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The life of the people of the northern states, including under this term the border slave states, was not wholly concerned with politics and industrial activity, although profoundly influenced by them both. It had its own current, a mingled one, in which may be discerned two streams, one the continuation of the American intellectual and democratic renaissance which began after the second war with England, and the other a growth of new tendencies, arising from new social conditions and destined to alter the face of American society. 

In many ways, this decade may be regarded as the culmination of that outburst of national consciousness and self-assertion which transformed politics in the days of Andrew Jackson. Democracy now ruled unchallenged in public life and thought, the democracy, that is, of Jefferson and Jackson, which stopped short of including the negro, however much it emphasized the equality of the white man. By this time the states had completed the remodeling of their constitutions, and only a few serious changes were left to the years after 1850. Nearly everywhere state offices, including the judiciary, had been made elective, terms had been shortened, qualifications other than manhood and residence abolished, and the final decision in matters of supreme importance in the public eye, such as the permission to charter banks or the extension of the suffrage, left to popular referendum.

In federal politics, state rights enjoyed supreme prestige, receiving the tribute not only of the south but of northern statesmen and political organizations. In Congress, adherence to a strict construction of the constitution was a commonplace of speeches on all subjects and stood as the approved principle of deciding all public questions, at least in theory. By the judiciary, also, the doctrine of state rights was treated with respect and solemnity, and only a few individuals in any branch of the federal service ventured to employ the political conceptions of the Federalists or of the older generation of Whigs. The same Jacksonian democracy continued to appear in the attitude of the United States towards foreign countries, as illustrated in the bold words of Webster and Marcy and Huelsemann and in the circular on diplomatic costume.

By the year 1860, Jacksonism in politics had triumphed throughout the north and west. The Republican and Democratic organizations, which confronted each other, differed in no respect of machinery or control. Each was fully democratic in structure and leadership and relied upon the same appeal to the sentiments and interests of the masses which had carried Jackson to victory in 1828 and were now universal.

The last stronghold of conservatism fell in the north when the Whig party collapsed under the excitement of the anti-Nebraska campaign, and the tumultuous, parvenu organization of the Know-Nothings arose on its ruins. The aristocracy of the "Cotton Whigs" remained excluded from politics, a class of cultured, conservative gentlemen who disliked slavery and were loath to see it extended, but who disliked radicalism, hard words, and bad manners still more, and were unable to overlook these qualities in the new anti-slavery organizations of the Know-Nothings or the Republicans. "I deplore the passage of the Nebraska act," said Robert C. Winthrop, of Massachusetts, "but I honestly believe that Northern rashness and violence have been the main instruments in accomplishing its worst results..... Anti-slavery agitation has introduced a strain of vituperation and defamation into our discussions which is perfectly unendurable"; and again: "I have an unchangeable conviction that intemperate anti-slavery agitation has been a source of a very large part of the troubles by which our country has been disturbed."

In the world of thought, the years between 1850 and 1860 marked the flood - tide of the literary movement which began thirty years before. With the exception of Poe, who died in 1849, and Cooper, who died in 1851, nearly all the writers who first created American literature were at their prime. Within these years the New England poets produced some of their most enduring and popular works. Longfellow published the "Golden Legend," " Hiawatha," and "Miles Standish"; Whittier, although immersed in the anti-slavery cause, issued Songs of Labor and made a collection of his poetical works, as did Bryant, likewise an anti-slavery leader. In 1857 a new periodical, The Atlantic Monthly, was established as an especial representative for New England culture by Lowell, aided by Emerson, Holmes, and others; and soon the "Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table" was enlivening its pages, together with essays by Lowell, the editor, and poems and essays by Emerson. At the same time, Hawthorne reached the summit of his genius in the Scarlet Letter at one end of the decade and the Marble Faun at the other. Apart from these writers, but nonetheless, a product of the period, stood two others: Thoreau, whose Walden, in 1854, was the last word of democratic individualism, and Whitman, whose Leaves of Grass, in 1855, carried the doctrine of democracy to the pitch of mysticism. Beside these older writers stood younger ones just coming into prominence — Bayard Taylor, George William Curtis, Mrs. Stowe, and a number of lesser lights who seemed destined to be worthy successors in poetry or prose.

