The History of New York State
Book XII, Chapter 7, Part 5

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

Walworth and O'Conor were at least quite in agreement on one point--the new Constitution was an atrocious blunder. Walworth, by no means a great chancellor, had been legislated out of office, seeing that the ratified Constitution had abolished his court, Chancery, but Walworth was not popular in the State, and O'Conor was too vigorous as a lawyer to attract the popular fancy.

The Whigs of the State saw opportunity in the division of the local Democrats. Because of it they had been able to elect Young, improving their legislative strength in the next year. Now, it seemed, they would do better notwithstanding the defection of some Whigs. Thurlow Weed controlled the Whig National convention in the same masterly way he had shown in other New York affairs. He had set his mind upon having Zachary Taylor as the Whig standard bearer, particularly because he saw the Democrats would be glad to have the general at the head of their own ticket. Many Whigs who had supported the Wilmot Proviso failed to see how they could conscientiously support Taylor, a southern slave owner. Weed showed them the way. They should think of Taylor as a soldier. So the soldier became the candidate, with Millard Fillmore, of New York, as his running partner. Fillmore owed his nomination to the ingenious manner in which John A. collier, of Binghamton, put forward his claims to consideration. He took the convention by storm at a time when they would most feel a storm--after a period of insipid calm, in which it seemed that nobody wanted the Vice-Presidential place. Governor Young had, indeed, secretly worked hard for the honor of taking on harness with Taylor; but Weed did not like him. Young was even refused re-nomination for the Governorship--Hamilton fish, the Lieutenant-Governor, was the Whig choice.

Hamilton Fish was a man of sterling qualities, and was very popular. Those who analyzed his public acts could clearly see that Fish cared not so much for the advancement of himself as for the welfare of his party. Fish was not yet in the forties, and had almost a generation of public activity before him. He became Governor, #20 later went to the Untied States Senate, and finally into Cabinet office under President Grant. In this early year of his public life Greeley wrote of Hamilton Fish as follows: "Wealthy in life, and accepting office with no other aspiration than that of making power subserve the common good of his fellow citizens, Hamilton Fish justly and eminently enjoys the confidence and esteem of all who know him." #21

The polling showed that Van Buren received more votes then Cass. This was some satisfaction to the Barnburners. Taylor, however, carried the State and, therefore, the Nation. Reuben H. Walworth was third on the list for the Governorship; and in the Legislature the Whigs secured a majority of 104 (on joint ballot). The Free-Soil Revolt had indeed almost swept away the Democratic party in New York, (the new Assembly being made up of 108 Whigs, 14 Free Soilers and 6 Hunkers) and had robbed he Democrats of the Presidency.

The Whig Party Totters and Falls-In 1849 difference of opinion on the slavery issue threatened to weaken the Whig party in New York State. William A. Dix was almost at the end of his term as United States Senator. Seward wanted the office, Collier, by his service to Fillmore, seemed to have merited it, and there were Whigs who did not want either. Hamilton fish, Washington Hunt, and others were offered the Senatorship. The main wish seemed to be to break the hold of Thurlow Weed had upon the State. "I wish you could see the letters I Get," wrote Hunt to Weed. "If I wanted to excite your sympathy, they would be sufficient. Some say Seward will be elected. More say that neither Seward not collier will be chosen, but a majority are going for a third man, by way of compromise, and my consent is invoked to be number three." #22 The opposition element tried to discredit both Seward and Collier, by forging a letter in which Seward condemned Collier. Greeley, who had been elected to Congress, but without any apparent diminution of his editorial output, stated in a "Tribune" editorial, on January 24,1849: We care not who may be the nominee. We shall gladly coincide in the fair expression of the will of the majority of the party, but we kindly caution those who disturb and divide us, that their conduct will result only in the merited retribution which an indignant people will visit upon those who prostitute their temporary power to personal pique or selfish purposes."

