In 1848 the whig party in North Carolina seemed impregnably entrenched. Its leaders had brought about the construction of railways with state aid, had inaugurated a public school system, and had initiated a policy of professional care for physical defectives — measures which truly mark a new epoch in the social history of the state. Moreover the whigs had redeemed North Carolina from the sway of the Jacksonian democracy, carrying the presidential elections of 1840 and 1844, and also securing a majority of the congressmen in 1835, 1837, 1841, 1847, and 1849. But the supremacy of the party was near its end. Beneficial as was its legislative program, its spirit and many of its policies were at variance with the genius of the plain people. It found staunch allies among the banking interests and the manufacturers. Its use of the patronage was notorious. Its attitude toward American expansion and the Mexican War was extremely partisan, bordering on disloyalty. Finally, two issues arose concerning which its leaders were confused and its policy was uncertain, resulting in inglorious defeat at the hands of the democrats.
The first of these was the question of senatorial suffrage. The Constitution of 1776 restricted the franchise in senatorial elections to •fifty-acre freeholders. This was at variance with the Bill of Rights, which declared that all power was vested in the people. Yet the restriction for many years worked no hardship and aroused no criticism, because land was cheap and could be obtained, especially in the more western county, by payment of an entry fee. But at length the choice lands were taken up, and with the advance of tax rates p289 on land, property in land became a more obvious sign of wealth. Moreover capital came to be invested in other forms of property; especially after 1830 did factories and small shops multiply, each having its landless workers or owners. The same fact also held true of the professional class. Thus there was an increasing number of citizens without property in land who were deprived of the senatorial suffrage. Here was the possibility of a new issue. It was broached in 1842 when a mass meeting in Kinston protested against the freehold requirements and Green W. Caldwell raised the question in the succeeding legislature, but without results.
Thus the matter rested until the campaign of 1848. The democrats nominated for governor David S. Reid, of Rockingham County, a young man thirty-four years old, who had seen two terms in Congress and several years in the legislature. The platform was of the perfunctory type, endorsing the Polk administration and condemning certain state policies of the whigs and also their attitude toward the Mexican War. When Mr. Reid, who was not a member of the democratic state convention, heard of his nomination, he declined to accept. Holden, editor of the Standard, a member of the democratic state executive committee, was on the point of publishing the letter of declination, but was persuaded by one Julian Wheedon to delay for a week. Holden then consulted other democrats in Raleigh and it was decided to send a special message to Mr. Reid, urging him not to decline but to come to Raleigh immediately and open the campaign. The proposed consultation was eventually held, those present being Holden, Reid, James B. Shepard, Perrin Busbee, and a few other democratic leaders. To them Mr. Reid presented the question of manhood suffrage in senatorial elections.
"Gentlemen," he said, "this nomination was not sought by me, and it has been my purpose for a long time if I should be a candidate for a state office before the public, to broach one issue, which I deem very important. When I mean is that the state constitution shall be so amended by the mode prescribed by that instrument itself, that all voters of the House of Commons shall be allowed to vote for senators. I mean, of p291 course, no disrespect to the convention that nominated me, but I wish to discuss the question before the people. I want your opinion."
According to tradition, those present were divided; Shepard, for instance, is said to have advised against raising the issue, and Holden to have favored it. Mr. Reid, after consulting other politicians in Goldsboro and Newbern, found his conviction strengthened and he presented the issue in a joint debate with Manly, the whig candidate, at Beaufort, on May 10. Manly, taken unaware, asked a day to consider, and at Newbern his reply was against widening the suffrage. The ground of his opposition was the necessity of protecting property interests, also that the proposed reform would destroy the symmetry of the constitution, which made property the basis of representation in the Senate and population in the House of Commons. But the issue took like wildfire. Although Manly was elected, his majority was only 864. In the legislature of 1848, which was equally divided between both parties, Mr. Sheek of Surry County, a democrat and a member of the House of Commons, introduced a resolution for a constitutional amendment removing property restriction in senatorial elections. It received the necessary three‑fifths majority, but failed to secure the required number of votes in the Senate. The immediate result of the issue was its liberalizing influence on the democrats. Having found a plausible and winning issue, they changed front on the matter of internal improvements and other reforms; their prominent leaders gave support to the North Carolina railroad bill, the insane asylum bill, and other progressive measures of the session.1
Gov. Charles Manly
David S. Reid
The question of suffrage reform was naturally carried into the campaign of 1850. The democrats again nominated Reid on a platform demanding manhood suffrage and also the election of judges by the people. The whigs likewise renominated Manly, but straddled question of suffrage reform, declaring that a vote of the people should be taken on the proposed change before action by the legislature. During p292 the campaign Manly, realizing that the tide was turning toward the democrats, came out in favor of a constitutional convention, which should have the power not only to change the suffrage, but also to alter the basis of representation in the House of Commons from federal to white population. This proposition found favor among the whigs of the western counties, where there were few slaves; but in the east, where the slave system was extensively developed, it met bitter opposition. Thus the whigs were divided among themselves. The result was the election of Reid by a majority of 2,733, a victory which marked a revolution in party politics, for never again were the whigs of North Carolina able to elect a governor.
