John G. (John Gaylord) Wells.

Wells' illustrated national campaign hand-book for 1860 online

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are informed he still holds the same views on the gen-
eral principles therein embraced, we cannot better
define his position than by re-producing the following
extract from the concluding portion of his speech :

" Sir, it is time this warfare against the South had
ceased. It has been kept up long enough. The Union
was formed for the general good, for defence against
foreign invasion, and to secure domestic tranquility.
The southern States came into it in good faith. When
the Constitution was adopted, slavery existed in nearly
all the States; and the great object of its framers was,
not to consider how it might ultimately be abolished,
but to throw around it tlie most ample guarantees.
This Union never could have been formed upon any
other basis than that of the most absolute equality
between the States. The slave States never would
have entered into the compact upon any other condi-
tion. They never would have agreed to it if they
could have even anticipated that a methodical and
organized attack would have been made by Congress
upon their domestic institutions. Sir, it is all in viola-
tion of the spirit and letter of the Constitution. It is
at war with everything like good faith and political
fraternity. It must cease or the Union will be
destroyed ; it cannot withstand an agitation so vital, so
fundamental. It affects the very foundation of the
Government, and if continued will lay the glorious
fabric in ruins.


"It has been intimated during this debate that the
South would finally submit to the aggressions of the
North. Let not gentlemen deceive themselves. The
people of the South will endure evils while evils are
tolerable. But there is a point beyond which forbear-
ance ceases to be a virtue, and at which patience
waxes into desperation. Sir, what mean the resolu-
tions of State Legislatures which have been piled in
rapid succession upon your table during the present
session of Congress ? Virginia, North Carolina, South
Carolina, and Florida have all spoken a language not
to be misunderstood ; and if the Legislatures of the
other Southeru States had been in session, they
would have uttered similar sentiments. Is it supposed
that the people of the South are dastardly ; that they
are not serious in their public resolves ; and that they
have so far degenerated from the chivalry of their
ancestry as to pass complacently under the iron yoke
of northern agression ? Let not gentlemen deceive
themselves. The South have too much at stake.
Their domestic peace, their property, their honor, their
all, are involved in the contest. Not less than ten
hundred millions in value of their slave property are
jeoparded by this spirit of fanaticism and agression.
Does the history of the world furnish a single instance
of a people so craven-hearted as to submit to the
unresisted hazard of the security and safety of so vast
an amount of property ? Sir, I am authorized to utter
no word of menace on this floor. But I ask gentle-
men to study well the value of the interests involved,
and the lofry elements of southern character, before
they mature the opinion tliat the southern States M'ill


tamely submit to insult, degradation and plunder under
the forms of legislation.

" The Senator from 'New Jersey [Mr. Dayton]
admitted the possibility that the South might secede —
that she might retire with chagrin, like Achilles to his
tent ; but that ere long she would find something knock-
ing at the door of her mighty heart, and she would
return again. I trust, sir, that the South may never
have sufficient cause to assume the attitude of secession
from this glorious Uuion. But if she should, the gen-
tleman's illustration would be as false as it is beauti-
fully classic. Why should the South return again, if
driven from the Union by its injustice and oppression ?
i cannot imagine, unless it would be to enjoy the dis-
tinguished entree into good society, which is kindly
extended to southern gentleman at the I^orth, notwith-
standing they are slaveholders. From my very heart I
thank our northern friends for their condescending hos-
pitality, which has been so vividly portrayed by the Sen-
ator from New Jersey. But I confess I should be much
more thankful if our northern benefactors would be
less hospitable to our fugitive slaves. K, however, it
be true that the South would return, is it wise, is it
patriotic, by a course of unnecessary and unconstitu-
tional legislation to force the experiment? Is it not
the part of elevated and enlightened statesmanship to
pause ere you have reached the verge which overlooks
so fearful a precipice ?

