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the Democratic party, which was duly aired both in the newspapers and
in Congress. It definitely fixed the phrases "old fogy" and "Young
America" in our slang literature. The personal friends of Douglas
hastened to explain and assert his innocence of any complicity with
this political raid, but they were not more than half believed; and
the war of factions, begun in January, raged with increasing
bitterness till the Democratic National Convention met at Baltimore in
June, and undoubtedly exerted a decisive influence over the
deliberations of that body.

The only serious competitors for the nomination were the "old fogies"
Cass, Marcy, and Buchanan on the one hand, and Douglas, the pet of
"Young America," on the other. It soon became evident that opinion was
so divided among these four that a nomination could only be reached
through long and tedious ballotings. Beginning with some 20 votes,
Douglas steadily gained adherents till on the 30th ballot he received
92. From this point, however, his strength fell away. Unable himself
to succeed, he was nevertheless sufficiently powerful to defeat his
adversaries. The exasperation had been too great to permit a
concentration or compromise on any of the "seniors." Cass reached only
131 votes; Marcy, 98; Buchanan, 104; and finally, on the 49th ballot,
occurred the memorable nearly unanimous selection of Franklin Pierce -
not because of any merit of his own, but to break the insurmountable
dead-lock of factional hatred. Young America gained a nominal triumph,
old fogydom a real revenge, and the South a serviceable Northern ally.
Douglas and his friends were discomfited but not dismayed. Their
management had been exceedingly maladroit, as a more modest
championship would without doubt have secured him the coveted
nomination. Yet sagacious politicians foresaw that on the whole he was
strengthened by his defeat. From that time forward he was a recognized
presidential aspirant and competitor, young enough patiently to bide
his time, and of sufficient prestige to make his flag the rallying
point of all the free-lances in the Democratic party.

It is to this presidential aspiration of Mr. Douglas that we must look
as the explanation of his agency in bringing about the repeal of the
Missouri Compromise. As already said, after some factious opposition
the measures of 1850 had been accepted by the people as a finality of
the slavery question. Around this alleged settlement, distasteful as
it was to many, public opinion gradually crystallized. Both the
National Conventions of 1852 solemnly resolved that they would
discountenance and resist, in Congress or out of it, whenever,
wherever, or however, or under whatever color or shape, any further
renewal of the slavery agitation. This determination was echoed and
reechoed, affirmed and reaffirmed, by the recognized organs of the
public voice - from the village newspaper to the presidential message,
from the country debating school to the measured utterances of
senatorial discussion.

[Sidenote: Appendix "Congressional Globe" 1851-2, p. 63.]

[Sidenote: Douglas, Senate speech 1850. Appendix, 1849-50 pp. 369 to

[Sidenote: Douglas, Springfield speech, Oct. 28, 1849. Illinois

In support of this alleged "finality" no one had taken a more decided
stand than Senator Douglas himself. Said he: "In taking leave of this
subject I wish, to state that I have determined never to make another
speech upon the slavery question; and I will now add the hope that the
necessity for it will never exist.... So long as our opponents do not
agitate for repeal or modification, why should we agitate for any
purpose! We claim that the compromise [of 1850] is a final settlement.
Is a final settlement open to discussion and agitation and controversy
by its friends? What manner of settlement is that which does not
settle the difficulty and quiet the dispute? Are not the friends of
the compromise becoming the agitators, and will not the country hold
us responsible for that which we condemn and denounce in the
abolitionists and Free-soldiers? These are matters worthy of our
consideration. Those who preach peace should not be the first to
commence and reopen an old quarrel." In his Senate speeches, during
the compromise debates of 1850, while generally advocating his theory
of "non-intervention," he had sounded the whole gamut of the slavery
discussion, defending the various measures of adjustment against the
attacks of the Southern extremists, and specifically defending the
Missouri Compromise. More than this; he had declared in distinct words
that the principle of territorial prohibition was no violation of
Southern rights; and denounced the proposition of Calhoun to put a
"balance of power" clause into the Constitution as "a retrograde
movement in an age of progress that would astonish the world." These
repeated affirmations, taken in connection with his famous description
of the Missouri Compromise in 1849, in which he declared it to have
had "an origin akin to the Constitution," and to have become
"canonized in the hearts of the American people as a sacred thing
which no ruthless hand would ever be reckless enough to disturb," all
seemed, in the public mind, to fix his position definitely; no one
imagined that Douglas would so soon become the subject of his own

The full personal details of this event are lost to history. We have
only a faint and shadowy outline of isolated movements of a few chief
actors, a few vague suggestions and fragmentary steps in the formation
and unfolding of the ill-omened plot.