The issue now took a singular and unexpected turn. Manly's suggestion of a change in the basis of representation in the House of Commons caused the whig leaders in the more western counties to demand in addition a change in the basis of representation in the Senate from property to white population. Thus was revived the old sectional issue between the east and the west which had been compromised in 1835, because the east, on account of its greater property values, now held a majority in the Senate. By way of illustration it was shown that of the fifty senators, seventeen from the west had a which was a majority of the white population of the state; yet the census returns of 1850 indicated a further reduction of western representation on account of the increasing property values in the east. To be more specific, three senatorial districts in the west, including Buncombe, Henderson, Yancey, Guilford, Surry, Watauga and Ashe counties, had five times the white population and paid double the taxes of three senatorial districts in the east, which consisted of the three counties of Martin, Hertford, and Onslow. Moreover, the issue of equitable representation involved the larger question of the privilege of slavery. "The Senate," it was pointed out, "represents property and not persons — money, not men — matter, not mind. But its odiousness does not stop her. * * * All white males between the ages of 21 and 45 are subject to a poll tax; and all slaves, male and female, between p293 the ages of 12 and 50, are subject to the like tax. So that three‑fifths of the negroes are represented in the House of Commons, and all the negroes between the ages above designated are represented in the Senate, but your wives and children have no political rights. Peddlars, billiard tables, bowling alleys, circus riders, playing cards, retailers of spirituous liquors, brokers, merchants, watches and carriages, are all taxed. They have their senators in the state legislature. But your wives and your daughters; your old men who have served their country, your young men who are rising up to be its hope and its strength; and your poor men upon whom misfortune has hit its heavy hand; have no one there to plead their cause and protect their rights. Is this Liberty? Is this Freedom? Is this Republican Equality?2
The remedy, according to the western whigs, was a constitutional convention which would make a change in the unjust representation and also consider such other questions as the popular election of judges, justices of the peace, and all executive officers. To such a program the eastern whigs were bitterly opposed, since it meant a reduction of eastern representation in the legislature and an assault on the slavocracy. Thus the unity of the whig party was broken; eastern whig and western whigs tended to fall apart. On the other hand, the democratic leaders held strictly to the original issue of manhood suffrage and its adoption through a constitutional amendment submitted to the people by legislative initiative; yet the proposed amendment was required to have the endorsement of a three‑fifths majority in the session which originated it and a two‑thirds majority in the succeeding legislature. Clinging to one simple issue, the democrats avoided the cleavage between the east and the west; thereby the party profited by the issue while the whigs suffered by the sectional cleavage.
These conflicting tendencies were well reflected in the policy of the legislature. In the House of Commons of 1850 three resolutions were introduced and referred to a committee of five on constitutional reform. One, introduced by p294 Love, a whig from the mountain county of Haywood, called for a convention of unlimited power; the second, by Fleming, a democrat from Yancey, another mountain county, recommended a vote of the people on the general question of reform; a third called for an amendment to be submitted to the people by the legislature. The committee, the majority of whom were democrats, reported a bill for manhood suffrage by an amendment to be submitted by the legislature, but a minority report signed by Foster, of Davidson, one of the two whig committeemen, favored the convention method. After extensive debate the report of the majority was carried by the required three‑fifths vote, on January 14, 1851. However in the Senate, the seat of conservatism, some eastern democrats were lukewarm, some of the western whigs were also bitter in their criticism, and there was danger that the bill would fail. Favorable action was at length forced by the democratic members of the committee on constitutional reform, who rushed through the Commons a new bill for a convention; thus alarmed, the Senate democrats rallied to the bill before them, and it was passed by the required majority on January 23, 1851, with an amendment, exacted by the Commons, that no construction of it should be made permitting free negroes to vote.
