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Mr. Calhoun and the Baltimore Convention.

Brownson's Quarterly Review, April, 1844

ART.  VI. — Mr.  Calhoun  and  the   Baltimore   Convention.

WE are obliged, in consequence of the unexpected length of some of the other articles promised for our present number, to reserve, for a future occasion, the proposed continuation of the Essay on the Life and Speeches of John C. Calhoun. Having, however, a few spare pages at our command, we devote them to some remarks suggested by Mr. Calhoun's recent letter to his political friends, refusing to receive a nomination, from the Baltimore Convention as a candidate for the Presidency.

We have read this letter with much interest, and with great satisfaction, so far as it bears on Mr. Calhoun personally. It is what we expected from him, and what he owed to himself and to his friends. No man, who knew Mr. Calhoun, could expect him, and no one, who at all respected him as a patriot and statesman, could wish him, to countenance, in any way, manner, or degree, a measure so corrupt, so hostile to republicanism, and to all elevated and manly politics, as must be the Demagogues' Convention, to assemble at Baltimore next May. The policy of such conventions at all is more than questionable, and can hardly be supported by a wise statesman, even when the delegates are fairly and honestly chosen, by the people at large, in the spirit of the compromises of the Constitution ; but conventions, like this, consisting of delegates not chosen by the people, but packed by mere party managers, for the purpose of controlling, not expressing, the will of the people, cannot be entertained, even for a moment, by any one who values his own character and that of his country more than the honors and emoluments of office. Such bodies, interposed between the electors and the candidate, at any time, even when honestly constituted, are inconsistent with republicanism, and the spirit and intent of the elective franchise. They can, at best, be tolerated only when there are great diversities of opinion as to candidates, and when, in order to secure success, union on some one candidate is indispensable. In such a case, the delegates should be honestly chosen by the several districts, and suffered to meet in convention, unpledged and untrammelled ; free, after mutual consultation and interchange of information and opinion, to unite on the man, who, all things considered, is the best for the country, and most likely to command the suffrages of the people. But if the delegates are to go into the convention pledged, or tied up by instructions given, in the way instructions usually are, by a few wire-pullers, and party managers, no language is too strong in which to condemn the interposition of the convention. If such bodies are to be suffered to intervene, as the settled policy for the management of party affairs, the government of the country must pass from the hands of the men chosen to administer it, must pass from the Constitution, to party, and into the hands of its irresponsible managers. All the advantages expected from general suffrage, are sacrificed, all the guaranties of liberty devised in our Constitutions are broken down, and power is placed in the hands of irresponsible party leaders. We are thankful, therefore, that Mr. Calhoun has exposed the policy, and thrown his whole influence into the scale against it. But, it is TOO LATE. He sacrifices himself, but he will fail to redeem his country.

We are surprised to find Mr. Calhoun's friends, in South Carolina and Virginia, construing his letter into a withdrawal of his name from the political canvass for President. The letter authorizes no such interpretation. Mr. Calhoun has never sought a nomination, nor declined one. His friends have withdrawn him, on their own responsibility, and, as we think, unwisely, not to use a harsher epithet. We have read, with equal surprise and indignation, the address of Mr. Calhoun's friends in Virginia. -Do our Southern friends need to be told that protests in words, not followed up by deeds, are worse than nothing ? What avails their well written and well reasoned protest against the Baltimore Convention, so  long  as  they leave it to' be inferred that they will support its nominee ?    Enough of fine speeches,   gentlemen,   enough  of  cogent  arguments; but we want deeds.    We trust that you are not so innocent as to fancy, that reason and argument have any influence over those who have the power.    You may protest till doomsday, without the least effect, unless you show that you have the power, and the will, to make your protest a deed.   It is amusing, in these days, to find men really believing that reason and justice count for something with party leaders.    They who have the power will do what they please ; they may listen to your protestations, pronounce them spirited, manly, just even, and — disregard them.    South Carolina might have  protested,  resolved,  reasoned, and  all  that, till doomsday, and effected nothing.    It was her action, not her words, that effected the compromise.    For ourselves, we are  heartily sick of these protests, resolutions, and arguments.    We  have lived too long, and seen too much to be humbugged, and we do not hesitate to tell Mr. Calhoun's friends, that, in seizing the first opportunity in their power, as they seem to have done, to withdraw his name, and, as it were, back out from his support, they have cast suspicion on their own chivalry and patriotism.    They have lost their only chance of redeeming the country.    We speak plainly, perhaps harshly, but we who, at the North, have supported Mr. Calhoun, and Southern rights, feel that we have some right to complain, when Southern men desert themselves; and we cannot but be deeply grieved, relying, as we have done, on their cooperation against the demagoguism and   centralizing democracy which are crushing us, to find them failing us in the moment of trial.    But enough of this.

