Category: Expansion and Conflict, by William E. Dodd
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The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill had greatly angered a majority of the people of the North. The sudden rise of the Republican party in protest against it, and the promise of Northern control of the Federal Government, heartened them to the great struggle of 1856. But the failure to win the populous States of Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Illinois, and the solid front of the South, the compact pro-Southern Senate, and the moral effect of the Dred Scott decision discouraged them. Moreover, the Republican victories of 1854-55 proved misleading, for in 1856 and 1858 the party failed to win a majority in the House of Representatives.

All that the ardent protestants and idealists could do was to block extreme measures in Congress and enact laws in the Republican States to harass the "enemy." Seward yielded the struggle to the extent of indorsing popular sovereignty, which did indeed promise more than any other line of procedure. Greeley, the enemy of Seward but the arch-enemy of the South, actually proposed Douglas, the "squire of slavery," for the Presidency in 1860. Chase seemed to be losing ground in Ohio, where he had never had a majority on his own account. Business, as we have already seen, had made peace with the South, and conservative leaders of the East regarded slave-owners as in the same class morally with bankers and railway directors.[10] The federal law against the African slave trade could not be enforced. More than a hundred ships sailed unmolested each year from New York Harbor to the African Coast to bring back naked negroes for the cotton planters.

[Footnote 10: See Charles Francis Adams's letter to William Lloyd Garrison in _The Liberator_, January 27, 1857.]

The outlook was so dark that New England leaders returned regretfully to the proposition of John Quincy Adams of 1843, and recommended Northern nullification and secession. Massachusetts had passed an act in 1855 which inflicted a penalty of five years of imprisonment upon any man who aided in the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law of the United States. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin had declared the same law unconstitutional in 1854; in 1857 the legislature indorsed this view, and in 1859 it claimed the right of immediate secession in case the State was overruled by the Federal Supreme Court, or in case any attempt should be made to enforce the obnoxious act by the General Government. Nearly every other Northern State passed personal liberty laws which were designed to prevent the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act, and their constitutional justification was found in the supremacy of the States and bolstered by the opinion of Judge Story, delivered in 1842,[11] which said that no private citizen need obey an unconstitutional law, state or national, but he takes the risk of having the courts decide it constitutional and of being punished if he acts on his own judgment before the proper court has adjudged the act unconstitutional.

[Footnote 11: 16 Peters' Reports of the Supreme Court, p. 536.]

It was not unnatural, then, that Charles Sumner should indorse the abolitionist campaign against the Union, or that Benjamin F. Wade should eulogize the Wisconsin threats to secede. Richard H. Dana, of Boston, said that men who had called him a traitor a few years before now stopped him on the street to talk treason. N. P. Banks, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, said in Maine: "I am not one of the class who cry for the perpetuation of the Union." The Worcester convention of January 15, 1857, did actually and by big majorities pass resolutions calling for a dissolution of the Federal Government, and its call for a convention of all the free States, looking to the same end, was signed by seven hundred men of all walks of life; many of them were men of eminence. The political abolitionists and the anti-slavery men of pronounced views were on the point of going over to the Garrison party, which had always proclaimed that the Union was a "league with hell," and so strong was the campaign against the Union that Governor Wise, of Virginia, and others recommended a war upon New England in order to bring the abolitionists to subjection.

But the darkest hour comes just before dawn. When Buchanan recommended in the message of December, 1857, the admission of Kansas under the Lecompton constitution, Senator Douglas, to the bewilderment of thousands, openly denounced the President, and in the most effective speech of his life led a secession of the Northwestern Democrats from the dominant Southern party. He showed that the application of his popular sovereignty doctrine in Kansas would solve the problem of slavery in the Territories, and that the Administration was violating the platform on which it held office in espousing the cause of the pro-slavery men. It was a remarkable situation. In 1854 Douglas had defeated Davis and Pierce in their far-reaching plans for the development of the Southwest; Chase and his allies had defeated Douglas in his counter-scheme for the growth of the Northwest in 1854-55; and now Douglas broke the solidarity of the Democratic party and gave hope and courage to the North, where the idea of secession was fast winning the minds of leading men. If Douglas joined the Republicans, the overthrow of the South was assured; if he became an independent candidate for the Presidency, the Republicans were made certain of an easy victory. It was this that prompted Greeley to indorse Douglas in 1857, and caused Seward to say a good word for his rival and opponent.

