it seemed monstrous that slavery should be introduced by law in territory where it had no previous existence. To the typical Southerner it seemed no less unjust that his peculiar institutions and usages should be excluded írom the common domain, for which his section had paid its share of money and more than its share of blood.
While the question of the new territory had scarcely taken definite form, there came the Presidential election of 1848. In the Whig convention Clay's ambition received its final disappointment; Webster had hardly a chance; all the statesmen of the party were set aside in favor of General Zachary Taylor of Louisiana, an upright, soldierly man, a slaveholder, entirely unversed in civil affairs, and his claim resting solely on successful generalship in the war. The Democrats nominated Lewis Cass of Michigan, a mediocre politician, regarded by the South as a trustworthy servant. The third party displayed new strength, and exchanged the name of “Liberty” for “Free Soil.” Under the stimulus of recent events recruits of power and promise came to its standard. In Massachusetts it gained such men as Samuel Hoar, Charles Sumner, Charles Francis Adams, and Henry Wilson from the Whigs; and from the Democrats, Robert Rantoul and N. P. Banks. Wilson and Charles Allen, delegates to the Whig convention, declared, -when that body in its resolutions absolutely ignored the question of slavery extension, and sank all principles in a hurrah for “Old Rough and Ready,”—that they would no longer support
the party. They went home to work with their old friends, the “ Conscience Whigs,” for the success of the Free Soil party, whose convention was to meet at Buffalo. To that convention came strong allies from Ohio. There were Joshua Giddings, for years one of the few congressmen classed distinctly as anti-slavery, and Salmon P. Chase. New York State offered a reinforcement strong in numbers, but in some respects questionable. The anti-slavery Democrats in the State, nicknamed “Barnburners "_because “ they would burn the barn to get rid of the rats -were ready to break with their party, but their quarrel was partly a personal one. They were welcomed, however, and from their ranks was selected the Presidential candidate-of all men, ex-President Martin Van Buren, known of old as “the Northern man with Southern principles,” but willing now to Northernize his principles with the Presidency in view. Such a nomination went far to take the heart out of the genuine anti-slavery men; and the strong name of Charles Francis Adams for vice-president could not make good the weakness of the head of the ticket. Should a real Free Soiler vote for Van Buren,—the probable effect being to improve Cass's chances over Taylor, just as the Birney vote four years earlier had beaten Clay and brought in Polk and all his consequences—or vote for Taylor, trusting to his personal character and the influences surrounding him for a practical advantage to the side of freedom? The latter alternative was the choice of many, including Horace Greeley and his associates, Thurlow Weed and William H. Seward. With such help, and mainly on his strength as a military hero, Taylor was elected. In the result there was considerable hope for the anti-slavery cause. For Seward, who had been chosen to the Senate from New York, was very influential with the new President, and Seward was one of the coming men, clearly destined to be a leader
among those who were to succeed the great triumvirate of Clay, Calhoun, and Webster. He was high-minded, cultivated, and united lofty ideals with practical wisdom. A thorough constitutionalist, he believed there were legitimate ways of advancing freedom under the Constitution; and in a speech at Cleveland he had declared: “Slavery can be limited to its present bounds; it can be ameliorated; it can be abolished; and you and I must do it.” Ohio sent to the Senate another of the coming men, Salmon P. Chase, resembling Seward in his broad and philosophical views and his firm but constitutional opposition to slavery.
THE COMPROMISE OF 1850
To win California as slave territory the Southern leaders had forced the war on Mexico. The territory was won, and no political force had developed strong enough to halt their progress. But now came a check from the realm which could not be cajoled or brow-beaten,—the world of natural and industrial forces. Gold was discovered in California. There was a rush of immigrants, and a swift opening and settlement of the country. The pioneers—hardy, enterprising and democratic—had no use nor room for slaves. They held a convention, with the encouragement of President Taylor; framed a Constitution in which slavery was excluded from the future State—this by unanimous vote, including the 15 delegates who had come from slave States; and the popular vote ratified the proposed Constitution by 10 to 1. Then they asked for admission to the Union.
The Southern faction was wrathful. The extremists were for excluding the new State unless slavery was permitted. But it was clear that slavery could not be forced on a State against the wish of its entire people. Then compensation was sought in concessions to be made by the North. The remainder of the new domain, Utah and New Mexico, was not ripe for Statehood; but let slavery, it was urged, be established as a territorial condition. Then came up another grievance of the South. Its fugitive slaves, escaping over the border line, were systematically helped, either to make their way to Canada and the protection of the British flag, pr to safe homes in the Northern States. Naturally the slaves
who dared the perils of escape were either the most energetic or the most wronged, and sympathy for them at the North was active and resourceful. Along their most frequented routes of flight were systematic provisions of shelter and help, known as “the underground railroad." The Federal Constitution required their return, but this task had been left to State laws and courts, and was performed slackly, if at all. The total number of fugitives was not large nor the pecuniary loss heavy, but the South was exasperated by what it considered a petty and contemptible depredation. So there was a demand that the Federal government should undertake and enforce the return of fugitive slaves.
Congress opened the session of 1849-50 amid great excitement and confusion. Once more Clay came forward to reconcile the disputants. Clay in these last days was at his best. He was no longer swayed by Presidential aspirations. When in 1849 the Kentucky Constitution was to be revised, he wrote a letter strongly favoring a gradual emancipation and colonization. This had no effect, but Clay's unshaken hold on his State was shown by his unanimous re-election to the Senate. There he at once entered upon his last great effort at national reconciliation. He introduced a bill providing for a series of concessions on both sides. California was to be admitted as a free State; and New Mexico and Utah were to be organized as territories, leaving the question of slavery for future settlement. Slavery was to continue in the District of Columbia, but the slave trade was to be forbidden there. Texas was to cede to New Mexico a disputed strip of territory, which presumably would ultimately become free; and was to be compensated by a large grant from the Federal territory. A law was to be passed for the return of fugitive slaves by Federal authority.
Over these measures the debate was long and hot. Clay