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The triumph of the compromise of 1850 as a final settlement once assured, the political life of the country, freed from the annoyance of wrangles over slavery, turned back into the old channels; and the years immediately following 1851 were a second "era of good feeling." People could now devote themselves to their own affairs, glad to be rid forever of the wearisome phrases "extension of slavery," " Wilmot proviso," " states rights" and "secession."

It was perfectly true, as Free-Soilers at the north and "fire-eaters" at the south pointed out, that the differences between the free and slave states remained unaltered, and that there was no guarantee against interruption by the first question which might come up requiring federal action towards slavery. But such prophets of evil were unpopular and were regarded as disturbers of a hard-won peace. The whole country, in short, tried by an effort of will to sink the sectional differences into oblivion.

The two great parties were again organized for the contest just as before 1848, and called for public support; but it now appeared that, with the slavery question out of the way, there remained no other important national issue. The old questions of national bank and tariff were obsolete, for a new industrial life had come into being and new problems were confronting capitalists and farmers. Hence local affairs absorbed the interest of voters and legislatures. State banking laws were forced through, vetoed, or submitted to popular referendum; railways were aided or regulated; new public schools and universities were established; and the newspapers, once filled with angry editorials and sectional arguments upon slavery, now gave space to the paving and lighting of streets, the delimitation of legislative districts, taxation for charitable institutions, and like homely issues. Only steadfast abolitionist and intense proslavery papers continued to refer to the subject which the country was trying hard to ignore.

In default of a national issue, public interest turned to various reforming movements. The temperance agitation had been going on for twenty years, in the form of a moral and religious propaganda against drunkenness, headed by vehement orators, of whom the eloquent and emotional John B. Gough was the foremost example. By 1850 public sentiment against the liquor traffic had grown so strong that attempts were made to prohibit the sale altogether. The state of Maine led the way in acts of 1846 and 1848, culminating in the drastic statute of 1851, known henceforth as "the Maine law." It absolutely prohibited the manufacture or sale of alcoholic liquors except under state authorization for medicinal use and backed up its mandates by fines, imprisonment, and powers of search. The agitation for the Maine law quickly spread to other states, and soon resulted in bitter political struggles in legislatures and elections.

Governors were obliged to veto or sign bills, parties were called upon to recognize the issue in their platforms, until it seemed as though, in the absence of any other pressing question, the whole country was destined to be absorbed in the prohibition contest. In many states, the Free Democratic party adopted this policy and made notable gains in its vote, and in others, impatient temperance reformers began to set up independent candidates. Observers detected in this sudden fervor the signs of a new excitability in American political life, which, deprived of its former food by the cessation of the slavery struggle, sought for some substitute. Such an outlet was furnished by the visit of Kossuth and other Hungarian refugees to the United States in 1852. The people of the country were keenly interested in the upheavals of 1848 in Europe, sympathized strongly with the revolutionists, and were especially stirred by the brave struggle of Hungary against Austria and Russia.

When Hungary was crushed in 1849 and Kossuth took refuge in Turkey, an agitation began which finally led Congress to offer an asylum to the exiles. Accordingly, in December, Kossuth arrived at New York as a national guest and began a tour of the country in search of pecuniary and other aid. Under any circumstances the tragic fate of Hungary and the attractive personality and wonderful eloquence of Kossuth would have commanded interest; but coming at this time of absolute political calm, his visit produced a volcanic eruption of excitement that equalled the earlier crazes over "Citizen Genet" and Lafayette. He was met at New York by roaring crowds, salutes of cannon, banquets, and welcoming deputations from every conceivable body of men from Socialists to Presbyterian ministers. In Philadelphia, Baltimore, and other cities the same excitement was manifested. Local politicians, conscious of the pressing necessity of keeping with the popular current, made speeches of unmeasured eulogy and sympathy. Had the language of many fervent congressmen been taken literally, Kossuth would have been justified in expecting the United States to enter upon a course of active intervention in behalf of Hungary and other oppressed nations of Europe.

