Page images

be seen, it culminated in 1856, and then dissolved as quietly as it had been born and grown.

The semi-chaotic state of the parties in 1855 prevented the election of Speaker of the House for two months; and it was not until February, 1856, that the House was organized by the election of N. P. Banks of Massachusetts.

This was a tumultuous session. The fight over Kansas-Nebraska was on. The House put a rider on the Army Appropriation Bill, prohibiting the use of the army to enforce the acts of the Kansas Legislature. The Senate struck the proviso out of the bill, and no appropriation for the army was voted until a special session in August.

Pierce's administration was overclouded by stormy and portentous scenes. The slavery question, like Banquo's ghost, would not down. The compromises, which it had been hoped would cure the abolition fever, proved to be the weakest of nostrums; or, perhaps, rather an unexpected stimulant to the disease. Stephen A. Douglas, brilliant, persistent, and aggressive, introduced in Congress his famous bill to organize the Territories of Kansas and Nebraska, with the right of the residents to decide for themselves whether or not slavery should be permitted. This measure was sneeringly dubbed “ Squatter Sovereignty." The intensity and bitterness of the prevalent feeling was illustrated by a severe personal assault upon Senator Sumner by Preston S. Brooks, a hotheaded South Carolinian, because of some sharp and severe comments Sumner had made upon Brooks's uncle, Senator Butler.

Douglas's Kansas-Nebraska Bill was a palpable departure from the Compromise of 1820, by which slavery would be excluded from both of these Territories. But he claimed that the Compromise of 1820 had been superseded by that of 1850. He stood upon the broad ground

that no arbitrary line should debar the people from forming and regulating their own domestic policy; and that the residents, whether living north or south of 36° 30', should have the right to sanction or prohibit slavery, as they might prefer. The oratorical struggle was long and fierce. The Southerners abandoned their claim to their inherent right to take their slaves into the new Territories, and united-both Whigs and Democrats-in support of Douglas's bill. In the Senate the Northern Whigs and Free-Soilers were the only opponents. But in the House just one half of the Democratic representatives (there were 88, and 44 voted for the bill and 44 against it) joined the Whigs and Free-Soilers in voting against the bill.

Douglas's bill having become a law (May 30, 1854), there ensued a sharp struggle between the conflicting elements to secure control of Kansas; Nebraska, not being adapted to slave labor, was eliminated from the contest. Slaveholders hurried into Kansas, taking their human property with them. This movement was met by the anti-slavery men of New England organizing societies to encourage and aid the emigration of men from the free States. Many of the new settlers were furnished with Sharp's rifles, as a necessary part of their equipment. The promoters of these colonizers considered rifles as important to the outfit as ploughs and seed grain. Such preparation suggested, if it did nct invite, collision. A border warfare was the almost inevitable result. Armed men from slaveholding Missouri went into the disputed territory. Lawlessness, violence, outrage, and bloodshed followed in the struggle to control the elections which were to determine the character of the local government, whether it should sanction or prohibit slavery. Sectionalism, which both of the great parties had hitherto striven to suppress, became the dominant and absorbing issue. Under its influence

the Whig party succumbed. The Democratic party, having for half a century been indoctrinated in the theory that slavery was a domestic institution, recognized by the Constitution, and beyond the power of Congressional interference, remained steadfast to these views.

But Pierce's administration could point with some pride to its achievements in diplomacy. The rich Empire of Japan, which had barred out the rest of the world from all intercourse with her, opened her doors and, by treaty, gave the merchants of this country free access to two of her ports.

In June, 1853, Martin Koszta, a native of Hungary, who had resided in the United States, and had declared his intention to become a citizen thereof, returned to Europe on business, and was seized at Smyrna, Asia Minor, in Turkish dominions, by the Austrian authorities, who claimed jurisdiction over him, and hurried on board an Austrian ship. Captain Ingraham, commanding the United States warship St. Louis, coming into port at Smyrna, learned the facts, and demanded the release of Koszta, threatening, if refused, to take him by force from the Austrian vessel on which he was imprisoned. He was thereupon released, subject to future negotiations. A diplomatic correspondence ensued between Wm. L. Marcy, Secretary of State for the United States, and the Foreign Office of the Austrian Government. Mr. Marcy's papers were an able, exhaustive, and unanswerable argument upon the subject of the status of Koszta, and settled the question that this government would protect its citizens even those who had only declared. their intention to become such-wherever they might be. This added greatly to the dignity and power of the United States, and gave considerable éclat to the Pierce administration.

The Guadalupe-Hidalgo treaty left the boundary line between Chihuahua and New Mexico in some doubt.

James Gadsden was sent as United States Minister to Mexico to adjust the issues growing out of the treaty referred to. On December 30, 1853, a convention was concluded by which there was secured to the United States all that she claimed under the former treaty; and what is now Arizona was added to the national domain, at the cost of $10,000,000.

During this administration Messrs. Buchanan, Mason, and Soulé, three American ministers to European courts, issued their "Ostend Manifesto," indicating the desire, even the determination, of this country to acquire the Island of Cuba.

This period was also marked by another filibustering expedition. Nicaragua was the invaded territory, the forces being led by a General Walker. This proved as futile and fatal as had been the previous one to Cuba under Lopez.

It will be observed that there was an adverse majority in both branches of Congress during Adams's term. Jackson had a solid support during both terms. Van Buren started in office with a majority to support him in both Senate and House, but this was reversed in the last two years of his term. Harrison had the same experience. During Polk's administration, the Democratic majority in the Senate was maintained; but was lost in the House in the second half of his term. The Whigs were in the minority in both Senate and House throughout the Taylor-Fillmore administration.

Pierce entered office with both Houses largely Democratic. During his last two years the Senate was with him, but the opposition had a majority in the House.

[blocks in formation]


campaign of 1856 was opened with a quadrangular contest and the introduction of a new element into national politics.


The strength displayed by Buchanan in the convention of 1852, as well as his eminent abilities and spotless character, made him the leading candidate this year. He entered the convention with 135 votes to 122 for Pierce (the half-vote for each was by reason of the admission of both contesting delegates from one district, giving each of a vote), 33 for Douglas, and 5 for Cass. The bulk of Buchanan's vote was from the Northern States, yet he had also a majority of those from the South. the sixteenth ballot the contest was narrowed down to Buchanan and Douglas, the former receiving 168 votes, the latter 123, and Cass 8.

Bodies of men, the most able and cool-headed, are sometimes carried off their feet by a sudden and often unaccountable impulse. Former experiences may have suggested the possibility of the introduction of a "dark horse" in the close and exciting contest; and the determination that none but one of their tried and honored

« PreviousContinue »