THE FIGHT AGAINST THE EXTENSION OF SLAVERY

上一篇 / 下一篇  2016-07-12 10:39:03

In 1856, the Supreme Court, under the headship of Judge Taney, gave out the decision of the Dred Scott case. The purport of this decision was that a negro was not to be considered as a person but as a chattel; and that the taking of such negro chattel into free territory did not cancel or impair the property rights of the master. It appeared to the men of the North as if under this decision the entire country, including in addition to the national territories the independent States which had excluded slavery, was to be thrown open to the invasion of the institution. The Dred Scott decision, taken in connection with the repeal of the Missouri Compromise (and the two acts were doubtless a part of one thoroughly considered policy), foreshadowed as their logical and almost inevitable consequence the bringing of the entire nation under the control of slavery. The men of the future State of Kansas made during 1856-57 a plucky fight to keep slavery out of their borders. The so-called Lecompton Constitution undertook to force slavery upon Kansas. This constitution was declared by the administration (that of President Buchanan) to have been adopted, but the fraudulent character of the voting was so evident that Walker, the Democratic Governor, although a sympathiser with slavery, felt compelled to repudiate it. This constitution was repudiated also by Douglas, although Douglas had declared that the State ought to be thrown open to slavery. Jefferson Davis, at that time Secretary of War, declared that "Kansas was in a state of rebellion and that the rebellion must be crushed." Armed bands from Missouri crossed the river to Kansas for the purpose of casting fraudulent votes and for the further purpose of keeping the Free-soil settlers away from the polls.This fight for freedom in Kansas gave a further basis for Lincoln's statement "that a house divided against itself cannot stand; this government cannot endure half slave and half free ." It was with this statement as his starting-point that Lincoln entered into his famous Senatorial campaign with Douglas. Douglas had already represented Illinois in the Senate for two terms and had, therefore, the advantage of possession and of a substantial control of the machinery of the State. He had the repute at the time of being the leading political debater in the country. He was shrewd, forcible, courageous, and, in the matter of convictions, unprincipled. He knew admirably how to cater to the prejudices of the masses. His career thus far had been one of unbroken success. His Senatorial fight was, in his hope and expectation, to be but a step towards the Presidency. The Democratic party, with an absolute control south of Mason and Dixon's Line and with a very substantial support in the Northern States, was in a position, if unbroken, to control with practical certainty the Presidential election of 1860. Douglas seemed to be the natural leader of the party. It was necessary for him, however, while retaining the support of the Democrats of the North, to make clear to those of the South that his influence would work for the maintenance and for the extension of slavery .The South was well pleased with the purpose and with the result of the Dred Scott decision and with the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. It is probable, however, that if the Dred Scott decision had not given to the South so full a measure of satisfaction, the South would have been more ready to accept the leadership of a Northern Democrat like Douglas. Up to a certain point in the conflict, they had felt the need of Douglas and had realised the importance of the support that he was in a position to bring from the North. When, however, the Missouri Compromise had been repealed and the Supreme Court had declared that slaves must be recognised as property throughout the entire country, the Southern claims were increased to a point to which certain of the followers of Douglas were not willing to go. It was a large compliment to the young lawyer of Illinois to have placed upon him the responsibility of leading, against such a competitor as Douglas, the contest of the Whigs, and of the Free-soilers back of the Whigs, against any further extension of slavery, a contest which was really a fight for the continued existence of the nation.Lincoln seems to have gone into the fight with full courage, the courage of his convictions. He felt that Douglas was a trimmer, and he believed that the issue had now been brought to a point at which the trimmer could not hold support on both sides of Mason and Dixon's Line. He formulated at the outset of the debate a question which was pressed persistently upon Douglas during the succeeding three weeks. This question was worded as follows: "Can the people of a United States territory, prior to the formation of a State constitution or against the protest of any citizen of the United States, exclude slavery?" Lincoln's campaign advisers were of opinion that this question was inadvisable. They took the ground that Douglas would answer the question in such way as to secure the approval of the voters of Illinois and that in so doing he would win the Senatorship. Lincoln's response was in substance: "That may be. I