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and effects calculated. But what of the motives behind the de-
cision to populate Kansas with free men? Why did the so-called
"Cotton Whigs" of Boston wait until now to actively intervene
in the slavery issue? Had these men suddenly changed their po-
litical and constitutional principles or had they rejected them
completely? Had Yankee businessmen given up all hope of saving
the Union and maintaining the peace, or was this an llth hour
attempt to stave off what some were beginning to regard as an
"inevitable" conflict?

The answer to many of these questions goes much further back
into American history than Senator Douglas, the Kansas-Nebraska
act, or the Compromise of 1850. An appreciation of the deadly
dilemma with which the conservative elements of the Bay State
were faced must necessarily begin about 20 years earlier, when a
man by the name of William Lloyd Garrison ran off the first edi-
tion of a newspaper called the Liberator.

When Garrison started his Abolition crusade in 1831, he found
the solid citizenry of the city of Boston ranged against him, and
the early issues of his paper caused hardly a ripple upon the smooth
surface of the town. "Suspicion and apathy" were the only re-

DR. THOMAS H. O'CONNOR, native of Massachusetts and a graduate of Boston University,
is assistant professor of history at Boston College.

1. Amos A. Lawrence to Giles Richards, June 1, 1854, "Amos A. Lawrence Letterbook,"
Mss., Massachusetts Historical Society (hereafter cited as 'M. H. S."), v. 2.



actions to his movement, and even when apathy gave way to
curiosity and Boston did sit up and take notice, the results were
anything but encouraging. Looked upon generally as agitators,
cranks, and crackpots, Abolitionists were simply not socially ac-

Boston's men of property and standing had their own ideas re-
garding the perplexing problem of slavery and its eventual solu-
tion and they did not include what they considered the fanatical
proposals of Garrison and his friends. If a Christian gentleman
felt the need of putting his moral opposition to slavery into some
tangible form, the "colonization" program of the American Coloni-
zation Society offered a reasonable solution. The opportunity to
donate sufficient funds to send a Negro off to Africa made it pos-
sible for a gentleman to assist the individual Negro, without in-
volving himself in an unsavory controversy regarding the nature
of the institution itself. Harrison Gray Otis, mayor of Boston and
a heavy investor in cotton textiles, even went so far as to publicly
support a program of federal colonization which would provide an
annual appropriation to indemnify the slave owners and allow
each plantation state to devise its own method of colonization. 2

The Abolitionists, however, were quick to condemn what Garri-
son sneeringly labeled "that popular but pernicious doctrine of
gradual abolition." They went out of their way to attack the
policy of colonization which was known to have the active sup-
port of prominent Bostonians, and charged the colonization society
with being nothing more than a secret agency for slaveholders. 3

Before long, conservative Bostonians began to drop their attitude
of indifference and became worried about the unsettling effects
which Garrison and his followers were producing. The cotton
textile interests of the Bay State, in particular, were genuinely
alarmed concerning the possible repercussions which Garrison
might have on the Cotton Kingdom. Already there were ominous
rumblings from the South, as outraged planters threatened all sorts
of economic reprisals unless Northerners put an end to Abolition-
ist agitation. "The people of the North must go hanging these
fanatical wretches if they would not lose the benefit of Southern
trade/' growled the Richmond (Va.) Whig; and when a demon-
stration of pro-Abolitionist sentiment broke out among the workers

2. Boston Daily Atlas, December 23, 1835; Samuel Eliot Morison, The Life and Letters
of Harrison Gray Otis, Federalist, 1765-1848, 2 vols. (Boston, 1835), v. 2, pp. 288, 289.
Also, see J. K. Douglas to Amos Lawrence, August, September 10, 1846, "Amos Lawrence
Letters," Mss., M. H. S., v. 7; Stephen Fairbanks to Amos A. Lawrence, June 16, 1851, ibid.,
v. 9.

