Life of Henry Clay/17 Slavery
The opening of the twenty-fourth Congress in December, 1835, found Clay greatly afflicted by the death of a favorite daughter. But he turned resolutely to his public duties. Early in the session he introduced his land bill again, which, as we have seen, had once passed Congress, but had been prevented from becoming a law by President Jackson's disapproval. Again he protested that the proposition to distribute the proceeds of the land sales among the states was "not founded upon any notion of a power in Congress to lay and collect taxes, and distribute the amount among the several states." The bill passed the Senate again later in the session, but failed in the House of Representatives.
But a bill did pass which carried into effect the worst feature of Clay's land bill, — providing that the money in the treasury on January 1, 1837, excepting $5,000,000, should be "deposited" with the several states in proportion to their representation in Congress, in four quarterly installments, to be returned on the call of Congress. This bill President Jackson signed, "reluctantly," he said, and we shall see the outcome of it.
But now another problem pressed to the front, far more portentous than all the questions of banks and deposits and lands, which agitated the public mind under Jackson's turbulent presidency. In Benton's "Abridgment of the Debates of Congress" the following short foot-note is attached to the Senate proceedings of January 7, 1836: "At this session the slavery discussion became installed in Congress, and has too unhappily kept its place ever since." The slavery question had assumed a new character.
The great excitement called forth by the admission of Missouri had been allayed by compromise. During the decade which followed, the slave-holding interest had indeed made itself felt in politics, but usually in disguise. The subject of slavery in its large moral and political aspects had been the occasional topic of discussion, but only in a passing way, except among a class of people who soon were to rise into unlooked-for importance, — the "abolitionists."
A few old anti-slavery societies had continued a quiet existence, most of them in the South, without creating any alarm. Then appeared on the stage, with all his peculiar strength, that formidable revolutionary factor in human affairs, the man of one idea. Anti-slavery missionaries came forth, who carried the word, spoken and written, from place to place: first, Benjamin Lundy, a mild-mannered Quaker mechanic, whose "heart was deeply grieved at the gross abomination," when he "heard the wail of the captive;" then William Lloyd Garrison, a young printer and editor from Massachusetts, who was moved by Lundy's words, and put into his work the fierce energy of a fiery spirit revolting against a great wrong. With these came a host of men equally devoted. They taught that not only the slave-holders, but the people of the Free States too, — in fact, all the citizens of this Republic, — were responsible for the "crime of slavery;" and Garrison went so far as to insist that, not the colonization of free negroes, nor the gradual emancipation of the slaves, but the unconditional and immediate abolition of slavery was the duty enjoined by moral law upon all righteous men.
Such was the faith professed by the abolitionists who in 1831 began to organize the New England Anti-slavery Society, and started a movement which presently spread over the Free States. Their principles and aims were most clearly put forth by the National Anti-slavery Convention held at Philadelphia in December, 1833. It declared that the American people were bound to "repent at once," to let the slaves go free, and to admit them to an equality of rights with all others; that there was, in point of principle, no difference between slave-holding and man-stealing; that no compensation should be given to slave-holders emancipating their slaves, because what they claimed as property was really not property, and because, if any compensation were to be given at all, it belonged justly to the slaves. They admitted that Congress had no constitutional power to abolish slavery in the states; but they insisted that Congress had power to suppress the domestic slave-trade, and to abolish slavery "in the District of Columbia, and in those portions of our territory which the Constitution has placed under its exclusive jurisdiction;" and this power Congress was in duty bound to exercise. The methods of "working for the cause" recommended by the Convention consisted in the organization of societies, in the sending out of missionaries to explain and exhort, in circulating anti-slavery tracts and periodicals, in enlisting the pulpit and the press in the work, in giving preference to the products of free labor over those of slave labor, — in one word, "in sparing no exertions nor means in bringing the whole nation to speedy repentance."
This agitation was carried on with singular devotion, but its startling radicalism did not at first enlist large numbers of converts, or result in the organization of a political force that might have made itself felt at the polls. It did, however, have the effect of exciting great irritation and alarm among the slave-holders, and among those in the North who feared that a searching discussion of the slavery question might disturb the peace of the country; and thus it started a commotion of grave consequences.
