Whoever shall write the history of popular enthusiasms must give a large space to the Atlantic telegraph. Never did the tidings of any great aehievementwhether in peace or warmore truly electrify a nation. No doubt, the impression was the greater because it took the country by surprize. Had the attempt succeeded in June it would have found a people prepared for it. But the failure of the first expedition, added to that of the previous year, settled the fate of the enterprise in the minds of the public. It was a very grand but hopeless undertaking; and its projectors shared the usual lot of those who conceive vast designs, and venture on great enterprises which are not successfulto be regarded with a mixture of derision and pity. Such was the temper of the public mind; when at noon of Thursday, the 5th of August, the following dispatch was received:
United States Frigate Niagara,
"To the Associated Press,. New York:
"The Atlantic Telegraph fleet sailed from Queenstown, Ireland, Saturday, July 17th, and met in mid-ocean Wednesday, July 28th. Made the splice at 1 P.M., Thursday, the 29th, and separatedthe Agamemnon and Valorous, bound to Valentia, Ireland; the Niagara and Gorgon, for this place, where they arrived yesterday, and this morning the end of the cable will be landed.
"It is 1,696 nautical, or 1,950 statute, miles from the telegraph-house at the head of Valentia harbor to the telegraph-house at the Bay of Bulls, Trinity Bay, and for more than two-thirds of this distance the water is over two miles in depth. The cable has been paid out from the Agamemnon at about the same speed as from the Niagara. The electric signals sent and received through the whole cable are perfect.
"The machinery for paying out the cable worked in the most satisfactory manner, and was not stopt for a single moment from the time the splice was made until we arrived here.
"Captain Hudson, Messrs. Everett and Woodhouse, the engineers, the electricians, the officers of the ship, and, in fact, every man on board the telegraph fleet, has exerted himself to the utmost to make the expedition successful, and by the blessing of Divine Providence it has succeeded.
"After the end of the cable is landed and connected with the land line of telegraph, and the Niagara has discharged some cargo belonging to the telegraph company, she will go to St. John's for coal, and then proceed at once to New York.
"CYRUS W. FIELD."
The impression of this simple announcement it is impossible to conceive. It was immediately telegraphed to all parts of the United States, and everywhere produced the greatest excitement. In some places all business was suspended; men rushed into the streets, and flocked to the offices where the news was received. An impressive scene was witnessed at a religious convocation in New England. At Andover, Mass., the news arrived while the alumni of the Theological Seminary were celebrating their semicentennial anniversary by a dinner. One thousand persons were present, all of whom rose to their feet, and gave vent to their excited feelings by continued and enthusiastic cheers. When quiet was restored, Rev. Dr. Adams, of New York, said his heart was too full for a speech, and suggested, as the more fitting utterance of what all felt, that they should join in thanksgiving to Almighty God. Rev. Dr. Hawes of Hartford then led the assembly in fervent prayer, acknowledging the great event as from the hand of God, and as calculated to hasten the triumphs of civilization and Christianity. Then all standing up together, sang, to the tune of Old Hundred, the majestic doxology. Thus, said Dr. Hawes, "we have now consecrated this new power, so far as our agency is concerned, to the building up of the truth." In New York the news was received at first with some incredulity. But as it was confirmed by subsequent dispatches, the city broke out into tumultuous rejoicing. Never was there such an outburst of popular feeling. In Boston a hundred guns were fired on the common, and the bells of the city were rung for an hour to give utterance to the general joy. Similar scenes were witnessed in all parts of the United States. I have now before me the New York papers of August, 1858, and from the memorable 5th, when the landing took place, to the end of the month, they contain hardly anything else than popular demonstrations in honor of the Atlantic telegraph. It was indeed a national jubilee. . . .
The next morning, August 17th, the city of New York was awakened by the thunder of artillery. A hundred guns were fired in the Park at daybreak, and the salute was repeated at noon. At this hour, flags were flying from all the public buildings, and the bells of the principal churches began to ring, reminding one of Tennyson's ode to the happy Christmas bells that were ringing out the departing year:
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
That night the city was illuminated. Never had it seen such a brilliant spectacle. It seemed as if it were intended to light up the very heavens. Such was the blaze of light around the City Hall that the cupola caught fire, and was consumed, and the Hall itself narrowly escaped destruction. Similar demonstrations took place in other parts of the United States. . .
While these demonstrations continued, every opposing voice was hushed in the chorus of national rejoicing; yet some there were, no doubt, who looked on with silent envy or whispered detraction. But who could grudge these honors to the hero of the hourhonors so hardly won, and which, as it proved, were soon to give place to harsh censures and unjust imputations?
Alas for all human glory! Its paths lead but to the grave. Death is the end of human ambition. That very day that a whole city rose up to do honor to the Atlantic telegraph and its author it gave its last throb, and that first cable was thenceforth to sleep forever silent in its ocean grave. The Atlantic cable was dead! That word fell heavy as a stone on the hearts of those who had staked so much upon it. Years of labor and millions of capital were swept away in an hour into the bosom of the pitiless sea.
1 From Field's "History of the Atlantic Telegraph to the End of 1865." Mr. Field was a brother of Cyrus W. Field, the chief promoter of the cable. He was long editor of The Evangelist, a weekly religious newspaper.
CIVIL WAR IN KANSAS
With the aid of a considerable Northern vote in Congress the South succeeded in passing the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, repealing the Missouri Compromise, and under the doctrine of "Squatter Sovereignty" throwing all the territories open to slavery, at least as a possibility. The North at once took alarm, and the Free-soil party, newly named the Republican party, grew in numbers and enthusiasm as no other party had ever done before.