Seward had very many enemies. He was not much concerned about the strife that was dividing the Whigs of his state; at least, he was not quite sure then that he would not prefer to give his time exclusively to his law practice. Weed was apparently determined to make him Senator; and Collier's friends were determined to break both Weed and Seward. They might as well saved themselves the trouble. A day or so before the Legislative caucus, Weed contrived to get the Whig legislators together. Next day, the Senate Whigs in caucus voted, twelve to eleven, to go into joint meeting with the Assembly Whigs. The eleven were opponents of Seward, needless to say. They declared that Seward's election would irritate the South, and divide the Northern Whigs. However, the majority of the New York Whig Senators caucused with the Whig Assemblymen, and an informal ballot showed eighty-eight votes for Seward out of one hundred and twenty-two. Upon joint ballot three days later Seward received one hundred and twenty-one of one hundred and thirty Whig votes.

The two principal New York Whigs who came to be in Washington could not join forces very effectively. The question of patronage was a bone of contention between Vice-President Fillmore and Senator Seward. Fillmore dispensed some patronage that Seward knew nothing of until the appointments came before the Senate for confirmation. This was fundamentally the cause of the estrangement that was to exist between these two great New Yorkers for many years; Fillmore's resentment being keen after Weed prevailed upon President Taylor to transfer all patronage to Seward. Many years were to pass before Fillmore forgave Weed.

It does not seem that Seward liked his responsibility. "I detest and loathe this running to the President every day to protest against this man or that," wrote Seward. Nevertheless, he had great influence with Taylor, thanks mostly to the latter's gratitude to Weed, and Weed was certainly very much engrossed in the game of ousting Democratic office-holders and installing Whigs.

The Governor, Hamilton Fish, was taking very little part in this activity. Indeed, the field was very much restricted now. State patronage was largely in the hands of the people, and Weed had to find his sport in Federal patronage. The happy hunting fields of yore, i. e., of the Constitution and the appointive system, would never return, to give zest to those who lived by politics. The Governor of New York now could look forward to a comparatively uneventful term. Hamilton Fish was never a politician; he was first and foremost a civil servant, a sincere public worker. Certainly, the office of Governor would be distasteful to him under the old order, when the election of a Governor would be followed inevitably by a scramble for State patronage. Governor Fish "was a scholar and a statesman, with the loftiest of ideals, the purest and most unselfish of motives; more nearly approximating the quality of John Jay than any governor the State has thus far known." #23 He preferred to hold closely to administrative affairs, and leave the schemings of politics to politicians.

This does not mean that Hamilton fish found no pleasure in politics. In the nobler phases of politics he was ardent. In his opposition to the extension of slavery, for instance, he never once swerved. "If there be," he said, in one of his message to the Legislature, "any one subject on which the people of the State of New York approach near to unanimity of sentiment, it is in their fixed determination to resist the extension of slavery over territory now free . . . . . .I is no new declaration in behalf of the State of New York that she regards slavery as a moral, a social and a political evil. . . . . .New York loves the Union of states. She will not contemplate the possibility of its dissolution, and sees no reason to calculate the enormity of such a calamity, She also loves the cause of human freedom and sees no reason to abstain from an avowal of her attachment. While, therefore, she holds fast to the one, she will not for sake the other." In these words, ten years before the great test was put to the North, Hamilton fish interpreted accurately the fundamentals of the sincere Northerner.

All men in public life were not as steadfast as the Governor, especially when the perplexing question of slavery had to be met. It had brought the Democratic party almost to extinction in New York in 1848. The Whigs were in power, notwithstanding that the two factions--Hunker and Barnburner--of the Democratic party polled jointly a heavier vote. In the Free-Soil Revolt John Van Buren had not succeeded in his main aim--to send his father back to the White House, so John, now the acknowledged leader of the Barnburners, had to be content with smaller gleanings. When approached by Horatio Seymour, who led the hunkers and hoped that both factions might again unite, John Van Buren found himself to be not in hopeless disagreement. "We are asked to compromise our principle," he said; "The day of compromise is past; but in regard to candidates for State offices, we are still a commercial people. We will unite with out late antagonists." #24 The Barnburners, at election time in 1849, quite naturally combined with Hunkers to defeat the Whig candidates for the seven State offices. The Democrats secured four offices, but the three that went to the Whigs were the most important--those of State Comptroller, Treasurer, and Secretary. Washington Hunt, who was elected comptroller, was the most popular of all candidates, receiving a majority of almost 6,000.

