• The American System title cardv3.png

    "I would rather be right than be President"
    -Henry Clay
    "Am I not a man and a brother?"
    -Anti-slavery slogan

    Henry Clay is one of the greatest what-ifs of American history. A man who had such a massive impact on the United States never rose to be its leader, despite his many attempts. But what if Henry Clay had been elected President? If he had been able to implement his ambitious American System? If he had used the Presidency to fight against rising sectional tensions? The easiest way to get him into the White House is to change just a couple thousand votes in New York and Michigan in 1844, but that leaves him to contend with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. However, if the Whigs had decided to hold their 1839 convention six months later, Henry Clay would have triumphed at both the convention and against an unpopular Van Buren in the general election, and he would have had a friendly Congress to work with. And from there, a Third Bank of the United States is chartered, canals and railroads are built with Federal funding, and the U.S. never goes to war with Mexico.
    But what would become of Texas? Of slavery and the south? Of America's growing industrial economy?

    What if the man who declared 'I would rather be right than be President' got to be both?

    Hi everyone and welcome to my second major timeline! I had originally intended to post this in the far future, once New Birth of Freedom was wrapped up, but as I kept writing I got impatient. So, without much further ado, I present The American System!
    1. The Convention
  • 1. The Convention

    “The Whig Party held their first national convention in late May of 1840, from the 13th to the 16th. Initially planned to be held in December of 1839, the convention was rescheduled for May of 1840. The convention organizers were persuaded by John J. Crittenden to hold it in the year of the election, rather than the winter before. He argued that selecting a candidate closer to the election would allow the convention to better gauge public opinion and select the most electable candidate [1]. While this proposal won broad support among the leaders of the Whig Party, it was proposed exclusively for the benefit of Henry Clay. As the founder, both of the Whig Party and its core ideologies, Clay’s standing had been hurt by a series of Whig defeats in 1839, and it was believed that, should Whig candidates win elections before May of 1840, then Clay would look the more viable candidate. Regardless of Crittenden’s ulterior motives, the convention was rescheduled.

    An additional argument was made for holding the convention at a later date – it would allow additional travel time so the delegates from Arkansas, South Carolina, and Tennessee could be present. Of course, Tennessee’s Whigs refused to send delegates to the convention, believing that conventions were un-democratic [2]. However, Whig organizers were successful in persuading Georgia to attend the convention. The Georgia States’ Rights Party considered itself a separate entity from the Whigs, but their close alignment with the national Whigs persuaded them in March of 1840 to vote in favor of participating in the May convention [3]. The Georgian faction would, by 1842, merge fully with the national Whig Party apparatus, with their presence at the 1840 convention a significant factor.

    By May 13th, 1840, a week after the Democratic Convention’s end, Martin Van Buren’s chances were slim. His party had failed to even nominate a Vice President and the economy was once again in recession. On the other hand, things looked even better for Henry Clay. The worsening economy and a series of Whig victories in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Virginia raised party morale. South Carolina, Georgia, and Arkansas all sent pro-Clay delegate slates, further enhancing his support at the convention. He was not without strong opposition, however, with the powerful New York powerbroker Thurlow Weed supporting General Winfield Scott and Pennsylvania attorney Thaddeus Stevens backing General William H. Harrison. While Clay had a solid hold on the southern delegates, Scott and Harrison could rely on strong Northern support due to a quirk of the convention’s rules. Delegates did not vote as individuals, rather, whichever candidate had the most delegates from a state received all of that state’s delegates, which worked against Clay in the north.

    The convention assembled in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on May 13th, a warm and mostly sunny day, at 12:00 noon. The first order of business was to select a convention chair, and former Congressman Isaac C. Bates of Massachusetts was duly selected to fill that post. A number of procedural matters were decided upon, before the delegates adjourned until 10:00 AM the next day. On the 14th, a President of the Convention, James Barbour of Virginia, was selected as the Permanent Chair of the convention, and 13 deputies were chosen. With this accomplished, the convention declared that, on Friday the 15th, the delegates would select the Presidential and Vice-Presidential nominees, and then adjourned for the day.

    On the 15th, the convention commenced voting on the Presidential nomination at 3:00 PM. Clay assumed a predictable lead on the first ballot, with 128 delegates. William Henry Harrison, with the support of the Midwest and New England, emerged, with 94 delegates, as a serious challenger to Clay. Winfield Scott, thanks to the efforts of Thurlow Weed, held New York, New Jersey, and Vermont in his column. In the aftermath of the first ballot, with Clay in a tenuous lead, Weed went to the Connecticut delegation to flip them from Clay to Scott, while Clay’s allies, chiefly Crittenden, worked to swing New Jersey away from Scott. New Jersey Senator Samuel L. Southard was a strong supporter of Clay, and he met with Crittenden and several pro-Scott delegates in between the first and second ballots. The efforts of Crittenden and Southard were successful in persuading enough Scott delegates to switch to Clay, while Weed was unable to sway enough Clay men to bring the state into Scott’s column [4].

    The second ballot saw only New Jersey change allegiance, giving Clay 136 votes, just four shy of a majority. Pennsylvania remained in Harrison’s column, though Nicholas Biddle had promised to support Clay if he gained support on the second ballot [5], meaning that the third ballot was guaranteed to give Clay a majority if nothing else changed. Thurlow Weed redoubled his efforts to swing Connecticut, while Harrison’s campaign manager, Thaddeus Stevens, went to the Virginian delegates to try and pry the state from Clay. Should both states leave Clay’s column, the addition of Pennsylvania would not be enough to give him the nomination. However, Weed fell short by just three delegates from taking control of Connecticut’s 8 votes, while Virginia remained unshakeable in its loyalty to Clay. The third ballot was the final one – Biddle used his considerable influence with Pennsylvania’s Whigs to give the state’s delegates to Clay. With 166 delegates, 26 more than the minimum, he had won the nomination for the third time. John Owen, on the committee responsible for tabulating the vote results, announced the final results: Clay, 166; Harrison, 94; Scott, 49.

    Clay, who had been playing cards with Scott, John J. Crittenden, and George Evans when he received word of his victory at the convention, rushed off to draft a letter accepting the nomination. Read aloud by members of Kentucky’s delegation, Clay’s letter read in part: “with a just and proper sense of the high honor of being voluntarily called to the office of President of the United States by a great, free and enlightened people, and profoundly grateful to those of my fellow-citizens who are desirous to see me placed in that exalted and responsible station. I must say that it is with profound gratitude to those who placed such confidence in me, and to all the distinguished gentlemen of the Harrisburg Convention regardless of which individual they preferred, that I accept your nomination for President of the United States.” Clay also reminded the convention of the ultimate goal: “to rescue our country from the dangers which now encompass it and bring about a salutary change in the administration of the General Government [6].”

    The delegates then searched for an appropriate Vice-Presidential candidate. As Clay was from the south, a northerner was needed, preferably one who had supported either Harrison or Scott, to unite the party. Congressman James Tallmadge of New York was proposed and attracted significant northern support. However, his support for an amendment to the Missouri Compromise abolishing slavery in Missouri cost him support in the southern delegations. South Carolina, led by William C. Preston, put forward John Tyler, a former Senator who, while a staunch Clay supporter, was also a state’s rights conservative. Tyler did not get much traction outside of South Carolina, and Clay himself stated his preference for a “balanced ticket.” Former Senator Thomas Ewing of Ohio was also proposed, but his ties with the Catholic Church (His wife and children were Catholics) sunk his chances, as Catholicism was still viewed with suspicion at this point in American history.

    Congressman Millard Fillmore of New York was proposed just before voting began as a northern alternative to the controversial Tallmadge. A moderate on the issue of slavery, he believed the Federal government did not have the power to end the institution. He also had a fierce rivalry with William Seward and Thurlow Weed, which in fact led the two to support Fillmore for the Vice-Presidential nomination. Seward wanted to eliminate Fillmore as a rival in state politics and saw the Vice Presidency as a dead-end position where his rival would be out of the way. Thus, the first and only Vice-Presidential ballot yielded a strong victory for Fillmore, with 195 delegates.

    Convention Vote:

    Presidential vote123Vice-Presidential vote1
    H. Clay128136166M. Fillmore195
    W. H. Harrison949464J. Tyler63
    W. Scott574949J. Tallmadge21

    The nominations decided, a resolution was passed making them both unanimous as a show of party unity. The convention then resolved, on the motion of a delegate from Connecticut, that “we congratulate the Democratic Whig Party of the United States upon the unanimity and enthusiasm which have crowned the labors of this Convention [7].” A second resolution was adopted, ‘recommending’ the ticket of Clay and Fillmore be nominated by the various state conventions and their names placed on the ballots for the general election. The delegates then adjourned for the night and reconvened the next day to formally adjourn the Convention.”

    -From THE EVOLUTION OF THE WHIGS by James Welter, published 1997

    [1] The POD – OTL, the convention was held in December and, with their recent losses fresh in the minds of the delegates, Clay narrowly lost the nomination.
    [2] Same as OTL, Hugh L. White and John Bell disliked conventions, thinking them undemocratic, and Tennessee did not participate in the Whig convention.
    [3] OTL, Georgia’s State Rights Party declined to participate. Here, with more time to deliberate on whether to send delegates, they ultimately do.
    [4] OTL, Thurlow Weed flipped Connecticut to Scott on the 3rd Ballot.
    [5] OTL, Biddle and his fellow Pennsylvania Whigs reluctantly backed Harrison, thinking him the most electable candidate. Here, with the convention delayed and Van Buren more vulnerable, Biddle throws in with Clay.
    [6] Adapted from Clay’s OTL letter to the convention in which he acknowledged his defeat.
    [7] Taken from an OTL resolution adopted at the close of the 1839 Convention.
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    2. The Election
  • 2. The Election

    “The Democrats were unimpressed with Henry Clay, viewing him as a has-been failed candidate. His personal foibles, especially a fondness for hard drink and gambling, were also attacked. In an editorial in the pro-Democrat Baltimore Republican, John de Ziska wrote that a supposed embittered supporter of Harrison had wondered “how to get rid of Clay”, and Ziska published his suggestion: “Give him a barrel of hard cider and another of bourbon, and a pension of two thousand for the horse races and card games, and my word for it, he will sit the remainder of his days and study moral philosophy [1].” This piece was quickly reprinted by other Democratic papers, but the Whig party machinery was able to spin the taunt. Hard cider was seen as a drink of the common man, and so the Whigs decided to embrace the cider that the Democrats had derided.

    The expansion in the franchise during the 1820s and 1830s meant that most white men were able to vote, including lower- and working-class men. The Whig strategy of portraying Clay as the candidate of the common man was tailored to attract these new voters. Clay was also celebrated in campaign literature as ‘Ol’ Coon’ Clay [2], emphasizing his frontier background. The Whigs also went on the offensive against President Van Buren. Amidst a lingering economic depression, Van Buren’s lifestyle was attacked by Whig papers and campaigners. Charles Ogle, a Pennsylvania congressman, gave a much-publicized speech in which he declared “If he is vain enough to spend his money in the purchase of rubies for his neck, diamond rings for his fingers, Brussels lace for his breast, filet gloves for his hands… it can constitute no valid reason for charging the farmers, laborers, and mechanics of this country with bills for hemming his dish rags, for his larding needles, liquor stands, and foreign-cut wine coolers. [3]”

    To further build up Clay as the champion of the common man and tear down Van Buren as an uncaring elitist, the Whig campaign machine publicized a story from Clay’s beginnings in Kentucky politics, when during the War of 1812, he pushed through the state house a bill requiring legislators to wear homespun suits rather than imported British cloth. The goal was to paint Clay as humble, with an ear to the interests and wants of the common citizens. Of course, Clay was a wealthy planter from a wealthy planting family while Van Buren was the son of an innkeeper, but, as is standard in politics, perception is more important than reality. The Whigs held dozens of massive rallies, with hard cider and coonskin hats handed out and prominent speakers attesting to Clay’s supposed frontier roots. In a precursor to modern political mail, Clay, Harrison, Scott, and even Thurlow Weed (who wholeheartedly backed Clay in the general) pooled their disparate mailing lists to send out flyers and campaign literature to as many people as possible.

    Weed also took control of campaign fundraising in order to fund the rallies and mailing lists, bringing in large contributions from land speculators who would benefit from the internal improvements a Clay presidency would bring. Weed also skimmed from tolls on the Erie Canal to fund the campaign, a scheme repeated in a number of states. Though they could not vote, women were also recruited by the Whigs to convince their husbands to support Clay, making it the first-time women were involved on a large scale in a political campaign.

    Democrats were unable to both attack Clay and defend Van Buren from the Whig onslaught, and so Amos Kendall, Van Buren’s campaign manager, decided to solely focus on attacking Clay and ignore the criticisms leveled at the administration. By the end of August 1840, Clay had made no public appearances, as was the custom for Presidential candidates. This did not stop the Democratic campaign from mocking him, with one article alleging Clay had been shut away at a racetrack with hard cider and was rubbing elbows with the wealthy financiers who supported the restoration of a National Bank. Clay was initially content to answer letters from citizens, but the intensifying Democratic attacks compelled him to, on September 6th, make a speech before a few hundred supporters in Ohio defending his reputation. Clay ultimately made eleven speeches during the campaign, a first for any candidate, but he was reluctant to campaign personally and relied on General Harrison and Daniel Webster, among 5,000 other speakers, to crisscross the country campaigning for him.

    The Whigs did have one weapon that the Democrats could not rely on – the state of the economy. Despite a brief resurgence in the fall of 1839, by September 1840 it had fallen back into a depression, and the Whigs never ceased to remind voters that Van Buren was president, that he hadn’t done enough to mitigate the effects, and that a Clay presidency would ease the suffering. The Whigs even recruited craftsmen, like future Senator Henry Wilson, a shoemaker, and John Bear, a blacksmith, to go on speaking tours.

    Democrats questioned where the Whigs got the funds for their barrels of cider, coonskin caps, mailed pamphlets, large rallies, and newspapers, and some seized on a trip Daniel Webster had taken to England the previous year as a sign that the British were secretly bankrolling the Whig campaign. Despite Democratic allegations of secret money, Whigs performed well in the September elections, even taking the governorship in Maine, a traditionally Democratic state. Andrew Jackson weighed in on October 14th, warning that electing Clay would “tend to the destruction of our glorious Union and Republican system.” He stumped throughout Tennessee for Van Buren. Jackson also attacked Clay as, in effect, a corrupt tool of the banks to hurt the livelihoods of ordinary Americans. Democratic operatives also sought to tar Clay as an abolitionist, publicizing his past support for gradual emancipation in Kentucky and Virginia, while the anti-slavery Liberty Party attacked Clay for owning slaves, calling him a “man stealer, slaveholder, and murderer.” Worried that these attacks would sink Clay’s chances at winning in key northern states like New York, Whig managers circulated a fraudulent letter in New York and Ohio that supposedly uncovered that the Liberty Party was in cahoots with Van Buren to throw the election.

    There was no set Election Day at this point in American history, with elections starting as early as September for local and state offices. Presidential balloting began on October 30 in Pennsylvania and Ohio and ended on November 23 in Rhode Island. November 2, with 12 states, including New York, was the largest voting day. Due to the spread-out voting period, Americans scoured newspapers, from the most partisan to the most reputable, for any sort of trend. With Clay trailing in Pennsylvania, it initially seemed like Van Buren could pull off a staggering upset. But a decisive Whig victory in Ohio and a narrow win for Clay in New York, President Van Buren’s home state, proved a more accurate gauge of the public mood. With Clay’s victory in New York, the election was essentially decided and, despite some Democrats alleging Whig bribery and voter fraud, he began preparing to assume the office of President.

    Henry ClayMartin Van Buren
    Electoral Vote194100
    Popular Vote1,248,5241,152,817

    The results were less of a landslide for the Whigs than many had hoped for, but Clay’s coattails resulted in the Whigs picking up 25 [4] seats in the House and 6 in the Senate, flipping both chambers. Clay won 194 electoral votes to Van Buren’s 100, but the popular vote was closer, with Van Buren coming within four points of Clay. Turnout was at 81%, an increase of over 50% from 1836.

    Clay was almost immediately beset with office-seekers thronging his Ashland plantation. His Vice President, Millard Fillmore, later commented: “I understand they have come down on Senator Clay like a pack of famished wolves.” Clay returned to Washington in early January to fill the many federal jobs with loyal Whigs, making stops in Ohio and Pennsylvania before arriving at the capital. America had elected its first Whig President, and that President was Henry Clay.”

    -From THE CLAY ERA: TRANSFORMING A NATION by Edmund Sellers, published 2017

    [1] In OTL, this was written about William Henry Harrison and included mention of log cabins.
    [2] A tactic from the OTL 1844 election.
    [3] Taken from an OTL speech attacking Van Buren for supposedly funding his lifestyle with taxpayer dollars.
    [4] The Whigs lose in Tennessee’s 4th District, which they won OTL.
    3. The American System
  • 3. The American System

    “President Clay was inaugurated on a cold and rainy day, having arrived by train in a Presidential first. Due to the windchill, Clay and most people in attendance wore overcoats and gloves to keep warm. President Van Buren was not in attendance, angry at the Whig’s attacks on him during the campaign. Instead, he remained at the White House for the remaining hours of his Presidency, signing legislation. Clay had written his inauguration speech himself, a brief restating of the American System that he hoped to implement during his administration.

    “As the advocate, not of the interests of one state, nor seven states, but the interests of the whole Union,” Clay said, it was his duty to look out for the economic interests of the whole country and not favor sectional issues. He mentioned the economic depression, with a veiled jab at Van Buren: “we have all seen the picture of general distress pervading this nation. The people are oppressed and borne down by a lack of work, by debts, and by the failure of the Government to take action to protect the economy and livelihoods of the citizenry.”

    He proposed that his American System of reforms were the best way to bring about an economic recovery, arguing that “the ruinous property sales, the declining values of property, and the run of bankruptcies is a loud demonstration of the necessity for several measures: the re-chartering of the Bank of the United States as a stabilizing institution to calm the tempestuous markets, the implementation of a protective tariff to protect the domestic industries, and the appropriation of funds for canals, roads, and turnpikes across this Union. In order to transform the condition of this country from gloom and distress to brightness and prosperity, these proposed measures are vital.” He also pledged to issue paper money to increase the Bank’s capacity for credit and promised to select competent candidates for government positions, rather than rewarding loyal supporters.

    Clay also sought to assemble a balanced cabinet that would appease the various factions of the Whig Party without giving his rivals too much influence. To this end, he refused to appoint either Daniel Webster or Winfield Scott to his cabinet, awarding Secretary of State to Senator John M. Clayton of Delaware. He nominated his loyal ally, John J. Crittenden, for Attorney General, after giving Crittenden his pick of cabinet offices [1].

    - From THE CLAY ERA: TRANSFORMING A NATION by Edmund Sellers, published 2017

    Presidential Cabinet of Henry Clay:
    Vice President:
    Millard Fillmore
    Secretary of State: John M. Clayton
    Secretary of the Treasury: Thomas Ewing Sr.
    Secretary of War: John Bell
    Attorney General: John J. Crittenden
    Postmaster General: Francis Granger
    Secretary of the Navy: George E. Badger

    “Henry Clay’s first act as President was to call a special session of Congress in order to respond to the economic crisis. Congress did not usually convene until March 31, but Clay’s proclamation meant that the House and Senate met on March 13. One of the first measures passed by Congress during the special session was the repeal of the Independent Treasury Act. Passed under President Van Buren, the Independent Treasury was intended to remove politics from the United States’ money supply, but the Whigs opposed it in favor of a National Bank. With Whig majorities in Congress, the repeal measure easily passed the House and Senate, and Clay signed it, clearing the way for the chartering of a third Bank of the United States.

    He also signed the Preemption Act, which facilitated the rapid settlement of much of the western territories, namely the modern states of Kansas and Nebraska. Under the terms of the legislation, ‘squatters’ who lived on federally owned land for at least 14 months were given priority to purchase up to 160 acres of land, for $1.25 per acre before the lands were opened up for sale to the general public. [2] The Preemption Act sent a flood of settlers west, with much of modern-day Kansas and Nebraska settled with such land claims. Most importantly to Clay, the funds raised by land sales under the Preemption Act were directed towards the internal improvements (canals, railroads, bridges, and roads) that his American System called for.

    Internal improvements were also funded by the Tariff of 1841 that was approved by the Whig congress. The Tariff of 1833 had instituted a gradual reduction of the tariff rate over ten years to 20%. Now, Whig leaders wanted to raise the rate to nearly 40%, as well as mandate payment of duties in cash and implement pre-set tariff rates, as opposed to the then-current ad valorum system (where payments were judged on the spot). However, raising the tariff rate beyond 20% would end the distribution system, where each state received a percentage of land revenue. Many Southern Whigs depended on the distribution system to defend protectionism to their agrarian constituents. In New York, future president William Seward hoped to use distribution payments to peacefully end the anti-rent movement.

    The tariff bill and a bill extending distribution payments were thus joined and passed by Congress, with President Clay signing the legislative package on August 3rd, 1842. Imports were nearly halved, amid a marked decrease in international trade. Nevertheless, the Clay tariff, as its opponents labeled it, would last until its 1849 repeal and replacement with the Polk tariff.”

    - From WHIGS AND DEMOCRATS by Josiah Wentworth, published 1978

    “In 1841, Rhode Island had one of the most restrictive franchises in the United States. While the Jacksonian era had seen most states establish universal white male suffrage, Rhode Island clung to its property and tax qualifications that placed the state government under the dominance of just 40% of the state’s citizens. As Rhode Island’s cities industrialized and grew, many Rhode Islanders no longer met the eligibility requirements.

    Numerous attempts at franchise reform had been attempted through the state legislature, but the powerful landowners refused to amend the state Charter and give up their outsized influence. Fed up with a legislative struggle that he saw as futile, state representative Thomas Dorr organized the ‘People’s Party’. In 1841, the People’s Party convened and adopted a new state constitution, before holding a referendum to ratify it. Nearly 14,000 people voted in favor, but the state legislature ignored the Dorr constitution as illegal, heightening tensions. Dorrites seized cannon while Governor Samuel King warned that attempts to enforce the Dorr constitution would be suppressed with force, if necessary…

    …Dorr was elected Governor in 1842 by the People’s Party, forming a parallel government to King, who also claimed to have won the election. King had command of the Rhode Island militia, though Dorr and his supporters were also armed. The two rival governments of Rhode Island existed in a tense peace during April 1842, while the crisis polarized the rest of the country. Democratic newspapers denounced King as a tyrant, with one claiming “King and Clay, there is no difference between them… both are disposed towards tyranny.” Former President Andrew Jackson praised Dorr for defending the people as “the sovereign power of the land.” Democrats won the Massachusetts gubernatorial election on a platform supporting Dorr’s movement. Meanwhile, Senator Daniel Webster denounced Dorr for “acting outside of proscribed constitutional procedure.” Governor King pleaded with President Clay to send federal troops into Rhode Island. Clay refused, writing King that “there does not exist, at present, a violent insurrection.” However, he promised that “if resistance is made to the execution of the laws of Rhode Island… it will be the duty of this government to enforce the constitutional guarantee. [3]”

    On May 17th, 1842, Dorr made his move. Together with loyal militia, he launched a nighttime attack on the state arsenal in Providence. Taking the defenders by surprise, he managed to occupy the arsenal and force King to retreat from the city. [4] Clay reacted immediately, dispatching 2,000 soldiers under the command of Winfield Scott to suppress the rebellion and confirm the “legal and constitutional authority of Governor King.” Facing the U.S. army, Dorr’s soldiers dispersed and fled. Dorr himself escaped to Massachusetts to avoid prosecution by King, where he established himself as Governor-in-exile of Rhode Island.

