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[98]

Chapter 32: the annexation of Texas.—the Mexican War.—Winthrop and Sumner.—1845-1847.

The annexation of Texas, plotted during Jackson's Administration, obstructed by Van Buren's, and consummated by Tyler's, was in its origin and at every step a conspiracy of the aggressive and fanatical partisans of slavery to consolidate their power in the national government, and to strengthen and perpetuate their institution. It was one of the three great victories in our history won by the slaveholders over a feeble-spirited and submissive North. Texas was, indeed, a territory which might well be coveted by a people and race distinguished by a passion for empire, already fed by acquisitions from France and Spain. It was imperial in extent, fortunate in position, rejoicing in marvellous fertility, commanding the Gulf of mexico, and assuring military and commercial advantages;1 but far different thoughts from such as appealed to a far-sighted patriotism filled the minds of Tyler and Calhoun and their fellow-plotters. Their purpose, boldly avowed not only in Southern journals and conventions, but in Congress and state papers, was to add immediately two members to the pro-slavery party in the Senate, with more in prospect by a division of the new State, to fortify the interests of their caste on our southwestern frontier, and to open a market for the redundant slave population of the old slave States. The plot was carried through in defiance of the Constitution, in disregard of the rights of Mexico, and in contempt of Northern sentiment. When the treaty of annexation, negotiated by Calhoun, Secretary of State, had been rejected by the Senate in 1844, President Tyler promptly resorted to a joint resolution, easily carried through the House, but passing the Senate by a majority of only two votes, and taking effect [99] March 2, 1845, two days before Tyler was succeeded by Polk, who was instigated by the same pro-slavery ambition as his predecessor. The slave-power was then the master of the Democratic party; and Northern Democrats—some from pro-slavery sympathies, and others from servile fear—voted for the measure in Congress,2 joined by a sufficient number of Whigs in the Senate to carry it through. It is painful, in reading the history of that period, to see how feeble was the resistance to the great conspiracy; to observe the sham neutrality of our government in the contest between Mexico and Texas,—its pretences of offended dignity and its support of unfounded claims; its unconstitutional use of the navy and army in threatening, and at last invading, a sister republic, to whom we were bound by conditions of peace and a common polity; the sophistry, disingenuousness, and falsehood of its diplomatic papers, and its unblushing avowal of its purpose to extend and perpetuate slavery. Viewed in connection with the war which followed, and the age and country in which it took place, history records no baser transaction than the annexation of Texas.3 The spirit of the people had fallen low indeed, if they would not rise up to drive from power and punish all who had borne a part in it. At least the time had come to organize a resistance as determined as the conspiracy itself, and to abandon political combinations which openly aided or weakly submitted to it.4

No such general revolt as might have been expected followed the consummation of the iniquity. Partisans were disposed to accept an accomplished fact, and discountenanced further contention as useless. The Southern Whigs, who had put their opposition on mild grounds of detail or expediency, yielded very graciously to the final result; but among Northern Whigs, instead of such general resignation, a divergence of sentiment developed. They had, in State legislatures and political conventions, as also in journals and popular meetings, affirmed their unalterable purpose to resist the scheme to the end, going so far [100] even as to declare that the act of annexation, being unconstitutional, was of no binding force; but as the event proved, the greater number, while having a sentimental aversion to slavery, often boldly expressed, were wanting in thorough conviction as to its moral wrong and its political dangers, and were bound to stop at any point of resistance where they were confronted by material sacrifices or a breach in the party. In this majority, particularly in New England, the influence of manufacturers and capitalists was dominant. With them the protective tariff of 1842 was of paramount importance, Whig success essential to its maintenance, and Southern Whig co-operation essential to the election of a Whig Congress and President; and they were indisposed to prolong a controversy which would embarrass their Southern allies and obstruct the restoration of the party to power.

