How can you ignore slavery? Crittenden answers.

John J. Crittenden John J. Crittenden of Kentucky

Senator John Jordan Crittenden of Kentucky gave a speech in Louisville on August 2, which was reported on August 8 in the New York Times. Crittenden first outlined his support for Bell against the rest of the presidential field.

Mr. BELL and Mr. EVERETT are statesmen of integrity and large experience in every branch of the Government, who has gone through what they have, and come forth with characters more unblemished ? They stand up before their countrymen in the purity of their reputations, unquestioned and unassailed, as moderators, mediators peace-makers. Their triumph would be, not that of a party, nor over a party. They would have no proscription or vengeance to inflict upon any. Their triumph would be the triumph, and the security of us all.

The mere fact of the election or Mr. LINCOLN would be a great calamity, though it should not create resistance to the Government. Personally, he is very probably upright, honest and worthy. He married a Kentucky lady, and is a Kentuckian himself. But, politically, he is the agent and subject of the party which brought him into political existence. As the Republicans’ President, he would be at least a terror to the South. There is a very considerable Southern sentiment which apprehends much mischief from their success. A feeling of uneasiness and insecurity would pervade this section. Mr. LINCOLN might be impelled by fanatical clamor to go further than his party has yet gone. National Southerners would deplore his election, under the circumstances.

As for Mr. DOUGLAS, he is a sincere and earnest Union man, generous, bold, out-spoken, self-sacrificing. On the Lecompton question he acted most bravely and nobly. He grandly defied the infamous sectionalism of the Administration. No danger is to be apprehended from Judge DOUGLAS personally. As President he would aim to act for his entire land. But his would be an Administration of continual conflict. He would have insuperable difficulties to contend with. Both Republicans and Breckinridge men would make war upon him, and probably unite against him. He would have no peace at all. The country could hope for no restoration of moderation and good government under Judge DOUGLAS.

His antagonist, Mr. BRECKINRIDGE, ought not to be a Disunionist. A man of his Kentucky blood and patriotic lineage ought never to be led astray by Yanceyites. Though the cleverest of gentlemen, he is the representative of a party which embraces every Southern Diaunionist. Disunion is proclaimed by high men in high places, and these men put forward and prop up Mr. BRECKINRIDGE. We may well entertain apprehension of dismemberment from the Breckinridge Party. Disunion sentiments make up the body and the soul, the nerve and the action of this party. The election of Mr.BRECKINRIDGE would give new energy and power to disunion.

Crittenden also gave his justification for supporting a party that was attempting to ignore the whole issue of slavery. Most accounts of the election of 1860 (Potter’s Impending Crisis and McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, for instance) give little space to Bell. It’s hard to imagine how, when the whole country was in a ferment over slavery and the three other candidates were mainly distinguished by their positions on the issue, any candidate who took no stance on it could be taken seriously. As Crittenden says, though:

The miserable Slavery question should be banished from the councils of the nation. The Southern Senators themselves, only the other day, agreed that there is no case now calling for the exercise of Federal power in behalf Slavery. The case very probably never ,will occur. There is not now a single piece of territory to which Slavery would go if invited. We have nothing to quarrel about. Why go into a distant futurity to borrow trouble? Why squabble over what we should do in certain contingencies that may not occur, even to our children’s children?

Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune reported the same speech with a different slant.

He talked to the extent of a half a column about the party (Bell-Everett), being produced by a high public necessity, and taking its stand between the Democratic and Republican parties. He used very good commonplace glittering generalities in this part of his speech, but neglected to throw any light upon the mysteries of the process of saving the Union.

[The Tribune reports much of what I have excerpted from the Times above. It does add this anecdote that was left out of the Times article:]

Two Italians were walking out together on a bright midsummer night. One looked up to the heavens, thick with innumerable stars, and exclaimed, “Oh, that I had a farm as spacious as the heavens; that would be an estate worth having!” His companion exclaimed, “O, that I had a herd as numerous as the stars above.” “Well,” said the other, “in the name of heaven, what would you do with such an enormous herd?” “Why,” said he, “I would turn them on to your farm.” [Laughter]. “You would, aye?” sneered the other. “Yes, what else could I do with them?” Upon that they quarreled and fought for an hour. [Great laughter.] Now, it does seem to me that we are about to make out just such a moonshine sort of case.

I’m not entirely sure why the two gentlemen in question are Italians, except that Crittenden, before helping to found the Constitutional Union party, was a member of the American (or Know-Nothing) party for several years. The party’s opposition to immigration, especially of Catholics, is well known. So Catholic Italians are occupying the role of *insert despised ethnic group here* in this joke.

Crittenden’s argument that the slavery question has become “moonshine” seems a bit overstated to me. Firstly, it’s not that obvious that slavery could have had no place in the New Mexico territory. Second, both factions of the Democratic Party had the speedy acquisition of Cuba in their official platforms, and Cuba already had slavery. Perhaps most important, though, a growing faction in the South was convinced that the Republicans would abolish slavery throughout the nation if elected, despite public assurances to the contrary. As Crittenden understood, this “feeling of uneasiness and insecurity,” however poorly founded, was becoming the main election issue in the southern states.


Democratic platform (Douglas faction)

Democratic platform (Breckinridge faction)

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