Saturday, January 30, 2010

Its the Thought that Counts

We are not enemies, but freinds. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have straind, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory . . . will . . . swell . . . when again touched, as surley they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Abraham Lincoln

H/T 10 Misspelled Tattoos.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"He's a Blainiac, Blainiac on the floor"

Charles W. Calhoun reports that partisans of Maine Republican James G. Blaine, a presidential hopeful for most of 1870s and '80s (he was nominated in 1884 and lost to Grover Cleveland) were known as "Blainiacs".

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"Gangrened instigators of rebellion"

Indiana Republican Oliver P. Morton could wave the bloody shirt with the best of them. In his enjoyable and (for me) informative By One Vote: The Disputed Presidential Election of 1876, Michael F. Holt gives us a taste of Morton's talents:
Although the crippled Morton needed two canes to hobble around and could give speeches only while seated, he was a master of bloody-shirt oratory. . . . The Democratic Party, he told his adoring Republican audience [in a speech in Indianapolis] on August 11 [1876], consists of "hungry cormorants, long-deterred expectants, gangrened instigators of rebellion, the Northern sympathizers who trod the narrow isthmus between open treason and resistance to the Government fighting for its life, the slave drivers who have lost their occupation, and the innumerable caravan of dead-beats and adventurers." Anyone who believed that this crowd favored reform, Morton deadpanned, "must indeed be the most hopeless of idiots."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Rud Hayes, Laff Riot

Two good quotes from Rutherford B. Hayes:

On Salmon P. Chase:
Chase possessed noble gifts of intellect, great culture, and a noble presence. When this is said, all that is favorable has been said. He was cold, selfish, and unscrupulous.

On predictions by supporters that, if he ran for and won the Ohio governorship in 1875, he could be the Republican presidential nominee in 1876:
How wild! What a queer lot we are becoming! Nobody is out of the reach of that mania.

Did you know, by the way, that Hayes's friends called him "Rud"?

Both quotes (and "Rud") are from Michael F. Holt's excellent (so far!) book, By One Vote: The Disputed Presidential Election of 1876.

About the illustration:
A crude but charming comic send-up of 1876 Republican campaign strategy. Democratic candidate Samuel J. Tilden and an unidentified man stand fishing on the left bank of a river, their basket overflowing with their catch. On the opposite bank stand Rutherford B. Hayes and Republican incumbent Ulysses S. Grant, obviously less successful. Grant advises Hayes, "I guess that reform bait won't work this side. Better try an anti-Catholic worm." Since both the Democratic and Republican platforms in 1876 stressed reform, Hayes's campaign sought to stir up anti-Catholic prejudice against Tilden.

By One Vote

I am reading Michael F. Holt's book on the 1876 election, By One Vote: The Disputed Presidential Election of 1876. This is a period I know less about, and Prof. Holt is proving to be a superb guide. He provides an excellent overview of the tangled issues of corruption, high taxes, excessive spending, depression and monetary policy that combined to strangle Reconstruction in the mid-1870s.

In the opening chapters, Prof. Holt sets the stage by reviewing the "political revolt against [President Ulysses] Grant known as the 'Liberal Republican movement,'" reminding us that even pre-War radical Charles Sumner could be counted among its members.

Analyzing the 1872 election returns, Prof. Holt argues that Grant's landslide victory was founded on quicksand. First, "[a]lmost all of the increase in Grant's national [vote] total between 1868 and 1872 . . . came from former slave states, and most of those new Republican votes undoubtedly came from newly enfranchised freedmen." If those votes were lost, the Republican in the next election would no longer be assured a comfortable margin.

Second, and even more important in Prof. Holt's view, was the fact that Grant had benefited from a "marked decline in normal levels of Democratic voter turnout in most states." In 1872, the "Democrats had grudgingly endorsed Horace Greeley, the surprising choice of the Liberal Republican[s]." Democratic voters stayed away from the polls in droves rather than vote for the arch-Whig who had denounced them "as lawless, shiftless, drunken sots" for decades.

At the same time, Greeley's high-profile history hardly made him the idea Liberal Republican candidate when it came to issues such as tariff reduction and civil service reform. His strongest recommendation to them came from his endorsement of the "Liberals' demand for an end to federal intervention in the South, and a restoration of full political rights to those former Confederates still disqualified from holding office."

And yet even this stance proved a double-edged sword, for it left Greeley "vulnerable to vicious lampooning by Thomas Nast, the widely read political cartoonist for Harper's Weekly who had recently played a central role in toppling New York City's hugely corrupt Boss William M. Tweed from power."

Two of Nast's lampoons, both of which are reproduced in Prof. Holt's book, appear in this post. The first, entitled It Is Only a Truce to Regain Power (Playing Possum) depicts Greeley and Sumner (at the far right) "urging a freedman to reach across the bodies of murdered blacks to shake hands with two stock Democratic characters: a southern member of the Ku Klux Klan and an apelike Irish thug of the type who murdered blacks during the New York City draft riots of 1863."

The second, entitled Let Us Clasp Hands over the Bloody Chasm, "mocks Greeley's call for northerners and southerners to forget their sectional animosities," showing him "reaching in vain across the graveyard of Union prisoners at the notorious Andersonville prison camp."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1818? Part 9

The Senate received the House bill to amend the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 on Monday February 2, 1818. The Senate accepted a few minor amendments. The only amendment of note was what we would now call a “sunset provision” stipulating that the new act would automatically expire after four years. On Thursday March 12, 1818, the bill, as amended, passed the Senate by a vote of 17 to 13.

Proponents now had victory within their grasp. Both the House and the Senate had passed versions of the bill by comfortable margins. Now all that remained was to reconcile the two. If the House held firm, it might even convince the Senate to give way on the sunset provision.

It did not come to pass. On Monday March 16, 1818, the "House took up the amendments proposed by the Senate to the bill." The matter was tabled without recorded vote.

On Friday April 10, 1818, Rep. James Pindall of Virginia, the bill's chief sponsor in the House, moved “that the House do now proceed to consider the amendments proposed by the the Senate, to the bill.” This time, the vote was recorded. The motion “was determined in the negative” - i.e., it failed – by a vote 63 to 73. The bill was not taken up again that session.

The reasons for the bill's defeat remain unclear. There was no recorded debate in the House 0n either March 16 or April 10, and none of the secondary sources I have located explains the result. Thomas D. Morris, for example, states merely that “The House, however, on March 16, 1818 , ordered [the bill] tabled. It was not taken up during the remainder of this session of Congress. Morris does not mention or analyze the April 10 vote.

It would be tempting to assume that a bloc of northerners in the House had second thoughts about the bill after having voted in favor of it on Friday January 30, 1818. However, an examination of the two recorded votes on January 30 and April 10 does not appear to confirm this hypothesis. Indeed, a comparison of the votes does not reveal any distinctly discernible pattern, at least as far as I can tell.

In the vote on January 30, 1818, the House passed the bill by a vote of 84 to 69 (total 153). The vote on April 10, 1818 against the bill was 63 to 73 (136 total). The total number of votes decreased by 17 (suggesting a number of legislators were absent or intentionally chose to sit the vote out), but more importantly the relative totals changed dramatically. The number of votes against the bill remained fairly steady (73 vs. 69), but the number of votes in favor of the bill declined dramatically (from 84 to 63, a loss of 21 votes).

Who, I wondered, were the Representatives who deserted the bill, and where did they come from? To answer that question, I went through the two House votes and compiled a list of those Representatives who voted in favor of the bill on January 30, but not on April 10. Where the Representative affirmatively voted against the bill the second time, I have added a “no.” Where he did not vote at all the second time, there is a blank. I then divided the voters into northern and southern contingents to see whether there was a regional pattern.

