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On the 17th of February, Seward spoke, as he always speaks, ably, temperately, candidly and philosophically. He saw the near approach of that “irrepressible conflict” between the two opposing powers of freedom and slavery, which he had predicted. His speech was a historical review of the whole question, and a calm and eloquent appeal to the majority to stay its hand. He spoke of the uselessness of all efforts to stifle the love of freedom and hatred of slavery in the North. “You may,” said he, “drive the slavery question out of these halls to-day, but it will revisit them tomorrow. You buried the Wilmot proviso, here, in 1850, and celebrated its obsequies with pomp and revelry, and here it is again, to-day, stalking through these halls, clad in complete armor. “Slavery," he contended, “is an eternal struggle between conservatism and progress, truth and error, right and wrong. You may sooner, by act of Congress, compel the sea to suppress its upheavings, and the round earth to extinguish its internal fires, than oblige the human mind to cease its inquirings, and the human heart to desist from its throbbings.” In its last maddened throes, this early, able, and courageous champion of liberty, was struck down by the assassin hand of slavery, but has been spared by an overruling Providence to officially proclaim to his country and the world, that “slavery exists no more."
On the 24th of February, Mr. Sumner delivered an exhaustive and able speech, and it was then a most singular and novel fact, that when he spoke of a Northern man with Southern principles, and said, with emphasis, that no such man could speak for the North, the report says he was interrupted by “prolonged applause in the galleries.”
Northern Senators, in disregard of the instructions of the Legislatures of the States they represented, spoke and voted for the bill. Toombs spoke with more than his accustomed violence and insolence. “The Government has little to fear from the abolitionists," he bawled out, “their greatest achievements have been to raise mobs of fugitives and free negroes, and incite them to murder and other crimes; and their exploits, generally, end in the subornation of perjury to escape the criminal courts." This man, Toombs, was by
nature a rebel and a revolutionist; though of a brutal character and a turbulent disposition, he was a man of far more than ordinary talent. He was one of the ablest, as he certainly was one of the worst men in the Senate, who brought on the rebellion. When he addressed the Senate, he spoke with great vehemence, and with the utmost contempt for those differing from him. With a well-compacted person, black eyes, long, bushy, black hair, stentorian voice and vehement manner, he did more than any other man, in his
, efforts to break up the Union; going earliest and deepest into the rebellion, proclaiming himself a traitor in the halls of the Senate after the secession of Georgia; he very soon became more dangerous to the bogus Confederacy than he was to the cause of the good old Union.
The sleek Jew, Judah P. Benjamin, the polite and wily man in black, with rounded phrase, and smooth and well polished sentences, spoke glittering words in support of violated faith. There was not a more elegant and accomplished speaker in the Senate than he. Words flowed freely from his lips, and they were as slippery as oil. Governed by no principle, except that of making money, he was utterly unscrupulous both in politics and morals. His colleague, John Slidell, the ablest, the shrewdest, the most subtle and the most unscrupulous, as well as the richest of all the conspirators, spoke but few words. With thin, gray hair, red faced, round shouldered, he moved quietly about; distant in manner, as well as reserved, precise and elegant in speech, Mason, of Virginia, author of the fugitive slave law, named by old Ben Wade “the original copperhead,” long before the term came into vogue as applied to a party, talked in language of insult and contempt. His whole appearance was concentrated disdain and hatred of everything in the free States. He accompanied Slidell abroad, and shared his adventures in getting there. For a time he was a great man in London, because he was a rebel and a traitor to his country. He swelled in the club houses of Pall Mall, and drank - denunciation to the old United States. Hunter, his colleague, was cool, able and phlegmatic, dignified in manner, careful and respectful in language, though ultra in sentiment. He had
been long in Congress, in both Houses, and had been Speaker of the House of Representatives. In everything except the slavery question, he was a sound, honest, and practical legislator. In the rebel Senate, he was a tower of strength to the Confederacy. When he rebelled, he had large possessions in lands and negroes and mills in the Peninsula; but when he returned to his home, he found his negroes fled, his mills burned, his farms ravaged; and he must have been startled, when he beheld around him the ruin that had been wrought while he was warring upon the flag of his country.
