H. (Hermann) Von Holst.

The constitutional and political history of the United States (Volume 3) online

. (page 1 of 51)
Online LibraryH. (Hermann) Von HolstThe constitutional and political history of the United States (Volume 3) → online text (page 1 of 51)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

"t**rft CcfVieclxo-n.








De. H. von HOLST.




1846^1850. \[r 'J-J V > .


1850. ■' ^■•'-''^-;-




Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1881,


In the Office of iiie Librarian of Congress, in Wasliington.

S. K. Reed, Pkinter, Chicago.


The following extract is from the author's preface:
*'The third volume of the Constitutional History of the
United States would have been in the hands of the public
long ago if its preparation had not been interrupted
for a whole year, from July, 1878 to July, 1879. The
Government of the Duchy of Baden released me for that
period from my duties as academic teacher and the Royal
Prussian Academy of Sciences granted me a traveling allow-
ance of 9,000 marks, to gather new material in the Amer-
ican libraries and obtain additional information by visiting
the parts of the Union not yet known to me — the southern
States, and the territory west of the Mississippi, as far as
the Pacific Ocean.

"I could not better give exj)ression to my feelings of
gratefulness, than by wishing that the present volume
might be judged by competent critics in„su laanneR VThjoJi
will justify this extraordinary liberality. ; '.J[;p;iay 'l;han!|i In
the first place, Heinrich von Sybel, who nearly: tb,it'te-3n
years ago gave it the jirimary incitement, that thie w&rk' hiaS'
been so munificently supported by the acadvnTLJpu...'^ ',,,« ^'\ i«'

"The number of those who either directly of "iridlfectly
have assisted me in the attainment of my object — Ger-
mans, German-Americans and Americans, is so large that
I cannot name them all. Hence, I prefer to mention no
names at all, since it would greatly pain me if only one


1"^ translators' note.

should harbor the ungrounded suspicion that I had for-
gotten his services. I assure all that I shall ever remain
thankful for the assistance I received from them."

The translators desire to make their acknowledgments to
Mr. Alfred Bishop Mason, of Chicago, for valuable assist-
ance in the preparation of the present volume.

The Translators.

Table of Contents.

James K. Polk and his Cabinet 1

Attitude of the people during changes of Administration. — Dissen-
sions between leading politicians. — Characterization of the Cabinet
Ministers. — Polk's character. — His Inaugural Address.



The history of discovery of Oregon. — The line of the peace of
Utrecht. — Astoria and the peace of Ghent. — The convention of 1818.
— Attitude of England and the Government of the Union towards
Oregon. — History of the origin of the line 54° 40'. — Change of front
by England. — Extension of the convention of 1818. — The Hudson's
Bay Company. — Settlement of the country by Americans. — Congress
begins to take a livelier interest in Oregon. — The policy of "masterly
inaction." — Fremont^s discovery of a pass over the Rocky Mountains
and Asa Whitney's projected railroad to the Pacific. — The west claims
all Oregon. — Demagogic agitation of the Oregon question for party
interests and usurpatory tendencies in the Senate. — New fruitless


Texas 61

Tyler a scapegoat for Polk. — Polk's breach of word. — The Senators
deluded by Polk and Tyler more guilty than the two Presidents. —
Approximation of Mexico and Texas. — Partial change of public
opinion in Texas concerning the question of annexation. — Preliminary
peace between Mexico and Texas. — Rejection of the same and accept-
ance of the conditions of annexation. — Demagogic agitation of the
annexationists. — Polk causes his agents to make promises which he is
not authorized to make.




Polk Weaves the Warp of the Mexican War 79

Mexico threatens war. — Taylor's instructions and the border ques
tion. — Donelson's counsels. — The contradictory instructions of Julj'
30th. — Preliminary measures for the display of a large army on the
Rio Grande. — Polk declares that he will consider the crossing of the
Rio Grande by Mexican troops as an invasion of the United States
and as the commencement of hostilities. — Constitutional criticism of
this step. — -Polk contemplates an invasion of Mexican territory. —
Mexico anxiously tries to prevent a collision. — Taylor does not oblige
the administration by marching upon the Rio Grande without positive
orders. — Negotiations with Mexico. — The conquest of California con-
templated. — Polk desires to purchase New Mexico and California.—
Slidell's mission no pretense- — If it was without result, Polk deter-
mined to " force the crisis."