Voted For the Bill the First Time, But Not the Second

North (12/10)

John Holmes (MA) – No
John Wilson (MA) – No
John R. Drake (NY) - No
Josiah Hasbrouck (NY) - No
John Herkimer (NY) - No
Thomas H. Hubbard (NY) - No
David A. Ogden (NY)
John Palmer (NY) - No
Henry R. Storrs (NY)
Caleb Tompkins (NY) – No
John W. Campbell (OH) - No
Thomas Patterson (PA) – No

South (19/1)

Willard Hall (DE) - No
Louis McLane (DE)
Thomas W. Cobb (GA)
Joel Crawford (GA)
Richard C. Anderson, Jr. (KY)
Anthony New (KY)
Tunstal Quarles (KY)
George Robertson (KY)
Thomas Bayley (MD)
Philip Stuart (MD)
Joseph H. Bryan (NC)
Weldon N. Edwards (NC)
Joseph Bellinger (SC)
James Ervin (SC)
Wilson Nesbitt (SC)
George W. L. Marr (TN)
William A. Burwell (VA)
William J. Lewis (VA)
Thomas Newton, Jr. (VA)

As you will see, there were more southern deserters of the bill than northern. Twelve northerners and nineteen southerners who voted for the bill the first time did not do so after the bill returned from the Senate.

On the other hand, far more northerners than southerners switched their votes. Of the 12 northerners, 10 affirmatively voted against the bill the second time. Only two did not vote on April 10. Of the nineteen southerners, in contrast, only one (Willard Hall of Delaware) affirmatively changed his vote. The other eighteen did not vote one way or the other the second time around.

For the heck of it, I also assembled a list of Representatives who voted in favor of the bill the second time, but not the first. Where the legislator affirmatively voted against the bill the first time, I placed a “no”. There is no annotation if he did not vote one way or the other the first time:

Voted for the Bill the Second Time, But Not the First

North (3/2)

John F. Parrott (NH) – No
John Linn (NJ)
Alexander Ogle (PA) - No

South (7/1)

Thomas Culbreth (MD) - No
Stephen D. Miller (SC)
Lemuel Sawyer (SC)
Eldred Simpkins (SC)
William G. Blount (TN)
Thomas M. Nelson (VA)
Alexander Smyth (VA)

I'm not sure what I was expecting to find, but again I see no clear pattern. More southerners came forward to vote for the bill than northerners, but the sample seems to be too small to demonstrate a trend, and the southerners who did so are substantially fewer than the 19 southern representatives who apparently abandoned the bill in April.

In an earlier post, I suggested this attempt to amend the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 would be a great subject for a paper or article. Get to it - and solve the mystery as to why the bill failed1

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1818? Part 8

I'm interrupting my review of the efforts in 1817-1818 to amend the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 to point out that there is apparently next to nothing written about the episode. It strikes me that it would be a great topic for a paper or article. So how 'bout it, you historians and aspiring historians? Sharpen those quills and fire up those word processors!

Other than the brief mention in Earl M. Maltz's Dred Scott and the Politics of Slavery, which got me started on this series of posts, I've found all of three references to the proposed amendment.

In The Slaveholding Republic: An Account of the United States Government's Relationship to Slavery, Don E. Fehrenbacher devotes a brief paragraph to the episode (p. 214).

Fehrenbacher's accompanying footnote cites a single source (other than the Annals of Congress). That book contains a discussion that is all of five or six pages long. For reasons I don't understand, the book is available online: Thomas D. Morris, Free Men All: The Personal Liberty Laws of the North 1780-1861, pp. 35-41.

Finally, I found a very short discussion of some of the arguments made in the debates in David P. Currie, The Constitution in Congress: The Jeffersonians 1801-1829 (p. 306, n. 147).

In the next post, I'll look at the Senate's passage of a slightly amended bill, and the bill's ultimate failure.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1818? Part 7

The House of Representatives resumed debate on the Bill to amend to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 the next day, Friday January 30, 1818.

The first reported speaker that day, Benjamin Adams of Massachusetts (no relation to John or John Quincy as far as I know) led off with objections. The bill, he maintained, endangered the rights of both free blacks and the north.

Arthur Livermore of New Hampshire likewise cited the risk to free blacks as the basis for his objection:
[T]he bill contained no sufficient guard to the safety of those colored people who resided in the States where slavery was known only by name. The bill provided that alleged fugitives were not be identified and proven until they reached the State in which the person seizing them resided; and this would expose the free men of other parts to the hazard of being dragged from one extreme of the country to the other.

In some ways, the more interesting speeches were those of northerners explaining why they were prepared to vote in favor of the bill. Jonathan Mason of Boston cited the fact that the Constitution did, after all, acknowledge the right of slaveowners to recover “this kind of property.” He would not assume abuse of the system by southern judges, and in fact southern courts were more likely to deliver unbiased rulings than northern ones. He also admitted that he did not want his state to become “infested” with “the runaways from the South”:
The Constitution, formed in the spirit of compromise, had guarantied this kind of property to the Southern States, and as it appeared from the insufficiency of the existing laws, that the proposed bill was necessary to secure this right, he was willing to adopt the measure, as he was always willing to approve any measure to effect what the Constitution sanctioned.

The possible abuse of anything was no argument against it, if otherwise expedient, and on this ground he was not prepared to reject the feature of the bill so much opposed. The judicial tribunals of the South, he had no doubt, would decide on the cases as correctly as those of the North, and on this subject perhaps more so, as, he believed, so strong was the feeling on this subject in the latter section of the country [the North], and so great a leaning was there against slavery, that the juries of Massachusetts would, in ninety-nine cases in a hundred, decide in favor of the fugitive.

His feeling on this bill were also somewhat interested; as he wished not, by denying just facilities for the recovery of fugitive slaves, to have the town where he lived (Boston) infested, as it would be, without an effectual restraint, with a great portion of the runaways from the South.

John Holmes, from the Maine District of Massachusetts (the same John Holmes to whom Thomas Jefferson addressed his fire bell in the night letter), seconded his Bay State colleague. The bill “was necessary to secure the Constitutional rights” of the south, and “[h]e did not believe the freedom of a single man in the North would be endangered” by it.

Rep. James Pindall of Virginia, had, several days earlier, defended the bill against charges that it unconstitutionally imposed a duty to act upon state officers. The Fugitive Slave Clause, he argued, imposed a duty on states to "deliver up" fugitive slaves, and Congress was empowered to enforce that obligation:
It being thus shown, in regard to this clause of the Constitution, that a right and corresponding obligation are established between different States, which, by ordinary interpretation, depend for their development and exercise upon the proper officer of each State; and it being admitted on all sides that Congress has the power to regulate the due exercise of that right, and enforce the performance of that obligation, it follows that Congress can make a law to regulate the conduct of these State officers in the performance of their duty.

Now yet another Massachusetts congressman, Ezekiel Whitman, also from the Maine District, disputed Rep. Pindall's constitutional claim:
He objected to that provision, which makes it a penal in a state officer to refuse his assistance, in executing the act. This feature, if retained, would prevent his voting for the bill, as its penalties would require the State officers either to resign, or perform an act which might be repugnant to their feelings, and render their official stations frequently disagreeable. Furthermore, he did not believe Congress had the right to compel the State officers to perform this duty – they could only authorize it . . ..

Such arguments were, however, swept aside. Before the end of the day, the House passed the bill by a substantial margin, 84 to 69.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1818? Part 6

On Thursday January 29, 1818, the House of Representatives took up the Bill of the Committee headed by Rep. James Pindall of Virginia to amend the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793.

As you might have guessed, the focus of opposition was the Home District certificate feature, which, northerners feared, gave southern judges the power, in effect, to force northern authorities to arrest and deliver alleged slaves without an independent determination as to whether they were, in fact, slaves. Charles Rich of Vermont, for example, urged that the bill be amended "as to guard more effectually the rights of free persons of color."

William P. Maclay of Pennsylvania (nephew of this William Maclay) likewise expressed the objection that the bill lacked "a provision to prevent the apprehension of free persons of color, under pretense of their being slaves."

John Sergeant, also of Pennsylvania, attempted to gut the bill, "having in view to materially change the nature of the bill by making judges of the State in which the apprentices, slaves, &c., are seized, the tribunal to decide the fact of slavery, instead of the judges of the States whence the fugitives have escaped." His motion was voted down "by a large majority."

