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CHAPTER II BOYHOOD IN BROOKLYN
The hill-range which forms the back-bone of Long Island, and upon whose slopes Walt Whitman was born, terminates on the west in Brooklyn Heights, which overlook the busy bay and crowded city of New York.

The heights recall Washington’s masterly retreat; and the hint is enough to remind the shame-faced English visitor that the American is not without cause for a certain coolness in the very genuine affection which he manifests for the mother country. ’Seventy-six and the six years that followed, with all their legacy of bitter thoughts, was succeeded by 1814 and the burning of the Capitol. In this later war it was Virginia, not New England, that took the initiative; Massachusetts and Connecticut even opposed it, and it may have been none too popular in adjacent Long Island.

It is doubtful whether Major van Velsor or his sons actually took the field against the British. But this second and last of the Anglo-American wars was still a bitter and vivid memory when in May, 1823,[29] towards Walt’s fourth birthday, his father, the old major’s son-in-law, left the farm, removing with his family to Front Street, Brooklyn, near the wharves and water-side.

Though but a country town with great elm-trees still shading its main thoroughfare,[30] Brooklyn was growing,[Pg 11] and its trade was brisk. It is likely that the carpenter, Whitman, framed more than one of the hundred and fifty houses which were added to it during the year.

In the meantime, Walt took advantage of his improved situation to study men and manners in a sea-port town. He watched the ferry-boats that for the last ninety years had plied to and fro, binding Brooklyn to its big neighbour opposite upon Manhattan Island. For another sixty years their decks provided the only roadway across the East River, and they still go back and forward loaded heavily, in spite of the two huge but graceful bridges which now span the grey waters. The boy gazed wondering at the patient horse in the round house on deck, which, turning like a mule at a wheel-pump, provided the propelling power for the ferry-boat till Fulton replaced him by steam.

The boy in frocks must have wondered, too, at the great shows and pageants of 1824 and 1825 which filled New York with holiday-making crowds. For in August of the former year, came the old hero of two Republics, General Lafayette, to be received with every demonstration of admiring gratitude by the people of America. Some scintilla of the glory of those days—pale reflection, as it was, of the far-away tragic radiance that lighted up the world at the awakening of Justice and of Liberty on both sides of the sea—fell upon the child. For when the old soldier visited Brooklyn to lay the corner-stone of a library there, he found the youngster in harm’s way and lifted him, with a hearty kiss, on to a coign of vantage.[31] Thus, at six years old, Walt felt himself already famous.

Again, a few months later, the city was all ablaze with lights and colour and congratulations on the opening of the Erie Canal, which connected New York with Ohio and promised to break the monopoly of Western commerce held hitherto by the queen city of the Mississippi.

By this time, the family counted four children; two brothers, Jesse and Walt, and two little girls, Mary and[Pg 12] Hannah, all born within six years. Of the children, Walt and Hannah appear to have been special friends, but we have little record of this period. As they grew old enough, they attended the Brooklyn public school and went duly to Sunday school as well.[32] In the summers they spent many a long holiday in the fields and lanes about West Hills.

A reminiscence of those times is enshrined in one of the best known of the Leaves of Grass,[33] written more than a quarter of a century later, a memory of the May days when the boy discovered a mocking-birds’ nest containing four pale green eggs, among the briars by the beach, and watched over them there from day to day till presently the mother-bird disappeared; and then of those September nights when, escaping from his bed, he ran barefoot down on to the shore through the windy moonlight, flung himself upon the sand, and listened to the desolate singing of the widowed he-bird close beside the surf. There, in the night, with the sea and the wind, he lay utterly absorbed in the sweet, sad singing of that passion, some mystic response awakening in his soul; till in an ecstasy of tears which flooded his young cheeks, he felt, rather than understood, the world-meaning hidden in the thought of death.[34]

This self-revealing reminiscence, even if it should prove to diverge from historic incident and to take some colour from later thought, illumines the obscurity which covers the inner life of his childhood. Elsewhere we can dimly see him as his mother’s favourite; towards her he was always affectionate. But with his father he showed himself wayward, idle, self-willed and independent, altogether a difficult lad for that kindly but taciturn[Pg 13] and determined man to manage. Walt retained these qualities, and they caused endless trouble to every ill-advised person who afterwards attempted the task in which worthy Walter Whitman failed.

