April 4, [1849.]
My Dear Sir, I have just received your kind note of the 3rd March inviting me, in default of being able to obtain lodgings on my arrival at Washington, to share yours. It was left for me at Coleman's I suppose, & I never saw it until to day. I wish I had arrived in season to avail myself of it.
I have recd. since my return on Saturday last (31st ult) yr. 2 letters of the 14th & 28th March. I wish I could agree with you in the sentiment, “let by gones be by gones”: & in view of it I do. Let us arrange a satisfactory basis of future action & I will cordially respond to the sentiment But is it not manifest what has past must be reviewed, in some measure, in order to determine on this basis? It is clear to me that the question growing out of the division of this County ought to have been settled this winter by the repeal of the clauses effecting the division. In my judgment also the apportionment law, (so called,) should have been modified by the disjunction of counties improperly joined; & I held junction improper, if not unconstitutional, in all cases, where the counties, if separated, would be respectively entitled to a member. I am very sure that had the Representatives of the Free Democracy in the Senate and House last winter been willing to have done justice in these particulars to the old Democracy, not only might all division in our own ranks have been avoided, but the democrats, propitiated by this action, would have cheerfully aided the Free Soilers not only in the repeal of the Black laws, but in the enactment of suitable laws against kidnapping & prohibiting the use of state jails & the aid of State officers to the pursuers of fugitive slaves, & generally in carrying through our distinctive Free Soil Measures.
These consequences would have flowed naturally & inevitably from the state of feeling which always springs up among men, who find themselves in the relative positions occupied by the Free Democrats and the Cass Democrats & act justly & liberally towards each other.
A different line of conduct was resolved on, & the results of the winter session are far less complete, in my judgment, than they would otherwise have been: & we are now embarrassed by the question What shall be done with the division of Hamilton County? I do not see how we can keep this question out of the elections next fall: nor, in my judgment, is it now desirable to do so. I quite agree with you that “standing as we must in opposition to the administration necessity will compel the democrats & free soilers to act together on all matters touching the administration”: & I would add to this that there being a substantial agreement between the platform of State policy adopted by the Free Democratic State Convention last winter, & that of the old Democracy, it seems to me, that the same general harmony of action may be easily secured as to State matters. If such harmony can be secured without the sacrifice of principle, & without the sacrifice of the independent organization of the Free Democracy, the result cannot fail to be auspicious to the cause of Freedom & to its maintainers. Such harmony, resulting in a triumph of the Democrats & Free Democrats in the State election, would strengthen, infinitely, your position in the House & my position in the Senate, & give complete ascendency to our principles & measures in the Senate. The harmonious cooperation cannot be had, I apprehend, without a definition of its position by the Free Democracy on the Hamilton County question:1 &, therefore I say that it does not seem to me desirable to avoid it. In fact I should have brought the question forward in our State convention had I felt assured that the clauses would be repealed before the end of the session & therefore yielded to the suggestions of several, & waived the introduction either into the Committee or into the Convention of a resolution which I had prepared.
But if it were desirable to keep this question out of the canvass could we do it? It must be decided by the next house & the next senate. The Democrats will elect, in this county representatives for the whole county on a single ticket. The Free Democracy will vote in the same way in all probability. The Whigs will vote by Districts. The democrats will have a majority in the first eight wards of Cincinnati, which they claim to be a district. The two sets of representatives will again present themselves at Columbus claiming seats. The free soilers, in all probability, will again have the question to decide between the claimants. How can we avoid the enquiry, How will the Candidates proposed by the Free Democratic Conventions vote on the question? If we should avoid it & elect men ignorant of their views on this question, does not the experience of last winter clearly shew that its decisions will divide the Free Soilers? I think then, that the Hamilton County question must be met & settled in our primary conventions.
My views in relation to it are fixed. I thought last winter & still think that the division clauses are not warranted by the constitution but that these clauses having been regarded as binding by a large proportion though a decided minority of the voters, the election held, partly under them & partly in disregard of them, should be set aside, the clauses repealed, & the election sent back to the people. I did not, however, regard it as the absolute duty of the Legislature to set aside the election in every event. On the contrary the Democratic Claimants to be entitled, stricti juris, to their seats. & therefore when it became impossible to send the election back to the people with the clauses repealed, through the refusal of Whig Freesoilers to vote for the repeal of them, I did not hesitate to approve the determination of Mess. Morse & Townshend to admit them to their seats, as constitutionally elected. I think, of course, that the candidates of whatever party they may be, having the highest number of votes cast in the whole county, next fall, will be entitled to seats in the House. So fixed is this opinion in the minds of the Democrats, that I do not doubt that they will refuse to sit in a House from which the members from Hamilton County shall be excluded.
It seems to me, therefore, that the question of the Constitutionality & validity of the divisions — clauses, as well as the validity of the pretended enactment of the apportionment law should be fairly discussed in our conventions. I believe the result of such a discussion will be general acquiescence in the opinions, which I, in common with nearly all Liberty men, & Democratic Freesoilers & not a few Whig Free Soilers, confidently hold. If such be the result, it seems to me certain that we can achieve a most important victory next fall.
I have thus given you my views freely, I shall be glad to know they strike you. I learn that Briggs has repeated the charge of one of the Taylor Papers, here, that before the meeting of the Legislature I expressed an opinion in favor of the Constitutional of the division, & changed it afterwards to effect my purpose. This is simply false: & I should think Mr. Briggs must have known it to be so: & I am mistaken greatly if I did not express the opinion I now hold, in one or more letters to Cleveland before the meeting of the Legislature not so fully perhaps as I should now, for I had not so fully considered the subjects involved but substantially the same.
As to all personal attacks, however, I shall content myself with a simple appeal to the whole tenor of my past life & leave my vindication to Time & Public Reason. 1 enclose a statement of the popular vote on the question of annexation the southern part of Mill Creek to the city a bill for which purpose was so strenuously resisted by the Whigs in the Legislature last winter & was defeated by a tie vote in the Senate. Hunker Whiggism musters in Whig Cincinnati only 1092 votes. The Democrats & Free Soilers united with the Whig annexationists & elected also an annexation council carrying every ward but one.
With very great regard,
[Salmon P. Chase.]
* From letter-book 6, pp. 133 and 174-175.
1 See T. C. Smith Liberty and Free Soil Parties, 161.
SOURCE: Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1902, Vol. 2, p. 166-70