In other literary lines, the same fertility of American genius appeared. Bancroft, in 1852, resumed, after a pause of twelve years, his History of the United States, Hildreth completed his History of the United States a little later, Prescott wrote his Philip II. and Irving his Life of Washington at the same time, and three new historians of great distinction appeared — Parkman, whose Conspiracy of Pontiac came out in 1851; Motley, whose Dutch Republic began in 1856; and Palfrey, whose New England was issued in 1858. Other writers entered the field of political economy — Bowen in 1856, and Bascom and Henry C. Carey in 1859; Lieber wrote his Civil Liberty and Self-Government in the earlier years of the period, and Woolsey his International Law in the later ones. In the regions of abstract thought, Wayland's Elements of Intellectual Philosophy appeared in 1854, and Bushnell's Nature and the Supernatural in 1858. In all fields of literary effort, it seemed as though the flowering time of American thought and scholarship had arrived. The reading public of the antebellum world, not distracted by any great flood of cheap, entertaining, ephemeral reading - matter, enjoyed a far purer intellectual life and were habituated to a more purely literary culture than was the case at a later time.

Side by side with the culmination of the literary renaissance of the first half of the century came the full development of the intellectual restlessness which for a generation had been producing a succession of reform movements of numberless kinds. Revolutionary radicalism pervaded all fields, in religion, politics, and morals, making of the ten years before the Civil War an era of agitation scarcely paralleled before or since. Socialism of the earlier, communistic type was seen to be showing signs of weakness, and most of the Fourierist or similar experiments started in earlier years now broke down; but in its place came a new revolutionary socialism from Europe, founded by German immigrants. More characteristic of the period was the advocacy of absolute personal independence and freedom from any constraint in mind or body, by the individualist, who carried his logic of liberty to the point of complete anarchism — the "Come-outer," as he was generally styled in those days.

Probably the most aggressive reform movement at this time, and certainly the most conspicuous, was the agitation for women's rights, and especially woman suffrage, which filled the place in public esteem formerly held by the abolitionists. Numbers of devoted women, burning to emancipate their sex, undertook to begin by emancipating themselves, and while attempting to enter all sorts of callings — the law, the ministry, medicine — felt also obliged to manifest their personal freedom and rationalism in other less vital but still more conspicuous ways. Short hair and the "Bloomer costume," in the early fifties, were adopted as signs of intellectual liberty by some and brought upon the advocates of the movement an amount of popular ridicule and coarse abuse which no other action could have attracted. Such women as the Reverend Antoinette Brown, Dr. Lucy Stone, and Miss Susan B. Anthony were regarded by the conservative with no less horror than the irrepressible and eccentric Abby Kelly.

There were not lacking of men to enter the women's rights movement with equal fervor, and these, with their coworkers of the other sex, labored incessantly by lecturing and by endeavoring to participate in all sorts of meetings where women were not usually in evidence, to emphasize their rights and demand equality. Some few aberrant members of this crusade adopted the doctrine of Free Love and proclaimed a sort of logical anarchism in the relations of the sexes, making a stir out of all proportion to their numbers. Great notoriety was gained by a convention at Rutland, Vermont, on June 25, 1858, in which all varieties of reformers took part — abolitionists, spiritualists, woman-suffragists, and the like — and certain speakers made a public advocacy of the abolition of the marriage tie as a bar to human progress and the equality of the sexes.

Radicalism in religion was now actively advocated by a host of speakers, the most prominent of whom was Theodore Parker, then at the height of his fame and influence in Boston, a man of passionate anti-slavery zeal and a genius for polemics of any kind. The craze for conventions, which made the life of the professional agitator a series of meetings with his fellow reformers, showed itself in this field — for instance, in a convention held at Hartford, Connecticut, in June 1858. The object of this meeting, "for the purpose of freely canvassing the origin, authority, and influence of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures," appeared so blasphemous to the conservative that it was denounced by the press of the country as an abomination, and was mobbed by the students of a neighboring denominational college, results which served only to whet the zeal of the "Freethinkers," as they styled themselves.

