American reaction to European revolutions, 1848-1852: sectionalism, memory, and the revolutionary heritage.
We honour--aye, we revere one In whom so brightly shine The virtues which made Washington appear almost divine. --Miss Malvina A. Wiley, Philadelphia Normal School Man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past --Ralph Waldo Emerson
The anticipation hardly could have been higher. Louis Kossuth, the Magnificent Magyar, was headed to the United States. In New York City, his port of call, Kossuth fever ran white-hot. On December 5, 1851, the expected day of his arrival, the anxious citizens of Staten Island reportedly magnified every towboat that entered the Narrows into the Humbolt, the ship on which Kossuth traveled. Following rumors that Kossuth had landed at one in the morning, one poor soul, an American veteran, arose, "equipped himself in full uniform, and sallied forth ... to meet the Magyar chief." Arriving at the door of a member of the honor guard, this "bold son of Mars" learned of his mistake and "returned to bed rather chagrined at his unfortunate adventure." After waiting one day on Staten Island to allow the city to make last-minute preparations, Kossuth finally arrived in Manhattan the next day, December 6, aboard the steamer Vanderbilt. August Belmont observed that he "met with a reception the like of which for enthusiasm & warmth was probably never witnessed even from our excitable population." Editors exclaimed that his name was "the first pronounced by every man you met." Kossuth's reception the following Saturday was "such as would have greeted no other European, nor any living American." (1)
Yet two months later, after Kossuth visited Washington and Philadelphia and conducted a tour of the Western Reserve, a western editor implored God to deliver his country from Kossuth mania. He prayed that the Almighty save American men and women "from this dong-dong-bell, ingo-gingo, rattlebang noise and confusion--this hum-drum, tread-wheel din ... which would have worn out the patience of Job a thousand times.... Be he Angel or Devil, saint or sinner, the press of this country has manufactured him into a terrible bore." By spring, the actions of Ohio's legislature were typical. It asked Kossuth to come to Columbus. Then the Solons asked that he write out, not deliver, his speech. Finally, waving a tearful goodbye, they refused to pay Kossuth's bill for his stay in the capital. Although Kossuth unloaded more than six hundred high-voltage speeches and downed the brandy of a thousand toasts, he never pocketed the millions in aid for which he lobbied. Reiterating the principles of Washington's "Farewell Address," which embraced, enshrined, and embalmed the doctrine of nonintervention in the affairs of Europe, the nation bid a courteous but noncommittal adieu to Kossuth in the summer of 1852. (2)
Historians interested in the diplomacy of the late antebellum period have examined the way in which Americans have judged revolutionary movements and revolutionaries such as Kossuth by viewing them through the "prism" of their Revolution. (3) These scholars contend that, the rhetorical excesses of Young America notwithstanding, the United States was less preoccupied with European affairs than it had been in the early republic. Consequently, its reaction to the European revolutions of 1848 and to Kossuth's visit in particular was cautious, even reserved. Noting widespread opposition to a greater involvement in the affairs of Europe--and often presenting it rootless and in an ahistorical manner--they conclude that the presumed excesses of European revolutionaries forfeited American sympathies. (4)
In contrast, political historians looking at these events with an eye cast to the impending Civil War depict America's reaction to revolutions in Europe in sectional terms. To cite an instance, they note that abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison condemned Kossuth for shunning one topic "as though to name it would be a crime--and that is, SLAVERY!" In a public letter to Kossuth, Garrison scorned, "You have eyes, but see not; you have ears, but hear not--except what you suppose is in accordance with the public sentiment, and will be sure to further your own designs." In a similar vein, with an oblique reference to the detested Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Horace Mann, an antislavery Whig, gloated that Kossuth's visit had put slavestate and moderate Northern Democratic representatives in a "'tight place.' How could they vote to honor one fugitive from slavery & chain and send back another[?]" Southerners, to the contrary, looked with contempt at "the manner which the Abolitionists cling about [Kossuth]." A Mississippi Democrat noted that Free-Soilers such as Mann held Kossuth's doctrine of intervention in high favor with good reason. If the Federal government assumed the power to interfere with the internal affairs of other nations, he prophesied, "will not the door be opened to a movement affecting the institutions of southern states[?]" (5)
On the one hand, diplomatic historians presume a timeless and nationally agreed-upon set of values as the standard against which all other revolutions must be judged. Political historians, on the other hand, see American reaction to these issues as inexorable steps in the growing sectional conflict of the 1850s. Such historical determinism will not do. Cultural historians have pointed out with insight that individuals and groups experience, understand, and react to the world in which they live "in a context which is causally connected with past events and objects." Understood in this light, public political discourse and debate such as those surrounding the French Revolution or Kossuth's visit are as much about conflicts of memory as they are clashes of principle. The ideological context of these exchanges over public policy is rooted in, and sustained by, references to the past. (6)
Partisan narratives may appeal to past precedent for new policies. Or, they may embrace historical trends that have issued in views or policies that are being either advocated or opposed. Contending or differing narratives of the past both challenge authority and bring individuals together to question the power of institutions or the state. Political conflict, viewed from this perspective, is not right versus wrong. Rather it is a dialectic, the resolution of which reflects "a negotiation over history where one narrative overpowered another, not just through its truth, but also through popularity." (7)
Public memory--"a body of beliefs and ideas about the past"--should not be confused with history. The former is fluid, mutable, and, above all, contested. Public memory, Pierre Nora contends, "is a perpetually actual phenomenon, a bond tying us to an eternal present." History, on the other hand, is a static representation of that past, the reconstruction of which is "always problematic and incomplete." The function of history is to reconstruct what is no longer. The focus of public memory, however, is not the past. By helping society understand its past, present, and, by implication, its future, this cognitive process assesses serious issues of the moment such as the nature of power, the structure of society, or the individual's or group's loyalty to the state. (8)
Congressional and public reactions to the European revolutions of 1848 and Kossuth's visit from December 1851 to June 1852 speak to a declension and disorganization of political coherence in the years following the Mexican cession. They also reveal a diminished sense of national self-confidence and a widespread fear in the North and South that Americans were increasingly unable to recapture the spirit of or, worse, agree on the essence of their Revolution. Whereas the nation had responded to the French Revolution with vigorous partisan conflict over the meaning of their past and, by extension, the direction of future policy, congressional reaction to France's upheavals in 1848 was muted and ambivalent. The highlight of that year, which itself reflected a growing movement to preserve and create historic landmarks, was the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington National Monument. (9) The contrast is instructive.
By the fall of 1850 a Maryland editor observed, "The divisions between the two parties now are merely artificial & for the most part personal." A North Carolina Whig ruefully agreed, remarking that "there is but little [partisan] feeling manifested between the old parties." (10) As the integrity and coherency of parties thus became less distinct, it became increasingly difficult to hold a middle line or a nationwide position on national and foreign affairs. As a result, the mood of the nation shifted, in one historian's words, from "boundlessness to consolidation." (11) Disillusionment with Europe's revolutionaries and skepticism of Kossuth therefore were characterized by a sensitivity to residual sectional tensions and the angst that issued from a rapidly receding revolutionary past. Consequently, neither a fixed past nor an inexorable future determined official and public reaction to Europe's earthquakes in 1848 and Kossuth's visit in 1851-59. Rather, the multiple memories of that past, anxieties born of a fluid present, and hopes for the future of republican government shaped and gave meaning to national public opinion of Europe's tribulations.
