BECK index

United States & Buchanan 1857-59

by Sanderson Beck

Buchanan, Dred Scott & Panic in 1857
Kansas & Conflicts over Slavery 1857-58
Lincoln & the Douglas Debates
Buchanan and Elections in 1858
United States in 1859
John Brown’s Crusade Against Slavery

Buchanan, Dred Scott & Panic in 1857

US of Pierce & Kansas Conflicts 1853-56

      James Buchanan was born on 23 April 1791. During the Panic of 1819 his fiancée broke off their engagement, and she died in December. He remained a bachelor for the rest of his life. He became a successful lawyer who was earning more than $11,000 a year by 1821.
      Buchanan served in the United States House of Representatives 1821-31 and was a Federalist until he became a Jacksonian Democrat in 1828. He was Minister to Russia in 1832-33. He was elected a US Senator from Pennsylvania in 1834 and was re-elected in 1840. During those congressional sessions he lived in the same boardinghouse as Senator William Rufus King of Alabama from December 1834 until May 1844 when King left to be Minister to France. The two men became regular correspondents and were known as “bosom friends.” Buchanan was probably either homosexual or bisexual. Buchanan became Secretary of State in March 1845 for four years. King was elected Vice President in 1852, but he had tuberculosis and for his health went to Cuba where he was sworn in on 26 March 1853. He returned to his Chestnut Hill plantation and died there on April 18. Buchanan was Minister to Britain 1853-56, and by then he had acquired a fortune of $300,000.
      After the 1856 elections the Democratic Party controlled the Presidency, the Senate, the House, and the Supreme Court of the United States. On 4 February 1857 the Democrats in the Congress managed to re-elect Jesse Bright and elect Dr. Graham N. Fitch as the senators from Indiana. They passed a tariff bill that lowered duties and increased free items, and President Pierce signed it on March 3. New York-Tribune editor Horace Greeley blamed the economic recession of 1857 on this tariff. Pennsylvanian ironmasters complained that lower duties allowed the British to sell more railroad iron than Americans. By 1857 the British had invested £80 million in American railway stock which aided the importing of steel for railroads.
      During the campaign Buchanan had emphasized the issue of union or disunion, and he believed that the South would secede if the Republican Frémont was elected. John Slidell of Louisiana, Democratic whip in the Senate, advised Buchanan. The President appointed 75-year-old Lewis Cass of Michigan as Secretary of State with the understanding that he would be advised by John Appleton of Maine who also guided Buchanan’s nephew James Buchanan Henry, his personal secretary. He appointed the former governors Howell Cobb of Georgia at the Treasury, John Floyd of Virginia to head the War Department, and A. V. Brown of Tennessee as Postmaster General. Floyd’s father had been governor, and he was susceptible to corruption. Buchanan named Jacob Thompson of Mississippi as Secretary of the Interior and Senator Isaac Toucey of Connecticut to run the Navy Department. His cabinet was completed on March 6 by appointing his trusted friend, Pennsylvania Senator William Black, as Attorney General. Buchanan allowed his cabinet to make decisions for him by majority vote even if he disagreed. Since four of seven were from southern states, they could determine the policies.
      President Buchanan and Vice President Breckinridge of Kentucky were inaugurated on 4 March 1857, and the crowd of 40,000 was the largest so far. In his address Buchanan repeated that he would only serve one term. He gave his opinion on a current US Supreme Court case that the Kansas-Nebraska Act should be interpreted to mean that the residents of a territory should decide the slavery issue when they had enough residents to qualify for making a constitution to be admitted as a state. He predicted that the case would finally settle the slavery issue, and he denounced the agitation over slavery and hoped that it would cease. He suggested the goals of paying down the national debt, expanding the navy, and building a military road to the Pacific coast. A grand ball was held with an immense amount of food. Ladies got in free while men had to pay $10.
      Buchanan’s single niece, Harriet Lane, became the hostess of the White House, and only Dolly Madison had been more popular. The President got up early to eat breakfast and read newspapers before working and receiving visitors from 8 to about 5. Then he took a walk for an hour before dinner.
      Two days after Buchanan’s inauguration the US Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Roger Taney decided the Dred Scott case. Scott was born a slave in Virginia about 1795 and was taken to St. Louis where he was sold to Dr. John Emerson who took him to Illinois and Wisconsin Territory in 1834-38 before returning him to St. Louis. Emerson’s widow hired Scott out, and she married a Massachusetts doctor in 1850. Dred Scott and his wife had filed suit at St. Louis in April 1846, and the early decisions in Missouri mostly declared Scott free, but in 1852 the Missouri Supreme Court reversed that. Appeal went to the US Supreme Court which heard the case in 1856. Five of the nine justices were from the South, and seven were Democrats. Buchanan persuaded his fellow Pennsylvanian Robert Grier, a Democrat, to provide the sixth vote which decided that Scott was still a slave despite his having resided in the free state of Illinois and the free-soil Wisconsin Territory. Justice Samuel Nelson, a Democrat from New York, concurred making the vote 7-2, but he wrote a separate opinion arguing that each state is responsible for deciding for itself about slavery. Taney’s opinion went to the extreme dehumanization of Africans. He wrote,

They had for more than a century before
been regarded as beings of an inferior order,
and altogether unfit to associate with the white race,
either in social or political relations;
and so far inferior, that they had no rights
which the white man was bound to respect;
and that the Negro might justly and lawfully
be reduced to slavery for his benefit.
He was bought and sold and treated
as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic,
whenever a profit could be made by it.1

The momentous decision was the first since Marbury v. Madison to strike down a federal law as it essentially overturned the 1820 Missouri Compromise. The court had decided that no legislative body had the power to ban slavery in its territory. The Whig Justice Benjamin Curtis was so disgusted by his colleagues that he resigned in September.
      At the Constitutional Convention in 1787 James Madison had reported of George Mason, “He held it essential, in every point of view, that the general government should have power to prevent the increase of slavery,” and of Elbridge Gerry, “He thought we had nothing to do with the conduct of the states as to slaves, but ought to be careful not to give any sanction to it.”2 Also in 1787 the Congress in its Northwest Ordinance had banned slavery in those territories. When the Missouri Compromise passed, every southern senator and a large majority of southern representatives as well as President Monroe and his cabinet believed that the Act was constitutional, but the Supreme Court was now cancelling that.
      On March 18 a New York Tribune editorial called for reapportionment of the US Supreme Court because currently justices representing 6 million southern whites were outvoting the justices connected to 16 million people in free states. The next day the Chicago Tribune editorialized,

The remedy is union and action; the ballot box.
Let free States be a unit in Congress on the side of freedom.
Let the next President be Republican,
and 1860 will mark an era kindred with that of 1776.3

The Ohio General Assembly on April 17 passed five resolutions criticizing and protesting the Dred Scott decision.

