The present position of the Democratic party, in view of the complications which have lately arisen in the councils of their representatives, requires the utmost moderation of temper and firmness of purpose to prevent the final catastrophe of party disorganization.

A brief review of the occurrences which have led, step by step, to the present crisis, will materially assist towards eliciting a prudent course of action, likely to maintain party organization without the sacrifice of constitutional principle.

A little more than twelve months ago, the fact was fully developed, that a large portion of the Northern Democracy had accepted, and were ready to insist on an interpretation of the Cincinnati platform altogether at variance with the interpretation understood and acted on by the Southern Democracy. Thus a direct conflict of opinion was produced. On the one hand it was insisted that the Cincinnati platform recognized the uncontrolled power of each territorial legislature to establish or abolish the right of property in slaves in the respective territories of the Union. On the other hand, it was insisted that the just interpretation of the platform on this point recognized the right of slave property in the territories as an existing right guaranteed by the Constitution, and that the power which Congress could exercise, either immediately or through its delegates, the territorial legislative assemblies, was the power coupled with the duty to protect such existing rights of persons and property.

Here, as in every similar instance of difference, many political leaders and presses were ready with suggestions of compromise. We thought then, what we know now, that this was a case in which both principle and policy precluded all middle ground of compromise. Indeed, we saw but one possible ground of compromise—that which suggested the re-enactment of the Cincinnati platform without any reference whatever to the point of disputed interpretation. Such a compromise as this, we were utterly unwilling to adopt. We foresaw that its adoption would result in nothing less than the demoralization of the party through the perpetration of a double deception. We foresaw, too, that even were such deception possible, it could only be made practicable through the nomination for the Presidency of some man either too timid or too dishonest to avow his opinions on the point at issue. Altogether, we recognized the policy of compromise as too equivocal to be honest, too timid to be prudent, too selfish to be safe.

Regarding, then, the doctrine of federal protection to persons and property in the territories, as made imperative by the Constitution, and as furnishing the only just and logical interpretation of the Cincinnati platform; we did not hesitate to place at the head of the editorial column of the “Richmond Enquirer” that exposition of principles, which has floated ever since at our masthead.1 Nor have we spared an effort to inculcate the fact that the maintenance of this banner of constitutional principle is inseparable from the integrity of the Democratic party.

Unceasingly—at every juncture, in season and out of season—we have urged this view of the matter by every argument of principle and policy which we could discover or expound.

We felt confident that the Democracy of Virginia would sustain us in this position. Nay, we knew that we were touching a chord to which the Democracy of every Southern State would respond.

In neither point have we been mistaken.—Every Southern State has recognized the issue as vital to its own rights and to the interests of the Democratic party. Five Southern States have regarded the necessity before them as so urgent that they have peremptorily instructed their delegates to withdraw from a National Convention whenever a majority should refuse to sanction this doctrine of equal protection.—Nor have Southern Democrats found themselves sectionalized in the struggle. The two Pacific States have yielded an active and undivided support to the same doctrine. And throughout the North a strong body of conservative Democrats have rallied under the same banner, and elected delegate after delegate to the National Convention to maintain the same doctrine. The Democracy of New York, acting through their district conventions, have elected a full delegation unanimous in their support of the constitutional platform,2 and a large minority of the delegates elected by the State Convention of New York have given the same platform a support—silent only because their hands were tied by the unit system.3 A majority of the Pennsylvania and New Jersey delegations are now ready to co-operate with us. So are delegates from different New England States. And even in the Northwest—in the very State of the great expounder and champion of the opposite doctrine—a body of conservative Democrats have taken their stand and erected their platform on the basis of Federal protection to slave property in the Territories.

Such is the diagram, by which it is effectually demonstrated that at this moment an overwhelming majority of the Democratic party are firmly united under the same banner of constitutional principle which has floated so long at the masthead of the Richmond “Enquirer.” Every other test yet applied furnishes the same solution of the political problem which now agitates the Union.

When the partisans of the respective doctrines of territorial sovereignty and Federal protection drew the dividing line at Charleston on the one hand we saw the doctrine of equal protection boldly and unequivocally pronounced. On the other side, the doctrine of territorial sovereignty was not even reduced to writing. Among all the resolutions offered to or acted on by the Convention, not one can be found declaring, either in direct terms or by implication, the doctrine that a territorial Legislature may abolish slavery, or even denying the duty of the Federal Government to protect slave persons and slave property in the territories.

