[Sidenote] Buchanan, Annual Message, December 8, 1857.
The language of this message discloses with what subtle ingenuity words, phrases, definitions, ideas, and theories were being invented and plied to broaden and secure every conquest of the pro-slavery reaction. An elaborate argument was made to defend the enormities of the Lecompton Constitution. The doctrine of the Silliman letter, that “slavery exists in Kansas under the Constitution of the United States,” was assumed as a conceded theory. “In emerging from the condition of territorial dependence into that of a sovereign State,” the people might vote “whether this important domestic institution should or should not continue to exist.” “Domestic institutions” was defined to mean slavery. “Free to form and regulate their domestic institutions”—the phrase employed in the Kansas-Nebraska act—was construed to mean a vote to continue or discontinue slavery. And “if any portion of the inhabitants shall refuse to vote, a fair opportunity to do so having been presented, ... they alone will be responsible for the consequences.” “Should the constitution without slavery be adopted by the votes of the majority, the rights of property in slaves now in the Territory are reserved.... These slaves were brought into the Territory under the Constitution of the United States and are now the property of their masters. This point has at length been finally decided by the highest judicial tribunal of the country.”
However blind Buchanan might be to the fact that this extreme interpretation shocked and alarmed the sentiment of the North; that if made before the late Presidential campaign it would have defeated his own election; and that if rudely persisted in, it might destroy the Democratic ascendency in the future, the danger was obvious and immediately vital to Douglas. His senatorial term was about to expire. To secure a reelection he must carry the State of Illinois in 1858, which had on an issue less pronounced than this defeated his colleague Shields in 1854, and his lieutenant Richardson in 1856. But more than this, his own personal honor was as much involved in his pledges to the voters of Illinois as had been that of Governor Walker to the voters of Kansas. His double-dealing caucus bargain had thus placed him between two fires—party disgrace at Washington and popular disgrace in Illinois. In such a dilemma his choice could not be doubtful. At all risk he must endeavor to sustain himself at home.
[Sidenote] Douglas, Senate Speech, December 9, 1857. “Globe,” p. 18.
He met the encounter with his usual adroitness and boldness. Assuming that the President had made no express recommendation, he devoted his speech mainly to a strong argument of party expediency, repelling without reserve and denouncing without stint the work of the Lecompton Convention. “Stand by the doctrine,” said he, “that leaves the people perfectly free to form and regulate their institutions