      In midsummer the New York Herald noted that speculation had increased commodity prices 40% in four years. The price of slaves in the lower South had risen to about $1,900 per worker, and planters bought more land as far off as Arkansas and Texas. In the northwest McCormick’s reaper and other machinery alleviated labor requirements. Speculators raised prices for food and land. The Graduation Act of 1854 had reduced the price of land, and banks lent large amounts on land mortgages. New York handled three-fourths of the imports and was the financial center, and Boston was an industrial hub. In ten years 678 new banks were set up by 1857. By 1856 there was $407 million in deposits and circulation but only $53 million was in specie (gold and silver). The European economy was damaged by the Crimean War, British intervention in China and Persia, the Sepoy mutiny in India, and French operations in Algeria. Europe lost $700 million in specie to the Near and Far East, and its business with America declined in the winter of 1856-57.
      The United States economy had been growing rapidly since favorable events in Europe in the late 1840s along with the gold from California and expanding use of railroads and steamships. Gold bullion added $300 million in the first half of the 1850s and $250 million in the second half. Banking credit went from $538 million in 1848 to $1,042 million in 1856. States sold bonds overseas, and $400 million in American securities were held in Europe by 1857. In June 1857 railroad bonds were worth about $400 million and stocks $500 million. Although about $800 million was invested in western land, only a quarter of it had been paid.
      On 11 August 1857 the New York grain business of N. H. Wolfe & Co. failed, and all but one of New York’s 15 banks suspended specie payments. On August 24 the New York branch of the Ohio Life Insurance & Trust Company did so. They had liabilities for about $6 million invested in the West, and a cashier had embezzled most of their assets. Two days later the primary speculator Jacob Little could not pay his debts. Major railroads declared bankruptcy, and panic caused stocks and commodity prices to plummet, bringing about many bankruptcies. Bank loans in New York City were $120 million on August 22 and fell to $67 million by October 17. The Illinois Central Railroad had extended 704 miles but failed. Speculation in railroad securities and real estate were considered the main cause of the 4,932 companies that failed in the US. However, New York and New England banks managed to return to specie payments by Christmas. Harper’s Weekly started publishing in New York and would have a circulation of 200,000 by 1860. In November 1857 the Atlantic Monthly began in Boston with James Russell Lowell as the first editor and contributors such as Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Longfellow, Whittier, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
      Layoffs in the winter of 1857-58 in New England textile mills, clothing businesses in Cincinnati, iron mills in Pennsylvania, lumber mills in Wisconsin and Michigan, wharves in St. Louis, and fishermen and whalers in Massachusetts lost markets. New York Mayor Fernando Wood proposed public work projects in Central Park, a reservoir, engine-houses, and street repair while using flour, corn meal, and potatoes as part of the wages; but property owners feared he was inciting class warfare. The city had demonstrations and processions demanding work. Textile workers in New England went on strike.
      The northern economy was largely affected, but the agricultural economy of the South suffered much less damage. The tobacco business declined in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia. The price of cotton fell from 16 cents in September to 9 by Christmas with the largest crop ever; but they could store the bales until prices rose in the spring of 1858. Southern banking was more stable. The New York agency of Tappan & McKillop calculated that free states with 155,526 businesses went down 3.24% while in the slave states 61,410 lost only 1.21%. The free states had lost $142 million, the slave states only $17.5 million. Southern leaders believed they were now stronger than the North. The depression would not last long with a quick recovery in the spring of 1859. The national debt of the US increased from $29 million in 1857 to $65 million in 1860.

      Also in 1857 Elisha Otis installed the first passenger elevator in the Haughwout Department Store in New York. Peter Cooper founded the Cooper Union in that city to help educate workers. John Deere in Moline, Illinois produced 10,000 steel plows. Tuberculosis was one of the main causes of American cities having the highest death rate. Rhode Island passed a child labor law that limited work to ten hours a day for those at least 14 years old who volunteer.
      On January 15 William Lloyd Garrison spoke at the Disunion Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts, calling for “no union with slaveholders.”
      On March 9 the New York legislature published the Report of the Select Committee Appointed to Examine Into the Condition of Tenant Houses which detailed the miserable and over-crowded conditions that decimated the poor and caused cholera epidemics
      On May 10 Secretary of State Cass told Envoy William B. Reed to cooperate peacefully with France and Britain, and they negotiated a series of treaties with China in 1858.
      On June 27 Scientific American reported that more people reading using whale oil threatened the whale population.
      The steamship Central America carrying gold worth $2 million from California was wrecked in a hurricane off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and sank on September 12. Lifeboats saved 153, mostly women and children, while 425 others and the gold were lost.
      On October 4 Mormons killed 120 immigrants in Utah Territory they blamed for murdering Joseph Smith in 1844.
      On November 14 Texas Governor Elisha Pease asked the legislature for a special force of Texas Rangers because of the conflict between Texan and Mexican teamsters that started in San Antonio and was known as the “Cart War.”
      Edmund Ruffin of Virginia wrote five articles on the “Consequences of Abolition Agitation” published in De Bow’s Review from June to December. He predicted that even if the North conquered and desolated the South, the victory would be just as ruinous for them. He argued that war served neither’s interest. He believed that a separated South would not make war on the North except in self-defense. He suggested that the Southern Confederacy could have peace, amity, and free trade with the North.

Kansas & Conflicts over Slavery 1857-58

      Conflict over slavery in the Kansas Territory remained a critical issue. The proslavery legislature at Lecompton completed its work on February 14 and sent Governor Geary a bill that limited voting for the delegates to the September convention to men resident on March 15 which would exclude many free-state settlers who were expected to arrive in the spring. The partisan legislature over-rode Geary’s veto, and he sent his resignation to Washington on March 4. Geary had been forced to provide $12,000 of his own money, and his request for two cavalry companies for the emergency had been denied. Proslavery officials opened his mail and destroyed many letters. Senators Douglas of Illinois and Stuart of Michigan repudiated the Lecompton legislature’s actions. After handling confirmations the US Senate adjourned on March 13.
      President Buchanan sent Mississippi’s ex-Senator Robert J. Walker to govern the Kansas Territory. He accepted on the conditions that former Rep. Frederick Stanton of Tennessee and General William Harney of Florida go with him and that the President and his cabinet concur

that the actual bona fide residents of Kansas,
by a fair and regular vote, unaffected by fraud or violence,
must be permitted, in adopting their State Constitution,
to decide for themselves
what shall be their social institutions.4

Walker believed that the soil, climate, and production favored free labor in Kansas. On March 10 a free-state gathering decided not to cooperate with the Kansas Territory government. During the spring many farmers, craftsmen, and merchants arrived to buy prairie land for $2.50 an acre, and about a thousand squatters came armed. Kansas had windmills. Proslavery men realized their situation, and many moved south to Arkansas and Texas. Frederick Stanton arrived as acting-governor of Kansas. He talked of Walker and the territory’s laws while the crowd shouted “Never! Never!” He urged them to participate in the June election, and free-state leaders explained how unfair the election was.
      Robert J. Walker arrived at Lawrence on May 26, and his inaugural address the next day at Lecompton was conciliatory, but he argued that slavery had natural boundaries. He warned against the danger of civil war that could destroy the American Union. He hoped to advance a moderate Democratic Party. On June 6 he warned the Lecompton legislators that if they tried to enforce their laws, he would stop them with federal forces. Five days later a deputation advised Walker there would be no popular vote on the constitution. In the election for convention delegates on June 15 more than half the antislavery men could not vote, and most of the others refused to do so. Out of 9,251 registered only 2,200 men voted, and there were no free-state candidates. The bias of the election is shown by the results that gave 6 proslavery counties 37 seats and the other 30 counties that had many free-soilers only 23 seats. On June 28 Walker wrote to President Buchanan that Kansas had an estimated 9,000 Free-soil Democrats, 8,000 Republicans, 6,500 Proslavery Democrats, and 500 Proslavery Know-Nothings.
      Southern editors argued that Walker was trying to cheat the South by uniting northern and southern Democrats. In late June a Democratic convention at Milledgeville, Georgia demanded that Buchanan recall Walker. Florida Governor Perry warned that if northern Democrats did not defend the rights of southerners, the Union would split; Mississippi agreed. Attorney General Black visited Kansas and wrote to Buchanan on July 9 that he was convinced that Kansas would never be a slave state, and he urged sustaining Walker. Three days later Buchanan replied to Walker that he hoped Kansas would be a Democratic state. In the August election Democrats won easily in Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina. Yet Whigs won barely in Missouri and gained ten House seats.
      Walker tried to suppress defiance in Lawrence by sending dragoons, and he asked President Buchanan to send 2,000 troops to Kansas. The Democratic convention at Lecompton in July supported submission. The delegates met at Lecompton on September 7, and they appointed committees to draft a constitution and adjourned on October 19. In the election on October 5 and 6 the free-state voters came out and elected a Republican by 4,000 votes as the Congressional Delegate, but the legislature of Kansas was still proslavery. Fraud was apparent when they found that two counties with only about 100 qualified voters had submitted 2,894 proslavery ballots. Walker and Stanton investigated and canceled those results. Senator Stephen Douglas was pleased and declared that voters wanted Kansas to be a free-soil state.
      Although the Lecompton convention approved a proslavery constitution in the fall, the Free-Soil Party’s Topeka constitution had been completed on 11 November 1856 and banned slavery after 4 July 1857. Only one of twenty Kansas newspapers favored the Lecompton constitution, and Walker opposed it with an oath. Both the Lecompton and Topeka constitutions were sent to Washington. On November 17 Walker left Kansas to visit the East, and on December 1 the Lecompton convention removed him and other federal appointees. Governor Robinson led the free state convention meeting at Lawrence which pledged to resist the Lecompton government, and Jim Lane said they would raise 18,000 armed men.
      On December 3 Douglas told Buchanan that he would denounce the President’s support for the Lecompton constitution. Acting Governor Stanton called the new legislature to meet on the 7th, and he persuaded them to reject the fraudulent election. The next day President Buchanan presented his first annual message to Congress in which he defended his policies. On the 9th Douglas in the Senate exposed the Lecompton scheme and the fraudulent elections, and he defended the popular sovereignty of his Kansas-Nebraska Act. He vowed to resist the violation of free government. Buchanan nominated General James W. Denver, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, to govern Kansas, and the Senate quickly confirmed him. Walker resigned on December 15 and warned that only 10% of the people supported the Lecompton constitution. Their legislature passed a militia bill over Stanton’s veto. On the 21st a referendum on whether the Lecompton constitution should be accepted with slavery or without had 6,143 votes for slavery and 569 against that, though 2,270 were annulled as fraudulent, and most free-soilers did not vote.
      On 4 January 1858 in Kansas 10,336 voters rejected the Lecompton convention; only 138 voted for it with slavery, and 24 favored it without slavery. On January 16 Acting-Governor Denver wrote to Buchanan that it would be wrong to accept Lecompton because of that vote. Yet on February 2 Buchanan sent the Lecompton constitution to Congress and asked them to admit Kansas as a slave state. Several northern state legislatures passed resolutions opposing this while southern leaders in Washington said they would leave the Union if it failed. Douglas spoke for three hours in the final debate on March 22 when the Senate passed it 33-25. On April 1 the House of Representatives passed the Crittenden-Montgomery amendment to the statehood bill 120-112 providing for a popular vote on the Lecompton constitution in Kansas, and on the 30th the English-amended bill passed both houses. In Kansas on August 2 the voters rejected the Lecompton constitution 11,812 to 1,926.

