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Doc. 115. speech of Francis Thomas at the front street theatre, in Baltimore, Md., October 29, 1861.

My fellow-citizens: I do not think, on any occasion of my life, I have felt so great cause for asking the indulgence of my hearers as I do to-night.

Fifteen years of my life have been passed in seclusion and retirement. During that time events have transpired that have brought about the terrible calamity with which the country is now afflicted. Old party associations have been broken up and the people have come cut under new organizations, formed under motives and inducements that I have had no opportunity to understand and properly judge of.

When the preliminary measures for disrupting the Union were consummated in the Democratic Convention at Charleston and Baltimore — for that is the cause — it came on me like a clap of thunder. I did not suppose that there was any possibility of its consummation even then.

Yes, fellow-citizens, it was here, in this hall, that the first step in that terrific drama in which we are all called upon to take a part was taken, and which is attracting the attention of the civilized world.

Without arrogating to myself the ability that these men claimed to possess, I could not have been deceived as to the motive that governed the ruling demagogues in that body. Their purpose was too transparent. I never could have been made a blind tool in their hands to demoralize the great Democratic party, and thus open the way for their terrific conspiracy, having for its purpose the destruction of our great and glorious nation. (Cheers.)

I will advert to some few facts now palpable and well known to the public mind. All their clamor about Southern rights and the protection of slavery in the territories was the most shallow and miserable pretence in the world. We were told that the enforcement of the fugitive slave law was the essential element of Southern rights, without which a dissolution was inevitable. What has been the result? Now it is annulled, so far as these Southern States are concerned, by their own act. It no longer has an existence for the protection of those States which have joined this rebellion; and if consummated how will the institution obtain protection?

We must have room for the expansion of our peculiar institution we were told, and Mr. Jeff. Davis told us that the bayonets of the Government must uphold this institution. Still they abandoned every position, every safeguard in the Government that had been thrown around this institution, by deserting their posts in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. The very men who clamored most against the contraction of the limits of slavery, have themselves destroyed all those safeguards.

During ten years service in Congress I never joined in any debate on the subject of slavery. I always shunned it as a subject for demagogues, and clearly foresaw that it was introduced for the purpose of bringing about the designs of disloyal ambition--(cheers)--a war of plunder — a war for the destruction of the very institution that we are called upon to draw our swords to defend. (Cheers.)

What is transpiring now? Commissioners after Commissioners, Ministers after Ministers, are sent across the ocean to establish commercial relations with Great Britain, the very country that we have been so long told had furnished gold to destroy the institution of slavery.

Have they not proclaimed that Republicanism is a failure? that there are but two natural classes of society — the aristocracy of birth and wealth, and the dependence of poverty and labor? This is the groundwork of this great rebellion. It is a war to establish a Government based upon but two grades of society. But, my fellow-citizens, I contend that Republicanism is not a failure.

When they ask me to sympathize in their rebellion because those engaged in it are slaveholders, I loathe with contempt the imputation of pecuniary motive conveyed by the plea. They might as well ask me to sympathize with them because they own horses. (Laughter.) I am a Marylander and a slaveholder, but whilst I glory in being a Marylander I also glory in the revolutionary renown of our ancestors. I glory in the result of their labors, because I am a citizen of this great nation, with no sectional affinities, and no local animosities. My proudest title is to be considered an American citizen. I am at home everywhere in this great Republic, with freedom's soil beneath my feet and freedom's banner floating over me. (Cheers. )

Although prepared myself for this rebellion, I ought not to be surprised that many Marylanders could not foresee the catastrophe. Being able to stand at the stand-point I have now reached, and looking down through the vista of the past, I hope it will not be tiresome to my hearers for me to repeat some of the reasons that impelled me long since to look forward to the consummation of the unholy purposes of these demagogues.

Full twenty years since, when occupying my seat in the House of Representatives, I was surprised one morning after the assembling of the House to observe that all the members from the slaveholding States were absent. Whilst reflecting on this strange occurrence, I was asked why I was not in attendance on the Southern caucas assembled in the room of the Committee of [251] Claims? I replied that I had received no invitation.

I then proposed to go to the committee room to see what was being done. When I entered I found that little cock-sparrow, Governor Pickens, of South Carolina, addressing the meeting, and strutting about like a rooster around a barn yard coop, discussing the following resolution, which he was urging on the favorable consideration of the meeting:

Resolved, That no member of Congress representing a Southern constituency shall again take his seat until a resolution is passed satisfactory to the South on the subject of slavery.”

I listened to his harangue, and when he had finished I obtained the floor, asking to be permitted to take part in the discussion. I determined at once to kill their treasonable plot, hatched by John C. Calhoun, the Catiline of America, by asking questions. I felt then that it was my duty to stand by my country in opposition to these conspirators, as I now feel it my duty to bare my breast in its defence. Why, Baltimoreans, do you stand idle when your country is in danger, and your very city is threatened with invasion by the embittered foes of republican institutions?

I said to Mr. Pickens, “What next do you propose we shall do? Are we to tell the people that Republicanism is a failure? If you are for that, I am not. I came here to sustain and uphold American institutions — to defend the rights of the North as well as the South--to secure harmony and good fellowship between all sections of our common country.”

