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In the contest of nationalism against sectionalism, which was seen to be inevitable after 1844, the triumph of the Unionists in 1850 and the years following was due largely to the fact that the weight of leadership and party tradition was with the compromisers.

To keep the slavery question suppressed and to prevent the sections from again coming into conflict in Congress, the same strong leadership must continue; but unfortunately for the finality of the compromise, the leaders who had won that victory soon passed off the stage and left no successors of equal influence. The result was the ultimate victory of sectionalism in the north and south, and the coming to the front of those radically different ideals and political habits which guided north and south into and through the Civil War.

The distinguishing feature of the older group was the strong Unionism of its leaders, whether Whig or Democratic. The peace, perpetuity, and strength of the Union stood in their eyes above all other political ideals; and when the slavery question arose and extremists in the north and south insisted on forcing the sectional issue, they were alarmed and horrified. Their principles in politics were imbibed when most of them entered public life, in the nationalistic era of 1810-1830, and they felt called on neither to approve nor to condemn slavery nor, in fact, to concern themselves with it. In their eyes the moral earnestness of the abolitionist was as incomprehensible as the sincere sectionalism of the secessionist was abhorrent, and they were amazed and grieved by the fierce disapprobation of compromise by both kinds of extremists. Considering slavery outside the range of legitimate political discussion, they tried to exclude it first by their disapproval and then by compromise.

As long as such men as Clay and Webster led the forces of nationalism with all the power of their personalities and the splendor of their eloquence, the spirit of Union triumphed; but Clay's work was done when the compromise of 1850 was carried through; he took little part in events thereafter, beyond speaking in the Senate in behalf of "finality." His death, in June 1852, was regarded as a national loss, and Whig and Democrat alike paid him glowing tributes and united in recognizing the passing of a great American leader whose sun had set in peaceful skies, for he had outlived personal ambition.

Not so with Webster: to the last, he hoped for the Whig nomination for the presidency, and when Scott was selected over him his bitterness and grief were intense. He even advised his intimate friends to vote for Pierce and died in October 1852, a saddened man. In New England, his death was mourned as the loss of the foremost citizen, and even his bitterest critics, the Free-Soilers, admitted his intellectual greatness; but outside of his own constituency, only the conservative Whigs felt his loss. Something in Webster's personality prevented him, in death as in life, from rivaling the popularity and national standing of his rival, Clay.

Most of the other strong Unionist leaders retired from political life about the same time. Among the northern Jacksonian Democrats, Van Buren made his last appearance in politics in 1848; in 1851 Woodbury died, and Dickinson lost his seat in the Senate; and of the Webster Whigs, Winthrop, of Massachusetts, and Ewing, of Ohio, retired in 1851, and Corwin in 1853. At the south, Benton, the senatorial Hercules of the Jacksonian Unionists, lost his seat in 1851, and consumed his remaining days in a gallant but futile struggle to regain power in his state; and Foote, who had led the Unionist forces in Mississippi, did not reenter national politics after 1851. Among the southern Whigs, Berrien, of Georgia, retired from the Senate in 1851, and Mangum, of North Carolina, in 1853. Most of these men were of the older school, except perhaps Foote, and their public conduct was guided by a tradition of formal statesmanship inherited from the first decades of the century. Their simultaneous departure from the field of national politics left the leadership of Union feeling to men who were at once less able to control sentiment and less skillful in congressional and executive direction.

The surviving Unionists, during the years 1853-1860, were stronger in the Democratic party than in the Whig, especially since they counted among their number the one man who had the ability to succeed Clay as a congressional and popular orator. Stephen A. Douglas entered public life in the preceding decade, and by experience in House and Senate had become, by 1850, the keenest parliamentarian of his party and the foremost man in the west. He was a strong defender of the compromises, totally indifferent to slavery as an institution, and devoted to Unionism in the same way that Webster and Clay had been. His ability as a public speaker, which gave him party leadership in the Senate, made him the idol of the Illinois Democrats and won him the admiration of his party in most states; while his force and energy so dominated his short frame that he was known as "the Little Giant." Douglas was better suited than any other man in the United States to maintain Unionism against antislavery sentiment in the north, but, unfortunately for his success, he was hampered by his very facility in debate and in party leadership, for he lacked caution and insight into the conditions of popular feeling. Unable to comprehend the force of moral indignation against slavery, he was led through overconfidence in his own powers into grave mistakes of policy which eventually ruined his cause.

