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Mr. Fillmore takes a view.

Ex-Presidents are undoubtedly beings vouchsafed to us by way of confirming the truth of that Scripture which declares that though one should rise from the dead, yet would not men believe. Ex-Presidents, to be sure, are not always exactly dead; and even Mr. John Tyler, who never during his official days had a superfluity of vitality, has recently shown the usual sign of life in a decayed politician, and has written a letter. The Ex-President, therefore, may be considered not so much dead as “done for.” He is like an [117] old coat, past service when skies are clear, but pretty sure to be brought out in rainy weather — a garment shabby, but passable in a fog; split here and there, but in all its looped and windowed raggedness better than total nakedness; or to pursue the figure, fit enough to be straw-stuffed and hoisted upon a pole to terrify the croaking crows. Of these relics, it may be to said, that while there is life in them, there is a letter.

We learn accordingly that Mr. Fillmore, from that very library, we suppose, which witnessed his Know-Nothing adjurations, wrote upon the 19th of December, 1860, an epistle to Somebody, which only now do we find emerging from Somebody's pocket and creeping into the public journals. It appears that Somebody requested Mr. Fillmore to go to the South as a Grand Plenipotential Pacificator. For that high office by Somebody was Mr. Fillmore nominated, and by Somebody was he unanimously confirmed at a Union meeting held by Somebody expressly for the purpose. Mr. Fillmore is urged to undertake this “patriotic mission.” He may smell tar and see prospective feathers. He may have a fearful dream of being ordered “to leave within four-and-twenty hours.” He may feel an uncomfortable rail between his august legs, or a still more uncomfortable cravat of the hempen variety around his highly respectable neck. So he has issued in his own behalf and has served upon himself a writ of ne eat. If the union can be saved by letter-writing he has sheafs of pens and quarts of ink and reams of paper at its service. but if the Union can only be saved by a dangerous [118] journey in mid-winter, why the Union may be damned. This is what Mr. Fillmore with much verbal gentility and chaste circumlocution, says; and it is the most sensible thing he ever said in his life. Ex-Presidents can be better employed than in going upon tom-fool errands for anybody.

But while declining to travel for the benefit of the public health, Mr. Fillmore is willing to talk in that behalf, and to talk, as we think, in a discreditably loose way. Here is what Mr. Fillmore “wants.” “What I want,” says he, “is some assurance from the Republican party, now dominant in the North, that they or at least the conservative portion of them, are ready and willing to come forward and repeal all unconstitutional slave laws, live up to the compromises of the Constitution, execute the laws of Congress honestly and faithfully, and treat our Southern brethren as friends. When I can have any such reliable assurance as this to give, I will go most cheerfully and urge our Southern brethren to follow our example, and restore harmony and fraternal affection between the North and the South.”

In order fully to estimate the unspeakably amiable and redundantly fraternal spirit of this tid-bit, from which it appears that Mr. Fillmore is anxious to preserve the peace by quarrelling with his neighbors, we must bear in mind the posture of public affairs. The strongholds of the Government in the hands of the rebels; the American flag dishonored by the hostile artillery of thieves and pirates; the country assailed by land-rats in the Treasury and by water-rats in [119] Pensacola Bay; the Constitution defied by delegates in convention, and by mad and drunken rioters with arms on their shoulders; Senators false to their oaths, and eaten up by undignified passion striding from that chamber which has been the scene alike of their promises given and of their promises broken; the country wantonly alarmed, and its great interests gratuitously threatened because law-abiding men will not submit to law-breaking men; at this moment, when we are to be bullied out of the right of suffrage, and scared into an abandonment of our dearest franchise, Mr. Fillmore, who breathes the same air and treads the same soil with us, lectures us upon our short-comings and our sins, and drawls out his stale reproaches as if he were our keeper or our king. He is out of date. He learned the fossil formula, which for the hundredth time he reiterates, long ago, when he was in a public place, if not in the public service. When he was in fashion, it was also the fashion to talk as he talks now. He assumes that the Republican party is not ready to repeal unconstitutional laws; is not ready to live up to the compromises of the Constitution; is not ready to execute time laws of Congress honestly and faithfully; is not ready to treat our Southern fellow-citizens as such. This, we upon our part rejoin, is something worse than mere gratuitous assertion. It is the vulgar and uncharitable gossip of the pot-house; it is the small change of political sneaks; it is the weak and artless subterfuge of creatures with an irresistible propensity to crawl, and with just sense enough to be ashamed of the degradation [120] of men whose souls are in the stocks, and who have the prices-current written upon their hearts.

But if Mr. Fillmore be really in earnest, we should like to ask him why we are to be driven at the bayonets' point to the stools of repentance which he has been kind enough to arrange for us? Were the lamps so nearly burned out, and were we such incorrigible sinners that nothing could bring us to a sense of our perilous state but the traitorous pranks and headlong perjuries of South Carolina? Does Mr. Fillmore believe that the North, intelligent and honest as he knows it to be, will refuse one jot or tittle of what it honestly owes to its unfortunate fellow-citizens of the South? For ourselves, we think that demands thus far have been made upon us altogether too loosely, and even inexplicitly. We are to humble ourselves as sovereign States have rarely been humbled by the cruelest misfortunes of war; and with the hot haste of recent converts in the political church, we are to repeal laws, already old upon our rolls, at the demand of volunteer advisers, and in deference to the ex-parte dictum of ex-Justices and the theoretical decisions of amateur commentators. If these laws, of which Southern grumblers and their Northern allies complain, were presently oppressive and intolerably grievous, we might extemporise extraordinary legislation, and make hot haste to redress the injuries which we have heedlessly inflicted. What sharp agony, what recent insult, what shame new and impossible to be suffered has forced South Carolina into an attitude of crime? How many slaves has she lost by the [121] operation of Personal Liberty Laws? Which of her citizens have they impoverished by a penny?,

Mr. Fillmore in declining to go to the South will never have the smallest cause to regret a decision which has saved from fresh mortification the evening of his life. No eloquence of his could have quieted the insane rage of the Charleston oligarchy. No astute compromises though he had carte blanche upon which to write them, would have satisfied the ambitious politicians of South Carolina. He might have gone upon his mild mission with his portfolio full of pretty bills and possible amendments; but he would have returned, if at all, leaving behind him the same madness, with a new element of mockery.

January 26, 1961.

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