Among his young companions, though he was not exactly imperious, Walt seems to have played the part of a born leader; he was a clever boy; he always had ideas, and he always had a following. And as a rule he was delightful to be with, for he had an unflagging capacity for enjoyment and adventure.

But there must have been times when he was moody and reserved. The passionate element in his nature which the song of the mocking-bird aroused belongs rather to night solitudes than to perpetual society and sunshine. As he grew older, and, perhaps, somewhat overgrew his physical strength,[35] he was often unhappy in himself. There was something tempestuous in him which no one understood, he himself least of any. Probably his wise and very human mother came nearest to understanding; and her heart was with him as he fought out his lonely battles with that strange enemy of Youth’s peace, the soul.

Little brothers were added from time to time to the family group; Andrew, George and Jeff, and last of all poor under-witted Ted, born when Walt was a lad of sixteen, to be the life-long object of his mother’s affectionate care. The names of Andrew and Jeff reflect their father’s political sentiments; the latter recalling the founder of the old Jeffersonian Republicanism; and the former being called after Andrew Jackson, the popular and successful candidate for the presidency, in the year of the boy’s birth, who afterwards reorganised his party, creating the “Democratic” machine to take the place of what had hitherto been the “Republican” caucus. Thus Republicanism changed its name, and the title did not reappear in party politics for a generation.

As Walter Whitman built, mortgaged and eventually[Pg 14] sold his frame-houses, the family would often move from one into another: we can trace at least five migrations[36] during the ten years that they remained in Brooklyn. He was a busy, but never a prosperous man; with his large family, the fluctuations of trade must have affected him seriously; and scattered through his son’s story, there are fast-days and seasons of privation. Walter Whitman was, in short, a working man upon the borders of the middle-class: thrifty, shrewd, industrious, but dependent upon his earnings; mixing at times with people of good education, but of little himself; a master-workman, the son of a well-read and thoughtful mother, living in the free and natural social order which at that time prevailed in Brooklyn and New York.

He was not outwardly religious; he was never a church-goer; even his wife, who called herself a Baptist, only went irregularly,[37] and then, with an easy tolerance, to various places of worship—the working mother of eight children has her hands full on Sundays. In the household there was no form of family prayers. But when old Elias Hicks[38] preached in the neighbourhood, they went to hear him, tending more towards a sort of liberal Quakerism than to anything else.
Picture of Walt's father, Walter Whitman, Senior.

WALTER WHITMAN, SENIOR

The Whitmans were not an irreligious family—Walt was, for instance, fairly well-grounded in the Scriptures—but they thought for themselves, they disliked anything that savoured of exclusion, and their religion consisted principally in right living and in kindliness. Their devotion to the old Quaker minister is interesting. Hicks was a remarkable man and a most powerful and moving preacher. He was large and liberal-minded; too liberal, it would seem, for some of his hearers. His utterances had however passed unchallenged till an evangelical movement, fostered by some English Friends among their American brethren, made further acquiescence seem impossible.

[Pg 15]

That which complacently calls itself orthodoxy is naturally intolerant, it can, indeed, hardly even admit tolerance to a place among the virtues; and the evangelical propaganda must be very pure if it is to be unaccompanied by the spirit of exclusion. It may seem strange that such a spirit should enter into a Society which gathers its members under the name of “Friends,” a name which seems to indicate some basis broader than the creeds, some spiritual unity which could dare to welcome the greatest diversity of view because it would cultivate mutual understanding. But the broader the basis and the more spiritual the bond of fellowship, the more disastrous is the advent of the spirit of schism masking itself under some title of expediency, and here this spirit had forced an entrance.

