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The Life and Public Services of Henry Wilson
Chapter XI.


JOHN C. FREMONT was nominated as the Republican candidate for president in the convention held at Philadelphia, June 17, 1836, on platform opposing the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, the extension of slavery into the free Territories, the policy of the pro-slavery administration of Mr. Pierce, and in favor of a railroad to the Pacific, and the admission of Kansas as a free State into the Union. Mr. Wilson, though not a delegate, was present at the convention, where he was most cordially received, and where he brought forward Mr. Dayton for vice-president. On return from Congress, he went into the presidential contest with his usual ardor, delivering powerful speeches before immense audiences, in which he rebuked the aggressive spirit of the South and the pusillanimity of the administration, and developed the principles of the Republican party.

In a festival of the Sons of New Hampshire, held at Natick Aug. 18, he was greeted with tremendous applause, and his senatorial course commended. The indignity cast on Massachusetts by the dastardly assault on Mr. Sumner, and the arrogance of the border ruffians, were converting rapidly her conservatives to Republicanism; and great enthusiasm for the liberal candidates was manifested, especially by the working-people.

It was generally admitted that Mr. Fremont would be elected; and mutterings were heard, that, in such event, the South would dissolve the Union. Senator Butler said, "If he should be chosen, I shall advise my legislature to go at the tap of the drum;" and Mr. Toombs of Georgia, that "the Union would be dissolved, and ought to be dissolved."

But the action of the third party in the nomination of Mr. Fillmore brought James Buchanan into the executive chair. The large vote cast, however, for the Republican candidate, revealed the strength of the party, the sentiment of the North, and abundantly repaid the exertion which the contest cost.

On entering Congress in December, Mr. Wilson introduced a bill to organize the Territory of Kansas and Nebraska on the 16th inst.; and on the 10th made a speech of masterly ability in defence of the acts and principles of his organization, which had an immense circulation through the country, and fully sustained his reputation as an orator, a statistician, and a statesman. In it he said,-

"On the 4th of November last, more than thirteen hundred thousand men, intelligent, patriotic, liberty-loving, law-abiding citizens of New England the great Central States, and of the North-west, holding with our republican fathers that all men are are created equal, and have an inalienable right to liberty; that the Constitution of the United States was ordained and established to secure that inalienable right everywhere under its exclusive authority; denying 'the authority of Congress, of a Territorial legislature, of any individual, or association of individuals, to give legal existence to slavery in any Territory of the United States while the present Constitution shall be maintained,'— pronounced through the ballot-box that 'the Constitution confers upon Congress sovereign power over the Territories of the United States; and that, in the exercise of this power, it is both the right and the duty of Congress to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism, polygamy and slavery.' Believing with Franklin, that 'slavery is an atrocious debasement of human nature;' with Adams, that 'consenting to slavery is a sacrilegious breach of trust;' with Jefferson, that 'one hour of American slavery is fraught with more misery than ages of that which we rose in rebellion to oppose;' with Madison, that 'slavery is a dreadful calamity,' -that 'imbecility is ever attendant upon a country filled with slaves;' with Monroe, that 'slavery has preyed on the vitals of the community in all the States where it has existed;' with Montesquieu, 'that even the very earth, which teems with profusion under the cultivating hand of the free-born laborer, shrinks into barrenness from the contaminating sweat of a slave,- they pronounced their purpose to be to save Kansas, now in peril, and all the Territories of the republic, for the free laboring-men of the North and the South, their children, and their children's children, forever.

"Accepting the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States as their political charts; avowing their purposes to be to maintain the Constitution, the Federal Union, and the rights of the States; proclaiming everywhere their purpose not to make war upon the South, not to interfere with the legal and constitutional rights of the people of any of the States,- they gave their votes with the profoundest conviction that they were discharging the duties sanctioned by humanity, patriotism, and religion."