Virtually admitting that the present assertion of the doctrine of territorial sovereignty was incompatible with the integrity of the Democratic party, the advocates of that doctrine only asked that the question might be submitted for further judicial decision, and pledged themselves to abide such decision.

This was, we are free to admit, something more than a concession of weakness. It was honestly intended as an effort at conciliation, and as such considered and respected by those to whom it was tendered. Still its acceptance was impossible. The advocates of equal protection were obliged to adhere to their original position. If their doctrine had any validity at all, it was a necessary part of the Constitution, which might be asserted or enforced by judicial sanction, but which no action of the Federal judiciary was competent to impair. Moreover, the omission to assert the doctrine of equal protection would practically result in the negation of that doctrine, and thus, on grounds of policy as well as of principle, the compromise tendered was equally unacceptable.

Nevertheless, it is clearly apparent that the proposal for compromise received a support in the Convention much larger than could possibly have been secured for the doctrine of territorial sovereignty.

Even with this advantage against the advocates of equal protection, the test of Democratic strength was overwhelmingly in their favor. On the first trial of strength, a majority of all the States pronounced in favor of the direct assertion of the doctrine of equal protection.—On the first trial of strength,4 fifteen out of the nineteen States (more than three-fourths) which cast their [electoral] votes for the Democratic ticket. in 1856, pronounced the same decision. On the first trial of strength, fifteen out of the seventeen States (more than five-sixths) which gave Democratic majorities in 1856, pronounced the same decision. On the first trial of strength, 116 of the 174 electoral votes (two-thirds) cast for the Democratic ticket in 1856, pronounced the same decision.

And even on the last delusive trial, when 122 electoral votes, which no enthusiast expects to see cast for the Democratic ticket next fall were thrown into the scale; and when 15 votes from New York were thrown against the wish of 3o delegates from the same State, under an arbitrary enforcement of the unit system; even then the operation of the doctrine of equal protection was refused only by a vote of 165 to 138.5

Thus, on every test, it is manifest that an overwhelming majority of the effective strength of the Democratic party has pronounced in favor of the open assertion of the doctrine of equal protection by the Federal Government to persons and property in the Territories. The final omission, then, of the National Convention to assert this doctrine at Baltimore, will entail the following results: 1st. The doctrine of protection will be defeated as absolutely by being ignored, as though it were absolutely negatived; 2d. The opposite doctrine of territorial sovereignty will be virtually established; 3d. The will of the majority of the party will be openly disregarded; 4th. The inevitable dismemberment of the party.

This general view of the question is rendered more apposite by peculiar circumstances. In obedience to the positive instructions of their respective constituencies, delegates from five Southern States have already withdrawn from the National Convention, in consequence of the refusal of that Convention to assert a vital principle of constitutional right.6 Delegates from five7 other Southern States have followed the example, deeming it inexpedient as well as improper on principle, to leave the co-laborers isolated in a step unavoidable to them, and taken for the maintenance of a principle common to the interests, the affections, the duty of all.

We have no desire nor intention at this time to arouse jealousies or awaken conflicts by criticisms applied to the course of those delegates who coincided in principle with the retiring delegates and yet have omitted or delayed to co-operate in their action. It may be that their course was the most prudent which could be adopted under the circumstances, and that furnishes now the only hope of the ultimate reunion of the party on a basis of constitutional principle. We know that there are men in each of the Southern delegations which still remain in the National Convention as loyal to principle and as devoted to the rights and interests of the South as any son of the South who has retired from the National Convention in vindication of national principle and Southern honor. We know that these men have acted from loyal motives, nor do we presume to say that their action has been either improper or imprudent. As we have said before, we deem it possible, nay probable, that in pursuing a different course from that adopted by a number of their associates, they have only taken a precaution which will result in pledging the whole Democratic party to the maintenance of that principle of Constitutional right which they deem essential.

