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Chapter 4

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Secession Movement 1860‑1861

Dwight Lowell Dumond

in the
Negro Universities Press edition,
New York, 1968

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 6
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p77  Chapter V
The Democratic Conventions at Baltimore

The adjourned Democratic convention reassembled at the Front Street Theater in Baltimore, June 18, 1860. Its membership was the same as it had been at the time of adjournment at Charleston. The chairman, Caleb Cushing, had declined to assume the responsibility of issuing admission tickets to any other delegates. South Carolina had refused to send delegates to Baltimore, and the Florida delegation, although present in the city, refused to apply for admission until definite action by the convention should offer the prospect of compromise. Neither Cushing nor the convention, therefore, was called upon to make any decision respecting those two states. Texas and Mississippi had returned their previous delegations and their seats were uncontested. Alabama, Louisiana, and Georgia had returned delegations composed in large measure of their former membership, but in each case there was a contesting delegation, recruited from the ranks of the Douglas followers in those states. From Arkansas, one full delegation was sent by the congressional nominating conventions, composed of the original Charleston delegates with but two exceptions; and a delegation of three members appointed by the mass meeting in the northern district, claiming one half the votes of the state.  p78 Two members of the Charleston convention from that state, Flournoy and Stirman, had not withdrawn and were present in the convention. Bayard and Whiteley, delegates from the county of Newcastle, Delaware, had withdrawn at Charleston and were seeking admission at Baltimore. There was also a contesting delegation present from Newcastle. In only two other cases were there contests. B. F. Hallett of the fifth Massachusetts congressional district had been prevented from attending the Charleston convention by the death of Mrs. Hallett, and had sent R. L. Chaffee as his substitute. The eighth congressional district of Missouri presented an exactly similar case, John B. Clardy, the regularly appointed delegate, having been represented at Charleston by John O'Fallon. These two cases were important because Cushing had admitted Hallett and Clardy to the exclusion of the substitutes, who had been members of the convention at Charleston.

Cushing, having declined to make any decision with regard to conflicting claims, or to pass upon the authenticity of credentials where no contest was presented, placed that issue squarely before the convention for its decision. Howard of Tennessee, who had introduced the famous Tennessee resolution, moved that tickets of admission be issued to all members of the convention as originally organized at Charleston. Cavanaugh of Minnesota instantly moved to lay the motion on the table and called for the previous question. The Douglas forces evidently had decided beforehand upon the course they intended to pursue. The issue which every one felt was to determine the fate of the party was before the convention and, under the rules, closed to discussion. Church of New York, by unanimous consent, then offered an amendment to the Howard resolution providing (1) that the credentials of  p79 all persons claiming seats made vacant by the secession of delegates at Charleston be referred to a committee; and (2) that all such delegates upon being admitted be "bound in honor and good faith to abide by the action of this convention, and support its nominees."​1 Cavanaugh, still determined that there should be no debate, immediately withdrew his motion to lay upon the table and called for the previous question upon the amendment. These tactics irritated the already tense situation. To force delegations whose seats were uncontested to submit their credentials to a committee and to propose a pledge as a prerequisite for admission were not conducive to the restoration of harmony. A counter-proposal was then offered by Gilmore of Pennsylvania, providing that the delegates from Florida, Arkansas, and Mississippi be admitted to the convention, and that a committee be appointed to examine the credentials of contesting delegations from Delaware, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana.​2 The convention then voted, one hundred forty and one half to one hundred eight and one half, to allow debate upon the subjects under consideration, New York and Rhode Island deserting the Douglas ranks and voting in the affirmative.

Randall of Pennsylvania spoke against the amendment of Church, denying the power of the convention to impose a condition of admission upon the delegations of the seven states. He held that their constituencies possessed an unqualified right to send delegations to the convention "without qualification, without condition, or without limitation from any other power but the supreme power of the people." The convention possessed only a delegated power to perform certain functions for the Democracy  p80 of the nation. No Southern representative would submit to the test oath, and he doubted very much if it were intended that they should.3