As the avowed representative of the restless and ambitious elements of
the country, as the champion of "Young America," Douglas had so far as
possible in his Congressional career made himself the apostle of
modern "progress." He was a believer in "manifest destiny" and a
zealous advocate of the Monroe doctrine. He desired - so the newspapers
averred - that the Caribbean Sea should be declared an American lake,
and nothing so delighted him as to pull the beard of the British lion.
These topics, while they furnished themes for campaign speeches, for
the present led to no practical legislation. In his position as
chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories, however, he had
control of kindred measures of present and vital interest to the
people of the West; namely, the opening of new routes of travel and
emigration, and of new territories for settlement. An era of wonder
had just dawned, connecting itself directly with these subjects. The
acquisition of California and the discovery of gold had turned the
eyes of the whole civilized world to the Pacific coast. Plains and
mountains were swarming with adventurers and emigrants. Oregon, Utah,
New Mexico, and Minnesota had just been organized, and were in a
feeble way contesting the sudden fame of the Golden State. The Western
border was astir, and wild visions of lands and cities and mines and
wealth and power were disturbing the dreams of the pioneer in his
frontier cabin, and hurrying him off on the long, romantic quest
across the continent.

Hitherto, stringent Federal laws had kept settlers and unlicensed
traders out of the Indian territory, which lay beyond the western
boundaries of Arkansas, Missouri, and Iowa, and which the policy of
our early Presidents fixed upon as the final asylum of the red men
retreating before the advance of white settlements. But now the
uncontrollable stream of emigration had broken into and through this
reservation, creating in a few years well-defined routes of travel to
New Mexico, Utah, California, and Oregon. Though from the long march
there came constant cries of danger and distress, of starvation and
Indian massacre, there was neither halting nor delay. The courageous
pioneers pressed forward all the more earnestly, and to such purpose
that in less than twenty-five years the Pacific Railroad followed
Fremont's first exploration through the South Pass.

[Illustration: FRANKLIN PIERCE.]

Douglas, himself a migratory child of fortune, was in thorough
sympathy with this somewhat premature Western longing of the people;
and as chairman of the Committee on Territories was the recipient of
all the letters, petitions, and personal solicitations from the
various interests which were seeking their advantage in this exodus
toward the setting sun. He was the natural center for all the embryo
mail contractors, office-holders, Indian traders, land-sharks, and
railroad visionaries whose coveted opportunities lay in the Western
territories. It is but just to his fame, however, to say that he
comprehended equally well the true philosophical and political
necessities which now demanded the opening of Kansas and Nebraska as a
secure highway and protecting bridge to the Rocky Mountains and our
new-found El Dorado, no less than as a bond of union between the older
States and the improvised "Young America" on the Pacific coast. The
subject was not yet ripe for action during the stormy politics of
1850-1, and had again to be postponed for the presidential campaign of
1852. But after Pierce was triumphantly elected, with a Democratic
Congress to sustain him, the legislative calm which both parties had
adjured in their platforms seemed favorable for pushing measures of
local interest. The control of legislation for the territories was for
the moment completely in the hands of Douglas. He was himself chairman
of the Committee of the Senate; and his special personal friend and
political lieutenant in his own State, William A. Richardson, of
Illinois, was chairman of the Territorial Committee of the House, He
could therefore choose his own time and mode of introducing measures
of this character in either house of Congress, under the majority
control of his party - a fact to be constantly borne in mind when we
consider the origin and progress of "the three Nebraska bills."

[Sidenote: "Globe," Feb. 2, 1853, p. 474.]