They dared not answer these questions. The Southern temper had not then been gotten up. As my questions were not answered, I moved an adjournment of the caucus sine die. Mr Craig, of Virginia, seconded the motion, and the company was broken up.

We returned to the house, and Mr. Ingersoll, of Pennsylvania--a glorious patriot then, as now — introduced a resolution which temporarily calmed the excitement.

After this John Quincy Adams introduced a petition said to be signed by four negroes of Fredericksburg. The Representative from that district proved it to be a hoax; that no such persons lived in that vicinity. But even this trifling hoax was seized upon as a pretext or a means of disrupting the Union.

I am not afraid to address a Maryland audience, and to express my peculiar views on this exciting subject, even here in Baltimore. I but repeat here what I have said to the people of Western Maryland, who, after hearing my sentiments, sent me to represent them in Congress by ten thousand majority. (Cheers.) In all this question of slavery I boldly assert that the South has been the aggressor; not the people of the South, but the demagogues of the South.

In this connection allow me to allude to what has been said by the man who is now styled Vice-President of the Southern Confederacy. This little cock-sparrow, who is now repudiating the whole record of his life--Mr. Stephens--in one of his last speeches agreed with Washington, Madison, Jefferson, and Monroe, that slavery was an evil, and should not be introduced in any territory where it does not exist. He says, in the same speech, that those men of the North who cling to the sentiments of abolition must be regarded as fanatics, or as lunatics on this particular subject.

The Democratic party had been required to frame resolutions, as indicative of their national views, that the North and the South could both stand upon. They have required of the party from year to year more than Northern men could submit to, even for the purpose of harmony. If the South had been content to change their own opinions, and to practise their opinions in their own section, there would have been no trouble. But they were constantly making encroachments, and demanding concessions, hatched in the brain of men who had a purpose devilish to the existence of the Union. Make it a sine qua non that all shall agree on the controverted texts of the Bible, as a condition of remaining together in one religous organization, and what would be the result? It is an aggression on the part of the demagogues of the South to ask the citizens of the North to throw open the free territory of the nation to the blight of slavery.

My object in this branch of my discussion is to prepare my audience for the admission of the fact that there is nothing in the result of a Presidential election to warrant a dissolution of the Union--nothing in the defeat of a political party to warrant the overthrow of our political fabric, and nothing in the present revolt but the unholy aspirations of personal ambition.

In 1835, the friends of Mr. Calhoun in Washington City made an effort to induce the Democratic party to adopt a resolution to declare that the Congress of the United States had no power to legislate on the subject of slavery in the territories. I protested then against the opening of this Pandora's box. But it has ever since been forced upon the Democratic party by the South.

In this connection Governor Thomas quoted Mr. Clay's declaration: “So help me God, I will never vote for the introduction of slavery in territory where it does not exist.” I stand now where Mr. Clay then stood, and will ever stand so long as I lave power to give utterance to my sentiments. I may be called a Black Republican, an Abolitionist, but I care not. When I was charged in Western Maryland as being unsafe, as being an Abolitionist, I was the owner of sixteen slaves. Why, sir, the puny fellows who thus assailed me, if blacked, would not have sold for as much as some of my little black boys. (Cheers and laughter. )

There are doubtless some in Baltimore who could be valued at the same price. (Laughter.) You may stand in awe of them, but I do not. I never shall stand in awe of any but my Maker.

I stand in no awe of their denunciation and [252] defamation. This little clique of Southern demagogues has had no terror for me. You may stand in awe of them, but I do not. I never have and never shall stand in awe of aught except my Maker. My sentiments are based on conscientious convictions, and cannot be controlled and governed by the fear of being stigmatized as unsound to my section.

The Southern men at the head of the rebellious movement, as well as those of that part of the country sanctioning it, entirely ignore the great principle of our country — to abide the decision of the ballot-box, and, if defeated, try it again. Instead of such a course they resorted to arms with a view of overturning the Government. Such a sight as this arouses all the manly feelings in my nature, and rouses my very soul to arms. It is not a liking for the government of President Lincoln that induces all of us to stand up for the Union, but because we are a law-abiding people. (Applause.)

Throughout my entire life I have always entertained an opinion that Congress has power to control slavery, and also that it was the duty of that body to exercise such control. It was not on the principle that Congress should set forth that slavery is immoral, or that it should interfere with the institution as it exists in the Southern States; but it was that, if the whole country was given up to slavery, they would not be honored in the non-slaveholding States as a land which was the home of the brave and free. With the natural order of events flowing smoothly, as previous to the reopening of the slavery agitation, the institution would continue, as established, two hundred years to come. While in Congress, Southern men came to me and said that, if it was confined to the States in which it is at present, it would soon die. Take the census of 1840 and that of 1850, and observe the rates of increase of both sections.

