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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

Calhoun rejected the settlement


The

character of the settlement showed that its author's hand had in no way forgotten its cunning in such matters. As in the Missouri Compromise, every clause shows how well he had weighed and judged the conditions under which he was working, how acutely he guessed the points upon which either side could be persuaded to give way, and the concessions for which either would think worth paying a high price. And in fact his settlement was at the time accepted by the great mass of Union-loving men, North and South. Some Northern States, and especially Massachusetts, showed a disposition to break away under what seemed to them the unbearable strain of the Fugitive Slave Law. But in dealing with Massachusetts Clay found a powerful ally in Webster. That orator was her own son, and a son of whom she was immensely proud. He had, moreover, throughout his public life, avowed himself a convinced opponent of Slavery. When, therefore, he lent the weight of his support to Clay's scheme he carried with him masses of Northern men whom no one else could have persuaded. He proclaimed his adhesion of the Compromise in his famous speech of the 10th of May--one of the greatest that he ever delivered. It was inevitable that his attitude should be assailed, and the clamour raised against him by the extreme Anti-Slavery men at the time has found an echo in many subsequent histories of the period. He is accused of having sold his principles in order that he might make an unscrupulous bid for the Presidency.
That he desired to be President is true, but it is not clear that the 10th of May speech improved his chances of it; indeed, the reverse seems to have been the case. A candid examination of the man and his acts will rather lead to the conclusion that throughout his life he was, in spite of his really noble gift of rhetoric, a good deal more of the professional lawyer-politician than his admirers have generally been disposed to admit, but that his "apostacy" of 1850 was, perhaps, the one act of that life which was least influenced by professional motives and most by a genuine conviction of the pressing need of saving the Union.

The support of a Southern statesman of like authority might have done much to give finality to the settlement. But the one Southerner who carried weight comparable to that of Webster in the North was found among its opponents. A few days after Webster had spoken, the Senate listened to the last words of Calhoun. He was already a dying man. He could not even deliver his final protest with his own lips. He sat, as we can picture him, those great, awful eyes staring haggardly without hope into nothingness, while a younger colleague read that protest for him to the Assembly that he had so often moved, yet never persuaded. Calhoun rejected the settlement; indeed, he rejected the whole idea of a territorial settlement on Missouri lines. It is fair to his sagacity to remember that the mania for trying to force Slavery on unsuitable and unwilling communities which afterwards took possession of those who led the South to disaster could claim no authority from him. His own solution is to be found in the "Testament" published after his death--an amazing solution, based on the precedent of the two Roman Consuls, whereby two Presidents were to be elected, one by the North and one by the South, with a veto on each other's acts. He probably did not expect that the wild proposal would be accepted. Indeed, he did not expect that anything that he loved would survive. With all his many errors on his head, there was this heroic thing about the man--that he was one of those who can despair of the Republic and yet not desert it. With an awful clearness he saw the future as it was to be, the division becoming ever wider, the contest more bitter, the sword drawn, and at the last--defeat. In the sad pride and defiance of his dying speech one catches continually an echo of the tragic avowal of Hector: "For in my heart and in my mind I know that Troy shall fall."


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