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After the first session of the Thirty-fifth Congress there remained no concrete issue between the free states and the slave states. The existence of slavery in the annexations from France and Mexico, Kansas included, was legally permitted by the Utah and New Mexico acts of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska act of 1854, and was further sanctioned in these territories, and in those on the Pacific as well, by the doctrine laid down in the Dred Scott decision of 1857.

On the other hand, slavery was practically excluded from all the territories then settled, except New Mexico, by the fact that they were actually occupied by settlers opposed to its introduction. In New Mexico, the territorial legislature passed an act to protect slave property in 1859, but it was well known that the nature of the country forbade any considerable influx. Whatever the legal rights of slave owners, they would not take their property there.

To win a barren technical victory the south had suffered actual defeat. Only by further tropical annexations could profitable slave territories be obtained; and this the invincible obstinacy of the north was sure to prevent. There was slight hope of another Mexican war. The conviction was borne in upon all thinking southerners that the destiny of the south was henceforth to remain stationary within the limits of the existing slave states, while the northwestern territories, continually filling up from the eastern states, were to add a succession of free states to increase the existing northern preponderance in Congress. The admission of Oregon in 1859 and Minnesota in 1858 was evidently but the beginning. Territorially, therefore, the south was even worse off than it had been in 1850.

The sectional problem now changed its form. No longer was it a contest for expansion that pitted the north against the south, but a direct struggle for control of the federal government. The fatal blunder of the Buchanan administration had delivered the north into the hands of the avowedly anti-slavery Republican party, whose success would mean at the very least the complete exclusion of southern men from influence and the systematic neglect of the interests of slave-holders, a situation intolerable to southern pride or prosperity. The only defense against Republican success in 1856 had been the strength of the Democratic party in the north, but now that strength seemed perilously shaken. At the crisis of the Kansas contest, the defection of Douglas turned the scale against southern desires and brought on an open rupture between Buchanan and the northern Democrats, which could be healed only by caution, wisdom, and coolness on the part of all concerned. From 1858 to i860, then, the political interest of the country centered upon the situation in the Democratic party.

The first steps towards reconciliation came from Douglas. Although flushed with triumph after his campaign in Illinois, he indulged in no reflections upon the administration, but traveled in the south, making conciliatory speeches at Memphis, New Orleans, and elsewhere. His reception was cordial on the surface, but when he returned to Congress he found the majority still vindictive. In organizing the Senate, the Democratic caucus deposed him from the chairmanship of the committee on territories, yet he submitted in silence, determined to avoid a quarrel with the rest of his party, and hoping that by showing his "regularity" on other matters his action of the previous year might be allowed to fall into oblivion as the presidential contest drew nearer.

Buchanan's annual message reported the successful conclusion of a territorial difficulty into which the slavery question did not enter. The Mormon settlement, made in the Mexican territory in 1847, had been restless ever since its incorporation in the United States by the treaty of 1848 and had tried in vain to secure self-government by admission as a state of the Union. Only the designation of the spiritual leader of the Mormons, Brigham Young, as the territorial governor, served to allay their desire for independence. An attempt in 1857 to displace Young as governor of Utah brought on, therefore, something very like an insurrection, for the territory supported Young in refusing to submit. Federal judges and land officers were promptly expelled from the region, and bands of "Danites" committed outrages upon non-Mormon residents.

In his message of December 1857, Buchanan asked for no less than ten regiments of troops, with the purpose of using five to reassert federal authority in Utah. The Republicans, with the exception of Seward, strenuously opposed granting any new troops, on the ground that Buchanan could not be trusted not to employ them against the Free State party in Kansas, but they were unable to prevent the authorization of two volunteer regiments. As it turned out, Buchanan was able to collect enough regular troops to carry through his plans without enlisting the volunteers. In the spring of 1858, he issued a proclamation calling upon the Mormons to submit, sent a new governor, Cumming, over the mountains with a considerable military force, and was able to report to Congress that Young and the Mormons had ceased to resist.

The striking feature of this session of Congress was the revelation that, in spite of the settlement of the Kansas question, there was an irrepressible conflict between north and south, even in the Democratic party. In his annual message Buchanan once more reviewed the history of the Lecompton affair, throwing the blame for all trouble upon the Free State party, and concluding by saying, in reference to his support of the Lecompton constitution, "In the course of my long public life, I have never performed any official act which in the retrospect has afforded me more heartfelt satisfaction."

