Monday, May 14, 2018

Congressman Robert Toombs to Governor George W. Crawford, February 16, 1846

Washington, D. C, Ho. or Reps., Feb. 6, 1846.

Dear Crawford, I received your letter of the 31st ult. last night. Lest you may not receive the speech I first sent, I send you another by this mail. The authorities on the Galphin claim to [which] you refer I will consult in a few days. I think from your statement of the case it is “in pint.” This is a very bad body before which to argue such a question, but if it can be got through the Senate and is backed by a strong report in this House I think it could be got through without much difficulty. A majority report favourable would certainly settle it, but the committees of this House are very badly constituted for any just purpose. They [are] nearly as rabid against all sorts of claims as the Locos in the Georgia legislature. They have promised a good deal in the way of reform, and instead of honestly retrenching actual abuses, which they have neither the honesty or the firmness to do, they desire to retrench by defeating all sort of claims, honest as well as dishonest, against the government.

I suppose you have the defective receipts sent you by Mr. Stephens. You will perceive from the nature of the objections that it [is] impossible ever to settle with the government without legislation, and I am decidedly of opinion that a gross appropriation for a full settlement will be the very best we can do, if we can carry it. If you can get the Secretary of War to recommend or acquiesce in it, it can I think be carried, and I very much wish you could bring him to that point. Without it I see little or no chance of ever getting any considerable portion of the remaining claim, if indeed we can get anything more.

I am glad to hear from you that you will not be obliged “to stop” during your administration. I had supposed your only resource against such a calamity would be in the act of 1843 authorizing you to raise money to pay off that debt by new 6 per cents. You will probably recollect at that time I favoured that policy in any event. I don't care to pay that debt. I would much prefer letting it remain the 25 or 30 years, when I doubt not its interest and much of the principal can be paid from the road,1 and the experience of the last five years is very conclusive that all railroads judiciously located will pay, and I think ours will be one of the very best in the South. I perceive from the newspapers that you are adopting the policy of raising the wind by means of the 6 per cents. If they are pressed gradually on the market they will rise, unless we have war.

I do not think a war in the least probable. Mr. Polk never dreamed of any other war than a war upon the Whigs. He is playing a low grog-shop politician's trick, nothing more. He would be as much surprised and astonished and frightened at getting into war with England as if the Devil were to rise up before him at his bidding. The Democratic Party had declared our title to “all Oregon” “clear and unquestionable.” Mr. Polk adopted and asserted the same thing in his inaugural speech. Both moves were political blunders. It became necessary to retrieve them. He was bound to offer 49°. He supposed as the British Gov[ernment] had refused that proposition when made with more advantageous additions than were embraced in his proposition that that Gov[ernment] would do so again. It was an affectation of moderation when he knew that it was the best we could ever get. He withdraws the proposition and begins his game of “bluster,” with the full conviction that the Whig Party, true to their fatality to blunders, would raise the shout of peace, peace, and which would make him, the vilest poltroon that ever disgraced our Government, the head of the war party. His party were already committed to him to 54° 40', they would stand by him, and he expected finally to be forced by the British Whigs and Southern Calhoun men to compromise; but he greatly hoped that he would not be forced even to this alternative until he had “all Oregon” on every Democratic banner in the Union for his “second heat.” I have not the least doubt but that he fully calculated that the “notice” would be rejected by a combination between the Whigs and Calhoun men of this Congress, and then he could have kept it open for a new presidential campaign. That these were the objects of the Administration I have not the least doubt. Hence I urged the Whigs to stand up and give him the power to give the notice whenever he thought proper, which would have “blocked” him. But they would save themselves and their party for the same reason that the lad did in scripture, “because” their friends “had much goods.” Wall street howled, old Gales was frightened into fits at the possibility of war, and the Whig press throughout the country screamed in piteous accents peace, peace, with the vain foolish hope of gaining popular confidence by their very fears, and like the magnetic needle, they expected to tremble into peace. Nothing could be more absurd. If we have peace they are disarmed, and whatever may be the terms of accommodation they will be stopped from uttering a word of complaint. If war comes, no people were ever foolish enough to trust its conduct to a “peace party,” for very good sufficient reasons. If the country should be beaten and dishonored they will be called upon to patch up a dishonorable peace, but in no other event.

There is another view of this question, purely sectional, which our people don't seem to understand. Some of our Southern papers seem to think we are very foolish to risk a war to secure anti-slave power. They look only at the surface of things. If we had control of the government and could control this question, I have not the least doubt that Calhoun is right in saying that his “masterly inactivity” policy is the only one which ever could acquire “all Oregon”. It can never be done in any other way except to give the notice and stand still, which would effect the same object rightfully; but notice and action never will secure all Oregon. Mark the prediction. Notice will force an early settlement. That settlement will be upon or near the basis of 49°, and therefore a loss of half the country. Now one of the strongest private reasons which governs me is that I don't [care] a fig about any of Oregon, and would gladly get ridd of the controversy by giving it all to anybody else but the British if I could with honor. The country is too large now, and I don't want a foot of Oregon or an acre of any other country, especially without “niggers.” These are some of my reasons for my course which don't appear in print.

I deeply regret that the Whigs, especially of the Senate, have given and will give a different direction to the question. If Polk wants war he can make it in spite of any let or hindrance from them. If he does not want [it], he will not need their aid to keep out of it; but they “gabble” and “chatter” about the peace of the country and the horrors of war as if they had any real power over either question. . . .

P. S. — We are still on Oregon. The question will be taken on Monday. “Notice” will pass this time, in what form is doubtful, but I think unqualified. Negotiations are undoubtedly renewed and are now pending on the subject.

1 The Western & Atlantic Railroad.

SOURCE: Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, Editor, The Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1911, Volume 2: The Correspondence of Robert Toombs, Alexander H. Stephens, and Howell Cobb, p. 72-5

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