Chapter 3: the Democracy in 1860.
- Slavery as an institution
-- Colonizationists and Abolitionists
-- rise of the Free-soil party
-- settlement of Kansas
-- the John Brown raid
-- Democratic national convention at Charleston in 1860
-- struggle for a platform
-- South Carolina delegates leave the convention
-- secession foreseen: an incident
-- voting for Jefferson Davis
-- reply to criticism
-- Horace Greeley as a secessionist
-- the Baltimore convention
-- squatter sovereignty
-- delegates withdraw and nominate Breckenridge
-- Douglas named by the Southerners
-- political status of the slavery question
-- return to Lowell
-- yells and cat-calls
-- the national election
-- meeting of the Breckenridge Committee
-- interchange of opinion with a Southern colleague
-- proposing to President Buchanan a plan for meeting secession
-- interview with Jefferson Davis
-- the Eve of the New administration
The matters treated of in this chapter may seem a twice-told tale to readers who lived when they were taking place.
But it is owed to the younger generation that the causes and events which led to the War
of the Rebellion
should be stated here.
They can be given in a single phrase,--perpetuation of slavery
. But why and how this led to rebellion will need to be elucidated in order to show what caused me, a prominent Democrat, to be among the very first to go to the front.
The institution of slavery was imposed upon the United States
by the mother country ; but it had, for economic reasons, substantially ceased in the northern part of the colonies at the close of the Revolution, except so far as domestic servitude was concerned.
Yet the right to hold negro slaves was fully recognized and provided for by the Constitution of the United States
in several ways, but more especially by the provisions of Article 4, Section 2:--
No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.
That provision imposed upon every State the duty of returning fugitive slaves.
Slavery was further recognized in the Constitution
by the provisions of Article 1, Section 2--
Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the
whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other persons.
Without these recognitions of the institution of slavery, as established by the laws of the various States, the Constitution
could not have been adopted.
These provisions convinced me as a lawyer that the right of the people of any State to hold slaves, where the institution was established by law, was clearly a Constitutional right, and that nothing could be done by any State to interfere with that right in any other State without a violation of the Constitution
; and, of course, anything done to take away that class of property by State or nation, from the owner, was in violation of the Constitution
Slavery was repugnant to the moral feelings of a great many citizens.
This was manifested by a law of Congress forbidding the slave trade,--not domestic trade, but the importation of slaves into the United States
The law was passed under the terms of Article 1, Section 9, of the Constitution
, by which it was provided that Congress might, after 1808, prohibit immigration and the importation of slaves into the country.
A prohibitory law was passed by Congress in 1818, but it was to a very great degree evaded or violated in most of the cotton States for many years, without any proceedings being instituted for such violations.
The repugnance of many good citizens to the institution was shown in all the States by wills made to free slaves, or by manumission during their lives.
, John Randolph
, of Roanoke, Virginia
, and John G. Palfrey
, of Louisiana
, are notable examples of the surrender of large property in slaves under the impulse of such sentiments.
There were also colonization societies formed for the purpose of exporting the negroes to Africa
, and the colony of Liberia
was established to receive them.
Of course colonization did not weaken the institution, for in every slave State more slaves were born in a week than the colonization societies could have exported to Africa
in a year even if they could have got them for nothing.
Slavery had been forbidden in the northwest territory by what was known as the “Dane
Then it was foreseen that the lower branch of Congress would very soon have representatives in
such majority, as to do anything against slavery not inhibited by the Constitution
if the representatives from the North
Hence the slave States, in order to preserve the balance of power in the Senate, entered into the far-famed Missouri
compromise, by which Maine
, as a free State, was to be taken from Massachusetts
, and Missouri
, as a slave State, from the Louisiana
purchase, and both were to be admitted into the Union
at the same time.
Slavery was abolished in the Southwestern American
colonies of Great Britain
by an Act of Parliament passed in 1833.
This act emancipated all slaves from the first day of August, 1834, and appropriated the sum of twenty million pounds sterling to compensate the owners for their loss of services.
But it held the emancipated person as an apprentice for six years, bound to give forty-five hours each week to the service of his master.
About this time an anti-slavery agitation was begun in this country, originating substantially in New England
, and led by William Lloyd Garrison
It spread rapidly over the whole country North and West, many journals being founded for its advocacy.
This agitation looked to no compensation to the master, but held that slavery was wholly unconstitutional; and that if the Constitution
did recognize and protect it, then the Constitution
was a “covenant with hell and a league with death.”
In several States, notably in Massachusetts
, societies were organized for the purpose of inducing and aiding slaves to flee to the North
and thence into Canada
, from which they could not be extradited.
State legislation was attempted by which the Fugitive Slave Law
, then existing, was to be rendered nugatory and useless.
Retaliatory measures were introduced at the South
The time of Congress was largely spent in discussing and legislating on matters connected with the slavery question.
The balance of power after the adoption of the Missouri
compromise in 1820--that is, as many free States as slave States coming into the Union
--gave an equal number of senators upon the slave question.
, free, carved out of Massachusetts
, was admitted March 3, 1820, and was offset by Missouri
, slave, March 2, 1821; Arkansas
, slave, June 15, 1836, by Michigan
, free, Jan. 26, 1837; Florida
, slave, March 3, 1845, by Iowa
, free, March 3, 1845; Texas
, slave, annexed as a State March 1, 1845, by Wisconsin
, free, March 3,
The annexation of Texas
brought on the Mexican War
, on a question of boundary between Texas
This war resulted in the admission of California
as a free State, which was carved out of Mexican territory
acquired by the treaty of Guadaloupe Hidalgo
The balance thus established in the Senate and in the House
as against slavery, it was patent, must remain forever.
This condition of things in Congress was the controlling cause of secession.
In 1848 the Free-Soilers
, as the abolition party named themselves, made a considerable show of power by the nomination of Martin Van Buren
of the United States
, upon a Free-Soil platform, which prohibited thereafterwards the admission of any State which had established the institution of slavery by its constitution.
The party had strength enough to defeat Cass
, the Democratic
candidate for President
, and thus elected Taylor
, the Whig
candidate, a Southern slaveholder.
