Douglas, Deadlock, & Disunion

PrintPrintEmailEmailLate in April, 1860, a strife-ridden Democratic party met at Charleston, South Carolina, to choose a presidential candidate. This was to prove one of the most fateful meetings of its kind in American history. At a time of mounting sectional antagonism, the Democratic party was the one remaining political organization that represented both North and South; its disruption would mean nothing less than a complete, if not irrevocable, division of the Union.

Unfortunately, the lingering debate over the limitation of slavery in the territories now threatened to bring about just such a disruption, for the Southern faction of the party refused to accept either a moderate slavery platform or the candidate favored by most Northern delegates, Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. To a determined minority of Southern radicals, destruction of the party seemed preferable to compromise.

The account of the Charleston convention that follows was written by one of the most perceptive reporters on the scene, a Cincinnati newspaperman named Murat Halstead. During the campaign, his impressions of the 1860 conventions were published in a book called The Caucuses of 1860. Long out of print, and by now a collector’s item, Halstead’s classic of political reporting will be reissued this month by the Louisiana State University Press. Entitled Three Against Lincoln, the new version has been edited by Professor William B. Hesseltine of the University of Wisconsin.

 

The Honorable Stephen A. Douglas was the pivot individual of the Charleston Convention. Every delegate was for or against him. Every motion meant to nominate or not to nominate him. Every parliamentary war was pro or con Douglas.

On the route to Charleston, delegates and others who were proceeding to attend the Convention, talked about Mr. Douglas. The questions, in every car and at every station, were: Would he be? could he be? should he be nominated? Could he get a majority of the Convention? could he get two-thirds? Would the South support him if he should be nominated? Would the Administration acquiesce if he were nominated?…

There was in Charleston, as usual in such cases, much that was important in the business preliminary to the Convention, and there are many places in the city identified with the Convention in interest. Among these places, perhaps the most interesting are Institute Hall, where the Convention was held, and Hibernian Hall, which was the Douglas headquarters.

Institute Hall…will contain about three thousand people. The floor is perfectly level, and the seats are all old-fashioned, wooden-bottomed chairs, which have been independent of each other, heretofore, but which are now being screwed by the half-dozen to pine planks placed across the bottom. There is a good deal of gaudy and uncouth ornamentation about the hall. The frescoing is mere daubing. The principal effort in art is immediately over the stage. Three highly colored but very improperly dressed females are there engaged. One seems to be contemplating matters and things in general. Another is mixing colors with the apparent intention of painting something. The other is pointing, with what seems to be a common bowieknife, to a globe. The point of the dagger is plunged into the Black Sea. It may be held to be according to the proprieties that the continent which is outlined most conspicuously on this globe is marked “Africa.”…

The Hall is situated on the principal thoroughfare and near the business centre of the city. Hibernian Hall, the Douglas headquarters, is situated on the same street a square and a half distant. This building has two large halls and is two stories in height. The first floor is divided into two small rooms and one spacious hall where a gigantic bard of Erin is holding a harp such as was heard in Tara’s Halls before the soul of music fled. The smaller rooms are furnished with long tables, plenty of chairs and writing materials, and a large supply of Sheahan’s Life of Stephen A. Douglas. The second floor is one large hall and is full of cots for the Northwestern delegations. There are several hundred of them with white spreads and pillows. They are arranged in rows and sections, numbered and marked for the various states.

The Douglas men are to be found for the most part at “Mills House.” The fire-eaters congregate at the “Charleston.” Spacious passages and public rooms about these houses are already swarming with politicians. It must be admitted that the Southerners have the advantage in personal appearance. The strong men of the South are here in force, as they always are upon such occasions. There is sufficient wisdom among the oligarchy to be represented in Congress and Conventions by men of experience and intellect, and they attain weighty advantages in this way.

The arrival at the Charleston Hotel today is that of the Hon. W. L. Yancey of Alabama, the prince of the fire-eaters. He is the man said to be charged with a three days’ speech against Douglas. He is a compact, middle-sized man, straight limbed, with a square built head and face, and an eye full of expression. He is mild and bland in manner … and has an air of perfect sincerity.... No one would be likely to point him out in a group of gentlemen as the redoubtable Yancey, who proposes, according to common report, to precipitate the Cotton States into a revolution, dissolve the Union and build up a Southern empire. The strong point made against him by the Douglasites is that he is a disunionist. It will not frighten him nor his Southern friends, however, to apply that epithet to him. I very much doubt whether the Douglas men have a leader competent to cope with him in the coming fight. It is quite clear that while the North may be strongest in votes here, and the most noisy, the South will have the intellect and the pluck to make its points. …

The Douglas men came down here from their headquarters in Washington, where whiskey flows like a river.

