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slavery during the, perhaps exceedingly lengthy, interval between the formation of the Territory and its elevation to the rank of State. To prevent the doubt being cleared up by the person of the candidate, the national convention selected a northerner, Buchanan, who had not taken up any line in the events of the last few years, because he had spent them abroad in diplomatic employ, and was able, as a newspaper observed, to “prove an alibi in the question of the day."
But all these machinations were only half-suecessful. The measure of ambiguity was well-nigh full. Buchanan was elected, but the defection of Democrats who went over to the Republican party in the North was so considerable that the slaveholders, ill at ease, resolved to play their last card. Having lost faith in the meaningless formulas and pettifogging devices offered by the northern politicians, and being accustomed to drag these politicians at their heels by the mere threat of seceding from the party and the Union, they demanded from the federal authority a formal acknowledgment of the right to own slaves in all the Territories, with or without the consent of their inhabitants, just like any
other property. The northern politicians, who had taken their stand on the theory of “popular sovereignty” in making the earlier bargains with the slaveholders, could not stultify themselves by complying with this new demand without losing most of their supporters in the North, while the slaveholders in their passionate advocacy of their cause put it before the integrity of the party, and would not recede. The artificial union of the party's ill-assorted fragments could no longer be maintained.
The split that was brewing during the whole of Buchanan's Presidency, which was filled with struggles between the administration devoted to irreconcilable slaveholders and the northern Democrats, came to a head at the national convention of the party, which met in 1860, at Charlestown. It was in vain that the delegates from the North brought forward a wiredrawn programme of the kind which national conventions knew so well how to concoct, for this supreme effort to stave off the catastrophe was only a supreme quibble. The platform reproduced that of 1856 with its puzzling resolutions on " popular sovereignty,” by declaring that "Democratic principles are unchangeable in their nature," and added a paragraph pledging the party to abide, as regards the question of slavery in the Territories, by the decisions of the Supreme Court on questions of constitutional law. As soon as the majority of the convention had voted this platform the southern delegates withdrew, and there being no longer a quorum for nominating the candidates by the two-thirds majority prescribed by the rules, the convention had to adjourn without having accomplished its task. The dissentients met in a separate convention and adopted an out-and-out slavery programme, allowing every citizen to settle in the Territory with his property, slaves included, which the Federal Government was bound to protect in case of need. For the choice of candidates, however, three or even four new conventions were held by the various Democratic fractions, which resulted in several rival lists. The semblance of union in the party disappeared; the long struggle between the ambiguous situation kept up by the Organization and the naked truth of the slaveholders' aspirations was at an end; the Organization was shattered, without even being able to take credit for its exertions in trying to get the vexed question out of the way. For however reprehensible the cause of slavery may have been from a political, economical, and humanitarian point of view, it rested on sincere convictions, on clear and straightforward ideas; and if it deserved to succumb, it was entitled to fight just as much as it was bound to submit to opposition. And political wisdom even which condemned the principle of slavocracy, as well as morality which abhorred it, required that it should not be withdrawn from the contest, that this contest should be a frank and open one, held in the light of day.
The break-up of the old organizations now made this contest possible; freed from the trammels with which these organizations had enveloped them, the principle of liberty on the one side and that of slavocracy on the other could stand up, meet face to face, and fight it out. But the conflict could no longer be settled in a peaceful way; it was too late for that; the South had gone too far in its pretensions to allow itself to be nonsuited by a simple electoral verdict; it was systematically forced against the wall of sint ut sunt aut non sint by the temperament of its race and the dangers which appeared to threaten it no less than by the attitude of the party organizations. A feudal stock, born and bred for domination and command, proud and fearless, with a profound sense of its individuality, it could not humble itself before the Yankees without committing a moral suicide. Finding itself more and more driven into a corner by the world of freedom rising out of the “great desert of the West," and feeling the ground slipping from beneath its feet, in spite of the verbal arrangements devised by the party organization, slavocracy was obliged to be always seeking new fulerums, to be continually raising its terms. And it daily became all the more aggressive and intractable, because the resistance opposed to it was invariably made up of concessions, and it was confronted solely by parties ready to do anything to prolong their existence and following the lead of organizations which, with love of the Union always on their lips, were only venal go-betweens. When the election of Lincoln to the Presidency announced the victory of the party of principles, slavocracy thought the death-knell of its sway in the Union had sounded, and it denounced the federal compact; the North flew to arms to defend the integrity of the Union; and the slavery conflict was left to the arbitrament of blood and iron.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE CONVENTION SYSTEM (continued)
In the crisis brought on by the slavery question the old parties foundered, but the system of organization by which they made head against wind and tide survived them, during the tempest of the Civil War as well as after the re-establishment of the Union; it even took a fresh start under cover of the distress and the perils of the fratricidal struggle, and of the political, social, and economic transformation which the Union underwent on issuing from the war.
The “Republicans,” who represented the fresh current in the life of the parties, adopted the machinery of the organization in vogue, the convention and committee system, in all its fulness; it was in such common use that it commanded acceptance almost like a natural phenomenon, and indeed a party whose origins were so laborious, and which had to contend against such powerful opponents, could not but gain by adopting an organization, ready to hand, of the type sanctioned by popular habits. But in proportion as the power of the new party increased, it attracted to itself the professionals and the political parasites who try to feed on the vital substance of parties; the machinery of conventions, which they had learnt to manipulate with such skill, gave them every facility for getting in. The moral principles which lay at the root of the “Republican" party, and the lofty enthusiasm which inspired its adherents, precluded the self-seeking politicians from becoming the masters of it, but they none the less formed a considerable element in the party. While the first Republican national convention, of 1856, presented a sort of extemporized gathering, most of the members of which had no formal credentials, but who were all animated by the purest and noblest sentiments, the second national convention, of 1860, was already composed of regular delegations from the several States, but with a very large contingent of politicians and wirepullers. Throughout the proceedings of this convention, including its principal achievement, the nomination of Lincoln, wire-pulling was at least as great a factor as spontaneousness and devotion to principles. Indeed, the selection of Lincoln was determined by considerations of "availability," in accordance with the tradition of national conventions; he was preferred to the candidate who was the history of the party personified, its brain and its heart, to William Seward. The nomination of Lincoln brought tears to the eyes of many opponents of slavery, who saw in it a fresh triumph of the opportunism habitual to party organizations (“ rather success than Seward ”), but for once in a way the wire-pullers of the convention were mistaken; Lincoln turned out to be a man of courage, of force of will, and of moral grandeur such as is seldom met with in history.
But if these eminent qualities helped him to overcome the formidable rebellion of the South, he could make but little use of them against the political traditions bequeathed by the old party organizations, -against rotation and the spoils' system. It appears that at his accession Lincoln had decided to appoint Republicans and Democrats indiscriminately to offices, but this intention was never put into practice. The secession Aung most of the Democrats on the side of the enemies of the Union; the Republican party remained its chief, if not sole, prop, and the very safety of the Union seemed to demand that the Republican party should be supported at all hazards, and that public posts should be entrusted exclusively to its adherents. So the horde of officeseekers, whose principal claim was their “Republicanism,” soon won the day. To make room for them one of the most appalling hecatombs of officials known in the history of the American public service was carried out. Thus the best representatives of the Republican party were led into continuing the old courses which they condemned, and not only to ensure the immediate future of the party, but to meet personal obli
W. H. Lamon, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, Boston, 1872, p. 458.