As the Presidential election of 1856 heated up, so did sectionalism, as the United States threatened to disunite over slavery. It also was the first campaign by a new political party: the Republican party, running anti-slavery candidate John C. Frémont. “Who Are the Aggressors?,” by Samuel Griswold Goodrich, is a reply to critics of Frémont’s party and to Southerners threatening secession.

As the author of popular works for children, Goodrich was scrutinized by those on both sides of the issue. From the 1830s through the 1850s, both abolitionists and pro-slavery critics tended to claim his works—for the other side. In 1837, the editor of the Charleston Courier [Charleston, South Carolina] took issue with “Story of a Slave Ship” in Peter Parley’s Tales of the Sea (Boston: Gray & Bowen, 1831), declaring that “Should the circulation of this publication be continued, the offender will subject himself to a prosecution, which will certainly be instituted.” [35 (17 August 1837); p. 2, col 2] In 1839, an abolitionist was dismayed to find that an anti-slavery paragraph had been removed from one of Goodrich’s geographies. [G. D. “Another Peter Fallen.” Philanthropist 2 (2 July 1839); p. 2] In 1852, the New Orleans Courier complained that “many of the school books used in the South are of an extremely objectionable tendency,” with many displaying “a covert hostility to Southern institutions”; Goodrich’s Parley books “are full of this insidious poison, even in the pictorial illustrations.” [“President Wayland an Incendiary.” In The Liberator 22 (26 March 1852); p. 50, col 1] Though Goodrich was no longer editing Robert Merry’s Museum, in 1857, abolitionist Henry C. Wright ranted against the magazine, calling it “the handmaid of slavery”. [“Letter From Henry C. Wright: ‘Merry’s Museum’ the Handmaid of Slavery.” The Liberator, 27 (March 20, 1857): 48, col 3-4.]

In Goodrich’s works for children, slavery is evil, and “every good man is bound to exert himself ardently, to relieve the country from the crime of holding thousands and thousands of our fellow beings in slavery.” [Tales of the Sea; p. 122] But, as a member of the newly formed political party, Goodrich took a moderate view toward slavery and abolition. His description of slavery seems naive or simply obsequious: “I have … seen slavery, and I believe … that in no country, anywhere, in any age, has it ever been so mildly administered, so much softened by a general feeling of kindness and humanity. The very fire-eaters, those who make war on abolitionists and shake their fists in the faces of Republicans, are, I doubt not, many of them kind and gentle masters to their slaves.” From the 21st century, the insistence that slavery could be allowed to exist at all is infuriating. Because slavery was constitutional, the argument ran, it should be contained to the current slave states: “We accept it as sheltered by the compromise of the constitution. Within this boundary it is sacred.” The Republicans believed that “that all political action on the part of the government of the United States, intended to affect slavery adversely, in the southern states, is wrong. … We war not against slaveholders, but slave extensionists. Within its legitimate limits it is safe, but when it passes these boundaries and, by violence, seeks to extend and establish itself to the free soil of the Union, we confront it and oppose it.”

Of course, Frémont didn’t win the election; and it’s difficult to imagine that this tepid abolitionism would have kept a rickety Union glued together. It certainly didn’t work for James Buchanan. But by the time secession began, Goodrich wasn’t alive to witness it.

Notes: The “friend in Kentucky” may have been one of the partners in Morton & Griswold, who published a number of Goodrich’s works from 1839 to 1857. “Aggressors” was printed as an 8-page pamphlet; the transcription here is from the New York Evening Post.
“Who Are the Aggressors?,” by Samuel G. Goodrich (from the New York Evening Post, October 15, 1856; p. 1, column 1-3)
A Letter from S. G. Goodrich to a Friend in Kentucky.

New York, October 7, 1856.

Dear Sir: I duly received your letter of the 11th September, and after some reflection, have concluded to make a reply to your main propositions, viz: That we of the North, who support Mr. Fremont for the Presidency, are engaged in a direct hostile aggression upon the rights, interests and safety of the South; and that if we are successful, a speedy dissolution of the Union is inevitable.

That such ideas prevail extensively in the southern and southwestern states, I am perfectly aware; and that they are entertained even by some good people there, is evident from the fact that such are your own opinions. However unfounded and unreasonable these may appear from our point of view, they are still entitled to respect. You are a northern man by birth and education, brought up at the feet of a New England apostle, and inherit, I believe, his equanimity of temper, his calm judgment, his sincere piety. No other than amicable discussion can therefore take place between you and me. The frothy declamations of mountebank politicians I may despise; your serious and earnest views are not only entitled to consideration, but they induce in me a conscientious desire to review my opinions, and make sure that they are founded in truth and reason. It is with these feelings I now address you, and therefore I trust you will receive what I have to say in a neighborly spirit, even though your convictions may remain unchanged.