In the meanwhile the western whigs had become alarmed over the matter of internal improvements; resolutions had been introduced to repeal the charter of the North Carolina Railroad and to repudiate the state subscription to its stock, and also a bill had been submitted prohibiting in the future any appropriation above $100,000 for internal improvements without a majority vote of two consecutive sessions of the legislature. Evidently there was some sentiment to wreck the policy on which depended the economic development of the western counties. This strengthened the agitation for a change in the basis of representation, which would naturally give the west a stronger influence in the legislature. Hence the western whig members and one western democrat, Fleming, of Yancey, before the legislature adjourned held a meeting and issued an "Address to the People of North Carolina," which pointed out the injustice of the existing basis of representation p295 and urged an unlimited convention to bring about the desired constitutional reform. A series of popular meetings in the interest of the cause was held in the more western counties during the spring of 1851, notably in Watauga, Buncombe, Henderson, Burke, Caldwell, McDowell, Rutherford, and Cleveland. Indeed an effort was made to launch a new party, the Republican Party of North Carolina, but it failed because the western democrats would not cooperate and the eastern whigs repudiated any suggestion of a change in the basis of representation.
Thus the schism among the whigs increased while the democrats continued to stand firm and united. In the whig convention of 1852 an effort at compromise was made by a resolution endorsing an amendment to the constitution, to be made by a constitutional convention, elected on the basis of representation in the House of Commons, provided that such a convention should first be approved by the people at an election. On the other hand, the democratic platform stood squarely for manhood suffrage by submitting the amendment to the people provided it should receive the necessary two‑thirds vote of the next legislature. In the meantime the North Carolina whigs, like the members of the party in the other states of the South, had suffered since 1850 by the slavery agitation. This, and the greater unity among the democrats, resulted in the re-election of Reid over Kerr, the whig candidate, by a majority of 5,500.
In spite of the favorable outlook, the cause of manhood suffrage was checked in the legislature of 1852. By accident its opponents had a majority in the House Committee on Constitutional Reform, but a bill favoring the amendment, reported by the minority of the committee, was adopted with the two‑thirds majority required for sanction by the second legislature. In the Senate, however, the bill failed to secure the necessary majority. The membership was 50, the required two‑thirds vote was 33⅓; but the count showed 33 ayes and 15 nays, the bill failing by one‑third of one vote. A direct cause of this defeat was the defection of Weldon N. Edwards, an eastern democrat of Warren County. He refused to cast his vote on the ground that he had always p296 opposed the measure and had been elected because of that opposition. Thus the whole legislative process for the amendment had to be repeated. An effort was made to begin at once by securing a three‑fifths vote, but it failed, and the issue had to be considered again in the two succeeding state elections and legislatures.
In 1854 the whigs backed and filled. New propositions for internal improvements in the west had been brought forward in 1852 and the democrats, desiring to keep in power, dared not oppose state aid. Thus much of the reason for the west to urge a change in the basis of representation was removed. Moreover, the whig platform of 1854 favored a convention with full power to alter the constitution with the exception of the basis of representation. Some of the whigs of the mountain counties were still discontented, and a whig meeting held in Asheville in April, 1854, repudiated the plank of the platform relating to a convention. Again the democrats, united on the single issue of manhood suffrage by legislative initiative, were victorious, Bragg defeating Dockery by a majority of 2,061. In the succeeding legislature the whig opposition to manhood suffrage by amendment through legislative action was led by ex-Governor Graham, who pointed out the injustice of removing the protection given property interests by the freehold qualification while retaining the protection to slave property in the guarantee of equality of the capitation tax on whites and slaves. He thus forecast the issue of slave taxation, raised in 1858. Haughton, another whig, injected the Know Nothing issue of Americanism by proposing the limitation of senatorial suffrage to native or naturalized citizens of the United States, which was accepted. The bill submitting the amendment to the people then passed both houses by the necessary three‑fifths majority. In the campaign of 1856 the parties again divided on the issue, the whigs favoring a convention, the democrats the amendment through legislative initiative. Again the democrats won. In the legislature of 1856 the whig opposition was negligible, and the bill providing for the amendment was passed by an overwhelming vote. In August, 1857, the amendment was referred to the people and ratified by a vote of 50,075 to 19,382, p297 much of the opposition coming from the eastern slave-holding counties. The whole movement marks another step in the development of democracy, for it extended the senatorial suffrage to thousands. The democratic party had found an aggressive and winning issue, while the whigs had been divided and out-generaled.
