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Politicians are as honest as the majority of men would be, exposed to the same temptations, under the same circumstances. The misdeeds of other men are done on a small scale, or in an obscure way, while the private character of a politician becomes public, his deeds appear before the sun. If the transactions of State street and Wall street were public as the acts of Congress, men would not think more highly, perhaps, of mercantile honor, than now of political integrity. A little acquaintance with political doings shows a looker on, that while each party is, consciously or blindly, led forward by its idea, and so helps or hinders the progress of mankind, under similar circumstances, the one has about as much patriotism and political honesty as the other. In point of deeds the party that has been long in power is certainly more corrupt than the opposite party, who are limited by their position to longings and intentions. So the apples which have long been exposed for sale in a huckster's basket, get bruised with the huckster's attempts to show only their fair sides, and with fre quent handling by the public, and begin to rot sooner than other apples from the same branch, but kept out of sight in the barrel, which otherwise resemble them "as much as one apple is like another." The party that is full and the party that is hungry seldom differ much in their political honesty.
In estimating the administration of men like Jefferson and Jackson, men of decided thoughts or decided deeds, the personal character and opinions of the President are important elements to be considered. But Mr. Polk was remarkable neither for thought nor action; he had no virtues or vices to distinguish him from the common run of politicians, who swim with the party tide, up or down, in or out, as it may be. His character seems to have had no weight in the public scale, and does not appear to have given the balance a cast to either side. He might follow a multitude, in front or rear- he could not lead. God never gave him "the precious gift" of-leading. For his office, no qualities marked him more than a thousand other men in the land. Like Mr. Harrison and Mr. Tyler, he was indebted for the presidency to "the accident of an accident." So the God Apis was selected from other bullocks for some qualities known only to the priests: though to laical eyes he was nothing but a common stot, distinguished by no mark and likelihood; soon as selected he became a God, and had the homage of his worshippers. The nomination of the Apis might be one "not fit to be made," but when
clerically made it always had the laic confirmation, and no Apis was ever found too brute to receive worship.
It was said in 1848, that it was not of much consequence who was President if he were only a Whig; it did not require much ability to fill the office; much acquaintance with the Philosophy of Politics; nor even much knowledge of the Facts of Politics; nay, not any eminence of character. Mr. Polk was not the first or the last attempt to demonstrate this by experiment.
His private life was marred by no unusual blemish, and set off by no remarkable beauty. He kept the ten commandments very much as other men; was sober, temperate, modest in his deportment; what seems latterly rather unusual for a President, he did not swear profanely. On his death-bed he "professed justifying faith in the Lord Jesus Christ," "relying alone for salvation on the great doctrine of atonement," and "received the ordinance of baptism;" thus he secured a good name in the churches, not yet accorded to Franklin and Washington. Estimating him by the ordinary standard about him, the true way to judge such a man, he has been set down as an exemplary man, using his opportunities with common fidelity. Some official acts of his were purely official. His friends, since his death, claim but little for him. Eulogies are not supposed to limit themselves to telling the truth, or to extend themselves to telling the whole truth. Still they are a good test of public opinion. Burr got none; General Jackson had many; those on Mr. Polk were chiefly official, and their temperature, for official panegyrics, was uncommonly low, plainly intimating that little could be made of such a subject. Mr. Polk was hardly susceptible of rhetorical treatment after death. While in power he could easily be praised. We shall take it for granted that, excepting some of the eminent leaders, almost any prominent man in the Democratic party, if made President under such circumstances, would have done very much as Mr. Polk did; would have been merely a portion of the party machine. Last year the Whigs said, also, it was not very important what the personal opinions of the Presi dent were.
After eliminating these elements which we do not intend to speak of, the matter becomes quite simple: we have only to deal with the Ideas of the Administration, the Measures proposed as an expression thereof, and the Acts in which these Ideas took a concrete form. These, of course, will be com
plicated with the adverse Ideas and Measures of the other party. Such is the theme before us, and such the scheme of this paper.
However, to understand the Ideas, Measures, and Acts of the Administration, it is necessary to look a moment at the state of the nation when Mr. Polk came to power. In our Foreign Relations all was serene except in the English and Mexican quarter. In the one the weather seemed a little uncertain; in the other there were decided indications of a storm.
In 1842, Mr. Webster, for a short time dignifying the of fice of Secretary of State, had performed the most valuable public service he has yet rendered his country. He had negotiated the treaty of Washington by which the North-eastern Boundary was settled. That was a very important matter, and Mr. Webster deserves the lasting gratitude of both nations for the industry, courtesy, and justice with which he managed that complicated, difficult, and vexatious affair. He is often celebrated as the Defender of the Constitution, but his services in that work, when looked at with impartial eyes, diminish a good deal, and perhaps will not be much spoken of when a few years have dispelled the mists which hang over all contemporary greatness. It was a real dignity and honor to negotiate the treaty. Certainly there were few men, perhaps not another in the nation, who could have done it. We do not not mean to say that a board of civil engineers, or three good, honest men could not as well settle questions in themselves more difficult. But such was the state of feeling in England and America, that none but a distinguished politi cian could be trusted with the matter, and none possessed the requisite qualities in so eminent a degree as Mr. Webster.
