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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

His instinctive sense of leadership


the jealousy of new immigrants felt by the descendants of the original colonists and the religious antagonism of Puritan New England to the Catholic population growing up within its borders; intensified by the absence of any genuine issue of debate between the official candidates, the Know-Nothings secured at the Congressional Election of 1854 a quite startling measure of success. But such success had no promise of permanence. The movement lived long enough to deal a death-blow to the Whig Party, already practically annihilated by the Presidential Election of 1852, wherein the Democrats, benefiting by the division and confusion of their enemies, easily returned their candidate, Franklin Pierce.

It is now necessary to return to the Compromise of 1850, hailed at the time as a final settlement of the sectional quarrel and accepted as such in the platforms of both the regular political parties. That Compromise was made by one generation. It was to be administered by another. Henry Clay, as has already been noted, lived long enough to enjoy his triumph, not long enough to outlive it. Before a year was out the grave had closed over Webster. Calhoun had already passed away, bequeathing to posterity his last hopeless protest against the triumph of all that he most feared. Congress was full of new faces. In the Senate among the rising men was Seward of New York, a Northern Whig, whose speech in opposition to the Fugitive Slave clause in Clay's Compromise

had given him the leadership of the growing Anti-Slavery opinion of the North. He was soon to be joined by Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, null in judgment, a pedant without clearness of thought or vision, but gifted with a copious command of all the rhetoric of sectional hate. The place of Calhoun in the leadership of the South had been more and more assumed by a soldier who had been forced to change his profession by reason of a crippling wound received at Monterey. Thenceforward he had achieved an increasing repute in politics, an excellent orator, with the sensitive face rather of a poet than of a man of affairs, vivid, sincere and careful of honour, though often uncertain in temper and judgment: Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. But for the moment none of these so dominated politics as did the Westerner whom Illinois had recently sent to the Senate--Stephen Douglas, surnamed "the Little Giant."

The physical impression which men seem to have received most forcibly concerning Douglas, and which was perhaps responsible for his nickname, was the contrast between his diminutive stature and the enormous power of his voice--trained no doubt in addressing the monster meetings of the West, where tens of thousands crowded everywhere to hear him speak. Along with this went the sense of an overwhelming vitality about the man; he seemed tingling with excess of life. His strong, square, handsome face bore a striking resemblance to that of Napoleon Bonaparte, and there was really something Napoleonic in his boldness, his instinctive sense of leadership, and his power of dominating weaker men. Withal he was a Westerner--perhaps the most typical and complete Westerner in American history, for half of Clay was of Washington, and Jackson and Lincoln were too great to be purely sectional. He had a Westerner's democratic feeling and a Westerner's enthusiasm for the national idea. But, especially, he had a peculiarly Western vision which is the key to a strangely misunderstood but at bottom very consistent political career.

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