He thus denied the charges of the president -

"Assuming, Mr. President, that his policy has been sanctioned by the election, the president proceeds to accuse more than thirteen hundred thousand American citizens of an attempt to organize a sectional party, and usurp the government of the country. He proceeds to arraign more than thirteen hundred thousand citizens of the free North, and to charge them with forming associations of individuals, 'who, pretending to seek only to prevent the spread of slavery into the present or future inchoate States, are really inflamed with a desire to change the domestic institutions of existing States;' with seeking 'an object which they well know to be a revolutionary one;' with entering 'a path which leads nowhere, unless it be to civil war and disunion;' with being 'perfectly aware that the only path to the accomplishment' of the change they seek 'is through burning cities and ravaged fields and slaughtered populations;' with endeavoring 'to prepare the people of the United States for civil war, by doing every thing in their power to deprive the Constitution and the laws of moral authority, and to undermine the fabric of the Union by appeals to passion and sectional prejudice, by indoctrinating its people with reciprocal hatred, and by educating them, stand face to face as enemies.'

"Sir, I deny each, every one, ay, all, of these charges. There is not the semblance of truth in them. If the serpent that stole into Eden, that beguiled our first mother, which the angels

Squat like a toad at the ear of Eve,'

had glided into the executive mansion, that serpent could not have hissed into the president's ear words more skilfully adapted to express the precise and exact opposite of truth. Sir, these accusations against as intelligent and patriotic men as as ever rallied around the standard of Freedom are untruthful and malignant, showing that the shafts hurled in the conflict through which we have just passed rankle in his bosom."

Of the issues and the real agitator he said, -

"Surely senators cannot be surprised at the discussion of questions so vast as those which grow out of the slavery of nearly four millions of men in America. American slavery, our connections with it, and our relations to it, and the obligations these connections and relations impose upon us as men, as citizens of the States and the United States, make up the overshadowing issues of the age in which we live. Philanthropists, who have sounded the depths and shoals of humanity; scholars, who have laid under contribution the domain of matter and of mind, of philosophic inquiry and historical research; statesmen, who are impressing their genius upon the institutions of their country and their age, all are now illustrating, by their genius, learning, and eloquence, the vast and complicated issues involved in the great problems we of this age in America, are working out. The transcendent magnitude of the interests involved in the existence and expansion of the system of human bondage in America is arresting the attention of the people, and stirring the country to its profoundest depths.

"The senator from Tennessee (Mr. Jones) quoted a remark of mine, to the effect that this agitation of the slavery question would never cease while the soil of the republic should be trod by the foot of a slave. That sentiment I repeat here to-day. I believe it. GOD is the great agitator. While his throne stands, agitation will go on until the foot of a slave shall not press the soil of the Eastern or Western continent."

Of the Union sentiment of his party he remarked, -

"Then we are charged in the message with having entered upon a path which has no possible outlet but disunion. When the Republican party was organized, the avowal was made that the Union must be maintained. The declaration of Mr. Webster, 'Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable;' the declaration of Andrew Jackson, 'The Union must be preserved,'— were borne throughout the canvass on all our banners. In the public press, and before the people everywhere, the doctrine was maintained that we were for the Union; and if any men, North or South, laid their hands upon it, they should die, if we had the power, traitor deaths, and leave traitor names in the history of the republic."

He thus rebuked the sneer of "bleeding Kansas":-

"Sir, the senator from Texas spoke sneeringly of 'bleeding Kansas.' Throughout the canvass, our efforts in favor of making Kansas a free State, and protecting the legal rights of the people, were sneered at as 'shrieks for Freedom' and for 'bleeding Kansas.' I remember that on the evening when the news came to New York that Pennsylvania was carried, in October, the Empire Club came out with cannon, banners, and transparencies. The Five Points, where the waves of abolition fanaticism have never reached, - the inhabitants of that locality, like the people of the Lower Egypt of the West, stood fifty to one by the Democracy; the Fire Points and the Sixth Ward were out; and upon a transparency, borne through the streets of the great commercial capital of the Western world, was the picture of three scourged black men; and on that transparency were the words, 'Bleeding Kansas.' I thought then that it was a degradation which had reached the profoundest depths of humiliation; but even that degradation has been surpassed here in the national capital. In that procession which passed along these avenues but a few evenings before we came here - a procession formed under the immediate eyes of the chiefs of the executive departments of the government, and filled with their retainers, led by government officials - was borne upon a transparency the words, 'Sumner and Kansas, - let them bleed!'

