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The Charleston Convention–Probability of Douglas Being the Nominee.


March/April 1860

From The Missouri Democrat, Wednesday, April 18, 1860.


Next Monday the great quadrennial Witena gemote [a political institution of Anglo-Saxon England between about 700-1100 A.D. comprised of the most important nobles which served as an advisory council to the king; from the Old English, “meeting of wise men”] of the National Democracy meets in the Capital of Niggerdom. There will be but one question before it—whether Stephen Arnold Douglas shall, or shall not be nominated. The sectional contest within the party will be fought on this alone. Platforms and resolutions of all kinds will be swallowed by the supporters of Douglas, with the same facility with which jugglers swallow, or seem to swallow knives. We have had an illustration of this in the action of the late convention in Jefferson City, which adopted an anti-Douglas platform, and elected a Douglas delegation of conventionists. We confess, the probabilities now are that Douglas will be the nominee. The defection in Missouri is a strong indication that the phalanx of the Southern States is broken by the stealthy inroads of Squatter Sovereignty. Scattering votes here and there from the other slave States, united with the almost solid votes of the Northern or Republican States, will be sufficient to elevate the squatter-sovereignty leader to the required figure. We have been very incredulous hitherto of this result, because we have accorded the slavery extensionists sincerity of purpose and greater strength. We have believed that a genuine fanaticism dwelt as a soul within their bluster and rhodementade [bragging speech, vain boasting or bluster], and that south of Mason and Dixon’s line their party was all compact. This belief has been shaken by the fast and loose play of the National Democracy of Missouri. We are forced to conclude that the region of pro-slavery fanaticism is more limited than we had supposed; that its frontier is not coincident with the dividing line between free and slave soil, but with a much lower parallel, and that the intermediate territory belongs to the spoils hunters. Douglas is the candidate of these spoilsmen. They have no other candidate. Take him away from them and all is lost. Well drilled as they are, they dissolve into a tumultuous and powerless mob the moment he is set aside. Hence the struggle in Charleston will be a desperate one. The one dead men of the South-the slavery propagandists-will strain every nerve, and exhaust every resource, to prevent his nomination, but, as we have intimated, the probabilities are that the plunder legions from the North and the frontier slave States will overwhelm them with superior numbers.

No member of the Convention will be ignorant that the success of Douglas in that assembly will be the consummation of a counter revolution in the party. It will be a deliberate renunciation and condemnation of the doctrines which have been asserted and maintained by the organization for the last ten years. It will be a retreat to the position occupied by Cass in 1848. In short it will be a repudiation of Calhounism and the Dred Scott Decision in favor of Douglasism or Squatter Sovereignty. Thus the records of the party for ten years will be openly branded as a lie by the same had which inscribed them, and the professions of the Davises, Browns, Keitts, Hammonds, Blacks, and Buchanans, impaled as shams or heresies. The notorious treachery of Douglas to every principle, and his readiness to act as the tool of the secessionists, and slavery extensionists, cannot break the force of the fall, or modify the apostacy. The change may be gratifying to a part of the non partisan public, but it seems to us that such a striking manifestation of want of principle on the part of a powerful organization should inspire the most mournful reflections. What does it prove, but that the National Democratic party is made up in the main of prætorian bands, who are oblivious to every sense, and indifferent even to the show of virtue. But the question presents itself, Can this mercenary soldiery secure the spoils by nominating Douglas? An answer in the affirmative presumes that the principle or the man is pre-eminently strong. Squatter Sovereignty tries [line illegible] Cass, it never has commanded a majority of votes in either House of Congress, and this very day it has a majority of the citizens of every State in the Union against it. Wherever the Republican part is in the ascendant, Squatter Sovereignty, as a matter of course, has been rejected. But there are only four Free States-Indiana, Illinois, California and Oregon-in which that party in not in the ascendant. Illinois, tested by the popular vote at the last general election, is opposed to Squatter Sovereignty. The two Senators from Indiana, and three fourths of the Indiana Representatives, are also opposed to it; so are the Senator and Representative from Oregon. California voted for the Lecompton ticket last Fall. What authentic data we have, warrant the conclusion that all these States are opposed to Squatter Sovereignty. The same is true of Pennsylvania and Minnesota, and of every Free State that is partially represented in either branch of Congress by National Democrats. Looking to the South, we find that every State in the section has expressly condemned the doctrine. Squatter Sovereignty, therefore, possesses not that intrinsic strength which is sufficient to achieve victory by itself. It has no impregnable position shrined in the sanctuary of the popular mind. Has its representative personal qualities sufficient to atone for its weakness, and bear himself and it, on eagle wing to the highest eminence?

To be blind to true greatness is sometimes moral and sometimes intellectual death; but after conscientious scrutiny, we must absolve ourselves from any guilt or obtuseness of faculty for not worshiping Stephen Arnold Douglas. What are his achievements, and what are his mental and moral characteristics? Commencing with the last, we assert that his warmest friends, if they know him, will not boast f his private life, for it illustrates neither the teachings of Christianity or Philosophy. Genius we grant covers even vices with a mantle of light, but we have never been able to perceive the divine effulgence when contemplating Douglas. His speeches will be searched in vain for a profound original truth, a noble feeling, a sublime image, a humorous conceit or even a winged word. His mind, however vigorous, is essentially of a low-very low order. He is not utterly destitute of imagination, without which no man, whether poet, orator, general, or mathematician can be great. Floods of common place declamation and argumentation-such as may be heard every day, in the Courts-are the produce of his intellect. He is not, with all his practice, the lord of the passions like Clay; he cannot generalize and illustrate like Webster, Seward or Sumner; he is no such artificer in logic as Calhoun, who, according to his followers, has bridged the abyss between slavery and the Constitution; he wields no lightning invective like Randolph. We may safely say that his oratory is nothing but the expression of a common place but active mind. His achievements, such as they are, confer upon him notoriety, simply. Few now deny that the abrogation of the Missouri Compromise was a terrible mistake. This was Douglas’ great work, and it convicts him of being a reckless and destructive agitator. But the worst feature in his character is his want of sincerity. He believes in nothing, except in his capacity to deceive the people. The man who cares not whether slavery is voted up or down, cannot be trusted with power. Neither would he care whether Republican institutions were voted up or down. Such neutrality or indifference as he professes, is more repulsive than the most fervid pro-slavery fanaticism. Douglas, in fact, is a mere demagogue, as he has been called a thousand times. The South Sea Islanders, it is said, make their gods in their own image, so the National Democratic party, seeing itself reflected in Douglas, makes the personage its idol.