On northern anti-slavery opponents: “The Democratic Party can only hope for success by discarding from among them the free soilers, abolitionists and all such cattle. Let…true lovers of the Union repudiate them as unworthy of their association. They do indeed deserve the deepest curses of the patriot for having put in jeopardy the noblest and fairest fabric of government the world ever saw.”
On southern opponents and John C. Calhoun’s speech: “It is too ultra and his ultimata impracticable. How is agitation to be quieted or an amendment to the Constitution to be obtained and how above all, can it be expected, that the North will concede a power which has grown up under the...
On southern opponents and John C. Calhoun’s speech: “It is too ultra and his ultimata impracticable. How is agitation to be quieted or an amendment to the Constitution to be obtained and how above all, can it be expected, that the North will concede a power which has grown up under the Constitution and by our own concessions?…I regard his speech as calculated to do injury to the Southern Cause, and in that view I regret its delivery…”
He denies that President Zachary Taylor and his position on the compromise are popular
“General Taylor was quite communicative – mistook all the demonstrations of popular feeling as evidences of his popularity, in all which he was in great error.”
Victory in the Mexican War paradoxically brought the U.S. to a crisis. The issue was the new territories and what to do with them as regards slavery. The subject had immediacy because with the huge number of people (the 49ers) who were flooding into California seeking gold, that territory was already seeking statehood. President Zachary Taylor was a slaveholder from Louisiana who defended the institution where it was, but who did not see himself as representing a sectional interest. Feeling that slavery was unnecessary in the western territories, and would prove troublesome, he supported organizing all the former Mexican lands into the territories of California and New Mexico, and bringing them into the Union immediately as free states. He believed that he could thus bypass the question of slavery in Federal territories, as there would be no such territories, just states. And with only two new states, the balance between slave and free states in Congress would scarcely be disturbed. Many southerners, especially in the deep south, felt closed out of the territories by this plan, and betrayed by Taylor, and threatened to secede.
On January 29, 1850, in an attempt to seek a compromise and avert a crisis between North and South, border state Senator Henry Clay introduced an omnibus bill that came to be known as the Compromise of 1850. It consisted of laws admitting California as a free state, creating Utah and New Mexico territories with the question of slavery in each to be determined by popular sovereignty, which would favor the pro-slavery interests in New Mexico at least, settling a Texas-New Mexico boundary dispute in favor of slave state Texas, ending the slave trade in Washington, D.C., and instituting a strong fugitive slave law requiring northerners to find and return runaway slaves.
South Carolina’s John C. Calhoun was clearly a dying man as he was assisted to his desk on the Senate floor on March 4, 1850. A black cloak, which he had pulled around his emaciated body, added to the drama of the scene. Too weak to deliver the forty-two-page speech himself, Calhoun had a colleague read it for him. The emphasis of the speech was wholly on northern aggression and against conciliation and compromise. Calhoun believed that two separate nations now existed, and that if the differences between them could not be settled, the two entities should agree to part in peace. Three days later Daniel Webster backed Clay, throwing his support to the compromise at the cost of antagonizing his anti-slavery supporters. He both cautioned Southerners that disunion would lead to war and advised Northerners to forgo antislavery agitation. Northerns such as Senator William H. Seward of New York opposed the compromise; he earned an reputation for radicalism by claiming that a “higher law” than the U.S. Constitution required the checking of slavery.
President Taylor, rightly fearful that it would lead to division and war, opposed the Compromise of 1850 and stated he would veto it and personally put down any secession movement. But fate intervened, and on July 9 he was suddenly taken ill and died. The incoming president, Vice President Millard Fillmore, supported the compromise, and when it was passed, sign it into law.
Former president John Tyler was from the border state of Virginia, a state that would have much to lose in a north-south conflict. He supported the compromise, castigating at the same time and in the same degree the northerners he lumped in as abolitionists and southerners who pushed to avoid all concessions and confront the north with maximal demands. In this historic letter to his son Robert, dated days after Calhoun and Webster had spoken, he assails opponents of the compromise and warns of consequences to the country if cool heads do not prevail.