Russell of Virginia, who had labored faithfully to restore party harmony, then indicated the position that state intended to occupy. He stated that the convention had adopted at Charleston a voting rule which the Virginia delegation thought contrary to the fundamental constitution of the party; and it had voted down the platform which they wished to have adopted. They remained in the convention after eight states with whom they were in perfect accord had withdrawn, in order to save the party; but, he added, "We mean to see that there shall be fair play at least toward Southern Democrats." The Virginia delegation believed with the representatives of Tennessee that the right of every previous delegate to the Charleston convention to admission into the convention at Baltimore was beyond dispute; but they were prepared to support the Gilmore amendment, if by so doing they could restore harmony in the convention.​4 Ewing of Tennessee likewise supported the Gilmore amendment and pleaded for harmony and conciliation. He explained that the delegations seeking admission had been induced to do so by assurances that a compromise satisfactory to all parties would be arranged. They came to restore harmony not to increase party disorganization, but no man among them ever would submit to a qualified admission.5

The Northwest still refused to yield and the debate became bitter. The question was, Did the withdrawal of  p81 several delegations from the Charleston convention constitute a resignation? The supporters of the Howard resolution and Gilmore amendment held that it did not. The delegates seeking admission had no power to resign their rights to the convention. They were the delegates of sovereign states, and were answerable to those states. The convention had no power to accept resignations; no power to expel or retain; and the members of the former session of the convention needed no reaccrediting. Those members present were there by virtue of that fact, and those seeking admission possessed the same right and were entitled to exercise it.

The nearest the convention could come to harmonizing was an agreement to adjourn. That evening, after adjournment, a compromise was reached between opposing factions. Church was to withdraw that part of his resolution requiring a pledge to support the nominations made by the convention, and Gilmore was to withdraw his resolution entirely. This procedure was followed in convention the next morning, and the credentials of all delegates seeking admission were submitted to a committee for consideration. The committee sat for two days, the convention adjourning from time to time without any attempt to transact business. Finally, on the fourth day of the convention, the committee report was ready. Every one seems to have been aware that a dramatic session was pending and the floors and galleries were densely packed with spectators. As the committee was about to make its report the center section of the floor broke through, and about one hundred and fifty of the delegates, including the New York delegation, went down through the stage. There was no basement under the theater and no one was injured. In the midst of the din, Captain Rynders of New York said:  p82 "Mr. President, the platform has not broken down — only one plank got loose." "I hope the convention will repair the platform," said Cochrane, and another remarked, "New York and Pennsylvania have gone down together." Evidently the substance of the committee report was already known, and when the request was made for an hour's recess to allow the repairing of the floor, Captain Rynders requested that they "at the same time repair the injury done to the Democratic party."6

The majority report was signed in its entirety by fourteen states; and was based upon the Douglas construction of the resolution of May 3, recommending that the Democratic party of the several states make provision for filling all vacancies. It held that the seats of the delegates from Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi became entirely vacant when those delegates withdrew at Charleston, and that the same was true in part for Georgia, Arkansas, and Delaware. No contesting delegations had appeared from Mississippi and Texas, but there were such from Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas, and Delaware, and for individual seats in Massachusetts and Missouri. The one delegate present from Arkansas (Flournoy) represented one vote. The seats representing the three remaining votes from that state had become vacant by the withdrawal of the original delegates. These seats were claimed by one delegation of six and by another of three persons.​7 The report recommended that all from Arkansas be admitted; the delegation of six to have two  p83 votes and the delegation of three to have one vote. If either delegation refused to take its seats in the convention, the other was to cast the three votes. Hallett of Massachusetts and Clardy of Missouri were to be unseated and their seats given to Chaffee and O'Fallon who had substituted for them at Charleston.​8 The Mississippi and Texas delegations were to be admitted, there being no contesting delegations from those states. The delegation headed by Pierre Soulé from Louisiana and the Forsyth delegation from Alabama were to be admitted, to the exclusion of those appointed by the regular Democratic conventions of those states. James A. Bayard and William G. Whiteley were to be admitted from the county of Newcastle, Delaware.​9 The two contesting delegations from Georgia were to be admitted, each given one half of the votes, and in case either delegation refused its seats the other was to cast the entire vote of the state.

