William Henry Seward.

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states public assemblages, convened to consider slavery qustions,
were dispersed by mobs sympathizing with the capital states.

The whig party, being generally an opposition party, practised
some forbearance toward the interest of labor. The democratic
party, not without demonstrations of dissent, was generally found
sustaining the policy of capital. A disposition towards the removal
of slavery from the presence of the national capital appeared in the
District of Columbia. . Mr. Van Buren, a democratic president,
launched a prospective veto against the anticipated measure. A
democratic congress brought Texas into the Union, stipuliiting prac-
tically for its future reorganization in four slave states. Mexico was
incensed. "War ensued^ The labor states asked that the Mexican
law of liberty, which covered the territories brought in by the treaty
of peace, might remain and be confirmed. The democratic party
refused. The Missouri debate of 1820 recurred now, under circum-
stances of heat and excitement, in relation to these conquests. The
defenders of labor took alarm lest the number of new capital states-
ihight become so great as to enable that class of states to dictate the-
whole policy of the government ; and in case of constitutional resist-
ance, then to form a new slaveholding confederacy arouijd the gulf
of Mexico. By this time the capital states seemed to have become-
fixed in a determination that the federal government, and even the-
labor states, should recognize their slaves, though outside of the-
slave states, and within the territories of the United States, as pro-
perty of whicb the master could not be in any way, or by any autho-
rity, divested ; and the labor states having become now more essen-
tially democratic than ever before, by reason of the great development
of free labor, more firmly than ever insisted on the constitutional
doctrine, that slaves voluntarily carried by their masters into the
comnaon territories or into labor states, are persons — men.

Under the auspicious influence of a whig success, California and
New Mexico appeared before congress as labor states. The capital
states refiised to consent to their admission into the Union; and
again threats of disunion carried terror and consternation through'-
out the land. Another compromise was made. Specific enactments

VoiL. IV. 19


admitted California as a labor state, and remanded New Mexico and
Utah to remain territories, with the right to choose freedom or
slavery when ripened into states, wbile they gave new remedies
for the recaption of fugitives from service, and abolished the open
slave market in the District of Columbia. These new enactments,
collated with the existing statutes, namely, the ordinance of 1787, the
Missouri prohibitory law of 1820, and the articles of Texas annexa-
tion, disposed by law of the subject of slavery in all the territories
of the United States. And so the compromise of 1850 was pro-
nounced a full, final, absolute and comprehensive settlement of all
existing and all possible disputes concerning slavery under the fede-
ral authority. The two great parties, fearful for the Union, struck
hands in making and in presenting this as an adjustment, never
afterwards to be opened, disturbed or even questioned, and the peo-
ple accepted it by majorities unknown before. The new president,
chosen over an illustrious rival, unequivocally on the ground of
greater ability, even if not more reliable purpose, to maintain the
new treaty inviolate, made haste to justify this expectation when
congress assembled. He said :

" When the grave shall have closed over all who are now endeavoring to meet
the obligations of duty, the year 1850 will be recurred to as a period filled with
anxiety and apprehension. A successful war has just terinmated ; peace brought
with it a great augmentation of territory. Disturbing questions arose bearing
upon the domestic institutions of a portion of the confederacy, and involving the
constitutional rights of the states. But, notwithstanding differences of opinion
and sentiment, in relation to details and specific provisions, the acquiescence of
distinguished citizens, whose devotion to the Union can never be doubted, has
pven renewed vigor to our institutions, and restored a sense of security and
repose to the public mind throughout the confederacy. That this repose is to
suffer no shock during my official term, if I h&ve the power to avert it, those who
placed me here may be assured." '

Hardly, however, had these inspiring sounds died away, throughi-
out a reassured and delighted land, before the national repose w'js
shocked again — shocked, indeed, as it had never before been, and
smitten this time by a blow from the very hand that had jus'fc re-
leased the chords of the national harp from their utterance of that
exalted symphony of peace.

