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slavery, called the abolition party. The seeds of this organization had been scattered by the writings of the fathers of the revolutionary period; its growth, nurtured by the persecutions and blood of martyrs to free speech and a free press; its aims and objects promoted by the teachings of Jefferson, Jay, Channing, John Quincy Adams, William Leggett, Whittier, Horace Mann and many others. This small party, full of fiery zeal, and ardor, and talent, placed itself in direct antagonism to the gigantic institution of slavery. It boldly grappled with a power which at that time held and had long controlled, the National, and most of the State Governments; dominated over parties, ruled the churches, the press, the financial and business interests of the country. A power whose social influence was despotic, which held both the sword and the purse of the nation; which filled every office from President to the village Postmaster. This small party,armed with truth and right, met this gigantic despotism, and in the end triumphed over it. Although the vote which it polled at the first Presidential election at which it voted separately, was but a few thousands, yet its influence upon popular sentiment was felt and rapidly increased. At the Presidential election of 1840, its vote had increased more than ten-fold. The ability, eloquence, and genius displayed by its publications and the power of its orators, greatly aided by the encroachments, the cruelties, and arrogance of the slave power, prepared the way for the Free Soil party of 1848.
In that year, the whig party having nominated General Taylor as its candidate, and the democratic party having refused to nominate Mr. Van Buren because of his opposition to the annexation of Texas, and nominating General Cass, and both parties refusing to take position against the extension of slavery, the liberty party, uniting with the earnest anti-slavery men of all parties, met at Buffalo in June, 1848.
The whig convention had refused to adopt any platform of principles; it had refused to declare itself against the extension of slavery into the territories. The Buffalo convention nominated Martin Van Buren for President, and Charles Francis Adams for Vice President. It was attended by
delegates from all the free States, and from Maryland, the District of Columbia, Delaware and Virginia. Among its leading members were Salmon P. Chase, Charles Sumner, Benjamin F. Butler, Preston King, Joshua R. Giddings, Charles Francis Adams, and many others scarcely less distinguished.
This memorable convention gave a great impulse towards the final triumph of freedom. After reciting the action of the democratic and whig conventions, the convention declared its conviction of the necessity of announcing its independence of the slave power, and its determination to rescue the Government from its control. The delegates solemnly resolved to stand on the National platform of freedom against the sectional platform of slavery—that, while they disclaimed the power to interfere with slavery in the States, that Congress had the power and ought to exercise it, of prohibiting slavery in all the territories of the United States; that Congress has no more power to make a slave than to make a King—no more power to establish slavery, than to establish monarchy. To the demand for more slave States, and more slave territory, their answer was, “ No more slave States, and
, no slave territory.”
The convention demanded freedom, especially for Oregon, California,and New Mexico.
The leaders of this organization embodied ardent enthusiastic democrats, and liberty loving whigs, filled with zeal against slavery; and mingled with them were the personal friends of President Van Buren, indignant at, and determined to revenge his sacrifice by the slave power. The free soil party conducted the canvass against the old parties, with an eloquence of the tongue and pen — with an ability and energy never surpassed in the history of the Republic. Their
was the romance and poetry of politics, and their political creed, the religion of patriotism.
John Van Buren brought into this campaign an indignant personal feeling towards those who “done his father to death,” and a fiery eloquence, wit, and sarcasm, which rendered him a great popular favorite, and secured to him the most brilliant national reputation. John P. Hale, Charles Sumner, Henry Wilson, S. P. Chase, Cassius M. Clay, Benjamin F. Butler, William C. Bryant, and David Wilmot, and many others,
were among the most active and ardent leaders in this contest. Although the ticket carried no electoral votes, it received a very large popular support, especially through New England, New York, and the Northwest, and defeated General Cass. There were many anti-slavery whigs who supported General Taylor for the Presidency, among them, the great statesman of New England, Daniel Webster, and the great popular leader of New York, William H. Seward, and he who was to be the instrument in the final overthrow of slavery, Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois. The great organ of public sentiment, the New York Tribune, also gave its support to General Taylor. Meanwhile, the politicians, fearing the growth of the great free soil party, undertook to settle the slavery question by the compromise measure of 1850.
