The Great Conspiracy

Farther on, in the same speech–after alluding to the strong feeling in
the Northern States against the extension of Slavery, not only as a
question of politics, but of conscience and religious conviction as
well-he deems him a rash man indeed “who supposes that a feeling of this
kind is to be trifled with or despised.” Said he: “It will assuredly
cause itself to be respected. It may be reasoned with; it may be made
willing–I believe it is entirely willing–to fulfill all existing
engagements and all existing duties–to uphold and defend the
Constitution as it is established, with whatever regrets about some
provisions which it does actually contain. But to coerce it into
silence, to endeavor to restrain its free expression, to seek to
compress and confine it, warm as it is, and more heated as such
endeavors would inevitably render it,–should this be attempted, I know
nothing, even in the Constitution or in the Union itself, which would
not be endangered by the explosion which might follow.”

In 1840, General Harrison, the Whig candidate, was elected to the
Presidency, but died within a few weeks after his inauguration in 1841,
and was succeeded by John Tyler. The latter favored the Slave Power;
and on April 12th, 1844, John C. Calhoun, his Secretary of State,
concluded with Texas a treaty of annexation–which was, however,
rejected by the Senate. Meanwhile the public mind was greatly agitated
over the annexation and other, questions.

[In the London Index, a journal established there by Jefferson
Davis’s agents to support the cause of the rebellious States, a
communication appeared during the early part of the war, Dec. 4,
1861, supposed to have been written by Mr. Mason, of Virginia, in
which he said: “To tell the Norths, the Butes, the Wedderburns of
the present day, that previous to the year 1839 the sovereign
States of the South had unalterably resolved on the specific ground
of the violation of the Federal Constitution by the tariff of
spoliation which the New England States had imposed upon them–to
secede from the Union; to tell them that in that year the leader of
the South, Calhoun, urged an English gentleman, to whom he had
fully explained the position of the South, and the intolerable
tyranny which the North inflicted upon it, to be the bearer of
credentials from the chief persons of the South, in order to invite
the attention of the British Government to the coming event; that
on his death-bed (Washington, March 31, 1850), he called around him
his political friends–one of whom is now in England–warned them
that in no event could the Union survive the Presidential election
of 1860, though it might possibly break up before that urged them
to be prepared; leaving with his dying words the sacred cause of
Southern secession a solemn legacy in their hands–to have told
this to the Norths and Dartmouths of the present day, with more and
even stronger evidence of the coming events of November, 1860,
would have been like speaking to the stones of the street. In
November, 1860, they were thoroughly ignorant of all the momentous
antecedents of secession–of their nature, their character, their
bearing, import, and consequences.”

In the same correspondence the distinguished Rebel emissary
substantially let out the fact that Calhoun was indirectly, through
himself (Mason), in secret communication with the British
Government as far back as 1841, with a view to securing its
powerful aid in his aforesaid unalterable resolve to Secede from
the Union; and then Mr. Mason pleads–but pleads in vain–for the
armed intervention of England at this later day. Said he:

“In the year 1841 the late Sir William Napier sent in two plans for
subduing the Union, to the War Office, in the first of which the
South was to be treated as an enemy, in the second as a friend and
ally. I was much consulted by him as to the second plan and was
referred to by name in it, as he showed by the acknowledgment of
this in Lord Fitzroy Somerset’s letter of reply. This plan fully
provided for the contingency of an invasion of Canada, and its
application would, in eighteen or twenty months, have reduced the
North to a much more impotent condition than it exhibits at
present. At this very moment the most difficult portion of that
plan has been perfectly accomplished by the South itself; and the
North, in accordance with Sir William Napier’s expectations, now
lies helpless before England, and at our absolute mercy. Nor is
there any doubt of this, and if Lord Palmerston is not aware of it
Mr. Seward certainly is. We have nothing remaining to do but to
stretch out our arm in the way Sir William Napier proposed, and the
Northern power–power as we ignorantly call it–must come to an
end. Sir William knew and well estimated the elements of which
that quasi power consisted; and he knew how to apply the
substantive power of England to dissolve it. In the best interest
of humanity, I venture to say that it is the duty of England to
apply this power without further delay–its duty to itself, to its
starving operatives, to France, to Europe, and to humanity. And in
the discharge of this great duty to the world at large there will
not even be the dignity of sacrifice or danger.”]

