* For those who would be persuaded that there was such a slave interest, perhaps the best presentation is to be found in Professor Dodd's Life of Jefferson Davis.
These two issues Yancey, however, failed to unite, though the commercial convention of 1859 at last gave its support to a resolution that all laws, state or federal, prohibiting the African slave trade ought to be repealed. That great body of Northern capital which had dealings with the South was ready, as it always had been, to finance any scheme that Southern business desired. Slavers were fitted out in New York, and the city authorities did not prevent their sailing. Against this somber background stands forth that much admired action of Lewis Cass of Michigan, Buchanan's Secretary of State. Already the slave trade was in process of revival, and the British Navy, impelled by the powerful anti-slavery sentiment in England, was active in its suppression. American ships suspected of being slavers were visited and searched. Cass seized his opportunity, and declaring that such things "could not be submitted to by an independent nation without dishonor," sent out American warships to prevent this interference. Thereupon the British government consented to give up trying to police the ocean against slavers. It is indeed true, therefore, that neither North nor South has an historical monopoly of the support of slavery!
It is but fair to add that, so far as the movement to reopen the slave trade found favor outside the slave barons and their New York allies, it was advocated as a means of political defense, of increasing Southern population as an offset to the movement of free emigration into the North, and of keeping the proportion of Southern representation in Congress. Stephens, just after Cass had successfully twisted the lion's tail, took this position in a speech that caused a sensation. In a private letter he added, "Unless we get immigration from abroad, we shall have few more slave states. This great truth seems to take the people by surprise. Some shrink from it as they would from death. Still, it is as true as death." The scheme, however, never received general acceptance; and in the constitution of the Southern Confederacy there was a section prohibiting the African slave trade. On the other of these two issues--the independence of the South--Yancey steadily gained ground. With each year from 1856 to 1860, a larger proportion of Southerners drew out of political evasion and gave adherence to the idea of presenting an ultimatum to the North, with secession as an alternative.
Meanwhile, Buchanan sent to Kansas, as Governor, Robert J. Walker, one of the most astute of the Democrats of the opposite faction and a Mississippian. The tangled situation which Walker found, the details of his attempt to straighten it out, belong in another volume.* It is enough in this connection merely to mention the episode of the Lecompton convention in the election of which the Northern settlers refused to participate, though Walker had promised that they should have full protection and a fair count as well as that the work of the convention should be submitted to a popular vote. This action of Walker's was one more cause of contention between the warring factions in the South. The fact that he had met the Northerners half-way was seized upon by the Yancey men as evidence of the betrayal of the South by the Democratic moderates. On the other hand, Cobb, writing of the situation in Kansas, said that "a large majority are against slavery and...our friends regard the fate of Kansas as a free state pretty well fixed...the pro-slavery men, finding that Kansas was likely to become a Black Republican State, determined to unite with the free-state Democrats." Here is the clue to Walker's course. As a strict party man, he preferred to accept Kansas free, with Democrats in control, rather than risk losing it altogether.
* See Jesse Macy, "The Anti-Slavery Crusade". (In "The Chronicles of America".)
The next step in the affair is one of the unsolved problems in American history. Buchanan suddenly changed front, disgraced Walker, and threw himself into the arms of the Southern extremists. Though his reasons for doing so have been debated to this day, they have not yet been established beyond dispute. What seems to be the favorite explanation is that Buchanan was in a panic. What brought him to that condition may have been the following events.
The free-state men, by refusing to take part in electing the convention, had given control to the slaveholders, who proved they were not slow to seize their opportunity. They drew up a constitution favoring slavery, but this constitution, Walker had promised, was to be submitted in referendum. If the convention decided, however, not to submit the constitution, would not Congress have the right to accept it and admit Kansas as a Mate? This question was immediately raised. It now became plain that, by refusing to take part in the election, the free-state Kansans had thrown away a great tactical advantage. Of this blunder in generalship the Yancey men took instant advantage. It was known that the proportion of Free-Soilers in Kansas was very great-- perhaps a majority--and the Southerners reasoned that they should not be obliged to give up the advantage they had won merely to let their enemies retrieve their mistake. Jefferson Davis formulated this position in an address to the Mississippi Legislature in which he insisted that Congress, not the Kansas electorate, was entitled to create the Kansas constitution, that the Convention was a properly chosen body, and that its work should stand. What Davis said in a stately way, others said in a furious way. Buchanan stated afterward that he changed front because certain Southern States had threatened that, if he did not abandon Walker, they would secede.
Be that as it may, Buchanan did abandon Walker and threw all the influence of the Administration in favor of admitting Kansas with the Lecompton constitution. But would this be true to that principle of "popular sovereignty" which was the very essence of the Kansas-Nebraska Act? Would it be true to the principle that each locality should decide for itself between slavery and freedom? On this issue the Southerners were fairly generally agreed and maintained that there was no obligation to go behind the work of the convention. Not so, however, the great exponent of popular sovereignty, Douglas. Rising in his place in the Senate, he charged the President with conspiring to defeat the will of the majority in Kansas. "If Kansas wants a slave state constitution," said he, "she has a right to it; if she wants a free state constitution, she has a right to it. It is none of my business which way the slavery clause is decided. I care not whether it is voted up or down."