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The business of the United States was paralyzed, and commercial credit did not exist. Van Buren saw that the power of affecting the business of the country must be taken away from the administration, and he advocated successfully the present Treasury system, in which the government takes care of its own money. This was the principal achievement of his term of office.
He was opposed to slavery, but in other respects was a faithful member of his party. He thoroughly believed in the spoils system,” so far as the offices were concerned, and helped to make that a part of the government policy. During the last part of his administration the panic of 1840 struck the country, which, without being anything like as bad as that of 1837, was yet severe enough to give the President a good deal of anxiety.
WILLAM HENRY HARRISON.
The financial distress which had marked the administration of Van Buren had disgusted the people with the Democrats, and a Whig candidate was demanded. He was found in William Henry Harrison, the man who had won the battle of Tippecanoe, and that of the Thames in Canada. The record of the candidate was that of a successful soldier. He was known in politics principally as Governor of the Territory of Indiana. His campaign was one of the most popular ever seen in this country. It was called the “Log Cabin and Hard Cider" campaign, owing to the fact that people believed General Harrison lived in a log-cabin and drank cider. These habits were considered to be American, as opposed to living in a frame house and drinking wine, which were English. The cry of the campaign was “Tippecanoe and Tyler too,” and this cry won.
General Harrison only lived for one month after his inauguration. During his period of office the opportunity for Presidential action of a kind open to criticism from either party did not arise.
The first demand made on John Tyler (elected as the Whig Vice-President, and, through the death of General Harrison, the Whig President) by the members of his party, as led by Henry Clay, was a new charter for the United States Bank. But Tyler had seen that Van Buren was right; that the power to interfere with the business of the country was too great to entrust to any administration. He, therefore, steadily refused the demand. The Whigs then devised a scheme by which a Bank of the District of Columbia should be chartered by the government to have branches in all the States. This bill passed Congress, but was vetoed by the President on the ground that it was unconstitutional. Tyler held that the government could not go into the banking business. From this time out the Whigs would have nothing to do with him, and the Democrats rallied to his support.
With the aid of the President, the Democrats were able to pass the bill reducing the protective tariff. On the question of internal improvements the President signed the bill to improve the Mississippi River, holding this to be a national measure, but vetoed bills relating to other parts of the country.
During Tyler's term of office, the Ashburton treaty with England was negotiated. The question of the ownership of Oregon was raised, as was that of the admission of Texas as a State. The President was in favor of both. JAMES KNOX POLK.
JAMES Knox Polk was the most brilliant stump-speaker ever elected President. He was a Jeffersonian Democrat, and was in favor of collecting only such revenue as was needed to carry on the government. He held that a surplus was a robbery of the people. He was opposed to the United States Bank. As Speaker of the House of Representatives, he supported Jackson and Van Buren. Polk was elected Governor of Tennessee in 1839. He expressed himself in favor of the admission of Texas. When elected President in 1844, he declared he would not accept a second term, and kept his word.
One of his first acts as President was to order General Taylor to march into Mexico, after the aggressive acts of the Mexicans. General Taylor fought and won the battle of Palo Alto, and Texas was admitted into the Union.
The Oregon question, which had risen in Tyler's time, turned on the boundary between the United States and Canada. The Americans became greatly exercised over it, and “Fifty-four forty (54 degrees, 40 minutes of north latitude) or fight” became the popular cry. President Polk was able to settle this question in a way that satistied all parties to the dispute. One result of his diplomacy is that we own the Columbia River, with its inexhaustible wealth in fish.
He was in favor of a tariff for revenue only, and he exerted all his influence to bring it about. He vetoed the river and harbor bill (brought in to make internal improvements), on the ground that the nation had no right to spend money for improvements which were purely local in character. During his administration, members of the Slavery party in Congress were very active, and President Polk was strongly on their side. He believed slavery to be right, and he looked on the attacks of the Abolitionists as being not only a violation of contract as between the States, but as being radically wrong.
His administration was a most brilliant one, partly because the country had recovered from the abyss of business stagnation into which it had been plunged during Jackson's administration, and partly because there was a series of diplomatic negotiations, which culminated with good results during the four years he was in office.
JAMES BUCHANAN began life as a Federalist, but while in Congress he drifted over to the Democrats. He was Jackson's Minister to Russia, a Senator from Pennsylvania, Secretary of State for Polk, Minister to England under Pierce, and President of the United States in 1856.
