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CHAPTER FIVE American Republicanism Regroups 187 “The Slumbers of the North Are O’er” James Blaine wrote that despite Northern abhorrence for the new, tougher Fugitive Slave Act, the general result of the compromise measures was that “slavery agitation had to a very large extent subsided.” John Sherman confessed that as a local Whig politician in Ohio in 1850, he had supported the compromise measures in order to restore peace between the sections of the nation, which did come. He noted that both the Whig and the Democratic Party platforms in 1852 almost identically professed support for those measures and denounced the renewal of slavery agitation in Congress. Within two years the Democratic Party broke that pledge by an act that repealed the Missouri Compromise. “No single Act of the Slave Power,” Henry Wilson wrote, “ever spread greater consternation, produced more lasting results upon the popular mind, or did so much to arouse the North.”1 To legions of people in the free states, who had previously temporized and compromised on slavery questions, the veil was torn away. The oligarchic designs of Southern leaders stood in the illuminating light of the Kansas-­ Nebraska Act. Southern leaders broke the brief peace because, after the compromise measures of 1850 were enacted, they soon realized that their plan to seize Mexican lands for slavery had backfired. From their perspective, Blaine explained, the annexation of Texas as a slave state was a gain, but the unanticipated addition of California to the free states was a grievous loss, and it was no consolation that the New Mexico and Utah Territories were open to slavery. It became evident that those territories were unlikely to hold slaves in mass. Elsewhere, north of the Missouri Compromise line, slavery was prohibited. That region north and west of Missouri, extending to California and the Oregon Territory , though vast, had been mostly unknown, unorganized, and considered PART I THE REPUBLICAN ARGUMENT 188 uninhabitable for a long time. As the real value of that region became clearer, the slaveholders foresaw what they could not see before, the steady ingress of many more free states from that region into the Union and slavery hemmed into the Southeast. Their best hope was to spread slavery into that immense territory of the Midwest, north and west of Missouri, which required the abrogation or repeal of the time-­ honored Missouri Compromise.2 Henry Wilson added a defensive reason for the repeal. The weakening of slave society relative to free society necessitated more slave territory, more concessions, more demands, and more privileges in the interests of slavery. The slave states, “though starting side by side with the free States, . . . were falling signally behind in the race of life.” Although some few in the oligarchic class may well have been very rich, powerful, and well educated, “the blasting presence of slavery” generally wasted the “material, mental, and moral” resources of society. Their rate of population growth lagged behind the free states, and the cause was slavery. A “very large per cent” of Americans who settled in the West were from the poor white class in the slaveholding states. They left the South “mainly on account of slavery and the hindrances it interposed in the way of their success in life.” In addition, George Boutwell noted that slavery generally deterred European immigrants, who disproportionately chose to settle in the free states, augmenting their populations. Having chafed under the rule of the nobility for hundreds of years, these Europeans unsurprisingly settled in free states or free territory, avoiding subjugation by the new American oligarchy. As a result, Wilson explained, “the slave States were passing, by the operation of nature’s laws, into a hopeless minority.” These circumstances drove the slaveholders to pursue means to artificially boost their position in their competition with the free states. What Northerners deemed the “aggressions” of the Southern statesmen were, from the Southerners’ perspective, acts designed to compensate for their stunted development relative to the free states. After listing the slave-­ state statesmen’s many “aggressions,” George Julian explained, “They knew that the exclusion of [slavery] from all Federal territory would . . . virtually sentence it to death. They believed, with our Republican fathers, that restriction means destruction.” But unlike the founding fathers, the later generations of Southern statesmen were not republican and sought to preserve their oligarchic regime and prevent its absorption into enveloping republicanism. They sought slavery’s perpetuity, not ultimate extinction. Julian bluntly observed, “They were simply obeying the law of self-­ preservation.”3...


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