What I propose is to bring to the test your two propositions, as above stated:

1st. That the supporters of Fremont, in other words, the Republican party, are engaged in a direct hostile aggression upon the rights, interests and safety of the South.

Now it is manifest that this refers to the institution of slavery, and to nothing else. It is the conduct of the North, in respect to this, that is deemed unjust, hostile and aggressive. Let us go back a little, and trace the history of this question.

At the time of the formation and adoption of the present Constitution—1787 and 1788—slavery existed in all the thirteen states, save Massachusetts; nevertheless, it is matter of record that it was regarded as a transient institution, to be tolerated as an unhappy necessity, but destined ere long to pass away. The Declaration of Independence, the Magna Charta [sic] of our revolutionary period, had proclaimed 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.”

It was that declaration, at least in part, that won us the favor of generous hearts throughout the civilized world: it was that which brought to our aid Lafayette, Kosciusco, and others of similar spirit. It was that which nerved the heart of the country in the revolutionary struggle. It was that, I believe, which secured to us the favor of Providence.

When, therefore, the great men whose hearts were full of this noble sentiment had assembled for the formation of the present constitution—designed to establish and perpetuate the liberty and independence we had achieved—it was with shame and humiliation that slavery was recognised and tolerated, even locally, by that instrument. Such was the feeling, that it was not even named in that document, but was wrapped up in the disguised phrase, of “persons held to service,” so as in some degree to mitigate the bitter necessity of recognising its existence. It was in fact only tolerated, under the idea that the foreign slave trade was to be abolished, as provided for in 1805 and deprived of this supply; and being furthermore regarded as alien to our political institutions, to our civilization and our national spirit, it must gradually, if not speedily, pass away. It was with these views that the constitution was framed by the convention, and with these views it was accepted and adopted by the country. The history of the time tell us this, and it tells us that these opinions were as distinctly entertained at the South as at the North.

Such, then, was slavery as recognised by the constitution; slavery under the shadow of general reprobation; slavery circumscribed and limited; slavery to pass away. It was regarded as an evil thing, evil politically, morally. All classes of men, even politicians, spoke of it thus. Madison said, in the first session of the First Congress—here in New York—in a discussion respecting a tax upon imported slaves:

“By expressing a national disapprobation of that trade, it is to be hoped we may destroy it, and to save ourselves from reproaches and our posterity from the imbecility ever attendant upon a country filled with slaves. This was as much the interest of South Carolina and Georgia, as any other states. Every addition they received to their number of slaves, tended to weakness, and rendered them less capable of self defence. In case of hostility with foreign nations, their slave population would be a means, not of repelling invasion, but of inviting attack. It was the duty of the general government to protect every part of the Union against danger and evil, external and internal. Everything, therefore, which tended to incur this danger, though it might be a local affair, yet if it involved national expense or safety, became of concern to every part of the Union, and a proper subject for the consideration of those charged with the general administration of the government.”

Page, an eminent member of the House from Virginia, in the same debate, spoke of the slaves as a wretched people, remarking that “he lived in a state which had the misfortune to have in her bosom a great number of slaves.” Scott, of Pennsylvania, said: “I look upon the slave trade to be one of the most abominable things on earth, and if there was neither God nor Devil, I should oppose it on principles of humanity and the law of nature. For my part, I cannot conceive how any person can be said to acquire property into another.” Ames, of Massachusetts, said “he hated slavery with all his heart,” and Gerry expressed similar sentiments.

This, sir, was the language of politicians, some of them from the slave states, and themselves slaveholders, in the first session of the first Congress—that is, in 1789. Dr. Franklin, about the same period, signed a memorial to Congress, declaring “that equal liberty was originally the portion and still the birthright of all men;” and hence entreating that body “to give serious attention to the subject of slavery; that you will be pleased to countenance the restoration of liberty to those unhappy men who alone, in this land of freedom, are degraded into perpetual bondage, and who, amid the general joy of surrounded free men, are groaning in servile subjection.”

