Why Douglas Opposed the Lecompton Constitution.
August 31, 1858.
A chapter from the Congressional Globe.
Mr. Douglas claims for himself, and his friends claim for him, great credit for his opposition to the Lecompton Constitution.
We propose to show our readers that motives alone led him to take the position he did on that question; that selfish reasons purely, influenced him to cut loose from his former friends and make war upon the party with which he had always acted; while he would have us believe that he was doing it all in the name of patriotism.
No public man has abused the free States men of Kansas with more bitterness and coarseness than Judge Douglas. We could never find language adequate to convey the volume of indignation which we have felt, when the Senator from Illinois has from time to time seen fit to vilify and malign the people of that Territory, and those who sympathized with them. His course has been a series of insults to the freemen of the North, and those of the State which he represents, and the smart of those insults should burn and sting into our memories forever. Our Senator has never had a word of condemnation or reproof for the "border ruffians" of Kansas; on the contrary, he has more than once sought to justify their acts of violence and blood by throwing the responsibility upon the free State men. These are facts which are matters of record, and will cling to him through life like the shirt of Nessus. He said in his place in the Senate, in April, 1856:
"All these gentlemen want is to get up murder and blood shed. * * * * They sent their partisan agents to get up rebellion, to commit crime, to burn houses, and then their newspaper agents are to report their acts here, and charge them on the border ruffians."
What is the secret of his new-born regard for the rights of the people of Kansas? A debate which occurred in the House of Representatives on the 27th of March last, and continued on the 29th, will give us some light on this subject.
On that occasion Mr. Smith, a Democratic member from Virginia, had the floor, and referred to Mr. Douglas' former position, and asked the pertinent question --
"What has occurred since to induce a change of his course?" And then proceeded to answer, in this wise: "I fear ambition has done its work; I fear imaginary private griefs have been actively at work. I have heard of a meeting of the Illinois delegation to consider the policy to be pursued. I give at least one gentlemen from Illinois notice, that I shall, bring up a matter in connection with the movement of that delegation in reference to this defection on the Kansas question, when I have an opportunity to do so. I intended to pay my respects to the gentleman from Ohio, [Mr. Cox,] but I have not the time."
Here Mr. Smith was interrupted by Mr. Marshall, of Illinois, who wished that if he (Smith) had any thing to say about the Illinois delegation, that he would "charge it," and not insinuate it."
Mr. Smith -- "I do charge it as distinctly as I can."
Mr. Marshall -- "What does the gentleman charge?"
As Mr. Smith's time had now nearly expired, he asked that it might be extended. This was objected to by Mr. Burnett, of Kentucky.
Mr. Smith -- "I will say this in conclusion, that the delegation from Illinois, or a portion of them at any rate, met together here, when Congress assembled, to consider the course which a certain gentleman in the other end of the capital should pursue, and the means he should use to secure his re-election to the United States Senate. I say that much, and I will make out the case when I have time. I say that that that certainly extraordinary action, has resulted in a concerted movement, having an eye alone to his re-election."
[Here the hammer fell.]
The member who now obtained the floor, yielded for a moment to Mr. Marshall, of Illinois, who denied the charge of the gentleman from Virginia.
Mr. Smith, of Virginia -- "I do not know about it of my own knowledge; but when a member of that delegation speaks to that effect, when he tells it to me without reserve, to still another, I allude to the successor of the gallant Richardson, I take it to be true. He told me that they had a conference; that in that conference they cam to the conclusion that the only chance for the re-election of Mr. Douglas to the United States Senate was in the course he has pursued. I speak openly and squarely, because I have nothing to fear, nor favor to ask."
These disclosures of Mr. Smith threw the House into the utmost confusion, and the Speaker being unable to obtain order, a motion to adjourn was made and carried.
On Monday, the 29th of March, the debate on this subject was re opened by explanations from some of the members of Illinois. Mr. Morris, although he attempted to dodge the question, admitted that he himself, had said --
"That neither Judge Douglas, or any body else, who would support the Lecompton Constitution, could or would be sustained by the people of Illinois; and that our Southern friends, who were so bitter and denunciatory in their course, and for whom we have battled so long , and against such fearful obstacles, ought to have some regard for our position."
Mr. Smith, of Virginia. -- "Mr. Speaker: -- It will be recollected by gentlemen that on yesterday I made reference to a member of the Illinois delegation, substantially in the language which has been quoted by the gentleman near me, [Mr. Shaw.] That member, I stated in another part of my remarks, was the successor of the gallant Col. Richardson. I stated, on that occasion, and my purpose is to repeat with, if possible, more distinctness than then, that after this Congress had commenced its session -- I do not recollect the exact time in a free conversation on public questions with the honorable gentleman from Illinois, he stated to me distinctly, explicitly and precisely, according to my present recollection and my past recollection, that the Illinois delegation held a conference as to the policy that a distinguished Senator -- Judge Douglas should pursue on this Lecompton question. WITH A VIEW TO SECURING HIS RE-ELECTION TO THE SENATE of the UNITED STATES; AND THAT THE ONE HE HAS PURSUED WAS DEEMED THE ONLY COURSE BY WHICH HE COULD HOPE TO EFFECT IT. I have said this in private conversation on various occasions. It was the result of a very distint recollection. I stated this yesterday, and I repeat it to-day as my recollection -- a recollection clear, distinct and emphatic When this was told to me by an honorable member form the Prairie State. I believed it, because I am in the habit of believing what gentlemen tell me, unless I have strong reasons for not believing them. If I am correctly informed, the gentlemen told these things to others.