The minority report was supported by nine states in its entirety, ten states with regard to Georgia, Missouri, and Massachusetts, and eleven states with regard to Alabama.​10 It was based on a different interpretation of the Charleston resolution. When the state delegations withdrew, and stated their reasons for withdrawing, they were still representatives of the Democratic party in their respective states. Their withdrawal was not a resignation, and was not so regarded by the convention at the time. The resolution had reference to vacancies which might occur from a  p84 variety of reasons before time for reassembling. Resignations must be made to the appointing power, and the appointing power must accept them before they were complete and final. The resolution, by requesting that vacancies be filled, had referred the matter to the various state constituencies. The delegates who had withdrawn at Charleston had consulted their constituencies as to their future action and had been sent to Baltimore to restore harmony in the party.​11 The report said further:

The fact that delegations are not contested does not establish the right to seats in the Convention. There may be irregular delegates without contest, and there may be a contest between two sets of irregular delegates. The right of persons to seats as delegates is to be determined by the fact as to whether they were appointed according to the usage of said constituency. Wanting these essential prerequisites, they are not entitled to seats, even if there be no contestants; and having these, their right to seats is not impaired or affected by contestants.​12

This minority report held, therefore, that the committee had done rightly in deciding, by a vote of 23 to 2, to admit the Mississippi delegation, because they were members of the Charleston convention, had never resigned, and had been instructed to return to Baltimore by a state convention called by the state executive committee. The committee had likewise rightly recommended, by a vote of 19 to 6, the admission of the delegation from Texas, where no convention had been called, but where the Charleston delegates had been sent back to Baltimore by the state executive committee. The minority report pointed out that exactly the same procedure had been followed by  p85 the party in Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia as in Mississippi. The delegates withdrew at Charleston but did not resign. The state executive committee in each case called a convention, and the convention continued the powers of the delegates and sent them back to the national convention at Baltimore. The committee, however, had voted, 16 to 9, to admit the irregular delegates from Louisiana; 14 to 11, to admit the irregular delegates from Alabama; and 13 to 10, to admit one half of the regular and irregular delegates respectively from Georgia. It had voted to admit the irregular delegates from Arkansas and to reject a portion of the regular Charleston delegation as modified by the filling of vacancies; and had repudiated the principle followed in previous cases by voting to admit the original Charleston delegation from Delaware and to reject the irregular delegation.​13 The minority report maintained also that any substitute delegate received his appointment simply to act in the absence of his principal and that when the principal appeared and took his seat the authority of the substitute ceased. Hallett and Clardy were, therefore, entitled to the seats they occupied.

Immediately after the reading of the two reports New York requested an adjournment for the purpose of consultation before voting. The convention was in an uproar. Cleverly printed bogus tickets had been scattered broadcast and the floor of the convention hall was densely packed with spectators. Butler said that he had not come five hundred miles to attend a mass meeting, and demanded that the floor be cleared of spectators. Realizing the futility of debate under prevailing conditions, the convention adjourned.

On the following morning the minority report was  p86 rejected by a vote of 150 to 100½, New York, as in every previous important case, holding the balance of power and voting with the Douglas forces.14

The majority report was then ruled divisible and every provision accepted by the convention with the exception of the one relative to Georgia. In the case of Georgia the New York delegation voted with the Southern-rights men to admit the regular delegates as recommended by the minority report.15

The convention then adjourned until evening, with a motion pending to reconsider the minority report. In the interval some votes were gained its reconsideration; but they were not sufficient, and all hope of reconciliation was defeated by a vote of 113 to 139. As the vote neared its conclusion, Russell of Virginia, who had labored earnestly to save the party, announced that the Virginia delegates could no longer participate in the deliberations of the convention. Mingled hisses and applause greeted the announcement, and amid the wildest confusion Cushing ordered the galleries cleared. "I hope," said a Virginia delegate, the chair will not clear the galleries, and I hope, as we retire from this grave of Democracy, that we may be heard to our heart's content."16