The Abolitionists had put up a candidate for President
at previous elections, but their vote was so small that it was never a factor in the political result.
lived but fifteen months after his inauguration in 1849, and Vice-President Millard Fillmore
Under the Missouri
compromise act, it was provided that other States coming in thereafterwards might be admitted as free States if such was the wish of the people forming the new States.
Near the close of Fillmore
's administration a new compromise measure was passed, which included the fugitive slave act. The original law, passed in the early days of the republic, was to be executed through tile medium of State officers, but the execution of this new fugitive slave law was put wholly into the hands of the courts and officers of the United States
The principle of this act, so it is stated, was that of non-intervention by Congress with slavery in the States and Territories.
Congress declined either to legislate slavery into any Territory or State or to exclude it therefrom, but left the people thereof perfectly free to form or regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States
This act was carried through largely by the influence and eloquence of Daniel Webster, of Massachusetts
, but it was his political death knell.
As we have already seen, he was succeeded in the United States Senate by Charles Sumner
, a declared Free-Soiler.
passage of the act caused very great and universal excitement and political agitation.
In the presidential election of 1852, when Pierce
were the candidates, both political parties substantially united on a platform in regard to slavery.
That platform, like most platforms, was an evasion of the point actually at issue.
At the election, Pierce
was chosen by the vote of all but five States.
Meanwhile a fruitful subject of turmoil, anxiety, and political agitation had formulated itself in the question of the admission of the Territory of Kansas
That agitation first took form in settling that Territory.
It lay on the westerly side of the slave State of Missouri
and its southern boundary was the Indian Territory
, where slavery was practically established among the Indians.
Most of the early settlers of the eastern portion had come from Missouri
and brought the institution of slavery with them.
seemed at first, to have the elements for the formation of a slave State.
Great exertions were made on the part of the Free-Soilers
to settle Kansas
from the East
, so that the majority of the inhabitants should be opposed to slavery.
The Emigrant Aid Society, a very strong organization duly incorporated in the State of Massachusetts
, sent into that Territory great numbers of emigrants; and they went also, although more spontaneously, from other free States.
The southern slave-holders likewise made exertions to have those of their people who desired to emigrate, go to Kansas
and aid in making it a slave State.
The emigrants on both sides went there armed.
When attempts were made to hold elections, armed bands went from Missouri
to control those elections.
A convention was held to provide an organic law for the State
, and it resulted in a constitution providing for slavery, known as the Lecompton Constitution
This was considered by the people of the United States
rather the expression of the will of the armed intruders of Missouri
, than the voice of her own people.
Meanwhile the “free settlers” of Kansas
elected delegates to a convention which provided that Kansas
should be a free State, and that slavery should be prohibited in its organic law, and then set up a State government for Kansas
before its admission as a State by Congress.
There have been several States admitted under such proceedings, but none where the struggles upon great and vital questions were so
fierce as in this.
sent a body of troops into Kansas
, and by force of arms dispersed the “free settlers” government.
This exercise of executive power was very repugnant to the majority of the free States, and so great was the opposition raised by it that his administration was only enabled to keep itself alive in passing the necessary appropriations for its existence, by a majority of three votes.
Meanwhile came on the election of 1856, and Fremont
was put in nomination by the Republican party, under which name were arrayed all who were dissatisfied with the administration on the slavery question.
The Democrats nominated James Buchanan
, and he was elected by a very meagre majority, if at all, for I have always believed that he owed his election to a fraudulent return or count in the State of Pennsylvania
On the slavery question the administration of Buchanan
did literally nothing except to endeavor to keep the peace among the several factions, without much success.
At the same time the Southern States
were holding conventions, passing resolutions, and declaring for the right of secession.
In many of the States the proposition of secession was defeated only upon the ground that the time had not come for it.
The next important event was the incursion of John Brown
, known as Pottowattomie Brown
, of Kansas
, into the State of Virginia
with his sixteen men, with intent to raise an insurrection of the negroes, and thus overthrow slavery.
He took possession of Harper's Ferry
and captured nineteen persons, principal men of the town, whom he took with him into the engine house of the United States Arsenal, as prisoners.
The State of Virginia
did not prove itself able to dispossess him, but two companies of United States Marines, consisting of fifty men each, were very anomalously put under the command of Lieut.-Col. Robert E. Lee
, of the United States Army, and sent to Harper's Ferry
by the President
to capture Brown
and his handful of men who were making
war on Virginia
The selection of Colonel Lee
to command this expedition seems to have been because of his soundness on the slavery question.
He went to Harper's Ferry
and succeeded in capturing Brown
and his sixteen men, and in releasing the prisoners.
This military feat seems to have been the first great victory of Gen. Robert E. Lee
It certainly was a complete one.
This performance was criticised by the strict constructionists of such provisions of the Constitution
as declared against the interference of the United States
in such matters by the use of troops, except in case of war or invasion by a foreign power.
But greater events soon overshadowed criticisms on constitutional law.
The Democratic National Convention of 1860 was held at Charleston, South Carolina
To this convention I was a delegate, as I had been to every national Democratic convention since 1844.
It was presided over by Gen. Caleb Cushing
, of Massachusetts
Having become satisfied that there was danger of an attempt to sever the Union of the States upon the slavery question, I sedulously devoted myself to an endeavor to keep the peace, and keep the Democratic party together, because I looked to that as the only source of safety to the Union
Upon the slavery question Mr. Douglas
was the leader of that part of the convention which advocated the principle known as “squatter sovereignty,” that is, the right of a people who settle in any part of the territory of the United States
, to organize themselves under such laws precisely as they choose to enact, and then to be admitted into the Union
without being subjected by Congress to any conditions or any provision as to freedom or slavery in their statehood.
This doctrine seemed to me to be fraught with very great dangers.
I did not believe that another slave State could be admitted into the Union
by any Congress that could be elected, even if the squatters settling that State should so desire.
I did believe that the control by Congress of this power of admission was necessary to the perpetuity of the government.
The whole South
substantially agreed in opinion that the passage of a resolution acknowledging such control would be followed by instant secession by one or more States.
The Southern States had already said that one or two States ought not to secede unless they were sure of being supported by other States.
Out of the thirty-three members of the Committee
on Resolutions, of which I was one, there were sixteen in favor of the Douglas platform as the one on which the Democratic party should stand at the coming election.