On February 21, 1848, the eve of Washington's birthday, John Quincy Adams suffered a stroke on the floor of the House of Representatives. Carried to the Speaker's apartment on a sofa, he revived a little. The next day, the balls and celebrations scheduled for Washington's Birthday were canceled. The following evening, February 23, Adams died. Over the weekend his body lay in state in a silver mounted coffin on a catafalque in front of the Speaker's platform. The House was shrouded in black. Most notably, "the figure of History ... was robed with consummate taste and judgment, the black drapery covering her entire person.... The portraits of WASHINGTON and LAFAYETTE, on either side of [Adams's chair] were covered over with thin crepe." (12)
Just as revealing as the blacked-draped figures of History, Washington, and Lafayette were the obsequies of Adams's colleagues. Charles Hudson of Massachusetts observed that Adams's public service was coeval with the establishment of the government. As "one who has come down to us from past generations," Hudson declared, Adams was "an example to us and to those who come after us." James McDowell of Virginia explained Adams's importance to the current generation. "Born in our Revolutionary Day and brought up in early and cherished intimacy with the fathers and founders of the republic," he said, Adams "was a living bond of connexion between the present and the past." South Carolina's Isaac Holmes, who bitterly had opposed Adams's antislavery initiatives in the House, closed the circle by assessing Adams's passing. Acknowledging that this was "no common bereavement," Holmes contended that "the chain which linked our hearts with gifted spirits of former times has been rudely snapped. The lips from which flowed those living and glorious truths that our father uttered are closed in death." (13)
Other prominent revolutionary figures--Dolley Madison and Harrison Gray Otis, for example--would soon join Adams in Valhalla. As one by one the last members of the revolutionary generation left this vale of tears, Americans fretted that they were becoming increasingly removed from the spirit of the founders. As one editor put it, "In a very few years more not a link will remain of that magic chain which connects the present with the past era of our country." This angst coincided with a widespread desire to hold onto a past that seemed more and more remote. In the 1840s and 1850s historical societies proliferated; town histories multiplied; requirements for history classes in schools grew; and nonfiction historical works steadily increased. (14)
For all of that no one could deny that consensus on the essence of that past, especially the meaning of the Revolution, was unraveling. Some contended that it was "most revolutionary in character." Conservatives, especially Whigs, hailed the founders for their "respect for principle." In the ongoing struggle over slavery's extension, restrictionists contended that the Founding Fathers rebelled to defend their autonomy from the encroachments of a government hostile to their liberties and ambitions. In contrast, Southerners understood the Revolution to be a defense of a minority's rights in a constitutional government. Moderate Democrats concluded that the essence of the founders resented the intrusion of a distant central government in the local affairs of the colonies. The essence of the Revolution, then, lay in the determination of colonists to manage their affairs. Each side in the debate, therefore, believed it was defending and extending the legacy of the Revolution. As Lewis Perry has observed, "Although everyone paid homage to revolutionary forebears, their heritage meant different things to different speakers." (15) It was in this context of declension and against this background of the fragmentation and sectionalization of the revolutionary heritage that Americans watched and reacted to the European revolutions of 1848.
On February 24, while a committee made arrangements for Adams's funeral, Ambassador Richard Rush wrote from Paris, "A state of things has been produced a little short of revolutionary.... The general confusion is great, and the results full of uncertainty." Another French revolution was afoot. Initial reaction, not surprisingly, was enthusiastic. George Bancroft, observing events from England, pronounced the French revolutionaries "admirable." Robert Walker thought the revolution "a stupendous and sublime event ... worthy even of this age." William Cullen Bryant's Evening Post rhapsodized that it had never witnessed "so remarkable an exhibition of popular strength and unity of public opinion." In Cincinnati, a Democratic editor confidently predicted that the overthrow of Louis Philippe foreshadowed "the dawning of a bright day to the oppressed and enslaved masses of the world." (16)
Unable to agree on the essence of their Revolution, Americans discovered that the origins of the upheaval in France were equally difficult to discover. The causes of the revolution appeared as multiple as its presumed fruits were plentiful. An Ohio Democrat believed that the French "have demanded more liberty, because they feel themselves capable of enjoying more." George N. Sanders asserted that the wretched condition of the working class and its resentment of a prospering middle class led to a populist revolt. Andrew Jackson Donelson claimed that the people insisted on "more popular institutions" and "a federal system to free trade from its shackles." From his vantage point in London, Bancroft contended that the revolution was a rebuke to aristocracy in France and throughout Europe. Whatever the case, most Americans would have agreed with Democratic president James K. Polk when he observed, "The great principles of popular sovereignty which were proclaimed in 1776 by the immortal author of our Declaration of Independence, seem now to be in the course of rapid development throughout the world." (17)
Popular support and enthusiasm for France in 1848 might appear surprising given the failures of the 1789 and 1830 revolutions. Enthusiasts, however, believed that those past failures proved instructive. In 1798, they claimed, republicanism had not yet taken hold in France. It was a revolution "consequent on desperation" and undone by repeated violence and outrage. American observers concluded that the French people had "learned from past mistakes, they now know that republicanism comprehends more than civic oaths." If the 1830 revolt gave political power to the middle class, George Ticknor professed, that of 1848 gave it to the working class. Thus the France of 1848 was not the France of 1830. "A new generation, accustomed at least to the forms of representative government, and to the discussion of its principles, have been educated and grown up, and make the mass of the people." The current upheaval then was not the "work of the mob in Paris--the present, is the work of an enlightened people determined to be free." Even the normally dour Charleston Mercury boomed, "The spirit of '98 is again abroad, but in how different a garb! The bloodshed, cruelty, and oppression, which distinguished the times of Robespierre ... is no where to be found." (18)
William Cullen Bryant rebuked those conservatives who wondered whether the French people were fit to live under a free, republican government. Bryant returned, "The question might be asked with more propriety, 'are they fit to live under any other?'" A stolid English public appeared content to realize greater political freedom installed over time, Bryant observed, and then only after bitter struggles with an equally stolid government. In contrast, "the ardent, excitable, impetuous temper of the French nation" would not abide such gradualism. Democrats, most of them, repudiated "the leaders of the federal party" [read: Whig] who "immediately took ground with the French Government against the people." Asserting that the revolution sprung neither from "the machinations of a few ambitious leaders" nor from an "infuriated and lawless passion," they refused to believe that this great event had small causes. The popular uprising that February was "the triumph of freedom over tyranny--of truth over error--of humanity over inhumanity." Taking aim on conservative senators who opposed a resolution congratulating the provisional government, supporters of France fired back. "The French revolution is so palpable a repudiation of the ground work of the federal party's principles," one taunted, "as to make it wonderful that more of them did not fail to sneak out of the Senate chamber when the question was taken." (19)
For all these sanguine predictions, voices of doubt were raised--loudly and often. Even Donelson admitted that the future was uncertain. "Everywhere conservatism and radicalism are in the field," he wrote Polk; "each is in danger of injuring the cause of reform." That gloomiest of Jeremiahs, John C. Calhoun, conceded that to the inexperienced eye, the revolution in France exhibited a "fair prospect." Older and wiser, Calhoun viewed its prospects with "deep distrust" and declared that "France is not prepared to become a Republic." He conceded that the "intelligence and progress of the age" had outgrown the monarchies of Europe. Nevertheless, Calhoun doubted that the great unwashed of the continent "are so advanced and enlightened on political science, as to substitute more suitable [governments] in their place." Reform, he predicted, would lead to anarchy, revolution, and an even more dismal state of public affairs. Looking abroad and around himself at home, Calhoun condemned the "most erroneous opinions now entertained both in Europe and this country by the movement, or popular party, as to in wh[at] liberty consists, and by what means, it can be obtained and secured. Their opinion of liberty is, neither more nor less, than Dorrism." (20)
Although Calhoun was always full of dread and loathing, his observations on French and, more important, American politics are illuminating. Richard Rush, who on his authority extended de facto recognition to the new government, privately expressed reservations about France's future. With a hint of irony, Rush noted that the most remarkable thing about the revolutionary movement was that not a solitary cry was raised for a republic before February 23. "All agree that the Republic took France by surprise," Rush wrote. "Those who might have been willing to have had a revolution, were not thinking of a Republic." The ambassador darkly warned that the tendency toward a centralized government remained strong and that there was no analog in the political philosophy of the revolutionaries to American federalism. What the revolutionaries did possess was "genius and knowledge of all kinds ... so much that is profound and so much that is not.... The mind of the nation is so active, that crude opinions, if not mischievous ones, may be expected to shoot up whilst her institutions remain in an unsettled state." In the United States, James Kirke Paulding alleged that the reformer of Europe was "destructive" and "wishes to pull down." Progressive change in France and the rest of the continent, he maintained, "is running up hill." (21)