There still remained another affair to be settled with England: we refer to the boundaries of Oregon. That question was purposely made difficult by some small politicians who exasperated the public on both sides of the water. The cry was raised "Oregon or fight; or fight;""the whole of Oregon or none;""54, 40." The legislature of Maine went a little further north, and shouted "54, 49." Some men, whose names are by no means forgotten, made a great outcry, and egged the ignorant headlong towards dangerous measures, threatening "war with England;" men, who, like frogs in the spring just escaping from their winter of obscurity, for their own purposes, made a great deal of noise with very little sense. The
intrinsic difficulty of the case was very small. England made large pretensions; so did we; both desiring a wide margin of oscillation before they settled down on a permanent boundary. But England was pacific, though firm, and not foolish enough to wish to fight with one whose peace was so profitable. A war between England and America is, on each side, a quarrel with a good customer. That is the mercantile aspect of the case. An administration which should seek honestly to settle the Oregon question would find no difficulty; had Mr. Webster remained a year more in the cabinet, we doubt not this affair, also, would have been amicably settled, and the country saved a good deal of wind.
Affairs certainly looked threatening in the neighbourhood of Mexico; there were troubles past, present, and to come. Americans had excited the revolution in Texas; fought her battles, and fomented her intrigues. Texas had just been annexed, or, as the phrase originally was, re-annexed. Texas and Mexico had been long at war; though not actively fighting at the time of annexation, the war was not ended. We took Texas with a defective title, subject to the claims of Mexico. If she did not prosecute those claims it was because she was too feeble, not that she had relinquished them. That was not allwe had insulted Mexico, and deeply injured her; not by accident, but with our eyes open, and of set purpose. We had wronged Mexico deeply, and then added new insults to old injuries. What made our conduct worse, was the fact that we were powerful, and Mexico defenceless. The motive which lay at the bottom of all, makes this accumulated baseness still more detestable; it was done to establish a bulwark for American slavery.
In a former number of this journal we have already spoken of the origin of the Mexican war, but will now add a few words respecting the scheme of annexation. In 1803, Mr. Jefferson purchased Louisiana of France, a vast territory west of the Mississippi, for $15,000,000. He thought he transgressed the Constitution in doing so, and expected an "act of indemnity" by the people, to justify the deed.† The Senate thought otherwise. Slavery was already established in Louisiana. In 1812, the present State of Louisiana was admitted to the Union with a constitution authorizing Slavery. In 1820, a new State was formed from what had been the more north
ern portion of Louisiana. Should it be a slave state, or free? That was the question. The South, "on principle," favored Slavery; the North," on principle," opposed it. But both parties laid aside their "principles " and made a compromise, such as Mr. Clay and Mr. Clayton so much admire. Slavery was allowed only South of Mason and Dixon's line, 36° 40' of north latitude. This was the famous "Missouri ComproBut only a small part of Missouri lay south of the line. All the new territory, therefore, could make only two Slave States, Louisiana, and Arkansas. In 1836, Arkansas was admitted into the Union. Florida territory alone remained to be made into Slave States. Thus the territorial extension of the Slave power was at an end, while vast regions were left into which the stream of Northern enterprise continually poured itself; the North rapidly increased in numbers, in wealth, and in the political power which wealth and numbers give; the rapid rise of new States was to the South a fearful proof of this.
The North has always been eminently industrial, particularly eminent in the higher modes of industry, work that demands the intelligent head. The South has always been deficient in industry, especially in the higher modes of industry. The North has an abundance of skilled labor; the South, chiefly brute labor. This industrial condition of the South is almost wholly to be ascribed to the institution of Slavery, though perhaps something must be allowed for the climate, and something for the inferior character and motives of the original colonists who settled that part of the country. But while the North is industrial, the South is political; as the North sends its ablest men to trade, so the South to politics. The race for public welfare and political power was to be run by those two competitors, "not without dust and heat." After the Revolution, the opposite characteristics of the North and South appeared more prominently than before. The North increased rapidly in numbers, and outpeopled the South. The Revolution itself showed the comparative military power of the "Southern chivalry," and the hardy industry of the North.*
"Let us compare a slave State, and a free one, of about equal population. In 1790, South Carolina contained 249,073 persons; Connecticut 238,141. Supposing the population, during the war, only two-thirds as great as in 1790, then South Carolina contained 166,018, and Connecticut 158,760 persons. During the nine years of the war, South Carolina sent 6,417 soldiers to the continental army, and Connecticut 32,039. In 1790, Massachusetts contained