Furthermore, no man could become enthusiastic about political evasion unless by nature he also took kindly to compromise. So, Toombs and his followers were for preserving the negative Democratic position of 1856. In a formal paper of great ability Stephens defended that position when he appeared for reelection to Congress in 1857. Cobb, who had entered Buchanan's Cabinet as Secretary of the Treasury, and who spoke hopefully of making Kansas a slave state, insisted nevertheless that such a change must be "brought about by the recognized principles of carrying out the will of the majority which is the great doctrine of the Kansas Bill." To Yancey, as to the Republicans, Kansas was a disputed border-land for which the so-called two nations were fighting.
The internal Southern conflict between these two factions began anew with the Congressional elections of 1857. It is worth observing that the make-up of these factions was almost a resurrection of the two groups which, in 1850, had divided the South on the question of rejecting the Compromise. In a letter to Stephens in reference to one of the Yancey men, Cobb prophesied: "McDonald will utterly fail to get up a new Southern Rights party. Burnt children dread the fire, and he cannot get up as strong an organization as he did in 1850. Still it is necessary to guard every point, as McDonald is a hard hand to deal with." For the moment, he foretold events correctly. The Southern elections of 1857 did not break the hold of the moderates.
Yancey turned to different machinery, quite as useful for his purpose. This he found in the Southern commercial conventions, which were held annually. At this point there arises a vexed question which has, of late, aroused much discussion. Was there then what we should call today a slave "interest"? Was organized capital deliberately exploiting slavery? And did Yancey play into its hands?* The truth seems to be that, between 1856 and 1860, both the idealist parties, the Republicans and the Secessionists, made peace with, shall we say, the Mammon of unrighteousness, or merely organized capital? The one joined hands with the iron interest of the North; the other, with the slave interest of the South. The Republicans preached the domination of the North and a protective tariff; the Yancey men preached the independence of the South and the reopening of the slave trade.
* For those who would be persuaded that there was such a slave interest, perhaps the best presentation is to be found in Professor Dodd's Life of Jefferson Davis.
These two issues Yancey, however, failed to unite, though the commercial convention of 1859 at last gave its support to a resolution that all laws, state or federal, prohibiting the African slave trade ought to be repealed. That great body of Northern capital which had dealings with the South was ready, as it always had been, to finance any scheme that Southern business desired. Slavers were fitted out in New York, and the city authorities did not prevent their sailing. Against this somber background stands forth that much admired action of Lewis Cass of Michigan, Buchanan's Secretary of State. Already the slave trade was in process of revival, and the British Navy, impelled by the powerful anti-slavery sentiment in England, was active in its suppression. American ships suspected of being slavers were visited and searched. Cass seized his opportunity, and declaring that such things "could not be submitted to by an independent nation without dishonor," sent out American warships to prevent this interference. Thereupon the British government consented to give up trying to police the ocean against slavers. It is indeed true, therefore, that neither North nor South has an historical monopoly of the support of slavery!
It is but fair to add that, so far as the movement to reopen the slave trade found favor outside the slave barons and their New York allies, it was advocated as a means of political defense, of increasing Southern population as an offset to the movement of free emigration into the North, and of keeping the proportion of Southern representation in Congress. Stephens, just after Cass had successfully twisted the lion's tail, took this position in a speech that caused a sensation. In a private letter he added, "Unless we get immigration from abroad, we shall have few more slave states. This great truth seems to take the people by surprise. Some shrink from it as they would from death. Still, it is as true as death." The scheme, however, never received general acceptance; and in the constitution of the Southern Confederacy there was a section prohibiting the African slave trade. On the other of these two issues--the independence of the South--Yancey steadily gained ground. With each year from 1856 to 1860, a larger proportion of Southerners drew out of political evasion and gave adherence to the idea of presenting an ultimatum to the North, with secession as an alternative.
Meanwhile, Buchanan sent to Kansas, as Governor, Robert J. Walker, one of the most astute of the Democrats of the opposite faction and a Mississippian. The tangled situation which Walker found, the details of his attempt to straighten it out, belong in another volume.* It is enough in this connection merely to mention the episode of the Lecompton convention in the election of which the Northern settlers refused to participate, though Walker had promised that they should have full protection and a fair count as well as that the work of the convention should be submitted to a popular vote. This action of Walker's was one more cause of contention between the warring factions in the South. The fact that he had met the Northerners half-way was seized upon by the Yancey men as evidence of the betrayal of the South by the Democratic moderates. On the other hand, Cobb, writing of the situation in Kansas, said that "a large majority are against slavery and...our friends regard the fate of Kansas as a free state pretty well fixed...the pro-slavery men, finding that Kansas was likely to become a Black Republican State, determined to unite with the free-state Democrats." Here is the clue to Walker's course. As a strict party man, he preferred to accept Kansas free, with Democrats in control, rather than risk losing it altogether.
* See Jesse Macy, "The Anti-Slavery Crusade". (In "The Chronicles of America".)