"The senator from Texas may sneer, and others may sneer, at 'bleeding Kansas;' but I tell him one thing, - that the next day at ten o'clock, after the presidential election, there was an assemblage of men, continuing through two days, in the city of Boston, from several States, and from 'bleeding Kansas,' - men, some of whom you guarded through the summer. months for treason, - assembled together to take measures to save Kansas; and I assure that senator, and others who may think this struggle for Kansas is ended with the election, that more money has been contributed since that election than during any three months of the whole controversy. Thousands of garments have been sent to clothe that suffering people. We have resolved, -and we mean to keep that resolution, - that if by any lawful effort, any personal sacrifice, Kansas can be saved to Freedom, it shall be saved in spite of your present administration, or an thing that your incoming administration can do."

Respecting freedom of speech, he spoke as follows -

"But we are charged by the president with inculcating a spirit which would lead the people of the North and South to stand face to face as enemies. Sir, I repel that charge as utterly and wholly false. There is no such feeling in the Northern States towards the people of the South. But a few months ago, the senator from Georgia (Mr. Toombs), whose views upon this question of slavery are known to be extremely ultra, went to the city of Boston, and lectured before one of the most intelligent audiences that ever assembled in that section of our country. He was received by all with that courtesy and that kindness of feeling which every Southern man who visits that section receives, and to which they bear testimony. Mr. Benton is in the North now, lecturing in favor of the Union, - 'carrying coals to Newcastle.' He is everywhere sought after, everywhere listened to, everywhere treated kindly, although he holds views in regard to slavery that not one man in ten thousand in that section. approves.

Can we utter in the South the words which the fathers of the South taught us? Could the senator from New York (Mr. Fish), whose father fought at Yorktown,, go to that field, and utter the sentiments which were upon the lips of all the great men of Virginia when Cornwallis surrendered? Could the senators from New Hampshire stand on that spot once baptized by the blood of Alexander Scammell, and there utter the sentiments of Henry, or of Jefferson, or of Mason? Could one of us go down to Mount Vernon, which slavery has converted into a sort of jungle, and there repeat the words of Washington, - 'No man desires more earnestly than I do to see slavery abolished: there is only one proper way to do it, and that is by legislative action; and for that my vote shall never be wanting'? Could we go to Monticello, could we stand by the graves of Jefferson, of Madison, of Henry, of the great men of Virginia, and utter the sublime thoughts which they uttered for the liberty of the bond- men? Could we stand by the grave of Henry Clay, and declare, as lie declared, slavery to be 'a curse,' 'a wrong,' a 'grievous wrong to the slave, that no contingency could make right'?

In the slaveholding States, free speech and a free press are known only in theory. A slaveholding, slavery-extending Democracy has established a relentless despotism. We invited you of the South to meet us in national convention to restore the government to the policy of the fathers. Mr. Underwood of Virginia did go to Philadelphia. He united with us in our declaration of principles; he united with us in the nomination of John C. Fremont: and for this offence he was banished from Virginia. He returned a few days since, and was notified, that, if he remained, he must run the risk of being dealt with by an indignant community. He has left there, and I believe is now here in the city of Washington. When the Fremont flag was raised in Norfolk, the civil authorities took it down. Mr. Stannard, a merchant of Norfolk, a native of Connecticut, went up to the ballot-box, and quietly handed in his vote for Fremont. It was handed back to him. They would not receive it. He was driven from the polls, and compelled to hide himself for days, until he could find an opportunity to escape from the State to preserve his life."

