Mr. Webster delivered, on the 7th of March, the memorable speech which cost him the loss of so many of his stanch and lifelong friends. The anti-slavery Whigs of the North, who, as the discussion went on, had waited to be vindicated by the commanding argument of Mr. Webster, were dismayed and cast down by his unexpected utterance. Instead of arraigning the propagandists of slavery, he arraigned its opponents. Instead of indicting the Disunionists of the South, he poured out his wrath upon the Abolitionists of the North. He maintained that the North had unduly exaggerated the dangers of slavery extension at this crisis. California was coming in as a free State. Texas, north of 36° 30', if her boundary should extend so far, had been declared free in the articles of annexation. In the mountainous and sterile character of New Mexico and Utah he found a stronger prohibition of slavery than in any possible ordinance, enactment, or proviso placed on the statute-book by Congress.
He would not, therefore, "reenact the Law of God." He would not force a quarrel with the South when nothing was to be gained. He would not irritate or causelessly wound the feelings of those who were just beginning to realize that they had lost in the issue put at stake in the Mexican War. The speech undoubtedly had great influence in the North, and caused many anti-slavery men to turn back. But on the other hand, it embittered thousands who prest forward with sturdy principle and with a quickened zeal, not unmixed with resentment and a sense of betrayal. In many parts of the country, and especially in the Middle and Southern States, the speech was received with enthusiastic approval. But in New England, the loss of whose good opinion could not be compensated to Mr. Webster by the applause of a world outside, he never regained his hold upon the popular affection. New friends came to him, but they did not supply the place of the old friends, who for a lifetime had stood by him with unswerving principle and with ever-increasing pride.
Excitement and passion do not, however, always issue decrees and pronounce judgments of absolute right. In the zeal of that hour, Northern anti-slavery opinion failed to appreciate the influence which wrought so powerfully on the mind of Mr. Webster. He belonged with those who could remember the first President, who personally knew much of the hardships and sorrows of the Revolutionary period, who were born to poverty and reared in privation. To these, the formation of the Federal Government had come as a gift from Heaven, and they had heard from the lips of the living Washington in his farewell words, that "the Union is the edifice of our real independence, the support of our tranquillity at home, our peace abroad, our prosperity, our safety, and of the very liberty which we so highly prize, that for this Union we should cherish a cordial, habitual, immovable attachment, and should discountenance whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned."
Mr. Webster had in his own lifetime seen the thirteen colonies grow to thirty powerful States. He had seen three millions of people, enfeebled and impoverished by a long struggle, increased eightfold in number, surrounded by all the comforts, charms, and securities of life. All this spoke to him of the Union and of its priceless blessings. He now heard its advantages discust, its perpetuity doubted, its existence threatened. A convention of slaveholding States had been called, to meet at Nashville, for the purpose of considering the possible separation of the sections. Mr. Webster felt that a generation had been born who were undervaluing their inheritance, and who might, by temerity, destroy it. Under motives inspired by these surroundings, he spoke for the preservation of the Union. He believed it to be seriously endangered. His apprehensions were ridiculed by many who, ten years after Mr. Webster was in his grave, saw for the first time how real and how terrible were the perils upon which those apprehensions were founded.
When the hour of actual conflict came, every patriot realized that a great magazine of strength for the Union was stored in the teachings of Mr. Webster. For thirty years preceding the Nullification troubles in South Carolina, the Government had been administered on the States'-rights theory, in which the power of the nation was subordinated, and its capacity to subdue the revolt of seceding States was dangerously weakened. His speech in reply to Hayne in 1830 was like an amendment to the Constitution. It corrected traditions, changed convictions, revolutionized conclusions. It gave to the friends of the Union the abundant logic which established the right and the power of the Government to preserve itself. A fame so lofty, a work so grand, can not be marred by one mistake, if mistake it be conceded. The thoughtful reconsideration of his severest critics must allow that Mr. Webster saw before him a divided duty, and that he chose the part which in his patriotic judgment was demanded by the supreme danger of the hour.
1 From Blaine's "Twenty Years of Congress." By permission of Mrs. Walter Damrosch and James G. Blaine, Jr., owners of the copyright. Copyright 1884.
The fugitives generally arrived in the night and were secreted among the friendly colored people or hidden in the upper room of our house. They came alone or in companies, and in a few instances had a white guide to direct them.
One company of twenty-eight that crossed the Ohio River at Lawrenceburg, Indianatwenty miles below Cincinnatihad for conductor a white man whom they had employed to assist them. The company of twenty-eight slaves referred to, all lived in the same neighborhood in Kentucky, and had been planning for some time how they could make their escape from slavery. This white manJohn Fairfieldhad been in the neighborhood for some weeks buying poultry, etc., for market, and tho among the whites he assumed to be very pro-slavery, the negroes soon found that he was their friend.
He was engaged by the slaves to help them across the Ohio River, and conduct them to Cincinnati. They paid him some money which they had managed to accumulate. The amount was small, considering the risk the conductor assumed, but it was all they had. Several of the men had their wives with them, and one woman a little child with her, a few months old. John Fairfield conducted the party to the Ohio River, opposite the mouth of the Big Miami, where he knew there were several skiffs tied to the bank, near a wood-yard. The entire party crowded into three large skiffs or yawls, and made their way slowly across the river. The boats were overloaded and sank so deep that the passage was made in much peril. The boat John Fairfield was in was leaky, and began to sink when a few rods from the Ohio bank, and he sprang out on the sand-bar, where the water was two or three feet deep, and tried to drag the boat to the shore. He sank to his waist in mud and quick-sands, and had to be pulled out by some of the negroes. The entire party waded out through mud and water and reached the shore safely, tho all were wet, and several lost their shoes. They hastened along the bank toward Cincinnati, but it was now late in the night and daylight appeared before they reached the city.
