Gamaliel Bailey and Antislavery Union

By Stanley Harrold | Go to book overview

chapter eleven
Free Democracy

In September 1850 church bells rang in celebration as news of the passage of the compromise measures spread throughout the country. The popular impression was that conservative, responsible men from the North and South had joined to save the Union from the extremes of proslavery and antislavery fanaticism. Henry Clay and Daniel Webster were the heroes of the day. Democrats from Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire to Henry Foote of Mississippi and Whigs from Robert Toombs of Georgia to Robert Winthrop of Massachusetts were delighted that the distracting issue of slavery had been laid to rest at last. Businessmen too celebrated the passing of a potential threat to the nation's economy. The Compromise of 1850 was to be the final settlement, agitation of the slavery issue was to be suppressed, the nation was to go about its business. Only the extremists of the North and South insisted that the compromise worsened the situation, and few seemed willing to listen to them.1

Much had changed since the fall of 1848 when Bailey believed the country was in the midst of a political and moral revolution; the years from 1849 through 1853 were bleak ones for the antislavery movement. Newspapers-- some of which had hung on for years--folded, Free-Soil organizations in many states ceased to exist, antislavery politicians met defeat at the polls, and the national parties tried to muzzle the antislavery men in their ranks. Yet, though disorganized, the antislavery spirit was not dead. Resistance to the new fugitive slave law kept it alive, and there was a tendency for the various branches of the movement to pull together in support of the antislavery vehicles which remained.2 Bailey stressed that the National Era represented no specific political or moral organization, but antislavery men and women ev-

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