President-Elect: Review Background Information

The political journey I resume in 1854 leads me in 1858 to my famous debates against Stephen Douglas for the U.S. Senate. Although the Democrats retained control of the Illinois legislature and returned Douglas to the Senate – in those days it was legislatures, and not people, that selected senators – I gained a national reputation. And in two short years I captured the Republican presidential nomination.

The Republican platform claims that it is the Congress’s duty to contain slavery, yet many southerners do not see it this way. In the days since my election, they have threatened to break apart the Union. Some moderates, led by a Kentucky senator named John Crittenden, are now trying to patch together a compromise that would permanently divide the nation and its territories between free and slave. Republican congressional leaders are nervously seeking my opinion about what to do.

Should I authorize them to make concessions to the South on the slavery issue in order to save the Union?

Name of Person 1

James Buchanan
(1791-1868)

Democratic Politician, Diplomat, Fifteenth US president. Buchanan was among the most experienced presidents ever to serve –and among the least successful. Though a Pennsylvanian, Buchanan tried earnestly to appease the South. Still, his often bumbling efforts had practically no positive impact on the coming catastrophe. Seven states seceded during the final months of his administration.

Name of Person 1

Horace Greeley (1811-1872)

Founder and editor of the New York Tribune. He used his newspaper to call for the abolition of slavery and was instrumental in the formation of the Republican Party in 1856. He ran unsuccessfully for the House and Senate, and was defeated by Grant in the 1872 presidential election.

Make Concessions

The North and Republicans are to blame for the “incessant and violent agitation of the slavery question.” Northerners must join the South in adopting a constitutional amendment protecting slavery in all territories. If not, the South will “be justified in revolutionary resistance to the Government.”

Stand Firm

The southern states “simply mean to bully the Free States into concessions.” “Another nasty compromise, whereby everything is conceded and nothing secured will so thoroughly disgrace and humiliate us that we can never again raise our heads.”

So those are my choices: Agree to make major concessions to the South over the issue of slavery to preserve the peace, or stand firm in my opposition to the spread of slavery to the territories. What should I do?