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The Breckinridge and Douglas Parties—Character of the Separation.


May/June 1860

From The Missouri Democrat, Monday, June 25, 1860.

The Breckinridge and Douglas Parties—Character of the Separation.

The division of the late Democratic party into two organizations, each bitterly hostile to the other, is a remarkable event in our political history, but yet one that can occasion but little surprise. Whoever has watched the movement for the extension of slavery into the Territories, has not failed to notice the abhorrence with which the principle of non-intervention began to be regarded at the South, as soon as it was demonstrated that Kansas would enter the Union a free State. Two years ago, the project of a slave code for the Territories was broached in the columns of the Richmond Enquirer, and but a short time elapsed before the new doctrine was accepted by the leading pro-slavery journals throughout the country. It was discovered, however, that the dose was too strong for the Democracy in the free States; their gorge rose at it, and hence it was re-labelled Protection for Property, and under this name pronounced the sovereign remedy for the disease of the body politic. Members of Congress, Senators, newspapers, and the President and Vice-President, declared that protection for “slave property” was just-nay, absolutely needful; but in the meantime the author of the Kansas-Nebraska bill had learned the true state of public feeling in the Northern States, and being much more solicitous about his own safety than the logical development of National Democracy, protested against the new dogma, and stood fast by squatter sovereignty. The result is before our eyes in disruption of the Baltimore Convention, and the destruction of the National Democratic party.

The catastrophe was inevitable sooner or later. Congressional protection for slavery and squatter sovereignty are in their nature utterly irreconcilable, and as the slavery question is the dominant one of our politics at this time, it is not surprising that the strife of the two principles could not be suspended even for the sake of the spoils. But the antagonism was intensified and embittered by the personal hatred of the leaders on both sides, and thus the explosive power was all-sufficient, even with the Democratic party, to overcome the cohesive power of the public plunder. The separation consummated at Baltimore is final, for the causes of it are fundamental, radical and all-pervading. The division is in no sense local or temporary: it extends to both sections, and each State, and probably every county, in the Union. The party is cloven and rent from root to branch-not only dismembered but split in two. Here in St. Louis the nature of the feud manifests itself already. One Democratic paper flings a banner out, inscribed with the name of Stephen A. Douglas, and another Democratic paper replies with a flag bearing the name of John C. Breckinridge. The “Berthold Mansion,” but late the headquarters of the National Democratic party in St. Louis, is now a house divided against itself. Only the intervention of the police, we are told, could have prevented one faction from ejecting the other. The adherents of Douglas triumphed on Saturday night, for they succeeded in putting the name of their chief, high up on its walls, but on Sunday morning it was not visible; his opponents—we call them so rather than the adherents of Breckinridge—having managed to tear down the hated sign. These are trivial circumstances, but they illustrate the character of the civil war—of the deadly struggle of the rival factions-initiated at Baltimore.

It is not our province to hold the balance between them, especially as one is nearly as bad as the other; but if it be objected that the Seceders’ Convention was irregular, it must be also conceded that it represented what are called the Democratic States. It also represented the official head of the party-the President-and of a large majority of the Democratic Senators and Representatives in Congress; and what is of much more importance, it distinctly and unequivocally represented the policy which the party has pursued for ten years-the extension of slavery. The unity of idea—of substance—the highest test of orthodoxy—having been thus maintained by the Seceders’ Convention, their claim to be considered the true Democratic church is at least as good as that of their opponents. Which are orthodox and which heretical, will be known when we shall see another Democratic President elected, and therefore our ignorance on the point—an ignorance to which we are entirely reconciled—will probably continue a long time. The Douglas men, we are told, say that Breckinridge will show the white feather. But, if he should decline the nomination, his name would be a hissing in the ears of the South forever after; and as he is not of the stuff of which martyrs are made, we incline to think he will accept. Douglas thrice refused the crown, but, at the same time, took especial care, each time, to prevent the Convention from tendering it to another. He has clutched it at last, but he will soon find it crumbling into dust on his brow, for it is the likeness of the thing, and not the thing itself, he has on. This year, at least, the question, Douglas or anti-Douglas, will be the test question of the two factions which constituted the Democratic party, in every election that shall take place. Senator Green, beware! The ground is shaking beneath your feet; your seat, which it was said Douglas promised to another, is less secure than the throne of an Italian Bourbon. Barret, Noel, Reid, Phelps, Clarke, Norton, Henderson-we summon you all to the presence of the people, and ask you under which king? Gentlemen, where do you stand, and for whom will you vote-Douglas or Breckinridge? We beg leave to inform you that a constable cannot be elected by a Democratic constituency this year without answering that question, much less a member of Congress; so make up your minds at once, and speak out. The struggle on the part of Breckinridge men will not be for victory, but for what they believe to be principle; for the restoration to power hereafter of what they hope will be a purified, regenerated party, and hence they will accept of no divided allegiance, nor tolerate such invocations as Good Lord, Good Devil from any one soliciting their votes. Every candidate professing to be a Democrat will have to show his hand; and what the result will be we care not to predict just now, further than to say that Abe Lincoln will receive a plurality in every free State in which he does not receive a majority.