      The filibustering William Walker left Mobile, Alabama on 14 November 1857 with about 200 men, and they landed on Nicaragua’s shore on the 25th. On December 8 US Navy Commander Hiram Paulding had his marines and sailors surround Walker’s camp, and they surrendered. Navy Captain Joshua Sands arrested Frank Anderson and 44 others on December 23-24. President Buchanan released Walker, but in a message to Congress on 7 January 1858 he reprimanded Paulding for committing a “grave error” out of “pure and patriotic motives.” He admitted that Nicaragua benefited from Paulding’s action, but he believed that Paulding had no right to intervene in Nicaraguan territory. He advised the Congress that it is a crime for an American military expedition to make war against a foreign nation when the US is at peace with them. Senator Buchanan had opposed such actions against Mexican Texas and California as well as Canada, Venezuela, and Cuba. He suggested that the US Navy should intercept filibusters at sea. In May a jury in New Orleans voted 10-2 to acquit Walker of violating the neutrality law. In a proclamation on October 30 Buchanan declared that anyone who violated the neutrality laws would be suppressed for joining a third attempt to invade Nicaragua, a nation with which the United States was at peace. Eventually the British arrested Walker in Honduras, and he was convicted and executed by a firing squad on 12 September 1860.

      William G. Brownlow was a parson and editor of the Knoxville Whig who championed the South and defended slavery especially in a sermon on 8 June 1856 and again at the Southern Commercial Convention at Knoxville on 9 August 1857. In January 1858 he decided to go to New England and challenged leading abolitionists to a debate. The Congregational minister and editor of the Central Reformer in New York state, Abram Pryne, accepted. The topic was “Ought American Slavery to be perpetuated?” They agreed to debate in Philadelphia in early September for three hours five nights in a row, and the debates were published as a book. Brownlow was a leader in the Know-Nothing Party in Tennessee, but he was a Unionist and opposed secession. Pryne had helped John Brown in Kansas, and he had campaigned for Gerrit Smith and the Liberty Party in 1856. About 450 people attended the first debate and as many as 700 a later debate, but newspaper coverage was quite limited. In the first debate they argued mostly over whether the Bible supported or opposed slavery. They also debated the slave trade, the condition of slaves, and fugitive slaves. They compared the economies of the North and South, and they discussed whether slavery was legal. In discussing the moral condition of the North and South, Pryne argued that in the slave states 250,000 criminals were robbing the humanity of three million people and violating their civil rights. Pryne showed that the economic power in the North had become greater than the South’s, but he failed to provide solutions to racial problems after slaves would be emancipated. Brownlow supported Tennessee staying in the Union during the Civil War, but Pryne committed suicide in September 1862.
       On 13 September 1858 the slave-catcher Anderson Jennings captured runaway slave John Price in Kentucky and took him to Wellington near Oberlin, Ohio. A large crowd gathered, and some helped John escape to Canada. A Federal Grand Jury indicted 37 men from Wellington and Oberlin in early December. They were tried on 5 April 1859, but only the Town Clerk Simeon Bushnell and the free black Charles Langston were convicted. They appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court which by one vote upheld the Fugitive Slave Act. This case stimulated massive protests in Ohio in 1859 on April 17 and May 24. An effort to prosecute the slave-catchers for kidnapping resulted in dropping that case and releasing the rescuers on July 6.

Lincoln & the Douglas Debates

      Abraham Lincoln was born on 12 February 1809 in a one-room log cabin on a farm in central Kentucky. The family moved to Indiana in 1816, and his mother died in 1818. Abe had less than a year of schooling, but he was an avid reader and self-taught. He read the Bible,Robinson Crusoe, Pilgrim’s Progress, Aesop's Fables, United States history, and the Revised Laws of Indiana. He worked on a flatboat and twice traveled to New Orleans. He grew to be six foot four inches tall and was an unmatched wrestler. Lincoln also learned from Euclid’s Geometry, grammar, Ben Franklin's Autobiography, works of Thomas Paine, the life of George Washington, and Blackstone’s Commentaries, and he loved Shakespeare. In periodicals he studied Congressional debates and editorials in the National Intelligencer. He was so extraordinarily truthful that he was called “Honest Abe.”
      He moved to Illinois in 1830, and he lived in New Salem for six years. In 1832 he volunteered for the Black Hawk War, and he was elected leader of a local contingent; but they saw no action. He became a partner of a general store. He was heartbroken when Ann Rutledge died of typhoid in 1835. On his second try in 1834 Lincoln was elected as a Whig to the Illinois House of Representatives in Springfield where he served for eight years. After an on-and-off engagement he married Mary Todd of Kentucky in November 1842. Senator Stephen Douglas had courted her, and Lincoln would run against his rival in 1858. He had become a lawyer and formed a partnership with Judge Stephen Logan in 1841, but in 1844 he left to accept William H. Herndon as his junior partner with whom he shared his fees equally. Lincoln took his turn as a Whig and served only one term in the US House of Representatives letting an army veteran succeed him. In Congress he was known mostly for his speech on 22 December 1847 when he challenged the beginning of the Mexican War by trying to determine on what “spot” the first battle took place by asking the government to answer eight questions.
      Lincoln returned to Illinois in March 1849, and over the next eight years he left the state only once. On 6 July 1852 he eulogized Henry Clay praising his support for African colonization. Lincoln traveled on the circuit as an attorney. He often charged little or nothing to poor clients, but he successfully defended corporations especially railroads. In June 1857 he collected a fee of $5,000 for representing the Illinois Central Railroad and gave half to Herndon.
      The 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act championed by Senator Douglas brought Lincoln back into politics because he believed it repealed the Missouri Compromise and would allow slavery into US territories. He spoke on this in Peoria on October 16. In February 1855 the Illinois House and Senate were electing the US Senator, and Lincoln got the most votes on the first ballot, but anti-Nebraska Democrats voted for the anti-slavery Democrat Trumbull instead of him. The Whig Lincoln withdrew so that Trumbull would win instead of a Douglas Democrat. On 28 May 1856 Lincoln spoke in Bloomington at a state convention of anti-Nebraska delegates who formed the Illinois Republican Party. He opposed the efforts to make Kansas a slave state, and he urged restoring the Missouri Compromise.
      On 26 June 1857 Lincoln at Springfield criticized the Dred Scott decision and the fraudulent election in Kansas over the Lecompton constitution. Senator Douglas had agreed with the Court’s ruling on Scott. Lincoln noted that the US Supreme Court had often over-ruled its own decisions, and he suggested they work to get this case overturned. All nine justices wrote their own opinion. He explained how Curtis in his dissent noted that when the US Constitution was created, five states had free Negroes who voted. Lincoln suggested that the white and black races need not be amalgamated as Douglas feared; but they should have equal rights. He said,