Jefferson said in a similar strain, and at an earlier period, in his famous notes on Virginia:

“The whole connection between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submission on the other. Our children see this and learn to imitate it. The parent storms, the child looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath, puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller slaves, gives loose to the wildest passions, and thus nursed, educated and exercised in tyranny, cannot but be stamped with its odious features. With what execration should the statesman be loaded, who, permitting one-half the citizens to trample on the rights of the other, transforms them into despots and then into enemies, and thus destroys the morals of one and the amor patriæ of the other.

“And can the liberties of the nation be thought more secure when we have refused the only firm basis—a conviction in the minds of the people that their liberties are the gift of God; that they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I recollect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever; that, considering numbers, natural and mental means, a revolution in the wheel of fortune, a change of situation is among the possible events; that it may become probable by a supernatural interference. The Almighty has no attribute which can take part with us in such a contest.”

Monroe said, though at a later date:

“We have found that this evil (slavery) has preyed upon the very vitals of the Union. It has been prejudicial to all the states in which it has existed.”

Now, my dear sir, keeping these things in mind, remembering that the slavery of the compromise which we at the north agreed should exist as a local institution, and which should have a vote of three fifths of its number—was thus limited, condemned, branded, designed to be extirpated—I ask you to look at that institution as it now exists.

In 1788, the whole number of slaves in the United States was but little over 500,000; their number now is nearly four millions. Slavery not only remains in six of the old states, but it has become established in nine new ones. We have spread it over a territory of more than a million of square miles. It now claims to be a good and benign institution, sanctioned by the Bible, compatible with morals, genial to our republican institutions, and, as such, it haughtily demands extension and perpetuation, by and through the constitution. It assumes to stand side by side with liberty; it claims protection under the flag of the Union on the high seas, and denies to Congress the power to check it—even to legislate upon it, except to protect and foster it. It claims to be higher than the constitution, and mocks the Declaration of Independence. It has seized upon the general government, and by its means, has swept away solemn compromises, which set limits to its extension, and now it treads the free soil of Kansas as its master! It holds the language of dictation and menace, and tells the people of this Union, that if they dare to stay its march, it will overturn the government!

These, sir, are plain, notorious truths; they can neither be denied nor shaded away. We of the North, in accepting the constitution, agreed to bear our share of the shame and curse of slavery; but we agreed to this, as a burden to be diminished and finally to be extinguished—not as a load to be perpetuated, and to increase and expand, and at last to control and master and defy us. This was not the compact. And now that things have come to this pass, feeling that the time has arrived when we should say to the tide, “Hither to hast thou come, but thou shalt go no further”—be bold, even you tell us that we are engaged in a direct, hostile aggression upon the rights, interests and safety of the South, and if we persevere, the Union shall be dissolved. You, a good, sincere man, say this to me. I know of no argument against slavery so strong as its blinding and perverting influence upon the human mind, destroying the truth, violating logic, and teaching the aggressor to charge his own crimes upon his victim. It is owing to the emotions excited by your letter, inevitably suggesting this train of reflections, that I now break the silence I had imposed upon myself during this canvass, and that I address you through a public channel.

I have sketched in outline the history of slavery from the beginning; but to do justice to my views, it is necessary to exhibit some points more in detail. What I have thus to add, has reference to the subject, as it is presented in the pending canvass for the Presidency.

Passing over events which occurred prior to 1850,—a continuous detail of pro-slavery aggression—I come to the celebrated compromise of that date—signed and sealed by the great names of Webster, Clay and Calhoun—Cass, Douglas, and others of that high class. That act was designed to allay agitation, and set the irritating question of slavery at rest. There were some points in this arrangement which were exceedingly distasteful to the North, and especially that portion of it called the “Fugitive Slave law.” We here believe in the old-fashion doctrines of the Declaration of Independence; of Madison, Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Adams and Franklin. We believe that a man, even though he be a negro, is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in his own way. We believe in that solemn legislation for all men and all time, which says, “thou shalt not steal”—thou shalt not take from thy fellow man the fruit of his hands, the right to himself, to his body and his wife and his children. This is our belief—scoff at it as you may—and when, therefore, the fugitive slave law demanded of us to become a nation

col 2

of slave-catchers, it was a hard thing to swallow. Nevertheless, our love of the Union, our respect for the Constitution, our desire for peace with our brethren of the South, induced us to make a great effort, and we gulped it down! With slight exceptions, the fugitive slave law became our law, the law of our courts and our legislatures. The militia of our states have even been called out to enforce it.

Such was the compromise of 1850. In less than two years from this date, a bill was introduced into Congress, and speedily passed, sweeping away the very foundations of this agreement, viz.: the Missouri Compromise, a compact of thirty years' standing, and sanctioned by the whole government and the whole people, for that period. Time was not allowed for discussion; the people were not consulted, but the measure, insidiously introduced, was crushed through by a union of the national administration, northern doughfaces and southern slave extensionists.