Threats and counter-threats of Disunion were made on either hand by the
opponents and advocates of Slavery-extension through annexation; nor was
it less agitated on the subject of a Protective Tariff.

The Compromise Tariff of 1833, together with President Jackson’s
upheaval of our financial system, produced, as has already been hinted,
terrible commercial disasters. “In 1840,” says competent authority, “all
prices had ruinously fallen; production had greatly diminished, and in
many departments of industry had practically ceased; thousands of
working men were idle, with no hope of employment, and their families
suffering from want. Our farmers were without markets, their products
rotted in their barns, and their lands, teeming with rich harvests, were
sold by the sheriff for debts and taxes. The Tariff, which robbed our
industries of Protection failed to supply Government with its necessary
revenues. The National Treasury in consequence was bankrupt, and the
credit of the Nation had sunk very low.”

Mr. Clay himself stated “the average depression in the value of property
under that state of things which existed before the Tariff of 1842 came
to the rescue of the country, at fifty per cent.” And hence it was that
Protection was made the chief issue of the Presidential campaign of
1840, which eventuated in the election of Harrison and Tyler, and in the
Tariff Act of August 30, 1842, which revived our trade and industries,
and brought back to the land a full measure of prosperity. With those
disasters fresh in the minds of the people, Protection continued to be a
leading issue in the succeeding Presidential campaign of 1844–but
coupled with the Texas-annexation issue. In that campaign Henry Clay
was the candidate of the Whig party and James K. Polk of the Democratic
party. Polk was an ardent believer in the annexation policy and stood
upon a platform declaring for the “re-occupation of Oregon and the re-
annexation of Texas at the earliest practicable moment”–as if the
prefix “re” legitimatized the claim in either case; Clay, on the other
hand, held that we had “fairly alienated our title to Texas by solemn
National compacts, to the fulfilment of which we stand bound by good
faith and National honor;” that “Annexation and War with Mexico are
identical,” and that he was “not willing to involve this country in a
foreign War for the object of acquiring Texas.”

[In his letter of April 17, 1844, published in the National

As to the Tariff issue also, Clay was the acknowledged champion of the
American system of Protection, while Polk was opposed to it, and was
supported by the entire Free-trade sentiment, whether North or South.

As the campaign progressed, it became evident that Clay would be
elected. Then occurred some of those fatalities which have more than
once, in the history of Presidential campaigns, overturned the most
reasonable expectations and defeated the popular will. Mr. Clay
committed a blunder and Mr. Polk an equivocation–to use the mildest
possible term. Mr. Clay was induced by Southern friends to write a
letter–[Published in the North Alabamian, Aug. 16, 1844.]–in which,
after stating that “far from having any personal objection to the
annexation of Texas, I should be glad to see it–without dishonor,
without War, with the common consent of the Union, and upon just and
fair terms,” he added: “I do not think that the subject of Slavery ought
to affect the question, one way or the other.” Mr. Polk, on the other
hand, wrote a letter in which he declared it to be “the duty of the
Government to extend, as far as it may be practicable to do so, by its
revenue laws and all other means within its power, fair and just
Protection to all the great interests of the whole Union, embracing
Agriculture, Manufactures, the Mechanic Arts, Commerce and Navigation.”
This was supplemented by a letter (August 8, 1844) from Judge Wilson
McCandless of Pennsylvania, strongly upholding the Protective principle,
claiming that Clay in his Compromise Tariff Bill had abandoned it, and
that Polk and Dallas had “at heart the true interests of Pennsylvania.”
Clay, thus betrayed by the treachery of Southern friends, was greatly
weakened, while Polk, by his beguiling letter, backed by the false
interpretation put upon it by powerful friends in the North, made the
North believe him a better Protectionist than Clay.

Polk was elected, and rewarded the misplaced confidence by making Robert
J. Walker his Secretary of the Treasury, and, largely through that
great Free Trader’s exertions, secured a repeal by Congress of the
Protective Tariff of 1842 and the enactment of the ruinous Free Trade
Tariff of 1846. Had Clay carried New York, his election was secure. As
it happened, Polk had a plurality in New York of but 5,106 in an immense
vote, and that slim plurality was given to him by the Abolitionists
throwing away some 15,000 on Birney. And thus also it curiously
happened that it was the Abolition vote which secured the election of
the candidate who favored immediate annexation and the extension of the
Slave Power!

