The Negro and the Nation: A History of American Slavery and Enfranchisement

By George S. Merriam | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
A LULL AND A RETROSPECT

AFTER the half-year's debate over the compromise of 1850 came a time of political quiet. "The tumult and the shouting died." It seemed more than a temporary lull. In a great tide of material prosperity, the country easily forgot the slaves; if out of sight, they were, to most, out of mind. Webster's speech had a deep significance. He was identified in Massachusetts with the classes representing commercial prosperity, social prominence, and academic culture. In these classes, throughout the North, there was a general apathy as to slavery. The temper of the time was materialistic. There was indeed enough anti-slavery sentiment, stirred by the 7th of March speech and the Fugitive Slave law, to change the balance of power in Massachusetts politics. The Democrats and the Free Soilers made a coalition, and it triumphed over the Whigs. The Democrats took the State offices, with George S. Boutwell as Governor; and Charles Sumner--a scholar, an idealist, an impressive orator, and a pronounced anti-slavery man, though never an Abolitionist,--was sent to the Senate to reinforce Seward and Chase.

The Presidential election of 1852 came on. In the Whig convention Fillmore had some support, especially from the South; Webster had most of the Massachusetts votes and scarce any others; and choice was made of General Winfield Scott, in the hope of repeating the victory of 1848 with another hero of the Mexican war. It was to Webster a blow past retrieval; in bitterness of spirit he turned his

-92-

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