This act fell like a thunderbolt upon the North. It was regarded as a violation of faith, a betrayal of confidence, an outrage upon justice and truth and policy. In the excitement which followed, the only practical remedy of the great wrong which had been inflicted, seemed to be to occupy the new territory of Kansas—opened by the act alluded to—with northern settlers, so as to ensure to it the exclusion of slavery, to which, in violation of the compromise, it was now rendered accessible. For this purpose, emigration societies were formed, and numerous settlers from the North poured into the territory.

This lawful and laudable conduct stirred up a spirit of violent opposition in the slave states, and especially in the border state of Missouri. As the time for an election and organization of the new territory approached, armed bands crossed the border into Kansas, and, alike by numbers, menace and violence, usurped the ballot-box, chose the officers, organized a government, and, assembling a legislature, proceeded to enact a system of laws establishing slavery in the territory. This code, in the tyranny and terror of its provisions, is without an existing parallel in Christendom; it has been compared to that of Draco, written in blood. If we consider the difference of time, that sanguinary legislator was comparatively mild and merciful.

Thus an Act of Congress, originating in a breach of faith, was consummated by border-ruffianism in Kansas, and civil war was the immediate and i[n]evitable consequence. The settlers who had come hither, lawfully, and only in the peaceable desire to found their homes, were not only despoiled of their political rights, but they were denounced as traitors, their houses given up to conflagration, their property to pillage, their lives to assassination. The government of the United States took part with the invaders, and the whole south cried “Amen!”

Now, be so kind as to mark, that it is at this point, precisely, that the Republican party had its birth. It originated in the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, and the border-ruffianism which followed. Its mission is very simple, clear and positive. It proposes to restore, if not in form, at least in effect, this violated Compromise, and at the same time, to rebuke that spirit of menace, violence and aggression, to which its repeal has given birth. It neither proposes, nor will it tolerate, any invasion of southern rights, as secured by the Constitution; it makes no war on slavery where it is established. It signs the pledge, and inculcates total abstinence in respect to this. It is, in its principles, no new party, and has no new aims. It aims at nothing which the Constitution does not sanction, as interpreted by the fathers—Madison, Jefferson, Washington and Franklin. Its designs are not aggressive, but conservative; it uses no weapons but reason, discussion and the ballot-box, and it uses these only as the means, and the best means, by which harmony may be restored to this distracted country.

This is our position, these our purposes. We have a right—it is the right of every man, to state his views, and he who denies it, is himself in that very act an aggressor upon good manners, fair argument and just logic. I deny your right to call me aggressor, upon the premises you assume; you thereby convict yourself, and not me, of wrong. I pray you reflect upon this.

I am perfectly aware that, in regard to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, the South—or at least the better portion of it, perhaps the larger portion of it—says: “We admit the repeal of the Missouri Compromise to have been wrong, or at least impolitic, but it was offered to us by the North, and we accepted it.” Now, sir, as to the historical fact, you know very well that it was not offered by the North. Whatever its origin, the North—that is the people of the North—were never consulted in the matter. It was proposed, discussed and hurried to completion in a manner purposely to avoid the action of the people on the subject. It was a deeply and artfully contrived plot, sprung upon us by surprise, and nearly every southern member of Congress, whether of the Senate or the House, gave it his sanction. It was a poor excuse in Paradise, “The Devil tempted me and I did eat.” It is much worse at Washington, where the temptation was invited, and the Tempter approved and compensated.

I am also aware that an excuse is offered for the outrages that have taken place in Kansas, by charging the whole difficulty upon the emigration societies of Massachusetts. We are told that, but for them, all would have gone on smoothly, and that Kansas would have been a free state. Does any man in his senses believe that? Not one. The Kansas-Nebraska act was part of a settled purpose to break down every barrier to the extension of slavery. And, besides, who has a right to resist or condemn emigration societies? Is it because they were designed to establish liberty and exclude slavery, that these parties are thus arraigned? I have heard some persons, even at the North, take this ground. Shame upon them! New England, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, were settled by emigration societies; to emigration societies America is indebted for the light of Christianity and civilization. By what right, or what logic, then, are those of Massachusetts to be condemned? It is only by that haughty right of aggression which slavery assumes, to denounce and trample down every thing which dares to oppose it.

