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country in a campaign on their behalf against Mexico, in order to rob it, in defiance of the law of nations, of Texas, submitted, in 1846, a demand for a credit of two millions to be used as an indemnity for the vast territory of which the neighbouring republic was being despoiled, a Democrat from the North, Wilmot, moved the addition of a clause to the bill, providing that slavery (which in pursuance of the "compromise of Missouri” of 1821 was prohibited only in the northern Territories above 36° 30' north latitude) could not be introduced into the annexed territory. Supported by the Whigs of the North and by a minority of the Democrats of the North, the Proviso was carried in the House of Representatives but lost in the Senate. Two years later, in 1818, it was reintroduced in the form of an independent motion, but no longer found the same favour either with the Democratic faction of the North or with the Whigs, who had, however, secured a majority in the House. They were thinking only of the impending presidential election, and of how to win it without compromising themselves. If they decided either way, they were lost, in the one case estranging the free opinion of the North, in the other forfeiting the support of the southerners.
The solution of this singular and apparently hopeless problem of political fence-riding with which the Whigs were confronted found a surreptitious aid in the state of the public mind, which was weary of politicians' intrigues and of artificial party divisions. People sighed for a President under no obligations to the mercenary politicians, commending himself to the public by his personal qualities; in a word, an honest man and nothing more. General Taylor, a brave soldier, who distinguished himself in the Mexican War, seemed to many persons to combine these conditions, and in various parts of the Union manifestations occurred in favour of his presidential candidature; he was acclaimed in “meetings of the people,” in gatherings of “Native Americans” and elsewhere, with a clear indication of the independent character attributed to him and of the hope that he would become the President of the whole country and not of a party,' that he would bring about a new state of things by breaking up the old party organizations. But these manifestations against the thraldom of party were destined only to be the last gleam of a light that had long been feebly flickering and was now well-nigh extinct in men's minds. Taylor agreed to be the people's candidate and his prospects of success appeared to increase daily, but they were intercepted by one of the very organizations which he was meant to destroy. The Whig Organization, seeing a formidable rival in Taylor, hastened to take him up on its own account. The candidate outside parties longed for by the people became in its eyes the candidate outside political principles and convictions, who alone could be adopted by it without risk. The worthy general, who always stood aloof from politics and never voted, was the very ideal of the Whig Organization; he himself admitted, in letters written with much artlessness, that he had only “crude impressions on matters of policy,” and he allowed himself to be persuaded that he was a Whig, "although," he added honestly, “not an ultra one.” Fearing that their candidate's excess of naïve sincerity might compromise the adoption of his candidature, the wire-pullers assigned him a small committee of supervision,” which drafted all his political letters for him, with the shades of meaning and mental reservations that the game appeared to demand.
1" And whereas he is particularly agreeable to us as the people's candidate for the presidency, from the fortunate circumstance that he has been entirely aloof from the party conflicts of the country, has formed no entangling al.iances' with intruding politicians or wire-workers; and if elected, would have no debts to pay with the offices and money of the people for partisan electioneering services; and whereas, as president, he would be unfettered, and could give full play to the honesty of his nature as the president of the whole country and not of a party” (Niles, Vol. LXXIII, p. 79).
The ground was sufficiently prepared when the Whig national convention met; Thurlow Weed exerted his wire-pulling talents in it as at the famous convention of Harrisburg in 1839, and Taylor's candidature was carried without any difficulty, although his attitude on the burning question of the day remained an enigma to everybody. There were, however, some delegates who, in their devotion to the anti-slavery cause, wanted to be reassured.
1“He was nominated for the express purpose of breaking up the old organizations .. and if elected would do all in his power to break down the old parties. He was nominated to bring about a new state of things" (quoted by Holst, Vol. II, p. 296).
2 The “committee of safety," which became a permanent feature, had, however, its precedent, having been already created for the first “military hero," proposed by the Whigs for the presidency in 1840. Harrison was also placed under a committee intended to check any excess of language on his part. The Democrats even maintained – it was the chairman of the Democratic national convention who asserted it from his seat — that General Harrison's guardians never let him out of their sight, and accompanied him to the post-office when he went to fetch his letters, to prevent him from making unsuitable replies (.Niles, Vol. LVIII, p. 148).