Between Hicks—who himself appears to have been somewhat intolerant of opposition, a strong-willed man, frankly hostile to the evangelical dogmatics—and the narrower sort of evangelicals, relations became more and more strained, until, in 1828, the octogenarian minister was disowned by the official body of Quakers, after some painful scenes. He was however followed into his exile by a multitude of his hearers and others who foresaw and dreaded the crystallisation of Quakerism under some creed.

Soon after the crisis, and only three months before his death, Elias Hicks preached in the ball-room of Morrison’s Hotel on Brooklyn Heights. Among the mixed company who listened on that November evening to the old man’s mystical and prophetic utterance, was the ten-year old boy, accompanying his parents.

Hicks sprang from the peasant-farming class to which the Whitmans belonged; and, as a lad, had been intimate with Walt’s great-grandfather, and with his son after him. It was then, with a sort of hereditary reverence, that the boy beheld that intense face, with its high-seamed forehead, the smooth hair parted in the middle and curling quaintly over the collar behind; the hawk nose, the high cheek bones, the repression of the mouth, and the curiously Indian aspect of the tall com[Pg 16]manding figure, clad in the high vest and coat of Quaker cut. The scene was one he never forgot. The finely-fitted and fashionable place of dancing, the officers and gay ladies in that mixed and crowded assembly, the lights, the colours and all the associations, both of the faces and of the place, presenting so singular a contrast with the plain, ancient Friends seated upon the platform, their broad-brims on their heads, their eyes closed; with the silence, long continued and becoming oppressive; and most of all, with the tall, prophetic figure that rose at length to break it.

With grave emphasis he pronounced his text: “What is the chief end of man?” and with fiery and eloquent eyes, in a strong, vibrating, and still musical voice, he commenced to deliver his soul-awakening message. The fire of his fervour kindled as he spoke of the purpose of human life; his broad-brim was dashed from his forehead on to one of the seats behind him. With the power of intense conviction his whole presence became an overwhelming persuasion, melting those who sat before him into tears and into one heart of wonder and humility under his high and simple words.

The sermon itself has not come down to us. In his Journal,[39] Hicks has described the meeting as a “large and very favoured season.” It seems to have been devoid of those painful incidents of opposition which saddened so many similar occasions during these last years of his ministry.

The old man had been accused of Deism, as though he were a second Tom Paine and devotee of “Reason”: in reality his message was somewhat conservative and essentially mystical. A hostile writer[40] asserts truly that the root of his heresy—if heresy we should call it—lay in his setting up of the Light Within as the primary rule of faith and practice. He always viewed the Bible writings as a secondary standard of truth or guide to action; as a book, though the best among books. And as a book, it was the “letter” only: the “spirit that[Pg 17] giveth life” even to the letter, was in the hearts of men.

In his attitude toward the idea of Christ, he distinguished, like many other mystics, between the figure of the historic Jesus of Nazareth and that indwelling Christ of universal mystical experience, wherewith according to his teaching, Jesus identified himself through the deepening of his human consciousness into that of Deity. In the mystical view, this God-consciousness is in some measure the common inheritance of all the saints, and underlies the everyday life of men. And to it, as a submerged but present element in the life of their hearers, Fox and the characteristic Quaker preachers have always directed their appeal, seeking to bring it up into consciousness. Once evoked and recognised, this divine element must direct and control all the faculties of the individual. It is the new humanity coming into the world.

