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with the Independent Democracy. Some two years ago, when no national election was pending, when the Qld-line Democracy was in opposition to the national Administration, and of course not ..o. for any proslavery action, many Independent Democrats—myself among them—supported the Old-line nominations. At this election, the Old-line ticket was elected by a large majority over all opposition. Upon no other occasion, for many years, has the Old-line State ticket received an absolute majority.” A Senator inquired, “How was it at the last presidential election?” Mr. Chase: “The Independent Democrats unanimously supported their own ticket, and the Baltimore nominees lacked fifteen thousand votes of an absolute majority. Well, there has been in New York a union of the Barnburners and Hunkers; and no small pains is taken at the other end of the Avenue and at this, to cement and consolidate the union. We have witnessed a pretty careful distribution and adjustment of the offices with this view. How the attempt to harmonize these discordant elements by the potent influence of patronage will succeed, I cannot say... But we know it is made, and we know it is the most common thing in the world, when two parties or two sections of one party, having some common objects, unite to form a majority over a third party hostile to those objects, to divide the offices which that majority has to fill, between the sections which compose it. Now, it so happened that in the Legislature of Ohio in 1848–49 no party had a majority. The Independent Democrats, it is true, were few in number; but the Old-line Democrats, though numerous, were not numerous enough to effect any thing by themselves. Under these circumstances, that which was most natural took place: the Independent and Old-line Democrats united. . But there was—and I am proud to say it—no sacrifice of principle on either side. The Old-line Democrats voted for me because they knew me to be sound in the Democratic faith, though Independent in party action. The Independent Democrats voted for Oldline nominees for Supreme Judges, who, though they differed from them in party action, yet shared their general opposition to the extension and nationalization of slavery. Let the Senator make of this all he can. I see nothing in it to lament. I can appeal confidently to my whole course here to justify the confidence reposed in me. Nothing has transpired in the history of either of the eminent gentlemen, elected to other offices at the same time, to make the Independent Democrats regret the votes they cast for them. Many members of the Legislature who participated in those elections have since received distinguished proofs of public confidence; and a succession of Democratic victories instead of the succession of defeats which had for years marked the previous history of the Democratic party, has attested the wisdom of the Old-line Democrats who recommended, or ...}}. or approved the union. “I do not so highly value a seat here that I would sacrifice onejot or tittle of my personal independence to obtain or to retain it. Nor would I surrender any political principles to come or to remain here. It is very possible I may not be reëlected... I shall have as little to regret in that event as any man. I am entirely willing, whenever the people of my State indicate that such is their pleasure, to retire from the scene. I have said on another occasion and to my Democratic constituents, that a private is not less acceptable to me than a public station. I said it sincerely and honestly. I have ever referred, and all the acts of my life will prove it, action with a minority in defense of principles, to action with a majority and to any position which a majority can confer, in disregard of principles.”
CHAPTE R XIII.
MR. CHASE TAKES HIS SEAT IN THE SENATE–THIRTY-FIRST CONGRESS-8LAVERY AGITATION-TAKES NO PART IN DEMOCRATIO CAUCUS-QUESTION OF SLAVERY IN THE DOMAIN ACQUIRED FROM MEXICO-APPLICATION OF CALIFORNIA FOR ADMISSION INTO THE UNION.—PROPOSAL OF COMPROMISE—SENATE COMMITTEE OF THIRTEEN-REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE-EXTRACTS FROM MR. CHASE's SPEECH ON THE MATTERS INvolved IN THAT REPORT.
. CHASE was elected to the Senate on the 22d of February, 1849, and took his seat as a member of that body on the 6th of March ensuing; the Senate being then in special executive session for the transaction of business immediately necessary upon the accession of General Taylor to the presidency. Little else was done, except to debate the validity of the election of General Shields. It happened, however, that during this special session Rudolphus Dickinson, a member of the House from Ohio, died in Washington, and it devolved upon Mr. Chase to make the customary obituary address and move the customary resolutions; a task he performed, he says, very little to his owu satisfaction. The first regular session of the Thirty-first Congress began on the 3d of December, 1849, in the midst of great political excitement and agitation not only in Congress, but throughout the whole country. “It is not to be denied,” said Mr. Webster;" “it is not to be denied that we live in the midst of strong agitations, and are surrounded by dangers to our institutions of government. The imprisoned winds are let loose. The East, the West, the North, and the stormy South, all combine to throw the whole ocean into commotion, to toss its billows to the skies, and to disclose its profoundest depths.” Nearly three weeks were spent in fruitless efforts to organize the House of Representatives, and an organization was at last effected only through proceedings of doubtful constitutionality. Pending this long struggle—which was frequently interrupted by scenes of great disorder and tumult—the Senate did no other business than form the necessary standing committees (carefully ignoring Mr. Chase and Mr. Hale), and debate somewhat warmly the question of admitting Father Theobald Matthew, an Irish Roman Catholic priest—a famous promoter of temperance and of known antislavery sentiments—to the privileges of the floor. On his advent into the Senate Mr. Chase found there Benton, Calhoun, Clay, Webster, Cass, Corwin, Bell, Berrien, and others of the great men of that generation of statesmen, and some whose names have since become historic—Douglas, Jefferson Davis; James M. Mason and Hannibal Hamlin. Mr. Seward was a new member just elected by the Whigs of New York. Mr. Chase felt a great disinclination to take part in the debates; a disinclination which arose as well from natural modesty and distrust of his own powers, as from a sense of inexperience and deference to the venerable men who surrounded him; and hence, though a constant attendant upon the sessions of the Senate, and deeply and anxiously interested in all the great matters of legislation pending before it, he participated but little in the debates. He took no part in the caucuses of the Democratic members— being, as was said, “outside of a healthy organization”—and declined in any way to commit himself to their party further than to support their candidates in Ohio so long as the Democrats in that State maintained an antislavery position. He did not believe the union between the Independent or Free-Soil and Old-line Democracy likely to become effective or permanent until the latter, in national convention, should declare their freedom from pro-slavery domination, or should break the bonds of adhesion to the slave interest by an open separation. The year 1850 was an important and eventful one in the history of the antislavery struggle.