The Whigs were fast nearing the quicksands which were soon to engulf them. Taylor died in the midst of the Compromise perplexities of 1859; and Millard Fillmore, now president, had to take on of three courses. He preferred to take the middle course, accepting the Compromise and signing the Fugitive Slave Law. He signed away all chance of another term as President when he put his signature to that law, and at the same time he passed sentence of death upon his own party, the Whig.

The death of Taylor and the advancement of Fillmore, Senator Seward, in one respect, was to all intents among the unemployed. He could expect Fillmore to veto all his recommendations, as to patronage. Of course, Seward was still a Senator, and was, indeed, especially busy in debate; but he must now feel himself somewhat benighted, having lost the Presidential ear. Still, his differences with Fillmore cannot for a moment explain Seward's intense anti-slavery fervor. He was always an Abolitionist at heart. In 1850 he saw that emancipation must eventually come. To threats of disunion he said: "It will then appear that the question of dissolving the Union is a complex question; that it embraces the fearful issue whether the Union shall stand and slavery be removed by gradually voluntary effort, and with compensation, or whether the Union shall be dissolved and civil war ensue, bringing on violent but complete and immediate emancipation. We are now arrived at that stage of our national progress when that crisis can be foreseen--when we must foresee it."

Seward's speech did not find any favor at all in the South, and very little in his own state. Indeed, the passing of the Compromise Act of 1850 was marked in New York State by manifestations of joy. "In New York and other cities throughout the State, flags were hoisted, salutes fired, joy bells rung, illuminations flamed at night, and speakers at mass-meetings congratulated their fellow citizens upon the wisdom of a President and a Congress that had happily averted the great peril of disunion." #25

In the Whig State Convention, which convened at that time, Seward was made the scapegoat and Fillmore the hero--at least, while the din of the opening shouting was in the ears of the delegates. As they settled down to quieter analysis, there was a more positive swing toward Seward. Radicals in the convention insisted that "the thanks of the Whig party with which he sustained those beloved principles of public policy so long cherished by the Whigs of the Empire State." More surprising still was the vote on this resolution. The Fillmore faction, which had seemed to be in control, could only gather forty to oppose the resolution, which was approved by seventy-five. The chairman, Francis Granger, and the conservatives left the hall.

Granger's silver-gray hair suggested a name for the seceders, who later were known as Silver Grays. Following a course somewhat similar to that taken by the Barnburners a few years earlier, the Silver Grays gathered in convention in October, at Utica. There seems little doubt that Fillmore was at the bottom of the trouble. Indeed, William A. Duer, a Congressman, admitted that the President ha asked him to "bolt the approval of Seward." Now, in their own convention, the Silver Grays passed resolutions that were pleasing to Fillmore. They endorsed the Fugitive Slave Bill, which, since, with good reason, has been called "the Death Knell of the Whig Party." They condemned Seward, and nominated Washington Hunt for Governor.

The Democrats who were now drawing closer together, took courage when the schism developed in the Whig lines. Barnburners and Hunkers went into joint convention, the Hunkers recognizing the preponderance of Barnburners by letter John Van Buren take the lead. Horatio Seymour was chosen as candidate for the Governorship. The Abolitionists, now distrustful of both Whig and Democratic parties, chose a candidate of their own, William L. Chaplin.

As the campaign proceeded it became obvious that a majority of both Whigs and Democrats would be glad to get away from the incessant slavery question. Seward took no part in the campaign, but this opponents charged him with preferring civil war to compromise. Weed and Greeley protested, but the average Whig and Democrat was more in accord with Daniel Webster, who called upon "all good citizens not to rekindle the flames of 'useless and dangerous controversy.'" #26 The Whigs o both Seward and Fillmore persuasion voted for Washington hunt, and many Democrats also voted for him. Had they not done so Seymour would undoubtedly have been the next Governor, Hunt's plurality being only 262. #27 Every other Democrat on the State ticket was elected, so it seems likely that Hunt drew votes from Seymour more because of his pleasing personality than of any political reason. Horace Greeley thought Washington Hunt "capable without pretension," and "animated by an anxious desire to win golden opinions by deserving them." He spoke of Seymour as "an able and agreeable lawyer of good fortune and competent speaking talent, who would make a highly respectable Governor."