But ruffianism is not confined to Kansas. It has spread over the South; it has entered the Capitol at Washington, and manifests itself in the press. It is not confined to the vulgar and the few. It pervades society; it sweeps over whole states, and speaks from the lips of governors, senators, judges. Fair dames have caught its spirit, and wave their lily hands in honor of its heroes. Ruffianism, of the most brutal and dastardly character, has recently received honors in South Carolina such as were once only awarded to the successful champions of the tournament. Is it because the modern chivalry of that state is synonymous with ruffianism?

Sir, the attack of Mr. Brooks upon Mr. Sumner, in all its aspects and consequences, is a phenomenon which may well arrest the attention of the reflecting North. A member of the House of Representatives, a gentleman bred, of good social position and high connections, arms himself with a bludgeon, and taking a second, goes into the Senate chamber, and seizing an opportunity when his victim is pinioned by his desk, so as to be incapable of defence, rushes upon him by surprise, and strikes him down as if he were an ox.

This act, at once brutal and dastardly, according to the code of honor among men, even that of the pot-house and the ring, of itself would involve no one but its infamous perpetrator; but in this instance—strange to say—it has been applauded by the larger portion of the southern press. All, or nearly all, the southern members of the House of Representatives, so far sanctioned it as to vote against the expulsion of the offender. He was expelled, but has been almost unanimously returned by his constituents. Presents of gold and silver have been lavished upon him without stint or measure. There has recently been a grand jubilee in his native state, where he has been wreathed with laurels, such as never were bestowed in this country, even upon the victor returned from patriotic and glorious battle. Governors of states, senators of the United States, members of Congress—the flush and the fair—have vied with each other in thus crowning their hero. Drunk with idolatry, he has accepted the apotheosis, and moves and nods and speaks with the conscious authority of a divinity.

How, sir, are we to interpret all this? The man upon whom this brutal outrage was committed was at least equal to his assailant in every gentlemanly quality; in scholarship, in personal dignity of character, in refinement of taste and sentiment, he was his superior. Why, then, is this outrage committed and applauded? It is because Mr. Sumner had spoken the truth—severely, I admit, but still within parliamentary rule—against slavery. That was his offence. It is for this he has been struck down; it is for this his assassin is deified, as was Theseus for slaying the Monitaur [sic], and Hercules for cutting off the heads of the Lernean Hydra. I see it is proposed that the South shall have a literature and school books suited to its tastes and its “peculiar institution;” in these, no doubt, the achievements of Preston S. Brooks will be handed down to admiring posterity, his performance in the Senate Chamber being duly illustrated with wood-cuts!

It has then come to this—that a man who speaks the truth of slavery is not a man, but a monster; he without the pale of gentlemanly courtesy; as the constitution has been violated, as compromises have been set aside, as charity and christianity have been repudiated by the aggressive spirit of slavery, so it would repeal those finer enactments of society which temper, and soften and regulate the fiery passions of men. Such is the attitude of the chivalrous South, and yet you call us the aggressors!

Sir, the whole political atmosphere in the South is in harmony with the border-ruffians of Kansas and the club law of the Capitol. Murder, violence, expulsion, stare every man in the face who dares to utter opinions contrary to this general tide of feeling and sentiment. A Virginian is exiled because he attends a Republican Convention in Philadelphia. A learned jud[g]e in the same state—Thompson by name—no vulgar person, but a Thompson with a p, as Burton would say—has arisen up and told us that to advocate the cause of Fremont, is treason in the Old Dominion. Governor Wise says all this and much more in the same vein, and the Virginia press tells us that he speaks the sentiments of the state. Not only the press, but the lips are muzzled there, and the provisions of the constitution which hold the right of free speech and free print as sacred, are scoffed at and set at nought. The Declaration of Independence—our great National Bill of Rights—is crucified, and the ribald multitude pass by, wagging their heads.

Nor is even this all: it is not the half of the story. Not in Naples, not in Austria, not in the Popedom, not in Russia, is there a more dark and deadly suppression of the liberty of speech, than in portions of the South. In Italy, a man who reads the Protestant Bible, and prays in the Protestant faith and form, and especially if he communicates his views to his family and friends, is simply imprisoned; at Mobile, a bookseller who happens to have in his hands two copies of the life of a southern man, one Frederick Douglass, is exiled on pain of tar and feathers!

