Chapter 37: the national election of 1852.—the Massachusetts constitutional convention.—final defeat of the coalition.— 1852-1853.
During the years 1851-1853, Whigs and Democrats acted in concert for the suppression of antislavery agitation.
Forty-four members of Congress, in January, 1851, under the lead of Henry Clay
and Alexander H. Stephens
, pledged themselves, as already seen, to resist any disturbance of the Compromise, or a renewal of agitation upon the subject of slavery.1
At the beginning of the next session, in December, 1851, the caucus of Whig members affirmed, almost unanimously, the Compromise Acts
to be ‘a final settlement, in principle and substance, of the dangerous and exciting subjects which they embrace.’2
, April 5, 1852, by a vote of one hundred to sixty-five, declared the Compromise—laying emphasis on the Fugitive Slave Act
—to be a final adjustment and permanent settlement.
In June, 1852, in conventions held in Baltimore
, the Democrats nominated Franklin Pierce
, whose only conspicuous merit was subserviency to slavery; and the Whigs
, General Winfield Scott
The Whig convention, controlled by considerations of availability, set aside Fillmore
, who better than any one represented the Compromise, and Webster, who, notwithstanding the eloquent appeals of Rufus Choate
, had only a feeble support among the delegates.
Both parties in their conventions, in language quite alike, affirmed in their platforms the Compromise to be a final settlement of the slavery question, and declared their purpose to resist any further agitation concerning it.3
The candidates before both conventions
vied with each other in volunteering abject submission to the Compromise.
The party journals on both sides either insisted on a cordial support of the ‘finality’ platforms or acquiesced in silence.4
Politicians, even those who had been noted for antislavery professions, assumed the degrading obligations imposed at Baltimore
The New York Barnburners—W. C. Bryant
, B. F. Butler
,5 John Van Buren
, S. J. Tilden
, and H. B. Stanton
—turned their backs on those noble protests for freedom which made 1848 an illustrious year in American annals, and supported the Democratic
The political opposition to the Compromise at the North
was confined to the Free Soilers
Never did American politics sink to so low a point of degradation as at this time.
wrote to Adams
, June 21: ‘This is the darkest day of our cause; but truth will prevail.’
's partisans, deeming him unjustly treated at Baltimore
, nominated him as a candidate for President
without protest from himself, and persisted in their independent action while he lived, and even after his death, which took place October 24, two weeks before the election.
It was a sad close to the life of a great man. With all he had done for the Southern
cause, he was left at the end with only the following of a small band of personal admirers.
At the last he advised his friends to vote for Pierce
, the candidate of the party he had always opposed.
The Free Soilers found themselves in the early months of 1852 in a state of perplexity.
The secession of the Barnburners in New York had reduced their strength in the country by nearly one half.
had co-operated in 1849 with the Democrats of Ohio
, who to a certain extent had taken an antislavery position, and he was withholding an intimation of what his course was to be in the coming election, waiting to see what influences were to control the Democratic party in its national convention.
, who meant to remain a Whig whatever course his party might take, was doing his best to promote Scott
's nomination, and at the same time to prevent any declaration by the convention
or its candidates in favor of slavery or the Compromise; and the thought of the New York statesman was, that, in the event of a secession of Southern Whigs, their places would be more than supplied by recruits from the antislavery voters of the free States.
If his plan had succeeded, a considerable part, probably the greater part, of the Free Soilers
would, while maintaining as well as they could their ‘third party’ organization, have given their votes for Scott
, who, by reason of his supposed sympathy with Northern opinions and his confidential relations with Seward
, was thought to be less likely than his Democratic rival to promote further schemes for extending and strengthening slavery.
Nowhere at this time was the perplexity among the Free Soilers
greater than in Massachusetts
, where there were cross purposes growing out of their co-operation with the Democrats for the two previous years, and the prospect of carrying some of the Congressional districts by another year of such co-operation.
looked favorably on Scott
's candidacy, and all the more because of its probable effect in breaking up the coalition, which he had always disapproved.
Midway between the Democratic
and Whig conventions he wrote to Sumner
, June 11: ‘My opinion is that we can make no effective stand on an independent candidate.
If Governor Seward
can succeed in preventing any resolution at the convention, my inclination is to declare in Scott
's favor individually, but not collectively as Free Soilers.’
With him agreed S. C. Phillips
and many others of the party.
At a conference of the Free Soil
leaders at the Adams House
, June 5, there was developed such a want of common purpose that the party seemed near its end.
In the midst of this perplexity, Sumner
, while conferring with Chase
, and keeping up a correspondence with Free Soilers at home, adhered steadily to his independent position, and counselled Wilson
and other political friends to keep themselves entirely uncommitted until the field was made clear by the action of the two conventions.6
He was specially anxious to
keep the Free Soilers
from becoming embarrassed by premature declarations in favor of a candidate whom they might find themselves unable to support without a sacrifice of their principles.
From what he wrote it is not likely that he would have been content with Scott
except with a guaranty that he would in his Administration treat freedom as national and slavery as sectional.
He wrote to Adams
, April 16: ‘My own position is still one of absolute independence without the least commitment; and this I have earnestly commended to our friends in Massachusetts
Again he wrote, June 8, just after the Democratic convention:—
Chase is quite discontented with the convention, and will not support the candidate.
This is good. . . . Seward says there will be no resolutions at the Whig convention.
His influence is so potential that I am disposed to believe that it will be so. What, then, can we do?
Support of the Democrats is impossible.
There remain several courses: (1) A third candidate; (2) Positive support of Scott; (3) Inaction on the Presidential question.
My own purpose is now, as always, to keep myself absolutely uncommitted, until I can act with knowledge and with the concert of friends.
The senatorial question [in Massachusetts] gives the corning canvass a peculiar importance.
I shall welcome any arrangement by which we can secure a new senator for freedom.
And later in the same month he wrote again: ‘I feel the advantage of keeping our force in Massachusetts
together; and I am ready for any course by which our principles can be best sustained.’
The action of the two conventions simplified the situation.
Chase at once announced his opposition to the Democratic
candidates, and made his unheeded appeal to B. F. Butler
, of New York.
The Free Soilers of Massachusetts
met July 6 in mass meeting at Worcester
, where they announced adherence to their organization, and their opposition to candidates and parties bearing the badge of compromise.
A letter from Sumner
was read, in which he denounced the fresh apostasy of the old parties, and called upon the friends of freedom ‘to support her supporters, and to leave the result to Providence
He closed with the words: ‘Better be where freedom is, though in a small minority or alone, than with slavery, though surrounded by multitudes, whether Whigs or Democrats, contending merely for office and place.’7
The next day Wilson
wrote to Sumner
of this meeting
with resolution and good cheer, hoping that with Chase
as the candidate the Free Soilers
might affect the result in a sufficient number of States to insure the election of Scott
But he was not wise for once in observing political currents.
, disappointed at the rejection of his counsels, saw clearly that the Whigs
, by defying the antislavery sentiment, had made their success impossible.
He had, as Adams
thought, been looking forward to the leadership of his party in 1856; but its present rout, rather than defeat, clouded his future in that direction.
The Free Soil national convention at Pittsburg
in August, of which Wilson
was president, and Adams
were members, nominated John P. Hale
, and George W. Julian
Adams on his way home wrote to Sumner
, August 15, from Niagara Falls
: ‘My Pittsburg
visit has done me good, by convincing me that the movement is more stern and earnest than ever, whilst it is growing more practical every day.’