We have read Mr. Calhoun's letter with pleasure and warm approbation, so far as concerns himself; but with melancholy forebodings so far as concerns the country. We know the character of a croaker is una-miable and unenviable ; we know, too, that it is no blessing to be doomed, like Cassandra, to utter prophecies which will not be believed till their fulfilment has verified them. Still, we will say, that when such men as Mr. Calhoun must give way to your Van Bu-rens, it is a sure sign that " something is rotten in Denmark." It proves, that we have reached that critical period in the life of republics, when men of the first order of talents, genius, and moral worth, high-minded, patriotic, and accomplished statesmen, can no longer be elected to offices of the highest trust, but must give way to second and third rate men, who, instead of giving tone, character, and direction to party, are but too proud to lose themselves in its irresponsi-bleness, and to be its mere " hired servants." It shows that a lust for office and its spoils has taken the place of civic virtue, and that party managers have ceased to aim at the good of the country, and have come to consult only their own ambition and selfishness.

Mr. Calhoun is sacrificed for his integrity, firmness, and energy of character ; because party managers know perfectly well, that, if elected President, he would administer the government, not for their private benefit, but with sole reference to justice and the public good. Here is the secret of their hostility. Why, in fact, should they support him ? What have they to hope from him, — a strong-minded, energetic, self-willed man, who would die, sooner that swerve from his own abstractions for either friend or foe ? We elect such a man for President ? Preposterous ! We want no visionary theorist, no abstractionist, no impracticable, who will hear no counsel but his own convictions, and is above taking the advice of his friends. No ; give us a man of practical good sense, one who is able to adapt himself to circumstances, and who does not disdain to consult his friends, and to adopt the policy which they may judge, upon the whole, to be most advisable^ So they turn to the " Sage of Linden-wold," a man of easy virtue, no abstractionist, and possessing no convictions or principles in the way of his friends and supporters.

Now, this is a fearful state of things, and threatens the most fatal consequences.   Our friends write us from different sections of the country, not to despair, for the corruption has not reached the great mass of the people. Gladly would we believe them; but corruption has extended much further than to the mere party leaders themselves ; for if it had not, these leaders would have little influence, and few followers. The great mass of the younger and more active portion of the party, are, in reality, office-seekers, and do support the party for the sake of the reward. They are afraid to take a firm and manly stand against corruption, lest they be read out of the party, that is, debarred from all chance of obtaining a share of the plunder, — for this is all that reading out of the party means. Doubtless, the chief corruption attaches to the managers ; doubtless, if the managers were honest, high-minded, patriotic citizens and statesmen, the rank and file of the party would go right, and, most likely, even prefer to go right; still, the great body of the party, we fear, want the virtue to withstand the corrupting influence of the leaders. We have never met a man who would tell us that he really liked Mr. Van Buren, or thought him the best man in the country for President. The resolutions of various caucuses, declaring Mr. Van Buren to be their first choice, only mean that they think Mr. Van Buren stands the best chance of getting the nomination, and that they prefer to be found the friends of the successful candidate. We cannot, therefore, exonerate the great body of the party from all blame ; we readily agree that the party would go right, if their leaders would suffer them ; but they have not the virtue to go right in spite of their leaders.