There was, however, a body of Northern men in the two parties, more numerous among the Whigs than among the Democrats, whose conscience and patriotism had been profoundly stirred by the annexation of Texas, and who were determined from that time to make resistance to the extension and domination of the slave-power the paramount principle of political action. Though seeming at first to be larger in numbers than under party pressure they afterwards proved to be, they were strong in enthusiasm, in moral power, and in the heroic qualities of their leaders. They had, too, among the Christian masses ‘great allies,’—‘exultations, agonies, and man's unconquerable mind.’ They stood together in this dark hour, perhaps the darkest in our history, with an indomitable spirit, indeed with what seemed the resolution of despair. Having failed to prevent the incorporation of Texas into the Union, they now took their stand, hopeless as it was, against her admission as a slave State, the final consummation of the plot. If the result was already a foregone conclusion, they could at least, by a contest at every stage, attest their high purpose, and maintain their unity and vigor as a political force. Lifted by their cause to a broader view, their aims now advanced beyond the immediate issue. the time had come, as they saw it, when patriotism and moral duty required the people of the free States to put in abeyance material questions, and to unite not only in resisting future aggressions of slavery, but also in overthrowing the power it had usurped over national politics and legislation. They had in view [101] constitutional methods only; and instead of starting an independent movement, they sought in their first effort to put the party to which they belonged on the same plane of sentiment and action where they themselves stood. With this body of men at this period Sumner allied himself, taking the first step in his active political career.5

This brief statement of the national contest which resulted in the annexation of Texas is sufficient to introduce a particular reference to the course of events in Massachusetts. Here the tone of resistance and defiance was stronger than in any other State. The people had inherited a Puritan repugnance to slavery, and they had been instructed and alarmed as to the Texas scheme by their first moralist and their veteran statesman,—Dr. Channing, and John Quincy Adams. They had, in every form in which public opinion can be expressed, denounced the conspiracy of the propagandists of slavery, and declared their purpose to resist it to the end; and as its success drew near, their protests were uttered with the depth and fervor of religious conviction. The Legislature, at the beginning of its session in 1845, affirmed in resolutions the invalidity of the proposed act of annexation, and the perpetual opposition of the State to the further extension of slavery. A convention was held at Faneuil Hall, January 29. The call invited the people of the State to attend without distinction of party; and although a few of the advanced antislavery men were present, the greater part of the delegates were of the conservative class. They included lawyers, merchants, and public men who had long held the confidence of the people. The address, one of the ablest in the political history of the State, was prepared by Mr. Webster, Charles Allen, and Stephen C. Phillips.6 It declared that ‘Massachusetts denounces the iniquitous project in its inception, and in every stage of its progress; in its means and its end, and in all the purposes and [102] pretences of its authors.’ A solemn earnestness such as befits a great crisis in human affairs pervaded the assembly.

This was the last demonstration of resistance to the annexation, or of protest against it, in which the representative Whig politicians of Massachusetts took part. Even this convention did not have the countenance and good — will of Levi Lincoln, Abbott Lawrence, and Nathan Appleton; and when the annexation had been consummated, a few weeks later, a disposition to acquiesce was manifested in various quarters. A section of the Whigs in the Legislature, prominent among whom was John H. Clifford, endeavored to avoid action on the resolutions proposed by C. F. Adams immediately after the measure of annexation had passed, although they were of similar purport to those previously passed at the same session.. .Winthrop's toast on the Fourth of July7 was understood to discountenance any further agitation of the subject. The Whig leaders in the autumn threw the Texas question into the background, and brought to the front the economical issues which divided them from the Democrats.

The antislavery Whigs, known as ‘Young Whigs’ in the political nomenclature of the period, sometimes as ‘Conscience Whigs’ (the last a name first applied to them derisively by their more politic Whig opponents), at once organized an opposition to the admission of Texas as a State with a constitution which not only established slavery, but undertook in certain provisions to make it perpetual. Their leaders were Charles Francis Adams, Charles Sumner, Stephen C. Phillips, John G. Palfrey, Henry Wilson, Charles Allen, Samuel and E. Rockwood Hoar (father and son), and RichardI. Dana, Jr. Among these it would not be invidious, in view of his sober judgment, persistency, courage, and his social and hereditary position, to put Mr. Adams at the head. These men were all highly regarded in the Whig party; most of them had been chosen to office by its nomination. They were strong in personal character and in their unquestioned loyalty to moral principles as the basis of political action, and they exercised a large influence over the voters in the country towns who were removed from an immediate connection with the moneyed interests of Boston. During the summer and autumn of 1845 they, and others acting in accord with them, held public meetings in different parts of the State to [103] protest against the admission of Texas as a slave State; and appealing to the mass of voters, they forwarded a remonstrance to Congress with sixty thousand signatures. From this agitation the manufacturers and many of the

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