The Great Conspiracy

The bitterness of feeling in the House at this time, was shown, in part,
by the fact that not until the 1st of February, 1860, was it able, upon
a forty-fourth ballot, to organize by the election of a Speaker, and
that from the day of its meeting on the 5th of December, 1859, up to
such organization, it was involved in an incessant and stormy wrangle
upon the Slavery question.

So also in the Democratic Senate, the split in the Democratic Party,
between the Lecompton and Anti-Lecompton Democracy, was widened, at the
same time that the Republicans of the North were further irritated, by
the significantly decisive passage of a series of resolutions proposed
by Jefferson Davis, which, on the one hand, purposely and deliberately
knifed Douglas's "Popular Sovereignty" doctrine and read out of the
Party all who believed in it, by declaring "That neither Congress nor a
Territorial Legislature, whether by direct legislation, or legislation
of an indirect and unfriendly character, possesses power to annul or
impair the Constitutional right of any citizen of the United States to
take his Slave-property into the common Territories, and there hold and
enjoy the same while the Territorial condition remains," and, on the
other, purposely and deliberately slapped in the face the Republicans of
the North, by declaring-among other things "That in the adoption of the
Federal Constitution, the States adopting the same, acted severally as
Free and Independent sovereignties, delegating a portion of their powers
to be exercised by the Federal Government for the increased security of
each against dangers, domestic as well as foreign; and that any
intermeddling by any one or more States or by a combination of their
citizens, with the domestic institutions of the others, on any pretext
whatever, political, moral, or religious, with a view to their
disturbance or subversion, is in violation of the Constitution,
insulting to the States so interfered with, endangers their domestic
peace and tranquillity--objects for which the Constitution was formed--
and, by necessary consequence, tends to weaken and destroy the Union

Another of these resolutions declared Negro Slavery to be recognized in
the Constitution, and that all "open or covert attacks thereon with a
view to its overthrow," made either by the Non-Slave-holding States or
their citizens, violated the pledges of the Constitution, "are a
manifest breach of faith, and a violation of the most solemn

This last was intended as a blow at the Freedom of Speech and of the
Press in the North; and only served, as was doubtless intended, to still
more inflame Northern public feeling, while at the same time endeavoring
to place the arrogant and aggressive Slave Power in an attitude of
injured innocence. In short, the time of both Houses of Congress was
almost entirely consumed during the Session of 1859-60 in the heated,
and sometimes even furious, discussion of the Slavery question; and
everywhere, North and South, the public mind was not alone deeply
agitated, but apprehensive that the Union was founded not upon a rock,
but upon the crater of a volcano, whose long-smouldering energies might
at any moment burst their confines, and reduce it to ruin and

On the 23rd of April, 1860, the Democratic National Convention met at
Charleston, South Carolina. It was several days after the permanent
organization of the Convention before the Committee on Resolutions
reported to the main body, and not until the 30th of April did it reach
a vote upon the various reports, which had in the meantime been
modified. The propositions voted upon were three:

First, The Majority Report of the Committee, which reaffirmed the
Cincinnati platform of 1856--with certain "explanatory" resolutions
added, which boldly proclaimed: That the Government of a Territory
organized by an Act of Congress, is provisional and temporary; and,
during its existence, all citizens of the United States have an equal
right to settle with their property in the Territory, without their
rights, either of person or property, being destroyed or impaired by
Congressional or Territorial Legislation;" that "it is the duty of the
Federal Government, in all its departments, to protect, when necessary,
the rights of persons and property in the Territories, and wherever else
its Constitutional authority extends;" that "when the settlers in a
Territory, having an adequate population, form a State Constitution, the
right of Sovereignty commences, and, being consummated by admission into
the Union, they stand on an equal footing with the people of other
States, and the State thus organized ought to be admitted into the
Federal Union, whether its Constitution prohibits or recognizes the
institution of Slavery;" and that "the enactments of State Legislatures
to defeat the faithful execution of the Fugitive Slave Law, are hostile
in character, subversive of the Constitution, and revolutionary in
effect." The resolutions also included a declaration in favor of the
acquisition of Cuba, and other comparatively minor matters.

Second, The Minority Report of the Committee, which, after re-affirming
the Cincinnati platform, declared that "Inasmuch as differences of
opinion exist in the Democratic party as to the nature and extent of the
powers of a Territorial Legislature, and as to the powers and duties of
Congress, under the Constitution of the United States, over the
institution of Slavery within the Territories * * * the Democratic Party
will abide by the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States on
the questions of Constitutional law."