3. William Lloyd Garrison, Thoughts on African Colonization (Boston, 1832), passim.


in the Lowell Mills, the South became even more apprehensive.
Lamenting the fact that Abolitionism had been allowed to make
such inroads into the ranks of the workers, Southerners threatened
a boycott which would cause Lowell to "wither or be forced to
expel the Abolitionists/' A prominent Louisiana planter hastened
to tell a leading New England textile manufacturer of the dangers
brewing below the Mason-Dixon line. "There will be strong
measures taken in this state during the winter . . . which will
be alarming to the people of the North," warned the planter, "and
I fear the late Lowell affair will cause some resolutions which will
be acted on, aimed at her manufactures." 4

Boston manufacturing and shipping interests sought some way
out of this awkward situation. The businessmen of Massachusetts
were inextricably bound up with the fortunes of the Cotton King-
dom and the South knew it! American factories were already
using over 100 million pounds of Southern cotton, and Northern
mills depended upon a steady flow of this cotton upon which to
base their profits. Northern bankers who grew rich by extending
liberal (but risky) credit to Southern planters against next year's
crops, insisted on good relations and a stable economy. Northern
shippers looked forward to the increasing raw cotton production
of the South as their principal item of export, while depending upon
the busy looms of Lawrence and Lowell to provide one of the
most important media of the Yankee carrying trade. The result
was that the economic interests of the otherwise disparate sections
had gradually drawn both parties into an unusually tolerant,
friendly, and cordial relationship. Commercial and professional
contacts between the enterprisers in the North and the plantation
owners in the South were augmented by personal correspondence
and frequent visits. Southern planters vacationed at Boston hotels
as they might at summer resorts, while Northern manufacturers
were hospitably received into the best private homes in the South.
Young Southern gentlemen with dashing manners and generous
allowances courted the young ladies of Boston, attended dinners
and parties in Beacon Street homes, and reported regularly on their
marks and deportment at Harvard to the heads of Boston's first
families, who promptly relayed the information back to their
fathers in the South. 5

4. NUes Weekly Register, Baltimore, v. 49 (October 3, 1835), pp. 72-80; William
Sparks to Amos Lawrence, October 17, 1835, "Amos Lawrence Letters," v. 4. Also, see
Philip Foner, Business and Slavery (Chapel Hill, 1941), p. 4, and Bernard Mandel, Labor:
Free and Slave (New York, 1955), pp. 74, 75.

5. Robert Means, Beaufort, S. C., to Amos Lawrence, March 10, 1823, May, 1824,
"Amos Lawrence Papers," Mss., M. H. S., Box 1; Henry A. Bullard, New Orleans, to Law-
rence, January 28, 1832, April 5, 1838, "Amos Lawrence Letters," v. 3; John L. Toomer,
Charleston, S. C., to Lawrence, June 24, June 28, 1840, ibid.


A complementary economic system between the North and the
South, a tolerant regard for the rights and the privileges of the
other side, and a warm social relationship to augment close eco-
nomic ties these were the valuable contributions to national unity
and harmony which many conservative Bostonians felt were now
being jeopardized by the immoderate demands and dangerous
threats of the Abolitionists. The only solution which they could
see was to publicly reassure their Southern friends that the dis-
turbing element was only a small lunatic fringe which was not
at all representative of the Northern point of view. Constantly the
"Cotton Whigs" of Boston pleaded with their Southern brethren
to make a sharp distinction between the Abolitionist and the re-
mainder of the North particularly the Whigs. "The Whigs were
the first to denounce the Abolitionists," the Boston Daily Atlas
pointed out, and asked the Southland not to associate Abolitionists
like Garrison and Tappan with the Whig party. 6

In virtually all his appeals to the South, the Northern business-
man emphasized the fact that any solution to the slavery problem
was to be accomplished only in accordance with the wishes of each
of the Southern states. This was one of the most significant points
of the conservative argument against Abolition. Slavery, the aver-
age Northern Whig would readily concede, was an integral part
of the American historical process, given specific sanction by the
terms of the constitution of the United States. While he might
personally deplore the institution of slavery on moral grounds, he
felt that any political solution of the issue was only constitutionally
possible by and with the consent of the respective states. 7

Petitioners from various parts of the North proceeded to flood
congress with memorials publicly denouncing Abolitionism, and
in Boston a huge mass meeting of some 1,500 citizens met in Faneuil
Hall on August 21, 1835, to display the good intentions of Boston's
men of property and standing toward the South. An audience
composed of a number of prominent slaveholders from all parts
of the nation heard Harrison Gray Otis warn that Abolitionism
was waging war against the lives, the property, the rights, the
institutions, the pride, and the honor of the Southern states. Even
the most skeptical visitor from the South must have been satisfied

6. Boston Daily Atlas, September 30, October 10, 17, 1835.

7. Amos Lawrence to Robert Barnwell Rhett, South Carolina, December 12, 1849, in
William R. Lawrence, Extracts From the Diary and Correspondence of the Late Amos Law-
rence (Boston, 1855), pp. 274-276; Harrison Gray Otis to Benjamin Hunt, October 17,
1831, Morison, op. cit., v. 2, pp. 262, 263. Also, see Arthur B. Darling, Political Changes in
Massachusetts, 1824-1848 (New Haven, 1925), p. 152.


