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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

Though South Carolina had no constitutional right to secede


When

all fair allowance has been made for the real difficulties of his position it must be owned that the President cut a pitiable figure. What was wanted was a strong lead for the Union sentiment of all the States to rally to. What Buchanan gave was the most self-confessedly futile manifesto that any American President has ever penned. His message to the Congress began by lecturing the North for having voted Republican. It went on to lecture the people of South Carolina for seceding, and to develop in a lawyer-like manner the thesis that they had no constitutional right to do so. This was not likely to produce much effect in any case, but any effect that it might have produced was nullified by the conclusion which appeared to be intended to show, in the same legal fashion, that, though South Carolina had no constitutional right to secede, no one had any constitutional right to prevent her from seceding. The whole wound up with a tearful demonstration of the President's own innocence of any responsibility for the troubles with which he was surrounded.

It was not surprising if throughout the nation there stirred a name and memory, and to many thousands of lips sprang instinctively and simultaneously a single sentence: "Oh for one hour of Jackson!"

General Scott, who was in supreme command of the armed forces of the Union, had, as a young man, received Jackson's instructions for "the execution of the laws" in South

Carolina. He sent a detailed specification of them to Buchanan; but it was of no avail. The great engine of democratic personal power which Jackson had created and bequeathed to his successors was in trembling and incapable hands. With a divided Cabinet--for his Secretary of State, Cass, was for vigorous action against the rebellious State, while his Secretary for War, Floyd, was an almost avowed sympathizer with secession--and with a President apparently unable to make up his own mind, or to keep to one policy from hour to hour, it was clear that South Carolina was not to be dealt with in Jackson's fashion. Clay's alternative method remained to be tried.

It was a disciple of Clay's, Senator Crittenden, who made the attempt, a Whig and a Kentuckian like his master. He proposed a compromise very much in Clay's manner, made up for the most part of carefully balanced concessions to either section. But its essence lay in its proposed settlement of the territorial problem, which consisted of a Constitutional Amendment whereby territories lying south of latitude 36 deg. 30' should be open to Slavery, and those north of that line closed against it. This was virtually the extension of the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific, save that California, already accepted as a Free State, was not affected. Crittenden, though strenuously supported by Douglas, did not meet with Clay's measure of success. The Senate appointed a committee to consider the relations of the two sections, and to that committee, on which he had a seat, he submitted his plan. But its most important clause was negatived by a combination of extremes, Davis and the other Southerners from the Cotton States combining with the Republicans to


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