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Fast as the mails could carry it, the bewildering news thrilled the heart of America. To the energetic youth of the Northern States the charm was irresistible. It was now, indeed, a reproach to be poor, when it was so easy to be rich.
The journey to the land of promise was full of toil and danger. There were over two thousand miles of unexplored wilderness to traverse. There were mountain ranges to
surmount, lofty and rugged as the Alps themselves. There were great desolate plains, unwatered and without vegetation. Indians, whose dispositions there was reason to question, beset the path. But danger was unconsidered. That season thirty thousand Americans crossed the plains, climbed the mountains, forded the streams, bore without shrinking all that want, exposure, and fatigue could inflict. Cholera broke out among them, and four thousand left their bones in the wilderness. The rest
The Fugitive Slave Law.
plodded on undismayed. Fifty thousand came by sea. From all countries they came, -- from quiet English villages, , from the crowded cities of China. Before the year was out California had gained an addition of eighty thousand to her population.
These came mainly from the Northern States. They had no thought of suffering in their new home the special institution of the South. They settled easily the Constitution of their State, and California was received into the Union free from the taint of slavery.
It was no slight disappointment to the men of the South. They had urged on the war with Mexico in order to gain new slave States, new votes in Congress, additional room for the spread of slavery. They had gained all the territory they hoped for, but this strange revelation of gold had peopled it from the North, and slavery was shut out for ever.
As a kind of compromise or concession, Congress now passed the Fugitive Slave Law. Zachary Taylor was elected President in 1848. He died in the summer after his inauguration, and was succeeded by Vice-President Millard Fillmore of New York. It was during Mr. Fillmore's administration that the Fugitive Slave Law was enacted.
Heretofore it had been lawful for the slave-owner to reclaim his slave who had escaped into a free State ; but, although lawful, it was in practice almost impossible. Now the officers of the government, and all good citizens, were commanded to give to the pursuer all needful help. In certain cases government was to defray the expense of restoring the slave to the plantation from which he had fled. In any trial arising under this law, the evidence of the slave himself was not to be received. The oath of his pursuer was almost decisive against him. The law was so unpopular that its execution was resisted in several Northern cities, and it quickly passed into disuse.
KANSAS AND JOHN BROWN.
The great Louisiana purchase from Napoleon was not yet wholly portioned off into States. Westward and northward of Missouri was an enormous expanse of the richest land in the Union, having as yet few occupants more profitable than the Indians. Two great routes of travel — to the West and to the South-west traversed it. The eager searcher for gold passed that way on his long walk to California. The Mormon looked with indifference on its luxuriant vegetation as he toiled on to his New Jerusalem by the Great Salt Lake. In the year 1853 it was proposed to organize this region into two Territories, under the names of Kansas and Nebraska. Here once more arose the old question, Shall the Territories be slave or free? The Missouri Compromise had settled that slavery should never come here. But the slave-owners were able to cancel this settlement. A law was enacted under which the inhabitants were left to choose between slavery and freedom. The vote of a majority would decide the destiny of these magnificent provinces.
And now both parties had to bestir themselves. The early inhabitants of the infant States were to fix for all time whether they would admit or exclude the slave-owner with his victims. Every thing depended, therefore, on taking early possession.
The South was first in the field. Missouri was near, and her citizens led the way. Great slave-owners took