hold, however, that if Douglas answers this question in a way to satisfy the Democrats of the North, he will inevitably lose the support of the more extreme, at least, of the Democrats of the South. We may lose the Senatorship as far as my personal candidacy is concerned. If, however, Douglas fails to retain the support of the South, he cannot become President in 1860. The line will be drawn directly between those who are willing to accept the extreme claims of the South and those who resist these claims. A right decision is the essential thing for the safety of the nation." The question gave no little perplexity to Douglas. He finally, however, replied that in his judgment the people of a United States territory had the right to exclude slavery. When asked again by Lincoln how he brought this decision into accord with the Dred Scott decision, he replied in substance: "Well, they have not the right to take constitutional measures to exclude slavery but they can by local legislation render slavery practically impossible." The Dred Scott decision had in fact itself overturned the Douglas theory of popular sovereignty or "squatter sovereignty." Douglas was only able to say that his sovereignty contention made provision for such control of domestic or local regulations as would make slavery impossible.The South, rendered autocratic by the authority of the Supreme Court, was not willing to accept the possibility of slavery being thus restricted out of existence in any part of the country. The Southerners repudiated Douglas as Lincoln had prophesied they would do. Douglas had been trying the impossible task of carrying water on both shoulders. He gained the Senatorship by a narrow margin; he secured in the vote in the Legislature a majority of eight, but Lincoln had even in this fight won the support of the people. His majority on the popular vote was four thousand.The series of debates between these two leaders came to be of national importance. It was not merely a question of the representation in the Senate from the State of Illinois, but of the presentation of arguments, not only to the voters of Illinois but to citizens throughout the entire country, in behalf of the restriction of slavery on the one hand or of its indefinite expansion and protection on the other. The debate was educational not merely for the voters who listened, but for the thousands of other voters who read the reports. It would be an enormous advantage for the political education of candidates and for the education of voters if such debates could become the routine in Congressional and Presidential campaigns. Under the present routine, we have, in place of an assembly of voters representing the conflicting views of the two parties or of the several political groups, a homogeneous audience of one way of thinking, and speakers who have no opponent present to check the temptation to launch forth into wild statements, personal abuse, and irresponsible conclusions. An interruption of the speaker is considered to be a disturbance of order, and the man who is not fully in sympathy with the views of the audience is likely to be put out as an interloper. With a system of joint debates, the speakers would be under an educational repression. False or exaggerated statements would not be made, or would not be made consciously, because they would be promptly corrected by the other fellow. There would of necessity come to be a better understanding and a larger respect for the positions of the opponent. The men who would be selected as leaders or speakers to enforce the contentions of the party, would have to possess some reasoning faculty as well as oratorical fluency. The voters, instead of being shut in with one group of arguments more or less reasonable, would be brought into touch with the arguments of other groups of citizens. I can conceive of no better method for bringing representative government on to a higher plane and for making an election what it ought to be, a reasonable decision by reasoning voters, than the institution of joint debates.I cite certain of the incisive statements that came into Lincoln's seven debates. "A slave, says Judge Douglas (on the authority of Judge Taney), is a human being who is legally not a person but a thing." "I contend [says Lincoln] that slavery is founded on the selfishness of man's nature. Slavery is a violation of the eternal right, and as long as God reigns and as school-children read, that black evil can never be consecrated into God's truth." "A man does not lose his right to a piece of property which has been stolen. Can a man lose a right to himself if he himself has been stolen?" The following words present a summary of Lincoln's statements:Judge Douglas contends that if any one man chooses to enslave another, no third man has a right to object. Our Fathers, in accepting slavery under the Constitution as a legal institution, were of opinion, as is clearly indicated by the recorded utterances, that slavery would in the course of a few years die out. They were quite clear in their minds that the slave-trade must be abolished and for ever forbidden and this decision was arrived at under the leadership of men like Jefferson and without a protest from the South. Jefferson was himself the author of the Ordinance of 