Whatever hopes the leaders of the Whigs and Democrats may have had of maintaining party solidarity were dashed by the aggression of the slave power. There seemed to be no end to its demands, no limits to its pretensions. Resistance to its greed and its vanity, in the end, provided the broad base for political unity of antislavery men. Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, and Free Men, which they inscribed upon their banner at Buffalo in 1847, had depth and meaning, because the slave power controlled the government, and the slave power had many of the basic characteristics of a modern totalitarianism system.
It held three and one-half million human beings in abject, perpetual slavery, denying to them all hope of redemption.
It had suppressed free enquiry and discussion, denying by law and by violence in the slave states the right to express other than support for slavery, in private conversations, in print, in the pulpit, and in courts of justice.
It had distorted the teachings of Jesus into seeming support of oppression by a strange exegesis and had prostituted the church to its support.
It had exerted powerful pressure to subordinate freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly in the free states to the support of slavery and oppression of free Negroes.
It had compelled thousands of clergy in the churches to abandon their ancient prerogative and solemn obligation of denouncing sin and oppression in both private and public life.
It had brought great pressure upon all publishing houses to drop from their lists all books and to delete from others all passages critical of slavery.
It had openly defied the law in its control of the executive branch of the federal government by extracting from the mails and destroying antislavery literature.
It had struck down the right of petition in order to prevent criticism of slavery in the most numerous branch of the national legislature.
It was denying the validity of universal manhood suffrage, and particularly of the right of men who worked for wages to participate in government.
It was declaiming the superior virtues of slavery over freedom for the laboring man, thus advocating degradation and further denial of privilege instead of social justice.
It was insisting that the full power of the government, sustained by the wealth, manpower, and intelligence of all the people, be dedicated to defending, strengthening, and perpetuating slavery.
It demanded that slaveholders be allowed to roam at will through the free states, picking up whatever Negroes took their fancy, and carrying them off to slavery.
It demanded recognition by the courts of the principle that color was presumptive of servitude.
It demanded punishment of all persons who extended aid and comfort to fugitives.
It denied that Negroes could be citizens and excluded them from the slave states.
It denied the right of states which had freed their slaves, and of those which always had been nonslaveholding, to protect their citizens against kidnapping by due process of law.