The Way to Break Down a Political Party

The Way to Break Down a Political Party (1847)

There is no surer method of destroying a political party than that of keeping it by any sort of management from freely expressing and following out its opinions. The strength of a party lies in the earnestness and sincerity with which its doctrines are maintained, and the energy of impulse by which it seeks to reduce them to practice. Strip it of these, and you divest it of what constitutes its life. No party, which is muzzled by the arts of those who seek to act as its leaders, can have any moral force in the community. It has then no enthusiasm, no enterprise, no energy.

The successful attempt of the Conservatives and their allies in the Syracuse Convention to prevent an expression of the views entertained by an immense majority of the Democratic party in this State, concerning one of the great political questions of the day, that question which the Southern Statesmen declare to be “paramount to all others,” was an act of the grossest treachery, even in a mere party view. It was an attempt to wrest from the people of the Democratic party one of their great and cherished purposes, and unless something is done to retrieve the consequences of that step, will leave us utterly weak, defenceless, and a prey to our political adversaries.

National Anti-Slavery Standard was the official weekly newspaper of the American Anti-Slavery Society, an abolitionist society founded in 1833 by William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur Tappan to spread their movement across the nation with printed materials. Frederick Douglass was a key leader of this society and often addressed meetings at its New York City headquarters.
The Democrats of this State, took, long ago, their stand upon the question of opening free territory to Slavery. The Democratic Representatives in Congress from this State, with but one or two exceptions, and those insignificant ones, voted for the Wilmot Proviso: and even they who voted against it, professed to be friendly to its principle whenever the territory should be acquired. The people of New York warmly approved of the doings of their Representatives, and supported them by emphatic resolutions, adopted by public meetings. The Democracy of New York had taken its ground and declared its course on this question.

The same party it seems, is now expected to turn a short corner. A power from without is applied to fashion our politics after the Southern pattern. All that we have said, we are by-and-by to unsay—silence at first, and then retraction. The gag was applied at the Syracuse Convention; and as soon as the patient is a little tractable, his jaws are to be opened, and he is to be made to swallow Mr. Burt’s compromise, lately adopted by Mr. Buchanan.

A party which allows itself to be treated in this manner, which abandons a high and noble ground, taken with the sympathies of all the best minds of the North in its favour, and abandons it for no other reason than that it is displeasing to certain people in other States, claiming the right to enforce political uniformity—signs its own death-warrant. The views of the people are not changed; if the political leaders change theirs, the people will not follow them; the apostates will be simply disgraced and deserted. The Washington Union refers to the late Democratic Conventions in Connecticut and Massachusetts, in which resolutions against the extension of Slavery to free territory were rejected, as examples of the popular feeling in those States. Nothing can be more fallacious; the people of the Democratic party in both these States are enemies to the extension of Slavery.— The resolutions were not rejected by any act of theirs— it was a proceeding procured by influence from without, In both those States the Democratic party is emasculated by it—unnerved, disheartened, and shorn of the moral strength that arises from generous seal, the sense of freedom, and sincerity of purpose.

The Union talks of the distracted condition of the Democratic party in the State. No small part of the blame for this must be laid at the door of that print.— The Democratic party here were last Winter united on this question; the expression of public opinion against the extension of Slavery was clear and universal. They would have been united still; the Conservatives, a mere handful, would have respected the general sentiment, if the Union had not given them a new article for their political creed, and sought to make the District of Columbia the arbiter of the politics of New-York.

We shall do what we can at the Herkimer Convention to redress the mischief which has been done. We shall endeavour to keep with us those who respect consistency —those who look upon the white man’s resolution as involving important issues, both of right and policy— those who look upon it as a great moral question—those who look upon it as a question of religious obligations— those who are not accustomed to tack and veer in the opening at the dictates of a leader. Those men, we are determined shall not be driven from our side.

The Boston Whig has been publishing a series of articles on the Springfield Convention. We make an extract from the last:

The Pittsfield Eagle remarks that the speeches of Mr. Winthrop were much applauded, particularly by the Boston delegates. To this, applause we know of no one disposed to raise the smallest objection, had the persons alluded to confined themselves within that limit. But it was a matter of remark at the time, even in the Convention itself, that not content with boisterous expressions of approbation of speakers whom they favoured, they manifested extreme unwillingness to listen with patience to anything that might be said on the other side. Some of them hissed Mr. Adams, it is true, but a little palliation for that may be found in the fact that a part of what he said severely tried their temper. The same apology cannot be made for the manner in which they sneered at Mr. Summer, positively hissed Mr. Palfrey, trying at the same time by noise and tumult to deter him from speaking at all, and attempted absolutely to drown the voice of Mr. Phillips in loud cries for the question. We are gratified by the reflection that all this kind of action was strictly confined to one side of the house, and that although some passages of Mr. Winthrop’s speech, (not to speak of Mr. Webster’s,) were quite as offensive to portions of the audience as anything that was said during the day, there was no manifestation whatsoever of disapprobation or even of impatience. Even when the President twice gave to Mr. Winthrop the floor when it belonged to others, for the purpose of making explanations which turned out to be speeches, there was no violation of the rules of Parliamentary courtesy. Neither did one of the minority complain that his rights were not protected as they should have been by the presiding officer, although the fact was felt by nearly all of them, and by many of the listeners besides.

The question was taken upon Mr. Palfrey’s resolution at a late hour, and when the Convention was weary and anxious to be dissolved. A statement has gone the rounds of the papers that it was lost by a large majority. We believe this to be a mistake, caused in a great degree by the rapid manner in which the question was put by the President. The vote was taken by show of hands, and as the negative was put so immediately after the hands first raised were not withdrawn when the last were called for, it certainly looked as if there were a great majority on one side or the other, it was hard to tell which. The President called it in the negative, and it was too late to dispute it with him with any chance of success. But as a proof of the effect which his mode of action produced, we can say, that to the last minute there were quiet and respectable country members going around the hall inquiring what had become of Mr. Palfrey’s , and supposing that it had passed.

If we may be allowed to express our opinion, it would be that under the effect of the vehement party appeals of Mr. Winthrop, of Boston, the motion was lost by a small majority. That majority, as well as the one in the morning, was much less than the number of the Boston delegation which entered into it. All the opposition made came from the Boston members. Thus is again remarkably verified the assertion which we made at the time of the primary meeting in this city, to wit, that there is no earnest support of the Wilmot Proviso among the Whigs of Boston. If there had been, it is not hazarding much to say, that Mr. Palfrey’s resolution would have been adopted almost unanimously.

On Mr. Palfrey’s resolution, the Boston Courier remarks:

Mr. Palfrey’s resolution is likely to become as celebrated as the Wilmot Proviso. Although rejected by the State Convention at Springfield, and frequently derided, and treated with contemptuous mockery by some of the Whig journals, it has been adopted, substantially if not literally, in most of the County Conventions throughout the Commonwealth. The sentiment which is involved in it, we believe, is the prevailing sentiment of the great mass of the people in the interior—at least of a large majority of the Whigs. It will soon be the prevailing if not the overwhelming sentiment of New-England, and, we trust, of all the free States.

Source: National Anti-Slavery Standard – October 28, 1847

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