Webster, however, as secretary of state, carefully refrained from committing the United States to any formal action, and although there was a public reception to the Hungarian patriot by each House of Congress, Kossuth, whose head was not turned by his situation, saw clearly that he could hope for nothing more than sympathy. Some of the more conservative members of Congress, alarmed by the inflammatory eloquence of such men as Cass, Foote, Douglas, and Walker, of Wisconsin, took occasion to preach restraint and caution, but it was really not necessary. The whole affair was only saved from being a farce by the vein of genuine republicanism and defiance of Europe which underlay all the extravagances of enthusiasm and applause. When Kossuth left the country, in the summer of 1852, the excitement was over; and all the eloquent exile had to show for his visit was a small amount of money. The episode was at an end.

Meantime, national politics sank into a vacuity which reflected the prosperity of the times. The Congress of 1851-1852 sat for nine months but accomplished little beyond granting public lands and passing a river and harbor bill. The large Democratic majority in each house found no party measure to consider, and the time of the members was devoted for weeks together to political maneuvering with regard to the presidential election of 1852. The party situation was peculiar, for with no definite issue in existence success seemed to depend upon the strength of party loyalty, the choice of a popular candidate, and the careful avoidance of any position which might seem to endanger the quiet between the sections. From Free-Soilers and secessionists, there was nothing to fear, and the prime necessity in the eyes of leaders was to establish their devotion and that of their respective parties to the compromise. Much time was devoted in party caucuses and in each House to the consideration of resolutions affirming "finality," but beyond the passage of such a resolution on April 5, by the House of Representatives, no definite results were attained, nor could either side claim any advantage over the other.

Still, by the spring of 1852, it became clear that of the two parties the Democratic was in far better shape. Its discipline was restored with the return of the Barnburners, its northern and southern leaders were in accord, and its recent successes in congressional and state elections gave it courage. For the Whigs, on the other hand, the situation looked ominous. They had lost steadily for two years in congressional and state elections; the respectable Fillmore administration did nothing to win prestige; and the chasm between southern and northern Whigs, however carefully ignored by the leaders, must be revealed the moment the question of a presidential candidate or platform was raised. Upon what common ground could men like Toombs and Seward meet? Would the southern wing be satisfied with anything short of an explicit adoption by the party of the southern position as laid down in the "Georgia Platform," and the nomination of a man thoroughly committed to the execution of the fugitive-slave law? Could the Seward Whigs accept such a program, or hold their constituents if they did so?

The party nominations and platforms in 1852 were of a purely partisan and wholly uninteresting character. The Democratic convention, held June 1, at Baltimore, added to its earlier platforms a new resolution pledging the party to a faithful execution of the compromise measures, "the act for reclaiming fugitive slaves included," and promising to resist all attempts at renewing the agitation of the slavery question. Then for three days, it struggled over the problem of a candidate, unable to secure a majority vote for Cass, Marcy, Buchanan, or Douglas, until on the forty-ninth ballot the convention suddenly found a solution of the difficulty in a carefully prepared "stampede" towards Franklin Pierce, of New Hampshire. Pierce was not a man of national prominence, but he had held a respectable place in public life, was personally attractive, kindly in manner and feelings, with no record to attack and no enemies to fear. Immeasurably inferior to either of the four men he supplanted, he was a safe selection under the existing conditions. The candidate for vice president was William R. King, senator from Alabama.

Two weeks later the Whig convention met at the same place and hastily adopted, without debate and over loud protests from many northern members, a platform that had been framed by the Georgia Whigs and was intended to satisfy all elements. The first two resolutions committed the party to the doctrine of states' rights, and the eighth resolution declared the compromise acts, "the Fugitive Slave Law included," to be a settlement of the slavery question and pledged the party to maintain them until time should demonstrate the necessity of further legislation, and to discountenance all efforts to renew the slavery agitation. The concession to the northern Whigs lay in the careful avoidance of the term "final." In selecting a candidate the convention found its members divided between three aspirants, each with a devoted band of followers. General Winfield Scott was supported by northern Whigs, who hoped to repeat the success of Taylor in 1848, while on the other side the compromising or "finality" vote was divided between Webster, with the New England contingent behind him, and Fillmore, who received southern votes. The stubbornness of the followers of the last two candidates made them unable to combine against Scott, and protracted the contest for fifty-three ballots, but the gradual change of a few delegates finally gave Scott a majority.