Underlying this disillusionment was an uneasiness that the incubus of European radicalism had begun to bedevil the second-party system. The presumed intemperance in some quarters of democratic politics; conflict between capital and labor especially in the free-labor North; the sectional and inter-party contentiousness issuing from the late war with Mexico; a broad-based romantic reform movement; and the rise of abolitionism all seemed to be evidence of external contamination. An author in the North American Review feared that imitation of European excesses might indeed prove to be the best form of American flattery. He argued defensively that Americans were no more bound to cheer radical lunatics in France and elsewhere who dignified their ignoble conduct "with the name republican than we should be to lend a favorable ear to the ravings of our own demagogues." Senator Joseph Underwood worried that in this "Age of the Common Man," popular politics were undermining the republican governments of states and nations. "We have French Dorrism in America," Underwood fretted, "and wherever it exists stability of government is threatened. Unless the principles of free government be adhered to, there can be no liberty." Though no cultural historian, Calhoun knew that "the past is the parent of the present." Upheaval in France and sectional conflict at home had convinced him that there were "powerful, long established, and widely extended errors now at work, which tend to universal disorder and anarchy throughout Christendom." Though he remained "hopeful" (contemporaries and historians would gag on this self-characterization), Calhoun feared that there would be still more "great disorders, conflicts and suffering" before these shameful practices collapsed under the weight of their own inherent and incurable infamy. In the end what most worried observers such as Calhoun and Paulding was that "the example about to be presented by Europe will be eventually pernicious to the United States, which are always imitating where they should set the example, and following where they ought to lead." (22)
Not that others thought this was a bad idea. Beset with self-doubts that issued from a sense of decline of patriotism and social unity and the fragmentation of national politics, they trusted that France's example would prove a fillip to a nation drifting ever further away from a consensus on national purpose. Polk's vice-president, George M. Dallas, expressed the heretical notion that the French revolution was "in every aspect ... even more democratic than ours." Bancroft wished rather than hoped that the "echo of American Democracy" that had incited the French Revolution would have power enough "to stir up the hearts of American people to new achievements." A Michigan Democrat similarly trusted that the revolutions of Europe would renew in the United States "inquiries into the rights and interests of man as connected with government." (23)
By late summer, however, the prospects of real, democratic reform in France seemed very much in doubt to most Americans. The more committed French republicans lost in nationwide elections. A riot by laborers in Paris in June was put down in six days of bitter street fighting. In Paris, Richard Rush questioned whether more than one-twentieth of the national assembly were "genuine republicans." And the newly drawn French Constitution bore precious little resemblance to that of the United States. Calhoun, for one, was not surprised. There was not now nor was there ever the possibility of a free popular government in France, he claimed. "She has no elements out of which such a government could be formed," he contended. "And if she had, still she must fail from her total misconception of the principles, on which such a government, to succeed, must be constructed." A disillusioned George Ticknor concluded that republics "cannot grow on the soil of Europe; at least, not republics in the sense we give that word. There is no nourishment for them in the present condition or past history of the nations there...." The Boston Courier sniffed that again the French people had proved to be "tools of demagogues, excitable, impulsive but not thoughtful and calculating." (24)
In late 1848 Louis Napoleon Bonaparte out polled conservative and red republican candidates to be elected president of the Second Republic. Disillusionment among American sympathizers was complete. His triumph proved to Rush among others that "the masses, meaning chiefly the peasants and laborers ... neither intended nor desired the prolongation of the Republic." Edward Everett scotched any idea that Napoleon would prove to be a French Washington. That part, Everett snorted, "will prove, I fear, either beyond his strength or above his virtue; very likely both." The Charleston Mercury, ruing the political effects of a war that raised a military hero at home to the presidency, took measure of Napoleon's success in France. The glories of empire had proved and would continue to prove too alluring to the French people, it held. "France needs but little prompting ... to re-echo the cry of 'vive l' Empereur! Vive Napoleon le deux ieme!" it spat. "France is not as yet, and we doubt that she ever will be, ready for Republicanism." (25)
The failure of republican revolution in Europe coincided with the reemergence of sectional tensions in American politics and a prevailing uneasiness of a nation increasingly at sea over the meaning of its own revolutionary past. The decline of republican sentiment abroad and the rise of sectionalism at home deepened a sense of declension and heightened concern over the future of free institutions in the United States. William Cullen Bryant worried that in the United States, as in France, demagogues were difficult to distinguish from true patriots and licentiousness often masqueraded as political liberty. A Florida Whig similarly fumed that the public ear was too easily lent "to the declamation of demagogues and alarmists who proclaim that 'our institutions are in danger.'" The usually sanguine George Sanders declared that fanaticism "never assumed a more dangerous form than that it now presents in the United States." These fanatics embraced the peculiar notions of reform that plagued Europe "and have assumed the responsibility of all the evils, real or imaginary, under the sun." "Everywhere liberty is surrounded by open or secret enemies," Sanders warned. "Those who flatter themselves that by establishing free institutions, they have perpetuated the blessings of freedoms ... will find at last, that though the outward forms of liberty remain the substance has been frittered away." (26)
David Potter has maintained that the failure of the French Revolution in 1848 had the effect of making the success of the experiment of self-government, which began with the Revolution, "all the more crucial to the fate of democratic nationalism in the modern world." There is perhaps another, overlooked dimension of the disasters of liberal nationalism in France and elsewhere. A strain of the American sense of self, which dated from John Winthrop's City on a Hill and was embodied in the Revolution, was a sense of national mission. By definition, to be a success the eyes of the rest of the world had to be focused on, and admiring of, the American experiment. The failures of revolutions in 1848 suggested two possibilities: either Europe had forgotten or chose to ignore the American model or, worse, it turned to another political archetype. If so, Americans were left with a polity that no one wanted. Although they might damn Europeans for taking a historical wrong turn, their condemnation implicitly recognized that the trajectory of history was permanently diverted from its predicted past. Thus, if the republic should fail, liberty itself would expire. (27)
At one time, Americans saw in the European revolutions of 1848 the dawn of a political millennium. They were more tentative and divided when the Hungarian patriot Louis Kossuth visited the United States three years later. Not that they had lost any of their antipathy toward despots and tyrannical rule. Nor had Americans ceased to view the conflicts of the Old World in reductive terms. Henry Foote of Mississippi told the Senate, "There is a great struggle going on at this moment in all parts of the world between the principles of freedom and the principles of slavery. ... The despotisms of the ages have passed upon most of the governments. The people are striving to recover their long lost liberty." Europe "will be either Republican or Cossack," a northern Democrat observed. "All Europe seems now charged with the elements of strife.... The oppressed are gathering in their harvest, and making all ready for the terrible feast of Mars." Content to predict, not shape, the future, the American Review noted optimistically "that the tendency is toward freedom ... and it is fortunate and of good omen for mankind, that England and America are about to show themselves in the van of it." (28)
Whether the rest of Europe could or would follow the Anglo-American example was now in some doubt, however. In 1842 Americans boomed that "the rotten and antiquated foundations of every despotic and exclusive institution of the Old World ... only await a coming shock to crumble into ruin." Unhappily, the revolutions of 1848 had degenerated into class struggles, spread socialism, and culminated in despotic repression. A Jacksonian Democrat sighed, "The disease of Europe is the unequal division of property, the poverty of the masses; the excessive taxation consequent on accumulated debts; and great hereditary establishment, all acting on a surplus population. No change in the form or spirit of Governments can cure these ills." (29)
True, Americans received Citizen Kossuth enthusiastically. As was its wont, New York entertained this international star grandly. A national salute and two cannonades, one from Brooklyn Heights the other from Jersey City, greeted the Vanderbilt. Although Kossuth was to deliver his first American speech at Castle Garden, a hysterically reverent--and out of control--audience drowned him out. When, after a pause, he tried again, "rowdyism had the upper hand": supporters rushed the stage. Kossuth and his entourage beat a hasty retreat out the back door. The Magnificent Magyar escaped unhurt, but not quite intact: one female admirer managed to slice off a swatch of his coat for a souvenir. Kossuth then began a triumphant parade up Broadway before an estimated crowd of 250,000. Again as was its wont, New York rioted. One man was killed, a woman hospitalized, and, at one point, Kossuth's carriage was stuck in the same spot for two hours by a ring of his admirers. One wag later observed that Kossuth-mania "rated rather below the Lindomania which about a year ago turned the giddy brain of New Yorkers." No one, though, could deny that the Hungarian had become "the engrossing issue" of American politics. (30)
