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Chapter 30: Anti-slavery agitation.

Mr. Randolph thought and expressed the opinion to Mr. Buchanan, that the Anti-slavery agitation in the North was the only thing that had prevented the passage of a law in the Southern States for gradual emancipation.

When the agitation was fairly inaugurated the legitimate uses of the Post-office Department were perverted from their end by packing the mails full of incendiary documents urging our slaves to servile insurrections. General Jackson, on December 2, 1835, recommended that a penalty should be attached to the dissemination of these documents. A bill to restrict the circulation of incendiary matter was introduced and defeated, June 8th, by 19 to 25 votes. Not a single New England senator voted for General Jackson's measure.

From the State legislatures, the press, the county meetings, the pulpit, the different societies, no matter what their object, the lecturers, and above all the abolitionists, came [420] this downpour of petitions; yards of signatures were appended, and those who stood behind this mass of misrepresentation and invective presented it with insulting epithets and groundless accusations. The petitions prayed for the dissolution of the Union, reviled it as a compact with hell, and left nothing unsaid which could insult a patriotic, law-abiding, humane gentleman from the South.

Daily the Southern men were called on to suspend the legislation of Congress needful to carry on the business of the country, in order to hear themselves insulted by petitions reviling them and their institutions. Of course they were stung and resentful, but this was not their most moving cause of excitement. They felt that the results of these efforts might be the murder of their families, accompanied by shocking scenes of barbarity, and were deeply sensible of the fact that, if the sacred compact by which their rights of person and property had been guaranteed was disregarded in one case, there was no security for any other.

The legislatures of several States prohibited the rendition of fugitive slaves, and the master who demanded his rights in these States risked his life in doing so.

“From the day of the decision of Prigg vs. the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the [421] act of 1793 was a dead letter in the free States.”

The Wilmot Proviso threw another firebrand among the contending forces, and defeated the appropriation which would otherwise have been voted to facilitate peace between Mexico and the United States. One senator from a free State had said, in debate, that he would welcome the Americans, were he a Mexican, “with bloody hands to hospitable graves.”

In this state of excitement the Thirty-first Congress met, to deliberate upon the needs of the country; but, instead, one party fulminated curses and abuse, and the other, under a sense of insult, repelled it with indignation; indeed, the Southern leaders came at last to the conclusion that no people on earth were so alien to them at heart as those who wielded unlawful weapons against them, under the same flag and the same Constitution. The country was full of English emissaries sent out by the committees of Exeter Hall, who, knowing nothing about our institutions or the sentiments of either the free men of the South or their slaves, were hired to break up the public peace and amity by those who forgot that their miners and their ten-year-old white slaves, harnessed to the coal carts in the depths of the earth, had not [422] excited their attention or appealed so earnestly to their sympathies as did the comfortable negroes of the South, whose children were at that age free as air.

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