Signs of the Times 116

The annexation of Texas " forgotten and forgiven," but the hostile
feeling of the north against slavocracy extends and becomes keener. —
Cassius M. Clay. — John P. Hale. — The laws of South Carolina against
colored sailors and Hoar's mission. — Joint admission of Iowa and
Florida as States to the Union.-^^he politics of the spoils and the law
of rotation of office. — The principles of pure Democracy applied to
the judiciary. — Progressive Democracy3~The Supreme Court of the
Union experiences unnoticed a gradual transformation.


The Double Game against England and Mexico. Against
England the Strong, a Warlike Policy with the Swobd
IN the Scabbard 159

Polk's offer of the 49 degree as a boundary rejected by Packenham.
— Polk declares a compromise imiiossible and recommends the termi-
nation of the convention 1818-27. — Cass proposes to consider the mili-
tary power of the country. — A motion made in both Houses of Congress
for the termination of the convention of 1818-27. — Polk refuses a court
of arbitration. — The President seeks to refer the decision to the Senate.—
Claims of the House of Representatives. — The Radicals and Calhoun
on the question of the termination of the convention. — Position of the
nortlnveston the Oregon question. — Position of the south on the Oregon
question. — The west accuses the south of breach of faith. — Polk's real



The Double Game against England and Mexico. Fob weak
Mexico a Peace Policy with a Drawn Sword 198

Admission of Texas into the Union. — Mexico raises objections
against Slidell's credentials. — Causes of Herrera's attitude. — Mexico
willing to negotiate with Slidell as a commissioner about Texas but
refuses to receive him as ambassador. — The order of the 13th of Jan-
uary, 184G. — Slidell demands hostile demonstrations. — Polk hopes to
intimidate Mexico.— The House of Representatives becomes an accom-
plice of the dark policy of the President.


The Stage Thunder dies away, and the Storm Begins 216

Two-faced attitude towards England and Mexico. — The theatrical
thunder is heard and the tempest breaks forth. — Balancing in the
Oregon question begins. — Haywood's speech. — The crisis overcome. —
Notice of the termination of the convention of 1818-27. — Fremont
in California, and Gillespie's mission. — Failure of Slidell's mission. —
Taylor's march to the Rio Grande. — He begins hostilities. — The first
bloody encounter.


" The War op Polk, the Mendacious " 239

Polk's war message of May 11, 1846. — The House of Representatives
accepts the standpoint of the message without debate. — The war mes-
sage in the Senate, and constitutional criticism of Polk's assertions
and demeanor.— The war bill accepted by the Senate. — The attitude of
the opposition. — Self-prostitution of Congress.


The Objects and Probable Results op the War 256

War operations. — Kearney in New Mexico. — Conquest of California.
— No " conquests," but " indemnities."—" Our manifest destiny." — Atti-
tude of the people to Polk. — Conclusion of the strife about Oregon
— Supposed connection of the Oregon and tariff questions. — The tariff
of 1846 and Pennisylvania. — Bancroft's order respecting Santa Anna. —
Polk's "peace intrigue." — The President desires to buy a suitable
frontier j^nd a peace. — The Wilmot proviso. — John Davis's untimely
loquacity. — The situation caused by the war and Wilmot's proviso.



The Session of the "Three Million Bill" and the Wil-
MOT Proviso. 291

The message of Dec. 8, 1846.— The "peace intrigue" frustrated.—
Unsteady policy of the administration. — The question of Generals.—
The "three million bill" and eflfects of the war on party relations.—
To which section do the conquered territories belong? — The southern
Whigs opposed to conquests. — Acquisitions of land no longer to be
avoided. — ^The north with great unanimity favors the Wilmot proviso.
— ^The south united against it.— The Wilmot proviso no abstraction. —
Calhoun's resolutions.— Criticism of them. — Are slaves recognized as
property by the constitution ? — Calhoun declares the era of compro.
mises closed. — He demands the absolute political consolidation of the
south on the slave question. — His policy of reprisals, and criticisms on
his arguments. — The south's confidence of victory. — The retreat of the
north probable. — Gradual change of front of a portion of northern
Democrats. — The "three million bill" passed without Wilmot's pro-
viso. — ^The results of the session.