Like some vast river of unfailing sources;/ Rapid, exhaustless deep …

—They were full of enthusiasm—rampant and riotous—“hot as monkeys”—and proclaim that the universal world is for the Little Giant. They have a desperate fight before them and are brim full of the sound and fury of boastfulness. …

April 22

Excitement in the city tonight is higher than heretofore. The politicians are in full blast. I think Douglas stock, which went up a little this morning, is now drooping. …

Mills House, where Douglas “men most do congregate,” is as lively as a molasses barrel with flies. Here is where the outside pressure is brought to bear. It is here that “public opinion” is represented according to Douglas. Here they tell you Douglas must be the nominee—all that is to be done is to ratify the voice of the people.” There is nothing but a few ballots, and all is over—Douglas the nominee—South will come down—certain to be elected. The country sale—the party safe. They only want a “chance to raise the warwhoop for Douglas in the Northwest—that’s all. Carry every State Northwest—carry Ohio? Lord, yes! Carry Ohio by twenty thousand.” If somebody suggests, but where are your figures? How can you obtain the two-thirds vote requisite to nominate? And half a dozen of the makers of public opinion tell you all about it. Everything North is claimed, of course, and you hear that on certain ballots Kentucky, Missouri, and Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, California and Oregon are coming into line. “And suppose Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Louisiana, with scattering delegates in other States, go out—what then?” “What? why tremendous gains in the North, to be sure, just the thing we want.” But if you suggest, “Douglas stock is drooping a little this evening. It is not at the high mark it was this morning. You have enthusiasm enough, but you have not the votes.” You are told, “Not a bit of it. Douglas stock down—not possible. It can’t go down.” …

At the Charleston House we find another atmosphere. Here are the fire-eaters in full force. We miss … Yancey of Alabama. He is not a man to talk confidentially in crowds. He doesn’t talk politics with or like the common herd. He may be found in the private parlor of the Alabama delegation. And there is William Barksdale, the congressman of Mississippi, with his hat pulled down over his right eye. He has a way of throwing his head on one side, turning up his chin, and talking in a short sharp way, like a New York B’hoy. He is thick set, broad-shouldered and short-legged. His eye is small and fierce. The whole country knows that he wears a wig—for Potter of Wisconsin knocked it off once upon a time. But as for a duel, beware of meeting Barksdale with bowie-knives! He knows how to handle the implement and has handled it. The fire-eaters are talking about principle. A Douglas man or two have strayed down here, and are trying to explain that Douglas doesn’t really mean anything by popular sovereignty [ i.e., local determination of the status of slavery in the territories.—Ed.]. “He had to talk that pretty strong to get back to the Senate.” The people must be talked to violently about something—might as well say popular sovereignty to them as anything else. “Douglas would leave it all to the Courts at last. The Courts will fix it all right. Let us drop this immaterial issue and go in for the strongest man—and his name is Stephen A. Douglas.” The South listens and commences—“What, and we must throw a bone to the Abolitionists, must we, eh? We must compromise with Abolitionism in order to carry the North—must we? No, sir. We have had too much of this. It is time the Democratic party took up sound men, and fought on principle. It is the best policy to fight on principle. … I tell you we can succeed without Douglas. He is the weakest man out. But if he was strongest, I would not give a damn for a victory with him. I want the party destroyed it it is a one-man party. I want defeat if we can’t have honest victory. No unfriendly legislation shall exclude our property [ i.e., slaves—Ed.] from the Territories. We must have our property protected.”…

There has been a great deal more drunkenness here today than heretofore. Most of the violent spreeing is done by roughs from the Northern Atlantic citieswho are at last making their appearance. There have been a number of specimens of drunken rowdyism and imbecility about the hotels. And I hear, as I write, a company of brawlers in the street making night hideous. …
 
On Monday, April 23, the convention began. In two long days of hot argument and parliamentary maneuvering, the gains for both factions were small but significant. The pro-Douglas forces picked up thirty or forty potential supporters when the convention ruled that uninstructed state delegations should vote not as units but according to the individual preference of delegates. This victory, however, was more than offset by the decision to debate the platform before choosing a candidate. Recognizing that Douglas would never consent to run on a pro-slavery plank, the Southerners resolved to push one through at all costs. So the first great battle of the convention took shape.

Institute Hall, April 25, 1860

There was much noise and contusion about town last night. The Southern men kept up their spirits by aid of a band of music and speeches by the leaders of the fire-eaters. The speakers were very severe on the “bobtailed pony from Illinois.” … It is the general impression this morning … that there will be an explosion of the Convention—that it is indeed inevitable and that the Convention is only held together now by endeavors of the various factions, which are irreconcilably hostile, to make a record suitable for their ulterior purposes.

The hall is very much crowded. Those who have tickets send them out after they get in, and others come in. In this way everybody who understands the trick, and nearly everybody does, gets in. So there is an infernal crowd. Fortunately the atmosphere is much cooler than heretofore. The ladies have become anxious on the subject of the Convention. Their gallery is as full as possible, and still crowds of them are besieging the stairways.

