After the collapse of the Whig Party in 1854—caused by their disastrous policy of extending slavery into new states—Rufus Choate joins the Democrats and offers advice to fellow Whigs.
To choose his political connection aright is the most delicate and difficult duty of the citizen. We have made our choice, and we abide by it. We join ourselves to no party that does not carry the flag and keep step to the music of the Union.
LETTER TO THE WHIG CONVENTION AT WORCESTER, MASS.
BOSTON, October 1, 1855.
Messrs. Peter Butler, Jr., and Bradley N. Cummings, Secretaries, &c, &c.
I DISCOVER that my engagements will not allow me to attend the convention to be holden at Worcester to-morrow, and I hope that it is not too late to fill the vacancy.
I assure the Whigs of Boston that I should have regarded it as a duty and a privilege, if it had been practicable, to serve as one of their delegates. The business which the convention meets to do gives it extraordinary attraction as well as importance.
Whether we are dead, as reported in the newspapers, or, if not, whether we shall fall upon our own swords and die even so, will be a debate possessing the interest of novelty at least. For one, I deny the death, and object to the suicide, and should be glad to witness the indignation and laughter with which such a question will be taken.
If there shall be in that assembly any man, who, still a Whig, or having been such, now proposes to dissolve the party, let him be fully heard and courteously answered upon his reasons. Let him declare what party we shall join. Neutrality in any sharp civil dissension is cowardly, immoral, and disreputable. To what party, then, does he recommend us? I take it for granted it will not be to the Democratic; I take it for granted, also, not the American. To what other, then? To that of fusion certainly, to the Republican,—so called, I suppose, because it is organized upon a doctrine, and aims at ends, and appeals to feelings, on which one-half of the Republic, by a geographical line, is irreconcilably opposed to the other. Even to that party.
Let him be heard on his reasons for deserting our connection and joining such an one. To me, the answer to them all, to all such as I have heard, or can imagine, seems ready and decisive.
Suppressing entirely all that natural indignation and sense of wounded pride and grief which might be permitted in view of such a proposition to Whigs who remember their history,—the names of the good and wise men of the living and dead, that have illustrated their connection, and served their country through it,—who remember their grand and large creed of Union, the Constitution, peace with honor, nationality, the development and culture of all sources of material growth, the education of the people, the industry of the people,—suppressing the emotions which Whigs, remembering this creed and the fruits it has borne, and may yet bear, might well feel towards the tempter and the temptation, the answer to all the arguments for going into fusion is at hand. It is useless, totally, for all the objects of the fusionist, assuming them to be honest and constitutional,—useless and prejudicial to those objects; and it is fraught, moreover, with great evil. What are the objects of the fusionist? To restore the violated compromise, or, if he cannot effect that, to secure to the inhabitants, bonâ fide such, of the new territory the unforced choice of the domestic institutions which they prefer, a choice certain, in the circumstances of that country now or soon to close it against slavery for ever. These, unless he courts a general disturbance and the revelry of civil ‘battle-fields,’ are his object; and when he shall prove that fusion will send to Congress men who will labor with more zeal and more effect to these ends than such Whigs as Mr. Walley is, or as Mr. Rockwell was.—with a truer devotion to liberty—more obedient to the general sentiment and the specific exactions of the free States—with a better chance to touch the reason and heart, and win the co-operation of good men in all sections,—when he proves this, you may believe him. We know that the Whig representatives of Massachusetts in Congress do and must completely express the anti-slavery sentiment of Massachusetts, so far as they may be expressed under the Constitution. More than this we do not seek to express while there is yet a Constitution. Fusion is needless for the honest objects of the fusionist.
But the evils of disbanding such a party as ours and substituting such a party as that! See what it fails to do. Here is a new and great political party, which is to govern, if it can, the State of Massachusetts, and to govern, if it can, the American Union. And what are its politics? It has none. Who knows them? Even on the topic of slavery, nobody knows, that I am aware of, what in certain it seeks to do, or how much or how little will content it. Loud in general demonstration, it is silent or evasive on particular details.
But outside of the topic of slavery, what are its politics? What, in the most general outline, is its creed of national or State policy? How does it interpret the Constitution? What is its theory of State rights? What is its foreign policy? By what measures; by what school of politicians; by what laws or what subjects; by what diplomacy; how, generally, does it propose to accomplish that good, and prevent that evil, and to provide for those wants for which States are formed and government established? Does it know? Does it tell? Are its representatives to go to Congress or the Legislature, to speak and vote on slavery only? If not, on what else, and on which side of it?
A party, a great political party, without politics, is a novelty indeed. Before the people of this country or State enable it to rule them, they will desire, I fancy, a little more information on these subjects. We all, or almost all, of the Free States who recognize the Constitution, think on slavery substantially alike. Before we make men Presidents and Governors and Senators and Judges and Diplomatists, we demand to see what else besides cheap, easy, unavoidable conformity to the sectional faith on that one topic, they can show for themselves.
We elect them not to deliver written lectures to assenting audiences of ladies and gentlemen,—to kindle the inflammable, and exasperate the angry,—but to perform the duties of practical statesmanship in the most complicated and delicate political system, and the hardest to administer in the world. Let us, at least, then, know their politics. Kept totally in the dark about these, we do know that this party of fusion is, in the truest of all senses, and the worst of all senses, a geographical party. What argument against it can we add to this? Such a party, like war, is to be made when it is necessary. If it is not necessary, it is like war, too, a tremendous and uncompensated evil. When it shall have become necessary, the eternal separation will have begun. That time, that end, is not yet. Let us not hasten, and not anticipate it, by so rash an innovation as this.
Parties in this country heretofore have helped, not delayed, the slow and difficult growth of a consummated nationality. Our discussions have been sharp; the contest for honor and power, keen; the disputes about principles and measures, hot and prolonged. But it was in our country’s majestic presence that we contended. It was from her hand that we solicited the prize. Whoever lost or won, we loved her better. Our allies were everywhere. There were no Alleghanies nor Mississippi rivers in our politics.
Such was the felicity of our condition, that the very dissensions which rent small republics in twain, welded and compacted the vast fabric of our own. Does he who would substitute for this form of conducting our civil differences a geographical party, completely understand his own work? Does he consider how vast an educational instrumentality the party life and influence compose? Does he forget how the public opinion of a people is created, and that when created it determines their history? All party organization tends towards faction. This is its evil. But it is inseparable from free governments. To choose his political connection aright is the most delicate and difficult duty of the citizen. We have made our choice, and we abide by it. We join ourselves to no party that does not carry the flag and keep step to the music of the Union.
I am, gentlemen, your fellow-citizen,