with this meeting in the "Cradle of Liberty"; and the Boston Atlas
took pride in reprinting a New Orleans editorial which praised
the speech of the former mayor of Boston and reported that his
words were hailed throughout the South as welcome evidence that
the insidious movement had been brought to a halt. 8

The pressure of local reaction against Garrison reached its cele-
brated climax in October, 1835, when the Abolitionist leader was
manhandled and almost lynched in the streets of Boston. Of the
nature of the mob which attacked him, Garrison had no doubt.
"It was planned and executed," he insisted, "not by the rabble,
or the workingmen, but by 'gentlemen of property and standing
from all parts of the city/" Wendell Phillips, who had been a
nonpartisan witness to the event, later gave a classic description
of the attack being conducted by the "gentlemen" of the city
in "broadcloth and in broad daylight"; and James L. Homer, editor
of the Commercial Gazette, described the mob as "gentlemen of
property and influence." The conservative character of the rioters
is further confirmed by a visitor from Baltimore, T. L. Nichols,
who chanced to see the historic outburst as he walked through
the city and saw the "merchants and bankers of Boston, assembled
on 'Change in State-Street'" come swinging around from State
street onto Washington street to put an end to the Abolitionist

Although the evidence is still largely circumstantial, there would
seem to be little doubt that some persons close to Boston's leading
merchants and businessmen had decided to demonstrate their good
will to their Southern brethren by deeds as well as by words. By
the first of the following year, young Amos A. Lawrence could
write back to his father from the nation's capital, his opinion that
the attacks against the Abolitionists had achieved their purpose.
He himself had heard Thomas Hart Benton declare proudly on
the floor of the senate that the "indignation manifested at the North
during the last summer" was proof that Northerners were as hostile
to Abolition doctrine as any "reasonable Southerner could wish." 9

Despite efforts of conservative Northerners to suppress and
destroy the Abolitionist movement, however, national events dur-

8. Boston Daily Atlas, August 22, October 17, 1835; Benjamin Curtis to George Ticknor,
August 23, 1835, Benjamin ft. Curtis, A Memoir, 2 vols. (Boston, 1879), v. 1, p. 72;
Morison, op tit., v. 2, pp. 271, 272.

9. Wendell and Francis Garrison, eds., William Lloyd Garrison, 1805-1879: The Story
of His Life Told by His Children, 4 vols. (New York, 1885), v. 2, p. 30; Wendell Phillips,
Speeches, Lectures and Letters (Boston, 1892), p. 214; T. L. Nichols, Forty Years of Amer-
ican Life, 1821-1861 (New York, 1937), pp. 84-88; Amos A. Lawrence to Amos Lawrence,
January 8, 1836, "Amos Lawrence Letters," v. 1.


ing the 1840*8 forced the issue of slavery more and more into the
forefront of political debate. The surge of westward expansion,
the rebellion in Texas, the war with Mexico, all served to focus
the eyes of the nation upon the complexities of Negro slavery and
its constitutional right to exist and to expand.

While the gentlemen of Boston might repeatedly assure their
friends in the South that they would not lift a finger to interfere
with the peculiar institution where it already existed under the
sanction and protection of the constitution, most of these same
"Cotton Whigs" were strongly opposed to territorial expansion,
particularly when they felt such expansion would foreshadow the
simultaneous expansion of slavery. The Northern businessmen
would never interfere with the guarantees of the constitution in
protecting slave property in the Southern states, but the same men
were quite adamant in refusing to allow slavery to be brought
"where it is not now under the Federal Government/' Since the
question of territorial expansion was regarded as completely out-
side the original constitutional provisions which had insured the
security of slavery in the states, men like Abbott Lawrence, Amos
A. Lawrence, Nathan Appleton, Rufus Choate, Edward Everett,
and Robert C. Winthrop felt that the South could have no possible
grounds for thinking that her constitutional rights and prerogatives
were being assailed. It was with this clear-cut constitutional theory
in mind, then, that conservative elements of Boston consistently
opposed the admission of Texas to the Union. All other questions
of the day were "insignificant in comparison" to this infernal "hum-
bug" which constituted the most dangerous threat to the Union
since the days of the constitution. 10

