A Good Southerner: The Life of Henry A. Wise of Virginia

By Craig M. Simpson | Go to book overview

Chapter 4 Supporting Tyler and Escaping the Consequences

Despite their hostility to one another, the presence of men such as Wise, Adams, and Clay in the same political formation offers compelling proof of the dominating power of party over section twenty years before the Civil War. The vitriolic gag rule debate bent but never broke party loyalties. Simultaneously, Martin Van Buren's presidency further solidified the Whig opposition down to the time of its grand triumph in 1840. "We are all now necessary to each other and must concede something from every quarter," Wise remarked to a strong Clay backer early in 1838. 1

Every American Whig benefited politically from Van Buren's mistakes and misfortunes. But the president's description of Wise as a "notorious scamp" underestimated his effectiveness, visibility, and skill in profiting from the errors of an old adversary. Wise's slashing attacks on executive power and malfeasance, along with his call for the impeachment of Treasury Secretary Levi Woodbury, aided materially in wrecking the New Yorker's presidency. 2 Much more important, of course, was the economic depression that struck several months after Van Buren's inauguration. The president's cold-hearted devotion to the standards of Jeffersonian asceticism in government while massive unemployment persisted encouraged even his most conservative opponents to concentrate on the alleged humanitarianism of their positive state theories. Thus a new bank was said to serve the people, not merely the capitalists. Conversely, Van Buren's Sub-Treasury ranked as an autocratic scheme that distanced popular control and legitimized management by unresponsive bureaucrats. The president's ill-fated proposal to embody a national militia put him in the untenable political position of presumptively threatening liberty by uniting "the purse and the sword." 3 Van Buren's hard-money, antibanking, antitariff, and laissez-faire prescriptions for the crisis singlehandedly rehabilitated Henry Clay's American system, even among Southern states'-rightists of relatively strict observance. It

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A Good Southerner: The Life of Henry A. Wise of Virginia
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Maps x
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgments xvii
  • Chapter 1 the Character and Politics of a Young Virginian 3
  • Chapter 2 a Long Farewell to Jackson 16
  • Chapter 3 Defending Shaky Outposts 29
  • Chapter 4 Supporting Tyler and Escaping the Consequences 45
  • Chapter 5 the Good Slaveholder 61
  • Chapter 6 Political Compromise and the Protection of Slavery 78
  • Chapter 7 Political Entitlements 87
  • Chapter 8 Saving Virginia, Preserving the Union 106
  • Chapter 9 a Futile Effort to Revive the Old Dominion 135
  • Chapter 10 Kansas 157
  • Chapter 11 Two Men at Harpers Ferry 203
  • Chapter 12 Failed Hope and the Choice of War 219
  • Chapter 13 Steadfast to the Last 252
  • Chapter 14 Confederate Past, Yankee Future 285
  • Abbreviations 315
  • Notes 319
  • Bibliography 395
  • Index 435
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