The Presidential Nominations
Brownson's Quarterly Review, July, 1844
ART. VII. — The Presidential Nominations. — Texas. — Mr. Calhoun.
IN our previous numbers, we have felt it our duty to say some things which could not but be unpleasant to many individuals in the party with which we are in the habit of acting ; but, happily, recent manifestations and the decisive action of the Democratic Convention, at Baltimore, for the nomination of candidates for the Presidency and Vice-Presidency, relieve us from the necessity of repeating them, and go far to prove that we somewhat underrated the independence and patriotism of the party itself, and placed less confidence in its wisdom and civic virtue than we might have done. It gives us no little pleasure to find that we were partially mistaken, and that, contrary to our fears, the party has had sufficient energy, even under the most unfavorable circumstances, to break through the caucus system, to spurn the dictation of selfish managers, and to make its own honest sentiments heard and obeyed. Light breaks through the darkness which hung over the future; somewhat of our old confidence in the people revives, and once more can we hope and work.
We have nothing more to say of Mr. Van Buren. He is now a private citizen, and, as such, we wish him the peace and repose which belong to his time of life, and the full enjoyment of all the honors his public and private virtues have merited. His injudicious friends, such as the Washington Globe and Colonel Benton, who have wished to use him for their own questionable purposes, have received a lesson from which we trust they will profit. If they do not, it will be for a very obvious reason. Enough has been said. There has been enough of mutual recrimination, enough of ill temper, and we sincerely rejoice that all may now unite as brothers, and do our best to save our common country and her institutions.
We shall attempt no eulogy on the distinguished gentlemen the Convention has nominated. If they are not those we should have preferred, they at least meet our warm approbation, and will receive our earnest support. Mr. Polk is a man of considerable political experience, a gentleman in his manners, irreproachable in his morals, sound in his political views, and, if elected, will make an able and efficient executive officer, and administer the government in a manner alike creditable to himself and honorable to his country. His external policy will be wise, firm, just, and patriotic ; and his internal policy will tend to restore us to the old republican platform, and to promote the interests of the whole country, not merely of a favored section or class. With Polk and Dallas for our candidates, we can enter on the campaign with heart and hope, and feel, that, in elevating them to the first offices in the gift of the people, we are really doing a service to our country and republican freedom.
We do not permit ourselves, in this Journal, to enter far into mere party politics, but we cannot refrain from expressing our gratitude that there is now, to say the least, a reasonable hope of saving our country from the serious danger there would be in electing the Whig candidates. We do not adopt all the notions of our Democratic friends concerning the first principles of government; we do not, if we may so say, accept their political philosophy ; but we rarely fail to approve their leading measures of policy, whether domestic or foreign, and we feel, at all times, that the government and the country are safer in their hands than in those of the Whigs, even when the Whigs place at the head of affairs their purest and ablest men. In many of the abstract principles of government, we coincide much more nearly with the Whigs than we do with the Democrats; but the Whigs as a party are thoroughly, and without any mitigation, the party of modern Feudalism. The Democratic party fails to resist this growing Feudalism with the requisite energy and firmness ; — the Whigs do not resist it at all, but hasten its growth by all means in their power. If we cannot hope, even from the Democrats, all we wish for the true interests of all classes, we can hope nothing at all from the Whigs. There is not one of their distinctive measures but will tend directly and with fatal force to consolidate the power of the industrial lords, and to reduce the operative classes to a state of virtual serfage. This is the character of the Whigs in their best estate, under their best and most patriotic leaders. What, then, shall we say of them under the lead of such men as Henry Clay and Theodore Frelinghuysen ? These two gentlemen represent the very worst and most dangerous elements of Whiggism, and, if they come into power, they bring with them Whiggism in all its unmitigated iniquity.