The Whigs were weakened by the elections of 1850, but they still had a respectable majority in the Legislature. The Speaker of the Assembly was an exceptionally talented young journalist, Henry Jarvis Raymond, who had been an associate of Greeley, on the "New Yorker" and later on the "Tribune." Of this young man, Greeley wrote: "I never found another person, barely of age and just from his studies, who evinced so much and so versatile ability in journalism as he did. Abler and stronger men I have met; a cleverer, readier, more generally efficient journalist I never saw." Raymond was barely thirty years old when he came to the Legislature in 1850. He had passed from Greeley's employ to that of James Watson Webb, who published the "Courier and Inquirer," which, in 1860, was to become the "World." Webb, known as the "Apollo of the Press," wished to succeed Daniel S. Dickinson as United States Senator in 1851, but Raymond was one of the most active agents against his employer. The preliminary skirmishing disclosed the fact that the Legislature held very many Seward Whigs, who would not budge from their support of Hamilton Fish. The latter had been a consistent anti-slavery man, whereas Webb, like Washington Hunt, the new Governor, and the Fillmore Whigs--the Silver Grays--was willing to swallow the whole slavery question with the Fugitive Slave Law. Governor Hunt argued that it was law, and that that was the end of the controversy. Seward and Fish, and the Whigs of their mind, thought differently. There was a great tussle in the Legislature, but eventually "after an unbroken struggle of fourteen hours," Fish became Senator-elect. Another wedge had been driven into the splitting Whig timber.

The Fugitive Slave Law was unworkable. Out of 15,00 runaway slaves only four or five were recaptured within a year of the passing of the act. It was found that litigation in New York City, and many other places, cost more than the apprehended slave was worth. Moreover, public sentiment in the North was against enforcement. Northerners would like to think that the controversy had been ended by the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law; at least it would show the South that the North did not object to slave owners carrying their hunt into Northern States; but few Northerners would go out of their way to aid Southerners. Most men of the North agreed with Ralph Waldo Emerson that the Fillmore act was "a law which every one of you will break on the earliest occasion--a law which no man can obey, or abet the obeying, without loss of self-respect and forfeiture of the name of gentleman." #28 Seward continued to condemn the act. "Christendom," he wrote, "might be searched in vain for a parallel to the provisions which makes escape from bondage a crime, and which, under vigorous penalties, compel freemen to aid in the capture of slaves." Thurlow Weed showed how unworkable the act was, fundamentally. His "Evening Journal" declared that "the execution of the fugitive slave law violently convulses the foundation of society. Fugitives who have lived among us for many years cannot be seized and driven off as if they belonged to the brute creation. The attempt to recover such fugitives will prove abortive." #29

It can thus clearly be seen that slavery was, in fact, an issue superior to party. A Whig President was opposed by Northern Whigs and supported by Southern Democrats. The great Whig leaders of New York State found themselves at heart drifting farther and farther away from the standard bearer of their party. In the local conventions of 1851 both parties in New York State tried to get away from the subject altogether. There was undoubtedly a stronger group of Fillmore Whigs in New York City. they were not so much for Fillmore, as they were for cotton. They needed southern trade, and were therefore willing to accommodate the South. This faction, known as the "Cotton Whigs," upset the plans of the Seward faction in 1851, and between them, they upset the Whigs. That party secured only two of eight State offices. Especially distressing was the defeat of George W. Patterson for Comptroller. "The majorities against Patterson and his defeated associates," said the "Tribune" on November 20, "imply that no man who is recognized as a friend of Governor Seward and a condemner of the Fugitive Slave Law must be run on our State ticket hereafter, or he will be beaten by the cotton influence in this city."