Buchanan read Douglas out of the party. Jefferson Davis denounced him as worse than a demagogue. Judges of the Supreme Court expressed their contempt for "the ambitious perpetual candidate." No settlement of the Kansas question was possible under these circumstances. Douglas returned to Illinois in the summer of 1858 to open his campaign for reëlection to the Senate. He had never been so popular before. Chicagoans who had denounced and spurned him as a traitor to his country in 1854 now gave him the greatest ovation that city had ever given to any one. Big business men, railroad builders, and laboring men hastened to give him assurance of their favor. Even partisan opponents went over to the "new" Douglas. In fact, the people saw that his popular sovereignty idea had been misunderstood. It was already working out Northwestern or Free-State control of the Territories, and the fear of losing the Territories had been the motive for following Chase and Sumner in 1854.

But the Republicans of the Northwest had been planning to make an end of the "Little Giant," the man who was the most feared of all the public leaders of the time. Abraham Lincoln was to be his successor in the Senate. Norman B. Judd, Joseph Medill, and John Wentworth were the astute advisers of the new party in their section. Seward, Weed, and even John J. Crittenden, the popular successor of Henry Clay in the United States Senate, advised the Illinois Republicans not to oppose Douglas, since Douglas was already doing the Democrats more mischief than any new Republican Senator could hope to do. The Eastern leaders were concerned about the campaign of 1860, and naturally they cultivated the differences of their opponents.

Lincoln was also making plans for 1860, and a defeat of Douglas in his own State would be a political event of the first magnitude. And there was much promise of success. Had they not elected Lyman Trumbull in 1855 in spite of all the "great man" could do? Moreover, the Administration had withdrawn all patronage from Douglas, and postmasters' heads were falling fast in Illinois. Indeed, Buchanan was just then putting up anti-Douglas tickets in many of the counties, in the expectation of electing a legislature hostile to Douglas if not friendly to the Washington authorities. Was there ever a better chance for the new group of leaders? Contrary to Eastern advice they nominated Lincoln as the opponent of Douglas, and that shrewd man and able logician challenged the Senator to a joint debate, and the most important political discussion in our history followed.

Lincoln had declared in a recent speech that "a house divided against itself could not stand," and the United States he likened to the divided house. Douglas seized upon this to show the country what a radical abolitionist Lincoln was, for was it not a disruption of the Union of which he spoke so cogently, and which the abolitionists were just now urging? Nothing was more unpopular in the Northwest than disunion. All the papers of the country now printed what Lincoln had said, and with Douglas's disparaging comment. The business interests of the East shuddered at the Lincoln parable.

But Lincoln took occasion at Freeport to make Douglas even more unpopular in the South than he already was, by asking him if he did not support the Dred Scott decision; also if he still adhered to the popular sovereignty doctrine as a means of settling the slavery problem in the Territories. Douglas answered in the affirmative to both queries. Whereupon Lincoln showed that if the Dred Scott decision held, Congress must protect slavery in all the Territories and if the popular sovereignty idea prevailed, the squatters of any Territory might by popular vote prohibit slavery in any Territory. Hence, according to Douglas, slavery could be lawfully maintained and lawfully abolished at the same time and place. Douglas recognized his predicament; but he replied that, in spite of the court's decision, the settlers of a new Territory might by "unfriendly" local legislation make slavery impossible. When the papers of the country published this lame reply, Southern men everywhere denounced in unmeasured terms "the demagogue who promised one thing in Congress and another in Illinois." The Lincoln-Douglas campaign continued all the autumn, and the country became acquainted with the obscure lawyer who had persisted in his purpose to run against Douglas contrary to the counsels of the leaders of his party. However, Douglas was reëlected to the Senate, to the great chagrin of both Lincoln and the President.