Messrs. Clay and Frelinghuysen represent what we may term ultra-Whiggism. Mr. Clay is unquestionably a man of ability. He is a splendid orator ; he has great power over the men with whom he comes into immediate contact; but he is no statesman. He is ambitious, but short-sighted ; bold, daring, but incapable of appreciating general principles, or of perceiving the relation between effects and their causes, when these causes are not near at hand. Yet he is abashed by no inconsistency, disturbed by no self-contradiction, and can defend with a firm countenance and without the least misgiving what every body but himself sees to be a political fallacy, or a logical absurdity. Refute him, demonstrate with mathematical certainty that his proposition is false, confront him with names, dates, figures, and he stands unmoved, unconscious of what you have done, reiterates his proposition in a bolder tone, reasserts it with growing confidence, and pours forth the full tide of his rich and suasive eloquence in its defence. You stand aghast. What can the man mean ? His insensibility confounds you, and you almost begin to distrust your own demonstration against him, though as certain as the demonstration of a problem in Euclid. In regard to right and wrong, he manifests the same singular self-possession. He is no more disturbed by being convicted of moral insensibility than of intellectual absurdity. He sees no moral absurdity in determining right and wrong by parallels of latitude, and in declaring a thing to be right on one side of a given parallel and wrong on the other. A man of rare abilities, but apparently void of both moral and intellectual conscience, who finds no difficulty in withstanding, when necessary to his purposes, the eternal laws both of logic and morality, and therefore a man whom no power under that of the Almighty can restrain, he must needs be the most dangerous man to be placed at the head of the government it is possible to conceive. There is no foreseeing what he would do, or would not do. Not a few, even of the Whigs, feel that he is an unsafe man ; even the manufacturers themselves support him with fear and trembling ; the noblest of all the Whigs has denounced him on more occasions than one, and now only "damns him with faint praise."
Mr. Frelinghuysen is quite a different man; and, while agreeing with Mr. Clay in all the obnoxious measures to which Mr. Clay himself stands pledged, he represents certain other elements of the Whig party, from which still more evil, if possible, is to be apprehended. Mr. Frelinghuysen is not only a Whig in the worst sense of the term, but he is also the very impersonation of narrow-minded, ignorant, conceited bigotry, — a man who boldly attacks religious liberty, demands the unhallowed union of Church and State, and contends that the government should legally recognize the religion of the majority, and declare whatever goes counter to that to be contra bonos mores. He concentrates in himself the whole spirit of " Native Americanism " and " No-popery," which displayed itself so brilliantly in the recent burning of the Catholic dwellings, seminaries, and churches, in the city of Philadelphia.(footnote: We found this charge on Mr. Frelinghuysen's speech in Congress on the Sunday-Mail question, and on a book, now lying before us, entitled, "An Inquiry into the Moral and Religious Character of the American Government" (New York: Wiley & Putnam, 1838,) which, we presume, it will not he denied was written by him. Thin work is exceedingly declamatory in its character, and remarkably deficient in clear, distinct, and definite statements; but no man can read it without feeling that its author would withhold all political rights, whether to vote or to be voted for, from all persons except members of what are called Evangelical sects.. " Has it not," it says, "become a cant among us, that as electors we have nothing to do with men's religious sentiments; no right even to inquire about them ? Twenty gods, or no god, or the God that made the worlds, is quite indifferent; Papists and Protestants are all one; Socinians, Jews, and Evangelical believers, are all one; yes, and the tattooed cannibal of the South Sea, were he to honor our asylum of liberty by seeking a lot in its blessings, would enter at once into the same family circle of undistinguished nnd indistinguishable unity ; fire alike to live among us, and to rise above our heads; for the doctrine is, that whoever is entitled to sit in the shade of the constitutional tower has aright also to scale its walls." The meaning of this, vaguely as it is expressed, it is not difficult to divine. It is "Native Americanism" and "Evangelicalism." The author, it is true, docs not formally advocate a union of Church and State, nay, he, in words, expresses his dissent from such union; but he expressly contends for a "political religion" which of course must be a test of poliiieal rights, and that this political religion must be the religion of the majority. Me transfers, boldly and avowedly, to religious matters, the doctrine, that the majority must govern, and that the minority must submit. It. is true he attempts to make a distinction between what he calls ecclesiastical Christianity, and the ethics of Christianity, hut it is a distinction which can amount to nothing; for the ethics of a religious denomination are founded on its dogmas, and, in enacting the ethics, you do necessarily, by implication at least, enact the dog-inns themselves. Enact what the majority define to he Christian elhics, and yon necessarily enact the Theology, Christology, and Anthropology °f the majority, for these are the foundation and source of their etiiics. The practical effect of !Mr. Frelinghuyseii's doctrine would be, to establish the religion of the majority as the law of the land, and to declare every man destitute alike of civic virtue and of moral virtue, who should dissent from it, nnd presume to worship God after the dictates of his own conscience.