Now I protest against that counterfeit logic which concludes
that, because I do not want a black woman for a slave
I must necessarily want her for a wife.
I need not have her for either, I can just leave her alone.
In some respects she certainly is not my equal;
but in her natural right to eat the bread she earns
with her own hands without asking leave of any one else,
she is my equal, and the equal of all others.5

      Illinois Democrats at their convention in April 1858 renominated Senator Stephen Douglas, and soon 55 of the 59 Democratic newspapers in the state had endorsed him. Douglas was short; but he was such a powerful speaker that he was called the “Little Giant.”
      At the Republican Convention in Chicago the supporters of Lincoln overcame Chicago’s Mayor “Long John” Wentworth. In accepting the nomination for senator on June 16 Lincoln gave his famous “house divided” speech suggesting that the nation would become either free of slavery or with slavery allowed in all states, and he warned against Stephen Douglas, Franklin Pierce, Roger Taney, and James Buchanan working together to extend slavery. Lincoln’s detailed acceptance speech was printed in various newspapers, and a pamphlet was issued in Illinois.
      Douglas distributed in the state 80,000 copies of the Bloomington speech he made on July 16 in which he argued for his Kansas-Nebraska Act and criticized Lincoln’s views. Douglas in his speech at Clinton on July 27 denied that he had conspired with Pierce, Taney, or Buchanan. President Buchanan and some national Democrats opposed Douglas because of his speeches on Kansas, and Buchanan had many postmasters loyal to Douglas in Illinois removed. Yet several Democratic candidates from Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio still supported Douglas. Even Vice President Breckinridge did so on October 4 as did Virginia Governor Henry A. Wise.
      Douglas at Chicago on July 9 in his speech said,

I would extend to the negro, and the Indian,
and to all dependent races every right, every privilege,
and every immunity consistent
with the safety and welfare of the white races;
but equality they never should have,
either political or social, or in any other respect whatever.6

Lincoln was there and spoke the next day. He explained that the Douglas idea of “popular sovereignty” allows slaveholders to take their slaves into territories. He noted that Douglas provided only three Democrats against the Lecompton Constitution in Kansas while Republicans furnished twenty votes. Lincoln suggested they could reverse the Dred Scott decision, and he noted that General Jackson refused to re-charter the National Bank because he considered it unconstitutional. Lincoln supported “all men are created equal,” and he criticized Douglas’s views on “inferior races” as similar to kings enslaving people.
      Lincoln also followed Douglas to Springfield where they both spoke on July 17. Douglas argued that each state should decide what rights a Negro has, and he accused Lincoln and Republicans of wanting to elect a sectional president who would cause a war between the North and the South. Douglas opposed equality or citizenship for Negroes, Indians, or Chinese. Lincoln quoted Jefferson that it would be dangerous to make one tribunal despots when the Constitution created three co-equal branches of government. He accused Douglas of being in the conspiracy trying to nationalize slavery.
      On July 24 Lincoln challenged Douglas to “divide time and address the same audiences” on their canvass, and they agreed to seven joint debates in the other seven congressional districts from August 21 to October 15. Douglas would speak first for an hour followed by Lincoln for an hour and a half with Douglas replying for a half hour. Then they would alternate the order. At Lewiston on August 17 Lincoln argued for the equal rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” which he considered a sacred trust along with the Christian and humane virtues of truth, justice, and mercy.
      In the first debate at Ottawa 15,000 visitors attended. Douglas accused the Republican Party of being abolitionist and sectional, and he criticized Lincoln for opposing the Mexican War while he was in Congress. Douglas advocated accepting the Supreme Court decision, and he supported the Illinois constitution that banned slaves and free Negroes and his popular sovereignty doctrine of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Lincoln replied that he had “no purpose to introduce political or social equality between the white and black races,”7 but he believed the Negro has equal rights. He admitted that he challenged how the Mexican War began; but he voted to pay the soldiers fighting. He opposed spreading slavery, and he denied that he wanted “to bring about a war between the free and slave states.”8 He noted that Washington, Jefferson, and Madison had excluded slavery from the territories and ended the slave trade. Lincoln also said,

Public sentiment is everything.
With public sentiment, nothing can fail;
without it nothing can succeed.
Consequently he who molds public sentiment goes deeper
than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions.9

      At the second debate in Freeport on August 27 reporters began taking down the speeches using the Pitman shorthand. Lincoln answered questions that Douglas asked him. Lincoln replied that he would like to see slavery abolished in the District of Columbia but gradually based on a majority vote and with compensation to owners. He believed that Congress has the right to prohibit slavery in all US territories. and he warned that the Dred Scott decision had gone far to making slavery national throughout the United States.
      In the sixth debate at Quincy on October 13 Lincoln said that the difference of opinion is between those who say that slavery is wrong and those who do not. Republicans think it is a moral, social, and political wrong. He wondered if Douglas ever said it was either right or wrong. Then he asked,

Do you not constantly argue that
this is not the right place to oppose it?
You say it must not be opposed in the free States,
because it is not there;
it must not be opposed in the slave States,
because it is there;
it must not be opposed in politics,
because that will make a fuss;
it must not be opposed in the pulpit,
because it is not religion.10

In his rebuttal Lincoln suggested that Douglas expects slavery to last forever.
      In the final debate at Alton two days later Douglas argued that the federal government should not use its power for or against slavery. He claimed that the entire South was coming to support his doctrine of popular sovereignty on slavery in territories. He blamed the North for using the admission of California to outvote the South. In his response Lincoln agreed that the states have the right to decide about slavery, but he argued that new territories must be kept free, saying,

If you go to the Territory opposed to slavery and
another man comes upon the same ground with his slave,
upon the assumption that the things are equal,
it turns out that he has the equal right all his way
and you have no part of it your way.
If he goes in and makes it a slave Territory,
and by consequence a slave State,
is it not time that those who desire
to have it a free State were on equal ground?...
The real issue in this controversy—
the one pressing upon every mind—
is the sentiment on the part of one class
that looks upon the institution of slavery as a wrong,
and of another class that does not look upon it as a wrong.
The sentiment that contemplates
the institution of slavery in this country as a wrong
is the sentiment of the Republican Party….
They insist that it should as far as may be,
be treated as a wrong,
and one of the methods of treating it as a wrong
is to make provision that it shall grow no larger….
What is it that we hold most dear amongst us?
Our own liberty and prosperity.
What has ever threatened our liberty and prosperity save and except this institution of Slavery?11

Lincoln suggested that the peaceful way to deal with the wrong is to restrict its spread. Douglas contended that a community which wants slaves has a right to have them, but Lincoln argued that people do not have a right to do wrong. This is the eternal struggle between the principles of right and wrong. Lincoln said it is like saying,

“You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.”
No matter in what shape it comes,
whether from the mouth of a king
who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation
and live by the fruit of their labor,
or from one race of men
as an apology for enslaving another race,
it is the same tyrannical principle.12

Lincoln concluded there is no constitutional right to hold slaves in a territory of the United States. The debates were printed in many newspapers, and the Ohio Republican Committee published them in a book early in 1860.
      Douglas won the election for the Senate even though more Illinois votes went to Republicans; recent population growth in the northern half of the state had not been reflected in the 1850 census. Yet the widely publicized debates helped to make Lincoln a national figure.

