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nominating convention with instructions to vote for one of his own competitors, Colonel Edward D. Baker, the gallant gentleman and brilliant orator who fell at Ball’s Bluff. The prize was finally carried off by Colonel John J. Hardin, who afterward died at Buena Vista. By a change of election periods the next convention was held in 1844, and this time Lincoln publicly declined to make a contest for the nomination against Colonel Baker, who accordingly received it and was elected. It has been said that an agreement was made between Hardin, Baker, Lincoln, and Judge Logan, whereby each should be allowed one term in Congress, without competition on the part of any of the others; but the story does not seem altogether trustworthy, nor wholly corroborated by the facts. Possibly there may have been a courteous understanding between them. It has, however, been spoken of as a very reprehensible bargain, and Lincoln has been zealously defended against the reproach of having entered into it. Why, if indeed it ever was made, it had this objectionable complexion is a point in the inscrutable moralities of politics which is not plain to those uninitiated in these ethical mysteries.

In the year 1846 Lincoln again renewed his pursuit of the coveted honor, as Holland very properly puts it. Nothing is more absurd than statements to the purport that he was “induced to accept” the nomination, statements which he himself would have heard with honest laughter. Only three years ago[54] he had frankly written to a friend: “Now, if you should hear any one say that Lincoln don’t want to go to Congress, I wish you, as a personal friend of mine, would tell him you have reason to believe he is mistaken. The truth is I would [should] like to go very much.” Now, the opportunity being at hand, he spared no pains to compass it. In spite of the alleged agreement Hardin made reconnoissances in the district, which Lincoln met with counter-manifestations so vigorous that on February 26 Hardin withdrew, and on May 1 Lincoln was nominated. Against him the Democrats set Peter Cartwright, the famous itinerant preacher of the Methodists, whose strenuous and popular eloquence had rung in the ears of every Western settler. Stalwart, aggressive, possessing all the qualities adapted to win the good-will of such a constituency, the Apostle of the West was a dangerous antagonist. But Lincoln had political capacity in a rare degree. Foresight and insight, activity and the power to organize and to direct, were his. In this campaign his eye was upon every one; individuals, newspaper editors, political clubs, got their inspiration and their guidance from him.[55] Such thoroughness deserved and achieved an extraordinary success; and at the polls, in August, the district gave him a majority of 1,511. In the latest presidential campaign it had given Clay a majority of 914; and two years later it gave Taylor a majority of 1,501. Sangamon County gave Lincoln a majority of 690, the largest given to any candidate from 1836 to 1850, inclusive. Moreover, Lincoln was the only Whig who secured a place in the Illinois delegation.

Though elected in the summer of 1846, it was not until December 6, 1847, that the Thirtieth Congress began its first session. Robert C. Winthrop was chosen speaker of the House, by 110 votes out of 218. The change in the political condition was marked; in the previous House the Democrats had numbered 142 and the Whigs only 75; in this House the Whigs were 116, the Democrats 108. Among the members were John Quincy Adams, Andrew Johnson, Alexander H. Stephens, Howell Cobb, David Wilmot, Jacob Collamer, Robert Toombs, with many more scarcely less familiar names. The Mexican war was drawing towards its close,[56] and most of the talking in Congress had relation to it. The whole Whig party denounced it at the time, and the nation has been more than half ashamed of it ever since. By adroit manoeuvres Polk had forced the fight upon a weak and reluctant nation, and had made to his own people false statements as to both the facts and the merits of the quarrel. The rebuke which they had now administered, by changing the large Democratic majority into a minority, “deserves,” says von Holst, “to be counted among the most meritorious proofs of the sound and honorable feeling of the American nation.”[57] But while the administration had thus smirched the inception and the whole character of the war with meanness and dishonor, the generals and the army were winning abundant glory for the national arms. Good strategy achieved a series of brilliant victories, and fortunately for the Whigs General Taylor and General Scott, together with a large proportion of the most distinguished regimental officers, were of their party. This aided them essentially in their policy, which was, to denounce the entering into the war but to vote all necessary supplies for its vigorous prosecution.

Into this scheme of his party Lincoln entered with hearty concurrence. A week after the House met he closed a letter to his partner with the remark: “As you are all so anxious for me to distinguish myself, I have concluded to do so before long,” and what he said humorously he probably meant seriously. Accordingly he soon afterward[58] introduced a series of resolutions, which, under the nickname of “The Spot Resolutions,” attracted some attention. Quoting in his preamble sundry paragraphs of the President’s message of May 11, 1846, to the purport that Mexico had “invaded _our territory_” and had “shed the blood of our citizens on _our own soil_” he then requested the President to state “_the spot_” where these and other alleged occurrences had taken place. His first “little speech” was on “a post-office question of no general interest;” and he found himself “about as badly scared and no worse” than when he spoke in court. So a little later, January 12, 1848, he ventured to call up his resolutions and to make an elaborate speech upon them.[59] It was not a very great or remarkable speech, but it was a good one, and not conceived in the fervid and florid style which defaced his youthful efforts; he spoke sensibly, clearly, and with precision of thought; he sought his strength in the facts, and went in straight pursuit of the truth; his best intellectual qualities were plainly visible. The resolutions were not acted upon, and doubtless their actual passage had never been expected; but they were a good shot well placed; and they were sufficiently noteworthy to save Lincoln from being left among the herd of the nobodies of the House.

In view of his future career, but for no other reason, a brief paragraph is worth quoting. He says:–

“Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the _right_ to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right,–a right which, we hope and believe, is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people, that _can_, may revolutionize, and make their _own_ of so much of the territory as they inhabit.” This doctrine, so comfortably applied to Texas in 1848, seemed unsuitable for the Confederate States in 1861. But possibly the point lay in the words, “having the power,” and “can,” for the Texans “had the power” and “could,” and the South had it not and could not; and so Lincoln’s practical proviso saved his theoretical consistency; though he must still have explained how either Texas or the South could know whether they “had the power,” and “could,” except by trial.

Lincoln’s course concerning the war and the administration did not please his constituents. With most of the Whigs he voted for Ashmun’s amendment, which declared that the war had been “unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commenced by the President.” But soon he heard that the people in Springfield were offended at a step which might weaken the administration in time of stress; and even if the President had transcended the Constitution, they preferred to deny rather than to admit the fact. When Douglas afterward charged Lincoln with lack of patriotism, Lincoln replied that he had not chosen to “skulk,” and, feeling obliged to vote, he had voted for “the truth” rather than for “a lie.”[60] He remarked also that he, with the Whigs generally, always voted for the supply bills. He took and maintained his position with entire manliness and honesty, and stated his principles with perfect clearness, neither shading nor abating nor coloring by any conciliatory or politic phrase. It was a question of conscience, and he met it point-blank. Many of his critics remained dissatisfied, and it is believed that his course cost the next Whig candidate in the district votes which he could not afford to lose. It is true that another paid this penalty, yet Lincoln himself would have liked well to take his chance as the candidate. To those “who desire that I should be reflected,” he wrote to Herndon, “I can say, as Mr. Clay said of the annexation of Texas, that ‘_personally_ I would not object.’ … If it should so happen _that nobody else wishes to be elected_, I could not refuse the people the right of sending me again. But to enter myself as a competitor of others, or to authorize any one so to enter me, is what my word and honor forbid.” It did so happen that Judge Logan, whose turn it seemed to be, wished the nomination and received it. He was, however, defeated, and probably paid the price of Lincoln’s scrupulous honesty.

In the canvassing of the spring of 1848 Lincoln was an ardent advocate for the nomination of General Taylor as the Whig candidate for the presidency; for he appreciated how much greater was the strength of the military hero, with all that could be said against him, than was that of Mr. Clay, whose destiny was so disappointingly non-presidential. When the nomination went according to his wishes, he entered into the campaign with as much zeal as his congressional duties would permit,–indeed, with somewhat an excess of zeal, for he delivered on the floor of the House an harangue in favor of the general which was little else than a stump speech, admirably adapted for a backwoods audience, but grossly out of place where it was spoken. He closed it with an assault on General Cass, as a military man, which was designed to be humorous, and has, therefore, been quoted with unfortunate frequency. So soon as Congress adjourned he was able to seek a more legitimate arena in New England, whither he went at once and delivered many speeches, none of which have been preserved.

