John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, and the Compromise of 1850

Among the half a dozen men in Congress, the utterance of whose sentiments, in times of deep excitement, command the national attention, and exert in all sections of the country a strong influence over the public mind, for good or evil, Mr. Calhoun stands prominent. Yet he has no breadth of character, no greatness of spirit, no generosity of purpose, no comprehensiveness of view. No man was ever more sectional in his feelings and aims. In no aspect does he present an American front; he is a Southern man as against the North; the welfare of the South, not of the republic, is the object of his solicitude; the extension and perpetuity of slavery, not the enlargement and preservation of liberty, are the ends of his public labors. To be simply an American; to go, in the grandiloquent language of Mr. Webster, for our country, our whole country, and nothing but our country—or, in the profligate declaration of Mr. Winthrop, for our country, however bounded—is to present to the world a very small pattern of a man; but to be, in affection, interest, honor, absorbed by a fractional portion of the land of one’s nativity, to the utter unconsciousness of any other relations or duties, is a reduction to pigmean littleness. Intellectually, it is universally conceded that Mr. Calhoun is much above mediocrity; but a strong intellect, miserably perverted, is neither an object of admiration, nor creditable to its possessor; certainly, it is a calamity to the race. The real dimensions of a man are to be known by the size of his heart, rather than by the volume of his brain. But where or what is the heart of John C. Calhoun[]? Who has felt its warmth? who can testify to its pulsation? who perceives in it any vitality? There is no blood in him; he is as cold as a corpse. He is made of iron, not flesh; he is hybridous, not natural. There never has been his match or parallel on earth, in his consecration as a public man to the hideous system of chattel slavery—its safety, advancement, perpetuation. His statesmanship is nothing better, nothing less, than demonship. He is demonized by a principle or passion that destroys all human affinity, and saps the foundation of all morality. He believes, and acts in accordance with that belief, that it is better to reign in hell than serve in heaven. Damnation suits his taste and temperament, he being uppermost among the damned, invested with full powers of mastery. Where there are no chains, no torments, no enforced degradation, no contempt of moral obligation, he could not, and would not dwell at ease. Universal peace, equality, purity, happiness, would be to him an intolerable state of society. Like Satan, as described in Milton’s Paradise Lost, he exclaims—

Farewell, happy fields
Where joy for ever dwells! hail, horrors! hail,
Infernal world! and thou, profoundest hell,
Receive thy new possessor! One, who brings
A mind not to be chang’d by place, or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what should I be, all but less than he
Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; the Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy; will not drive us hence;
Here we may reign secure; and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition, though in hell.

—The beams of the sun of liberty are as hateful to him as were those of the natural sun to Lucifer, after his overthrow:—

O thou! that with surpassing glory crown’d
Look’st from thy sole dominion like the god
Of this new world; at whose sight all the stars
Hide their diminish’d heads; to thee I call,
But with no friendly voice, and add thy name,
O sun! to tell thee how I hate thy beams,
That bring to my remembrance from what state
I fell; how glorious once above thy sphere;
Till pride and worse ambition threw me down,
Warring in heaven against heaven’s matchless King.

For three centuries, chattel slavery has had its advocates and defenders; but rather as a temporary expedient than as a permanent system. Few persons, of any note, have been so lost to shame as to vindicate it as in itself right, and worthy of perpetuity. Washington, Patrick Henry, Jefferson, all the distinguished men of the South identified with the times that tried men’s souls, invariably deplored its existence as an evil, and contemplated its gradual but certain extirpation. But Mr. Calhoun—in utter disregard for testimonies like these, in absolute contempt of the self-evident truths set forth in the Declaration of Independence, in bold defiance of the sentiments of a world still low in its estimate of human liberty, in violence of all the instincts of his nature—asserts it to be a blessing, the noblest of all institutions, the source of national prosperity, the corner-stone of the temple of republican freedom!! Living, he contends for it as though existence without it would be insupportable; and dying, he is resolved to bequeath it to posterity as the richest legacy that can be given! Is this unadulterated wickedness or downright insanity? If he is a sane man, on this subject; if his brain is not diseased to an extent that destroys accountability; then he is among the wickedest of men—of his father, the devil, whose work he delights to do. His conscience is seared as with a hot iron. In point of cruelty, he is more to be abhorred than Caligula; on the score of tyranny, he is worse than Pharaoh. His villanies are innumerable and stupendous. He commits atrocities on a gigantic scale. He is not merely an adulterer, a thief, a barbarian, an oppressor, a man-stealer, in an individual sense, on a private scale, but comprehensively, multitudinously, by wholesale. He is not to be judged by the number of slaves actually on his plantation, under his special treatment. As the shameless robber of their rights, the remorseless foe to their emancipation and improvement, he is to be ranked as a criminal of no ordinary dye. But he goes for the enslavement of millions of his race, and their posterity to the end of time; and whatever that bondage requires—or whips, or chains, or instruments of torture, or bloodhounds, or merciless penal laws,—for its unimpaired exercise, he is ready to advocate and enforce. He is destitute of virtue; for he denies to these millions the marriage institution, and enforces universal prostitution. He is without natural affection; for his is in favor of a wholesale and retail traffic in human flesh, and sells the babes of mothers as readily as the progeny of swine. He is fraudulent to the last degree; keeping back the hire of the laborers who reap down his fields, and plundering them of every possession. His impiety cannot be transcended; for to his miserable victims he says,—I am God, and beside me there is none else—and to the command to let the oppressed go free, he says, in the language of the Egyptian tyrant, Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice, to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.

