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It has been often asked whether or not the agitation of thirty years, closing at the opening of the Rebellion, had, on the whole, inured to the advantage of freedom or slavery. Many think, perhaps it is the general impression, that this persistent agitation at the North and slaveholding aggressions at the South had in fact brought forth their legitimate fruits, and that the popular mind, at least the men who voted for Mr. Lincoln, had reached the conviction that there was an irrepressible conflict between the two, that the Republic could not endure "half slave and half free," and that the way to prevent slavery from becoming national was to be looked for only in its complete extinction. That there was a providential connection between these antecedent agitations and aggressions and that storm of war which swept, without the popular bidding, if with the popular assent, the system of American slavery from the land, no believer in Providence can doubt; but that the people had been educated by this history of a generation to juster views of human rights and a higher purpose in regard to them, is not so clear as to challenge universal assent; and there are facts that seem to justify the doubt. Politically at least the progress seemed to be in the wrong direction, and some of the acts of the closing session of the XXXVIth Congress revealed more recklessness of conduct, a lower tone of public morality, and greater sacrifices of principle and selfrespect than had ever been reached before. "These facts," said Mr. Trimble of Ohio, in a speech during that session, "show that the public sentiment of the North in opposition to slavery has not progressed since 1820. It then manifested itself against the continuance of slavery in territory where it already had an actual existence. It now manifests itself only in opposition to the extension of slavery into free territory, where it has no existence in law or in fact. In other words, it manifests itself now in precisely the same phase that it manifested itself in the South as well as the North, at the time of the foundation of the government, when both sections concurred in excluding slavery from the great Northwestern Territory." In the same debate, on the report of the committee of thirty-three, a few days before, Mr. Stokes, a
Republican member from Tennessee, after avowing himself in favor of the Republican doctrine of the non-extension of slavery into free territory, justified himself for so doing, and fortified his position therein, by quoting largely from the action of political bodies, either conventions or legislatures, mostly Democratic, indorsing the same views. Confining himself to the years 1847-50, he quoted the resolutions and acts of Michigan, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts (Democratic convention), Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Maine. One of the resolutions of the Massachusetts Democrats was as follows: "Resolved, That we are opposed to slavery in every form and color, and in favor of freedom and free soil wherever man lives, throughout God's heritage." And such in substance and spirit, not always in words quite so terse and trenchant, were all the quotations made,-revealing a reluctant acquiescence in the continuance of slavery where existing, but a firm and inflexible determination that it should extend no farther, and that it should be allowed to pollute no other territory then free.
There can, however, be no intelligent and appreciative writing or reading of American history, nothing at least like a philosophical examination of the subject, nothing that will correctly locate the actors, assign them their true positions, and give the proper significance to their actions, which does not recognize and keep in mind three facts which have exerted a commanding if not a controlling influence.
At the South the dominating idea and purpose were slavery and its conservation. To this, as the rule, everything else was held subordinate and was made subservient. But beneath this overshadowing idea and purpose there was great diversity of sentiment, conviction, and plan. Agreed that slavery should, if possible, receive no detriment, men differed widely upon the policy best calculated to secure that result. The more extreme of the slave propagandists favored disunion, and joined in cherishing the dream of a slaveholding confederacy; while large, probably far larger, numbers believed the policy of disunion suicidal, and wisely contended that the place to labor
most effectively for it was within the Union,- a position greatly strengthened by the feeling of loyalty, hard for an American citizen to ignore or eradicate.