After extended and apparently repetitive debate (the reporter for the Annals of Congress observed that "[t]he debate, though not very interesting, was zealously persisted in to a late hour"), the House voted to engross the bill and have the third reading the next day. The vote in favor was 86 to 55.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1818? Part 5

Before turning back to the legislative history of the December 1817 Bill To amend an act, entitled "An act respecting fugitives from justice, and persons escaping from the service of their masters", to see what became of it, one more feature of the Bill itself deserves mention.

As I have described, the Home District certification process was central to the Bill. The drafters apparently expected that some northerners would complain bitterly that the Bill forced them to turn over fugitives based on certificates issued by slave state judges.

Presumably for this reason, the drafters felt the need to include a provision that would allow them to reassure northerners of the absolute integrity of the certificate-issuing process. They did so by fashioning a draconian penalty for fraudulently procuring or forging Home District certificates: death. Section 7 provided:
[I]f any person shall falsely make, alter, forge or counterfeit, or cause or procure to be falsely made, altered, forged or counterfeited, or willing aid or assist in falsely making, altering, forging or counterfeiting any certificate under or by colour of the first section of this act, or procure any other person to be arrested or imprisoned by force, on pretence of any such forged or counterfeited certificate, knowing the same to be forged or counterfeited; he or she, on conviction thereof shall suffer death.

About the illustration:
A crudely drawn satire bitterly attacking Democratic presidential candidate Franklin Pierce and appealing to the "Freemen of America." The print, possibly executed by a free black, criticizes the Democrats' platform, as established by the Baltimore Convention, which in the interest of preserving the Union endorsed the Compromise of 1850. More specifically the artist condemns Pierce's pledge to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, included in the compromise as a submission to southern slaveholding interests. In the center Pierce prostrates himself before a "Slave holder & Peace Maker," a bearded man in wide-brimmed hat and striped trousers holding a cat-o-nine-tails and manacles. The upper half of Pierce is over the Mason Dixon line, his face in the dirt on the "Baltimore Platform." The slaveholder says: "Save the Union, / And with the "meanest" Yankee grease / Smear the hinges of your knees / And in "silence" pray for peace." Pierce, dubbed "one of the Southern "dirt" eaters "Saving" the Union," replies, "I accept this cheerfully." The Democratic platform is labeled "Southern pine" and is inscribed with reference to the compromise, "Fugitive Slave Law and nigger catching, and resist agitation on the Slavery question &c." On it lie a skull and crossbones, manacles, and a serpent. At far left is "the Devil come up to attend his revival," who commends, "Well done my faithful servants!" On the right is the infamous Hungarian general Julius von Haynau, who carries a whip and wears a "Barclay's Brewery" pitcher on his head. (Haynau was assaulted by Barclay employees while in England.) The Hungarian extends his hand toward the slaveholder, saying, "I feel quite at home in this company give me your hand my good fellow." Further to the right are Lewis Cass and Stephen A. Douglas, disappointed aspirants for the 1852 Democratic nomination. Cass says, "We are down Douglass, "Pierce" has bid lower than either of us." Douglas: "There is nothing impossible for a New Hampshire "Hunker" [i.e., conservative] Democrat to do in that line." On the ground nearby are the words, "the "slave&1ocratic miscalled the Democratic party, how they obey the "crack" of the slaveholder's whip!"

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1818? Part 4

Although I have catalogued a number of incentives built in to the December 1817 Bill To amend an act, entitled "An act respecting fugitives from justice, and persons escaping from the service of their masters" to encourage masters to obtain Home District certificates, I have saved the best for last: what I term the "executive authority option".

Section 6 of the Bill proposed an entirely new executive-to-executive system available for use by masters who procured Home District certificates. In brief, a master who had obtained a Home District certificate could ask the executive of his state (say, the Governor of Maryland) to send a demand to his Fugitive District counterpart (say, the Governor of Pennsylvania) that the latter turn over the fugitive named in the certificate. In that event, the latter was obligated to locate and arrest the fugitive, transport him to that state's border, and there deliver the fugitive to the master or the master's agent:
[W]henever the executive authority of any state in this union, or of either of the territories thereof, shall for or in behalf of any citizen or inhabitant of such state or territory, demand any fugitive slave of the executive authority of any state or territory, to which such slave shall have fled, and shall moreover produce a [Home District] certificate issued pursuant to the first section of this act, it shall be the duty of the executive authority of the state or territory to which such fugitive shall have fled, to cause him or her to be arrested and secured, and notice of the arrest to be given to the executive authority making such demand, or to the agent of such authority appointed to receive the fugitive, and to cause such fugitive to be delivered to the said agent, on the confine or boundary of the state or territory in which said arrest shall be, and in the most usual and direct route to the place from whence the said fugitive shall have escaped.

The agent was required to pay "the reasonable expense of such arrest, detention and delivery of such fugitive," but the advantages to the slaveholder were obviously enormous. Rather than hiring a slave-catcher to travel into Pennsylvania, he could have the State of Pennsylvania do the work and deliver the fugitive to him at the Pennsylvania-Maryland border.

About the illustration:
The opposition of Northern abolitionists, churchmen, and political figures to enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 is criticized in this rare pro-Southern cartoon. In two panels artist Edward Williams Clay illustrates the abolitionist's invocation of a "higher law" against the claim of a slave owner, and the application of the same principle against the Northerner in a case of stolen textiles. In the left panel a slaveholder "Mr. Palmetto" and a federal marshal confront an abolitionist "Mr. Pumpkindoodle" and a garishly dressed, runaway slave "Pompey" in a warehouse or shop interior. On the counter is a copy of the newspaper the "Emancipator." Palmetto: ". . . I've come here to take that fugitive slave who belongs to me, according to the provisions of the U. S. law! Officer do your duty!" Pumpkindoodle (handing a pistol to the slave): "What! seize my African brother! never! I dont recognize any U.S. law! I have a higher law, a law of my own. here Pompey take this pistol and resist to the death! if he attempts to take you!" Pompey (trembling): "Ye yes sa! I'll try, cause brudders [antislavery senator from New York William H.] Seward and [abolitionist William Lloyd] Garrison says its all right; and so does Parson Squash! But I'm mighty feared." Federal marshal: "Whew! I think I'd better make myself scarce!" In the panel on the right, the same abolitionist approaches the seated slaveholder in the latter's shop. A sturdy slave "Cesar" and a grinning attendant stand by. On the counter are several bolts of fabric, labeled "Bay State Shawls," "Cotton Shirting," "Domestic Prints," "Amoskeag Ticks," "Lowels Negro Cloth" and "Hamilton Long Cloth." A copy of the "Charleston Mercury" lies open on Palmetto's lap. Pumpkindoodle: "Look here Mr. Palmetto them 'ere goods is mine! They've been stole from me, and if you dont give 'em up, I'll take the law of the land on you!" Palmetto: ". . . They are fugitives from you, are they? As to the law of the land, I have a higher law of my own, and possession is nine points in the law. I cant cotton to you. Kick out the abolitionist Cesar." Cesar: "Of course Massa. De dam Bobolitionist is the wus enemy we poor niggers have got."

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1818? Part 3

In my last post concerning a Bill To amend an act, entitled "An act respecting fugitives from justice, and persons escaping from the service of their masters", introduced on December 29, 1817 by a three-man committee headed by James Pindall, I described the Home District (my term) certificate process authorized by the proposed legislation and some of the incentives contained in the bill that encouraged masters to use the process.

There were other incentives as well. In particular, a master who obtained a Home District certificate acquired immunity from claims by or on behalf of the seized fugitive, both in the state in which the fugitive was seized and in any state through which the returning master passed on his way back home. Section 4 provided:
[N]o person claiming such fugitive from labor, nor the agent of any such person who shall have received a [Home District] certificate pursuant to the first section of this act, shall be in anywise imprisoned, arrested, or detained, in person, or distrained or attached by his goods, chattles, or effects, by reason of any action, suit, or process, to be had, moved, or prosecuted by or in behalf of the fugitive named or mentioned in the said certificate, in the state or territory where the said fugitive shall be apprehended, or in any other state or territory through which he shall or may necessarily pass, in returning to the state or territory from whence the said fugitive shall have absconded.

