# -2: Right to Instruct [Shade]

NOTES:

Shade, William G. “The Most Delicate and Exciting Topics”: Martin Van Buren, Slavery, and the Election of 1836. Journal of the Early Republic, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Autumn, 1998), pp. 459-484.

Point:  “They were well aware that the right of instruction was a crucial element of the Republican dogma in the minds of southern strict constructionists and that it had been at the center of recent elections in the Old Dominion and elsewhere in the South”

Quotes:

“At first Van Buren simply reaffirmed his belief that slavery was Subject to the exclusive control of the states. As the attacks increased and his southern supporters requested additional help, defense of Van Buren became more specific. Although these letters often included other matters such as the tariff, internal improvements, or the Bank of the United States emphasizing Van Buren’s adherence to strict ‘Virginia principles,’ the greatest effort went to defending his past behavior and detailing his present stance on the slave question. In relation to the former, friends attempted to explain his position on the Missouri Compromise and his vote for black suffrage in the 1821 Convention.

“Since he had not been in Congress, there were no damaging votes on the Tallmadge amendment; he had not attended the Albany meeting and refused to sign the resolutions supporting restriction. Basically his defenders argued that both his vote for the New York legislative resolutions and his support of the “abolitionist” Rufus King were purely political moves. On the former matter, Benjamin Butler and Silas Wright maintained that he opposed the resolutions, but agreed to go along with his state. They were well aware that the right of instruction was a crucial element of the Republican dogma in the minds of southern strict constructionists and that it had been at the center of recent elections in the Old Dominion and elsewhere in the South” (469-470, italics mine).

Evidence of last sentence: Clement Eaton, The Freedom-of-Thought Struggle in the Old South (1940; rev. ed., New York, 1964), 353-75.

“The position inspired the indignation of Virginian Henry Wise, who Had recently joined the Whig opposition, and some other advocates of the Doctrines of ’98, but to the chagrin of Calhoun, southern Democrats rallied to support solidly Pinckney’s resolutions. The states’ rights Unionists again were testing Calhoun as they had in the nullification Controversy when even Virginia did not come to his defense. A select Committee under Pinckney’s direction was to handle further petitions and Instructed to report ‘that Congress ought not interfere in any way with Slavery in the District of Columbia.’ The future Democratic president, James K. Polk, then Speaker of the House, was exuberant:

All things are looking well here. The political agitators of the opposition, in the North and in the South will be unable to get up an excitement on the slave question, which they can turn to political account. The unanimous vote of the friends of Mr. V. Buren (with less than half a dozen exceptions) on Pinckney’s resolutions, must satisfy the country that they are sound upon that subject…. There can not be a remaining doubt of Van Buren’s election.

“During the delay of several months before this committee finally reported to Congress, Van Buren penned one of his major campaign documents on the slavery issue. In response to an inquiry of a North Carolina committee headed by Junius Amis, concerning his views on the Question of congressional power to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, Van Buren stated at length his position-and that of the Democratic Republican party”  (476-477).

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