" In maintaining the position which I do, I disavow
any intention to produce sectional prejudices, or to
foment local agitation. I deprecate the formation of
geographical parties. I feel that every inch of soil


which is sheltered by our stars and stripes is a part of
my home, and a part of my inheritance. All I mean
to say is, that if the Union, instead of a shield to pro-
tect, is converted into a weapon to wound, there is a
settled determination among the people of the South
to vindicate themselves, their rights of property, and
domestic altars. I, for one, am prepared to share their
fate. We claim nothing at the hands of Congress but
non-interference. We do not ask you to extend slav-
ery ; we say you must not prohibit it. We say that
Kew Mexico and California are the common property
of the States, and that we have the same right to carry
our slaves there which the New England man has to
carry his spindles or his looms. In this position, the
South feels that she is sustained by the Constitution,
and there she intends to stand.

" In speaking thus, the South does not desire to be
considered as using the language of menace. That
would be unworthy of herself, and incompatible with
her elevated sentiment of conscious rectitude. It would
be unjust to the North, because it would imply that
she could be moved by intimidation. What the South
means is this : Having entered the Union in good faith,
she will abide the compromises of the Constitution ;
and she expects the North to do likewise. But if this
cannot be so ; if, having the numerical majority, the
North will trample on our rights, outrage our feelings
and disregard our political equality as confederates, we
cannot be held to abide the violated bond. We say
so in advance, not to intimidate, but to arouse the
patriotism of the North, their love of the Union, and
their regard for justice, to the end that they may vol-


untarily pause ere they provoke consequences to be
deplored by every lover of liberty and every friend of
good government.

" The South is devoted to the Union. She vener-
ates its institutions. She glories in the recollection of
tlie brilliant deeds of its founders. But the Union of
lier affections is that which was formed by the Consti-
tution, ' to establish justice, insure domestic tranqtiility^
' provide for the common defence, promote the general
' welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.' If,
through the blindness of fanaticism or the folly of
unwarranted legislation, it become subversive of these
ends, and be transformed into an engine to oppress
the South, it will cease to be an object of lovo and
pride, and will tbrfeit all title to her allegiance. Wwl
if the spirit that animated the fathers of the Eepublic
can be revived ; if the spirit of justice, conciliation and
fraternity, which presided over their deliberations
could be infused into the bosoms of their descendants ;
if, under the inspiration of such a spirit, our northern
friends would approach the Constitution, and, on its
consecrated altar, sacrifice all' but pure and elevated
patriotism; if \\\q.j would deal justly with the South,
and exhibit towards her sentiments of liberality and
kindness, this Union would be as permanent as the
eternal hills ; and the sons of the sunn}^ clime from
whence I come, glorying in our " star-spangled ban-
ner," would coin their hearts, if need be, into ducats,
and pour them into the public lap, to vindicate the
national honor."

In 1849, Mr. Johnson was elected Judge of the
Superior Court, of Georgia, and lield the office until


1853. He was then elected Governor of his State,
which office he held for two years. Since the termi-
nation of his gubernatorial duties, he has been actively
engaged in the practice of his profession.

Mr. Johnson's views of public policy appear to
coincide with the sentiments of the conservative portion
of his party ; and the extract from his speech above
presented, provided he really entertains the same
views now, proves him unquestionably sound on the
main plank of the Baltimore Convention that placed
him in nomination on the ticket with Mr. Douglas.









Was born near Lexington, Kentucky, January 16th,
1821. His facilities for acquiring an education were
of the most favorable character, and he early took
advantage of them. Immediately on the completion
of his preparatory course, he entered Centre College,
and continued his studies with vigorous assiduity
during the term. It was here that surprising popu-
larity commenced that has since paved the way to the
highest honors and the most exalted social position.
Young Breckinridge was a ready, fluent debater, — an
eloquent and impressive orator, — a liberal minded,
jovial companion, sanguine, urbane and chivalrous ;
and it is not surprising that he was the favorite of his
class, and the pride of his school-fellows. He gradu-
ated with honor, and after going through the requisite
law-studies at Transylvania Institute, was admitted to
practice at Lexington.

Soon after his admission to the bar, he emigrated
to the Northwest, with a view of finding a more exten-
sive field for his labors, and located at Burlington,
Iowa. After remaining there nearly two years, he
tVnmd the country did not ineet his expectations, nor
the climate agree with his physical health ; he there-
fore returned to his native State, and took up his


abode at Lexington, where he still resides. He entered
immediately on the practice of his profession, and met
with flattering success.