The Convention was opened with prayer, which is presumed to have been very solemn and fervent, but nobody heard it.

The first thing in order was to inquire whether there was any committee ready to report. There being none, the unfinished business of yesterday was taken up. This was in relation to the adoption of a rule that, in debate, no delegate should speak more than once, nor more than fifteen minutes. …

The immoderately anxious Douglas men wanted the fifteen minute rule adopted. They were too anxious to put down the screws, however, and were defeated. The vote was 121 for the fifteen minute rule, and 182 against. Now, according to the rules adopted—being those of the House of Representatives—the hour rule is in force …

It is a general remark that the Convention has narrowly escaped doing a very foolish thing. It would have been unsafe to have choked down debate into fifteen minute speeches. It would not do to bottle up wrath so intense. It is now hoped that the South’s fire will pale in long speeches and become ineffectual in the course of their hour harangues....

I do not see how it will be possible to prevent a disruption of the Convention. The South makes it a point of honor that the platform shall not be one capable of a double construction, but shall be one which cannot be fairly interpreted to mean anything short of “sound Southern doctrine,” that is, the protection of slave property in the Territories and the unequivocal repudiation of the Douglas doctrine of squatter, or popular, sovereignty. The Northern delegates don’t care much about the honor of the matter. It is of the most grave consequence to them, involving, as I have before said, for them the issues of life and death. Their political existence depends absolutely upon their ability to construe the platform adopted here to mean “popular sovereignty,” in other words, upon such a form of words in the platform as will allow them to declare, in the North, that the officially expressed Democratic doctrine is that the people of the Territories may, while in their territorial condition, abolish or exclude slavery. They cannot, dare not, yield the opportunity for pressing this pretext. The South will not allow it. Here, then, is the “irrepressible conflict between enduring forces.”…

The preponderant faction of the Northern Democracy say the Southern doctrine of protection of slave property in the Territories is “inadmissible”—that is the word—and I believe they have, when the pinch comes, a majority of the Convention. The South says a platform with two faces is no longer tolerable. And the South has in this position a majority of the States. There is a majority in the committee on Platform in favor of amending the Cincinnati Platform∗ so as to repudiate its Northern interpretation. [*The Democratic party platform adopted at the Cincinnati convention of 1856 had endoresed the doctrine of popular sovereignty in the territories.Ed.] The States of Pennsylvania, Oregon and California, as here represented, are with the South in this matter. The inevitable consequence is, there will be two reports from the committee on Platform. The majority report, favored by a minority of the Convention—and the minority report, favored by the majority. Upon the adoption of the Cincinnati Platform, with its “popular sovereignty heresy” understood to be attached, and constituting its vitality, the South must withdraw. At least half a dozen States will certainly go, and how many more, and how many fragments of others, it is impossible to say. Then the majority Convention will nominate Douglas. The South will be sustained in its secession by the whole power of the Administration, and by the Southern Senators, who would be murdered politically by the nomination of Douglas in a full Convention, upon a platform on which it would be possible for him to stand....

The party must take refuge under false pretenses of doctrine, or go in pieces. The question is: Will the South yield the point of honor which they have been insisting upon, so far as to allow the platform to be made ambiguous? If they will, the Douglas men are so confident in their ability to nominate Douglas and in the potency of their war-whoop, that they will probably allow the Cincinnati Platform to be amended by the addition of something equivalent in the estimation of the South to the affirmation of the Dred Scott decision doctrine† [† This famous Supreme Court decision in 1857 decreed, among other things, that Congress could not prohibit slavery in the territories.Ed.]

Douglas men are asserting warmly at the Mills House that they never will yield an inch—never, never. And they want a little Southern sensation on the platform. They want about forty Southern delegates to go out, for that would insure the nomination of Douglas and help him in the North. Their fear is, that the secession will be uncomfortably large. A slight secession of merely the “shred of Gulf States” would be a help; and a great secession, carrying with it the weight of the South, would be ruinous. Tomorrow is understood to be the crisis of the Convention. We hear hourly that a crisis involving the fate of the country is at hand....

The crisis which Halstead expected did not materialize immediately. All through the fourth day, the delegates marked time while the platform committee debated in closed session. Its task seemed impossible—as Halstead commented, it must either “bring in a subterfuge, or throw a bombshell.”

The platform committee managed to do both. The majority report, signed by the fifteen slave states, together with Oregon and California, provided the bombshell in the form of an extreme and forthright statement of the Southern position. It declared that neither Congress nor a territorial legislature had the power to exclude slaves or abolish slavery in any territory; and that the federal government was obligated to protect slave property wherever the constitutional authority of the United States might extend.