Lincoln’s position upon the slavery question in this Congress was that of moderate hostility. In the preceding Congress, the Twenty-ninth, the famous Wilmot Proviso, designed to exclude slavery from any territory which the United States should acquire from Mexico, had passed the House and had been killed in the Senate. In the Thirtieth Congress efforts to the same end were renewed in various forms, always with Lincoln’s favor. He once said that he had voted for the principle of the Wilmot Proviso “about forty-two times,” which, if not an accurate mathematical computation, was a vivid expression of his stanch adherence to the doctrine. At the second session Mr. Lincoln voted against a bill to prohibit the slave trade in the District of Columbia, because he did not approve its form; and then introduced another bill, which he himself had drawn. This prohibited the bringing slaves into the District, except as household servants by government officials who were citizens of slave States; it also prohibited selling them to be taken away from the District; children born of slave mothers after January 1, 1850, were to be subject to temporary apprenticeship and finally to be made free; owners of slaves might collect from the government their full cash value as the price of their freedom; fugitive slaves escaping into Washington and Georgetown were to be returned; finally the measure was to be submitted to popular vote in the District. This was by no means a measure of abolitionist coloring, although Lincoln obtained for it the support of Joshua R. Giddings, who believed it “as good a bill as we could get at this time,” and was “willing to pay for slaves in order to save them from the Southern market.” It recognized the right of property in slaves, which the Abolitionists denied; also it might conceivably be practicable, a characteristic which rarely marked the measures of the Abolitionists, who professed to be pure moralists rather than practical politicians. From this first move to the latest which he made in this great business, Lincoln never once broke connection with practicability. On this occasion he had actually succeeded in obtaining from Mr. Seaton, editor of the “National Intelligencer” and mayor of Washington, a promise of support, which gave him a little prospect of success. Later, however, the Southern Congressmen drew this influential gentleman to their side, and thereby rendered the passage of the bill impossible; at the close of the session it lay with the other corpses in that grave called “the table.”

When his term of service in Congress was over Lincoln sought, but failed to obtain, the position of Commissioner of the General Lands Office. He was offered the governorship of the newly organized Territory of Oregon; but this, controlled by the sensible advice of his wife, he fortunately declined.

FOOTNOTES:

[48] Lamon, pp. 238-252, tells the story of Lincoln’s marriage at great length, sparing nothing; he liberally sets forth the gossip and the stories; he quotes the statements of witnesses who knew both parties at the time, and he gives in full much correspondence. The spirit and the letter of his account find substantial corroboration in the narrative of Herndon, pp. 206-231. So much original material and evidence of acquaintances have been gathered by these two writers, and their own opportunities of knowing the truth were so good, that one seems not at liberty to reject the _substantial_ correctness of their version. Messrs. Nicolay and Hay, vol. i. ch. 11, give a narrative for the most part in their own language. Their attempt throughout to mitigate all that is disagreeable is so obvious, not only in substance but in the turn of every phrase, that it is impossible to accept their chapter as a picture either free from obscurity or true in color, glad as one might be to do so. Arnold, pp. 68, 72, and Holland, p. 90, simply mention the marriage, and other biographers would have done well to imitate this forbearance; but too much has been said to leave this course now open.

[49] It is fair to say that my view of this “duel” is not that of other writers. Lamon, p. 260, says that “the scene is one of transcendent interest.” Herndon, p. 260, calls it a “serio-comic affair.” Holland, pp. 87-89, gives a brief, deprecatory account of what he calls “certainly a boyish affair.” Arnold, pp. 69-72, treats it simply enough, but puts the whole load of the ridicule upon Shields. Nicolay and Hay, vol. i. ch. 12, deal with it gravely, and in the same way in which, in the preceding chapter, they deal with the marriage; that is to say, they eschew the production of original documents, and, by their own gloss, make a good story for Lincoln and a very bad one for Shields; they speak lightly of the “ludicrousness” of the affair. To my mind the opinion which Lincoln himself held is far more correct than that expressed by any of his biographers.