At the commencement of the Mexican "War, the
military ardor of the young Kentuckian was excited,
and the result was creditable service as a Major of
Infantry during the campaign. He was in several
engagements, and on every occasion reflected addi-
tional honor on his native State. He also distinguished
himself as counsel for Major General Pillow in the
court-martial of that officer.

On the return of Major Breckinridge from Mexico,
he was elected to the Kentucky Legislature, where his
career was noted by more than ordinary legislative
ability, good sense and brilliant elocution ; and made
so favorable an impression on his constituency that he
was elected to Congress in 1850 from the Ashland
District; and in 1851, at the age of thirty, John C.
Breckinridge took his seat in the House. In 1852 he
was re-elected, and held his seat till 1855.

It was not long before the name of Mr. Breckinridge
was in the mouths of all reading people. It is not so
far back but that his difference with the " Democratic
Keview" is familiar to all the readers of that publica-
tion ; but the high station attained by Mr. Breckinridge
since, makes it necessary to record, as matter of history,
the circumstances and occasion which gave him his
first prominence.

The Democratic Eeview for January, 1852, gave
some people a " back-set" that they were not looking
for. It came out bristling and raving furiously, in a
paroxysm of revelations, discoveries and predictions.


Politicians of the old school stood aghast, wondering at
its temerity, and scandalized at its heretical teachings.
Canvassing the question of the Presidency, so soon to
come up, the Review said that, while the fathers of the
Republic personally lived, it was an easy task to select
the candidate most worthy of success and most certain
of attaining it ; hut now it was vastly difi'erent. Look-
ing at the defeat of the Democracy in 1848, after the
brilliant administration of President Polk, it believed
that "if it were impossible for the old politicians, the
surviving lieutenants of the days of Jackson, to
agree, in 1848, on the election of a candidate, it was
ten times more impossible for them to agree on the
nomination of any one of themselves as a successful
candidate" in 1852. ISTor would it be well if they
could agree, thought the Review, for they had had
" the control of the destinies of the country and the
party, but, by lack of statesmanship, lack of temper,
lack of discretion, and, most of all, by lack of progress,
they brought into our ranks discord and dissension ;
and the party they received united, strong, and far in
advance, they left a wreck — a mutinous wreck — strug-
gling in the slough of questions settled by the federal
compact of the United States." To meet the exigen
cies of the times, and insure the success of Democracy,
the Review announced and advocated a new generation
of statesmen, untrammelled with the dogmas of an ante-
rior era — men who would bring not only young blood,
but young ideas, to the counsels of the Republic.

Mr. Breckinridge was decidedly in favor of progress,
liked young blood and young ideas, but objected very
strongly to the course of the Review. It had been


most extensively circulated ; indeed, no Review in
America, before or since, ever created any such sensa-
tion as the Democratic did in 1852, " Politicians were
in a nervous fever in the breathing-time from month to
month, between congratulating themselves on not hav-
ing been noticed in the last nimiber, and fear of being
sacrificed in the next. The newspapers were eager to
get an early copy, to extend the obituary of some
decapitated ' Fogy,' or contradict the rumor that the
Democratic Review had killed him. Being always in
a rage itself, the Review soon created a like feeling in
the public ; it became the rage. Comic papers carica-
tured its writers, and revivified its victims into ludi-
crous notoriety ; comic versifiers squibbed on its sug-
gestions ; leading journals, all over the country, poured
out praise and denudation with equal heartiness ; and
the wise heads of Congress even took to criticising and
debating on its merits and men."* The articles in
question were generally considered an attack on almost
every man in the Democratic party whose name had
been mentioned in connection with the Presidency,
and therefore Mr. Breckinridge felt bound to notice
them in the House. The Review for February fol-
lowed up the denunciatory promises and views of the
January issue, and gave the gentleman from Kentucky
still further grounds of objection, especially as General
Butler, of Kentucky, had been described by name as
an " old fogy." The Review did not appreciate the
words of Milton —

" 'Tis old experience doth attain
To something like prophetic strain ;"

* Memoir of Thomas Devin Eeilly, by John Savage, in " '98 and '48," p. 378.


and " old experience" was utterly ignored in the pages
of the " Democratic."