Of the despotism of slavery he said, -

"Sir, I have said that you have no freedom of speech at the South. Senators have denounced us as sectional because we have no votes in the South. That reminds me of the Dutch judge in old democratic Berks, who kicked the defendant out of doors, locked the door, and then entered a judgment for default. (Laughter.)' Your native sons stand on electoral tickets, or vote our principles, at the peril of life. Then, when you are able with your iron despotism to crush out all there who would go with us, you turn round and tell us we are getting up a sectional party. I assure you, there are tens of thousands of men in the South whose sympathies are with us; but they have no opportunity so to vote. In the city of St. Louis, nearly three thousand Germans, to show their devotion to liberty, went to the ballot-boxes, when they could get up a State ticket for Fremont, and voted for Millard Fillmore, the Know-Nothing candidate, with the word 'Protest' printed on their ballots, - an act which illustrates your despotism, and shows that these men, who were true to liberty in the Old World, will not be false to their cherished convictions in the New.

"Even here in the national capitol, that vacant seat (pointing to Mr. Sumner's chair) is an evidence that freedom of speech is not always tolerated, - not always- safe."

To the charge of fanaticism he replied, -

"If you believe that the people are fanatics, or that their leaders deceive them, remember one thing, - that, in 1850, there were in the United States nearly eight hundred thousand free persons above twenty years of age who could not read or write. Only ninety-four thousand out of this eight hundred thousand happen to live in the States which Fremont has carried. Remember another thing, - that the State of Massachusetts, which you consider so ultra, - a people so easily deluded, - prints within a few thousand, and circulates, more newspapers within the State than all the fifteen Southern States of the Union. Remember, they have more volumes in their public libraries than all the slave States. Remember, they give away more money to the Bible and Missionary and other benevolent societies, every year, than the entire slaveholding States; and they have done so during the last quarter of a century.

"I tell you, sir, that the people are ahead of us; and that is what you fear. You say that they are deceived by us; and then you turn round and declare that you cannot rely on our disclaimers, because the people will pass beyond the direction and control of political leaders. The people understand this question, sir: they know their responsibilities, their powers, and their duties."

He closed by these brave words: -

"I give you notice to-day, gentlemen, what we intend to do. If the incoming administration sends into this body the nomination of a single man who ever threatened the dissolution of the Union, we intend to camp on this floor, and to resist his confirmation to the bitter end. I give you notice now, that we shall resist the coming into power of all that class of men, as enemies of the Constitution and the Union.

"We go farther. We mean to hold the incoming administration responsible if it gives confidence or patronage to your 'Richmond Enquirers' and 'Examiners,' your 'Charleston Mercuries' and 'Standards,' your 'New Orleans Deltas' and your 'South-side Democrats,' or any Democratic journal in the United States which threatened the dissolution of the Union in the event of our success. We intend here in our places to defend that Union which makes us one people against the men of your party who have threatened to subvert and destroy it. We intend to go a little farther. Your slave propagandist journals have denounced the independent laboring-men of the North as 'greasy mechanics,' 'filthy operatives,' 'small-fisted farmers,' 'moon-struck theorists.' We mean to hold you responsible if you bestow your confidence and patronage upon journals which maintain that 'the principle of slavery is itself right, and does not depend on difference of complexion.'

"Senators have told us they want peace; they want repose. Well, sir, I want peace; I want repose. The State I represent wants peace; wants repose. Tens of millions of our property are scattered broadcast over the Southern States. The business-men, the merchants, the manufacturers, of my State want peace as much as you can want it. You can have it. But you cannot have it if you want to extend slavery over the free Territories. You cannot have it if you continue your efforts to bring Kansas here a slave State. If you want peace, abandon your policy of slavery extension. Cease all efforts to control the political destinies of the country through the expansion of slavery as an element of political power. Plant yourselves upon your reserved constitutional rights, and we will aid you in the vindication of those rights. Turn your attention from the forbidden fruits of Cuban, Central-American, or Mexican acquisitions, to your own dilapidated fields, where the revegetating forests are springing up, and where, in the language of Gov. Wise, you have the owners skinning the negroes, the negroes skinning the land, until all grow poor together.' Erase from your statute-books those cruel laws which shock the sensibilities of mankind. Place there humane and beneficent legislation, which shall protect the relations of husband and wife, parent and child; which shall open darkened minds to the elevating influence of Christian culture. You will then have the generous sympathies, the sincere prayers, of men who reverently look to Him whose hand guides the destinies of the world. You will have the best wishes of the friends of liberty all over the globe. Humanity and Christianity will sanction and bless your efforts to hasten on that day, though it may be distant, when freedom shall be the inalienable birthright of every man who treads the soil of the North-American continent."

