Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
On the Return to Power of the Democratic Party
By John Bigelow (18171911)
[From the Preface to The Writings and Speeches of Samuel J. Tilden. 1885.]
NEARLY two generations have been born and clothed with the responsibilities of citizenship since those fundamental principles of constitutional democracy which Jefferson and Madison planted, and which Jackson and Van Buren watered, have ceased to yield their proper increase. The convention held at Baltimore in 1848 for the nomination of a Presidential candidate for the support of the Democratic party presumed to exclude the delegates chosen by the Democracy of New York because the convention which selected them had declared that they were uncompromisingly opposed to the extension of slavery into any Territory of the United States already free.
The babe that was unborn might rue
The voting of that day.
In this rash effort to make the nationalization of slavery one of the tests of democracy, the Democratic party was thrown from its orbit, and the remainder of its official supremacy was spent, less in illustrating sound Democratic principles and in applying them to the new problems of statesmanship as they were developed with the growth of the country, than in a defensive, exhausting, and ineffectual struggle with the vindictive consequences of its folly.
Four years before, Mr. Van Buren had been dismissed from public life and proscribed for discountenancing a sectional scheme to make five slave States out of the newly acquired Territory of Texas. He was now renominated for the Presidency by the unrepresented and misrepresented Democracy of New York, who with becoming spirit declined to accept as their candidate the man (Lewis Cass) whom they had been allowed no part in selecting, insisting that no convention could name candidates entitled to their support in which their delegates were not received on equal terms with the delegates from other States.
With this intolerant proscription of the New York Democracy began the disastrous schism which was destined to rend in twain both the great parties of the country and practically to annihilate the political organization which had given a wise and beneficent government to the country for half a century. Then, too, and there, were laid the foundations of the political conglomerate which in 1860 acquired, and for twenty-four years retained, uninterrupted control of our Federal Government.
Though overtaken and chilled by the winter of popular discontent, though its summers leafage and autumn fruitage strewed the ground, and barrenness dwelt in its branches, the seeds of its immortal principles were not dead. They slept where they had fallen, quietly awaiting the revolution of the political seasons and the return of the spring which was to warm them again into life. Though their period of hibernation was protracted, and exhausted the faith of many, it was destined in the fulness of time to come to an end. The ways of the New York Democracy in 1848 were to be justified to men, and its honor to be vindicated, although at a great price.
Just twenty-eight years after the delegate from New York, who had been selected by his colleagues for the purpose, broke to their outraged constituents the story of their States humiliation, that same delegate received the suffrages of a large majority of his countrymen for the highest honor in their gift; and to-day, through that delegates influence, another citizen of New York, who was nominated by a Democratic National Convention which imposed no sectional tests, and who was elected without the vote of a single slaveholder, becomes the chief magistrate and most honored citizen of the Republic.
The wheel is come full circle,
and the bones of the Democratic party that were broken upon the cross of slavery in 1848, now, after an interval of thirty-six years, are once more knit together, and the traditions and the doctrines inherited from the golden age of the Republic are about to resume, not merely their official, but their moral supremacy in the nation.