There was only one exception: "homicide or mayhem."
[N]or shall such claimant or his agent, be imprisoned, arrested, or detained by any warrant or prosecution brought or commenced by reason or pretence of assaulting, beating, imprisoning, or otherwise maltreating such fugitive, except the same be had or moved on a charge of homicide or mayhem.

About the illustration:
An impassioned condemnation of the Fugitive Slave Act passed by Congress in September 1850, which increased federal and free-state responsibility for the recovery of fugitive slaves. The law provided for the appointment of federal commissioners empowered to issue warrants for the arrest of alleged fugitive slaves and to enlist the aid of posses and even civilian bystanders in their apprehension. The print shows a group of four black men--possibly freedmen--ambushed by a posse of six armed whites in a cornfield. One of the white men fires on them, while two of his companions reload their muskets. Two of the blacks have evidently been hit; one has fallen to the ground while the second staggers, clutching the back of his bleeding head. The two others react with horror. Below the picture are two texts, one from Deuteronomy: "Thou shalt not deliver unto the master his servant which has escaped from his master unto thee. He shall dwell with thee. Even among you in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates where it liketh him best. Thou shalt not oppress him." The second text is from the Declaration of Independence: "We hold that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." The print is unusually well drawn and composed for a political print of the period. The handling of both the lithographic technique and the figures betray particular skill.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1818? Part 2

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 was a pretty bare-bones affair. The central provision – one brief section – outlined a scheme by which masters or their agents could themselves apprehend escaped “servants” and obtain a certificate from a state or federal judge in the locality to which the slave had fled authorizing the claimant to return the fugitive to his original state. If the master or agent could not apprehend the slave without causing a “breach of the peace,” the claimant could apply to a local magistrate for a warrant requiring local law enforcement to arrest the alleged fugitive.

Although the fugitive slave bill that Rep. James Pindall introduced on December 29, 1817 contained several innovations, the linchpin of the proposed legislation – entitled A Bill To amend an act, entitled “An act respecting fugitives from justice, and persons escaping from the service of their masters” – was a new certificate, issued by a judge in the locality from which the slave escaped. (For convenience, I will refer to this locality as the “Home District”; the locality to which the alleged fugitive has escaped I will refer to as the “Fugitive District.”)

In a nutshell, Section 1 of the Bill authorized a master of an escaped slave, or the master’s agent, to apply to a judge in his Home District for a certificate attesting “that the person so escaping, is the slave of such claimant, or doth owe to such claimant, service or labor, whereof the law compels a specific performance.”
[W]hen a person held to labor or service in any of the United States, or in either of the territories thereof, by the laws of any such state or territory, shall escape into any other state or territory, the person to whom such labor or service may be due, or his or her agent, may apply to any judge of the district or circuit court of the district from whence such fugitive shall have escaped, or to any two judges or justices of the peace of the state or territory from whence such fugitive shall have escaped; and upon proof to the satisfaction of such judge or magistrates, that such fugitive is a slave, or doth, under the laws of the state or territory, from whence he or she fled, owe service or labor to the person claiming him or her, it shall be the duty of such judge of the district or circuit court, or such judges or magistrates, to award a certificate that the person so escaping, is the slave of such claimant, or doth owe to such claimant, service or labor, whereof the law compels specific performance. And the official authority of such judges or magistrates may be verified by seal of such state or territory, or of any court of record therein, or in such other manner as such acts are usually authenticated.

The language of Section 1 indicates that this procedure was not mandatory; that is, the master was not required to obtain a certificate from his Home District. However, as we shall see, the Bill created powerful incentives for the master to do so.

First and foremost, a master (or his agent) armed with such a Home District certificate was entitled to present it to a judge in the Fugitive District. Under the 1793 Act, the Fugitive District judge was required to determine whether "the person so seized or arrested, doth, under the laws of the State or Territory from which he or she fled, owe service or labor to the person claiming him or her." Given the difficulties of proof, this in effect gave the judge broad discretion to deny applications.

The 1817 Bill attempted to limit this discretion where the Fugitive District judge was presented with a Home District certificate as much as possible. Under such circumstances, it was the judge's “duty” to issue a warrant for the apprehension of the fugitive:
That on producing such [Home District] certificate as aforesaid, to any judge of the circuit or district court, or judge or justice of the peace in the state or territory to which such fugitive shall have escaped, it shall be the duty of such judge or magistrate to grant a warrant authorizing any marshal, sheriff, sergeant, constable, or public bailiff of the state or territory last aforesaid, to apprehend such fugitive, and bring him or her before such judge or justice . . ..

Furthermore, after apprehension of the fugitive, the only determination that the Fugitive District judge was entitled to make was whether “the person so apprehended is the same person named or mentioned in or by the aforesaid [Home District] certificate”. Having determined that issue, the judge was required to turn over the fugitive:
[I]f it shall thereupon appear to the satisfaction of such [Fugitive District] judge or magistrate, by affidavit or otherwise, that the person so apprehended is the same person named or mentioned in or by the aforesaid [Home District] certificate, the said judge or justice shall issue his warrant requiring any marshal, sheriff, sergeant, constable, or public bailiff, of such state or territory, to take the charge and custody of such fugitive, and to deliver him or her to the said claimant, or his or her agent . . ..

It seems a fair inference that these provisions reflected the perception of the drafters that free state judges were using, or at least might use, their greater discretion under the 1793 Act to evade their responsibilities to issue warrants for the arrest and turnover of fugitives.

A third advantage that accrued to masters who obtained Home District certificates was the right to obtain assistant in intrastate transport of their captured fugitives. When the Fugitive District judge issued a warrant directing the marshal or other law enforcement officer to turn over the fugitive to the claimant, the claimant was entitled to have the officer, for a fee, transport the fugitive to the border of the state:
. . . [T]he said [Fugitive District] judge or justice shall issue his warrant requiring any marshal . . . [etc.] of such state or territory, to take the charge and custody of such fugitive, and to deliver him or her to the said claimant, or his or her agent on the confine or boundary of the state or territory last aforesaid, in the most direct and usual route to the place from whence the said fugitive shall have absconded.

While this benefit may seem trivial, its inclusion is interesting. It may suggest that the drafters thought southerners were concerned that a return trip with a captured fugitive - for example, from Cleveland to Cincinnati, or from Buffalo to New York City - was a potentially hazardous undertaking.

Finally, the Bill authorized returning masters to receive similar transportation services from law enforcement in other states through which they passed with their captives. A Maryland master returning with a fugitive from New York via Pennsylvania, for example, was entitled to have a Pennsylvania sheriff transport the fugitive from the New York-Pennsylvania border to the Pennsylvania-Maryland border:
And the judge of any district or circuit court, or any judge or justice of the peace of any state or territory, between the state or territory wherein such fugitive may be apprehended, and the state or territory from whence he or she shall have escaped, shall, on the application of such claimant, or his agent, and on inspection of the aforesaid certificate, issue a warrant requiring any sheriff, marshal, sergeant, constable, or public bailiff, of such intervening state or territory to receive such fugitive on the confine or boundary of such state or territory, and to deliver him or her to the claimant or his agent, on the confine or boundary thereof, in the most direct and usual route to the place from whence such fugitive shall have absconded.

Were southern masters so concerned about their security on return trips that the drafters of the Bill set up this remarkable - and remarkably intrusive - procedure? It would seem so.

In the next post, we will look at yet other advantages accruing to masters who obtained Home District certificates.

