Our author continues his assault on slavery by declaring that the world had advanced too far to allow slavery any further.

Revising History in Freer Directions

Editor’s Note

Anthony Comegna, PhD

Assistant Editor for Intellectual History

A significant portion of the ever‐​growing antislavery opinion in Jacksonian America was predicated upon the deep moral conviction that this was the age and the country destined to push humanity into a freer future. These people lived at the very crux of Dierdre McCloskey’s great “hockey stick” moment in world history, the Industrial Singularity, the shift from Early Modernity to Modernity, the inauguration of a new era or stage in human history—however you want to stylize or conceptualize it, Jacksonians across the political and economic spectrum harbored powerful beliefs about the progress which constantly swirled around them. They looked at colonial and Revolutionary history and saw a dazzling record of free people building society from the bottom up, largely without permission, without traditional authority, and without much oversight at all from beyond the sea. Of course, the Jacksonians were terribly wrong about the record and their history suffered from fatal naivete, but the radicals among them knew as much.

The first great revisionists of American history in the era popped up in Workingmen’s circles in the late 1820s and into the 1830s, followed by the likes of William Leggett, his Locofoco movement, and the related cultural movement called “Young America.” One after another, these left‐​Jacksonian radicals revisited the optimistic history given down to them by the Founding generation and opened new challenges to the remnants of Old World government which survived the Revolution. Throughout the 1830s, ‘40s, and into the ‘50s, many Americans combined their daily experience with dramatically increasing standards of living, their radical politics and their revisionist history into a powerful strand of thought. At its center was the conviction that common people can remake the world in freer and more egalitarian ways if they so choose—but they must choose. The feeling raced throughout the country on steamships and railways, pulsed across telegraph wires, and inspired more and more votes in keystone elections like the Free Soil campaign of 1848.

By William Wilson, A.M.

The Great American Question: Democracy vs Doulocracy


This is an age of light. We live in the land of liberty. Our privileges, whether civil or religious, are numerous and great. Our fathers have left us a fair inheritance to cultivate, and faithfully to transmit to posterity. Our stand against foreign tyranny and oppression, is just and noble. The principles and professions embodied in the case made out against the mother country‐ in the Declaration of Independence‐ and in the Constitution of our Republic‐ are high and commanding in their character. We wish to hold ourselves up as a model for the rest of the world. And shall we now, when the empire of despotism and slavery is everywhere breaking up, be found extending, or indifferent about the extension, of doulocracy, over the virgin soil of our own territories? It would be most culpably inexcusable and inconsistent. Think, my dear sir, upon these things, and they will constrain you to vote only for the candidates of Free Soil. You cannot do otherwise, as the case now stands, without sinning against your light, denying every principle of your professed political faith, sinking your own character as an American citizen, and justly exposing yourself to the ridicule and the reproach of the world. Your inexcusableness and inconsistency would be known, and read, and condemned by all men. But again, take into consideration,


These legitimately flow from a system which is calculated to beget and foster the worst passions of the human heart; and which puts both master and slave into an unnatural, improper, and immoral relation. There are, I cheerfully admit, arising from counteracting causes, honorable exceptions to this. Making all due allowances, however, your mind cannot fail to have been struck and pained with the exhibitions of their intolerance‐ their impatience of contradiction‐ their ebullitions of wrath‐ their wanton aggressions‐ their mobocratic spirit and practice, with which they have contaminated the land, and which threaten to overthrow the fabric of our liberties‐ their hostility to free discussion‐ their opposition to universal education‐ their tyrannical disposition and bearing — their devising of wars of conquest for the extension of the curse of slavery‐ their perpetual calculations of the price of our glorious Union, which is, most obviously, in their estimation, the maintenance and extension by it of slavery and doulocracy; and their threatening to dissolve it, if they are not allowed to rule, in all things connected with the General Government, the whole country‐ their fanaticism as the avowed propagandists of slavery, affirming its excellence and Divine origin as an institution, and that it is the “corner‐​stone of this Republic,” even in the Congress of these United States‐ their aristocratic character, influence and tendencies‐ and, on the whole, their many inconsistencies with the spirit, habits and interests of genuine Republicanism. Upon these things, and many others of a similar stamp, I need not insist, my dear sir, in addressing you. You know and appreciate them, I trust, already; and you will, when the South, as now presses upon you the present issue, apply the proper corrective, by voting exclusively for those who are explicitly pledged to assert and maintain, in every constitutional way, the rights and the interests of Freedom. True patriotism and an enlightened self‐​respect alike demand it. Still farther, connect with this,