But, be all this as it may, the friends of Mr. Calhoun having unwisely withdrawn his name, and, though protesting against the principle on which the Baltimore Convention is to be organized, having left it to be inferred that they will, for this time, support its nominee, — and for this time being all that the friends of Mr. Van Buren care for, — there can be no doubt that Mr. Van Buren will be nominated. We had hoped it would be otherwise ; but, we can hope no longer.   The question, then, comes up seriously, What are we to do ? What is the duty of that portion of the Republican party who are still attached to the Constitution, and are not yet prepared to abandon altogether the old fashioned civic virtues ? The contest is to be, unquestionably, between Lindenwold and Ashland. What is our duty in regard to such contest ?
In 1840, we supported Mr. Van Buren, — though he has done us the honor of ascribing to us personally the principal share in his defeat,—for then we regarded the contest as one of principle. In Mr. Van Buren personally, we never had much confidence ; but circumstances made it necessary either to support him, or to abandon our principles. The party rallied on the true republican ground, and threw out the old flag of Constitutionalism and State Rights. No portion of the troops did better service in that campaign, than those who had been previously enrolled in the States Rights party. We forgot the injuries we had received from Mr. Van Buren ; we forgot all the wrongs we and our country had suffered, the moment we saw a prospect open of bringing the government back to the principles of the Constitution, and of putting it on the right track. But the party were, as we all know, defeated. Those among us, who had supported the party for the sake of principle, not for the sake of the spoils, regretted this result; but we were not discouraged. We knew that principles never die ; and, though they may fail of success, they cannot be defeated. We rallied anew, and, almost instantly, recovered all the ground that had been lost. But our principles all pointed to Mr. Calhoun as the representative of the party, and as the only man in the country, who, at the head of the government, would have the requisite firmness and energy of character to carry them out thoroughly in the administration. So Jong as we adhered to principles, so long as we stood on the true republican ground, no other man, in the very nature of things, could be our candidate for the Presidency.

But the sudden successes of the party in the State elections of 1841, and the disappointment and chagrin of the Whig party, in place but not in power, revived the hopes of the old spoilsmen, and flattered them with the hope of again succeeding. But the success of the party with Mr. Calhoun, would be no success for them. They must succeed, if at all, under some chief whom they could use. Mr. Van Buren was their man, and the only man they could bring forward successfully against Mr. Calhoun ; but to be able to bring him forward, they must abandon the avowed principles of the party, and make success of party take the place of success of principle. They commenced their game by attempting, as much as possible, to obliterate the lines of party difference ; the tariff was under revision, and the Van Buren presses told us that it must not be made a. party question, that we wanted a tariff for revenue, a judicious tariff protecting alike all interests, &c. Lin-denwold visits, and tarries long at, Ashland. " Ashland, you and I have always been good friends; our differences, you know, have been only political. We have always been ready to do each other a good turn, when in our power. You see how it is. Webster is in your way, and Calhoun is in mine. Let us understand each other. I wish to be President, and will be, if my party is in the majority ; if I cannot be President, there is no man I should be so happy to see President as yourself." " Lindenwold, you are a man after my own heart. I mean to be President; I have staked all on this last chance ; but if 1 lose, only you shall win." On which, our two friends shake hands, and bid each other adieu au revoir. Since then, the friends of each have acted in concert, whenever it has concerned the crucifixion of a man in either's way. A Whig Club decided, that our own article against Mr. Van Buren ought to be hushed up as much as possible, for, if spread out before the public, it might endanger Mr. Van Buren's nomination. Mr. Van Buren himself, in a recent letter to a committee somewhere in Pennsylvania, which had addressed him, virtually avows the understanding we have supposed, and, very coolly, tells the Democratic party, that it must run him for the Presidency, if it does not wish to stand disgraced in the eyes of the world. Whig presses treat Mr. Van Buren with great tenderness.

But we go further, and demand, in what respect the effective policy of the government under Mr. Van Buren will differ from what it would be under Mr. Clay ? " Mr. Van Buren is Anti-Bank." We deny it, save so far as concerns the United States Bank. There is not one particle of evidence to be adduced, that Mr. Van Buren is opposed to the banking system of the country; and a national bank is now an "obsolete idea," and none will be established even under Mr. Clay. Yet, a national bank, if you will treat bank notes as money, is not the greatest of evils. " Mr. Van Buren is opposed to the distribution of the proceeds of the public lands, among the States." Doubted ; for the project originated with him and his political friends; but the wants of the government will prevent the execution of the policy even should Mr. Clay be President.

