Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates

By Harry V. Jaffa | Go to book overview

Chapter V
The Repeal of the Missouri Compromise I THE LEGAL POWER AND PRACTICAL IMPOTENCE OF FEDERAL PROHIBITIONS OF SLAVERY IN THE TERRITORIES

IN 1860 the Illinois State Central Committee of the Republican party asserted that Douglas had been anti-slavery until January 4, 1854. On the twenty-third day of that month, to repeat their accusation, "the turning point in Mr. Douglas's political highway" was reached. "From this sharp corner," they say, "his course is wholly and utterly pro-slavery." That Douglas's shift in tactics did not mean a change in his ultimate aims or views with respect to slavery, we have already proposed. We have seen that some such alteration was the natural response of a wise statesman attempting to retain control of events amid the dramatic and rapidly shifting scenes of the fifties. Yet this defense of Douglas is clearly insufficient for at least one simple reason: the country was enjoying a respite from the slavery controversy after the Compromise of 1850 had been confirmed by the election of 1852; and the dramatic scenes of the later fifties, to which we have said Douglas adapted himself, were all directly attributable to his own action in repealing the Missouri Compromise. The bloody struggle in Kansas, the attempted Lecompton fraud, the Dred Scott decision, John Brown, all are virtually inconceivable except as consequences of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. We cannot then credit a man with statesmanship for trying to ride the whirlwind which he himself has sown.

Of the great political facts which we have said dominated

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