As we have seen earlier, Douglas made it clear in his stump speeches that he viewed secession as criminal; in Raleigh, he said that he would hang anyone who violated the Constitution “higher than Haman“. In a speech at Norfolk, VA he went further, holding that “if the Southern States (not a part but all) shall secede from the Union, upon the inauguration of ABRAHAM LINCOLN, it will be the duty of the President of the United States, who, in the case supposed, will be LINCOLN, by arms to punish or subdue them.”
The New York Times reported on a response from an informal group at White Sulphur Springs:
The following protest, which appears in the Richmond Enquirer, assigned by James Lyons, Geo. P. Drummond, Philip Howerton, Miers W. Fisher, W.A. Selden and John A. Selden, of Virginia; Allen S. Izard, D.W. Spratt, J.G. Keitts, Langdon Cheves and Thomas B. Lynch, of South Carolina, and over 30 others:
The undersigned, citizens of the Southern States, accidentally assembled at the White Sulphur Springs, have read with much surprise the speech of Judge DOUGLAS, recently delivered at Norfolk, and being many of them too remote from their homes to take part in any public expression of opinion there, deem it due to themselves to make known in this manner their dissent from its doctrines.
Now, as there is a large party of the North avowing the most implacable hostility to the institutions of the South, whose candidate for the Presidency is Mr. LINCOLN, this declaration of Mr. DOUGLAS is in effect — that the election of a man to the Presidency of the United States, by the votes alone of one section, who is pledged to use all the power of the Government for the destruction of the rights and property of the other section, would not justify the weaker in resistance, but that if in such an event, the fifteen Southern States should assume to determine on the extent of their danger, and to quietly withdraw from it, he should regard their action as revolt, and as such to be punished with all the force of the Government.
Fraught with error as this doctrine is, subversive of that constitutional theory, in which alone the rights of the States are to be found, it has, at this moment, and under the circumstances, a bloody significance. The enemies of the South, in the Northern States, have selected ABRAHAM LINCOLN to lead them in the “irrepressible conflict,” which he has proclaimed. Mr. SEWARD, the most distinguished counsellor of Mr. LINCOLN, declares at Boston that the election of LINCOLN is sure — that with it the power of Slavery will end, and that the “irrepressible conflict” will be pressed to its infamous and bloody close.
They are referring here to an August speech by Seward in Boston:
What a commentary upon the wisdom of man is read in this single fact, that fifteen years only after the death of JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, the people of the United States, who hurled him from power and from trust, are calling to the head of the nation ABRAHAM LINCOLN, [cheers] who confesses the obligation of that higher law which the Sage of Quincy proclaimed, and avows himself, for weal or woe, for life or death, a soldier on the side of freedom in the irrepressible conflict between Freedom and Slavery.[Laughter and cheers ]
This, gentlemen, is my simple confession. I desire now only to say to you that you have arrived at the last stage of this conflict before you reach the triumph (cheers) which is to inaugurate this great policy into the Government of the United States.
Here Seward shows that he is more of an abolitionist than Lincoln, and that he was something less of a politician. Lincoln did speak of the “irrepressible conflict”, but his public statements made it clear that he thought slavery would gradually wither on its own if it didn’t expand into the territories. Seward gives the impression here of a more active opposition to slavery, and this was viewed by many in the South as tantamount to declaration of war.
The influence of the White Sulphur Springs letter was significant, as it was reprinted not only in the Times but in numerous papers throughout the South (see for instance the Jacksonville AL Republican, Sep. 27, 1860). Douglas had by this time, it seems, abandoned any hope of winning the nomination, and was simply trying to arouse Unionist spirit in the South. Whether he succeeded in this is questionable. In many cases, it appears that Douglas fired up the opposition.
The Times article continues by quoting the Natchez Mississippian:
It is the culmination of his treachery and of his alliance with the Black Republican Party — an alliance which has commenced during the Kansas struggle, and is now in the full bloom of its complete development. DOUGLAS’ candidacy for the Presidency has no other object but the defeat of the Democratic Party and the election of LINCOLN. This was before apparent to any man of the least discernment, but his proffered championship of LINCOLN’s prospective administration against the uprising of an outraged and insulted people, clinches the testimony. His avowal that the South should bend her neck and accept the Black Republican yoke, is interlarded with the usual common-places of SEWARD and GREELEY about the “Union and resistance to the laws,” but under all these velvety phrases, the forked tongue of the Abolition adder distils its venom. His reference to Gen. JACKSON’s Administration is an outrage upon the memory of that great man. The Tariff question of that day was a mere feather to a mountain, compared to the causes of the present agitation. The issues of this day involve the very existence of the slaveholding states, whose people are struggling to save themselves from the clutches of a worse than Russian despotism.