This, Sir, is a dark picture, but it is nevertheless true. I do not mean, certainly, to involve the whole southern people in this description. If this were the proper time and occasion, no one would be more ready than myself to render homage to the refinement, dignity and virtue, which are found in the South. I know many there, who are ornaments to human nature. I believe a large majority of the southern people are reasonable, and just, and true. I have been among them and seen slavery, and I believe, notwithstanding all I have said and truly said of the institution, that in no country, anywhere, in any age, has it ever been so mildly administered, so much softened by a general feeling of kindness and humanity. The very fire-eaters, those who make war on abolitionists and shake their fists in the faces of Republicans, are, I doubt not, many of them kind and gentle masters to their slaves. I know that even in South Carolina, however a gentleman may knock down a freesoiler, public opinion is against him—he even loses caste with the chivalry—if he is brutal to those poor creatures whom God has placed in his keeping.

But the difficulty is this: these, the good portion of the people of the South, are silent, or are silenced. They give up public affairs, and submit to be guided and interpreted by ruffians. In the political arena, we do not meet the reasonable, the just, the patriotic; but it is such as Atchison, and Brooks, and Keitt, and Wise, and Slidell, who control the South and wield its power in the national councils. These, effectively, are the South. These repealed the Missouri Compromise, and carried civil war into Kansas; these wield the southern press; these repeal the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, and the laws of courtesy and neighborly kindness. It is these we meet, and against these we are forced to contend.

Sir, the simple truth is this, so far as I am able to judge, that the South is in the hands of mere politicians. These have been accustomed to govern the country and they intend still to do so. They have found slavery to be a mighty engine to serve their purposes. In its very nature it is sensitive, and tends to concentration and unity, for the purposes of defence. He who cries out that there is danger to this cherished but still timid and shrinking interest, obtains sympathy, and speedily makes himself its champion. Slavery is, in fact, the universal hobby of southern political mountebanks. It is an animal easy to be caught, and easy to ride. And it is through the management of this class of persons that slavery has been extended, year by year, until it has attained its present enormous and portentious dimensions. These men, by practice, become skilful jockies; they ride dextrously, and have hitherto won the race. Bullying, threats, defiance, have too often served their purpose with the quiet people of the North. These are their weapons now. Goliah of Gath, six cubits and a span, stands in front of the embattled hosts, and challenging to the contest, says: “Ho, ye abolitionists—ye Fremonters—ye republicans—ye revilers of the “peculiar institution”—take warning: if you prevail, behold we will secede, and send you all to destruction!” We shall answer Goliah with the quiet sling of the ballot-box.

This is my reply sir, to your first proposition, which

col 3

is, that we are aggressors upon the rights, interests and safety of the South; and it naturally brings me to your second proposition, which is:

“That if Fremont is elected, the South will dissolve the Union.”

Sir, I do not believe it, I do not fear it. We have heard this bravado till we contemn it. And besides, there are difficulties in the way: difficulties political, social, economical and geographical. You cannot change your latitude or your longitude; you cannot sever the continent, or cut asunder the rivers which unite, and bind us together. You can no more rend the bonds of brotherhood, the associations of history and consanguinity and interest, and fraternal affinity, which, beneath all the froth and foam of an agitated surface of political conflict, are anchored deep in the great heart of the people, North and South.

Sir, I know that the Hotspurs of the South propose, immediately upon the election of Fremont—which they now seem to consider almost certain—to rush to Washington and seize upon the Capitol, the public archives and the public treasure. I believe Governor Wise is organizing the militia of Virginia for some such purpose. I observe that a tender-hearted Catholic of South Carolina has asked Bishop Hughes, as a question of conscience—inasmuch as in all things he is bound to be guided by his priest—whether he shall have the sanction of the Church, if he engages in the filibustering? I do not, therefore, at all doubt that some light-headed politicians in Virginia and South Carolina really entertain this light fingered project. But, sir, before secession can actually take place, there will be time for reflection. Before the people of the South take the fatal leap, they will look over the precipice, and contemplate the unfathomable gulf below. And they will take counsel—not of mad-cap Wise, or Brooks, or Keitt, or Thompson with a P—, but with such men as John Ball, Wm. C. Rives, your own Crittenden, Bradford of Louisiana, and others, in the South, calm, wise, just, and patriotic.

And then the truth will be set before them. I can see that you, my friend, even you, are laboring under the grossest illusions and misapprehensions as to the principles and purposes of the Republican party. We are not abolitionists, in that offensive sense which you assign to the word. We make no war on slavery where it is established. Believing, as we do, that it has grown and increased by unconstitutional aggression, we still submit to it as it is. We accept it as sheltered by the compromise of the constitution. Within this boundary it is sacred. We desire to leave it, with all its good and evil, to those who are interested in it and responsible for it. Even if we hope for its gradual extinction, we hold that the best way is to commit it to the conscience, the wisdom and experience of those who are alone qualified to deal with it.