Buchanan's experience with the question of slavery began when the riglit of petitions was attacked by the Pro-Slavery men. In the beginning of the slave agitation, the members of the Anti-Slavery party made themselves known by petitions to the government to abolish slavery in ihe District of Columbia. The Southern men held that all such petitions should be laid on the table. While Buchanan did not think the petitions should be granted, he was strongly opposed to any interference with the right to send them to Congress.
In 1856 the one question before the country was the extension of slavery to the territories. The Democrats, who favored it, nominated Buchanan, and the Republicans nominated General Frémont. Buchanan was elected with all the Southern and five Northern States voting for him.
His foreign policy would have been much more brilliant than it was could Congress have been induced to attend to anything outside the slavery fight. As it was, Buchanan put an end to the English search of American vessels on the ground they might be slavers, by sending an American fleet to the West Indies. He settled the Paraguay claims satisfactorily, and was able to settle the dispute about English occupation of Central America.
Congress having recognized the Pro-Slavery party in Kansas, President Buchanan was forced to acknowledge its action. But he absolutely denied the right of any State to secede. When Lincoln was elected and South Carolina set the example of secession, the President refused to receive her commissioners. He urged in Congress that steps should be taken to enable the President to move, but Congress was dumb." He prepared reinforcements for Major Anderson at Fort Sumter, but Major Anderson declared he did not need them.
No man has ever been more abused than Buchanan, and by both parties. The truth is that he was a man titted for times of peace and not in the least able to cope with a condition of things which would have required genius to solve. Buchanan tried to hold both parties back, to keep men at peace who knew no peace. He failed as any man would have failed in his position.
He was a wise, careful and honest man, placed in a position where no man could have done anything, and forced to sit quiet while the two parties came nearer and nearer to the actual contlict. The outcry against him was as unjust as it was inevitable.
The fall of 1852 found the Democratic party united and triumphant, and the Whigs disunited and cast down. The latter nominated General Winfield Scott, in the hope that with another Mexican war veteran they might repeat their success with General Taylor. General Scott carried the State of Massachusetts only, and the Whig party was dead for all time. It had served its purpose and had contributed to the building of the nation; it went down because it was not based on convictions strong enough to carry it through the fierce battle slavery had brought on. It was essentially the party of compromise, and the time for compromise had passed.
The Democrats nominated Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire. He had been Speaker of his State's Legislature, a United States Senator, had led a brigade at Conteras in the Mexican War, had been President of New Hampshire's Constitutional Convention, was one of the greatest orators of the day, with a voice that was melody itself, and had been in favor of the two compromise measures, the fugitive slave law and the admission of California as a free State.
He carried every State in the Union except one. He entered on his term with a strength no President had had since Washington's day. The important acts of his government-important enough at any other time-were settling the dispute with Mexico over the boundary by arbitration, concluding a reciprocity treaty with England, putting a stop to the recruiting of soldiers for the Crimea in this country, and sending the English Minister. Mr. Crampton, home for his share in the work; vetoing the bills for public works and the appropriation of public lands for the support of the insane. These acts of the President were as nothing to his policy in regard to slavery, for slavery was swallowing up everything else.
President Pierce believed slavery to be guaranteed by the Constitution. The opening of Kansas to the slave-owners was endorsed by him, and his government recognized the State Constitution passed by the temporary colonists from Missouri. The people of Kapsas held a Constitutional Convention at which they passed an Anti-Slavery Constitution, confirmed by an overwhelming vote of the people. Under this Constitution State officers were elected only to be treated as rebels by the general government. The Pro-Slavery men had won a great victory when they passed the fugitive slave law and secured Fillmore's signature, but it was a victory more costly than defeat. It aroused the Anti-Slavery party to madness; they refused all compromise, and the actual civil war in Kansas increased the trouble. The question of slavery had become the one thing that men cared about, and Pierce as a ProSlavery President only cast oil on the flames.
When his term was over, and when the “irresponsible conflict " was on us, Pierce supported the Union in the strongest way. He urged men to go to the front, and proved himself loyal to the Union before all things.
THE FORMATION OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY.
LOOKING back now, as we all can easily enough, it is possible to see how much right there was on both sides of the great question which was tearing the Union asunder.