Buchanan and Elections in 1858

      On 4 March 1858 US Senator James Henry Hammond of South Carolina gave his “Cotton Is King” speech during the debate on whether to admit Kansas as a state. He bragged that the slave states have an area four times the size of the 13 colonies, though he admitted that the North has 50% more people. The South has a million men ready for war. He argued that their monopoly on cotton helped save the North during the Panic of 1857 and could bring down Europe. He expected the South to export goods worth $220 million a year. He challenged any nation to make war against cotton. He claimed the South “is satisfied, harmonious, and prosperous, but demands to be let alone.” Five days later Hammond claimed he had subscriptions for 25,000 copies of his speech. Republican Senator Hannibal Hamlin of Maine replied that northern manufacturing exceeds cotton exports. Republican Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio contrasted northern democracy with southern aristocracy.
      President Buchanan used patronage to replace friends of Senator Douglas, removing Cleveland Plain Dealer’s editor J. W. Gray who was postmaster of that city, Chicago postmaster William Price, and the Illinois mail agent, Dr. Charles Leib. Buchanan’s political adversaries accused cabinet officers Floyd, Cobb, and Thompson of helping their supporters. Republicans in April won elections in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Chicago, Toledo, Dubuque, and Cincinnati.
      Mormons had defied two federal judges in the Utah Territory in 1857, and in September 7-11 the Utah Militia of Iron County with Paiute auxiliaries massacred at Mountain Meadows about 130 settlers headed for California. Buchanan asked Congress for ten regiments, and they approved two regiments of volunteers to suppress violence in Utah. In the summer President Buchanan appointed Alfred Cumming of Georgia to govern the Utah Territory, replacing Brigham Young, and he sent 2,500 troops under Col. Albert Sidney Johnston to accompany him. In October while a forward command of 500 cavalry was approaching Fort Bridger, some Mormons pillaged and burned three wagon trains of supplies. Mormons destroyed Fort Bridger, and Johnston’s army camped for the winter by Green River.
      Buchanan warned Mormons not to levy war against the United States on 6 April 1858. That month Cumming began governing Utah, and Young led about 15,000 people from the Salt Lake area to look for another place. Thomas L. Kane, who had helped organize the Mormon battalion in 1846, worked with Cumming, and he persuaded Brigham Young that the Mormons would not be mistreated. On April 6 Buchanan proclaimed Utah in rebellion but promised to pardon those who submitted. About 3,500 people met in the Tabernacle on April 25, and Young introduced Governor Cumming. In June two federal peace commissioners came to an agreement with the Mormon leaders.
      By 1858 Russell, Majors & Waddell were employing 4,000 men and were using 40,000 oxen to haul 3,500 covered wagons moving west. The US War Department was creating a military road from Fort Smith, Arkansas through Albuquerque to the Colorado River. In September 1857 the Overland Mail Company president John Butterfield and William G. Fargo got the contract for a high-speed mail route, and one year later they dispatched 4-horse stages from St. Louis that reached Los Angeles in 20 days and then went on to San Francisco. Then a southern route went from Fort Smith to El Paso through Tucson to Los Angeles.
      Nez Perce and Spokane Indians defeated the US Army at Rosalia in the Washington Territory on May 17. On that day Senator Seward reported that the British had fired on eleven American ships and searched vessels in an effort to stop slave trading. Alexander Stephens and Robert Toombs went to the White House and urged sending a squadron. Stephens hoped that a war against England would reunite the nation, and Seward would suggest the same idea in 1861. However, Buchanan settled the matter diplomatically.
      October elections in 1858 showed little support for Buchanan Democrats, and the President himself admitted a crushing defeat during a party at the White House on the 14th. Indiana elected seven Republicans to give them control of the legislature and four Democrats, two for Douglas and two for Buchanan. In Pennsylvania the Republicans doubled their Congressmen from 10 to 20 out of 25 seats. Their state legislature remained Democratic, but only two of the 25 Democrats had supported Lecompton in Kansas. Ways and Means Chairman Glancy Jones was defeated, and Buchanan appointed him minister to Austria. Ohio was Republican with only four Democrats, and three of them were for Douglas. Republicans dominated Maine, Vermont, and Minnesota. In Massachusetts Republicans elected Charles Francis Adams and re-elected Governor Nathaniel P. Banks. New Jersey chose three Republicans and two anti-Lecompton Democrats for Congress. Michigan and Wisconsin remained Republican. Republicans in New York elected Edwin Morgan governor, and 29 of 33 in Congress were Republicans or anti-Lecompton Democrats. The Buchanan Democrats lost control of the US House of Representatives as the Republicans gained 26 seats; but Democrats retained a majority in the US Senate while Republicans picked up five seats. Tennessee, Kentucky, and Texas replaced three conservative nationalists (Bell, Thompson, and Houston) with proslavery senators, and three radical Republicans were elected in Rhode Island, Michigan, and Iowa. A divided Congress would have difficulty passing important legislation, and half the nation felt the US Supreme Court had disgraced itself.
      Democrats were badly divided between North and South, and many southerners discussed secession. The annual Southern Commercial Convention had met in Montgomery on May 10 and discussed disunion and the need for African slaves. Urging secession were Edmund Ruffin of Virginia, Robert Barnwell Rhett of South Carolina, and William Yancey of Alabama. Yancey organized the League of United Southerners, and Ruffin promoted it in the Richmond South and the Charleston Mercury. They formed local and state leagues and adopted the motto “A republic is our only safety.” After the loss of Kansas the Congressman Milledge Bonham of South Carolina advocated separation on September 2. On the 11th Senator Albert Brown of Mississippi suggested acquiring Cuba and states in Mexico and Central America to spread slavery.
      On October 25 Senator William Seward of New York spoke at Rochester of the radical difference between free labor and slavery, saying,

Increase of population, which is filling the states
out to their very borders, together with a new
and extended network of railroads and other avenues,
and an internal commerce which daily becomes
more intimate, is rapidly bringing the states
into a higher and more perfect social unity or consolidation.
Thus, these antagonistic systems are continually
coming into closer contact, and collision results.
  Shall I tell you what this collision means?
They who think that it is accidental, unnecessary,
the work of interested or fanatical agitators,
and therefore ephemeral, mistake the case altogether.
It is an irrepressible conflict
between opposing and enduring forces,
and it means that the United States must and will,
sooner or later, become either
entirely a slaveholding nation,
or entirely a free-labor nation….
  At last, the Republican Party has appeared.
It avows, now, as the Republican Party of 1800 did,
in one word, its faith and its works,
“Equal and exact justice to all men.” …
  The secret of its assured success lies in that
very characteristic which, in the mouth of scoffers,
constitutes its great and lasting imbecility and reproach.
It lies in the fact that it is a party of one idea;
but that is a noble one—
an idea that fills and expands all generous souls;
the idea of equality—the equality of all men
before human tribunals and human laws, as they all
are equal before the divine tribunal and divine laws.13

This speech was more radical than Lincoln’s views and was quickly criticized by many, and four days later Seward retracted his position by arguing that slaveholders are more moderate as a propertied class than northern radicals who take inflexible positions.
      On October 27 Senator Hammond spoke at Barnwell, South Carolina and argued that a united South could continue to control the national government, but he doubted they could expand into Mexico and Central America. He warned that the South would secede rather than give up its constitutional rights. Ruffin suggested that the South could with a series of secessions avoid the violence likely from a precipitous withdrawal. Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis also gave speeches that threatened secession especially if a Republican were to be elected President in 1860.
      Senator Douglas went down the Mississippi and gave speeches in Memphis and New Orleans to try to patch up the Democratic Party, but many southerners resented his position on the Lecompton constitution in Kansas. He tried to win them over by advocating the acquisition of Cuba. While he was gone, on December 9 Senator James Green of Missouri replaced him as chairman of the important committee on territories.
      In his annual message to Congress on December 6 President Buchanan expressed relief that the Kansas conflict had been resolved, and he urged new roads, a Pacific railroad, revising tariffs, a bankruptcy law, and settling questions in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. He denounced the Mexican government that was fighting a civil war against the liberals led by Juárez, and he criticized Spanish colonialism in Cuba. He asked Congress to help him keep the Transit Route through Nicaragua open and the one in Panama.
      Paraguay had showed hostility toward the United States and refused to negotiate. Buchanan tried to use diplomacy and asked Congress to authorize force, which they did in June 1858. In December the President sent Judge James Bowlin, Commodore William Shubrick, and 19 warships with 2,500 sailors and marines to Montevideo, Uruguay. Shubrick and Bowlin went on two ships a thousand miles up rivers to Asunción, Paraguay. President Carlos Antonio López apologized, agreed to pay $10,000 to the dead sailor’s family, and made a treaty on navigation and commerce.
      On May 11 Minnesota became the 32nd state. Land purchased for $1.25 an acre attracted speculators as well as settlers, but after the Panic of 1857 burst the bubble of the land boom, farming increased.
      In July the Pike’s Peak gold rush began what would bring 100,000 people to Clear Creek canyon and other places in the next three years.
      In August the Americans and British cooperated in laying the Atlantic telegraph cable with two ships that took the ends to New Foundland and Ireland. After 28 days the cable broke, and a permanent cable would not be installed until 1866.
      Also in 1858 John L. Mason invented a jar with a rubber seal and a screw top for preserving food.
      Henry Clarke Wright was an abolitionist who supported women’s rights, and he discussed birth control in The Unwelcomed Child; or the Crime of an Undesigned and Undesired Maternity.

