Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

considerable eminence, such as W. Cullen Bryant and David Dudley Field) strongly disapproved of the declaration of the national convention of 1814 in favour of the annexation of Texas, but none the less decided to vote for Polk, who had accepted this platform, disregarding his pro-slavery sympathies, and seeing in him only the Democrat.

The contingents arrayed under the formal conception of the party kept growing larger and larger. In the first place the tribe of office-seekers multiplied. The deeper the spoils and rotation system took root, the greater became the chances of the aspirants, and in consequence the number of people who competed increased; instead of five candidates for one place there were now ten or twenty. The inevitable disappointment of the nineteen competitors by no means discouraged them; on the contrary, it stimulated them to fresh and more vigorous efforts on behalf of the party Organization, in order to establish a stronger claim on it; everybody expected that his turn must come considering the play of the system and the stability which it had acquired. The growing eagerness of the numerous candidates for public offices made them fall into the hands of those who had the most cleverness and the fewest scruples, so that the mere title of public officer became a moral disqualification. And yet these men were the main prop of the system; they were its corner-stone.

At the same time it received new and abundant material from the foreign element introduced by the continuous immigration, which assumed enormous dimensions from and after 1831, each succeeding year flinging larger and larger masses of emigrants on American soil, mostly from Ireland and from Germany. Owing to the facilities offered by the American naturalization laws, the immigrants began to enjoy the rights of citizenship after a short period of residence. Ignorant, with no political education, these new members of the commonwealth took service at once in the party organization and blindly followed the word of command. Coming from countries the inhabitants of which were languishing in wretchedness and degradation, as in Ireland, or gasping under the vexatious régime of police-ridden and grandmotherly governments, as in Germany with its Polizei-Staat, the emigrants could not resist the seduction of the word "democrat” and joined the ranks of the Democratic Organization wholesale, bound hand and foot. Small elective offices or distributions of money and spirituous liquors kept them, especially the Irish, loyal to the party. The Whigs, exasperated at seeing the enemy's army receive these accessions every year, laid the blame on the nationality of the Democrat combatants who contributed to their defeat, and exclaimed bitterly: "Ireland has reconquered the country which England had lost!” No doubt the clannish habits peculiar to the Celtic race made the Irish immigrants ready to enlist in battalions, but it was the party Organization created on American soil which turned these habits to account; in their isolation and in their indifference to the political conflicts of the new country, it would have been difficult for the emigrants to influence its destinies without the elaborate convention system which concentrated and flung at a single stroke into the political balance of the United States all the ignorance and all the corruptibility represented by the Irish.

1 “ Time was when it was an honor to be an officer, for few but honorable men could get there. Now it is in and of itself rather a disgrace; and it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that a man must have been the mean, cowardly, cringing, servile tool of party, a mere cat's paw, in order to get into ottice; and unless we know his character from some other source, we can hardly help despising him from the fact that he is in ottice” (Letter from Ilinois, of the rear 1843, Niles, Vol. LXIV, p. 351).

2 The number of immigrants, during the decade of 1831-1840, exceeded half a million; during the following decade of 1841-1830 it reached almost a million and a half.

Complaints of the foreign infiltration were soon succeeded by acts, revolts were stirred up, an endeavour was made to form a league against the political influence of the immigrants, but these attempts came to nothing, and, far from weakening the organization of the Democratic party, which absorbed the great majority of the immigrants, only helped to increase its power. Drawing strength from religious passion and inspiration from the old Anglo-Saxon cry of "No Popery,” the political animosity aroused by the Catholic Irish took shape in a “Native American Party,” with the object of excluding from public office all those who were not born on American soil. This movement, which, after having achieved considerable success at the elections in 1844, died out to come to life again a few years later in the more formidable movement of the “Know Nothings,” I was in flagrant contradiction with the fundamental principles of American institutions, which rested on equality and on liberty of conscience, as well as utterly opposed to the economic interests of the new continent, which required settlers. The “American Party,” therefore, in spite of and owing to Whig sympathy, merely succeeded in throwing the foreign arrivals into the arms of the Organization of the Democratic party. Considering the Democrats as the only friends of the poor people and of the immigrants, the only set of men who were in favour of complete equality for all without distinction of birth and religion, the new-comers were all the more ready to follow the beck and call of the Democratic wirepullers. They blindly adopted the tickets given out at the party conventions and supplied the Organization with what was called “voting cattle.”