Kansas and Nebraska, the long-devoted reservation of labor and
freedom, saved in the agony of national fear in 1820, and s,aved
again in the panic of 1850, were now to be opened by congress, ' that


the never-ending course of seed-time and harvest might be^n. The
slave capitalists of Missouri, from their own well-assured hdmes on
the eastern banks of their noble river, looked down upon and cov-
eted the fertile prairies of Kansas ; while a sudden terror ran through
all the capital states, when they saw a seeming certainty that at last
a, new labor state would be built on their western border, inevitably
fraught, as they said, with a near or remote abolition of slavery.
What could be done? Congress could hardly be expected to inter-
vene directly for their safety so soon after the compromise of 1850.
The labor hive of the free states was distant — the way new, unknown
and not without perils. Missouri was near and watchful, and held
the keys of the gates of Kansas. She might seize the new and
smiling territory by surprise, if only congress would remove the
barrier established in 1820.. The conjuncture was favorable. Clay
and Webster, the distinguished citizens whose unquestionable devo-
tion to the Union was manifested by their acquiescence in the com-
promise of 1850, had gone down already into their honored graves.
The labor states had dismissed many of their representatives here
for too great fidelity to freedom, and too great distrust of the ef&cacy
of that new bond of peace, and had replaced them with partisans
who were only timid, but not unwilling. The democratic president
and congress hesitated, but not long. They revised the last great
compromise, and found, with delighted surprise, that it was so far
from confirming the law of freedom of 1820, that, on the other hand,
it exactly provided for the abrogation of that venerated statute ; nay,
that the compromise itself actually killed the spirit of the Missouri
law, and devolved on congress the duty of removing the lifeless
letter from the national code. The deed was done. The new enact-
ment not only repealed the Missouri prohibition of slavery, but it
pronounced the people of Kansas and Nebraska perfectly free to
establish fireedom or slavery, and pledged congress to admit them in
due time as states, either of capital or of labor, into the Union.
The whig representatives of the capital states, in an hour of strange
bewilderment, concurred; and the whig party instantly went down,
never to rise again. Democrats seceded, and stood aloof; the coun-
try was confounded; and, amid the perplexities of the hour, a
repubhcan party was seen gathering itself together with much earn-
estness, but with little show of organization, to rescue, if it were not


now too late, the cause of freedom and labor, so tinexpectedly and'
grievously imperiled in the territories of the United States.

I -will not linger over the sequel. The popular sovereignty of
Kansas proved to be the state sovereignty of Missouri, not only in
the persons of the rulers, but even in the letter of an arbitrary and
cruel code. The perfect freedom proved to be a hateful and intoler-
able bondage. From 1855 to 1860, KansaSj sustained and encou-
raged only by the republican party, has been engaged in. successive
and ever-varying struggles, which have taxed all her virtue, wisdom,
moderation, energies, and resources, and often even her physical
strength and martial courage, to save herself from being betrayed
into the Union as a slave state, Nebraska, though choosing free-
dom, iSj through the direct exercise of the executive power, over-
riding her own will, held as a slave territory ; and New Mexico
has relapsed voluntarily into the practice of slavery, from which she
had redeemed herself while she yet remained a part of the Mexican
republic. Meantime the democratic party, advancing from the
ground of popular sovereignty as far as that ground is from the
ordinance of 1787, now stands on the position that both territorial
governments and congress are incompetent to legislate against slavery
in the territories, while they are not only competent, but are obliged,
when it is necessary, to legislate for its protection there.

