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X.

The agitation which had now for some time been going on through the country, began to assume formidable proportions—the seed sown by a few strong hands had begun to bear fruit. The foremost of the leading spirits throughout the North assembled in convention at Buffalo, announcing a platform of opposition to the further extension of slavery, and by acclamation nominated Martin Van Buren for President, and Charles Francis Adams as Vice-President. On the 22d of August, the same year— 1848—a public meeting was called at Faneuil Hall to ratify the nominations of the Buffalo Convention. Mr. Sumner, as the presiding officer of the meeting, made the following brief, but bold and comprehensive speech:
And why, in this nineteenth century, are we assembled here in Faneuil Hall, to vow ourselves to this cause? It is because it is now in danger. The principles of our fathers,—of Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson,—nay. the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence,—have been assailed. Our Constitution,—which was the work of the lovers of Freedom,—which was watched by its most devoted champions,—which, like the ark of the covenant, was borne on the [52] shoulders of the early patriarchs of our Israel,—has been prostituted to the uses of Slavery. A body of men, whose principle of union was unknown to the authors of the Constitution, have obtained the control of the government, and caused it to be administered, not in the spirit of Freedom, but in the spirit of Slavery. This combination is known as the Slave Power of the United States.

This combination has obtained the sway of both the great political factions of the country. Whatever may be said of the opinions of individuals belonging to these different factions, it would be difficult to say whether the whigs or democrats, in their recent conduct as national parties, had most succumbed to this malign influence. The late Conventions at Baltimore and Philadelphia were controlled by it. At Baltimore, the delegation of the most important State of the Union—known to be opposed to the Wilmot Proviso—was refused admission to the Convention. At Philadelphia, the Wilmot Proviso itself was stifled, according to the report of an Ohio delegate, amidst the cries of ‘Kick it out!’ General Cass was nominated at Baltimore, pledged against the Wilmot Proviso. General Taylor, at Philadelphia,—without any pledge on this all-important question,—was forced upon the Convention by the Slave Power; nor were any principles of any kind put forth by this body of professing whigs. These two candidates, apparently representing opposite parties, both concur in being the representatives of Slavery. They are the leaders of the two contending factions of the Slave Power. I say factions; for, what are factions but combinations of men whose sole cement is a selfish desire for place and power, in disregard of principles? And such were the Conventions at Baltimore and Philadelphia.

In marked contrast with these was the recent Convention at Buffalo, where were represented the good men of all the parties,—whigs, democrats, and liberty men,—forgetting alike all former differences, and uniting in a common opposition to the Slave Power. There, by their delegates, was the formidable and unsubdued Democracy of New York; there also was the devoted, inflexible Liberty party of the country; there also were the true-hearted whigs and democrats of all the Free States, who in this great cause of Freedom have been, among the faithless, faithful found. There also were welcome delegates from the Slave States,—from Maryland and Virginia,—anxious to join in this new and truly holy alliance. In uncounted multitude,—mighty in numbers, mightier still in the harmony and unity of their proceedings,— this Convention consummated the object for which it was called. It [53] has presented to the country a platform of principles, and candidates who are the exponents of these principles. In their support the representatives of the parties there assembled,—whigs, democrats, and liberty men,—all united. In the strength and completeness of this union, I am reminded of the Mississippi, Father of Rivers, where the commingling waters of the Missouri and Ohio are lost in one broad, united, irresistible current, in one channel descending to the sea.

The principles which caused this union have already been widely received, and will be responded to by this vast assembly. Look at them. They are frankly and explicitly expressed. They were solemnly and deliberately considered by a large committee, and enthusiastically adopted in the Convention. They not only propose to guard the territories against Slavery, but to relieve the Federal Government from all responsibility therefor, everywhere within the sphere of its constitutional powers. In short, on the subject of Slavery, they adopt substantially the prayer of Franklin, who by formal petition called upon Congress ‘to step to the verge of its constitutional power to discourage every species of traffic in human flesh.’ They propose to bring back the government to the truths of the Declaration of Independence and to the principles of the fathers, to the end that it shall be administered no longer in the spirit of Slavery, but in the spirit of Freedom.

It is no longer banks and tariffs which are to occupy the foremost place in our discussions, and to give their tone, sounding always with the chink of dollars and cents, to the policy of the country. Henceforward, protection to man shall be the true American system.

