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Chapter 19: the end of Abolitionism

The original and distinctive Abolition movement that was directed against slavery in all parts of the land without regard to State or territorial lines, and because it was assumed to be wrong in principle and practice, may be said, as far as the country at large was concerned, to have culminated at the advent of the Republican party. To a considerable extent it disappeared, but its disappearance was that of one stream flowing into or uniting with another. The union of the two currents extended, but did not intensify, the Anti-Slavery sentiment of the country. It diluted it and really weakened it. It brought about a crisis of great peril to the cause of Anti-Slaveryism — in some respects the most critical through which it was called upon to pass. Many of those attaching themselves to the Republican party, as the new political organization was called, were not in sympathy with Abolitionism. They were utterly opposed to immediate emancipation; or, for that matter, to emancipation of any kind. They wanted slavery to remain where it was, and were perfectly willing that it should be undisturbed. They disliked the blacks, and did not want to have them freed, fearing that if set at liberty they would overrun what was then free soil. [151]

The writer recollects hearing a prominent man in the new party, who about that time was making a public speech, declare with great emphasis that, “as for the niggers, they are where they ought to be.” The speaker on that occasion was one of many who belonged to the debris of the broken — up Whig party, and who drifted into Republicanism because there was no other more attractive harbor to go to. One of these men was Abraham Lincoln, whom I heard declare in his debate with Douglas at Alton, Illinois: “I was with the old-line Whigs from the origin to the end of their party.” The Whigs were never an Anti-Slavery party. The recruits to Republicanism from that quarter were generally very tender on “the nigger question,” and the most they were prepared to admit was that they were opposed to slavery's extension. These men largely dominated the new party. They generally dictated its platforms, which, compared with earlier Abolition utterances, were extremely timid, and they had much to do with making party nominations. Their favorite candidates were not those whose opinions on the slavery question were positive and well understood, but those whose views were unsettled if not altogether unknown. When General Fremont was nominated for the Presidency, not one in ten of those supporting him knew what his opinions on that subject were, and a good many of them did not care. Mr. Lincoln was accepted in much the same way.

It is true that, from certain expressions about the danger to our national house from being “half free” and “half slave,” and other generalizations [152] of a more or less academic sort, it was known that Mr. Lincoln was antagonistic to slavery; but as to whether he favored that institution's immediate or speedy extinguishment, and, if so, by what measures, was altogether unknown. We now know, from what has been set forth in another chapter, that at the time of his first nomination and election, he had very few things in common with the Abolitionists. He then evidently had no thought of being hailed as the “liberator of a race.” He preferred, for the time at least, that the race in question should remain where it was, and as it was, unless it could be bodily transported to some other country and be put under the protection of some other flag.

He did not break with the Abolitionists, although he kept on the edge of a quarrel with them, and especially with what he called the “Greeley faction,” a good part of the time. He never liked them, but he was a shrewd man — a born politician-and was too sagacious to discard the principal round in the ladder by which he had climbed to eminence. He managed to keep in touch with the Anti-Slavery movement through all its steady advancement, but, as elsewhere stated, it was as a follower rather than as a leader.

While a resident of the slave State of Missouri, I twice voted for Mr. Lincoln, which was some evidence of my personal feeling toward him. Both times I did it somewhat reluctantly. On the first occasion there were four candidates. Breckenridge and Bell were Southern men — both by residence and principle-and had no claim on Anti-Slavery support. But with Douglas the case was different. [153] He had quarreled with the pro-slavery leaders, although of his own party. He had defied President Buchanan in denouncing border-ruffianism in Kansas. He had refused to give up his “popular sovereignty” dogma, although it clearly meant ultimate free soil. The slave-masters hated him far more than they did Lincoln. I heard them freely discuss the matter. They were more afraid of the vindictiveness of the fiery Douglas than of the opposition of good-hearted, conservative Lincoln. In my opinion there was good reason for that feeling. Douglas, as President, would undoubtedly have pushed the war for the Union with superior energy, and slavery would have suffered rougher treatment from his hands than it did from Mr. Lincoln's. There was another reason why the slaveholders preferred the election of Lincoln to that of Douglas. Lincoln's election would furnish the better pretext for the rebellion on which they were bent, and which they had already largely planned. They were resolved to defeat Douglas at all hazards, and they succeeded.

Douglas had been very distasteful to the Abolitionists. They called him a “dough — face.” Nevertheless, quite a number of them where I lived in Missouri voted for him. Missouri was the only State he carried, and there he had less than five hundred majority. He got more than that many free-soil votes. I was strongly tempted to give him mine. Chiefly on account of political associations, I voted for Lincoln.

When it came to the second election, I again voted for Mr. Lincoln with reluctance. The principal [154] reason for my hesitancy was his treatment of the Anti-Slavery people of the border slave States, and especially of Missouri. The grounds for my objection on that score will appear in the next chapter, which deals with the Missouri embroglio, as it was called.

From what has just been stated, it will be seen that the cause of Anti-Slaveryism had, at the formation of the Republican party, reached a most perilous crisis. It was in danger of being submerged and suffocated by unsympathetic, if not positively unfriendly, associations. It ran the risk, after so many years of toil and conflict, of being undone by those in whose support it was forced to confide. Such would undoubtedly have been its fate if, owing to circumstances over which no political party or other organization of men had control, the current of Anti-Slavery sentiment had not risen to a flood that swept all before it.

It is rather a curious circumstance that, at the crisis just alluded to, the nearest approach to original Abolitionism that was to be found, was in a slave State. In Missouri there was an organized opposition to slavery that had been maintained for several years, and which was never abandoned. The vitality displayed by this movement was undoubtedly due in large measure to the inspiration of the man who was its originator, if not its leader. That man was Thomas H. Benton. Whether Benton was ever an Abolitionist or not, has been a much-disputed question, but one thing is certain, and that is that the men who sat at his feet, who were his closest disciples and imbibed the most of his spirit-such as [155] B. Gratz Brown, John How, the Blairs, the Filleys, and other influential Missourians,--were Abolitionists. Some of them weakened under the influence of the national administration, but not a few of them maintained their integrity. Even in the first days of the Civil War, when all was chaos there, an organization was maintained, although at one time its only working and visible representatives consisted of the members of a committee of four men --a fifth having withdrawn — who were B. Gratz Brown, afterwards a United States Senator; Thomas C. Fletcher, afterwards Governor of the State; Hon. Benjamin R. Bonner, of St. Louis, and the writer of this narrative. They issued an appeal that was distributed all over the State, asking those in sympathy with their views to hold fast to their principles, and to keep up the contest for unconditional freedom. To that appeal there was an encouraging number of favorable responses.

And thus it was that when Abolitionism may be said to have been lost by merger elsewhere, it remained in its independence and integrity in slaveholding Missouri, where it kept up a struggle for free soil, and in four years so far made itself master of the situation that a constitutional State convention, chosen by popular vote, adopted an ordinance under which an emancipationist Governor issued his proclamation, declaring that “hence and forever no person within the jurisdiction of the State shall be subject to any abridgment of liberty, except such as the law shall prescribe for the common good, or know any master but God.”

The writer entered on this work with no purpose [156] of relating or discussing the story of the Republican party, in whole or in any part. His subject was Abolitionism, and his task would now be completed but for the movement in the State of Missouri, to which reference has just been made. That manifestation, he thinks, is deserving of recognition, both on its own account and as a continuation of the original movement, and he is the more inclined to contribute to its discussion because he was then a Missourian by residence, and had something to do with its successful prosecution.

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