The other sixteen were in favor of a very care-fully worded resolution, which seemed to me equally objectionable, because it left the question of slavery as a State institution, to be decided by the Supreme Court.
I for one was unwilling to trust that question to the Supreme Court because I thought I knew the opinions of the majority of the judges of that court; and if one should die no man could be put in his place and be confirmed by the Senate who would not stand by what were called the compromises of the Constitution
in favor of slavery.
I thought then as I think now, that it was destructive of all proper consideration and respect for the Supreme Court to put before it the decision of political questions.
I had seen a warning example of that in the effect of the “Dred Scott
” decision upon the respect and consideration which should be due to the Supreme Court and its opinions in matters of law, as the supreme law at last.
That decision satisfied neither party, and was derided by one and trampled upon by the other.
Therefore I introduced a resolution which was the exact platform of the National
Democratic Convention held at Cincinnati
in 1856, under which that party had carried the election.
The committee was in session three days, and the result of its deliberations was three reports.
The first was the Douglas report; the second was what was afterwards known as the anti-Douglas report; and the third, which was mine, was known as the “Cincinnati
platform pure and simple,” because I had inadvertently used that phrase in the committee.
I had learned that the Southern
delegates did not particularly desire the anti-Douglas resolution, but that they were especially afraid of the nomination and election of Douglas
They declared that they could not and would not trust him. It is needless here to state the reasons, or whether they were well founded or not, but only that from personal observation I learned the fact.
was my personal friend.
The district which had sent me to the convention was undoubtedly in his favor.
Calling on Judge Douglas
on my way through Washington
, I told him in a full and frank conversation that I did not think he could be nominated,
or, if nominated, elected.
He turned to me and said,--“Well, you will vote for me?”
“ Yes, because I shall vote according to what I believe to be the views of my constituents.
How many times do you want me to vote for you before I may change my vote?”
“ Oh,” said he, “three times will be enough.”
,” I said, laughing, “I will do better than that; I will vote for you five times, and then feel at liberty to change.”
“ Oh,” said he, “that will be more than enough,” and we parted.
My personal preference for President
, who had been Secretary of the Treasury
Being well acquainted with him I had great reverence for him as a clear-headed man, of quick perceptions, of careful and conservative reflections upon all subjects, and of a well-balanced mind.
And I further knew that he looked upon the preservation of the Union
as infinitely beyond any question in regard to slavery, and that he was willing to sustain slavery but not at the expense of the Union
I have never seen any reason to change that opinion.
The committee on resolutions presented two reports to the convention, the Douglas and the anti-Douglas reports, and I reported, as a minority of one, the “Cincinnati
platform pure and simple.”
The first two reports were ably argued from the platform by the representatives of each sixteen States who favored them, but their propositions did not seem to be received with much favor.
This course of procedure gave me an opportunity to argue in favor of my very minority report, and this I proceeded to do with all the power I possessed.
After the arguments a vote was taken by States on the reports, and to the surprise of all, the convention adopted the “Cincinnati
platform,” which was substantially satisfactory to all the convention except South Carolina
In some way the delegation from that State seemed to see in its adoption the control of the convention by the friends of Mr. Douglas
That delegation also wanted there should be an explicit declaration in favor of slavery in the platform.
When the platform was adopted the South Carolina
delegation, headed by Governor Barry
, seceded from the convention in a body, so that the State
might not be bound by the action of the convention, and we adjourned for dinner.
This performance of South Carolina
, applauded by several of the Southern Atlantic
and Gulf States, suddenly and strongly foreshadowed to me certain consequences in the near future.
War appeared to me inevitable.
An incident will show how strongly I was impressed.
I took dinner at the Mills House
with Governor Barry
of the South Carolina
delegation, at his invitation, given a day or two before.
After dinner we were pacing up and down the veranda of the Mills House
, not in a very talkative mood, and I cast my eye over the building, counting its stories and looking at its extent.
, to rally me, said: “Why, Butler
, what are you examining this building so critically for?
Are you thinking of coming down here and setting up as a tavern-keeper?”
“ Oh, no, Governor,” I answered: “I was thinking of something very different from that, because of South Carolina
's secession from the convention this morning.
I was making a mental calculation as to how many troops could be comfortably quartered in this hotel.”
“Oh,” said he, “it won't come to that.”
“God grant that it may not,” was my reply.
The friends of Mr. Douglas
had not the least hope of carrying the convention if the two thirds rule of national Democratic conventions, established in 1844, under which Polk
was nominated as against Van Buren
, should be sustained.
I also learned that the Douglas leaders had formulated the plan that if they could get a majority vote for
had formulated the plan that if they could get a majority vote for Douglas
, they would, before proceeding to ballot further, move to rescind that rule of the convention.
The balloting began.
, my colleague, a firm and consistent Democrat, voted with me, we having agreed to vote together, for I had learned that his preference was for Guthrie
We voted for Douglas
seven times consecutively, and the secession of South Carolina
made the vote so close that Mr. Douglas
was within one vote of a majority.
The most ordinary understanding of the action of political conventions will convince any one that if he desires to bring forward an outside candidate with any hope of success, it is best never to have the name mentioned until the state of the canvass shows that a new name is desirable.
Wherefore I looked around for a representative man to vote for, so that when I changed from Mr. Douglas
, I could show the Southern
delegates on whom I must rely to bring forward my candidate, that I was willing to take a representative Southern man as candidate for the presidency.
As I have said, I was quite willing so to do, because in looking over the histories of all the presidents on the questions of slavery, I found that the North
on that question always got more under a Southern president than a Northern one.
A Southerner had a standing that would sustain him in such action, while a Northern president looking for a re-election at that time would be inclined to cater to the South
irrespective of principle.
Accordingly when the next vote was called, my colleague and myself voted for Jefferson Davis
Whether we made a good selection, subsequent events have so fully demonstrated that I need not discuss that question.
Why my choice fell upon Davis
was this: He was not a candidate even of his own State before the convention.
He had highly distinguished himself as an officer and gallant soldier in the Mexican War
. Statesmanlike in all his expressions, he ranked among the very first as a senator.
No ultra notions as to the heresy of secession could at that time be found upon his record in the Senate.