We foresaw, many years ago, that the attempt would be made to transfer the doctrine, the majority must ride, to religion and morals, and thus to revive the practice of boring the ears and tongues of Dissenters, banishing Baptists,and hanging Quakers; and this has been with usa strong motive for waging the uncompromising war which we have waged for many years against this doctrine. Once let this doctrine of the right of the majority to rule become universal in regard to political matters, and it will inevitably be transferred to religious matters, and the minority must yield up all their religious rights to the will of the majority, as Mr. Frelinghuysen contends they should.
The great principle with us is religions liberty. The government
is to confine itself strictly within the sphere of temporals, and leave
spirituals exclusively to the Church and individual conscience.
It has no right to discriminate between one denomination and
another, or to give one the least preeminence over another. This
is the Christian doctrine; this is the settled doctrine of this coun
try, and which makes the glory of our country, for ours is the
oidy country on earth which has ever adopted it. It has cost ages
of struggle and sacrifice to establish this doctrine, and shall we now
basely abandon it? Shall we give our support to a party which brings forward, for the second office in the gift of the people, the very leader of the bigots and fanatics who would wrest it from us ? God forbid! Let us rally around the banner of RELIGIOUS LIBERTY, and signally rebuke the traitor to his God and his country, who would establish a political tyranny over faith and worship. If we do not thus rally, we may expect ere long to see the churches of all the denominations, which the majority may decree to be non-evangelical, smouldering in their ruins. St. Michael's and St. Augustine's, in Philadelphia, throw a strong light on the fate that awaits every house of worship not dedicated to the faith of the majority for the time being.--end of footnote)
We see personified in the Whig candidates modern Feudalism, political profligacy, and canting, fanatical religions bigotry. Their success would be fraught with the most serious danger to our political institutions, to social equality, and to religious freedom. All is hazarded. As matters now stand, all that is dear to our hearts, as freemen and as Christians, is involved in the approaching contest. We of the Republican party have committed many faults ; we have on too many occasions proved ourselves unworthy of the sacred cause intrusted to our keeping; yet the all-beneficent Providence has not wholly cast us off, but graciously gives us one more opportunity to atone for past delinquencies, and to win new honors. The holy cause of political, social, and religious freedom is once more committed to our charge. The sacred deposit is placed in our hands, and at our hands will the Supreme Judge demand it. Every man of us must feel the sacredness of the trust, and remember that " THE LOKD SEETH." There must be no cowards, no traitors, no laggards. A high and solemn duty rests on each one of us to rebuke political profligacy, and religious bigotry and fanaticism ; to do all that man in honor and honesty may do to save this country, this chosen land of Providence, to the freedom of the human race, to make it the " home of virtue, an asylum to the oppressed, and a name and a praise in the whole earth."