About the illustration:
A satire on the antagonism between Northern abolitionists on the one hand, and Secretary of State Daniel Webster and other supporters of enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Here abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison (left) holds a slave woman in one arm and points a pistol toward a burly slave catcher mounted on the back of Daniel Webster. The slave catcher, wielding a noose and manacles, is expensively dressed, and may represent the federal marshals or commissioners authorized by the act (and paid) to apprehend and return fugitive slaves to their owners. Behind Garrison a black man also aims a pistol toward the group on the right, while another seizes a cowering slaveholder by the hair and is about to whip him saying, "It's my turn now Old Slave Driver." Garrison: "Don't be alarmed Susanna, you're safe enough." Slave catcher: "Don't back out Webster, if you do we're ruind." Webster, holding "Constitution": "This, though Constitutional, is "extremely disagreeable." "Man holding volumes "Law & Gospel": "We will give these fellows a touch of South Carolina."Man with quill and ledger: "I goes in for Law & Order." A fallen slaveholder: "This is all "your" fault Webster." In the background is a Temple of Liberty flying two flags, one reading "A day, an hour, of virtuous Liberty, is worth an age of Servitude" and the other, "All men are born free & equal." The print may (as Weitenkampf suggests) be the work of New York artist Edward Williams Clay. The signature, the expressive animation of the figures, and especially the political viewpoint are, however, uncharacteristic of Clay. (Compare for instance that artist's "What's Sauce for the Goose," no. 1851-5.) It is more likely that the print was produced in Boston, a center of bitter opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 and 1851.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1818? Part 1

In his discussion of the Fugitive Slave Clause, referenced in my last post, Earl M. Maltz emphasizes the southern desire for greater involvement by northern state authorities in the rendition process (emphasis added):
In the antebellum world, where state government officials vastly outnumbered representatives of the federal government, these limitations [the ruling in Prigg that state officials could not be compelled to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793] were of great practical significance to slaveholders. Indeed, from an early date Southerners had pressed for greater state participation in the rendition of fugitive slaves and in 1817 nearly succeeded in having such a requirement enacted into federal law.

Having never heard that we almost had a Fugitive Slave Act of 1817 (actually 1818, hence the title of this post), I did some digging to see what I could find on the bill that failed and its legislative history.

The search was worth it. I can’t say I've completed my research, but the bill that was introduced in late December 1817 is fascinating – downright ingenious.

The moving force behind the bill that was presented seems to have been a Representative I had never heard of - James Pindall of Virginia. The Annals of Congress for the 1st Session of the 15th Congress record that on Monday December 15, 1817 Rep. Pindall moved for the appointment of a committee “to inquire into the expediency of providing more effectually by law for reclaiming servants and slaves escaping from one State into another; and that the said committee have leave to report by bill or otherwise.”

That same day, the House obligingly granted Rep. Pindall’s request, appointing a three-man committee composed of Pindall himself and two border state colleagues, Philemon Beecher of Ohio and Richard Clough Anderson, Jr. of Kentucky.

The committee worked quickly. Exactly two weeks later, on Monday December 29, 1817, “Mr. Pindall . . . reported a bill to amend the act respecting the recovery of fugitives from justice, and persons escaping from the service of their masters . . .. The bill was twice read and committed.”

In the next post, we’ll take a look at the committee’s ingenious handiwork.

Was Prigg a Compromise?

In his book Dred Scott and the Politics of Slavery, Earl M. Maltz makes an interesting point about the Supreme Court’s decision in Prigg v. Pennsylvania. I have discussed the decision at length – double click on the Prigg v. Pennsylvania label at the right to see the posts – so I will not provide a ton of detail here, but here is the essential background.

Very briefly, Justice JosephStory’s Opinion of the Court largely upheld the validity of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. The decision is generally seen as a “pro-southern” opinion both for this reason and because it accepted arguments, seen as coming from the south, that the Fugitive Slave Clause of the Constitution implicitly empowered Congress to fashion a federal remedy for the fugitive slave problem. In particular, Justice Story upheld the statutory scheme by which federal judges were authorized to hear slaveholder claims and order the return fugitives. A number of commentators, Maltz notes, thus see “a pro-Southern orientation in Story’s analysis.”

But Maltz also observes that it is possible to look at the opinion somewhat differently. Story also held that state officers could not be compelled to enforce the federal statute. This, Maltz suggests, was a substantial concession to the North, particularly by the three southern justices who joined Story’s opinion in full: John Catron (Tennessee), John McKinley (Alabama) and James Moore Wayne (Georgia). This is because federal judges were few and far between compared with state judicial officers. By excusing state officers from enforcing the statute, the court was placing a substantial burden on southern masters to locate a potentially distant federal judge.

Maltz persuasively argues that “the concurrence of the three southern justices in Prigg is most plausibly viewed as a reflection of a decision to sacrifice some of the interests of slaveowners in the hope of minimizing the sectional friction created by the dispute over fugitive slaves”:
. . . Catron, McKinley and Wayne almost certainly believed that they were making significant concessions to the North in endorsing the ban on supplemental state remedies for slaveowners pursuing fugitives and by the declaration that state officials could not be forced to cooperate in the enforcement of the federal statute. In the antebellum world, where state government officials vastly outnumbered representatives of the federal government, these limitations were of great practical significance to slaveholders.

After noting that two other southerners on the court – Roger B. Taney of Maryland and Peter V. Daniel of Virginia – “argued vigorously that effective enforcement . . . required participation by state officials,” Maltz points out that one of the southern justices who joined with Story explicitly referred to the trade-off between state enforcement and intersectional friction:

[W]hile conceding that the ban on state enforcement measures might well hinder the efforts of slaveowners to recapture fugitives, Wayne asserted that Southerners should be willing to pay that price in order to “remove . . . those causes which have contributed more than any other to disturb that harmony which is essential to the continuance of the Union.”

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Millard Fillmore Acrostic

In the warm afterglow of Millard's 210th birthday celebration, here is an acrostic extolling the virtues of our thirteenth president, published at Nashville in 1861. The accompanying illustration, alas, bears little resemblance to our hero:
HONORED for thy love of right,
Onward soar to fame and might;
Never from the truth diverging,
Or spurious doctrines on us urging;
Respect the good, reprove the bad,
And brace the weak, and cheer the sad.
Be kind to all, do what we may,
Let nothing lead thy heart astray;
Ever kind in thought and deed,
Men by acts thy heart can read.
Indebted for past favors, we
Like loyal subjects, reverence thee;
Labor on, and be content,
And if elected President,
Restore the good to office, and
Disperse the bad, at thy command.

For many now in office be
In whom defects we plainly see;
Living on the revenue
Like wolves they eat, but nothing do.
Mean men, they seek for wealth and fame,
Our country's good is not their aim;
Repulse them all from office, and
Extend thy sway o'er all the land.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mr. President!

Our thirteenth president, Millard Fillmore, was born January 7, 1800, two hundred ten years ago today. I have written a number of posts over the course of this blog trying to illustrate and explain why he was a fine man and an outstanding president. I urge you to click on the Millard Fillmore tag and take a look at a post or two to get a taste.

Meanwhile, here is something to think about. What if Fillmore, against all odds, had been reelected president in 1856 on the American Party ticket, and occupied the White House in 1860?

Fillmore demonstrated in the Crisis of 1850 that he was no milquetoast. While he fervently sought compromise (and took effective action to achieve it), he also made clear that he would resolutely oppose, by military action if necessary, any attempt to disrupt the Union, ordering federal troops to New Mexico to defend against possible attack by Texas.

In 1860, retired from politics, he displayed the same instincts. Although he was critical of the Republicans for their unwillingness, in his view, to compromise, he was aghast at President James' Buchanan's failure to take military steps to defend the Union. Fillmore's biographer, Robert J. Rayback, describes the former president's position:
On the eve of war Fillmore's criticism was not confined to Republicans. When President Buchanan did not take quick military action to stop South Carolina's secession, Fillmore labeled it a "mistake." "That the general government is sovereign . . . admits of no doubt in my mind," he asserted. From that precept, he argued that no state could "set up its will against" the national government. "Secession and all such acts are absolutely void." Buchanan made his "mistake," Fillmore thought, when he said that the national government has "no authority to 'coerce a state.'" In reality, those who passed the ordinance of secession, Fillmore thought, should have been "regarded as an unauthorized assembly of men conspiring to commit treason, and as such liable to be punished like any other unlawful assembly engaged in the same business."

In all probability, considering his actions in 1850, had Fillmore been in Buchanan's place he would have strengthened the federal garrisons in the Deep South and would have been prepared, if conciliation failed, to use force against the secessionists.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Winfield Scott Sits Down to a Hasty Plate of Soup

If you do a search for Winfield Scott at the Library of Congress site, you will come across a number of illustrations alluding to Scott’s consuming “a hasty plate of soup.” In his biography of James K. Polk, Robert W. Merry provides the amusing background.

