Secession Era Editorials Project

The Nebraska Bill. Abolitionism.

Washington, D C, Union [Democratic]

(15 January 1854)

It will take nobody by surprise to know that the New York Tribune is down upon Judge Douglas's Nebraska bill with its usual fanatical bitterness. Any proposition which had for its object the permanent protection of the country against the slavery agitation would excite the hostility and provoke the assaults of that organ of abolitionism. The fact that it has come forward so promptly to denounce the measure of peace and compromise so ably presented by Judge Douglas is conclusive that his proposition is regarded by abolitionists as a death-blow to their hope of making the slavery question available for future political excitement. The course of the Tribune more than ever confirms us in the importance which we attach to the Nebraska report and bill. In our judgment, the adoption of the principles of that bill by a united democratic vote would be hailed by the patriotic lovers of the Union throughout the country as the crowning act of our party. It would dispel the idle charge that our union at Baltimore was a mere temporary expedient to secure the spoils of office. It would vindicate and illustrate the purity and excellence of the motives and principles of the convention which harmonized and united upon the principles of the Baltimore platform. It would prove to every member of the democratic party that the union effected by that platform was intended to be permanent. It would remove from our ranks all pretext for internal strife and dissension in regard to the slavery question, and withdraw from our whig antagonists the only capital on which they now seek to give efficiency to their opposition.

The denunciations of the Tribune are directed against that clause in the Compromise, proposed to be inserted in the Nebraska bill, which says:

"When admitted as a State, the said Territory, or any portion of the same, shall be received into the Union, with or without slavery, as their constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission."

The great principle of submitting the question to the decision of the people, when they are prepared for admission into the Union as a State, is here distinctly recognised. To this principle the Tribune objects, and denounces it as a base submission to the slave power. That journal would deny to the people the right of self-government -- for that is the real purport of the new higher law set up by the Tribune. Against the exercise by the people of a State of this fundamental right abolition relies upon the ordinance of 1787. The bill of Judge Douglas distinctly recognises that right, and on that ground the issue is made up. But we have no disposition to enter into an argument on the question. What we desire is that the real issue shall be distinctly understood and properly appreciated. We would not avoid that issue, or seek to temporize with it. The democracy now have it in their power to drive the last nail into the coffin of abolitionism, and we trust that the opportunity will be neither shunned nor unnecessarily postponed. We wish to see the seal of reality impressed upon the covenant of union entered into at Baltimore. If the Democratic party by that covenant has not forever proscribed and repudiated abolitionism, we care not how soon we are undeceived. We have proclaimed the election of Franklin Pierce as the death-knell of the slavery agitation. We repose with unshaken confidence upon that conviction, and we are confirmed in it when we see the organ of the fanatical agitators assailing with mad ferocity a proposition which looks to the permanency of that repose on the slavery question which now reigns in the public mind. But we believe we can effect more by showing to our democratic readers the position of the Tribune, than by any argument of our own. We therefore republish what that journal says:

Slavery in the Field.

An overt attempt is set on foot in Mr. Douglas's Nebraska bill to override the Missouri Compromise. The eighth section of the act admitting Missouri as a State is as follows:

"In all that territory ceded by France to the United States, under the name of Louisiana, which lies north of 36 degrees and 30 minutes north latitude, not included within the limits of the State contemplated by this act, slavery and involuntary servitude, otherwise than in the punishment of crime whereof the parties shall have been duly convicted, shall be, and is hereby, forever prohibited: Provided, always, that any person escaping into the same, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any State or Territory of the United States, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labor or service, as aforesaid."

This plain and unequivocal declaration that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in our North-west Territories is unceremoniously hustled aside by Mr. Douglas, who makes the Compromise measures of 1850 the scape-goat for his sin in doing it. He says that:

"A proper sense of patriotic duty enjoins upon your Committee the propriety and necessity of a strict adherence to the principles, and even a literal adoption of the enactments of that adjustment in all their Territorial bills, so far as the same are not locally inapplicable"

And hence he proceeds to incorporate the following provision respecting Nebraska into his bill at the start:

"When admitted as a State, the said Territory, or any portion of the same, shall be received into the Union with or without slavery, as their Constitution may proscribe at the time of their admission."

It is not to be expected of men who live for the sole purpose of enjoying official station, that they shall ever be manly, noble or independent. They slavishly cower before every storm that threatens their opinions with popular condemnation, and make haste to trim their sails to catch the passing breeze of public favor. It is everywhere assumed among such that subjection to the slaveholding interest is now our only sure path to political honors and distinction. In the struggle of 1850, the great Northern anti-Slavery sentiment was inundated and overwhelmed in consequence of the succumbing temper and faithlessness of rotten leaders. With their own hands they destroyed the dykes and let the waters flow in and wash away the rich fruits of years. The XXXIst Congress inaugurated the era of submission to Slavery. Since then, everything has gone on swimmingly in this line. Not only was the Slavery question compromised, but the character, reputation, and principles of hundreds of our public men were also compromised by the same operation. There was a general debauch and demoralization throughout all political circles, as was clearly manifested in the triumphant run of Gen. Pierce. The demoralization continues. It is not to be expected, therefore, that we shall see, for the present, in the acts of public men who place success before principle, anything but unmanly submission to the demands of the slave power. If Gen. Taylor had lived, and the Wilmot Proviso doctrine had substantially triumphed, as it would have done through the instrumentality of his policy relative to our Mexican acquisitions, then we should have seen the reverse of what we now see. Instead of finding Mr. Douglas down on his marrow-bones at the feet of slavery, we should see the same man standing up firm and strong in behalf of the glorious old Ordinance of 1787. Freedom's battle was fought and lost in 1850, and the cowards and traitors have all run to the winning side.

But although anti-Slavery is weak in political circles, it was never stronger with the masses of the people. The great heart of the country is sound. Thousands and millions of true men all over the North wait but the occasion for a practical demonstration of their power, to show how firm is their attachment to the principles of freedom, and how deeply they scorn the shallow fools who have the impertinence to talk about "crushing out" those principles. We expect to see Slavery go on pressing and pushing the advantages it derived from the adjustment of 1850, till a reaction is created that will again convulse the country to its center. Slavery is imperious, encroaching, truculent, belligerent. Its own conduct will thus ultimately generate an explosive force that must blow it to atoms. This movement of Douglas to override and virtually repeal the Missouri Compromise is one step in this direction.

We denounce every attempt to remove the salutary restriction upon the introduction of Slavery into the North-West, and above the line of 36 [degrees] 30 [minutes] below which the Missouri Compromise confines it, whether insidious and hesitant, or open and flagrant, a breach of solemn compact between the North and the South, inevitably opening a door to a fresh and fierce agitation. Let the Country take notice that this convulsion is not commenced on the side of Freedom.

This document was produced as part of a document analysis project by Lloyd Benson, Department of History, Furman University. (Proofing info: Main text entered and proofed by Lloyd Benson, Tribune text entered by Jeff Bollerman and proofed by Lloyd Benson.) This electronic version may not be copied, or linked to, or otherwise used for commercial purposes, (including textbook or publication-related websites) without prior written permission. The views expressed in this document are for educational, historical, and scholarly use only, and are not intended to represent the views of the project contributors or Furman University.