While in the Senate I had occasion, in behalf of the State of Massachusetts
, to converse with him upon the question whether Massachusetts
should be paid the interest on the war expenses incurred by her in 1812, when she acted in a way that pleased nobody, and certainly not a Southern Democrat.
Perhaps I should explain this last observation on the conduct of Massachusetts
in the war of 1812, as it has passed from memory but not from history.
When troops were wanted by the United States
, and Massachusetts
was called upon by the President
to furnish her quota, our governor, Caleb Strong, decided that they could not be marched beyond the limits of the State
, except the President
came himself and marched them.
And the Supreme Court of Massachusetts
sustained the governor,--a decision which would now be scouted by every lawyer.
And so, as the President
could not come to march the Massachusetts
troops, they were never marched.
Again, when the news of a naval victory over a British frigate by the good ship Constitution
was reported, a Massachusetts senator, unrebuked, introduced a resolution that it was unbecoming in a moral and religious people to rejoice over a victory against England
, the bulwark of the Protestant religion.
I do not give words here, but phrases, because I am speaking from memory; but any critic who chooses to look it up will find that I am right in substance.
Is it a wonder that British troops in that war took and held for a long time the-soil and towns of our State, the only State whose soil was so held?
listened to me and undertook the advocacy of our claim.
It had been laughed at and repudiated by Congress for more than forty years; but, by his industry in getting together the facts to show its justice, and by his clearness in putting them before the Senate, he carried the measure.
The interest was paid; but only a portion of it, however, after the check was drawn, went to the benefit of the treasury of the State
As Secretary of War
had shown great reach of thought and great belief in the future of the country.
It is to the surveys and explorations ordered by him as Secretary of War
that much of the prosperity and growth of the Northwest
is due. We owe to those surveys and explorations the Union Pacific Railroad, which was built to bind the East and West together as with a chain of steel, after Davis
While he was Secretary of War
he made a tour through a portion of the New England
In a part of this trip I accompanied him, and I then had occasion to learn his character and his ability.
He was not an original disunionist, but felt bound to follow his State.
He himself told me this in December, 1860.
For these reasons I voted for him fifty-seven times in that convention, and then the convention adjourned without any break in the votes.
Near the beginning of the voting, when Douglas
was within one vote of a majority, one of Douglas
' friends came across the hall to our delegation and said: “Who here is voting for Jeff Davis
A vote for Douglas
which will give him a majority is worth $25,000.”
I said to him: “Sir, it takes two of us here to carry a vote, as you know.
Here is my colleague in voting, Mr. Chapin
; he is worth a couple of millions, or more.
Perhaps you can prevail upon him, if you would like to try.”
That conversation went no further.
For these votes for Jefferson Davis
I have been criticised and abused for more than thirty years, in every form of words that characterizes calumny.
Yet, up to the time of my voting for him, the only secession by the representatives of any State was that of the delegation of South Carolina
when it withdrew from the Democratic convention.
For aught that anybody in the world knew, Davis
was still loyal to the Union
As a loyal Union soldier he had been rewarded by a seat in the Cabinet
of President Pierce
, as Secretary of War
This post he had filled with commendation, and had then taken a seat in the Senate.
This abuse was heaped upon me because he afterwards acted upon the claimed conviction that there was an inherent right in the States to secede from the Union
and form another national confederation, if there were a sufficient number of States joining together for that purpose.
But no declaration of his can be found to that effect until his speech in the Senate in 1861, wherein he asserted the doctrine, then first fully expounded, that there was an inherent right in the States of the Union
, without being treasonable, peaceably to secede from the Union
; that the United States Government had no right or legal power to coerce their return, and that it was, therefore, the duty of the citizen of any State, being bound by an oath of allegiance to his State, to follow it in this rightful and not treasonable proceeding.
It will be remembered that I voted for him in June, 1860.
If I had happened to vote for Horace Greeley
, who was afterwards Democratic candidate for the presidency, my loyalty to the Union
would have been highly praised for bringing forward the name of such a thorough-going, stanch, uncompromising Union man as that Abolition chief.
He is supposed never to have swerved in his devotion to the integrity of the
What, then, were the doctrines held by Horace Greeley
on this subject during the year 1860, both before and after the actual secession of South Carolina
and several other Southern States?
I will quote from the Tribune
editorials of Mr. Greeley
some statements which will enlighten the people of the country as to the state of mind of a very considerable portion of the Republican party.
These people followed the lead of the editor of the Tribune until, by his incessant hounding of the administration, he caused the government to precipitate the disastrous battle of Bull Run
, fought on the 21st day of July, 1861, and by his continual cry of “On to Richmond
” instigated a war upon the Southern Confederacy for doing that which he had encouraged them to do and justified them in doing, to wit, peaceably seceding from the Union
It is needless, perhaps, for me to say that I did not believe in Horace Greeley
's statesmanship or teachings in 1860, nor before or after.
I shall not quote his insane ravings for immediate battle in 1861.
The following are extracts from his editorials in 1860:--
[New York Tribune, Dec. 8, 1860.]
. . . We again avow our deliberate conviction that whenever six or eight contiguous States shall have formally seceded from the Union, and avowed the pretty unanimous and earnest resolve of their people to stay out, it will not be found practicable to coerce them into subjection; and we doubt that any Congress can be found to direct and provide for such coercion.
One or two States may be coerced; but not an entire section or quarter of a Union.
If you do not believe this, wait and see.
[New York Tribune, Dec. 17, 1860.]
. . . But if ever seven or eight States send agents to Washington to say, “We want to get out of the Union,” we shall feel constrained by our devotion to human liberty to say, “Let them go.”
And we do not see how we could take the other side without coming in direct conflict with those rights of man which we hold paramount to all political arrangements, however convenient and advantageous.
[New York Tribune, Dec. 24, 1860.]
. . . Most certainly we believe that governments are made for the peoples, not peoples for governments; that the latter derive their just power from the consent of the governed; and whenever a portion of this Union, large
enough to form an independent self-subsisting nation, shall show that, and say authentically to the residue, “We want to get away from you,” I shall say — and we trust self-respect, if not regard for the principles of self-government, will constrain the residue of the American people to say--“Go.”
[New York Tribune, Dec. 28 1860.]
