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 Beautiful Belmont, Part 35 -- The Growing Storm Over Slavery.

by John Salisbury Cochran.

See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 34 -- Martins Ferry High School.

In the contest between Buchanan and Fremont for the presidency in 1856, the Republican Party had shown a sudden growth and surprising strength, greatly alarming and enraging the slave owners of the South. An attempt was made in that campaign by the Republicans to hold a meeting on the wharf in Wheeling, [West] Virginia, at which the Hon. Thomas C. Theaker of Bridgeport, Ohio, was to speak. This meeting was mobbed and broken up, and Theaker barely escaped across the Ohio River with his life. A marching club of about 200 Republicans from Pittsburg was also assaulted in the streets of Wheeling with volleys of stones.

Four years later, in the Lincoln campaign of 1860, the Pittsburg Republicans, remembering the treatment they had received before, sent a delegation of 2,000 "Wide Awakes" to Wheeling, armed and prepared to defend themselves. I never saw a finer looking body of men. They paraded the streets of Wheeling with their torches and shining glazed caps and capes without molestation until, on their return to Bridgeport to take the Cleveland and Pittsburg train for home, they were attacked at the east end of the suspension bridge as the rear of their column was filing onto it, by a mob that had formed and lain in wait at the north end of the markethouse. The column of "Wide Awakes" faced about and soon made short work of the mob, driving many of them clear over the hill. A dozen or more of the mob were knocked down and their lives almost beaten and trampled out of them on the same spot where I had witnessed the auction block and slave sale nearly eight years before.

Viewing it in hindsight, it appears not only as the beginning of retribution and justice, but as of the expiring gasps of American slavery. In this fight a cobblestone flew past my head and spent its force on the iron gate of the bridge. In the Lincoln campaign, Cassius M. Clay of Kentucky, was booked by the Republicans to make a Republican speech in Wheeling. The committee received notice that if he attempted to speak he would be mobbed. On the evening of the meeting, Clay, who was a tall, powerfully built man, stepped upon the platform, deposited the Constitution of the United States, two revolvers and a dirk knife upon the table in full view of the audience, and calmly and deliberately said: "I am a native born American citizen. I have come here tonight to talk to you on the issues of this campaign. I have been notified if I did I would be killed. I learned that another Republican speaker had previously been mobbed in this city and the meeting broken up. There is the Constitution of the United States which guarantees the right of free speech. I intend to exercise that right tonight, and there are the instruments with which I intend to enforce and protect that right." The effect was magical. He made a most powerful and fearless speech and was not interrupted once.

It was well known that Clay was a dangerous man to trifle with, as others had attempted to mob him in Kentucky and the ruffian who had been selected to kill Clay in the melee was literally cut to pieces by Clay and died in a few minutes. After that Clay spoke where he pleased in Kentucky. He was a nephew of the illustrious Henry Clay, and a man of most remarkable nerve. It was the last political mob ever attempted in Wheeling.

Too much honor cannot be given to Archie W. Campbell, the splendid founder and intrepid editor of the Wheeling Intelligencer, and other original Abolitionsts such as John Frew, E.M. Norton, Thomas Hombrook, Jacob Hornbrook, S.H. Woodward, Wm. P. McKelvey, William Bailey, Isaac C. Pumphrey, Dr. James Thoburn, J.G. Jacob, Captain Richard Crawford, and a few others in Wheeling and vicinity, who, taking their lives in their hands, stood up for emancipation and freedom, and aided Campbell in those dark and dangerous hours of the throes of slavery. Campbell is altogether the greatest man the state of West Virginia has yet produced. His name should be honored by a graceful and befitting monument erected by its people in the city of Wheeling, and his statue should be placed in the Capitol at Washington as the Father of the State of West Virginia.

The "Squatter Sovereignty" Debate

It is wondrous how a great reform movement will, by a kind of spontaneous impulse, act upon and control the hearts of the people. "Squatter Sovereignty" and the abolition of slavery were upon every one's lips. The book Uncle Tom's Cabin was at the time more universally read and discussed than the Bible. An opposition book entitled The Planter's Northern Bride was exploited, and while it was attractive, well written, and showed the agreeable and captivating side of plantation life and the humane side of slavery, yet Uncle Tom's Cabin swept everything before it like an irresistible flood tide. In the family homes, in the fields of the farm, on the streets, in the operas, in shows, at entertainments, on the wharfs, on steamboats, in the workshops, and, in fact, everywhere, could be heard, day and night, such songs as "Suwanee River," "Nellie Gray," "Poor Old Slave," "Massa's In the Cold, Cold Ground," and kindred slave melodies.

At the Mountain View Literary Society on the evening of the challenge debate, the subject, placed in negative form, was: "Squatter Sovereignty Should Not Obtain in the Territories." Posed in this way, the antislavery advocates had the advantage of the opening and close of arguments; an otherwise skewed approach saved by the fact that the audience -- and the defense itself -- were largely antislavery advocates anyway. On the evening of the debate, the schoolhouse could not hold the audience; the balmy evening, however, with the windows thrown open, gave an opportunity for everyone to hear. The beautiful weather, Saturday evening, and the exciting political times did more to contribute to the excitement than probably anything else. Of course, the debaters were the ones to be sacrificed for the general amusement, so we meekly submitted and played our part.

