The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War

By Michael F. Holt | Go to book overview

Chapter 18
"Webster Is Now Engaged in Strenuous Efforts to Secure the Succession

"WHILE YOU AND I ARE TOGETHER . . . in the administration of the Government," Daniel Webster assured Millard Fillmore in October 1851, "that Administration will not be bi-faced, but will be one in principle and purpose." On most challenges confronting Fillmore's administration, the two men in fact saw eye to eye. They cooperated brilliantly to extinguish the fire over the Texas-New Mexico boundary and to secure passage of the Compromise. They shared a commitment to its finality. They completely agreed on Webster's nationalistic manifesto to Hülsemann and on the need for vigorous enforcement of both the Fugitive S-lave Act and the neutrality laws. 1

On two matters of critical political importance, however, Webster and Fillmore parted company, so much so that Webster's portrait of unanimity was disingenuous, if not wantonly hypocritical. The first concerned the administration's response to intraparty strife among northern Whigs. While Fillmore insisted that all the Compromise measures must be enforced and should be acknowledged as a permanent settlement, he sincerely hoped to reunite feuding Whigs and promote the party's success at the polls. He opposed massive, regionwide purges of anti- Compromise Whigs from federal jobs as suicidally destructive. To facilitate reunification, he tolerated intentionally vague platform statements about the Compromise so long as they did not explicitly repudiate it. To allies who threatened to sabotage factional rivals, he counseled forbearance and stressed the imperative of party loyalty. The passage of time, he appeared to believe, would heal all wounds, especially if Whigs could bury the hatchet and coalesce around a new agenda.

This patient, tolerant stance sorely exasperated Webster. Rather than conciliating anti-Compromise Whigs, he advocated total war against them. Where Fillmore hoped to bury disagreements over the Compromise and stress different issues on which all Whigs could agree, Webster demanded that northern Whig platforms explicitly endorse the Compromise for what he believed it was -- a crowning achievement of statesmanship, including his own, that was justified by the legitimate demands of the South and the need to preserve the Union from

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