Almost contemporary with the contest for suffrage reform came the agitation of another question which likewise contributed to a division within the whig party, and also to its decline. That was the question of the extension of slavery into territories acquired by the Mexican War. The Northwest, disgruntled because Polk compromised with England on the Oregon boundary, inspired the Wilmot Proviso of 1846, an amendment to the bill appropriating two million dollars for peace negotiations, which declared that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude should exist in any territory acquired from Mexico. It passed the House, but failed to reach a vote in the Senate. At the next session, to a bill appropriating $3,000,000 for negotiations of a more drastic treaty, an amendment was added, prohibiting slavery in any territory that might be annexed to the United States in any way whatsoever. The amendment failed in the Senate and the appropriation, without restriction, was made. But the two measures were full of significance; in the discussion of them, party lines dissolved; congressmen and senators from the slave states, with the exception of Delaware, being a unit in opposition, while those from the free states, with the exception of a score of democrats, favored restriction. A fundamental constitutional question was also raised, the power of Congress to restrict slavery in the territories. Finally, the resolutions were an unmistakable notice that the question of slavery would be a subject of discussion if the treaty with Mexico resulted in the acquisition of new territory.
The whigs suffered most by the agitation, for they were divided over the fundamental issue, the power of Congress to restrict slavery in territories. In North Carolina those with federalistic inclinations, led by Badger, believed that the power existed; while the states rights element, notably Mangum, asserted that the power did not exist. This division p298 was clearly revealed in 1848 during the discussion of the treaty with Mexico. Through the initiative of Senator Clayton, of Delaware, a compromise was proposed which prohibited the territorial legislatures of New Mexico and California from legislating on slavery until Supreme Court of the United States had passed on the legality of slavery in territories. In the Senate, where the measure carried, Mangum favored it but Badger was among the nays, the only other southern senators in opposition being John Bell, of Tennessee, and Metcalf and Underwood of Kentucky. Badger's argument was that if Congress could acquire territory, it could also govern territory, even to the exclusion of slavery, which was a state, not a federal institution; that the courts would certainly so decide, and thereby the South had everything to lose by accepting the Clayton compromise. In its stead he suggested that Congress should explicitly permit slavery in those parts of the territory acquired which were adapted to the cultivation of cotton and sugar. In the House the compromise was supported by four North Carolina whigs, Barringer, Clingman, Outlaw, and Shepperd, and three democrats, p299 Daniel, McKay, and Venable. It was opposed by two whigs, Boyden and Donnell. Alarmed at the anti-expansion sentiment in the North, Calhoun called a meeting of southern senators and representatives with the purpose of forming a southern phalanx in Congress and unifying southern opinion through an address to the southern people. In the caucus Venable, democratic congressman from the Fifth District, was secretary, but he and Daniel of the Sixth District were the only North Carolinians to sign the Southern Address. With this piece of propaganda Badger would have nothing to do. Writing to Crittenden, of Kentucky, he said: "I have sworn to support the constitution and will never concur in any movement which may, very remotely, endanger its continuance — certainly not for the privilege of carrying slaves to California or keeping up private gaols of slaveholders in this district. Would to heaven there were a little true moderation in our councils and that Southern gentlemen were less like a half blind horse, starting at every bush and even shadow of a bush."3
George E. Badger
In the meantime the issue was injected into state politics. Although the whig press had loudly denounced the Wilmot Proviso, the platform of the Whig State Convention did not mention it, while the democratic platform condemned the measure in no uncertain terms. In the national contest of 1848 the North Carolina whigs favored Clayton for the presidential nomination. But matters of expediency led the state's delegation in the national convention to give Taylor six votes and Clayton five. Sentiment among the democrats favored Buchanan for the presidential nomination, but after the third ballot in their national convention, the North Carolina votes went to Cass. The principal feature of the campaign was the criticism of the candidates; the whigs questioned Cass' soundness on slavery expansion, the democrats disparaged the ability of Taylor, and doubted Fillmore's attitude toward abolition. A most interesting feature of the campaign was the free soil ticket in support of Van Buren; p300 it received forty-seven votes in Guilford, sixteen in Orange, and thirteen in Chatham counties, and also the support of William H. Haywood, retired democratic leader. Taylor carried the state by 8,154, whereas Manly had won the state elections by 854. Evidently Taylor's southern birth rather than relative party values decided the election. North Carolina's reward for again supporting the whig cause was the appointment of William A. Graham as Secretary of the Navy, an honor conferred, however, upon the reorganization of the cabinet after the death of President Taylor. During his administration the department undertook four notable policies: the reorganization of the coast survey, the reorganization of the personnel, the exploration of the Amazon, and the Perry expedition to Japan.