President James K. Polk learned about the outbreak of hostilities with Mexico on Saturday May 9, 1846. On Wednesday May 13, Polk and Secretary of War William Marcy met with Scott, the army’s general in chief, and offered him “the position of commander of U.S. troops in the field.” Scott, delighted, accepted on the spot.

Then the problems began. Polk and Marcy expected, perhaps unfairly, that Scott would depart for Mexico almost immediately. Scott apparently saw himself as wearing two hats – head of the army and field commander – and planned to defer his departure for a number of months while he attended to numerous administrative tasks in Washington.

Marcy expressed the president’s displeasure to Scott on May 20. Scott responded to Marcy with a pompous letter in which “he catalogued the arduous labors attending his effort to get the front.” Merry quotes the following paragraphs, “dripping with self-pity” (and, I might add, bloated rhetoric):
In the midst of these multitudinous and indispensable occupations, I have learned from you that much impatience is already felt, perhaps in high quarters, that I have not already put myself in route for the Rio Grande; and now, with fourteen hours a day of preliminary work remaining on my hands for many days, I find myself compelled to stop the necessary work to guard myself against, perhaps, utter condemnation in the quarters alluded to. . . .

Not an advantageous step can be taken in a forward march without the confidence that all is well behind. . . . I am, therefore, not a little alarmed, nay, crippled in my energies, by the knowledge of the impatience in question. . . . My explicit meaning is, that I do not desire to place myself in the most perilous of all positions – a fire upon my rear from Washington, and the fire in front from the Mexicans.

When Polk read Scott’s letter, “he instantly concluded that the general lacked the requisite stability and sense for field command.” At about the same time, word arrived of Zachary Taylor’s initial victories at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. After several cabinet meetings to consider a response, Marcy was authorized to send a reply on May 25. “[A] masterpiece of pained condescension,” Marcy’s letter expressed shock that Scott could think that the president, who had just appointed him to a position of the greatest trust, was "firing upon his rear." The letter concluded by relaying the decision that Scott would remain in Washington and not command the troops in the field.

Now Scott plated his soup.

Scott responded almost immediately with a letter of his own, even more unfortunate than his first. Incredibly, he contended that his earlier reference to “high quarters” did not impugn the president, because Scott meant to accuse Marcy himself. In Merry’s words,
Having found himself in a hole, Scott dug furiously. . . . Scott responded with a combination of defensiveness and sycophancy. Seeking with great orotundity to explain his previous expressions and ingratiate himself with his superior, he urged reconsideration of the president’s decision . . ..

But what really grabbed the attention of the press and the public was the very first line of Scott's letter to Marcy, which seemed to capture perfectly Scott’s bloated sense of self-importance, pomposity and self-pity:
Sir: Your letter of this date, received about 6, p.m., as I sat down to a hasty plate of soup, demands a prompt reply.

Scott’s misguided effort to change the president's decision was in vain, at least for the time being:
Marcy sent back a terse reply saying Polk wasn’t inclined to reverse his previous judgment. Polk already had sent to Congress a message nominating General Taylor for promotion to the brevet rank of major general. Taylor would be the president’s man at the battlefront.

It's interesting that the Mexican War era illustrations that refer to the line gently tweak Scott but are largely benign. In the wake of military success, the illustrators seem to have cast Scott as something of an quirky eccentric, rather than a buffoon. But the line haunted Scott for the rest of his public career. The plate of soup returned in a substantially darker form when Scott ran for president as the Whig nominee in 1852.

About the illustration at the top of the post, entitled Distinguished military operations with a hasty bowl of soup:
The satire apparently perceives President Polk's reinstatement of Winfield Scott over Zachary Taylor as commander of U.S. forces in the Mexican War in November 1846 as an attempt to squelch the extreme personal popularity won by Taylor through dazzling early victories at Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, and Monterey. Scott (center) is shown emptying a large tureen of soup onto Taylor, saying "Take that! you're my subordinate!" The "hasty bowl of soup" was a recurring jibe which haunted Scott throughout the rest of his public career. (See also "Battle of Cerro Gordo" and "Battle of Churubusco," nos. 1847-2 and 1847-3.) It originated in Scott's opening comment in a May 25, 1846, letter to Secretary of War William L. Marcy protesting his removal as commander, "Your letter of this date, received at about 6 p.m., as I sat down to take a hasty plate of soup . . ." Here Scott is urged on by Polk (right), who says, "That's right Scott, we must Smother him [i.e., Taylor]!" Scott asks Taylor, "Where were you when I was ordering my hasty plate of Soup?" Taylor, in his customary wide-brimmed hat and simple civilian coat, is in marked contrast to the elegantly uniformed Scott. As a troop of soldiers at attention looks on, Taylor bears the indignity, responding, "Please your Excellency and Commander in Chief I was at the Pallo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, & Monterey." One of the soldiers adds, punning on Taylor'a name, "Aye Aye, the People will put him right, although he's a Taylor he "leads" to danger and dont "follow" suit." Although unsigned the print is quite close in drawing, if not in political bias, to Edward Williams Clay's pro-Scott "Santa Anna Declining a Hasty Plate of Soup at Cerro Gordo" (no. 1847-4). The similarity between the portraits of Scott in the two prints is especially convincing evidence of Clay's authorship.

About the second image, entitled Battle of Cerro Gordo:
An attack on James K. Polk's attempts to undermine Winfield Scott's military efforts and reputation through his handling of the Mexican War in April 1847. Shortly after Scott's victory at Cerro Gordo, Polk dispatched State Department official Nicholas Trist to Mexico to negotiate peace with the Mexican government. The artist views the move, as did many contemporaries, as motivated by political concerns about the Whig general's presidential ambitions. Scott, on a large hill at right, offers a steaming plate of soup to departing Mexican commander Santa Anna, who rides away on horseback. (For the soup allusion see "Distinguished Military Operations," no. 1846-15). From a ravine behind Scott, Polk goads Trist as he aims a water hose at the general. The hose is fueled by a pump operated by two boys in the background. In the distance American troops engage the Mexicans on the hills near Cerro Gordo. In the upper left appears the dialogue: Scott: "General Santa Anna!! do stop and take 'a hasty plate of soup?'" Santa Anna: "I thank you, Sir, your soup's too hot-I must be off!" Polk: "Trist, take care & cool 'old Hasty's' soup, before "our friend" meets him again." Trist: "Your Excellency will pardon me, but I've tried in vain to cool 'Old Hasty's' soup." Polk: "Then put out 'Old Hasty's' fire, or "that fatal soup will burn our fingers yet!" Trist: "Your excellency would do well to send 'Old Hasty' home and give "our friend" 'Pillow' for his Comfort." The last reference was to Gen. Gideon J. Pillow, an incompetent but a favorite of Polk, whose antagonism toward Scott was public knowledge, particularly after Cerro Gordo.

About the third illustration, entitled A Piercing Piece of Loco Foco Hocus Pocus:
The title plays on Franklin Pierce's last name, at the expense of Whig presidential hopefuls Millard Fillmore, Winfield Scott, and Daniel Webster. The print was probably published shortly after the June 1852 Whig national convention, judging from the reference to Scott's nomination. The artist is critical of the Whig party's preference for military heroes as candidates, as manifested by their selection of Scott over his civilian rivals. In the center is Scott, flanked by Fillmore and Webster, balancing an empty plate of oyster soup on his head. He stands on the wooden floor of the "Whig Platform [of] Soup Fuss And Feathers." Scott's excessive concern with image and decorum earned him the nickname "Old Fuss and Feathers;" for Scott's early offhanded reference to a "hasty plate of soup," which clung to him throughout his public life, see "Distinguished Military Operations . . ." (no. 1846-15). He holds out empty oyster shells to the two disappointed candidates, saying: "My dear fellows you neither of you got the oyster because you couldn't agree and you have never smelt powder.--The whig party is essentually chivalric, and they must have a military man at their head, and, of course, chose me--To be sure Harrison was a granny, and so was Taylor, but I am a Granny dear [i.e., grenadier]! I present you each a shell as as a proof of my regard!--But hulloh! where's the oyster? Was it a vision!" Pierce stands at the far left, on the raised "Democratic Platform [of] The Constitution And The Union," displaying the meat of an oyster labeled "President U. S. A." He addresses Scott: "You will have to go without your soup this time General I've go the Oyster by sleight of hand, and a good fat one it is, a real old Blue pointer. I shall pickle it and keep it for four years!" Fillmore (left) exclaims, "A shell without a fish! how selfish! what a scaly trick." Webster, standing alone at far right, offers a melancholy soliloquy: "Farewell! a long farewell to all my greatness! This is the state of man.---To-day he puts forth the tender leaves of hope, tomorrow blossoms and bears his blushing honors thick upon him--The next day comes a frost a killing frost, and when he thinks, good easy man, full surely his greatness is ripening, nips his root & then he falls as I do!"

