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[_sic_] he had promised to vote for, and that he would like to be
the chairman of the Committee on Territories in order to introduce
such a measure; and, if he could get that position, he would
immediately resign as president of the Senate. Judge Douglas requested
twenty-four hours to consider the matter, and if at the expiration of
that time he could not introduce such a bill as he (Mr. Atchison)
proposed, he would resign as chairman of the Territorial Committee in
Democratic caucus, and exert his influence to get him (Atchison)
appointed. At the expiration of the given time, Senator Douglas
signified his intention to introduce such a bill as had been spoken
of." [Footnote: Speech at Atchison City, September, 1854, reported in
the "Parkville Luminary."]

Senator Dixon is no less explicit in his description of these
political negotiations. "My amendment seemed to take the Senate by
surprise, and no one appeared more startled than Judge Douglas
himself. He immediately came to my seat and courteously remonstrated
against my amendment, suggesting that the bill which he had introduced
was almost in the words of the territorial acts for the organization
of Utah and. New Mexico; that they being a part of the compromise
measures of 1850 he had hoped that I, a known and zealous friend of
the wise and patriotic adjustment which had then taken place, would
not be inclined to do anything to call that adjustment in question or
weaken it before the country.

"I replied that it was precisely because I had been and was a firm and
zealous friend of the Compromise of 1850 that I felt bound to persist
in the movement which I had originated; that I was well satisfied that
the Missouri Restriction, if not expressly repealed, would continue to
operate in the territory to which it had been applied, thus negativing
the great and salutary principle of _non-intervention_ which
constituted the most prominent and essential feature of the plan of
settlement of 1850. We talked for some time amicably, and separated.
Some days afterwards Judge Douglas came to my lodgings, whilst I was
confined by physical indisposition, and urged me to get up and take a
ride with him in his carriage. I accepted his invitation, and rode out
with him. During our short excursion we talked on the subject of my
proposed amendment, and Judge Douglas, to my high gratification,
proposed to me that I should allow him to take charge of the amendment
and ingraft it on his territorial bill. I acceded to the proposition
at once, whereupon a most interesting interchange occurred between us.

"On this occasion Judge Douglas spoke to me in substance thus: 'I have
become perfectly satisfied that it is my duty, as a fair-minded
national statesman, to cooperate with you as proposed, in securing the
repeal of the Missouri Compromise restriction. It is due to the South;
it is due to the Constitution, heretofore palpably infracted; it is
due to that character for consistency which I have heretofore labored
to maintain. The repeal, if we can effect it, will produce much stir
and commotion in the free States of the Union for a season. I shall be
assailed by demagogues and fanatics there without stint or moderation.
Every opprobrious epithet will be applied to me. I shall be probably
hung in effigy in many places. It is more than probable that I may
become permanently odious among those whose friendship and esteem I
have heretofore possessed. This proceeding may end my political
career. But, acting under the sense of the duty which animates me, I
am prepared to make the sacrifice. I will do it.'

"He spoke in the most earnest and touching manner, and I confess that
I was deeply affected. I said to him in reply: 'Sir, I once recognized
you as a demagogue, a mere party manager, selfish and intriguing. I
now find you a warm-hearted and sterling patriot. Go forward in the
pathway of duty as you propose, and though all the world desert you, I
never will.'" [Footnote: Archibald Dixon to H. S. Foote, October 1,
1858. "Louisville Democrat" of October 3, 1858.]

[Sidenote: "Globe," Feb. 15, 1864, p. 421.]

