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slavery from the territory to be acquired it might be expected to oppose the prosecution of the war.1 Cor.win denounced, in words that have become familiar to almost every American school-boy, the cry of the expansionists for "room," and repeated from the anti-slavery stand-point the warning to the South of Berrien and Calhoun. "If I were a Mexican," said he, "I would tell you, 'Have you not room in your own country to bury your dead men? If you come into mine we will greet you with bloody hands and welcome you to hospitable graves.'" 2 The Democrat Rathbun of New York, the Whig Upham of Vermont, and others protested against any territorial extension because of the political advantage which the Federal ratio in the House gave the South. Niles of Connecticut regretted to see leading senators exerting their eloquence and ability to put their country in the wrong concerning a war which he believed to be justified; but as to slavery he would make no compromise further than to bear with it where it was already established. The Democrat Wood of New York, along with other supporters of the proviso, repudiated the charge of abolitionism, but asserted that the anti-slavery agitation was of the people and not merely of the politicians. Giddings of Ohio favored the proviso primarily because of his objection to slavery itself.3 To all this it was replied that slavery was recognized and sanctioned both by the Constitution and by the Bible, and the right of the South to an equitable share in whatever the expenditure of its own blood and treasure had helped to win was strenuously upheld.1
1 Cong. Globe, 20 Cong., 2 Sess., App., 326.
'Ibid., App., 227 (February 11, 1847.)
'Ibid., 529-533, 546-548, App., 177-180, 343-345. 403-406.
However it originated, the Wilmot Proviso appealed to deep-seated convictions and proved a great stumbling-block to both the existing national parties. In the conventions of 1848 the Democrats refused to condemn and the Whigs to approve it. Nevertheless, it was a formulation—though not a complete one—of the essential issue over which was to take place the great struggle of American history. Out of the effort of Democrats and Whigs to subordinate this issue grew at length the Republican party, which definitely accepted the principle of the proviso, but which by so doing deliberately made itself the party of the free states alone.2 It might, however, well be questioned whether the hesitation of the two national parties did not ultimately save the Union. Before 1850 the mutual anger and disgust of the North and South had only reached the point where both were possibly willing to separate in peace; but from that time forward the exasperation grew till there was little chance of separation without a fight.
1Cong. Globe, 99 Cong., 2 Sess., 360-363, 383-386, App., 406-409.
'Cf. Smith, Parties and Slavery (Am. Nation, XVIII.), chaps. iii., zii.
The proviso served to make plain the irreconcilable difference between the ideals and interests of the North and those of the South. It solidified the South in defence of its own, and almost solidified the North in opposition. The sectionalizing process now passed into its final stage, and in the public and private utterances of thoughtful men began to recur, with ever-increasing frequency, the forecast of disunion. The expansionist proclivities of the American people were by no means overcome—indeed, it is doubtful if they were seriously checked—by the fiery denunciation of the war. This was more a matter of political tactics than of obedience to the popular will — the natural criticism for which the policy of the administration furnished occasion to its enemies;l but the question as to whether the northern industrial and social system or the southern should prevail in the acquired territory went more directly home to all. As soon as the issue raised by the Wilmot Proviso was fairly before the people, the legislatures of the free states, and even of Delaware, began to pass resolutions in favor of the measure, and before the wave had passed ten of them had so expressed themselves.2 It was evidently a popular movement, which the leaders would not long be able to resist. Polk's private jeremiads over the disorganization of the Democracy, the treachery of those who claimed to be supporters of his administration, and the wickedness of injecting
• Cf. Von Hoist, United States, III , 304. * Ibid., 307.
the slavery question into governmental politics were vain.1 Old issues were rapidly losing effectiveness as the basis of party division and were becoming absorbed in the new; and of these, in turn, slavery soon overshadowed all the rest. The progress of sectionalization was seriously threatening the bonds of the Union.
1 See his MS. Diary, e.g., January 14, 19, 1847.
THE ELECTION OP 1848
IN the midst of the general enthusiasm aroused by the military successes of 1847, and the excitement resulting from the precipitation of the slavery issue, the alignment of parties was begun for the next presidential campaign. To this test the party leaders had been anxiously looking forward, some of them for years. How far their conduct may have been determined by their interpretation of the Delphic hum of the presidential bee it would be hard to say. Polk often complained to the pages of his diary that Buchanan's ambition to be president diminished his usefulness in the cabinet.1 The president thought also that dissatisfaction with his appointments and premature contests to decide who should be his successor had changed the nominal Democratic majority in Congress to a practical Whig majority.* It was, indeed, the irony of fate
lSee the entries for December 33, 1847, and February 25, 1848.
•Polk, MS. Diary, January 32, 1847: cf. Fish, Civil Service and Patronage, 158-161.