About that time the South was in an unusually nervous state of mind. In 1831 an insurrection of slaves broke out in Virginia under the leadership of Nat Turner, a religious fanatic. It was easily suppressed, but caused a widespread panic. In 1833 the emancipation of the slaves in the British West Indies made the slave-holders keenly sensible of the hostility of public opinion in the outside world, and increased their alarm. Events like these gave the agitation of the abolitionists a new significance. The slave power found it necessary to assert to the utmost, not only its constitutional rights, but also its moral position. Abandoning its apologetic attitude, it proclaimed its belief that slavery was not an evil, but economically, politically, and morally a positive good, and "the corner-stone of the republican edifice." It fiercely denounced the Northern abolitionists as reckless incendiaries, inciting the slaves to insurrection, rapine, and murder, — as enemies to the country, as fiends in human shape, who deserved the halter. What disturbed the slave-holders most was the instinctive feeling that now they had to meet an antagonist who was inspired by something akin to religious enthusiasm, which could neither be argued with nor cajoled nor frightened, but could be suppressed only with a strong hand, if it could be suppressed at all. They imperiously demanded of the people of the North that the abolitionists be silenced by force; that laws be made to imprison their orators, to stop their presses, to prevent the circulation of their tracts, and by every means to put down their agitation. They said that, unless this were done, the Union could not be maintained.
In the North their appeal did not remain unheeded. A fierce outcry arose in the Free States against the abolitionists. Turbulent mobs, composed in part of men of property and prominent standing, broke up their meetings, destroyed their printing-offices, wrecked their houses, and threatened them with violent death. There were riotous attacks upon anti-slavery gatherings in Philadelphia, New York, Utica, and Montpelier. In Boston, William Lloyd Garrison was dragged through the streets with a halter round his body. In Connecticut and New Hampshire, schools which received colored pupils were sacked. In Cincinnati, a large meeting of citizens resolved that an anti-slavery paper published there must cease to appear, and that there must be "total silence on the subject of slavery." An excited mob executed the decree, threw the press into the Ohio, and looted the homes of colored people. Some time later, Pennsylvania Hall, the meeting house of the abolitionists, was burned in Philadelphia, and Elijah P. Lovejoy was murdered in Illinois.
It was a strange commotion. There was the timid citizen, who feared that the anti-slavery agitation might split the Union, and believed that the abolitionists were bent upon inciting slave insurrection; there was the politician, intent upon currying favor with the South; there was the merchant and manufacturer, anxious to protect his Southern market against disturbance, and to please his Southern customer; there was the fanatic of stability, cursing everybody who, as he thought, "wanted to make trouble;" there was the man who "had always been opposed to slavery as much as anybody," but who detested the abolitionists be cause they would sacrifice the country to their one idea, presumed to sit in judgment upon other good people's motives, and accused them of "compounding with crime;" there was the rabble, bent upon keeping the negro still beneath them in the social scale, and delighting in riotous excesses as a congenial pastime, — all these elements coöperating in the persecution of a few men, who in all sincerity followed the dictates of their consciences, and, somewhat ahead of their time, demanded the general and immediate application of principles which, at the North, almost everybody had accepted in the abstract.
