Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Salmon P. Chase to Benjamin F. Butler,* July 26, 1849

Cincinnati, July 26, 1849.

My Dear Sir — The Free democracy of Ohio naturally regard with a good deal of solicitude the movement now made in New York with a view to Union between the Free democracy and supporters of General Cass: and as one of their number I have thought it best to state frankly to you the light in which the matter appears to me, and to ask in return an equally frank expression of your own thoughts upon it. Union between the different sections of the Democratic party is undoubtedly much to be desired: but it must be a union upon principle. The Buffalo Convention promulgated a Platform of Democratic Doctrines & Measures which those who composed that body pledged themselves in the most solemn manner to maintain and defend, until victory should crown the efforts of the free Democracy. That platform we adopted, as the National Platform of Freedom in opposition to the sectional Platform of Slavery. I have never met a Democrat of the Free States who did not admit that every resolution adopted by the Convention embodied sound democratic opinion. The resolution least likely to meet such general approval was that in relation to the Tariff and this resolution, as you are well aware, was the least palatable to me. Still it is unquestionable that this resolution expresses quite as distinctly the doctrine of a Tariff for Revenue, in contradistinction from a tariff for Protection, as the resolutions generally adopted on that subject in Democratic Conventions. The Buffalo Platform then is the Democratic Platform on which we are pledged to stand, at least until in National Convention the Free Democracy shall see fit to modify it, in harmony with the progress of Opinion. I see that the Pennsylvanian suggests as the basis of Union in New York general forgiveness on the part of the Cass Democrats to the Barnburners for the crime of supporting Martin Van Buren, and, in consideration thereof, the abandonment on the part of the Barnburners of the Buffalo Platform. I have no fear that any terms so degrading will be acceeded to by the generous spirits with whom you & I fought last year the most important political battle which this country has ever witnessed. But I have feared that a desire for union and the hope of a speedy triumph over their ancient antagonists the Whigs might lead them to take somewhat lower grounds on the subject of slavery than was taken at Buffalo. I should regard this as a deplorable mistake, to say no worse. I do not think that the Democracy could be reunited by such a step. You would leave out of the party formed by such a compromise, the entire body of the old liberty men and nearly all the Progressive Whigs who united with us last fall mainly on the Anti Slavery grounds: but those principles and views on political questions generally are so little whiggish, in the conservative sense of that term, that we may fairly assert them to be as Democratic in the main as our own. Besides this loss of numerical force, there would be the loss, still more to be deprecated, of moral power. The surrender or modification of Anti Slavery principle for the sake of Hunker affiliation and support would provoke and justify the contemptuous sarcasm of the entire Whig press, giving it a vantage of attack, which it would be prompt to avail itself of: Under these circumstances where would the Democracy be in future struggles, in nearly every one of the Free States? Borne down, I think, by a tide of opinion setting against it as untrue to its own principles & retrograded from its own position, much better it seems to me, will it be for the Free Democracy to maintain its own organization firmly and resolutely, and trust for growth for individual accessions and the junctions of small bodies in counties and towns, than to form any union upon the ground of compromised principle. There is no occasion for haste. The campaign of 1852 will not be opened for more than a year. The Free Democracy is daily gaining strength. The people approve our views and measures. The Old hunkers cannot go into the Battle of '52, without uniting with us on our own platform, except to meet inevitable and disastrous defeat. Not many of them have any such love for the maxims of Hunkerism as will make them covet political martyrdom. They must therefore advance to our platform however reluctantly or gradually. Better wait for them where we are than in our haste to rush to their embraces, leave our principles behind us.

I was much pleased by the remarks of John Van Buren at Cleveland.1 He took the true ground “No more Slave States: No Slave Territory No encouragement But rather discouragement of Slavery by the General Government, and no support of any candidate for the Presidency who is not with us upon the platform” of course I don't give his language, but his views only. The last is the test clause. There are enough who will shout forth the three first propositions: but shrink from their practical application by the fourth, and agreement in the application must necessarily be the only secure basis of Union: for no other union will stand the trial of a nomination for the Presidency if that nomination would fall on a candidate of proslavery or doubtful principles. I hope that John Van Buren's sentiments truly reflect the opinions of the Free Democracy of New York. If they do whatever may become of the proposed union between the Free Democrats and hunkers in your state, the union of the Free Democracy of the union — far more important to the country and the cause of human freedom & Progress in general — is safe and its ultimate triumph as certain as the truth of its glorious principles. I enclose to you a communication to the Toledo Republican written, I suppose, by Mr. Hamlin the President of our Board of Public Works, which will still further shew you the views which prevail among us — I shall be glad to hear from you as soon as your leisure will permit and meanwhile remain

* From letter-book 6, pp. 113 and 194-195. Benjamin Franklin Butler, 1795-1858; Attorney General of the United States 1833-1838; Acting Secretary of War October, 1836-March, 1837. Mr. Butler had presented Van Buren's name at the Buffalo convention in 1848.

1 Probably at the Northwest Ordinance Convention, July 12. Cf. T. C.Smith Liberty and Free Soil Parties, 177.

SOURCE: Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1902, Vol. 2, p. 180-2

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