Kossuth remained in New York for three weeks. He delivered virtually the same speech, which begged for aid but squinted at American intervention, to three large gatherings and received the greeting and tribute (in the fullest sense of that word) from more than thirty delegations. Democrats formed a Young America group within the party and initiated Friends of Hungary associations to raise money for the oppressed. Although they could not match the Democracy's promise of 100,000 armed American volunteers, Whigs gave Kossuth a check for $1,000. From New York, Kossuth traveled to Philadelphia. There the city fathers paraded the best and brightest of Philadelphia's school system by the Magyar in a day-long tribute. Master Henry McIntire, age fifteen, gushed, "In you we behold ... a second Washington!" John Painter, age thirteen, was not so sure, but no less enthusiastic. "The world had but one Washington," he exclaimed; "the world has but one Kossuth." In January, Kossuth made a triumphant entry into Washington where grown men managed to surpass the excesses of Philadelphia's teens. On January 8, 1852, nearly 500 party members attended the Jackson Democratic Association dinner to celebrate Kossuth "in the most ultra style." In this orgy of toasts and rhetoric, Frank Blair soberly promised armed American intervention, and a major in the Army Corps of Engineers offered to "knock at the gates of St. Petersburgh [sic]" to defend Hungary's independence. (31)
Observers in both sections considered him "a living reproach to despotism ... the living advocate of the rights of man." Henry Foote hooted at the fear that Kossuth's soul-stirring harangues were dangerous for the country. In a telling, if unwitting, observation on the mood of the nation, Foote expressed the hope "that his eloquence might have the effect of ... liberalizing the minds of the people of America, and might impart a still more republican cast to the minds of the thinking millions of this country." Drawing the analogy to Washington and his legacy, Foote concluded that this Hungarian Founding Father "is the author of achievements that must hand him down to future ages as the man of the present age." In the House, Charles Andrews of Maine agreed that Kossuth was as pure as Washington and as wise as Jefferson. But, he added, the Magyar's eloquence was "purely his own--calm, gentle, enticing, commanding." (32)
If Foote and Andrews saw in Kossuth a Washington redux, other, younger Americans expressed their desire to liberate themselves from Washington and his limiting policies. Kossuth's most extreme supporters advocated American intervention in Hungary and, by implication, the internal affairs of Europe to promote free government. Non-intervention, the established policy toward Europe since Washington's administration, was "one utterly at variance with republicanism ... because it is opposed to the progressive principle which led to the formation of our government." A correspondent to the Richmond Enquirer noted that to champion republican principles while failing to take all measures to advance them "all over the face of the earth" was more than an inconsistency: it was cowardice and moral bankruptcy. The more timid paid obeisance to the policies of the founders, but they also snippily noted that "their views were necessarily limited. They did enough for one generation ... but did not do all. They left much undone." Many openly confessed that they lathered for a scrap with "Old Fogyism." They scorned those "who always speak of the 'good old times' as being the best of times." What rot. These "toadies of monarchy"--"old politicians" who "received their grandfathers' doctrines without question"--were "the enemies of progress of our country." (33)
The youngest of the Young Americans, of course, had no first-hand experience with, or connection to, the Revolution. This would not preclude them from sharing in the collective memory of it. What would vary was the degree of personal feeling about the event. Inasmuch as age structures memories of important political events, second and third generations would not share the same assumptions or memories of a common past. At first blush, therefore, Young America's hostility to the founders, their legacy, and those who tried to preserve it untrammeled seems plain. Perhaps. Yet George Forgie has likened them to a son who "identified with and now sought to emulate his father." Like the second generation of Puritans who had slipped into a comfortable, routine life that seemed to contrast poorly with the bravery of their forebears, life for these descendants of revolutionaries must have seemed to be a protracted anticlimax. There were the hardships of western settlement, beating up Mexicans, and rousting Native Americans to be sure. But these paled in comparison to the magnificence of a revolutionary movement that made America the last, best hope of mankind. Kossuth's visit, the opportunity to vigorously and forcible export the ideals of the Revolution, allowed these Young Americans the occasion to both uphold the principles and transcend the mortmain of this entailed legacy. (34)
That is how Kossuth's visit played among the more rabid. To tens of thousands of other Americans, Kossuth's tour and the attendant public hysteria were troubling and darkly suggestive. Fearing that "one could have too much of a good thing," they looked askance at "the exhibition of a live European patriot, the American species of this genus being supposed extinct in these days of Cuban liberators and European interventionists." Public officials and private citizens professed themselves tired of this "hobby." Kossuth, so they claimed, was the lead of every paragraph "from Sabbath morning to Saturday night--from the top of the first column on the first page of every paper one takes, to the end of the last advertisement." A Maine Democrat complained to his spouse that Kossuth's supporters were making "fools of themselves." Meanwhile a Boston Whig proclaimed Young America's interventionism "a chimera." In South Carolina, Francis Pickens put the matter succinctly. "Are we not crazy?" he wondered. (35) The answer seemed obvious.
In 1848, voices of public opinion feared that European radicalism and demagoguery were ascendant in American politics and society. Kossuth's visit three years later appeared to mark an alarming progress of that extremism. The failure of Europe's democracies left Americans bearing a heavy responsibility for the "preservation of our own liberty and free institutions." A New York Whig therefore apprehended that Kossuth "demagogues" would constitute "a disturbing element of no small magnitude" in the American political system. Others similarly charged that the "more radical and inflammatory" misled Kossuth. "Political personages" who had "lower aspirations than for the mere welfare and interest of their own country" provided the material and composed his speeches. Older Democrats, chafing under the jibes of Young Americans, grumbled that the czar himself did not exercise "a more unrelenting despotism over his subjects" than did Kossuth's supporters on the party. Taking heed of this debasement of politics, the National Intelligencer--no friend of the democracy--cautioned, "Beware, then, of the temper!" (36)
If a decade earlier, Americans preened that their influence would undermine European politics, now the reverse seemed more likely. A less-assured public damned Kossuth's supporters--"time serving sycophants of a pseudo Radicalism"--for advocating politics and policies utterly at variance with republicanism. So much "nonsense," these "arrogant teachings" seemed to resonate with recently arrived immigrants unfamiliar with the tenets of the revolutionary heritage. Worse yet, many of them appeared "ready to cast aside the wisdom handed down to us from our prudent forefathers." One North Carolinian claimed that Kossuth hysteria proved "how much we have to fear the swelling tide of [a] foreign population." Jacob Miller, a New Jersey Whig, alleged that Kossuth's supporters were constantly scurrying down to the ocean's edge "with an eye glass to detect incoming ships loaded with the rumors [and presumably agents] of European agitation." Nathan Sargent claimed that support for Kossuth in foreign newspapers was strong and, to his mind, "humiliating." Others found the "fermentation among the continental European immigrants of this country" debasing, and they cautioned Americans against their "attempts to seduce" public officials from following established policies. (37)
Kossuth's visit not only reflected and affected fragmentation and disorganization within the national two-party system, but it also made salient sectional tensions that the Compromise of 1850 presumably had eased. William Henry Seward of New York contended that the South regarded the Kossuth affair as it did the Wilmot Proviso "and fights it accordingly." Charles Sumner wrote his brother that all opposition to Kossuth proceeded from slavery--"the source of all our baseness." Rather than spend $500 million to put down oppression in Hungary, however, Sumner preferred to "let it go against despotism at home." Taking advantage of Kossuth's visit, the National Era, a whiggish, reformist magazine edited by antislavery activists Gamaliel Bailey and John Greenleaf Whittier, ran a series of articles comparing the unhappy and hazardous experiences of Americans traveling in Hungary with northerners in the slave states. (38)
Southerners watched with alarm attempts by Free-Soilers to exploit the message and propaganda value of Kossuth. They denounced "the 'base uses' to which mad men and women of the North,--crazy abolitionists--seek to apply his policy [of intervention] and influence." Although historians have long noted the sectional opposition to Kossuth, they have made too much of it. Kossuth was lionized in many parts of the South, especially by extreme states'-rights advocates. Further, Southern opposition was based less on defense of the institution of slavery than on its antipathy to the "isms" that Kossuth's republicanism appeared to embrace. They pointed out with satisfaction that the South was "exempt from the wild vagaries and destructive theories which haunt the imagination of the ism-mongers beyond the Potomac." Southerners, they bragged, were not "carried away like the excitable Northern population, by every windy doctrine." "We have no socialists among us, no anti-renters, abolitionists, communists, polygamists, female lecturers, 'harmonial circles' and sickly sentimentalists," a southern Whig boasted. "Sound wholesome common sense pervades Southern society, and prevents the growth and spread of that ethereal hot house philanthropy which produces so many isms and flourishes so luxuriantly elsewhere." (39)