After the excitement following the break of Douglas with his party, the Republican newspapers, which had urged Douglas as their candidate for 1860, returned to their partisan attitude. To most people it seemed clear that Seward should be the Republican candidate in the next campaign, and Seward was also convinced that his own nomination was necessary and inevitable. The conservative wing of the party in the East, and especially New England, was devoted to him. As time went on the prize seemed more and more certain, though there were other competitors in the field. Simon Cameron, of Pennsylvania, Chase, of Ohio, Lincoln, of Illinois, and Edward Bates, of Missouri, were "favorite sons." For the Democrats the outlook was anything but cheering. The "regulars" could not speak of Douglas but with imprecations. Although Douglas controlled absolutely all the Democratic organizations in eight Northwestern States, if we include Missouri, a most strenuous campaign was waged from Washington against him in the hope of getting control of the general committee of the next convention. John Slidell, of Louisiana, and August Belmont, agent of the Rothschilds, in New York, guided the maneuvers. In December, 1859, when Douglas entered upon his new term with an air of triumph, the Senate majority, led by Jefferson Davis, promptly removed him from the chairmanship of the Committee on Territories, which was the signal for the opening of the fierce political war that preceded the assembling of the Democratic Convention in Charleston.

Meanwhile John Brown, influenced by the political currents then running in favor of the North, led a small band of men into western Virginia. The object was to start a slave insurrection and in the end set free all the negroes of the South. Brown received or was promised $25,000 and was supported by men of the first respectability. On October 16, 1859, Brown seized the United States Arsenal at Harper's Ferry and called upon the slaves to rise against their masters. In the fighting which ensued Colonel Washington, a grand-nephew of General Washington, was wounded; but few took notice of names in that first onset of the Civil War or thought of the common history of the sections. Governor Wise, of Virginia, hastened the militia to the scene, and Captain Robert E. Lee led a small force of United States troops to the relief of the endangered community. Brown failed in his efforts to arouse the negroes, who were not the restless and resentful race they were thought to be. He was soon surrounded and captured. A few people were killed, but the institution of slavery was not touched.

But the noise of the attack was heard around the world. In the North men of the highest standing proclaimed Brown a hero. At the time of his execution in December so thoughtful a man as Emerson compared Brown's gallows to the cross of Jesus of Nazareth. For a time the social conscience of the East, at least, sensed this attack as a blow against the common _Erbfeind_, as the Germans say of the French. It was the "arrogant South" that had been struck. But when the Congressional investigation was held, Republican leaders and religious organizations everywhere insisted that they had never known the man, though there was a widespread feeling that it would be wise for the Governor of Virginia not to visit the death penalty upon the "deluded" prisoner.

Governor Wise was not the man to forgive an assault on the Old Dominion, and he never thought of granting a pardon. He urged Virginia to reorganize her militia, and he filled the state armory with some of the weapons which were used with fatal effect at First Bull Run. Other Southern States followed the example of Virginia and laid in supplies for a conflict which many thought inevitable. Nor was it without significance that new military companies and regiments were organized and drilled in many parts of the North during the year 1860.

After months of angry and useless debates in Washington, the leaders of the Democratic party gathered in Charleston in April, 1860, to nominate their candidates for the Presidency and Vice-Presidency. No other town in the United States was more unfriendly to the cause of the leading candidate, Douglas. As the delegates gathered, it was seen that every delegation from every Northwestern State was instructed to vote as a unit for Douglas, and it became evident that a safe majority would insist on his nomination. The enthusiasm of the followers of the "Little Giant" surpassed all similar demonstrations at previous conventions. On the other hand, the committee on resolutions was opposed to Douglas, and by a vote of 17 to 16 it reported a platform which was simply a restatement of the Dred Scott decision, adding only that the Federal Government was bound by the Constitution to protect slavery in the Territories. When this report was read in the convention the Douglas majority rejected it, and accepted the minority report, which was the "popular sovereignty" of Douglas and the platform of 1856, for which all the South had stood in the campaign of that year. The convention was deadlocked, for the South could defeat Douglas for the nomination under the two-thirds rule, and Douglas could prevent the adoption of any Southern program or the nomination of any candidate other than himself. On Sunday, April 30, the clergy and the congregations of the city prayed as never before for a peaceable solution of the problem before the country, and every one seemed to recognize the gravity of the situation. On Monday evening, William L. Yancey, "the fire-eater" of Alabama, after a most remarkable speech, broke the deadlock by leading a bolt of practically all the lower Southern States. The Tammany Hall delegation of New York followed. The bolters held a meeting in another hall and called a convention of their element of the party in Richmond in June. The Douglas majority likewise adjourned a day or two later to meet in Baltimore at the same time.