The natural tendency was for these various reforms to blend together, from the fact that those who were radically inclined in one direction were generally favorably disposed to reforms in all others. The woman-suffragist was likely to be an advocate of temperance, abolition, and free religion, so that when conservative people lumped the entire field of reform activity under the heading of "the isms," and spoke of the leaders as "the short-haired women and the long-haired men," there was a certain justification. Susan B. Anthony, for instance, devoted herself almost equally to temperance, anti-slavery, and women's rights; Garrison, in the Liberator, while especially interested in abolition, sympathized warmly with every other reforming movement and was a leader in the woman's-rights field. There were, of course, many persons, especially in the west, whose anti-slavery action was not the result of iconoclastic radicalism, as was shown by the numerous "Christian Anti-Slavery Conventions" held in Ohio, Indiana, and elsewhere in 1850 and later, but the substantial unity of all reformers as radicals was the popular impression of the time.

Besides this ultra-individualistic and rationalistic free thought, there sprang up certain social movements arising from a mystical or superstitious craving. Millerism had had its day in the previous decade, but spiritualism, founded in 1848, rapidly grew to conspicuous proportions and seemed to be filling the place of a distinct religious sect. Its adherents, like all the other reformers, held conventions or conferences in numerous places, published spiritualistic papers, and claimed vaguely to number one or two million of adherents. The American reverence for congressional action was strikingly shown when, in 1854, the members of this sect presented a petition to the Senate, signed by fifteen thousand names, asking for the appointment of a commission to investigate the phenomena of "occult forces." Senator Shields, of Illinois, presented the memorial in a speech of some length, but in the debate which followed no senator proved so courageous as to defend the cause of table-tipping and spirit-rapping, and after many humorous and some contemptuous comments, and a facetious attempt to refer the memorial to the committee on foreign affairs, it was allowed to drop. Spiritualism remained without the governmental sanction its adherents hoped to secure.

Practical philanthropy went hand-in-hand with radical agitation. It was in these years that the great work of Dorothea Dix, in securing the reorganization and proper construction of asylums for the insane, was carried through. It comprised one almost tragic disappointment; for when, in 1854, after years of effort, Miss Dix finally succeeded in getting through Congress a bill granting ten million acres of public lands for the purpose of aiding the states to care for their insane, President Pierce vetoed the gift as unconstitutional on grounds of strictest state-rights doctrine. Nevertheless, the results accomplished by Miss Dix's campaign were epoch-making in the history of public charity, especially in the south and west.

All these reforming and radical movements, it should be said in conclusion, found their outlet not only in special publications but on the lecture platform, an institution then in its prime. Over the new railways into all parts of the country traveled the foremost literary men and the most eloquent reformers of the time, spreading the gospel of intellectual enlightenment in all quarters. Such men as Holmes, Lowell, Emerson, and George William Curtis were active alongside prominent clergymen like Henry Ward Beecher, temperance reformers, abolitionists, and whatever other speakers local "Lyceums" were ready to listen to. In this way, the public, not yet absorbed in magazine reading, found its intellectual stimulus, and the national sentiment and new culture of the first half of the nineteenth century its expression.

Side by side with the culmination of the national expression in government, politics, and intellectual life, began the development of social habits due to the new industrialism of the decade — the railways, the telegraph, and the influx of California gold. The new businessman came on the stage, his whole nature concentrated in competitive production or distribution. He filled the cities, accompanied the railroads into all corners of the north, and turned into wealth-getting the keenness and vigor of an unexhausted race. Then, too, appeared the new figure of "Labor," of the man who expected always to live as a wage-earner, and joined with his fellows to protect his interests. The first national unions of local labor organizations all date from this time, and the first great railway strike was on the Erie road in 1857.

Still another new social element strikingly apparent in this decade was that of the Irish and German immigrants who came to this country, trained in no school of Jacksonian democracy, but bringing the traditions of a defiant and bitter revolutionary republicanism. The presence of large numbers of brawling, ignorant, clannish Irish, not long enough escaped from sordid poverty to have any conception of American ideals, made an indelible impression upon Americans at this time. Scarcely less unwelcome to the conservative was the spectacle-wearing, beer-drinking, Sunday-despising German peasant or petty townsman. The Know-Nothing movement sprang from a real sense of alarm and dislike felt by dwellers in the city and country towards these alien arrivals. The literature and the periodicals of the fifties are filled with allusions to the Irish and Germans, betraying the mingled tolerance and aversion felt towards their habits. The types of the Irishman and the German, fixed in American humor and on the American stage, take their origin from these years. The Germans, however, brought with them a higher grade of education and culture, and from the start, the more educated among them rose rapidly to positions of prominence in politics and society.

