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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

But Taylor was the popular favourite


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Convention met to frame a plan of territorial administration, and found itself at once confronted with the problem of the admission or exclusion of Slavery. Though many of the delegates were from the Slave States, it was decided unanimously to exclude it. There was nothing sentimentally Negrophil about the attitude of the Californians; indeed, they proclaimed an exceedingly sensible policy in the simple formula: "No Niggers, Slave or Free!" But as regards Slavery their decision was emphatic and apparently irreversible.

The Southerners were at once angry and full of anxiety. It seemed that they had been trapped, that victories won largely by Southern valour were to be used to disturb still more the balance already heavily inclining to the rival section. In South Carolina, full of the tradition of Nullification, men already talked freely of Secession. The South, as a whole, was not yet prepared for so violent a step, but there was a feeling in the air that the type of civilization established in the Slave States might soon have to fight for its life.

On the top of all this vague unrest and incipient division came a Presidential election, the most strangely unreal in the whole history of the United States. The issue about which alone all men, North and South, were thinking was carefully excluded from the platforms and speeches of either party. Everyone of either side professed unbounded devotion to the Union, no

one dared to permit himself the faintest allusion to the hot and human passions which were patently tearing it in two. The Whigs, divided on the late war, divided on Slavery, divided on almost every issue by which the minds of men were troubled, yet resolved to repeat the tactics which had succeeded in 1840. And the amazing thing is that they did in fact repeat them and with complete success. They persuaded Zachary Taylor, the victor of Monterey, to come forward as their candidate. Taylor had shown himself an excellent commander, but what his political opinions might be no-one knew, for it transpired that he had never in his life even recorded a vote. The Whigs, however, managed to extract from him the statement that if he had voted at the election of 1844--as, in fact, he had not--it would have been for Clay rather than for Polk; and this admission they proceeded, rather comically, to trumpet to the world as a sufficient guarantee from "a consistent and truth-speaking man" of the candidate's lifelong devotion to "Whig" principles. Nothing further than the above remark and the frank acknowledgment that he was a slave-owner could be extracted from Taylor in the way of programme or profession of faith. But the Convention adopted him with acclamation. Naturally such a selection did not please the little group of Anti-War Whigs--a group which was practically identical with the extreme Anti-Slavery wing of the party--and Lowell, in what is perhaps the most stinging of all his satires, turned Taylor's platform or absence of platform to ridicule in lines known to thousands of Englishmen who know nothing of their occasion:--

"Ez fer my princerples, I glory In hevin' nothin' of the sort. I ain't a Whig, I ain't a Tory, I'm jest a--Candidate in short."

"Monterey," however, proved an even more successful election cry than "Tippercanoe." The Democrats tried to play the same game by putting forward General Cass, who had also fought with some distinction in the Mexican War and had the advantage--if it were an advantage--of having really proved himself a stirring Democratic partisan as well. But Taylor was the popular favourite, and the Whigs by the aid of his name carried the election.


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