The candidates selected as the exponents of these principles have claims upon your support, in forgetfulness of all former differences of opinion. They were brought forward, not because of the past, but the present; I may add, they were sustained in the Convention by many persons, notwithstanding the past. I name them with pride: Martin Van Buren, the New York democrat, and Charles Francis Adams, the Massachusetts whig. But these designations can no longer denote different principles. Those to whom they are applied, whether democrat or whig, concur in making opposition to Slavery and the Slave Power the paramount principle of political action. The designations may now be interchanged. Mr. Adams may be properly hailed as a New York democrat, and Mr. Van Buren as a Massachusetts whig.

There are many here, doubtless, among those once connected with the whig party, who, like myself on former occasions, have voted against Mr. Van Buren, and who regard some portion of his career with [54] anything but satisfaction. Mr. Adams is a younger man; but there are some, doubtless, among those once connected with the democratic party, who have voted against him. But these differences, and the prejudices they have engendered, are all forgotten, absorbed, and lost in the entire sympathy with their present position. Time changes, and we change with it. He has lived to little purpose, whose mind and character continue, through a lapse of years, untouched by these mutations. It is not for the Van Buren of 1838 that we are to vote; but for the Van Buren of to-day,—the veteran statesman, sagacious, determined, experienced,—who, at an age when most men are rejoicing to put off their armor, girds himself anew, and enters the list as the champion of Freedom. Having implicit confidence in the sincerity and earnestness of his devotion to the cause, and in his ability to maintain it to a successful result, I call upon you, as you love Freedom, and value the fair fame of your country, now dishonored, to render him your earnest and enthusiastic support. Of Mr. Adams I need say nothing in this place, where his honorable and efficient public services, and his private life, are so familiar. Standing as I now do beneath the images of his father and grandfather, it will be sufficient if I say that he is the heir, not only to their name, but to the virtues, the abilities, and the indomitable spirit that rendered that name so illustrious. Such are our principles, and such our candidates. We present them fearlessly to the country. Upon the people depends the question, whether their certain triumph shall be immediate or postponed; for triumph they must. The old and ill-compacted party organizations are broken, and from their ruins is now formed a new party, The Party of Freedom. There are good men who longed for this, and have died without the sight. John Quincy Adams longed for it. William Ellery Channing longed for it. Their spirits hover over us, and urge us to persevere. Let us be true to the moral grandeur of our cause. Have faith in Truth and in God, who giveth the victory.

Oh, a fair cause stands firm and will abide;
Legions of angels fight upon its side!

Fellow-citizens, I am tempted to exclaim, seeing the spirit which animates your faces, that the work is already done to-night—that the victory is already achieved. But I would not lull you to the repose which springs from too great confidence. I would rather arouse you to renewed and incessant exertions. A great cause is staked upon your constancy; for without you, where among us would Freedom find its defenders? [55]

The sentiment of opposition to the Slave Power, to the extension of Slavery, and to its longer continuance under the Constitution wherever the Federal Government is responsible for it, though recognized by individuals, and adopted also by a small and faithful party, has now for the first time become the leading principle of a broad, formidable, and national organization. It is indeed, as Mr. Webster has lately said, no new idea; it is as old as the Declaration of Independence. But it is an idea now for the first time recognized by a great political party; for if the old parties had been true to it, there would have been no occasion for our organization. It is said our idea is sectional. How is this? Because the slaveholders live at the South? As well might we say that the tariff is sectional, because the manufacturers live at the North.

It is said that we have but one idea. This I deny; but admitting that it is so, are we not, with our one idea, better than a party with no ideas at all? And what is our one idea? It is the idea which combined our fathers on the heights of Bunker Hill. It is the idea which carried Washington through a seven years war; which inspired Lafayette; which touched with coals of fire the lips of Adams, Otis, and Patrick Henry. Ours is an idea which is, at least, noble and elevating; it is an idea which draws in its train virtue, goodness, and all the charities of life—all that makes earth a home of improvement and happiness.

Her path where'er the goddess roves,
Glory pursues, and generous shame,
The unconquerable mind, and freedom's holy flame.

We found now a new party. Its corner-stone is Freedom. Its broad, all-sustaining arches are Truth, Justice, and Humanity. Like the ancient Roman Capitol, at once a Temple and a Citadel, it shall be the fit shrine of the genius of American institutions.

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