A Celebration of Women Writers

"Part VII, Chapter 78." by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-)
From: This country of ours; the story of the United States by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-) New York, George H. Doran company, 1917.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


CHAPTER 78
TAYLOR–UNION OR DISUNION

POLK had no chance of being re-elected as President. For many people looked upon the war with Mexico as a great wrong, and as a stain upon the flag. So even although it had given to the United States California, and all its untold wealth, Polk was not forgiven for having brought the war about. And while the people were rushing from all corners of the globe to California, a new President was inaugurated.

 

This new President was no other than General Zachary Taylor, who had become famous during the Mexican war, for people did not blame him for the war. He had only obeyed orders as a soldier must and every one admired his bravery and skill.

 

He was a rough old soldier, and his men called him Old Rough and Ready. And when he first heard that people wanted to make him President, like Jackson, that other rough old soldier before him, he simply laughed at the idea.

Old Rough and Ready

"I am not vain enough to think that I am fit to be President," he said. "I would gladly see some other citizen more worthy chosen for that high office."

 

Old Rough and Ready was a soldier, and nothing but a soldier. He knew nothing at all about politics, and had never even voted. However when people insisted that he should be President, he began rather to like the idea, and at length consented to be a candidate, and was elected.

 

Because of the discovery of gold, thousands and thousands of people flocked to California. And although many returned to their homes again, many also remained in California, and made their homes in the new-found sunny land. So it came about that California was peopled faster than any other part of America, and in 1849, less than two years after the discovery of gold, it asked to be admitted to the Union as a state.

California asks to be admitted as a state, 1849

But before it was admitted a fierce battle had to be fought, for the Californians wanted the state to be admitted as a free state. Now part of California lay south of the Missouri Compromise Line, so the Southerners were angry, and declared that California must be divided into two, and that the Southern part must come into the Union as a slave state.

 

The Southerners felt that they had a right to be angry. For they had helped to bring on the Mexican War for the purpose of getting more territory south of the Missouri Compromise Line, so that they should be sure of slave states to balance the free states of the north. They had won the land, and now victory would be turned to defeat if the new states were admitted as free states.

 

So they threatened, as they had threatened before, to break away from the Union if they were not listened to.

 

No sooner was Taylor inaugurated than he had to turn his attention to this great matter. The Southerners were determined to use all their power to get their way, and Senator John Caldwell Calhoun, an old man, who for years had been a champion of slavery, determined to speak once more for the cause.

John C. Calhoun, 1782-1850;

Calhoun was so old and ill that he could hardly walk, and he tottered into the Senate Chamber leaning on the arms of two friends. He was far too feeble to read his speech. So, pale and deathlike, he sat in his chair while a friend read it for him.

 

"The South must have a share in the new territory," he said. "If you of the North will not do this, then let our Southern States separate and depart in peace."

 

This was the great statesman's last word to his country. Three weeks later he lay dead. He was the greatest of Southern politicians. He really believed that slavery was a good thing, and that life in the South would be impossible without it. And loving his country deeply, he could not bear to think of its ruin.

his last speech, 4th March

"The South! the poor South!" he murmured, as he lay dying. "God knows what will become of her."

 

The next great speech was made by Daniel Webster. Twenty years had come and gone since he made his first great speech for Union. Now thousands turned to him, begging him to reconcile the North and South. And on the day he made his speech, the Senate Chamber was packed from floor to ceiling.

Daniel Webster speaks 7th March

"I speak to-day," he said, "not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man, but as an American, having no locality but America. I speak to-day for the preservation of the Union. Hear me for my cause."

 

But to the men burning with zeal against slavery his speech seemed lukewarm. "The law of Nature," he said, "settles forever that slavery cannot exist in California." It was a useless taunt and reproach to the slave holders to forbid slavery where slavery could not exist. He blamed the North for having fallen short in its duty to the South, and declared that the South had just cause for complaint.

 

Many applauded this speech, but to others it was like a blow in the face.

 

"Webster," cried one, "is a fallen star! Lucifer descending from heaven!"

 

A third great speech was made four days later by William H. Seward. He spoke whole-heartedly for union. "Slavery must vanish from the Union," he said, "but it would vanish peacefully." He brushed aside as impossible the thought that any state should break away from the Union. "I shall vote for the admission of California directly," he said, "without conditions, without qualifications, and without compromise."

William H. Seward, 11th March

But still the debate went on. Summer came and on the 4th of July there was a great ceremony for the laying of the foundation stone of the Washington Monument.

The Washington Monument

The President was present and sat for hours in the blazing sun. Then feeling very tired he went home and drank iced milk and ate some cherries. That night he became very ill, and a few days later he died.

The President dies, 1850

"I have tried to do my duty," he said. Then the brave and honest old soldier laid down his heavy burden and was at rest.

 

Once again a sad procession left the White House, and wound slowly through the streets lined with soldiers. Behind the funeral car was led the President's old war horse which he would never mount again. The people wept to see it, and the whole nation mourned for the brave old soldier who had tried to do his duty.

 

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This book has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this book were the work of volunteers at
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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom