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'BUCHANAN'S ELECTION

TO THE

END OF THE 35TH CONGRESS.

CHAPTER I.

THE DRED SCOTT DECISION.

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" When the mariner has been tossed for many days in thick weather, and on an unknown sea, he naturally avails himself of the first pause in the storm, the earliest glance of the sun, to take his latitude, and ascertain how far the elements have driven him from his true course." 1

The stream of evolving circumstances shot with so much force and in such wild eddies towards the steep precipice and down into the dark depths of time, that the memory of the great men of the second period of the history of the Union, under the constitution, faded away with a rapidity surprising even in the fast-living American people. These words, however, with which Webster began his celebrated speech of January 26, 1830, in reply to Hayne, were not yet forgotten. But if they had found a place only in the reading books used in the schools, among the specimens of American eloquence, they would have been of little value. They contained 1 Webst.'s Works, III, p. 270.

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an earnest admonition, the taking of which to heart was never so urgently demanded as after the presidential election of 1856. To prevent the catastrophe was impossible, for the will and the wishes of men were powerless against the logic of facts. But the time and form of its coming, the rapidity of its course and its final result depended, in great part, on the voluntary determination of the people as to what they would do or leave undone, and their determination would be more fatal in proportion as they mistook the real situation.

In this respect, the greatest responsibility rested on the president. The constitution had placed him on the highest watch-tower commanding the farthest and most unobstructed view. The express provision of the constitution that he should, from time to time, give information to congress of the state of the Union, imposed on him the sacred duty to endeavor, with the most scrupulous conscientiousness, not to allow his vision to be dimmed by party passion and party interest. He had, indeed, been elected by one party, but he was bound by his oath to support the constitution, which said nothing of a democratic or republican president, and mentioned only a president of the United States. True, even Washington had found it impossible, when invested with the executive power, to keep entirely aloof from, and above, party, and the failure of his endeavor was determined by the very nature of things. It could not but be still more impossible, if we may be allowed the expression, for his successors in the presidency to lift themselves, in thought and action, above party; and even if they could so have raised themselves, they should not have been asked to do it, for the constitution was not guilty of the absurdity of making the absence of convictions a qualification of a true president; besides, it was as the representatives of

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