    Clay was faced with an onslaught of criticism from the Democratic press for, as one editorial wrote, “enforcing unjust, un-democratic rule of the few at bayonet-point.” Clay defended himself in a public letter, writing that he had been content to “permit the Rhode Island question to be resolved by the residents of said state,” but “the fomenting of domestic insurrection must not be tolerated.” He closed the letter by urging the Rhode Island state legislature to “adopt any and all reforms the General Assembly should judge appropriate” in order to prevent further unrest. Not for the last time, Clay straddled the fence on the issue, leading Daniel Webster to criticize him for “harboring sympathies with the Dorrite mob.” Nevertheless, Clay’s letter calmed public anger at the Administration, though the sentiment that the Whigs were elitist remained. Meanwhile, cowed by the uprising, the Rhode Island legislature approved the elimination of the property qualification in favor of universal male suffrage upon payment of a $1 poll tax. Despite the ultimate victory of the Dorrites, Dorr himself would never be allowed to return to his home state, and the rebellion would not be the first time that entrenched elites resisted direly-needed reforms to the point of violence.”

    -From FRANCHISE: THE STRUGGLE FOR VOTING RIGHTS by Thaddeus Flagg, published 2021

    “The primary goal of President Clay and the Whigs was the restoration of the National Bank, the charter of which had expired after President Jackson blocked efforts to renew it. Many Whigs blamed the lack of a central banking organ for the Panic of 1837 and the ensuing difficult recovery. A strong central financial apparatus combined with spending on internal improvements, Clay believed, would reinvigorate the economy, and strengthen American domestic markets.

    At the time, the Independent Treasury, established a year prior by President Van Buren, was the central reserve for federal currency. Rather than rely on a national bank, a corporation, the federal government stored its specie in government-owned vaults. Van Buren had attempted to implement the Independent Treasury in 1837, but state banking interests mobilized conservative Democrats and Whigs to obstruct the bill’s passage, until the 1840 passage of the Independent Treasury Act. Clay regarded the Independent Treasury as a wholly inadequate measure, and within a month of his inauguration, his administration began the push to repeal it. It was primarily his desire to restore the bank that prompted Clay to call a special session of Congress in May. While Democrats mocked Clay’s rush to charter a third national bank, the President knew he and the Whigs held a mandate from the people and was determined to implement his agenda as quickly as possible.

    After signing the repeal of the Independent Treasury into law on June 2nd, 1841, Clay turned to drafting its replacement. In conjunction with Treasury Secretary Ewing and Whig congressional leadership, Clay crafted the National Bank Act. Unsurprisingly for a master legislator, Clay took a leading role in passing the banking legislation. Secretary Ewing lobbied members of Congress, but President Clay met with and wrote letters to influential Senators and Congressmen and leaned heavily on contacts in the press to sway fence-sitting legislators. The lobbying was necessary, as National Bank Act had some controversial provisions. Some in Congress were uneasy with one clause that allowed the bank to operate in all states, regardless of whether that state consented. Clay and Speaker John White, a fellow Kentuckian, were able to keep the Whig caucus united and the bill passed Congress on August 6th, making one concession to assuage concerns – the Bank’s headquarters would be in Washington D.C. [5] In a major victory for his administration and the American system, President Clay signed the National Bank Act into law on August 16th, chartering the Third Bank of the United States.

    Nicholas Biddle, the last head of the Second Bank, returned to serve as the Third Bank’s first president. Biddle had transformed the second bank into a strong national credit and currency system, and Clay trusted him to competently manage the bank’s newest iteration (it certainly helped that Biddle had ben instrumental in securing Clay’s nomination at the Whig convention in 1840). Clay exulted to his cabinet over the realization of the American system, remarking that “Jackson’s folly has been repudiated at last.””

    -From THE EVOLUTION OF THE WHIGS by James Welter, published 1997

    [1] OTL, William Henry Harrison extended a similar offer to Crittenden.
    [2] An OTL law signed by John Tyler.
    [3] From John Tyler’s OTL missive to King regarding the Dorr Rebellion.
    [4] OTL, there was a heavy fog and Dorr was forced to abandon the attack.
    [5] An OTL provision in a compromise between Tyler and the Whigs.
    4. Apportionment and Annexation
  • 4. Apportionment and Annexation

    “The flurry of legislation enacted by President Clay and the Whigs in 1841-1842 was designed to quickly alleviate America’s economic woes. The national bank, coupled with new spending on internal improvements and a law allowing individuals to voluntarily declare bankruptcy, had brought a surge of investment into the economy. On the campaign trail in 1840, the Whigs had promised “relief and reform,” and by and large they had delivered. The number of bank closures and farm bankruptcies had dwindled since Clay’s inauguration. Elections in 1841 had seen the Whigs successfully defend state legislatures and governorships from Maine to Mississippi, a clear sign that voters were, on the whole, satisfied with the country’s direction.

    In late 1842, elections to the House of Representatives and state legislatures were held. The Apportionment Act of 1842 reduced the size of the House from 242 to 223, with all states required to draw single-member Congressional districts. Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, and New Hampshire had attempted to skirt the ruling, but the Whig congress refused to seat representatives elected on general tickets.

    Despite the improving economy, rural voters favored Democrats and rejected Whig economic policies. This was somewhat counterbalanced by Whig gains in pro-tariff states like Pennsylvania, but the Democrats gained a total of 17 seats. The Whigs lost 28 seats [1] due to eliminated districts as well as Democratic gains, leaving them with a slim majority of 114. In the Senate, the Whigs held a reduced majority of 27, losing three seats. While Clay would be unable to expand significantly upon his accomplishments, the results were hardly a stinging rebuke – the Whigs had maintained their governing trifecta, if narrowly.

    For his part, Clay was disappointed by the losses in the House, but was relieved that the Whigs had held both chambers. He also prided himself on having implemented the bulk of his agenda, opining that “although majorities are fickle things, canals and banks endure.”"

    -From THE CLAY ERA: TRANSFORMING A NATION by Edmund Sellers, published 2017

    “The Apportionment Act of 1842’s prohibition of multi-member districts and statewide general tickets sparked controversy in 1843, when the new Congress convened. The Whigs had barely held their House majority. Four states – Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, and New Hampshire – defied the Apportionment Act and held congressional elections on general tickets, with all four states sending all-Democratic delegations to Washington.

    A number of Whigs, led by Massachusetts Congressman (and former President) John Quincy Adams, objected to seating the 22 general-ticket Democrats. “The question of the admission of the members from four States, elected by general ticket, must be discussed,” Adams stated during his bid to open debate on the issue at Congress’s opening session. He then submitted a petition, signed by 50 congressmen, to prevent the 22 representatives in question from being seated. With the support of Speaker White, the Whigs decided to task the Committee on Elections with investigating the matter. The Whig majority view would be presented by Garrett Davis of Kentucky, the Democratic minority view by freshman Stephen Douglas.

    While Douglas denounced the Apportionment Act as unconstitutional and called for the seating of the representatives, Davis presented a slippery slope: if states could ignore the Apportionment Act, then that would surely embolden states to nullify other federal laws, and what would that mean for the Union?

    When the report was presented to the rest of the House, fierce debate ensued. Democrats denounced the effort to deny the 22 their seats as tyranny, with Douglas emerging as their leading defender. However, the Whigs held the majority, and, on February 14, 1844, the House voted not to seat the 22 representatives until the four states they hailed from implemented single-member districts [2].

    Cowed by the stern response from Congress, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, and New Hampshire obeyed the Apportionment Act. In a series of special elections held over the spring and summer of 1844, Democrats held 16 of the disputed seats, while Whigs flipped 6, increasing their majority to a more comfortable 120. The struggle was an important victory for voting rights in the United States, but the Whig Party would not show such a strong commitment during Abolition…”

    --From FRANCHISE: THE STRUGGLE FOR VOTING RIGHTS by Thaddeus Flagg, published 2021

    “With President Clay firmly opposed to annexing Texas, Sam Houston and the Texian government decided to explore other avenues. Houston’s ultimate goal was for the United States to admit Texas as a state, but until Clay reversed course or a more expansionist President was elected, he decided to put pressure on the American government to open negotiations. In 1843, Houston entered into negotiations with Great Britain and even Mexico to force Clay’s hand [3]. He ostentatiously withdrew his offer of annexation and his ambassador to the United States, Isaac Van Zandt, hinted that Britain and France would mediate peace with Mexico, giving Texas powerful foreign benefactors and removing the need for annexation by the United States.

    News that Texas might seek an accommodation with Great Britain proved worrying to many Americans. Britain was still loathed and feared by them, memories of the Revolution and the War of 1812 still fresh. Furthermore, the United States was at that point embroiled in boundary disputes with British Canada in northern Maine and the Pacific Northwest. For a neighboring country to form an alliance with the British was therefore unthinkable. For southerners, the prospect was made worse by Britain’s firm opposition to slavery. If Texas was placed in the British sphere, the thinking went, then Britain could easily exert pressure on the United States to abolish slavery and President Clay refused to budge, but the prospect of an Anglo-Texas alliance sparked dissent in Congress. Senator John Calhoun, a pro-slavery firebrand, claimed that British designs on Texas would have the ultimate effect of ending American slavery: “[the British] are determined to abolish slavery throughout the continent… the effects would be disastrous.” As a protective move, he called for the annexation of Texas. Of course, Britain had no plans to force Texas or the United States to abolish slavery, as Lord Aberdeen, the British foreign secretary, assured Edward Everett, the U.S. minister to the United Kingdom.

    Despite these assurances, a bipartisan alliance of southern Democrats and Whigs continued to raise concerns over Texas. Clay forcefully insisted in his 1844 message to Congress that “the annexation of Texas would do more to disturb the tranquility of the Union than enhance it… the expansion of our borders can only exacerbate sectional tensions.” With Clay firmly opposed, at least for the time being, the matter of Texian annexation was shelved, though it would certainly play a large role in the 1844 election.”

    -From EXPANDING FRONTIERS by John Freeman, published 1989

    “The Texas quagmire was not the only foreign policy dilemma that presented itself during Clay’s first term. The United States had two long-running border disputes with Great Britain – in the northeast and in the Oregon Country. Numerous efforts had been made in the past to resolve them, but none had been successful. Clay dispatched his Secretary of State, John M. Clayton, and Minister to the United Kingdom, Edward Everett, to settle the matters. While Clayton quickly became bogged down in long negotiations over Oregon, Everett was tasked with resolving the northeast dispute.

    The 1783 Treaty of Paris had established the New York/Vermont-Canadian border as the 45th parallel, but the survey line used in the treaty was inaccurate, and an American fort was constructed north of the actual 45th parallel. As a result, the United States wanted to readjust the border to be along the original, inaccurate survey line rather than the actual parallel. Britain acquiesced to this, and also to a compromise border in Maine. In 1839, northern Maine was the site of confrontations between lumberjacks over logging rights, and the new Maine state government heavily lobbied the federal government to push for a favorable resolution to the dispute. Ultimately, a line roughly in between the American and British extremes was outlined by Everett and his British counterparts, which also ceded the disputed Indian Stream to the United States. The Everett-Ashburton Treaty also guaranteed both the United States and Great Britain use of Great Lakes, established the location of the border at the 49th parallel in the American west until the Rockies, where the still-disputed Oregon Country lay. [4]

    Secretary Clayton, meanwhile, fared little better than his predecessors at resolving the border in Oregon…”

    -From THE GREAT GAMES: A HISTORY OF DIPLOMACY by Kathleen Michaels, published 1996

    [1] Many OTL Whig losses are reversed due to a more unified party and a stronger economic recovery.
    [2] OTL, the Democrats held the majority, and they allowed the 22 representatives to take their seats over the objections of Adams and his allies.
    [3] OTL, Houston made such a move in order to pressure the Senate to ratify Tyler’s annexation treaty.
    [4] All OTL.
    5. Rematch
  • 5. Rematch

    “Clay did not immediately declare his intention to seek a second term. Rather, in early 1844, he undertook a tour of the south in order to shore up support in the region he was weakest. He also took great care not to make his visit seem like campaigning [1]. First, he visited New Orleans and Baton Rouge, where he spoke to large crowds. Louisiana was more supportive of Whig policies than the rest of the south, as the state’s large sugar industry benefited from high tariffs. He departed Louisiana for Washington by way of Mobile, Macon, Savannah, Raleigh, Petersburg, and Norfolk, meeting local dignitaries and addressing crowds along the way.

    Due to Clay’s somewhat advanced age (he would be 67 on inauguration day, 1845), some particularly ambitious Whigs anticipated that he would decline to seek a second term. In particular, Clay’s intra-party rival Daniel Webster was plotting a challenge at the convention. The efforts of his rivals to depose him were dashed when Clay officially announced his intention to run for a second term in early March of 1844. Webster grumpily instructed his surrogates to endorse Clay, believing that the party had to show unity in support of the incumbent.

    With his rivals unwilling to divide the party, President Clay was unanimously nominated for a second term at the Whig Convention in May. Despite an attempt by southern Whigs to replace Vice President Fillmore with someone viewed as more pro-slavery, like North Carolina’s Senator William A. Graham, the forces of William Seward and Thurlow Weed united to keep their rival out of New York politics. Despite strong southern support for Graham, Fillmore was easily nominated once more as Clay’s running mate. The Whig platform made no mention of Texas, as Clay believed that making a definitive stance would divide the party. Instead, the platform focused on tariffs and continued internal improvements.”

    -From THE CLAY ERA: TRANSFORMING A NATION by Edmund Sellers, published 2017

    “Former President Martin Van Buren was widely expected to attempt a rematch with Clay, and so it was unsurprising when he began actively campaigning for the Democratic nomination. However, Van Buren had emerged as a leading opponent of annexing Texas. Southern Democrats were therefore determined to block his nomination. Several anti-Van Buren candidates contested the convention, chiefly former Michigan Governor Lewis Cass, Pennsylvania Senator James Buchanan, and former Virginia Senator John Tyler.

    Senator Calhoun, one of the loudest voices for annexation, supported Tyler, a former Whig who rejoined the Democrats after the chartering of the third National Bank. In some ways, Tyler’s political evolution was strikingly similar to that of Calhoun, who had started out as an avid nationalist before becoming a full-throated champion of slavery, states’ rights, and southern sectional interests.

    In 1840, the convention had eliminated the requirement for a candidate to obtain 2/3 of the delegates in order to win the nomination. Senator Robert Walker of Mississippi and James Buchanan of Pennsylvania moved early on to reinstate the 2/3 rule. Despite many Van Buren delegates supporting the rule change, the motion was defeated by a vote of 136-128. With this primary obstacle removed, Van Buren’s nomination was increasingly likely. Predictably, the former President was nominated on the first ballot with 146 votes. In order to appease the restive expansionists, Van Buren’s supporters knew they needed a southerner and annexationist to balance out the ticket.

    …Polk, the former Governor of Tennessee and former Speaker of the House, was both ardently expansionist and a staunch Van Buren supporter who had worked to build southern support for Van Buren. While he had been largely unsuccessful in swaying southern delegates, Van Buren trusted him and saw an opportunity to extend an olive branch to the southern Democrats. Thus, he instructed his delegates to support Polk, who was easily nominated on the first ballot.

    Presidential vote1Vice-Presidential vote1
    M. Van Buren146J. Polk203
    L. Cass94J. Buchanan38
    J. Tyler29J. Tyler15
    Minor Candidates8Minor Candidates2

    Despite strong opposition from southern and pro-annexation delegates, Martin Van Buren was nominated for the third consecutive election by the Democratic party. The result infuriated southern delegates, with Calhoun denouncing Van Buren as an abolitionist and radical. John Tyler mulled an independent presidential run, but ultimately decided to focus on an ultimately unsuccessful campaign to unseat Senator William Cabell Rives in Virginia. Calhoun quietly organized a write-in campaign in the south, and Van Buren began his bid for a second non-consecutive term with a significant section of his party working to defeat him.”

    -From IN THE SHADOW OF JACKSON by Michelle Watts, published 2012

    SewardsFolly said: I’ve been reading the excellent In the Shadow of Jackson, and a moment of divergence just jumped out at me: the 1844 Democratic national convention nearly voted to make the nomination require a 2/3 majority, but this narrowly failed. Had it passed, Martin Van Buren would never have won on the first ballot, and likely would have failed to secure the nomination. Who would have been the nominee if Van Buren was unable to get the 2/3 majority – Cass? Buchanan four years early? John Tyler? A dark horse candidate?

    VanRuin said: I think Buchanan didn’t quite have the stature to secure the nomination in ’44 – it was his ardent expansionism and palatability to the south, especially after Van Buren came up short a second time, that won him the nomination in 1848. Cass had southern support and could have assembled a required majority, especially if Tyler or Buchanan drops out and endorses him, which I think would happen on the fifth or sixth ballot.

    Feet of Clay said: I think Cass or Buchanan could have beat Clay – he won Pennsylvania, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi by less than 5% OTL, and flipping those five states would give the Democrats 152 electoral votes to Clay’s 123.

    Whitelaw said: I think you’re discounting Van Buren’s OTL running mate, Polk. He was a loyal Van Burenite and if Van Buren flames out then I could see him turning to Polk. This guy was also an ardent expansionist who wanted both Texas and 54’40, so he could balance the southern and northern factions of the Democrats.

    Feet of Clay said: Polk is… a possibility, but if the convention wants a balanced candidate. I think they’d turn to either Buchanan, even if it is a tad early for him, or Cass. Polk was a nobody, and the other big southern guy was John Tyler, who nobody except Calhoun were particularly enthusiastic about.

    SewardsFolly said: Had it been Cass I could see the election going both ways, but if it was Tyler, I think Clay would still have won. The interesting thing there is that Clay could well take a different position on Texas annexation. Tyler was ardently in favor of it, so I could see Clay taking a much firmer stance against annexation than his OTL caution. My guess, though, is that he would have done better in the north, likely winning New York and possibly Maine or New Hampshire, but losing Alabama, Virginia, Georgia, and likely Louisiana as well.

    Conscience said: I think people are underestimating Clay’s strengths. Sure, he had a weak opponent in 1844, but that covers up the strength of Whig organization, which improved even from 1840. His allies like Thurlow Weed expanded their mailing list system, disseminating tons of campaign lit and pamphlets, and the campaign tactics of Clay’s surrogates were honed, and their schedules optimized. And while you may think his Alabama Letters were wishy-washy and cowardly, but they show Clay as a masterful fence-straddler – the north was placated by Clay’s unwillingness to inflame sectional tensions and the south was reassured that he wouldn’t rule out the expansion of slavery. Sure, he was mocked for staking out the middle ground, but he was able to convince enough people that he was on their side to win. It’s as our current President said: “you can fool some of the people all of the time, or you can fool all of the people some of the time,” and Clay did the latter expertly.

    Zollverein [MOD] said: I agree with what you said, Conscience, but please refrain from dragging current politics into this discussion.

    -From WI 2/3 RULE INSTATED IN 1844? on, posted 2021

    “Both Clay and Van Buren wanted to contest the election on policy – Clay stood for a continuation of his successful American system, while Van Buren campaigned on a reduction in the tariff. However, the issue of Texas was what gripped the public imagination, and they clamored to hear what Clay and Van Buren thought of annexing the small republic. Van Buren had made his stance eminently clear: Texas should not be annexed, lest it inflame sectional tensions and tear the union apart.

    Clay had remained cagey throughout 1843 and early 1844, having opposed entering into negotiations with Houston but refusing to rule out a future annexation. He had hoped to keep the election focused on the American system, but Texas’s efforts to join the union had sharply divided the nation. The south was in favor, the north generally opposed, and Clay had to walk a fine line to avoid angering either faction. Finally, on July 27th, he published a public letter outlining his opinion of the matter.

    In the ‘Alabama Letter,’ Clay stated his personal support for the annexation of Texas but expressed reservations over inflaming sectional tensions. “It would be unwise to bring Texas into the Union with the present state of affairs,” Clay wrote, but he laid out the circumstances under which he would pursue a treaty of annexation. First, Texas would have to be balanced out by a favorable resolution to the Oregon dispute with the United Kingdom. Second, both north and south had to approve of the annexation for Clay to move forward with it, to ensure that the nation’s unity would not be disturbed [2]. Van Buren wanted to attack Clay over the letter, seeing an opening to make him look indecisive and opportunistic, but to do so would emphasize Van Buren’s staunch opposition to annexation. The Democrats were already divided over renominating Van Buren, and he did not want to aggravate it and alienate the south by emphasizing his stance over Texas. This left the abolitionist Liberty Party to take the attack to Clay, with their nominee, James Birney, accusing the President of seeking détente with the slave power. Meanwhile, the south was only partially mollified by the Alabama Letter, but with the southern Whigs emphasizing Van Buren’s anti-annexationism, Clay’s position seemed the better of the two.

    In the north, the Liberty Party emerged as a threat to Clay’s chances in states like New York and Pennsylvania. James Birney claimed that Clay was no better than the Democrats on the issue of slavery, and that slave power ruled the country. Clay felt forced to respond, lest Birney split the northern Whig vote and allow Van Buren to win. In a second public letter, he reiterated that Texas would only be annexed in conjunction with territory in Oregon – a slave state and a free territory [3]. Clay accused the Liberty Party of “fomenting domestic strife” with their rhetoric, and his ally Thurlow Weed led a media campaign in the north that attacked Van Buren on the tariff issue, with one pamphlet warning that “should Mr. Van Buren be victorious, his ruinous trade policies will leave half the mills in the Union bankrupt and the other half with cut wages.”