The question of slavery extension was next injected into the proceedings of the legislature of 1848, the session so notable for its railroad legislation, the establishment of the insane asylum, and the introduction of the issue of manhood suffrage. William L. Steele, a state's rights whig and a member of the House of Commons, introduced resolutions to the effect that the territories were the joint property of the state, that the federal government as an agent of the states could make no laws destructive of the equal rights of the states in the territories, and that to deprive a citizen of the right to migrate to territories with slaves would be unconstitutional. These propositions were almost identical with resolutions which Mr. Calhoun had introduced into the Senate of the United States in 1847. The debates which followed revealed a cleavage of opinion regarding federal powers as marked as that in the discussion of nullification two decades before. Edward Stanly, an eastern whig, led the attack on the resolutions, holding that Congress had the right to restrict, but advocating an extension of the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific. The Raleigh Register, though it disapproved of the expediency of the Wilmot Proviso, spoke definitely in defense of its constitutionality, and pointed to Jefferson's interest in the Northwest Ordinance as a precedent. Among the defenders of the resolutions was another whig, William B. p301 Shepard. A notable incident in the controversy was the attitude of Thomas L. Clingman, whig congressman from the mountain district. Appealed to for an opinion, he replied that the Wilmot Proviso was a violation of the Constitution which would justify resistance by all means in the power of the South — a sentiment prophetic for the rising discontent among many Southern whigs. In the end, the Steele resolutions were set aside for others less radical, which admitted the main contention, but recommended an extension of the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific and deprecated any attempt to dissolve the Union. Copies were ordered sent to the state's representatives in Congress for transmission to that body. To these resolutions Stanly and a few other ultra-nationalists filed protests.
Closely related to the slavery debates was the election of a United States senator, Badger's term having expired. The whigs had a majority on joint ballot; the democrats sought to divide them by supporting Clingman, who now made known his repudiation of the whig ideal of a national bank, his approval of the democratic tariff of 1846, and his views on the Wilmot Proviso. In the balloting there was for a time a deadlock, but eventually Badger was reelected, — a triumph for the conservative federal whigs. Clingman utilized his defeat for partisan purposes, charging that the whigs of the Raleigh District, which always went democratic, dictated the party's nominees. The record of the parties and the candidates on the slavery question was also a factor in the congressional elections of 1849. The Register and the Standard in controversial editorials fully discussed the principle of slavery restriction, the Register defending the legal and the constitutional right of restriction, the Standard opposing it. Attention centered on the contest in two districts: the Fifth, where Venable's relationship to the Calhoun address was strongly criticised, and the Eighth, the distract of Stanly, who had led the fight against the Steele resolutions. Both were elected, but on the whole the whigs carried five, and the democrats three, of the districts. The victory was a marked contrast to the congressional elections in the other southern states, where whig leadership suffered severe reverses.
p302 Interest in the slavery controversy now shifted to the Thirty-first Congress, the first session of which convened in December, 1849. In the Senate Mangum's attitude was uncompromisingly in favor of the complete rights of the slave owner. He presented for publication in the Congressional Globe resolutions of a meeting in Wilmington urging that delegates be sent to the Nashville Convention, in which there was also a declaration that love of the Union, like individual life, must always be sacrificed for principle. The senator's remarks were in harmony with the spirit of the resolutions:
Sir, I have heard much about compromises of this question. I have heard much said about equivalents and compensations, but it seems to me that that conception is based on an unjust, if not an entirely false idea of our position. What is compensation for? What imperils? Have we done anything that the North has a right to complain of? Are we to make compensation for the slanders, for the calumny, for the endangering of our firesides, for the exciting of domestic insurrection? Are we to make compensation for aggression of this character? No, sir. We stand by the Constitution and our rights, and we mean to stand by them under Heaven, and under that protection we believe that we have the power to maintain them, and we will do it at the hazard of our lives, and at the hazard of everything. Everything or anything will be incurred in preference to dishonor and an ignominious submission to an imprudent, arrogant and unconstitutional interference with our rights.