Now all these new types and social elements were cast into a rapidly changing world. The extension of railways and telegraphs to cover the north and penetrate the south introduced the factor of speed into business to a degree never experienced before. It became worthwhile to hurry when competition was possible, not only from near at hand but from a distance. Speculation offered glittering chances of wealth, to be gained in a few years where formerly half a lifetime would have been inadequate. The California gold craze simply exaggerated the current conviction that the day had come when it was possible for anyone to acquire riches quickly. The time was at hand when American society was to be transformed.

Already, in these years, observers noted the development of a pleasure-seeking class. The new wealth had to be spent, and the American world of the years before 1850 had not been called upon to create fashionable amusements. Those who had leisure found no athletic, hunting or rural traditions to fall back upon, except in the south, where, indeed, the newly rich were not so often found. Baseball, soon to be the national game, was scarcely heard of, and the first intercollegiate boat races appeared only in 1852. Yachting was known in the harbors and along the coasts, but was not the sport of any large numbers. The winning of the Queen's Cup by the America, in 1851, marked an epoch in international racing, but it was not as yet the object of widespread Interest. It was a continual comment of foreign observers and domestic critics that Americans did not know how to play or exercise, and in consequence were dyspeptic, physically weak, and nervously irritable.

"Society" had to find diversion in dancing, eating, drinking, smoking, the theatre and opera, and the national sport of horse-trotting, with its accompanying betting. Even the great "resorts" which appeared at this time — Newport, Saratoga, Sharon Springs — with their immense hotels, existed simply for the purpose, according to observers, of enabling people to herd together and drink, smoke, flirt, and dance the more easily. 1 Of course, this was at the same time arousing a genuine love for the beauties of wild nature, and the public which read Starr King's poetic descriptions of the White Hills, in 1859, was inspired by the same feelings which have since turned American society into the country and the wilderness every summer and autumn. Still, it was an era of bad taste in Europe in things social, and the influence of the court of Napoleon III. was stronger with American fashionable society than was the example of the staider court of Victoria and Albert.

It was a common observation that displays and attempts at individual luxury preceded public comfort. The cities of the north grew greatly in size, but they continued to be poorly paved and lighted and ill-supplied with water. Streetcars, however, in this decade first began to replace the slow-moving omnibuses hitherto customary, and their growth was rapid.

The altered conditions of American life were reflected in the newspaper press of the country. Hitherto the chief reason for newspapers had been to direct political activity, but now this function was to a large degree superseded by the task of furnishing commercial information to businessmen and farmers. Already the zeal for promptness and priority of news made possible by the railway and telegraph, and appreciated in a hurrying community, had been introduced into the newspaper world by Bennett and the New York Herald. Although the paper whose standing depended upon its news and its advertisements and not upon its editorial page was in existence, the term "news" had not yet been extended to include all discoverable local items, trivial as well as significant. That phase of journalism was still in the future.

The editorial page, however, still held an important place, particularly in an epoch of such political excitement, and the leading editors of the great city dailies and weeklies were men of a prominence and weight not enjoyed by their successors. Greeley, of the Tribune; Raymond, of the Times; Bryant, of the Evening Post, in New York; Bowles, of the Springfield Republican; Medill, of the Chicago Tribune, and their fellows, made the antebellum press a real power in the political world. The Washington correspondent, also, held a position of greater influence then than later, notably such men as Pike, of the Tribune, and Simonton, of the Times. Among these journalists the most influential, without doubt, was Greeley. Eccentric in person, a curious compound of shrewdness and vanity in temperament, he was gifted with a power of expression in terse, vivid English, marked by a downright earnestness of anti-slavery feeling which made his editorials and letters more popular than the utterances of any other single man. The Tribune was the political Bible of anti-slavery Whigs, and, later, of Republicans throughout New York and the middle west.