The majority of New York State Whigs agreed with Hamilton fish. "A noble, glorious party had been defeated--destroyed--by its own leaders," wrote Fish to Weed. "Webster had succeeded better under Fillmore then he did under Tyler in breaking up the Whig organization and forming a Third party. I pity Fillmore. Timid, vacillating, credulous, unjustly suspicious when approached by his prejudices, he has allowed the sacrifice of that confiding party which had had not honours too high to confer upon him. It cannot be long before he will realize the tremendous mistake he has made." #30 Fillmore had already seen his mistake--if his approval of the Fugitive Slave Law might be so considered. His mistake was that he had thought more of the future of his country than of his own political prospects. However, the great Buffalonian did not "cry over spilt milk." Whigs, in national convention in 1852, denied Fillmore the party nomination, preferring Winfield Scott, but the President took the rebuff wit noble fortitude. General Scott, though a Virginian, was looked upon almost as a New Yorker, having had such conspicuous part in the military history of the State, and being, moreover, a resident. So, local pride was not grievously hurt.

The Whigs thought that they might nor, with General Scott as their head, recover the ground they had lost under Fillmore, and the New York Democrats thought that in Marcy they had a standard bearer who could defeat the Whigs altogether. The Democratic Convention was not so enthusiastic. Marcy's records as Secretary of War during the Mexican War period was not especially good. However, the New Yorker survived forty-five ballots, with a strength of ninety-seven votes at the end; so he had had staunch support. Still, Marcy's records was his undoing; and at the forty-ninth ballot the delegates stampeded to Franklin Pierce, of New Hampshire.

Fillmore accepted his defeat in convention with good graces and General Scott had his way to defeat well paved when the Whig party put into their platform the enforcement of Fillmore's Fugitive Slave Law. "This wretched platform," declared Seward, "was contrived to defeat Scott in the nomination, or to sink him in the canvass." Horace Greeley originated the phrase "Cotton Whigs" in New York City who could not vote for Scott, because they felt that the could come under the sway of Senator Seward.

The latter was probably the most hated Anti-Slavery leader in America--bitterly opposed by both South and North. "Seward had been the burden of our adversaries' song from the outset," writes Greeley, " and mercantile Whigs by thousands have ever been ready not merely to defeat but to annihilate the Whig Party if they might thereby demolish Seward." #31 Seward tried desperately to make the public realize that he would ask nothing of Scott; nevertheless, to the end, the General was looked upon as Seward's candidate. General Scott toured through New York State, and was enthusiastically received--but neither Whigs nor Democrats wanted Seward's mouthpiece in the Presidency. Anti-Slavery led only to war. So Pierce was favored, undoubtedly by very many Whigs as well as by most Democrats.

There was harmony in Democratic ranks. Martin Van Buren was glad to think that "the disturbing subject of slavery has, by the action of both the great parties of the country, been withdrawn from the canvass." Free-Soilers saw mote freedom under Pierce than under Scott. John Van Buren thought that the country "was tired of the agitation of slavery, which had ceased to be a political question. It only remained to enforce in good faith the Great compromise." #32 Democrats in general looked upon their candidate and the future with confidence; Whigs in general viewed their candidate with suspicion and the future with apprehension.

So the outcome was not hard to predict. The election showed the Scott carried only four States, Pierce having substantial majorities in twenty-seven. In New York, Horatio Seymour defeated Washington Hunt for the Governorship by 22,000 votes. #33 Democrats in the new Assembly outnumbered the Whigs by two to one; and the same percentage prevailed in congress. The Whig party, it was said, had "died of an attempt to swallow the Fugitive Slave Law." General Scott's greatest misfortune, however, seems to have been that he was linked with Seward, whose name was anathema in the South, and also to those of the North who would swallow the Compromise.

