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Old Things With New Names


September/October 1860

From The Missouri Democrat, Friday, September 21, 1860.

Old Things With New Names—Benton Democracy and Republicanism Identical.

We are all of us too apt to forget that the principles of the Republican party governed the politics of Missouri from the very beginning down to the overthrow of Benton; that they constitute no new doctrine imported from the East, but on the contrary that they are nature to the soul, and like banished heirs, are but now returning to oust the usurpers and re-establish themselves in the hearts of the people.  Democrats speak of the revolutionary designs and principles of the Republican party, but the truth is the Republican movement is simply a counter revolution against Calhounism.  Though it may detract from the poetry of the thing, we are forced to confess that the movement is in reality one to restore the old, not to inaugurate a new order of things.  This will be evident on a brief examination of the ideas represented by the Republican party.  Its territorial policy is the one distinctive feature of that party. If it have any other we acknowledge our inability to perceive it.  This policy contemplates the development of the West, and necessarily resolves itself into a series of measures adapted to that end.  Resistance to slavery extension, free homesteads for actual settlers, the construction of railroads, the establishment of mail routes, and other facilities of intercommunication, and the protection of the pioneer settlements from Indian incursions, are the outgrowths of this grand idea of Western development on which the Republican party is founded.  Now, this was the policy which Missouri sustained for thirty years, and which Benton throughout his protracted and illustrious career represented in the Federal Legislature.  He was the author of that liberal beneficent land policy which has been stigmatized as agrarian by monopolists, and which has culminated in the maxim of free lands for the landless.  The various graduation and pre-emption acts which have done so much for Missouri and the whole West, and each successive one of which approximated nearer to the principle that the public lands are the patrimony of the free labor of the country on the sole condition of settlement, are mainly the fruits of Benton’s statesmanship.  It would be superfluous to dwell on his gigantic and long continued exertions in behalf of a Pacific railroad, or his uniform support of every measure calculated to ameliorate the condition of the pioneer.  There is no room for controversy on these points.  Benton stood foremost in the advocacy of a Western policy in Congress, and was himself the great pioneer of the Republican party.  Nor was he less uncompromising in his opposition to the extension of slavery than this party is.  Indeed the system which aims at the extension of our empire in the natural direction westward, repels, by its own inherent logic, the idea of slavery extension.  There is such glaring incongruity, such sharp antagonism between the two ideas, that the adoption of either necessitates the rejection of the other.  Benton spoke thus in 1850, in the great debate on the admission of California:

But my opposition to the extension of slavery dates further back than 1844—forty years further back; and as this is a suitable time for a general declaration and a sort of general conscience delivery, I will say that my opposition to it dates from 1804, when I was a student of law in Tennessee, and studied the subject of African slavery in an American book—a Virginia book—Tucker’s edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries, with notes of reference to the Constitution and laws of the Federal Government of the United States and of the commonwealth of Virginia.  *  *  *  *  *  And there I find the largest objections to the extension of slavery—to planting it in new regions where it does not now exist—bestowing it on those who have it not.  The incurability of the evil is the greatest objection to the extension of slavery.  It is wrong for the Legislature to inflict an evil which can be cured; how much more to inflict one that is incurable, and against the will of the people who are to endure it forever!  I quarrel with no one for supposing slavery is a blessing; I deem it an evil, and would neither adopt it nor impose it on others.   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

In refusing to extend slavery into these seventy thousand square miles (New Mexico,) I act in conformity, not only to my own long established principles, but also in conformity to the long established practice of Congress.  Five times in four years did Congress refuse the prayer of Indiana for a temporary suspension of the anti-slavery clause of the ordinance of ’87.  On the second of March 1803, Mr. Randolph of Roanoke, Chairman of the committee to which the memorial praying the suspension was referred, made a report against it, which was concurred in by the House.  This report of Mr. Randolph was in 1803; the next year, March 1804, a report on the same prayer was made by a committee of which Mr. Rodney of Delaware was Chairman; it recommended a suspension of the anti-slavery clause for ten years; it was not concurred in by the House.  Two years afterwards, February, 1806, a similar report recommending suspension for ten years was made by a committee, of which Mr. Garnett of Virginia was chairman; it met the same fate—non-concurrence.  Next year, 1807, both Houses were tried.  In February of that year, a committee of the House, of which Mr. Parke was Chairman, reported in favor of the indefinite suspension of the clause; the report was not concurred in.  And, in November of that year, Mr. Franklin, of North Carolina as Chairman, a committee of the Senate made a report against the suspension, which was concurred in by the Senate, and unanimously, as it would seem, from the journal, there being no division called for.  Thus five times in four years, the respective Houses of Congress refused to admit even a temporary extension or rather re-extension of slavery into Indiana territory, which had been before the ordinance of ’87 a slave territory, holding many slaves at Vincennes.  These five refusals to suspend the ordinance of ’87 were so many confirmations of it.  All the rest of the action of Congress on the subject was to the same effect or stronger.    *     *     *

And here it does seem to us that we of the present day mistake the point of the true objection to the extension of slavery.  We work at it as it concerns the rights or interests of the inhabitants of the States, and not as it may concern the people to whom it is to be given and to whom it is to be an irrevocable gift to them and prosperity!

Thus it is seen that Benton was not only opposed to the extension of slavery, whether by squatter sovereignty or any other mode, but in favor of its restriction by Congress.  In the same speech from which we have quoted, speaking of the institution in connexion [sic] with New Mexico, he asks, “Can climate be relied upon to keep it away?  I think not.”  The dogma that the Constitution carries slavery into the Territories was almost unknown, and whol[l]y disregarded then, and the possibility of its extension over the Spanish American acquisitions, was almost universally held to be contingent on the action of Congress.  Benton would as soon have agreed to let the yellow fever or any other evil go wherever the laws of climate might carry it, as slavery.  We, therefore, re-assert that the principles which he voted upon, and the policy which he pursued during his thirty years in the Senate are the same principles which the Republican party proclaims in the Chicago platform, and the same policy with which it is identified by its action in Congress and the declaration of all its leading men.  No Benton Democrat can, therefore, consistently refuse to vote for Abraham Lincoln, much less to vote for any one of the other candidates for the Presidency.  The statute books of Missouri are enriched with joint resolutions adopted by successive General Assemblies, approving the principle represented by Lincoln and condemning squatter sovereignty, and congressional protection of slavery—the principles represented by Douglas, on one side, and Breckinridge and Bell on the other.  We overlook ideas while we suffer ourselves to be deluded by words.  The dark doctrines of Calhoun have so obscured the public mind in Missouri as well as elsewhere, that we are unable to recognize the principles which we once honored in every city and village in the State, and which Jackson and Benton maintained against the slavery extensionists and disunionists of their times.  We mistake old friends for strangers and enemies, but the identity of Republicanism with old Democracy is so easily established, that we cannot long remain in error or doubt.  We may safely add that the Republican priniciple was common to the Whig as well as the Democratic organization—to the South as well as the North—and therefore the Republican party, thus based as it is on a principle which was held by both sections of the Confederacy, and by all preceding parties, is intrinsically less sectional than any of its contemporaries, not one of which has yet obtained national recognition for its distinctive dogma.