. . . Nor is it treason for the State to hate the Union and seek its disruption.
A State, a whole section may come to regard the Union as a blight upon its prosperity, an obstacle to its progress, and be fully justified in seeking its dissolution.
And in spite of adverse clamor we insist that if ever a third or even a fourth of these States shall have deliberately concluded that the Union is injurious to them, and that their vital interests require their separation from it, they will have a perfect right to seek such separation; and should they do so with reasonable patience, and due regard for the rights and interests of those they leave behind, we shall feel bound to urge and insist that their wishes be gratified,--their demand conceded.
It will be observed that these utterances were made after secession had become a pronounced and vital question; and as I have shown, I voted for Davis
in 1860, with intent to preserve the Union
and ward off that very secession which Greeley
long afterwards justified, advised, and did all that he could to incite.
Nearly a year after my vote, Gen. Winfield Scott
, then the Commander
of the United States Army, being organized to prevent secession, declared in regard to the secession of certain Southern States: “Wayward sisters; let them go in peace.”
It will be seen hereafter that at the time Greeley
was writing these editorials, I was declaring to the leading members of the Southern States
, my political associates, that there was no right of secession; that the government had a right to restrain it by force of arms, and that the North
would fight to prevent it. In view of these facts, did I deserve the abuse poured upon me for that vote by insensate newspapers, headed by the New York Tribune
, or ought I to apologize for having so voted?
The convention then adjourned to Baltimore
without further action.
This adjournment to Baltimore
was a plan of the friends of Judge Douglas
, and its purpose was afterwards accomplished.
It was evident that very many of the delegates of the convention,
especially those from the Gulf
States, would never go to Baltimore
, and some announced an intention of resigning their positions.
men in the several Southern States held district conventions anew and elected other delegates, enough to give their chief a working majority.
A large portion of the New England
delegates, who went to Charleston
by sea in a steamer chartered by themselves, returned by land, and on their journey home discussed the situation of political affairs very earnestly but very sadly.
Many of them were of the confirmed conviction that the Democratic party was, as proved to be the fact, hopelessly divided for years.
Signs of sectional disunion were numerous and portentous.
Among the most important was the division of the Methodist-Episcopal Church into a Northern and a Southern organization.
It was also evident that at least six of the Southern States
would secede if the coming election should prove disastrous to the Democracy, and if a Republican President
, presumably Seward
, should be elected.
In that event the most thoughtful were persuaded that war would follow, but of what magnitude none could foresee.
Among the returning delegates was George F. Shepley
, of Maine
, who afterwards went with me to Ship Island
in command of a regiment, became a brigadier-general, and died a Circuit Court Judge
of the United States
As we were crossing the Potomac
from Acquia Creek
, he turned to me and said: “Butler
, when we cross the Potomac
again we shall be carrying muskets on our shoulders;” and I replied: “That is only too likely to be the fact.”
The convention met in Baltimore
, on the 18th of June, in accordance with its adjournment.
When it assembled it appeared that the places of the seceding delegates from the South
had been filled by the adherents of Judge Douglas
This gave him a decided majority, although by no means the necessary two thirds.
The two thirds rule had been adopted in 1844 by the Democratic National Convention, and readopted by every succeeding convention.
It provided that no nomination could be made that did not bring to its support two thirds of the members of the convention.
If that rule obtained, the nomination of Douglas
The organization of the convention indicated very clearly, however, that the rule would be repealed.
Some of the new Douglas
delegates from the South
were much more
pro-slavery than the seceding ones.
The seceders would have been content if they could have been assured that existing laws concerning slavery would be sustained.
Some of the new delegates declared themselves in favor of laws reopening the slave trade and authorizing the importation of negroes from Africa
, of Georgia
, made a most violent speech in that direction, and it was loudly applauded by a majority of the Southern
Those delegates, who believed that it was better for the country that the laws in any degree humanizing negro slavery should be maintained, deemed it necessary to withdraw from the convention, before the nominations were made, that they might not be bound by its proposed action.
With them went those delegates who believed that the slaveholder should have the right to own his negroes in the Territories
, until the Territories
became States, as he would have his right to any other property, and that the State
in its Constitution should determine whether he should emancipate his slaves or emigrate from the State
This was the doctrine of those men afterwards known as squatter sovereignty Democrats.
Thereupon, the Hon. Caleb Cushing
, who had been elected to preside over the convention at Charleston
, and who still presided over its deliberations at Baltimore
, abandoned the chair and left the convention.
I also left the convention, stating as one of my reasons for withdrawing that “I would no longer sit in a convention where the reopening of the African slave trade, made piracy by every law of God and man, was advocated and applauded.”
The delegates who withdrew organized themselves into another convention, and nominated John C. Breckenridge
, then Vice-President
of the United States
, but not until the Northern
delegates had received from Mr. Breckenridge
and his Southern supporters, not merely the strongest possible declaration of his devotion to the Union
and the Constitution
, but a particular disavowal and repudiation of the cry then ringing through the South
, that if the Republican party came into power, the South
Before Mr. Breckenridge
was nominated I went to Washington
and had an interview with him, and received such assurances.
I have no doubt that Mr. Breckenridge
was sincere, and intended to stand by his pledge.
He certainly adhered fully to the Union
down to the time when war became inevitable.
The platform of the Breckenridge convention upon the subject of slavery was this: Slavery lawfully exists in a Territory the moment a slave owner enters it with his slaves.
The United States
is bound to maintain his right to hold slaves in a Territory, but when the people of the Territory
frame a State Constitution they are to decide whether to enter the Union
as a slave or as a free State.
If as a slave State, they are to be admitted without question, but if as a free State the slave owners are to retire or emancipate their slaves.
It is but just to say that we knew the defeat of Breckenridge
was inevitable, because of the rupture of the Democratic party, caused by the friends of Douglas
We supposed that the Republican party would come into power under the lead of Seward
, and that the majority of the Senate and the Supreme Court would still be Democratic, and probably a majority of the House
This was the actual result of the election, though resignation of their seats by secession members of Congress wiped out that majority.
We thought that the scramble for office in the Republican party would disunite it, and that it would go to pieces within six months. We foresaw that at the very next election of members of Congress after the inauguration of the President
, the people would elect a House in opposition to the administration, as had uniformly been the case.