But this violent persecution could not accomplish its object. On the contrary, it could scarcely fail to strengthen the cause it was designed to put down. Many of the "intelligent and respectable citizens," who had countenanced it, remembered it with shame when the first heat was over. Who, after all, were the abolitionists, those "incendiaries," "fiends," "enemies of human society"? Who were the Lundys, Garrisons, and Tappans? They were men of pure lives who, believing slavery to be a great wrong which must be abolished, the great crime of the age which must be expiated, devoted themselves to an unpopular cause, and, serving it, suffered obloquy and social ostracism and mob violence without flinching. In doing what they did, they could win neither money nor popularity nor power. Their work was one of constant self-denial and sacrifice. It is true they were not, in the ordinary sense, statesmen. They did not weigh present possibilities. They did not measure immediate consequences. They did not calculate the relation between the means available and the ends to be accomplished. But theirs was after all the statesmanship of the prophets, which is seldom appreciated by the living generation. If it was true that the universal and immediate emancipation they preached could not be undertaken without great economic disturbance, pecuniary loss, social disorder, and perhaps bloodshed, it was equally true that the longer emancipation was put off the more inevitable and the greater would be the loss, disorder, and bloodshed. The abolitionists had a sublime belief in the justice of their cause, and in the sacredness of their duty to serve that cause. Thus they had the stuff in them of which the moral heroes in history are made. It is difficult to imagine a figure more heroic than William Lloyd Garrison with the rope about his body, the respectability of the town howling for his blood. The unselfishness of their devotion did not fail to extort respect. Such men could not be suppressed. They forced an unwilling people to hear them, and they were heard.
The number of abolition societies grew, not rapidly, but steadily. The leading abolitionists themselves never became popular with the multitude. With many men, the intrusive admonition of conscience is peculiarly irritating. But the immediate effect of their work has frequently been much underrated. The abolitionists served to keep alive in the Northern mind that secret trouble of conscience about slavery which later, in a ripe political situation, was to break out as a great force. They accomplished another immediate result of the highest importance. By the alarm they excited in the South they caused slavery to disclose to public view, more openly than ever before, those tendencies which made it incompatible with the fundamental conditions of free government.
The means which an institution or an interest needs for its defense, when attacked by the criticism of public opinion, may be taken as a test of its consistency with a democratic organization of society. When such an institution or interest cannot stand before the tribunal of free discussion, the question will soon arise which of the two shall give way. This question the abolitionists caused to be put before the American people with regard to slavery. While Northern mobs assaulted abolition conventions, and Northern meetings passed resolutions assuring the slave-holders of the sympathy of the Northern people, Southern journals, speakers, and legislatures demanded that, although occasional mobbings and anti-abolition resolutions were well in their way, the anti-slavery agitation, the publication of anti-slavery tracts, the delivery of anti-slavery speeches in the Northern States, should be put down by penal laws. But then it turned out that Northern men, who had favored the mobs and voted for the resolutions, instinctively recoiled from the enactment of laws clearly hostile to the freedom of speech and press. They felt the difference between the occasional violence of a mob — a passing occurrence — and a solemn act of legislation, the establishment of a permanent rule. They had been willing to do a lawless thing, but they were not willing to make that thing legal. There the slave power was asking too much. No Northern State made the laws demanded by it; and the Southern press was not slow to declare that the anti-abolition resolutions adopted by Northern meetings had no real value as to the safety of slavery, if the Northern States refused to clothe the sentiments professed with the strength of law.
It was under these circumstances that, as Benton expressed it, "the slavery discussion became installed in Congress," thenceforward to keep its place. For some years abolition societies had sent petitions to Congress praying for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, and of the slave-trade, without creating much excitement. The twenty-fourth Congress was flooded with them, and they were taken more seriously. In the Senate, Calhoun denounced them as incendiary documents, and moved that they be not received. There was, then, slavery against the right of petition. Buchanan, to whom some of them had come from his Quaker constituents, — a circumstance which moved him to caution, — proposed that the petitions be received, but that the prayer they contained be at once rejected without further consideration. Thus, he thought, the right of petition would receive due respect, without leaving any misapprehension as to the sentiment of the Senate concerning the subject-matter. Northern senators with anti-slavery leanings insisted that the petitions should be referred to the appropriate committee for consideration and report. Thus the issue was made up, causing a warm debate which ran over two months, as it happened, in both houses at the same time.