Nor was the outlook for harmony in the House more favorable. In the prolonged contest for the Speakership the whigs, realizing that Winthrop, of Massachusetts, could not be elected, turned on the fifty-ninth ballot to Edward Stanly, who received seventy-five votes. The plurality rule was then adopted, and Stanly magnanimously urged that his name be dropped for the first choice of his party. When Cobb, a Georgia democrat, received the required number of votes, Stanly as generously put the motion that he be declared elected. Among the North Carolina whigs Clingman was notably radical. On November 13, in a letter to Senator Foote of Missouri, he held that the exclusion of slavery from territories would be revolutionary and would justify resistance on the part of the South. In Congress he advocated the extension of the northern boundary of Missouri to the Pacific as the p303 line of division between slave and free territories in return for the admission of California as a free state, and to secure this compromise he urged filibustering on all other important matters until concession was made. Even more radical was Venable. Flushed with the success of his re-election over his whig opponent, he congratulated Clingman on his position and declared that the time had arrived when "a policy which under any form of federal legislation or executive intervention seizes for the non-slaveholding states the public domain, must be given up. * * * Abolition in the District, the dock yards, forts, arsenals, must no longer be urged, and state laws preventing or impeding the capture and recovery of fugitive labor must be repealed." If these acts of justice were not done, "separation will be inevitable. Our wrongs are unsupportable and can be tolerated no longer. But remember, we cannot be turned aside from the demand for redress by the cry of disunion; should it really ensue, on your head be the guilt, for we strove to avert the calamity." In contrast to this radicalism were the caustic and satirical remarks of Stanly, who pointed out the great influence of the South in the cabinet and in Congress, berated the politicians, ridiculed Venable as an "F. F. V., a strict Constructionist of the school of 1798, and to expect anything reasonable in politics from such a quarter is most unreasonable," engaged in a verbal altercation with Hilliard, of Alabama, and concluded "in the name of the people of North Carolina" that the "Union cannot be, shall not be, destroyed."
Of the various solutions for the slavery problem, Stanly was willing to accept that of President Taylor, the immediate admission of all territories to statehood, — in reality a free soil policy. Clingman and Venable were inclined to Calhoun's program of a non-partisan alliance of all southern members to secure everything the South desired. In fact one correspondent declared that forty-five members of the House would follow Clingman in filibustering to secure full recognition of southern rights in territories. The decisive influence proved to be that of Henry Clay, whose resolutions of January 29 were worked over into the Compromise of 1850. Under his p304 leadership Mangum's radicalism waned. Indeed, Mangum was a member of the committee of thirteen which framed the Compromise, and he recommended the measure in the following words: "I shall never feel any gratification in having one portion of the country gain or triumph over another portion, or in promoting the welfare of one section at the expense of another. * * * Let us differ as we please on this or that question of policy; but upon those questions which touch the integrity of the Union, and the perpetuity of the Government, and shake the solid continent to its center, I can have but one heart, one will, one mind; that is to do justice to all." Throughout the debate on the Compromise in the Senate, Mangum and Badger were active in its support. On Webster their influence was important. Wrote an observer in 1852: "Henry Clay had thrown himself into the breach, but he was powerless without some efficient aid from the North. The leading southern whigs, such as Mangum, Badger, and Dawson, rallied upon Mr. Webster, seized upon him, stuck to him, and finally brought him to the mark. His speech on the 7th of March gave a new impulse to the Compromise movement, and the whole country felt that the danger was substantially passed. But it is a notorious fact, that in the proceedings upon the report of the committee of thirteen, Mr. Webster wavered again, voting this way and that, and was only held to his place by the unceasing vigilance of Messrs. Mangum and Badger."4
In the House the opposition to the Compromise by the North Carolina democrats was not serious, being confined to criticism of the Utah bill and the Texas boundary. In May, after the Washington Union came out in favor of the Compromise, Venable and Ashe, together with Mangum and Clingman, attended the meeting of southern leaders whose purpose was to establish a newspaper in Washington devoted to southern rights.