The immediate impression of these nominations upon the country was significant. Pierce received hearty support from all elements of the Democratic party, southern as well as northern, Unionist as well as secessionist, "Barnburner" as well as "Hunker," while Scott repelled the southern Whigs. The southern Union party of 1851 was now entirely broken up, its Democratic contingent supporting Pierce; while its Whigs either yielded a reluctant support to Scott or openly bolted. On July 3 a number of leading southern Whigs, headed by Stephens and Toombs, published a manifesto announcing their purpose to oppose Scott as not sufficiently in favor of the compromises. Others in Georgia formed a Webster electoral ticket. In short, the campaign had hardly opened when it was seen that the Whig party, in spite of the adoption of a compromise platform, had driven away by its nomination those elements which had given it victory in 1848. Hoping to revive their party, the Free-Soilers rallied in August at Pittsburg and nominated John P. Hale for president on a platform that reiterated the protest of 1848 against the existence of slavery in the territories, denied the finality of the compromise, denounced the fugitive-slave law as repugnant to the Constitution, to Christianity, and the sentiments of the civilized world, and demanded its repeal.

Since there was no real issue except the personality of the candidates, the campaign of 1852 was trivial and unenthusiastic. Scott's attempts to win over the German and Irish vote, during a thinly disguised stumping tour in the west, provoked ridicule, and the contest soon degenerated into petty abuse and personalities. Pierce was painted as a coward in the Mexican War and a drunkard in private life, and Scott was held up as a miracle of vanity and ineptitude. The most vigorous efforts of the Whigs to stir up enthusiasm for "the hero of Lundy's Lane, Contreras, and Churubusco" fell flat, and the result of the election was foreseen weeks before the vote took place. Pierce's victory was overwhelming. He carried every state except Massachusetts, Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee, and received 254 electoral votes to Scott's 42. In the south, the Whig vote shrank to small figures. In the north, the Free Democratic party, as the revived Free Soil organization now styled itself, polled only 155,825 votes, and had no direct influence upon the result.

The Whig leaders and newspapers seemed stupefied by the completeness of their defeat. It was true that the election decided nothing more than a change of office holders: no new policy was presaged; no alteration of sectional balance was indicated; but the failure of the party to retain its southern support was ominous, and, in spite of the large popular vote drawn by Scott in the north, the future seemed dark. For over a year all energy departed from Whig party activity, and in 1853 it suffered renewed severe de-feats in state elections.

Fillmore's last months in office went by in peace, the short session of Congress (1852-1853) contributing nothing of importance to public interest other than sundry debates upon foreign affairs, the only quarter where any new developments were looked upon as likely to occur. Pierce was inaugurated on March 4, 1853, in the full sunshine of popularity, and delivered an optimistic address to the greatest concourse ever assembled in Washington on such an occasion. All elements, Whig as well as Democratic, were disposed to look favorably upon the handsome, affable president whose aims seemed so high and whose prospects appeared so secure. His cabinet was conciliatory in its makeup. Marcy, the secretary of state, had been a leader of the New York "Hunkers," but McClelland, of Michigan, had been an antislavery man; Guthrie, secretary of the treasury, and Dobbin, of the navy department, were conservative southern Democrats, but Davis, of Mississippi, the secretary of war, had been a Southern Rights leader in 1851; Caleb Cushing, of Massachusetts, the attorney general, able, shrewd, and considered shifty, had only recently come out of the Whig party. All elements were represented.

So ended a period of political stagnation, interesting only as showing how the American public, by sheer effort of will, could force itself into old lines of political habit and ignore a vital question. The success of the effort in arresting sectional controversy was undeniable, but, as far as the Whigs were concerned, the refusal of the southern members to support the party nominee in 1852 showed that not even the utmost efforts of compromising and Union saving leaders could efface sectional distrust. The appearance of any new issue might instantly destroy the artificial calm.