That also became a fact.
would have been beaten in his first House of Representatives by nearly a two thirds majority, if one third of his opponents had not left their seats vacant.
In regard to Douglas
, we were certain that his personal aspirations, forcing him into a contest which had disrupted the Democratic party, would shelve him forever as a Democratic politician, almost as effectually as if he had been buried physically instead of politically.
We further arranged to have our organization extend to 1864, and then to sustain our young leader, Breckenridge
, for the presidential nomination of that year, when there would be a certainty of success.
There was only one reason why I did not share fully in these expectations, and that was because I believed that secession was certain and war would inevitably follow.
But I was willing to make one more attempt, at whatever of personal sacrifice, to prevent a final destruction of .the Democratic party, and the consequent disunion of the nation.
I returned home only to meet a very violent opposition and denunciation.
Perhaps here it may be well to say a few words upon the political condition of the country.
Two candidates had been nominated by two factions of the Democratic party.
The Republican party had not made its nomination, but it was fully believed the candidate of that party would be Mr. Seward
He had proclaimed the doctrine of an “irrepressible conflict” existing in the country upon the slavery question.
That doctrine, if carried to its logical conclusion, meant war.
I had been elected as a delegate to the Democratic convention by a constituency that undoubtedly was in favor of Judge Douglas
, because the country understood that his platform on the question of slavery was “squatter sovereignty,” which was understood to mean that the question of slavery should be determined in any Territory by the people who settled that Territory.
If the Territory
was settled by Northern men in majority, that meant the extinction of slavery there.
We had had an example of that in the case of the State of Kansas
The people of the North
were enterprising and far-reaching, and had settled most of the already thriving country of the Northwest
, and would, of course, settle the remainder of that unoccupied Territory as soon as it was in a situation to be inhabitated.
The South was composed of more stable and unemigrating communities than the North
Beside, the question of slavery would be of no consequence to the Southern
man unless he left his home and took with him negroes enough to make it worth while to maintain a stand upon the question, and men who had such an amount of property rarely emigrated.
So that Douglas
' position, when I. was chosen a delegate, was one which would quietly and peaceably settle the future extension of slavery, at least for a time, and avoid all danger of an armed or violent disturbance.
Therefore, I was in favor of his candidature, and was so elected by my district.
As I have already said, I called upon Judge Douglas
, who did not inform me of any change in his political views, and I told him that, while I doubted whether he could be nominated, I was willing to vote for him five times.
When I reached Charleston
, it was plain to me, and to everybody else of any discernment, that Judge Douglas
could not be nominated on the platform of “squatter sovereignty,”
because the South
saw that such a doctrine would, as I have shown above, be a practical ending of the slavery question, so far as the future admission of new States into the Union
They viewed it as I did.
Originally there were two sets of resolutions presented in the Committee
The first embodied substantially the Douglas doctrine.
The other was a series of propositions which provided for a slave code for the Territories
, and upon the high seas, and declared that Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in the Territories
; that the legislatures of the Territories
had not the power to prohibit therein either slavery or the introduction of slaves, nor any power to destroy or impair the right of property in slaves by any legislation whatever; and that, furthermore, it was the duty of the federal government to protect the rights of persons and property on the high seas, in the Territories
, and wherever its Constitutional authority might extend.
The committee was divided upon these propositions, sixteen free States advocating the Douglas doctrine, and fifteen slave States, together with Oregon
While the consultation was going on, three gentlemen entered the committee-room and announced themselves a committee from a caucus of the friends of Judge Douglas
, with a resolution which his friends desired to be reported to the convention, in order, the chairman said, to aid the Southern
friends of Judge Douglas
The resolution was as follows:--
Resolved, That all questions in regard to the rights of property in the States and Territories arising under the Constitution of the States are judicial in their character, and the Democratic party is pledged to abide by and faithfully carry out such determination of this question as has been or may be made by the Supreme Court of the United States.
Now, the decision of the Supreme Court had been in substance that “a negro had no rights that a white man was bound to respect;” and this was the platform proposed by the friends of Judge Douglas
as a concession to the South
It were better that a slave code, if we were to have one, should be made by Congress than by a decision of the Supreme Court, especially if we assented that the questions were not legislative, but judicial.
If the Supreme Court made a slave
code upon those principles, it could not be repealed, however objectionable it might be, and however the interests of the country might suffer in consequence; whereas, a slave code made by Congress could be repealed if found injurious to the country or unjust to any portion of its people.
I objected to having a caucus dictate what the Committee
on Resolutions should adopt, or interfere with its deliberations; but my point of order was overruled.
This new resolution involved an entire change of principles as to the slavery question from those which I supposed Judge Douglas
If he was willing to make such a concession to the slave power to secure the votes of the South
, I wanted none of him; but I could not hold him responsible, as he was not there.
I then introduced the resolutions of the Cincinnati
platform of 1856, with the addition of a resolution that the United States
should extend a like protection over its native born and naturalized citizens.
To this clause no objection was made.
My proposition was voted down in the committee by seventeen States to sixteen.
propositions were voted down by seventeen States, and the other propositions were carried by seventeen States,--fifteen slave States and two free States, Oregon
What became of the resolutions in the convention I have already stated.
I have also given the report adopted at Baltimore
by the Breckenridge convention, and the only change made in the resolutions of the Breckenridge convention was to add a declaration against secession.
I chose to support the nomination of Breckenridge
because the question for the country to determine (leaving out the side show of the Bell
candidature, which was to come to nothing), was between secession and the recognition of the Constitutional rights of slavery on the one side, and the submission of the governing power of the people on this great question to certain appointive officers under such declaration of legal principles, that, from their decision, there was no appeal or future revision.
Therefore the giving of my support to my friend Breckenridge
was a simple protest against the doctrine of secession.
On my return to Lowell
, I was met with the most bitter and humiliating charges.
When the district delegates who had elected me were called together to listen to my report, our very large city hall, capable of accommodating six thousand people, was completely
Part of those in attendance were delegates, but part were miserable creatures, who got their inspiration from a neighboring tavern, the Merrimac House
, kept by an old political enemy, whom I had prosecuted for selling liquor unlawfully.
When I arose to speak, I was met with the most uproarious yells and drunken cat-calls that one can well imagine.