    While in the north the Whigs fought a scorched-earth campaign against Van Buren with a narrow focus on tariffs and internal improvements, southern Whigs waged a very different fight. There, the focus rested on Van Buren’s anti-annexationism, with southern Whig pamphlets calling him an abolitionist. In order not to disrupt the efforts of Weed and Seward to build Clay’s image as a defender of northern interests, southern Whigs rarely mentioned Clay by name on the issue of Texas, but instead focused on Van Buren [4].

    Henry ClayMartin Van Buren
    Electoral Vote19175
    Popular Vote1,334,8191,225,226

    Henry Clay won election to a second term by a slightly increased margin, losing Michigan and New Jersey to Van Buren but winning Pennsylvania and Alabama, and narrowly holding Van Buren’s electorally rich home state of New York. Nationwide, he defeated Van Buren by a margin of 110,000 votes. Across the south, Clay’s victories were aided by significant numbers of write-in votes for local Democratic tickets, with a write-in campaign for John Calhoun nearly edging out Van Buren in Louisiana. Meanwhile, South Carolina’s General Assembly cast the state’s 9 electoral votes for Calhoun to protest Van Buren’s anti-annexationism [5]. The Whigs rode Clay’s coattail to slightly expanded majorities in the House and Senate, gaining 7 seats in the House and 2 in the Senate.

    Despite this victory, the increasing volume of the calls to annex Texas threatened to divide the Whigs and make Clay’s second term rockier than his first…”

    -From THE EVOLUTION OF THE WHIGS by James Welter, published 1997

    [1] Clay used a similar tactic in OTL 1844.
    [2] Clay’s stance here is similar in some ways to James Buchanan’s IOTL.
    [3] It’s important to note that the annexation of Texas, while important and polarizing, is not as polarizing as it was OTL. Without Tyler loudly leading the charge and with Clay instead studiously ignoring and downplaying the issue, the discourse is (aside from the Liberty Party) less vitriolic.
    [4] Without John Tyler to leave the Whigs rudderless for four years, the party is much more cohesive in 1844 and runs a more efficient campaign as a result.
    [5] Similar to 1832, where South Carolina cast its electoral votes for John Floyd of the Nullifier Party in protest of Jackson’s tariff and subsequent attempted Force Act.
    6. The Compromise of 1846
  • 6. The Compromise of 1846

    “Shortly after his second inauguration, President Clay was faced once more with the issue of Texas. President Anson Jones made a public request for annexation in May of 1845, putting increased pressure on the Administration in Washington D.C. In a meeting with southern Whigs, Senator Ephraim Foster of Tennessee informed Clay that, “we cannot proceed without some clear resolution of the Texian Question. The Democrats will make us out to be weak, and our party will be rent in two by the issue unless a compromise is brokered.”

    Clay was inclined to agree – Martin Van Buren had lost in part because many southern Democrats refused to support him, most prominently John Calhoun. The Democratic split had meant that many Whigs were elected to southern congressional seats, giving southern Whigs new influence within the party [1]. Like Senator Foster, Clay knew that the south would grow agitated unless Texas was annexed, but the north was largely opposed to such a move. In talks with a bipartisan group of prominent legislators (Senator Thomas Hart Benton, an anti-annexation Democrat from Missouri, Congressman Alexander Stephens, a pro-annexation Whig from Georgia, Senator Robert J. Walker, a pro-annexation Democrat from Mississippi, Senator Daniel Webster, an anti-annexation Whig from Massachusetts, and Congressman Milton Brown, a pro-annexation Whig from Tennessee), Clay worked to build support for a compromise: the north would acquiesce to the annexation of Texas, and the south would accept the organization of as much of Oregon as the United States could negotiate from Britain into a free territory [2].

    Stephens and Benton agreed to the proposal, viewing it as an acceptable compromise. Webster and Walker were the most skeptical – Webster believed that any moves towards Texas would aggravate Mexico and instigate conflict, while Walker was unenthused about the prospect of annexing large portions of Oregon, which could easily be split into two or more free territories. Clay hoped that uniting the rest of the Whigs would pressure Webster to toe the line, while Walker held out for additional concessions. Frustrated, Clay gambled that presenting Congress with settled agreements would force them into action, and he entered into simultaneous negotiations with Britain and Texas.

    …News of Secretary Clayton’s success with Lord Aberdeen reached Washington just weeks after the conclusion of negotiations with Texas. A formidable negotiator, Clayton had managed to, at long last, extract Britain’s assent to fixing the Oregon border along the 49th parallel. This had long been the desired goal of the United States, but British opposition had dashed any hope of a resolution, until Lord Aberdeen’s involvement in the process. Meanwhile, Alexander Stephens was sent by Clay to negotiate with Anson Jones in Texas. The annexation treaty proved more complicated than one might assume, as Texas wanted assurance that the United States would support them in the border dispute with Mexico. Clay was reluctant to make such an open-ended commitment, as he was already uneasy with the addition of Texas and Oregon and was unwilling to leave open the possibility of a war with Mexico or the addition of even more territory. Thus, Stephens was instructed to caveat the defense clause with provisions making it defensive-only and establishing that the United States would not actively seek to expand the borders.

    The presentation of the twin treaties to Congress sparked furious debate. Southern politicians, regardless of political affiliation, united in favor of annexing Texas. Most northern Whigs and not a few northern Democrats came out in opposition. Daniel Webster remained studiously opposed, leaving Clay and Benton to try and ratify both treaties. Benton proposed a compromise amendment to the Texas annexation treaty, designed to appease northerners. However, the additional Oregon treaty presented another facet to the issue. Here, northern Whigs were in favor and a large contingent of southerners were opposed.

    Clay had hoped that the north would support the annexation of Texas and the south Oregon as a fair compromise, but holdouts on both sides narrowed the two treaties’ paths to ratification. Daniel Webster refused to budge along with a majority of northern Whigs. Benton was able to wrangle a key endorsement, however: David Wilmot, a Pennsylvania Democrat. Wilmot, though opposed to slavery, was a strong supporter of expansionism and, a widely-read editorial, called the two treaties “the last, best opportunity for this nation to expand our horizons and become a truly great nation – one Union, from shore to shore.” Though a Congressman, Wilmot’s endorsement was used to persuade northerners to support the treaties. James Buchanan, a Democratic Senator from Pennsylvania, held a more favorable view of slavery than Wilmot, and he quickly became a loud supporter for annexation. If Texas was brought into the union, Buchanan argued, then it would sate the south’s appetite for expansion and calm sectional tensions. Oregon, he believed, was a small price to pay for the “rich land of Texas.” Vice President Fillmore was also dispatched to convince northern Whigs to support ratification, in one of his few serious actions as Vice President.

    Alexander Stephens quickly established himself as Clay’s ambassador to southern holdouts. He was joined by the surprise announcement of Robert Walker, who had previously been opposed. Walker reasoned that Texas was too great a prize to pass up. Given that Clay had already promised to allow it into the union as a slave state, Walker called the treaties “a great victory” for the south. Clay was confident he had the votes, and the two treaties were put up for a vote on November 4th, 1845. The Texas treaty was brought up for a vote, as more southerners supported it than northerners supported Texas, and Clay hoped to use Oregon to prod northerners into falling in line. With the south, both Whigs and Democrats, united in support and the north divided, the annexation treaty passed 37-17, with barely more than two-thirds of the Senate in support. Then, the Oregon treaty was put to a vote. This passed by a wider margin of 40-14, with most of the opposition coming this time from southerners.

    …Anson Jones asked the Texas legislature to approve the American offer of annexation, and this was given near-unanimously. There was some debate over the apparent unwillingness by the Americans to fully commit to supporting Texas’s claims in Mexico, but the fraught negotiations in Washington convinced the legislature that these were the best terms they could get. Thus, on February 17th, 1846, Texas assented to the annexation and, upon President Clay’s signing of the instrument of annexation, joined the union on March 3rd as the 28th state. The joint Anglo-American occupation of Oregon was officially ended shortly after, making all of Oregon south of the 49th parallel American territory.

    Though both treaties had been ratified, it was a hollow victory for President Clay. The negotiations had revealed the stark sectional divide within the Whigs, and indeed the President had relied heavily on Democrats to provide the necessary votes for ratification.

    Curiously, the Whigs actually gained 7 House seats in the 1846 congressional elections, though they narrowly lost control of the Senate. In the north, antislavery Whigs emphasized their opposition to Texas and their support for bringing in Oregon. The abolitionist faction within the Whigs therefore made gains by campaigning against the southern faction, further dividing the party. Clay was roundly criticized by abolitionists for the Compromise, and several prominent anti-slavery northern Whigs won over their "doughfaced" pro-south opponents – in New York, the anti-slavery Hamilton Fish secured the gubernatorial nomination and was narrowly elected over the incumbent, Silas Wright. The battle over the two treaties left Clay exhausted and his party even more divided than before. Shortly before his death in 1854, Clay declared that the annexation of Texas was his greatest regret.”

    -UNEASY SILENCE: AMERICA IN THE ANTEBELLUM by John Erwin, published 2021

    MARVIN DAVIS: So, on the show today to discuss a recent petition put before the Bank of the United States asking for Henry Clay’s portrait to be removed from the $10 bill, are Thaddeus Flagg, author of Franchise! and Isabelle Carpenter, the Director of the Bank. Mr. Flagg, Director Carpenter, thank you both for joining us on Counterweight.

    THADDEUS FLAGG: Thank you for having me.

    ISABELLE CARPENTER: Yes, It’s great to be here.

    DAVIS: Let’s start with you, Mr. Flagg, you’re the author of Franchise! You’ve long been an advocate for what you describe as “a collective confrontation with the past” in your works. Why do you believe Henry Clay should no longer have his portrait on the $10 bill?

    FLAGG: Ultimately, Henry Clay was a slaver. He owned slaves; he fought a long legal battle to recover a slave of his who sued for her freedom. Worst of all, he helped embolden the slave-owning south with his ‘Compromise of 1846’, which expanded the influence of slave states in the Union with the annexation of Texas. He, ultimately, was no friend of the abolitionists, no friend of human rights, and therefore undeserving of the honor of being on United States currency.

    DAVIS: Interesting. And Director Carpenter, you have refused to consider the petition made by Mr. Flagg. Why does Henry Clay belong on American currency?

    CARPENTER: First to Mr. Flagg’s argument about slavery – everyone from the south owned slaves back then. George Washington owned slaves, should we take him off of the dollar bill? What about William Seward? He didn’t own slaves, but he let the south keep slavery – should his statue be in the Congress building’s rotunda? Secondly, Henry Clay was one of the most influential Presidents in history. He led the effort that chartered the Bank of the United States, which has been the bedrock of the American economy since 1841. Regardless of slavery, that accomplishment…

    FLAGG: But do any of his accomplishments overpower the fact that this is a man who believed he was entitled to own slaves?

    CARPENTER: It was 1840 or 1850, we shouldn’t be applying modern day morals to antebellum society. I think we have to take Clay’s life and actions in the context of the time and place he lived in.

    FLAGG: If we were discussing dueling or something, I would understand. But slavery wasn’t acceptable in the north in 1840, so why should we absolve Clay, or other slaveowners, of their actions? Slavery was considered reprehensible by people like Seward or Abraham Lincoln. Seward managed to contain it, even if he didn’t abolish it. Henry Clay made no such effort, and indeed strengthened slavery’s hold over the United States. And even though slavery was abolished, that oppressive, racist influence still lingers.

    CARPENTER: Now hold on just a second…

    DAVIS: If you wouldn’t mind holding that thought, Director, we need to take a quick break to hear a word from our advertisers. We’ll be back in a minute with more of this very interesting discussion…

    -From COUNTERWEIGHT with Marvin Davis on NBS, aired on March 5th, 2021

    “With the annexation of Texas, the United States inherited its latest state’s long-running territorial disputes with Mexico. President Clay hoped to settle the issue with peaceful negotiations with Mexico, even though it was crippled by political instability and an intensely nationalistic public mood. Nevertheless, President Jose Joaquin de Herrera, a moderate, sought to negotiate with Secretary Clayton over the Texas border.

    Herrera was given the authority to raise troops by the Mexican Senate, and war seemed likely. But President Herrera preferred to take a more moderate course and agreed to secret talks. Clayton arrived at the bargaining table with demands for the entirety of the lands claimed by Texas under the disputed Treaty of Velasco. Herrera was in no position to concede this – he was risking enough by merely negotiating. Clay and Clayton had expected this, and indeed President Clay did not want to acquire that much land. The United States was willing to concede to a border on the Nueces River up to Carrizo Springs, then a straight line to the Rio Grande until its confluence with the Pecos. From the head of the Pecos, a straight line was drawn north to the border established by the 1819 Adams-Onis Treaty. This placed almost the entirety of Texas's arable land in the United States and left the arid areas and anti-independence Hispanophone towns within Mexico. For this territory, Clayton offered $6 million [3] in annual $2 million installments, as well as the American assumption of $3 million in debts Mexico owed to American citizens.

    Herrera successfully negotiated a payment of $8 million in installments and signed the Clayton-Herrera Treaty on May 13th, 1846. News of the agreement sparked fury in Mexico City and Herrera was nearly kidnapped by a furious mob, but he defused the situation and was able to ward off a potential coup d’état. After furious debate, Herrera was able to persuade a thin majority of the Mexican Senate that this treaty would stave off further territorial losses. With the U.S. Congress’s approval of the treaty and appropriations bill for the payments to Mexico, President Clay had brought about a peaceful resolution to the Texas border. But the deeper sectional problems remained, and would only worsen with time…”

    -From EXPANDING FRONTIERS by John Freeman, published 1989

    [1] Clay would like to be more cautious, but he’s facing pressure from both the Democrats and a large contingent of Whigs so he decides that annexing Texas and Oregon will smooth tensions and allow him to keep the party united.
    [2] Similar to OTL’s Compromise of 1850, when California was admitted as a free state to balance out Texas.
    [3] OTL, the US offered $15 million for the whole Mexican cession. These pieces of Texas are much smaller, but I imagine that Clay would overpay in order to avoid war.
    Last edited:
    7. The First Cracks
  • 7. The First Cracks

    “While Henry Clay had successfully implemented much of the Whig agenda, the party was left seriously divided by the battle over the two treaties. The 1846 congressional elections had seen antislavery ‘free-soil’ Whigs increase their representation both within congress and within the party itself.

    The strengthened free-soil wing, led by former New York Governor William Seward, sought to assert itself within the party. Initially, Seward and Thaddeus Stevens supported Senator Daniel Webster because of his staunch opposition to the annexation of Texas. However, shortly before the convention Webster gave a speech in which he criticized abolitionists and southerners for stirring up tensions over slavery and called for “amicable unity.” This speech prompted Seward to publicly pull his support from Webster and endorse Scott, who was viewed as both a standard Whig and a non-partisan figure that the party could unite behind. Southern Whigs, suspicious of Scott, split between Webster and Secretary of State John M. Clayton. While Webster, as a leader of the Cotton Whigs, was acceptable to the south, his past statements against slavery meant that he was not their first choice. While about half of the southern Whigs supported Webster, another half of the south preferred Secretary Clayton, a fellow southerner.

    The first ballot yielded no majority, with General Scott in the lead and Webster, buoyed by southern and New England support, in second. The two traded places on the second with Webster holding a plurality of delegates, and he held the lead for the next six ballots. On the eighth ballot, Scott was able to consolidate northern and midwestern support and take the lead, but continued southern suspicion meant that he did not have a majority. Finally, after thirteen ballots, Scott, Seward, and Clayton arrived at a deal: Clayton would give his delegates to Scott if he did not appoint any ardent free soilers to the cabinet and allowed Clayton to stay on as Secretary of State. In addition, Clayton and Scott agreed to support a platform plank calling for an end to territorial acquisitions in order to preserve sectional balance.

    For Vice President, none other than Henry Clay stepped in to suggest Attorney General Crittenden. He was a moderate southerner, Clay explained, who would balance out Scott’s reputation, however circumstantial, as a free-soiler.

    Presidential vote1231314Vice-Presidential vote1
    W. Scott1019496115171J. Crittenden277
    D. Webster991051108983
    J. Clayton566051671

    For all the tension and frantic negotiations, the Whig convention produced a remarkably nondescript and evasive platform and ticket. Scott refused to elucidate his opinion of slavery or abolitionists aside from an appeal to sectional harmony. The platform, meanwhile, made no mention of the issue at all. Henry Clay was too busy organizing his return to the Senate to involve himself in a national campaign, while southern Whigs elected to let Scott lose and then return in 1852 to push a candidate more amenable to their demands.”

    -From WHIGS AND DEMOCRATS by Josiah Wentworth, published 1978

    “After Martin Van Buren led the Democrats to defeat in both 1840 and 1844, the prevailing attitude within the party was that their next nominee should have the full support of the south. That entailed that the nominee should be amenable to slavery and its possible extension. However, the north had to be kept on board, meaning that the ideal nominee would be a northerner with southern sympathies. This strengthened the positions of Senator James Buchanan, and former Governor William L. Marcy. Other candidates included Senator Lewis Cass, a supporter of popular sovereignty (where each territory decided for itself whether to allow slavery), former Treasury Secretary Levi Woodbury [1] and Governor William O. Butler [2]. Martin Van Buren contemplated a third run, but ultimately decided to retire from politics and endorsed the Liberty Party ticket.

    …The first ballot saw Lewis Cass emerge in the lead, but only barely. James Buchanan enjoyed strong southern support, and he gained strength on the next two ballots. Cass, meanwhile, lost support in the south to Buchanan and the west to William O. Butler. While Butler was unable to gain traction in the south because of his opposition to the expansion of slavery, Buchanan was able to combine his dominance of the southern delegations with a growing willingness of the northern delegations to support him.

    As the convention listened to the results of the 3rd ballot be read aloud by the convention chair, it was clear that the landscape of the race was shifting. William Marcy experienced a significant loss of support as rivalries within New York state led to a significant number of anti-slavery delegates breaking from Marcy in favor of Van Buren (who was not a candidate). Marcy’s hopes of becoming a compromise candidate were dashed. Meanwhile, Cass and Buchanan remained nearly tied, with Cass just two delegates ahead. At this hour, Buchanan approached Marcy with an offer: in exchange for his support, Buchanan would nominate him for Secretary of State. Facing the collapse of his presidential aspirations, Marcy agreed. Cass, meanwhile, had stagnated on the second and third ballots, having gradually lost support. His failure to gain significant traction led several of his supporters, especially in the south, to consider other options. On the fourth ballot, Buchanan jumped into the lead, coming just 12 delegates shy of a majority [3]. He was nominated on the fifth ballot as northern delegates continued their stampede away from Cass.

    Buchanan had wanted his close friend William R. King [4] of Alabama chosen as his running mate, but anti-expansionist and anti-slavery delegates made it known that they wanted someone to balance the ticket. As King was a slaveholder, a large contingent of anti-slavery delegates, led by the Barnburner faction in New York, pushed for the moderate William O. Butler instead. Butler had expressed support for gradual, compensated emancipation in the past, but was also the popular governor of Kentucky, a Whig stronghold. Despite Buchanan instructing his delegates to support Senator King, Butler was nominated on the second ballot.

    Presidential vote12345Vice-Presidential vote12
    J. Buchanan838590115149W. Butler94135
    L. Cass9894927956W. King10798
    W. Butler2623273631
    W. Marcy47522830

    Like the Whigs, the Democrats made little mention of their stance on slavery. Unlike the Whigs, the Democrats were steadfastly unified behind their non-message and were content to run on their opposition to the national bank, and maintaining sectional balance. What maintaining sectional balance entailed, neither the party platform nor Buchanan would say.”

    -From IN THE SHADOW OF JACKSON by Michelle Watts, published 2012

    “Throughout the campaign, Scott was hampered by the divide within his party, and the perception that he was the candidate of the abolitionists. “The choice is clear,” one Democratic editorial read. “Our President shall either be Senator Buchanan, who is conscientious to sectional differences and conciliatory to the south, or General Scott, who is Seward’s man and beholden to the north alone.” In contrast, Buchanan hardly campaigned and had his surrogates and allies emphasize compromise and preserving the Union, making little mention of slavery or expansion.

    The Whigs leaned heavily on Scott’s reputation as a war hero, hoping to avoid dividing the party with talk of slavery. However, his standing in the south was severely hampered by the fact that his main backers were noted abolitionists William Seward and Thaddeus Stevens. Seeing an opportunity, Buchanan’s surrogates, especially his close friend William R. King, campaigned heavily in Whig-leaning southern states like Louisiana, North Carolina, and Maryland. In the north, Buchanan made it known that he supported “protection to all the great interests, including manufacturing of the whole Union,” in effect signaling to the industrial states that he would leave in place the bulk of Clay’s protectionist legislation [5]. This blunted Whig charges that Buchanan would gut America’s growing industrial economy and curried favor with mercantile groups. In another letter, Buchanan sought to allay Democratic fears that he would pursue wholly Whiggish policies and strongly criticized the National Bank as a “bastion of corruption.”

    As for the issue of slavery, the ambiguity of Scott and the Whigs might have secured them the election in a more normal year, but the Democrats were masterfully evasive to such an extent that the Whigs came off as divisively decisive by comparison. The Democrats were able to remain above the fray of the slave question while still tarring Scott as the candidate of the free-soilers, Seward, Stevens, and Weed.

    James BuchananWinfield Scott
    Electoral Vote187103
    Popular Vote1,381,2961,291,817

    Ultimately, Scott was unable to overcome his party’s divisions. The election was closer than expected, however, and several long-term electoral trends first emerged in 1848. The Midwest began drifting towards the Whigs, with Scott winning Indiana and Michigan and coming close in Illinois and the new states of Wisconsin and Iowa. Buchanan, meanwhile, reversed Whig trends to win every southern state except for Kentucky and Tennessee, with even the Whig stronghold Maryland narrowly voting for the Democrats.

    Down ballot, the election was much worse for the Whigs. In the House of Representatives, Democrats gained 30 seats, granting them a strong majority. Many of these gains came from Whig-held districts in the south, halving the number of southern Whigs in Congress. Meanwhile, anti-slavery Whigs continued to gain strength in the north, tilting the intraparty balance of power further in favor of free soil. While the outgoing President Clay was elected to his old Senate seat in Kentucky [6], the Democrats expanded their Senate majority by two seats.

    The 1848 elections saw the beginning of a transformation of the Whigs, from a party awkwardly straddling north and south to a wholly northern party without pretending to reconcile sectional differences. While Henry Clay was still a force within government, his word no longer carried the weight it once did – anti-slavery politicians like now-Senator William Seward understood that the future of the Whigs belonged to them.”

