Page images

No book published in the present century, or perhaps in any century, has exerted a wider influence on politics. Circulating by hundreds of thousands, translated into many languages, it appealed to a larger constituency than the poems of Whittier and Longfellow or the writings of Garrison. It was, no doubt, a political pamphlet under the guise of a novel. But as a pamphlet it was the more telling from it's scrupulous moderation. Though it painted the cruelties and miseries of slavery in their darkest colours, it made full allowance for the difficulties of the South; it gave generous recognition to the fact that many Southern slave-owners disliked the institution, from which they saw no way of freeing themselves, and that many Southern gentlemen were actuated by feelings to their slaves far kindlier than those with which the negroes were regarded in the North. It is a remarkable proof of Mrs. Stowe's scrupulous fairness that Uncle Tom, when he is sold by Mr. Shelby, falls into the hands of St. Clare, and that it is only after St. Clare's death that we are introduced to the monster Legree.

Great, however, as was the influence of this remarkable novel, powerful as was its effect on opinion throughout the States, and especially in the North, authority in the Northern States did its utmost to carry out fairly and faithfully the Compromise of 1850. · If private individuals in the North devised the underground railway'-or the secret organisation by means of which good people, in defiance of the law, undertook to receive fugitive slaves and pass them on from house to house to Canada and safety-the Executive Government in each State honestly endeavoured to enforce the law, and to use the machinery at its disposal to give effect to its provisions.

In other ways, too, the compromise seemed likely to bear fruit. Pierce, who became President in 1853, though a Northerner by birth, was a Democrat in politics; he owed his election to the fact that the Democratic party unreservedly endorsed the Compromise ; and he conciliated Southern opinion by appointing Jefferson Davis, who was already known as the most prominent representative of the slave-owners, to high office in his Cabinet. The 'country was, in fact, tired of slavery agitation ;' and

for slavery that law had never been enacted, for it gave occasion for “Uncle Tom's Cabin."' Introduction to new edition of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' p. xvi.

moderate people, even in the Northern States, were willing to accept the Fugitive Slave Act as the price—the high but necessary price--of peace and union.

Yet at this moment a new and greater agitation was on the eve of arising. In the centre of the United States, a vast dominion, originally acquired from France as part of the Louisiana purchase, embracing nearly 500,000 square miles of territory, was still unorganised. In this magnificent domain, over which a little more than half a century ago the aboriginal Indians roamed at will, there were not more than a thousand white people. It was known as the KansasNebraska territory, though it extended far beyond the limits of the States which are now known by these names. A Bill for its organisation had been already introduced into Congress. Reintroduced at the close of 1853, it was referred to the Committee on Territories. This committee had as its chairman a man named Douglas, who had been a prominent candidate for the Presidency, and who was one of the most effective debaters in the Legislature of the United States. Douglas, following up the reasoning on which the Compromise of 1850 had been based, argued that all questions relating to slavery in any territory were thenceforward to be left to the decision of the people residing in it, and that all cases relating to property in slaves were to be settled by the local tribunals, subject to an appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States. This statement was an accurate description of the Compromise, which had been applied to New Mexico. But New Mexico lay to the south, and the Kansas-Nebraska territory to the north, of that magic parallel 36° 30' which since 1820 had been accepted, outside the State of Missouri, as the limit between slavery and freedom. The Act of Congress, therefore, which had ratified the Missouri Compromise, had apparently made slavery illegal throughout Kansas, and a proposal to leave Kansas to determine whether she would be bound or free was virtually a proposal to repeal that compromise.*

The Bill which Douglas introduced to give effect to these conclusions passed the Senate and, with the aid of the

relating 1850 bad moothe reasoniure of the one of the mount

* If there was any doubt that the proposition of Douglas would have this effect, it was speedily removed by later proceedings. One of the Senators for Kentucky moved an amendment to Douglas's measure, repealing the Slavery Restriction in the Missouri Compromise in express terms; and Douglas, though he at first protested against the amendment, ultimately agreed to accept it.

Government, the House of Representatives. But it raised a storm in the Northern States which, in the language of a leading senator, ‘is such a one as the country has never ' yet seen. Crowded meetings in New York, in Boston, in Chicago and other towns denounced the Act as a great moral wrong, as a breach of faith subversive of all confidence in national engagements, as a measure full of danger to the peace and even the existence of the Union, ' and exposing it to the righteous judgments of the ' Almighty. Some men there were indeed who saw that, evil as the Bill was, good eventually must ensue from it. " This Bill,' wrote Sumner, 'is at once the worst Bill and the best Bill on which Congress ever acted. It is the worst Bill, inasmuch as it is a present victory of slavery.

It is the best Bill, because it prepares the way for that 6" All hail ! hereafter” in which slavery must disappear.'

