Caucuses of 1860: A History of the National Political Conventions of the Current Presidential Campaign

Author: Murat Halstead  | Date: 1860

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Split in the Democratic Party (1860)


[April 27, 1860.] . . . MR. AVERY of North Carolina presented the following from a majority of the committee on Resolutions. . . .

Resolved, That the platform adopted at Cincinnati be affirmed, with the following resolutions:

1. Resolved, That the Democracy of the United States hold these cardinal principles on the subject of slavery in the Territories: First, That Congress has no power to abolish slavery in the Territories. Second, That the Territorial Legislature has no power to abolish slavery in any Territory, nor to prohibit the introduction of slaves therein, nor any power to exclude slavery therefrom, nor any right to destroy or impair the right of property in slaves by any legislation whatever. . . .

3. Resolved, That it is the duty of the Federal Government to protect, when necessary, the rights of persons and property on the high-seas, in the Territories, or wherever else its constitutional authority extends. . . .

. . . The resolutions of the minority . . . are as follows:

1. Resolved, That we, the Democracy of the Union, in Convention assembled, hereby declare our affirmance of the resolutions unanimously adopted and declared as a platform of principles by the Democratic Convention at Cincinnati in the year 1856, believing that Democratic principles are unchangeable in their nature when applied to the same subject-matters; and we recommend, as the only further resolutions, the following:

2. Resolved, That all questions in regard to the rights of property in States or Territories arising under the Constitution of the United States are judicial in their character, and the Democratic party is pledged to abide by and faithfully carry out such determination of these questions as has been or may be made by the Supreme Court of the United States. . . .

Mr. Yancey of Alabama rose . . . and received a perfect ovation. The hall for several minutes rang with applause. It appeared at once that the outside pressure was with the fire-eaters.

. . . He filled up his time (an hour and a half) with great effect. There was no question after he had been upon the platform a few minutes, that he was a man of remarkable gifts of intellect and captivating powers as a speaker. He reviewed the differences on the slavery question of the Democracy. He charged that the defeats of the Democracy in the North were to be traced to the pandering by the party in the free States to anti-slavery sentiments; they had not come up to the high ground which must be taken on the subject, in order to defend the South—namely, that slavery was right. . . . He traced the history of Northern aggression and Southern concession as he understood it. He spoke of the deep distrust the South had begun to entertain of the Northern Democracy, and urged the propriety of the demand of the South, that the Democratic party should now take clear and high ground upon a constitutional basis. He pronounced false all charges that the State of Alabama, himself or his colleagues, were in favor of a dissolution of the Union per se. But he told the Democracy of the North that they must, in taking high constitutional ground, go before the people of the North and tell them of the inevitable dissolution of the Union if constitutional principles did not prevail at the ballot-boxes. He spoke of the Democratic indorsement which the majority platform had received, saying that not one State which had voted against it, in committee, could be certainly relied upon to cast Democratic electoral votes, while every State that had supported that platform, with but one exception (Maryland) could, upon that platform, be counted absolutely certain in the electoral college for the Democratic candidate. He spoke directly to Southern men and appealed to them to present a united front in favor of a platform that recognized their rights and guaranteed their honor. He said defeat upon principle was better than a mere victory gained by presenting ambiguous issues and cheating the people. . . . The Southerners in the hall were thoroughly warmed up by his speech, and applauded with rapturous enthusiasm. Several of his points were received with outbursts of applause that rung around the hall as if his hearers had been made to shout and stamp by the simultaneous action of electricity. One of his most effective points was in relation to the Dred Scott decision and the plea made by Douglas and others that almost all of it was mere obiter dicta. This plea was disrespectful to the venerable man, who, clothed in the supreme ermine, had made an exposition of constitutional law, which had rolled in silvery cadence from the dark forests of the North to the glittering waters of the Gulf.

He distinctly admitted that the South did ask of the Northern Democracy an advanced step in vindication of Southern rights; and Mr. Yancey’s hour and a half closed while he was in the midst of a series of lofty periods, and Mr. Pugh of Ohio sprung to his feet. . . .

Mr. Pugh took the platform in a condition of considerable warmth. There was an effort made to adjourn, but the crowd was eager for the fray, and insisted that Pugh should go on. He did so, thanking God that a bold and honest man from the South had at last spoken, and told the whole truth of the demands of the South. It was now before the Convention and the country, that the South did demand an advanced step from the Democratic party. . . . He then traced the downfall of the Northern Democracy, and the causes of that fall, charging the South with it. And now the Northern Democracy were taunted by the South with weakness. And here, it seemed, the Northern Democracy, because they were in the minority, were thrust back and told in effect they must put their hands on their mouths, and their mouths in the dust. "Gentlemen of the South," said Mr. Pugh, "you mistake us—you mistake us—we will not do it." . . .