[50] Serious practice only began with him when he formed his partnership with Judge Logan in 1841; in 1860 his practice came to an end; in the interval he was for two years a member of Congress.

[51] A story is told by Lamon, p. 321, which puts Lincoln in a position absolutely indefensible by any sound reasoning.

[52] For accounts of Lincoln at the bar, as also for many illustrative and entertaining anecdotes to which the plan of this volume does not permit space to be given, see Arnold, 55-59, 66, 73, 84-91; Holland, 72, 73, 76-83, 89; Lamon, 223-225, ch. xiii. 311-332; N. and H. i. 167-171, 213-216, ch. xvii. 298-309; Herndon, 182-184, 186, 264-266, 306 n., 307-309, 312-319, 323-331, ch. xi. 332-360.

[53] Holland, 95; but _per contra_ see Herndon, 271.

[54] March, 1843.

[55] By way of example of his methods, see letter to Herndon, June 22, 1848, Lamon, 299.

[56] The treaty of peace, subject to some amendments, was ratified by the Senate March 10, 1848, and officially promulgated on July 4.

[57] Von Holst, _Const. Hist. of U.S._ iii. 336. All historians are pretty well agreed upon the relation of the Polk administration to the Mexican war. But the story has never been so clearly and admirably traced by any other as by von Holst in the third volume of his history.

[58] December 22, 1847.

[59] Printed by Lamon, 282. See, also, Herndon, 277.

[60] Herndon, 281; see letters given in full by Lamon, 291, 293, 295 (at 296); N. and H. i. 274

CHAPTER IV

NORTH AND SOUTH

The Ordinance of 1787 established that slavery should never exist in any part of that vast northwestern territory which had then lately been ceded by sundry States to the Confederation. This Ordinance could not be construed otherwise than as an integral part of the transaction of cession, and was forever unalterable, because it represented in a certain way a part of the consideration in a contract, and was also in the nature of a declaration of trust undertaken by the Congress of the Confederation with the granting States. The article “was agreed to without opposition;” but almost contemporaneously, in the sessions of that convention which framed the Constitution, debate waxed hot upon the topic which was then seen to present grave obstacles to union. It was true that many of the wisest Southerners of that generation regarded the institution as a menacing misfortune; they however could not ignore the fact that it was a “misfortune” of that peculiar kind which was endured with much complacency by those afflicted by it; and it was equally certain that the great body of slave-owners would resent any effort to relieve them of their burden. Hence there were placed in the Constitution provisions in behalf of slavery which involved an admission that the institution needed protection, and should receive it. The idea of protection implied the existence of hostility either of men or of circumstances, or of both. Thus by the Ordinance and the Constitution, taken together, there was already indirectly recognized an antagonism between the institutions, interests, and opinions of the South and those of the North.