    - From THE EVOLUTION OF THE WHIGS by James Welter, published 1997

    [1] OTL, Woodbury was appointed to the Supreme Court by James Polk. With Henry Clay as President, a Whig is appointed instead.
    [2] OTL, Butler narrowly lost the 1844 Kentucky Gubernatorial election. TTL, with a Whig President, he does better and wins in an upset.
    [3] TTL, the 2/3 Rule was not reinstated at the 1844 convention, and is not implemented in 1848, either.
    [4] There aren't any documents indicating the precise nature of their relationship, so I’ll take the cautious route.
    [5] OTL, Buchanan supported high tariffs, being from a manufacturing state. His letter is modeled after one James Polk wrote in 1844.
    [6] Henry Clay will never just retire; he’s always got to be in The Room Where It Happens.
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    8. The Western Question
  • 8. The Western Question

    “James Buchanan was inaugurated on Tuesday, March 4th, 1849. In his lengthy address, he referred to the “question of expansion” and pledged to maintain sectional balance in the western territories. He pledged not to run for a second term, saying “having determined not to become a candidate for reelection, I shall have no motive to administer the Government in any fashion other than to fairly and faithfully serve my country.” Buchanan also expressed his hope that “we shall not face great tests of our great Union’s durability,” but promised that “should a sectional crisis arise, we shall meet it head on and settle it in a calm and amicable manner.”

    Aside from his statements on expansion, Buchanan called for a “small reduction” in the tariff, an expansion of the navy, and a strict interpretation of the constitution. He concluded by praising the acquisition of new territories for “extending equal and just laws, civil and religious liberty, to our new lands.” Buchanan was criticized by anti-slavery figures for not taking a strong stance on slavery and for seeming to endorse further territorial expansion.”

    -From IN THE SHADOW OF JACKSON by Michelle Watts, published 2012

    Presidential Cabinet of James Buchanan:
    Vice President:
    William O. Butler
    Secretary of State: William L. Marcy
    Secretary of the Treasury: James K. Polk
    Secretary of War: Franklin Pierce
    Attorney General: Robert J. Walker
    Postmaster General: George Bancroft
    Secretary of the Navy: Solomon W. Downs

    “Henry Clay was just the second former President to return to Congress, and the first to be elected to the Senate. There was some debate in the Democratic-controlled chamber over how, if at all, a former President should be honored. As most Senators, regardless of party, had worked with Clay both during his previous terms in the Senate and during his Presidency, it was quickly decided that the position of Deputy President Pro Tempore would be created and awarded to any former President who was elected to the Senate. Clay was honored by the gesture, regardless of its ceremonial nature.

    Clay was never content to retire, and the rise of sectional tensions during his second term convinced him that he had to stay in Washington. He was concerned that the Whig Party, intended to unite the country behind its economic program, would become “suborned to sectional demands and the ultraism of abolition” as Whigs such as William Seward and Charles Sumner became more prominent. His concerns would prove well founded, as the increasing sectional polarization left men like Clay increasingly out in the cold…”

    -From THE CLAY ERA: TRANSFORMING A NATION by Edmund Sellers, published 2017

    “The constitution of the Second Republic mandated a President directly elected by universal manhood suffrage. Guided by the failures of the First Republic’s collective executive system, the 1848 National Constituent Assembly decided in favor of a single executive, the President.

    The Bonapartists might have staged a comeback in the 1848 elections, but Prince Louis-Napoleon had been died in 1845 of the flu while imprisoned for an attempted coup three years prior [1]. In any case, General Louis-Eugene Cavaignac amassed a strong coalition of the middle-class, fearful of socialist agitation, and the apolitical rural populace, to whom name recognition was the strongest factor. Cavaignac was nominated by the center-right Moderate Republican party to run against Alexandre Ledru-Rollin, the leader of the Democratic Socialists, and Nicolas Changarnier, the Monarchists’ candidate. In the election, held on December 10th, 1848, Cavaignac won in a landslide, with over 80% of the vote. Ledru-Rollin, the second-place candidate, won just 16%, largely from urban workers.

    As President, Cavaignac defended universal manhood suffrage from an 1850 attempt to restrict the franchise and refused to suppress the revolutionary Roman Republic in central Italy [2]. The early days of the Second Republic were unstable, but between Cavaignac’s middle-of-the-road leadership and disputes within the monarchist camp, no better option presented itself and France gradually came to accept to the Republic [3].”

    -From THE GRAND CONSENSUS: EUROPE 1815-1898 by Rebecca Gardner, published 2001

    “William Walker had become enamored with the concept of Manifest Destiny during his time as editor of the New Orleans Crescent, and in 1849, with the inauguration of the expansionist Buchanan, hatched a plan to further enlarge the United States. The Mexican province of Alta California had a sizeable population of American settlers, and Walker organized a group of armed men to seize control of San Francisco and declare an independent republic that would then be annexed by the United States. Walker set out with 45 men to conquer Alta California. He arrived covertly in San Francisco and allied with a group of American immigrants who were unhappy with the Mexican government’s refusal to allow Americans to rent land. Led by William Ide, these Americans joined forces with Walker and John C. Fremont, an American army captain camped at Sutter’s Fort. While Walker wanted to introduce slavery to California, he came to an understanding with his co-conspirators that the issue would be settled later, once independence was achieved.

    On April 24th, 1850, Walker, Ide, and Fremont launched their attack. While Ide and a contingent of rebels were able to secure the surrender of Mariano Vallejo and his San Francisco garrison [4], Walker seized the Sonoma Presidio in a bloody battle and Fremont secured most towns in the Sacramento Valley. Within a week, Monterey, San Francisco, Sonoma, San Jose, and Sacramento were under the control of the rebels, who declared the California Republic on May 2nd. Fremont, as an active-duty army captain, had essentially disobeyed his orders to survey Oregon. Despite the threat of a court-martial, he telegrammed word of the victory of the filibusterers to President Buchanan and Secretary of State Marcy. While Commanding General Winfield Scott was furious over Fremont’s conduct, the Administration was ecstatic. Both Buchanan and Marcy were supportive of southern desires for expansion and saw California as the perfect target to appease the south.

    Marcy transmitted to Fremont and Walker that the United States recognized the independence of the Californian Republic and would be willing to begin annexation talks. Meanwhile, President Buchanan publicly declared American recognition of California. This infuriated Mexico – they had already acquiesced to the American annexation of Texas, and now they were back for more? Meanwhile, Henry Clay and William Seward led the Whigs in opposing any plans to annex the new nation. “When will it end?” Clay asked in a Senate address. Many abolitionists were asking the same question.”

    -From EXPANDING FRONTIERS by John Freeman, published 1989

    “The annexation of Texas and Oregon only served to whet the appetite of American expansionists. Now, with coastal California in the hands of filibusterers, the calls for expansion grew louder. With President Buchanan openly supportive of annexing northern California, Senate expansionists began organizing to ratify the treaty of annexation.

    …an initial treaty was concluded in June of 1850, annexing the Republic of California from Monterey north and the Colorado River west. It made no mention of slavery, leading free-soil Whigs to question whether William Walker would unilaterally instate slavery and entrench southern dominance in the Senate. When the treaty was put to a vote in the Senate, a majority of Senators approved, but it fell far short of the required two-thirds.

    Buchanan and his allies tried a different strategy: submit the treaty as a joint resolution [5], which only needed a simple majority of the House and Senate to be enacted. This was decried by Clay and the anti-expansionists, but the Democrats forged ahead. However, the joint resolution plan, by involving the House of Representatives in the process, ran into a snag – northerners, both Democrat and Whig, wanted a guarantee that at least part of the proposed new territory would be a free state. Southerners refused to allow the entirety of California to prohibit slavery, so Representative David Wilmot, a Democrat, proposed a compromise: the Republic of California would be split in two, half free and half slave.

    The original treaty admitted California as a state, without being a territory first. Southerners and Whigs both objected to this, as neither wanted the other side to get a whole state. To settle this matter, Henry Clay negotiated an amendment to the Wilmot proviso admitted both haves as territories, with statehood to be decided later. Congress narrowly approved the joint resolution on September 18th, 1850. President Buchanan signed it the next day. Walker, Ide, and Fremont fell out over the proposed treaty revisions, as Ide wanted immediate statehood and Walker wanted California admitted as one slave state. The debate turned sour, and Walker attempted to arrest Fremont and Ide. His coup plot was defeated after a brief shootout, and Fremont and Ide disarmed Walker’s men and imprisoned them. Ide reluctantly agreed to support the treaty, and the two signed it in late September. California was divided into the free territory of Shasta and the slave territory of Colorado (today Auraria).

    Mexico protested, naturally. Buchanan obtained from Congress $10 million to purchase the territory. During the hostile negotiations, Buchanan also agreed to assume most of Mexico’s debts to Britain. As Mexico had been in talks with Britain over selling California in exchange for debt forgiveness, the Mexican government reluctantly assented to the loss of northern California. It was, however, the final straw for President Herrera – after two treaties in which he ceded Mexican territory without a shot fired, he was deposed by the army [6]. General Santa Anna returned to power, determined to resist any further American attempts to expand at Mexico’s expense. Fortunately f0r Mexico, the United States was done with continental expansion. As Congressman Abraham Lincoln would later joke, “California left us with indigestion.”

    …With the annexation of California, President Buchanan burned much of his goodwill with Congress. The 1850 elections, held immediately after the battle over the treaty, resulted in a hung Congress – anti-slavery Whigs unseated dozens of northern Democrats and ‘Cotton Whigs’, while Democrats emerged as the dominant party in the south. Holding the balance of seats and preventing either of the two major parties from forming a majority was the American Party. Founded on anti-immigration, the American Party gained seven seats in 1850, mostly southern Whigs who switched parties as sectional tensions intensified.

    Buchanan expanded the United States’ borders to its current extent, but he left Congress in shambles in the process. A tense coalition of an increasingly divided Whig Party and the nascent American Party formed the majority in the House, but the annexation of California had set America’s antebellum political realignment in full swing.”

    -UNEASY SILENCE: AMERICA IN THE ANTEBELLUM by John Erwin, published 2021

    [1] OTL, he managed to escape in 1846. Here, he isn't so lucky.
    [2] OTL, Cavaignac voted against an expedition to crush the Roman Republic. TTL, he refuses to intervene, although Naples invades to restore the temporal authority of the Pope.
    [3] Similarly to the OTL Third Republic.
    [4] A similar incident occurred OTL in 1846, when Ide’s men were drunk, and a misunderstanding resulted in Vallejo’s arrest despite his surrender.
    [5] John Tyler used this tactic OTL in 1844/1845 when the Senate rejected his Texas annexation treaty.
    [6] OTL, Herrera was deposed for even entertaining the notion of peaceful negotiations during the beginning of the Mexican-American War, so it’s kind of a miracle he held on even after the Texas border settlement.
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    9. Portents of a Sectional Rift
  • 9. Portents of a Sectional Rift

    “…Narciso Lopez’s attempted filibuster in Cuba had received tacit moral support from the Buchanan administration [1], and open support, both moral and material, from prominent southern politicians like John Quitman and Jefferson Davis. Lopez’s defeat and execution by Spanish forces dominated political debate in 1851. Southerners, both Democrat and Whig, praised Lopez as a martyred revolutionary. Many northern Democrats echoed these sentiments, as they too wanted to acquire Cuba. While free-soilers condemned the brutal treatment of the filibusterers by the Spanish, they also attacked the Buchanan administration for giving “tacit support” to Lopez. This, free-soilers held, was proof that Buchanan was not a uniter, but a divider who favored southern interests over national or northern ones.

    It was well that President Buchanan was already committed to a single term, as he likely would have been defeated had he stood for reelection. While the south praised him, he became incredibly unpopular in the north. Even his fellow Pennsylvanian Democrat David Wilmot criticized him for his friendliness to the south.”

    -From EXPANDING FRONTIERS by John Freeman, published 1989

    “Lewis Cass, runner-up for the nomination in 1848, was the frontrunner in 1852 in his third bid for the Presidency. The growing unpopularity of the Buchanan administration meant that many Democrats had decided to wait until 1856 to run. This removed Senator Stephen Douglas, a rising star within the party, as well as Senator Anson Jones of Texas [2] and Secretary of State William Marcy of New York. The only opposition to Cass that emerged was from Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis, who criticized popular sovereignty as too easily exploited by northerners, and the free-soiler Silas Wright of New York.

    Davis enjoyed strong southern support, but he was unable to match Cass in the north and west. Even within the south, Cass was popular with the Missouri, Kentucky, and North Carolina delegations. Similarly, Cass was supported by the Hunker faction in New York, which controlled a majority of the state’s delegates at the convention, depriving Wright of a home-state advantage. Cass’s support from railroad interests, westerners and a large minority of north-eastern delegates was therefore enough to give him the nomination on the first ballot.

    …For Vice President, the convention delegates, pressured by President Buchanan, decided to nominate William R. King. Buchanan had heavily lobbied the convention in 1848 for King to serve as his running mate but was rebuffed by delegates more concerned with balancing the ticket. Four years later, that impulse gave King the nod.

    Presidential vote1Vice-Presidential vote1
    L. Cass153William R. King287
    J. Davis68
    S. Wright54

    The Democrats brushed aside several efforts to elucidate their stance on slavery and indeed, the platform did not even mention popular sovereignty. The party hoped to repeat their winning strategy from 1848 and lay low while the Whigs divided themselves with internal debates. They instead denounced abolitionists and called for “respecting the principles and compromises” of the Constitution [3].”

    -From IN THE SHADOW OF JACKSON by Michelle Watts, published 2012

    “With President Buchanan and the Democrats largely unpopular in the north, the conditions were ripe for the Whigs to sweep back into power. However, the Whigs were in a state of flux as the old guard that kept the party unified died out and free-soil Whigs grew in influence. 1852 would be the last time that the Whigs could truly be considered the party of men like Clay, Webster, and Crittenden.

    The free-soil Whigs struggled to unite behind a single candidate – Senator Seward declined to run, leaving regional favorites to divide the abolitionist delegates. New England delegates favored Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, Seward endorsed Governor Hamilton Fish of New York, and midwestern delegates split between Justice John McLean of Ohio and Governor William F. Johnston of Pennsylvania. Southern Whigs split between former Vice President Millard Fillmore and Senator John J. Crittenden. Fillmore had been more involved than other Vice Presidents – he had helped Clay rally Senate support for the annexation of Texas and the Oregon border settlement. Crittenden, meanwhile, was a longtime ally of Clay and had served in his cabinet as Attorney General.

    Fillmore emerged with a commanding lead on the first ballot, which surprised some observers. Crittenden had been a more visible member of the Clay administration than Fillmore, yet the former Attorney General had half as many delegates as the former Vice President. Henry Clay had declined to endorse either man, as he had gotten on well with both and did not want to play favorites. However, Crittenden’s political stock was far more wedded to Clay’s than Fillmore’s was. Clay’s silence therefore hurt Crittenden far more than it did Fillmore.

    Crittenden withdrew after the third ballot and endorsed Fillmore after being promised his pick of cabinet posts. The former Vice President quickly consolidated the south on successive ballots, and simply waited out the free-soilers. Fillmore reasoned that enough northern delegates would tire of the infighting between Sumner, Fish, and McLean and defect. He was proved correct, as he won enough mid-Atlantic and midwestern delegates on the 20th ballot to secure the nomination. Seward and the free-soilers were disappointed but resolved that, despite Fillmore’s moderate stance on slavery (and Seward’s rivalry with him), he would be better than Cass or a second Buchanan term. For Vice President, the convention settled on Senator James C. Jones, the powerful Whig boss in Tennessee. Jones was a frequent critic of the free-soilers, but the convention wanted to balance out the northerner Fillmore with a southern running mate.

    Presidential vote12341920Vice-Presidential vote1
    M. Fillmore102104117128148158James C. Jones173
    H. Fish495154615459William F. Johnston71
    J. McLean373639494336Charles Sumner38
    C. Sumner212927312221
    W. Johnston272017231419
    J. Crittenden544839000

    The Whig platform was similar to the 1848 one in its deliberate vagueness. Once again, no mention of slavery was made whatsoever, with the platform instead calling for “the maintenance of sectional balance.” Fillmore viewed slavery as an evil, but one the federal government couldn’t do anything about. This was reflected in the Whig’s evasiveness on the slavery question.”

    - From THE EVOLUTION OF THE WHIGS by James Welter, published 1997

    “The campaign discourse in 1852 made 1848 seem like an in-depth discussion of policy. Fillmore and the Whigs entirely avoided mentioning slavery, except to attack the Democrats. They went after Cass with charges of graft and dishonesty. As Lewis Cass was a prominent proponent of popular sovereignty, the Whigs also painted him as a disruptor of sectional balance. Seward campaigned in the north, claiming that Cass would allow southerners to flood into Kansas and vote to allow slavery – “slavery by the ballot-box is no better than slavery at bayonet-point,” he famously declared in Syracuse. In the south, meanwhile, popular sovereignty was painted as a tool of abolitionists to ship northerners out west and have them vote to ban slavery [4].

    The vagueness of the Whig platform did not inspire much excitement in the north, but Fillmore’s moderate beliefs were amenable to the south. And when contrasted with the Democrats and Cass, northerners became more accepting, however begrudgingly, of the Whig platform. When Cass attempted to duck the issue and refuse to speak on slavery, he was attacked for hiding his convictions: “we know his inclinations – Senator Cass is a popular sovereignty man! Yet he insists on silence when slavery is mentioned. If he is a true believer in the power of popular sovereignty, surely, he should mention it during the campaign,” Horace Greeley wrote in the New York Tribune.

    Millard FillmoreLewis Cass
    Electoral Vote187103
    Popular Vote1,637,0981,473,822

    The fallout from the annexation of California and the Lopez Filibuster ultimately weighed Cass down. While northerners were lukewarm towards Fillmore, the events of the Buchanan presidency convinced many that the Whigs were the lesser evil. Fillmore did much better than Winfield Scott in the south, winning Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, and North Carolina. Cass’s background in territorial Michigan meant that he did very well in the Midwest and west, winning Indiana and Ohio, both states Scott won in 1848. Aided by northern dissatisfaction with the Democrats and the Whigs’ protectionist policies, Fillmore won back Pennsylvania and his home state of New York.

    In the congressional races, the Whigs gained just five seats for a total of 114, three seats shy of a majority. Worse for Fillmore, these gains were all northern abolitionists [5]. The American Party gained strength, mostly southern moderate Whigs. With the President-elect’s oversight, moderate Whigs formed a coalition with the Americans that elevated Edward Stanly of North Carolina to the speakership. In the Senate, the Whigs secured a narrow outright majority, preventing the need for a coalition.

    Though the Whigs had remained tenuously united, the task of governance would only exacerbate the party’s growing sectional divide…”

    -UNEASY SILENCE: AMERICA IN THE ANTEBELLUM by John Erwin, published 2021

    [1] OTL, Lopez’s failed filibuster embarrassed the Fillmore administration, as they were unable to prevent him from sailing to Cuba. ITTL Buchanan, who wanted to acquire Cuba, doesn’t try to stop Lopez from sailing. This creates the (not inaccurate) perception that Buchanan favors the south over the north.
    [2] OTL, Jones was never elected to the Senate, which left him bitter over the perceived slight. TTL, he’s more active in securing Texas’s annexation to the United States. This enhances his stature within the state enough to get him elected to the Senate.
    [3] Based off provisions from the OTL 1848 Democratic platform.
    [4] Once again, northern and southern Whigs campaign separately from each other.
    [5] I know I’ve been mentioning the growing strength of abolitionist Whigs, but the next few chapters will see that fully realized.
    Last edited:
    10. France and Italy
  • 10. France and Italy

    “The assassination of Pellegrino Rossi, the Papal Minister of Justice, sparked mass protests in Rome the following day. Among the demands made by the crowds of demonstrators were democratic reforms, social reforms, and Italian unification. On November 24th, unable to restore order, Pope Pius IX escaped from Rome and fled to Gaeta, in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. He left in charge Archbishop Carlo Emanuele Muzzarelli, who introduced reforms that the Pope then rejected.

    …Without governance, the people of Rome took matters into their own hands. Popular assemblies were formed, and a tricolor was flown from the statue of Marcus Aurelius. As the Pope had forbid Catholics from participating in the nascent revolution, the constitutional assembly that was elected to provide a central government in the Pope’s absence was republican in nature. Despite threats of excommunication, turnout was relatively high, and the assembly proclaimed a Republic on February 8th, 1849. After news arrived in Rome of the Sardinians’ decisive loss at Novara, the Assembly appointed a triumvirate of Giuseppe Mazzini, Carlo Armellini, and Aurelio Saffi to lead the Republic.

    The triumvirate, revered today along with Garibaldi in the modern Italian Republic, passed several popular reforms. The Pope was invited to return to the Vatican to serve as head of the Catholic Church, sweeping religious freedom granted, the death penalty abolished, the tax burden was lightened, and work programs were implemented to reduce unemployment. However, all was not well in the nascent Republic – the simultaneous increase in spending and cutting of taxes caused a spate of dangerous inflation, and Austria and the Two Sicilies loomed on the borders. Amid this air of tension arrived Giuseppe Garibaldi, who arrived in July with a force of 1,000 and was placed in command of Rome’s defenses.

    While President Cavaignac refused to intervene and declared France neutral [1], Austria viewed the Roman Republic as a threat to its operations against Sardinia, and the Two Sicilies was loathe to allow revolutionaries to topple the Pope from power. Thus, both Field Marshal Radetzky and King Ferdinand II prepared to march to Rome and depose the republican triumvirate. Giuseppe Garibaldi rushed with his men to mount a defense as the Austrians pivoted south to restore order in Tuscany. With the Pope openly appealing for Austrian aid, General Franz von Wimpffen advanced on Ferrara and besieged it. After encountering stiff resistance and a rejection of his demand for surrender, he bombarded the city into submission and captured it on May 16th.

    Garibaldi left his forces along the border with the Two Sicilies in the hands of his trusted lieutenants and took command of the troops in the north. With Ferrara already in Austrian hands, Garibaldi organized the defense of Bologna. Fighting lasted for two months as Garibaldi fought hard, harassing the Austrian supply chain in daring raids and repelling numerous efforts to take the city [2]. His courage in combat also inspired the people of Bologna to persevere during the Austrian artillery bombardments. The heavy fighting greatly weakened von Wimpffen's army, while Garibaldi launched daring raids that destroyed vital ammunition and provisions. By the middle of July, the Austrians were facing mounting casualties and chronic shortages. The arrival of Roman reinforcements from Ancona spelled further troubles for the besieging army. On August 5th, von Wimpffen broke off the direct siege after Garibaldi led a devastating attack on the Austrian lines. For the remainder of the conflcit, the Austrian army was relegated to artillery bombardments that grew more sporadic with each Roman raid.

