CHAPTER XXVI. THE STRUGGLE FOR FREE SOIL

THE PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN OF 1852. - The Compromise of 1850 was thought to be a final settlement of all the troubles that had grown out of slavery. The great leaders of the Whig and Democratic parties solemnly pledged themselves to stand by the compromise, and when the national conventions met in 1852, the two parties in their platforms made equally solemn promises.

The Democrats nominated Franklin Pierce [1] of New Hampshire for President, and declared they would "abide by and adhere to" the compromise, and would "resist all attempts at renewing, in Congress or out of it, the agitation of the slavery question." The Whigs selected Winfield Scotland declared the compromise to be a "settlement in principle" of the slavery question, and promised to do all they could to prevent further agitation of it. The Free-soilers nominated John P. Hale of New Hampshire. The refusal of the Whig party to stand against the compromise drove many Northern voters from its ranks. Pierce carried every state save four and, March 4, 1853, was duly inaugurated. [2]

THE SLAVERY QUESTION NOT SETTLED. - But Pierce had not been many months in office when the quarrel over slavery was raging once more. In January, 1854, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois introduced into the Senate a bill to organize a new territory to be called Nebraska. Every foot of it was north of 36° 30' and was, by the Compromise of 1820 (p. 274), free soil. But an attempt was made to amend the bill and declare that the Missouri Compromise should not apply to Nebraska, whereupon such bitter opposition arose that Douglas recalled his bill and brought in another. [3]

KANSAS-NEBRASKA ACT. - The new bill provided for the creation of two territories, one to be called Kansas and the other Nebraska; for the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, thus opening the country north of 36° 30' to slavery; and for the adoption of the doctrine of popular sovereignty.

The Free-soilers, led by Salmon P. Chase, William H. Seward, and Charles Sumner, tried hard to defeat the bill. But it passed Congress, and was signed by the President (1854). [4]

THE STRUGGLE FOR KANSAS. - And now began a seven years' struggle between the Free-soilers and the proslavery men for the possession of Kansas. Men of both parties hurried to the territory. [5] The first election was for territorial delegate to Congress, and was carried by the proslavery party assisted by hundreds of Missourians who entered the territory, voted unlawfully, and went home. The second election was for members of the territorial legislature. Again the Missourians swarmed over the border, and a proslavery legislature was elected. Governor Reeder set the elections aside in seven districts, and in them other members were chosen; but the legislature when it met turned out the seven so elected and seated the men rejected by the governor. The proslavery laws of Missouri were adopted, and Kansas became a slave-holding territory.

THE TOPEKA CONSTITUTION. - Unwilling to be governed by a legislature so elected, looking on it as illegal and usurping, the free-state men framed a state constitution at Topeka (1855), organized a state government, and applied to Congress for admission into the Union as a state. The House of Representatives voted to admit Kansas, but the Senate would not consent, and (July 4, 1856) United States troops dispersed the legislature when it attempted to assemble under the Topeka constitution. Kansas was a slave- holding territory for two years yet before the free-state men secured a majority in the legislature, [6] and not till 1861 did it secure admission as a free state.

PERSONAL LIBERTY LAWS. - In the East meantime the rapidly growing feeling against slavery found expression in what were called personal liberty laws, which in time were enacted by all save two of the free states. Their avowed object was to prevent free negroes from being sent into slavery on the claim that they were fugitive slaves; but they really obstructed the execution of the fugitive slave law of 1850.

Another sign of Northern feeling was the sympathy now shown for the Underground Railroad. This was not a railroad, but a network of routes along which slaves escaping to the free states-were sent by night from one friendly house to another till they reached a place of safety, perhaps in Canada.

BREAKING UP OF OLD PARTIES. - On political parties the events of the four years 1850-54 were serious. The Compromise of 1850, and the vigorous execution of the new fugitive slave law, drove thousands of old line Whigs from their party. The deaths of Clay and Webster in 1852 deprived the party of its greatest leaders. The Kansas-Nebraska bill completed the ruin, and from that time forth the party was of small political importance. The Democratic party also suffered, and thousands left its ranks to join the Free-soilers. Out of such elements in 1854-56 was founded the new Republican party. [7]

THE CAMPAIGN OF 1856. - At Philadelphia, in June, 1856, a Republican national convention nominated John C. Fremont for President. The Democrats nominated James Buchanan. A remnant of the Whigs, now nicknamed "Silver Grays," indorsed Fillmore, who had been nominated by the American, or "Know-nothing," party. [8] The Free-soilers joined the Republicans. Buchanan was elected. [9]