The Democrats of New York State, now in power, were not able to agree among themselves for long. Federal patronage was the main trouble. The Barnburners were favored by President Pierce, John A. Dix being offered the office of Secretary of State. Hunkers protested, however, and forced the President to withdraw the offer to Dix and give the cabinet office to Marcy. To make amends to Dix, the President promised him the mission to France, but again the opposition was too strong. Intrigue, however, only begets intrigue. There were certainly hard feelings between Hunkers and Barnburners in September, 1853, when they convened in State convention at Syracuse. Neither would give way, and a humorous situation developed. Two chairmen were appointed and sat side by side, but each ignored the other. Each faction, too, tried to blot out the presence of the other, and as concentration of mind could not accomplish this, they were forced eventually to resort to physical strength, one faction trying to oust the other from the convention hall. At last the Hunkers gave up the struggle. They left the Barnburners in possession of the hall, and at once convened, to the number of eighty-one delegates, in another hall. Each group of convened Democrats was now able to proceed smoothly with its convention business. The Hunkers nominated George W. Clinton for Secretary of State and James T. Bardy for Attorney-General; and the Barnburners gained nothing by their rowdyism. Bronson wrote: "As a lover of honesty in politics and of good order in society, I cannot approve of nominations brought about by fraud and violence. Those who introduce convicts and bullies into our convention for the purpose of controlling events must not expect their proceedings will be sanctioned by me."

Whigs tried to profit by the Democratic commotion. They met in State convention in October, and agreed upon Ogden Hoffman, "the Erskine of the American Bar," for the Attorney-Generalship. He was a much stronger candidate than Brady, and had been prominently before the public for many years. "But for indolence," wrote Greeley, "Hoffman might have been Governor or cabinet minister ere this. Everybody likes him and he always runs ahead of his ticket." Hoffman might have won by his personal popularity, even if the Hunkers and Barnburners, now known as Hards and Softs respectively, had been running in double harness. But as no harness yet made was strong enough to keep the two Democratic factions together after the Syracuse convention, the Whigs won the state elections easily.

Yet, there was no good reason for optimism; it was seen that even the Whig body was a skeleton; 240,000 Whigs had voted in 1852, but only 170,00 in 1853. Whigs had to thank Democratic style for their victory. Hard and Soft Democrats were about evenly matched, but together they could have swept away the Whigs. However, for the moment, Whigs were in clover; in the new Legislature, the Senate seated 23 Whigs, 7 Hards and 2 Softs. In the Assembly, there were 78 Whigs, 24 Hards and 24 Softs, also 2 Free Democrats.

In Washington, the great struggle to pass the Kansas-Nebraska bill through Congress was at hand. Whig and Democrat now thought as "Nebraskan" or as "Anti-Nebraskan." William H. Seward was the champion of the Anti-Slavery groups, or Anti-Nebraskans, and Stephen A. Douglas, the cause of all the commotion, led those who hoped that Nebraska would become a slave territory, made so by legislation. All New York Whig Representatives in Congress opposed the Kansas-Nebraska bill. So also did twelve of the New York Democratic Congressmen. Marcy was now so intensely opposed to the bill that he would like to have resigned from the cabinet in protest. However, the Democrats needed him in the cabinet, so he was prevailed upon to stay.

The Kansas-Nebraska "inquiry" brought together almost all Northern politicians who were fundamentally of Anti-slavery conviction. It mattered not what they were--Whig, Democrat, Free Soil Democrat, Barnburners, or what not--the great issue drew them all together, temporarily--and in this "gathering of the clans" a great National party was born. On July 6, 1854, at Jackson, Michigan, "the republican party, under whose banner the great fight was to be finished, found a birthplace."

In the Senate, Seward made a great speech. It was circulated far and wise, and impressed the North. Had Seward seized the opportunity that was before him in the fall of that year, by then recognizing, as he did a year later, that the Republican party was the logical successor of the now almost defunct Whig party, he might have gone forward into the place that Lincoln took in 1861.