United States in 1859

      On 23 August 1858 the USS Dolphin had captured the slave-ship Echo with 318 African slaves off the coast of Cuba and took it to Charleston. About 130 slaves had died crossing the Atlantic. The crew of 16 Spaniards, Portuguese, and others were tried for piracy, but the Federal jury found them not guilty. The southern judge who tried Captain Townsend at Key West in the spring of 1859 interpreted laws to help him get off. Northerners criticized southern judges and juries for nullifying laws against the slave trade.
      William Corrie of South Carolina bought the Wanderer, a 114-foot yacht, for Charles Lamar, and it boarded 487 slaves near the Congo River, and 409 survived the voyage to Jekyll Island, Georgia, arriving on 28 November 1858. A federal marshal had the Wanderer seized, but the grand jury refused to indict Captain Corrie. At a government auction only Lamar bid, and he got it for $4,000. John Mitchel in the Southern Citizen defended the slave trade and predicted that the price of a field-hand would fall from $1,000 to $100. Eventually the first mate led a mutiny and turned the Wanderer over to authorities in Boston on 24 December 1859. This was the last ship to import a large shipment of African slaves in the United States.
      The US Senate postponed a Homestead Bill, but the US House passed it 120-76 on 1 February 1859. The Senate was tied, and Vice President Breckinridge killed the bill. Both houses of Congress passed the Morill land-grant bill for colleges of agriculture and mechanical arts, but President Buchanan vetoed it on February 24. These issues along with the Democrats’ tariff and the failure to finance a Pacific railroad gave the Republicans campaign issues. The South opposed the Homestead Bill, but they strongly supported President Buchanan’s request for $30 million to purchase Cuba which almost all northerners opposed. In his annual address in December 1858 the President had bullied and criticized Spain, but the Cortes voted to defend their empire. The Kansas legislature passed a law abolishing slavery. Neither the Homestead nor the Cuba bill could pass by the end of the session on March 5. Oregon had been admitted as the 33rd state on February 14, enabling the free states to outnumber the slave states 18-15.
      On February 23 Texas Governor Hardin Runnels instructed Texans to cease hostilities against Indians. On March 7 in Ableman v. Booth the justices of the US Supreme Court unanimously overturned the Wisconsin Supreme Court and upheld the US Fugitive Slave Law.
      Carl Schurz had come to the United States from Germany in 1852. He campaigned for Republicans. While the Massachusetts legislature was considering a bill to deny immigrants the right to vote until two years after naturalization, he spoke on “True Americanism” on 18 April 1859, helping to defeat the proposal. In the 1860 campaign he would campaign for Lincoln in German-language newspapers.
      While northerners were nullifying the Fugitive Slave Law, the South was doing the same to the law against the foreign slave trade. In May the Southern Commercial Convention met at Vicksburg, Mississippi and resolved to revive the African slave trade.
      President Buchanan toured Virginia and North Carolina in June, and according to Kate Thompson he kissed hundreds of pretty girls. He liked the widow Mrs. Bass so much that in July he took her and her three children to Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania on a vacation. Abolitionists helped her black servant girl escape, and Bass hoped they would take good care of her.
      Senator Douglas on June 22 sent a letter to a newspaper in Dubuque announcing that he was seeking the Democratic nomination for President based on his principle of popular sovereignty; but he would reject the party if they adopted extreme policies such as reviving the African slave trade or a Congressional slave code for territories. He had printed a speech he made on popular sovereignty and circulated hundreds of thousands of copies.
      Robert Rhett had succeeded John C. Calhoun in the US Senate in December 1850, but he resigned in May 1852 because a South Carolina convention refused to secede. He had 190 slaves on two plantations, and his son became editor of the Charleston Mercury. Rhett spoke to a large crowd at Grahamville on 4 July 1859. He warned that in 1860 the North could elect a President who would “rule over the South,” but he argued that the South by expanding into tropical America could resist northern encroachment. Yet if they delayed, he predicted that the North would emancipate the slaves and ruin the South. He concluded by saying that he had been working for years to dissolve the South’s connection with the North and to establish a Southern Confederacy.
      On July 13 New York-Tribune editor Horace Greeley traveled overland to California naming the “Great American Desert” as he went from Leavenworth, Kansas to Denver by stage coach during the summer heat. His exciting descriptions in his newspaper helped create the Western myth. He interviewed Brigham Young, President of the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City. Young said they do not favor the escape of slaves in Utah, but he believed that Utah would be a free state in the Union. He said he was worth $250,000 but claimed that none of it came from the church. Young had 15 wives then, but some of them were old women he considered as mothers whom he supported.
      In July a convention at Wyandotte, Kansas created a constitution that would be accepted by the United States when they admitted Kansas into the Union in January 1861.
      William B. Reed was US Minister to China from April 1857 to November 1858, and he helped negotiate the multi-national Tientsin (Tianjin) treaty to include lower tariffs for American goods and freedom of religion for foreigners in China. Ratifications were exchanged on 16 August 1859.
      On August 13 Lincoln gave a speech at Council Bluffs that garnered praise, and Republican leaders invited him to make speeches in several states. He gave a long speech at Columbus, Ohio on September 16 criticizing the policies of Douglas, though he also opposed the African slave trade and Congress enacting a territorial slave code. The next day Lincoln addressed Dayton. In the evening at Cincinnati he noted that Kentucky has many slaves but Ohio none because the 1787 Ordinance kept slavery out of Ohio and Illinois. His Columbus and Cincinnati speeches were published in two Illinois newspapers, and the New York Tribune printed excerpts. Lincoln praised other likely Republican candidates such as William Seward of New York, Salmon Chase of Ohio, Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania, and Edward Bates of Missouri.
      On September 10 US Attorney General Black published an article in the Washington Constitution in which he argued that the US Constitution protected a citizen’s right to carry property (slaves) into a territory and keep them, thus opposing Douglas. Reverdy Johnson, a lawyer in the Dred Scott case, argued that the decision meant that Congress had no power over slavery in territories.
      More than 10,000 men voted on September 7 in California where administration Democrats won narrowly. Senator David Broderick supported Senator Douglas, but southerner David Terry challenged him to a duel and mortally wounded him on September 13. The dying Broderick said, “They have killed me because I was opposed to the extension of slavery and a corrupt Administration.”14
      On September 30 Abraham Lincoln spoke to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society at Milwaukee on “Labor, Education, and the American Farmer.” He criticized the mudsill theory that there has to be a lower class of poor workers. Some southerners had argued that their slaves were better off than many laborers in the North.
      In October elections Republicans won in Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania while Democrats dominated Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida. In the border states and elsewhere moderates were opposing the more extreme candidates in the Republican and Democratic parties. Sam Houston in Texas was elected governor again as an Independent Democrat. Many prominent southern leaders advised that secession may be needed in order to preserve their slave system.
      On December 3 Lincoln spoke at Leavenworth and noted that the people of Kansas were the first example of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. After five years of continual struggle with fire and bloodshed they secured a free-state constitution, and he predicted they would be admitted into the Union. Lincoln noted how this policy was worse than the Northwest Territory that had banned slavery. He urged people who believe that slavery is wrong to unite on a policy to deal with it as a wrong. To those who are not Republicans he said, “If we shall constitutionally elect a President, it will be our duty to see that you submit.”15
      The Buchanan Administration still opposed the slave trade, and in the fall they strengthened a squadron off the African coast, and they had four armed cruisers near Cuba to stop slave traffic. In his annual message to Congress on December 19 Buchanan congratulated the US Supreme Court for settling the question of slavery in the territories, saying,

