Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

only to the Constitution of the United States.” There was a wide difference of opinion among Senators as to what the constitutional limitations and restrictions really were Some Senators thought the Constitution had no operation in the Territories, except by express enactment of Congress. Others thought it extended over the Territories from the moment of their acquisition. Some maintained that the Constitution, properly interpreted, prevented the existence of slavery in the Territories altogether, and made it impossible for a territorial Legislature to introduce it by any valid enactment. Others contended that under it, the territorial Legislature could not exclude slavery. He sought ...to exclude all doubt on the subject, and moved that after the words of the amendment just made should be added these— “under which the people of the Territory, through their appropriate representatives, may, if they see fit, prohibit the existence of slavery therein.” His object was to get the sense of the Senate upon the vital question, whether, subject to the limitations of the Constitution, the people of the Territory, acting through their properrepresentatives, in the territorial Legislature, could protect themselves against slavery by prohibiting it. The operation of this amendment, if adopted, would be very simple: it asserted distinctly and unequivocally the principle of non-intervention which the bill professed; that under it, in the judgment of Congress, the people of the Territory might utterly exclude slavery if they should choose to do so. Of course there could be no real objection to this amendment, if the principle of the bill' was a genuine non-intervention; but the long and somewhat stormy debate which followed, illustrated clearly enough that in the judgment of some Senators, at least, the bill was expected to operate a very potent kind of intervention in behalf

of slavery. The amendment was rejected by the emphatic vote of thirty-six nays to ten in the affirmative.

* In order still further to illustrate the character of the alleged principle of the bill—non-intervention with the domestic affairs of the States and Territories—Mr. Chase offered another amendment, the effect of which would be, if adopted, to enable the people of the Territory to elect their own Governor, judges of courts, and other State officers, and members also of the territorial Legislature. But the Senate was not fifteen minutes in voting it down, and almost as summarily rejected another, intended to restore the boundaries of Nebraska as stated in the original bill, and leave but one Government therein instead of two.

REPEAL OF MISSOURI COMPROMISE. 155

Pending the debate upon the bill in the Senate, the agitation in the North had widened and deepened, until it pervaded all ranks and classes and largely involved both political parties. It exhibited itself in many public meetings; in numberless petitions signed by both men and women; in remonstrances by religious bodies; in the denunciations of press and pulpit; in resolves of State Legislatures. The most remarkable protest was that presented by Mr. Everett, of Massachusetts, which bore the signatures of three thousand and fifty clergymen of the New England States. It ran in these impressive words: “The undersigned, clergymen of different religious denominations in New England, hereby, IN THE NAME of ALMIGHTY God and in His presence, do solemnly protest against the passage of what is known as the Nebraska Bill, or any repeal or modification of the existing legal prohibitions of slavery in that part of our national domain which it is proposed to organize into the Territories of Nebraska and Kansas. We protest against it as a great moral wrong, as a breach of faith eminently unjust to the moral principles of the community, and subversive of all confidence in national engagements; as a measure full of danger to the peace and even to the existence of our beloved Union, and exposing us to the righteous judgments of the Almighty.”

The bill was pressed forward to its passage, however, although the universal and continually growing excitement evidently made a deep impression upon the minds of its leading friends in Congress. Mr. Douglas showed his consciousness of it by repeated observations in the course of the debate, most of them in hot, imperious temper. But the bill carried his political fortunes, as he believed, and with a pertinacious courage and defiance alike of the counsels of friends and the threats of enemies, he bore it triumphantly through.

It passed the Senate at about five o'clock on the morning of the 4th of March, 1854, at the close of a session of seventeen hours' duration, by a vote of thirty-seven to fourteen. A Southern Senator—Houston, of Texas—closed the debate by a solemn protest and warning against it. The scene in the Senate, at this momentous hour, was full of intense and suppressed excitement. It was one of triumph and glory for the friends of the measure, and their exultation found vent in verbal congratulation within the walls of the Capitol, and by the firing of cannon without them, but in the hearing of those whose votes had decided the tremendous issue. The opponents of the bill saw in its passage the great opportunity of freedom, and the grief of present defeat was tempered by a belief that it would prove an effective instrument for the final overthrow of the slave-power. It was yet dark when the lights were turned out in the Senatechamber, and both Senators and spectators departed for their homes. Mr. Chase and Mr. Sumner walked down the steps of the Capitol together. The thunder of the cannon of triumphant slavery at steady intervals smote upon their ears. “They celebrate a present victory,” said Mr. Chase, “but the echoes they awake will never rest till slavery itself shall die.” The bill was sent to the House, but was not taken up in that body for more than two months. It was finally passed under circumstances of great disorder and excitement, on the 20th of May, by one hundred and thirteen votes to one hundred against it. Party lines among Southern members were almost wholly lost in it ssupport. Forty-four Northern Democrats voted for the bill; forty-four Northern Democrats voted against it, and forty-four Northern Whigs voted against and no Northern Whig for it. Seven Southern Whigs and two Democrats voted against it; one of the latter was Thomas H. Benton. The first session of the Thirty-third Congress began on the 5th of December, 1853, and ended on the 7th of August, 1854. It opened in the midst of peace and prosperity; it closed in the midst of a more universal and dangerous slavery agitation than was ever before known in the history of the American people.

* It was presented, however, after the bill had passed the Senate.

NOTE TO CHAPTER XVIII.

Extracts from a Letter of Mr. Chase to John Paul.
*WAsHINGTox, December 28, 1854.

“. . . . My views of the matters referred to in your last letter are clear and may be easily stated.