Progress and End of the Mexican War 328

Behavior of the troops. — Events of the war. — N. P. Trist's mission
and Scott's new victories. — Armistice and fruitless negotiations. — Cap-
ture of Mexico and meeting of the Thirtieth Congress. — Party rela-
tions. — Attitude of the Opposition. — Sad state of the administration
through the difficulty to conquer peace. — Polk's last resource. — Im-
moderate cravings for conquest. — Trist concludes a treaty of peace.
— Ratification of the treaty.


The Struggle for Oregon and the Presidential Election ^
OF 1848 diS

Abortive attempt of the Twenty-ninth Congress to organize Oregon
as a territory. — Motives and tactics of the south. — New claims with
respect to slavery in the territories. — The doctrine of squatter-sov-
ereignty. — Criticisms of Calhoun's doctrine. — Internal dissensions of
the Democratic party. — The national Democratic convention in Balti-
more. — Barnburners and Hunkers. — The question of territory in the
convention. — Taylor and his candidacy. — Henry Clay. — Uselessness of
the Wliig's old party programme for the electoral campaign. — A can-


dictate for the presidencj' without any political creed.— "What Taylor's
candidature meant to the Whigs.— Taylor not yet colorless enough for
his partisans.— Taylor and the question of the territories.— Taylor
under political guardianship.— The Whig's national convention at
Philadelphia. — Taylor's* nomination. —No programme, the pro-
gramme of the Whigs.— Opposition jyf the minority.— The parties of
opposition.— Clayton's bill.— The different factions of the south and
their constitutional doctrines.— The Oregon bill, the Buffalo conven-
tion, and the Free Soil party.— Van Buren and the Free Soil party.—
The Oregon bill of the House of Representatives becomes a ]aw.
— Results of the session.


Second Session of the Thirtieth Congress- Continuation
OF THE Contest for the Territories— Breaking up op
the Solidarity op Vievps and Interests op the South . . . 402

The Presidential election,— California.— The gold fever.— Necessity
for a strong government.— Polk and Douglas's proposals.— Douglas.
—How Douglas's proposal was received. — California and New
Mexico do not want to have anything to do with slavery.— Texas and
New Mexico.— The opponents of slavery in the House of Represen.
tatives take the offensive.— Address of the southern delegates to their
constituents.— The southern Whigs.— Result's of Calhoun's attempt to
consolidate the south.— W. H. Seward.— S. P. Chase.— Possibilities and
prospects of a third party.— The border states, Kentucky.— Plantation
States versus the Border States.— The slavocracy judges its own claims.
— A portion of the south considers the newtej-ritoriesas lost. — Yucatan.
—Cuba.— Walker's amendment.— Webster and Calhoun on the constitu-
tional position of the territories.— Critical examination of the territorial
question.— Southern representatives support the postponement of the
decision.— New proposals and acceptance of Walker's amendment in
the Senate.— The last struggles.— The decision postponed.


The First Session op the Thirty-First Congress to the
Appointment op the Committee op Thirteen — April 19
1850 ;45,;

Taylor's Inaugural Address and his Cabinet.— Displeasure of tho
Whigs at the partition of spoils. — Menacing attitude of the slavocracy.
—How Taylor tried to solve the territorial question.— California gives
itself a State constitution and prohibits slavery. — Importance and im-
mediate consequences of this event.— The Speaker's election.— The



President's message. — Benton and Foote on Texas. — Nature and cause
of the crisis of 1850. — Confessions and demands of Meade and Cling-
man. — The surrender of fugitive slaves. — Stephens advises the south
to prepare to settle the quarrel by the sword. — The south must agree
to a compromise. — Clay's proposals. — How they are received by the
Senate. — Foote's proposals of February 21. — Calhoun's speech of
March 4. — Webster's speech of March 7. — The conservative current in
the north. — Seward's speech of March 11. — The theory of "higher law "
and the "Bible argument." — Taylor and the Whigs. — Struggle for the
admission of California. — The appointmentof the committee of thirteen.


