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8 - The Compact and the Election of 1836

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 October 2020

Simon J. Gilhooley
Affiliation:
Bard College, New York
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Summary

This chapter explores the emergence of the question of abolition within the District of Columbia in the presidential campaign of 1836. Over the course of the presidential campaign, Martin Van Buren sought to hone his position on the question of abolition in the District in response to the pressures he faced from southern Whigs. From an early position that abolition in the District would be inexpedient or impolitic, Van Buren shifted by his inaugural address to the position that such action was counter to “the spirit that actuated the venerated fathers of the republic,” while through campaign materials, public meetings, and official addresses, the Democrats developed the view that abolitionist activity aimed at altering the extant inter-State settlement on slavery was counter to the “spirit of deference, conciliation and mutual forbearance” that underwrote the federal compact. This approach enabled Van Buren and the Democrats to successfully navigate the 1836 election, but it also legitimized an appeal to spirit as a method of resolving constitutional disputes that had significant longer-term effects.

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The Antebellum Origins of the Modern Constitution
Slavery and the Spirit of the American Founding
, pp. 187 - 213
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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