The Bill had come from a Northern Senator (Douglas was a son of New England and a citizen of Illinois), and this fact procured it a certain amount of Northern support. But in every other respect it was a Southern measure, its passage a Southern victory. Whether it was unconstional- as its enemies declared—we must leave our

an cousins to determine. To a plain intelligence it seems clear that what Congress could do, Congress could undo. But, though we may hesitate to think the measure unconstitutional, there can be little doubt that it was gravely unwise. The Missouri Compromise had preserved peace for an entire generation ; it had assured to the South that slavery to which it had clung so fondly; and, having regard to the growing power of the North, it was to the interest of the South to maintain what it had got, instead of striving after something more. But if the conduct of Douglas and his Southern allies was unwise, the proceedings which followed the passage of the Act were indecorous. The steps which find favour with politicians in the United States do not always commend themselves to opinion in England. But perhaps American methods never showed to worse advantage than when they were illustrated by the hot-headed partisans both of North and South in the years which succeeded the passage of the Kansas Act.

Congress had virtually pronounced in favour of that principle of “Squatter Sovereignty' which had been first heard of on the annexation of Texas, but to which Douglas, with some wisdom, now gave the more high-sounding name of popular sovereignty. Whether the sovereignty was

of "pomu wisdom, nontion of Texas, which hadobe

sentatives.". The'Sot was expeas, armed woon retaliai,

• squatter' or popular,' it was evident that the future status of Kansas would be determined by the residents or squatters in the territory. It became, therefore, the interest both of North and South to send settlers into it. In this strange contest the South had the first advantage. The easiest access to Kansas lay through Missouri, and passengers from Missouri, who could hardly be called squatters, crossed into Kansas, and chose a legislature which enacted a complete code of slave laws. But the North soon retaliated by sending bands of men into Kansas, armed with a new breechloading rifle which, it was expected, would ensure them an easy victory. The South naturally supported its own representatives. A miniature civil war broke out in the unfortunate territory. The two powers mustered considerable 'armies, fighting battles, capturing towns, and paroling 'prisoners.' The Executive Government of the United States made no real strenuous effort to preserve peace and to maintain order; and peace was gradually restored, not through the action of the Executive, but from the fact that the partisans of the North proved too strong for the adherents of the South, and succeeded in establishing the order which results from victory.*

While this struggle was still in progress, the Presid, atial Election of 1856 occurred. At all previous contests we issue had lain between the representatives of the old Democratic and Whig parties. The passage of the KansasNebraska Act, however, and the feelings which it excited in the North, created a wide sense of dissatisfaction with the policy of the Whigs, and led to the formation of the Republican party, or the principle of no extension of

slavery. The Presidential Election of 1856 was, therefore, fought out between the rival representatives of the Democratic and Republican parties, between the men who advocated the continuance and extension of slavery, and the men who were determined to prevent its spread beyond the States in which it already existed.

The Democratic candidate was Buchanan, a native of Pennsylvania (a State which, from its size and importance,

theherents of thalts from victill in progrevious contes Demo

* It may be recollected that Whittier wrote of the Kansas Emigrant' the spirited song commencing

We cross the prairie as of old

The Pilgrims crossed the sea,
To make the West, as they the East,

The homestead of the free.'

was popularly spoken of as the Keystone State'). Buchanan was certain to secure a large amount of support in the Northern States, while his attitude towards slavery-it was claimed for him that he had never given a vote against the interests of slavery, and never uttered a word which could pain the most sensitive Southern heart-assured him the almost unanimous suffrages of the South. His services—he had been Secretary of State under Polk, and he was representing his country in London at the time of his nomination

-rendered him an acceptable candidate, while his refined and courtly manners made his choice specially grateful to men of culture and position. To this day President Buchanan is remembered in Washington as having discharged the social duties of the Presidency with a tact and grace which few of his successors have equalled and none have excelled.

As Buchanan's opponent the Republicans selected as their candidate Fremont, a much younger man, who had attracted notice as a bold and energetic explorer in the still unknown West, and who declared himself inflexibly opposed to the extension of slavery. In the result Buchanan was elected. But Fremont received an unexpectedly large support; and the abolitionists were elated, and the Democrats, notwithstanding their victory, depressed, by the results of the campaign. At the outset, however, of Buchanan's presidency, a decision of the Supreme Court restored the confidence of the South. Dred Scott, a negro, sued for the freedom of himself and his family, and the Court, in deciding that he was a slave, and in relegating him to slavery, went out of its way to declare (1) that a negro, whose ancestors had • been imported into the States, could not become entitled to

the rights and privileges of a citizen, and that (2) as the (right of property in a slave had been expressly affirmed in ' the Constitution, it was not in the power of Congress to give ' property of that kind less protection than any other pro'perty.'* The first of these conclusions was soon condensed into the aphorism, ‘Negroes had no rights which the white

man was bound to respect. The second of them logically led to the conviction that Congress had exceeded its power in passing the Missouri Compromise. For, if Congress was bound to protect everywhere property in slaves, it clearly could not declare that, in large portions of the territory of the United States, slavery should not be recognised.

* Rhodes, · History of the United States,' vol. ii. pp. 255, 257.

« PreviousContinue »