The Compromise of 1850 523

Taylor and the Whigs. — The proposals of compromise of the
committee of thirteen. — The Nashville convention. — Taylor and
Texas. — New Mexico is summoned to hold a constitutional con-
vention. — Dissensions between Taylor and the Union-rescuers. —
Taylor's death. — President Fillmore. — The compromise secured
in spite of the fate of the Omnibus bill. — Fillmore's Message of
August .6. — The Senate passes the Texas bill. — The New Mexico
bill. — Giddings on the message of August 6. — The Senate passes
the California bill. — Protest from ten southern Senators. — The slave-
hunter law. — Materialistic tendency of the spirit of the times and
the tariff question. — Change in Boston. — The Texas bill in the House
of Representatives. — Passage of the compromise bill in the House of
Representatives. — The "lasting peace" established by the compro.


Slavery " A Positive Good " 563

Erroneous premises of all parties. — Increasing weakness of the
slavocracy. — Inconsistency in the self-judgment of the south. — Area
and population of both sections. — Immigration and emigration. — Cot-
ton and aggregate wealth of the north and the south. — Agriculture. —
Shipping. — Industries. — Mines and patents. — Railroads. — Rivers and
liiglnvays. — The post, book trade and the press. — Schools and libraries-
— The rural proletariat of the south. — Mobile and New Orleans.—
South Carolina and Charleston. — Economic conventions. — One-sided,
ness of business in the south. — The evil lies deeper because even
agriculture is carried on in the most primitive manner. — The deepest
root of all evils. — The south moves in a labyrinth of contradictions. —
Economic reform impossible and not allowed.




James K. Polk and His Cabinet.

The descriptions which a certain class of Americans —
the orators by profession who endeavor to conceal their
poverty of thought under the cover of a cold and empty
pathos — give of the intellectual life and of the feelings
of the American people, no more resemble the reality
than does a mountain landscape a Hungarian waste.
Cothurn and mask are transferred to the stage on which
this most modern of nations plays and lives its part; and
the reality which, by its rational sobriety, always com-
mands respect, appears there with distorted visage, the
caricature of itself: since there the repulsive and ridicu-
lous are seen striving with each other for the mastery.

" The sublimest spectacle on earth, a free j)eople peace-
ably deciding by the ballot what citizen shall stand at the
head of the state," which, in every day language, means a
presidential election, does not excite the wonder and ad-
miration of mankind; and the head that wears a crown
does not bow dowoi in respect before the holder of the
" sublimest office on earth." The partisan press and the
" stum]j-speakers " have, ever since the second presidential
election, made use with too great pleasure, and to too


great an extent, of the vilest means, and of means of
every description, to reacli their ends ; and they are re-
sponsible for the fact that no ideal halo, no glory sur-
rounds the presidency. Besides so many of the presidents
have worn as their only coat of arms the manufacturer's
mark of the party " machine," that the rest of the world
is sometimes tempted to estimate the dignity of the office
too nearly in accordance with the worthiness of the person
who holds it for the time being.

Americans have no reason to complain of this; for a
presidential election excites no feelings of religious awe
in themselves; and they themselves are least disposed to
pay a becoming respect to the dignity of the presidential
office. Engrossed by the business of every day life, the
people take not the slightest notice of a change in the
person who occupies the presidential chair: in "Washing-
ton alone is the 4th of March in every fourth year a great
day. Once only did the whole American people with
breathless suspense watch the entry into office of the presi-
dent elect — on the dth of March, 1861. Except on this
one occasion, the inaugural address, the j)rogramme of
the new administration, has been taken up with a certain
imperturbable calm and read by all with the conviction
that the morrow would be sufficiently like the day before
not to make it worth while to' disturb their slumbers,
however conclusively the arguments of either party dur-
ing the electoral campaign had jDroved that, in the event of
the victory of the other, the future of the republic could
be nothing but a matter of fear and speculation. Four
months intervene between the actual decision at the polls
and the change of administration. If a revolution has
been accomplished in the relations of parties, and even if
there has been only a change of persons in the incumbent
of the office of president, this period bears in certain


