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发表于 2017-12-4 11:14 | 只看该作者 回帖奖励 |倒序浏览 |阅读模式
THREE days after John Brown had been hanged for his Harper’s Ferry raid, the Thirty-sixth Congress convened. Brown’s exploit had sent a wave of excitement sweeping over the country, and the slavery controversy had entered a phase of emotional acuteness it had never known before. There was a strong Republican plurality in the new House of Representatives, but it was by no means of one mind, most of its members still hoping to avoid any action which might precipitate a dismemberment of the union. It took forty-four ballots, covering a period of eight weeks, for a combination of Republicans with a few outsiders to choose a Speaker, and the wrangling which preceded and followed the choice reached at times the verge of bloodshed. A large majority of the Representatives from both Northern and Southern constituencies attended the sessions armed.

Before the end of June, 1860, four Presidential tickets were in the field. The Republican ticket was headed{27} by Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, the Northern Democratic ticket by his old rival in State politics, Stephen A. Douglas. The Southern Democrats had nominated John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, then Vice-president, and what was left of the Whig party had united with the peacemakers generally in naming John Bell of Tennessee. When Lincoln was elected in November, every one knew that a crisis was at hand; for, although opposed to the use of violence for the extinction of slavery, he disbelieved utterly in the system, and the radical leaders in the South proceeded at once with their plans for divorcing the slave States from the free States.

South Carolina led the actual revolt by adopting an ordinance of secession and withdrawing her delegation from Congress. Almost simultaneously she sent three commissioners to Washington, “empowered to treat with the Government of the United States for the delivery of the forts, magazines, lighthouses and other real estate within the limits of South Carolina” to the State authorities. President Buchanan, fearing lest any discussion with them might be construed as a recognition of their claim to an ambassadorial status, referred them to Congress, which met the difficulty at the threshold by turning their case over to a special committee, with the result that their demands{28} were disregarded. The committee, however, played a pretty important part in the activities of the succeeding winter, for the union men in its membership organized themselves into a sort of subcommittee of safety, and opened confidential channels of communication with men and women all over the city who were in a position to tell them promptly what the enemies of the union were planning to do. These secret informers included all classes of persons, from domestic servants to Cabinet officers. The correspondence was conducted not through the post-office, but by cipher notes hidden in out-of-the-way places, where the parties for whom they were intended could safely look for them after nightfall.

The militia and fire departments of the District of Columbia were modest affairs then, but their members were alert to the growing possibilities of trouble. Some who were secession sympathizers formed themselves into rifle clubs and drilled privately at night; while the unionists built up a little body of minutemen, who elected their own officers and secreted stands of arms at the Capitol and other convenient points, so that they could respond instantly, wherever they chanced to be, to a summons for emergency service. Day after day brought its budget of news from the South, saddening or thrilling. Thomas and Floyd{29} quitted the Cabinet, Dix became Secretary of the Treasury, and Holt Secretary of War. In January, 1861, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi seceded, seizing all the forts, vessels, and other Government property on which they could lay hands; and Dix put upon the wire his historic despatch to his special agent at New Orleans, “If any one attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot,” but it was intercepted and never reached its destination.

February witnessed the secession of Texas, the election of Jefferson Davis as President and Alexander H. Stephens as Vice-president of the Confederate States of America, and the withdrawal of several Senators and Representatives from the United States Congress. The only cheering news of the month was the refusal of Tennessee and Missouri to secede, though both States contained a multitude of citizens who would have preferred to do so. Daily the galleries of Congress were crowded with spectators representing all shades of opinion and at times uncontrollable in their expressions of approval or disapproval. When the House voted to submit a Constitutional amendment forbidding the interference of Congress with slavery or any other State institution, one element in the gallery burst into deafening applause; the{30} opposing element in the Senate became equally boisterous in applauding a speech by Andrew Johnson, denouncing as a traitor any man who should fire upon the flag or conspire to take over Government property for the Confederacy. The difference in the treatment of the two outbreaks was significant: that in the House was merely rebuked in words, but in the Senate the gallery was cleared and closed to spectators for the rest of the day.

In fairness it should be said that at this trying juncture several men in positions of responsibility, who had made no secret of their interest in the Southern cause, acted the honorable part when put to the test. Vice-president Breckinridge was credited by current gossip with an intention, at the official count of the electoral vote, to refuse to declare Lincoln elected, or permit a mob to break up the session and destroy the authenticated returns. On the contrary, he conducted the count with as much scrupulousness in every detail as if his heart were in the result. Equal praise is due to the chief of the Capitol police, who, though bitterly hostile to Mr. Lincoln, took all the precautions for his safety on the day of inauguration that his best friend could have taken.

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