Kossuth's disappointments, therefore, had much less to do with slavery agitation than with reduced expectations. To some, the man might have possessed the talents and qualities of the Founding Fathers. But others, having discovered ruefully that the late Zachary Taylor fell a great deal short of those pristine ideals, refused to be deceived so quickly again. William Brownlow, still raw over Taylor's election, grunted that history would write down Kossuth "not among the Heroes, but rather among the Humbugs, of which the nineteenth century has been so prolific." With perhaps greater insight, William Dawson of Georgia contrasted Kossuth's visit with that of the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824. "Lafayette, when he came to this country," Dawson remarked, "was received in a manner which was justifiable on the part of the government of that day, because he was connected with the Revolution which gave us the liberties we now enjoy." What connection, he asked contemptuously, did Kossuth have with our past or with the nation's republican institutions? (40)
European revolutionary movements, moreover, had lost much of their earlier attraction. The curse of Europe, John Bell told the Senate, was that the champions of liberty and republicanism acted upon abstractions. "All their theories of society and government--all their ideas of liberty and equality, and the forms they would institute to secure them, are founded upon some preconceived notion of what they conceived to be right and proper without any practical test." Such ultraisms, Bell maintained, "the wild and visionary schemes and theories of society and government of liberty and universal equality ... have brought obloquy upon the very name of republicanism throughout Europe." The central problem, as individuals such as John Appleton of Maine saw it, was that European republicans advocated a rather wrong-headed progress that "like the fabled Phaeton, seizes the reins with passion, drives madly off the course, and nearly engulfs the world in darkness." (41)
Appleton's criticism spoke to an anxiety felt by many Americans that the "bloomerism of politics" that plagued Europe was now infecting the body politic of the United States. A Maine Democrat, for instance, decried "Freesoilerism, Federalism, Temperance, and all the other isms that have tended to operate against the stability of our institutions." Now, a Georgia Whig apprehended, "new ideas of republican government are sought to be infused in the minds of our people by the teachings of European revolutionists." Already there was "the interventionist who goes for pulling the nose of the Russian bear--the abolitionist who advocates northern intervention in southern affairs--and the socialist who is for demolishing the institutions of the present generation." To these were added "the Mormon ... and Mrs. Bloomer ... the 'spiritual rappers' and 'the harmonial circles' who profess to hold communion with the dead ... women's rights conventions, peace congresses, and republicans, fourierites, grahamites, anti renters, strikers, female doctors, prize fighters, communists, screamers and heaven knows what, not to mention the Millerites who are determining by arithmetic when the world and its mad men and women will be burnt up." In fact, he predicted, should the conservative Washington be called from his grave (presumably through the efforts of a harmonial circle), "thousands of men and women ... would vote him the most unmitigated humbug on earth.... They would consider him simply as a curious specimen of antiquity." (42)
Dawson's disdain for ersatz heroes radiated a concern felt by many Americans in the 1850s that increasingly the nation was unable either to recapture the spirit or to agree on the essence of their Revolution. Most recently, Taylor could not summon forth the spirit of Washington. Kossuth evoked no images of Lafayette. As for his plea for intervention, Representative John Wells of New York responded, "Let our sympathies be given out freely to all who believe in our principles.... No intermeddling, sir; no interference with the private affairs of other nations, by no means; no desire or attempt to force or urge our principles upon them." Most Democrats and all Whigs rejected the efforts of Young Americans "to cut up our glorious luminary or liberty into farthing candles, and go about the world to enlighten some spot--a Hungary or a Cuba--overshadowed by a throne or darkened by a despotism." (43)
Americans who loathed and feared the excessive rhetoric and political disorganization that attended the territorial crisis of 1848-1850, placed this degradation in a broader context. Events in France and throughout Europe clearly demonstrated that on the continent "extremes meet in politics. Radicalism [translation: abolitionism] and absolutism [slavepower] employ dogmas that are equally repugnant to the principles of social safety and practicable liberty." Now came Kossuth "not to learn the practical workings of Republicanism, but ... to give us a new exposition of the Constitution, a new exegesis of the principles of Washington and the Fathers of the Republic." To a public that felt itself increasingly alienated from that revolutionary past, this was too much. Presley Ewing of Kentucky believed that to incorporate Kossuth's (and by implication, Young America's) interventionist principles into the American political system would issue in "counter revolution--retrogression." Similarly, Senator James Jones turned his face against "those Utopian schemes of those modern doctrines of progress." His duties in the Senate required him to sustain the Constitution, "not to carry out the dictates of the blind divinity--'Manifest Destiny.'" (44)
In February 1852, while a worried Southern Democrat remarked that "the country was never more unsettled than at the present," another confidently predicted that "Kossuth mania is subsiding." Frederick Grimke agreed. He noted that the Magyar's schemes, though they once "seemed to electrify the American people ... are already vapid." On February 21, 1852, four years to the day after John Quincy Adams suffered his fatal stroke in the House, congressional opponents of Kossuth scheduled "an anti-Kossuth affair" at Willard's Hotel in the capital. On the eve of Washington's birthday, the celebrants adhered to the principles of the former president's Farewell Address. John J. Crittenden, who in less that a decade would invoke these self-same principles in an attempt to save the Union, sardonically commented that he thought himself to "be defective in what is called 'the spirit of the age.' ... I want to stand super antiquas vias--upon the old road that Washington traveled." Alexander Stephens's comments were more revealing. The legacy of the founders, he asserted, "is imperishable." Stephens added a caveat, however. "So long as we remember it, it will render our government and our liberties imperishable; and when we forget it, it will survive in the memory, I trust in God, of some other people more worthy of it." (45)
On February 26, Kossuth left Cincinnati for Madison, Indiana. By now, the crowds had diminished considerably. Only two members of the Cincinnati welcoming committee bothered to see him off. When one began to thank the Magyar for his inspiring words, an irritated Kossuth interrupted. "Sir," he snarled, "I want some freedom, some rest, do not speak to me; please leave." A little more than a week later, Kossuth showed up in Louisville unannounced--and unwelcomed. No societies, associations, or, worse, members of the press paid their respects. His speech was poorly attended, and many who did attend tried to shout him down. His subsequent Southern tour was more of the same: poor crowds, no callers, and precious little money raised. By June, he was as penniless as he had been in December, but now, owing to outstanding financial obligations, he was deeply in debt. Personally and financially embarrassed, the Magnificent Magyar and his wife stole aboard the Cunard Liner Africa under the aliases of "Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Smith." In a sardonic post mortem, a New York editor sniggered, "He entered the city with all the pomp, ceremony, and enthusiasm, which of old attended the victorious general in a Roman triumph, and has left it secretly and in disguise, without a solitary huzza to bid him God Speed." (46)
Kossuth's failure to induce Congress to go to war with the Habsburgs constitutes no watershed in antebellum foreign relations. The idea of any meaningful intervention in Europe, to say nothing of military adventurism, was the perihelion of Young American hyperbole. The political vicissitudes and fragmentation that attended the sectional quarrels over territorial expansion and slavery extension; the disorienting effects of radical, Dorrite politics and a broad-based, widespread reform movement; and a growing sense of declension were all undercurrents that eroded the optimism of the 1840s. Kossuth's mission, a conservative Whig explained, "is mingling with other elements of social discord to which one hardly likes to allude, but which an observing eye readily detects--religious or sectarian feeling and sectional prejudices." Predicting "new strifes fermenting" and "new and unwholesome excitements bursting forth," this critic of Kossuth fretted that "the principles of Government consecrated by unbroken tradition" would be sacrificed "on the altar of this new and yet unknown divinity." (47)
Beyond the impetus that Kossuth's visit gave to the fragmentation of American politics, it also laid bare confusion in the public mind about its own revolutionary past--a confusion that was intimately connected to the altered social and political environment of the late 1840s. Public memory of events like the American Revolution, John Bodnar argues, "emerges from the intersection of official and vernacular expressions." The former is concerned with social unity and institutional continuity. The latter, Bodnar maintains, is a representation of "what society feels like, rather than what it should be like." Kossuth's visit coincided with a transitional period in antebellum America in which sectional agitators and radical reformers were challenging the assumptions and practices of Jacksonian political culture. At the same time, rapid expansion across space and growing distance from the Revolution through time undermined social coherence and national unity. Compounding this disorientation was a generational conflict over the meaning of the Revolution between Young Americans and older, more conservative public officials. Yet as the nation turned its attention to the 1852 presidential canvass, to many the cant of Young America seemed worn. And if Stephen Douglas and others still spoke of sustaining the Democracy in order "to triumph on its old issues," (48) many northerners and southerners remained to be persuaded that the established positions of the party rooted in a common past were either relevant or viable. Today, many still do.
