On the day following the election of Pennington, Davis introduced in the Senate a series of resolutions which were to serve as the Southern ultimatum, and which demanded of Congress the protection of slavery against territorial legislatures. This was but carrying to its logical conclusion that Dred Scott decision which Douglas and his followers proposed to accept. If Congress could not restrict slavery in the territories, how could its creature, a territorial legislature do so? And yet the Douglas men attempted to take away the power from Congress and to retain it for the territorial legislatures. Senator Pugh of Ohio had already locked horns with Davis on this point, and had attempted to show that a territorial Legislature was independent of Congress. "Then I would ask the Senator further," retorted the logical Davis, "why it is he makes an appropriation to pay members of the territorial legislature; how it is that he invests the Governor with veto power over their acts; and how it is that he appoints judges to decide upon the validity of their acts."
In the Democratic convention which met at Charleston in April, 1860, the waning power of political evasion made its last real stand against the rising power of political positivism. To accept Douglas and the idea that somehow territorial legislatures were free to do what Congress could not do, or to reject Douglas and endorse Davis's ultimatum--that in substance was the issue. "In this convention where there should be confidence and harmony," said the "Charleston Mercury", "it is plain that men feel as if they were going into a battle." In the committee on resolutions where the States were equally represented, the majority were anti-Douglas; they submitted a report affirming Davis's position that territorial legislatures had no right to prohibit slavery and that the Federal Government should protect slavery against them. The minority refused to go further than an approval of the Dred Scott case and a pledge to abide by all future decisions of the Supreme Court. After both reports had been submitted, there followed the central event of the convention--the now famous speech by Yancey which repudiated political evasion from top to bottom, frankly defended slavery, and demanded either complete guarantees for its continued existence or, as an alternative, Southern independence. Pugh instantly replied and summed up Yancey's speech as a demand upon Northern Democrats to say that slavery was right, and that it was their duty not only to let slavery alone but to aid in extending it. "Gentlemen of the South," he exclaimed, "you mistake us--you mistake us--we will not do it."
In the full convention, where the representation of the States was not equal, the Douglas men, after hot debate, forced the adoption of the minority report. Thereupon the Alabama delegation protested and formally withdrew from the convention, and other delegations followed. There was wild excitement in Charleston, where that evening in the streets Yancey addressed crowds that cheered for a Southern republic. The remaining history of the Democratic nominations is a matter of detail. The Charleston convention adjourned without making nominations. Each of its fragments reorganized as a separate convention, and ultimately two Democratic tickets were put into the field, with Breckinridge of Kentucky as the candidate on the Yancey ticket and Douglas on the other.
While the Democrats were thus making history through their fateful break-up into separate parties, a considerable number of the so-called best people of the country determined that they had nowhere politically to lay their heads. A few of the old Whigs were still unable to consort either with Republicans or with Democrats, old or new. The Know-Nothings, likewise, though their number had been steadily melting away, had not entirely disappeared. To unite these political remnants in any definite political whole seemed beyond human ingenuity. A common sentiment, however, they did have--a real love of the Union and a real unhappiness, because its existence appeared to be threatened. The outcome was that they organized the Constitutional Union Party, nominating for President John Bell of Tennessee, and for Vice President Edward Everett of Massachusetts. Their platform was little more than a profession of love of the Union and a condemnation of sectional selfishness.
This Bell and Everett ticket has a deeper significance than has generally been admitted. It reveals the fact that the sentiment of Union, in distinction from the belief in the Union, had become a real force in American life. There could be no clearer testimony to the strength of this feeling than this spectacle of a great congregation of moderate people, unable to agree upon anything except this sentiment, stepping between the sectional parties like a resolute wayfarer going forward into darkness along a perilous strand between two raging seas. That this feeling of Union was the same thing as the eager determination of the Republicans, in 1860, to control the Government is one of those historical fallacies that have had their day. The Republican party became, in time and under stress of war, the refuge of this sentiment and proved sufficiently far-sighted to merge its identity temporarily in the composite Union party of 1864. But in 1860 it was still a sectional party. Among its leaders Lincoln was perhaps the only Unionist in the same sense as Bell and Everett.
Perhaps the truest Unionists of the North, outside the Constitutional Union Party, in 1860, were those Democrats in the following of Douglas who, after fighting to the last ditch against both the sectional parties, were to accept, in 1861, the alternative of war rather than dissolution. The course of Douglas himself, as we shall see hereafter, showed that in his mind there was a fixed limit of concession beyond which he could not go. When circumstances forced him to that limit, the sentiment of Union took control of him, swept aside his political jugglery, abolished his time-serving, and drove him into cooperation with his bitterest foes that the Union might be saved. Nor was the pure sentiment of Union confined to the North and West. Though undoubtedly the sentiment of locality was more powerful through the South, yet when the test came in the election of 1860, the leading candidate of the upper South, in Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, was John Bell, the Constitutional Unionist. In every Southern State this sentiment was able to command a considerable part of the vote.*
*A possible exception was South Carolina. As the presidential electors were appointed by the legislature, there is no certain record of minority sentiment.
Widely different in temper were those stern and resolute men whose organization, in perfect fighting trim, faced eagerly the divided Democrats. The Republicans had no division among themselves upon doctrine. Such division as existed was due to the ordinary rivalry of political leaders. In the opinion of all his enemies and of most Americans, Seward was the Republican man of the hour. During much of 1859 he had discreetly withdrawn from the country and had left to his partisans the conduct of his campaign, which seems to have been going well when he returned in the midst of the turmoil following the death of John Brown. Nevertheless he was disturbed over his prospects, for he found that in many minds, both North and South, he was looked upon as the ultimate cause of all the turmoil. His famous speech on the "irrepressible conflict" was everywhere quoted as an exultant prophecy of these terrible latter days.