In this new and extreme position the democratic party now masks
itself behind the battery of the supreme court, as if it were possibly
a true construction of the constitution, that the power of deciding
practically forever between freedom and slavery in a portion of the
continent fe,r exceeding all that is yet organized, should be renounced
by congress, which alone possesses any legislative authority, and
should be assumed and exercised by a court which can only take cog-
nizance of the great question collaterally, in a private action between
individuals, and which action the constitution will not suffer the court
to entertain, if it involves, twenty dollars of money, without the
overruling intervention of a jury of twelve good and lawful men of'
the neighborhood where the litigation arises. The independent, ever-
renewed, and ever-recurring representative parliament, diet, congress,
or legislature, is the one chief, paramount, essential, indispensable
institution in a republic. Even liberty, guaranteed by organic law,
yet if it be held by other tenure than the guardian care of such a
representative popular assembly, is but precariously maintained,


while slavery, enforced by an irresponsible judicial tribunal, is tte
completest possible development of despotism.

Did ever the annals of any government show a more rapid or
more complete departure from the wisdom and virtue of its founders?
Did ever the government of a great empire, founded on the rights
■of human labor, slide away so fast and so far, and moor itself so
tenaciously on the basis of capital, and that capital invested in labor-"
ing men ? Did ever a free representative legislature, invested with
powers so great, and with the guardianship of rights so important,
■of trusts so sacred, of interests so precious, and of hopes at once so
noble and so comprehensive, surrender and renounce them all so
unnecessarily, so unwisely, so fatally, and so ingloriously ? If it be
true, as every instinct of our nature, and every precept of political
experience teaches us, thait

"lU fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay |"

then where in Ireland, in Italy, in Poland, or in Hungary, has any'
Tuler prepared for a generous and confiding people disappointments,
<lisasters, and calamities equal to those which the government of the.
United States holds now suspended over so large a portion of the
■continent of North America?

Citizens of the United States, in the spirit of this policy, sub-
verted the free republic of Nicaragua, and opened it to slavery and
the African slave trade, and held it in that condition waiting annex-
ation to the United States, until its sovereignty was restored by a
-combination of sister republics exposed to the same danger, and
apprehensive of similar subversion. Other citizens reopened the
foreign slave trade in violation of our laws and treaties ; and, after
a suspension of that shameful traffic for fifty years, savage Africans
have been once more landed on our shores and distributed, unre-
■claimed and with impunity, among our plantations.

For this policy, so far as the government has sanctioned it, the
democratic party avows itself responsible. Everywhere complaint
against it is denounced, and its opponents proscribed. When Kan-
sas was writhing under the wounds of incipient, servile war, because
■of her resistance, the democratic press deridingly said, " Let her
bleed." Official integrity has been cause for rebuke and piinish-
ment, when it resisted frauds designed to promote the extension of
slavery. Throughout the whole republic there is not one knowa •


dissenter from that policy remaining in place, if ■within reach of the
executive arm. Nor over the face of the whole world is there to be-
found one representative of our country who is not an apologist for
the extension of slavery.

It is in America that these things have happened. In the nine-
teenth century, the era of the world's greatest progress, and while
all nations but ourselves have been either abridging or altogether
suppressing commerce in men ; at the very moment when the Eus-
sian serf is emancipated, and the Georgian captive, the Nubian priso-
ner, and the Abyssinian savage are lifted up to freedom "by the
successor of Mohammed. The world, prepossessed in our behalf by
our early devotion to the rights of human nature, as no nation ever
before engaged its respect and sympathies, asks, in wonder and
amazement, what all this demoralization means ? It has an excuse-
better than the world can imagine, better than we are generally con-
scious of ourselves — a virtuous excuse. We have loved not free-
dom so much less, but the Union of our country so much more.
We have been made to believe, from time to time, that in a crisis-
both of these precious institutions could not be saved together, and
-therefore we have,, from time to time, surrendered safeguards of
freedom to propitiate the loyalty of capital, and stay its hands froni
doing violence to the Union. The true state of the case, however,,
ought not to be a mystery to ourselves. Prescience, indeed, is not
given to statesmen ; but we are without excuse when we fail to-
apprehend the logic of current events. Let parties or the govern-
ment choose or do what they may, the people of the United States-
do not prefer the wealth of the few to the liberty of the many, capi-
tal to labor, African slaves to white freemen; in the national territo-
ries and in future states. That question has never been distinctly
recognized or acted on by them. The republican party embodies the-
popular protest and reaction against a policy which has been fastened
upon the nation by surprise, and which its reason and con.science,.
concurring with the reason and conscience of mankind, condemn.

