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Chapter 10: the Rynders Mob.—1850.

The New York Herald incites popular violence against the anniversary meeting of the American Anti-slavery Society in that city. Garrison presides, and speaks with the utmost composure in the midst of a mob led by a local bully, with the connivance of the city authorities. Second visit of George Thompson to America.

‘We talk of the South and the North being parties to this question, and of the Slave Power being identified with the South. Do you remember how many slaveholders there are?’ This question, put by John G. Palfrey at the Free Soil Convention held in Faneuil Hall1 on February 27, 1850, he answered by computing from the latest ‘census’ of Kentucky that, out of some 5,000,000 whites in the South, only 100,000, including women and minors, held slaves. Judge Jay, reckoning2 from the same basis, but applying it to the census of 1840, arrived at the sum of 117,000, which, if we were3 to enlarge it by 70,000, would still exceed by less than one-half the population of Boston in this year of4 compromise, reaction, and violence.5 For the sake of the moneyed interests and social and political supremacy of this oligarchy, the whole country was plunging headlong into a frightful abyss of idolatry of the Union, and utter repudiation of the claims of humanity in the person of the enslaved—and especially of the fleeing, hunted, and imploring—negro. [273]

Correspondingly small, in its own relation, was the group of three popular leaders who brought about this national degradation. All of them nearing or past the term of threescore years and ten, and standing on the brink of the grave,—two of them gray and extinct volcanoes of Presidential ambition, the third still glowing cavernously,—Clay, Calhoun, and Webster worked, in unequal and even discordant partnership, to establish a new reign of terror for anti-slavery fanatics and ensure the lasting domination of the Slave Power. They wielded a packed Senate in whose twenty-seven standing committees the South had sixteen chairmanships, to say6 nothing of those which she had assigned to Northern doughfaces, while in sixteen committees she had carefully secured a majority of actual slaveholders, and from all had insolently excluded the three truly Northern7 Senators, Hale, Seward, and Chase. A House, packed8 in like manner, completed the Congress whose destiny it was to pour oil upon the flames of the agitation it sought to extinguish. For eight months after Mr. Clay introduced his so-called Compromise Resolutions, they,9 and the measures to which they gave birth in an Omnibus Bill, engrossed the attention of both Houses and of the country. No appropriation bill could be passed.10 Everybody was in a fever of excitement till a ‘settlement’ should be arrived at; and when the settlement was enacted, all peace and quiet was at an end. Clay's programme was: To yield to the inevitable in11 the case of California, and admit her as a free State— [274] yet with the air of conceding something. To organize the Territories acquired from Mexico without raising the question of slavery—virtuously resisting the Southern demand for the prolongation of the Missouri Compromise parallel (because, said he, that would be to vote for the positive introduction of slavery, which Heaven forbid Henry Clay should do either north or south of 36° 30′— and because slavery would have an advantage in putting12 up no fences!). To bribe Texas to relinquish her preposterous claims to New Mexican territory. To gratify13 Northern sentiment, not by abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia, or the slave-traffic within it, but by excluding adjacent slave-breeders from the Washington14 market. Finally, to satisfy the claims of the South by a more stringent law for the reclaiming of fugitive slaves.

In summing up, he showed that the South would secure15 the practical abandonment of the Wilmot Proviso, and prevent a Texan invasion of New Mexico, which President Taylor would resist with Federal troops, even though the other Southern States sided forcibly with Texas—as16 would surely happen—in a civil war. Moreover, the Free Soilers would have the ground cut from under them. ‘As certain as that God exists in heaven,’ he cried to17 John P. Hale with passionate blasphemy, ‘your business, your avocation is gone! . . . There is California— she is admitted into the Union; will they [the Free Soilers] agitate about that? Well, there are the Territorial governments establishedwill they agitate about them? There is the settlement of the Texan boundary question— upon what can they agitate? . . . Then, will they agitate about the [abolition of the] slave-trade in the District of Columbia? That is accomplished.’ There remained the abolition disunionists, the Garrisonians, of whom Senator Toombs of Georgia had said: ‘In my18 judgment, their line of policy is the fairest, most just,19 most honest and defensible of all the enemies of our institutions—and such will be the judgment of impartial history’—they might, indeed, agitate, but impotently. [275]