Nor is the external policy involved in the approaching contest less important than the domestic. No good can be realized on this continent, unless we succeed in maintaining, in all respects, in the face of all other nations, entire and absolute national independence. It is our interest, as our duty, to cultivate peace with all nations, but peace only on terms compatible with national independence and national honor. We had trusted that Mr. Clay, however faulty might be his internal policy, would nevertheless prove himself, in his relations with foreign governments, a true American patriot; but his recent letter on the annexation of Texas to the Union proves that we can no more rely on his patriotism than on his republicanism. The base betrayal of the true interests of his country, the dastardly crouching to the red cross of England, and infamous leaguing with a band of fanatics at home, who have officially declared that the union of these States ought to be dissolved, and that they are prepared to accomplish their objects over the ruins of the American Church, of which that letter affords the damning proof, deserve not only the utter detestation of every American heart, but the most signal rebuke from the whole Union, — a rebuke which he and his supporters will feel, ay, and not soon forget.
We have no room for the discussion of the Texas question, but happily that question has already been amply discussed by greater and better men than we, and whose voice will have authority where ours could not gain a hearing. We cannot, however, refrain from expressing our regret that slavery has been allowed to play so conspicuous a part in the discussion. We want Texas annexed to the Union, but for reasons wholly foreign to the question of slavery. We want it as the key to our southwestern frontier; because we cannot, with a due regard to our means of national defence, suffer it to pass actually or virtually into the hands of Great Britain or of France ; because we want it for the benefit of our coasting trade, as a market for our northern manufactures, and as the means of preserving to ourselves the market of the great valley of the Mississippi, and of opening to us the rich markets of Mexico; because the Texans are our brothers, and wish to be received as members of our great family of freemen. .We want it, also, to preserve the proper balance between the Atlantic States and the interior, which the rapid growth of the great West will, in a few years, without the annexation of Texas, wholly destroy. Here are
our reasons, at least some of our reasons, for favoring annexation, and these have no connection with slavery. For ourselves, we feel very little interest in the slave question, in itself considered. The danger to our Union, to the sacred cause of human rights, is not now in negro slavery, hut in the principles and measures of the Abolitionists, which, if carried out, would prove a far greater calamity than slavery is or can be, even allowing it to be all that the Abolitionists allege. The remedy they propose would prove infinitely worse than the disease. Still, we say, very frankly, that we see no beauty or comeliness in slavery that we should desire it, and we assure our Southern brethren that we will help them adopt no measure for the sake of perpetuating it. It is their affair, and they must take the responsibility of it.
Bur, while we say this, we say also that we will resist, even unto blood, if need be, any and every effort to abolish slavery over the ruins of the Constitution and the sacred institutions of religion, or, what is no better, through the direct or indirect intervention of a foreign power. We are an independent nation, and the supreme judge for ourselves of the wisdom or justice of our institutions and practices. We suffer not Great Britain, nor any foreign government, to teach us officially what is or is not our duty. No foreign government shall be suffered to intermeddle with our concerns, even so far as to aid us in correcting what we ourselves may believe to be wrong and in need of redress. In regard to foreign nations, our country is infallible, and all her institutions are sacred.