(1.) New-York Daily Tribune, Dec. 5, 1851; Belmont to Buchanan, Dec. 6, 1851, microfilm, reel 18, James Buchanan Papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; New-York Daily Tribune, Dec. 6, 7, 1851.
(2.) Richmond (Ind.) Palladium, Feb. 18, 1852; Allan Nevins, Ordeal of the Union, 2 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1947), 1:548-49. For example, Samuel E. Hibben, an Ohio state senator, wrote that he "voted cheerfully" for all the resolutions supporting Kossuth's mission in principle but was strongly opposed to doing anything meaningful for the Magnificent Magyar. Hibben to Margaret Hibben, Jan. 12, 1852, box 1, folder 3, Samuel Galloway Papers, Ohio Historical Society, Columbus.
(3.) Bradford Perkins, Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations, Vol. 1: The Creation of a Republican Empire, 1776-1865 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993), 13.
(4.) See Henry Blumenthal, A Reappraisal of Franco-American Relations, 1830-1871 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1959), 21-24; Merle Curti, "The Impact of the Revolutions of 1848 on American Thought," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 93 (1949): 209-15; Eugene M. Curtis, "American Opinion of the French Nineteenth Century Revolutions," American Historical Review 29 (Jan. 1924): 25-60; Reginald C. McGrane, "The American Position on the Revolution of 1848 in Germany," Historical Outlook 11(1920): 333-39: Arthur J. May, Contemporary Opinion of Mid-Century Revolutions (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1927), 27-28, 39, 45, 122, 124-27; Merle Curti, "Austria and the United States, 1848-1852, A Study in Diplomatic Relations," Smith College Studies in History 11.3 (1926): 141-42; John W. Oliver, "Louis Kossuth's Appeal to the Middle West," Mississippi Valley Historical Review 14 (Mar. 1928): 468-94; Donald S. Spencer, Louis Kossuth and Young America: A Study in Sectionalism and Foreign Policy, 1848-1852 (Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1977), 53; Sander Szilassy, "America and the Hungarian Revolution of 1848-49," Slavonic and East European Review 44 (Apr. 1966): 192-94. Edwin De Leon of Charleston, South Carolina, initiated in 1845 the ultranationalistic "Young America" movement, which had as its objects unbridled expansion and intervention against the despotisms of Europe. It reached its apogee in the early 1850s and then was eclipsed by growing sectional tensions.
(5.) William Lloyd Garrison, A Letter to Louis Kossuth Concerning Freedom and Slavery in the U.S. (1852; rpt., New York: Arno Press, 1969), 5, 6; Mann to Edward W. Clap, Jan. 5, 1852, Horace Mann Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston; William W. Holden to John W. Ellis, Jan. 26, 1852, in The Papers of John Willis Ellis, ed. Noble J. Tolbert, 2 vols. (Raleigh: State Department of Archives and History, 1964), 1:109; Mississippian (Jackson), Jan. 28, 1852. Kossuth himself complained that he was "being charged from one side with being in the hands of abolitionists and from the other side with being in the hands of slaveholders." Not surprisingly, Kossuth, a man of very low wattage, professed himself "at a loss [as to] what course to take." Kossuth in New England: A Full Account of the Hungarian Governor's Visit to Massachusetts; with His Speeches, and the Addresses That Were Made to Him, carefully revised and corrected (Boston: J. P. Jewett, 1852), 7-8. For a political historian's view of Kossuth, see Richard H. Sewell, A House Divided: Sectionalism and Civil War, 1848-1865 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1988), 37-38. A harmless resolution to congratulate the French people for their 1848 uprising against monarchy became hung up in a sectional debate when Senator John Parker Hale of New Hampshire amended the statement to praise the French provisional government for abolishing slavery in its colonies. Congressional Globe, 30th Cong., 1st sess., 568, 572-79, 592, 598-604, 609-16.
(6.) Paul Connerton, How Societies Remember (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989), 2; John Bodnar, Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1992), 15.
(7.) Joshua Foa Dienstag, "'The Pozsgay Affair': Historical Memory and Political Legitimacy," History and Memory 8 (Spring/Summer 1996): 53; Quentin Skinner, for example, has argued that the triumph of a "Whig" ideology during the English Revolution was "contrived to outlaw rival ideologies which had made use of the same historical information to sustain their claim." Skinner, "History and Ideology in the English Revolution," The Historical Journal 8.2 0965): 160. However, Patrick Hutton has maintained that throughout the nineteenth century France placed its faith in the French Revolution but viewed "this formative experience [as] one which offered a seedbed of new political and social theories." Americans, on the other hand, thought of the work of the revolutionaries as complete, needing only application. Patrick H. Hutton, The Cult of the Revolutionary Tradition: The Blanquists in French Politics, 1864-1893 (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1981), 1.
(8.) Bodnar, Remaking America, 15; Pierre Nora, "Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Memoire," Representations 26 (Spring 1989): 8.
(9.) John Higham, From Boundlessness to Consolidation: The Transformation
of American Culture, 1848-1860 (Ann Arbor: William L. Clements Library, 1969), 18.
(10.) T. L. Wills to Daniel M. Barringer, Oct. 7, 1850, box 2, folder 19, Daniel M. Barringer Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; William A. Graham to James Graham, Jan. 6, 1851, in Papers of William Alexander Graham, ed. J. G. de Roulhac Hamilton and Max R. Williams, 7 vols. (Raleigh: State Department of Archives and History, 1957-84), 4:3.
(11.) Higham, From Boundlessness to Consolidation. See also Fred Somkin, Unquiet Eagle: Memory and Desire in the Idea of American Freedom, 1815-1860 (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1976); and especially, Lewis Perry, Boats Against the Current: American Culture between Revolution and Modernity, 1820-1860 (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1933), chaps. 5-7.
(12.) Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.), Feb. 22, 28, 1848; Marie B. Hecht, John Quincy Adams: A Personal History of an Independent Man (New York: Macmillan 1972), 626-27.
(13.) Daily National Intelligencer, Feb. 25, 1848.
(14.) Higham, From Boundlessness to Consolidation, 17; Perry, Boats Against the Current, 47-54.
(15.) Perry, Boats Against the Current, 47; Michael A. Morrison, Slavery and the American West: The Eclipse of Manifest Destiny and the Coming of the American Civil War, 1844-1861 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1997), 7-8, 276-77, passim. For a recent, trenchant analysis of public memory of the Revolutionary War in the early republic, see Sarah J. Purcell, Sealed with Blood: War, Sacrifice, and Memory in Revolutionary America (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2002).
(16.) Rush to James Buchanan, Feb. 24, 1848, despatch no. 16, reel 34, Despatches from U.S. Representatives to France, Record Group 59, National Archives and Records Services, Washington, D.C.; Bancroft to George Sumner, Mar. 1848, George Bancroft Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston; Walker to I. E. Dow, Apr. 12, 1848, Robert J. Walker Letterbook, Darlington Memorial Library, Univ. of Pittsburgh; New York Evening Post, Mar. 20, 1848; Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, Apr. 20, 1848. On the same day that the Paris mob forced Louis-Philippe to abdicate and as John Quincy Adams lay in state, Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto was delivered to a London publisher. If Adams's death marked the passing of one generation of revolutionaries, Marx's Manifesto heralded the dawn of another, very different revolutionary movement.
(17.) Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, Apr. 5, 1848; "The French Republic," United States Magazine and Democratic Review 23 (July 1848): 62; Donelson to James K. Polk, Feb. 22, 1848, microfilm, series 2, reel 52, James K. Polk Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Bancroft to James Buchanan, Mar. 24, 1848, Bancroft Papers; Polk to Richard Rush, Apr. 18, 1848, microfilm, series 2, reel 52, Polk Papers.
(18.) Cleveland Daily Plain Dealer, Apr. 27, 1848, Philadelphia Public Ledger, Apr. 22, 1848; Ticknor to Charles Lyell, Apr. 5, 1848, in George Ticknor, Life, Letters, and Journals of George Ticknor, ed. George S. Hilliard, 2 vols. (Boston: J. R. Osgood, 1876), 2:230; New York Evening Post, Apr. 29, 1848; Charleston Mercury, Apr. 28, 1848.