The minority report, which represented the prevailing sentiment of the Northern delegates, brought in the subterfuge. Reaffirming the Cincinnati platform of 1856, and its endorsement of popular sovereignty, the report went on to state that “all questions in regard to the rights of property in States or Territories … are judicial in character.” Hence the onus of decision in matters pertaining to slavery was passed on to the Supreme Court.

On the cold, rainy afternoon of April 27, general debate on the platform began. As discussion flared into acrimony, it became apparent that a crisis was indeed at hand.

The first thing after the Convention was called to order in the afternoon was a speech from Mr. E. Barksdale, editor of the Mississippian, which was a clear, well-expressed, shrewd, and keen ultra Southern speech, demanding the protection of slavery in the Territories and insisting upon adhering to principle rather than consulting expediency....

Mr. Austin A. King of Missouri … followed. He made an ultra Douglas speech, indorsing the Northern Democracy in the most unqualified manner. He told the South that their demand for the protection of slavery in the Territories would, if persisted in, result in a Black Republican Congress, which would give them such protection as wolves gave lambs....

Mr. Yancey of Alabama rose to reply and received a perfect ovation. The hall for several minutes rang with applause. It appeared at once that the outside pressure was with the fire-eaters....

Mr. Yancey asked for more time than was allowed by the rules of the Convention, and by common consent was allowed an additional half hour. He filled up his time (an hour and a half) with great effect. There was no question after he had been upon the platform a few minutes that he was a man of remarkable gifts of intellect and captivating powers as a speaker. He reviewed the differences on the slavery question of the Democracy. He charged that the defeats of the Democracy in the North were to be traced to the pandering by the party in the free States to anti-slavery sentiments; they had not come up to the high ground which must be taken on the subject in order to defend the South—namely, that slavery was right. He reviewed the Kansas question, and detected enormity in the action of Stephen A. Douglas and his followers, in refusing to admit Kansas into the Union as a slave State under the Lecompton Constitution, and sorrowed over the fact that only three constitutional Democrats were to be found in the Northern States to vote against the admission of Kansas under the Wyandotte Constitution. He traced the history of Northern aggression and Southern concession as he understood it. He spoke of the deep distrust the South had begun to entertain of the Northern Democracy, and urged the propriety of the demand of the South that the Democratic party should now take clear and high ground upon a constitutional basis. He pronounced false all charges that the State of Alabama, himself or his colleagues, were in favor of a dissolution of the Union per se. But he told the Democracy of the North that they must, in taking high constitutional ground, go before the people of the North and tell them of the inevitable dissolution of the Union if constitutional principles did not prevail at the ballot boxes....

He distinctly admitted that the South did ask of the Northern Democracy an advanced step in vindication of Southern rights; Mr. Yancey’s hour and a half closed while he was in the midst of a series of lofty periods, and Mr. George E. Pugh of Ohio sprung to his feet. The speech of Mr. Yancey had been the speech of the Convention. Some time before it was concluded the day had expired, and the gas had been lit about the hall. The scene was very brilliant and impressive. The crowded hall, the flashing lights, the deep solicitude felt in every word, the importance of the issues pending, all combined to make up a spectacle of extraordinary interest, and something of splendor.

Mr. Pugh took the platform in a condition of considerable warmth.... He spoke of the sacrifice of the Northern Democrats of their political lives, battling for the doctrine of the South, now scornfully repudiated; and pointed out among the delegates, men who had been Senators and Representatives and who had fallen in the fight. In conclusion, he stated the Democracy, who were prepared to stand by the old faith, would be sorry to part with their Southern friends, but if the gentlemen from the South could only stay on the terms proposed, they must go. The Democracy from the Northwest would make itself heard and felt. The Northern Democrats were not children under the pupilage of the South, and to be told to stand here and there, and moved at the beck and bidding of the South. The hall was still, as it was understood that Pugh was the spokesman of Douglas, and that the fate of the Democratic party was in issue.

When Mr. Pugh concluded, Mr. John Cochrane pressed a motion to have a place assigned for his amendment to the majority report. [Cochrane had proposed a slightly modified version of the Southern platform.—Ed.]

After some discussion, it was ruled out of order.

Mr. W. D. Bishop of Connecticut now said he thought nothing new could be said of the dissensions of the Democratic party if the Convention remained in session and debated all summer. All these questions had been discussed time and again, and the minds of gentlemen made up; he therefore demanded the previous question.

In an instant the house was in an uproar—a hundred delegates upon the floor, and upon chairs, screaming like panthers, and gesticulating like monkeys. The president, for the first time, completely lost control over the Convention; not a word was audible. The reporters climbed upon their tables, the delegates mounted the chairs, the people in the galleries stretched their necks and hung over the balustrade, and literally, as was said of a scene in the House of Representatives, “you would see the Speaker’s hammer going, but could not hear it.” The Chair singled out a red-haired member from Misssouri, who was standing on a front seat, and shaking his gory locks, and trying to shriek louder and louder and to look more terrible than anybody else, and recognized him as moving to adjourn. The Chair probably thought it the part of prudence to see that the Convention adjourned, for voting on the platform in the midst of such a tornado, and at that hour (it was after ten o’clock), would be certain to blow up the Convention....