Clay's republican principles revolted at a curtailment of the right of petition. His old anti-slavery sentiments, too, were still strong enough to make him desire that anti-slavery petitions be treated at least with respect. He therefore opposed Calhoun's motion not to receive them. Neither did Buchanan's proposition to receive them, but to reject the prayer without consideration, find favor in his eyes. At the same time, true to his compromising disposition, he would not encourage the abolition movement by advocating the reference of the memorials to a committee with a view to a report thereon, to further discussion, and to legislation. A motion simply to receive the petitions was carried by a large majority, Clay voting in the affirmative. As to the further disposition to be made of them, he preferred a middle course between their immediate and simple rejection and their reference to a committee. He moved an amendment to Buchanan's motion which, while rejecting the prayer, would at least give polite reasons for the rejection, and also define his position on the subject of slavery in the District of Columbia. The amendment recited that "the Senate, without now affirming or denying the constitutional power of Congress to grant the prayer of the petition, (i. e., to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia), believes, even supposing the power uncontested, which it is not, that the exercise of it is inexpedient: 1, because the people of the District of Columbia have not themselves petitioned for the abolition of slavery within the District; 2, because the states of Virginia and Maryland would be injuriously affected by it as long as the institution of slavery continues to subsist within their jurisdictions, and neither of these states would probably have ceded to the United States the territory forming the District, if it had anticipated the adoption of any such measure, without expressly guarding against it; and 3, because the injury which would be inflicted by exciting alarm and apprehension in the states tolerating slavery, and by disturbing the harmony between them and the other members of the confederacy, would far exceed any practical benefit which could possibly flow from the abolition of slavery within the District."
This weak device, throwing doubt upon everything and dealing in unwarranted historical assumptions, dissatisfied both sides and found no support. Clay saw himself compelled to vote for Buchanan's motion unamended. But, while he himself held that Congress did have the constitutional power to abolish slavery in the District, the views expressed in his amendment remained the burden of his utterances during his whole public life, whenever the subject came up for discussion.
In the House of Representatives the presentation of anti-slavery memorials bore still more significant fruit. It started John Quincy Adams in his heroic struggle for the freedom of petition, which for a long time engaged the wondering attention of the whole people. It led to the adoption of the "gag rules," designed to cut off all discussion about slavery. So there was slavery as the enemy of free debate in Congress. It caused all the agitation that the abolitionists might have wished to bring on.
But the slavery question appeared in a still more startling shape. The circulation of tracts and periodicals by the abolition societies provoked an outcry from the South that those publications were calculated to incite the slaves to insurrection. On July 29, 1835, the post-office of Charleston in South Carolina was invaded by a mob, who took out what anti-slavery documents they could find and destroyed them. A public meeting, at which the clergy of all denominations appeared in a body, ratified these proceedings. The postmaster of Charleston assumed the right to prevent the circulation of such literature, and wrote to the postmaster at New York, Samuel L. Gouverneur, to stop its transmission. Gouverneur asked the Postmaster General for instructions. The Postmaster General, Amos Kendall, late of the Kitchen Cabinet, answered that the law had not vested any power in his department to exclude any species of newspapers or pamphlets from the mail, for such a power would be "fearfully dangerous;" but if any postmaster took the responsibility of stopping those "inflammatory papers," he would "stand justified in that step before the country and all mankind." His instructions to the postmaster at Charleston were of the same tenor. It was patriotism, he said, to disregard the law if its observance would produce a public danger. "Entertaining these views," he added, "I cannot sanction, and will not condemn, the step you have taken."
In August, 1835, the Anti-slavery Society of Massachusetts published an "Address to the Public" in which, in the most emphatic terms, it protested against the "calumny" that it circulated incendiary publications among the slaves, or had any desire to incite them to revolt. But the charge was nevertheless repeated and believed. The Southern mind had become so sensitive upon this subject that a mere declaration that all men were born free and equal was in some Slave States condemned as "incendiary."
President Jackson, in his message of December, 1835, sternly denounced the agitation carried on by the abolitionists, and suggested the passage of a law "prohibiting under severe penalties the circulation in the Southern States, through the mail, of incendiary publications intended to instigate the slaves to insurrection." This was far from satisfying Calhoun. He insisted that such a law would be unconstitutional, for the general government, including Congress, had not the right to determine what publications should be considered incendiary or not incendiary in the several states. This would concede the power of Congress to permit the circulation in the Southern States of such publications as it pleased, and thus Congress would be virtually clothed with the power of abolishing slavery in the states. The states themselves had to take care of their internal peace and security, and therefore to determine what was, and what was not, calculated to disturb that peace. The general government was simply bound to respect the measures thought necessary by the slave-holding states for their protection, and to coöperate in their execution as much as should be necessary. In other words, the Slave States had to make the law, and it was the duty of the general government to help in enforcing it. If the general government failed to perform this duty, the Slave States must look to themselves for their protection as independent communities. This was Calhoun's reasoning.