The right has been established of every citizen
to take his property of any kind, including slaves,
into the common Territories belonging equally
to all the States of the Confederacy, and to have it
protected there under the Federal Constitution.
Neither Congress nor a Territorial legislature
nor any human power has any authority
to annul or impair this vested right.16

Yet the President also stated that he would enforce the laws against the African slave trade, and he considered reopening that trade unwise and immoral. He did not mention John Brown’s name; but he referred “to the recent sad and bloody occurrences at Harper’s Ferry,” and then he pleaded with the nation to avoid a war over slavery, saying

Still, it is proper to observe that these events,
however bad and cruel in themselves,
derive their chief importance from the apprehension
that they are but symptoms of an incurable disease
in the public mind, which may break out
in still more dangerous outrages and terminate at last
in an open war by the North to abolish slavery in the South.
  Whilst for myself I entertain no such apprehension,
they ought to afford a solemn warning to us all
to beware of the approach of danger.
Our Union is a stake of such inestimable value as to demand
our constant and watchful vigilance for its preservation.
In this view, let me implore my countrymen,
North and South, to cultivate the ancient feelings
of mutual forbearance and good will toward each other
and strive to allay the demon spirit
of sectional hatred and strife now alive in the land.17

Buchanan asked that Amistad claimants be paid. He still favored purchasing Cuba even though Spain had made it clear in 1858 that they would never allow the sale. He noted that the Juarez government had not yet established its power over all of Mexico. To protect American citizens there he still wanted “temporary military posts across the Mexican line in Sonora and Chihuahua.”18 Buchanan lamented the failure to pass the Post-Office bill, noting the department lost nearly $7 million in the fiscal year ending on 30 June 1859. He estimated the government’s deficiency for the current fiscal year at nearly $6 million.
      Buchanan had appointed Robert McLane as Minister to Mexico on March 7, and on April 7 McLane announced that the United States was recognizing the Juarez regime as Mexico’s only government. On December 14 McLane and Mexico’s Foreign Minister Melchor Ocampo signed a treaty at Vera Cruz which would give Americans transit with railroads across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in exchange for $4 million, half of which was to pay off claims of American citizens. Both nations agreed to protect trade routes and mutually agreed upon tariffs. However, northerners in the US Senate would reject the treaty 27-18 on 31 May 1860.

      Also in 1859 gold was discovered in Boulder Canyon on January 15. On April 4 at the Mechanics’ Hall in New York City the song “Dixie” by Dan Emmett was first performed, and it would become the marching song of Confederate soldiers.
      Henry T. P. Comstock and others discovered silver in the Virginia range east of Lake Tahoe in June, and Virginia City grew quickly. On August 28 Edwin F. Drake discovered oil at Titusville, opening Pennsylvania to the petroleum industry. An effort to create the Jefferson Territory in the Rocky Mountains failed when voters rejected the proposed constitution in September. On November 16 claim jumpers ravaged St. Charles and renamed the town “Denver” after the Governor of Kansas.
      On November 24 the 16-year-old Italian singer, Adelina Patti, made her debut performance in Donzetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in New York.
      The mileage of railroads in the US nearly doubled between 1855 and 1861, promoting trade and a growing economy. The New York Central Railroad and the Erie Railroad used several lines that extended to the Mississippi River connecting Pittsburgh, Ft. Wayne, Chicago, Toledo, and Wabash. The Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad went from Baltimore through Wheeling, Marietta, Cincinnati, Terre Haute, and Alton to St. Louis. Between 1850 and 1860 the amount of corn, pork, whiskey, wheat, and flour increased a little by way of New Orleans to the South while transportation to the East was multiplying by five or six times.