The historic Jacksonian party had broken into factions. Each faction nominated a candidate. The Southerners, supported by the Buchanan Administration, named John C. Breckinridge, a moderate, in the vain hope of winning some Northern States; the Douglas men offered, of course, their favorite, and insisted that theirs was the only true Union ticket. A third convention was called to meet in Baltimore, and its nominees were John Bell, of Tennessee, and Edward Everett, of Massachusetts. This was the remnant of the Know-Nothings of 1856. They asked for the maintenance of the Union as it was; but in the ensuing election they polled three hundred thousand fewer votes than Fillmore had received in 1856.

The Republicans met in Chicago about the middle of May, the advantage of local sentiment being in Lincoln's favor. The Seward men and their "rooters" came in trainloads from New York and Boston, and both in Chicago and Charleston a plentiful supply of whiskey had its share in the manufacture of enthusiasm. Cameron was the stumbling-block of the conservative Eastern Republicans, and he was expected to command his price. Horace Greeley, cast out of the Republican camp by the Seward men in New York, came as a delegate from Oregon, and he was busy from morn till night trying to defeat Seward. Chase, Lincoln, and Bates, though they were not in the convention, were doing what they could to defeat the great New York leader on the ground that he could not possibly carry Indiana and Illinois. It was more than a friendly rivalry.

In drafting the platform no reference was to be made to the idealistic Declaration of Independence, so popular in 1856; but the resolute threat of a bolt, by Joshua R. Giddings, caused a reconsideration and the adoption of the brief reference which one reads in the historic document. All raids into States or Territories were duly denounced, and slavery itself was guaranteed in all its rights. The Pacific railroad scheme of Douglas was again indorsed, and the old land policy of the West found expression in the free homestead plank. The tariff ideas of Clay appeared in a clause which promised protection to American industry, better wages to American labor, and higher prices for farm products. One sees here the genius of political management, not the fire of reformers, and if the Southerners had kept cool they could have read between the lines of this declaration all the guarantees that they required, save alone on the subject of slavery in the new Territories, which the Republicans could not possibly yield and hold their followers together. It was an alliance of the East and the Northwest, arranged by Seward in much the same way that Calhoun arranged the combination of 1828 which raised Jackson to the Presidency.

To the surprise of the country and especially of the East, Cameron, Greeley, and Bates proved able to defeat Seward, and Lincoln was nominated. Many people of the East had never heard of the successful candidate till they read in the papers that he had won. Lincoln was moderate in temper and conciliatory in tone, like the platform, but he was a sincere democrat, one who was in mind and thought one of the people. The great men of the party who had borne the burden and heat of the day felt outraged. Sumner never forgave Lincoln for his lack of culture, and for a time it seemed that Seward would not give his humble rival the support necessary to success. "The rail-splitter" of Illinois was ridiculed in the older Republican States as no other presidential candidate had been since "Old Hickory" offered himself as against the seasoned statesmanship of John Quincy Adams. The gentry of the East were in a worse plight than were the Southern statesmen of 1828, for Lincoln was more of a democrat than Jackson had been.

But if certain classes of the East accepted mournfully the candidate of their party, the plain people everywhere, farmers, mechanics, shopkeepers, and the smaller industrial interests, rejoiced that one of their own had been selected. While it is not likely that this caused many changes from one party to another, it did tend to bring out the vote and prevent the election from going to the House. Professional abolitionists could not honestly support the platform of the Republicans, but anti-slavery men, old-line Whigs, half of the former Know-Nothing party, and all of those who had so long feared or hated the South could cheerfully vote for Lincoln. In the Northwest it was an evenly matched contest. Douglas was only a little less popular than his great rival, the cause of his final defeat being the decision of the German element to cast in their lot with the Republicans. Carl Schurz, one of the best men who ever took part in American public life, and a radical of the radicals, exercised a decisive influence and turned the tide in Illinois and Iowa, where a few thousand votes lost would have defeated Lincoln. Though the enthusiasm of the Republicans was not so great as it had been in 1856, the people of the East and the Northwest did unite against the South, as planned in the Chicago platform, which so well represented the interests of the combination.