Accordingly he offered a bill providing that it should be unlawful for any postmaster knowingly to deliver to any one any printed paper touching slavery in any state or territory where such publications were prohibited, and that any offending postmaster should be instantly removed; and that postmasters should from time to time advertise such publications, when received, for withdrawal by the senders, and destroy the detained mail matter if not withdrawn in one month. Thus slavery appeared as the enemy of the security of the mails.
Another hot slavery discussion followed. Calhoun's reasoning and bill were riddled with objections. It was eloquently set forth that here Calhoun was pushing his state-rights doctrines to an extreme never before heard of; that he attempted to make the laws of Slave States, encroaching upon the freedom of the press, laws of the United States "by adoption;" that his bill subjected all mail matter to a censorship by the postmasters, constituting them the judges of other people's right of property in their papers, and so on.
Clay was especially outspoken. With great vigor he denounced the bill as uncalled for by public sentiment, unconstitutional, and dangerous to the liberties of the people. The action of the Postmaster General had alarmed him. Anti-slavery publications, he thought, did no harm while they were in the post-office. Only their circulation outside of it could have the dangerous effects complained of; and when they were so circulated in the Slave States "it was perfectly competent for the state authorities to apply the remedy." But he could find nothing in the Constitution authorizing a federal law like the one proposed. He recognized the evil caused by incendiary publications. "But," he exclaimed, "it is too often in the condemnation of a particular evil that we are urged on to measures of dangerous tendency."
He hoped "never to see the time when the general government should undertake to correct the evil by such remedies." He declared himself opposed to it "from the first to the last." There was a tone of deep anxiety in the words of the old republican, whose heart began to be profoundly disquieted by the fear that in protecting slavery the free institutions of the country might suffer great and permanent harm.
Calhoun's bill was defeated in the Senate by a vote of 25 to 19. Of Northern Senators, only Buchanan and the two Senators from New York, Tallmadge and Silas Wright, voted for it. Van Buren, the Vice-President, manifested his approval of it by his casting vote on some preliminary questions. He was the representative "Northern man with Southern principles." Seven Southern Senators, led by Clay, voted against the bill.
A few days after this vote, George Tucker wrote to Clay that shortly before James Madison's death — Madison died on January 28, 1836 — he had had a conversation with that veteran statesman about "the then agitating question of the efforts of the abolitionists," and that Madison had remarked: "Clay has been so successful in his compromising other disputes, I wish he could fall upon some plan of compromising this, and then all parties (or enough of all parties) might unite and make him President." It was just at that time, while listening to the extreme sentiments of Calhoun, that Clay expressed his first doubts as to the wisdom of his tariff compromise of 1833. But, as was usually the case with him, he did not reason out the why and wherefore to the end; he never learned that no compromise about slavery could last; and so he was indeed, as Madison hoped he would be, ready to compromise again whenever an occasion came.
After having given his vote against a measure which slavery demanded for its security, he had to play a part in the progress of another scheme which the slave power pushed forward for the same object, — the scheme having in view the eventual annexation of Texas.
Clay's "record" as to Texas was very curious. In 1820, as a member of the House of Representatives, he fiercely attacked the Monroe administration for having given up Texas in the Florida treaty, taking the ground that Texas was included in the Louisiana purchase, and therefore belonged to the United States. In March, 1827, when he was Secretary of State under John Quincy Adams, he instructed Poinsett, the envoy of this Republic to Mexico, to propose to the Mexican government the purchase of Texas for a sum of money; and, judging from the entries in Adams's Diary, the scheme was Clay's own. It was that Western ambition which wanted the Republic to spread and to occupy a "big country." Now Clay was at the head of the Committee on Foreign Relations in the Senate, and the subject presented itself to him in an entirely new aspect.
