What strikes us most forcibly, as we look back upon that day, is the widespread desire for peace. The abolitionists form a conspicuous example. Their watchword was "Let the erring sisters go in peace." Wendell Phillips, their most gifted orator, a master of spoken style at once simple and melodious, declaimed splendidly against war. Garrison, in "The Liberator", followed his example. Whittier put the same feeling into his verse:
They break the links of Union; shall we light The flames of hell to weld anew the chain On that red anvil where each blow is pain?
Horace Greeley said in an editorial in the "New York Tribune": "If the cotton states shall decide that they can do better out of the Union than in it, we shall insist on letting them go in peace. Whenever a considerable section of our Union shall deliberately resolve to go out, we shall resist all coercive measures designed to keep them in. We hope never to live in a republic where one section is pinned to the residue by bayonets."
The Democrats naturally clung to their traditions, and, even when they went over, as Black and Stanton did, to the Anti-Southern group, they still hoped that war would not be the result. Equally earnest against war were most of the Republicans, though a few, to be sure, were ready to swing the "Northern hammer." Summer prophesied that slavery would "go down in blood." But the bulk of the Republicans were for a sectional compromise, and among them there was general approbation of a scheme which contemplated reviving the line of the Missouri Compromise, and thus frankly admitting the existence of two distinct sections, and guaranteeing to each the security of its own institutions. The greatest Republican boss of that day, Thurlow Weed, came out in defense of this plan.
No power was arrayed more zealously on the side of peace of any kind than the power of money. It was estimated that two hundred millions of dollars were owed by Southerners to Northerners. War, it was reasoned, would cause the cancellation of these obligations. To save their Southern accounts, the moneyed interests of the North joined the extremists of Abolition in pleading to let the erring sisters go in peace, if necessary, rather than provoke them to war and the confiscation of debts. It was the dread of such an outcome--which finally happened and ruined many Northern firms--that caused the stock-market in New York to go up and down with feverish uncertainty. Banks suspended payment in Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. The one important and all-engrossing thing in the mind's eye of all the financial world at this moment was that specter of unpaid Southern accounts.
At this juncture, Senator Crittenden of Kentucky submitted to the Senate a plan which has been known ever since as the Crittenden Compromise. It was similar to Weed's plan, but it also provided that the division of the country on the Missouri Compromise line should be established by a constitutional amendment, which would thus forever solidify sectionalism. Those elements of the population generally called the conservative and the responsible were delighted. Edward Everett wrote to Crittenden, "I saw with great satisfaction your patriotic movement, and I wish from the bottom of my heart it might succeed"; and August Belmont in a letter to Crittenden spoke for the moneyed interest: "I have yet to meet the first Union-loving man, in or out of politics, who does not approve your compromise proposition...."
The Senate submitted the Compromise to a Committee of Thirteen. In this committee the Southern leaders, Toombs and Davis, were both willing to accept the Compromise, if a majority of the Republican members would agree. Indeed, if the Republicans would agree to it, there seemed no reason why a new understanding between the sections might not be reached, and no reason why sectionalism, if accepted as the basis of the government, might not solve the immediate problem and thus avert war.
In this crisis all eyes were turned to Seward, that conspicuous Republican who was generally looked upon as the real head of his party. And Seward, at that very moment, was debating whether to accept Lincoln's offer of the Secretaryship of State, for he considered it vital to have an understanding with Lincoln on the subject of the Compromise. He talked the matter over with Weed, and they decided that Weed should go to Springfield and come to terms with Lincoln. It was the interview between Weed and Lincoln held, it seems, on the very day on which the Ordinance of Secession was adopted--which gave to that day its double significance.