[Sidenote: Ibid., Feb. 8, p. 542-544.]

[Sidenote: Ibid., Feb. 10, p. 566.]

[Sidenote: Ibid., Feb. 10, p. 559.]

The journal discloses that Richardson, of Illinois, chairman of the
Committee on Territories of the House of Representatives, on February
2, 1853, introduced into the House "A bill to organize the Territory
of Nebraska." After due reference, and some desultory debate on the
8th, it was taken up and passed by the House on the 10th. From the
discussion we learn that the boundaries were the Missouri River on the
east, the Rocky Mountains on the west, the line of 36 degrees 30' or
southern line of Missouri on the south, and the line of 43 degrees, or
near the northern line of Iowa, on the north. Several members opposed
it, because the Indian title to the lands was not yet extinguished,
and because it embraced reservations pledged to Indian occupancy in
perpetuity; also on the general ground that it contained but few white
inhabitants, and its organization was therefore a useless expense.
Howard, of Texas, made the most strenuous opposition, urging that
since it contained but about six hundred souls, its southern boundary
should be fixed at 39 degrees 30', not to trench upon the Indian
reservations. Hall, of Missouri, replied in support of the bill: "We
want the organization of the Territory of Nebraska not merely for the
protection of the few people who reside there, but also for the
protection of Oregon and California in time of war, and the protection
of our commerce and the fifty or sixty thousand emigrants who annually
cross the plains." He added that its limits were purposely made large
to embrace the great lines of travel to Oregon, New Mexico, and
California; since the South Pass was in 42 degrees 30', the Territory
had to extend to 43 degrees north.

[Sidenote: "Globe," Feb. 8, 1858, p. 543.]

[Sidenote: Ibid., Feb. 10, 1853, p. 565.]

The incident, however, of special historical significance had occurred
in the debate of the 8th, when a member rose and said: "I wish to
inquire of the gentleman from Ohio [Mr. Giddings], who, I believe, is
a member of the Committee on Territories, why the Ordinance of 1787 is
not incorporated in this bill? I should like to know whether he or the
committee were intimidated on account of the platforms of 1852?" To
which Mr. Giddings replied that the south line of the territory was 36
degrees 30', and was already covered by the Missouri Compromise
prohibition. "This law stands perpetually, and I do not think that
this act would receive any increased validity by a reenactment. There
I leave the matter. It is very clear that the territory included in
this treaty [ceding Louisiana] must be forever free unless the law be
repealed." With this explicit understanding from a member of the
committee, apparently accepted as conclusive by the whole House, and
certainly not objected to by the chairman, Mr. Richardson, who was
carefully watching the current of debate, the bill passed on the 10th,
ninety-eight yeas to forty-three nays. Led by a few members from that
region, in the main the West voted for it and the South against it;
while the greater number, absorbed in other schemes, were wholly
indifferent, and probably cast their votes upon personal solicitation.

On the following day the bill was hurried over to the Senate, referred
to Mr. Douglas's committee, and by him reported back without
amendment, on February 17th; but the session was almost ended before
he was able to gain the attention of the Senate for its discussion.
Finally, on the night before the inauguration of President Pierce, in
the midst of a fierce and protracted struggle over the appropriation
bills, while the Senate was without a quorum and impatiently awaiting
the reports of a number of conference committees, Douglas seized the
opportunity of the lull to call up his Nebraska bill. Here again, as
in the House, Texas stubbornly opposed it. Houston undertook to talk
it to death in a long speech; Bell protested against robbing the
Indians of their guaranteed rights. The bill seemed to have no friend
but its author when, perhaps to his surprise, Senator D. R. Atchison,
of Missouri, threw himself into the breach.

[Sidenote: "Globe," March 3, 1853, p. 1113.]