I asked to be heard, but they declared that I should not speak.
As I had made no preparation for such a state of affairs, I was not able to speak and the meeting broke up in confusion.
But I announced to the audience that two weeks from that day I would address them in that hall, and that I should be prepared to deal with mobs and their instigators in a way that would be exceedingly unpleasant to them; and advised those who were not disposed to conduct themselves properly to stay at home.
On that day, however, the decent and orderly Democracy
filled the hall, and I made a speech of several hours in length, which was regarded by my friends and personal associates as a very effective defence of my course in the Charleston
The campaign went on. The Breckenridge
party put in nomination their candidates in Massachusetts
, and I accepted the candidature for the office of Governor, willing to be sacrificed to the political cyclone.
I received but 6,000 of the 169,534 votes cast, whereas, the year before, as a candidate of the united Democracy, I had received 35,326 of 108,495 cast.
I had done nothing in the meantime to change the vote except to declare myself unalterably opposed to a slave code to be established by the Supreme Court of the United States
under our Constitution.
For that court would be obliged to follow the legal principle enunciated in the decision in the “Dred Scott
case,” and this could only lead to reopening the African slave trade on the high seas, where it had been prohibited for nearly half a century, and riveting the chains on the negroes forever.
The National Committee appointed by the Breckenridge Convention
consisted of fifteen gentlemen, of whom I was one.
They had agreed, before they separated, to meet at Washington
during the holidays in December, to take note of the results of the election, and to issue an address to the Democracy of the country for reorganization.
having been elected, and South
Carolina having seceded, and several other of the Southern States
having taken action in that direction, only seven members, I think, of that committee met. As soon as we came together, it was evident that the Breckenridge wing of the Democratic party was wholly disrupted.
I was informed by my Southern colleagues that the South
had come to the conclusion to secede from the Union
and form a government whose corner-stone should be slavery, and that their new empire would never permit reunion with any other of the States, except possibly Pennsylvania
and a few Western States.
They even decided that if all the other States should unite, New England
was to be left out in the cold.
No reunion was ever to be accorded to her.
“Well,” I said, “what are you going to do with your Democratic friends in those States?”
“Oh, they must take care of themselves,” was the cool reply.
“Well, where am I to go?”
“Oh, you had better come down and live with us; we will take care of you; we want such men as you are.”
I said: “I can't do that, and what is more I won't do that.
Your whole scheme is entirely impracticable, and no part of it can possibly be successfully carried out.”
“Because it is treason to the country, and the North
will fight to prevent it.”
“Who will fight?”
was the reply.
“Well, I will for one, and I shall be joined by a great many.”
can't fight; we have friends enough at the North
to prevent it.”
“You have friends at the North
as long as you remain true to the Constitution
, but let me tell you that the moment it is seen that you mean to overthrow the government, the North
will be a unit against you. I can answer at least for Massachusetts
; she is good for ten thousand men to march at once against armed secession.”
is not such a fool.
If your State has tell thousand men to preserve the Union
against Southern secession, she will have to fight twice ten thousand of her own citizens at home who will oppose the policy.”
“No, sir; when we come from Massachusetts
on this errand, we shall not leave a single traitor behind, unless he is hanging on a tree.”
“Well, we shall see.”
“You will see; I know something of the North
, and a good deal about New England
, where I was born and have lived for forty-two years. We are pretty quiet there now because we don't believe you mean to carry out your threat.
We have heard the same story at every election these twenty years. Our people don't believe you are in earnest.
But let me tell you, as sure as you attempt to destroy this Union, the North
will resist the attempt to its last man and its last dollar.
You are as certain to fail as there is a God in heaven.
One thing you may do, you may ruin the Southern States
, and extinguish your institution of slavery.
From the moment the first gun is fired on the American
flag your slaves will not be worth five years purchase.
But as to breaking up the Union
, it cannot be done.
God and nature, and the blood of your fathers and mine have made it one, and one country it must, and shall remain.”
Afterwards in talking with the South Carolina
Commissioners who were there to present the ordinance of secession to the President
, a similar conversation occurred:--
“If the North
fights, its laborers will starve and overturn the government.”
“If the South
fights, there is an end of slavery.”
“Do you mean to say that you, yourself, would fight in such a cause?”
“I would; and by the grace of God, I will.”
Hon. Jeremiah S. Black
of the United States
, as the legal adviser of the government, gave an opinion that the acts and doings of the men of the secession convention of South Carolina
in voting to secede from the Union
was legally definable as a riot, for the suppression of which the forces of the. United States
could not be lawfully used.
As Mr. Black
and myself were personal friends, having known each other well as lawyers, and having been employed as opposing
counsel in the Supreme Court, I called upon him for the purpose of asking him to advise the President
to gain time by submitting the question to the Supreme Court, which would give an opportunity for the passions of the South
to cool, and hand the matter over to the next administration, thereby relieving his administration of its unhappy predicament.
I said to him:--
“I have read your opinion that the government cannot use its army and navy in South Carolina
to coerce that State.
I do not agree with you, but let that pass.
Now, secession is either a riot or treason.
If it be only a riot, the sooner we know that in the highest form of knowledge, a decision of the Supreme Court, the better for all. If it be treason, then the presenting of an ordinance of secession by the commissioners is an overt act of treason.
It is an official call by the representatives of an armed combination of citizens upon the President
to demand the surrender of a portion of the territory of the United States
to a foreign nation.
That is an overt act of treason of course, at common law. Our own Constitution defines treason to consist only in levying war against the United States
, or adhering to its enemies and giving them aid and comfort.
To present an ordinance of secession to the President
of the United States
would be adhering to the enemies of the United States
and giving aid and comfort to its declared enemies, and hence an overt act of treason.
Let the President
, when the commissioners call upon him for this purpose, admit them.
Let them present the ordinance.
Then let the President
say to them: ‘Gentlemen, you are either ambassadors from a foreign state, and should be received and treated as such, or you are citizens of the United States
giving aid and comfort to its declared enemies, which is treason.
I must receive you in one of these two characters or not at all. I think your condition is the latter.
Gentlemen, you will go hence into the custody of the marshal of the United States
as prisoners, charged with treason against your country.’