Word had just been received, continued Russell, that those delegates to whom tickets of admission had been issued, and who were truly representative of the Democracy of their states, would decline to take their seats.  p87 Twenty-five of the thirty delegates from Virginia then retired from the convention. They were followed by sixteen of the twenty delegates from North Carolina, and by nineteen of the twenty-four from Tennessee. Kentucky asked for permission to retire for consultation, but Stuart of Michigan objected. His objections had been so frequent and his baitings of the Southern delegates so numerous, that on this occasion a member of the Kentucky delegation called out in a stentorian voice, "I wish to know whether the gentleman from Michigan is the manager of this theater." Every delegation which retired was greeted with hisses from the Douglas forces. Smith of California, evidently enraged by the demonstrations of censure, announced the withdrawal of his delegation: "Whilst I cannot say with the gentleman from Tennessee that my Democracy dates back to the time I have no knowledge of it,​17 yet I can say, that as unspotted as the azure of heaven. . . . California stands here with a lacerated heart, bleeding over the downfall and destruction of the Democratic party . . . stabbed by assassins, now grinning upon this floor." A dozen men called him to order; the chairman suggested that he use different language; but amid a torrent of hisses, ironical laughter, and finally threats of physical violence, he denounced the Douglas faction in true frontier fashion and retired with his delegation from the convention. California was followed by Oregon, Stevens​a1 stating that, being far from the controversy, they had no motive to act in the disturbing question except devotion to the Constitution and to sovereign states, which had been grievously wronged.

Other delegations withdrew when the convention assembled  p88 the following morning. Kentucky presented a written communication asserting that the convention had disregarded all the established usages of the Democratic party, violated every principle of justice and fairness, and destroyed the equal rights of the several states. It had suppressed, by its voting rule, the voice of the Democracy in several states, had denied admission to representative delegations from others, and by such tactics had forced still others to withdraw. It had finally ceased to be a national convention of the Democratic party, and fifteen of the twenty-four delegates from Kentucky would no longer be party to its transactions.​18 Chairman Cushing then resigned his position, and David Tod of Ohio was elected chairman.​19 Butler of Massachusetts tried repeatedly to gain the floor in order to present a written communication from the delegation of that state. He was ruled out of order again and again, and finally read the document without permission. It was a protest signed by fourteen of the twenty-six delegates against the expulsion of Hallett, "an old, faithful, and most efficient servant of the Democratic cause — a regularly commissioned delegate. . . ."​20 The fourteen Massachusetts delegates then  p89 withdrew from the convention. This completed the secessions, and the convention was converted into a testimonial meeting for Douglas. Stevens of Massachusetts,​a2 Dickinson of North Carolina, Soulé of Louisiana, and Flournoy of Arkansas were the speakers.

Thirteen states only were represented by full delegations when the balloting for the presidential nominee began,​21 and two of those, Alabama and Louisiana, were represented by irregular delegations which in no sense represented the Democracy of their states. Seven states were wholly unrepresented,​22 and seven others were represented by less than half the members of their delegations.​23 Delegates representing one hundred and eighty-two and one half votes remained as participants in the convention. Deducting the sixteen votes represented by the irregular delegates from Louisiana, Arkansas, and Alabama, there were actually in the convention but one hundred sixty-six and one half votes represented by delegates regularly chosen and representative of the Democracy in the several states.24

The rump convention then proceeded to the election of a presidential nominee. The first ballot produced a total of only one hundred ninety and one half votes, and it was obvious that the two thirds rule must be changed if a nomination were to be made. Any change, however, would require a delay of one more day under the rules of the convention. Chairman Tod suggested that he was  p90 willing to interpret the two thirds rule to mean two thirds of the delegates in the convention rather than two thirds of the total electoral vote, but numerous objections were made. It was then announced that several delegates who had withdrawn from the convention were still within the hall as spectators, and that if all were counted a total of two hundred twelve and one half votes were present. A second ballot was taken with the express understanding that all votes present but not given would be counted for Douglas by a motion to make the nomination unanimous. That motion was eventually made and the question was put and declared adopted while pandemonium made the voice of protesting delegates inaudible. The nomination for the vice presidency was tendered Fitzpatrick of Alabama, but that gentleman declined the honor and the national executive placed Herschel V. Johnson of Georgia upon the ticket.

On the last day of the Baltimore convention, Saturday, June 23, two hundred thirty-one delegates who had either been regularly elected to the convention and had not applied for admission, had been refused admission, or had withdrawn, assembled in Maryland Institute for consultation.​25 Caleb Cushing resumed his seat as permanent chairman, and it was decided to continue as the Democratic national convention, adopt a platform, and nominate candidates for the presidency and vice presidency. No individual was allowed to participate in the proceedings of the convention unless possessing credentials as a regularly elected delegate. Each delegate was permitted  p91 to cast only the vote to which he was entitled, and no state was allowed a vote in excess of that to which it was entitled by actual representation.​26 The platform included in the second majority report at Charleston was adopted unanimously, and John C. Breckinridge and Joseph Lane were nominated as candidates for the presidency and vice presidency respectively.