Finally, besides the growing horde of the professional politicians and the ductile mass of immigrants, the party Organization met with a great accession of strength, after 1840, in the slavery question, which bound to it more closely than ever the upper strata of society, of American stock, possessing a competency and culture. This problem, which had long been flickering in a sort of demi-obscurity, rose on the political horizon of the Union during the decade 1840–1850 in all its grandeur, and threw a crude and trying light on the society of the North. With the exception of a select resolute group impelled towards the question by their strong feelings and generous sympathies, nobody cared to face it; it disturbed the habits of a community engrossed in its affairs, it shocked its notions of propriety, it injured its interests, for it demanded from it self-examination and perhaps action. The best way of escaping from the horrid apparition was to shut one's eyes. But in that case some fixed support was required for moving across the open surface of political life, a sort of railing which could be followed automatically. The party Organization supplied this railing; you walked with your party straight before you, without heeding anything else, without even allowing your attention to be distracted by the scandals of the spoils system and by the prostitution of politics to the vulgar ambitions and appetites identified with the party Organization. The fear felt by the well-to-do class of losing its footing and knocking up against the slavery question, if it left the beaten track of the party Organization, was all the more paramount in men's minds because the abuses of the convention system came before them mainly in their local aspect, whereas they could not help conceiving the danger of a conflict on the subject of slavery in its general aspect as a conflagration setting the whole Union in a blaze. Hypnotized by the slavery problem, the political society of America, which, in the state of intoxication produced by Jacksonism, had got entangled in the toils of the party Organization, abandoned all attempts at extricating itself. And by way of self-deception, it hardened itself in a fanatical party loyalism, scarcely spontaneous or sincere, but sanctified by the supreme necessity of quieta non movere.

1 The adherents of this movement formed a secret order, divided into grades, whose very name, which it appears was “The Sons of Liberty," or the “ Order of the Star Spangled Banner," was not known to the members of the lower grades, and to all questions about their organization and its object they were in the habit of replying: “I don't know," "I know nothing"; this got them the popular nickname of “Know Nothings.”'

IV

This maxim, however, which contains all the philosophy of decayed political or social systems, could not prevail against the voice of conscience and the logic of events which so often comes to its aid. The traditional parties were the less able to maintain the status quo that they no longer had any real basis themselves; all that was left them was the name and style under which they traded. The differences of opinion on financial and economic questions which set the Jacksonians and their opponents by the ears and consolidated them into two rival parties of Democrats and Whigs, had long since been settled; the national bank ceased to preoccupy the Whigs themselves, who at Clay's instigation and under his leadership had fought so many desperate and fruitless battles in that field; nothing was heard either of the problem of internal improvements; finally, even the tariff question, the protectionism which the Whigs had championed with ardour, no longer drew a line of demarcation between the parties; in the votes on the subject of customs duties many Democrats and Whigs were

VOL. II --H

found on the same side. With the obliteration of these questions, therefore, which evidently did not contain the elements of permanent divisions, the parties inevitably lost their distinct individuality. It could not be restored to them by the only real question which was agitating the country, the slavery problem, for the divergencies to which it gave rise no more coincided with the division into Whigs and Democrats than did the worn-out problems of their old creed. Inside each of these parties there were opponents as well as upholders of slavery; the southerners, whether they belonged to the Whig or to the Democratic party, were generally favourable to this “domestic institution” of their section of the country, whereas the Democrats and the Whigs of the North, and especially the Democrats, were divided on the question, the majority, however, being opposed to the extension of slavery. In a word, slavery and anti-slavery men corresponded rather to the division into South and North, and in no way to that into Whigs and Democrats, and the rearrangement of the parties on a genuine basis could not have been accomplished without the break-up of the old organizations. But the latter clung desperately to life and refused to stand aside, on the specious pretext that the line of geographical separation drawn by a division into opponents and upholders of slavery would split up the Union materially. Fearing the effects, they could devise no better remedy than to make away with the cause, or at all events to ignore it. They organized a conspiracy of ambiguity and silence around the great national problem which cried for solution, and for a long series of years the used-up parties tried to hold their ground against the logic of events by means of endless stratagems, falsehoods, and recantations, which only made the political atmosphere heavier and the storm more inevitable. The Whig Organization was specially conspicuous for this attitude; it made it its vital principle. By subordinating everything to the supreme preoccupation of keeping up its cadres, of remaining a national organization, it embraced the policy of the bat which showed the birds its wings and hobnobbed with the rats.

The question was raised in a distinct and by no means revolutionary manner by the celebrated Wilmot Proviso. When President Polk, the slaveholders' man, after entangling the

« AnteriorContinuar »