Other Democratic Unionists were Cass, Buchanan, and Marcy, rivals with Douglas in the national convention of 1852. Of these Marcy was the strongest in character, an experienced Jacksonian politician of New York, a member of the "Albany Regency," and the originator of the famed phrase "to the victors belong the spoils of the enemy." Marcy was, however, much more than a spoilsman: he was a hard-headed, aggressive Democratic partisan, with none of the popular power of his younger rival, Douglas, but with much more caution and political shrewdness. His later career as secretary of state under Pierce was his last appearance in politics, and his death in 1857 removed one of the steadying influences in his party. Cass and Buchanan remained in public life to the end of the period, and, with Douglas, stood forward as representatives of the compromise Democracy. Of the two, Cass had the greater native ability, and from his long career in Michigan and his vigorous personality had a fairly strong hold over the party in the northwest. Like Douglas, he does not seem to have had any comprehension of the depth of the moral opposition to slavery in the north, and his eagerness to settle sectional questions by compromise or by finding some way to appease southern threats won him, among abolitionists and Free-Soilers, the name of "Arch-dough-face." Buchanan, with less courage and personal strength than Marcy, held somewhat the same position in Pennsylvania, where his conservative, steadily partisan record made him the special representative of the highly conservative Democratic party of that state. At no time in his career did a spark of originality disturb his utterances; but he had a political shrewdness that stood him in good stead. These men, strongly entrenched in the party machinery of their section, were prepared to make an obstinate fight for the principles of Unionism through compromise.


Among the Whigs, the Unionist leadership was far weaker. Edward Everett, of Massachusetts, eloquent, honorable, a lover of concord and harmony, was sent to the Senate to succeed Webster, but he lacked the fighting quality of men like Douglas, and could not retain leadership. Fillmore, after his retirement from the presidency, remained a figurehead for conservative Whigs, but he had no power over people; nor did Fish, the New York Whig senator who replaced Dickinson in 1851, prove to be a strong leader; while Choate, of Massachusetts, distinguished for eloquence and brilliancy, lacked the willingness to throw himself heart and soul into a contest for party supremacy. Nowhere among the Whigs did there appear a figure of national prominence able to carry on the work of Clay and Webster.

In the south, the sincere Unionists were temporarily reinforced, in 1850, by a large number of Whigs and Democrats, who later showed that at heart they were more sectional than national. If these be left aside, the number of consistent Union leaders who remained in public life after the death or retirement of Clay, Benton, Berrien, and the rest, was comparatively small. Houston, of Texas, an original Jacksonian, was a picturesque figure in the Senate and a personality of influence in his own state, where to the end he upheld the cause of Unionism against secession. Bell, of Tennessee, a man without great gifts as either speaker or thinker, but popular in his own section and a leader of steady Unionism, was joined in the Senate by Crittenden, of Kentucky, a man of Clay's type with all of Clay's fervent Unionism and much of Clay's personal hold over the people. Up to the verge of the Civil War these three men, with Clayton, of Delaware, a strenuous debater although a rather unsuccessful diplomat, struggled to maintain the traditions of Clay, carrying on a contest in their section parallel to that waged by the northern Unionists.

Now that the passions aroused by the civil conflict have retired into the past, it is possible to credit these Unionists, northern and southern, with more genuine honesty and patriotism than it was customary to ascribe to them in earlier years. The northern Doughface, willing to make concessions to the south for the sake of peace, the southern Unionist, ready to forego an opportunity to advance the interests of slavery if by so doing he could preserve the Union, were not cowards nor traitors to their sections; they were stimulated by an ideal no less than were their opponents, and their failure discredits not so much their patriotism or moral earnestness as their powers to meet the difficult task imposed upon them. Certainly, a large majority of the American people looked to these men as true patriots, inspired by the sentiments expressed in Longfellow's apostrophe to the Union in his "Building of the Ship," published in 1850; and even as late as i860 a great majority of the wealthier classes at north and south still held to their point of view.