The vote of the state delegation on the Compromise as a whole is shown by the following table:
|Texas Boundary||California||New Mexico||Fugitive Slaves||Utah||Slave Trade in District|
The Compromise now became the issue in state politics. In the early months of 1850 there was considerable sentiment for representation in the Nashville Convention, called by southern radicals to formulate a plan of cooperative resistance. The Standard approved of the plan, and was also favorable to suggestions of secession. The Star also approved the convention, but the other whig papers were against it. Governor Manly was urged to call a special session of the legislature to send delegates. When it was realized that he would not act, numerous county and district meetings, especially in the region bordering on South Carolina, were held to name delegates, but no representative of the state made the journey to Nashville. The party conventions met before the compromise was enacted; that of the whigs approved it, but the democratic convention favored an extension of the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific, and declared that all palpable violations of the Constitution or attempts by a sectional majority to wield the government to the injury and degradation of the South should be resisted. The democratic victory in the state elections, undoubtedly due to the suffrage issue, was considered by the more radical democrats as a condemnation of the Compromise. This, together with the strong movement p306 for its repudiation in the cotton states, led to a long discussion in the legislature of 1850. A joint committee on slavery was appointed, to which was referred a number of resolutions. Of these the most radical were those introduced by J. B. Shepard; they declared secession to be a right of self-defense which had never been surrendered, that whenever a majority of the people of North Carolina decided that they could not safely stay in the Union, it was their right and duty to secede, and that any policy of the Federal Government preventing the emigration of slave property would be an assault on property rights. The report of the committee, however, advised acquiescence in the Compromise, but retaliation in the future if slavery in the District of Columbia or the interstate slave trade were restricted, the fugitive slave law changed, or a slave state refused admission to the Union. It also recommended an advalorem tax on merchandise imported from the non-slaveholding states to offset the agitation against the fugitive slave law. A minority of the committee recommended additional resolutions defending the right of secession. The center of debate was the Senate, for there the margin between whigs and democrats was narrow. In the end the resolutions of the minority were first revised and then rejected. This result was brought about by a cleavage among the democrats, a faction favoring moderation led by Weldon N. Edwards cooperating with the federalistic whigs. When radicalism was checked in the Senate, the controversy in the House of Commons ended. Thus was the democracy itself divided; even the Standard, loud in its demand for Southern rights and even defending the right of secession, changed its tone and urged acceptance of the Compromise. An interesting phase of the controversy in the legislature was a special daily edition of the Raleigh Register, the purpose of which apparently was to rally sentiment for the Compromise.
The right of secession, however, was carried to the people by the radicals in the congressional campaign of 1851. In the third district Green W. Caldwell, democrat, elaborated and defended the right to withdraw from the Union, while his whig opponent, Alfred Dockery, went so far as to declare that if p307 South Carolina or even his native state should attempt secession, he would vote for an appropriation to be used in forcing the offender to remain in the Union. Likewise in the eighth district Edward Stanley took a similar position against Ruffin, secession democrat, and his campaign was watched with interest by the Northern press. In the mountain district Clingman faced an independent whig, B. S. Gaither, and was forced to make conciliatory explanations of his previous utterances. During the campaign the whig press was emphatically for the preservation of the Union. The Fayetteville Observer quoted Madison's opinion that there could be no conditional ratification of the constitution. The North State Whig justified the use of force. "The President of the United States," it said, "and every executive officer under him, are sworn to execute the law, and if they are resisted, it is his solemn duty to quell such resistance, and if it is necessary in order to do it, to use the army and navy and militia of the country. War must follow. War as a result of secession is as fatal as any of the eternal purposes of God." The result was that the whigs carried five of the nine districts, among them the third and eighth, although the democrats had carried the state elections of the preceding year.
Thus love of the Union was stronger than sectionalism, and secession was repudiated. But during the contest the whigs suffered more than the democrats. Among them the cleavage over nationality and states rights came earlier and was deeper. Moreover they had to meet the crisis in federal relations at a time when the democrats were raising the suffrage issue. Also, in the solution of the national problem the whigs of the South, especially in the cotton area, exhausted their strength. With the slavery question temporarily shelved, they had no new issue with which they could catch the imagination of the people. The reaction toward the democratic party was therefore intensified.
1 Carr, The Manhood Suffrage Movement (Papers Trinity College Hist. Soc., XI).
2 Address to the People of North Carolina, 1851.
3 Badger to J. J. Crittenden, Jan. 13, 1849. Crittenden MSS.
4 New York Herald, April 13, 1852. Quoted from Cole, Whig Party in the South, p165, n.
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