When they were unable to prevent the annexation of Texas, the
"Cotton Whigs" next tried to stave off the war with Mexico which
they regarded as the inevitable outgrowth of slavocracy's greed
for empire. Reluctant to endanger their sensitive economic rela-
tions with the Cotton Kingdom, and still very careful not to em-
barrass their Southern Whig friends, the "Cotton Whigs" of Massa-
chusetts nevertheless opposed the war with Mexico on constitu-
tional principles. While Daniel Webster was accusing President
Polk of having unsurped the constitutional powers of congress,
Sen. John Davis, a "Cotton Whig" choice from the Bay State, pro-

10. S. G. Brown, ed., The Works of Rufus Choate With a Memoir of His Life, 2 vols.
(Boston, 1862), v. 2, p. 274; Hamilton Hill, Memoir of Abbott Lawrence (Boston, 1883),
p. 21; Amos Lawrence to Jonathan Chapman, November, 1844, Lawrence to a friend in
South Carolina, June 12, 1852, Lawrence, Diary, pp. 192, 317, 318; Henry A. Bullard, New
Orleans to Amos Lawrence, January 25, 1837, "Amos Lawrence Letters," v. 2.


vided one of the two negative senatorial votes against the war.
Governor Briggs of Massachusetts stolidly refused to commission
officers of a company of volunteers unless they promised not to
march beyond the state boundaries, and old Amos Lawrence, noted
merchant and philanthropist, sneered at the state volunteers as
"the most miserable, dirty and worn-out wretches that can be
scraped up this side of the infernal regions !" Congressman Win-
throp summed up the conservative position quite well when he
said: "So far as we have power constitutional or moral power
to control political events, we are resolved that there shall be no
further extension of the territory of this Union subject to the in-
stitution of slavery/* 11

These voices of restraint and moderation, however, were drowned
out by the almost hysterical chant of Manifest Destiny which
ended only when the United States relieved Mexico of about two-
fifths of her lands. The "Cotton Whigs" were appalled at the
enormity of the act, and suspected that this victory over Mexico
was only the signal for all Western lands to be opened to Negro
slavery. Determined to head off such a possibility, the gentlemen
of Boston prepared to control as much of the national political
power as they could by putting the "right" kind of Whigs into
office in 1848. Behind the glamorous figure of the military hero,
Gen. Zachary Taylor, and with Millard T. Fillmore as a last-minute
substitute for Abbott Lawrence in the second position, the Whigs
marched to victory and took immediate steps to secure their hold.
Sen. John J. Crittenden of Kentucky saw to it that only moderate,
pro-Taylor Whigs were admitted to the magic circle. Clayton
of Delaware, Meredith of Pennsylvania, Johnson of Maryland,
Preston of Virginia, and Crawford of Georgia were cabinet ap-
pointees whose views were consistent with the conservative Whig
tradition; while Abbott Lawrence, the famous textile industrialist,
left Boston to take up residence at the Court of St. James. 12

Firmly entrenched, the Whigs waited for the shooting to start
when the 31st congress assembled in December, 1849. They did
not have long to wait. It took all of 63 ballots just to elect a
speaker of the house, and by the time that the explosive issues

11. Abbott Lawrence to John J. Crittenden, April 5, 1844, "Crittenden Mss.," United
States Library of Congress; Fletcher Webster, ed., The Writings and Speeches of Daniel
Webster, 18 vols. (National Edition, Boston, 1903), v. 4, pp. 31, 32; Amos Lawrence to
Mark Hopkins, July 19, 1848, "Amos Lawrence Letters," v. 9; Robert C. Winthrop, Jr.,
Memoir of Robert C. Winthrop (Boston, 1897), pp. 58, 59.

12. Amos Lawrence to Abbott Lawrence, February 28, March 3, March 5, 1849, Law-
rence, Diary, pp. 266, 267; Nathan Appleton to Millard Fillmore, February 6, 1849, "Nathan
Appleton Mss.," M. H. S.; Robert C. Winthrop to Nathan Appleton, January 2, 1849,
Winthrop Mss., M. H. S., v. 36.


created by the Mexican war came up for discussion, tempers had
been filed down to a hair trigger. Flare-ups were common and
fist fights were frequent, as taunts, jeers, charges, and counter-
charges reverberated through the chambers. "Upon the whole,"
confided Robert C. Winthrop to Nathan Appleton, "a seat in Con-
gress is a most undesirable possession." 13

It was against this background of debate and furious recrimina-
tion that the elderly Henry Clay rose slowly in his place in the
senate to offer a solution which might salvage some semblance of
national unity and restore some measure of sectional harmony.
Clay's famous plan was a compromise, pure and simple, designed
to appeal to as much of the moderate sentiment of all parries as
possible. Peace and conciliation were the basic ingredients of
the Compromise of 1850, and all that was needed was for some
leading political figure to second the proposals of Clay.