The choice of the nation is now between the democratic party and
the republican party. Its principles and policy are, therefore, justly
and even necessarily examined. I know of onl^' one policy whicb
it has adopted or avowed, namely, the saving of the territories of the-
United States, if possible, by constitutional and lawful means, from
being homes for slavery and polygamy. Who, that considers wher&


this nation exists, of what races it is composed, in what age of the
world it acts its part on the public stage, and what are its predomi-
nant institutions, customs, habits and sentiments, doubts that the
republican party can and will, if unwaveringly faithful to that policy,
and just and loyal in all beside, carry it into triumphal success? To
<loubt is to be uncertain whether civilization can improve or Christi-
anity save mankind.

I may, perhaps, infer from the necessity of the case, that it will, in
all courts and places, stand by the freedom of speech and of the
jrresB, and will m;iintain the constitutional rights of freemen every-
where ; that it will favor the speedy improvement of the public
domain by homestead laws, and will encourage mining, manufacture
and internal commerce, with needful connections between the Atlan-
tic and Pacific states — ^for all these are important interests of freedom.
Eor all the rest, the national emergencies, not individual influences,
must determine, as society goes on, the policy and character of the
republican party. Already bearing its part in legislation and in
treaties, it feels the necessity of being practical in its care of the
national health and life, while it leaves metaphysical speculation to
those whose duty it is to cultivate the ennobling science of political
philosophy. •

But in the midst of these subjects, or rather before fully reaching
them, the republican party encounters, unexpectedly, a new and
potential issue — one prior, and therefore paramount to all others, one
of national life and death. Just as if so much had not been already
conceded — nay, just as if nothing at all had ever been conceded to
the interest of capital invested in men, we hear menaces of disunion,
louder, more distinct, more emphatic, than ever, with the condition
annexed, that they shall be executed the moment that a republican
administration, though constitutionally elected, shall assume the

I do not certainly know that the people are prepared to call such
an administration to power. I know only, that through a succession
of floods which never greatly excite, and ebbs which never entirely
discourage me, the volume of republicanism rises continually higher
and higher. They are probably wise, whose apprehensions admonr
ish them that it is already strong enough for effect.

Hitherto the republican party has been content with one self-
interrogatory — how many votes can it cast? These threats enforce


another — ^has it determination enough to cast them? This latter
question touches its spirit and pride. I am quite sure, however, that,
as it has hitherto practised self-denial in so many other forms, it will
in this emergency lay aside all impatience of temper, together -with
all ambition, and will consider these extraordinary declamations seri-
ously and with a just moderation. It would be a waste of words to
<Jenionstrate that they are unconstitutional, and equally idle to show
that the responsibility for disunion attempted or effected, must rest,
not with those who, in the exercise of constitutional authority, main-
tain the government, but with those who unconstitutionally engage
in the mad work of subverting it.

"What are the excuses for these menaces? They resolve them-
selves into this, that the republican party in the north is hostile to
the south. But it already is proved to be a majority in the north ;
it is therefore practically the people of the north. Will it not still
be the same north that has forborne with you so long and conceded
to you so much? Can you justly assume that affection which has
been so complying, can all at once change to hatred intense and