Texas had in the mean time had a history. In the early part of this century American adventurers cast their eyes upon that country, and in 1819 one James Long attempted to make Texas an "independent republic." In 1821 an American citizen, Moses Austin, having obtained a large grant of land in Texas from the Mexican government, founded an American colony there, which, in its growth, recruited itself mainly from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The settlers brought their slaves with them, and continued to do so notwithstanding a decree of the Mexican Congress, issued in July, 1824, which forbade the importation into Mexican territory of slaves from foreign countries, and notwithstanding the Constitution adopted the same year, which declared free all children thereafter born of slaves.
About that time the slave-holders in the United States began to see in Texas an object of peculiar interest to them. The Missouri Compromise, admitting Missouri as a Slave State and opening to slavery all that part of the Louisiana purchase south of 36° 30', seemed at first to give a great advantage to the slave power. But gradually it became apparent that the territory thus opened to slavery was, after all, too limited for the formation of many new Slave States, while the area for the building up of Free States was much larger. More territory for slavery was therefore needed to maintain the balance of power between the two sections.
At the same time the Mexican government, growing alarmed at the unruly spirit of the American colony in Texas, attached Texas to Coahuila, the two to form one state. The constitution of Coahuila forbade the importation of slaves; and in 1829 the Republic of Mexico, by the decree of September 15, emancipated all the slaves within its boundaries. Then the American Slave States found themselves flanked in the southwest by a power not only not in sympathy with slavery, but threatening to become dangerous to its safety. The maintenance of slavery in Texas, and eventually the acquisition of that country, were thenceforth looked upon by the slave-holding interest in this Republic as matters of very great importance, and the annexation project was pushed forward systematically.
First the American settlers in Texas refused to obey the Mexican decree of emancipation, and, in order to avoid an insurrection, the Mexican authorities permitted it to be understood that the decree did not embrace Texas. Thus one point was gained. Then the Southern press vigorously agitated the necessity of enlarging the area of slavery, while an interest in the North was created by organizing three land companies in New York, which used pretended Mexican land grants in Texas as the basis of issues of stock, promising to make people rich overnight, and thus drawing Texas within the circle of American business speculation. In 1830 President Jackson made another attempt to purchase Texas, offering five millions, but without success. The Mexican government, scenting the coming danger, prohibited the immigration of Americans into Texas. This, however, had no effect.
The American colony now received a capable and daring leader in Sam Houston of Tennessee, who had served with General Jackson in the Indian wars. He went to Texas for the distinct object of wresting that country from Mexico. There is reason for believing that President Jackson was not ignorant of his intentions. Revolutionary convulsions in Mexico gave the American colonists welcome opportunities for complaints, which led to collisions with the Mexican authorities. General Santa Anna, who by a successful revolutionary stroke had put himself at the head of the Mexican government, attempted to reduce the unruly Americans to obedience. In 1835 armed conflicts took place, in which the Americans frequently had the advantage. The Texans declared their independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836. The declaration was signed by about sixty men, among whom there were only two of Mexican nationality. The constitution of the new republic confirmed the existence of slavery under its jurisdiction, and surrounded it with all possible guaranties.
Meanwhile Santa Anna advanced at the head of a Mexican army to subdue the revolutionists. Atrocious butcheries marked the progress of his soldiery. On March 6 the American garrison of the Alamo was massacred, and on the 27th a large number of American prisoners at Goliad met a like fate. These atrocities created a great excitement in the United States. But on April 21 the Texans under Houston, about eight hundred strong, inflicted a crushing defeat upon Santa Anna's army of fifteen hundred men, at San Jacinto, taking Santa Anna himself prisoner. The captive Mexican President concluded an armistice with the victorious Texans, promising the evacuation of the country, and to procure the recognition of its independence; but this the Mexican Congress refused to ratify.