On March 7, 1850, Sen. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, de-
fender of the Union, statesman of national renown, and spokesman
of the interests of tradition, property and respectability, rose to
speak. In the last great speech of his life, the aging senator gave
an eloquent defense of the proposals of Clay, pleaded for peace
and reconciliation, and promptly brought down upon his head
the violent indignation of the antislavery elements of the Bay State.

But to the New England business community as a whole, to a
majority of the men of wealth and property and standing, Webster
was the man of the hour. Having appreciated the seriousness of
the national crisis in 1850, and having realized how close the South
had really been to secession ("the future historian will pause with
astonishment and terror when he comes to record it," prophesied
Rufus Choate), the merchants and the businessmen of the North
had been prepared to clutch at almost any plan which offered any
reasonable measure of national peace. This was by no means
the best solution, most of them agreed, but it was far better than
disunion and war. Webster's stand, commented the conservative
Advertiser, was a "monument of his power of analyzing public
affairs, and of his devotion to the interests of the Union, and the
defence of the Constitution that is the heart and life of that
Union." 14 All through the state "Union Meetings" were organized

13. Winthrop, op. cit., pp. 91, 92; Winthrop to Nathan Appleton, January 6, 1850,
"Winthrop Mss.," v. 36. Also, see Holman Hamilton, " "The Cave of the Winds' and the
Compromise of 1850," Journal of Southern History, Lexington, Ky., v. 23 (August, 1957),
pp. 331-353.

14. Boston Daily Advertiser, March 12, 1850; Brown, op. cit., v. 2, p. 313; Robert C.
Winthrop to Edward Everett, March 17, 1850, "Everett Mss.," M. H. S.; Winthrop to George
Morey, March 10, 1850, "Winthrop Mss.," v. 36; Susan Loring. ed., Selections From the
Diaries of William Appleton, 1786-1862 (Boston, 1922), p. 143.


in support of Webster and the compromise, and 800 of the most
prominent citizens of the city promptly rushed to add their well-
known signatures to a public letter to Senator Webster. Merchants
such as Lawrence, Appleton, Perkins, and Amory; lawyers such
as Choate, Lunt, and the Curtises; scholars such as Ticknor, Everett,
Prescott, and Sparks all added their voices to the paeans of praise
for a statesman who had "pointed out to a whole people the path
of duty," and who had "convinced the understanding and touched
the conscience of a nation." 15

As far as the "Cotton Whigs" of Massachusetts were concerned,
the Compromise of 1850 had solved those political nightmares
which had almost driven the country into a state of national hys-
teria. Basking in the warm glow of local prosperity and national
progress, Boston's men of standing relaxed in the firm belief that
the possibility of sectional conflict had passed. In theory, the
compromise had appeased the South by admitting its constitutional
privilege to let slavery follow the flag. In practice, however, the
Yankee reflected, it was not practical for slavery to expand into
the western prairies; and so, de facto, the freedom of the West was
assured. "Since . . . the whole of the vast territories hereafter
to be admitted as States are to be free," wrote Amos A. Lawrence
in obvious complacency, "it seems most unwise to be quarreling
about abstractions." 16 Despite certain features of the compromise
which they personally found distasteful ( such as the Fugitive Slave
act), the "Cotton Whigs" of Boston held tightly to this contract
which offered present intersectional accord with the promise of
future liberty. The Union was indivisible, the constitution was
infallible, and the Compromise of 1850 was indissoluble this was
the creed of those New Englanders who wanted to expunge the
moral turpitude of slavery without endangering the social and
economic relations they maintained with the South.

And then it happened. On January 4, 1954, the beautiful dream
ended, and the "old fashioned, conservative, compromise Union
Whigs," were transformed into "stark mad Abolitionists." On that
day Stephen A. Douglas, senator from Illinois reported a bill into
the senate (the Kansas-Nebraska act) calh'ng for the organization
of new territory above 36 30'. He then went on to propose that

15. Boston Daily Advertiser, April 3, 1850.

16. Amos A. Lawrence to Samuel Eliot, January 20, 1851, Lawrence to J. E. Tyler,
February 12, 1851, "Amos A. Lawrence Letterbook," v. 1; Robert C. Winthrop to John C.
Warren, August 16, 1851, "Warren Mss.," M. H. S., v. 29. Also, see R. N. Ogden and

Online LibraryKansas State Historical SocietyThe Kansas historical quarterly (Volume 26) → online text (page 5 of 59)