Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

from Mexico were organised as Territories or States, the leaders in both parties were men whose careers dated from close to the second English war.. Calhoun, Clay, and Webster were yet leading ; Benton was not yet displaced. But behind hem were younger men in both great parties who could not remember a time when a slave issue had not existed, whose political life was confined to the years of controversy. Immediate abolitionists and secessionists were only waiting for the death of the older and steadier leaders to urge radical policies on both parties. Under the control of the older men they agreed that the Compromise of 1850 * should never be reopened, and that slavery should be excluded from further controversy by common agreement. But their consent to this policy of silence was forced, and their constituents would not abide by it. Within a few months of the passage of the Compromise the agitation about slavery was more bitter than it had ever been, while the nearly simultaneous disappearance of Clay, Calhoun, Webster, and Benton removed the brakes.

Northern opinion was stirred up by the anti-slavery tract, Uncle Tom's Cabin,' which, in the form of a novel, portrayed the facts of slavery as the North saw them, The resentment of the South at what it regarded as a gross caricature added to the bitterness. The last remaining unorganised territory next came into the political whirlpool. All sections were clamouring for a Pacific railroad in the early 'fifties; and the organisation of New Mexico, with the admission of Texas and California, had provided a way across the continent. This route could never suit the Middle or Northern States, nor be acceptable to the rising commercial community around Chicago. Stephen A. Douglas, spokesman of the upper Mississippi Valley and senator from Illinois, saw the dilemma. There could be no northern road unless the Indian Country could be divided into Territories and the tribes removed from the neighbourhood of the route. But

[ocr errors]

The older statesmen induced Congress to pass in 1850 what they regarded as a permanent compromise upon the subject of slavery in the territories west of the Rockies. The South received a stringent law for the return of fugitive slaves ; the North received the admission of California as a Free State ; the status of remaining territories was left for future adjustment.

there could be no division into States until the Indians had ceded their lands. Moreover, the creation of new States or Territories would certainly revive the slavery debate which had broken forth upon every similar occasion since 1820. If the Indian Country remained closed to whites, there could be no railroad ; if it was opened, there could be no political peace.

The device of Douglas to secure the opening of the middle region, Kansas and Nebraska, without too much disturbance of either North or South, was based upon a doctrine of popular sovereignty acceptable to all the West, in accordance with which any region ought to have the right to settle its own attitude toward slavery without federal interference. But his device, instead of avoiding opposition, gave birth to a new party which, although unheard-of in the beginning of 1854, elected half the members of the House of Representatives in the following November. No other such political revolution has occurred in the United States. The new Republican party, thus called into existence in opposition to the further extension of slavery which the Kansas-Nebraska Bill made possible, had its strength in the North-West. Step by step the Republican party consolidated itself between 1854 and 1860. Its first success, in the former year, indicated the unpopularity of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, and gave to the party confidence, a hope of permanence, and converts who saw in its growth preferment for themselves. It ran a popular hero of the Far West, John C. Fremont, for President in 1856; and, though it lost the election, it polled more than a third of the popular vote, with no aid at all from the South. It was a sectional party to oppose a sectional interest; and its success forced a greater degree of sectionalism upon its Democratic opponents. In 1858 its cause was further aided by the determination of the Supreme Court to attempt a settlement of the slavery question. The decision in the case of a negro slave, Dred Scott, announced that Congress had no right to legislate at all upon slavery in the Territories, and that the Missouri Compromise * itself was unconstitu

*

* Under the Missouri Compromise of 1820 slavery had been forbidden to enter the territories of the United States (then bounded on the west by the Rockies) north of 36° 30', North Latitude. The Kansas-Nebraska Bill

cause,

tional. This added to the Northern fire and brought new members to the party that believed the South was engaged in a conspiracy to control the nation. Abraham Lincoln, in the following year, clarified the public mind upon the great issues, as he pursued his rival Douglas from district to district. A house divided against itself

will not stand,' he asserted with homely directness; and his further teaching showed why it was unlikely either to fall or to remain divided. He broke the alliance of the West and South upon which Douglas had relied, and with it he destroyed the last hope of the pro-slavery South within the Union. His election to the Presidency in 1860 occasioned the secession of the South. It has been customary to regard slavery as itself a

With clearer light and less passion, it is to-day coming to be regarded as only the consequence of the deeper race problem, which was itself the result of the suitability of a large part of the Southern States for the culture of cotton. If the North had known the South, it would have known too much to endorse the attack of the abolitionists in all its violence. Sectional feeling aggravated the consequences of differentiation; and a Civil War became inevitable. Living historians are now approaching a common ground for the study of that

The economic foundations upon which McMaster began to build a generation ago are accepted by all. And it is becoming clear that not only was the development of the frontier the force that precipitated slavery reorganisation upon the United States every few years, but that the passing of one great frontier, the Old NorthWest, into its second generation, with its towns, its factories, and its railroads, created for that section a balance of power, and gave to it the tendencies that saved the Union. Other political movements native to the upper Mississippi Valley have appeared since the Republican revolt, but to-day, as in 1861, the Middle West remains the heart of America.

war.

FREDERIC L. PAXSON.

repealed this restriction and evoked loud political outcry. The opinion of the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott Case tended to show that the Missouri Compromise restriction had been invalid from the beginning.

Art. 10.—THE NOVELS OF EDITH WHARTON.

The Greater Inclination (1899); A Gift from the Grave

(1900); Crucial Instances (1901); The Valley of Decision (1902); The Descent of Man (1904); The House of Mirth (1905); Ethan Frome (1911); The Reef (1912); The

Custom of the Country (1913).* MRS WHARTON's books, from the earliest to the latest, are more than a collection of penetrating and finely finished studies, they are linked episodes in one continuous adventure, the adventure of her rare and distinguished critical intelligence. She is a writer who has never, so to say, relapsed into a settled life. As an artist she seems to have cared little, perhaps she has not cared enough, to sit still and receive impressions passively. Her choice has been less to watch the drifting images than to seize and to question them. She has waylaid all manner of dramatic moments in widely various scenes, not merely in different lands under different skies, but in a large diversity of mental and moral climates. She has made many experiments, and has been drawn aside into not a few digressions, some of which have seemed to break, a little too abruptly, the forward march of her work. Yet her restless movement has never been wayward, for it has been directed by a single intention; and it is precisely this that has brought her work to the brilliance it has latterly reached, not merely of lucidity and precision, but of quick colour and expressive charm. Her intention has clearly been to leave no image and no moment uncriticised, to analyse every impression and to interrogate every conclusion; and the timely moral pointed by her work is the dependence of the reason and beauty of literary form upon this activity.

Mrs Wharton, then, seizing her material, the treasure of an unwritten story or study or novel, has shown that the way to begin is to rend the precious stuff in pieces. The meaning of the delight which an artist finds in this initial process is plentifully misunderstood. The blade of analysis is commonly regarded as destructive; and the writer who rejoices in its use as openly as the author of Mrs Wharton's earlier volumes is certain to be taxed, if not with mere malice, at least with the failure to discern the warm penumbra of humanity which envelops beauty with its most appealing grace. It would be far more reasonable to measure the force with which the grace has been felt by this determination to insulate and lay bare its elements. The writer well knows the object and the possible reward of his violence. The treasure is torn to bits in the knowledge that it will presently redispose itself ideally. It will strain towards the right shape, the shape that the haphazard chances of life had prevented it from assuming. Rescued at last from the accidental and the alien, the unwritten book begins to find its form. Its essential germ, whatever it may be, is one and unique. Its unity may be that of a figure, a life, a vista of circumstance, a set of relations—in any case it is indivisible; and as soon as it is extricated it expands anew and is ready for its full and logical expression. This at least is its response in the mind of the novelist, the mind in which an infused idea becomes, not an argument, but an acted drama on a set stage. In another mind the flowering and fruiting of the idea, though not less lively, will be different. There is a seed of indestructible fertility in anything that has really been understood, and if its growth is secret, there is nothing mysterious about the manner in which it is induced to branch.

* The first-named work is published by Mr Lane ; the second, third and fourth by Mr Murray; the rest by Messrs Macmillan,

Thus it is that, looking back from Mrs Wharton's later command of large and intricate design, we may recognise it as the direct result of an incessantly inquisitive criticism. Her earlier and shorter pieces are like a series of serried question-marks, each confronting some selected case or moment of life, every one of which is called upon to stop and explain, in the fewest words, its precise significance. Its significance, accordingly, dictates the fashion and the scope of the small drama; and, as the author's hand grows more and more assured, so the chosen themes, the moments detained in their flight, begin to make more elaborate and difficult claims. The readiness to put questions is not always the same, it must be conceded, as the readiness to wait for answers; and, as to that, we may sometimes find that this insatiable interrogator darts ahead of her subject, at a pace faster

« VorigeDoorgaan »