Third, The recommendation of Benjamin F. Butler, that the platform
should consist simply of a re-affirmation of the Cincinnati platform,
and not another word.

The last proposition was first voted on, and lost, by 105 yeas to 198
nays. The Minority platform was then adopted by 165 yeas to 138 nays.

The aggressive Slave-holders (Majority) platform, and the Butler
Compromise do-nothing proposition, being both defeated, and the Douglas
(Minority) platform adopted, the Alabama delegation, under instructions
from their State Convention to withdraw in case the National Convention
refused to adopt radical Territorial Pro-Slavery resolutions, at once
presented a written protest and withdrew from the Convention, and were
followed, in rapid succession, by; the delegates from Mississippi,
Louisiana (all but two), South Carolina, Florida, Texas, Arkansas (in
part), Delaware (mostly), and Georgia (mostly)--the seceding delegates
afterwards organizing in another Hall, adopting the above Majority
platform, and after a four days' sitting, adjourning to meet at
Richmond, Virginia, on the 11th of June.

Meanwhile, the Regular Democratic National Convention had proceeded to
ballot for President--after adopting the two-thirds rule. Thirty-seven
ballots having been cast, that for Stephen A. Douglas being, on the
thirty-seventh, 151, the Convention, on the 3d of May, adjourned to meet
again at Baltimore, June 18th.

After re-assembling, and settling contested election cases, the
delegates (in whole or in part) from Virginia, North Carolina,
Tennessee, California, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Massachusetts,
withdrew from the Convention, the latter upon the ground mainly that
there had been "a withdrawal, in part, of a majority of the States,"
while Butler, who had voted steadily for Jefferson Davis throughout all
the balloting at Charleston, gave as an additional ground personal to
himself, that "I will not sit in a convention where the African Slave
Trade--which is piracy by the laws of my Country--is approvingly
advocated"--referring thereby to a speech, that had been much applauded
by the Convention at Charleston, made by a Georgia delegate (Gaulden),
in which that delegate had said: "I would ask my friends of the South to
come up in a proper spirit; ask our Northern friends to give us all our
rights, and take off the ruthless restrictions which cut off the supply
of Slaves from foreign lands. * * * I tell you, fellow Democrats, that
the African Slave Trader is the true Union man (cheers and laughter). I
tell you that the Slave Trading of Virginia is more immoral, more
unchristian in every possible point of view, than that African Slave
Trade which goes to Africa and brings a heathen and worthless man here,
makes him a useful man, Christianizes him, and sends him and his
posterity down the stream of Time, to enjoy the blessings of
civilization. (Cheers and laughter.) * * * I come from the first
Congressional District of Georgia. I represent the African Slave Trade
interest of that Section. (Applause.) I am proud of the position I
occupy in that respect. I believe that the African Slave Trader is a
true missionary, and a true Christian. (Applause.) * * * Are you
prepared to go back to first principles, and take off your
unconstitutional restrictions, and leave this question to be settled by
each State? Now, do this, fellow citizens, and you will have Peace in
the Country. * * * I advocate the repeal of the laws prohibiting the
African Slave Trade, because I believe it to be the true Union movement.
* * * I believe that by re-opening this Trade and giving us Negroes to
populate the Territories, the equilibrium of the two Sections will be

After the withdrawal of the bolting delegates at Baltimore, the
Convention proceeded to ballot for President, and at the end of the
second ballot, Mr. Douglas having received "two-thirds of all votes
given in the Convention" (183) was declared the "regular nominee of the
Democratic Party, for the office of President of the United States."

An additional resolution was subsequently adopted as a part of the
platform, declaring that "it is in accordance with the true
interpretation of the Cincinnati platform, that, during the existence of
the Territorial Governments, the measure of restriction, whatever it may
be, imposed by the Federal Constitution on the power of the Territorial
Legislatures over the subject of the domestic relations, as the same has
been, or shall hereafter be, finally determined by the Supreme Court of
the United States, should be respected by all good citizens, and
enforced with promptness and fidelity by every branch of the General

On the 11th of June, pursuant to adjournment, the Democratic Bolters'
Convention met at Richmond, and, after adjourning to meet at Baltimore,
finally met there on the 28th of that month--twenty-one States being, in
whole or in part, represented. This Convention unanimously readopted
the Southern-wing platform it had previously adopted at Charleston, and,
upon the first ballot, chose, without dissent, John C. Breckinridge of
Kentucky, as its candidate for the Presidential office.