Calhoun's glazed eye, almost fixed in death, saw more clearly than Clay's. His last speech, read for him in the Senate, protested not against the Kentuckian's aims in behalf of slavery, but his methods. Disunion was the necessary end of an agitation which imperilled the equilibrium of slave and free States; and the Compromise did not protect that equilibrium. The Fugitive Slave Bill introduced by Senator Butler of South Carolina would20 not meet the hopes of its author and supporters. “It is impossible to execute any law of Congress until the people of the States shall cooperate.” Lib. 20.46. He did not despise the influence of the Garrisonians: he had seen its working21 since 1835 [and longer, but he naturally remembered by22 landmarks of mob violence], and witnessed the beginning of disunion in the rending of the great religious23 denominations—the Episcopal alone remaining intact.24

Daniel Webster's incredible 7th of March speech, in25 wholesale support of the Compromise, carried dismay to the Conscience Whigs, who had built their hopes of him on random utterances disconnected by any logic of principle or behavior, and infused by no warmth of heart or ray of pity for the slave. True, he had said at Marshfield,26 in September, 1842: ‘We talk of the North. There has for a long time been no North. I think the North Star is at last discovered; I think there will be a North’ exhibiting ‘a strong, conscientious, and united opposition to slavery.’ True, he had said in New York in March, 1837, during the Texas excitement:

The subject [of slavery] has not only attracted attention as27 a question of politics, but it has struck a far deeper-toned chord. [276] It has arrested the religious feeling of the country; it has taken strong hold on the consciences of men. He is a rash man, indeed, and little conversant with human nature, and especially has he a very erroneous estimate of the character of the people of this country, who supposes that a feeling of this kind is to be trifled with or despised. It will assuredly cause itself to be respected. It may be reasoned with, it may be made willing—I believe it is entirely willing—to fulfil all existing engagements and all existing duties, to uphold and defend the Constitution as it is established, with whatever regrets about some provisions which it does actually contain. But to coerce it into silence, to endeavor to restrain its free expression, to seek to compress and confine it, warm as it is, and more heated as such endeavors would inevitably render it—should this be attempted, I know nothing, even in the Constitution or in the Union itself, which would not be endangered by the explosion which might follow.

But how consistently he had dodged every opportunity28 in Congress to make himself the spokesman of that muchdesired ‘North,’ or the protector of that respectable religious feeling when it was regularly ‘coerced into silence’ in both Houses! What word or act of his in support of John Quincy Adams since 1830 could be cited— what to vindicate the right of petition? How did he resent the expulsion of Massachusetts from the Federal29 courts in South Carolina in the person of Samuel Hoar?30

As the real stake of the ‘Compromise’ game was the Fugitive Slave Law,31 and Webster's main purpose was [277] to overcome Northern repugnance to that measure, the rest of his ‘indescribably base and wicked speech,’ as32 Mr. Garrison termed it, was simply confirmatory of his depravation. His historical dust-cloud about the origin33 of slavery in America, and of its guarantees in the Constitution; his pretext, in regard to California and New Mexico, that their physical conditions debarred African slavery, and he “would not take pains to reaffirm an ordinance of Nature, nor to reenact the will of God” Lib. 20.43 cf. 21.93.; his offer to support a Government scheme of colonizing34 the free colored population of the South35—all was mere surplusage. It was his advocacy of the duty of slave-hunting which brought upon him the withering censure of Northern manhood, the hollow applause of the South, the immoral thanks of the trader and the doughface. When he rose in his place on March 7 to break the word of promise to the hope of his eager constituency, the Fugitive Slave Bill was even more objectionable than at36 the time of its final passage. Its unwarranted extension of the Federal judiciary placed the liberty of every alleged fugitive at the mercy of any commissioner, clerk, or37 marshal of a Federal court, or Federal postmaster, or collector of customs, in the State where the seizure was made. The ‘Expounder of the Constitution’ was prepared to support this iniquity ‘to the fullest extent,’38 along with Senator Mason's amendments of January 23,39 affixing, not only to the rescue of an alleged fugitive, but40 to the harboring or concealing of any such, a penalty of one thousand dollars fine and twelve months imprisonment (ultimately mitigated, as regards imprisonment, to41 a term not exceeding six months); and denying the [278] alleged fugitive all right to testify in his own defence. Nor did Webster, who, while yet undecided on which side to commit himself, had drawn up an amendment42 providing for a trial by jury (which lay hid in his desk on the 7th of March), make this a sine qua non of his adhesion; or revolt at the effect given to the kidnapper's ex-parte43 affidavits;44 or denounce the omission to provide any redress for the abuse of the authority conferred by the bill.

For thus having ‘convinced the understanding and touched the conscience of a nation,’ he was publicly thanked by some seven hundred addressers of

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