    …With Hungary still in revolt, the Austrian Empire was in no condition to commit to a full siege of Bologna. Meanwhile, the Two Sicilies was torn between suppressing a revolution on Sicily and invading north, where Garibaldi’s lieutenants were putting up stiff resistance. As the fighting ground to a halt in August, the Austrian army remained encamped around Bologna and the Sicilian armies were unable to break through Roman resistance. Mazzini appealed to the French to end the conflict, as Roman finances were increasingly strained, and casualties were mounting. On September 9th, President Cavaignac offered Rome the protection of the French Republic, and the Roman assembly readily agreed. Cavaignac was loathe to intervene directly, but he hoped to broker a peace that would leave France with greater influence in the Italian peninsula. Foreign Minister de Tocqueville [3] reluctantly agreed to oversee the peace negotiations – he viewed Mazzini and the revolutionaries as little more than terrorists. He was persuaded by the opportunity to expand French influence in Italy, and by the humiliation it would bring France if Austrian troops were to parade through Rome [4].

    The Austrians were rather relieved by the news that France wanted to mediate peace – strained finances and an overstretched supply line precluded von Wimpffen from besieging Bologna any longer. The Two Sicilies also welcomed the news, as their army had been sapped by the revolution in Sicily and the failed invasion of the Roman Republic. Thus, an uneasy status quo ante settlement was reached, with the Austrians and Sicilians withdrawing from occupied Roman territory. The Roman assembly invited Pope Pius IX to return to Rome, stripped of his temporal powers. The sullen Pope moved his residence from the Quirinal Palace to the walled-off Vatican City, where he lived in self-imposed exile from the Republic that had deposed him.

    The first war of Italian independence had come to an inconclusive conclusion. The Austrians had prevented the tide of revolution from ending their rule in Italy, Sardinia-Piedmont was humiliated, the Two Sicilies had crushed an attempted revolution, and the Grand Duke of Tuscany was restored to his throne. However, central Italy was ruled by a new government driven by the dream of risorgimento – Italian unification. The Roman Republic had survived its greatest challenge, and once it resolved its financial troubles, would become a great headache for Austria and the other old regimes of Italy.”

    -From THE GRAND CONSENSUS: EUROPE 1815-1898 by Rebecca Gardner, published 2001

    “Even after its revolution in 1848, France remained in a state of turmoil throughout 1849-1851. The narrow Conservative majority [5] had attempted in 1850 to replace universal suffrage with a law limiting the franchise to those with at least a three-year residency and a certain income, effectively disenfranchising most factory workers. Due to intraparty divisions and strong opposition from President Cavaignac, the attempt failed, embarrassing Thiers and the conservatives [6].

    While the defeat of the franchise law enhanced Cavaignac’s popularity, it damaged his relations with the legislature. During his 1848 run for President, Cavaignac had been endorsed by Thiers and the Party of Order for his role in suppressing the left-wing June Days uprising. Cavaignac’s increasing alignment with the left had cooled relations between him and Thiers considerably. Now, the Party of Order denounced Cavaignac fully.

    …his foreign policy eroded some of his popularity. By first refusing to intervene and restore the Pope’s temporal authority and then extending recognition to the Roman Republic, Cavaignac angered the Ultramontane Catholics. They regarded this move as an affront to not just the Pope’s rule, but all Catholics. In 1852, fueled by the right-wing backlash to Cavaignac’s policy in Italy, the conservatives won a significantly increased majority in the legislature. Prevented from contesting the election by term limits, Cavaignac stood aside for Interior Minister Jules Dufaure. Dufaure would lose the election decisively to the conservative candidate, Adolphe Thiers. Thiers had declined to run in 1848, fearing he would discredit the conservative movement. With the Republicans on the defensive, Thiers decided it was an opportune moment to run. Alexandre Ledru-Rollin also ran as the Democratic Socialists’ candidate. Thiers defeated Dufaure 52%-34%, with Ledru-Rollin winning 10% and minor parties comprising the rest of votes cast. French democracy had survived its initial tests…”

    -From THE REPUBLIC: A HISTORY OF MODERN FRANCE by Eric Young, published 2003

    [1] The second major divergence in Europe.
    [2] The OTL defender of Ancona, Livio Zambeccari, was criticized for being too passive. Here, Garibaldi combines Zambeccari’s skillful repulses of Austrian attacks with Garibaldi’s experience in guerilla warfare.
    [3] De Tocqueville was OTL a strong supporter of Cavaignac and was appointed Foreign Minister by Napoleon III. TTL, he’s rewarded for his support of Cavaignac with that same post.
    [4] De Tocqueville held similar views OTL, although he certainly didn’t object to Napoleon III’s invasion of Rome.
    [5] OTL, the Party of Order won a resounding majority in the 1849 elections, reducing the Republicans from 600 seats to just 75. Turnout also fell from 1848 to 1849, falling from 83% to 68%. TTL, turnout doesn’t drop quite as drastically, and the Republicans lose far fewer seats. It’s not enough to preserve their majority, but it’s a more respectable showing than OTL.
    [6] The franchise bill passed IOTL and was used by Napoleon III as a pretext for his 1851 coup. TTL, with a smaller conservative majority and a stronger opposition (the Republicans are the second largest party, not the third largest), the bill fails.
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    11. The Compromise of 1854
  • 11. The Compromise of 1854

    “The Buchanan administration had, critically, failed to organize the western territories. When Millard Fillmore assumed the Presidency, he was faced with the breakdown of order, particularly in Oregon. There, relations between American settlers and the Cayuse people had broken down after the Whitman Massacre. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman were missionaries in modern day Tacoma who were accused of poisoning some 200 Cayuse [1] while in Marcus’s medical care. In retaliation, the Cayuse massacred the Whitmans and eleven other settlers at the Whitman mission in November of 1847. The Cayuse then took 54 missionaries as hostages and fled. The provisional legislature of Oregon, which managed the territory in the absence of a formal territorial government, responded to the Whitman massacre with a call for “immediate and prompt action.” George Abernethy, the provisional governor of Oregon, arranged for the raising of volunteer militias to fight the Cayuse.

    Several years of warfare ensued, as neither Clay nor Buchanan could arrange for the organization of the territory. Cayuse warriors would steal cattle and burn homesteads, and in retaliation the Oregonian militiamen would attack Cayuse villages and kill anyone they suspected of being raiders. Despite the involvement of the U.S. army, the Cayuse War raged on until 1852, when the Cayuse surrendered five men to be tried for the Whitman massacre.

    The Cayuse War ruined the economy of western Tacoma and nearly caused the total collapse of the provisional government under the strain of the war and growing infighting. President Fillmore was warned that, unless action was taken quickly, things would continue to get worse. When Congress convened in December 1853, Fillmore made it a priority to organize Oregon into a territory with a formal government that could guide the region’s recovery. However, it was a near certainty that the Oregon territory would want to prohibit slavery, which would then translate into its admittance as a free state. This fact made many southern politicians loathe to allow the formation of a formal Oregon territory without some sort of concession from the free-soilers.

    Senator Jefferson Davis proposed that a free Oregon territory be balanced with the incorporation of Kansas as a slave territory. William Seward led the northern Whigs in adamantly refusing to countenance the formation of new slave territories, while Stephen Douglas proposed that the status of slavery in both Oregon and Kansas be settled by popular sovereignty. An impasse loomed, as the free-soilers refused to budge and southerners continued to insist.

    Into this deadlock strode, for the final time, Henry Clay. Though his health was beginning to fail [2], he was determined to broker one last compromise. The south wanted concessions, he reasoned, and the north would obstruct any effort to extend slavery. Clay proposed, together with John Crittenden and Sam Houston, that the south receive not territory, but legislation. With the reluctant approval of President Fillmore, Clay, Crittenden, and Houston introduced the Fugitive Slave Act into the Senate. The Fugitive Slave Act guaranteed slaveowners the right to send slavecatchers north to recapture escaped slaves living in free states. Further, it mandated that northern authorities assist in the recapturing and forbade civilians from harboring escaped slaves.

    Seward and Sumner denounced the Clay Compromise, but enough moderate Whigs and northern Democrats were swayed that the Fugitive Slave Act was narrowly approved by Congress. Many northern congressmen who voted for the FSA were summarily defeated in the 1854 elections, so great was the northern backlash. Throughout the second half of Fillmore’s presidency, there were several high-profile instances of slavecatchers and federal agents seizing escaped slaves in northern cities and northern civilians getting into violent confrontations with police, slavecatchers, and federal agents in efforts to protect free blacks from re-enslavement. Seward and Sumner became two of Fillmore’s most frequent critics, with Sumner claiming that Fillmore had been seduced by “the Harlot, slavery.”

    The Compromise of 1854 secured for the north an additional free territory, but the Fugitive Slave Act galvanized abolitionist sentiment in the north. Fillmore’s enforcement of the act, including sending federal agents to aid in re-enslaving free blacks, made abolitionists determined to wrest control of the Whigs from Fillmore and the moderates. “The Whigs must stand on the side of free labor,” Seward declared while campaigning in 1854, “or we shall never stand again.” The ultimate showdown between the cotton and free-soil Whigs was soon at hand…”

    - From THE EVOLUTION OF THE WHIGS by James Welter, published 1997

    Presidential Cabinet of Millard Fillmore:
    Vice President:
    James C. Jones
    Secretary of State:
    Edward Everett
    Secretary of the Treasury:
    Abbott Lawrence
    Secretary of War:
    William A. Graham
    Attorney General:
    Edward Bates
    Postmaster General:
    Nathan Hall
    Secretary of the Interior:
    Alexander H. H. Stuart
    Secretary of the Navy: James Pearce

    “Whenever he is remembered, Millard Fillmore is known for either his unusual name or for his tumultuous presidency. And he did have an unusual name and a tumultuous presidency. But though he is reviled for signing the Fugitive Slave Act, Fillmore did have some important accomplishments. Here are some of them:

    He signed the Bill for the Benefit of the Indigent and Insane, which set aside 10 million acres of Federal land to be used for insane asylums and 2 million acres to be sold off, the proceeds distributed to the states for constructing their own asylums [3]. Every government-run mental hospital can trace its roots to this bill, and the mentally ill, deaf, mute, and blind of America all have President Fillmore to thank for it. The condition of the disabled of the United States would be much worse off without the Indigent and Insane Bill [[4].

    He signed several internal improvement bills, subsidizing the Illinois Central Railroad on a Chicago to Mobile route and the construction of the first Soo Locks in Michigan’s upper peninsula [5]. He also tried, but failed, to fund a transcontinental railroad, as sectional tensions sank any chance of the bill’s passage. It would take Douglas and Seward to realize that vision, but Fillmore must be given credit for attempting the project.

    While Fillmore’s signing and enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act undoubtedly deserves criticism, the FSA had one important upside: it prevented the south from gaining another slave state in Kansas. Without the Fugitive Slave Act, Kansas would likely have been incorporated as a slave territory and admitted as a state, which would have strengthened the south’s power. Legislation is temporary, but the free-slave balance in the antebellum United States would have left a lasting mark [6].

    James Buchanan gave thinly veiled support to pro-slavery filibusterers, including allowing Narciso Lopez to hire a small army and sail to Cuba. Millard Fillmore strongly disapproved of these foreign pro-slavery adventures and worked to stop them. He removed William Walker as the governor of Colorado Territory for funding an 1855 filibuster expedition to Cuba, and prevented John Quitman, the leader of the filibuster, from sailing out of New Orleans [7]. Fillmore was more popular in the south than in the north, so for him to shut down a filibuster, which were widely supported by southerners, was a courageous act [8]. In times of crisis, it is easy for someone to abandon his principles and seek survival at all costs. But Millard Fillmore refused to sanction the filibusters, even though it cost him the support of his southern supporters.

    Was Fillmore a great president? Certainly not – he was no Henry Clay. But we should not draw a caricature of the man. We should not emphasize his faults at the expense of his successes. He did his best to maintain the union and prevent the south from gaining the upper hand in the sectional struggle.”

    -From IN DEFENSE OF FILLMORE by Herman Gamble, published 1998

    “Henry Clay returned home to his Ashland plantation after the passage of the Compromise of 1854, utterly exhausted. Already of an advanced age and in frail health, the tense negotiations sapped his strength. Back at Ashland, his illnesses grew worse, and his health entered its final decline. Climbing stairs left him fatigued, and in March of 1855 he fell ill with a cold. He experienced chills, among other symptoms.

    Throughout April, Clay continued to worsen, and he resigned from the Senate to focus on settling his remaining affairs. Dozens of colleagues, past and present, made the journey from Washington to visit him, along with his children. In July, after a final visit with John Crittenden, Clay was given last rites by his doctor and died several weeks later in the company of his servants and sons Henry Jr. He was 78 years old.

    As the Senate chamber was packed with eulogizers, the nation went into mourning over the death of a true statesman. He was buried in a Lexington cemetery, his headstone proclaiming, “I know no North—no South—no East—no West.” Rarely out of government since 1797, Henry Clay left his mark on the United States in a way that few others before or since have done. Whether people agreed with Clay or not, William Seward declared, “they are nevertheless unanimous in acknowledging that he was at once the greatest, the most faithful, and the most reliable of statesmen. The footprint of Clay upon this nation is wide and deep.””

    -From THE CLAY ERA: TRANSFORMING A NATION by Edmund Sellers, published 2017

    [1] Apparently, it was measles that killed the Cayuse.
    [2] TTL, Clay doesn’t get tuberculosis, so he lives for two more years.
    [3] A similar bill passed both houses of Congress OTL but was vetoed by President Pierce.
    [4] This author is attributing a lot to this legislation, but it is a biased piece.
    [5] Fillmore did these things OTL, but I doubt that Buchanan would have signed internal improvement bills.
    [6] An overstatement, but again, biased source.
    [7] OTL, John Quitman declined an invitation by Narciso Lopez to join his filibuster. TTL, while he still doesn’t go on Lopez’s expedition, once Quitman leaves office he tries to launch his own Cuban filibuster.
    [8] Not an incorrect statement, as TTL this costs Fillmore some support with southern Whigs. This in-universe author is exaggerating it, however.
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    12. Let the People Rule!
  • 12. Let the People Rule!

    “Once Millard Fillmore affixed his signature to the Fugitive Slave Act and directed Attorney General Bates to enforce it, the knives came out. William Seward vowed that “the President will not find the next convention an easy coronation.” While Seward was reluctant to stand as a candidate at the convention, he worked to recruit a suitable challenger. In the eyes of the free-soilers, the reason they had failed to stop Fillmore’s nomination in 1852 was because they were fractured – there had been four free-soil candidates who divided the free-soil delegates between them and allowed Fillmore to position himself as a unifying candidate.

    The death of Henry Clay the year prior removed another obstacle to the effort to deny Fillmore re-nomination. Without Clay to urge unity and sectional balance, the less influential Fillmore and Crittenden would be unable to sway delegates away from the free-soil faction. Seward could be sure that New York would vote how he directed it to, so he focused on building support with other free-soil leaders like Charles Sumner and William Dayton. The three decided that the free-soil challenger to the President should come from the Midwest, where some delegates were unsure about supporting an abolitionist for the nomination. To further assuage worried northerners, it was agreed that this candidate should have a history of moderate rhetoric on slavery. Ultimately, Seward, Sumner, and Dayton agreed on Justice John McLean of Ohio. McLean had a history of anti-slavery rulings, but being a Supreme Court Justice, had no history of fiery or radical rhetoric on the subject. McLean agreed to be a candidate, and all four men began laying the groundwork for denying Fillmore re-nomination.

    Fillmore was not idle while Seward and Sumner plotted – he was aware of his precarious position and was determined not to cede control of the Whigs to the free-soilers, a group he regarded as dangerous radicals and agitators. He was also aware that, in removing William Walker from his territorial governorship and barring John Quitman from filibustering in Cuba, he had angered his southern allies. Fillmore reasoned that it would be easier to mend fences with the southern bloc, who he viewed as still reasonable and committed to compromise. “Seward and the free-soil men,” he wrote, “view abolition as a moral struggle, above the constitution or any other foundational laws of the Union [1].”

    Thus, Fillmore met with Alexander Stephens to repair his relations with the southern Whigs. Stephens was relatively moderate and a staunch opponent of secession, which was then a mere fringe opinion. He had attempted to incorporate Kansas as a slave territory but had been frustrated both by the free-soilers and Stephen Douglas, the champion of popular sovereignty. With Douglas a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, Stephens decided to stick with the Whigs. He made just two demands of Fillmore: Stephens wanted a say in the selection of Fillmore’s running mate, and a cabinet post. Fillmore agreed, eager to use Stephen’s southern clout to shore up his wavering support. With Stephens’ endorsement of the President, other disgruntled southern Whigs fell in line. The stage was set.

    …On the first ballot, McLean emerged with a slim plurality of delegates, ahead of Fillmore and several minor candidates, such as former Speaker Edward Stanly and Tennessee Senator John Bell. His support came exclusively from the north, while Fillmore had broad southern support and fractured support in the north-east. Both McLean and Fillmore gained support on the second ballot as Bell and Stanly faltered, and Fillmore initiated negotiations with them to try and unite with both. However, Alexander Stephens felt that Bell was too moderate, and Stanly alone lacked the delegates to put Fillmore over the top.

    On the third ballot, Fillmore lost four delegates, while McLean surged to just shy of a majority. Fillmore’s northern supporters, mainly in Pennsylvania and New York, were growing impatient with him. On the fourth ballot, his northern support collapsed, and McLean won 179 delegates, more than enough to be the nominee. While southern Whigs looked on in shock and dismay, the jubilant cheers from the free-soil delegates made the message clear: the Whigs were under new leadership. For Vice President, the delegates did not bother to extend Fillmore’s camp an olive branch, instead giving the nomination to another free-soiler, Senator William Dayton of New Jersey.

    Presidential vote
    Vice-Presidential vote
    J. McLean126138145179W. Dayton200
    M. Fillmore119125121117
    J. Bell2917189
    E. Stanly1710125

    President Fillmore was disappointed but was fully prepared to concede his defeat. However, Alexander Stephens arrived at his rooms with a message from the American Party. The Americans had endorsed Fillmore in 1852 and was equally dismayed at McLean’s nomination. Thus, the party offered to nominate Fillmore as its candidate in order to preserve sectional balance. Fillmore was initially reluctant, but upon receiving word that he would have John Crittenden’s support [2], as well as John Bell and other moderates, he accepted. As the Whig convention began debating the platform, Alexander Stephens led a mass walkout of southern delegates, who joined the American Party convention. While the now-overwhelmingly free-soil Whigs passed a platform calling for the containment of slavery, President Fillmore was unanimously nominated by another convention. Renaming itself the National Union party, the Americans subsumed many Cotton Whigs, as well as most southern Whigs.

    …Seward believed the Whigs’ chances of victory were slim, but he hoped that McLean would give a strong showing and demonstrate the power and influence of the free-soil movement. He also reveled in forcing his old rival Fillmore to run on a third-party ticket after humiliating him at the convention.”

    - From THE EVOLUTION OF THE WHIGS by James Welter, published 1997

    “Cass’s narrow defeat in 1852 was largely blamed on the upheavals of the Buchanan presidency rather than on Cass’s support for popular sovereignty. With the incumbent administration being the divided Whigs, the Democrats held an advantage in 1856.

    The early frontrunners were Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, and former Secretary of War Franklin Pierce. Douglas was a fiery orator and a staunch supporter of Jacksonian ideals, popular sovereignty, and westward expansion. Davis had challenged Cass in 1852 and ran as the south’s candidate, criticizing both of his major opponents as not accommodating enough of southern interests. Pierce hoped to position himself between Douglas and Davis and cap his career off with four years in the White House.

    …Douglas assumed a strong lead on the first ballot, bolstered by strong western, midwestern, and northern support. Davis emerged as his strongest challenger on the back of a united south, while Pierce’s middle-ground approach failed to earn him much support [3]. Douglas attempted to make a deal with Davis ahead of the second ballot, but Davis refused, as he hoped to force the nomination of a more acceptable compromise candidate. The second ballot saw Douglas come close to taking the nomination while Pierce’s campaign collapsed, his northern supporters going over to Douglas and his southern backer switching to Davis. Douglas’s victory on the third ballot was practically a foregone conclusion, so Davis offered to make a deal – he would become either Attorney General or Secretary of War and would get to select Douglas’s running mate. Douglas agreed to make him Secretary of War, and the two settled on Senator Benjamin Fitzpatrick of Alabama. While a handful of delegates voted for Franklin Pierce or David Wilmot, the Fitzpatrick was easily nominated on the first ballot.

    Presidential vote123Vice-Presidential vote1
    S. Douglas138144267B. Fitzpatrick233
    J. Davis951020F. Pierce38
    F. Pierce533916D. Wilmot25
    The Democrats adopted a platform that called for popular sovereignty in the territories to settle the slavery issue “democratically [4].” Other planks proposed a homestead act to facilitate the settlement of the west and the allocation of federal funds for the construction of a transcontinental railroad, a pet project of Douglas’s.”

    -From IN THE SHADOW OF JACKSON by Michelle Watts, published 2012

    “With the walkout of the southern delegations, the Whigs were no longer hamstrung by the need to keep the party carefully united. Thus, the full weight of Thurlow Weeds’ and Horace Greeley’s newspapers and mailing lists were brought to bear on the north. Still, the Whigs tread carefully around the slavery issue, wary of alienating moderate northern voters. McLean’s surrogates, Seward chief among them, refrained from calling for slavery’s abolition. Instead, they focused on containment. The south had too much power, the Whigs said. By containing slavery and dividing the west into free territories, the “slave power” would be broken and the south would no longer be able to exercise undue influence over the federal government. The Whigs condemned popular sovereignty as a useless half measure and claimed that the “slave power” was eroding America’s republican values. They also trumpeted the endorsements of Salmon Chase and David Wilmot, two prominent free-soil Democrats. True to their opposition to the extension of slavery into the territories, the slogan “free speech, free soil, free men, and victory!” adorned Whig campaign literature and banners.

    The Democrats proudly supported popular sovereignty, with Douglas defending it in an open letter as the most democratic method to settle the issue. “Let the people vote,” he declared. Anything else was federal overreach. The Whigs were attacked as divisive. According to the Democrats, the election of John McLean would so inflame sectional tensions that the south would secede. Whisper campaigns were started, warning that McLean would raise a violent militia that would foment slave revolts, “total equality,” and race-mixing. Democrats also reached out to disaffected Whigs, warning that Fillmore had little chance of winning, so Douglas was the best candidate to prevent McLean from winning. Douglas, in a rare personal campaign appearance, promised to uphold popular sovereignty “whether the citizens of that territory choose free soil or slavery” in a play for northerners put off by total abolition, but still uncomfortable with the ‘slave power.’ These tactics were undercut somewhat by the Whigs’ pledge to ignore slavery “where it presently [existed]” and focus on keeping it out of the territories.