A striking result of the greater intensity of the new industrial life, together with the lack of physical health, was the growth of excitability in the Americans of the time. Waves of popular frenzy were no new thing, for they had been known since the Stamp Act, but at no time were they so prevalent as in these years, and they were now accompanied by popular crazes of a non-political character to an extent which filled conservative people with bewilderment. In 1850-1855 the temperance movement swept the country in the Maine-law agitation; then came the anti-Nebraska fever, followed by the Know-Nothing riots and excitement, the Kansas crusade, and the Lecompton struggle, each of which rose, raged, and declined from exhaustion. In 1857 the financial panic swept like a fire across the land, and it was followed in 1858 by a widespread religious revival, the last one to arouse all sections of the north.

Hitherto unknown manifestations of excitement were called forth by the visits of interesting foreigners in these years, notably by Jenny Lind, in 1850, and Kossuth, in 1852. These did not rest ultimately upon any especial musical susceptibility in Americans nor on any absorbing sympathy with Hungary but on the love of being excited, of uniting with one's neighbors in experiencing a thrill in a fashion later commonly termed hysterical. Ampere, who saw the Kossuth excitement, remarked: " Je vois que dans cette ivresse, entrait pour beaucoup ce besoin d'excitation, de manifestations bruyantes, qui est le seul amusement vif de la multitude dans un pays ou Ton ne s'amuse guere. Ce vacarme est sans consequence et sans danger."

These years were times of ferment — with the continued radicalism of the past, the flowering of the literary genius of the land, the sweep of popular crazes, and above and around all the zest and fascination of the new industrial and agricultural outlook. In spite of the Kansas question, the slavery problem was not the only nor even the most important subject in popular interest, except for brief periods; and it was never regarded at any time as anything but an unpleasant interruption except by the professed agitators. Nevertheless, in these years the attitude of the northern people towards the south underwent a distinct change. In 1850 the great majority of voters were not ready to let their dislike of slavery draw them into any permanent antagonism towards the south, and they were eager to welcome any fair compromise. But by i860 the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, the Kansas struggle, and the controversy over the Lecompton constitution had stirred up a deep sectional feeling, based on anger at what was considered the perfidy and aggressiveness of the south in seeking to establish slavery in free territory.

This irritation had now hardened into a fixed purpose to force slavery to remain in the regions which it already occupied and to eliminate pro-slavery men from their control of the central government. This feeling, it is clear, could not be considered aggressive, for the idea of interfering with slavery in the southern states was hardly entertained. It was rather defensive and sectional, directed against the encroachments of the "slave power," or, as it was frequently called, the "slaveocracy." The current northern feeling was that unless the south were checked it would insist on protection to its slaves, not only in the territories but in the free states. It was widely, although erroneously, believed that Toombs had boasted that he would live to call the roll of his slaves at the foot of Bunker Hill monument, and the Dred Scott decision was looked upon as a step in the process of making slavery national.

The people of the north did not like the slaveholders, did not understand them, and had no desire to do so. The peculiarities of the southern code of manners created a belief that they were a race of faithless, blustering, cruel slave drivers; and the figure of a Henry Clay, once popular at the north, was hidden behind that of a "Border Ruffian." An influence of incalculable effect in establishing this opinion of slavery and slave owners was the novel of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Published in 1852, it achieved an unparalleled success from the start, edition after edition being absorbed by a public gone wild over the humor and the tragedy of the work. Although based in every detail upon facts, it was not, as enraged southerners kept insisting, a fair representation of the slave system; but it was not intended so to be. It showed in literary guise the possibilities of horror and tragedy rooted in the institution, and it fixed in the north, as no other one influence did, the popular ideal of slavery. In her astonishment at the popular enthusiasm, Mrs. Stowe wrote: " The success of what I have written has been so singular and so unexpected . . . that I scarce retain a self-consciousness and am constrained to look upon it all as the work of a Higher Power, who when he pleases, can accomplish his results by the feeblest instruments."

