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Proceedings upon the Wilmot Proviso during the Congressional Session
of 1817, '8.--Mr. Clayton's Compromise Bill, and its unfortunate Defeat in the House of Representatives.—General Cass as the Presidential Candidate of the Democratic Party in 1848. — The Contest between himself and General Taylor by no means of a sectional Character. Election of the latter. — Appearance of William L. Yancey at the Baltimore Convention of 1848, and the prompt Rejection by that Body of his celebrated Protection Proposition. — Unfortunate Division of the Strength of the Democratic Party in 1848 between the Hunkers and Barnburners, resulting in the Nomination of Martin Van Buren and Charles Francis Adams by the Buffalo Convention.-Mr. Gott's Resolution.—Declaration, as early as 1843, by Messrs. Adams, Slade, Giddings, and others in Favor of dissolving the Federal Union in the Event of the Annexation of Texas. — Inflaminatory Address issued by these Gentlemen.- Author's first acquaintance with John Quincy Adams and his accomplished Lady.--Commendatory Notice of his Life and Character.—Parallel between John Quincy Adams and John C. Calhoun.
EARLY in the congressional session of 1847, '8, a test vote upon the Wilmot Proviso had been taken in the House of Representatives, and the proposition embodying the essential feature of that Proviso had been laid upon the table on the motion of Mr. Broadhead, a member from Pennsylvania. This result was looked upon by the friends of domestic quiet at the time as a most favorable symptom; but it was supposed by some of the most judicious and experienced personages then in Congress that it would be best to guard against future danger by having the vexed territorial question submitted for adju
dication, at as early a period as practicable, to the Supreme Court of the United States; it being then hoped that the decision of that high tribunal, touching the constitutionality of legislative measures of restriction, would command the respect of the great body of the American people, and render the clamors of sectional demagogues, whether in the North or in the South, thenceforward powerless. Accordingly, Mr. John M. Clayton, of Delaware, after advising extensively with senators and representatives of the greatest weight and influence in their respective states, and whom he knew, at the same time, to be solicitous to do what they could to suppress the spirit of discord then visibly manifesting itself in various quarters, as a member of a select committee of the Senate, to whom had been referred the Oregon Bill, reported said bill back to the Senate, with amendments establishing territorial governments for New Mexico and California in addition, and containing a clause, likewise, providing, in a very careful and precise manner, for the judicial arbitrament referred to in relation to all three of said territories. It is obvious that, could this bill have become a law, sectional agitation would have been, at least for a while, suppressed. Faction had not then grown strong enough, either in the North or in the South, successfully to resist the deliberate adjudication of that grave and solemn tribunal where a Marshall and a Story had so recently sat, and where there were still judges to be found worthy of the better and purer days of the republic.
But the Clayton Compromise Bill, after passing the Senate by a vote of 33 yeas to 22 nays, was fated to receive its quietus in the House from a hand least expected to inflict a blow so unfortunate. Mr. Stephens, of Georgia, having moved that the said bill do lie upon the table, the motion prevailed by what was very nearly a sectional vote, only eight Southern members having yielded their support to it. I have never heard from Mr. Stephens himself what particular reasons influenced his course on this occasion, but have been repeatedly told, and suppose such to have been the case, that this gentleman, having maturely arrived at the conclusion that African slavery in all the recently acquired territory had been uprooted by antecedent Mexican legislation, and that therefore if the question propounded by the Clayton Bill should be submitted to the Supreme Court, a decision was to be apprehended which would prove fatal to the policy then so warmly cherished by a portion of the Southern people of extending slavery into the vacant territories, deemed it unsafe to risk the action thereof. I have also heard that the course of Mr. Stephens and bis distinguished colleague from Georgia, Mr. Toombs, in refusing to vote for the appropriation of money for carrying into effect the then recently ratified treaty with Mexico, was controlled by similar views. IIowever this may be, both Mr. Stephens and Mr. Toombs were for a time very much censured by certain overheated persons in the South on account of their conduct at this period, and motives were in several quarters charged to each of them, the operation of which I rejoice never myself to have suspected, and which all just-minded men must now admit to have been wholly unmerited. I can not doubt now, though, any more than I did sixteen years ago, that even had the Supreme Court of the republic at that time decided that slavery had no
legal and authorized existence in New Mexico and California, and that even had Congress, acquiescing in that decision, refused to adopt enactments for its establishment therein, the people of the South would have rested quiet under this determination, and the painful scenes through which we have been lately passing, as well as the fearful agitations which preceded them, might have been happily avoided.
The Democratic party, of which General Cass was now the acknowledged chief, and whom they put in nomination for the presidency in the Convention held in the city of Baltimore in the month of May, 1848, adopted a resolution at the same time which pledged that party, and the candidates chosen to represent it in the pending presidential contest, to "a vigilant and consistent adherence to those principles and compromises of the Constitution which are broad enough and strong enough to uphold the Union as it was, as it is, and as it shall be, in the full expansion of the energies and capacity of this great and progressive people.”
At this precise moment indications first clearly display themselves, not of "an irrepressible conflict” between antagonistic elements imbedded in the Constitution, but between two rampant and reckless local factions, neither of which was truly friendly to the compromises of the Constitution or the permanent repose of the republic; which two factions, as will be seen in the sequel, were thereafter to struggle with each other and with the two gr conservative parties then existing; and while gaining from time to time fresh accessions to their respective ranks, or losing a portion of their strength temporarily,
from the operation of accidental causes, were in a few years to grow strong enough to shake the republic to its foundation, and to make themselves responsible before all generations for the most absurd, unnecessary, and unnatural war that the combined wickedness and folly of man have ever yet waged upon this terrestrial planet. I will make myself more plain on this point by a short historic recital. While the Democratic Convention was in session in Baltimore, a gentleman from the State of Alabama appeared therein, whose name is now familiar to the ears of all intelligent men on both sides of the Atlantic. I saw this personage in Washington on his way to Baltimore, and I learned by accident what was the nature of his mission to the latter city. This gentleman (of course I am alluding to Mr. William L. Yancey) offered to the consideration of the Convention the following resolution:
"Resolved, That the doctrine of non-interference with the rights of property of any portion of the people of this confederacy, be it in the states or territories thereof, by any other than the parties interested in them, is the true republican doctrine recognized by this body.”
It is evident that it was intended by this adroit movement to get the whole Democratic party committed against any legislation in the territories, either on the part of Congress or the local Legislatures, and to prevent even any action by conventions called for the purpose of forming state constitutions with a view to admission into the Federal Union in any of said territories, which should be of a nature to affect the rights of property in slaves, unless with the consent of the individual owners. A prop