He spoke of the sacrifice of the Northern Democrats of their political lives, battling for the doctrine of the South, now scornfully repudiated; and pointed out among the delegates, men who had been Senators and Representatives, and who had fallen in the fight. In conclusion, he stated [that] the Democracy, who were prepared to stand by the old faith, would be sorry to part with their Southern friends, but if the gentlemen from the South could only stay on the terms proposed, they must go. The Democracy of the North-west would make itself heard and felt. The Northern Democrats were not children under the pupilage of the South, and to be told to stand here and there, and moved at the beck and bidding of the South. . . .

[April 30.] . . . Yesterday there was a report current that the South, discovering the total impossibility of the nomination of Douglas while the Convention remained consolidated, his full strength having been shown, and amounting to a bare majority, would find some excuse for staying in the Convention even after the adoption of the minority report, and would slaughter Douglas under the two-thirds rule. . . . This morning, however, it became apparent that the Douglas majority was firm, and the South desperate. It was not long before every observer saw that the long-looked for explosion was at hand. The South would not stay in the Convention, even to defeat Douglas, if the double-shuffle platform were adopted. . . .

The minority resolutions were . . . carried as a substitute for the majority resolutions, by a vote of 165 to 138—this 138 is the solid anti-Douglas strength. Now the question came on the adoption of the substituted report—the definite, irrevocable vote of the Convention upon the Douglas Platform, was divided into its substantive propositions. The resolution reaffirming the Cincinnati Platform, believing Democratic principles to be unchangeable in their nature, was first voted upon, and it was carried by

to 65. . . . Now the question arose upon the adoption of the Squatter Sovereignty part of the platform—that part wherein it is stated that, "inasmuch as differences of opinion exist in the Democratic party," it will abide by the Supreme Court. . . .

Mr. William A. Richardson of Illinois wished to speak. . . . There were cries of "Hear Richardson." A thrill of excitement passed around the hall, and every body leaned forward or stood up to see and hear the right-hand man of the Little Giant on the crisis. . . . But . . . Mr. Hooper of Mississippi objected peremptorily, and . . . would not let him be heard. . . .

. . . He had desired to say, that Illinois and the North-west in general, had not been anxious to have any thing but the Cincinnati Platform, and would be content with that, if the others would. This was to have been his peace-offering—his olive-branch. . . . It took some minutes for the new tactics of Richardson to get circulation, and in the mean time, as one delegation after another understood the point, the votes of States were counted, and finally, with a general rush, the only resolution having the slightest significance in the minority report, was stricken out. . . . By a flank movement, they had placed themselves upon the Cincinnati Platform, pure and simple. . . .

And now commenced the regular stampede. Alabama led the Southern column. . . . Mississippi went next, with less formality but more vim. . . . Mr. Glenn of Mississippi mounted a chair, and facing the Ohio delegation, which sat directly behind Mississippi, made one of the most impassioned and thrilling twenty-minute speeches to which I have ever listened. It was evident that every word was from his deepest convictions. He was pale as ashes, and his eyes rolled and glared, as he told the gentlemen from Ohio how far they were from doing their duty now, and how kindly he felt toward them, and how they would have to take position yet upon the high ground of the South, or it would be all in vain that they would attempt to arrest the march of Black Republicanism. For the present, they must go their ways, and the South must go her ways. He declared, too, with piercing emphasis, that in less than sixty days there would be an United South; and at this declaration there was the most enthusiastic shouting yet heard in the Convention. . . .

. . . as the spokesman of Mississippi concluded what he had to say, Alexander Mouton of Louisiana, and Col. Simmons of South Carolina . . . were claiming the floor, each to give warning that his State was going. . . .

. . . Florida was the next to go, and then Arkansas. . . .

M[urat] Halstead, (Columbus, 1860), 43–74 passim.


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Chicago: Murat Halstead, "Split in the Democratic Party (1860)," Caucuses of 1860: A History of the National Political Conventions of the Current Presidential Campaign in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1903), Original Sources, accessed October 1, 2023,

MLA: Halstead, Murat. "Split in the Democratic Party (1860)." Caucuses of 1860: A History of the National Political Conventions of the Current Presidential Campaign, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 4, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1903, Original Sources. 1 Oct. 2023.

Harvard: Halstead, M, 'Split in the Democratic Party (1860)' in Caucuses of 1860: A History of the National Political Conventions of the Current Presidential Campaign. cited in 1903, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 1 October 2023, from