Houston’s Dissent, Part Four

Sam Houston (D-TX)

Sam Houston (D-TX)

Sam Houston had more than concern for the Indianspersonal sentiment, or political commitment to keep him faithful to the Missouri Compromise. I’ve mentioned before that he saw it as critical to the Union’s survival, but the man himself wrote well and at length on the subject. Houston called himself a conservative and approached the question with a conservative’s firm belief that upsetting the status quo would lead to disaster. At the time, one could dismiss that. Conservatives of every era make very similar arguments about just about everything. The decade that followed, however, proved his fears justified.

what must be the consequence if an attempt to repeal the Missouri compromise is urged upon us? Will it produce no excitement? Has it produced none? If my opposition to a measure which I conceive fraught with danger to the whole section from which I come is misconstrued to be agitation, I am responsible to my constituents. Can any one doubt that agitation will be consequent upon the adopt of the measure? Has not the Missouri compromise been of great benefit to the country? Has it not wrought wonderful changes? For more than a third of a century it has given comparative peace and tranquility to us to an extent which would never have been enjoyed had that compact not been entered into. I can well recollect the scenes which transpired at its adoption. I know what fearful apprehensions were entertained by the most sagacious, patriotic, and wise men in the land. Those apprehensions were entertained for the safety and preservation of this Union; and when that pacification was completed; when the compact was solemnly entered into between North and South, it was ratified by the national will. It was not resisted by one Legislature in the States, nor was it opposed by individuals.

Houston could have added that the Armistice measures back in 1850 never garnered such acceptance. Even radicals like Calhoun and the fire-eaters would fume, protest, and then accept the Missouri Compromise. If they could take half the nation, they could live with it despite all the talk and conspiracy about secession.

But Houston saw more than just sectional peace in the Missouri Compromise:

it has been of vast importance to the prosperity and glory of this country from that time to the present. Its results are impressed upon the American mind and heart, and the nation’s feelings and pride have united in sanctioning the benefits resulting from the adoption of that measure. It is a compact, a solemn compact.

Houston also credited the Compromise with allowing the nation to expand to the Pacific, the American population to grow, and the nation’s rapid economic growth. The Union that Henry Clay saved in 1820 did all of that and could only do it because the Great Compromiser saved it.

Now Stephen Douglas wanted to throw all that away. From that, to Houston, only ruin could come. With hindsight, we can only nod along and then remind ourselves that from all the death and destruction came the end of slavery. That justifies a considerable amount of ruin that often gets lost in conventional regrets. But at the time, Houston must have sounded very much like a politician stuck in the past, an old crank doddering about obsolete orthodoxies. Only one other Southern senator voted as he did. To other proslavery men, Kansas-Nebraska meant the chance to regain what they and their fathers wrongly gave away: their rights to the whole of the nation.

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