The Kansas-Nebraska Act: Dixon Again

Archibald Dixon (Whig-KY)

Archibald Dixon (Whig-KY)

We last met Archibald Dixon, the Kentucky Whig, staking out a radical position repealing the Missouri Compromise. Between his amendment and Phillip Phillips’ rush to F Street to get something similar, Stephen Douglas capitulated and his Nebraska Act changed into the KansasNebraska Act known to history. Whatever small hope Douglas had of sliding his repeal in under the Congressional radar with a quick debate and vote died on January 24, 1854 when Salmon Chase, his fellow Free Soiler Charles Sumner, and other senators demanded time to actually read the bill.

Dixon and Phillips shaped the most controversial part of Douglas’ bill. Phillips, with F Street approval, penned the offending sections. But he had to write them in such a way that he did not leave the Democracy looking soft on slavery in a Washington where Dixon had already named himself the peculiar institution’s greatest defender. Few politicians could survive long in southern politics against opponents that backed slavery more firmly, as Dixon and his dying breed of southern Whig knew all too well.

In digging through the Congressional Globe, I discovered that Dixon spoke on the motion to delay consideration of Douglas’ bill. There he himself expressed the sentiments that I, and actual historians, have ascribed to him.

So far as I am individually concerned, I am perfectly satisfied with the amendment reported by the Senator from Illinois, and which has been incorporated into the bill. If I understand it, it reaches a point which I am most anxious to attain–that is to say, it virtually repeals the act of 1820, commonly called the Missouri compromise act, declaring that slavery should not exist north of the line 36°30′ north latitude.

I take occasion to remark, merely with a view of placing myself right before the Senate, that I think my position in relation to this matter has been somewhat misunderstood.

I have been charged, through one of the leading journals of this city, with having proposed the amendment which I notified the Senate I intended to offer, with a view to embarrass the Democratic party. It was said that I was a Whig from Kentucky, and that the amendment proposed by me should be looked upon with suspicion by the opposite party. Sir, I merely wish to remark that, upon the question of slavery, I know no Whiggery, and I know no Democracy. I am a pro-slavery man. I am from a slaveholding constituency; and I am here to maintain the rights of that people whenever they are presented before the Senate.

Henry Clay, founder of the Whigs

Henry Clay, founder of the Whigs

There in the Senate stood Calhoun’s dream come true, a man who spurned national parties  and declared himself instead a member of the party of slavery. He went on to insist that his departed fellow Kentuckian, Henry Clay, only assented to the Missouri Compromise due to the press of circumstances and its principles never became his own. Clay, as the deceased do, did not rise to object.

Perhaps feeling things could get out of hand and already very exposed by his concessions to slavery, Douglas answered him with some careful backpedaling. They once supposed, Douglas said, that Dixon’s amendment

not only wiped out the legislation which Congress had heretofore adopted, excluding slavery, but that it affirmatively legislated slavery into the Territory. The object of the committee was neither to legislate slavery in nor out of the Territories; neither to introduce nor exclude it; but to remove whatever obstacles Congress had put there, and apply the doctrine of congressional non-intervention, in accordance with the principles of the compromise measures of 1850, and allow the people to do as they pleased upon this, as well as all other matters affecting their interests.

Dixon maintained his innocence in all that. They simply misunderstood him; nothing in his amendment really did such a thing. Ignore the fact that Dixon’s text at least implicitly repealed restrictions on slavery in every territory. He proved his good faith with his acceptance of Douglas’ new bill instead of demanding every jot and tittle of his own phrasing.

The Senate, whatever its members thought of Dixon’s latest position, voted to delay consideration of the bill for a week so they could read it.

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