    Stephen DouglasJohn McLeanMillard Fillmore
    Electoral Vote16711017
    Popular Vote1,786,0721,512,819929,271

    …The Whigs did better than expected. McLean won New Hampshire and Maine, neither of which had ever voted for a Whig before. He also won Wisconsin and Michigan, which had historically leaned towards the Democrats. These two victories were made more impressive by Douglas’s western background and support. Douglas underperformed past Democratic tickets in the south, though he narrowly carried the Whig strongholds of Kentucky and Tennessee [5]. In states where McLean did not appear on the ballot, such as Louisiana and Maryland, Fillmore narrowly won.

    In the Congressional races, the Whigs solidified their dominance over the north, with the few northern Democrats remaining being free-soilers [6]. The only doughfaces left in the north generally represented Catholic areas of New York City and conservative, southern-influenced districts along the Ohio river. Democratic gains in the south outweighed their few losses [7], granting them a tenuous majority.

    While the Whigs had lost, McLean had demonstrated the strength of the free-soil movement. While it was Stephen Douglas and not John McLean who took the oath of office on March 4th, it was a hollow victory. While the bare Democratic majority was fraying, the Whigs were more united than ever…”

    -UNEASY SILENCE: AMERICA IN THE ANTEBELLUM by John Erwin, published 2021

    [1] While Fillmore opposed slavery, he felt it was beyond the federal government’s authority.
    [2] Here, the Whigs’ realignment begins. Whereas OTL the abolitionists split off first and the south abandoned the husk of the Whigs, TTL the abolitionists emerge victorious, and the southern Whigs leave to try and form a moderate alternative.
    [3] Much like Fillmore in the Whig Party.
    [4] Well, as democratic as voting on whether owning people should be legal can get.
    [5] Unlike OTL, where the Republicans only appeared on the ballot in northern states, TTL the Whigs retain ballot access in the upper south, while Fillmore is listed as the Whig candidate in the deep south.
    [6] The Whigs hold a strong majority of northern seats, and combined with free-soil Democrats like David Wilmot, comprise around 2/3 of northern representatives.
    [7] After several cycles of free-soil victories, there aren’t many doughfaces left. Meanwhile, the Democrats pick off southern Whigs/National Unionists.
    13. The Center's Last Stand
  • 13. The Center’s Last Stand

    “The first test of the new Democratic Congress was the election of a House speaker. Southern Democrats united behind James Orr of South Carolina, but the south did not, on its own, have the votes to select a speaker. Free-soil Democrats put forth David Wilmot of Pennsylvania in protest of southern domination of the party. After an inconclusive first ballot, Wilmot withdrew and endorsed the Whig candidate for speaker, William Pennington of New Jersey. The coalition of free-soil Congressmen was unable to secure a majority, while Samuel Cox of Ohio, a supporter of President Douglas and popular sovereignty, was proposed as a compromise candidate. About a dozen southerners refused to support Cox, forcing the balloting to continue. Finally, on the hundredth ballot, it was decided that a speaker could be elected by a plurality. With this rule change, Cox defeated Pennington on the 101st ballot, 107-104.

    The Whigs took solace in the fact that they had nearly taken the speakership despite being in the minority, while Democrats fretted over the shocking display of infighting during the election of the speaker. President Douglas was glad that he had a friendly popular sovereignty man wielding the speaker’s gavel, but he privately worried that, if his party couldn’t even agree on a speaker, would they be able to unite and pass his agenda?”

    - From WHIGS AND DEMOCRATS by Josiah Wentworth, published 1978

    Presidential Cabinet of Stephen Douglas:
    Vice President:
    Benjamin Fitzpatrick
    Secretary of State: Horatio Seymour
    Secretary of the Treasury: James Guthrie
    Secretary of War: Jefferson Davis
    Attorney General: William C. Alexander
    Postmaster General: John McClernand
    Secretary of the Interior: William Allen
    Secretary of the Navy: Howell Cobb

    “Selecting a cabinet was a highly strategic and pragmatic process for Douglas. He was keenly aware that many southerners distrusted him, and he needed to appease them, but he couldn’t alienate his northern support base either. He satisfied the terms of his deal with Jefferson Davis by appointing him to head the War Department, and Davis’s fellow southerners James Guthrie and Howell Cobb to head the Treasury and Navy departments, respectively.

    William Marcy’s faction in New York was represented in the Douglas cabinet by former Governor Horatio Seymour, who headed Marcy’s old job as Secretary of State. Douglas also made sure to include loyal allies, like former Ohio Senator William Allen and Illinois Congressman John McClernand, both supporters of popular sovereignty and campaign surrogates for Douglas.”

    -From IN THE SHADOW OF JACKSON by Michelle Watts, published 2012

    “The unpopular intervention in Italy had swept the conservative Party of Order into the Presidency, but President Thiers and his allies had to tread carefully once elected. The 1850 attempt to repeal universal manhood suffrage had sparked mass protests and was defeated amid intense opposition. Chastened, the conservatives avoided tampering with the suffrage law, fearing the consequences. Instead, they focused on strengthening the Falloux Laws, which introduced a mixture of secular and religious education. Thiers spearheaded a series of laws that encouraged local authorities to convert secular schools into Catholic ones. While popular with the religious, the left criticized both the original laws and the new amendments as allowing the clergy too great a role in government. A former conservative, novelist Victor Hugo famously changed parties and joined the Republicans in protest.

    Thiers also pursued a different foreign policy from his predecessor. While Cavaignac had recognized the nationalist and secularist Roman Republic and helped ensure its survival, Thiers rejected the idea of nationalism. “One day or another,” Thiers said, “this policy of race will generate future wars [1].” Instead, Thiers sought to balance the various Italian states and pursued warm relations with Austria. An economic conservative, Thiers strengthened tariffs in order to strengthen French industry. A modest railroad construction program was also begun [2] that was expanded upon by his successors. By 1870, France had a robust railway network, supplemented by roads, canals, and ports.

    …The advances undertaken by Thiers and the conservatives were not enough to shake the public perception that the conservatives were elitists and authoritarians. In 1856, the conservative candidate was defeated by the Republican candidate, Jules Favre, by a 52-43 margin. The Republicans also captured a slim majority in the legislature. The Republicans were unable to roll back the conservatives’ education reforms as purely secular education was unpopular, but the amendments to the Falloux Laws were repealed and close ties with the Roman Republic restored.

    Despite the lingering instability, the Second Republic was developing its democratic traditions. While the Revolutions of 1848 had largely failed, it had undoubtedly succeeded in its cradle.”

    -From THE REPUBLIC: A HISTORY OF MODERN FRANCE by Eric Young, published 2003

    “Aside from popular sovereignty, President Douglas had three other key objectives for his presidency: the passage of a homestead act, the distribution of land-grants to states for public universities, and the funding of a transcontinental railroad. Guided by the Jeffersonian principle of the yeoman farmer and the ideals of Jacksonian democracy, Douglas believed that a homestead act and the creation of vocational universities would strengthen democratic institutions and lead to a general public that was heavily involved in government.

    Douglas collaborated heavily with northern politicians on the first two items, as most Whigs, northern Democrats, and National Unionists were in favor. Whigs and other free-soil politicians believe that the homestead act would, by parceling land out to independent farmers, prevent slaveholders from buying up vast tracts of land and solidifying the slave power’s hold over the government. Conversely, most southerners opposed the homestead act because they feared that the cheap land would attract poor southern whites and European immigrants. Douglas did have one southern Democrat ally, Tennessee Senator Andrew Johnson, who emerged as one of the few southern voices in favor of the homestead act.

    With the President lobbying members of Congress and a multi-partisan coalition in favor of the bill, the Homestead Act of 1857 easily passed the House. The Senate would prove the real challenge, however. Here, the south had an advantage, and southern Democrats were poised to block the bill’s passage. However, Douglas received critical support from Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri [3], who was a firm Jacksonian and had authored the first homestead act. Sam Houston of Texas also announced his support, weakening the efforts to defeat it. Benton, Houston, and Johnson were able to rally enough southern support to prevent the bill’s opponents from killing it, and the Homestead Act proceeded to a floor vote. The Homestead Act narrowly passed the Senate and was signed by President Douglas on March 14th, 1858.

    The land-grant university legislation faced a similar journey through Congress and was signed into law by Douglas in July of 1858. He was, however, forced to distribute funds to states proportional to their number of representatives in order to appease Whigs, rather than equal grants [4]. The Morrill Act of 1858 is responsible for more than 2/3 of the public universities in the United States.

    It was the transcontinental railroad that ran into the most resistance. Neither of the two proposed routes ran through a significant part of the south. Already opposed to such an expenditure, southern Democrats refused to approve the project because it would not directly benefit their home states. Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina accused Douglas of corruption, claiming that the President owned land that the proposed railroad routes would pass through. Douglas denounced these claims, but the fact remained that the south refused to negotiate with him on the railroad.

    Nevertheless, the President forged ahead. After the passage of the Kansas-Minnesota Act [5], he decided to leverage what remaining influence with the south he had to fund the railroad. Together with his successor in the Senate Abraham Lincoln and Whig stalwart John Crittenden, Douglas proposed a route anchored in the east at St. Joseph, Missouri, and with western termini at San Francisco and Portland. The overwhelming response of southerners was: what’s in it for us? With the growing bloodshed in Kansas, the south was in no mood to concede the economic advantage of a transcontinental railroad to the north, and northerners were in no mood to pay for a southern railway. The appropriations bill never even made it out of the House, a victim of the growing sectional strife.

    Perhaps, had he served in less turbulent times, Stephen Douglas would have been able to build his railroad. But, as wise men have said, it is not up to us to choose the time we live in.”

    -UNEASY SILENCE: AMERICA IN THE ANTEBELLUM by John Erwin, published 2021

    [1] An OTL quote.
    [2] Less expansive and expensive than Napoleon III’s, but still something.
    [3] With no Compromise of 1850, Benton doesn’t lose reelection to the Senate.
    [4] A compromise made in the OTL Morrill Act that was vetoed by Buchanan.
    [5] More on this in the next chapter.
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    14. The Crime Against Kansas
  • 14. The Crime Against Kansas

    “President Douglas was the most prominent proponent of popular sovereignty, and he wanted to use his Presidency to implement the policy in the western territories. He had made sure to place like-minded men in his cabinet, and he was advantaged by the fact that Speaker Cox was also a popular sovereignty man. Douglas involved himself heavily in the process, regularly meeting with Cox, Crittenden, Stephens, Dodge, Breckinridge, and Cass [1].

    Early on in negotiations, it became apparent that some northerners were willing to compromise and come to a deal allowing popular sovereignty in Kansas. While William Seward, Charles Sumner, Salmon Chase [2], and Abraham Lincoln led the ‘hard’ free-soil faction, Augustus Dodge and Lewis Cass assembled several dozen northern Congressmen in favor of popular sovereignty. Initially, even moderate northerners were reluctant to support the proposal, as they wanted a guaranteed free territory created. Predictably, southerners were loathe to allow this. “We have already ceded the abolitionists Oregon, why should we cede an acre more of land?” asked Congressman Preston Brooks.

    Douglas, with the aid of Alexander Stephens’s connections to the southern factions, presented a compromise that northern Democrats and the south could begrudgingly agree on: Nebraska and Kansas would have their territorial status determined by popular sovereignty, while Minnesota would be immediately admitted as a free state. Thanks to the lobbying efforts of Stephens and Crittenden, nearly all the southern Senators voted in favor of the Kansas-Minnesota Act. Only two southerners voted against: Sam Houston of Texas and Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, both arguing that the introduction of popular sovereignty and the repeal of the Missouri Compromise would set a dangerous precedent. Every single Whig Senator voted against the Kansas-Minnesota Act, but with many northern Democrats and all four National Unionists voting in favor, the bill narrowly passed the Senate.

    In the House, Kansas-Minnesota faced stiffer resistance. This was, after all, the chamber where the Whigs had nearly elected their own Speaker despite the Democrats holding an outright majority. Free-soil Whigs and free-soil Democrats furiously denounced the bill. David Wilmot and Lewis Campbell, both free-soil Democrats, published a manifesto, the Appeal of the Independent Democrats, in which they declared that “we arraign this bill as a gross violation of a sacred pledge; as a criminal betrayal of precious rights; as part and parcel of an atrocious plot to exclude from vast unoccupied region immigrants from the Old World and free laborers from our own States, and convert into a dreary region of despotism, inhabited by masters and slaves [3].”

    President Douglas took personal offense to this manifesto and transmitted via his allies in Congress his response: that “abolitionist confederates” were spreading “base falsehood” and accusing Wilmot and Campbell of duplicity in their dealings with the President. Debate in the House raged for another three months, northern Whigs furiously opposed. As the New-York Tribune noted, “the unanimous sentiment of the North is indignant resistance… The whole population is full of it. The feeling in 1848 was far inferior to this in strength and universality [4].” Douglas quickly came to realize that he was relying on a faction “largely unenthusiastic” about popular sovereignty to pass this bill, and he privately praised Alexander Stephens for “taking the reins in his hands [5] and shepherding the southern flock.”

    All but one Whig [6] voted against the Kansas-Minnesota Act, while just over half of the northern Democrats voted for it. All but six southerners, two Democrats and four Whigs, voted in favor. Kansas-Minnesota had passed the House, by the thin margin of 112-102. The immediate result of its passage was fury from the Whigs and defensiveness from the Douglas Democrats. It was seen by free-soilers like William Seward as “an aggression towards the values held so dearly in the North, a blatant sop to shore up the ill-gotten, corrupt, illegitimate authority of the Slave Power.” President Douglas defended his pet project as settling, “once and for all, the question of slavery from the halls of Congress and the political arena, committing it to the arbitration of those who were immediately interested in, and alone responsible for, its consequences.”

    The fallout from Kansas-Nebraska resulted in the defeat of all but eleven of the northern Democrats who voted in favor. The Whigs won 22 seats in the House, placing them just two seats away from a majority. And, after thirty ballots, William Pennington was elected the first Whig speaker in six years by a slim plurality. Despite their legislative victory, the Douglas Democrats had swiftly lost the support of many northerners, while the south was increasingly unhappy with the President. Abolitionists followed the example of the Independent Democrats and excoriated supporters of slavery as dishonest, violent, thuggish, and evil. The President was suddenly hated across the north leading him to remark that he could have traveled to Chicago by the light of his effigies burning. And, as Kansas prepared to determine whether it was a free territory or a slave territory, the south’s support could only erode further…”

    -UNEASY SILENCE: AMERICA IN THE ANTEBELLUM by John Erwin, published 2021

    Continental Liar said: OTL, the Kansas-Minnesota Act passed the House by a super thin margin of 112-102. Say a couple yea votes switch or get sick and miss the vote and the bill fails. What happens next?

    Big Mac said: It depends on where these extra nays come from. Are they northern Democrats? If so, Douglas likely recalculates and tries to appease them – perhaps Nebraska is split into two territories. The northern one (Dakota, perhaps?) could become free territory, while Nebraska and Kansas get popular sovereignty’d. Such a compromise likely wouldn’t pass, however. The south would never approve. A similar thing would probably happen if the bill were sunk by southerners, because then Douglas can’t give more concessions to the south or the north will desert him, and he obviously can’t refuse to negotiate here. I think, if Kansas-Minnesota died in the House, its dead for good. There were too many conflicts for Douglas to get a second try.

    Continental Liar said: So, what would happen with Bleeding Kansas? I could see it delayed, but some sort of conflict was increasingly inevitable once the free-soilers took over the Whigs. Maybe the Civil War is delayed a few years, but the west had to be organized eventually, and I can’t see the south accepting a deal that would leave them with reduced influence.

    Conscience said: Well with no Kansas-Minnesota Act, the brawl of 1859 never happens. That was crazy – Charles Sumner attacked Douglas and a senator in a long and furious speech. Sumner sparked a fight in the Senate, as Butler’s cousin Preston Brooks beat him with a cane. When others rushed to intervene, Brooks’ friend Laurence Keitt brandished a pistol and Abraham Lincoln had to wrestle it from him while Congressmen Nathaniel Banks and David Wilmot pulled Brooks away from a wounded Sumner [7]. So, no Kansas-Minnesota means no brawl and no Bleeding Kansas, which means that politics are decidedly less polarized.

    Big Mac said: I read about that brawl – hard to believe it actually happened in the US senate. In any case, the civil war is likely delayed. I can’t see it pushed back any later than 1865/1866. Something would set secession in motion – tensions were too high to peacefully deescalate by 1858.

    -From WI KANSAS-MINNESOTA FAILS? on, posted 2021

    “One of the most famous speeches in Senate history is the one Charles Sumner gave on November 3rd, 1859. Sumner called for the immediate admission of Kansas as a free state and claimed that the reason this had not happened was because of the immense influence of the Slave Power. Provocatively, he framed the slave power’s conduct in Kansas in sexual terms: “Not in any common lust for power did this uncommon tragedy have its origin. It is the rape of a virgin Territory, compelling it to the hateful embrace of slavery; and it may be clearly traced to a depraved desire for a new Slave State, hideous offspring of such a crime, in the hope of adding to the power of slavery in the National Government [8].” President Douglas and Andrew Butler (one of the authors of the legislation) had been, Sumner charged, seduced by “the harlot, slavery,” into forcing through the Kansas-Minnesota.

    Sumner gave his speech in response to the Lawrence Massacre and the beginning of open warfare in Kansas Territory. In a pugnacious and prescient speech to the Senate shortly after the passage of Kansas-Minnesota in April 1858, William Seward declared: “we will engage in competition for the virgin soil of Kansas, and God give the victory to the side which is stronger in numbers as it is in men.” Indeed, the Kansas-Minnesota Act had not calmed sectional tensions but inflamed them further. A group of abolitionist businessmen in New England formed the Emigrant Aid Company, with the stated purpose of helping people settle in the west. However, these businessmen lacked the means to launch such an enterprise. Nevertheless, news that abolitionists were supposedly going to flood Kansas with northerners sent the south into a frenzy. David Rice Aitchison of Missouri wrote that the south was threatened by northerners “polluting our fair lands.”

    Several militias were formed in Missouri with the sworn goal of expelling any northerners who might settle in Kansas. Douglas’s appointed territorial Governor, Andrew Reeder, arrived in October of 1858 and immediately announced elections for a territorial legislature. However, the franchise was open to all residents, no matter how recently they had arrived in Kansas. Seeking to gain the advantage, both northerners and southerners flooded into Kansas. The pro-slavery camp would likely have won in a fair contest, but pro-slavery militias from Missouri rushed in and padded the pro-slavery majority to the new legislature in March of 1859. This blatant election interference sparked outrage in the north, while southerners like Alexander Stephens bemoaned the “reckless endangerment of the southern cause.” Even worse for free-soilers, Governor Reeder accepted the obviously fraudulent results wherever they went unchallenged [8].

    However, the real conflict stemmed from the hasty and poor surveying job the government had done prior to the opening of Kansas to settlement. As a result, many land deeds overlapped and disputes began. With the slavery question mixed in and often, free-soilers and pro-slavery settlers finding themselves with overlapping claims, the situation quickly grew tense. Shortly after the initial elections, a pro-slavery settler shot and killed a free-soil settler over a land dispute. However, the pro-slavery sheriff arrested another free-soiler for the murder, prompting an outcry. A free-soil mob forced the innocent man’s release. In retaliation, the sheriff and a pro-slavery militiamen descended upon the free-soil settlement of Lawrence and burned a hotel, two abolitionist newspapers, and dozens of homes and buildings. The Sack of Lawrence sparked the beginning of open warfare on the plains of Kansas. Militias led raids and burned settlements, famously including John Brown’s militia that killed about a dozen pro-slavery settlers in a series of kidnappings and raids.

    …Meanwhile, in December 1859, a Congressional investigation found strong proof that voting fraud and non-residents voting illegally had produced the pro-slavery legislature. In response, President Douglas declared that the people of Kansas had not been allowed to properly decide the status of slavery for themselves and withdrew his authorization of the legislature [9]. The legislature refused to disband and fled to Lecompton, where they declared themselves the legitimate government and approved a pro-slavery constitution.

    New elections were held in the meantime, boycotted by pro-slavery forces. As a result, free-soilers won a strong majority and, once the results were certified as legitimate, approved a free-soil constitution. This ‘Lawrence Constitution’ was quite radical, extending the franchise to all men without mention of race. When it was submitted to Congress, even a few Whigs and free-soil Democrats were uneasy with it. Southerners, still angry over the approval of Nebraska’s free-soil constitution [10], closed ranks to defeat the Lawrence Constitution. The furious opposition from the south guaranteed it never made it out of committee. Meanwhile, free-soil forces in Congress ensured that the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution met a similar fate.

    While the majority of Democrats in the House and Senate, being southerners, favored the Lecompton Constitution, President Douglas openly denounced it as “born from fraud, violence, and depraved conduct.” He declared that the Lawrence Constitution had been “duly approved and ratified by the people of Kansas and is therefore legitimate.” In April of 1860, Douglas, keenly aware that the south would likely try and deny him renomination, nevertheless dispatched the army to forcibly dissolve the Lecompton legislature. In retaliation, pro-slavery militias battled with free-soil forces throughout May and June.

    The Lawrence legislature drafted a second constitution which denied suffrage to blacks but still prohibited slavery. This was submitted to Congress in July. Douglas, feeling liberated of his obligations to the south after the convention, immediately endorsed it and leaned heavily on northern Democrats to vote in favor. After intense lobbying, an alliance of Whigs and northern Democrats successfully approved the second Lawrence Constitution in August, only for southerners in the Senate to defeat it. Kansas would be a free territory, but, for the time being, it would not be admitted as a free state. And as a consequence of his support for the Lawrence Constitution, President Douglas had lost the confidence of the south. Kansas was merely a dark portent of what would grip the Union just a few years later.”

    -From BROTHER KILLING BROTHER: THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR by Michael Yates, published 2019

    [1] Samuel Cox, John Crittenden, Alexander Stephens, Augustus C. Dodge, John C. Breckinridge, Lewis Cass.
    [2] Without the collapse of the Whigs, Chase remains a Democrat.
    [3] OTL, this exact manifesto was written by Salmon Chase and Joshua Giddings.
    [4] An OTL excerpt from the March 2nd, 1854, issue of the Tribune.
    [5] Stephens said something similar IOTL about himself.
    [6] Samuel J. Randall, who I may or may not do something with later.
    [7] With a swifter and bolder intervention, Sumner isn’t nearly as badly wounded TTL.
    [8] Reeder threw out fraudulent tallies in districts where there were challenges, but he did not believe he had the right to interfere where there were no complaints.
    [9] OTL, Franklin Pierce continued to recognize the pro-slavery legislature as legitimate and ignored the results of the Congressional investigation.
    [10] Nebraska doesn’t have any violence or fraud, so it has a much quieter and quicker path to incorporation.
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    15. A House Divided
  • 15. A House Divided

    “Stephen Douglas knew he had alienated the powerful southern faction. First, he had pushed for a homestead act and Kansas-Minnesota. Then, he sanctioned a free-soil legislature and dissolved the pro-slavery one. And worst of all to the south, he had endorsed admitting Kansas as a free state. In April 1860, just weeks before the Democratic convention in Cincinnati, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis resigned in protest of US soldiers forcing the Lecompton legislature to disband. “I can see no difference between the President and the Whig abolitionist radicals,” he wrote. The day after leaving Douglas’s cabinet, Davis declared his candidacy for President.