* In his celebrated speech of March 7, 1850.
THE SLAVERY AGITATION OF 1850. 107
It has been observed in a former chapter that the war with Mexico and the consequent acquisition of vast territories from that country, had given a new and widely-extended impulse to the agitation of the slavery question. The South had expected to profit from foreign acquisition by adding new States to the slaveholding portion of the United States; but that expectation was not realized. “Surprise and disappointment have resulted of course,” said Mr. Webster. “In other words, it is obvious that the question which has so long harassed the country, and at times very seriously alarmed the minds of wise and good men, has come upon us for a fresh discussion—the question of slavery in these United States;” slavery being one of those questions which are ever fresh though discussed for ages, and are never settled though settled regularly in every decade.
The treaty of peace with Mexico had been made in February, 1848, but irreconcilable differences of opinion in Congress had prevented the establishment of territorial governments in the newly-acquired domain. The people of California, unwilling to await Federal action and sorely needing a fixed government, chose delegates to a Territorial Convention. This was in June, 1849. The convention met at Monterey, and formed a State constitution. This constitution contained an express prohibition of slavery. Of the members of the convention, some sixteen were natives and had been residents of the slaveholding States; twenty-two were from the non-slaveholding States, and the remaining ten members were either native Californians or old settlers in that country. The prohibition of slavery was made by the unanimous voice of the whole body.
But disappointment touching the newly-acquired domain was not the only cause of irritation to the South. Antislavery had grown to be dangerously aggressive. Petitions were presented in Congress from all parts of the North, praying not only for the positive exclusion of slavery from the new Territories, but for its abolition in the District of Columbia, for its abolition in all places within the jurisdiction of the General Government, for the interdiction of the slave-trade upon the high-seas and between the States, for the repeal of the fugitive slave law. The Legislature of New York solemnly resolved that to admit slavery into New Mexico would be revolting to the spirit of the age. Vermont declared slavery to be a crime; * and several Northern States instructed their Senators to vote for slavery restriction. These things excited a real fear and alarm in the South, and strongly indicated to the people of that section not only the loss of their political equality in the national councils, but the ultimate destruction of their slave-property. Some scheme of “adjustment” was demanded, therefore, by the South. The admission of California was strenuously resisted, unless accompanied by compensation for the exclusion of slavery from its borders. Mr. Clay on the 29th of January, 1850, had introduced into the Senate a series of resolutions covering the whole ground of
*Mr. Chase's views on slavery, almost immediately upon his appearance in the Senate, became the subject of severe comment by Southern Senators. His first remarks at any length were upon the resolutions of the Legislature of Vermont, presented by Mr. Upham of that State, early in January, 1850. These resolutions denounced slavery as a crime and a sore evil upon the body politic, and were very bitterly and specially censured by Mr. Mason, of Virginia, and Mr. Butler, of South Carolina, and by some others. These voted for printing the resolutions in order, as they said, that the Southern people might see the growth of antislavery sentiment in the North. They said they wanted such denunciations put upon the public records, that when “that issue came which all patriots and lovers of the Union should avoid,” it would appear what sort of vituperation had been heaped upon the South, not by fanatics only, but by sovereign States. To this Mr. Chase replied; agreeing with Mr. Butler that the people of the South should be distinctly informed as to Northern sentiment. It was his opinion, however, that the way to an amicable solution of the slavery question did not lie through crimination and recrimination, but in a clear and candid understanding of the positions on both sides. But he thought it due to the people of Ohio to say that no menace of disunion, no resolves tending toward disunion, nor intimations of the probability of disunion in any form, should move him from the path judgment and conscience told him he ought to pursue. He added that he wished to observe an entire respect for the rights of all the people and of all the States in the Union. To this Mr. Butler answered that while the Ohio Senator admonished the cultivation of harmony, and tendered homilies on the value of the Union, he had avowed doctrines which would seem to aim at the disfranchisement of the Southern section of the country. “I cannot allow him to preach moderation,” said Mr. Butler, “when I know he has, with others, ultimate designs—designs which I will not allow him to disguise under forms and professions of moderation.” And these “ultimate designs” Mr. Butler found shadowed at length in Mr. Chase's letter to Breslin, which he caused to be read in open Senate as the proof!
Mr. Chase uniformly voted for the reception of all petitions presented in the Senate; among others for one praying for a dissolution of the Union—saying in respect to it, however, that of course Congress had no constitutional power to grant such a prayer; but that to refuse to receive the petition would be an infringement—an invasion—of the constitutional right of the people to present their grievances.