The canvass, as compared with others before and since, was languid.
As between the two leading parties, there were no principles or policies at stake; and the only inspiration of the Free Soilers
was an undoubting faith in the justice of their cause and in its ultimate triumph.
In November they numbered at the polls in the whole country 155,000 votes, dropping to that figure from 291,000 which they cast in 1848; but their chief loss was the withdrawal of 100,000 Barnburners in New York.
their numbers were reduced from 38,000 to 28,000.
The canvass had not gone far before Scott
's defeat appeared certain; and he lost all except four States,—Vermont
, and Tennessee
Notwithstanding a certain absurdity of speech at times, he was, as soldier and patriot, immeasurably the superior of his successful opponent; and the Free Soilers
, though not voting for him, preferred his election to that of Pierce
It was the last struggle of the Whigs
for existence as a national party, and when the next contest came they were a disbanded host.
To show how little public men, who are accounted sagacious and forecasting, see into the future, an extract from a letter to Sumner
wrote, Nov. 9, 1852:—
I have your note asking what I say of recent events.
I answer that just now there is nothing to say only that recent events are what were or night have been foreseen, and that they do not disturb me in the least.
party will arise, nor will any old one fall.
The issue will not change.
We shall go on much as heretofore I think, only that the last effort to convert the Whig party to slavery has failed.
lingered at Washington
, as became his custom, and briefly pausing in New York, arrived home September 9.
He attended the Free Soil
State convention, at Lowell
, September 15, in which S. C. Phillips
occupied the chair, Adams
reported the resolutions, and Horace Mann
was nominated for governor.
Among the speakers were Wilson
, and Burlingame
On the platform, in a conspicuous seat, was Captain Drayton
, the liberated master of the ‘Pearl
The enthusiasm which uniformly greeted Sumner
on such occasions seemed now greater than ever, and mingled with it were ‘three times threes,’ the raising of canes, and waving of handkerchiefs.8
These outbursts expressed the satisfaction with his course in the Senate.
He spoke briefly, beginning and ending with, and interrupted often by, the heartiest applause.
The point of his speech9
was a vindication of the reason and utility of third parties against the dogmatic assertion that there can be but two in a country, with several illustrations from English and French history.
wrote: ‘I have read your argument to prove the possibility of third parties in this country, which is unanswerable except by experience,—the test of hypothesis always.’
Soon after Sumner
made an excursion to Canada
, where he met again Lord Elgin, and thence went to his brother Albert's at Newport
, prolonging his absence from the State
till after the middle of October.
His own convictions were in full accord with his party, both in national and State policy; but though urged by its leaders and by popular calls, he refrained from any further participation in the campaign.
The State election at that time followed the national by a week.
The union between the two parties opposed to the Whigs
was now in State affairs less practicable than before, as a national election was pending, and the Democrats of Massachusetts
, by their national platform and candidates, although their individual convictions might be the contrary, were committed to a pro-slavery policy.
Nevertheless, the Free Soilers
still hoped by the aid of Democratic votes to choose a Legislature which should give them another voice in the Senate on the expiration
of John Davis
's term, and to elect three or four members of Congress.
Besides the pro-slavery position of the national Democratic party, certain local difficulties—some blunders of the State
administration, Governor Boutwell
's appointment of Cushing
as judge of the Supreme Court, and most of all the passage of the Maine Liquor
law at the last session, a movement in which the Free Soilers
took the lead—proved disastrous to the coalition.
Even these disadvantages might not have been fatal if Robert Rantoul, Jr.
, had lived, whose name as candidate for senator to be chosen by the next Legislature would have given vigor and inspiration to the Free Soilers
and liberal Democrats.
As it was, the Legislature was lost by about ten majority, and with it the State
offices and senator, although Horace Mann
as candidate for governor received nine thousand more votes than were given to Hale
The Maine Law defeated the coalition candidates for the Legislature in the large towns; and that measure, many times since a fatal stumbling-block, would have wrecked the coalition spite of even greater efforts to save it. Banks
, a Democrat, and DeWitt
, a Free Soiler, were chosen to Congress; while Weston
, one Free Soiler and one Democrat, each came within two hundred votes of an election, Wilson
within one hundred, and Adams
fell behind his Whig competitor only four hundred.10
The Free Soil leaders felt much aggrieved by Sumner
's abstinence from the campaign, and smarting under defeat when success was so near, some of them attributed to him the disaster.
His course was the subject of comment in two or three journals,11
and was the occasion of hard words at the party headquarters.
All this was freely communicated to him by Dr. Howe
and others; and indeed Sumner
deserved the criticism.
One who accepts office from a party, and is in harmony with its policy, owes to it in all exigent seasons the support of his voice and name.
If at a critical moment his ability, eloquence, character, and official prestige are thought necessary to save it, they should be available for the purpose.
The full reason for Sumner
's reserve does not appear even now.
His letter to citizens of Nantucket
written after the election, ascribes it to other engagements, pursuit of health, and additional constraint since Webster
's death,—reasons which alone are not quite satisfactory.
Another and better explanation is to be found in his nature, and in his view of a public man's position.
He had recently spoken at length.
Nothing fresh had come to his mind, and he did not care to repeat what he had recently said.
Unlike many extemporaneous speakers at the bar, in the pulpit, and on the hustings, who can vary with ease their vocabulary and arrangement of materials, so that the same speech repeated at a hundred meetings appears each time a different one,— Sumner
, when he had put his thought in the shape which suited him, was averse to putting it afterwards into any other less satisfactory.
His position was one which, according to usage, might in his view exempt him from continuous speaking in a campaign.
, and Choate
were accustomed to treat public questions at length in a convention, or other meeting specially called for the purpose of hearing them, without being subjected to the drudgery of passing night after night from one audience to another, repeating in substance what they had said twenty-four hours before; and they followed in this respect the English
But the condition of things in Massachusetts
was at this time novel, and the emergency pressing.
To say nothing of the obligations of good fellowship recognized in politics as elsewhere, the Free Soilers
had at command no voice like Sumner
's; and its power had been increased in manifold degree by the position in which after a long and memorable struggle they had placed him. Later, when he became more used to men and a life of action, he was more heedful of such obligations, and no occasion again occurred for the repetition of the kind of criticism which he encountered at this time.13
He wrote to the Earl
, Nov. 9, 1852:—
I will say that nobody but Mr. Webster could have made the Fugitive Slave bill in any degree tolerable at the North, and he is now dead.
In his tomb that accursed bill lies buried.
The Lawrences have returned full of warm regard for you and England.
Mr. Ingersoll, his successor, is an amiable
gentleman, and a friend of mine.
I trust his hardness against antislavery may be changed in England.
To Miss Wortley
, November 10:—
Two events of importance have happened here,—Mr. Webster's death, and General Pierce's election.
the first has caused in this part of the country a profound sensation, vying even with that caused in England by the death of the Duke of Wellington.
It is evident that he did not die too soon.
The business of his office had of late been neglected, and several matters seriously compromised by mismanagement,—among, which was the affair of Lobos and the fisheries question.
Mr. Everett, who has taken his place as Secretary of State, has been moved partly by the desire that a friendly hand should close the business of his office.
