Wheatland 18 August 1849
My dear Sir
I rejoice to learn that you have accepted my invitation & that I may indulge the hope of seeing you 'ere long at Wheatland. It is my earnest desire that our difference of opinion on the free soil question shall not, in the slightest degree, interfere with our personal friendship: and I know that I shall not say or do, nor have I said or done anything which could give you the slightest cause of offense.
Whilst I do not deny the power of Congress to legislate on the question of slavery in the territories; yet I am deeply convinced that the passage of the Wilmot proviso in any form would be unnecessary to accomplish the object of its friends, unjust to the South & dangerous to the Union. It may probably pass & I doubt not will be approved by General Taylor. In that event, we shall have reached a real crisis. The South will then be united & the fire which has long been smoldering will burst forth, not in an ignus fatuus blaze as heretofore but with steady intensity. They will insist that the agitation of the question shall cease in regard to the District of Columbia, unless it should be raised by the people of that District: & that efficient measures shall be adopted to carry into effect that clause of the Constitution, without which the Constitution never would have existed, to enable them to reclaim their runaway slaves. They say, with truth, that whilst the agitation of the Slave question in the North may be sport to us, it may become also prove death to them. It produces an uneasy & excited feeling among the Slaves & places in jeopardy the safety of all they hold most dear on earth. Devotedly attached to the union as they are, they soberly declare that if the North should persist in applying the match to the magazine of gun powder in which they live, self preservation will compel them to separate from us.
I have no doubt that the Union must & will be preserved; - that the North will eventually perceive the propriety of refraining from all unnecessary agitation on the subject: & that the South will not flare up as they have done heretofore upon every trifling occasion. But in order to accomplish this object, we shall probably have to pass through a tremendous storm. At the North we are totally ignorant of the deep, pervading & determined feeling of the South on this subject. It is not a political feeling; but one that is domestic & self preserving.
I am as much opposed to slavery in the abstract as you can be; but whether popular or not I shall ever adhere to the Constitution in letter & in spirit & to our glorious compact of Union. I have expressed my sentiments on this subject in my Berks County letter & to these I shall adhere. I know that the Missouri Compromise, which I believe to be entirely constitutional, is now out of the question; but I shall assume no new ground. I write you this letter confidentially, without any hope of inducing you to change your ground, but merely to communicate my own convictions. In the expectation of seeing you soon, I remain, sincerely
your friend James Buchanan
John M. Read Esq