" But Mr. Van Buren is in favor of the divorce of the fiscal concerns of the government from all connexion with ths banks and the business of banking." We have no evidence of this fact. The sub-treasury, as proposed by Mr. Van Buren, and as executed by his officers, was the veriest mockery of legislation. It will be recollected that he recommended the measure without the specie clause, and that it passed the Senate, where his friends were in the majority, without that clause. The Republican party demand the divorce, and Mr. Van Buren meekly submits to the demand. " Will you grant us the divorce ? " Yes. Let there be a sub-treasury, and the revenues of the government be kept by government officers. " What! Mr. Van Buren," say the banks, " are you agoing to grant the divorce ? " No. Let the revenues be collected and disbursed in bank notes. Admirable! The yes will satisfy the people who clamor for a divorce ; the no will satisfy the banks, for they will still have the deposits as before, for a bank note is only a certificate of a deposit to its amount in favor of the holder.    The
yes and no will satisfy the office-seekers, by creating a number of new offices. So people, banks, and spoilsmen will all at once be satisfied. Admirable ! Hurrah for Linden wold! Long live the little Magician, who can effect impossibilities! The specie clause, which alone gave significance to the measure, was moved by Mr. Oalhoun as an amendment to the original bill, and was finally carried because he and his friends would not support the bill without it.

On the restrictive policy, Mr. Van Buren's friends differ not in principle from Mr. Clay. Mr. Van Buren, we believe, has always been a tariff man ; he voted for the tariff of 1828, that " Bill of Abominations," under instructions, if you please, but that is nothing, for he and his friends could easily have prevented the instructions from being given ; he admits the constitutionality of a tariff for protection ; his warm friends and supporters fastened the present tariff upon us ; the Syracuse Convention, which expresses the policy by which he will be guided, has, in a resolution, declared itself in favor of a protective tariff; and his friends in Congress have voted down every proposition for a tariff framed exclusively on revenue principles. We have, then, the fullest authority for saying, that Mr. Van Buren is a restrictionist, and differs from Mr. Clay only as to more or less. What great principle, then, we demand, is involved in a contest between Lindenwold and Ashland ?

Mr. Van Buren's friends, the party managers, who have packed the Baltimore Convention to secure his nomination, on this vital question, and on all others, seem to us to shape their policy with sole reference to the success of the party, as party, and to have no principles they cannot waive or modify as they find it necessary, to secure success in the election. " What you tell us may all be very well. Mr. Calhoun is, doubtless, right in the abstract, but we could never succeed with a policy so ultra." Well; and what then ? Which is better, failure with the right, or success without it ?    Which is the greater evil, a Whig
administration, or a Democratic administration with Whig principles, or, to say the least, with no principles ?

The time has come, when men should ask, whether the party has, or has not, principles; and to demand, in tones that must be heard, that, if it have principles, they be adhered to. As to Mr. Van Buren himself, regarded as an individuality, he does not enter into our thoughts. Personally, he is not of the least consequence. Give him the honors and emoluments of office, and you may manage the government as you please. All who know any thing of the four years that he was at the head of the government, know that he was any thing but an efficient administrative officer. Excepting a visit now and then, from old habit or personal taste, to the Department of State, he left pretty much the whole business of government to his clerks, and played the part of a gentleman at leisure. Our opposition is not to him personally, but to the party managers who will, if he is elected, be the effective administrators of the government. All will depend on the men who place him in the presidential chair, and who, through him, as their tool, come into power without its responsibility. Who are these ? We know very well who they are, and what they are, for we see emblazoned on their arms: " To THE VICTOR BELONG THE SPOILS."

These are the men who are to come into power with Mr. Van Buren, and who, under cover of the impersonality of party, are to wield the effective power of the government, without sharing its responsibility. We do not object to Mr. Van Buren, then, that he is not available, that he cannot be elected. It is not his defeat, but his success, that we should deprecate. His defeat, the country could survive ; his success would go far towards ruining it for ever.

