Saturday, August 5, 2017

Salmon P. Chase to Charles Sumner, September 19, 1849

Philadelphia, Sep. 19, 1849.

My Dear Sumner, I thank you heartily for your prompt compliance with my request for information of the doings of your Convention. I have read its proceedings with great interest, and the Address with particular attention. The proceedings are worthy of the Free Democracy of old Massachusetts — earnest, poetical, principled — and tending, I hope, to great results. Would to God that you could carry the State this Fall. What a triumph it would be and what an impetus it would give to our cause in every quarter? Can it not be done? Can you not, all of you, buckle on your armor, and rousing the people by an eloquence suited to the crisis, achieve a victory for Freedom, which will prove that the world is not wholly given over to reaction, — that will compensate, in some measure, for our defeats in Vermont and Hungary?  One great difficulty we labor under is that our opponents can so palpably demonstrate our numerical weakness by pointing to the fact that we have, as yet, carried no State. This is a great discouragement to some who want to live somewhat by sight as well as by faith.

Of the Address I need only say that I think it altogether worthy of you. Not as I regard it as being so polished and perfect a composition as some which have emanated from your pen; but as replete with just sentiment, correct views and sound principles. It is, as you say, a Liberty Address, and urges the same topics which I have several times, in such papers, discussed. I cannot express how earnestly I desire that you may gather under the banner you unfurl a majority of the voters. For my own part, I mean to abide on the platform, which the Address presents, whether with few or many.

The union of the Hunkers and Barnburners of New York struck me unpleasantly as it did you. It seemed to me that our friends had gone too far, in their anxiety to secure united support of a single ticket. It seemed to me that if they had taken your Massachusetts ground, and contented themselves with proving their Democracy, not by pedigree but by works, and had appealed to the People to support them, independently of old party ties, they would have done better. When the Hunkers refused to adopt the platform, I would say, that the time for union had passed. Although, however, these views seem to me most reasonable, I do not at all distrust the sincere devotion to our principles and cause of our friends who thought and acted differently. They supposed that the entire body of the democracy, with insignificant exceptions, could be brought by the Union upon our platform, and made to take ground with us against the support of national candidates not openly and avowedly committed to our principles. If this expectation of theirs should be proved to have been warranted, by events, their movement will be sanctioned by its results. I hope it may be. Meanwhile it behooves all friends of Freedom to heed well what they are doing, and to take care that they do not become so entangled in party meshes, that they cannot withdraw themselves, in a powerful and united body, whenever (if ever) the Party shall prove false to Freedom.

For me, I think I may say, that you may depend on me. I have no senatorial or legislative experience and some qualities which will be sadly in my way; but I will be faithful to the Free Soil Cause, and, according to the measure of my discretion and ability, will labor to advance it. I shall not forget your admonition to remember what is expected of me; and though, I cannot hope, if there be such expectation as your words imply, to satisfy it, I do hope to be able (to) shew that I am not undeserving of the confidence of Freedom's Friends.

Poussin1 came to Phila. (en route for Washington) by the same train of cars which brought me. I had some conversation with him. He appeared a good deal excited by the doings and sayings at Washington. He said that he did not know what were the grounds of offence taken by our Government — that if he had expressed himself incautiously or offensively he was quite willing to modify or retract, as propriety might require; and he seemed especially sensitive on the score that being himself an American, and ardently devoted to American Institutions, he should be thought capable of wilfully doing or saying anything injurious to the American People.

I see by this morning's papers (most of the above was written yesterday) that the Republic gives a full account of the matter. The expressions of Poussin were certainly indiscreet, but hardly justify, under all the circumstances, his abrupt dismissal. I suppose, however, it cannot be recalled. What influence will they have upon the reception of Rives? And how far has this course been adopted in view of the probable reception of Rives?

I expect to leave Phila. for Washington tomorrow — Saturday morning — and to remain there until Wednesday evening. Write me if you have time. Tell me what John Van Buren and Butler say to you. Glad that Palfrey withdraws withdrawal.

Affectionately and faithfully yours,
[Salmon P. Chase.]

Can't help thinking though that you could fill his place and be elected if he did not.

1 Guillaume Tell Lavallée Poussin was the minister of the second French Republic, 1848-49, to the United States. He was dismissed Sept. 15, 1849, for discourtesy, the French Government having declined to recall him. See the art. in the N. Y. Courier & Enquirer for Sept. 19, reprinted in the N. Y. Tribune Sept. 20, 1849. The incident created considerable excitement and caused a fall in stocks owing to the apprehensions in regard to its consequences.

SOURCE: Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1902, Vol. 2, p. 185-8

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