In March, Mr. Breckinridge boldly and unsparingly
reviewed the reviewer, and denounced the publication
and its conductors, as attempting to promote the inter-
ests of a cabal, by traducing the most honored names
in the ranks of the Democracy. It was conceived by
some prominent men and journals, that Mr. Breckin-
ridge's speech was an indirect attack on Judge Douglas,
he being the only prominent man of the party not
assailed by the Keview ; and it was also rather implied
that the Keview was the organ of the Illinois Senator,
and that it was for this reason he was exempted from
denunciation in its pages. Mr. Richardson, a member
of the House from Illinois, authoritatively denied that
Douglas had any connection with the publication ; and
Mr. Marshall, of California, made a vigorous reply to
the gentleman from Kentucky, in defence of the Re-
view — " a periodical in which he felt no special inter-
est, except so far as it was ably edited."

The Review continued its strictures, and dealt heavy
blows right and left. In. view of the debate in Con-
gress, it placed Messrs. Marshall and Breckinridge on
record in its pages — ^the former in a very fine steel-
plate portrait, and the latter in an elaborate, but tanta-
lizing, review of his speech. It was an interesting con-
test, and displayed intellectual powers of no ordinary
grade. The newspapers of the day, taking up the de-
bate in Congress, and reviewing the Review, bestowed
upon Mr. Breckinridge a large share of notice in the
discussion of the affair.

Introducing, on the 30th of June, 1B52, the resolu-


tions of resjDGct to the memory of Henry Clay, who had
died the day previous, Mr. Breckinridge laid the full-
ness of his young heart on the grave of the great
statesman, in whom " intellect, person, eloquence, and
courage united to form a character fit to command."
Standing by that grave, and with the solemn memories
of the great dead about him, " the mere legerdemain
of politics" appeared contemptible. What a reproach
was Clay's life on the false policy that would trifle
with the interests of a great, intelligent, and upright
])eople ! " Were I to write his epitaph," said Breckin-
ridge, " I would inscribe as the highest eulogy, on the
stone which shall mark his resting-place : Here lies a
man who was in the public service for fifty years, and
never attempted to deceive his countrymen." The man
who could so fully appreciate the character of Henry
Clay, let his political views be what they may, is
deserving the regard of his countrymen.

In the Thirty-Second Congress, Mr. Breckinridge was
instrumental in securing an appropriation for the com-
pletion of a cemetery near the city of Mexico, in which
the remains of the American ofiicers and soldiers who
fell in battle or otherwise in or near the city of Mexico,
should be interred. He also favored an appropriation
for a weekly mail to the Pacific, and took a high
and dignified position on all questions then agitating
the country.

March 16th, 1852, Mr. Giddings, in the course of a
speech on the compromise measures and fugitive slave
law, denied that the federal government had power to
pass laws by which " to compel our ofiicers and people
to seize and carry back fugitive slaves," He was defi-


ant, bitter and denunciatory, and created great excite-
ment in the House. Mr. Breckinridge adroitly led him
into an enunciation of his most extreme doctrines, and
then said, "Against the important ravings of his
baffled fanaticism I place the plain words of the Con-
stitution. To his coarse and offensive language I have
ao reply."

He is oftentimes sharp, effective, and intensely cut-
ting in his retorts ; but his tone and bearing is always
that of a gentleman in whom the quickest sense of the
ridiculous is constantly tempered by good nature and
good breeding. Toward the close of the discussion re-
garding the Democratic Review, Mr. Carttier asked
him some insignificant question about that periodical,
when Mr. Breckinridge retorted, " I did not sujipose the
gentleman from Ohio would omit a favorable opportu-
nity to ring himself into the debate, and say something
which might go upon the record." Tliis turned the
laughter of the House on the gentleman from Ohio,
who did not seem desirous to press his inquiry further.

