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Intensifying the Sectional Conflict: William Seward versus James Hammond in the Lecompton Debate of 1858

From: Civil War History
Volume 31, Number 3, September 1985
pp. 197-221 | 10.1353/cwh.1985.0038

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Mark J. Stegmaier  

Mark J. Stegmaier is associate professor of history at Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma. In collaboration with David H. Miller, he has just completed a biography of James F. Milligan, a member of Fremont's fifth expedition. His current research concerns various aspects of the 1850 crisis.


1. Among works dealing with the Kansas issue, see especially James A. Rawley, Race and Politics: "Bleeding Kansas" and the Coming of the Civil War (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1969); Allan Nevins, Ordeal of the Union (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1947), 2:78-159, 301-46, 380-93, 408-50, 471-86; Nevins, The Emergence of Lincoln (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1950), 1:133-75, 229-304; Roy F. Nichols, The Disruption of American Democracy (New York: MacMillan Co., 1948), 94-98, 102-31, 150-75; David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), 154-76, 199-224, 297-327; Robert W. Johannsen, Stephen A. Douglas (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1973), 401-34, 471-75, 488-505, 524-28, 560-66, 576-613; and Elbert B. Smith, The Presidency of James Buchanan (Lawrence: Univ. Press of Kansas, 1975), 31-46.

2. Nevins, Emergence of Lincoln 1:106; Potter, Impending Crisis, 288; Albert J. Beveridge, Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1858 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1928), 2:494-95; Michael Holt, The Political Crisis of the 1850's (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1978), 203; Charles Warren, The Supreme Court in United States History (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1947), 2:325-29; Samuel Tyler, Memoir of Roger Brooke Taney, L. L. D. (Baltimore, 1872), 374-91; Carl B. Swisher, Roger B. Taney (New York: MacMillan Co., 1935), 520-21; Stanley I. Kutler, ed., The Dred Scott Decision: Law or Politics (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1967), 60-63; and James F. Rhodes, History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 to the End of the Roosevelt Administration (New York: MacMillan Co., 1928), 2:224. The best account of the Seward speech from this standpoint is in Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American Law and Politics (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1978), 473-74. Fehrenbacher recognizes it as one of Seward's most radical speeches. Seward's biographers have summarized the major points of the speech. Frederick W. Seward, Seward at Washington as Senator and Secretary of State, 1846-1861 (New York, 1891), 336-38; Thornton K. Lothrop, William Henry Seward (Boston, 1896), 197-98; Frederick Bancroft, The Life of William H. Seward (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1900), 1:446-52; Walter Sharrow, "William Henry Seward: A Study of Nineteenth Century Politics and Nationalism, 1855-1861" (Ph.D. diss., University of Rochester, 1964), 231-32; Glyndon G. Van Deusen, William Henry Seward (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967), 188-90. Van Deusen does mention Southern anger over the speech and gives a brief account of Hammond's reply.

3. One interesting and colorful account of the speech is in Nevins, Emergence of Lincoln 1:285-86, in which Nevins describes the speech as "a bombastic piece of disunionist propaganda" and its author as a "grotesque" character, "who if transferred to the pages of Dickens would have been pronounced incredible." Elbert Smith's account of the speech terms it a "flight of fancy." Smith, Presidency of Buchanan, 43-44. See also the account of the "King Cotton" part of the speech in Frank L. Owsley, King Cotton Diplomacy: Foreign Relations of the Confederate States of America, 2d ed. (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1959), 15-16.

4. Elizabeth Merritt gives a very brief account of the speech. Elizabeth Merritt, James Henry Hammond, 1807-1863 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1923), 117-18. Robert Tucker's brief account at least mentions the speech as a reply to Seward, and to Douglas. Robert C. Tucker, "James Henry Hammond: South Carolinian" (Ph.D. diss., University of North Carolina, 1958), 466-67. Drew Faust's recent and probably definitive biography adequately summarizes the speech and quotes it, but says little of the motivation behind the radicalism of it, makes only two brief references to Seward's speech, and says little...