Secession Era Editorials Project

The Dividing Line.

Detroit, Michigan, Free Press [Democratic]

(18 February 1854)

There is instinctively a wide gulf between the democratic and whig parties of this country. -- The one is progressive, -- the other is snail-like. One keeps pace with the advancing spirit of the age, -- the other is conservative in all its ideas and all its policy. One has unbounded confidence in the popular intelligence and the ability of the people to govern, -- the other is distrustful, and seeks to impose restrictions upon public privileges. The locomotive is the representative of the one, -- the slow coach of the other.

But not withstanding the wideness of the difference which separates the two parties on all essential principles of political action, there is at this time but one really great question at issue. That question is embraced in the Territorial Bill now before Congress; and the issue is, shall the people of the Territories, as well as of the States, manage their own domestic affairs in their own way, or shall Congress manage them for them?

This, we say, is at the present moment the prominent dividing line between the two parties; and by this line, after the subject shall have been thoroughly canvassed and discussed, will it be known who are democrats and who are whigs. Non-intervention is the democratic doctrine -- intervention is the whig doctrine. The democrats say that the people shall legislate for themselves in the Territories -- the whigs say that Congress shall usurp such legislation. The battle is between popular constitutional rights on the one hand, and the encroachments of the central power on the other.

The issue is not new. In all the contests between the two parties since the organization of the government the same material principle has been at stake. Jefferson was in favor of a liberal government -- Adams desired a strong government. Jackson attacked the great monster which federalism had built up -- his opponents sought to renew the life of the monster -- Cass evolved the doctrine of universal sovereign rights -- the whigs and abolitionists of to-day, true to their natural instincts, are hostile to the establishment of those rights. The parallel started at the formation of the constitution -- it will continue as long as the Union stands.

Is there any possible means of adjusting the slavery question except by the entire recognition of the plan of Congressional non-intervention? -- Was not that the plan of the adjustment measures of 1850 -- and did not the people declare, when they elected Franklin Pierce, that the plan should be permanent?

Let Mr. Douglas' bill be defeated, and the whole country will be afloat again on this exciting and dangerous subject. We ask the Old Democrats of Michigan to consider these things, and we ask our delegation in Congress to consider them.

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