The State convention in 1854 went as expected. The Hards approved the Kansas-Nebraska bill, and nominated Former Chief Justice Greene C. Bronson for the Governoship. The Softs re-nominated Horatio Seymour, though the convention almost collapsed when an attempt was made to meet the Pierce Administration on the Kansas-Nebraska question. A ludicrous resolution was drafted, condemning the bill in theory, but favoring it in practice. Preston King, one of the delegates, condemned such dishonesty. To his mind, the bill was "a violation of the spirit of Christian civilization." He did not carry a majority of the convention with him, but his following was not insignificant. Rather than "stomach the offensive bill," Preston King and a hundred other delegates left the hall.

Two weeks later, the Whigs of the State gathered. Horace Greeley would like to have been candidate for Governor, on a platform that, chiefly, opposed the Kansas-Nebraska bill. Weed did not think that Greeley could secure the nomination. He was right. Myron H. Clark was nominated, and Greeley was further incensed to find that one of his former employees, but now his professional rival, Henry J. Raymond, was the choice for Lieutenant-Governor. The humiliation stunned Greeley. Greeley seemed to attribute the Raymond stampede, in 1854, to subterranean manoeuvering by Seward and Weed; and in 1860 Greeley remembered it, and opposed Seward's nomination for President. It was most fortunate for Seward, because the Raymond stampede was one of those sudden unpremeditated affairs that at times strike political conventions.

An anti-Nebraska Convention was also held in New York State. It met first in mid-August, Greeley, Raymond and other leaders being present. They made no nominations, preferring to wait until the Whigs had convened and adopted a ticket. Reassembling again, on September 26, at Auburn, the Anti-Nebraskans accepted the Whig nominations. The Free Democrats also resolved to support Clark. Roscoe Conking referred tot he Anti-Nebraska convention in New York as belonging to "The Republican Party" which had been organized in Michigan, and Greeley was inclined to merge all the Anti-slavery groups, even the great Whig party, and come out boldly as an Anti-Nebraska, or Republican party. Weed and Seward did not seem to be ready for his drastic smashing of parties. So New York State was denied the honor of having a political party Republican in name in the year that this great party was born in other States.

The Native-American or Know Nothing party in New York thought at one time of accepting the Whig ticket, but eventually nominated Daniel Ullman, a New York lawyer of Whig antecedents. He was prepared to advocate "America for Americans," and say nothing about the great question that was turning the old parties inside out. Seward considered these insular Know Nothings, or Native American, as not ultra-American, indeed, but un-American. "Why," argued Seward, "should I exclude the foreigner today? He is only what every American citizen or his ancestor was, at some time or other."

The polling brought surprises. Clark, the Anti-Nebraska-Whig candidate, finished where it was expected he would be--in leading place; but his majority over Seymour was so little that there was no good reason for jubilation. In a poll of 450,000, Seymour was only a few hundred behind Clark; and the Know Nothing Candidate, Ullman, polled twice as many votes as it was thought he would. Still, he drew the strength of the Silver Grays, the Fillmore faction of the Whig party. Ex-Chief Justice Bronson was a bad fourth, #34 the election at least proving that New York State was Abolitionist at heart.

The Whig leaders in New York State harboured no false illusions. They cold not interpret their success as a sign of general recover. It was, they clearly saw, only a "flash in the pan"--in the Democratic pan, too. Under normal politics, the Democrats could swamp the Whigs in New York State; and in other States the Whig party was almost extinct. Their victory in New York was in fact a Republican triumph, not a Whig victory; the polling merely registered a rebuke to the Nebraska bill. The once-powerful Whig party had, indeed, drifted too far from the main highway to have strength enough to return. It had fallen by the way-side, in an obscure byway, and would die almost unnoticed. Let it die, thought Seward. Its emaciated frame could not be filled out again, for its organs were old, and sluggish, and scarred by political strife. Political blows were becoming harder and harder. A more vigorous frame must succeed the Whig, taking those of its principles that were not besmirched by the mishaps of exigency. "Bleeding Kansas" was calling to all parties for strength, and but the battle-scarred parties could not meet the issue; only frames that were young and unscarred by battle could hope to hold the banner of the North from being trampled upon by the lawless South. So it came to pass that Republican convention doors opened in New York in 1855, to admit what was left of the Whig strength.

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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