1787, which in prohibiting the introduction of slavery, consecrated to freedom the great territory of the North-west, and this measure was fully approved by Washington and by the other great leaders from the South. Where slavery exists, full liberty refuses to enter. It was only through this wise action of the Fathers that it was possible to bring into existence, through colonisation, the great territories and great States of the North-west. It is this settlement, and the later adjustment of 1820, that Douglas and his friends in the South are undertaking to overthrow. Slavery is not, as Judge Douglas contends, a local issue; it is a national responsibility. The repeal of the Missouri Compromise throws open not only a great new territory to the curse of slavery; it throws open the whole slavery question for the embroiling of the present generation of Americans. Taking slaves into free territory is the same thing as reviving the slave-trade. It perpetuates and develops interstate slave-trade. Government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. The Fathers did not claim that "the right of the people to govern negroes was the right of the people to govern themselves."The policy of Judge Douglas was based on the theory that the people did not care, but the people did care, as was evinced two years later by the popular vote for President throughout the North. One of those who heard these debates says: "Lincoln loved truth for its own sake. He had a deep, true, living conscience; honesty was his polar star. He never acted for stage effect. He was cool, spirited, reflective, self-possessed, and self-reliant. His style. was clear, terse, compact ... He became tremendous in the directness of his utterance when, as his soul was inspired with the thought of human right and Divine justice, he rose to impassioned eloquence, and at such times he was, in my judgment, unsurpassed by Clay or by Mirabeau."As the debates progressed, it was increasingly evident that Douglas found himself hard pushed. Lincoln would not allow himself to be swerved from the main issue by any tergiversation or personal attacks. He insisted from day to day in bringing Douglas back to this issue: "What do you, Douglas, propose to do about slavery in the territories? Is it your final judgment that there is to be no further reservation of free territory in this country? Do you believe that it is for the advantage of this country to put no restriction to the extension of slavery?" Douglas wriggled and squirmed under this direct questioning and his final replies gave satisfaction neither to the Northern Democrats nor to those of the South. The issue upon which the Presidential contest of 1860 was to be fought out had been fairly stated. It was the same issue under which, in 1861, the fighting took the form. of civil war. It was the issue that took four years to fight out and that was finally decided in favour of the continued existence of the nation as a free state. In this fight, Lincoln was not only, as the contest was finally shaped, the original leader; he was the final leader; and at the time of his death the great question had been decided for ever.Horace White, in summing up the issues that were fought out in debate between Lincoln and Douglas, says:"Forty-four years have passed away since the Civil War came to an end and we are now able to take a dispassionate view of the question in dispute. The people of the South are now generally agreed that the institution of slavery was a direful curse to both races. We of the North must confess that there was considerable foundation for the asserted right of States to secede. Although the Constitution did in distinct terms make the Federal Government supreme, it was not so understood at first by the people either North or South. Particularism prevailed everywhere at the beginning. Nationalism was an aftergrowth and a slow growth proceeding mainly from the habit into which people fell of finding their common centre of gravity at Washington City and of viewing it as the place whence the American name and fame were blazoned to the world. During the first half century of the Republic, the North and South were changing coats from time to time, on the subject of State Rights and the right to secede, but meanwhile the Constitution itself was working silently in the North to undermine the particularism of Jefferson and to strengthen the nationalism of Hamilton. It had accomplished its work in the early thirties, when it found its perfect expression in Webster's reply to Hayne. But the Southern people were just as firmly convinced that Hayne was the victor in that contest as the Northern people were that Webster was. The vast material interests bottomed on slavery offset and neutralised the unifying process in the South, while it continued its wholesome work in the North, and thus the clashing of ideas paved the way for the clash of arms. That the behaviour of the slaveholders resulted from the circumstances in which they were placed and not from any innate deviltry is a fact now conceded by all impartial men. It was conceded by Lincoln both before the War and during the War, and this fact accounts for the affection bestowed upon him by Southern hearts to-day."


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