Admitting all this, we still vindicate, without reservation or exception, the action of those delegates who have retired from the Convention. Their action was right—right in principle and expedient in policy. When delegates were instructed by their constituencies to withdraw from the Convention in a certain contingency—on the happening of that contingency they had no choice. And when they withdrew from the Convention—it was due to them, due to their constituencies, due to loyalty and to principle, that they should not be left isolated in the position to which their imperative duty had assigned them. Had they refused to obey instructions, or, after obedience, had they been left isolated by their associates, the principles for which they contend would have fallen to the ground. All honor, then, to the retiring delegates! Whatever credit may be attributable to other soldiers in the battle of constitutional right, these cavaliers who par excellence have assumed the post of danger, maintain a claim to national gratitude, second to that of none of their peers.

As to the ultimate action to be adopted at Baltimore, we see but two alternatives presented to the Democratic party. The doctrine of protection in the territories must be finally rejected or accepted. If it is rejected, as we have already indicated, its rejection will involve the dismemberment of the Democratic party, and a separate nomination of a Democratic candidate on the platform of constitutional protection will inevitably ensue. If it is rejected, then the rejection must be unequivocal. If the delegates who now compose the Convention are willing to yield the point—if they are willing to tolerate the doctrine of territorial sovereignty, then, by all means, let the issue be presented in the most tangible form—by the nomination of Stephen A. Douglas. Mr. Douglas has taken his position in a fair and open manner. It is unjust to him, and unfair to the host of friends who sustain him and his doctrine, that any compromise candidate shall be allowed to steal his thunder. Much as we oppose his doctrine of territorial government, we would infinitely prefer to see him elected on the honestly avowed platform of territorial sovereignty, rather than witness the election of a man who shall consent to go before the people on a platform speaking one sentiment at the North and another at the South.

We are convinced that the large majority of the Southern Democracy will be satisfied with no candidate who does not openly avow the doctrine of constitutional protection in the Territories. The Southern Democracy are naturally averse to any precipitate action.—They will calmly await the action of the Baltimore Convention. Let that Convention adopt, to the full extent, in their platform, the great doctrine of the equal rights of the sovereign States; and they will support any candidate who can stand on that platform. And if the Baltimore Convention shall proceed to name a candidate without asserting the doctrine of equal protection, then the candidate himself, whoever he may be, will be required to inscribe, with his own hand, on the banner of the party, the doctrine which the Democracy of seventeen States have already pronounced to be essential. On no other terms can he unite the support of the Democratic party.

With these views we respectfully, but earnestly, appeal to the Convention that will assemble in Richmond on the 11th June next, to take no decided action until they shall be informed of the measures adopted by the Baltimore Convention on the 18th June. As matters now stand, the question of a platform is still open, and we yet trust that the Democratic Baltimore Convention will see the vital importance of adopting a platform that will meet the views of the Richmond Convention, and thus secure the harmonious and united action of the Democracy of every section of the confederacy.

  1. Cardinal Democratic principles on the slavery question:

    Absolute non-interference by the General Government; to introduce or to exclude slaves, in any of the territories of the Union.

    No federal Slave Code. No Congressional discrimination in favor of slave property in the territories, and no Congressional discrimination against it.

    Whenever in any of the territories the safety of slave persons or the right of slave property, or the right or safety of any description of persons or property, is unconstitutionally assailed, it is the power and duty of Congress, not less than of any and every other Department of the General Government, to exercise its proper functions, for the security of equal protection to the rights and safety of every species of persons and property.

    The full and unimpaired right of popular sovereignty, entitling the people of each Territory, on application for their admission as a new State into the Union, to enact their own State Constitution, by a fair and full reference to a popular vote, without force, fraud or Federal dictation, and by such Constitution to provide for the maintenance or the prohibition of the institution of slavery as to them may seem best. []

  2. Fernando Wood delegation, not admitted at Charleston. []
  3. Dean Richmond delegation, admitted at Charleston, composed of forty Douglas and thirty anti-Douglas delegates, but casting a solid Douglas vote of thirty-five under the unit rule []
  4. Vote on question to recommit platform. Proceedings of the Conventions at Charleston and Baltimore, p. 89. []
  5. Vote by which the main minority report was substituted for the majority report. []
  6. Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, Texas. Winston of Alabama, and Jones and McHatton of Louisiana withdrew under protest. []
  7. Four only unless Fisher of Virginia be included: South Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Delaware. []