By 1860 the institution of slavery had few defenders in the north, and some of the foremost Republicans, such as Lincoln and Seward, did not hesitate to express sentiments that a few years earlier would have been regarded as ultra-radical. Undoubtedly thousands now agreed with them that the contest with slavery was an irreconcilable one, and must end eventually with its extinction; but the actual, technical abolitionists still remained few. The small group led by Garrison, Phillips, and others had taken the form of a sect, united by a creed and judging all others by their beliefs. This creed was a complete logical structure whose fundamental assumption was that slavery was a sin and that the duty of every man was to do his utmost to destroy it. The feature upon which the abolitionists laid great weight, was getting rid of personal responsibility. "Our duty is first personal, in regard to ourselves," wrote Garrison. "We are to see to it that we make no truce with slavery either directly or by implication, . . . that our hands are clean and our consciences without condemnation." This was done by bearing witness against it, refusing to obey any laws recognizing it, rejecting the authority of the federal government which recognized it, refusing fellowship with any slave-holder or any person who upheld slavery, and by advocating the separation of the free from the slave states.

The program of the ultra-abolitionists was without any relation to actual events, and could not, in the nature of things, attract ordinary people, hence they remained few in number, taking consolation, as every small sect must do, in a certain complacency over their own doings. Throughout the years 1850-1860 Garrison continued to criticize the course of public affairs, mercilessly applying his standards of unbending abolitionism to every man and giving scant sympathy to even those hotly engaged on the northern side in the slavery controversy so long as they did not act from purely anti-slavery motives. The distrust that Chase felt towards Douglas, when he found him opposing the Lecompton constitution, Garrison and Phillips applied to Chase himself. Yet, although this attitude of unyielding radicalism did not win converts, the abolitionists did exercise a very great indirect influence, since their steady repetition of their one idea kept it before the public, and even their extravagances — such as the public burning of the Constitution by Garrison, in 1854 — served to force home their detestation of the slave system and of the men who maintained it. Their idealization of the negro, whom they held to be equal in all respects to the white man, found little sympathy in the north, but their hatred of the slave owner struck a responsive note, and from their denunciations of the slave system undoubtedly grew the popular idea of slavery as always and everywhere monstrous and disgusting.

The altered feelings of the north on the subject of "southern aggressions" showed themselves not only in the formation of the Republican party but in numerous other ways equally exasperating to the south, as they were intended to be. The fugitive-slave law, at first reluctantly accepted, was later the object of continual attack and obstruction from the northern people, moved partly by sympathy for the fugitives, but equally by a desire to thwart the pursuers. The Underground Railroad continued its activity with increased popular sympathy and assistance. Rescues or attempted rescues of slaves were numerous, among the most famous being the attack on a federal courthouse, in May 1854, by a Boston mob, in a vain attempt to free Anthony Burns, an arrested fugitive. The return of this prisoner was carried out under the protection of state and federal troops, in the presence of a groaning, hissing crowd, and in later years every Massachusetts agent in the rendition was relentlessly hunted from political life. In Wisconsin, the same year occurred the Booth case, which has already been referred to, and in 1858 the so-called Oberlin - Wellington rescue, where a crowd of northern Ohio men, including a professor and students from Oberlin College, rescued a fugitive and were tried under the provisions of the act of 1850 until the vigorous interposition of the state authorities forced the federal government to drop the prosecution.

In a still more aggravated form, this determination to block the law in every way led to the enactment, by many states, of so-called "Personal Liberty Laws." These statutes, most of which were passed after the Know-Nothing and Republican parties gained control, prohibited the use of jails to confine fugitives, forbade state judges or other officers to aid in their capture, authorized the issue of writs of habeas corpus in case of arrests of alleged fugitives, provided for a jury trial, sometimes ordered state attorneys to act as counsel for fugitives, and imposed heavy fines and imprisonment upon any person kidnapping a free man. These laws certainly came near to nullifying the United States Constitution, and their moral effect at the south was tremendous. They showed, as nothing else could, to what an extent sectional feeling had progressed, and announced to the south that the fugitive-slave law could be executed only over the opposition of the northern people.

By 1860, therefore, the north, busily occupied with an industrial expansion of all kinds, with reforms and with intellectual ferments, was growing all the time more and more conscious of its hostility towards the south and of its own strength to render that hostility effective.