The affirmative took strong ground against all slavery, declaring the whole system wrong and unauthorized under the laws of God, contrary to our own bill of rights and the Constitution, subversive of true government, oppressive to the weak and poor, and a subject beyond arguments invoking economic considerations. The defense claimed this was begging the question, or avoiding it. The institution of slavery was already established by the organic law of the nation. The question was not as to the wisdom, or lack of it, of this institution as such, but as to whether, when once established, the people of the several territories had the exclusive right to decide the feasibility of adopting this as a domestic regulation or utility, in their respective territories; or whether the people of the whole country should decide this domestic and local decision for them -- and then impose their decision on them. Being particularly and exclusively a state or territorial question to be determined by the citizens thereof, the people of the whole nation by act of Congress might as consistently attempt to say one state should raise hogs and nothing else, and no other state should; or another state corn, cattle, or hay.

The affirmative responded that slavery was not exclusively a domestic institution, as its harmful results were affecting the whole nation, was against the dictates of conscience, retarding spiritual, moral, physical, and commercial progress, tramping on the God-given rights of four million human beings, and that these were vital matters in which the whole nation was interested, should have the power to regulate, or check, and should not be delegated to an interested fraction of the people, even though done by ballot.

Of course, this is only a short summary, pro and con, of the arguments and they at times became animated and even heated. The decision was in favor of the affirmative; and though against me, I was glad of it for the effect it would have on the young, and the momentous issues then rapidly culminating. There are times when we little know we are making history because we are doing it in isolation and quite rapidly. After the debate and the sentimental discussion, we all went home with more knowledge and better formed ideas about "Squatter Sovereignty."

I think no one could attend such discussions as we at times had at those literary societies without regarding them as desirable mediums of culture in a community. Minerva was the first to congratulate me, and while I felt I deserved it least of any of the speakers, yet it gave me untold comfort, for it impressed me that she desired to make me feel good whether I did or not. As we were exchanging the usual neighborly greetings and short social chats after the discussion and before adjournment, a lady friend quietly remarked to me, "I overheard something just now that may be of interest to you. That young gentleman from Bridgeport requested the privilege to accompany Miss Minerva home this evening, and she replied, 'I am very thankful, sir, but I rather expect other company.' Did you ever hear anything so politely cool? You must not disappoint her now." "I certainly shall not disappoint her, for the disappointment would be even greater for me," I replied.

"May I have the pleasure of walking home with you?" I said, turning to Minerva, with a smile. "Certainly," she replied as she looked at me quizzically. On our road home, I commented that Minerva seemed to have had the opportunity for a different companion that evening, a remark which she pretended not to understand. "The young gentleman from the city seems to have forgotten your first lesson given him at the apple-paring?" I said. Minerva was curious to know how I had learned of her other invitation, and I told her that I had been studying mystical divination with the gypsy queen we had encountered on our ride back from the Quaker meeting in Mt. Pleasant. Minerva again expressed her dislike for her would-be companion's egotism, and the pleasure she took in deflating it.

On our way home Minerva informed me that in a few days she would begin attending school at the Female Seminary at Steubenville. Before going, we enjoyed one of our delightful moonlight rides to her sister's house, then riding beyond to the Stone House, where I was born, on what was once our grandfather's farm, near Joel Walker's, later the Annie Litton farm.

Minerva's absence brought a great sense of loneliness to me, for, though not far away, the pupils of her seminary were not permitted male visitors. However, hard work at the Martins Ferry school in winter and my duties on the farm in summer kept me quite busy, and an occasional letter from Minerva tended to make my condition measurably tolerable, and the time wore wearily on. We enjoyed two delightful vacations which she spent at home during the year.

See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 36 -- The Fate of Aunt Tilda's Mose.

For the table of contents and first entry in this series, see: Beautiful Belmont, Part 01 -- Table of Contents and Brief Introduction.

This entry is adapted from Bonnie Belmont: A Historical Romance of the Days of Slavery and the Civil War, by John Salisbury Cochran, which was published originally in 1907. The book has been reedited extensively for inclusion in the Pierian Press Fulltext eBooks database, and is included on the Stratton House Inn Web site by special permission. This special edition of Beautiful Belmont is licensed for use ONLY on this Web site. It may not be copied or downloaded, but may be used for educational purposes and personal pleasure under fair-use provisions via this Web site. Please note that this Stratton House Inn iteration of the book does NOT include the subject headings assigned each chapter for use in the Fulltext eBooks database.

CO-AUTHOR: Wall, C. Edward. (Editor)
CO-AUTHOR: Schultheiss, Tom. (Asst. Editor)

DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2000 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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