Then let a grand jury be summoned here in Washington
, and indict the commissioners, or let the Chief Justice
of the Supreme Court of the United States
, acting as a commissioner, as Marshall
did in the case of Aaron Burr
, examine the question with all the imposing form and ceremony that attended his trial.
Let the Chief Justice
bind them over to be indicted by a grand jury, and then have the matter brought before the full court, as can easily be done, and have
them tried, and we shall learn what is the legal character of this act of secession.
I have some reputation at home as a criminal lawyer, and will stay here and help the district attorney
through the trial without fee or reward.
If they are sentenced for treason, execute that sentence, and that will stop secession, for the present generation at least.
If they are acquitted, something will have been done toward leaving a clear path to the incoming administration.
Time will have been gained, and this administration will have put the question in the best form to learn the power and duty of the United States
as to the rights of secession.
And the great advantage will be that both sides will pause and watch this high and dignified proceeding, the passions of men will cool, the great point at issue will become clear to all parties, and the attention of the country will be active while passion and prejudice are being stayed.
But if you cannot use the army of the United States in South Carolina
, you can use it to preserve order here.”
advised me to put my views before the President
, and I went to him immediately and made an arrangement for an interview for that purpose, at which I laid the matter before him substantially in the same form that I had stated it to the attorney-general
. Mr. Buchanan
was a quiet old gentleman and had been for many years a trained politician, but to say that he was astounded at the boldness of the proposition would be but a feeble description of his condition of mind and body.
He said in substance: “These men claim to be ambassadors, and though we cannot admit the claim, still, they have voluntarily placed themselves within our power, and seem to have a kind of right to be at least warned away before we can honorably treat them as criminals or enemies.”
To this I replied that my object was to have it judicially ascertained which they were.
That they had committed an act of treason voluntarily, was certainly no ground for permitting them to escape, and if they had not committed treason, they were clearly ambassadors, and the State
from which they came could require the United States
to indemnify them for all they had suffered.
Of course it was impossible for a man of Mr. Buchanan
's temperament and training, however honest and conscientious, to adopt so decisive a course.
He thought it would lead to great agitation.
I thought it would stop agitation until the question was determined, and
whichever way determined it would prevent unauthorized action being taken.
For, if the commissioners were acquitted on the ground that they were ambassadors from a sovereign power, then there was nothing to be done except to treat other secession commissioners accordingly.
It was known at the time that such a proposition had been made, and my recollection is that no other commissioners ever came to the President
to propose such an act of treason.
I thought then, and still believe, that the question of secession could have been settled then in a manner that would have saved life and treasure incalculable.
No lawyer with whom I have discussed the question since, has suggested a legal objection to the plan.1
I was well acquainted with Mr. Orr
, one of the commissioners of South Carolina
, and I stated to him my proposition as I had laid it before the President
replied: “Why, you would not have hanged us, would you?”
and I answered: “No; not unless you had been convicted.”
I was not alarmed at this condition of things, because, as I have said, I had foreseen it. But I wished to know if there was any hope
Washington scenes in 1861. |
1. Pennsylvania Avenue looking towards Capitol.
2. War Department building before War.
3. Navy Department building before War.
of relief therefrom.
Accordingly, I wrote a note to Jefferson Davis
, then a member of the Senate, soliciting an interview.
He sent me a card inviting me to take tea with him on that evening, as he would be alone.
Accordingly I went, and was hospitably and quietly received, and a conversation of several hours followed, in which the whole situation was discussed.
That interview convinced me that war was inevitable.
I do not rehearse this conversation at length, because a private conversation between friends is not a proper subject for publication.
Yet I think I may say without offending that etiquette, that I asked him how he could justify himself in joining the South
in breach of his oath of allegiance to the United States
He answered: “My first oath of allegiance is to the State of Mississippi
, and my allegiance to the State of Mississippi
overrides any allegiance to the United States
“Then,” I said, “I suppose if Mississippi
votes to go out of the Union
, you go with her?”
“ Yes, I must go with my State.”
The interview was a serious and sad one.
He said to me: “Will you come with us?”
“No; I shall go with my State because of my allegiance to the United States
“Is it possible, then,” said he with some tremor in his voice, “that we shall meet hereafter as enemies?”
“That depends upon yourself; it would be to my great regret.”
We shook hands and parted, and I never afterwards saw him, which was a piece of good fortune to him; for if we had met while I was in command in the United States army, he would have been saved a great deal of the discomfort which he suffered by being confined in prison.
I had been about Washington
more or less for several years, and had many acquaintances in the city.
Knowing that I had been a Democrat, these friends now talked very freely, not as if matters were to be kept secret, but as if they were speaking of matters known by all. I invited a Washington friend, a citizen of Washington
, to dine with me at my hotel.
After dinner, he said: “Let us take a walk and I will show you something of what we mean to do.”
We took our cigars and walked up Fifteenth Street to K Street, and
out towards Georgetown
as far as the locality where the house of the British Minister
now is. There he took me to certain sheds, which looked like market sheds.
They were long, low buildings, and, as it appeared by looking though the cracks, were dimly lighted.
He took me to the farther end of one of them, and there, looking through a small aperture which I reached by standing upon a keg, I saw from seventy-five to one hundred men drilling with arms, and I heard the commands of the school of the soldier, such as are given in military drill.
I stepped down and said: “Well, what is all this about?”
“We are getting ready for the 4th of march,” said he.
“Drilling a company of the district militia to escort Lincoln
“Yes,” said he with a laugh, “they may escort Lincoln
, but I guess not in the direction of the White House
I looked at him and said: “You are not in earnest.”
“Never more in earnest in my life.
We don't intend to have the black Republican----(I don't remember the offensive term) inaugurated to rule over us here in Washington
I walked along in silence for a short time, and then said: “Let me adjure you to be very careful in what you are doing.
That would be treason and war, which will level Washington
with the dust if it is undertaken.”
“Oh,” he said, “there will be no trouble about it.”
And having neared the street that he should turn down to reach his home, we shook hands and parted.
I saw him once afterwards, but it was in the Old Capitol Prison
I looked for other indications of the temper of the people in Washington
I talked with some of the ladies, and they were out-spoken as to what would happen to Lincoln
if he ever came to the capital.