I am glad that Everett is there;14 he shrinks from no labor, and is full of knowledge, to say nothing of genius.
Mrs. Everett's health will not permit her to accompany him to Washington.
I think that your father15 anticipated General Pierce's election.
So did all here, except the more active partisans against him, and General Scott himself, who continued to the last sanguine of success.
I remember at, the dinner at the Calderons, where we met. that he said to me that he should be “hard to beat.”
Remember me kindly to your father and mother, and to your Uncle James.16
The session of Congress, beginning Dec. 7, 1852, and ending March 3, 1853, was undisturbed by any debate concerning slavery.
, and Sumner
, the three Free Soilers, were omitted from the list of committees which was agreed upon by the Democratic
and Whig senators, with the explanation that they were ‘outside of any healthy political organization.’
Vacancies were left for these senators, but on a ballot being taken to fill them, though each received some votes, there was no quorum and no election.
The President, being authorized to fill them, assigned a place to Hale
, but not to the other two.17 Sumner
, though then as always faithful in attendance, was inactive during the session,—a fact true of other senators who were not charged with important committee work.
He spoke briefly, February 23, in favor of giving the President
a discretion to appoint civilians as superintendents of armories.18
In the special session he spoke briefly, April 6, against secrecy in the sessions and proceedings of the Senate, except for special reasons, and concluded his remarks19
The limitation proposed seems adequate to all exigencies, while the general rule will be publicity.
Executive sessions with closed doors, shrouded from the public gaze and public intrusion, constitute an exceptional part of our system, too much in harmony with the proceedings of other governments less liberal in character.
The genius of our institutions requires publicity.
The ancient Roman, who bade his architect so to construct his house that his guests and all that he did could be seen by the world, is a fit model for the American people.
He steadily adhered to the views then expressed, and late in his service in the Senate made his protest against secrecy in the deliberations of that body.20
came slowly into the general debates of the Senate, and he lacked at this time the facility for them which he afterwards acquired.
His friends at home were troubled at his abstinence from them, and thought he should make himself felt in matters of business.
Particularly they regretted that he did not improve the opportunity afforded by a debate on the Monroe
doctrine as applied to the acquisition of Cuba
, then as always coveted by the pro-slavery and filibustering spirit.
His friends in the Senate also were solicitous for greater activity on his part in matters outside of the slavery question.
wrote, May 19, 1853: ‘I trust that you will seize some practical questions, and vindicate, as you can, the claim disallowed to us all of competency to general affairs of government.
Do this, and defy the malice of the disappointed.’
, when governor of Ohio
, wrote, March 18, 1856: ‘I wish you would take my old advice, to take off your coat and go into the every-day fight.
You would easily gain for yourself a reputation in this necessary part of senatorial duty as great as you have gained by your elaborate efforts as an orator and logician.’
's hesitation in this respect gradually passed away, but not fully until his party came into power in 1861.
He wrote John Bigelow
, Dec. 13, 1852:—
To-morrow for Webster!21 The South would never give him their votes,—look for their voices.
To-day has exposed the pettiness of the old parties in excluding Hale, Chase, and myself from committees.
To Theodore Parker
, December 17:—
I was pained more than I can tell by Seward's course in swelling the Webster tide.22 I pleaded with him not to do it; so did his colleague.
It is incomprehensible to me. From day to day, in conversation with me, he had hoped that we “might be spared any such day of humiliation.”
I await the corrected edition of your sermon,23 which has produced everywhere a profound impression.
The writers for the Washington “Union” have all read it; and Pryor,24 the young Virginian who has been placed in the establishment as the representative of Mason, Hunter, and Meade, read it through twice and then announced to his friends that there was but one course for them,—namely, “to maintain that slavery is an unmixed good.”
To Mrs. Horatio Greenough
, December 21:—
Sincerely and deeply I mourn with you. The death of Horatio Greenough25 is a loss not only to wife and children, but to friends and the world, to art and literature.
With sorrow unspeakable I learned the first blow of his fatal illness; now I am pained again by the tidings of to-day.
Only a few days before I left home he read to me for an hour or more some portions of his book on the Beautiful; and particularly his criticism of Burke.
I was then struck by his mastery of the subject, and admired him anew, not only as an artist, but as an expositor of art. I doubt if any European artist has ever excelled him with his pen. He cannot be forgotten in our history, or in the grateful memory of friends.
His name will be an honor to his family, and a precious inheritance to his children.
My sympathy at this moment I know full well will be of little avail, but the heart speaks from its fulness; I could not refrain.
God bless you and your children!
To Mrs. Lydia Maria Child
Jan. 14, 1853:—
Many years ago I remarked, more than once, that among all antislavery pens I found most sympathy with yours.
The tone in which you wrote was most in harmony with my own mind.
You will believe, then, that it was with peculiar satisfaction that I learned your sympathy with what I had recently done in this place.
The tone which you helped me adopt so early is most in unison with my present position.
On the floor of the Senate I sit between Mr. Butler of South Carolina, the early suggester of the Fugitive Slave bill, and Mr. Mason of Virginia, its final author, with both of whom I have constant and cordial intercourse.
This experience would teach me, if I needed the lesson, to shun harsh and personal criticism of those from whom I differ.
But ours is a great battle, destined to be prolonged many years.
It has a place for every nature; and I believe every man who is earnest against slavery.
whatever name of party, sect, or society he may assume, does good.
I welcome him as a brother.
To William Jay
, January 31:—
I have hoped to see in the treaty on the fisheries now negotiating with England a clause providing arbitration instead of war. Mr. Everett is willing; so is the British minister;27 but it is feared that the necessary instructions cannot be obtained in season from England.
But there is another treaty of less importance, constituting a commission on certain outstanding claims, to which it may be attached, if it should be thought advisable.
Mr. Everett doubts if the latter treaty is of sufficient importance to bear so important a provision.
My reply has been, “The provision at all costs and anywhere.”
If once established, it will become a precedent of incalculable value, and will mark a new era in the law of nations.
I think Mr. Everett would be glad to illustrate his brief term of service by such an act. My special object now is to invite you to prepare such a clause as you think best for adoption.
Perhaps it would be well to present it in several different forms.
Mr. Everett expressed a desire to have the advantage of your counsels.
To Theodore Parker
, March 28:—
I mourn the feud between brothers in antislavery.28 If Phillips, whom I love as an early comrade and faithful man, or Pillsbury,29 rail at me for my small work in antislavery, I will not reply.
To me the cause is so dear that I am unwilling to set myself against any of its champions.
I would not add to their burdens by any word of mine.
In proportion as the position of our pioneer friends seems more untenable and less practical, they cling to it with absolute desperation.
If the skill and eloquence of Phillips as evinced in his late speech30 had been directed, not against allies but against slavery and its enormities, against its influence on our government, against Hunkers, he would have struck a good blow like yourself on that occasion.
When the term of Mr. Davis
's colleague, was about to expire, there was a general disposition to leave him in retirement.
His party was again in power, and Whig opinion turned to three leaders among whom the selection of his successor should be named,—Winthrop, George Ashmun
, and Edward Everett
(then Secretary of State
, now less active as a Whig leader than before, withdrew his name.
had the support of the western part of the State
; but his vote in the caucus fell considerably below that of Everett
, who was nominated and elected early in the session of 1853.