If, on the other hand, Mr. Calhoun is diseased on this subject to an insane degree, and so is not to be held accountable for his sayings and doings, then his proper place is in an Insane Asylum, and not in the Senate of the United States,—though it is true, since the addition of Foote and Clemens to that body, the Senate has partaken largely of the characteristics of Bedlam. But this excuse is not to be gravely urged, and therefore Mr. Calhoun, in a right moral estimate, is deserving the condemnation we have bestowed upon him.

On our first page, we have given a large portion of the speech of Mr. Calhoun, (and next week we shall publish the remainder,) which, in consequence of his feeble state of health, was read in the Senate, at his request, on the 4th instant. If we had time, we would not room to notice it at length in our present number; but its sum and substance are easily stated in a few words.

He bitterly complains, (and here he seems to give plausible evidence of insanity,) that while the North and the South, at the adoption of the Constitution, had almost an equal population, and an equal division of the States, the North has since been rapidly distancing the South, in point of numbers, political strength, prosperity, &c. &c., so that the equilibrium is lost, on which alone the Union can be maintained!! This striking disparity between the two sections he perversely declares to be owing to the preponderance of Northern influence in the management of the government; whereas, it is merely the difference between free labor and slave labor; and, moreover, it is notorious that the government has been wholly controlled by the Slave Power for the last fifty years.

How can the Union be preserved? Only by stopping the anti-slavery agitation, and keeping Liberty within the dimensions of the Procrustean bedstead of Slavery!! What can be more rational than this? what more easily effected? It is a demand for a repeal of the law of gravitation, and the extinction of the human mind!

Tyrants, in vain ye trace the wizard ring;
In vain ye limit Mind’s unwearied spring!
What! can ye lull the winged winds asleep,
Arrest the rolling world, or chain the deep?
No—the wild wave contemns your sceptered hand:
It rolled not back when Canute gave command!

Let the People Speak

What if Daniel Webster has betrayed the cause of liberty, bent his supple knees anew to the Slave Power, and dishonored the State which he was sent to Congress faithfully to represent? Is he Massachusetts—and as he moves, is she to follow, even to the lowest depth of moral degradation? no—he is only one of eight hundred thousand, many of whom are incomparably his superior, if not intellectual ability, at least in all those moral qualities and generous affections which bless and preserve society. On the great question of slavery extension or slavery prohibition, now before the country, the common people—the farmers, mechanics, and working classes generally—are as capable of forming their own opinions, each for himself, as Daniel Webster or John C. Calhoun. It is for them to speak and act with promptness at this crisis, (when so many public men are yielding to the power of corruption,) in a manner worthy of the glorious cause of liberty. Let it be shown, on their part, by a movement almost as rapid as that of the lightning of heaven, that Mr. Webster receives no endorsement at their hands; that he has not spoken to their sentiments; and that they regard him as worthy of official censure. To facilitate such a movement, the following memorial to the Legislature has been drawn up for signatures, not in condemnation of his whole speech, as such, (though it has not a redeeming feature in it,) but in reference to two or three points on which the people of Massachusetts, without distinction of party, are overwhelmingly united in sentiment. Let this memorial be quickly circulated, signed, and presented to the Legislature; and we trust that that body will fearlessly discharge its duty by responding to the prayer of the memorialists, in an emphatic manner.