Events mightily aided this growth, driving into the Free-soil, or Republican, party many thousands of men who had before held aloof from a movement which they thought to be dangerous to the perpetuity of the Union and to peace within its borders. First of these events was the outbreak of civil war in Kansas. The repeal of the Missouri Compromise opened that territory at once to settlement by men from both sections and at the same time opened the question whether it should become a free or a slave State. Incidentally a contest of factions began which raged hotly to the end.
Whether Kansas should be a slave State or a free State depended upon the will of the settlers alone. The land was in many respects a tempting one to emigrants in spite of the aridity of its western part, so that even without any incentive of politics its speedy settlement was quite a matter of course. But politics North and South enormously aided in that behalf. There was a rush from both sections to fill up and occupy the land in order to control it. From the Missouri border and from farther south slaveholders and the representatives of slavery poured into the territory in great numbers with the purpose of voting it into the Union as a slave State. In the slang of the period these were called "border ruffians." On the other hand, there was an "assisted emigration" from the North, the emigration of men whose way was paid in consideration of their votes and their rifle practise against slavery in Kansas. These called themselves "Free State Men," but they were called by their adversaries "Jayhawkers."
In order to promote the emigration of these men to Kansas, societies were formed in Massachusetts and other States which not only paid their way, but furnished them with rifles of an improved pattern, and ammunition in plenty, with the distinct understanding that it was their duty to ply both the bullet and the ballot in aid of the cause they represented. These two groups of men quickly fell by the ears, as it was intended that they should, and civil war in the strictest sense of that term ensued. John Brownan able, adventurous, and fanatical mantook command of the free State forces, and between him and his adversaries there was a contest for supremacy which involved every outrage to which civil war, waged by uncivilized man, can give birth. Small battles were fought.2 Men on either side were shot or hanged without mercy. Homes were desolated. Women and children were driven forth to suffer all the agonies of starvation, of cold, and of homelessnessall in aid of the voting one way or the other.
In our time such a situation in a territory subject to national control would be instantly ended by the sending of troops to the disturbed region with instructions to preserve order, to suppress all manner of lawlessness, and to protect all citizens equally in the enjoyment of the peaceful possession of the land. But in the fifties the government of the United States was still unused to such exercise of its authorityparties were too evenly divided, political feeling was too hot and voters were far too sensitive, to admit of such a treatment of the situation as would in our time seem quite a matter of course. Troops were sent to Kansas, it is true, but in quite insufficient numbers and under inadequate instructions. So the war in Kansas went on and otherwise peaceful citizens of the Union actively aided it upon the one side or the other quite as if it had not been a civil war within the Union and in a territory in which the authority of Congress was supreme beyond even the possibility of question.
At the South companies of armed men were organized, equipped, and sent into Kansas nominally to settle there and vote to make a slave State of the territory, but really, if possible, to drive out every "Free State" man, or to overawe or overcome them all, so that the voting might all be one way. At the North similar companies of men were organized and armed and aided to emigrate for the purpose of doing very much the same thing to the representatives of slavery and achieving a contrary result at the ballot-box.
Many of the men on both sides were not genuine settlers at all, but merely armed bandits engaged in a mission of violence. Yet on both sides they were supported, encouraged, and defended in their lawlessness by the pulpit, the press, and every other agency of civilization. Elections were held in the territory in which both sides voted their men without question as to their age, the length of their residence within the territory, or any other qualification for voting which the loose laws of the time provided. Every devilish device of fraud and swindling that had up to that time been invented by ingeniously unscrupulous politicians was employed on the one side or the other, without so much as a qualm of conscience or a scruple of conventionality.
It was war that these men were engaged in, and elections were a mere pretense. War habitually has no scruples as to the means it uses for the overcoming of an adversary. On each side men voted who had arrived within the territory just in time for the election, cheerfully perjuring themselves in order to do so, an incident which nobody seemed to regard as a serious matter. Each side voted its men as often as it could under the loose election laws of the time, and in some cases that was very often. Ballot-boxes were stuffed with fraudulent votes by one side and were seized and destroyed by the other. Conventions fraudulently chosen by such practises as these framed constitutions which were one after another rejected by Congress.
The story need not be told here in further detail. The struggle continued until the end of the decade, and it was not until after the Confederate War had begun that the Territory was admitted to the Union as a State. In the meanwhile, the eyes and minds of all the people in the country were concentrated upon that center of disturbance, and the situation there enormously increased the intensity of that acrimony which already characterized the relations of men North and South.
1 From Eggleston's "History of the Confederate War." By permission of the publishers, Sturgis & Walton Co. Copyright, 1910. This war broke out after rival streams of immigration had begun from the North and South following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill. Two constitutions were adoptedthat bearing the names of Topeka, adopted in 1855 and prohibiting slavery, and that bearing the name Lecompton, adopted in 1857, and sanctioning it. Among the Northern men who went to Kansas was John Brown, closely associated afterward with the civil war which prevailed in that Territory. Finally, a constitution forbidding slavery, and known as the Wyandotte one, became the law of the Territory in 1859. Kansas was admitted as a free State in January, 1861, a few months before the firing on Fort Sumter.
2 The chief of these was the battle of Osawatomie, in 1856. Osawatomie lies 61 miles southwest of Kansas City. In 1856 it was one of the "Free State settlements" made in Kansas by the Immigrant Aid Society, and had become prominent in the contest between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery element . John Brown lived in or near the place, and had already become aggressive as an Abolitionist leader. On May 24, 1856, five pro-slavery men were assassinated at Pottawatomie, the responsibility of which was placed on Brown. In August of this year an overwhelming force of invading pro-slavery men from Missouri attacked Osawatomie. Brown led the defense, which was heroicly conducted, but suffered defeat, and Osawatomie afterward was almost completely destroyed.