The Appeal: Schemes of the Accomplished Architect of Ruin

Salmon P. Chase

Salmon P. Chase

If Stephen Douglas would use the Kansas-Nebraska Act to sell out the white yeoman farmers who had the vast plains promised to them by a sacred pledge, what else did he mean to do? Salmon P. Chase turned Douglas’ own obsession back on him. If he really thought it the destiny of the white race to spread and fill the continent, why would he give it all away to a tiny number of white slaveholders and vast hordes of their black slaves? This bespoke not just indifference to the private futures of white men, but also to the future of white republican government:

It is of immense consequence, also, to scrutinize the geographical character of this project. We beg you, fellow-citizens, to observe that it will sever the East from the West of the United States by a wide slaveholding belt of country, extending from the Gulf of Mexico to British North America. It is a bold scheme against American liberty, worthy of an accomplished architect of ruin.

Sometimes I wish politicians still talked like this. Accomplished Architect of Ruin sounds like the name of a Chinese supervillain, if probably one with a past full of Yellow Peril stories that would make us cringe. But I digress. Chase continues:

Texas is already slaveholding, and occupies the Gulf region from the Sabine to the Rio Grande, and from the Gulf of Mexico to the Red river. North of the Red river, and extending between Texas and Arkansas, to the parallel of 36°30′, lies the Indian territory, about equal in extent to the latter State, in which slavery was not prohibited by the act of 1820. From 36°30′ to the boundary line between our own country and the British possessions, stretching from west to east through more than eleven degrees of longitude, and from south to north through more than twelve degrees of latitude, extends the great Territory, the fate of which is now to be determined by the American Congress. Thus you see, fellow-citizens, that the first operation of the proposed permission of slavery in Nebraska will be to stay the progress of the free States westward, and to cut of the free States of the Pacific from the free States of the Atlantic. It is hoped, doubtless, by compelling the whole commerce and the whole travel between East and West to pass for hundreds of miles through a slaveholding region, in the heart of the continent, and by the influence of a Federal Government, controlled by the slave power, to extinguish freedom and establish slavery in the States and Territories of the Pacific, and thus permanently subjugate the whole country to the yoke of a slaveholding despotism. Shall a plot against humanity and democracy so monstrous, and so dangerous to the interests of liberty throughout the world, be permitted to succeed?

Stephen Douglas

Stephen Douglas, Accomplished Architect of Ruin

Remember that nineteenth century Americans often saw their nation is the one flickering candle of freedom, all alone in a world full of ancient monarchies. This sounds bombastic to us, with good reason, but men of the time really did see the American system as inherently fragile and surrounded by enemies. Frequent threats to the Union only reinforced that, on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. Stephen Douglas would subvert the Republic from within, leaving all free men prostrate before the Slave Power. Thus:

We entreat you to be mindful of that fundamental maxim of Democracy-EQUAL RIGHTS AND EXACT JUSTICE FOR ALL MEN. Do not submit to become agents in extending legalized oppression and systematized injustice over a vast Territory yet exempt from these terrible evils.

We implore Christians and Christian ministers to interpose. Their divine religion requires them to behold in every man a brother, and to labor for the advancement and regeneration of the human race.

Whatever apologies may be offered for the toleration of slavery in the States, none can be urged for its extension into Territories where it doe snot exist, and where that extension involves the repeal of ancient law, and the violation of solemn compact. Let all protest, earnestly and emphatically, by correspondence, through the press, by memorials, by resolutions of public meetings and legislative bodies, and in whatever other mode may seem expedient against this enormous crime.

For ourselves, we shall resist it by speech and vote, and with all the abilities which God has given  us. Even if overcome in the impending struggle, we shall not submit. We shall go home to our constituents, erect anew the standard of freedom, and call on the people to come to the rescue of the country from the domination of slavery. We will not despair; for the cause of human freedom is the cause of God.

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