Secession Era Editorials Project


New York, Tribune [Whig]

(3 February 1854)

Honest, well-meaning people in the country, who believe that for every great National act there must be some great necessity, may well be excused for wondering why during a time of unusual political quiet, and so soon after the passage of a series of measures introduced, urged and passed by the efforts of the greatest statesmen of our country, to conciliate the hostility and allay the agitations of many years upon the subject of Slavery, -- the most sweeping and revolutionary act in regard to that subject ever contemplated by Congress, involving a bold and outrageous assault upon the rights of the Northern portion of the Union, and reopening afresh the most rancorous sources of discord. That such a measure of vast and audacious magnitude, should at this period be launched upon Congress, like a thunderbolt from a cloudless sky -- this, we say, may well excite the wonder and astonishment of honest and well-meaning men throughout the country.

But we cannot excuse an intelligent journal like The Boston Daily Advertiser for being blind to the motives of this set, as it declares itself to be. Editors of newspapers are men whose vocation leads them necessarily to keep a close watch upon public men and public affairs. And in regard to these, they are not to be readily excused for not seeing what is plain to be seen.

But we are not to take this remark of the journal in question in its literal sense. The Advertiser is an eminently moderate and conservative paper, and like all such, it prefers the indirect to the direct mode of stating its convictions. It does not utter its real sentiments in an outright and unequivocal manner. This is not the method of eminently proper people, and eminently proper journals. With all such, it is reckoned more judicious to hint than to state, more courteous to feign ignorance of motives than to suggest suspicions of their honesty or declare convictions of their baseness. Thus we are well persuaded that while The Advertiser says it is incapable of fathoming the motive which has led the Administration to revive the Slavery controversy, convulse the country, swindle the North, and stab freedom in her vitals, by indorsing [sic] and urging Douglas's infamous Nebraska bill, it nevertheless does know perfectly well, as well as we know, and as well as every other observer of public events knows, that the motive of it is as detestable as the act in contemplation is vile.

That motive lies plain upon the surface, and is to be seen of all men. The Nebraska bill is a Presidential scheme. The whole of this movement had its origin in vulgar personal objects. Private ambition has planted, watered, and now seeks to ripen and scatter the seeds of this enormity. And a question which is of the gravest national character, involving interests of humanity which reach through future ages, which should only be mooted under the pressure of an inflexible necessity, and approached only in a spirit of profound solicitude for the consequences involved in its disturbance, is recklessly pitched into Congress to serve as a shuttle or football in a game of aspirants for the Presidency.

This declaration may perhaps be regarded with suspicion, and be received with hesitation. It is well that it should be so. The abhorrence that such a view of the case would necessarily create toward the daring conspirators against the public peace, the rights of the free States, and just demands of a progressive civilization, would, if promptly accepted, tend naturally and directly to stimulate the sense of retributive justice to that point of urgency where its impatience seeks an immediate and awful revenge. Nevertheless, so unquestionable is the fact, that the reason for this revolutionary proceeding is to be found in the personal ambition of candidates for the Presidency, that it will soon be as apparent to all as it now is to those whose peculiar duty is to observe the workings of public affairs and watch the conduct of public men.

We do not hesitate to proclaim our conviction that if Mr. Douglas did not consider himself a prominent candidate for the Presidency, and if he did not aim to shape his political course with a view to propitiate the Slavery interest in the next nominating convention and in the next canvass, that we should not have before Congress, at this section, any other Nebraska bill than the well matured measure introduced and urged by him at the last session. But for these reasons, we should never have heard one word of the infamous proposition to repeal the Missouri Compromise. And we invoke the criticism and challenge the intelligence of Congress to refute the declaration. Scandalous as it may seem, startling as it may appear at the first view, we are perfectly assured that no candid man will deny the soundness of this judgment. Mr. Douglas had no need to remodel his last year's Nebraska bill. No new circumstances connected with this territory have since arisen. That bill was complete and satisfactory in all its details. It passed the last House by an overwhelming majority. It failed in the Senate only because no direct vote was ever taken upon it, on the last day of the last session, he himself declared that if he could only bring that body to a vote upon it, he was sure of its passage, for he knew that a majority were in its favor. The bill failed only by being postponed.

And what is true of Mr.Douglas, we are constrained to say, is true of the President himself. He and his administration have been tossed upon adverse seas and buffeted by opposing influence, finding their source in urgent pro-Slavery sentiment. The President and his Administration have been denounced as Free-Soilish in their sentiments and tendencies. Mr. Pierce has writhed under the imputation, for the reason that it had no foundation in fact, and that it periled the success of his present career and destroyed his anticipation of a reelection. He has seized upon the Nebraska question for an occasion to show himself the hardest of Hards. He has not hesitated to give to Mr. Douglas's bill his countenance and warm support in order to timely fix his tottering position with the South, and place himself in the regular line of unsuspected pro-slavery candidates for the succession. That he, as well as Mr. Douglas, has had none but political objects to gain by his indorsement [sic] of this atrocity is manifest from the fact that it was not a question originating with or particularly belonging to this Administration. The Nebraska bill had long been perfected, and had long been before Congress. The Administration and Mr. Pierce had therefore no occasion whatever to meddle in the matter. Their advice, and interference, and position thereon, are purely gratuitous. Mr. Pierce has simply thrown himself into the ring for personal and selfish aims, which we refrain from characterizing as they deserve.

After having been thus exposed to public view the real motives of the authors and abettors of this Nebraska bill, we submit the question to the considerate and honest men of all parties, whether such a gigantic fraud and mischief, originating in such shameless purposes, has any claim to public support. No danger to the Union, none to the public tranquillity, can be pleaded as a reason for this measure. None has been pretended. The sober and prudent everywhere lament its introduction into Congress. Even Mr. Cass, deprecates the necessity of being called to vote upon it. Southern conservative men avow their hostility to such a repudiation of good faith as the bill contemplates and such needless agitations as it involves.

It is for Congress to determine whether the conspirators in this perfidy shall be allowed to triumph over the lofty considerations of public honor, the rights of the free States, and the stern demands of justice and humanity. Let it decide? The people are behind the legislators, and if villainy and cowardice shall temporarily triumph, there is a word in the vocabulary that shall yet undo their work and carry consternation to the heart of every Northern traitor -- that word is REPEAL. There is a power in Congress to create an overwhelming Northern party whose name and title shall be THE REPEALERS. Let Congress exercise that power if it dare!

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