Monday, September 19, 2016

Salmon P. Chase to Charles Sumner, December 2, 1847

Cincinnati, Dec. 2, 1847.

My Dear Sir: Several months have elapsed since I rec'd your last valued letter, and the delay of my answer has not been occasioned by an indifference to your correspondence, — far from this, — but by a consciousness that I could write nothing of particular interest to you. Within the last few months however much has occurred, of deep interest to the friends of Freedom and Progress, and it seems to be time that some beginnings should be made towards a mutual understanding in regard to the best course to be pursued during the approaching national canvass.

It was a great blow for Liberty and the Right that struck at Herkimer.1 The Conventions of both Parties in your State, — the Old Bay State to which we were wont to look for examples of devotion to Freedom,—had repudiated the only measure, which, during the last quarter of a century, has been brought forward successfully in Congress, of an anti-slavery character. The sluggish depths of Servilism — apparently without Soundings — were stirred for the first time since the triumph of Slaveholders on the Missouri Question, by a bold and decided movement for the arrest of westward progress of the Great Cause. The Wilmot Proviso, carried in the House by an overwhelming majority, failed, in the Senate, — sad to say — through the folly or worse of a Massachusetts Senator. Ten political lives of ten John Davises, spent in earnest efforts in the best direction could not compensate for this half hour's mischief.2

The Slaveholders, startled by the sudden outburst of Free Sentiment, recovered their equanimity, when Congress had adjourned without adopting the proviso. At the next session, the Sentiment in favor of the proviso had visibly lost strength. Carried in the House, it was defeated in the Senate. Returned to the House, it was lost there. Emboldened, by these events, the Senate took more decided steps. In your State Convention the Proviso was smothered. Mr. Secretary Buchanan wrote his letter. Mr. Vice President Dallas made his speech. Who will bid highest for Southern votes? was now the question. The votes of the complaisant North were thought to be safe-secured by the bonds which Party gives to despotism. The Syracuse Convention met, and the Proviso was smothered there. A ticket of Anti-Proviso men was nominated, and the faithful were called upon to stand by the Party nomination. We felt the effect of this in Ohio. The friends of the Proviso were discouraged. Few, comparatively, — except the old Soldiers in the Antislavery warfare who with Spartan valor and in Spartan numbers have carried the Liberty banners through two election conflicts, — could be found who were willing to pledge themselves, come what might, to the Cause of Freedom. In this state of things, came the clarion call for the Herkimer Convention. I thank God that that call reached the hearts of the people of the Empire State! They rallied to the Convention. They repudiated the Syracuse Servilism. They resolved that the Wilmot Proviso — the stone which the builders rejected — should be made the head of the corner. The election followed. The Serviles were overthrown, and the Country was saved. I may be greatly in error, but I know of no event in the History of Parties in this Country, at all approaching, in sublimity and moment, the Herkimer Convention, or rather the great movement of which the Convention was the most signal, visible expression. I think there can now be no doubt that the Proviso is safe in Ohio, with both parties; nor can I believe that it can be successfully opposed in Congress.

But what next? Is there not great danger that the friends of freedom may be tricked out of the fruits of their labors by dexterous management of the Presidential Canvass? Will not a great effort be made to keep both parties together upon their old platforms? Will not attempts be made to select men who will be acceptable to the Slaveholders, and in their attempts will not love of office get the ascendancy over love of country, and secure the nomination of a devotee of Slavery or at least a worse man, — a Compromiser? Great efforts are being made I am well assured to bring Mr. Clay out as the candidate of the Whigs. His friends hope to manage the Taylor movement so as to make it contribute to this result. On the other hand the Democracy seems to be looking towards Woodbury and Cass chiefly; either of whom, would, I presume, give any desired pledges to the Slaveholders. There is, indeed, a very considerable opposition to these men; but, I fancy, it is hardly powerful enough to secure for any other person the choice of the party. I have heard, of late, indeed that Woodbury's decision in the Vanzandt case has gained for him the favor of Mr. Calhoun, while General Taylor's response to the signal3 letter has shaken the confidence of the Perpetualists in him.

In this state of things what is to be done? Cannot a great Convention of all Antislavery men be held at Pittsburgh, say next May or June, and put a ticket in nomination, which will at all events receive votes enough to carry the nominees into the House, with a reasonably fair prospect that the choice may fall on them, and, at all events, with a very good prospect of their election by the people in 1852? I have a good deal of faith in a movement of this kind. In the hope of aiding it I went to the Buffalo Convention and urged a postponement of the nomination. In that I did not succeed. I feel quite confident however that the nominees of that Convention will not stand in the way of such a movement. I declined its nomination for the Vice P'y, partly that I might be at liberty, more efficiently, to promote it, though you will readily conceive other and very sufficient reasons, why I — wholly unknown, and, out of my profession, wholly inexperienced — should decline such a nomination. Such a movement shall have, of course, my best efforts. I think there are multitudes, — I may be too sanguine — yet not active who will aid it. What do you and those friends who act with you think of it?

I send you by the mail which will convey this a number of the National Press, which contains three articles which will interest you. In your last you asked as to Judge M'Lean's position. One of these articles defines it, and, I am warranted by what I have heard from the Judge, in saying it defines it correctly. Another of them is an account of a recent slave case, tried at Columbus. The report is a good one. The verdict astonished most people. The motion for new trial is continued till next term. Will you make an abstract of the case for the “Reporter”? The other article is Mr. Gary's Speech against the War. Is it not strange that a gentleman who makes this speech is a thorough Calhoun man on the Subject of Slavery?

Very truly and faithfully your friend,
[Salmon P. Chase.]

Did I ever mention my wish that some copies of the Vanzandt argument might teach some of the legal minds of England? Will you be kind enough to aid in the accomplishment of that wish?

1 The mass meeting of Anti-Slavery Democrats, October 26. See Shepard's Van Buren, 357-58.

2 Referring to the prevalent belief that Davis's speech in favor of the Proviso at the end of the session was so long that no time was left for a vote. Cf. Von Hoist, III, 287-289; Henry Wilson, Slave Power, II, 17, seriously questions whether the Proviso could in any case have passed the Senate.

3 Written from Monterey, Mexico, May 18,1847, to the editor of the Cincinnati Signal, who had urged the nomination of General Taylor, April 13,1847. Itis printed in Niles' Register, July 3,1847, p. 288.

SOURCE: Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1902, Vol. 2, p. 124-7

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