Nations, as well as individuals, are accountable to God. His law is the rule of their conduct, and of his judgements in relation to them. This law slavery tramples in the dust. Who can calculate the amount of the guilt of the Slaves States, in this particular? And are the Free States innocent? Are they not involved in this guilt? What connivance at, consenting to, and treating with lenity and approbation, such an enormous evil! What indifference to the wrongs of the poor slave; vindications of his oppressors; with insensibility to the claims of justice and mercy, the warnings and teachings of God, and the reproach of other nations! What tameness and subserviency, in submitting to the insolence and aggression of doulocracy; in not rebuking and counteracting her schemes and efforts for the extension of her empire; and in using the Elective Franchise, through the influence of the spirit of party, in a manner perfidious to the North and to Freedom, for the elevation of her candidates, and the slaves of her interests and her dictation! Believe me sir, we are all guilty, whether in or out of office, in this matter. But how unspeakably would our guilt be increased, if we did not, as the Question now stands; cast our influence and our votes with decision, on the side of declared friends, and the acknowledged standard‐​bearers of the hosts of Freedom! And what shall I say of the General Government? Is she not guilty? To some extent she is. This consists in a corrupt administration and her affairs. For although we have ground to glory in the noble stand which our country took in favor of liberty‐ in the Declaration of Independence‐ in the Ordinance of 1787, passed prior to the adoption of the present Constitution‐ in the Constitution itself, which does not establish slavery, and which clothed Congress with the power to abolish the traffic in human beings after the year 1808, and, from that date, to treat it, without the States, as piracy; we cannot but acknowledge her guilt, in her gradual but great departure from the spirit of her earlier administrations; in her omission of what she might‐ constitutionally have done against slavery, and for the extension and application of her own principles of freedom, particularly in the District of Columbia; in the treatment, by Congress, for many years, of the sacred Right of Petition; and in her other faults in relation to this evil: and all this through the lethargy and unfaithfulness of the freemen of the North, and the sleepless vigilance, the arrogant pretensions, and the strenuous exertions of the Southern doulocrats. It is surely high time that we should vindicate her true character, and wipe away her reproach. And what shall I here say of the Church? Would that I could affirm, that this ransomed and holy society is not guilty in the premises! But alas, the reverse is the fact! By so much as she has had fellowship with slavery, or has countenanced it, or has not faithfully testified against it, and used her moral and spiritual power for breaking its yoke, is she guilty in the eye of the law, and in the sight of God. Verily, our guilt is weighty. But the year of redemption has come. Let us, sir, improve it, by voting only for those who are pledged as the friends of a real reformation. But let us advert a little to,