Then compare it with the territory not yet settled, and you will readily exclaim, Why fight about territory — why brue your hands in blood about territory not needed by either side? The principles on which I placed myself have been sanctioned in Western Maryland, and even from my boyhood have I maintained them. They have been vindicated by the people selecting me as their representative in Congress by ten thousand majority, given by a generous and confiding people, who, on the same enunciation of these opinions, chose me as the Chief Magistrate of Maryland. Why it is that the Northern section of our country increases in population more than the Southern section, I will not dwell, but only refer to one cause, and from which, as a natural result, it will always increase more rapidly.

I allude to foreign emigration — persons arriving in the Northern section, who, from not being indoctrinated into the institution in their native land, have an inborn hatred of slavery, and therefore seek that part of the land where the laboring class is free. They are right in this, and if thereby the North has the preponderance, we should submit to it. Five-and-twenty years ago I assumed the opinion which I now hold, but would not wish to controvert the opinion as expressed by Chief Justice Taney in the Dred Scott decision, and therefore abide by it. The remarks which I have expressed, my friends, are made with a view to allay the prejudices which unfortunately exist among the citizens of Baltimore in this great crisis of our country. Prejudices and passions they are; and never have more unjust and unwarranted allegations been made than what a number of your citizens generally receive as truths. Chief among these is an assertion that President Lincoln, who for the time being is our Chief Magistrate, is a political abolitionist.

I hold in my hand the Inaugural Address of President Lincoln, a portion of which I will read. It is he same position occupied by Mr. Van Buren in 1832, when he received the vote of Maryland for Vice-President. It is the position of Henry Clay (tremendous applause) in his whole career — a favorite of old Maryland; of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, through a long period of the country's early history. Mr. Lincoln declares that “he has no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery where it exists.” The votes and resolutions in the convention that formed the Chicago Platform expressly declare the same doctrine. Expressly did that platform recognize the right of the South to a maintenance of the inviolable right to the control of her domestic institution as necessary to the just administration of the Government. It is true, however, that it was also a great principle to resist the extension of slavery where it did not exist.

Born in Maryland, a son of a slaveholder, living among slaveholders, serving in the position of Chief Magistrate of the State, I have always held these opinions, and avowed that I would exclude slavery from any new State, but where it was established as a vested right I would defend the right with my blood. But if I was going to lay the foundations of a new State, I would never sanction the incorporation of slavery as an institution.

Mr. Thomas distinctly averred that there was nothing in the designs of the Chief Magistrate, or of any of his Cabinet, to lead any person in Maryland to believe that they purposed interfering with the institution of slavery.

In New York and Ohio the Democratic party had lost power by showing more sympathy with Southern rights in years gone by than was right. At the present time, however, as if to show that the design of the Republican party was not to interfere with the institution in the Southern States, the party had invited the Democratic party into a union with them on the only true ground of supporting the Union as it is. They had elected a Democratic Governor in Ohio, as well as representatives in Congress, by large majorities, and in New York they had also elected Democrats by triumphant majorities. [253] Thus in two populous States they had abandoned the principles of the party, and made combinations with the Democrats in order to cherish the Union. In this State he regretted to see men claiming to be Democrats organizing an opposition to Government, and giving evidence of sympathy with traitors.

Mr. Thomas referred to the assistance rendered by the leading Whigs of 1832 to General Jackson, when South Carolina raised the nullification banner. Then Clay, Webster, and Adams, forgetting all that had induced them to oppose Jackson in his course toward the United States Bank, the National Road, and other prominent measures, readily rallied to his support. They knew the great distinction between the persons administering the Government and the Government itself, and gave all their powers to sustain the latter. President Lincoln now claims from all citizens the same loyalty as was evidenced in 1832, when the Government was wantonly assailed by rebellious men.

The speaker alluded to the expressions made use of by secessionists in reference to subjugating and coercing States, and that it was unlawful, to imprison persons who were wanting in loyalty. He dissented in toto from the opinion of Chief-Justice Taney in the case of John Merryman, though having the utmost respect for the distinguished jurist.

He referred to General Jackson's course in New Orleans, where, a large portion of the inhabitants being of French descent, he was apprehensive that they would not be as loyal as they should be, and had occasion to arrest one of them. After the retirement of the old hero to the Hermitage, all the leading men who previously had abused him without stint acknowledged that he had done right. So will it be with President Lincoln when the present crisis is past.

He then referred to the efforts made in this State by the secessionists to control the Legislature, with a view of crippling the General Government, and expressed himself as being favorable to the utmost exercise of all the powers of Government to prevent such aims.

If they were desirous of ending these difficulties, he would suggest to them, as well as to the State prisoners in Fort Lafayette, that if they would take the oath of allegiance and become loyal citizens, they could regain and retain their liberty.

Mr. Thomas continued to urge these views at length, and passed on to the questions of tariff and other measures, which were sometimes urged by those friendly to the South as inducing their present position. He referred to the present attitude of England and France as not being calculated to create any alarm, and then rapidly alluded to the position of affairs even if the independence of the Confederate States should be acknowledged, and generally referred to the position which Baltimore would be placed in as a commercial city.

He concluded his address at ten o'clock, being listened to by the great throng with eagerness.

During the delivery of his impassioned words the utmost quietude prevailed, while again the most enthusiastic applause greeted some of his remarks.

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