Presently the chairman managed to take the reins in his hands, and with great equanimity, firmness and calmness of manner, stated that there was no occasion for so much agitation and discomposure. A crowd gathered about Bishop, and some seemed to menace him. The delegates gathered in groups and grappled with each other, and surged about like waves of the sea....

The Convention separated in a bad humor. There was a call on the Southerners to remain and consult. It was a cold, rainy night, but there was intense heat about the hotels. Men stalked about with dripping umbrellas, and consulted eagerly and anxiously. Everybody said that there would necessarily be an explosion in the morning....

In an effort to prevent an immediate break, the conflicting platform reports were returned to committee the next morning. But the amended versions hardly differed from the originals—to most observers, the few changes and concessions seemed like so much hairsplitting. The debate that followed was, in Halstead’s words, “dreadfully dull and intolerably long—one dull fellow after another takes the floor and bores the immense and impatient audience for an hour.” Quite obviously, the Southern strategy was to wear down the pro-Douglas majority until it would agree to anything.

The convention adjourned for the Sabbath. Despite all attempts at conciliation during that restless interlude, the situation remained unchanged, and if anything, even deteriorated. Only the weather seemed to have changed for the better.

That day, Halstead noted, a great calamity had come upon the Ohio delegation: “Their private whiskey, of which they laid in a supply supposed to be equal to all emergencies, the nomination of Douglas included, gave out this morning. They attribute their good health which they have enjoyed to this article. The Kentucky whiskey, too, is nearly all gone. The barrel in which it is contained, and which occupies an honorable position and receives much attention in their parlor, gives forth, when consulted as to its condition, a dismal tone of emptiness.”

Monday, the seventh session of the convention, began, Halstead wrote, “with a curious mingling of despair of accomplishing anything, and hope that something will turn up, hope as illogical as those everlasting anticipations of Mr. Micawber.... The scenes around me are those of the dissolution of the Democratic organization.”

Now came the most crucial test of the whole conventionthe vote on the adoption of the minority, or “Douglas-Popular Sovereignty-Supreme Court-ambiguous,” platform report. After one final attempt to table the measure, the balloting commenced. It was a tense moment, for everyone knew that if the minority report was substituted for the majority one, a Southern walkout was almost inevitable.

April 30

The minority resolutions were … carried as a substitute for the majority resolutions by a vote of 165 to 138—this 138 is the solid anti-Douglas strength. Now the question came on the adoption of the substituted report—the definite, irrevocable vote of the Convention upon the Douglas Platform was divided into its substantive propositions. The resolution reaffirming the Cincinnati Platform, believing Democratic principles to be unchangeable in their nature, was first voted upon, and it was carried by 237½ to 65. There was a motion now made to lay all the rest of the report upon the table. This would have been simply the adoption of the Cincinnati Platform, and it was defeated, 81 to 188. While this vote was being taken, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas withdrew their votes. Now the question arose upon the adoption of the Squatter Sovereignty part of the platform—that part wherein it is stated that, “inasmuch as differences of opinion exist in the Democratic party,” it will abide by the Supreme Court. The Honorable Bedford Brown now saw the crisis. The political tornado was about to burst. The barometer indicated a sudden storm. Mr. Brown did not know it was too late to save the party, and the country attached thereto, and he made an appeal to gentlemen, as piteous, as solemn, as agonizingly earnest, as ever a man offered up for his life, that the Convention should not pass that resolution, and thereby disrupt and destroy the Democratic party. He called upon gentlemen to pause upon the brink of the tremendous precipice upon which they stood, and to look into the gulf before they took the leap....

Mr. Stuart of Michigan wished to speak, but was put down by loud cries of “Order.”

