The Fate and the Folly of Compromises.
In a practical sense, the existence of a secret organization in Massachusetts to resist the Fugitive slave act, is a matter of no sort of consequences to the people of the South. We are concerned only with the fact of the nullification of the law, and have no choice whether the thing be done by spontaneous or concerted assassination. If the slave escape, we care very little whether he is spirited away on the underground railroad, or torn from the hands of justice by the violence of a mob. There may be such an organization as the “Pine Tree League,” (though it looks very like a hoax,) but it is an altogether unnecessary piece of machinery, considering that the Fugitive Slave Law is an exploded humbug.
By the Compromise of 1850, the South, in some particulars, sacrificed its essential interests. It gave away the magnificent empire of California. It recognized the principle of Squatter Sovereignty in its most odious and mischievous operation. It surrendered a portion of a Southern State to the dominion of Free-Soil. It agreed to protect Mormonism with the sanctions and shelter of a territorial government; and above all, it consented to the abolition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia, under conditions which imply a power on the part of the General Government to abolish slavery itself in the Federal domain. All this the South did when it resolved to acquiesce in the Compromise of 1850. What indemnity did the South receive for these important concessions? The Fugitive Slave Law, and nothing more! The act was drawn with care and ability, and is wanting in no provision essential to is satisfactory operation. In view of the adversary’s strength, and the defection of Foote, Clemens, Cobb, and others, from the support of the South, it was something to gain even so inadequate a compensation for all our sacrifices. Considering the extremity of our distress, the enactment of a stringent statute for the return of the fugitive slaves, was in some sort a triumph for the South, and it is not because of inherent insufficiency that the law is an abortion.
These are painful reminisces, and since the advent of the present Saturnian age—bringing a blissful respite from sectional hate and feud—it may seem to betray a “disorganizing spirit,” thus to recall the specters of extinct animosities. Aye, but we are proof against the spell of the politician’s necromancy. With us, facts that were once facts are always facts. A thing which was treason to the South in 1850, is treason to the South in 1857, albeit parties agree to hush the matter up, and to call the day before the election an antediluvian age. A resolution of “acquiescence” imposes no obligation of perpetual silence touching the past. The success of Buchanan secured us a patriotic President for the next four years; but the South is not yet absolved from the necessity of a vigilant guardianship of its rights. The best lessons in statesmanship are taught by experience; and if we would know how to protect ourselves for the future, we must profit by the logic of events. A vivid recollection of former defeats may save the South from a repetition of the ignominy and the disaster. It is in the hour of peace and quiescence, when the South is secure with a wise and conservative Administration, that we should make most active preparation against the dangers that are to come upon us at no distant day; and to that end let us be instructed by the misfortunes of the past.
Assuredly there is no passage in the history of the struggle between the South and Abolitionism, so pregnant with admonition as that which records the pompous enactment and the miserable miscarriage of the Fugitive Slave Law. What better illustration could we devise of the Punic faith of the North? What more impressive example of the utter and unspeakable folly of putting trust into paper compromises?
The engagements which the South contracted under the Compromise of 1850, were discharged at once and to the full; the obligation which the North assumed was “executory”—to borrow a legal phrase. And how has that single pledge been redeemed? Does the North surrender our fugitive slaves? Is not the law in fact worse than a dead letter? In some instances the master has been the victim of Abolition mobs. In others, the mere attempt to recover his property under clause of the Constitution and laws of the land, has exposed him to the fate of a common felon. In every case of the recapture of a fugitive slave, the expense of the undertaking has exceeded the value of the negro. In many, if not a majority of the Northern States, the Fugitive Slave Law has been formally and defiantly nullified by enactment of the Legislature. And now, we are informed of the existence of a secret organization in Massachusetts, of which the object is to repel slave-holders from the pursuit of their property by the terrors of assassination. Is it surprising that the Directors of the Underground Railroad should be so bold and insulting in proclaiming the result of their kidnapping operation?
And mark, all this open violation of law, this contemptuous disregard of our rights and feelings, this secret conspiracy to plunder our property –all these wrongs and insults are inflicted upon the people of the South by their own fellow citizens, and by sovereign members of the glorious Union! Beautiful illustration of the fraternal feeling that should pervade a common country! If there be such antagonism of interest, and such an accumulation of hereditary hatred between any of the rival nations of the world, will Mr. Greeley adduce the instance? Why then waste words in the vain endeavor to restore a good understanding between irreconcilable interests? Why talk about the “glorious Union” and “this sisterhood of States,” when the Union is but a hollow league between inveterate adversaries, and these “sister States” hate one another with more than the venom of avowed enemies? Above all, why attempt to heal a radical disorder by superficial appliances, or to reconcile implacable animosities by the poor expedient of compromises and adjustments? Have we not enough of that? Is not the South rapidly sinking under the politicians? prescriptions of paper pills? None but heroic remedies will suit the exigencies of the case.