respects the character of an interregnum; and this is at-
tended by many evils. But these are not to be estimated
too highly, considering the great advantage attendant on
the interregnum, that it affords time for the passions
excited by the presidential campaign to subside. Both
parties grow calm, "With the victors, the feeling of respon-
sibility, and the spirit of conservatism which, in the nature
of things, is inseparable from power, obtain greater sway;
while the defeated give evidence of the healthy strength
of the national sj^irit, which always accommodates itself
at once to accomplished facts with manly equanimity and
self-confidence: they find consolation in the hope that
after four years fortune may perhaps be more favorable to
them. And when they cannot flatter themselves even
with this hope, then that optimism so peculiar to the
American, and which not unfrequently degenerates into
almost thoughtless light-heartedness, no less than the
desire of peace, have the tendency to let the white and the
black, which seemed to stand in such bold contrast to each
other before the election, fade into an indifferent gray.
Hence it is that a new president may always expect to
find on his entry into office the party opposed to him less
hot-blooded and less bitterly malevolent than the speeches
made during the electoral campaign promised.

JSTor had Polk to complain in this respect. The "Whigs
had, as we have seen, reason, to a greater extent than
usual, to feel embittered at their defeat. Spite of this,
however, their flags waved side by side with those of the
Democrats in "Washington at the inauo-uration. A stranger

O O C5

mio-ht have thought that the whole nation was filled with
festive joy. A cold and heavy rain marred the pleasure
of those who had come to witness the spectacle, but there
were no proj^hets of evil to declare it a bad omen. Had
it been Clay who was to take the oath of office next day in


the capitol it may be that the dissatisfaction of the defeated
ones wonld have cast darker shadows throngh the windows
into the bright halls where hundreds were moving to the
merry music of the dance at the inauguration ball. But
any one who followed the joyful Democrats on their way
home that night might have overheard many a whisper
indicative of coming storms. The initiated might even
now ask themselves whether the characteristic feature of
the immediate future would not be that the source of these
storms would be found in the camp of the victor. The
Whigs might say to themselves that they could scarcely
fare much worse with Polk than with Tyler, who had begun
his presidential adventures under their standard. But the
Democrats, even before they were in possession of the
fruits of their victory, began to fear that they would not
have long to enjoy their triumph, because the seeds of
discord were being strcAvn in their ranks with a plentiful
hand, and the sower was none other than the president elect

In the second year of his administration (1830), Jack-
son had created for himself an organ of his o"v\ti, the
Glohe, one M^hich, in all his struggles, never failed to
render him excellent service. Jackson valued these ser-
vices to the fullest extent, and reckoned the publisher of
the Glohe^ Fr. P. Blair, among his most intimate friends.
As a matter of course, therefore, the Globe remained the
organ of the administration under Yan Buren also; for
the latter, on his entry into ofhce, had officially declared
that he had no ambition beyond continuing the work of
his great predecessor, and precisely in the spirit in which
his predecessor conceived it. Harrison's victory swept the
crutches of government support from under Blair's arms.
The Globe ^ however, continued to exist, and Blair as well
as Jackson supposed that the reestablishment of Demo-


cratic rule would ijpso facto restore the Globe to its old
position. Bat the tidings of victory, were followed on the
heels by vague rumors that Polk did not seem minded to
follow the prescriptions of the dying invalid of the " Her-
mitage," or to be guided by his dictation. As early as the
14th of December, 1844, Blair was informed by Jackson
of a project wliich was on foot to allow him to remain,
indeed, proprietor of the Glole, but to make Ritchie its
publisher; that is, to put him aside, to make a King Log
of him, and to transfer the government of the frogs to the
stork, Ritchie. However, Jackson still thought that all
the noise was about idle schemes of a few weak-minded
politicians, that Polk would not be so foolish as to cut his
own throat, and that a few words of confidential warning
would be sufficient to destroy the network of intrigue.
He himself undertook to play the part of the faithful
monitor, and he had reason to assume that his warning
w^ords would not be without effect. Polk no less than
Van Buren owed no small part of his official greatness to
the fact that he did not let go of Jackson's skirts, no mat-
ter how or wdiither Jackson went. The influence of the
ex-president was still , immense ; and the assertion made

Online LibraryH. (Hermann) Von HolstThe constitutional and political history of the United States (Volume 3) → online text (page 1 of 51)