Mr. William A. Richardson of Illinois wished to speak. As the crisis had arrived, and as Richardson is a great man for a crisis and had withdrawn Douglas from the Cincinnati Convention, it was hoped that he had something to say which would relieve the party from its misery. There were cries of “Hear Richardson.” A thrill of excitement passed around the hall, and everybody leaned forward or stood up to see and hear the right-hand man of the Little Giant on the crisis. Richardson commenced with his usual hoarseness and solemnity, when Judge A. B. Meek of Alabama, a gentleman six feet eight inches in height, with a splendid voice, arose and made a point of order against Stuart of Michigan, who still seemed, by standing in his place, to claim the floor. Judge Meek’s point of order caused another sensation. Presently the Judge’s point of order was ruled not well taken and silence was obtained, when John Cochrane of New York jumped up and called “Mis-ter—Presi-DENT!” and proceeded to urge that Richardson might be heard. He believed Richardson was about to bring “peace offerings.” Everybody knew there could not be any “peace offerings” but the dead body of Douglas, and it was thought that would be a singular time to make an offering of the corpse of the Little Giant. The great crowds in the galleries heaved like big waves. They thought something prodigious was about to occur. But no sooner had Richardson opened his mouth and commenced to speak of the delegation from Illinois, and its intention in appearing there, than Mr. C. E. Hooker of Mississippi objected peremptorily, and insisted and persisted in calling Richardson to order, and by insisting upon his point of order, when ninety-nine out of every hundred persons were willing and anxious to hear Richardson, would not let him be heard. This was considered an act of discourtesy toward Mr. Richardson of the most flagrant character. A Southern gentleman explained it to me this evening by saying that the South was at that moment in a delicate position, and did not want any traps sprung....

The object of Richardson in attempting to gain the floor was then at once seen. He had desired to say that Illinois and the Northwest in general, had not been anxious to have anything but the Cincinnati Platform, and would be content with that, if the others would. This was to have been his peace offering—his olive branch. As the Douglas men did not understand the movement, several delegations stood firm and voted roundly for the adoption of the explanatory resolution, according to the original program. Most of the States passed the point, however, and consulted. New York retired from the hall to consult. It took some minutes for the new tactics of Richardson to get circulation, and in the meantime, as one delegation after another understood the point, the votes of States were counted, and finally, with a general rush, the only resolution having the slightest significance in the minority report, was stricken out. The Douglas army had retreated … By a flank movement, they had placed themselves upon the Cincinnati Platform pure and simple.

Those who had no insight into things thought at this moment that the dead point of danger was safely passed. The fact was (if we may change the figure somewhat materially from those hitherto used), the ship had struck the rock, and just as the passengers thought they were floating safely into deep water, the vessel was actually sinking. It was ominous that, from this time, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Arkansas, declined to vote.

The Convention now proceeded, as if in earnest, to take the vote by States on the several propositions tacked to the tail of the explanatory resolution from which this had been severed. These propositions were about protecting foreigners, and building a Pacific Railroad, and acquiring Cuba “on terms honorable to ourselves and just to Spain,” etc.; and the vote was unanimous in all cases excepting that regarding the Pacific Railroad, and nearly so in that case—the Gulf States still refusing to vote. There were several attempts during the reading of the poor clap-trap resolutions (the substance of all of which was in the Cincinnati Platform already) to get up a show of enthusiasm. The failures in each case were extremely dreary. The Convention was under the frown of King Cotton, and his displeasure was upon it like a blight or deadly nightshade. And now the platform was constructed as it stands, the most uncouth, disjointed, illogical, confused, cowardly and contemptible thing in the history of platforms, mean and cowardly as they have been from the beginning.

Mr. Stuart of Michigan moved a reconsideration of the vote, and proceeded to speak upon it. He was evidently laboring under the impression that he was full of a very powerful speech. When he undertook to find it, however, he discovered his mistake, and soon got into the old rut about the gallant and glorious Northwest, and how wonderfully the Northern Democracy had stood up for the South, and had fought, bled and died for the South—and he seemed to reproach the South with inconsistency, and with having demanded of the Northern Democracy more than they could bear. He stated that Mr. Yancey had admitted that the South had asked new guarantees of Southern safety from the Northern Democracy. Yancey corrected him. He had not made such admission. He had simply contended for the Southern construction of the Cincinnati Platform, and repudiated ambiguity. Stuart was getting into hot water at every plunge, and his fine round bald head glowed like the full moon as he was making matters worse.... Stuart finally retired from the platform having done a very inflammatory thing …

And now commenced the regular stampede. Alabama led the Southern column. Mr. Walker of that State, a tall, slender, pale gentleman, able in controversy and graceful in movement, called the attention of the house to a communication from the State of Alabama, which he proposed to read from the clerk’s desk. There was a shudder of excitement, a universal stir over the house, and then for the first time during the day, profound stillness. Mr. Walker proceeded to give the reasons which had influenced Alabama to retire from the Convention at that point. They were, first, the instructions of the Alabama Convention; second, the conviction the delegation felt that it was its duty to retire as justice had not been done the South. When he concluded, which he did by stating that there could not thereafter be any representation from the State of Alabama in that Convention, the delegation left their seats and made their way to various points, where they took position as spectators. Mississippi went next, with less formality but more vim. Her declarations of the manner in which the Northern Democracy had been found wanting, and of her purposes, were exceedingly explicit. The Northern Democracy had been found anxious to dodge the issues before the country. That would never do for Mississippi. She cast her fortunes with those of her sister State, Alabama....