At the North the dominating thought was the Union and its preservation. To save the Union seemed to be regarded the first and paramount duty of all true citizenship, for which any sacrifice of feeling, and even, as Senator Cameron confessed, of principle too, seemed none too great. Indeed, this intense loyalty played an important part in the long and fearful drama, witnessed alike in the degrading concessions to which Northern men were persuaded, to preserve the Union, and in the heroic sacrifices it prompted when, concession no longer availing, they were compelled to take the sword to maintain it. Here, too, beneath this almost universal feeling of loyalty there existed great diversity of sentiment and conviction, desire and purpose. Even in the Republican ranks, and especially among the Abolitionists, there was exhibited the same loyalty to the government, though men, having been attracted thereto by various motives and different considerations, exhibited great diversity of sentiment, not only on collateral issues and subordinate topics, but on the very subject itself that had brought them together. Excepting the non-voting members of the Garrison school, constituting but a fraction of the antislavery host, whose rallying cry was "Abolition or Disunion," they all cherished veneration and love for the "dear old flag." Even those who recognized the sin of slavery and opposed it on moral grounds would not seek emancipation even through that flag's dishonor and their nation's destruction or disintegration. Though they admitted the wrongfulness of the system, and could not but condemn the compromises of the Constitution and the national complicity involved therein, they saw no other or better way than to remain in the Union, even with this complicity, obey the laws, or suffer the consequences of their disobedience, if constrained to violate them; but hoping and laboring for the day of deliverance from the horrible bondage for themselves as well as for the slave. Another fact, no less important in its bearings, and without the recognition of which there can be no appreciative estimate
of the causes that produced the results now under review, were the ambitions, aspirations, and revenges of leading men who had personal ends to gain and ulterior purposes to accomplish, and who were willing to put in peril the public interests to promote their own selfish schemes. Alexander H. Stephens, in his speech at the Georgia capital, to dissuade his fellow-citizens from joining in the secession movement, thus charged upon this class their responsibility in producing the results he so deprecated and sought to avert. "Some of our public men," he said, "have failed in their aspirations, it is true, and from that comes a great part of our troubles." Beside these there were those who, if not deserving of such severe censure, had mingled with their admitted patriotism too little firmness, too little persistence, and too little wisdom, so that if there were any alloy of ambition and self-seeking, and they were tempted, as few were not, they yielded when they should have maintained their position, and, if not openly recreant and erratic, they became inconsistent, unreliable, and far less serviceable to the cause than was hoped, and less than their first essays in their country's service gave promise of. As many military men left the field with damaged reputations, so many in the civil departments of the government suffered in the hour of trial and temptation.
The report of the committee of thirty-three contained five propositions. The first, or the joint resolution "declaratory of the opinion of Congress in regard to certain questions now agitating the country, and of measures calculated to reconcile existing differences," having been adopted on the 27th of February, 1861, the second proposition, consisting of a joint resolution to amend the Constitution of the United States, was immediately reported and "read a first and second time." As originally reported it was as follows: "No amendment of this Constitution having for its object any interference within the States with the relation between their citizens and those described in section second of the first article of the Constitution as all other persons,' shall originate with any State that does not recognize that relation within its own limits, or shall be valid without the assent of every one of the States composing
the Union." Before, however, a vote was taken, the chairman of the committee offered the following substitute, which was adopted: "No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State." On this resolution the vote stood one hundred and twenty to seventy-one. Failing to secure the necessary two-thirds, the resolution was lost. The vote, however, was reconsidered on the next day, and the joint resolution was finally adopted by a vote of one hundred and thirtythree to sixty-five, just one more than the requisite two-thirds, so vacillating, or at best uncertain, were some at least who voted for a proposition whose chief importance now lies in the testimony it bears of the state of feeling and opinion that then existed.
The limited time remaining of the session and the fact that the whole subject had been traversed in the previous and general debate, prevented a protracted discussion, though Mr. Kilgore of Indiana and Mr. Stanton of Ohio, in a few brief and terse remarks, well presented the argument of those Republicans who had been made willing to vote for that extreme measure. "Gentlemen seem to have forgotten," said the former, "the declarations made during the last three weeks by the most ultra men who are acting with the party, that they not only did not possess the power under the Constitution to interfere with slavery in the States where it existed, but that they had no disposition whatever to do so. . . . . Last evening they seemed to have forgotten those declarations, in a moment of excitement, carried away by wild fanaticism, and forgetting the condition of the country and the surroundings of the party." "The proposition," he continued, "is nothing more nor less than a constitutional declaration that Congress shall not possess the power which themselves have declared by votes they do not now possess to interfere with the institution of slavery where it now exists. . . . . If the Republicans to-day have changed their ground, and claim now the right to invade the sovereignty of the States, and interfere with the institution