The government of the United States maintained, in appearance, a neutral position. President Jackson had indeed instructed General Gaines to march his troops into Texas, if he should see reason to apprehend Indian incursions. Gaines actually crossed the boundary line, and was recalled only after the Mexican Minister at Washington had taken his passports. The organization of reinforcements for Houston, however, had been suffered to proceed on American soil without interference.
The news of the battle of San Jacinto was received in the United States, especially in the South, with a jubilant shout. Meetings were held and petitions sent to Congress urging the prompt recognition of Texas as an independent state. On May 23, Walker of Mississippi presented such a petition in the Senate, and moved its reference to the Committee on Foreign Relations. Calhoun, who had the necessity of increasing the number of Slave States constantly in his mind, pronounced himself at once not only in favor of the immediate recognition of the independence of Texas, but of its annexation to the United States. Webster said that, if the people of Texas had established a government de facto, it was the duty of the United States to recognize it. He was alarmed by rumors "that attempts would be made by some European government to obtain a cession of Texas from the government of Mexico." It has frequently been observed in the history of this Republic that those who agitate for a territorial acquisition spread the rumor that European powers are coveting it. It is strange that Webster should have failed to penetrate that shallow device.
Clay was in no haste. Nearly four weeks later he reported from the Committee on Foreign Relations a resolution "that the independence of Texas ought to be acknowledged by the United States whenever satisfactory information shall be received that it has in successful operation a civil government capable of performing the duties and fulfilling the obligations of an independent power." This resolution he introduced by a speech in which he warned against precipitate action, and expressed the hope that further and more authentic information would soon render the recognition of Texan independence proper. But in his utterances there was nothing of that glow which had animated his speeches for the recognition of the South American republics and in behalf of Greece. He coldly suggested that it did not seem at all necessary to act upon his resolution at the present session. The reason for the conspicuous lack of ardor in all he said on this subject may without difficulty be conjectured. The man who had always shared the Western passion for territorial aggrandizement, and at a former period had strenuously insisted that Texas belonged to the United States, now was reluctant to touch it be cause at heart he recoiled from augmenting the political power of slavery. The very thing which made the acquisition of Texas so desirable to Calhoun, secretly alarmed Clay. His subsequent conduct with regard to the annexation of Texas fully justifies this explanation of his attitude.
His resolution, slightly amended, passed the Senate by a unanimous vote. The House took similar action a few days later, and there the matter rested for the time being. But the course of the administration in its dealings with Mexico can scarcely be explained on any other theory than that it desired to bring on a war between the two countries. The observations of the Mexican Minister concerning the aid openly given to the Texans by American citizens, were treated with a coolness little short of contemptuous irony. Claims were presented to the Mexican government, and satisfaction demanded, in language so insulting that, as John Quincy Adams said, "no true-hearted citizen of this Union" could witness the proceeding "without blushing for his country." In his annual message of December, 1836, Jackson saved appearances by adopting a comparatively temperate tone. But the number of American claims against Mexico, some of which were gotten up with the most scandalous disregard of decency, constantly increased, and with it the bullying virulence of the demand. In December, 1836, the American chargé d'affaires at Mexico precipitately took his passports and left for the United States. In February, 1837, President Jackson, in a special message to Congress, declared that Mexico, by neglecting to satisfy these claims, had given just cause for war, but that, mindful of the embarrassed condition of that country, he would recommend that another and last chance for atonement be given it, and that an act be passed authorizing the President to resort to reprisals in case of refusal.
The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, which then had been reorganized with Buchanan as chairman, reported a resolution substantially confirming these views of the President concerning the conduct of Mexico, but providing that, in case satisfaction were not speedily given, Congress should then promptly consider what measures might be "required by the honor of the nation." Clay made a speech plainly betraying the misgivings which disturbed his mind. He could see no cause for war with Mexico; he considered the abrupt departure of the American chargé from Mexico harsh and unnecessary; he thought that the case against Mexico was by no means so strong as it was represented; he was for justice and moderation; however, he would vote for the resolution reported by the committee. When, a few days later, another resolution was acted upon, declaring that the condition of things in Texas was now such as to entitle that country to recognition as an independent state, Clay's name did not appear among those voting.