, and indeed to the Free Soilers
generally, this result was very agreeable.
It was easy for him to keep up friendly relations with Mr. Everett
, which it would have been difficult for him to have with either of the other two.
There was at this time apathy in the public mind as to the slavery question, a prevailing sense that since the election of Pierce
further protests against the Compromise were hopeless.
wrote to Sumner
, Dec. 21, 1852: ‘These are dark days for us and for our cause.
Many will yield to the pressure, I fear, that is now upon us, . . . but we must hope on, and labor for a better day.’
wrote, December 22, more hopefully, expecting recruits from the disorganized Whig party, and recommending the use of every chance to expose the arrogant and domineering character of the political oligarchy then in power.
Neither dreamed that their opportunity was to come in the further advance which the slave-power was to attempt a twelvemonth hence.
F. W. Bird
, with an insight beyond that of others, wrote as the year was closing that while Free Soilers had been devoting all their strength to the Fugitive Slave
law, which he thought practically dead, the enemy had been pushing its plans of propagandism, and that the extension
of slavery was the impending issue.
He only erred in pointing to Cuba
instead of Kansas
A public dinner was given in Boston
, May 5, 1853, to John P. Hale
, the candidate of the Free Soilers
at the last election; and fifteen hundred plates were laid in the hall of the Fitchburg Railroad station.
Cassius M. Clay
came from Kentucky
, and John Jay
from New York; and there was an abundant flow of eloquence from the antislavery orators of the State
,—Palfrey the president, Sumner
, and Garrison
Each speaker passed from a brief tribute to the guest to thoughts and inspirations suggested by his presence and career.
If the party was inferior in numbers to its opponents it surpassed them in its capacity to provide such an intellectual entertainment, and its wealth in this regard was a potent influence in keeping up the morale and vigor of its forces.
was received with enthusiasm and interrupted with repeated cheers.
Called up by a toast to the Union
, he declared it to be ‘a necessity, not
merely constitutional, but social, commercial, geographical, historical; to be preserved, not by compromise with slavery, but by rigid adherence to the principles of liberty and justice;’ and he insisted on the duty of every man under all discouragements to testify and act against slavery.32 Seward
wrote, May 19:—
I read your speech at the Hale dinner with real admiration, as I did Hale's with delight, and the whole with sincere satisfaction.
We are on the rising tide again, and the day of apology for principles of political justice draws to a close.
declined in May an invitation to deliver an address before the Story Association
, composed of past and present members of the Law School at Cambridge
, an appointment which Mr. Choate
filled two years before.
wrote to Sumner
, March 21, 1853, when the illustrated edition of ‘White Slavery in the Barbary States
It is a good thing, and now most fitly adorned; but I value it the more just now, as its arrival brings to my mind the saw, “Old times, old books, old friends.”
I am so proud that those I chose when young yet redeem their claim to be so much more thoroughly honest, hearty, and honorable than some whom the world places at their side.
The older I grow (in the bustle of Washington you perhaps never feel old), the more I value old friends.
A convention was held in 1853 to revise the Constitution
, which was made in 1780, and first revised in 1820.
The Free Soilers and Democrats, who had failed in November, 1852, to carry the Legislature, succeeded at the same election by their combined vote of 66,416 against the Whig
vote of 59,112 in calling this third convention.
Their special purpose was to re-adjust the basis of representation in the House of Representatives, particularly with the view of taking from Boston
its disproportionate power.
The city chose forty-four members by general ticket, being, as Sumner
called them, ‘a well-knit Macedonian
phalanx,’ and having the advantage that the State House
was easily accessible to their houses and places of business.
The Whigs of the city outnumbered largely their opponents, whether divided or combined, and were also sure of electing a solid delegation; whereas under the majority rule then established, the Democrats and Free Soilers, not always well united, or if united nearly balanced by the Whigs
were unable in the country towns, where their strength lay, to command a majority, and many of the towns were thus left unrepresented.
Towns also falling below a certain population were allowed a representative only a certain number of years in a decade, and were disfranchised during the remaining years, with the effect of still further increasing the relative power of the Whig
The reform of the representation was the main motive for the convention; but in some other respects the State
was believed to have outgrown the form of government which had been established nearly three quarters of a century before.
The delegates to the convention, four hundred and twenty-two in all, were chosen March 7, 1853.
Each town, however small in population, was allowed a delegate, while the cities and large towns were allowed the number to which they would be entitled in the election of representatives.
The Free Soilers and Democrats were not in this election subject to the same political embarrassments as in more strictly political elections, and they outnumbered the Whigs
in the convention by more than one hundred.
While, however, this composite majority might act as a unit on the basis of representation, there was not likely to be the same cohesion on the lines of parties with regard to most of the other questions which were likely to be the subject of contention.
The Free Soilers entered into the campaign for the election of delegates with energy and enthusiasm.
, as usual, was their leader in organization.
He did his best, taking advantage of the exceptional right given to towns to elect nonresident delegates, to bring into the convention eminent Free Soilers, even some who had not looked in a kindly way upon him. He wrote to active men in towns sure to elect anti-Whig delegates, suggesting for candidates the names of distinguished Free Soilers or Democrats who could not be chosen in their own towns or cities.
Most of the constituencies preferred to elect one of their own number, and only nine towns accepted non-resident candidates; among whom were R. H. Dana, Jr.
, G. S. Boutwell
, Anson Burlingame
, E. L. Keyes
, B. F. Hallett
, and Whiting Griswold
The voters of Marshfield
, the home of Mr. Webster
, were radically antislavery, and the names of Sumner
and Horace Mann
were suggested to them.
They preferred the former, as more sure to carry the Democratic
and he was chosen by a large majority, receiving one hundred and thirty-nine votes to fifty-five cast for Fletcher Webster
, son of the deceased statesman.
It was noted at the time that his election was a disapproval of Webster
's support of the Compromise by his townsmen, and that it occurred on the third anniversary of the latter's celebrated speech.
has living principles which she would not bury in the tomb of her hero.
All honor to her!’
refused to be a candidate for any town but his own, and was defeated in Quincy
by the refusal of the Irish voters to support him. No town was disposed to adopt Palfrey
, probably because of his aversion to Democrats and his want of sympathy in previous years with the coalition.
The exclusion of Adams
from the convention was thought to have affected their subsequent treatment of its work.
wrote to Wilson
, March 24:—
I am obliged by your kind letter.
Most sincerely do I wish that you or some other good man were representative from Marshfield.
You know my little desire for public distinction, I might almost say for public favors, and I assure you I should have had sincere pleasure in seeing this honor bestowed upon another; but I hope never to fail where I can hope to do any good service to liberal principles.
My desire was to visit the West, which I have never seen, during the coming spring, and afterwards, in the autumn, with fresh voice, to vindicate the new constitution before the people.
The new duties imposed upon me will cause a change in these plans.
I rejoice in the success of our friends.
With prudence and firmness liberal principles can be permanently secured in Massachusetts.
Your energy and counsels are valuable, and I am glad that they will be felt by the convention.