Opposed to these Unionists there stood in the north a growing number of antislavery political leaders who regarded politics from a wholly different point of view. In their eyes the controversy over slavery was not a distressing interruption to normal politics but was an inevitable consequence of their highest convictions. The Union, they too professed to uphold, and they uniformly denounced secession, but they were ready to risk harmony and peace within the Union for the sake of righting what they considered a wrong. Admitting their impotence to interfere with slavery in the states, and for the most part, disclaiming the desire to do so, they insisted that slavery must not be extended into additional territory, nor fostered by the federal government. Such Unionism was very different from that of Clay or Foote: it meant that a peculiar interest of one section was not to receive national support or countenance, and it did not prevent a feeling towards the south ranging from hostile criticism to savage dislike.

The earliest representatives of this northern sectionalism had been John Quincy Adams and Joshua R. Giddings in the House, joined later by Hale, of New Hampshire, in the Senate. Adams died in 1848, but Giddings and Hale continued in Congress during most of this decade, whereas open agitators they made incessant attacks on slavery. Of the two, Giddings was bitter and aggressive, Hale keen and humorous, but each had an unerring scent for those interests of slavery which on their face did not refer to the "institution." The Free Soil agitation and the controversy over the compromise of 1850 brought into office a number of men who were destined to be the country's leaders in the period of civil war and reconstruction. Two of these were Free-Soilers — Chase, of Ohio, and Sumner, of Massachusetts - men who fought together the battle of antislavery, and, while very different in personal qualities, were united by a lasting friendship and confidence. Chase was in some respects the abler of the two, gifted with strong practical sense in legislative matters, good powers of debate, and some of the useful qualities of the managing politician. He was a large man in every way but one; he was deficient in a sense of party loyalty, and, by his willingness to advance his own interests without concerning himself much about his political friends, had won a reputation for self-seeking which stood in his way in later life. In the Senate, however, his bearing was admirable. The northern compromisers and southern sectionalists had no more dangerous opponents. Sumner, his colleague, was a narrower man, less of a politician and less of a legislator, his main interests lying in the slavery contest. He brought with him to the Senate a florid eloquence, a biting tongue in debate, and an unflinching courage in enunciating the doctrines of the antislavery philosophy in the teeth of the southerners, which was later to cost him dearly.

Wholly different from these men were two anti-slavery Whigs who now came forward. Wade, of Ohio, was a fighting northern partisan, a rough, fearless, practical westerner, with none of Sumner's eastern scholarship and little of Chase's solid legal training and ability, but well suited to aid these men in undermining the hold of compromisers upon the north. Seward, of New York, elected in 1849, was still different, for he was as much politician as an antislavery statesman. Trained under Thurlow Weed, the master of the Whig machine in New York, he knew all the details of party management and was ever guided in his senatorial career by considerations of party and personal policy. He did not love a fight, as did Hale, Chase, and Sumner; and his speeches in the Senate were rather party and personal manifestoes than a share in a give-and-take debate, but his reputation as party leader often gave them an importance which the more strictly forensic efforts of the others failed to secure.

At a later time, these leaders were joined by a host of other antislavery representatives, in House and Senate, especially Trumbull, of Illinois, a hard-hitting debater, and Wilson, of Massachusetts, an anti-slavery politician with a power of party management equal to Seward's. No one of these men, however, was individually the equal of Douglas, and it was not until Abraham Lincoln issued from private life in 1858 that his hold upon the west was shaken.

