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Review of the Controversy.


November-December 1860

From The Missouri Democrat, Monday, November 5, 1860.

Review of the Controversy—Extension or Non-Extension of Slavery the Question to be Decided.

On the eve of the greatest contest since the formation of the Union, it is the duty of every citizen to bring before the tribunal of his judgment a true conception, if possible, of the issues involved. The Republican party rose from the grave of the Missouri Compromise. It had neither name nor existence until that compact was abrogated. The fountain of sectional feeling had been sealed anew by the comprises of 1850. This epoch was one of profound repose. There was a stillness, as of midnight, when the murder was committed. Suddenly, within their conclaves in Washington City, a cabal of politicians conspired to undo the work which patriots had accomplished more than thirty years before. The result was necessarily the reproduction of the same sectional antagonism which the compromise, now so recklessly swept away, had reconciled. The sealed fountain was broken up and the bitter waters deluged the land. But subsequent events showed that the wanton and desperate act was but the initial measure of a vast, deep-laid scheme to force slavery on free territory. The Border Ruffian invasion of Kansas, with its black laws and murderous atrocities, followed. In the meantime the authorities of the Federal Government played a part not unlike that which the Turkish authorities played in Syria during the recent massacres in that country. The Dred Scott decision was the next link in the chain. It was succeeded by the Lecompton Convention, and the crown and climax of all was the Lecompton Constitution. What began in violence and terror, ended in fraud and deceit, and the despicable contrivances of vulpine cunning.

Wrestling with these successive iniquities, the Republican party gained strength from every fresh encounter. It became not only the representative of a great idea, but the agent of the moral sense of the people. This, its other office, was literally forced upon it by the crimes of the pro-slavery party, which party was now covered with the leprosy of corruption. But while the infamy of the latter thus deepened, and its strength rotted away, its pretensions grew to more ponderous dimensions. Like Spain in the nadir of her decadence, its arrogance was in proportion to its feebleness. The transformation of slavery from a local into a national institution, with the privilege to plant itself wherever it wills, or the secession of the cotton States, is the ultimatum now presented; and it is this ultimatum which will be rejected or accepted to-morrow by the American people.

Before proceeding further, let us say that the alternative of secession is a mere menace, which cannot be carried out. The secessionists are few and weak. Besides they are in the wrong; and this interposes a barrier between them and the masses of the Southern people. Some potent cause is necessary to overcome the vie inertia of society—some imminent danger, or some grievance hard to be borne. Men do not run into revolution from mere wantonness, or to resent an act which, though disagreeable, is even in their own eyes formally legal. Furthermore, it is apparent to the most obtuse that the Unionists of the South will be able to give a good account of the Disunionists of the South, if rebellion dare to raise its head there.

The issues involved in the contest are, first, the destiny of the States—as yet without form and void—which shall arise in the West; and next, the ascendancy of a crooked, dark policy, or of a plain, upright policy in the councils of the Federal Government. The first embraces the removal of every obstacle that intervenes between the wild land and landless labor; the development of the interior by the establishment of post routes, wagon roads and railroads, and the improvement of lake and river navigation. The latter embraces a foreign policy which shall be governed by the principles of international law, and not by the ethics of piracy; which shall convert the Spanish-American republics, alienated by Democratic greed and unscrupulousness, into so many friendly powers, and which shall substitute in the management of our internal affairs, economy, integrity, and the encouragement of industrial interests, for profligacy, corruption, and dishonesty. The struggle is not merely for the ascendancy of free labor in the new States, but also for the ascendancy of moral principles in the administration of the Government.

Against this proposed restoration of the old modes and the old principles, the three anti-Republican factions are banded in a communion of hatred. They have neither principle, nor candidate, nor common symbol of any kind. Each had destroyed its identity, for the purpose of resisting the regenerating movement of which the Republican organization is the visible sign. Yet no one can fail to perceive that their triumph would ensure the extension of slavery. Every vote given for Douglas or Bell, is, in reality, a vote for Breckinridge. The utmost the fused factions can hope for is to carry the election into the House, where Bell has but one State, and Douglas but another, and where the event would be either the election of Breckinridge or the transfer of the contest to the Senate, where Lane would be elected. Everett’s name would never come before that body, for only the two highest on the list can go there, and these would undoubtedly, be Hamlin and Lane. Is it not, therefore, apparent that every vote cast to-morrow will be a vote for Lincoln or Breckinridge; for Hamlin or Lane? Is it not equally apparent that the defeat of Lincoln would be a continuation of the Buchanan regime, and the reduction of the Territories to slavery? But a still worse effect would be the distrust in the principle of self-government—in the supremacy of the ballot box—which would seize the public mind as soon as it was realized that Southern terrorism had carried the day. Every leap year thenceforth would be a year of panic. Threats of secession and revolt would constitute the electioneering repertoire of the cotton States, until their every caprice was complied with. Agitation would become chronic or the free States, partly bought and partly bullied, would sink into political lethargy, leaving the task of government to the cotton lords. In assessing the criminality of this disunion panic, it is difficult to say whether the Bell men and the Douglas men are not entitled to the same measure as the Breckinridge men. They are all parties to the conspiracy, but the two first are shamming, and if secession should be attempted, they would be sure to betray the Breckinridge faction.

But the American people are loyal to the great principles of Republican Democracy; and in deciding the destinies of their country to-morrow, they will choose freedom and not slavery, honesty and not intrigue. The phantasm of slavery will vanish before the strong exorcism of the ballot box. The nation will enter on a new career, not of material prosperity only, but of nobleness and great industrial achievements. Restored to its true orbit, its progress will be swifter and smoother; and the year of Lincoln’s Administration will be pointed to in our future history as the opening of a glorious era.