The South gave every evidence that secession would follow the election of Lincoln, and when the Maine campaign indicated that Lincoln would surely be chosen, Douglas gave up his canvass in the Northwest and went South in the hope of saving the Union by urging the leaders there that secession would mean war. In Virginia, North Carolina, and Alabama he foretold plainly the awful consequences of secession. But the lower South paid little heed; their leaders, Rhett and Yancey, were ready to take the first steps to disrupt the Union upon the receipt of news that the Democrats had lost the election. To them Lincoln was not only a democrat who believed in the equality of men before the law; he was also a "black Republican," the head of a sectional party whose platform bespoke sectional interests and the isolation of the South.

[Illustration: The Presidential Election of 1860]

In the end Lincoln received a popular vote slightly greater than that of Buchanan in 1856, and the electoral vote of every State from Maine to Iowa and Minnesota. Douglas received a larger vote than Frémont had received, but only twelve electoral votes. It was plain that the people of the North were by no means unanimous, and that Lincoln would have great difficulty in carrying out any severely anti-Southern measures, especially as the Republicans had failed to carry a majority of the congressional districts. Thus the blunders of Douglas and Chase in 1854 had started the dogs of sectional warfare, and now a solid North confronted a solid South, with only two or three undecided buffer States, like Maryland and Missouri, between them.

Abraham Lincoln, born in Kentucky of Virginia parentage, married to a Southern woman, accustomed from boyhood to the narrow circumstances of the poor, and still unused to the ways of the great, was called to the American Presidency. He was not brusque and warlike as Jackson had been; he was a kindly philosopher, a free-thinker in religion at the head of an orthodox people, or peoples. A shrewd judge of human character and the real friend of the poor and the dependent, Lincoln, like his aristocratic prototype, Thomas Jefferson, believed implicitly in the common man. He was ready to submit anything he proposed to a vote of the mass of lowly people, who knew little of state affairs and who never expected to be seen or heard in Washington. People who had preached democracy to Europe for nearly a century had now the opportunity of submitting to democracy. It was the severest test to which the Federal Government had ever been subjected.

Bibliographical Note

Rear Admiral Chadwick's _Causes of the Civil War_, in the _American Nation_ series (1906); Nicolay and Hay's _Abraham Lincoln: A History_ (1890); Ida M. Tarbell's _The Life of Abraham Lincoln_ (1900); O. G. Villard's _John Brown; A Biography_ (1910); G. T. Curtis's _The Life of James Buchanan_ (1883); A. H. Stephen's _War between the States_ (1868-70); Jefferson Davis's _Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government_ (1881); Murat Halstead's _Conventions of 1860_; G. Koerner's _Memoirs_; Carl Schurz's _Reminiscences_; James A. Pike's _First Blows of the Civil War_ (1879); George W. Julian's _Political Recollections_ (1884); and Henry S. Foote's _Casket of Reminiscences_ (1874), may be added to the works already mentioned. E. D. Fite's _The Campaign of 1860_ (1911) is valuable, although Rhode's account of the campaign equals Fite's; and E. Stanwood's _A History of the Presidency_ (1898) gives the platforms and the votes of the parties for each national election.

_The Tribune Almanac_ gives the votes by counties, while Richardson's _Messages and Papers of the Presidents_, already named in earlier notes, and the _Statutes at Large of the United States_ supply the texts of important papers, laws, and treaties. Richard Peters's _Reports of Cases Argued in the Supreme Court_ and B. C. Howard's continuation of this series supply the decisions of the Federal Supreme Court. U. B. Phillips's _Correspondence of Toombs, Stephens, and Cobb_, in the _Reports of the American Historical Association_ (1911), is a valuable contribution to the sources of the period.

Special studies of importance are: W. E. B. DuBois's _Suppression of the African Slave Trade_ (1896); M. G. McDougall's _Fugitive Slaves_ (1891), J. C. Hurd's _Law of Freedom and Bondage_ (1858); Edward McPherson's _Political History of the United States_ (1865); John H. Latané's _Diplomacy of the United States in Regard to Cuba_, in _American Historical Association Reports_ (1907); J. M. Callahan's _Evolution of Seward's Mexican Policy_ (1909); Phillips's _Life of Robert Toombs_ (1914); and H. White's _Life of Lyman Trumbull_ (1913). Of peculiar value for the spirit of the times are: Mrs. Roger A. Pryor's _Reminiscences of Peace and War_ (1905); Mrs. James Chesnut's _A Diary from Dixie_ (1905); and William H. Russell's _My Diary North and South_ (1863).

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