The position of the Abolitionists or Republicans was simple and logical in the extreme. They held that slavery was radically, absolutely, intrinsically wrong. They believed that the color of a man's skin had absolutely nothing to do with his right to own himself, to be at liberty to support himself by such means as he saw fit to adopt, to cleave to his wife and to own his own children. It would probably be exceedingly difficult to find a thousand men in the United States to-day who would not subscribe to this doctrine, and it is certain it is believed nowhere more profoundly than in the Southeru States. Holding and believing as the Abolitionists did, they went to the logical end and said the slaves must be set free.
The Pro-Slavery men had about one-third, roughly speaking, of all their property in slaves. The proposition to set the slaves free was a proposition to deprive the inhabitants of the slaveholding States of one-third of all their property, put into a different form of words. The refusal to allow slaves in the territories meant the drawing of a line around the slave States as around a section afflicted with a fearful disease. It made it impossible for a man to emigrate from them unless at a sacrifice of his slaves or a forced sale. The forced sale, breaking as it did the ties between the slaves and the families to which they had been born, was intensely repugnant to the Southern mind, then.
The feeling in the South was precisely that which would be felt in any State or city or town to-day, were the people threatened with confiscation of one-third of their property. Apart from the frightful financial disaster which such confiscation would bring, it is no new thing in the Anglo-Saxon race to tight when their property is attacked. The ship-money was but a small tax, yet the ship-money helped to bring Charles the First to the scaffold.
It must be borne in mind that the men of the days of Buchanan's Presidency were for the most part innocent so far as slavery was concerned. The slaves represented to them investment as the result of effort, inheritance, property seizure for a just debt. They were not responsible for the system, for it was inherited. They had been born into a community whereof slavery was part and parcel. This property they were asked to give up because it represented a wrong to men and women, and so asked by men and women who owned not one dollar's worth of it. To ask a race to give up one-third of their property, to ruin themselves, to upset every industry by which they live, to beggar their wives and children, was to ask much.
No movement to buy the slaves, make them the property of the nation, and set them free, seems to have been seriously considered. This is the more wonderful because this is what England had done. The Abolitionists would be satisfied with nothing less than confiscation, the Pro-Slavery men would hear of nothing else than “Property in one State shall be property in all States," and this the fugitive slave law gave them. Is it any wonder, then, that war was the only way out? Both sides had a part of the right: both were determined their right should win. Morally, too, the Abolitionists were right, for slavery is wrong. Morally, too, the Pro-Slavery men were right, for it is wrong to punish a man for that for which he is not responsible.
Now the heat and passion has passed away, buried in the graves of those who fought so gallantly during the four long years. Now we can see things as they were in reality, and we can accord to those of a generation fast passing away equal honesty in their belief, equal heroism in their support of them. The question is settled forever in this country, and all that can be said is that it had to be fought out. Yet when one thinks of what it cost to North and South alike, one can but sigh over “the pity of it!”
GENERAL ZACHARY TAYLOR's career before he became the twelfth Presi. dent of the United States was that of an officer in the army. In 1808 he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Eighth Infantry, and from that time until he took part in the Mexican War he spent his days fighting Indians. His first independent command was at Fort Harrison, in 1812, when he success. . fully defended the place during the Black Hawk War. He won the battle of Okechobee in Florida against the Seminoles. In 1845 Texas was annexed, and as Mexico threatened to invade the new territory of the United States, General Taylor was sent down to defend the border. He won the battle of the Rio Grande, at which time he said to the council of war that recommended retreat, “I shall go to Fort Brown or stay in my shoes.” Under orders from the President he invaded Mexico, and won the battle of Monterey on September 24, 1846. Although he was succeeded in his command by General Scott, he fought and won the battle of Buena Vista on February 27, 1847.
The Whigs took advantage of his great personal popularity in the country and nominated him for the Presidency. He was elected in November, 1848, and he died in the White House in 1850. During his term of office President Taylor showed himself exceedingly conservative. He restrained the outbreaks of the slavery question, and prevented its influence with the action of the government. During his term the gold rush to California began, and the President was forced to meet the strange political conditions this gave rise to. He sent Commodore Perry to Japan, and the Perry treaty was concluded. Had President Taylor lived he would have done much; as it was, he left bebind him the memory of a good man.
WHEN Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office “to support the Constitution of the United States," that oath which he kept so loyally and well, he was able to look back over as hard a life of struggle and toil as that passeil over by any American. Born among the poorest of the poor, self-educated and self-taught, he had begun his public career as a member of the Illinois