Our views on this point are conservative; we hold that all unmerited harshness of language, all reckless discussion toward the South, in relation to this matter as alike unneighborly and unwise. We believe that all political action on the part of the government of the United States, intended to affect slavery adversely, in the southern states, is wrong. We suppose all this now and forever, alike because it is against the compact between us, and because it will only strengthen, harden and perpetuate the institution which we disapprove.

Sir, we make a broad distinction between constitutional and unconstitutional slavery—local slavery, as the constitution makes it, and national slavery, as the fire-eaters would render it. We war not against slaveholders, but slave extensionists. Within its legitimate limits it is safe, but when it passes these boundaries and, by violence, seeks to extend and establish itself to the free soil of the Union, we confront it and oppose it. These are our principles: no more, no less. And I ask you, sir, not merely as a matter of justice, but of wisdom, to take our own words and our own declarations, and not these of our adversaries, who have an interest to misrepresent and malign us.

Our position is that of opposition to slavery extension; if we succeed, we hope to have the free soil of Kansas and the contiguous territory remain free. We hope to see the ruffianism that has characterized slave-extensionists and perpetualists, rebuked. We desire to see the Doughface of the North, through whom, as much as to the fire-eaters of the South, the present evil has come upon us, branded for all future time, according to his true character—a self-emasculated political eunuch, seeking the unclean embraces of slavery, not from the poor excuse of affection, but the hungry lust of lucre, spoils, office, position. We desire to furnish a lasting example to ambition, that hereafter the path to the Presidency is not to be found in exclusive subserviency to slave extension. We hope, by legitimate and laudable means—the spread of truth and light and the verdict of the ballot-box—to settle this vexed question, and to bring about a return of peace and amicable relations between all parts of the country.

These are our views, and before secession can be accomplished, there will be time to see them, to consider and to appreciate them. When it is discovered that they are thus fair, moderate, constitutional, I feel assured that they will be accepted as the basis of a firm and lasting compromise between the North and the South.

There are other things, which I think will operate upon the sober second thought of the southern people, in view of a dissolution of the Union. Where will they draw the dividing line? Who shall have the Mississippi? Will the northern states, spreading ever its head-waters—Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin and others, consent to have its lower course, within the dominion and control of the states of Mississippi and Louisiana? How are you to divide the public property, ships, arms, am[m]unition, dockyards? Who is to have the immense public domain?

Suppose these difficulties to be got over, to set at defiance, what is to be the form of government for the new confederacy? One third of the population being slaves, a republic is impossible; a concentrated military despositism is that only which can possess sufficient energy even to suppress internal insurrection, much less to repel invasion, and I understand from secessionists themselves, that this is their design.

And what reason for your conduct, what declaration of independence, are you to set forth to the world? That you have separated yourselves from the Union, because they would not permit you to perpetuate and extend slavery! The establishment, the extension and the propagation of slavery must be your motto. Wherever your flag floats, it must carry these ideas. Will this win for you the favor of the civilized world? Will it strengthen and animate your own hearts? Will it propitiate that God before whom Jefferson trembled, when he looked on slavery and reflected that He was just?

Can a government, thus established on a wrong denounced by the enlightened nations of the earth, stand? Will capital—always doubtful and timid, remain in a country resting on such foundations? Can you establish public credit on the bosom of a volcano, palpitating beneath with the fiery elements of destruction? Where will you get the millions and hundreds of millions, to raise and keep a standing army, to equip fleets, erect fortifications, build arsenals and barracks and dock yards?

What will be the state of your plantations, when the whole North, now the great conservator of slavery, is relieved from its obligations, and is of necessity, abolitionized, and when, of course, every slave knows—as know he will—that freedom, deliverance is near, and he has but to hew his way, by fire and blood, through his oppressors, to obtain it? What will be the value of life and property then and there?

Sir, the picture is too horrible; to suppose that the people of the South will rush on such inevitable destruction, and that, too, without excuse, is to suppose them given up to madness. This, sir, I neither believe nor fear. Nay, we are told by persons in the South, of the very highest character, that this whole talk of secession is only the game of those who seek to frighten the North into subjection.

I have thus far made no allusion to the candidates for the Presidency; a few words on this topic are proper and necessary.