I have, in this statement, confined myself to what passed yesterday. There are other matters which might have been mentioned, if I had seen fit to do so, but which were not necessary in connection with the position I then took. I will, however, state now, through not necessarily connected with this matter, that the gentleman informed me that the delegation to the Cincinnati Convention had recommended various appointments to the President of the United States for the State of Illinois; that those recommendations had been disregarded; and that was one grief upon the part of the delegation. * * * * * As I trust I am always careful in regard to the statements I make, I hope that House will allow me to ask the honorable member from Kentucky [Mr. Burnett] if he had not a similar conversation with the gentleman from Illinois."
This was another bomb-shell thrown among the Democratic members. Great excitement prevailed. A running fire was kept up for several minutes, and Mr. Smith was soundly berated for "retailing private conversation." At length Mr. Burnett obtained the floor, and made the following statement:
"Mr. Speaker, the gentleman from Virginia [Mr. Smith] referred to me as having had a conversation with the gentleman from Illinois, [Mr. Morris.] The gentleman from Illinois, also, referred to the same conversation, and stated his understanding of a portion of that conversation. I will say this in advance, in order that my own position may not be misunderstood. The gentlemen from Virginia, some time ago, in a conversation between us, when we were discussing the action of the Democratic party upon the Kansas question, or of those of the Democratic party who differed with us, and the reasons for their course, said to me, substantially, what he has stated here. I remarked to him, then, that I had had a conversation with Mr. Morris, IN WHICH HE HAD REPEATED, SUBSTANTIALLY, THE SAME LANGUAGE TO ME. Subsequently the gentlemen from Virginia came to me and told me that he intended to make the statement publicly, and asked my consent to use my name in connection with it, which I declined to give. The gentlemen from Illinois [Mr. Morris] approached me this morning and said that he understood I had stated that I had had, subsequently, the same conversation with him which the gentlemen from Virginia repeated yesterday. I then said to him what I stated to the House this morning, that I would not make any statement in regard to the conversation between us, unless he authorized or called for it. That was what occurred between us this morning. Now, sir, as to the facts. The time I cannot fix -- some time early in the session -- I in company with another gentlemen, who is a member of this House, met the gentlemen from Illinois on the street. I introduced him to the gentleman, and some conversation passed between us of a light and trivial character; I do not now recollect what. He then asked me to call at his room, saying that he desired to talk with me. I was then on my way, I think, to the War Department. I did call at his room on my return and a long conversation took place between s. I cannot pretend to give the whole of that conversation, nor will I undertake to give the language used, because every gentlemen, whether he be a lawyer or not, knows how impossible it is to give the details of such conversations, or the precise language used by any individual.
I do not desire to do the gentlemen from Illinois any injustice. The conversation was commenced by him. I do not know what his purpose was. He commenced by speaking of the position which had been taken by the distinguished Senator from Illinois, and by his colleagues in this House, upon the Kansas question. I understood him distinctly to say that upon a conference of the friends of Judge Douglas -- the friends from Illinois -- it has been agreed that he should take the course which he has pursued in reference to the Kansas question, as the only means by which he could sustain himself at home; that unless he did take that course, he would not only inevitably suffer defeat at home himself, but his friends would fall with him.
During this conversation, which, as I have said, was one of some length, and which was held with me as a friend of Judge Douglas, something was said about some arrangement by which the Democratic party could act together and stand a unit upon this question. We talked a good deal upon that subject. During the conversation there was a statement made, that one reason why Judge Douglas felt himself aggrieved, and why he had pursued this course was that there had been an attempt upon the part of the present administration to destroy him -- to crush him -- to break him down; that his friends had been neglected in appointments, and the claims of Illinois overlooked; and that Judge Douglas did not intend to be crushed by the administration. This, sir, is the substance of the conversation which occurred."
Mr. Marshall, of Illinois, replied to Mr. Burnett very briefly, denying that a conference had been held. In answer to which Mr. Smith, of Virginia, said:
"Whether, Mr. Speaker and gentlemen, there was a conference or not, is a question of fact with which I have nothing to do. The only question of fact with which I have to do is, that in reference to the convention that I had with the gentlemen from Illinois (Mr. Morris). Upon that fact I have nothing further to say. There are, however, one or two other matters incidental to it, to which I desire very briefly to refer. It is said by the gentlemen from Illinois (Mr. Morris) that the conversation occurred in his room, in the presence of his family. That is true, sir; but I went with a view to consult with him, as he has stated, and this public subject came up in conversation after that private matter was disposed of. It was not in any degree, directly or indirectly, with an understanding of confidence. On the contrary, the gentleman and myself agree in opinion that when public men converse on public subjects, without an understanding of confidence, they can, each and all, speak at their will and pleasure. Such is the opinion of the gentleman from Illinois, and it is rather singular that he should introduce the question here for the purpose of affecting my personal position. I wish it understood, have no political secrets of my own, that when I speak of political questions or am spoken to about them, I regard them as a part of the political interests of the country, and shall so consider and treat them, unless there is a different understanding. The honorable gentleman from Kentucky (Mr. Burnett) has stated, what he no doubt correctly understands, that I applied to him for liberty to use his name, and he declined to agree to it. There were two gentlemen present at the conversation, one of whom did decline; and, no doubt, the gentleman from Kentucky meant to be so understood. I venture to say that I did not so understand him, because, if I had, I would not have referred to him. But it is a matter of no consequence. I make this explanation for the purpose of having the thing rightly understood and without any intention of pressing anybody to the wall. I say this, and I say it briefly, that I hold it to be a duty to the country if I can trace out, by any proper and legitimate means, the secret motives and private purposes of public men, to do so, and not to let them carry out their selfish objects in the name of patriotism and the country. I will not permit a traitor to the great interests of my country to carry out his purposes in the name of patriotism and duty."
We have given the substance of the debate on this subject, as reported in the Daily Globe, and our readers can judge of the purity of Mr. Douglas' patriotism and his disinterested regard for the rights of Kansas.