The Thirty-first Congress met in December, 1849. The struggle for, and the resistance to the extension of slavery continued more and more to agitate the country. The United States had acquired by the treaty of peace with Mexico, the immense territory of upper and lower California and New Mexico. The Wilmot proviso, although it had twice passed the House of Representatives, had always been rejected by the Senate. The slave power hoped the great victory it had achieved by this vast acquisition of territory was secure. But the struggle still continued. Fourteen free States adopted resolutions protesting against the enlargement of the area of slavery. The slaveholders deprecating the struggle in Congress attempted to forestall its action by organizing a slave State in California. Knowing that General Cass and the party that supported him for the Presidency in 1848, were committed to non-intervention, and that slaves were already in California, and believing they could organize a State Constitution there, which would sustain and secure slavery, emissaries were despatched to California to get up a State convention and adopt a pro-slavery Constitution. After the inauguration of President Taylor in 1849, Thomas Butler King, of Georgia, a warm advocate of slavery, and in confidential relations with the administration, went to California and urged the formation of a State government, pledging to the movement the support of the administration, and urging the
measure as a means of preventing a fearful struggle in Congress on the slavery question. Mr. King spoke for the whig administration, and Mr. Gwynn, of Mississippi, afterwards Senator of that State, spoke to, and for the democracy, urging the same course. King, after relating the history of the Wilmot proviso, said: “ We cannot settle this question on the other side of the Rocky Mountains; we look to you to settle it by becoming a State.”
The friends of freedom on the Eastern side of the continent had feeble hopes of success in the Constitutional Convention of California; they rather expected to be compelled to make the fight in Congress on the question of the admission of that territory as a slave State. There was then no telegraph spanning the continent, and the mails were slow and tedious in bringing news from the Pacific to the Atlantic ciast. Few more thrilling items from that distant shore were ever received than the intelligence that the new Constitution contained the provision that, “ There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, otherwise than in punishment of crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” It was the death knell of slavery. The miners, the laborers of California, would not tolerate the competition of the aristocratic slaveholder with his gang of slaves, and uniting with those who opposed slavery from moral principle, they triumphed over the advocates of slavery and secured the adoption of this Constitution by the people, and the new State with her Constitution securing freedom for all, presented herself at the Capital for admission into the Union. To the free laborers from the North, and especially the miners who had crossed the mountains for gold, was this unexpected result to be attributed.
The slave power, although it had urged the formation of a State government, now wheeled about and opposed the admission of California. Had California come as a slave State, they would have welcomed her, but as a free State, she should not come in if they could prevent it.
After long debate, Mr. Clay reported a series of measures known as the Compromise Measures of 1850. These measures were in substance :
1. The admission of California as a free State under her Constitution.
2. The establishment of Territorial governments for New Mexico and Utah, without the Wilmot proviso excluding slavery, and providing for their admission as States into the Union with or without slavery as the people should decide.
3. The recognition of the claim of Texas to near 90,000 square miles of free soil situated above the line of 36° 30"; and the payment to Texas of ten millions for her relinquishment of New Mexico.
4. The abolition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia.
5. A new and stringent fugitive slave law, drawn by Mason of Virginia, avowedly to bumiliate the free States, and by which all the defences of personal liberty on behalf of the accused were effectually destroyed.
These measures were finally forced throngh Congress, and the leading politicians of both the great parties declared this should be a finality, and they drew up a paper and signed it, pledging each other to oppose any man who would not regard them as such. The great Senatorial leaders thought now, that the agitation of the slavery question was forever silenced, forgetting that the voice of justice and liberty cannot be silenced.