Such is the circumstantial record of this remarkable political
transaction left by two prominent and principal instigators, and never
denied nor repudiated by the third. Gradually, as the plot was
developed, the agreement embraced the leading elements of the
Democratic party in Congress, reenforced by a majority of the Whig
leaders from the slave States. A day or two before the final
introduction of the repeal, Douglas and others held an interview with
President Pierce, [Transcriber's Note: Lengthy footnote (1) relocated
to chapter end.] and obtained from him in writing an agreement to adopt
the movement as an Administration measure. Fortified with this
important adhesion, Douglas took the fatal plunge, and on January 23
introduced his third Nebraska bill, organizing two territories instead
of one, and declaring the Missouri Compromise "inoperative." But the
amendment - monstrous Caliban of legislation as it was - needed to be
still further licked into shape to satisfy the designs of the South and
appease the alarmed conscience of the North. Two weeks later, after the
first outburst of debate, the following phraseology was substituted:
"Which being inconsistent with the principle of non-intervention by
Congress with slavery in the States and Territories, as recognized by
the legislation of 1850 (commonly called the Compromise measures), is
hereby declared inoperative and void; it being the true intent and
meaning of this act not to legislate slavery into any Territory or
State, nor to exclude it therefrom, but to leave the people thereof
perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in
their own way, subject only to the Constitution" - a change which Benton
truthfully characterized as "a stump speech injected into the belly of
the Nebraska bill." [Transcriber's Note: Lengthy footnote (2) relocated
to chapter end.]

The storm of agitation which this measure aroused dwarfed all former
ones in depth and intensity. The South was nearly united in its
behalf, the North sadly divided in opposition. Against protest and
appeal, under legislative whip and spur, with the tempting smiles and
patronage of the Administration, after nearly a four months'
parliamentary struggle, the plighted faith of a generation was
violated, and the repealing act passed - mainly by the great influence
and example of Douglas, who had only five years before so fittingly
described the Missouri Compromise as being "akin to the Constitution,"
and "canonized in the hearts of the American people as a sacred thing
which no ruthless hand would ever be reckless enough to disturb."

[Relocated Footnote (1): Jefferson Davis, who was a member of
President Pierce's Cabinet (Secretary of War), thus relates the
incident: "On Sunday morning, the 22d of January, 1854, gentlemen of
each committee {House and Senate Committees on Territories} called at
my house, and Mr. Douglas, chairman of the Senate Committee, fully
explained the proposed bill, and stated their purpose to them through
my aid, to obtain an interview on that day with the President, to
ascertain whether the bill would meet his approbation. The President
was known to be rigidly opposed to the reception of visits on Sunday
for the discussion of any political subject; but in this case it was
urged as necessary, in order to enable the committee to make their
report the next day. I went with them to the Executive Mansion, and,
leaving them in the reception-room, sought the President in his
private apartments, and explained to him the occasion of the visit. He
thereupon met the gentlemen, patiently listened to the reading of the
bill and their explanations of it, decided that it rested upon sound
constitutional principles, and recognized in it only a return to that
rule which had been infringed by the Compromise of 1820, and the
restoration of which had been foreshadowed by the legislation of 1850.
This bill was not, therefore, as has been improperly asserted, a
measure inspired by Mr. Pierce or any of his Cabinet." - Davis, "Rise
and Fall of the Confederate Government," Vol. I., p. 28.]

[Relocated Footnote (2): We have the authority of ex-Vice-President
Hannibal Hamlin for stating that Mr. Douglas (who was on specially
intimate terms with him) told him that the language of the final
amendment to the Kansas-Nebraska bill repealing the Missouri
Compromise was written by President Franklin Pierce. Douglas was
apprehensive that the President would withdraw or withhold from him a
full and undivided Administration support, and told Mr. Hamlin that he
intended to get from him something in black and white which would hold
him. A day or two afterwards Douglas, in a confidential conversation,
showed Mr. Hamlin the draft of the amendment in Mr. Pierce's own



The repeal of the Missouri Compromise made the slavery question
paramount in every State of the Union. The boasted finality was a
broken reed; the life-boat of compromise a hopeless wreck. If the
agreement of a generation could be thus annulled in a breath, was
there any safety even in the Constitution itself? This feeling
communicated itself to the Northern States at the very first note of
warning, and every man's party fealty was at once decided by his
toleration of or opposition to slavery. While the fate of the Nebraska
bill hung in a doubtful balance in the House, the feeling found
expression in letters, speeches, meetings, petitions, and
remonstrances. Men were for or against the bill - every other political
subject was left in abeyance. The measure once passed, and the
Compromise repealed, the first natural impulse was to combine,
organize, and agitate for its restoration. This was the ready-made,
common ground of cooperation.