You say that the republican party is a sectional one. Is the
democratic party less sectional? Is it easier for us to bear your
sectional sway than for you to bear ours ? Is it unreasonable that
for once we should alternate ? But is the republican party sectional ?
Not unless the democratic party is. The republican party prevails
in the house of representatives sometimes ; the democratic party in
the senate always. Which of the two is the most prescriptive?
Come, come, come, if you will, into the free states, into the state of
New York, anywhere from lake Erie to Sag Harbor, among my
neighbors in the Owasco valley, hold your conventions, nominate
your candidates, address the people, submit to them fully, earnestly,
eloquently, all your complaints and grievances of northern disloy/-
alty, oppression, perfidy ; keep nothing back, speak just as freely
and loudly there as you do here ; you will have hospitable welcomes,
and appreciating audiences, with ballot-boxes open for all the votes
you can win. Are you less sectional than this ? Extend to us the
same privileges, and I will engage that you will very soon have in
the south as many republicsins as we have democrats in the north.
There is, however, a better test of nationality than the accidental
location of parties. Our policy of labor in the territories was not


sectional in the first forty years of the republic. Its nature inheres.
It will be national again, during the third forty years, and forever
afterwards. It is not wise and beneficent for us alone or injurious
to you alone. Its eiFects are equal, and the same for us all. *

You accuse the republican party of ulterior and secret designs.
How can a party that counts its votes in this land of free speech and
free press by the hundreds of thousands, have any secret designs?
Who is the conjurer, and where are the hidden springs by which he
can control its uncongregated and widely -dispersed masses, and
direct them to objects unseen and purposes unavowed?[jBut what
are these hidden purposes ? You name only one. That one is to
introduce negro equality among you. Suppose we had the power
to change your social system : what warrant have you for supposing
, that we should carry negro equality there ?J We know, and we will
show you, if you will only give heed, that what our system of labor
works out, wherever it works out anything, is the equality of white
men. The laborer in the free states, no matter how humble his
occupation, is a white man, and he is politically the equal of his
employer. Eighteen of our thirty-three states are free-labor states.
They are : Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode
Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio,
Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Califomia,
and Oregon. I do not array them in contrast with the capital states.
I am no assailant of states. All of the states are parcels of my own
country — ^the best of them not so wise and great as I am sure it will
hereafter be; the state least developed and perfected among them all
is wiser and better than any foreign state I know. Is it then in any,
and in which, of the states I have named that negro equality oifends
the white man's pride? Throughout the wide world, where is the
state where class and caste are so utteriy extinguished as they are in
each and every one of them? Let the European immigrant, who
avoids the African as if his skin exhaled contagion, answer. You
find him always in the state where labor is ever free. Did Wash-
ington, JefPerson, and Henry, when they implored you to relinquish
your system and accept the one we have adopted, propose to sink
you down to the level of the African, or was it their desire to exalt
all white men to a common political elevation ?

But we do not seek to force, or even to intrude, our system on you.
We are excluded justly,, UTiJsely and contentedly from all political

Vol. IV. 8(y '


• power and responsibility in your capital states. You are sovereign
on the subject of slavery within your own borders, as we are on the
same subject within our borders. It is well and wisely so arranged.
Use* your authority to maintain what system you please. We are
not distrustful of the result. We have wisely, as we think, exercised
ours to protect and perfect the manhood of the members of the state.
The whole sovereignty upon domestic concerns within the Union, is
divided between us by unmistakable boundaries. You have your
fifteen distinct parts; we eighteen parts, equally distinct. Each
must be maintained in order that the whole may be preserved. If
ours shall be assailed, within or without, by any enemy, or for any
cause, and we shall have need, we shall expect you to defend it. If
yours shall be so assailed, in the emergency, no matter what the cause
or the pretext, or who the foe, we shall defend your sovereignty as
the equivalent of our own. We cannot, indeed, accept your system
of capital or its ethics. That would be to surrender and subvert our
own, which we esteem to be better. Besides, if we could,, what need
for any division into states at all ? You are equally at liberty to
reject our system and its ethics, and to maintain the -superiority of
your own by all the forces of persuasion and argument. We must,

Online LibraryWilliam Henry SewardThe works of William H. Seward → online text (page 66 of 74)