After Taylor had been nominated for the Presidency, one of them tabled a resolution binding the nominee to the fundamental principles of the Whig party, which were opposed to the extension of slavery, to the acquisition of territories by means of conquest, etc. The chairman of the convention refused to put the motion to the vote. After the nomination of the candidate for the Vice-Presidency (Fillmore) a delegate brought forward a resolution declaring that the two candidates adopted had been so as Whig candidates. Another delegate wanted to pass a resolution denying the right of Congress to authorize slavery in the Territories. The chairman declined to put these proposals to the vote as well, and the convention broke up without having made a political declaration. Afraid of proclaiming a principle, a conviction, the Whig party had an "available" candidate as its sole bond of union. During the election campaign the Whig Organization continued to carefully keep up the ambiguity of Taylor's position, representing him in the North as a genuine Whig and in favour of the Wilmot Proviso, while his capacity of planter and slaveowner was calculated to dispel all suspicion and hesitation on the part of the voters in the South. Thanks to this combination and to the divisions in the Democratic party Taylor was elected, to the greater triumph of the Whig firm, and its Organization at once proceeded to distribute dividends on the orthodox method of distribution of the spoils, and we are already aware how Taylor lent himself to it.
But hardly had the victors taken their seats at the banquet when the spectre of slavery appeared, in a menacing, terrifying attitude. The slaveholders were becoming more and more aggressive in their wish to extend the territorial area of slavery; they even talked of breaking up the Union. At the same time in the northern States the revolt of men's consciences against slavery and the pretensions of its supporters was growing more formidable and causing a deeper and deeper split in the Whig ranks; but the “party” chose to ignore it, and, without formally giving way to the slaveholders, made itself powerless to withstand their encroachments. This contradictory situation, over which the party Organization threw its ægis, showed itself most conspicuously in the very State of the North which was the greatest hotbed of the anti-slavery agitation, in Massachusetts, and here too was the best field for observing how complex were the factors which lay at the root of this situation, and how and by whom they were combined to produce the effect described. Some clung to the status quo out of devotion to the Union; a resolute attitude appeared to them bound to bring about an explosion and hasten the split; forgetting the adage of propter vitam vivendi perdere causas, they thought they could not sacrifice too much to their patriotism. Others were restrained by the feeling, inherent in the race, of superstitious respect for the existing social order. The high standard of culture on which Boston prided itself contributed its quota to this ultra-conservative frame of mind by filling the atmosphere with the timorousness of intellectual refinement and its aristocratic indifference to anything capable of stirring the vulgar herd that crawls at its feet. The churches, generally timid, if not servile, in face of the powers that be, exerted the same deadening influence. The trading class, a very numerous one, which was absorbed in money-making and had considerable interests at stake in the South, regarded all these individuals with convictions who meddled with what did not concern them as tiresome busybodies, and, engrossed in its selfish pursuits, demanded peace at any price. Others, alive to the situation created by the slavery problem and sincerely devoted to the cause of freedom, thought that they could best fight the good fight by remaining in the ranks of the old party. Others, bound by old associations or by feelings of personal attachment to Whig leaders, thought they would be wanting in self-respect, be guilty of inconsistency, if they did not continue to walk obediently behind the “party,” little as was the life left in it. Finally, the ambition of those engaged in a political career and the appetites of the mercenary politicians looked on it as a means of keeping what they had got. The party Organization bound all these scruples, prejudices, timidities, weaknesses, ambitions, and cravings together by dragging them after the politicians; it became their broker, with no idea but that of earning its brokerage, of obtaining all the places for its own men without sharing with others, as would have been necessary if the party were reconstructed on a new base with fresh elements. Offering a shelter, a permanent refuge, to all the timorous minds and selfish interests, the Organization of the party saved them from the necessity or the temptation of looking things in the face, and, false to its own radical and democratic origin, became a tool of the most abject conservatism.
1 Greeley and Cleveland, A Political Text-book for 1860, p. 15.
To get rid of the divergencies which in spite of its efforts were constantly arising between the adherents of the party, who were nicknamed the “conscience Whiys,” and the others, the "commercial Whigs,” the Organization hit on the ingenious plan of "agreeing to disagree,” and of continuing to fly the Whig colours. If indifference could follow this advice, how would conscience reconcile itself to it; by what devices would it stifle the voice that cried within it? Such was the question that was continually recurring in the course of events which, far from solving it, only envenomed it. The demand of California to be admitted into the Union as a State, with exclusion of slavery, the debates on the “Compromise of 1850” which was proposed as a settlement of the controversy, the disputes on the finality of this instrument, and the mental distress caused by the duty it enjoined of restoring fugitive slaves to their masters, were so many opportunities for demonstrating over and over again the irremediable division between the southern Whigs and the anti-slavery Whigs. The national convention of 1852 tried to bring about an apparent agreement between them by a supreme quibble, selecting a colourless candidate, a "military hero," to please the North, and adopting a programme to suit the South, almost the same as that which the Democratic convention had approved a fortnight previously. This was the last straw; the southern Whigs thought it safer to vote for the Democratic candidate who was of the same timber as the platform; the opponents of the extension of slavery mustered behind an independent candidate, and there remained only a Whig minority which consented to “support the candidate while spitting upon the platform