It is probable that this merely defensive energy would have been
overcome and dissipated, had it not at this juncture been inspirited
and led by the faction known as the Free-soil party of the country,
composed mainly of men of independent anti-slavery views, who had
during four presidential campaigns been organized as a distinct
political body, with no near hope of success, but animated mainly by
the desire to give expression to their deep personal convictions. If
there were demagogues here and there among them, seeking merely to
create a balance of power for bargain and sale, they were unimportant
in number, and only of local influence, and soon became deserters.
There was no mistaking the earnestness of the body of this faction. A
few fanatical men, who had made it the vehicle of violent expressions,
had kept it under the ban of popular prejudice. It had long been held
up to public odium as a revolutionary band of "abolitionists." Most of
the abolitionists were doubtless in this party, but the party was not
all composed of abolitionists. Despite objurgation and contempt, it
had become since 1840 a constant and growing factor in politics. It
had operated as a negative balance of power in the last three
presidential elections, causing by its diversion of votes, and more
especially by its relaxing influence upon parties, the success of the
Democratic candidate, James K. Polk, in 1844, the Whig candidate,
General Taylor, in 1848, and the Democratic nominee, Franklin Pierce,
in 1852.

This small party of antislavery veterans, over 158,000 voters in the
aggregate, and distributed in detachments of from 3000 to 30,000 in
twelve of the free States, now came to the front, and with its
newspapers and speakers trained in the discussion of the subject, and
its committees and affiliations already in action and correspondence,
bore the brunt of the fight against the repeal. Hitherto its aims had
appeared Utopian, and its resolves had been denunciatory and
exasperating. Now, combining wisdom with opportunity, it became
conciliatory, and, abating something of its abstractions, made itself
the exponent of a demand for a present and practical reform - a simple
return to the ancient faith and landmarks. It labored specially to
bring about the dissolution of the old party organizations and the
formation of a new one, based upon the general policy of resisting the
extension of slavery. Since, however, the repeal had shaken but not
obliterated old party lines, this effort succeeded only in favorable


NOTE. _The number under the name of a State indicates the date of
its admission into the Union_ _The Boundary between the United
States and Mexico previous to 1845 & 1848 is indicated thus_ + + +]

For the present, party disintegration was slow; men were reluctant to
abandon their old-time principles and associations. The united efforts
of Douglas and the Administration held the body of the Northern
Democrats to his fatal policy, though protests and defections became
alarmingly frequent. On the other hand, the great mass of Northern
Whigs promptly opposed the repeal, and formed the bulk of the
opposition, nevertheless losing perhaps as many pro-slavery Whigs as
they gained antislavery Democrats. The real and effective gain,
therefore, was the more or less thorough alliance of the Whig party
and the Free-soil party of the Northern States: wherever that was
successful it gave immediate and available majorities to the
opposition, which made their influence felt even in the very opening
of the popular contest following the Congressional repeal.

It happened that this was a year for electing Congressmen. The
Nebraska bill did not pass till the end of May, and the political
excitement was at once transferred from Washington to every district
of the whole country. It may be said with truth that the year 1854
formed one continuous and solid political campaign from January to
November, rising in interest and earnestness from first to last, and
engaging in the discussion more fully than had ever occurred in
previous American history all the constituent elements of our

In the Southern States the great majority of people welcomed,
supported, and defended the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, it
being consonant with their pro-slavery feelings, and apparently
favorable to their pro-slavery interests. The Democratic party in the
South, controlling a majority of slave States, was of course a unit in
its favor. The Whig party, however, having carried two slave States
for Scott in 1852, and holding a strong minority in the remainder, was
not so unanimous. Seven Southern Representatives and two Southern
Senators had voted against the Nebraska bill, and many individual
voters condemned it as an act of bad faith - as the abandonment of the
accepted "finality," and as the provocation of a dangerous antislavery
reaction. But public opinion in that part of the Union was fearfully
tyrannical and intolerant; and opposition dared only to manifest
itself to Democratic party organization - not to these Democratic party
measures. The Whigs of the South were therefore driven precipitately
to division. Those of extreme pro-slavery views, like Dixon, of
Kentucky, - who, when he introduced his amendment, declared, "Upon the
question of slavery I know no Whiggery and no Democracy," - went boldly
and at once over into the Democratic camp, while those who retained
their traditional party name and flag were sundered from their ancient
allies in the Northern States by the impossibility of taking up the
latter's antislavery war-cry.