    Alexander Stephens, who had left the Whigs to become a Democrat in 1857, immediately endorsed Davis. Stephens had been instrumental in building southern support for Kansas-Minnesota but had been dismayed by Douglas’s support for the free-soil legislature. “He has forsaken the Democratic principles that he claims to cherish,” Stephens declared. “He has cast his lot in with the radical abolitionists in the Whigs to stamp out the rightful legislature in Lecompton.” Within days, Preston Brooks, Robert Rhett, James Buchanan, and Franklin Pierce all supported Davis. Pierce wrote that Douglas had failed to put unity and sectional harmony first, and that he was too beholden to northern interests to govern properly. Vice President Fitzpatrick announced his refusal to run on a ticket with Douglas a second time and endorsed Davis as well.

    Douglas had expected this sort of revolt. In a speech the day before the convention, he defended himself from Davis, Stephens, and Pierce. “The real dereliction would be to allow the ratification of that fraudulent submission from Lecompton. The assembly in Lawrence was bestowed with the people’s legitimacy, and to oppose the popular mandate would be to take aim at our whole republican system of government.”

    Meanwhile, free-soil Democrats mounted a challenge of their own. David Wilmot, one of the authors of the Appeal of the Independent Democrats, denounced the President as insufficiently friendly to the north. Douglas criticized Wilmot for supposedly supporting full equality for blacks, saying “this government was made by our fathers on the white basis… it is dangerous for men of high office to insinuate otherwise.”

    The first battle between Douglas and Davis was fought over the platform. Davis knew that Douglas would refuse the nomination if the platform was too pro-slavery and sought to take control of the committee in charge of drafting it. Davis successfully placed his allies on the platform committee, and they did indeed produce a pro-slavery draft. However, northern delegates narrowly adopted a platform of their own design over the southern backed one. Davis had to plead with the more radical pro-slavery delegates to stay at the convention, although he could not prevent the South Carolina and Alabama delegations from walking out [1].

    The President led on the first ballot, but he fell short of a majority. His allies defeated an effort by Davis to instate a 2/3 rule before the second ballot, an important victory for Douglas. However, the convention ruled that Douglas needed a majority of all the delegates, not just those present, to win. On the second ballot, David Wilmot lost most of his western supporters to Douglas, who in turn came just short of a majority. Despite Jefferson Davis’s warnings of a southern defection, most northern delegates remained behind Douglas. On the third ballot, the President narrowly secured his renomination as Wilmot’s campaign collapsed completely. In protest, Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens led a walkout of the rest of the southern delegates to join the South Carolina and Alabama delegations at a splinter convention in Charleston. There, Davis was nominated for President with Stephens as his running mate, and the pro-slavery platform was adopted without any northerners to object.

    The Cincinnati convention proceeded without Davis and the south. In a play for Seward’s home state of New York, Douglas arranged for Secretary of State Seymour to be nominated for Vice President. Seymour had run the State department cautiously, preventing any filibusters from disturbing Douglas’s plans and negotiating trade deals with Hawaii and Nicaragua. With no southern delegates to oppose him, Seymour defeated token free-soil resistance to win the nomination on the first ballot.

    Presidential vote123Vice-Presidential vote1
    S. Douglas126144161H. Seymour204
    J. Davis1009896Absent63
    Absent171717D. Wilmot26
    D. Wilmot393321

    Douglas understood that the southern walkout effectively doomed his chances of reelection. He was nevertheless determined to “contest this election to [his] utmost,” because he viewed William Seward, the likely Whig nominee, as a radical and the National Union party as too southern dominated for its own good. The rump Democratic convention convened with an air of foreboding…”

    -From IN THE SHADOW OF JACKSON by Michelle Watts, published 2012

    “The violence in Kansas had energized the Whigs, while Douglas’s steadfast support for popular sovereignty had badly wounded the Democrats. For the first time, free-soil Whigs were confident in victory. They held their convention in Chicago, in President Douglas’s home state of Illinois. Previously a solidly Democratic state, the Whigs had enjoyed high-profile electoral successes there, like winning the Governorship and Lincoln’s victory in the 1858 Senate election.

    William Seward was widely expected to run. He had been instrumental in denying Fillmore the nomination four years prior, and he had spent the intervening time building up a political war chest and networking with Whig party leaders. His longtime backer, Thurlow Weed, had skimmed from canal tolls to fund campaign operations and was an influential newspaper publisher. And Seward had kept his rhetoric moderate, even during Bleeding Kansas [2]. Few Whigs wanted to oppose him – Charles Sumner endorsed him, as did Abraham Lincoln, who was widely seen as a potential challenger. Two other serious candidates did step forward to challenge Seward – Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio and former Attorney General Edward Bates of Missouri.

    Wade was seen as too radical, and radicals who might have supported him, like Thaddeus Stevens, had already declared for Senator Seward. Bates was, conversely, too conservative for the dominant free-soilers. He had enforced the detested Fugitive Slave Act, though he had also helped slaves gain their freedom in a series of high-profile lawsuits during the late 1850s. his initial supporter, newspaperman Horace Greeley, would later defect to Seward. There was some doubt that Seward could win the nomination, but he had cleared the field of his most formidable challengers and the other two candidates were generally unacceptable to the convention.

    Many southern states refused to send delegates to the Whigs [3], instead treating the National Union party as the Whigs’ successor. Thus, the convention was much smaller, and the nominee was guaranteed to be a free-soiler. Edward Bates received the support of the few southern states present at the convention, while Benjamin Wade was backed by his home state of Ohio and neighboring midwestern states. However, his decidedly radical views prevented him from gaining much traction.

    With limited opposition, William Seward was nominated by a comfortable margin on the first ballot. By the motion of Benjamin Wade, this was amended to a unanimous nomination by acclamation in a show of party unity. For Vice President, the party nominated Congressman Joshua Giddings of Ohio. Giddings was a leading abolitionist, which appeased the Wade camp. He was also from a western state, which would help Seward challenge Douglas on his home turf.

    Presidential vote1Vice-Presidential vote1
    W. Seward146J. Giddings153
    E. Bates50A. Lincoln81
    B. Wade46

    The party platform included standard Whig fare – an increase in the tariff and funding for internal improvements. Prominently, this plank included a call for the construction of a transcontinental railroad. What dominated the headlines, however, where the platform planks that concerned slavery and Kansas. The “right of each state to order and control its own domestic institutions” was affirmed. On Kansas, the platform declared: “the decision made by the lawful citizens of Kansas Territory to prohibit slavery must be respected and Kansas admitted as a state with all due speed.” The rest of the territories, however, “must be incorporated as free territories for settlement by free men.” The platform was toned down from the more radical and hastier 1856 document, and the announcement of the tariff and western planks sparked cheers and jubilant chants from the assembled delegates [4].”

    -From THE EVOLUTION OF THE WHIGS by James Welter, published 1997

    “Douglas warned that the nation was teetering on the brink of civil war and that electing Seward would only worsen the situation. He also cautioned the south against secession, calling it “a treasonous folly.” He defied the precedent that candidates let others campaign for them by going on a speaking tour of the north and the upper south (Douglas did not even appear on the Democratic ballot in the south – there, for all intents and purposes Jefferson Davis was the Democratic nominee, and efforts by Douglas's supporters were hindered by violent mobs harassing organizers). Even as he was mocked as desperate, newspapermen observed that Douglas looked ill – decades of energetic politicking and his recent reversal of fortunes had left his voice hoarse and his face gaunt.

    The Whigs turned their campaign into a spectacle – parades, banners, and endless propagandizing in the Whig presses. Seward made only a few speeches, the most notable of which was in response to the claim that his election would spark a civil war. “The slave power, with muttering voice and feeble gestures,” he declared. “Nobody’s afraid. Nobody can be bought.” Privately, Seward believed that talk of secession was merely a bluff and thought that it would blow over once he refused to back down. Despite the declarations of Douglas, Bell, and Davis that Seward stood for abolition, the Whigs refused to engage. They were not abolitionists, Abraham Lincoln said in Peoria. The Whigs stood simply “for the principle of Free Soil in the west.”

    Seward also made a play for the immigrant vote. As Governor of New York, he had pushed education reforms to improve English literacy among the children of immigrants. As a Presidential candidate, Seward tacitly approved of the Wide Awakes, a youth organization that held parades, voter registration drives, and campaign events for the Whigs. Seward quietly brought immigrant children into the organization, in order to convince immigrant communities to support the Whigs. While nativist Whigs opposed this, Seward reasoned that improving relations with immigrants would make all the difference in New York and western states like Ohio and Wisconsin [5]. While Seward also tried to court the catholic German vote [6], little effort was made to appeal to Irish immigrants, however, who were seen as unshakably Democratic.

    Whigs dismissed the southern Democratic campaign. William Seward mocked it as “hysterical, fanciful protestations.” While Davis remained at his plantation estate, his surrogates ran a furious campaign. Preston Brooks, William Yancey, and Robert Rhett in particular spoke frequently. The Whigs were outlaws, Brooks declared in a feverish address in Tennessee. “They are worse than pirates or murderers,” Yancey railed. “A pirate wants treasure; a murderer is just one man. But the Whigs want nothing less than the destruction of our economy and way of life. They want to put us to the torch.” Davis privately disapproved of these inflammatory speeches, but he recognized that they riled up voters to vote for him and not the National Unionists or Douglas. Southern Democrats formed militias that chased off Whig organizers and Douglas Democrats. A few were even killed.

    The National Unionists were largely shut out of the north by the Whig’s superior organization. The National Union had inherited the infrastructure of the disorganized and weakened southern Whigs, leaving them struggling to counter Douglas and Davis in the hotly contested upper south. John Bell, the National Union nominee, criticized both Seward and Davis as extremists who would destroy the union. Only careful compromise, Bell said, could save the United States. Both Seward and Davis retorted that the other side was the real extremist who wanted disunion.

    However, Douglas and Bell found themselves fighting against the tide. Years of compromise had left both the north and the south angry and frustrated, and they each were loudly indicating their preferences for sectional candidates and not the ineffectual, embattled ‘national’ or ‘compromise’ candidates that had so uninspired the voting public over the last decade. This trend was emphasized by the results of the October gubernatorial elections, where free-soil Whigs won Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial election in a landslide and narrowly won in Indiana, previously a Democratic-leaning state.

    William SewardJefferson DavisJohn BellStephen Douglas
    Electoral Vote166615021
    Popular Vote1,912,584759,077610,9011,480,233

    …The old guard was swept aside in 1860. Jefferson Davis swept the deep south, while William Seward won every northern state except Illinois. Stephen Douglas, in fact, won just two states: his home state, and Missouri. The National Union came in third, clinging to the upper south in a rebuke of compromises that satisfied no one and angered everyone. The Whigs seized a narrow majority of the House, their first outright majority since 1846. Despite failing to win a Senate majority, the Whigs enjoyed the support of free-soil Democrats like Salmon Chase, which gave the north a Senate majority.

    William Seward’s victory shocked the south. It was the first time in American history that a candidate had won without winning a single southern state (although Seward did narrowly lose Delaware). Jefferson Davis wrote to a colleague that “I fear the south’s patience is nearing its end. A compromise must be reached, but I doubt the Whigs will prove willing to negotiate.” Preston Brooks loudly warned “that Seward and his abolitionist confederates must tread carefully, or they shall pay dearly for seeking to destroy the very foundations of southern society.” The Wide Awakes were seen not as youths increasing Whig turnout, but as violent thugs who would help the Whigs enforce abolition on the south.

    …In his first speech after the election, President-elect Seward, in an attempt to assuage southern concerns, declared “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I am not inclined to do so.” Most southerners, however, didn’t believe him. The sectional crisis was about to reach its boiling point.”

    -UNEASY SILENCE: AMERICA IN THE ANTEBELLUM by John Erwin, published 2021

    [1] OTL, the entirety of the deep south walked out.
    [2] TTL, Seward doesn’t make the radical or fiery speeches that gave him his OTL reputation as a radical, so he’s seen as more electable.
    [3] OTL, Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Texas, Maryland, and Delaware sent delegates to the Republican convention. TTL, Tennessee does as well.
    [4] The OTL 1860 Republican convention also placed a stronger emphasis on tariffs and railroads than on slavery.
    [5] OTL, Lincoln and the Republicans actively courted the (Protestant) immigrant vote. TTL, Seward makes even more of an effort, including using Wide Awakes to bring immigrant communities into the free-soil coalition (aside from the Irish).
    [6] OTL, Lincoln made little effort to court Catholics at all. TTL, Seward tries a little harder at getting the German Catholic vote.
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    16. The Gathering Storm
  • 16. The Gathering Storm

    “An air of tension hung over the inauguration of William Seward. The disunion that the outgoing President Douglas had warned of had not yet come to pass, but from the sullen faces of those few southerners in attendance, such a thing was no longer an unthinkable act.

    Indeed, there was a muted air to the Whigs’ celebrations. Seward undertook a train journey and speaking tour from Albany to Washington by way of Detroit, Chicago, and Cincinnati. Along the way, he greeted crowds of cheering well-wishers who, nevertheless, “had a pall of worry and fear hanging over their smiling faces and gleeful whoops.” His advisors dissuaded him from visiting the south due to the discovery of numerous plots to assassinate him. At his one foray into the south, in St. Louis, Seward was greeted by sullen and angry crowds. The only spectators who seemed excited by his visit were the German immigrants.

    In his inaugural address, Seward sought to assure the south that he had no intentions to interfere with the south. “Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States that by the accession of a Whig Administration their property and their peace and personal security are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the great preponderance of evidence to the contrary has all the while existed and been open to their inspection.” He declared that “the only true disagreement is that one section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended [1].” Seward’s address concluded with an appeal for unity: “We are not, we must not be, aliens or enemies, but fellow-countrymen and brethren. Although passion has strained our bonds of affection too hardly, they must not, I am sure they will not, be broken. The mystic chords which, proceeding from so many battlefields and so many patriot graves, pass through all the hearts and all hearths in this broad continent of ours, will yet again harmonize in their ancient music when breathed upon by the guardian angel of the nation [2].”

    For all of this rhetoric, Seward did not intend to concede everything to the south, and southerners knew this. “Do not be fooled by his silver-tongued lies,” Preston Brooks declared in response. “He will cast the south’s wishes aside like a worn scarf and force abolitionism upon our fair land.” Southern newspapers branded him a blatant liar, one who would “woo us with the sweetest nothings and then turn around and plunge a dagger into our backs,” as the Charleston Mercury read.”

    -UNEASY SILENCE: AMERICA IN THE ANTEBELLUM by John Erwin, published 2021

    Presidential Cabinet of William Seward:
    Vice President:
    Joshua Giddings
    Secretary of State: Hamilton Fish
    Secretary of the Treasury: William P. Fessenden
    Secretary of War: Edward Bates
    Attorney General: David Davis
    Postmaster General: Cassius Clay
    Secretary of the Interior: Joseph Holt
    Secretary of the Navy: Jacob Collamer

    “The Roman Republic had been extremely fortunate to hold off the Austrian army and preserve Mazzini’s revolutionary government. Garibaldi and the defenders of Bologna became national heroes, and today the monument to the siege of Bologna is a major landmark in Rome. However, the Republic faced an even more dire problem: a crumbling economy. During the frenzy of reform immediately following the revolution, taxes had been cut and expensive work programs instituted. Amid a growing deficit, the government initiated a program of inflation that quickly became difficult to control.

    Technically one of the three Triumvirs of the Roman Republic, Giuseppe Mazzini was the first among equals. As such, his fellow Triumvirs and the Assembly turned to him to solve the spiraling economic crisis. The result was an unpopular compromise that was nevertheless necessary: several of the taxes that had been eliminated in 1849 would be restored at limited rates and the popular work programs would be scaled back [3]. During the initial revolution, forced loans were imposed on the wealthy of the Republic, but this was regarded in hindsight as insufficient. Thus, new taxes were imposed on the wealthy of Rome. They were not as high as Mazzini initially wanted, but the government did not want the wealthy to flee the country with their fortunes [4].

    The tax increases on the wealthy assuaged popular anger, as Mazzini made it clear that all citizens of the Republic had to make sacrifices to stabilize the economy. Further, he said, they were temporary measures until the Roman economy could properly form. Indeed, during the First Interbellum of 1849-1855, Bologna and Ferrara became bustling industrial cities, rivalling Turin in their prosperity.

    All throughout the First Interbellum, the Republic remained vigilant towards the Austrians. The fortifications of Ferrara, Bologna, and Ancona were strengthened, and Giuseppe Garibaldi recruited soldiers from across the Italian peninsula to form the well-trained, unification-focused Army of the Republic. The Republic would need such a disciplined army for the inevitable rematch with Austria…”

    -From THE GRAND CONSENSUS: EUROPE 1815-1898 by Rebecca Gardner, published 2001

    “Seward had two major goals as President: succeed where Douglas had failed and fund a transcontinental railroad and incorporate as much of the west as possible as free territories. He took the unusual step of calling an extraordinary session of Congress in May 1861 to enact his agenda. This was decried as tyranny by the southern press. As Congress convened, Seward went to work. He first decided to try and negotiate with the south for the railroad. Led by Jefferson Davis and John Quitman, southern Senators informed President Seward that they would support the railroad if Seward would allow Kansas to be admitted as a slave state under the Lecompton constitution and reverse his order that US marshals cease enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act. “Gentlemen,” Seward wrote them, “it is general knowledge that the ‘Lecompton constitution’ is built upon a foundation of fraud and violence.” Setting aside the validity of the Lecompton constitution and the clear desire of Kansans to be admitted as a free state, Seward could not agree to the south’s demands, lest he be vilified by his own party as yet another doughface.

    Despite the refusal of Davis and his “cabal,” as Seward privately referred to them, the Whigs forged ahead with the railroad bill. John Crittenden, now a National Unionist, was willing to work with the Whigs on this and led the drive to win southern support. Missouri Senator Sterling Price, despite being a Democrat [5], readily gave his support because of the increased commerce the railroad would bring their state. Sam Houston, an ardent expansionist, supported it because it would facilitate the settlement of the west. Andrew Johnson supported it for similar reasons. Confident, the Whigs proceeded with voting. The House, with a Whig majority, easily approved the bill, with many northern and western Democrats joining them. In the Senate, despite strong denunciations from Davis and his allies, the support of Price, Houston, Crittenden, and Johnson proved decisive. The Pacific Railroad Act passed the Senate on July 26th and was signed by President Seward two days later. Southerners were furious – the Whigs had completely ignored them and, with just a few southern defectors, did what they wanted.

    “Is this to be our destiny?” William Yancey thundered at a speech in Montgomery. “Is the south to sit passively as the abolitionist Yankees use brutish force to erode the very foundations of our society, our civilization? Are we to allow the amalgamationist northerners to set the negro loose on our women and children?” Yancey had been dismissed as a rabble-rouser by many southerners just a year before. But now, the south was starting to take note. And Yancey’s frenzied warnings would, in the minds of southerners, become prophetic with Seward’s next legislative push: Kansas.

    The Whigs had campaigned on a promise to secure the admission of Kansas as a free state, and Seward intended to make good on that promise. The Kansas Act was introduced on July 22nd into the House by David Wilmot, approving the Lawrence Constitution and bringing Kansas into the union. Naturally, the south vociferously opposed this. “Kansas is, by all rights, ours,” said Preston Brooks during debate. “The Lecompton legislature was robbed of its constitutional authority and violently repressed by a tyrannical Administration.”

    Democrats made numerous attempts to table the bill during debate, but the Whig majority united each time to keep it alive. After a week of debate, the House passed the Kansas Act on July 26th, just hours before Congress adjourned for the weekend. All but three southerners voted against it, while all but the handful of doughface northerners voted in favor. The reading of the tally prompted a furor from the southern Congressmen. “This is an affront to the south of the highest order,” Alexander Stephens opined. “I, as much as any other southerner, would prefer to preserve the Union. But the present state of affairs cannot be the permanent order of things if the Union is to endure. That is my solemn warning.”

    Nevertheless, the Kansas Act was sent to the Senate, where it faced much stiffer odds. Sterling Price declared his opposition, while Sam Houston was vaguely neutral, and John Crittenden attempted to broker some sort of compromise. Jefferson Davis led the opposition to the Kansas Act, giving a harsh criticism of Seward during debate. “The proposal for Kansas is a mere prelude to the forcible incorporation of the vast west into abolitionist states and the complete subjugation of the south to the north,” he declared. The south was increasingly inclined to agree. Charles Sumner, Abraham Lincoln, and Salmon Chase led the effort to pass the bill. “This is not a question of slavery. It is a question of the validity of the republican values that are the foundation of our great Republic,” Lincoln said. Though radicals, Sumner and Chase made similar arguments made based on respecting the elections held in Kansas, not on the immorality of slavery. Just one southerner joined with all 32 northern Senators in passing the Kansas Act, John Crittenden. He cited the need to support the will of the people, regardless of the electoral outcome, for their yes votes. The south was furious. Crittenden was, by one newspaper’s account, “a corrupt northern stooge.” William Seward was a tyrant, a “modern-day Caesar”, a “black abolitionist.”

    Just a day after President Seward signed the Kansas Act, admitting another free state into the union, Congress adjourned for its autumn recess. Southern lawmakers returned to their home states, many furious at the direction that Seward was taking the country. On August 19th, Governor Francis W. Pickens of South Carolina, pressured by members of the state legislature, formally called for a convention to consider secession. The Governors of the states of Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas followed suit. The Union was about to face its greatest test…”

    -From BROTHER KILLING BROTHER: THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR by Michael Yates, published 2019

    [1] From Lincoln’s OTL inaugural address.
    [2] OTL, Seward suggested this passage for the closing of Lincoln’s inaugural.
    [3] Several sources describe how dire the Roman Republic’s economic situation was OTL. I would expect that the assembly would be forced into restoring some of the less onerous taxes.
    [4] During the Republic’s brief existence OTL, Mazzini lamented how the wealthy of Rome would defend their fortunes more fiercely than they did the Republic. I can see him wanting higher taxes but reluctantly taking a more pragmatic approach.
    [5] As Governor of Missouri, Price expanded the state’s railway network, so I imagine he would support a transcontinental railroad as well.
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    17. Secession Autumn
  • 17. Secession Autumn

    “Congress adjourned at the beginning of August with tempers flaring, nerves shot, and patience frayed. Despite nearly the entire south voting as a bloc in opposition, Kansas had been admitted as a free state. The outrage in the south was so intense that, for the first time, there were serious calls for statewide conventions to discuss secession.