The convention was a representative body well worthy of the State
The Boston delegation included, among lawyers, Rufus Choate
, Sidney Bartlett
, F. B. Crowninshield
, George S. Hillard
, Thomas Hopkinson
, Samuel D. Parker
, George Morey
, and Judge Peleg Sprague
; among physicians, Jacob Bigelow
and George Hayward
; among clergymen, Samuel K. Lothrop
and George W. Blagden
; among editors, Nathan Hale
, William Schouler
, and J. S. Sleeper
; and among merchants, William Appleton
, Samuel A. Eliot
, John C. Gray
, J. Thomas Stevenson
, and George B. Upton
sent two jurists, Simon Greenleaf
and Joel Parker
, a former and a present professor in the Law School.
sent Otis P. Lord
, later a judge; and Pittsfield
, George N. Briggs
Against this array of Whigs was an equally formidable list of Democrats and Free Soilers.
Among the former
, B. F. Butler
(since known as General Butler
), W. Griswold
, and J. G. Abbott
; and among the latter were Wilson
, Charles Allen
, Marcus Morton
(two of the name, father and son), Amasa Walker
, E. L. Keyes
, Charles P. Huntington
, F. W. Bird
, and John M. Earle
. Five of the members had been or were afterwards governors,—Briggs, Boutwell
, and Talbot
Three afterwards became United States
, and Dawes
One (the younger Morton
) became chief-justice of the State
The convention began its session May 4, and closed August 1.
, father of the distinguished statesman of that name, and member of the next earlier convention of 1820, called it to order.
, already eminent as a presiding officer of the State
House of Representatives, and since Speaker in Congress, was chosen the president.
Nothing was wanting to the dignity of the assembly; its only drawback was the circumstance that its members had been chosen on strict party lines, and the majority had a distinct political end in view.
The two political leaders were Wilson
on the Free Soil
side, and Griswold
on the Democratic
,—both intent on the reduction of the power of the centres of population, but neither of them endowed with a natural or acquired aptitude for the general business of such a convention.
With them acted in full accord Boutwell
, who combined with his position as a former governor a faithful study of all the questions at issue, assiduous devotion to the proceedings, and remarkable facility and power in debate.
, their coadjutor, brought to the partisan disputes the pugnacity which was hereafter to be displayed in national scenes.34 Wilson
had a larger following than any one,—a leadership which was due to his acquaintance with all the Free Soil
and Democratic members, his relation to the coalition from the beginning, and his restless activity.
He was the one to rally and inspire with a common purpose the allied forces; and a hundred delegates looked to him for the signal to move in any given direction.
It is not so easy to name the Whig
Their work was one of criticism and obstruction.
, the editor, was perhaps the most watchful.
Generally the Boston
delegates were vigilant whenever any conservative bulwark of the
Constitution seemed in danger.
's defence of the judiciary surpassed in eloquence and political philosophy all other productions of the assembly; and his characteristic traits as an orator appear hardly less in his speech on the basis of representation.
No member contributed more real power and insight, as well as independence of thought, to the debates than Dana
whose intellect and character, however, derived no added force from personal associations and political influence.
in a speech said of the treatment of one question by the convention, ‘that the State
, our common mother, may feel proud of the ability, the eloquence, and the good temper with which the debate has thus far been conducted.
Gentlemen have addressed the convention in a manner which would grace any assembly that it has been my fortune to know at home or abroad.’36
But it would have been ungracious in him to have added in their presence what was equally true,—that the convention was wearied almost every day by lengthy and ill-digested homilies from certain members, who at last had obtained a long-coveted opportunity to make public their theories of government and the social state, and to prescribe their remedies for all the miseries and misfortunes of the human family.
was chosen a delegate without being consulted, and regretted, as has been seen, his election.
His service as member postponed his plan for a journey to the West
, which he had not before visited; and it confined him during the heats of the summer, with only a few days' interval of refreshment, after his return, April 21, from Washington
He, however, did his duty faithfully by attendance on the sessions, and as chairman of the committee on the preamble and declaration of rights, which held twenty meetings while engaged in preparing its work.37
He took no part in the debates till June 21 and 22, when he spoke upon resolutions concerning the militia,38
particularly upon the respective powers of the United States
and of the States in relation to it,—the former exclusively controlling the national militia, and the latter having the power to organize and direct the volunteer
or State militia.39
He spoke briefly, July 15, against a provision limiting the power of the Legislature to lend the State
credit for works of internal improvement, maintaining generally that the power had hitherto worked no harm, and specially that the proposed restriction might defeat the enterprise of the Hoosac Tunnel
, the promoters of which had already begun to lay siege to the public treasury.40
His wisdom in this action may well be questioned, as the absence of this provision in the Constitution
opened the way to a heavy expenditure and a burdensome debt.41
His speech of July 25 explained the action of his committee, and the principles upon which it had made some changes and forborne to make others,—tracing the history of bills of rights in this and other countries, and indicating their proper scope and limitations.
It is a compact and instructive statement on the subject.42
His principal speech was made July 7 on the representative system and its proper basis.43
The Democratic and Free Soil leaders, for the purpose of reducing the undue power of the cities, without at the same time impairing the corporate unity of the towns, had devised a compromise which retained and modified the existing system of town representation.
It discarded the general-ticket system, and required a division of the cities into districts for the choice of representatives,—changes generally admitted to be wise; but it allowed the cities less than their numerical proportion of representatives, and perpetuated the non-representation of small towns during a part of a decade, except where they arranged among themselves for a union as a
The numerical inequality which under the old system favored the cities was under the new one to favor the smaller towns.
Upon this subject Sumner
spoke at greater length and with more earnestness than upon any other, and he was not in harmony with most of the leaders of his party.
His speech was marked by clear and methodical thought and sobriety of style.
His loyalty to principles, which was characteristic of him through life, led him to reject the temporary or accidental advantages which a departure from those principles offered.
He desired an equal distribution of power among the legal voters to be determined by ‘the rule of three;’ and as that was not practicable under a system which adhered to the corporate representation of the towns however modified, he advocated a district system, which alone could secure such a distribution.
While not claiming the elective franchise to be a natural right ‘common to all, without distinction of age, sex, or residence,’ he insisted upon maintaining an equality of power among citizens or aggregates of citizens, and traced the tendencies of the representative system from its crude and arbitrary adjustments in its beginning to the principle of equality.
While recognizing ‘the commercial feudalism whose seat is in the cities,’ he objected to any device for depriving them of their proportional power, or any attempt to degrade them in the scale of representation.45
Finding, however, that the people, or at least the delegates, were not ripe for his views, he assented to the proposed plan as an improvement of the existing system, particularly in the division of cities into districts.
On this point he said:—
A change so important in character cannot be advantageously made unless supported by the permanent feelings and convictions of the people.
Institutions are formed from within, not from without.
They spring from custom and popular faith silently operating with internal power, not from the imposed will of a lawgiver; and our present duty here, at least on this question, may be in some measure satisfied if we aid this growth.
was appointed a member of a special committee to revise the propositions to be submitted to the people, and was the author of a provision which was reported and passed, requiring
the Legislature to provide for submitting to a popular vote the question whether a convention should be called to revise the Constitution
whenever requested by the towns or cities containing not less than one third of the legal voters.
Many interesting discussions took place in the convention,— involving the substitution of the rule of plurality for that of majority in elections; the term of the judiciary; the qualifications of voters; the relation of Harvard College to the State
,— indeed almost every provision of the existing Constitution or of the proposed plan; during all of which Sumner
Irksome as was the confinement, his service in the convention was an advantage to him by bringing him into more familiar relations with the active men of the State
; and to the extent that he had mingled in the debates and business, he impressed the members with his ability, candor, and good sense.