But Mr. Van Buren will be the nominee of the Baltimore Convention. The question, then, returns, What ought to be the course of the sound portion of the party ?    Shall we support the nominee of the Convention ?    On what ground ?    Wherefore should we support him, rather than Mr. Clay ?    What do we gain for our cause, for our principles, for the mass of the people, for the great agricultural  interests of the country, by the election of one rather than of the other ?    Will the Van Buren men adhere to the Constitution, and silence in Congress  the  mischievous agitation of the slave-question?  
Will  they adhere to the Constitution, and bring the Tariff, on  all articles, down to the revenue standard ?    Will they open the markets of the world to our agricultural products, and promote the great and abiding prosperity of the whole country, by an utter abandonment of the restrictive policy, not less ruinous to domestic manufactures themselves than to commerce and agriculture ?    Will they ?    " Can  the   Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?"    We know these men ; we know that a steady regard for, and firm adherence to, principles,  are incompatible with   their nature.    They care   only to succeed in the election. What possible motive can we have, then, for supporting them ?    What possible evil have we to apprehend from the   success  of  Mr.  Clay, that  we  should not  have equally to apprehend from the success of Mr. Van Buren ?    We have no sympathy with the Whig measures, but, for ourselves, we believe the complete adoption of the strong measures of Mr. Clay would be better for us as a party, and better for the country, than the half-and-half,  betwixt-and-betweenity electioneering policy of the   Lindenwolden   school.    We   challenge the Van Buren men to show one good, solid reason, why an honest man and enlightened patriot should wish their success.

What, then, ought to be our course ? The answer to this question depends on the fact, whether the withdrawal of Mr. Calhoun's name from the canvass, by his political friends, is to be looked upon as final. We have always relied on the firmness and patriotism of the South ; but the conduct of Southern politicians, since the assembling of Congress, has disappointed us. Perhaps we have misinterpreted them, and that they
have a meaning lying deeper than the surface. We will hope so, for we can put a good construction upon their doings. Assuming that the South has not fully made up its mind to sustain the nominee of the Convention, the course to be taken is very obvious. The friends of General Cass are manoeuvring for 1848, having lost all hope of succeeding, or of making much of a demonstration, in the present campaign. If we come into the support of Mr. Van Buren now, relying on the promises of his friends to go for Mr. Calhoun for the next four years, we shall be deceived ; for they will keep no such promises. Mr. Benton is their man, and would have been their candidate now, but for Mr. Calhoun at the South, and Colonel Johnson at the West. Colonel Johnson is politically defunct; Mr. Calhoun, if withdrawn now, will also be politically defunct before the next four years come round, and General Cass will be no formidable rival to Colonel Benton. The Colonel will carry it over the General. It needs but half an eye to see this. If, then, the Van Buren-Benton men can consolidate the party in this campaign on Mr. Van Buren, no other candidate than Mr. Benton can be brought forward in 1848.

If, then, we mean to resist party dictation, party management, and party tyranny, on which Mr. Benton relies as much as Mr. Van Buren, and who would be an altogether more dangerous man at the head of the administration, for really Mr. Van Buren is the best man of his school, — if we really mean to break up the ruinous system of party, and of caucus management, bring the government back to the Constitution and provide for its administration with reference solely to even-handed justice and the public good, we must maintain our present vantage ground, yield nothing, no, nothing, not even for the peace and harmony of the party, but stand fast by our principles and the man who represents them. We shall never be in a better condition to do so. The great body of the Democratic party, in all sections of the Union, are, at heart, with us; and, were it not for caucus management, would go
with us; and party management must be made, and, thank God, can be made to feel, that they can attain to place, only by honestly and unequivocally, in deeds as well as in words, going with us for true republican principles.

It is not our province to give advice, for we are but a solitary individual. We choose to go for principle, instead of plunder, and, of course, must be regarded as a simpleton or as a maillot. Nevertheless, we beg the friends of Mr. Calhoun to reconsider their resolution to withdraw Mr. Calhoun's name from the present canvass. He is the strongest man under whose lead the friends of the Constitution can organize ; and if they give up their present organization, with a view to a reorganization after the election for the next campaign, they Avill lose their vantage ground. The chances of success will be greatly diminished, and they will be too few, too weak, and too disheartened to accomplish any thing. No. Let them treat the Baltimore Convention as a nullity, and its supporters as seceders and schismatics. After Mr. Van Buren is nominated, let them say to themselves, " We are to-day what we were yesterday." Let them fling out to the breeze the flag of their country, and the old republican flag of '98, all torn and tattered as it may be. It can still stream against the wind. Let them rally under it, on the true republican platform, around the man of their choice, and march to the fight, and do battle, as best they can. They may lose the first battle, perhaps, the second; but, if they persevere, victory will fat length crown their sacrifices, and they will redeem their country. If they will not do this, then nothing remains for us but to yoke ourselves to the car of Van Buren, or to throw up our caps in the train of Henry Clay.