Monday, October 7, 2013

Fall From Favor: Massachusetts U.S. Representative Charles Hudson’s Address to the Citizens of His District

The sum of my offending, as you all know, consists in this: I preferred Gen. Taylor to Martin Van Buren. I exercised the right of every freeman, and gave my vote in accordance with the dictates of my own conscience.

In 1849 in Washington D.C., Massachusetts U.S. Representative Charles Hudson of penned a 12-page address to the citizens of Massachusetts’ 5th congressional district, which he represented, regarding his retirement from office.  Still reeling from his (possibly expected) failure to secure reelection, and from the constant accusations hurled against him (“cowardice and pro-slavery, desertion and treachery”), the published speech was intended as an explanation and justification of the beliefs he held and the choices he made, as unpopular as they were among his fellow Whigs and supporters, during the latter part of his tenure in office.

As a member of the Whig party, which was prevalent in Massachusetts and other northern states, Hudson strongly opposed slavery and the further annexation and admittance of territories into the Union.  This was most apparent in 1845 when the annexation of Texas became a hot button issue in Congress.  Hudson and his fellow Whigs feared that Texas would eventually establish itself as a slave state and wield substantial congressional influence, putting northern anti-slavery states at a great disadvantage.  Despite the opposition’s protests, Texas was admitted into the Union during that same year.

Hudson’s fall from favor occurred in 1848 at the conclusion of the presidential election.  Three candidates were on the ticket: Zachary Taylor (Whig), Louis Cass (Democrat), and former president Martin Van Buren (Free Soil).  Despite Taylor’s party affiliation, he was a southerner and former slave-owner—which did not sit well with Whigs in the north.  Cass’ campaign favored the annexation of territories and threatened to not sign any bills that included the Wilmot Proviso, which went against the Whigs’ political policies.  Instead, they gave preference to Van Buren, a northerner and former Whig who chose to run as a third-party candidate.  Unfortunately, Van Buren’s unpopularity, resulting from his administration’s inaction during the Panic of 1837, was still high, and Hudson felt that a vote for the former president was essentially throwing it away; in other words, voting for Van Buren would ultimately benefit Cass.  Against his party’s wishes, Hudson, who argues that he “exercised the right of every freeman” and never swayed from his principles, voted for Taylor.  The backlash the legislator received from his fellow party members, supporters, and friends— who all felt he betrayed the Whigs’ political cause—was ugly and personal, and Hudson was not reelected for another term.

The original 1849 publication, titled An address of Charles Hudson, of Mass., to the citizens of the fifth congressional district of that state, on retiring from the Office of Representative in Congress, can be viewed in person in the library; it’s also available online

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department