Many hitherto antipathetic to him, and regarding him solely as an antislavery agitator or scholar living apart from men, were surprised to find him accessible and genial, and ready for conversation with any who came in his way.
The convention adopted the division of the State
into single districts for the election of senators and councillors; legislative discretion in determining the rule of elections, majority or plurality; the election by the people of a considerable number of officers hitherto appointed by the governor or the Legislature; the limitation of the judicial term, after the present incumbents, to ten years; the election of judges of probate by the people; various minor changes which were not the subject of contention; also, certain propositions submitted independently as to habeas corpus
, the right of the jury in criminal cases, the appropriation of public money for sectarian schools, and other matters.
Several of the changes were shortly after made by amendments proposed by the Legislature, and approved by a popular vote.
On the final day of the convention, August 1, Sumner
attended at Plymouth
the celebration of the embarkation of the Pilgrim
fathers at Southampton
His tribute to the English Puritans
, known as Separatists or Independents in English
history, was a thinly-veiled tribute to the pioneers of the antislavery cause.47
At this period of heated controversy it was difficult for either side to avoid allusions, open or covert, on festive or literary occasions to the question of slavery; and others besides Sumner
, even on this occasion, assumed the right to make them.48 Mr. Everett
, in thanking him for the printed copy of his ‘Finger Point
from Plymouth Rock
,’ regretted this habit, which he feared would break up patriotic celebrations by turning them into a party channel.
Standing on Plymouth Rock, at their great anniversary, we cannot fail to be elevated by their example.
We see clearly what it has done for the world, and what it has done for their fame.
No pusillanimous soul here today will declare their self-sacrifice, their deviation from received opinions, their unquenchable thirst for liberty, an error or illusion.
From gushing multitudinous hearts we now thank these lowly men that they dared to be true and brave.
Conformity or compromise might, perhaps, have purchased for them a profitable peace, but not peace of mind; it might have secured place and power, but not repose; it might have opened present shelter, but not a home in history and in men's hearts till time shall be no more.
All must confess the true grandeur of their example while, in vindication of a cherished principle, they stood alone against the madness of men, against the law of the land, against their king.
Better the despised Pilgrim, a fugitive for freedom, than the halting politician, forgetful of principle, “with a Senate at his heels.”
thought the speech at Plymouth
‘a gem,’ and wrote:—
I can think of nothing more admirably conceived and expressed than the sentence, “Better the despised Pilgrim, a fugitive for freedom, than the halting politician, forgetful of principle, with a Senate at his heels.”
Receiving an invitation to attend the Fourth of July celebration by the city government of Boston
for this year, Sumner
sent to the mayor a toast in favor of a railroad from the Atlantic
to the Pacific Ocean
—an enterprise whose fulfilment seemed then far in the distance.
Congress had taken the first step in the preceding March by providing for a survey, but the line was not open across the continent till sixteen years later.
wrote to W. W. Story
, August 2:—
I take up this old sheet on which nearly a year ago I commenced a letter to you; if I have not written it has not been from indifference.
the convention for revising our Constitution closed its labors.
I was a member for the borough of Marshfield, and have been much occupied in various ways during the session.
This is our first day of rest, and I fly to you and Rome.
Of all the members of the convention, during our three months work, Richard Dana has gained most in character and fame.
He has shown talents which I had long been familiar with, but which have taken many by surprise.
He speaks with great ease and clearness, and always with good sense and logic.
As a debater he is remarkable; I have enjoyed his success greatly.
On slavery, you know, he is decided and constant with us; but on other things he is strongly and sincerely conservative.
You may be curious, dear William, to know how I regard my senatorial life.
Very much as I anticipated.
My earnest counsels to all would be to avoid public life, unless impelled by some overmastering conviction or sentiment which could best find utterance in this way. Surely, but for this I would not continue in it another day. To what the world calls its honors I am indifferent; its cares and responsibilities are weighty and absorbing.
I no longer feel at ease with a book; if I take one to read, my attention is disturbed by some important question which will tramp through my mind.
How often I think with envy of you at Rome, enjoying letters and art!
No such days for me!
At Washington I have found much social kindness beyond anything I have known of late in Boston.
With most of the Southern men may relations have been pleasant, while with Soule I have been on terms of intimate friendship.
Here in Boston Hunkerism is very bitter; Webster's friends are implacable.
The “Courier,” which is their paper, has attacked Dana and myself; and others like to show their spite also.
the Webster dementia has not yet passed away.
I have seen something of our new President,50 and have found him an agreeable gentleman, affable in manners, and prompt in apprehension.
The orders to our diplomats to abandon their foreign liveries were issued at my earnest instigation; I trust you approve them.
On this subject, as on others, both the President and Mr. Marcy listened to me with attention.
I mention these things for your eye, as I know you will take an interest in anything which illustrates my position.
I do not think General Pierce a great man, but I do not undertake to prophesy with regard to his Administration.
His Secretary of State, Mr. Marcy, is a person of wisdom and experience, ignorant of foreign affairs but he knows his ignorance, and in this self-knowledge is his strength.
I doubt not he will master most of the questions.
Caleb Cushing is a dangerous character, who believes in war. He thinks that the country needs the occupation of a war, and I fear he will try to secure it for us. Guthrie, the Secretary of the Treasury, is a tall, large-limbed, strong-minded Kentuckian. . . . The papers occasionally announce Crawford's progress in his great work, and I always read everything of the kind with interest.
Give him my regards; also his wife.
Where are you now?
I imagine you on the Alban heights, in some spacious apartments, enjoying fresh breezes,
and the beautiful lake, with books and pencil, with pleasant friends, perhaps under the same roof, and with that simple delectable Orvieto for a sherbet.
Tell me of Rome, of yourself, wife, and children; of art, and particularly the statue of your father.
Give my love to your wife, and kisses to the children.
To Theodore Parker
With the exception of a meagre address, which is preserved in the “Jurist” of twenty years ago, Shaw's productions are his judgments, in the Reports of Pickering, Metcalf, and Cushing,—a goodly number,—and all having a uniform stamp.
He is always verbose, but instructive, and deals with his cases strongly.
I do not agree with Mann in his admiration of his powers; nor do I agree with the late Benjamin Rand when he insisted upon calling him “muddy-mettled.”
You will see his powers in the case of the slave “Med.”
His opinions, like Story's, are too long; but they are less interesting than Story's, have less life, and lack his learning.
Parsons's decisions are in the early volumes of the Massachusetts Reports.
In his day judges were less full in their opinions than now; but his are instructive still.
I think he was the earliest of the great lawyers of our country; but he was more than a lawyer.
Read the sketch of him at the end of one of the Massachusetts Reports, and you will see what was claimed for his scholarship.
He affected Greek, and wrote a Greek grammar.
That most remarkable document, the “Essex result,” inferior to nothing in the political history of Massachusetts, and far beyond anything from Shaw, shows him to have had powers of a high order.
Some of the ideas were borrowed from John Adams's letter to R. H. Lee, of Virginia, and others are rejected now; but it contains political truths, couched in language of great power and clearness.