Colonel [ sic ] Simmons of South Carolina now spoke for that State in a quiet, dignified manner, and presented the reasons for the withdrawal of the State to the Convention. The secession of South Carolina drew down another tempest of approbation.... Florida was the next to go, and then Arkansas.... R. T. Merrick of Illinois now obtained the floor, and proceeded to make an appeal. He wanted to try the effect of eloquence upon the secessionists. He was becoming very red in the face, and was almost launching away into the empyrean, when he was cut short by several delegates, who did not want to hear eloquence, and the chairman of the Georgia delegation said Georgia wished to retire, to consult. Leave was granted—and now Virginia, through her spokesman, wanted time for consultation also. Georgia and Virginia expressed the deepest sympathy for their Southern brethren. Their destiny was with the South forever. The Southern feeling ran high, and it seemed that public opinion was about to enforce, as the test of loyalty to the South, secession from the Convention. A large number of gentlemen in the hall looked absolutely frightened. They considered themselves looking upon a spectacle of prodigious significance, and some were muttering with white lips that the hour of revolution was at hand. And there were Neros about, too, who thought the whole matter an extensive joke, and insisted upon calling attention to the ridiculous points....

When the Convention adjourned, the people stood in groups on the corners, and even in the middle of the streets. The outside pressure was for the seceders, and Southern feeling runs high. It is now believed that nearly the whole South will go out, and that there may be an attempt made to organize two “National Democratic” parties. I presume this will be done. The Douglas men are swearing vengeance tonight not loud but deep, and the Northwestern States say they will nominate him if they have to do it themselves....

The Douglasites find themselves in the position of a semi-Free Soil, sectional party, and the poor fellows take it hard. The bitter cup which they have so often pressed upon the Republicans is now thrust upon them....

Institute Hall, May 1, 1860

… Business commenced ominously.

Mr. Henry L. Benning of Georgia announced the result of the consultation of that State. It was the adoption, by a majority of the delegation, of the following resolution:

Resolved, That upon the opening of the Convention this morning our chairman be requested to state to the President that the Georgia delegation, after mature deliberation, have felt it to be their duty, under existing circumstances, not to participate further in the deliberations of the Convention, and that, therefore, the delegation withdraw.

Twenty-six out of thirty-four Georgia delegates then retired from the hall.

A majority of the Arkansas delegation announced their deliberate determination formally to retire; and retired.

The Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Maryland delegations retired to consult …

Solomon Cohen of Savannah, Ga., who remained in the Convention, made a speech ultra Southern in tone. But he could not then leave the Convention, until the last straw had broken the camel’s back....

Mr. W. B. Gaulden, the slave-trader of Savannah, gave his reasons for remaining in the Convention:

He was a slavery-extension, slave-trade man. He believed the institution to be right, socially, politically, morally and religiously. He believed that, if the institution of slavery were to be abolished, civilization would go back two hundred years. The prohibition of the slave trade had put an end to all hope of extending the area of slavery at the present time. There was but one remedy at present for the evils the South complained of, and that was to reopen the African slave trade. (Cheers and loud laughter.) In this he looked to the Northern Democracy to aid them. (Renewed laughter and cheers.)

He told his fellow-Democrats that the African slave-trade man is the Union man—the true Christian man. He told them that the slave trade of Virginia was more inhuman, more unchristian, in every point of view, than the African slave trade; for the African slave-trader goes to a heathen land and brings the savage here, and Christianizes and moralizes him, and sends him down to posterity a happy man. (Cheers and loud laughter.) …

He declared that the Virginia slave-trader, who tore a slave family asunder from those ties which cluster around civilization, whether it be the slave or the free man, was far more open to rebuke than the man who brought the African from a land where he has no ties of country or family around him.

He desired not to be discourteous to Virginia; but, with all deference to the State, he believed they were influenced more than they ought to be by the almighty dollar. He had himself purchased some slaves in Virginia, and had to pay from one thousand to twelve hundred dollars, while he could buy a better nigger in Africa for fifty dollars. (Loud laughter and great applause.) Now, if any of his friends from the North would go down to his plantation in Georgia—it was not far from here, and he hoped many of them would—he would show them Negroes he had purchased in Virginia, in Georgia, in Alabama, in Louisiana, and he would also show them the native African, the noblest Roman of them all. (Shouts of laughter and applause repeated round after round.)

The applause and laughter on the floor during this gentleman’s speech were overpowering. He was in deadly earnest, and talked with no little force of expression. He is a tall, hatchet-faced man, with brown complexion, high nose, great eyes, thin, straggling black beard and black hair....

Mr. McCook of Ohio moved the adoption of the following resolution:

Resolved, That this Convention will proceed at 2 P.M. of this day, by a call of the States, to nominate a candidate for President, and immediately thereafter, to nominate a candidate for the Vice-Presidency of the United States....