Mr. Buchanan, who leads the South, is personally respectable; he has high abilities, large experience, and condescending manners. My objections are not to him, but to his cause. He is the representative of slave extension, slave perpetuation, slave breeding, and the arrogance, murder and ruffianism connected with these things. He is the advocate of the Ostend doctrine of seizing Cuba by violence, if we want it and cannot otherwise get it. He is the bad example of a northern man seeking the Presidency by the surrender of the North and every northern principle. His election would carry slavery into Kansas and Nebraska, and the boundless West; it would expose us to war with the leading nations of Europe. It will sanction and sanctify the outrages in Kansas and the Capitol. It will cast a long and dark shadow upon business; it will keep commerce, trade, finance in their continual agitation which must flow from a president committed to national aggression and robbery. For these and other similar reasons, I am opposed to the election of Mr. Buchanan.

Of Mr. Fillmore, as a man, I could say nothing, truly, but good. He has indeed such high respectability, that he binds together and gives a certain consistency to the most motley, inconsistent and contradictory set of materials ever united in a single party—the fragments of the shipwrecked Know-Nothings, and the floating ruins of the dismembered whigs.

I cannot give him my vote for several reasons. His position is either equivocal upon the great question at issue, or it is synonomous [sic] with that of Buchanan. He is not the representative of that spirit which is determined to obtain a substantial restoration of the Missouri Compromise: on the contrary, he would submit to that outrage, and to the ruffianism which has pe[r]petrated it, sanctioned it and glorified in it. I do not charge this upon him as belonging to his character, his disposition—but this is his attitude; if elected, there would be the certain consequences.

There is, with me, another great objection; Mr. Fillmore has no chance of an election. He may carry a few states, and so, defeating Fremont, the choice may go to the House of Representatives. But there he will be the lowest and weakest of the three candidates. Every man who has studied our institutions knows that in that stern arena the lowest and weakest cannot prevail. The inevitable issue, therefore, as I view it, will be this: He will be sold out to Buchanan by his pretended friends. For this purpose he was no doubt brought into the field, and for this purpose those who prefer Buchanan to Fremont, support him.

As to Fremont, he too, despite the ribald slanders of the press and the stump, is respectable. He has at an early age achieved a reputation, even extending to Europe, for extraordinary enterprise, science and discovery. He is far superior to both his competitors in scientific education and attainments. He is better acquainted than either, by his course of life, with the different portions of the country—born and bred in the South, now an inhabitant of the North, familiar with the West by his surveys, and gloriously associated with the region of the Pacific by discoveries, conquest and development. He has become disciplined and strengthened by hardy enterprise and the stern trials of the soldier and the pathfinder. He has had some experience in legislation, and has enlarged his mind by foreign travel. And more than all, he has, from the beginning, alike by his manly nature and clear intelligence, sees and pursued the title policy in respect to this great question of slavery. His principles, on this subject, are those of his heart, his head and his life. He is the true representative of the great and noble sentiment, now bounding in the pulse of the North: Free soil, free speech, free labor, so far as these are under the guardianship of the constitution.

If he is elected, he will be charged with a high mission before the country and the world. I feel entire confidence, that he has the mind to comprehend it, the heart to appreciate it, the firmness to fulfil it. I shall vote for him, as being, according to my profound convictions, certain to secure the rights of the South and satisfy the North, and thus lead us safely out of the wildness [sic] of agitation and threatened disunion.

In looking over what I have written, I feel that you may possibly think I have spoken only of the wrongs and errors committed by the South, as if we of the North were without reproach. I by no means say this. Many things have been done and said, among us, in the heat of controversy, which are to be condemned. There is ultraism here as well as with you. But as an answer to all you might say on this subject, I present you with this fact: while the whole South is closed against us, we freely admit your orators among us. You would tar and feather us, or Judge Lynch and Judge Thompson would seize upon us if we were to appear among you: but we hear you, and listen to you respectfully. Let the world judge between us; between those who use menace, club law, tar and feathers, threats of imprisonment: and those who preach and practice freedom of the press and of speech, and abide by the calm supremacy of the ballot-box. I will only add, that we read your newspapers and your speeches and these have done more for Fremont than all other influences and instrumentalities whatsoever.

I am yours, truly,

S. G. Goodrich.

Copyright 1999-2024, Pat Pflieger
To “Nineteenth-Century American Children & What They Read
Some of the children | Some of their books | Some of their magazines
To “Voices from 19th-Century America
Some works for adults, 1800-1872
To Titles at this site | Authors at this site | Subjects at this site | Works by date | Map of the site

Talk to me.