Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

typical Kentuckian, afterward a general in the Confederate service.

Alexander H. Stephens in his War Between the States— perhaps the best statement of the Southern side of the whole case that has ever been made,-says that this secession from the party was made (against his own judgment) not recklessly, nor to provoke disunion, but with the expectation of electing Breckinridge. The calculation was that with four Presidential candidates there would be no choice by the people, and, the election being thrown into the House, Breckinridge would be chosen; or, if the House could not choose, Lane would surely be elected by the Senate. This, says Stephens, was the view of President Buchanan, of Breckinridge, Davis and a great majority of the Charleston seceders. Stephens himself considered this a most precarious and hazardous calculation, wholly insufficient for so grave a step. So obviously sound was this judgment, that we inevitably recur to the belief that the Southern secession was inspired not by calculation, but by a temper of self-assertion, which fitted its hopes to its wishes.

The "Constitutional Union" party-legatee of the Whig and American parties-held a convention at Baltimore in May; resolved simply for the maintenance of the Union and Constitution and the enforcement of the laws; and nominated John Bell of Tennessee and Edward Everett of Massachusetts. It was the refuge of those who disliked the whole sectional controversy, and were indifferent to both proslavery and anti-slavery claims in comparison with peace and union. It held a middle position, geographically as well as in sentiment, and was strong in the border States.

The Republican convention met in Chicago in May. It was a more sophisticated body than its predecessor of 1856; with less of youthful and spontaneous enthusiasm for a principle, and more of keen maneuvering for the candidates.

But it represented a disciplined and powerful party, clear and strong in its essential principles, and looking confidently to a national victory as almost within its grasp. The platform affirmed its familiar doctrines as to slavery, and threw out various inviting propositions as to foreign immigrants, a homestead law, a Pacific railroad, etc. The vote of Pennsylvania being important and doubtful, a bait was thrown out in a high-tariff resolution. When a year or two later the exigencies of the war demanded a large revenue, this was obtained partly by a high tariff. In these circumstances originated the Protectionist character of the Republican party; a character confirmed by the natural alliance of the favored interests with the favoring power.

The most prominent and in a sense logical candidate was William H. Seward. As Governor and then Senator of New York, as a polished and philosophic orator, as a man whose anti-slavery and constitutional principles were well understood, he was easily in the popular estimate the foremost man of the party. Lincoln was in comparison obscure; his fame rested mainly on his achievements as a popular debater; he was wholly unversed in executive work and almost equally so in legislation; highly esteemed in his own State, but little known beyond its borders. He had been proposed for the Presidency only a week before in the State convention, with great hurrahing for "the rail-splitter," honest old Abe." It seemed hardly more than one of the favorite son" candidacies which every canvass knows in plenty. But he was supported by a group of very skillful Illinois politicians. They worked up the local sentiment in his favor; they filled the galleries of the Wigwam at daylight of the decisive day, and they took quieter and effective measures. Simon Cameron claimed to control the vote of Pennsylvania in the convention, and a bargain was made with him that if Lincoln were elected he should have a

66

66

seat in the Cabinet. Lincoln was not a party to the compact, but when informed of it afterward he reluctantly made good his part. The same thing was done with the friends of Caleb B. Smith of Indiana, and with a like sequel.

Meantime, Seward met such difficulties as always beset the first favorite in a race. The old alliance between Seward, Weed and Greeley, had been broken, with anger and resentment on Greeley's part, and he was now on the floor of the convention actively opposing his old ally. William M. Evarts led the New York delegation for Seward. Edward Bates of Missouri had some support, as more moderate than Seward in his anti-slavery principles, but he was too colorless a candidate to draw much strength. One of Seward's friends, in seeking to win over the Bates men, declared that Lincoln was just as radical as Seward. A newspaper containing this being shown to Lincoln, he penciled on the margin a reply which was forwarded to his supporters, "Lincoln agrees with Seward in his irrepressible-conflict idea, and in negro equality; but he is opposed to Seward's higher law." The "irrepressible conflict" was the exact counterpart of the "house divided against itself." Negro equality" marked a distinct advance since the Douglas debate two years before, and such advance, gradual but steady, was characteristic of Lincoln. It was no less characteristic of him to disclaim the "higher law" doctrine, —an obligation recognized by the individual conscience as paramount to all human enactments. Indeed Seward, though the phrase was his, was as little an idealist of the individual conscience as was Lincoln.

