Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/355

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CHAPTER XXI

Political Writing Since 1850

THE year 1850 was a landmark in American political history. In September the Great Compromise was enacted. It tempered the slavery controversy and checked impending secession. To abide by the measure or to reject it was the issue in state campaigns, especially in the cotton states, during 1851. There, and also in the North and the West, the Whigs worked intensely for popular support of the compromise. In fact, they seem to have spent their strength in the cause, and when the country accepted "the finality of the compromise" they were unable to raise a new issue, and their organization rapidly went to pieces after 1852. In the meantime a change was taking place in the personnel of political leadership. Calhoun[1] died before the compromise bill became a law, Clay[2] and Webster[3] in 1852. A number of men of less distinction but of invaluable service retired from politics about the same time: Van Buren in 1848, likewise Benton, Winthrop of Massachusetts, Ewing of Ohio, Foote of Mississippi, and Berrien of Georgia in 1851. With the death or retirement of these men the sentiment for union which they had fostered, declined. Among those who took their places partizanship was supreme, and until the advent of Lincoln originality and sincerity were almost totally lacking. It is not surprising, therefore, that for two decades after 1850 political thought and discussion centred around inherited issues relating to sectionalism and nationality.

In the South the philosophy and defence of slavery and of a society based on inequalities among its members became the dominating theme. The discussion had begun a generation earlier with the memorable debates in the Virginia Legislature

  1. See Book II, Chap. XV.
  2. Ibid.
  3. See Book II, Chap. XVI.