Punishment necessarily follows guilt, under the moral government of God, if there be not genuine repentance and reformation. Nations do not exist, as such, in a future state, and therefore they must eat of the fruit of their doings in time. The law of Jehovah being made for “MEN-STEALERS,” as well as “for murderers of fathers, and murderers of mothers,” has the sanction of an appropriate penalty. “The Almighty has no attribute,” says Jefferson, “which can take sides with us in such a contest” -referring to a supposed contest with insurgent slaves. God is just‐ he has threatened to punish heavily nations and individuals for such iniquities‐ he is true, and will execute his threatenings‐ he is almighty, and nonce can stand before him when he rises to pour out the vials of his wrath‐ and he has already laid waste the most powerful nations for this and similar inequities. If Tyre, “the mart of nations,” was made “a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea,” it was because there were “traded in her market the persons of men,” in common with the articles of lawful merchandise. When the Mystical Babylon falls for her iniquities, there are found in her, as articles of her guilty traffic, on a level with horses and wood, “slaves, and souls of men.” Our day may soon come. “Then a great ransom could not deliver us.” Let us repent, and turn unto the Lord, for he is merciful. “Now is the accepted time.” In the present awakening, he is graciously and loudly pleading with this nation. Hear his voice. And deposit your vote, my worthy friend, as you would be a savior and a benefactor of your country, exclusively for candidates who are distinctly pledged against the extension of doulocracy, and on behalf of the interests of freedom. Still more: consider that,


This charge has been already substantiated; and it is but a small portion of the evidence which I have adduced. For I have chiefly been compelled to refer you to heads of argument, and leave it with yourself to fill up the outline. You have read the description of the plague of leprosy contained in the book of Leviticus 1 . Turn to it again. It is generally conceded that what it is to the body, sin is to the soul; or to the subject, whether it be individual or social. Trace the analogy. Slavery is a moral plague or leprosy. Resisting means of cure, and continuing to spread, it destroys the patient. The only hope is, therefore, in the prevention of its spread, which, if it be accomplished, it will turn to a LOCAL SCAB within the Slave States; and the body politic, by its recuperative energies, and by proper appliances, will ultimately throw it off, and return to a healthy condition. We have seen that our country is far gone under this foul disease. Alarm has been taken by her friends, and she has been brought before the priest, the people. The first remedial step is, to employ proper means for the arrest of its progress. Will these be faithfully used? Will they be successful in preventing its spread? If so, all is well with the Republic: if otherwise, destruction is at the doors. It is here, sir, that you called to act. Be sure that, as far as in you lies, by your vote, you prevent the extension of the leprosy of slavery. But let us here pause, for a moment, to contemplate,


And who can fully estimate or describe its transcendent importance? If slavery be so exceedingly sinful‐ if it be only dishonoring to God, and so injurious to every interest of the Church and the world‐ if it be so ineffably inexcusable and inconsistent for the American Republic, so blessed by God, and the exemplar and patroness of liberty to the ends of the earth, to give it her countenance; and the foulest blot upon our national escutcheon — if the spirit and movements of the propagandists of doulocracy, be so unhallowed and intolerable, whose obvious and avowed aim is, by the most unworthy means, to convert this nation into a great slave‐​holding and slave‐​extending empire, under the pretext of liberty, and under our own world‐​wide renowned stars and stripes — if we are groaning under such a weighty load of guilt before the Ruler of Nations, by our past conduct in relation to it‐ if, in consequence of this, the direst Divine Judgments be impending over our heads, and may fall upon us at any moment, provided that we do not “break off from our sins by righteousness, and our iniquities by showing mercy to the poor”- if it be a moral leprosy which, being allowed to spread, will assuredly destroy our liberties and our country‐ then the question of arresting at once its progress, is of the highest magnitude, and utterly absorbs and overshadows every other. But look at the importance to those territories washed by the Pacific ocean, and lying towards the setting sun, which are capable of being formed into fifteen States as large as Ohio, of excluding forever from them this curse of God, and bane to our otherwise happy country‐ to the Slaves States themselves; by lowering their false pride; by teaching them what freemen can do when awakened in the cause of liberty; by directing their ambition to the culture of their soil, the working of their mines, the promotion of their commerce, the prosecution of the useful and ornamental arts, and the preparation of their slaves for freedom; and by ultimately delivering them from the present disgrace and intolerable burden‐ to the Free States; in their increased self‐​respect; in their freedom from the usurpations and the insults of doulocracy; in the consciousness of having vindicated and exonerated our Federal Government from being in principle, or any longer in practice, guilty of the crime of slavery; in the returning peace and prosperity of the Union; and in the free happy home which it will furnish for their enterprising youth, and for their surplus population — to Religion and the Church; in furnishing them with a fine and free theatre for pushing the conquests of the Captain of Salvation, and in checking and diminishing the cause of their corruption, the division of their forces, and their consequent debility‐ to the friends of the universal and high education‐ to liberty and despotism throughout the world, by inspiring the one with joy and confidence, and the other with sorrow and dismay, when they hear of this great moral and bloodless revolution which the freemen of American achieved at the POLLS, IN NOVEMBER, EIGHTEEN HUNDRED AND FORTY EIGHT- to the physical, intellectual and moral constitution and development of man‐ to all classes of men, whether free or bond, rich or poor, the natives of our country, or her adopted citizens: the shifty, inventive and enterprising Yankee; the honest and frugal German; the patient and preserving Hollander; the faithfull Swiss; the vivacious Frenchman; the hardy and brave Welshman; the steady Englishman; the intelligent and cautious Scot; and the hospitable, irrepressible and determined Irishman, here finding employment for their hard hands in profitable labor, not rendered disreputable by the false maxims of doulocracy and a home and asylum for the oppressions of the Old World‐ to the present and future ages‐ and to time and eternity. Honor yourself, my worthy friend, by speedily falling in with the irresistible movements of Freedom to secure such an important result. 2 This issue is one. And it is worth a life, to cast a vote which shall tell with certainty upon the election of the candidates of Free Soil. You will now be prepared to concur with me in the belief that,