Hicks recognised in Jesus the most perfect of initiates into this new life; and as such, he accorded a special authority to the Gospel teachings, but demanded that they should be construed by the reader according to the Christ-spirit in his own heart. Properly understood, the doctrine of the Inner Light is not, as many have supposed it to be, the reductio ad absurdum of individual eccentricity. On the contrary it tends to a transcendental unity; for the spirit whose irruption into the individual consciousness it seeks and supposes, is that spirit and light wherein all things are united and in harmony. In this sense, the Quaker preacher was appealing to the essence of all social consciousness—that realisation of an organic fellowship-in-communion which the sacraments of the churches are designed to cultivate.

However dark his great subject may appear to the trained gaze of philosophy, the old man’s words brought illumination to the little boy. The sense of human dignity was deepened in him; he breathed an air of solemnity and inspiration.

Hicks died early in the new year, and with him there[Pg 18] probably fell away the last strong link which held the Whitmans to Quakerism. But the seed of the ultimate Quaker faith—that faith by which alone a quaint little society rises out of a merely historic and sectarian interest to become a symbol of the eternal truths which underlie Society as a whole, a faith which declares of its own experience that Deity is immanent in the heart of Man—this seed of faith was sown in the lad’s mind to become the central principle around which all his after thought revolved.

Although, as these incidents make evident, Walt’s nature was strongly emotional, he never went through the process known as conversion. Religion came to him naturally. Responsive from his childhood to the emotional influence of that ultimate reality which we call “God” or “the spiritual,” he can never have had the overwhelming sense of inward disease and degradation which conversion seems to presuppose. Well-born and surrounded by wholesome influences, it is probable that the higher elements of his nature were always dominant. The idea of abject unworthiness would hardly be suggested to his young mind. He was not ignorant of evil, insensible to temptation, or innocent of those struggles for self-mastery which increase with the years of youth. We have reason to believe that he was wilful and passionate; though he was too affectionate and too well-balanced to be ill-natured. Harmonious natures are not insensitive to their own discordant notes, and the harmony of Whitman held many discords in solution.

He had then in his own experience, even as a child, material sufficient for a genuine sense of sin. But this sense, never, so far as we know, became acute enough to cause a crisis in his life, never created in his mind any feeling of an irreparable disaster, or any discord which he despaired of ultimately resolving. He had not been taught to regard God as a severe judge, of incredible blindness to the complexity of human nature;[41] and[Pg 19] perhaps partly in consequence of this, he was ever a rebel against the Divine Justice.

There is, it may be said, another kind of conversion, a turning of the eyes of the soul to discover the actual presence and power of God at hand: the sequel may show whether Whitman felt himself to be ignorant of this change.

Honest, upright and self-respecting, his parents never took an ascetic view of morality. They did not share in that puritanical hostility to art and to amusements which too long distorted the image of truth in the mirror of Quakerism. Even as a lad, Walt discovered those provinces of the world of romance which lie across the footlights, and in the dazzling pages of the Arabian Nights;[42] and, as a youth, he followed the wizard of Waverley through all his stories and poems, becoming, soon after Sir Walter’s death, the happy possessor of Lockhart’s complete edition, in a solid octavo volume of 1,000 pages. From this time forward he was an insatiable novel-reader, especially devoted to Fenimore Cooper, who was then delighting the younger generation with stories of pioneer life.

It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that the boy’s life at this time was all amusement. At eleven years of age he was in a lawyer’s office,[43] proud in the possession of a desk and window-corner of his own. The master found him a bright boy and was kind to him, forwarding his limited education a step further. He also subscribed on his behalf to a circulating library which supplied the lad with a continuous series of tales. But for whatever reason—one fears it was not unconnected with those stories—Walt soon found himself running errands for another master.

In his thirteenth year he was put to the printing trade, and ceased, at least for a while, to live under his father’s roof.[44] The mother was out of health for a long[Pg 20] time, during the period of the youngest son’s birth and infancy, and when in 1832 the town was visited by a severe epidemic of cholera, the Whitman family removed into the country. But Walt stayed behind, boarding with the other apprentices of the Brooklyn postmaster and printer. Mr. Clements and his family were good to the lad while he was with them, and some effusions of his—for like other clever boys he was writing verses—appear to have found their way into the Long Island Patriot.