With the debate on the Nebraska bill, in March,
1854, Mr. Breckinridge's name is intimately connected.
It was during this discussion that his difficulty with
Mr. Cutting, of New York, occurred, and which, it was
greatly feared at the time, would lead to a disastrous
result. March 21st, Mr. Richardson, of Illinois, desir-
ing to reach the Nebraska bill, previously reported by
him, moved the House to go into Committee of the
Wliole on the state of the Union ; but after considera-
ble discussion, the motion was lost. Having proceeded
with the business on the Speaker's table, several bills
of minor importance were taken np and referred, and


the Nebraska bill reached by title. A great deal of
feeling was manifested, and all seemed to regard tliis
as a crisis.

Mr. Cutting and Mr. Richardson rose together, 'i lie
furnier moved to refer to the Committee of the Whole
on the state of the Union ; and the latter moved to re-
fer to the Committee on Territories. The member from
Illinois was recognized by the speaker, and the mem-
ber from New York raised a point of order. Mr. Rich-
ardson said his purpose was to amend'the bill, and that
Cutting's course was designed to kill it. However, Mr.
Cutting persisted in his motion, and supported it by a
speech, in the course of which he disclaimed any disre-
spect to Mr. Richardson as chairman of the Committee
on Territories, and stated that it was understood that
that committee had already discussed and elaborated
the subject. He was opposed to putting it again
through the circuitous mode of referring it to them, and
having it on the Speaker's table as it was to-day. The
North had been in a state of civil insurrection since the
introduction of the bill ; and he thought it was time,
not for parliamentary tactics, which give rise to suspi-
cion, but for full, frank, and manly discussion. He was
appealed to in vain ; and, his motion passing, he fas-
tened the whole thing by moving to reconsider, and
then laying the motion on the table.

Mr. Millsou, of Virginia, brought up the points com-
prised in the Nebraska bill in a discussion on the In-
dian Appropriation bill, on the second day after the
events detailed above, and was followed by Mr. Hunt,
of Louisiana, " two enemies of the bill" having precipi-
tated the debate on the House. Mr. Breckinridge en-


tered the lists in a memorable speech, in which he
Btrongly criticised the course of Mr. Cutting, and made
use of this pointed language : " The gentleman may be
in favor of the bill, hut his voice is that of an enemyy
He warned the friends of the measure against following
the gentleman from New York, whose course would
kill it ; and preferred a score of open enemies to a pro
fessed friend who struck in the manner he did.

A few days after the delivery of this speech, Mr.
Cutting replied at great length, paying especial atten-
tion to the imputations thrown out by Mr. Breckin-
ridge; when the latter retorting in a brief, but slightly
excoriating address, the most intense excitement pre-
vailed, and order was restored, with great difficulty.
The affair was carried outside of the House, and for
some days the public mind was on the qui vive in anti-
cipation of a duel, — the preparatory steps for such a
settlement having been taken. March 31st, Mr, Pres-
ton informed the House that Mr. Cutting had left the
matter in the hands of Col. Monroe, of New York, and
Gen. Shields, United States Senator from Illinois; and
Mr. Breckinridge had referred to Col. Hawkins, of
Kentucky, and himself, (Mr. P. ;) and he was author-
ized to state that a settlement had been effected on
terms mutually satisfactory and honorable to both par-
ties. On the part of both gentlemen he also offered an
apology for any violation of the rules of the House,
which had taken place in the excitement of debate.

In Mr. Breckinridge's speech in which the language
was used that proved offensive to Mr, Cutting, he
declared himself in favor of non-intervention, in the
most emphatic sense of that word ; and said he would


not vote for the bill if it proposed to legislate slavery
into ]S"ebraska and Kansas. "The right to establish,"
said he, " involves the correlative right to prohibit ; and
denying both, I would vote for neither, I go further,
and express the opinion that a clause legislating slavery
into those territories would not command one Southern
vote in this House." Referring to the restriction of
1820, and its inconsistency with the compromise of
1850, he said the effect of the repeal of the former was
" neither to establish nor to exclude, but to leave the
future condition of the territories wholly dependent

Online LibraryJohn G. (John Gaylord) WellsWells' illustrated national campaign hand-book for 1860 → online text (page 8 of 27)