66

Of the circumstances just mentioned, a part belongs to the undercurrents which few spectators at the time discerned. What the crowd and the world saw was three successive ballots. First, Seward, 1731; Lincoln, 102; Cameron, 501; Chase and Bates following close. Then Cameron's name

was withdrawn, and Lincoln shot up abreast of Seward. A third ballot, and Lincoln went up, up till he touched the line of a clear majority. Then the Wigwam roared; the guns boomed; in the first subsidence of the cheering Evarts gallantly moved that the choice be made unanimous, and the tall, homely Illinois lawyer was the Republican candidate for the Presidency. If the result was not without its illustrations of his own definition of politics-" the combination of individual meannesses for the general good," he at least had sacrificed nothing of his convictions, had not worked for his own elevation, or smirched his hands. And, unproved though he was as to administrative power and seamanship in a cyclone, there was yet a singular and intrinsic fitness in his candidacy. His recognized quality was that which is basal and dear to the common people, honesty; honesty in thought, word and act. In his convictions, he was near to the great mass of the party of freedom as it actually was; frankly opposed to slavery, but reverent and tenacious of the established order, even though it gave slavery a certain standing-ground. He had, too, that intimate sympathy with the common people, that knowledge of their thoughts and ways, that respect for their collective judgment and will as the ultimate arbiter-which are the essential traits in a great leader of democracy.

In the four-sided canvass which followed, the lines were not strictly geographical. The Republican party indeed took its Vice-Presidential candidate from the North-Hannibal Hamlin of Maine; for no Southern man was likely to invite exile or worse by taking the place; and the Republican electoral tickets had no place or only a nominal one south of Mason and Dixon's line, except in Missouri, where the emancipation idea was still alive. But the three other parties. contested with each other in all the States. In Massachusetts, the Breckinridge party had as its candidate for Gov

ernor the unscrupulous Butler; and among its supporters was Caleb Cushing, erudite, brilliant, conscienceless, and a pro-slavery bigot. At the South, the Douglas party had considerable strength. The hot-heads who had split the Democracy and were ready to divide the nation had by no means an undisputed ascendency. Stephens and Toombs parted company; they headed respectively the Douglas and Breckinridge electoral tickets in Georgia. Davis spent part of the summer in privacy at the North; he saw enough to convince him that the North would fight if challenged, but the warning was in vain.

The special interest of the campaign centered in the menace of disunion. The territorial question in itself had grown almost wearisome, and had no immediate application. The fugitive slave law had fallen into the background; renditions were so uncertain and dangerous that they were seldom attempted. John Brown's foray was to the North a bygone affair, with no dream of its repetition. The few promoters of his project had shrunk back at the catastrophe; the mass of the people had always looked on it as a crazy affair; and with personal sympathy or honor for him, the raid was almost forgotten, but the South could not so easily forget. But the living and burning issue was the threat of secession if Lincoln should be elected,—a threat made openly and constantly at the South. The campaign was full of bitterness. "Black Republicans " was a term in constant use. The violent language was not all at the South. Cushing dec red, when in the preceding autumn Massachusetts reëlected Banks as governor, "A band of drunken mutineers have seized hold of the opinion of this commonwealth-the avowed and proclaimed enemies of the Constitution of the United States,"-with further hysteric talk about the ship of state, with the pirate's flag at the masthead, drifting into the gulf of perdition. The New York Herald was full of

« AnteriorContinuar »