From the Patriot he soon removed to the Star, another local weekly, whose proprietor, Mr. Alden J. Spooner, was a principal figure in the Brooklyn of those days, and who long retained a vivid memory of a certain idle lad who worked in his shop. If he had been stricken with fever and ague, he used to say laughing, the boy would have been too lazy to shake.[45] At thirteen, Walt was too much interested in watching things to take kindly to work; most of his time was spent in learning what the world had to teach him; but in the end he learnt his trade as well.

No place could have been better chosen to awake his interest in the many-sided life around him than a printing office, the centre of all the local news. Here he developed fast in every way, shot up long and stalky, scribbled for the press as well as learning his proper business, and became a very young man about town. Already, he felt the attraction of the great island city of Mannahatta, where, according to its earliest name, for ever “gaily dash the coming, going, hurrying sea-waves.”[46]

New York had for a time been crippled by the collapse of American trade which followed the close of the Napoleonic wars in Europe,[47] but had recovered again, and was now growing rapidly—a city of perhaps 200,000 inhabitants, the English element predominating[Pg 21] in its curiously mixed population. Though it was prosperous, it had its share of misfortune. Serious riots—racial, religious and political—were not infrequent. Epidemics of cholera swept through it; and in December, 1835, thirteen acres of its buildings were burnt out in a three days’ conflagration.

In spite of these disasters the town grew and extended, and means of locomotion multiplied. The stages were running on Broadway from Bowling Green to Bleecker Street, that is about half-way to Central Park, and the great thoroughfare was crowded with traffic, presenting a scene busier even and certainly more picturesque than that of to-day. Fashionable folk still lived “down town” below the present City Hall, in a district now given up as exclusively to offices and warehouses as is the City of London. Ladies took their children down to play upon the open space of the Battery, looking down the beautiful bay; and did their shopping at the various Broadway stores. Upon their door-steps, on either side of the street, citizens still sat out with their families through the summer evenings; they condescended to drink at the city pumps, and to buy hot-corn and ices from the wayside vendors, while the height of diversion was to run with the engine to some fire. In a word, New York life was still natural and democratic; palaces and slums were as unknown to the democracy of the metropolis as the sky-scrapers which render the approach to-day, in spite of its wooded hills, its ships and islands, among the least beautiful of the great sea-ports of the world.

Of diversions the citizens had no lack, for the population was now sufficient to support a good native stage and to attract foreign artists. The year 1825 saw the advent of Italian opera at the Old Park theatre, which stood not far from the present Post Office; and Garcia and Malibran appeared in the “Barber of Seville”.[48] It was here that Edwin Forrest was first seen by a New York audience; while fashionable English actors like[Pg 22] Macready and the Kembles were among its visitors. But even more interest centred in the Bowery, the great popular theatre built to seat 3,000, where the elder Booth and Forrest played night after night before enthusiastic houses of young and middle-aged artisans and mechanics capable of thunderstorms of applause.

There were other theatres, too, such as Niblo’s and Richmond Hill, and to all of these young Whitman presently found his way armed with a pressman’s pass. He must have spent many an evening in the city while he was still working for Mr. Spooner, and one unforgettable night, when he was fifteen or so, he was present at a great benefit in the Bowery when Booth played “Richard III.”[49] Fifty years later, the scene of that evening remained as clear before his eyes as when he sat in the front of the pit, hanging on every word and gesture of that consummate actor. Inflated and stagy his manner might be; but he revealed to the lad, watching his studied abandonment to passion, a new world of expression. For the first time, he understood how far gestures, and a presence more powerful than words, can express the heights and depths of emotion.

On that night in the Bowery, as upon those memorable nights on the Long Island Beach, and in Morrison’s Ballroom, Walt came face to face with one of the supreme mysteries. On these occasions it had been the mystery of Death, which alone brings peace to the heart of passionate love, and the mystery of the Immanent Deity; now it was that other equal mystery, the mystery of Expression, the utterance of the soul in living words and acts and vivid presence. Love and Religion were already significant to him; he had now been shown the meaning of Art.

In the meantime he had begun, as boys will, to take an interest in politics. And before going further, we must glance at the outstanding events and tendencies of the period.

[Pg 23]

Those two famous documents, The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, are associated respectively with Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton,[50] and represent two currents of political theory which beat against one another through subsequent years. Jefferson was saturated with the political idealism of the school of Rousseau, which sums itself up in the demand for individual liberty and rights, the declaration of individual independence, and freedom from interference.

Hamilton on the other hand—who was by temper an aristocrat, and once at a New York dinner described the people as “a great beast,”[51]—was possessed by the idea of the Nation; he dwelt upon the duty of each member to the whole, promulgating doctrines of solidarity and unity in the cause of a common freedom. The two views are, of course, complementary; their antagonism, if it gave the victory to either, would be fatal to both; and their reconciliation is essential to the life of the Republic. But between their supporters, antagonism has naturally existed.

The ideal of the Jeffersonian Republicans became associated with popular or “Democratic” sentiment,[52] standing as it did in opposition to the more conservative and constitutional position of the Hamiltonian Federalists. For a time the two parties dwelt together in such amity that the Federalists were actually merged with the Republicans; but the uncontested election of Monroe was a signal for the outbreak of the old contest. At the next election,[53] an Adams of Massachusetts was returned to the White House; and Jackson of Tennessee, one of the defeated candidates, built up a Democratic party of opposition whose organising centre was New York. On the other side, the followers of Adams and his secretary, Henry Clay, came eventually to be known as Whigs, “Republican” ceasing for a quarter of a century to be a party label.

[Pg 24]

The titles of the parties serve approximately to indicate their different tendencies; though it must be remembered that the Whiggery of Adams was coloured by New England idealism, while the material interests of the South turned their energies to capture the naturally idealistic Democracy of Jackson. Eventually the division became almost a geographical one; though certain of her interests and perhaps her jealous antipathy to New England, gave New York’s sympathies to the South.

In 1832, when Walt was studying the world through the keen eyes of thirteen, and the windows of a Brooklyn printing shop, Democratic South Carolina was offering a stubborn resistance to the Federal tariff. Theoretically, and one may add ethically, any tariff was contrary to the Jeffersonian doctrine of universal freedom; and practically, it was disastrous to the special interests of the South. Carolina, under the poetic fire and genius of Calhoun, was the Southern champion against Northern, or, let us say, Federal aggression. She stood out for the rights of a minority so far as to propose secession. The South was aggrieved by the tariff, for, roughly speaking, its States were cotton plantations, whose interests lay in easy foreign exchange; they grew no corn, they made no machinery, they neither fed nor clothed themselves. The North on the other hand was industrial, anxious to guard its infant manufactures against the competition of Great Britain. The West was agricultural, demanding roads and public works which required the funds provided by a tariff. Now even these public works, these high roads and canals, were calculated directly to benefit the Northern manufacturers rather than the planters of the South whose highway to the West was the great river which had formerly given them all the Western trade to handle, and whose cheapest market for machinery and manufactured goods lay over the high sea whither its own staple was continually going.

The tariff imposed for the benefit of the Northern section was, then, opposed by the South on grounds of industrial necessity as well as of political theory. And it may be noted the argument of the Southerner was equally[Pg 25] the argument of many an artisan in the metropolis, who saw in free trade the sole guarantee of cheap living.

Thus there was a certain antagonism between the interests of the two geographical sections of the American nation; and this was emphasised by another cause for hostility. Every statesman knew that, although unacknowledged, it was really the question of slavery which was already dividing America into “North” and “South”. And recognising it as beyond his powers of solution, he sought by maintaining a compromise to conceal it from the public mind.

The “Sovereign States,” momentarily united for defence against a domineering king, had at the same hour been swept by Tom Paine’s and Jefferson’s versions of the French Republicanism, and North and South alike adhered to a doctrinaire equality. The negro, they were willing to agree, should be voluntarily and gradually emancipated.

But the hold of this policy on the South was soon afterwards undermined by the economic development which followed the introduction of the cotton-gin. The new and rapidly growing prosperity of the planter depended on the permanence of the “institution”. And from this time forward the Southern policy becomes hard to distinguish from the vested interests of the slave-owner. The prosperity of the South seemed to depend upon the extension of the cotton industry: the cotton industry, again, upon slave-labour; thus it was argued, the institution of slavery was necessary to the prosperity of the South. The North, so the Southerner supposed, had its own interests to serve, and only regarded the South as a market. It was, he felt, jealous of the dominance of Southern statesmanship in the union; and its desire to destroy “the institution” was denounced as the sectional jealousy of small-minded, shop-keeping bigots, of inferior antecedents. By the brute force of increasing numbers, by a vulgar love of trade, and the accidents of climate and of mineral resources, the North was beginning to establish its hold[Pg 26] upon Congress, and arrogating to itself the Federal power.

Hitherto, with the exception of the Adamses and of Jackson, every President had been of Virginian birth, bred, the Southerner declared, in the broader views of statesmanship. But the North was now predominant in the House of Representatives, and a balance could only be preserved in the Senate, where each State appoints two members, by constant watchfulness. Thus the rapid settling of the middle West by Northerners must be balanced by the annexation of new cotton-growing regions in the South-west. The famous Missouri Compromise of 1821 fixed the frontier between future free-soil and slave States at the line of the southern boundary of Missouri, while admitting that State itself into the union as a member of the latter class. Hence it was only in the South-west that slavery could develop, and extension by conquest of cotton territory became henceforward an object of Southern politicians.

While, then, it was the aggression of the South which finally drove the nation into civil war, the South for many years had viewed itself as an aggrieved partner in the inter-State compact, victimised in the interests of the majority. It felt, perhaps not unjustly, that it was being overridden, and that the Federation was becoming what Jefferson described as “a foreign yoke”.[54] It became excessively sensitive to hostility: every rumour of the spread of Abolition sentiment in the North—a sentiment which favoured a new attitude towards the Federal power, and would give control to it over the domestic affairs of what hitherto had literally been “Sovereign States”—raised a storm of indignation and evoked new threats of secession.

But while slavery was already playing its part in American politics it had not yet become the main line of party cleavage. Although the party of free trade and of State rights was the party of the South, it was not yet[Pg 27] the party of slavery. It was still throughout America the “people’s party,” and the slave power was the last to desire that it should cease to hold that title, especially in the North. For many a year to come there would be stout Abolitionists who could call themselves Democrats; while “dough-faces,” or politicians who served the party of slavery, were always to be found amongst the Whigs.

Even while party feeling ran high, the increase of the means of communication and the introduction of steam transport, both on land and water, favoured the larger Federal sentiment and quickened the national consciousness. Talk of secession had been heard in New England as well as in South Carolina; but actual secession became more difficult as the manufacturers of the East, the cotton-growers of the South, and the farmers of the Mississippi basin had tangible evidence of the many interests and privileges which were common to them, and beheld more and more clearly the future upon which America was entering. Year by year the idea of the union gained in vitality; and in spite of party feeling, President Jackson had a nation behind him when he refused to yield to South Carolina’s threat of secession.

A compromise was effected, and Carolina submitted to the collection of duties under a somewhat mitigated tariff: the relation of the constituent States to the Federal power remaining still undefined, waiting, for a generation to come, upon the growth of national sentiment on the one hand, and the accumulation of resentment upon the other.


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