Prefacing his remarks with the statement that he had formerly been
opposed to the measure, he continued: "I had two objections to it. One
was that the Indian title in that territory had not been extinguished,
or at least a very small portion of it had been. Another was the
Missouri Compromise, or, as it is commonly called, the Slavery
Restriction. It was my opinion at that time - and I am not now very
clear on that subject - that the law of Congress, when the State of
Missouri was admitted into the Union, excluding slavery from the
territory of Louisiana north of 36 degrees 30', would be enforced in
that territory unless it was specially rescinded; and whether that law
was in accordance with the Constitution of the United States or not,
it would do its work, and that work would be to preclude slaveholders
from going into that territory. But when I came to look into that
question, I found that there was no prospect, no hope, of a repeal of
the Missouri Compromise excluding slavery from that territory.... I
have always been of opinion that the first great error committed in
the political history of this country was the Ordinance of 1787,
rendering the North-west Territory free territory. The next great
error was the Missouri Compromise. But they are both irremediable....
We must submit to them. I am prepared to do it. It is evident that the
Missouri Compromise cannot be repealed. So far as that question is
concerned, we might as well agree to the admission of this territory
now as next year, or five or ten years hence."

[Sidenote: "Globe," March 3, 1853, p. 1117.]

Mr. Douglas closed the debate, advocating the passage of the bill for
general reasons, and by his silence accepting Atchison's conclusions;
but as the morning of the 4th of March was breaking, an unwilling
Senate laid the bill on the table by a vote of twenty-three to
seventeen, here, as in the House, the West being for and the South
against the measure. It is not probable, however, that in this course
the South acted with any mental reservation or sinister motive. The
great breach of faith was not yet even meditated. Only a few hours
afterwards, in a dignified and stately national ceremonial, in the
midst of foreign ministers, judges, senators, and representatives, the
new President of the United States delivered to the people his
inaugural address. High and low were alike intent to discern the
opening political currents of the new Administration, but none touched
or approached this particular subject. The aspirations of "Young
America" were not towards a conquest of the North, but the enlargement
of the South. A freshening breeze filled the sails of "annexation" and
"manifest destiny." In bold words the President said: "The policy of
my Administration will not be controlled by any timid forebodings of
evil from expansion. Indeed, it is not to be disguised that our
attitude as a nation and our position on the globe render the
acquisition of certain possessions not within our jurisdiction
eminently important for our protection, if not in the future essential
for the preservation of the rights of commerce and the peace of the
world." Reaching the slavery question, he expressed unbounded devotion
to the Union, and declared slavery recognized by the Constitution, and
his purpose to enforce the compromise measures of 1850, adding, "I
fervently trust that the question is at rest, and that no sectional or
ambitious or fanatical excitement may again threaten the durability of
our institutions, or obscure the light of our prosperity."

[Sidebar: Senate Report, No. 15, 1st Session, 33d Congress.]

When Congress met again in the following December (1853), the annual
message of President Pierce was, upon this subject, but an echo of his
inaugural, as his inaugural had been but an echo of the two party
platforms of 1852. Affirming that the compromise measures of 1850 had
given repose to the country, he declared, "That this repose is to
suffer no shock during my official term, if I have the power to avert
it, those who placed me here may be assured." In this spirit,
undoubtedly, the Democratic party and the South began the session of
1853-4; but unfortunately it was very soon abandoned. The people of
the Missouri and Iowa border were becoming every day more impatient to
enter upon an authorized occupancy of the new lands which lay a day's
journey to the west. Handfuls of squatters here and there had elected
two territorial delegates, who hastened to Washington with embryo
credentials. The subject of organizing the West was again broached; an
Iowa Senator introduced a territorial bill. Under the ordinary routine
it was referred to the Committee on Territories, and on the 4th
day of January Douglas reported back his second Nebraska bill,
still without any repeal of the Missouri Compromise. His elaborate
report accompanying this second bill, shows that the subject had
been most carefully examined in committee. The discussion was
evidently exhaustive, going over the whole history, policy, and
constitutionality of prohibitory legislation. Two or three sentences
are quite sufficient to present the substance of the long and wordy
report. First, that there were differences and doubts; second, that
these had been finally settled by the compromise measures of 1850;
and, therefore, third, the committee had adhered not only to the
spirit but to the very phraseology of that adjustment, and refused
either to affirm or repeal the Missouri Compromise.

[Sidenote: Senator Benjamin Senate Debate, May 8, 1860. "Globe," p.

[Sidenote: Ibid.]