I once had in my possession all the law manuscripts of Parsons, and from time to time made selections from them in the “Jurist;” they were not of much importance.
I write now without any opportunity of consulting books.
I would not undervalue Shaw; but I should give the palm to Parsons.
Soon after the convention adjourned, Wilson
addressed his constituents at Natick
in a speech which explained in detail the advantages of the new Constitution,52
made a similar address at Berlin
; but the discussion before the people did not become active for some weeks.
The Free Soil State convention was held at Fitchburg
, September 15.
, now the acknowledged leader of his party in the State
, received on a ballot nearly all the votes as candidate for governor.
, on his way to Ohio
, where he was to be the President
of Antioch College, paused for an hour in the town, and coming to the hall bade his old coadjutors a God-speed.
was not present; but a letter from him was read, in which
he approved the new Constitution as changing for the better the old one, and providing for other reforms in the future.
‘Its adoption,’ he wrote, ‘by the people will mark an era of progress in Massachusetts
The liberal cause in every form will derive from it new power.’
The letter did not omit to put in the foreground the primal object of the party,—to make freedom national and slavery sectional, and the continuing duty of devotion to this consummation without equivocation or compromise, saying at the conclusion of this part of it, ‘We may die soon; but this principle will live.’
The friends of the new Constitution made a vigorous canvass by means of addresses and pamphlets.
, and Griswold
, during the six weeks preceding the election, set forth its merits before the people, some of them addressing audiences almost every evening; and until quite near the election they were sanguine that it would be approved by the people.
They expected also to carry the Legislature, and this result was most likely to secure Wilson
's election as governor.
made his first speech at Greenfield
, October 25, and from that time till the election spoke every evening, making seventeen speeches.53
Hitherto his topics had appealed directly to moral and religious emotions; but now his theme was one which admitted only of sober treatment, and addressed chiefly the critical faculty and common experience.
He was to be tried in a new field, where persons addicted to philanthropic discussions have often failed; but he bore the test remarkably well.
Indeed, he never went through a political campaign in his own State so successfully,—leaving an impression on all of his intellectual power, and of his comprehensive knowledge of politics and government.
The halls where he spoke were thronged, not only by his Free Soil constituents, but as well by Democrats, many of whom took little interest in his antislavery opinions; but unlike the other Free Soil speakers, who thought it not wise in this exigency to go beyond the point in which Democrats and Free Soilers were agreed, he would not forego the opportunity to make new converts to his doctrine
that ‘freedom is national, and slavery sectional,’ which at the outset he affirmed with an appeal to patriotism and the moral sense.
His speech lasted two hours and a half, sometimes exceeding that limit, and was everywhere listened to by most attentive audiences crowding the halls to their utmost capacity, and numbering in cities like New Bedford and Worcester
two thousand persons, and in Boston
He treated in detail the changes proposed not only in a technical but a large way, drawing liberally on his resources as a student of history and political philosophy.
Though advocating the district system of representation as the best, he defended the plan submitted by the convention as far better than the existing one; and this part; of his speech was thought to be the ablest argument from any quarter,—logical, convincing, and unassailable.55
His refined hearers were impressed with his elevation of thought and breadth of view, while all were charmed with his chaste diction, his evident candor and sincerity, and the ease with which he handled the points of controversy.
While his subject excluded the profound earnestness which imbued antislavery discourses, it invited a lively and varied treatment, and he adapted himself well to the changed conditions.
His miscellaneous hearers were drawn to him sympathetically as they saw him in a new light,—not now the stern prophet of a cause, but more like one of themselves, human and busied with common interests.
, not usually enthusiastic in such matters, was greatly impressed with the speech; and two months later, when the issue involved was a past one, he expressed an earnest desire to have it written out and published as the best vindication of the work of the convention.
An eminent lawyer of southern Massachusetts
, T. G. Coffin
, who had been familiar with the efforts of public speakers in Massachusetts
for thirty years, writing nearly four months after he had heard Sumner
at New Bedford, assigned to the address the highest place among all to which he had ever
listened, both on account of its intellectual power and its diction, and also for its tone of honorable sentiment, giving dignity and elevation to a subject which in the hands of others had seemed ephemeral and partisan.
When the convention closed its session its work appeared altogether likely to secure popular approval.
The Democrats and Free Soilers, who had co-operated in making the new Constitution, had at command a majority of ten thousand and more votes.
Some of the changes were so reasonable that a portion of the Whigs
were indisposed to a contest.
The party, however, in its convention in the autumn declared against it in formal resolutions, but without any expectation of defeating it. Abbott Lawrence
and one or two other speakers commented unfavorably upon it in Whig meetings, but they were quite unequal to the array of public speakers who in carefully prepared arguments were setting forth its merits in almost every village of the State
Late in October, however, the Whigs
found new allies, and at once the face of affairs was changed.
Two eminent Free Soilers, Palfrey
who had submitted to rather than opposed the coalition, and who had lost seats in the convention, came out publicly against the scheme,—the former in a pamphlet, October 28, signed ‘A Free Soiler from the Start,’57
and the latter in an address, November 5, at Quincy
They drew away a few of their old friends from its support; but their influence was chiefly felt in the new spirit and vigor which they gave to its opponents.
The Whigs at once put forth every effort to carry the State
They sent speakers to almost every town, and distributed Palfrey
's pamphlet in every direction.
They set forth to the cities and large towns the loss of power which assailed them, alarmed conservatives with the radical changes proposed, particularly in the judiciary, and quieted progressives with the promise that they would at once initiate by special amendments all desirable reforms; but their most effective as well as fairest point was that the Constitution
was made by a party, and on some points expressed partisan aims rather than the permanent and common convictions of the people.
The publication of Palfrey
's letter was immediately followed by the letter of Caleb Cushing
of the United States
, to Richard Frothingham, Jr.
, which, assuming to speak for President Pierce
, forbade any further political association of the Democrats with the Free Soilers
, and declared the purpose of the Administration ‘to crush out the dangerous element of abolitionism under every guise and form.’58
Peremptory in form as well as in spirit, it threatened proscription from office as the penalty of disobedience.
Its style savored of imperialism, and was suited rather to Russia
than the United States
It was known at the time as Cushing
This interference was effective in disturbing the co-operation of the two parties, not only in the election of members of the Legislature, but also in the support of the new Constitution.
It was resented by all Democrats who retained any manly spirit; but a considerable number of editors and active politicians, aspiring to the many places in the national service made vacant by a change of Administration, at once withdrew from all co-operation with the Free Soilers
letter was doubtless the most serious blow which the coalition received.
The foreign or Irish voters (perhaps ten or twelve thousand), hitherto held by the Democrats, were turned almost in a body against the new Constitution,—partly for the reason that it reduced the representation of Boston
, where their, power was centred and was rapidly growing, but more because one of the amendments, to be separately voted on, expressly forbade the appropriation of public money for sectarian schools.59
The Catholic newspaper of Boston
in its weekly issues, and O. A. Brownson
in addresses, appealed to them to vote against it. It was charged also that at various points ecclesiastical influence was directly and openly exerted.
This was the first time that the foreign or Catholic vote was appealed to in the State
as a special interest and carried as a distinct body.
The liquor interest was stimulated into active opposition to the new Constitution by the proposed reduction in the representation of Boston
, where its power lay, and by antagonism to the Free
Soilers, who had been with few exceptions the promoters of the Maine
Against this combination of influences the supporters of the new Constitution struggled with diminishing hope till the last day of the canvass.
