During two months there were strange scenes in the House, while the clerk acted as temporary speaker and furious diatribes were thundered back and forth across the aisle that separated Republicans from Democrats, with a passage of fisticuffs or even a drawn pistol to add variety to the scene. The end of it all was a deal. Pennington, of the "People's Party" of New Jersey, who had supported Sherman but had not endorsed Helper, was given the Republican support; a Know-Nothing was made sergeant-at-arms; and Know-Nothing votes added to the Republican votes made Pennington speaker. In many Northern cities the news of his election was greeted with the great salute of a hundred guns, but at Richmond the papers came out in mourning type.
Two great figures now advanced to the center of the Congressional stage--Jefferson Davis, Senator from Mississippi, a lean eagle of a man with piercing blue eyes, and Judah P. Benjamin, Senator from Louisiana, whose perpetual smile cloaked an intellect that was nimble, keen, and ruthless. Both men were destined to play leading roles in the lofty drama of revolution; each was to experience a tragic ending of his political hope, one in exile, the other in a solitary proscription amid the ruins of the society for which he had sacrified his all. These men, though often spoken of as mere mouthpieces of Yancey, were in reality quite different from him both in temper and in point of view.
Davis, who was destined eventually to become the target of Yancey's bitterest enmity, had refused ten years before to join in the secession movement which ignored Calhoun's doctrine that the South had become a social unit. Though a believer in slavery under the conditions of the moment, Davis had none of the passion of the slave baron for slavery at all costs. Furthermore, as events were destined to show in a startlingly dramatic way, he was careless of South Carolina's passion for state rights. He was a practical politician, but not at all the old type of the party of political evasion, the type of Toombs. No other man of the moment was on the whole so well able to combine the elements of Southern politics against those more negative elements of which Toombs was the symbol. The history of the Confederacy shows that the combination which Davis now effected was not as thorough as he supposed it was. But at the moment he appeared to succeed and seemed to give common purpose to the vast majority of the Southern people. With his ally Benjamin, he struck at the Toombs policy of a National Democratic party.
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.