(19.) New York Evening Post, Mar. 29, 1848; Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, Mar. 28, 1848; Congressional Globe, 30th Cong., 1st. sess., app., 461, 558; Detroit Daily Free Press, Apr. 27, 1848.
(20.) Donelson to Polk, Feb. 22, 1848, microfilm, series 2, reel 52, Polk Papers; Calhoun to Thomas G. Calhoun, Apr. 1, Mar. 22, 1848, Calhoun to James Edward Calhoun, Apr. 15, 1848, Calhoun to Mrs. Thomas G. Clemson, Apr. 7, 1848, all in J. Franklin Jameson, ed., "Correspondence of John (2. Calhoun," Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1899, 2 vols. (Washington D.C., 1900), 2:747. In 1841 Rhode Island was still operating under its colonial charter of 1663, which, among other things, sharply limited manhood suffrage. After a conservative legislature blocked all efforts at reform, Thomas L. Dorr and his followers organized a People's party, held a convention, and drafted a new constitution. They submitted their extralegal handiwork to the public, which overwhelmingly endorsed it. The legitimate government submitted its own revised constitution (which did little to expand the franchise); it was narrowly voted down. The Dorrites set up their own government with Dorr as governor. In 1842, Rhode Island had two functioning governments. The Dorrites were arrested as rebels and imprisoned. The episode frightened conservatives throughout the nation, and it suggested the darker side of popular sovereignty run rampant.
(21.) Rush to Buchanan, Apr. 18, May 10, 1848, despatches nos. 23 and 28, Despatches from France, RG 59; Paulding to Martin Van Buren, Apr. 16, 1848, Paulding to John C. Calhoun, Apr. 5, 1848, in The Letters of James Kirke Paulding, ed. Ralph M. Aderman (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1962), 479, 474-76.
(22.) R. Wheaton, "The Revolutions of 1848 in Sicily," North American Review 69 (Oct. 1849): 506; Calhoun to Mrs. T. C. Clemson, Apr. 7, 1848, in Jameson, ed., "Correspondence of Calhoun," 752, 753; Paulding to Calhoun, Apr. 5, 1848, in Aderman, ed., Letters of Paulding, 474-76.
(23.) Dallas to Philip Dallas, Apr. 1, 1848, box 11, George Mifflin Dallas Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania; Bancroft to Buchanan, Apr. 24, 1848, Bancroft Papers; Detroit Daily Free Press, Apr. 21, 1848.
(24.) Rush to Buchanan, Oct. 21, 1848, despatch no. 56, Despatches from France, RG 59; Calhoun to Mrs. Thomas G. Clemson, June 23, 1848, in Jameson, ed. "Correspondence of Calhoun," 758; Ticknor to George S. Hilliard, July 17, 1848, in Hilliard, ed., Life 2:234-45; Boston Courier, Sept. 11, 1848.
(25.) Rush to Buchanan, Dec. 16, 1848, despatch no. 67, Despatches from France, RG 59; Everett to Bancroft, Apr. 14, 1849, Bancroft Papers; Charleston Mercury, Nov. 20, 1849. The same fall that one military man became president in France, another, Zachary Taylor, became president in the United States. Taylor, the "Hero of Buena Vista," was a man with no established party identification and no clear personal views. He had never voted. He could, however, spit chewing tobacco farther and with greater accuracy than any American president elected before or since. Democrats, bested in the campaign, became apoplectic and more than a little sardonic when Whig editors criticized the election of Bonaparte. "How exactly does [the French election] tell the history of the late contest in the United States," one Tennessee editor scoffed. "Gen Cass, one of the most splendid men of his age, is thrust aside to make room for a man whose only claim was the fighting of three or four battles, and whose civil qualifications for the office were below those of any justice of the peace in the State of Tennessee!" Nashville Daily Union, Jan. 15, 1849.
(26.) New York Evening Post, July 30, 1849; Pensacola Gazette, May 20, 1848; "The Conspiracy of Fanaticism," United States Magazine and Democratic Review 26 (May 1850): 393, 392-93, 385.
(27.) David Potter, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), 16.
(28.) Congressional Globe, 32d Cong., 1st sess., 23, 24, app., 211; "Kossuth, the Orator and Statesman," American Whig Review 15 (Jan. 1852): 78.
(29.) "Antiquated foundations" quoted in Higham, From Boundlessness to Consolidation, 18; Paulding to Van Buren, Apr. 16, 1848, in Aderman, ed., Letters of Paulding, 479.
(30.) Spencer, Louis Kossuth, 5-9; John H. Komlos, Kossuth in America, 1851-1852 (Buffalo: East European Institute, 1973), 78-81; Daily National Intelligencer, Dec. 9, 1851; "Eboracensis" to the editor, Jan. 8, 1852, printed in ibid.; Jan. 10, 1852; Frank Blair, Sr., to Martin Van Buren, Jan. 1, 1852, microfilm, reel 32, Martin Van Buren Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.. P. T. Barnum was the mastermind of the wildly successful Jenny Lind tour. He was also the master of the humbug. After one brainstorm, the "Great Buffalo Hunt," blew up in New Jersey, the audience that took part in the debacle, "instantly gave three cheers for the author of the humbug, whoever he may be." Kossuth's fans, it would seem, had more in common with the "Great Buffalo Hunt" participants than those of Jenny Lind. P. T. Barnum, Struggles and Triumphs, or Forty Years of Recollections of P T. Barnum, ed. Carl Bode (New York: Penguin Books, 1981), 125-26; Neil Harris, Humbug: The Art of P. T. Barnum (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1973), 61.
(31.) Komlos, Kossuth in America, 84-94; The Welcome of Louis Kossuth, Governor of Hungary, To Philadelphia, by the Youth, December 26, 1851 (Philadelphia: P. H. Skinner, 1852), x, 82; Blair to Van Buren, Jan. 1, 1852, microfilm, reel 32, Van Buren Papers; Jackson Democratic Association, Proceedings at the Banquet of the Jackson Democratic Association, January 8, 1852 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Globe Office, 1852), 2-3; Spencer, Louis Kossuth, 115. Kossuth ran up a $4,566.32 bill during his stay, partly as a result of his entourage's trashing of the Willard Hotel. Although neither Congress nor the president was inclined to pay the debt off, the congressional welcoming committee had already promised Kossuth that the government would foot his bill. Congress voted, reluctantly, 31-6 to pay. After some hasty tabulations, one congressman later complained that Kossuth spent $14.70 a day when the government was paying for his expenses, but only $3.08 when the Magnificent Magyar picked up the tab.
(32.) Congressional Globe, 32d Cong., 1st sess., 24, 22, app., 209.
(33.) Pittsburgh Daily Morning Post, Dec. 19, 1851; "Civis" printed in Richmond Enquirer, Jan. 23, 1852; Congressional Globe, 32d Cong., 1st sess., app., 385; Pittsburgh Daily Morning Post, Dec. 17, 1851.
(34.) Howard Schuman and Jacqueline Scott, "Generations and Collective Memories," American Sociological Review 54 (June 1989): 377-79; Connerton, How Societies Remember, 3; George B. Forgie, Patricide in the House Divided: A Psychological Interpretation of Lincoln and His Age (New York: Norton, 1979), 109. A New Jersey Whig attempted to hoist Young American Democrats with their own petard when he pointed out that intervention--civil, religious, moral, and physical--had driven the Puritans to the New World, sparked the Revolution, and prompted Americans to defend their rights in the War of 1812. Congressional Globe, 32d Cong. 1st. sess, app., 215.
(35.) "T" to the editor, Dec. 22, 1851, printed in Washington Daily Union, Dec. 24, 1851; Richmond Palladium, Feb. 18, 1852; Robert Goodenow to Mary Goodenow, Dec. 14, 30, 1851, box 1, folder 6, Goodenow Family Papers, Maine Historical Society, Portland; Pickens to J. Edward Calhoun, Jan. 17, 1852, box 2, Francis Wilkinson Pickens Papers, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia. The word "hobby" characterized any political issue that a politician could ride into office. The snide reference to Cuban liberators was aimed at Narciso Lopez who led invasions to Cuba in 1850 and 1851. Though a majority of Americans had little use for him (the editor William Brownlow thought him a "dog"), they were disheartened when the Cuban people failed to rally to his cause. (Lopez was captured on his last filibustering expedition and garroted in front of a very large and enthusiastic crowd.) More telling, just as Kossuth's opponents condemned his supporters for their rashness and impudence, so, too, did Lopez's critics see American filibusters as "ignorant, conceited, young men." Knoxville Whig, June 1, 1850; Philadelphia Public Ledger, Apr. 28, 1851. For support of Lopez, see Robert E. May, Manifest Destiny's Underworld: Filibustering in Antebellum America (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2002), 157-58.