About the fourth illustration, entitled Managing a Candidate:
A caustic portrayal of the abolitionist Whigs' manipulation of Winfield Scott during the 1852 campaign. Influential Whigs (left to right) New York "Times" editor Henry J. Raymond, "Tribune" editor Horace Greeley, and New York senator William Seward escort Scott across Salt River via the "Baltimore Bridge." The bridge is composed of eight planks, representing the eight parts of the Whig platform as adopted at their June national convention in Baltimore. With Seward on his shoulders, Scott steps carefully across the bridge, carefully avoiding stepping on plank number eight, which reads "The series of acts of the Thirty-first Congress, commonly known as the compromise or adjustment, (the act of the recovery of fugitive from labor included) are received and acquiesced in by the Whigs of the United States, as a final settlement in principel and substance of the subjects to which they relate." The plank was an endorsement of the Compromise of 1850. Seward, who opposed the compromise, covers Scott's mouth with his hand, saying, "General, I have been trying to get safely over this Stream for some time, and your Shoulders, are broad enough to bear me; never mind your tongue or your pen I'll manage them, but look well to your footsteps as this particular spot, it takes a pretty long Stride but stretch your legs, as I do my Con-science,--and you can get over anything." Greeley, another vociferous abolitionist, follows behind carrying a tureen of "Free Soil Soup" and Scott's heavily plumed hat. He adds, "That's the talk Bill! you take care of his mouth, and his fingers, & Ill look out for the, feathers, and soup, perhaps you had better Stop and let him have a 'hasty plate' of it, as I have seasoned it highly with "black" pepper, to suit our taste, & we can give him a mouthful of Graham bread when he gets through." The "hasty plate of soup" was a lingering joke at Scott's expense dating from the general's Mexican War career. (See "Distinguished Military Operations," no. 1846-15.) "Black" pepper is a racist allusion, while "graham bread" was actually a well-known dietary preference of Greeley's. Raymond trails behind Greeley, carrying a copy of the New York "Times" and a document marked "Telegraphic Dispatches." He marvels, "Well I declare! Seward will get the old joker across after all; since he had that severe attack of the Botts, I thought he would never go over Safe." Virginia Whig John Minor Botts caused a stir at the convention by reading a letter from Scott wherein, for the first time, he endorsed the compromise.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

David Wilmot Confers With President Polk

James K. Polk's diary entry for Wednesday December 23, 1846 describes a curious conversation that the president held with David Wilmot.

Four months earlier, as the Congressional session was expiring, Wilmot had lobbed his incendiary Proviso into the debate over the Mexican War. Now, shortly after the beginning of the new term, Wilmot made an appointment to see the president, arriving "[a]fter night" on December 23rd. By coincidence, Charles J. Ingersoll, another Democratic member of the House from Pennsylvania, showed up unannounced shortly after Wilmot did, apparently cramping the conversation somewhat. Nonetheless, the president was able to "hold hold a conversation with him [Wilmot] on the subject of slavery restriction, which had been attached upon his motion at the last Session of Congress to the Bill which proposed to appropriate two millions of Dollars, with a view to enable the Executive to make a Treaty with Mexico."

The strange part is that Wilmot had apparently scheduled the meeting to tell the president that he would not re-introduce his Proviso in the current session:

He expressed an entire willingness to vote for the appropriation without the restriction, and said he would not again move the restriction, but that if it was moved by others he would feel constrained to vote for it.

Polk attempted to reassure Wilmot that he was making the right decision. The Mexican War was not some conspiracy to extend slavery to New Mexico and California. Echoing arguments made by others, the president contended that it would be virtually impossible for slavery to take root in those places. At all events, the Proviso represented an improper attempt to restrict the Executive's power to negotiate a treaty, and as a practical matter would make any peace treaty with Mexico unratifiable by the Senate:
I told him I did not desire to extend slavery, that I would be satisfied to acquire by Treaty from Mexico the Provinces of New Mexico & the Californias, and that in these Provinces slavery could probably never exist, and the great probability was that the question would never arise in the future organization of territorial or State Governments in these territories. I told him that slavery was purely a domestic question, and to restrict the appropriation which had been asked for, so as to require the President to insert it in a Treaty with a Foreign Power, was not only inappropriate and out of place, but that if such a Treaty were made it must be opposed by every Senator from a slave-holding State, and as one third of the Senators could reject a Treaty it could not be ratified, though it might be satisfactory in all other respects. I told him that tramelled with such a restriction I could not use the appropriation at all and would not do so.

Wilmot then reiterated that he would be willing to vote for the so-called $2 Million Bill without any restriction attached. If others renewed the Proviso, he was in favor of non-binding sense-of-Congress language:
He said he would be satisfied with a simple legislative declaration in the Bill of the sense of Congress, without requiring it to be inserted in the Treaty, or, if it was not moved by others, he would be willing to vote for the appropriation without such a restriction in any form.

Ingersoll's presence then aborted the conversation, and Wilmot departed.

I, at least, was surprised to read of Wilmot's expressed flexibility. He had introduced his Proviso less than four months earlier with an intensity of expression that suggested no ground for compromise. To the best of my knowledge, his public pronouncements thereafter demonstrated an unrelenting resolve to bar slavery from previously free territory.

Did Wilmot have a temporary pang of regret that he he had inadvertently caused an earthquake? Was he cynically seeking to demonstrate party loyalty or obtain Polk's favor for a pet cause? Or was the performance nothing but a charade, since he knew that in all probability one or more of his co-conspirators would re-introduce the Proviso, making his pledge irrelevant? (In fact, Preston King gave notice that he would re-introduce the Proviso less than a week later, on December 29, 1846.) And if so, why? Your informed speculation is welcome.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

James Buchanan Declines the Supreme Court: Was Polk Suprised?

In my recent post discussing President James K. Polk's offer to nominate James Buchanan to the Supreme Court in 1846, I inferred that Polk was not surprised when Buchanan declined the offer on Saturday August 1, 1846. I have located Polk's diary entry describing his meeting with Buchanan that day, and he certainly does not sound surprised. Apparently confirming this, Polk had already done his homework on an alternate nominee, and was prepared to nominate Robert C. Grier:
Mr. Buchanan called about 6 O'Clock P. M. [on August 1, 1846] and informed me that he had decided to remain in the Cabinet and not to accept the offer which I had made him to appoint him Judge of the Supreme Court. He said that he did this cheerfully, although he had long desired a seat on the bench, and that now he would stick to me & go through my administration with me. I then told him that I would nominate Judge Greer [sic] of Pittsburg to the vacant seat on the bench on monday next [i.e., Monday August 3, 1846]. He replied that he would be entirely satisfied with Judge Greer's [sic] appointment.

I can almost hear Polk groaning when he listens to Buchanan announcing "that now he would stick to me & go through my administration with me."

The illustration is courtesy of Pop Art Machine.

Friday, January 01, 2010

"Make the Treaty, Sir!"

On December 4, 1847, Nicholas Trist was in Mexico City, consumed with indecision. Two weeks earlier he had received dispatches from Secretary of State James Buchanan canceling his diplomatic mission to Mexico and directing his return to Washington as soon as practicable. And yet Trist believed that, for the first time, a treaty was within reach. Santa Anna and the hard-line "Puros" had been ousted from power and moderates more inclined to accept reality and conclude an acceptable agreement with the United States had taken control. If the opportunity was missed, Trist feared, “events very likely could” (in the words of Robert W. Merry) “spin out of control to the severe detriment of both countries.” What should he do?