At this juncture the political situation was further complicated by
the sudden rise of an additional factor in politics, the American
party, popularly called the "Know-Nothings." Essentially, it was a
revival of the extinct "Native-American" faction, based upon a
jealousy of and discrimination against foreign-born voters, desiring
an extension of their period of naturalization, and their exclusion
from office; also based upon a certain hostility to the Roman Catholic
religion. It had been reorganized as a secret order in the year 1853;
and seizing upon the political disappointments following General
Scott's overwhelming defeat for the presidency in 1852, and profiting
by the disintegration caused by the Nebraska bill, it rapidly gained
recruits both North and South. Operating in entire secrecy, the
country was startled by the sudden appearance in one locality after
another, on election day, of a potent and unsuspected political power,
which in many instances pushed both the old organizations not only to
disastrous but even to ridiculous defeat. Both North and South its
forces were recruited mainly from the Whig party, though malcontents
from all quarters rushed to group themselves upon its narrow platform,
and to participate in the exciting but delusive triumphs of its
temporary and local ascendency.

When, in the opening of the anti-Nebraska contest, the Free-soil
leaders undertook the formation of a new party to supersede the old,
they had, because of their generally democratic antecedents, with
great unanimity proposed that it be called the "Republican" party,
thus reviving the distinctive appellation by which the followers of
Jefferson were known in the early days of the republic. Considering
the fact that Jefferson had originated the policy of slavery
restriction in his draft of the ordinance of 1784, the name became
singularly appropriate, and wherever the Free-soilers succeeded in
forming a coalition it was adopted without question. But the refusal
of the Whigs in many States to surrender their name and organization,
and more especially the abrupt appearance of the Know-Nothings on the
field of parties, retarded the general coalition between the Whigs and
the Free-soilers which so many influences favored. As it turned out, a
great variety of party names were retained or adopted in the
Congressional and State campaigns of 1854, the designation of "anti-
Nebraska" being perhaps the most common, and certainly for the moment
the most serviceable, since denunciation of the Nebraska bill was the
one all-pervading bond of sympathy and agreement among men who
differed very widely on almost all other political topics. This
affiliation, however, was confined exclusively to the free States. In
the slave States, the opposition to the Administration dared not raise
the anti-Nebraska banner, nor could it have found followers; and it
was not only inclined but forced to make its battle either under the
old name of Whigs, or, as became more popular, under the new
appellation of "Americans," which grew into a more dignified synonym
for Know-Nothings.

Thus confronted, the Nebraska and anti-Nebraska factions, or, more
philosophically speaking, the pro-slavery and antislavery sentiment of
the several American States, battled for political supremacy with a
zeal and determination only manifested on occasions of deep and vital
concern to the welfare of the republic. However languidly certain
elements of American society may perform what they deem the drudgery
of politics, they do not shrink from it when they hear warning of real
danger. The alarm of the nation on the repeal of the Missouri
Compromise was serious and startling. All ranks and occupations
therefore joined with a new energy in the contest it provoked.
Particularly was the religious sentiment of the North profoundly moved
by the moral question involved. Perhaps for the first time in our
modern politics, the pulpit vied with the press, and the Church with
the campaign club, in the work of debate and propagandism.