They could have stood successfully against one or more of them, but all together accomplished a secession from their ranks which proved fatal.60
The new Constitution failed by five thousand votes,61
though receiving a majority outside of Boston
; and the Whigs
, who carried the Legislature at the last election, were now far stronger in it than before.
The Free Soilers held their own in the popular vote, giving Wilson
as their candidate for governor nearly thirty thousand votes.62
The result in connection with Cushing
's letter was fatal to any further union of Democrats and Free Soilers, or any hope of wresting the State
from the Whigs
under existing party conditions.
It put Palfrey
for a time out of relations with the Free Soilers
it engendered a spirit of hostility to foreign voters which was soon to take shape in a secret political organization.64
wrote to Whittier
, November 21:—
The day after our election I left for New York.
where, among other things, I enjoyed the Crystal Palace, and Uncle Tom's Cabin at the theatre, and on my return, Sunday morning, found your letter.
The loss of the Constitution is a severe calamity to the liberal cause in this State.
I deplore it from my heart.
It seems to me that it may be traced to three causes: first in order of time, the defection of Palfrey and Adams, which stimulated the Whigs and neutralized many of our friends; secondly, Cushing's letter, which paralyzed the activities of the Democratic leaders; and, thirdly, the positive intervention of the Catholic Church.
With any one of
these sinister influences out of the way, we should have established the new Constitution.
With it would have come many beneficent changes; but beyond all else it would have broken the backbone of the Boston oligarchy,— the stumbling block of all reform, and especially of all antislavery.
I honor Palfrey much for his life, and for what at other tines he has done; but I hardly venture to believe that he can, by any future service, repair the wrong he has done to our cause.
I have not been a party to any counsels of our friends since the election.
My hope is that the Whigs may yet be defeated in their efforts to secure the control of the House, so that our friends may press their reforms with hope of success.
My desire is for the plurality rule, that we may submit our cause directly to the people,—yea or nay.
The Whigs were insolent in their success, altogether rejecting the genial and magnanimous tone which is becoming in a winning party.65
In their journals, in various meetings for mutual congratulations, and in private intercourse, they exulted in their triumph; vaunted their security in power for ten years to come; taunted their opponents with their decisive defeat; threw at them the epithets ‘backsliders and traitors,’ ‘ambitious and unprincipled demagogues,’ ‘dishonest,’ ‘profligate,’ ‘mischievous;’ satirized their leaders in doggerel verses, and subjected them to the annoyance of anonymous letters.66
But they visited their venom most of all on Wilson
His honest poverty, his rise from the humblest life, where a spirit less aspiring than his would have always remained, and his amiable temper were no protection against incessant contumely and derision; but to human foresight it did not then seem possible that this man was in little more than a twelvemonth to take his place by Sumner
's side in the Senate, stand at the head of the committee on military affairs in that body during the Civil War
, and rise to the second place in the gift of the American
Not only the leading men in the State
, but the undistinguished persons whose activity was local, were made to feel the pressure.
A private letter written immediately after the election by a young man in Dorchester
, who was in daily intercourse with the merchants of Boston
, since holding a seat in Congress, said:—
Whiggery as usual in victory is domineering and insolent, and I am beset on all sides.
I pity Wilson.
the Whigs are taunting, sneering, and levelling all their envenomed shafts at him. Truly a politician's path is beset with thorns.
It seems to me as if all the honors he has received would not compensate this one defeat and humiliation. . . . Insolence, impudence, and arrogance are at a premium with the Whigs just now. Wherever we go—in the street, in the train, and everywhere—we are told that our party is dead, that we are an unprincipled set. One man told me I was “a damned fool.”
Whichever way we go we are jeered, hissed, pointed at, and spit upon by Whiggery.
The Free Soilers were disheartened.
Their leaders admitted they had received the heaviest blow which ever befell a party, and the more it was considered the worse it seemed.
They foresaw that with the final rupture of the coalition, which it would be futile to attempt again, and with no hope hereafter of immediate results to cheer their followers, there was to be a long contest in which, with numbers diminishing, they could count only on the most steadfast in conviction.
Saddest of all was Wilson
, who enjoyed political position for its excitement, and who had no private means of support, but who was far from being a selfseeker, loving his party as few have loved it, and ready to make sacrifices for it,—his chagrin now sharpened by the consciousness that Palfrey
's and Adams
's demonstrations had been in part inspired by undeserved misconceptions of his purposes and methods.68
The Free Soilers, however, soon gathered courage, and became consolidated by the arrogance and intemperate exultations of the Whigs
To their convictions of right was added a deep sense of personal wrong, and smarting under the obloquy they bided their time.
Their leaders without delay, to the number of one hundred, held a conference, in which they resolved to perfect their organization, and put forth immediate efforts to advance their antislavery principles by means of lectures and the distribution of documents.
All, while adhering to these principles,
were determined in the future to miss no opportunity for dislodging the Whigs
expressed the prevailing sentiment when he said he had never known that party before so vindictive, insolent, overbearing, and impudent, and he would give them no quarter and receive none.
All agreed that the coalition had done good service, but that its work was now ended, to be resumed again, however, if the times ever should favor.
That dejected company of noble and earnest men were in a few days to be cheered by light from an unexpected quarter,—the madness of the pro-slavery politicians.
The last contest between the Whigs
and Free Soilers of Massachusetts
, with those names and organizations, had been fought, and in a twelvemonth both parties had disappeared.
No one regretted the defeat of the new Constitution more than Sumner
, as no one regarded with more concern the perpetuation of Whig supremacy in the State
in connection with all the incidents it involved.
The State was no longer politically at his back, as when he entered the Senate.
The Whigs were united for the Compromise by hearty assent or formal acquiescence; while the Democrats, greedy for national office, were submissive to dictation from Washington
He could rely only on the thirty thousand Free Soilers, who under discouraging conditions were likely to fall to twenty thousand in the next State election, with the power left to elect not more than a dozen members of the Legislature.
The Whig journals, taunting him with a want of popular support, called on him to resign his seat.
Never was Sumner
so strong with the Free Soilers
as now. He had assumed cheerfully his share of the labor, and had maintained their cause stoutly and fearlessly both against their natural opponents and also against his two familiar friends, Palfrey
There was no longer any intimation of indifference or inactivity, but everywhere most cordial devotion to him. Robert Carter
wrote, December 24:—
Your popularity was never greater here than now. Everybody applauds your efforts in the late campaign; and the men who were most angry with you in 1852, are foremost in praising your course and your speech on the Constitution.
, who followed closely the politics of Massachusetts
, wrote from Ohio
I mourn our loss in Massachusetts; but you individually acquitted yourself most nobly.
That is a great consolation to your friends.
, who had led in wrecking the new constitution, writing to explain a public reference to Sumner
which the latter had thought unkind, said, in good and friendly temper:—
Yet regret this as much as I will on my own account, I am glad to hear that it has not been without some compensation in drawing to you still more our old political friends.
They think you unjustly attacked, and they pour out all their indignation against me for it. I shall never again put myself in their power, so that it matters not what they think of me. But the feeling thus engendered may stand you in stead in the career you have before you. You have my wishes and prayers for its success, now as always.