John Brown’s Crusade Against Slavery

      John Brown was born on 9 May 1800 in Connecticut, and his family moved to Ohio in 1805. He studied at the Morris Academy in Connecticut to become a Congregational minister, but he ran out of money. He worked at many jobs. He married in 1820; but his wife Dianthe died after bearing seven children, and only John Jr., Jason, Owen, and Ruth survived to be adults. In 1833 Brown married 16-year-old Mary Ann Day, who bore 13 children; but only Salmon and three daughters outlived their father. His family moved to Ohio in 1836, and he suffered financial losses during the depression in 1837-41. In 1839 he borrowed $2,800 to invest in wool but used the money in other ways.
      After the murder of the abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy in 1837, Brown consecrated his “life to the destruction of slavery.” He declared bankruptcy in 1842, and four of his children died of dysentery in 1843. In 1844 he went into the sheep business as a partner of Col. Simon Perkins, Jr. of Akron, and he found a cure for bots (maggots) in sheep; but his extreme estimates of the worth of the finest and worst grades of fleeces led to another financial disaster. Perkins & Brown lost $40,000 and had to liquidate their assets. By 1845 he had been involved in 21 lawsuits in Portage County, Ohio. He was very religious and kept the Sabbath on Sundays, working hard on other days. He considered fishing and hunting a waste of time. He often quoted the Bible and argued with others, despising anyone who always agreed with him. He was a leader and looked for men who observed Sunday and believed in the Gospels and common (public) schools while opposing slavery. He helped fugitive slaves by piloting them on the Ohio River.
      Brown believed that God had a mission for him, and in Springfield, Massachusetts he organized resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. In 1855 his oldest sons, who had moved their families to Kansas, informed him that they were not prepared to fight against proslavery forces. Brown on his way to Kansas participated in the anti-slavery convention in June at Albany, New York, and he became a leader in the free-state efforts in the Kansas Territory. After proslavery militants sacked Lawrence on 21 May 1856, three days later Brown and his four sons killed five proslavery settlers near Pottawatomie Creek. In November he left Kansas to go back to New England where he raised money for his anti-slavery cause.
      In February 1857 John Brown met in Concord with Emerson, Thoreau, and others appealing to “Friends of Freedom” and “honest lovers of Liberty and Human Rights, both male and female.” He believed that southern sins could not be remitted without bloodshed, and he told Emerson it would be better for one generation to pass away than that slavery should continue.
      Brown went to Philadelphia, New York, Syracuse, Worcester, Boston, and other towns appealing for money and arms while predicting a war on the plains. The Massachusetts Kansas Committee contributed $500, and the National Kansas Committee in New York pledged $5,000 but provided only $150. Wendell Phillips and others gave him $1,000 to pay off his farm at North Elba, New York where his wife and children lived. Wealthy Gerrit Smith and other abolitionists warned Brown that his plan would fail; but in March a secret committee of six (Theodore Parker, Samuel G. Howe, George L. Stearns, Thomas Higginson, Gerrit Smith, and Frederick Douglass) formed to advise him and raise more money. In a letter on May 9 Senator Wilson warned Dr. Howe to get the arms back from Brown, and the secret committee met and postponed a raid. Stearns as chairman of the Massachusetts Kansas Committee wrote to Brown warning him not to use money collected for Kansas anywhere else. Brown left Boston on June 3 with $500 in gold and went back to Lawrence, Kansas. That area was at peace then as Kansas was expected to be admitted as a free state.
      Hugh Forbes was a silk merchant who had fought with Garibaldi in 1848, and he agreed to train volunteers, providing The Manual of the Patriotic Volunteer. Brown believed that hundreds of slaves would rise up, and he wanted to have a thousand pikes ready for them. He met with Forbes at Tabor, Iowa in August, and at a campfire near Topeka, Kansas he spoke to an irregular company. Brown explained that their destination was Virginia.
      In May 1858 Brown met them near Detroit in Chatham, Ontario. He explained how they would fight from the mountains of Maryland and Virginia to Tennessee and Alabama, and he believed that slaves and free blacks from the North would join them. With help from the intellectual John Henry Kagi they adopted a provisional constitution with Brown as commander-in-chief, Kagi as secretary of war, and Richard Realf as secretary of state. The preamble declared war and justified killing slaveholders, liberating slaves, confiscating property, and ravaging their land, all as military operations.
      On December 20 John Brown led a raid that freed eleven blacks in Missouri and captured two white prisoners while killing one man. In January 1859 he went with the former slaves north, and in Chicago detective Allan Pinkerton raised money for them. President Buchanan offered a reward of $250 for Brown’s capture. He gave two speeches in Grinell, and Kagi lectured in Cleveland. On March 12 at Detroit they saw the blacks board a ferry to Windsor. After this success many northern free-soilers contributed $100 each. Helper’s Impending Crisis was distributed, and the New York Tribune predicted that slavery would be abolished in border states. At a mass meeting in Cleveland on May 24 Joshua Giddings introduced Governor Salmon Chase who supported resolutions declaring the Fugitive Slave Law null and void. In 1857 Ohio had passed a law against arresting, imprisoning, or carrying away any free person of color. Personal liberty laws were also passed in New England, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin where its Supreme Court had declared the Fugitive Slave Act unconstitutional. On 7 March 1859 in Ableman v. Booth the US Supreme Court led by Taney reversed that, but on March 19 the Wisconsin legislature rejected that decision.
      In May 1859 John Brown visited his secret committee and spoke at Concord, and he raised more than $4,000. He told Higginson and Douglass about a planned raid to liberate slaves. Higginson believed it could spark a civil war, and Douglass criticized the strategy.
      Harper’s Ferry, Virginia is just south and west of where the Shenandoah River flows into the Potomac, and where the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad crosses the Potomac. The town had a federal armory and factory with nearby rifle works which employed hundreds and could make 10,000 arms a year. John Brown with two sons and a friend came there on July 3 using the name “Smith” and rented a farmhouse five miles away in Maryland. On August 25 War Secretary Floyd received an anonymous letter from Cincinnati warning of an upcoming attack on Harper’s Ferry, but he dismissed it as a hoax.
      In late September they brought in boxes 198 Sharps rifles and 950 iron-pointed spears. Brown explained how they would take the arsenal so that they could arm slaves; but many of his followers including three of his sons believed the raid would fail. When Brown said he would resign and let the majority elect a new leader, they confirmed his leadership. They planned to barricade or destroy two bridges and take hostages to help them negotiate with those attacking them. F. J. Meriam arrived with $600 in gold from Boston at the end of September.
      On Sunday evening October 16 Brown drove a wagon as 17 men, each with a rifle and two revolvers, entered Harper’s Ferry. Cook and Tidd cut the telegraph wires. They captured two watchmen and took over the armory and the arsenal which contained weapons worth millions. Brown sent five men to capture Col. Lewis Washington five miles away, and he joined other hostages. A train stopped before an obstruction at one in the morning. A free black working as the baggage manager was mortally wounded. Brown let the train leave at 5 a.m. After dawn employees arrived for work and were held as hostages. Owen Brown was waiting at the schoolhouse with weapons for slaves but few if any came.
      A physician had attended the first casualty, and then he rode a horse to arouse Charlestown, alerting the Jefferson Guards. Farmers arrived with weapons, and President Buchanan and Governor Wise were notified of a “slave revolt” led by whites. Buchanan sent three companies. After much shooting Brown sent out a man to ask for a truce, but he was taken prisoner and later killed by a mob. The first raider to die was the free Negro, Dangerfield Newby. Watson Brown and Aaron Stevens went out with a white flag, but Watson was shot and dragged back and eventually died. His brother Oliver was also mortally wounded. Kagi and another man were killed at the rifle works, and Stevens was captured. Mayor Fontaine Beckham was killed. That night Brown refused to surrender.
      The next day Col. Robert E. Lee and Lt. J. E. B. Stuart arrived with cavalry. Lee did not want to attack because of the hostages. After Brown again declined to surrender, Lee had men attack using bayonets. John Brown was wounded but not seriously. Ten raiders had been killed, and five were captured. The others escaped, but two were eventually caught and executed with those captured.
      John Brown’s trial began on October 25, and he was defended by several lawyers and himself. He was charged with conspiracy in an insurrection with Negroes, murder, and treason. He argued that he only intended to free slaves, that he acted in self defense, and that he had never sworn allegiance to Virginia. The jury convicted him of all three, and on November 2 Judge Parker sentenced him to be hanged. In his short speech on that day Brown stated,

Had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful,
the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of
any of their friends, either father, mother, brother, sister,
wife, or children, or any of that class,
and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference,
it would have been all right;
and every man in this court would have deemed it
an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.
  This court acknowledges, as I suppose,
the validity of the law of God.
I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible,
or at least the New Testament.
That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would
that men should do to me, I should do even so to them.
It teaches me, further, to “remember them
that are in bonds, as bound with them.”
I endeavored to act up to that instruction.
I say, I am yet too young to understand that
God is any respecter of persons.
I believe that to have interfered as I have done
as I have always freely admitted I have done
in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right.
Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life
for the furtherance of the ends of justice,
and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children
and with the blood of millions in this slave country
whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel,
and unjust enactments, I submit; so let it be done!19

      Many asked Governor Henry A. Wise to commute his sentence while others and Brown himself believed that death would make him a more influential martyr. The Court of Appeals upheld the sentence. Although reports came in that several of his relatives were insane, John Brown explained that he was of sound mind and responsible for his actions. He was the first to be executed and was hanged on December 2. As he walked to the gallows, Brown handed the jailer a note with his last words:

I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes
of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.
I had, as I now think vainly, flattered myself
that without very much bloodshed it might be done.

Six other raiders were also hanged—two whites and two blacks on December 16 and the other two on March 16. Senator James Mason of Virginia held hearings. Howe and Stearns testified, but the committee found no conspiracy beyond those in Brown’s raid.
      On October 30 Henry David Thoreau in a speech he made in Concord was the first to praise publicly John Brown. He wanted to correct the statements and tone of the newspapers, and he expressed his admiration for him and his companions. He described Brown’s efforts to end slavery, and he considered him a superior representative of the North. Thoreau agreed that Brown had a right to rescue slaves. After Brown’s death Thoreau said, “I meet him at every turn. He is more alive than ever he was.”
      These violent events aroused powerful emotions in both the South and the North. Southerners became more afraid, and they forced some northerners to flee. Northerners had mixed feelings, believing that Brown had sacrificed his life and his sons in struggling to end the evil slave system even though they often did not approve of his methods.
      The song “John Brown’s Body” became very popular and was often sung by Union soldiers. New words were given to the traditional “Brothers, Will You Meet Us.” In November 1861 Julia Ward Howe would change the lyrics again to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”


1. The Annals of America, Volume 8 1850-1857: A House Dividing, p. 441-442.
2. Madison Papers, Rives ed., 1391, 1394 quoted in The Emergence of Lincoln, Volume I: Douglas, Buchanan and Party Chaos 1857-1859 by Allan Nevins, p. 96, note 9.
3. Quoted in The Emergence of Lincoln, Volume I, p. 105.
4. The Annals of America, Volume 8, p. 484.
5. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume II, p. 405.
6. Public domain, from the Library of Congress
7. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume III, p. 16.
8. Ibid., p. 19.
9. Ibid., p. 27.
10. Ibid., p. 256.
11. Ibid., p. 311-312.
12. Ibid., p. 315.
13. The Annals of America, Volume 9 1858-1865: The Crisis of the Union, p. 33, 35.
14. A Senator of the Fifties by Jeremiah Lynch, p. 226 quoted in The Emergence of Lincoln, Volume II: Prologue to Civil War 1859-1861 by Allan Nevins, p. 69.
15. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume III, p. 502.
16. Messages and Papers of the Presidents 1789-1908, Volume V, p. 554.
17. Ibid., p. 553.
18. Ibid., p. 568.
19. The Annals of America, Volume 9 1858-1865 The Crisis of the Union, p. 144.

Copyright © 2020 by Sanderson Beck

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Black Americans & Abolitionists 1845-65
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