The very inception of the struggle had provoked bitter words. Before
the third Nebraska bill had yet been introduced into the Senate, the
then little band of "Free-Soilers" in Congress - Chase, Sumner,
Giddings, and three others - had issued a newspaper address calling the
repeal "a gross violation of a sacred pledge"; "a criminal betrayal of
precious rights"; "an atrocious plot," "designed to cover up from
public reprehension meditated bad faith," etc. Douglas, seizing only
too gladly the pretext to use denunciation instead of argument,
replied in his opening speech, in turn stigmatizing them as "abolition
confederates" "assembled in secret conclave" "on the holy Sabbath
while other Senators were engaged in divine worship" - "plotting," "in
the name of the holy religion"; "perverting," and "calumniating the
committee"; "appealing with a smiling face to his courtesy to get time
to circulate their document before its infamy could be exposed," etc.

[Sidenote: "Globe" March 14, 1854, p. 617.]

[Sidenote: Ibid., p. 618.]

The key-notes of the discussion thus given were well sustained on both
sides, and crimination and recrimination increased with the heat and
intensity of the campaign. The gradual disruption of parties, and the
new and radical attitudes assumed by men of independent thought, gave
ample occasion to indulge in such epithets as "apostates,"
"renegades," and "traitors." Unusual acrimony grew out of the zeal of
the Church and its ministers. The clergymen of the Northern States not
only spoke against the repeal from their pulpits, but forwarded
energetic petitions against it to Congress, 3050 clergymen of New
England of different denominations joining their signatures in one
protest. "We protest against it," they said, "as a great moral wrong,
as a breach of faith eminently unjust to the moral principles of the
community, and subversive of all confidence in national engagements;
as a measure full of danger to the peace and even the existence of our
beloved Union, and exposing us to the righteous judgment of the
Almighty." In return, Douglas made a most virulent onslaught on their
political action. "Here we find," he retorted, "that a large body of
preachers, perhaps three thousand, following the lead of a circular
which was issued by the abolition confederates in this body,
calculated to deceive and mislead the public, have here come forward
with an atrocious falsehood, and an atrocious calumny against this
Senate, desecrated the pulpit, and prostituted the sacred desk to the
miserable and corrupting influence of party politics." All his
newspapers and partisans throughout the country caught the style and
spirit of his warfare, and boldly denied the moral right of the clergy
to take part in politics otherwise than by a silent vote. But they, on
the other hand, persisted all the more earnestly in justifying their
interference in moral questions wherever they appeared, and were
clearly sustained by the public opinion of the North.

Though the repeal was forced through Congress under party pressure,
and by the sheer weight of a large Democratic majority in both
branches, it met from the first a decided and unmistakable popular
condemnation in the free States. While the measure was yet under
discussion in the House in March, New Hampshire led off by an election
completely obliterating the eighty-nine Democratic majority in her
Legislature. Connecticut followed in her footsteps early in April.
Long before November it was evident that the political revolution
among the people of the North was thorough, and that election day was
anxiously awaited merely to record the popular verdict already

The influence of this result upon parties, old and new, is perhaps
best illustrated in the organization of the Thirty-fourth Congress,
chosen at these elections during the year 1854, which witnessed the
repeal of the Missouri Compromise. Each Congress, in ordinary course,
meets for the first time about one year after its members are elected
by the people, and the influence of politics during the interim needs
always to be taken into account. In this particular instance this
effect had, if anything, been slightly reactionary, and the great
contest for the Speakership during the winter of 1855-6 may therefore
be taken as a fair manifestation of the spirit of politics in 1854.

The strength of the preceding House of Representatives, which met in
December, 1853, had been: Whigs, 71; Free-soilers, 4; Democrats, 159 -
a clear Democratic majority of 84. In the new Congress there were in
the House, as nearly as the classification could be made, about 108
anti-Nebraska members, nearly 40 Know-Nothings, and about 75
Democrats; the remaining members were undecided. The proud Democratic
majority of the Pierce election was annihilated.

But as yet the new party was merely inchoate, its elements
distrustful, jealous, and discordant; the feuds and battles of a
quarter of a century were not easily forgotten or buried. The

Online LibraryJohn George NicolayAbraham Lincoln: a History — Volume 01 → online text (page 24 of 31)