In the meantime, however, the National Conventions of other Parties had
been held, viz.: that of the Republican Party at Chicago, which, with a
session of three days, May 16-18, had nominated Abraham Lincoln of
Illinois and Hannibal Hamlin of Maine, for President and Vice-President
respectively; and that of the "Constitutional Union" (or Native
American) Party which had severally nominated (May 19) for such
positions, John Bell of Tennessee, and Edward Everett of Massachusetts.

The material portion of the Republican National platform, adopted with
entire unanimity by their Convention, was, so far as the Slavery and
Disunion questions were concerned, comprised in these declarations:

First, That the history of the nation, during the last four years, has
fully established the propriety and necessity of the organization and
perpetuation of the Republican Party; and that the causes which called
it into existence are permanent in their nature, and now, more than ever
before, demand its peaceful and Constitutional triumph.

Second, That the maintenance of the principle, promulgated in the
Declaration of Independence, and embodied in the Federal Constitution,
"that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain inalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and
the pursuit of Happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are
instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the
governed," is essential to the preservation of our Republican
institutions; and that the Federal Constitution, the Rights of the
States, and the Union of the States must and shall be preserved.

Third, That to the Union of the States, this Nation owes its
unprecedented increase in population, its surprising development of
material resources, its rapid augmentation of wealth, its happiness at
home, and its honor abroad; and we hold in abhorrence all schemes for
Disunion, come from whatever source they may: And we congratulate the
Country that no Republican member of Congress has uttered or
countenanced the threats of Disunion, so often made by Democratic
members, without rebuke, and with applause, from their political
associates; and we denounce those threats of Disunion, in case of a
popular overthrow of their ascendancy, as denying the vital principles
of a free Government, and as an avowal of contemplated Treason, which it
is the imperative duty of an indignant People, sternly to rebuke and
forever silence.

Fourth, That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and
especially the right of each State, to order and control its own
domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is
essential to that balance of powers on which the perfection and
endurance of our political fabric depend; and we denounce the lawless
invasion, by armed force, of any State or Territory, no matter under
what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.

Fifth, That the present Democratic Administration has far exceeded our
worst apprehensions, in its measureless subserviency to the exactions of
a Sectional interest, as especially evinced in its desperate exertions
to force the infamous Lecompton Constitution upon the protesting people
of Kansas; in construing the personal relation between master and
servant to involve an unqualified property in persons; in its attempted
enforcement, everywhere, on land and sea, through the intervention of
Congress and of the Federal Courts, of the extreme pretensions of a
purely local interest; and in its general and unvarying abuse of the
power intrusted to it by a confiding People.

* * * * * * *

Seventh, That the new dogma that the Constitution, of its own force,
carries Slavery into any or all of the Territories of the United States,
is a dangerous political heresy, at variance with the explicit
provisions of that instrument itself, with contemporaneous exposition,
and with legislation and judicial precedent; is revolutionary in its
tendency and subversive of the peace and harmony of the Country.

Eighth, That the normal condition of all the territory of the United
States is that of Freedom; that as our Republican fathers, when they had
abolished Slavery in all our National Territory, ordained that "No
person should be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due
process of law," it becomes our duty, by legislation, whenever such
legislation is necessary, to maintain this provision of the Constitution
against all attempts to violate it; and we deny the authority of
Congress, of a Territorial Legislature, or of any individuals, to give
legal existence to Slavery in any Territory of the United States.

Ninth, That we brand the recent re-opening of the African Slave-trade
under the cover of our National flag, aided by perversions of judicial
power, as a crime against humanity and a burning shame to our Country
and Age; and we call upon Congress to take prompt and efficient measures
for the total and final suppression of that execrable traffic.

Tenth, That in the recent vetoes, by their Federal Governors, of the
acts of the Legislatures of Kansas and Nebraska, prohibiting Slavery in
those Territories, we find a practical illustration of the boasted
Democratic principle of Non-Intervention and Popular Sovereignty
embodied in the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, and a demonstration of the
deception and fraud involved therein.

Eleventh, That Kansas should, of right, be immediately admitted as a
State, under the Constitution recently formed and adopted by the House
of Representatives.

* * * * * * * * * *

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