Set it down, as a fixed fact, in your mind, that to represent it otherwise is a device of the superficial or the designing‐ of the simpleton or the knave. Men are wont to say that the present moment is intended to array the North against the South; and that Mr. Van Buren is the cause of it, in order that he may revenge the neglect of the old Democratic Party to bring him out as a candidate for the Presidency, in 1844. But how pre‐​posterous! Why, Man, the causes of this movement are coeval with the birth of the Republic, and even with the existence of the eternal God himself. The obsolete order of the Past must thus come into collision with the reforming Present, in order that liberty and religion may triumph. The American Nation must have mighty throes in casting off of a disease which has preyed upon her vital for more than half a century; and which in coming to a crisis, has threatened to paralyze and disfigure her for life, or to terminate her existence altogether in order that she may march with a constitution purged from foreign and pestiferous substances, with a brighter and prouder eye, a freer gait, and more gigantic strides, to improve her opening prospects, and to her glorious destiny. And if Martin Van Buren had the sense and sagacity, the philosophy, the principle, and the faith in democracy, to see this, and the courage to take his stand, amid lowering and portentous clouds, with the few friends of light, and right, and progress, for the promotion of freedom, and against doulocracy, he deserves, even apart from his other eminent qualifications, to be President of the United States. Liberty is here to achieve one of her most signal triumphs, in the successful assertion of the capacity of man for self‐​government, and the correction of those abuses, by moral weapons alone, which find their ways into the Social and Civil State; and Van Buren and Adams are to lead her hosts. To the hastening of the issues various subordinate causes have, however, as usual, concurred.

Be persuaded, moreover, that by so much as any one succeeds in deceiving our citizens into the belief that this Question is private and sectional, and not public and patriotic, whether he intend it or nor, his influence is inimical to liberty, and to our country.

Be assured farther, that this gossamer deception will not extensively take, nor last long even among those who may be, for the moment, its dupes. Before reflection and facts, it is dissipated as the darkness of night before the rising sun. The re‐​action, as it ought, will be tremendous.