The Author's Notes:

1 Proceedings of the Conventions at Charleston and Baltimore, 160.

[decorative delimiter]

2 Ibid., 163.

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3 Ibid., 164. Randall's speech was eminently fair and moderate in tone, but was hissed throughout both by members of the convention and visitors in the galleries.

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4 Ibid., 167.

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5 Ibid., 171.

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6 Ibid., 185.

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7 The former were those appointed by the district conventions, the latter those appointed by the Madison mass meeting in the Northern district. No mention was made in this report of Van H. Manning, F. W. Hoadley, and John Stirman, who had agreed to unite with the six appointed by the district conventions. They were held to have violated their rights by withdrawing at Charleston.

[decorative delimiter]

8 Hallett was the author of the Cincinnati platform, which was the platform adopted by the convention.

[decorative delimiter]

9 Original delegates to Charleston who had withdrawn and participated in the organization of the Democratic Constitutional party.

[decorative delimiter]

10 Oregon, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, California, New Hampshire agreed with respect to Georgia, Alabama, Missouri, and Massachusetts; and Maryland agreed with respect to Alabama.

[decorative delimiter]

11 Proceedings of the Conventions at Charleston and Baltimore, 190.

[decorative delimiter]

12 Ibid., 189.

[decorative delimiter]

13 Ibid., 190‑191.

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14 See Appendix B.

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15 Proceedings of the Conventions at Charleston and Baltimore, 203. The vote on the various sections of the report was as follows: Mississippi, 250‑2½; Louisiana, 158‑98; Arkansas, (1) 182‑69; (2) 150‑100½; Texas, 250‑2½; Alabama, 148‑101½; Massachusetts, 138‑112½; Missouri, 138½‑112; Georgia rejected, 106½‑145.

[decorative delimiter]

16 Proceedings of the Conventions at Charleston and Baltimore, 212.

[decorative delimiter]

17 Jones of Tennessee had said he had been a Democrat since he "first drew milk from his mother's breasts."

[decorative delimiter]

18 This was the general interpretation placed upon the proceedings of the Baltimore convention by the conservative press which had urged the Southern delegations to return to Baltimore. The Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner, July 3, 1860, said: "His [Douglas's] friends sacrificed him in Baltimore before they nominated him. They violated usages, they destroyed representations, they offended Southern sentiment, they excluded Southern Democracies from their counsels and made delegations for some of them, . . . and then they presented him, a Northern man, on a Northern platform, as they construed it, as the nominee of a Convention first severed by their action and then remodeled and recreated by themselves." See, also, The Wilmington Journal, June 28, 1860.

[decorative delimiter]

19 Official Proceedings of the Democratic National Convention held in 1860, at Charleston and Baltimore (John G. Parkhurst, recording Secretary, ed.), 155.

[decorative delimiter]

20 Ibid., 157.

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21 Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, New York, Alabama, Louisiana, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa.

[decorative delimiter]

22 Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, Delaware, North Carolina.

[decorative delimiter]

23 Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas.

[decorative delimiter]

24 See Appendix C.

[decorative delimiter]

25 Delegates present: Virginia 24, Georgia 30, New York 2, California 11, Maryland 9, Pennsylvania 12, Louisiana 11, Mississippi 14, Oregon 6, Minnesota 1, North Carolina 15, Florida 7, Tennessee 19, Massachusetts 16, Arkansas 9, Kentucky 10, Alabama 28, Texas 6, Missouri 2.

[decorative delimiter]

26 Proceedings of the Conventions at Charleston and Baltimore, 243.

Thayer's Note:

a1 a2 Stevens "of Massachusetts": he is Isaac Stevens, born in Massachusetts but who had just ended his term as the first Governor of Washington Territory. Washington was still not a state, but Oregon was, and Stevens headed its delegation. For his career, see the biography in Cullum's Register (986) and the further links there.

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