    On August 19th, South Carolina was the first state to authorize a convention on secession. The rest of the deep south followed suit in the following days. A sense of shock gripped the north as the perpetuity of the perpetual union was called into doubt. President Seward sent letters to prominent southern politicians, urging them to carefully consider the wisdom of secession. Of the few who bothered to respond, even fewer showed any sign of considering Seward’s counsel.

    Elections to the secession conventions were held throughout the last week of August. “A frenzy has gripped the south,” declared the secessionist Charleston Mercury. “A frenzy that will lead to the fair south forging her own destiny, separate from the Yankee tyrants.” Preston Brooks and William Yancey campaigned for secessionist convention delegates across the south, drawing crowds wherever they went. Brooks warned that, should the south remain in the Union, “we will be crushed under the domination of this infamous, low, vulgar Black Whiggism.”

    …The concept of a southern identity had developed throughout the 1850s, primarily in the deep south. Growing resentment towards the north and abolitionists fueled the spread in southernism’s popularity, and the free-soil pivot of the Whigs lent the ideology further momentum. Even self-professed moderates like John C. Breckinridge and Jefferson Davis spoke of an overarching southern identity that united the southern states in common cause.

    The key things that united the south and drove southernism were a shared economic system and a shared culture. Much of the south was dominated by an aristocratic planter class, and the economy depended on cash crops like cotton, cultivated by slaves. Indeed, the practice of slavery served to unite the south against the free-soil north, though proponents of southernism shrouded this in terms of ‘agrarianism’ vs. ‘industrialism.’ Overwhelmingly, though, the proponents of secession believed that it was the only way to preserve slavery, the south’s ‘peculiar institution.’

    …President Seward made several appeals for unity during the elections to the conventions. “I do not have the ability under the constitution to abolish slavery, even if I had the desire to,” he declared during a visit to Richmond. That visit had to be cut short, however, as a plot to assassinate the President was uncovered and he was rushed back to the White House [1]. His entreaties were either mocked or ignored by southerners. The conventions were slated to open during the second week of September, and the fate of the Union hung in the balance.”

    -UNEASY SILENCE: AMERICA IN THE ANTEBELLUM by John Erwin, published 2021

    “Even the lower south was divided on secession. Some doubted whether the proposed southern confederacy could defend itself against the north, and others questioned whether secession should wait until more popular support had been built up. And throughout the south, delegates looked to South Carolina as a guide. The month of September saw a slew of resignations as secessionist Senators and Congressmen left their seats in Washington to aid in the push for secession.

    South Carolina was a hotbed of southern sectionalism. Its nullification of Jackson’s Tariff in the 1830s nearly caused a small civil war, and it was home to some of the loudest advocates of southern sectional interests. Yet the state’s political class was not monolithically behind secession. Congressman James L. Orr led the ‘National Democrats,’ who urged moderation. However, the 1858 elections had seen many ‘Fire-Eaters’ elected to office in South Carolina, weakening Orr’s faction. The secession convention would be the ultimate test of which faction was the strongest.

    Outside of the convention hall, secessionists held a large rally. Inside, it became apparent that a majority of the delegates sympathized with the crowds outside. Preston Brooks quickly monopolized the debate and made vicious attacks on Orr and his allies. “The iron of discontent is hot,” he declared to the convention. “We cannot wait, we must act now or the whole of the south will suffer under the Yankee bootheel.” The Fire-Eaters swayed the delegates, and the convention voted overwhelmingly to secede on September 19th, which is still celebrated across parts of the south as ‘Ordinance Day [2].’ Brooks gambled that goading South Carolina into unilateral secession would spur the rest of the south to follow suit, and he was about to find out whether it had paid off…

    …The next state to secede was Mississippi, on October 11th. Inspired by South Carolina’s example, two thirds of the convention delegates voted in favor. Four days later, Georgia narrowly adopted an ordinance of secession. In both states, pro-secession Governors rushed the formation of the conventions to prevent organized unionist movements [3] from halting the sprint towards secession. Alabama followed suit on October 15th, the apocalyptic speeches of William Yancey undoubtedly pushing delegates towards secession. Florida’s Governor had promised Brooks and the secessionists that he would urge his state’s convention to secede should South Carolina go first. With four states out of the union, he made good on his promise when, on October 18th, Florida seceded from the Union. The tide of secession next swept up Louisiana, which voted very narrowly and after weeks of debate to join South Carolina in leaving the Union. Texas took the longest to approve secession, as Senator Sam Houston made an impassioned argument for loyalty to the Union. Despite his protests, on October 25th, the convention voted to secede as well.

    Conventions were also held in the rest of the south. Delaware immediately and emphatically rejected secession. Missouri and Kentucky also voted down ordinances of secession by wide margins, though not after lengthy debates. The Virginia secession convention debated throughout October. As the largest southern state, and one of the most developed, Virginia was courted extensively by secessionists. However, it had been carried by the National Unionists in the 1860 election. At the convention, unionists Waitman Willey and John Carlile sparred with secessionists Henry Wise and Jeremiah Morton. John Barbour [4] made the case for loyalty on the grounds that remaining in the Union would be better for Virginia’s economy than secession. On November 4th, Virginia rejected secession by a vote of 92-53, with the mountainous western part of the state providing the bulk of the votes against. The convention then adjourned [5].

    Following Virginia’s decision to remain loyal, Maryland’s Governor denounced secession and refused to hold a convention. Tennessee’s convention [6] was nearly three-quarters Unionist, but news that Virginia had rejected secession swayed a number of secessionist delegates, and the Tennessee convention voted almost unanimously against secession (just three delegates voted in favor). Senator Andrew Johnson led the unionist faction, denouncing in harsh terms the secessionists as traitors and pledged to support the “indissoluble Union” against threats to it. North Carolina had feared being encircled if Virginia and Tennessee both voted to secede, and so news of the two states’ loyalty to the Union was received by unionists with relief. North Carolina had a large population of white yeoman farmers who were generally opposed to secession. Without the threat of encirclement to goad fence-sitters into supporting secession, the eastern planters were outvoted by the rest of the state – North Carolina would remain in the Union.

    Only Arkansas remained on the fence…”

    -From THE WAR BETWEEN THE STATES by Elissa Marconi, published 1998

    “The seven seceded states each sent delegates to Montgomery, Alabama. Their purpose was to unite the southern states into a single Confederacy. Despite the failure of the secessionists to drag the upper south into their rebellion, they remained committed to establishing their new Confederacy.

    The Confederate States of America would be the name of the rebellious alliance of states, and it was designed to protect slavery and the plantation system, both from the Union and from progress. Though inspired by the United States constitution, the Confederate constitution was overt in its support for slavery and the increasingly obsolete plantation economy. The Confederate Congress was constitutionally barred from levying tariffs or funding internal improvements. While the United States constitution made no mention of race or slavery specifically, the Confederate constitution declared: “the importation of Negroes of the African race…”and “no bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed [7].” Slavery was also legally protected in any Confederate state or territory. Confederate states were given broad autonomy, including the right to print bills of credit, negotiate use of waterways with each other, and tax ships registered in other states.

    The convention also selected the provisional President of the Confederacy. There were two main camps: the Doves and the Nationalists. The Doves sought to negotiate a settlement with the Union – permanent independence was just one of several outcomes acceptable to them. The Nationalists, on the other hand, wanted full and permanent independence for the Confederacy. Even among secessionists, many held out hope that a compromise could be reached, and the Union reunited peacefully. This sentiment was dominant during the provisional Congress, and the leader of the Doves, Alexander Stephens, was elected as the first President of the Confederate States of America. In his inaugural address, Stephens declared that the “cornerstone of this Confederacy rests, our foundation lies, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.” This is categorical proof that the Confederacy was founded to preserve the cruel practice of slavery.”

    -From THE REAL HISTORY OF AMERICA by Thaddeus Flagg, published 2020

    “Shortly after South Carolina’s secession, Robert Anderson, the commander of Charleston’s harbor fortifications, evacuated to the offshore and better-defensible Fort Sumter. Possession of Fort Sumter determined control of Charleston harbor and was one of the strongest fortresses in the world. South Carolina’s government objected to the relocation of the US command to Sumter, and in retaliation attacked Fort Moultrie and Castle Pinckney, bloodlessly seizing the two fortifications.

    In the meantime, the Confederate government dispatched a delegation to Washington, where they offered to purchase Sumter and the other Union-held fortifications within Charleston harbor, as well as negotiate a peace treaty between the Confederacy and the Union. Members of Seward’s cabinet urged Seward to refuse the demands, but the President had a different plan. In a move characteristic of his leadership style, he bypassed his cabinet entirely and negotiated directly with the Confederate emissaries. Seward refused to negotiate a peace treaty, telling the Confederates that no support for such an agreement existed in the Senate. He did, however, promise to evacuate Sumter and leave it to the South Carolina state militia.

    Anderson reluctantly withdrew with his garrison from the fort, while Seward was faced with a hailstorm of criticism. Charles Sumner insinuated he was a coward, while Henry Winter Davis of Maryland accused him of conspiring with the south to destroy the Union. It soon became apparent, however, that Seward had a more cunning plan than simply reinforcing Fort Sumter.

    The USS Merrimack was a brand-new steam frigate, commissioned just five years prior in 1856. President Seward dispatched the Merrimack, along with the sail frigates Congress and Cumberland and five smaller gunboats, to patrol outside Charleston harbor and collect “all import excises, duties, and tariffs owed to the Federal government.” Seward explained that, because “certain rebel groups have rendered the landed Customs House in Charleston inoperable at present, import duties must be collected at the harbor’s entrance.”

    The eight ships arrived off Charleston harbor on December 2nd, 1861, arranged so as to control all shipping routes into the harbor. The fleet immediately began halting merchant vessels to collect tariffs. The civilian captains were told that a domestic disturbance on shore mandated the collection of tariffs offshore. Within two days of the navy’s arrival, the Confederate government protested to Seward. The Confederacy was an independent nation, Alexander Stephens declared in his missive. The Union had “no right or justification” to stop and tax merchant ships destined for Confederate harbors. President Seward refused to recall the fleet, writing “the Federal government has the sole authority to levy and collect tariffs and duties on foreign imports at any harbor within the inviolable Union.” In effect, Seward did not recognize the Confederacy, and would act as if it didn’t exist.

    This was unacceptable to Stephens, and he loudly decried it as Yankee tyranny “of the highest order.” After the Union withdrawal from the Charleston fortifications, the cannon of Fort Sumter and Castle Pinckney were manned by Confederate soldiers under the command of Stephen D. Lee. President Stephens authorized Lt. General Lee to fire on the Union ships. On December 7th, at 4:30am, a warning shot was fired from Fort Sumter at the Merrimack. John Marston, the Union commander, refused a Confederate demand to withdraw and an hour later, Fort Sumter and Castle Pinckney began full-scale bombardments of the Merrimack and her escorts. The aft mast of the Cumberland was felled by a well-placed shot, and 27 men aboard the Merrimack were killed during the barrage. Rather than risk his ships and men, Commodore Marston gave the order to withdraw and return to the Norfolk navy yard.

    The Confederate bombardment of the Union fleet enraged the north. 49 men were killed in total, marking the first time that blood was shed during the Civil War. The upper south, which Stephens had hoped to coax into secession, where shocked at the aggressiveness displayed by the Confederacy and refused to reconsider their loyalty to the Union. Of course, that did not mean that Confederate sympathizers in the upper south wouldn’t join the Confederacy. The Confederate attack served to drive the upper south further into the arms of the Union, with Arkansas once again being the sole neutral state, its convention still deliberating.

    In response to the Battle of Charleston Harbor, President Seward issued a proclamation calling for 60,000 volunteers to join the army and assert Federal authority over the rebellious south. He appealed to “all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate, and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of our National Union.” Having seen the Confederacy open fire on Union vessels, even the southern Governors agreed to furnish troops for Seward’s volunteer army. “The people of this Commonwealth cannot in good conscience give aid nor comfort to forces who would fire upon their fellow-countrymen,” wrote Governor John Letcher of Virginia. The Governors of Tennessee, North Carolina, Missouri, and Kentucky echoed similar sentiments [8]. Arkansas, on the other hand, finally decided on which side to take, and formally seceded on December 24th to join the Confederacy.

    The tension had boiled over, the first shots had been fired. The American Civil War had begun.”

    -From BROTHER KILLING BROTHER: THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR by Michael Yates, published 2019

    [1] There haven’t been as many plots to assassinate Seward as there were for Lincoln, though that’s a high bar.
    [2] Basically Robert E. Lee Day.
    [3] Similar to OTL, where secessionists hurried the process along.
    [4] OTL, Barbour made a similar argument in favor of secession. Initially, though, he was a Unionist. TTL, he stays one.
    [5] OTL, the convention remained in session and seceded after Fort Sumter.
    [6] OTL, Tennessee voters rejected a convention in a referendum. This convention would have been significantly more unionist than the one that convened after Fort Sumter.
    [7] From the OTL Confederate constitution.
    [8] OTL, many southern governors refused to send troops to Lincoln after Fort Sumter. TTL, with lessened sectional tensions in the upper south and a more aggressive Confederate response after Seward’s conciliatory cession of Fort Sumter, the upper south is more inclined to support the Union war effort.
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    18. An Irrepressible Conflict
  • 18. An Irrepressible Conflict

    “The bombardment of the Merrimack had worked out exactly as President Seward intended. The upper south had been driven further into the arms of the Union, and men from across the union rushed to enlist into the 60,000-man army. Within hours of Seward’s proclamation, Massachusetts regiments began assembling on Boston Common. The Governor of Iowa, initially worried about manpower shortages, soon found that recruiters were forced to turn away many hopeful enlistees. Faced with such enthusiasm for the fight, Seward amended his proclamation to call for 75,000 men, the maximum size allowed under the law.

    The enlistees were mostly untrained, and the army lacked the means to quickly equip and train them. General-in-Chief Winfield Scott envisioned that the first six months of war [1] would be spent readying the army for proper combat, after which the fighting could begin. However, while this was a strategically sound plan, it was not politically sound. The brewing Civil War was borne from a bitter political dispute, and the conflict would be shaped just as much by political concerns as military ones.

    At the onset of open hostilities, Union armories held more than 500,000 rifles and small arms, though some 90,000 of those weapons were in Confederate-controlled armories [2]. While the Confederate states scrambled to gather more weapons, including requisitioning hunting rifles and shotguns from backwoodsmen, the Union was also having trouble procuring more arms. The north had a greater ability to manufacture weapons, but the army camps of Washington, Norfolk, St. Louis, Memphis, Nashville, and Raleigh were clogged with inexperienced, undisciplined 90-day volunteers milling about. While General Scott wanted to wait and consolidate the newly expanded army, President Seward was under intense pressure to march on Charleston and deal the Confederacy a fatal blow.

    …While the President deliberated his options, the first land battle of the Civil War was fought. Despite deciding to remain in the union, loyalties in Tennessee were still divided. The western third of the state in particular was a hotbed of secessionism. With Confederate support, a group of secessionists led by Governor Isham Harris raised a secessionist militia. The goal was to rally the western and central portions of the state to the Confederate cause. Harris and his allies planned to seize Nashville, forcibly dissolve the unionist legislature, and hold a new secession convention that would bring Tennessee into the Confederacy. General Nathaniel Lyon, the commander of the recently reinforced Nashville garrison, was made aware of this development. As Harris’s 5,000-strong militia marched towards Nashville, they found Lyon’s army blocking the road. In the first battle of the Civil War (though it was more of a skirmish), the small Union force of 2,000 forced the secessionists to retreat.

    …On February 7th, 1862, President Seward appointed Irvin McDowell to lead the Army of the Carolinas, with the ultimate goal of taking Charleston. Several smaller Union forces, each numbering around 10-15,000 men, had attempted to invade South Carolina but had been halted by skirmishes and minor battles. McDowell, however, was given command of 30,000 men camped in Raleigh and Fayetteville. It was predicted that this would give him a sizeable numerical advantage over whatever force the Confederates managed to amass. The 90-day mark was nearing, and McDowell was restricted by popular and political pressure from spending much time training his men. Though the cool weather of early March prevented heat from becoming an issue for the army, the soldiers were still green and unaccustomed to marching [3]. This meant that McDowell’s journey to Rockingham took an extra week.”

    -From THE WAR BETWEEN THE STATES by Elissa Marconi, published 1998

    “The Confederates hastily raised a force of 20,000 from state militia within two months of the bombardment of the Merrimack. This army was, like the Union army camped just across the border, very green. Unlike the Union, the Confederate army also faced a dire equipment shortage. The overwhelming majority of U.S. army arsenals lay in Union states, leaving the state militias of the Confederacy woefully underprepared in comparison to the equally untrained northern army.

    Worse, the Confederate Congress was debating a measure that would ban the export of cotton in order to force the United Kingdom and the French Republic to recognize the Confederacy. This, combined with President Seward’s order for the Union navy to blockade southern ports, threatened to cut off the Confederacy from arms shipments before they could even put up a proper fight. Stephens intervened, warning that “our Confederacy will be destroyed within a month without arms, and we cannot get arms without selling cotton.” Stephens used the still-nebulous factions withing the Confederate Congress to defeat the proposed self-boycott [4]. The Confederate army placed orders with European companies for large quantities of rifles, cannon, ammunition, and other vital supplies. The steady stream of foreign-made materiel flowing into southern ports led President Seward to expedite the formation of his blockade. Dozens of new steam frigates and gunboats were ordered to chase down ships violating the blockade, while the vast majority of the existing fleet was put to work turning away ships bound for southern ports. Seward also dispatched his diplomats to dissuade Britain and France from further aiding the Confederacy. Though these efforts were initially met with indifference, by the end of the year, Britain and France would change their tune…”

    -From DIPLOMACY IN THE CIVIL WAR by Eugene McConnell, published 2001

    “McDowell drew up an ambitious plan of attack. Marching south from Rockingham, he would advance along the road to Camden, an important regional railroad hub. Once Camden was secured, he would then seize the state capital of Columbia, another important railroad city. Meanwhile, P.G.T. Beauregard was camped with his army of 20,000 in Traveler’s Rest, a town in between Columbia and Camden. When Beauregard received a report that McDowell had broken camp and was headed along the road to Camden, he gave the order to his army to head north. While the Union army slowly proceeded south, the Confederates set up defensive works near the small town of Lynchbrook, about fifteen miles north of Camden. The two armies first made contact on the morning of February 21st, when two cavalry patrols met and skirmished.

    Beauregard had hoped to wait until a promised reinforcement of 7,000 soldiers had arrived, but McDowell arrived first. After cavalry skirmishes indicated where the Confederate army was positioned, McDowell launched his attack on the morning of March 6th, at 3:40. He dispatched two divisions to flank Beauregard’s army on the right, near the town of New Market. The Union troops ran into trouble early on, as the inexperienced soldiers struggled to maintain proper formations, and the roads they marched on were too narrow for a whole column’s width. Thus, the two divisions only reached New Market at 5:10, having been greatly delayed. This allowed Beauregard to reposition his right to secure the flank. By the time the Union troops began their attack on the Confederate right flank, it was well-guarded, and the fighting quickly became brutal.

    While the right flank descended into bloody fighting, Union artillery began bombarding Confederate positions in and around Lynchbrook, including Beauregard’s headquarters. Confederate troops began making feinting attacks, but miscommunication and inexperienced troops made these ineffective. In one instance, two Confederate brigades were ordered to attack a Union position, but only one actually obeyed the command. In the ensuing battle, the Union soldiers brutally repulsed the Confederate assault. The morning phase, plagued by poor communications and green, sluggish troops, ended with the Confederates falling back to await the imminent arrival of reinforcements.

    The Union army was too weakened by the morning fighting to disrupt the Confederate withdrawal, but by 1pm, McDowell decided that the army had recovered enough and moved to attack before the Confederate reinforcements could organize. An initial Union advance was halted by a cavalry company, and several Union officers were killed. As the rest of the Union army moved in for the attack, Confederate troops, disguised in Union uniforms, managed to capture two Union cannon that had been left poorly guarded. The fighting around the Confederate positions had turned into a slow, vicious slog. With the capture of the artillery and the entry of the reinforcements into battle, the tide began to turn. The inexperienced Union soldiers were unable to maintain morale in the face of the Confederate reinforcements and the increased casualties. Sensing Union weakness, Beauregard ordered a counterattack. McDowell attempted to exhort his men to keep up the fight, but his exhausted army began to disintegrate.

    By 3:20, the Union army had been driven back from the Confederate positions, and Beauregard’s army began to advance in pursuit. Seeing his army begin to panic, McDowell gave the order to retreat at 3:40. The retreat was initially orderly, but as the Confederates pursued and inexperienced soldiers panicked, the withdrawal became a general rout, and the Union army fled back to Rockingham, leaving a trail of equipment in their wake.

    The reasons for the Union defeat were many – the army was inexperienced, its march towards Camden was delayed, McDowell was too busy wrangling nearby brigades to direct the battle as a whole. The battle was the bloodiest in American history up to that point, with nearly 1,000 killed and 3,000 wounded in total. Northerners were shocked at the defeat, as the press had crowed that “a decisive victory is soon at hand” and that the Confederates would be crushed “with a single swift blow.” Instead, the Union army had all but fled back to North Carolina. The public demanded that someone face the blame for Lynchbrook, and so Seward unceremoniously relieved Irvin McDowell of his command on March 14th. George McClellan, who had distinguished himself in the Battle of Yorkville, was selected to replace him. The Hero of the Union [5] had entered the fray…”

    -From BROTHER KILLING BROTHER: THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR by Michael Yates, published 2019

    [1] OTL, Scott wanted to spend a whole year preparing the army, as the performance of volunteer units in the Mexican American War left him unimpressed with their discipline. TTL, without such a war, Scott has less experience with volunteer forces to inform his planning process.
    [2] OTL, it was 135,000. With fewer states seceding and no plot by Buchanan’s Secretary of War to ship northern arms to southern armories, the Confederacy has fewer weapons to seize.
    [3] Apparently, soldiers would just wander off the road to pick apples or get water.
    [4] OTL, the Confederacy used the months where the Union blockade was still porous to halt exports of cotton to try and strongarm Britain and France into recognizing their independence. TTL, they don’t try such a stupid gamble.
    [5] With apologies to George Thomas, of course.
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