Examine this Question as closely as you can, and you will unhesitatingly say, that the side of it taken by the free North, as it is right in itself, is emphatically American; 3 and that our Southern brethren have an interest inferior to no other section of our country, in its decision against doulocracy. Like the drunkard who thinks that there is no heaven where there is no brandy, they conclude, from their vitiated habits, that slavery is essential to their interests. They need to be taught a different lesson. It rests like the night‐​mare upon the vitality and the energies of their States. We will not interfere with their sovereignty. In emancipating themselves from the evil of slave‐​holding, we shall fraternally render them every constitutional assistance.

The cause of liberty as involved in this Question, is living, holy, omnipotent, and must be gloriously victorious. God is in, and with it. It is reward enough for the patriot, to have any part in its maintenance and promotion. Our citizens, influenced by the love of country, and ennobled by a genuine philanthropy, will plant the banner of a purified democracy upon the defeated designs and the prostrated powers of a presuming doulocracy. You, sir, will be found in their number. There is then,


By this hope we shall be saved. And it is found in the character of the respective combatants engaged in this moral contest, Democracy or Doulocracy, the one being resistless, but the other impotent‐ in the way the issue is forced upon the North by her Southern confederates, and the spirit with which she is prepared to meet it‐ in the design of God in erecting this empire of freedom, and in the care which he has ever taken of its interests‐ in our past history, and in the acknowledged fundamental principles of our Government‐ in the virtue and intelligence of our citizens‐ in the spirit of the age, which is in favor of universal freedom‐ in the facilities for the rapid transmission of light and truth, from one end of the continent to the other‐ in the dissolution of the old parties, which had become utterly effete and corrupt, and in the departure of the sceptre from the hands of political demagogues‐ in the revelations of prophecy respecting the ultimate prevalence of rational liberty and true religion, over all the nations‐ in this wonderful, 1848, so pregnant with great rapid revolutions, upon which learned and pious expositors have long since fixed as the time for the fulfillment of Divine predictions‐ in the signs of the times, which portend a better state of things, shortly to be introduced, among all individuals and communities of mankind‐ in the public opinion of the civilized world‐ and in God himself, all whose attributes and resources are with us in the struggle. You, my friend, will have a firm stand on the side of the children of light, of progress, and of hope….


