previous next
[202] if he had by choice passed from it, he would have been succeeded by Winthrop. That speech, and what he said and did afterwards in the same line, called Sumner, a few months later, into public life, which otherwise he might never have entered.

Webster, and the other Northern supporters of the Compromise in Congress or among the people, put in the foreground its necessity as the only means of saving the Union and avoiding civil war. ‘The Union and the Constitution’ became their watchword.1 In that name Compromise Democrats and Compromise Whigs, uniting together, determined to rally the national sentiment against the antislavery movement, and for four years, save under peculiar conditions, they had their way. An appeal was also made to a more sordid sentiment, and Northern capitalists were assured by Webster and other supporters of the Compromise that a revision of the tariff in their interest could be obtained only by concession to Southern demands.2

This review of Webster's course on slavery in 1850-1852, which has been generally left in the background by his eulogists, has been no welcome task; but it is essential to an understanding of the political revolution which was at hand. Those who have come to manly life since 1852 cannot without it comprehend the profound indignation which the antislavery leaders and masses in Massachusetts felt towards him from March 7, 1850, till his death. His offence was not that one speech alone, of evil import as it was; but it was the speech as developed and interpreted by the successive letters and addresses which followed it.

The Compromise proved to be only a temporary makeshift. Hardly three years had passed when the power—always grasping and never satisfied—which had wrested it from a timorous and fielding North was demanding new guaranties and a further extension, even by the breach of an old compact. Happily for the two architects, Clay and Webster, they were not then

1 Von Hoist, vol. v. p. 119, calls ‘the stereotyped formula of fidelity to the Union the broad, grand cloak under which political and moral cowardice in respect to the slavery question could so well conceal itself. . . . Devotion to the Union had for more than a generation been the official term to express subservience to slavery.’

2 Horace Mann's Life, pp. 331, 332, 335, 337. Webster's Private Correspondence. vol. II. pp. 366, 370, 388, 390, 391; Webster's Works, vol. VI. p. 547. Von Holst, vol. III. p. 505. The paper drawn by Eliot and signed by Boston merchants in support of the Compromise before it was passed put forward ‘the beneficent legislation’ which would follow it. Boston Courier, June 12, 1850. Palfrey's Five years progress of the ‘Slave power’ treats of the alliance of that power with ‘the Northern money-power’ through trade and political equivalents.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Massachusetts (Massachusetts, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Fletcher Webster (6)
Robert C. Winthrop (1)
George Sumner (1)
John Gorham Palfrey (1)
Horace Mann (1)
Von Holst (1)
Samuel A. Eliot (1)
Correspondence (1)
Henry Clay (1)
Boston (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1852 AD (2)
June 12th, 1850 AD (1)
March 7th, 1850 AD (1)
1850 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: