“Is it a Fraud?” Editorial.


In this editorial from the New York Tribune, the Whig author attempts a careful reconstruction and repudiation of the debate over Stephen Douglas’s proposed Nebraska Act (later to be transformed and enacted as the Kansas-Nebraska Act) and concludes that the act has been conveyed under false, fraudulent pretenses.


[1] We are charged by some of the open and active promoters of as well as the more timid and cowardly connivers at Douglas’s [2] meditated repudiation of the Missouri Compromise [3], with using harsh and uncharitable language in reference to that scheme and its abettors. Our answer to the charge is, that no other language than that we use would faithfully express our sentiments or do justice to our convictions. Were it simply a bad measure, we might speak of it calmly and measuredly; but as an act of deliberate and bad faith, impelled by the most sordid motives and threatening the most calamitous results, we must treat it as we do other gigantic perfidies and crimes. The conflagration it threatens is not to be extinguished by jets of rosewater.

Is it a fraud? That is the first question to be considered. Did the Country, did Congress, did Mr. Douglas understand, when the Adjustment of 1850 [4] was under consideration, that its success would repeal the Missouri Compromise, and open the territories from Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota, westward to the Rocky Mountains, to the introduction of Human Slavery? This is a question which certainly admits of a definitive answer. If that were the understanding, then there must remain some contemporaneous evidence of the fact. It cannot be that this tremendous consequence was involved in the Adjustment of 1850, and yet that no Southern advocate thereof, though sorely pressed to justify his course against the assaults of Jeff Davis, Soule, Mason, Hunter, Butler. The Richmond Examiner, &c, ever deemed it worth his while to mention this virtual repeal of the Missouri Restriction as among the advantages gained for Slavery by the Compromise, and that no Northern Seward, Hale, Dayton, Beecher, or other anti-Compromiser, ever enumerated it among the losses to Freedom by that settlement. In view of the notorious, acknowledged, unbroken silence in 1850 of all parties on this point, is not the fundamental assumption of Douglas & Co. not only a fraud but one most impudent, shameless, audacious.

Consider how sternly this Compromise was resisted by Calhoun, Butler, and every other Representative from South Carolina — by the two Senators and most of Democratic Representatives from Virginia — by the delegations from Arkansas and Mississippi (Gen. Foote only, we believe excepted) — by Venable and Yulee, and nearly every extreme pro-Slavery man in Congress. What did they all mean, what could they mean. if the Adjustment they fought so savagely was to have the effect which Mr. Douglas now ascribes to it?

We were among the first, after it became evident that no bill affirming the Wilmot Proviso [5] could be carried through the Senate, to suggest and advocate the devising of some practicable middle ground between moderate men of the North and the South might unite in effecting an organization of the newly acquired Territories. Though we did not approve the connection therewith of topics palpably extraneous, such as the rendition of Fugitives and the District Slave-Trade, we did support Mr. Clay’s Omnibus bill defining the boundary of Texas, admitting California as a Free State, and organizing New Mexico and Utah as Territories without restriction as to Slavery. We know Henry Clay did not deceive us with regard to his mind. Others may have been deeper in his confidence; but he deceived no man, and he discussed the whole subject freely with us, and ever regarded it as one wherein the Territories were to enure to Free Labor, and that the practical business was to save the South from all needless and wanton humiliation. And so Senator Butler, of S. C., when the Senate adjourned after defeating the Omnibus, said to us as he passed exulting from the chamber, “I don’t wonder at your support of this bill, for it would give you all you seek” — that is, the practical exclusion of Slavery from the New Territories. How would he have been astounded by the information that the passage of that bill would repeal the Missouri Restriction and open all the remaining Louisiana Territory to Slavery!

But look at the Douglas proposition in another aspect — that of the numerous and serious transformations to which it has been subjected by its author since he first introduced it. First, it was a mere organization of Nebraska which quietly and ambiguously ignored the Missouri Restriction: next, it declared that Restriction ” superceded ” by the Adjustment of 1850 — which, if true, need not have been thrust into an act of Congress — and so it has been worked over and over, until at last we have a point-blank proposal to repeal that Restriction — but a proposal with a glaring falsehood appended by way of apology — or a Truman Smith forcibly terms it “an enactment with a peroration.” Is this the way honest and straightforward measures are urged?

Suppose you were standing in your garden and a rough and ready half- acquaintance should stalk in, make himself extra familiar, and meanwhile busy himself with eating up half of some rare and precious fruit which you had just brought to maturity, then cram the residue into his capacious pockets and bid you a cordial good day, you would have your own opinion of his breeding, but you could not consider him a thief. But suppose you were sitting out of sight in an arbor and should see such a customer crawling and sidling up to your rear garden wall, dodging from the shelter of one shrub to another, and worming himself along the sinuousities of a Virginia fence, until he finally got within reach of your Seekels or Apricots, and began bagging them — as he supposed unobserved — you might let him have a stone or a charge of peas with a moral certainty of hitting nothing short of a scoundrel.

It is our earnest conviction that the bill of Douglas, in so far as it proposes to disturb the Missouri Compromise, involves gross perfidy, and is bolstered up by the most audacious false pretenses and frauds. If we are wrong in this conviction, let it be shown, and we stand condemned; but if we are right in our view of it, who can truly say that we speak of the plot and its contrivers more harshly than they deserve?




New York Tribune


[1] Tribune. New York, NY. 15 February, 1854. 

[2] Stephen Douglas, then Senator from Illinois. See also the Kansas-Nebraska Act from this archive. 

[3] See Missouri Compromise in this archive. 

[4] The Compromise of 1850 was passed in September of that year and included five bills addressing the status of territories acquired in the Mexican-American War. 

[5] The Wilmot Proviso, named for Democratic Representative David Wilmot, was an unsuccessful bid to prohibit slavery in the territory acquired by the United States at the end of the Mexican War.


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