“With me opposition to nationalized slaveholding and slave-catchin and to slavery domination in our national Government, is a simple appli

LETTER TO JOHN PAUL. 157

cation of Democratic principle. At the present moment I regard the application of that principle as of paramount importance. “I can therefore be a member of no party or political organization which, in a free State, ignores the slavery question, or which reduces it to a secondary consideration. Nor can I belong to any party which is antidemocratic in its character. “The rule which guides my political action is very simple. “For years past slavery has controlled the action of the old political parties. No matter which of them has obtained the control of the Government, its administration has been, of necessity, pro-slavery. . Under Polk, Texas was annexed with slavery. Under #. the fugitive slave act was passed. Under Pierce, the Missouri prohibition has been repealed. Not one of these measures could have been carried without the active aid of the existing Administration. “While the ascendant party has been thus constantly pro-slavery, the existence of a powerful independent political organization avowedly antislavery has naturally had great influence upon the action of the party in opposition. The minority party in the free States has been antislavery at least so far as continued connection with a pro-slavery wing would permit. Thus when the old Democratic party succeeded under Polk, the old Whi party, being in the minority, became decidedly antislavery in profession, an to some extent in action. When the Whig party in its turn succeeded under Taylor, the old Democratic party being in the minority, became just as antislavery in profession and action as the Whigs had been in like circumstances. When the Old-line Democracy again succeeded under Pierce, the Whigs again became antislavery. “In each of these successive periods the minority, whatever its political designation, has been ready to coöperate with the independent Antislavery party. Such coöperations have actually taken place. They have been more marked in #. character and more frequent in their occurrence as the strength of the independent opposition to slavery has increased. Hence the coöperation between the antislavery Independents and the Whigs which elected Mr. Hale to the Senate in 1841. Hence too, the coöperation between the antislavery Independents and the Democrats which elected Mr. Sumner and myself in 1851 and 1849. Hence, finally, those coöperations between the antislavery Independents and the Whigs which have elected Mr. Gillette and Mr. Brainard in 1854. “These coöperations between minorities opposed to an accidental majority are inevitable; and, when no principle is surrendered or hazarded, are free from all reasonable objection. Thus far they have not only marked but accelerated the prevalence of antislavery sentiment and principle. po As an Independent Democrat, recognizing the importance of consistent antislavery action, I have not hesitated to adopt the rule which these facts suggest. “I have coöperated and will cheerfully o: with any of my fellow-citizens whom circumstances have disposed or may dispose to coöperate with me in the advancement of the antislavery cause. I can never yield or modify my principles; but if any party is willing to vote with me for men of my organization who will faithfully carry them out in legislative, judicial and executive action, I am willing to vote with men of theirs who will do the same or will not oppose the doing of it by others. “Thus in the recent election in Ohio I entered heartly into the Peole's movement, which was nothing more nor less than a coöperation of #. Democrats, Independent Democrats and Whigs for the election of reliable slavery prohibitionists to the next Congress and of rebuking the pro-slavery action of the Administration party. . . . “For one I wish to see this People's movement go on in the liberal spirit which has thus far characterized it. But if it is to be understood that the Know-Nothings who participated in it will henceforth ignore the antislavery element or support no candidates who are not members of their order, or whose nominations are not dictated by them, those who regard the slavery question as of paramount importance and whose principles will not allow them to become members of Know-Nothing associations, must of necessity assume an antagonistic position. If this conflict shall arise, it is plain that the People's movement cannot go on or must go on without the Know-Nothing coöperation. It becomes the friends of Liberty to be prepared for every event. “Let it be granted that in the action of some foreigners there has been something justly censurable and calculated to provoke the hostility which has embodied itself in the Know-Nothing organization; still, cannot what is wrong in that action be remedied without resort to secret political organizations? Is it right to punish all for the faults of some 7 Can antislavery men, especially, join in the indiscriminate proscription of those Americans of foreign birth who stood shoulder to shoulder with us in the anti-Nebraska struggle of last fall? “I cannot take upon myself any secret political obligations. I cannot proscribe men on account of their birth. I cannot make religious faith a political test. I cannot pretend to judge those who think and act otherwise than I do. If they choose to condemn me because I cannot in these things violate the political maxims which have governed my political life hitherto, I must content myself with that approval of my own conscience which has sustained me heretofore under severer trials. “Your kind wishes for my political advancement are gratefully acknowledged. There are some reasons why such an indorsement of my E. course as you suggest would be very gratifying. , But hitherto I ave never sacrificed or compromised any political principle, and I cannot begin now. No position is high enough to tempt me from the plain path in which my sense of political duty requires me to walk.”

Mr. Chase to General John A. Dir.
“WAsangrox, November 25, 1863.

“Your kind invitation to write something that may be read at the breaking of ground on the Union Pacific Railroad in Nebraska, found me in the midst of engagements so exacting that it has been impossible to write any thing worth the reading. “I could not, however, omit writing altogether, for that would imply an indifference to the work which no American feels. “It is among my most pleasing recollections of service as a Senator from Ohio, that the first practical measure looking to the construction of a Pacific Railroad, which received the sanction of Congress, was moved by me. That measure was an amendment to the army o bill, placing at the disposal of the Secretary of War one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, to be expended in surveys and explorations of routes for the road. It was adopted in the Senate in February, 1853, and was subsequently concurred in by the House. Its results are embodied in the volumes known as the Pacific Railroad Reports, printed by order of Congress. “It is another pleasing recollection that I had the honor in March, 1850, of presenting and commending to the Senate the memorial of Dr. Pulte, an intelligent physician of Cincinnati, praying that measures might

« ZurückWeiter »