Emboldened and apparently sustained by the result of the election, the
Slave Power could not await the inauguration of Mr. Polk, but proceeded
at once, under whip and spur, to drive the Texas annexation scheme
through Congress; and two days before the 4th of March, 1845, an Act
consenting to the admission of the Republic of Texas as a State of the
Union was approved by President Tyler.

In that Act it was provided that “New States of convenient size, not
exceeding four in number, in addition to the said State of Texas, and
having sufficient population, may hereafter, by the consent of said
State, be formed out of the territory thereof, which shall be entitled
to admission under the provisions of the Federal Constitution; and such
States as may be formed out of that portion of said territory lying
south of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes north latitude, commonly
known as the Missouri Compromise line, shall be admitted into the Union
with or without Slavery, as the people of each State asking admission
may desire. And in such State or States as shall be formed out of said
territory north of said Missouri Compromise line, Slavery or involuntary
servitude (except for crime) shall be prohibited.” As has been lucidly
stated by another,–[Greeley’s History]–“while seeming to curtail and
circumscribe Slavery north of the above parallel (that of 36 30′ north
latitude), this measure really extended it northward to that parallel,
which it had not yet approached, under the flag of Texas, within
hundreds of miles. But the chief end of this sham Compromise was the
involving of Congress in an indirect indorsement of the claim of Texas
to the entire left bank of the Rio Grande, from its mouth to its source;
and this was effected.”

Texas quickly consented to the Act of annexation, and in December, 1845,
a Joint Resolution formally admitting her as a State of the Union,
reported by Stephen A. Douglas, was duly passed.

In May, 1846, the American forces under General Taylor, which had been
dispatched to protect Texas from threatened assault, were attacked by
the Mexican army, which at Palo Alto was badly defeated and at Resaca de
la Palma driven back across the Rio Grande.

Congress immediately declared that by this invasion a state of War
existed between Mexico and the United States. Thus commenced the War
with Mexico–destined to end in the triumph of the American Army, and
the acquisition of large areas of territory to the United States. In
anticipation of such triumph, President Polk lost little time in asking
an appropriation of over two million dollars by Congress to facilitate
negotiations for peace with, and territorial cession from, Mexico. And
a Bill making such appropriation was quickly passed by the House of
Representatives–but with the following significant proviso attached,
which had been offered by Mr. Wilmot: “Provided. That as an express and
fundamental condition to the acquisition of any territory from the
Republic of Mexico by the United States, by virtue of any treaty that
may be negotiated between them, and to the use by the Executive of the
moneys herein appropriated, neither Slavery nor involuntary servitude
shall ever exist in any part of said territory, except for crime,
whereof the party shall first be duly convicted.”

The debate in the Senate upon the Wilmot proviso, which immediately
ensued, was cut short by the expiration of the Session of Congress–and
the Bill accordingly failed of passage.

In February, 1848, the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was made between
Mexico and the United States, and Peace reigned once more. About the
same time a Bill was passed by the Senate providing Territorial
Governments for Oregon, California and New Mexico, which provided for
the reference of all questions touching Slavery in such Territories to
the United States Supreme Court, for arbitration. The Bill, however,
failed in the House. The ensuing Presidential campaign resulted in the
election of General Taylor, the Whig candidate, who was succeeded upon
his death, July 10, 1850, by Fillmore. Meanwhile, on the Oregon
Territory Bill, in 1848, a strong effort had been made by Mr. Douglas
and others to incorporate a provision extending to the Pacific Ocean the
Missouri Compromise line of 36 30′ of north latitude and extending to
all future organizations of Territories of the United States the
principles of said Compromise. This provision was adopted by the
Senate, but the House struck it from the Bill; the Senate receded, and
Oregon was admitted as a Free Territory. But the conflict in Congress
between those who would extend and those who would restrict Slavery
still continued, and indeed gathered vehemence with time. In 1850,
California was clamoring for admission as a Free State to the Union, and
New Mexico and Utah sought to be organized under Territorial

In the heated discussions upon questions growing out of bills for these
purposes, and to rectify the boundaries of Texas, it was no easy matter
to reach an agreement of any sort. Finally, however, the Compromise of
1850, offered by Mr. Clay, was practically agreed to and carried out,
and under it: California was admitted as a Free State; New Mexico and
Utah were admitted to Territorial organization without a word pro or con
on the subject of Slavery; the State of Texas was awarded a pecuniary
compensation for the rectification of her boundaries; the Slave Trade in
the District of Columbia was abolished; and a more effectual Fugitive
Slave Act passed.

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