WHAT IS THE QUESTION?
Perhaps three fourths of the people do not yet understand what it is that now blocks the wheels of the General Government, while many to whom they have confided power are doing their utmost to deceive and mislead them. Nothing is more common now than to see something like indignation in the most quiet quarters at the tardiness of the House of Representatives in organizing itself. “What are these fellows quarreling about?” cries aroused stupidity. ”Why don’t they settle the question one way or another, or agree to let it alone, and go about the business for which they were elected? Rogues, all of them, probably, unless some few honest men oscillating between Banks and Richardson are to be excepted, who appear to be blessed with some little susceptibility of motion, and are willing to go for a moderate man of any party, provided his latitude is sufficiently low.” To this profound ignorance of a question based on facts stubborn as the everlasting bills, and piled high as Lucifer’s crest before he fell, the President franks by cartloads his pitiful pettifoggery, pretending that the question is one of officious sympathy for two or three millions of Africans, to the utter neglect of twenty-four millions of Americans! And he counts upon this answer from the immense class aforesaid: “Oh, is that all? Then hang the meddlesome Abolitionists, and let us have the good old times of patriotic regard for the Union and harmony in the national councils.”
It is not a question of sympathy for the Africans or an African question at all. It is not even a question of the abstract rights of man, or a question whether Slavery shall exist or not. It is, on the contrary, a question whether the liberty of the mass of Americans shall hereafter be of any practical value to them, or shall be 0vershadowed and nullified like that of the poor whites at the South, by the Slavery of Africans or others. While Slavery was confined to Slave States, and was understood to be waning there toward the doom o[f] extinction, this was not a practical question in the Free States, except to those gifted with prophecy. Now that a Northern President sees no occasion for Executive interference against the hordes of Border Ruffians which his own partisans have stirred up to exterminate Freedom on the soil once consecrated to it, and on which it now exists under the guaranty of his own Kansas-Nebraska bill, it has become not only a practical question but an inevitable one. Ordinary affairs can no more take the place of it or postpone it, than Autumn can postpone Winter. Compromise did its utmost long ago, and has failed. It has come at last to this: that the free millions of the North insist before everything else and at all hazards that Slavery shall not extend another step. “Why?” Because there is but one step more for it to take, and after that there can he no more free labor at the North, but only free laziness at at the South–more miserable, if that can be, than Slavery itself. The idleness, parasitical dependence and hopeless degradation, in any African Slave-holding community, of those who are neither slaves nor slave-holders is the great, inextinguishable fact, which laughs to acorn all attempts to hush the Anti-Slavery clamor while Slavery is encroaching on Freedom. The free millions of the North may look on the sufferings of the African slaves with about the name equanimity as upon those of the subject classes in Hindostan. Their sympathy would never disturb the noon-nap of a Brahmin or of an overseer. But when they begin to see that their labor, in which all their wealth and honor consists, is put on a par with that of chattels in human shape, and that they and their children are to be starved out by competition in their own trades and fields with men bought at auction, they will stand to their rights, and if need be to Sharp’s rifles. This, then, is the precise question which is blocking the wheels of the Government at Washington; nothing more nor less: “Shall Slavery be a national institution, and no soil sacred to Liberty under the folds of the national flag?” If the Pierce Democracy and not the Republican party came its point in the present struggle, the victory goes to wrest Kansas from Freedom, and throw her free laborers into a debasing and intolerable competition with chattels under the lash. If Freedom cannot hold Kansas after earning its right under the Kansas-Nebraska bill, when and how can it hold an inch of foothold, in the Union except by its own good right hand?
An African question! pleads the miserable tool of the slave-drivers. Just as much an African question as any capital trial is a hemp question, because the result of it is to decide whether the hemp culture is to be patronized more or less. Sympathy with the abused Africans is no crime–quite the reverse. It is a cause worthy of ten times the spirit and enthusiasm yet manifested in this controversy, but it is not what has thrown the Republican party across the servile track of the false Democracy. American free laboring men are to be crushed by the chattel slaves of an aristocracy; and it matters not whether they happen to be African slaves, Asiatic, or European. This is first to be done in Kansas; and the war, already begun, merely lulls on an armistice till Pierce and Atchison’s Border Ruffains can find arms that will match them with the Free-Soilers of Lawrence. Is this the time to be cheated by a false issue, thrust into the case by a second-rate New-Hampshire lawyer?
[New-York Daily Tribune, New-York, Friday, January 18, 1856. Vol. XV……No. 4,602. Pg. 4]