This irreconcilable attitude on the part of Buchanan was a reflection in him of the stiffly sectional feelings of the leading southerners. When a Pacific railroad bill was under consideration and it proved impossible to get the two parts of the country to agree upon an eastern terminus, Iverson, of Georgia, explained his attitude on secessionist grounds. "I believe the time will come," he said, "when the Slave States will be compelled in vindication of their rights, interests, and honor, to separate from the Free States and erect an independent confederacy. ... I am unwilling to vote so much land and so much money to build a railroad to the Pacific, which, in my judgment, will be created outside of a Southern confederacy. What I demand, therefore, is that . . . the South shall have an equal chance to secure a road within her borders ... to belong to her when— if ever — the Union is dissolved."

A homestead bill, to facilitate the settlement of western lands, passed the House but was shelved in the Senate, since the southern members regarded it with great disfavor as a sort of national Emigrant Aid Society. In its place, the Senate insisted on considering an appropriation of thirty million for the purchase of Cuba, a project recommended by Buchanan in his message. It was well known that the Spanish Cortes had applauded vigorously when one of the ministry said, "Never will Spain abandon the smallest portion of its territories, and any proposition having that tendency will always be considered by the Government as an insult to the Spanish people." Nevertheless, a belief was current that Spanish ministers would be accessible to bribery, and the Republicans charged that the thirty million were to be used for a corrupt purchase, which the Democratic senators indignantly denied. The whole Cuban project seemed so chimerical to Republican senators that they left the debate mainly to advocates of annexation, among whom was Douglas, glad to stand with his old associates again.

The sectional antagonism flashed out when Toombs, of Georgia, ridiculing the phrase "land for the landless," sneered at the homestead bill as a piece of demagogy. "Now, sir," shouted Wade, "I have been trying here for nearly a month to get a straightforward vote upon this great measure of land to the landless. . . . The question will be, shall we give niggers to the niggerless or lands to the landless? When you come to niggers for the niggerless, all other questions sink into insignificance. . . . Are you going to buy Cuba for land for the landless? What is there? You will find three-quarters of a million of niggers, but you will not find any land; not one foot, not an inch. . . . No man can fail to see that he who votes and prefers one to the other, has done it because his soul was steeped in the nigger bill." The event of greatest significance during the session, however, was a debate that took place between Douglas and the southern senators. On February 22, Hale, in his usual character of agitator, offered an amendment to the general appropriation bill repealing that section of the English bill which obliged Kansas to wait before applying for admission until its population equaled the federal ratio. The next day Breckinridge, the vice-president, hoping to prevent a recurrence of sectional debate, tried to hurry on a vote, but Senator A. G. Brown, of Mississippi, broke in with a direct attack upon Douglas. "I neither want to cheat nor be cheated," he said, "in the great contest that is to come off in 1860. We shall claim for our slave property protection in the territories. ... I give you warning now that if Kansas legislates in a spirit of hostility to slavery ... a vast majority of the Southern people will come to Congress and will demand of you, in obedience to the written Constitution, . . . that you annul their legislation and substitute laws instead, giving adequate and sufficient protection to slave property. ... I understand from the Senator from Illinois that when I make that appeal he will deny it. ... I want in the next presidential election, that we shall know where we are, what we are and where we stand. If we agree let us stand together like honest men. If we disagree let us separate like honest men."

Douglas, forced to break the silence in which, since the opening of the session, he had left his views on territorial slavery, replied with his customary vigor, restating his position regarding the power of a territory to regulate all property relations and denying the possibility of Congress furnishing the "adequate protection" for slaves which Brown demanded. "I would never vote for a slave code in the territories by Congress," he declared, "and I have yet to learn that there is a man in a free state of this Union, of any party, who would. ... I tell you, gentlemen of the South, in all candor, I do not believe a Democratic candidate can ever carry one State of the North on the platform that it is the duty of the federal government to force the people of a territory to have slavery when they do not want it." There followed a sharp, defiant debate' between Douglas and the other member from Mississippi, Jefferson Davis, who was fast coming to be regarded as the leading southern senator. In heated language, Douglas reiterated his views, and Davis, in reply, warned him squarely that he could never receive the vote of Mississippi since in the eyes of the south he "was as full of heresy as he once was of adherence to the doctrine of popular sovereignty, correctly construed," and his "Freeport doctrine" was "a thing offensive to every idea of the supremacy of the laws of the United States and destructive of every prospect to preserve peace."

Thenceforward the country realized that however ready Douglas was for a reconciliation, the southern leaders desired none; unless Douglas chose to surrender everything to which he pledged himself a hundred times and to withdraw from his presidential candidacy, a disruption between northern and southern Democrats was inevitable.

A striking feature of the debate was the new doctrine regarding the right of slave property to federal protection in the territories, which was set forth as the southern ultimatum. This was the answer to Douglas's Freeport doctrine, with its uncertain popular sovereignty. The slave-holders now saw that, in spite of the Dred Scott decision, they had no real equality in Kansas or the territories farther north, and could not have it unless their slaves could enjoy the same protection in them that they had at home. Thus the Calhoun theory of 1847 was carried to a logical conclusion: Douglas's "popular sovereignty" was now in the eyes of southerners as much a denial of their rights as the Wilmot Proviso itself. To be sure, a policy of federal support of slavery in the territories could never pass the House of Representatives, three-fifths of whose members came from free states; but the demand was squarely and intentionally made.

The elections of 1859 were uneventful, for with no new issues, attention was turned towards the next presidential campaign, and in all parts of the country, politics sank to a quietude not experienced for years. The exception was California, where the Lecompton affair led to a dramatic struggle with a tragic ending. The local Democratic party was controlled from the start by Senator Gwin, a pro-slavery man, and was so strongly "Hunker" and southern in its tendencies that Gwin had hopes of using it to detach the southern half of California as a slave state. Besides these pro-slavery Democrats, called in local political slang the "Chivalry," there appeared a new Democracy of the northern type, whose representative was David C. Broderick, who had somehow managed to rise to a position of leadership through methods learned in the school of New York City politics. Accepted as a colleague by Gwin on sufferance only, he came eventually into open antagonism with him over questions of offices, and the difficulty culminated in a rupture when Broderick followed Douglas in the Lecompton contest. In a savagely contested election, the administration Democrats of California won by a large majority over the Broderick Democrats and the Republicans, and this was followed by a duel in which Broderick was killed by Judge Terry, of the Gwin party. The loss of their champion completed the ruin of the bolters, and California remained for a time in the hands of southern sympathizers.

The results of the state elections showed the Republicans still in control in the north, while in the south the Democrats were weakened by a revival of the sometimes Whig party sufficiently strong to gain a number of congressmen, besides holding Maryland and casting increased votes in other states. The future of the Democratic party looked black. Douglas seemed openly defiant. He took occasion to express semi-anti-slavery sentiments when asked his opinion regarding the reopening of the slave trade, and in September he nailed his colors to the mast by publishing in Harper's Magazine an elaborate defense of "popular sovereignty," with an attack on the new southern dogma. At the same time, Davis took occasion to repeat his views with emphasis before the Democratic convention at Jackson, Mississippi. Between these two men, who had worked with complete harmony to pass the Kansas-Nebraska bill, there was now no possibility of a common understanding. Neither could support the other without an entire sacrifice of principle and consistency, and each was a spokesman for hundreds of thousands of voters.

During these months the Republican party was at rest from its efforts and the dangers of the preceding years. It no longer needed to concern itself to find an issue, for it rested on a fixed sentiment among the majority of northern people that slavery must henceforward be shut in its existing limits. The preoccupation of Republican leaders in 1859 was to strengthen the organization in order to win the election of 1860. Discussions of candidates replaced denunciations of Buchanan or the south, and at this time Seward, of New York — politician, leader in the largest state, and philosophical statesman — stood in the public eye as the acknowledged Republican spokesman. Radical at times in speech, but cautious in action, he was regarded at the north as the shrewdest party leader and in the south as the arch-abolitionist.

By the autumn of 1859, then, the parts were assigned and the scenes were ready for the great political drama to be enacted in 1860. The outcome was hidden from even the wisest at the time, and it lay with such men as Douglas, Davis, Toombs, Seward, and their followers to decide whether or not it should be secession. The time of preparation was at an end and the crisis was at hand.