America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink

By Kenneth M. Stampp | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Politics and the Social Milieu

Early in 1857, amid the optimistic forecasts of northern conservatives, Dr. Gam aliel Bailey, the militant antislavery editor of the Republican Washington National Era, voiced a sharp dissent. After the recent exciting campaign he thought it natural that people should long for a respite from political agitation. But he cautioned them not to expect the present calm to be more than a lull in a political storm whose end was not in sight. "The well-organized Slave Interest has elected its President," he warned, and Buchanan, a veteran politician, could not be expected to "falsify the record of his life." Why, then, "yield to vain hopes . . . instead of reasoning from his antecedents, his well-known character, and the circumstances by which he is surrounded?" Should it become Buchanan's policy to support the free-state cause in Kansas and to wrest from the Slave Power its control of the national government, Bailey would admit "that the Ethiopian can change his skin and the leopard his spots." 1

Another dissenter, Lawrence M. Keitt, the South Carolina fire-eater, strove to arouse southern conservatives with his own apocalyptic vision of impending events. Soon after Congress reassembled in January he renewed his attack on those who shouted "around the chariot wheels of the Union," foretelling "the advent of a political millennium at the election of Mr. Buchanan." They could not alter the fact that the South was "driving down the darkling tide of events to the moment when she will have to take her own safety into her own hands." Were not her resources sufficient to support a government of her own? "With the great nerve of commerce [cotton] in her hands, has she anything to fear from the Powers of the world?" The loss of southern cotton "would cover England with blood and anarchy, and shake down the strongest thrones of Europe." 2

Persistent appeals such as these to antislavery and proslavery warriors

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