Mr. Wilson visited Canada for the first time in the autumn, and was present at the banquet in Montreal at the opening of the Grand-Trunk Railroad, where to the third toast, which was to the chief magistrate of the United States, he made this admirable response: -

"Mr. MAYOR AND FELLOW-CITIZENS, - I thank you, in behalf of the citizens of the United States who have come to join you on this great festival, for the sentiment you have given for the chief magistrate of the United States. (Cheers.) I am sure, sir, that I speak the sentiments of every American here to-day, when I say that we not only thank you for proposing a sentiment to the chief magistrate of our country, but I thank you for saying that you trust that the people of the United States and the people of British America will always meet as friends. (Cheers.) Difficulties have arisen, have frequently arisen, between Great Britain and the United States. These difficulties, sir, between our governments, we all trust, are in process of settlement, so that peace, perpetual peace, may be preserved between Great Britain and America. (Great applause.) Let me say here today,—what I know every son of New England, New York, and, in an especial manner, the sons of the mighty West, will sustain me in saying, - that we witness the development and the prosperity of the British Colonies in North America (cheers) not only without jealousy, but we witness them with pride and admiration. (Cheers.) Go on, brethren; improve and develop all the mighty resources of British America. Your prosperity is our prosperity. (Applause.) We are bound together by a thousand associations of blood and of kindred. We are connected together by those mighty improvements which we are met here to-day to commemorate. We are bound together by a treaty of reciprocity, mutually beneficial to you and to us. We are beginning to understand each other, to value each other, to be proud of each other's prosperity and success; and may God grant that the Sons of British America and the sons of the North-American republic may never meet again on the banks of the St. Lawrence, on river, on lake, on land, in any other way than that in which we are all met today, - to grasp each other's hands in friendship, and to aid, to encourage each other in the development of the resources of the North-American continent! (Great applause.) Sir, the governor - general has alluded to Lord Durham, - a statesman in whose premature grave were buried many of the high hopes of the reformers of England. He uttered a sentiment that every statesman, whether in the service of England or America, should respond to; and that was this, — 'that he never saw an hour pass over recognized and unreformed abuses without profound regret.' (Cheers.) Gentlemen, I give you in conclusion this sentiment: 'Prosperity to the people of the Canadas, and success to their government.'" (Great applause.)

Mr. Wilson's Congressional career in 1857, though characterized by no striking effort in debate, was nevertheless marked by incessant and effective labor. We find him, in addition to his arduous duties in the Military Committee, always abreast of the questions of the times, and vigorously advocating liberal and progressive measures. This may be seen from a brief record of his doings in the Senate for the month of February, here presented: On the 4th inst. he spoke in favor of disposing of the alternate sections of land along the railroads aided by the government, not to speculators, but to actual settlers on the lines. Twenty-one millions of acres had been granted to the States for railroad-purposes: by selling to the cultivators of the soil, a population would arise to support the roads, and make them really serviceable to the country. On the 10th he presented a resolution against the repeal of the fishing bounty; on the 12th, a resolution to inquire into the cause of the failure of the mails at Washington, this having occurred thirty-eight times within seventy-two days; on the 17th inst. he spoke in favor of increasing the pay of officers of a rank lower than lieutenant-colonels in the army; on the 18th he advocated the introduction of a bust of Chief Justice William Cushing, as an offset to that of Mr. Rutledge; on the 21st he made an argument in favor of admitting Minnesota, "clothed," as he said, "in the white robes of Freedom," into the Union; on the 26th he declared himself in favor of a sub-marine telegraph; on the 27th he spoke in favor of a telegraphic line between the Atlantic and Pacific States; and on the 28th he introduced a bill for the erection of a court-house in the city of Boston. Such were some of his labors for the month; and, by a reference to "The Congressional Globe," it will be seen that the interests of the Commonwealth he represented did not suffer in his hands.

