's speech, wanting in spirit as it was, was nevertheless effective with a large body of conservatives at the North
, who were by habit braced against any arguments or appeals which savored of antislavery sentiment.
had made a studied effort to excite prejudice against the opponents of the measure by taunting them as only ‘abolitionists;’ but Everett
's career relieved him of all suspicion in that regard.
His contention, also, that the Compromise of 1850 was not designed to tamper with that of 1820 came with peculiar authority from him. At the close of his speech Sumner
, crossing to his seat, said to him, ‘You have dealt slavery a blow between the eyes,’1
though expressing regret at the passage in which he had given his opinion that slavery could not exist in Kansas
This congratulation, which rather exceeded the occasion, was prompted by Sumner
's desire to say the best that he could of the speech, and particularly its effect on one point,—the intent of the compromisers of 1850.
's speech was severely criticised by the antislavery papers,2
and was thought by those naturally friendly to him to be below the tone which the occasion required, and to expose him to the suspicion of want of sincerity and earnestness.3
Whatever were the merits of the Massachusetts
conservatives of those days belonging to Everett
's type,—and great merits they had,—this is at least certain, that by nature and habit they were unfitted to deal with a question so radical and far-reaching as that of American slavery.
It was not in such leaders to recognize the political and moral forces at work, and to meet them like men.
's speech, February 17, was earnest and strong in his peculiar power; but he assumed the style of philosophical disquisition, and avoided any direct issue with the promoters of the scheme, appealing to them as honorable men acting from no unworthy motives; and he treated the question largely as a stage in the eternal struggle between conservatism and progress.
His part in the debate was more that of historian and prophet than antagonist.
Even in his second speech at the close of the contest, after all the insolence of the repealers, his language towards them was friendly; and he seemed to move above and