Front Matter The Beginning of the U.S Franklin's Return Troubles After the War The Constitution The First President Washington's Troubles A Wonderful Invention Death of Washington The U.S. Buys Land War With African Pirates Death of Somers The First Steamboat The Gerrymander The War of 1812 "Don't Give Up the Ship" The Star-Spangled Banner Clinton's "Big Ditch" More Land Bought Jackson Stories Jackson's Presidency New Inventions Whitman's Ride The Mormons The First Telegraph The Mexican War The Slavery Quarrel Daniel Webster's Youth Webster's Speeches Early Times in California Discovery of El Dorado Rush to California The Underground Railroad The First World's Fair John Brown's Raid Lincoln's Youth The First Shot The Call to Arms The President's Decision Admiral Farragut The Monitor and Merrimac The Penninsular Campaign Barbara Frietchie Lincoln's Vow The Battle of Gettysburg The Taking of Vicksburg Riots, Raids, and Battles The Burning of Atlanta The March to the Sea Sheridan's Ride The Doings of the Fleet Lee's Surrender Decoration Day Lincoln Stories Lincoln's Rebukes A President's Son A Noble Southerner Hard Times in the South The Atlantic Cable Best Way to Settle Quarrels Our One Hundredth Birthday Gold for Greenbacks A Clever Engineer Death of Garfield The Celebration at Yorktown The Great Statue A Terrible Flood Lynch Law The Great White City The Explosion of the Maine The Battle of Manila Hobson's Brave Deed Surrender of Santiago The Hawaiian Islands The Annexation of Hawaii The Philippine War Assassination of McKinley The Panama Canal Roosevelt's Administration Two Presidents German Views The World War Since the World War

Story of the Great Republic - Helene Guerber

The Underground Railroad

In 1849 General Zachary Taylor became twelfth President of the United States. He had served in the War of 1812, and had won many friends by his victories in Mexico. All who fought there with him admired him greatly, and affectionately called him "Old Rough and Ready."

But, the year after his inauguration, Taylor died, and Vice President Millard Fillmore took his place. He was able and honest, and had been a workman, school-teacher, and lawyer before he became a politician.

Several interesting things happened while Fillmore was President. For instance, it was then that the first measures were taken to build a railroad from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean. This road was to make the journey so short and easy that there would be no more need of crossing the continent in emigrant wagons.

Besides, Fillmore soon saw that it would be a fine thing if the Americans living in California could trade with Japan. In those days, however, the Emperor of Japan feared strangers and would not allow any foreign vessels to come into his ports, except a few Dutch ships. Hoping to make him change his mind, and to get to sign a treaty which would open his ports for American trade; President Fillmore sent him a letter and several present's, among which were mechanical inventions which had never been seen in Japan before.

As there was then no postal service between the United States and Japan, this letter was given to Commodore Perry, the brother of the hero of Lake Erie. Although told to be very friendly with the Japanese, he was sent out with seven war ships, so that he could hold his own if attacked. Perry delivered his letter, and after long delays finally got the Emperor of Japan to make a trade treaty with the United States.

The main trouble at home during Fillmore's rule was the old quarrel between the slavery and antislavery parties. For a time it had slumbered, but the fact that California wished to join the Union as a free state, started it up again with new fury. Men got excited over it, and the Capitol rang with the speeches of Calhoun, Clay, Seward, and Webster. The quarrel raged until Clay, the "peacemaker," finally suggested the bills forming what is known as the "Compromise of 1850."

Each party again gave up something to please the other, deciding that California should be a free state, but that Utah and New Mexico should form territories where slavery would be allowed or forbidden, just as the people settling there wished. Besides, to satisfy the Texans, who said that part of New Mexico belonged to them, ten million dollars was given in exchange for it. Clay's bill for settling all these questions was called the "Omnibus Bill."

The Compromise of 1850 also decided that slaves should no longer be bought and sold in the District of Columbia, although members of Congress and others might still keep their slave servants.

A law had long been in existence which, in accordance with the Constitution, allowed slaveholders to go into free states to claim their runaway slaves. But instead of helping the owners, the Northern people often hid the negroes who besought their aid, and helped them to escape. They did this because they believed that slavery was wrong and that it was better to break such a law than to keep it.

A fugitive slave


To stop this practice, a new fugitive-slave act was included in the Compromise of 1850; but before long it made a great deal of trouble. Slaves who had run away many years before were now seized in the North and brought back by force to their masters. The poor negroes, who had thought themselves safe, naturally made a loud outcry when caught, and so roused the pity of people in the North that they several times rescued them from their captors.

As slaves were no longer safe in any part of our country, kind-hearted people who thought more of their suffering than of obeying the law, now sent them into Canada. But, not daring to oppose the law openly, they forwarded them secretly from place to place, hidden under loads of hay, packed in barrels, or done up in queer=shaped parcels. These were passed on from one person to another, who thus formed what was known as the "underground railroad."

Of course, the sight of slave catchers in the Northern towns made people talk and write more than ever against slavery. All agreed that the trouble had begun in 1619, when the first negroes were sold in Virginia, and that it had steadily grown worse. Many people in the South also thought slavery an evil, but they added that their negroes were so ignorant and helpless that they had to be treated like children, for they would starve if left to themselves.

Still, there were also many others who insisted that it was only right that negroes should serve white men. These people were very angry when Northern papers were sent south, or when their slaves were taught to read, for they said any knowledge the colored people gained would only make them discontented with their lot.