Their plight was a most pitiable one. They were cold hungry, and exhausted; those who had lost their shoes in the mud suffered from bruised and lacerated feet, while to add to their discomfort a drizzling rain fell during the latter part of the night. They could not enter the city for their appearance would at once proclaim them to be fugitives. When they reached the outskirts of the city, below Mill Creek, John Fairfield hid them as well as he could, in ravines that had been washed in the sides of the steep hills, and told them not to move until he returned. He then went directly to John Hatfield, a worthy colored man, a deacon in the Zion Baptist church, and told his story. He had applied to Hatfield before, and knew him to be a great friend to the fugitivesone who had often sheltered them under his roof and aided them in every way he could. When he arrived, wet and muddy, at John Hatfield's house, he was scarcely recognized. He soon made himself and his errand known, and Hatfield at once sent a messenger to me, requesting me to come to his house without delay, as there were fugitives in danger. I went at once and met several prominent colored men who had also been summoned. While dry clothes and a warm breakfast were furnished to John Fairfield, we anxiously discust the situation of the twenty-eight fugitives who were lying hungry and shivering, in the hills in sight of the city.
Several plans were suggested, but none seemed practicable. At last I suggested that some one should go immediately to a certain German livery stable in the city and hire two coaches, and that several colored men should go out in buggies and take the women and children from their hiding-places, then that the coaches and buggies should form a procession as if going to a funeral, and march solemnly along the road leading to Cumminsville, on the west side of Mill Creek. In the western part of Cumminsville was the Methodist Episcopal burying-ground, where a certain lot of ground had been set apart for the use of the colored people. They should pass this and continue on the Colerain pike till they reached a right-hand road leading to College Hill. At the latter place they would find a few colored families, living in the outskirts of the village, and could take refuge among them. Jonathan Cable, a Presbyterian minister, who lived near Farmer's College, on the west side of the village, was a prominent Abolitionist, and I knew that he would give prompt assistance to the fugitives.
I advised that one of the buggies should leave the procession at Cumminsville, after passing the burying-ground, and hasten to College Hill to apprize friend Cable of the coming of the fugitives, that he might make arrangements for their reception in suitable places. My suggestions and advice were agreed to, and acted upon as quickly as possible.
While the carriages and buggies were being procured, John Hatfield's wife and daughter, and other colored women of the neighborhood, busied themselves in preparing provisions to be sent to the fugitives. A large stone jug was filled with hot coffee, and this, together with a supply of bread and other provisions, was placed in a buggy and sent on ahead of the carriages, that the hungry fugitives might receive some nourishment before starting. The conductor of the party, accompanied by John Hatfield, went in the buggy, in order to apprize the fugitives of the arrangements that had been made, and have them in readiness to approach the road as soon as the carriages arrived. Several blankets were provided to wrap around the women and children, whom we knew must be chilled by their exposure to the rain and cold. The fugitives were very glad to get the supply of food; the hot coffee especially was a great treat to them, and much revived them. About the time they finished their breakfast the carriages and buggies drove up and halted in the road, and the fugitives were quickly conducted to them and placed inside. The women in the tight carriages wrapt themselves in the blankets, and the woman who had a young babe muffled it closely to keep it warm, and to prevent its cries from being heard. The little thing seemed to be suffering much pain, having been exposed so long to the rain and cold.
All the arrangements were carried out, and the party reached College Hill in safety, and were kindly received and cared for.
When it was known by some of the prominent ladies of the village that a large company of fugitives were in the neighborhood, they met together to prepare some clothing for them. Jonathan Cable ascertained the number and size of the shoes needed, and the clothes required to fit the fugitives for traveling, and came down in his carriage to my house, knowing that the Anti-Slavery Sewing Society had their depository there. I went with him to purchase the shoes that were needed, and my wife selected all the clothing we had that was suitable for the occasion; the rest was furnished by the noble women of College Hill.
I requested friend Cable to keep the fugitives as secluded as possible until a way could be provided for safely forwarding them on their way to Canada. Friend Cable was a stockholder in the Underground Railroad, and we consulted together about the best route, finally deciding on the line by way of Hamilton, West Elkton, Eaton, Paris, and Newport, Indiana. I wrote to one of my particular friends at West Elkton, informing him that I had some valuable stock on hand which I wished to forward to Newport, and requested him to send three two-horse wagonscoveredto College Hill, where the stock was resting, in charge of Jonathan Cable.
The three wagons arrived promptly at the time mentioned, and a little after dark took in the party, together with another fugitive, who had arrived the night before, and whom we added to the company. They went through to West Elkton safely that night, and the next night reached Newport, Indiana. With little delay they were forwarded on from station to station through Indiana and Michigan to Detroit, having fresh teams and conductors each night, and resting during the day. I had letters from different stations, as they progressed, giving accounts of the arrival and departure of the train, and I also heard of their safe arrival on the Canada shore.
1 Under this name were designated the methods by which Abolitionists in the North aided and protected slaves who ran away from their Southern masters. The routes over which slaves escaped ran mostly through Ohio and Pennsylvania, and thence to Canada. Coffin was actively engaged in the work in Cincinnati. His account is printed in Hart's "Source Book of American History."
JENNY LIND'S ARRIVAL AND FIRST CONCERT IN NEW YORK