[Sidenote: Douglas, pamphlet in reply to Judge Black, October, 1859,
p. 6.]

This was the public and legislative agreement announced to the
country. Subsequent revelations show the secret and factional bargain
which that agreement covered. Not only was this territorial bill
searchingly considered in committee, but repeated caucuses were held
by the Democratic leaders to discuss the party results likely to grow
out of it. The Southern Democrats maintained that the Constitution of
the United States recognized their right and guaranteed them
protection to their slave property, if they chose to carry it into
Federal Territories. Douglas and other Northern Democrats contended
that slavery was subject to local law, and that the people of a
Territory, like those of a State, could establish or prohibit it. This
radical difference, if carried into party action, would lose them the
political ascendency they had so long maintained, and were then
enjoying. To avert a public rupture of the party, it was agreed "that
the Territories should be organized with a delegation by Congress of
all the power of Congress in the Territories, and that the extent of
the power of Congress should be determined by the courts." If the
courts should decide against the South, the Southern Democrats would
accept the Northern theory; if the courts should decide in favor of
the South, the Northern Democrats would defend the Southern view. Thus
harmony would be preserved, and party power prolonged. Here we have
the shadow of the coming Dred Scott decision already projected into
political history, though the speaker protests that "none of us knew
of the existence of a controversy then pending in the Federal courts
that would lead almost immediately to the decision of that question."
This was probably true; for a "peculiar provision" was expressly
inserted in the committee's bill, allowing appeals to the Supreme
Court of the United States in all questions involving title to slaves,
without reference to the usual limitations in respect to the value of
the property, thereby paving the way to an early adjudication by the
Supreme Court.

[Sidenote: "Globe," Jan. 15, 1854, p. 175.]

Thus the matter rested till the 16th of January, when Senator Dixon,
of Kentucky, apparently acting for himself alone, offered an amendment
in effect repealing the Missouri Compromise. Upon this provocation,
Senator Sumner, of Massachusetts, the next day offered another
amendment affirming that it was not repealed by the bill. Commenting
on these propositions two days later, the Administration organ, the
"Washington Union," declared they were both "false lights," to be
avoided by all good Democrats. By this time, however, the subject of
"repeal" had become bruited about the Capitol corridors, the hotels,
and the caucus rooms of Washington, and newspaper correspondents were
on the _qui vive_ to obtain the latest developments concerning
the intrigue. The secrets of the Territorial Committee leaked out, and
consultations multiplied. Could a repeal be carried? Who would offer
it and lead it? What divisions or schisms would it carry into the
ranks of the Democratic party, especially in the pending contest
between the "Hards" and "Softs" in New York? What effect would it have
upon the presidential election of 1856? Already the "Union" suggested
that it was whispered that Cass was willing to propose and favor such
a "repeal." It was given out in the "Baltimore Sun" that Cass intended
to "separate the sheep from the goats." Both statements were untrue;
but they perhaps had their intended effect, to arouse the jealousy and
eagerness of Douglas. The political air of Washington was heavy with
clouds and mutterings, and clans were gathering for and against the
ominous proposition.

So far as history has been allowed a glimpse into these secret
communings, three principal personages were at this time planning a
movement of vast portent. These were Stephen A. Douglas, chairman of
the Senate Committee on Territories; Archibald Dixon, Whig Senator
from Kentucky; and David R. Atchison, of Missouri, then president
_pro tempore_ of the Senate, and acting Vice-President of the
United States. "'For myself,' said the latter in explaining the
transaction, 'I am entirely devoted to the interest of the South, and
I would sacrifice everything but my hope of heaven to advance her
welfare.' He thought the Missouri Compromise ought to be repealed; he
had pledged himself in his public addresses to vote for no territorial
organization that would not virtually annul it; and with this feeling
in his heart he desired to be the chairman of the Senate Committee on
Territories when a bill was introduced. With this object in view, he
had a private interview with Mr. Douglas, and informed him of what he
desired - the introduction of a bill for Nebraska like what

Online LibraryJohn George NicolayAbraham Lincoln: a History — Volume 01 → online text (page 23 of 31)