(36.) Albany Daily Register reprinted in Daily National Intelligencer, Dec. 29, 1851; ibid., Dec. 22, 1851; "T" to the editor, Dec. 22, 1851, in Washington Daily Union, Dec. 24, 1851; Daily National Intelligencer, Dec. 13, 1851. Ironically, Kossuth complained that the chief obstacle to his mission that he encountered was the demagogic politics that swirled around him during his tour. "Kossuth's First Speech in Faneuil Hall, April 29, 1852," reprinted in Old South Leaflets (Boston: Directors of the Old South Work, 1902), no. 111, 15.
(37.) Henry A. Wise to James Buchanan, Jan. 25, 1852, microfilm, reel 18, Buchanan Papers; Boston Courier reprinted in Daily National Intelligencer, Dec. 24, 1851; Robert Hall Morrison to Graham, Feb. 3, 1852, in Hamilton, ed., Papers of Graham 4:247; Congressional Globe, 32d Cong., 1st sess., app., 212; Nathan Sargent, Public Men and Events from the Commencement of Mr. Monroe's Administration in 1817, to the Close of Mr. Fillmore's Administration in 1852, 2 vols. (1875; rpt. New York: Da Capo Press, 1970), 2:383. The nativistic overtones of Kossuth's visit seem clear. Nathaniel Banks believed that Kossuth could deliver the German vote in the Midwest to the Democrats in 1852. An adviser to the presumed (and ultimate) Democratic nominee Franklin Pierce warned him that the Magnificent Magyar, who was by June 1852 damaged goods, was anxious to work the foreign element for the party. Most historians, including Merle Curti and Donald Spencer, note widespread opposition among Catholics to Kossuth. However that may be, Ben: Perley Poore made a suggestive observation that has been overlooked by historians and which is worthy of further investigation. He claimed that the main effect of Kossuth's visit was to give "an extraordinary impetus" to nativism and, in particular, "The Order of United Americans," which evolved into the nativist American or "Know Nothing" party. Donald Spencer's study of the Kossuth tour notes Catholic opposition (with qualifications), but he makes no mention of a nativist backlash. The latest and best book on the Know Nothings in the North makes no mention of Kossuth. Nathaniel P. Banks to Caleb Cushing, June 9, 1852, box 61, Caleb Cushing Papers, Library of Congress; Jacob Thompson to Franklin Pierce, June 1852, box 2, folder 7, Franklin Pierce Papers, New Hampshire Historical Society, Concord; Curti, "Impact of the Revolutions of 1848 on American Thought," 253; Spencer, Louis Kossuth, 129; Ben: Perley Poore, Perley's Reminiscences of Sixty Years in the National Metropolis (Tecumseh: A. W. Mills, ), 406; Tyler Anbinder, Nativism & Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings & the Politics of the 1850s (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1992).
(38.) Seward to William Schouler, Jan. 12, 1852, William Schouler Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston; Sumner to George Sumner, Jan. 5, 1852, in Memoirs and Letters of Charles Sumner, ed. Edward L. Pierce, 4 vols. (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1877-1893), 3:271; Sumner to Samuel Gridley Howe, Dec. 13, 1851, Charles Sumner Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard Univ., Cambridge; Spencer, Louis Kossuth, 69. The Wilmot Proviso, introduced during the Mexican-American War, would have prohibited slavery in the territory acquired as a result of the war. Southerners, slaveholders and nonslaveholders, considered this attack on slavery expansion as subverting the equality of that section within the Union.
(39.) Savannah Daily Republican, Feb. 18, 1852; Mississippian, Jan. 28, 1852; J. Mills Thornton III, Politics and Power in a Slave Society: Alabama, 1800-1860 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1978), 208-9, 215.
(40.) Savannah Daily Republican, Feb. 18, 1852; Congressional Globe, 32d Cong., 1st sess., 22, app., 208; Knoxville Whig, Jan. 31, 1852; Morrison, Slavery and the American West, 134-35. Taylor and his managers created a Washingtonesque image of the general, which, they hoped, would not only ensure his election but would help the nation overcome sectional divisions. Like Washington, Taylor was celebrated not for a character that was unique but because he exemplified the essential qualities, moral and intellectual, shared by the entire revolutionary generation. An Illinois editor claimed that Taylor, if elected "would in the station of the President, render him second to no man who has been elevated to that exalted preeminence, save our WASHINGTON." Sectional tensions, however, increased during his short-lived presidency, and "Old Rough and Ready" proved to be singularly maladroit as chief executive. The president, one supporter sighed, "is not considered so rough as has been expected,--unluckily, too, he is not found to be half as ready." A less charitable critic snarled, that Taylor was "an honest, plain, unpretending old man but about as fit to be President as any New England farmer." Taylor died in the summer of 1850, less than halfway through his four-year term. Sangamo (Springfield, Ill.) Journal, June 15, 1848; John H. Payne to William L. Marcy, Apr. 22, 1849, vol. 16, William L. Marcy Papers, Library of Congress; "New England farmer" quoted in Nevins, Ordeal 1:260.
(41.) Congressional Globe, 32d Cong., 1st sess., 24, app., 441, 318.
(42.) Joseph Hall to John Y. Mason, Apr. 26, 1852, box 8, section 24, Mason Family Papers, Library of Virginia, Richmond; Columbus Enquirer, May 4, 1852; Savannah Daily Republican, Feb. 10, 1852; Morrison, Slavery and the American West, 134.
(43.) Congressional Globe, 32d Cong., 1st sess., app., 789, 214.
(44.) Washington Daily Union, Dec. 27, 1851; New York Mirror reprinted in Daily National Intelligencer, Dec. 13, 1851; Congressional Globe, 32d Cong., 1st sess., app., 531, 308, 304.
(45.) Morrison to Graham, Feb. 3, 1852, in Hamilton, ed., Papers of Graham 4:246; Frederick Grimke to William Greene, June 18, 1852, box 4, William Greene Papers, Cincinnati Historical Society, Cincinnati; Perley Poore, Perley's Reminiscences, 405; The Life of John J. Crittenden, with Selections from his Correspondence and Speeches, ed. Ann M. B. Coleman, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1871), 2:34; Stephens quoted ibid., 27, 31.
(46.) Komlos, Kossuth in America, 121-22, 162; Spencer, Louis Kossuth, 168; New York Herald, July 22, 1852. Kossuth's Southern tour did have one highlight. In New Orleans, he met with John T. Pickett of Kentucky. The two tentatively agreed upon a plan to organize a filibustering expedition against--HAITI! The horizons of expansionist-minded Young Americas were vast, but the annexation of Haiti was somewhere over the rainbow even for the most rabid.
(47.) "R" to the editors, Daily National Intelligencer, Dec. 27, 1851.
(48.) Bodnar, Remaking America, 15; Congressional Globe, 32d Cong., 1st sess., app., 68. Voter turnout in 1852 confirms the malaise of the second-party system. As measured against the number of eligible voters, turnout sank to its lowest level since 1836. Not until 1904 would the percentage of turnout again be as low. Despite rapid population growth, turnout dropped absolutely in some states. Between 1848 and 1852, nonvoters rose from 33 to 64 percent in Alabama, from 11 to 54 percent in Mississippi, and from 51 to 54 percent in Louisiana. In the Old Northwest, the Democratic vote in 1852 declined by one-sixth from 1848, the Whig by one-eleventh, and the Free-Soil by nearly 50 percent. W. Dean Burnham, Presidential Ballots, 1836-1892 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1955), 47-48.
MICHAEL A. MORRISON is associate professor of history at Purdue University and co-editor of the Journal of the Early Republic. He is the author of Slavery and the American West: The Eclipse of Manifest Destiny and the Coming of the Civil War (1997) and co-editor with James Brewer Stewart of Race and the Early Republic: Racial Consciousness and Nation-Building in the Early Republic (2002). In 1998 he was named Indiana Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
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|Author:||Morrison, Michael A.|
|Publication:||Civil War History|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2003|
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