We are told by Solomon, the wise Monarch of Israel, that “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Nations, as well as other bodies have their times and seasons for change and reform. These are of God: but man is ordinarily instrumental in bringing them about, and for their improvement when they arrive. He is to sow in the Spring. An important crisis, not of our own seeking, has been precipitated upon us. Our arms have been crowned with success. As the result, large territories are acquired. Doulocracy insists that slavery shall be extended to them by the Federal Government, or at least that it shall not forbid it. 4 She casts about for fit representatives of this idea and demand, and finds them in the persons of GENERALS Cass and Taylor, as the nominees of the two parties who are bound to her car, for the office of President, and General Butler and Mr. Fillmore, for the office of Vice President. Against the former of these gentlemen I would say nothing; except that the indisputable fact that Lewis Cass has pledged himself to stand with the South on this Question at once completely disqualifies him for receiving the vote of any individual in the Free States. 5 And with regard to the other, I should be glad to be informed of any one decided qualification he has for this high office, beyond his residence in the South; his being an extensive slaveholder; his prowess displayed in fighting the Indians and Mexicans; and his obstinate refusal to declare himself upon the Great Question; which may, I admit, have some sort of merit in it, inasmuch as all men may know, without asking where he stands, in relation to it. He declares that there are bills, upon certain subjects, which, if passed by Congress, he would not, as President, veto. But he omits this, THE QUESTION of the day, no doubt designedly, and when asked if he included it, he categorically answers, “I DID NOT.” 6 Zachary Taylor would give his life, for the privilege of vetoing the Wilmot Proviso. This cannot be doubted. But then his claims to election are chiefly urged by his partisans at the North, who are the relics of the old Whig party, on the ground that he will not use the veto at all; while at the South they recommend him as the friend of slavery, and as one who will surely protect “the peculiar institution,” and veto any bill for its exclusion from the territories. But this is most deceptious [sic] to the people, so far as respects the version among us, and unfair to the General. He does not say, nor intend any such thing. What he says is, that the veto has been used too often, and that he will go by the Constitution. But the Constitution makes provision for the exercise of the veto, in the cases contemplated, and if he goes by it, he will use it, just when he thinks it proper. And it is not an insult to the understandings of the friends of Free Soil, to take strong ground in favor of it, and then to urge them to vote for this extensive slaveholder, as is generally done by the demagogues and editors of the doulocratic party, of the Taylor School, in the Free States? Is it not presuming too far, as the Question now stands, to ask any Northern freeman to bestow his suffrage upon this trade in the persons of his fellow‐​beings? Neither of these candidates will take with a high‐​souled and free people. On the other hand, to the claims of the South, Democracy interposes her VETO. She stands upon the ground of law and precedent. She rejects with indignation, both the candidates of the doulocrats. Old parties and issues being no more, the people, from all quarters, rush to her standard. She finds the men to represent her principles and spirit in the persons of Martin Van Buren and Charles Francis Adams, who come up to the help of Freedom “against the mighty,” and boldy espouse her cause; and, without ambiguity, pledge themselves against the extension of slavery. They are the MEN for the HOUR. As CIVILIANS, they have claims to the high offices for which they are candidates, which no GENERALS can, in ordinary circumstances, possess, who have devoted themselves to the acquisition of emolument and fame by the profession of the soldier, on the blood‐​stained plains, and amid the carnage of human beings. The precedent of elevating such to high civil offices, is of evil influence. But scrutinize, in contrast with these, the qualifications of the candidates of Freedom. VAN BUREN, the Man of The People‐ the experienced Statesman‐ the talented Sage‐ the moderate, wise and safe President‐ the idol of his Party, until he refused to consent to its prostitution of the National Government to the propagation of slavery -the successful and faithful Leader‐ the old opponent of the Missouri Compromise‐​and the friend of Freedom: ADAMS, a noble scion of a noble stock‐ his grandfather a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and the second President of the United States‐ his father “the sage of Quincy.” the pure Patriot, the patron of the oppressed, and also President of the United States‐ himself a young man of high talent, of deep learning, and of tried devotion to the cause of liberty and his country’s weal: these are the men to regenerate our politics; and with them, while defeat would be glorious, the desired success is certain. They carry out the principles and the protests of genuine democracy, against the encroachments and claims of a bloated democracy. She proudly exults as they lead her hosts to victory. Standing upon the rock of truth, her big heart sympathises with man; her eye is directed to Heaven, whence cometh all her aid; and her loud voice animates her children to PRESS FORWARD. Freemen, forgetful of their former, and comparatively petty, differences, arrange themselves under her unfurled flag. The old parties crumble daily into a thousand atoms. The hour is momentous. The Great Question is to be settled now, and forever. In this hour you, sir, will be at your post, and deposit your vote for freedom….

  1. Leviticus, chapters xiii and xiv.
  2. It is the transcendent importance of this Question which compels me to take any active part in relation to it. Were it a party controversy, I should, as usual, keeping silence. [↩2]
  3. This point of difference is worthy of being noted. The view which the North takes of the Question, is eminently comprehensive and national: that of the South, eminently factious and sectional.
  4. This is a “new thing under the sun”! The nations have sunk low enough, but not so low as the South would have the American Republic to sink herself. No wonder the public mind is aroused and indignant!
  5. The ground taken by General Cass in his Nicholson letter is plausible and deceptious [sic]. Slavery cannot exist without being established by law, and he would have Congress to do nothing upon the subject. Hence, his partisans at the North say that he is as much opposed to slavery as any other, and that they go for “Cass and Free Soil;” while at the South they urge his election on the ground of his being decidedly with them upon this Question!…He is all that the South could wish. To vote for him, would be to betray the North and Freedom.
  6. It has been well said, I think by Pope, that “darkness is no less visible than light.”