Over against the northern radicals stood a group of southern proslavery statesmen, destined to lead their states into secession and civil war. These men, whether nominally Whigs or Democrats, differed from their great forerunner, Calhoun, in openly and frankly holding that the sectional interests of their states were superior to any incompatible claims of the Union, and in making that the mainspring of their action. They regarded the north with unconcealed suspicion and hostility and were equally ready to secede or to stay, according to the benefits that their section derived from the situation. Inasmuch as their attitude was the most direct threat to the perpetuity of the Union, they were regarded by the northern Unionists as the chief power to be conciliated, and thence came their strong influence over such Whigs as Webster, Everett, and Choate, and such Democrats as Cass and Buchanan. No group of men in the country was so powerful: they dictated platforms, inspired executive policy in domestic and foreign affairs and exercised in Congress an almost unbroken parliamentary supremacy. Utterly fearless in debate, they assumed and maintained a masterful control over less belligerent northerners, overawing them by their greater fluency of speech, their readiness to resort to personalities, and their hot tempers, which the social influence of the slave-holding south had not taught them to bridle. Among the more significant of these leaders were several former Unionists. Senator Toombs, of Georgia, whose reputation in the north was that of one of the hottest of the "fire-eaters," was really less extreme than many other southerners. Elected as a Whig to succeed Berrien in the Senate in 1851, he showed himself a man of great eloquence and strong personal assertiveness. In debate, he held the foremost place until Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, returned to his chair in 1857 when he became the southern spokesman. Davis was a more logical speaker than Toombs, less diffuse, and keener. When matched, as he was later, against the adroit and slippery Douglas, Davis, by his directness and singleness of aim, showed himself his equal. These two men, insisting on the rectitude of slavery and the rights of the states, proved too strong for the southern Unionists.

Yet neither Toombs nor Davis at that time was a secessionist; each avowed his preference for a continuance of the Union, but each showed clearly that when the choice had to be made between secession and a Union in which slavery was restricted, they would prefer disunion. Some other southerners were ready for secession at any time, notably William L. Yancey, of Alabama, a man of great popular eloquence, a born agitator and stump-speaker, whose desire for a separation from the north was so strong that he refused to serve in any federal office. Quitman, of Mississippi, a strong advocate of Cuban annexation, was also ready for secession as soon as possible, and many South Carolinians, notably Barnwell Rhett, who remained out of politics during most of this decade. Both Senate and House in these years contained a group of southerners of the Davis and Yancey type, all marked by the same readiness in debate, sensitiveness to the rights of their section, and self-confident spirit in all affairs. They had a dash, a vigor, a parliamentary "gallantry," to use the favorite southern adjective, entirely lacking among northern representatives. Such men as the fiery Stephens, of Georgia, Howell Cobb and Iverson of the same state, Clement C. Clay, the leading Alabama "fire-eater," and A. G. Brown, of Mississippi, had an advantage in debate not disturbed, until just before the Civil War the break-down of Unionist sentiment at the north allowed a number of radical opponents of slavery to enter Congress and meet the fire-eaters with equal spirit, if not with equal eloquence.

The older generation of statesmen took with them into the grave or into retirement not merely their lively Unionist spirit, but also their old-fashioned opposition to a partisan civil service. As a rule, men like Clay, Webster, Adams, and, above all others, Calhoun, had no love for office broking and looked with contempt upon such political manipulation as was perfected by Van Buren, Weed, and other machine managers. But the rising generation of party leaders in the north entertained no such feelings. Davis, Toombs, Seward, Chase, Lincoln, and Douglas alike considered the filling of offices with personal and party friends as the natural course of events. 1 The last relic of reluctance to avow the principles of rotation in office was exhibited when the Whigs, under Taylor and Fillmore, still affected to consider the turning out of Democrats to make place for office-seekers a "reform." The claim was denounced as hypocrisy by the defeated party. "Appointments and removals," said Bright, of Indiana, in the Senate, "were made throughout the Union and in every state on the sole ground that the incumbent was a Democrat and the applicant a Whig. If the removals had been made on this ground I do not believe there is a decapitated officer . . . that would have uttered a voice of complaint. . . . But when . . . the monstrous defense is set up that our friends were dishonest, unfaithful and incompetent, a reply is demanded. . . . Recollect, Mr. President, I am not complaining of the removal of my political friends, when that removal is made under the regular rules and articles of political warfare."