On the morning of the 3d day of March, at five o'clock, the bill finally passed the Senate by a vote of 37 to 14. Mr. Seward, at a late hour of the night, said to his brother Senators, “The shifting sands of compromise are passing from under my feet, and they are now taking hold again on the Constitution." He said while he would not have voted for the compromise of 1820, he would not, himself, have disturbed it. “Through all the darkness and gloom of the present hour," he continued, “ bright stars are breaking that inspire me with hope and excite me to persevere. They show that the day of compromise has passed forever, and that henceforth all great questions between freedom and slavery shall be decided, as they ought to be, on their merits."
Among the negatives, were two Southern men, John Bell and Sam Houston. The opposition of Bell, to the measure, was weakened by apologies and trimming, and those who knew him best were not surprised to find him early in the rebellion, driven out of Nashville the second year of the war. Sam Houston, who proved himself “The noblest Roman of them all,” made the last speech that was made in the Senate against the bill. It was a calm and temperate appeal not to disturb the Missouri Compromise, and filled with forebodings of evil in the event of the success of the measure.
In his peroration, he said “The proud symbol (pointing to the eagle) above your head, remains enshrouded in black as if deploring the misfortune that has fallen upon us, or as a fearful omen of future calamities, which await our Nation in
the event this bill should become a law. Above it, I behold the majestic figure of Washington, whose presence must forever inspire patriotic emotions, and command the admiration and love of every American heart. By these associations, I adjure you to regard the contract once made to harmonize and preserve this Union. Maintain the Missouri Compromise! Stir not up agitation! Give us peace !" “In the discharge of my duty, I have acted fearlessly. The events of the future are left in the hands of a wise Providence, and, in my opinion, on the decision which we make upon this question must depend union or disunion.”
Prophetic words from patriotic lips ! Sam Houston was a remarkable man, and the history of his eventful life is stranger than fiction. No one, who once saw him, particularly in his later years, could ever forgot the impression his presence inspired. He was very tall, straight as an arrow, and of most symmetrical proportions. His manner was kind and cordial, but dignified and impressive. He was slow of speech, but his conversation was fascinating to a remarkable degree. It was beautiful to behold the deference and gentleness with which this backwoodsman always treated the fair sex, therein evincing the highest instincts of a natural gentleman.
When the rebellion broke out, he was the Governor of Texas; little has been known of him since, except that he was true to the old flag to the last; but seeing his country distracted, discordant, belligerent, and drenched in fraternal blood, he died of a broken heart.
The bill having now passed the Senate, came to the House, and the struggle was renewed with increased violence.
The slave power, aided by the administration and democratic Senators of the free States, under the lead of Douglas, having forced the Kansas-Nebraska bill through the Senate, the struggle came on in the popular branch of Congress. The bill came down to the House on the 7th of March, and was taken charge of by Richardson, of Illinois, chairman of the Committee on Territories, who was the lieutenant of Douglas in the House. On the 21st of March, there was a test vote on referring the bill to the “Committee of the Whole
on the state of the Union,” usually regarded as the receptacle of dead projects in legislation. The bill was referred, by a vote of 110 to 96. This was a great triumph of the antiNebraska men. But the friends of the bill were determined to get at it, in some way, and so on the 8th of May, the skirmishing commenced, which was the prelude to the great battle that came off three days later. Richardson moved to go into committee, for the purpose of taking up the bill, and after a long struggle, the motion was carried, and all other bills were laid aside until the Nebraska bill was reached. On the next day, it was debated. On the day after, Richardson moved a resolution to close debate, and resolutely proposed to put on the screws of the previous question, and gag the measure through. Flushed with their recent success, strong in numbers, in talent, and above all, in the righteousness of their cause, the anti-Nebraska members were ready and even eager for the contest. Then commenced one of the longest and most extraordinary sittings ever known in Congressional annals.
The Nebraska men had secured a clear majority, and evinced a determination to fight their bill through, without further discussion or consideration. On the other hand, its opponents were equally determined that they should not do it. Then began what is called in Congressional phrase, “fillibustering" by all the dilatory motions known to parliamentary law : motions to adjourn, to adjourn over, to lay on the table, to reconsider, to excuse members from voting, for a call of the House, and other motions; upon all of which, piled up, one after another, the ayes and noes were ordered, preventing any action upon the question. A call of the House is ordered, the doors of the House are closed, and no member can get in or out without the leave of the House. The sergeant-at-arms is sent to arrest the absent members, who are brought in and arraigned to give their excuses to the House like truant school boys. Motions to excuse are made, followed by motions to dispense with further proceedings under the call, to adjourn, etc., etc., interposed between brief speeches interjected out of order, and amid cries of “order," "order," "order." Time wears on; the day passes and the