Autograph letter signed, Sherwood Forest Plantation [Virginia], March 12, 1850, to his son, Robert. In it, supporting the compromise, he advocates purging his Democratic Party of anti-slavery activists and reading them out of the decision-making process; excoriates extremist southerns who are doing nothing but hurting their cause; denies that President Taylor has a base of support for his plan; and then ends discussing personal family matters in a way that is itself interesting. In this letter Tyler refers to the Democrats of Philadelphia, who had just passed a resolution at a town meeting that supported admitting California as a free state, declared slavery to be legal and unassailable in state where it then existed, and denied that slavery should be brought into every new territory the country might obtain. This was tantamount to support for the compromise. Also referenced, on February 22, 1850, Virginia Governor John Floyd commissioned a monument to President George Washington in Virginia Capitol Square in Richmond, and laid the cornerstone in the presence of President Taylor and former President Tyler.
“My Son: My attention had been drawn to the proceedings of the Democrats of Philadelphia before your letter reached me. Without at the time knowing who was the author of the resolutions I had praised them in conversation with others and recommended them to general perusal. They are precisely what they should have been. The Democratic Party can only hope for success by discarding from among them the free soilers, abolitionists and all such cattle. Let the Whigs if they please court them and take them to their embraces but let true lovers of the Union repudiate them as unworthy of their association. They do indeed deserve the deepest curses of the patriot for having put in jeopardy the noblest and fairest fabric of government the world ever saw. When I think of it, all the milk of my nature is turned into gall. I hope that there is still intelligence and patriotism enough in the community to baffle their narrow and illiberal designs.
“Calhoun’s speech does him no credit. It is too ultra and his ultimata impracticable. How is agitation to be quieted or an amendment to the Constitution to be obtained and how above all, can it be expected, that the North will concede a power which has grown up under the Constitution and by our own concessions? How idle to complain of the ordinance of ’87 as one of the causes of disturbance to the equilibrium of which he complains. That ordinance is our own and was precedent [to] the Constitution, and it is idle for us to complain of it. In short I regard his speech as calculated to do injury to the Southern Cause, and in that view I regret its delivery – Webster’s speech has not yet reached us.
“The letter to Mr. Peyton you will find under cover. I am truly delighted that Mr. Campbell has so lucrative a position. Alice is in Williamsburg and everything betokens a union between herself and Mr. Dennison. I have reconciled myself to it because I do not believe that she will marry any man of fortune. Strange hallucination certainly it is but even so and cannot be altered. Mr. D. is called to Brooklyn to take the place of Dr. Post and is undoubtedly a man of talents and eloquence. I require to know something of his private affairs. He ought to be assured of a permanent provision for a family before he seeks my consent. But Letty and Lizzie are full of it and I look upon its occurrence with or without fortune, as most likely to occur. Tazewell is doing well at college. His deportment is perfectly correct and he is a good looking fellow. What to put him at after his collegiate course, I have not decided. The professions are thoroughly overstocked and he does not incline to them.
“We passed an agreeable day and two nights at the Governor’s. There was a decided wish with the crowd on the 22nd to have me address them, but to be silent seemed to me to be most politic. General Taylor was quite communicative – mistook all the demonstrations of popular feeling as evidences of his popularity, in all which he was in great error.” He adds a PS about a bill to be paid.
John Tyler would serve in the Confederate Congress after the secession of Virginia in 1861. His son Robert would serve as the Confederate Register of the Treasury. His daughter Alice married Rev. Henry Dennison but she died in 1854, aged 27. Her two sisters who approved of the match were Letitia and Elizabeth Tyler. Tazewell Tyler became a doctor and served as a surgeon in the Confederate Army. He went west to California after the war. Governor Floyd would later serve as President Buchanan’s Secretary of War.
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