On the Lecompton Constitution, and the admission of Kansas into the Union under it, Mr. Wilson declared his sentiments in forcible language on the 3d and 4th of February, 1858. Replying to Mr. Brown, he asks, -

"Why is this act to be consummated, when we know, that, on 4th of January, twelve thousand men of that Territory voted against this constitution ; and that there were only six thousand votes cast for it on 21st of December, of which three or four thousand were unquestionably fraudulent?

"There is only one power on this continent which could thus control, direct, and guide men: and that is that gigantic slave power which holds this administration in the hollow of its hand; which guides and directs the Democratic party; and which has only to stamp its foot, and the men who wield the government of this country tremble, submit, and bow to its will. Senators talk about the dangers of the country. Great God! what are our dangers? The danger is that there is such a power —a local, sectional power that can control this government, can ride over justice, ride over a wronged people, consummate glaring and outrageous frauds, and trample down the will of a brave and free people. That is the danger. The time has come when the freemen of this country, looking to liberty, to popular rights, to justice to all sections of the country, should overthrow this power, and trample it under their feet forever. The time has come when the people should rise in the majesty of conscious power, and hurl from office and from places of influence the men who thus bow to this tyranny.

Senators are anxious about the Union. The senator from Delaware (Mr. Bayard) to-day thought it was in peril. Well, sir, I am not alarmed about it. I am in the Union; my State is in the Union and we intend to stay in it. If anybody wants to go out, Mexico and Central America, and the valley of the Amazon, are all open to emigration, let them start. I shall not hold them back, nor mourn over their departure. But all this continent now in the Union is American soil, and a part of my country; and my vote and my influence, now and hereafter, will be given to keep it a part of my country."

The following letter from the late Hon. George T. Bigelow indicates the spirit with which liberty-loving men responded to the sentiments which the Massachusetts senator expressed -

BOSTON, Feb. 22, 1858.

DEAR SIR, - I had read a report of your remarks in the Senate in reply to Messrs. Brown and Green before I received your pamphlet edition of them. I trust that you will not think it intrusive in me to say that I was highly gratified by the matter, as well as by the tone and temper which pervade them. They are manly and dignified; sufficiently bold and resolute, without being vituperative or personal; maintaining the truth fearlessly, and resisting the disposition of the Southern men to overawe and browbeat in the right spirit. The South will soon learn that their bastard chivalry, is worth but little when opposed to such courageous assaults.

I suppose that there is but little, if any, hope of successfully resisting the admission of Kansas under the Lecompton Constitution. There is no scheme of fraud and tolerance which the South will not adopt to secure their ends, and which the Northern Democracy will not subserviently support. I cannot doubt, however, that the flagrant wrong and injustice of the whole proceeding will arouse the spirit of the North and North-west to a united effort against the slavery propagandism of the party in power. The great danger is that the enthusiasm of the people of the free States will expend itself in electing a Republican majority in the next Congress, and will then die away, so that we shall lose the presidential election of 1860. However this may be, the only way is to fight on in the confident hope that the day of triumph will surely come.

I am, with great respect,
Your friend and servant,

G. T. Bigelow.

Another letter, dated Feb. 22, says in relation to this speech, -

"It adds to your laurels; and I congratulate you on your successful encounter with our enemies in the Senate. Your whole course since you have been a member of the Senate has been highly honorable to you, and gratifying to the great body of your constituents. You have manifested not only the most distinguished ability, but a fearlessness that has raised you amazingly in the good opinion of Northern men. I hear but one sentiment expressed in regard to you; and that is friendly and respectful. You never held so elevated a position as you do at the present time. We all feel proud that we have at least one representative who is both able and willing to take a defiant stand against the tyranny which is making our country worthless to us and a mockery to the world.

"Yours very truly,

"G. R. RusselI."

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