As Merry describes it, Trist reached his dramatic decision to defy President Polk and continue negotiations as a result of a meeting with James Freaner, a correspondent for the New Orleans Delta. Trist explained his dilemma to Freaner. The conclusion of the talk would seem to come straight out of a 1940s Hollywood melodrama:
Freaner practically leaped from his chair.

“Mr. Trist, make the Treaty,” he intoned. “Make the Treaty, Sir! It is now in your power to do your country a greater service than any living man can render her. . . . You are bound to do it. Instructions or no instructions, you are bound to do it. Your country, Sir, is entitled to this service from you. Do it, Sir!”

This burst of enthusiasm demolished Trist's indecision on the spot. “I will make the Treaty,” he replied with equal fervor.

Associate Justice James Buchanan?

Did you know that James Buchanan almost became an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court in 1846? I didn’t either. Robert W. Merry tells the unlikely tale in his interesting and enjoyable biography of James K. Polk, A Country of Vast Designs.

The story begins two years earlier, with the death of Associate Justice Henry Baldwin in April 1844. Wikipedia reports that President John Tyler made two nominations before he left office in March 1845, both of whom were rejected.

In December 1845, president James K. Polk nominated George Washington Woodward to the vacant seat. Polk considered Woodward, a Pennsylvanian then serving as a Pennsylvania state court judge, as a “sound, original, & consistent democrat, of the strict construction school.” Baldwin had been from Pennsylvania, and I assume the Polk selected Woodward to preserve the seat for the politically important Keystone State. (Both of President Tyler’s rejected nominees had also been from Pennsylvania, making pretty clear that both parties regarded the position as reserved for that state.) Perhaps finding a worthy member of the Pennsylvania bar also accounts for Polk's delay.

James Buchanan – another Pennsylvanian – was serving at the time as Secretary of State. Polk’s leading cabinet officer was also the most annoying. Buchanan, with his eye constantly on future advancement, provided advice that shifted constantly with the political winds. On Oregon, for example, he was initially dovish, urging the president not to risk war with Great Britain. When he perceived, however, that Lewis Cass of Michigan was riding a groundswell of popularity by urging an aggressive stance, Buchanan performed a dramatic about-face and attempted to erase evidence of his earlier position.

The politically sensitive Buchanan vehemently objected to Woodward’s nomination, and late on Christmas evening, 1845, Buchanan went to the White House to complain to the president. In faction-riven Pennsylvania, the Democratic faction led by Buchanan and Simon Cameron considered Woodward an enemy. “The secretary complained bitterly that Polk had not alerted him in advance and accused Polk of undermining his political standing in Pennsylvania with numerous adverse patronage decisions,” a charge Polk vehemently denied.

Supreme Court nominations were acted on far more quickly in those days. Within a month, on January 22, 1846, the Senate voted on Woodward’s nomination – and rejected him by a tally of 20-29. Circumstantial evidence suggested that Buchanan and his crony Simon Cameron were largely responsible for the administration’s embarrassment:

The entire Whig caucus had voted against [Woodward], along with six Democrats – Cameron, [Thomas Hart] Benton [of Missouri], Ambrose Sevier and Chester Ashley of Arkansas, and David Yulee and James Westcott of Florida. Polk knew Cameron, Sevier, and Westcott were intimate friends of Buchanan, presumably susceptible to entreaties from the secretary to support the president. Clearly, Buchanan had not supported the administration in its hour of need.

In fact, it was worse than that. It appeared that Buchanan had been angling for the Supreme Court position himself and had engineered Woodward’s defeat in order to position himself as the next nominee:

Worse, Polk heard that Buchanan had expressed hopes of getting the job even before the Woodward vote. “The information given me . . .,” wrote Polk to his diary, “left the painful impression that Mr. Buchanan has been willing to see . . . Mr. Woodward rejected by the Senate in order to obtain the office himself.” Later that evening the president received visits from Vice President [George M.] Dallas, Senator Daniel Dickinson of New York, and [William] Allen of Ohio. They were indignant. The six errant Democrats had ignored all arguments in favor of the highly qualified Woodward, they reported, and voted simply for political effect. Cameron was the apparent ringleader, they said, and immediately after the vote rumors began floating across the Senate floor that Buchanan would be the next nominee. Sure enough, Polk shortly received a letter from Benton recommending Buchanan for the job.

Privately, Polk was irate, but he did not confront or take action against Buchanan – part of a strange pattern in which the president seemed reluctant to take on his disloyal cabinet member.

Things took a strange turn five months later. Although Polk had vowed that Buchanan would never get the judicial position he apparently wanted, on June 10, 1846, Polk offered his secretary of state the vacancy. Polk never explained why, and his motives must therefore remain a mystery. Perhaps he viewed it as a graceful way of booting the every-annoying Buchanan out of the cabinet. Even if Old Buck declined the offer, perhaps he would display a little more loyalty to his chief. Placating the irascible and unpredictable Benton was crucial to Polk, and perhaps that also played a role.

At all events, Buchanan appeared delighted by Polk's offer, and on June 28 he reported that he would accept the nomination.

After that, strange became bizarre. First, Polk and Buchanan disagreed as to the timing of the announcement of the nomination. On July 1, Polk told Buchanan that he would send the nomination to the Senate shortly before Congress was scheduled to adjourn (roughly the beginning of August, one month hence). Polk apparently wanted the Senate first to focus on and deal with pressing policy matters. He may also have felt that an early nomination would only give Buchanan’s enemies time to rally their forces.

Buchanan, in turn, pushed for an immediate nomination, suggesting that intervening international events might preclude his departure from State.

Apparently sensing that Buchanan’s mind was not entirely made up, on July 12 Polk tried to force the issue by seeking Buchanan’s approval to send a letter to U.S. ambassador Louis McLane in London with an offer to become Buchanan’s successor. Buchanan suggested that Polk refrain from sending the letter, since he (Buchanan) might change his mind.

Finally, on or about August 1, Buchanan “stunned Polk with the news” that he would decline the Supreme Court offer and remain in the cabinet. Since timing was no longer an issue (Congress was scheduled to adjourn in a week), Buchanan’s motivation is unclear. Merry suggests that Buchanan may have been concerned that he might face considerable opposition that might damage his political reputation. It may also be that he simply concluded that remaining at State provided the most likely path to the presidency.

Although Merry characterizes Polk as “stunned” by Buchanan’s decision, I suspect he fully expected it, because he seems to have been prepared with another candidate. It appears that Polk immediately nominated yet another Pennsylvanian – a relatively obscure state trial court judge by the name of Robert C. Grier. Grier was unanimously approved by the Senate on August 4, 1846 – only three days after Buchanan had turned down the job.

Both the unanimous vote and subsequent events suggest that Grier was acceptable to Buchanan, and at least that Buchanan did not regard him as a political enemy, as he had Woodward. Alert readers may note that, in the run-up to the Supreme Court’s issuance of its decision in the Dred Scott case in March 1857, Buchanan did not hesitate to write to Grier to urge him to join the southern majority on the Missouri Compromise issue. Grier, in turn, promptly responded to Buchanan that he was prepared to rule in a manner that would accommodate the wishes of the president-elect.

As long-time readers know, I like a good what-if, and this suggests a really good one. Buchanan may have imagined that a Supreme Court justiceship might have served as a stepping-stone to the presidency, but that was unprecedented. If Buchanan had been on the Court in 1856 and unavailable, for all practical purposes, as a potential nominee, who might the Democrats have nominated in his stead? As I recall, the Democrats selected Buchanan that year because he was about the only person of any stature they could find who had not taken a stand on Stephen A. Douglas’s Kansas-Nebraska Act. (The fact that he was from the crucial state of Pennsylvania was also a big plus.) Who else would have satisfied that criterion? And if the Democrats had selected a more divisive candidate (Douglas, for example), might Republican John C. Fremont have been elected? And then what? Civil War in 1857?
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