We here express what we understand to be the purport of Mr. Galhoun's patriotic letter to the British minister, for which he has received so much and such unmerited abuse. We read that letter with a glow of patriotic pride ; we felt thankful that we had at length one minister of state, who dared speak the language of national independence, and rebuke the insolent foreign government which had presumed to send its minister here to read us a moral lecture. In relation to foreigners, we are ONE PEOPLE, and acknowledge no distinction of Free States and Slave States. Every citizen, whether of South Carolina or of Massachusetts, is alike entitled to the protection and defence of the whole. All our institutions, not excepting the domestic institutions of the South, under this relation, are alike national and sacred ; and an attack on any one of them by a foreign government is an insult to the whole nation. Such an insult was the avowal made officially by the British minister of the views and intentions of his government on the subject of slavery ; and we envy no American citizen who did not feel it to be an insult, and an insult offered by a haughty, insolent, and canting rival. It was this insult Mr. Calhoun rebuked in his letter to Mr. Packenham, and in terms as dignified as they were pointed and severe. Is there an American so lost to all sense of national dignity and respect as to blame him ? What if Great Britain had made an official communication to our government that she looked upon our banking and factory systems as wrong, as hostile to Christian principles of liberty and political economy, and that it was her desire, and she would be unceasing in her efforts, to abolish them ; would our bankers and manufacturers have blamed Mr. Calhoun for reminding the British government, through its minister, that this was our own affair, and that no foreigner could be allowed to intermeddle with it? What abuse, indeed, would not have been heaped upon his head, and deservedly too, if he had not repelled the national insult ? But it is said Mr. Calhoun entered into a defence of slavery. He did no such thing. He offers in his letter not one word in defence of slavery. He merely told the British minister that British philantlirojiy might be better employed ; that, if allowed to accomplish the end avowed, it would bring no substantial benefit to the negro race, which the British government proposed to take under its especial protection ; for the actual condition of that portion of the race held to service was not a little superior to that of the portion nominally free. And who of us, who have ever visited a Southern plantation, doubts the fact ? The condition
of the slaves at the South, we all know, is far superior to that of the free blacks at the North. The silly, sickly, restless sentimentalizers at home and abroad, who are ready to sacrifice the substance of freedom to secure its mere tiame, would do well to ask themselves, whether they have yet discovered a relation in which the black race can live on the same territory with the white, at all superior to that in which they now live at the South. We have had enough of cant and humbug. Mock us not with the mere name of liberty ; give us the substance'of freedom, and do what you will with the empty name. The Manchester or Leeds operative is nominally a freeman; how much more real freedom has he than Q,uashy, on the Southern plantation ? Great Britain is now importing negroes, it is said, from the coast of Africa into her West Indian colonies, with the avowed purpose, by the multiplication of laborers, of reducing the price of labor to the very minimum of human subsistence. How much better than slaves are laborers forced by the lash of hunger to toil for the mere minimum of human subsistence ? And what right has England to read us a lecture on slavery ? Let her look at home. The great mass of her population are reduced to a state of moral and physical degradation unknown in any other European country. Her paupers are one out of every seven of her whole population ; while even in Italy, of whose degradation we hear so much, they are only one to every twenty-five. She has reduced Ireland to a state of beggary, her hundred millions of East Indian subjects to the lowest destitution ; she has commenced the work of doing the same to the Chinese ; she is plethoric with the spoils of the defenceless everywhere, fat with the life-blood of every nation she could overawe ; and yet she has the impudence to send her minister here to read us a moral lecture on slavery! and we, degenerate sons of noble sires, miserable cravens, applaud her for her generosity and noble philanthropy, and hurl our censures only at the patriotic minister of state who has ventured to rebuke her insolence and vindicate his country!
Mr. Calhoun contrasted the condition of the slaves and free blacks, not for the purpose of defending slavery, but for the purpose of showing the British minister, emphatically, that this subject of slavery involved considerations of which no foreigner can judge, and that, if slavery is an evil, it is an evil of which we alone can judge as to the proper time, measures, and mode of redress. This letter was called for, was proper, and manly. If some of the statistics on which he relied may be successfully disputed, they were still sufficiently accurate for all the purposes of his argument; and enough others, which nobody can question, can be adduced whenever they shall be needed.
We are exceeding our limits ; but we must warn our friends to beware of courting, in this or any contest, the aid of the fanatical Abolitionists. Can a man touch pitch and not be defiled ? The time has come when we must take our stand firmly for our religious institutions, for our country, for our whole country, and the noble Constitution of this Union, and be true to them, though we find ourselves opposed to every modern fanatic, who, because he has got the crotchet of philanthropy in his head, fancies himself privileged to scatter firebrands, arrows, and death, at his pleasure. There must be no misgiving, no swerving. The times are perilous. It is the day of trial. May God in mercy aid us, and grant that we may all prove equal to the holy trust committed to us ; that we may shrink from no struggle, from no sacrifice, but be ready at any moment to give up all, even life itself, at the demand of our country, of republican freedom, and religious liberty !