The first ballot for the nomination of a candidate for the Presidency was taken about dusk amid the most profound silence. When the name of Douglas was put in nomination, a feeble yelp went up from the Northwestern delegations. It was not hearty and strong, but thin and spiritless. There was no hopefulness in it, but something of defiance. It was as much as to say, “Well, if you can’t nominate him, you cannot nominate anybody else.”

The spokesmen of the Northwestern delegations tried to make their vote for Douglas impressive, but it was a failure. They said so many votes for “Stephen A. Douglas, of Illinois,” but it would not do. They were overhung now by a cloud of South Carolinians in the galleries and the cold steel of the new construction of the two-thirds rule had pierced their vitals. The Northwestern delegations, commencing with Ohio, had always, until now, produced something of an effect, voting in solid column, according to the direction on the Douglas program. But McCook of Ohio failed to give any rotundity to the vote, “twenty-three votes for Stephen A. Douglas.” Gavit of Indiana ripped out the vote of that State, and glared round with the air of an assassin. He looked as if he would cut any man’s throat who had anything to say against that. Richardson of Illinois looked as if at a funeral, and gave the vote of Illinois in a voice like the sound of clods on a coffin....

Still the futile bickering continued. That afternoon the Douglasites received another setback when the convention decided that no candidate could be nominated without a two-thirds majority of all elected delegates, and not merely of those present. In other words, even though the Southern states had officially seceded, their votes were counted as abstentions. With this ruling, a quick Douglas victory was out of the question.

Six men were formally nominated: Douglas, R. M. T. Hunter of Virginia, James Guthrie of Kentucky, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, Daniel S. Dickinson of New York, and Joseph Lane of Oregon—all except Douglas more or less committed to the Southern viewpoint. In the first ballot, Douglas received 145½ votes, Hunter 42, and Guthrie 35½, with 30 scattered among the rest. Though 202 votes were needed to win, Douglas supporters were unable to push his total much above 150. After twelve ballots, the convention adjourned for the night. Summing up the results of the deadlock, Halstead foresaw Republican victory in November.

The Douglas men were very despondent after this day’s experience. The delegates generally are dispirited, worried out by the long wrangle, and disgusted. It is the prevalent impression that the Democratic party has been done for. Even if it should be possible to patch up a superficial reconciliation, and nominate with a whole Convention, the nomination would be worthless. I hear it stated here a hundred times a day, by the most orthodox Democrats and rampant Southerners, “William H. Seward will be next President of the United States.” And I have heard this remark several times from South Carolinians: “I’ll be damned if I don’t believe Senator Seward would make a good President.” The fact is, there is a large class to whom the idea of Douglas is absolutely more offensive than Seward.

Our Northwestern friends will go home with hatred of the Democratic party, as it has appeared here, rankling in their hearts. As Douglas will not be the nominee, they will wish to see the nominee defeated. Some of them say openly and earnestly they will go home and join the Black Republicans. I never heard Abolitionists talk more uncharitably and rancorously of the people of the South than the Douglas men here. Our Northwestern friends use language about the South, her institutions, and particularly her politicians, that is not fit for publication, and my scruples in that respect are not remarkably tender. A good many of them will eventually become the most intolerant Republican partisans. Their exasperation and bitterness toward the South, that has insisted upon such a gross repudiation of the only ground upon which they could stand in the North, can hardly be described. Many of them would not lift a finger to prevent the election of Seward to the Presidency. They say they do not care a d—n where the South goes, or what becomes of her. They say “she may go out of the Convention into hell,” for all they care.... No matter what this Convention does after this date, the Chicago Convention has all the cards in its hands to win the next Presidency …

After fifty-seven ballots, the convention adjourned, still lacking a candidate. A month and a half later, the Democrats reassembled at Baltimore. This second gathering proved to be no more of a love feast than the first, for once again Southern delegates bolted. By the time Douglas was finally nominated, the disruption of the party was complete.

On June 28, the Charleston seceders convened at Baltimore, and chose as their candidate James Buchanan’s Vice President, John C. Breckinridge. The political situation was further confused when the newly established Constitutional Union party, composed of remnants of the once-powerful Whigs and the nativist Know-Nothings, nominated John Bell of Tennessee.

Meanwhile, at Chicago the Republicans picked Abraham Lincoln—contrary to the expectations of Murat Halstead and most other contemporary observers, who had prophesied the nomination of the antislavery radical, William H. Seward. But as Halstead had so accurately predicted, the Democratic schism made Republican victory in the November elections certain (though Douglas ran second to Lincoln in popular votes, he carried but one state). Since the slave states would never accept a Republican President, Southern secession from the Union was the next step. Perhaps civil war was inevitable from the moment the Southern delegations walked out of Institute Hall: if the trigger was pulled at Fort Sumter, the gun had been primed and loaded at the Charleston convention.