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Missouri Politics.


September/October 1860

From The Missouri Democrat, Saturday, October 6, 1860.



ST. LOUIS, Sept. 31 [sic], 1860.

Allen P. Richardson, Esq., President of the Republican Club, Jefferson City, Mo.

DEAR SIR:  Your letter inviting me, on behalf of the Republicans of your city and county, to deliver them “an address on the political topics agitating the public mind,” has been received.  I have not, for some time, engaged actively in political affairs, and had not thought of doing so during this canvass.  Not supposing that I could be of any great service to the country in that capacity, I have been content to leave that task to others, abler and better qualified than myself, and to follow quietly the walks of my profession, where duty and inclination both lead me.

I am not unmindful, however, of the fact that great issues are at stake in the coming contest, nor am I indifferent to the result; and if I felt that private duties would permit it, and that I could materially advance the cause in which we are engaged, I would gladly accept the invitations which have been extended to me to address my fellow citizens.  Belonging to that class of politicians called conservatives, I should be glad to do what I could to advance the cause of the Republican party, which comes nearer being the representative of that sentiment, and has larger claims to be considered the Constitutional Union party than any other.  For if an adherence to, and a reverence for the doctrines of the fathers of the Republic—a recognition of the interpretation of the Constitution given by those who helped to frame it, or were cotemporaneous with the formation, and must be supposed to have understood it best—makes a party conservative and national in the just sense of those terms, then is the Republican party entitled to the appellation.

Senator Hunter, of Virginia—a distinguished leader of the Breckinridge wing of the Democracy—a mild, just, and truthful man, as all must admit, however much they may differ from him in political opinion—said in a recent speech, that when he entered into public life, a little over twenty years ago, at the commencement of Mr. Van Buren’s administration, “the Southern men themselves, with but few exceptions, admitted slavery to be a moral evil, and palliated and excused it on the plea of necessity.”  “Then,” says he, “there were few men of any party to be found in the non-slaveholding States who did not maintain both the constitutionality and expediency of the anti-slavery resolution now generally known as the Wilmot Proviso; and had any man at that day predicted that the Missouri restriction would ever be repealed, he would have been deemed a visionary and a theorist of the wildest sort.”  Thus spoke Senator Hunter on the 17th of August last; what right have we to suppose that modern politicians and statesmen have become wiser and better than when Clay, and Webster, and Benton, and Jackson, and Wright directed the public counsels, and gave tone to the political sentiment of the country.  The Constitution is the same Constitution now that it was then; there has been no new revelation from Heaven which invests the peculiar institution with a divinity that did not surround it before; and if the light of modern science has developed anything new upon the subject, I have been unable to discover it.

Since the time of which Senator Hunter speaks, the political sentiment of one section of the confederacy has undergone so complete a change, that a dissolution of the Union is threatened in case a party should be brought into power by the constitutional suffrages of the American people, advocating the doctrine that the institution is at least a political evil; that freedom is better than slavery, and that the further extension of the institution ought to be prohibited.  Then it was thought to be a local institution—now it is considered national; then it was confined to the States which recognized it by their local laws—now it extends under the protecting aegis of the constitution, wherever in the national territories that instrument has any binding force.  Then it was a moral evil, palliated and excused on the plea of necessity—now it is a great public good, essential to the existence of free institutions, and promotive of the highest forms of civilization—so much so, indeed, in the estimation of Southern men, that it has been recently decided by the Supreme Court of Mississippi, that if a master moves from the State of Mississippi to Ohio, and there liberates his slave, and dying leaves a will devising a portion of his property in Mississippi to his former slave, that by the laws and public policy of Mississippi she cannot hold the property, because Mississippi will not recognize the right of a master to liberate his slave, even when it is done according to the laws of a sister State.  This would have been thought strange doctrine in the days of John Randolph, who not only liberated his slaves, but made provision for their support.  But times change, and men change with them, as they have a perfect right to do, and to use all legal and constitutional means to extend the area of this great social and political blessing, that others may enjoy its benefits; to reopen the African slave trade, if they can approve the horrors of the middle passage; and by moral suasion, if they can, to induce the people of the North, in a fraternal spirit, to accept the great boon.  But while it is conceded that they may freely entertain and promulgate these sentiments everywhere, a like liberty should be granted to those who happen to differ with them, and who have at least an equal share in the public territory and a common interest in the ultimate destiny of the Republic.  Is it not the right of every citizen of the Union to say whether or not the young empires which are springing up in the wilderness, the children of the Republic shall be oppressed with the incubus of an evil which our fathers deplored, and which our wisest statesmen of modern times “palliated and excused on the plea of necessity?”  And yet so inexorable is the modern sentiment on the subject, that personal insult and brute force in the absence of other arguments are resorted to for the purpose of stifling the liberty of speech and of the press, in a country which has been wont to boast of these principles as the birthright of every American freeman.  Is it strange under the circumstances, that a party should have arisen in the country, and which is marching on to almost assured victory, proclaiming—not as its only principle, for the promotion of the industrial interests of the country will claim a large share of its attention, but as one of the fundamental tenets of its policy—that the institution of slavery shall never go upon another foot of national territory.  If there were no other objection to it, the exacting tyranny which it seeks every where to exercise over the public sentiment is enough to stamp it as an evil and to induce the conclusion in the mind of every right thinking liberal man that no territory now free shall ever be cursed with its footsteps.  If it is a political good it ought to go there and every where else that the Federal Government, within the range of its constitutional power can carry it; if it is a political evil it ought not to be extended; these are the issues of the contest; whose fault it is, or whether there is any fault about it at all, it is useless now to enquire.  We cannot avoid the issues if we would; all parties discuss the question whether they profess to ignore it or not, and they all test the soundness of their candidates by their opinion upon this question.  Mr. Bell, through his platform professes to have no opinion at all—though he has, as every one knows, and he is supported because of his opinion, or because of what is supposed to be his opinion.  He can be quoted either way, for he voted for the repeal of the Missouri Compromise as a distinct proposition—but upon the final passage of the Kansas Nebraska bill he voted against it, giving good reason for both votes, of course, as he is able to do.  Mr. Douglas says it is of no consequence which opinion prevails, he is perfectly indifferent so that he can be elected President.  Mr. Breckinridge is for its extension and protection, and Mr. Lincoln is just as flat-footed against it.  His election will determine the future policy of the country in regard to it, fix the status of the institution as I believe permanently—and coming into power on a settled line of policy with a large popular vote in its favor—his election will do more to quiet the unnatural and unnecessary agitation on the subject than any other political event which could happen.  To suppose that Mr. Lincoln could do anything to inflame the public mind, or to jeopard the rights of any section of the confederacy, is to suppose that he would be unmindful of the influence of personal ambition, and of the glory which would attach to an administration that should leave the country prosperous, peaceful and happy.  Of one thing we may rest assured, in case of his election, that we would have no foreign wars gotten up for the purpose of acquiring slave territory; no ignominious propositions to cheat a weak neighbor by treaty stipulations out of territory for the same purpose no exercise of the Federal authority to force the institution upon an unwilling people, as in the case of Kansas.  The country would be satisfied that the institution would remain, so far as the Federal government is concerned, just where it is and as it is; the South would see that her constitutional rights would be protected; the occupation of politicians who have lived upon the agitation of the subject would be gone and the country at peace.