When Pierce came in, the pressure for office was overwhelming; and the kind-hearted president, bewildered by the unbounded demands of office-seekers, and unable to say "no" to anyone, was driven to distraction before the expiration of a year of his term. His fruitless efforts to please everybody succeeded merely in causing heart-burnings, and in leading to a complete rupture of the New York Democrats into two factions, the Hard-shells and the Soft-shells, who formed distinct organizations and remained bitterly at war for three years.

Four years later, at the accession of Buchanan, the theory of rotation in office reached its full development, for although one Democratic president succeeded another, the pressure for removals was nearly as strong as though there had been a party change. Accordingly, almost without arousing comment, Buchanan turned large numbers of Pierce's appointees out of office in order to make places for new Democratic incumbents. Marcy merely provoked a smile when he remarked, "They have it that I am the author of the doctrine that 'to the victors belong the spoils,' but I should never recommend the policy of pillaging my own camp." The last vestiges of opposition to the reign of spoils in federal offices seemed to have disappeared. At the south, however, the system was less fully developed. The personal and local character of politics prevented the rise of a class of office-seekers dependent upon patronage for a livelihood and kept the federal service in these states comparatively free from plunder.

Another feature of the new politics of the decade was the appearance of corruption. The industrial development of the north at this time, the growth of large cities, and the influx of hundreds of thousands of ignorant foreigners, largely Irish and German, produced the first unmistakable signs of a new era in machine politics. For the first time, one encounters in the newspapers of these years rumors of the lavish use of money in elections and of bribery in legislatures. Actual corruption was proved in connection with land grants by a Wisconsin legislature in 1856, and with the tariff of 1857. "Bribery is comparatively of recent introduction in our country," wrote one observer." Its effects are only very partially developed, but the rapid progress it has made within a few years is a fact too prominent to be overlooked and a warning too serious and too significant to be disregarded. ... In some states wealthy and powerful corporations have usurped absolute power, controlling both the legislative and judicial action — its officers openly boasting that they carry the state in their pockets and that their corporation is rich enough to buy any legislation they want." There is no reason to suppose that one party was materially better than the other: a Democratic legislature and Republican governor in Wisconsin took " gratuities" from a railway with equal facility, and though the municipal corruption of New York City occurred under Democratic rule, the largest defaulter in a state office at this time was a Republican treasurer of Ohio during Chase's governorship.

Two scandals connected with cabinet officers took place under Whig administrations: the Galphin claim, in which George W. Crawford, secretary of war under Taylor, secured one-half the payment of the arrears of interest on a Revolutionary claim, amounting to ninety-four thousand dollars; and the Gardiner claim, where Corwin, as secretary of the treasury, received large sums from a claim later proved fraudulent. In Buchanan's term, also, the Covode investigation, of a bitterly partisan character, found evidence of corruption in purchasing votes in Congress for an administration measure by contracts, offices, and money bribes. These charges Buchanan denied sweepingly but ineffectually. It was definitely proved at the outbreak of the Civil War that Floyd, Buchanan's secretary of war, was a defaulter under circumstances which showed a singularly dull sense of official propriety.

In New York City the employment of municipal offices to fill the pockets of party leaders was now in full operation. During years of turbulent politics, in which the figure of Fernando Wood, the first successful city boss, occupied the central place, the voters struggled with dishonest primary inspectors, corrupt election judges, and self-seeking leaders whose desire for reform was wholly subordinate to their personal interests. In 1853 there came an exposure of corruption of the kind which on many later occasions has produced waves of "reform." Bribery in the awarding of street railway franchises, corrupt contracts, the sale of offices, and inefficiency on the part of the police were revealed; but the strong control maintained by Wood over the voters was sufficient to bring him into power after a brief interval of "reform" government by a coalition candidate.

In the decade after 1850, the elements of later political life were plainly visible. The old methods of Jacksonian days were superseded by a more sophisticated machinery, in which the nominating convention, party committee, and newspaper organ were not merely means for carrying elections, but were the field of operations of a perfectly well-defined class of professional politicians. The industrial revolution taking place in American economic life was affecting politics and making of them a business in city and country. The advent of a new political generation in the north meant the control of political life by men who were at the same time more elevated than their predecessors in their conception of personal liberty, and less elevated towards party organization and corrupt politics.