Slowly this feeling of opposition grew. The first definite mark of the growth was the struggle over the admission of Missouri, in 1820. This was settled by the famous “Compromise,” embodied in the Act of March 6, 1820, whereby the people of the Territory of Missouri were allowed to frame a state government with no restriction against slavery; but a clause also enacted that slavery should never be permitted in any part of the remainder of the public territory lying north of the parallel of 36 deg. 30′. By its efficiency during thirty-four years of constantly increasing strain this legislation was proved to be a remarkable political achievement; and as the people saw it perform so long and so well a service so vital they came to regard it as only less sacred than the Constitution itself. Even Douglas, who afterward led in repealing it, declared that it had an “origin akin to the Constitution,” and that it was “canonized in the hearts of the American people as a sacred thing.” Yet during the long quietude which it brought, each section kept a jealous eye upon the other; and especially was the scrutiny of the South uneasy, for she saw ever more and more plainly the disturbing truth that her institution needed protection. Being in derogation of natural right, it was peculiarly dependent upon artificial sustention; the South would not express the condition in this language, but acted upon the idea none the less. It was true that the North was not aggressive towards slavery, but was observing it with much laxity and indifference; that the crusading spirit was sleeping soundly, and even the proselyting temper was feeble. But this state of Northern feeling could not relieve the South from the harassing consciousness that slavery needed not only toleration, but positive _protection_ at the hands of a population whose institutions were naturally antagonistic to the slave idea. This being the case, she must be alarmed at seeing that population steadily outstripping her own in numbers and wealth.[61] Since she could not possibly even hold this disproportion stationary, her best resource seemed to be to endeavor to keep it practically harmless by maintaining a balance of power in the government. Thus it became unwritten law that slave States and free States must be equal in number, so that the South could not be outvoted in the Senate. This system was practicable for a while, yet not a very long while; for the North was filling up that great northwestern region, which was eternally dedicated to freedom, and full-grown communities could not forever be kept outside the pale of statehood. On the other hand, apart from any question of numbers, the South could make no counter-expansion, because she lay against a foreign country. After a time, however, Texas opportunely rebelled against Mexico, and then the opportunity for removing this obstruction was too obvious and too tempting to be lost. A brief period of so-called independence on the part of Texas was followed by the annexation of her territory to the United States,[62] with the proviso that from her great area might in the future be cut off still four other States. Slavery had been abolished in all Mexican territory, and Texas had been properly a “free” country; but in becoming a part of the United States she became also a slave State.

Mexico had declared that annexation of Texas would constitute a _casus belli_, yet she was wisely laggard in beginning vindictive hostilities against a power which could so easily whip her, and she probably never would have done so had the United States rested content with an honest boundary line. But this President Polk would not do, and by theft and falsehood he at last fairly drove the Mexicans into a war, in which they were so excessively beaten that the administration found itself able to gather more plunder than it had expected. By the treaty of peace the United States not only extended unjustly the southwestern boundary of Texas, but also got New Mexico and California. To forward this result, Polk had asked the House to place $2,000,000 at his disposal. Thereupon, as an amendment to the bill granting this sum, Wilmot introduced his famous proviso, prohibiting slavery in any part of the territory to be acquired. Repeatedly and in various shapes was the substance of this proviso voted upon, but always it was voted down. Though New Mexico had come out from under the rule of despised Mexico as “free” country, a contrary destiny was marked out for it in its American character. A plausible suggestion was made to extend the sacred line of the Missouri Compromise westward to the Pacific Ocean; and very little of the new country lay north of that line. By all these transactions the South seemed to be scoring many telling points in its game. They were definite points, which all could see and estimate; yet a price, which was considerable, though less definite, less easy to see and to estimate, had in fact been paid for them; for the antagonism of the rich and teeming North to the Southern institution and to the Southern policy for protecting it had been spread and intensified to a degree which involved a menace fully offsetting the Southern territorial gain. One of the indications of this state of feeling was the organization of the “Free Soil” party.

Almost simultaneously with this important advancement of the Southern policy there occurred an event, operative upon the other side, which certainly no statesman could have foreseen. Gold was discovered in California, and in a few months a torrent of immigrants poured over the land. The establishment of an efficient government became a pressing need. In Congress they debated the matter hotly; the friends of the Wilmot proviso met in bitter conflict the advocates of the westward extension of the line of 36 deg. 30′. Neither side could prevail, and amid intense excitement the Thirtieth Congress expired. For the politicians this was well enough, but for the Californians organization was such an instant necessity that they now had to help themselves to it. So they promptly elected a Constitutional Convention, which assembled on September 1, 1849, and adjourned on October 13. Though this body held fifteen delegates who were immigrants from slave States, yet it was unanimous in presenting a Constitution which prohibited slavery, and which was at once accepted by a popular vote of 12,066 yeas against 811 nays.

Great then was the consternation of the Southern leaders when Californian delegates appeared immediately upon the assembling of the Thirty-first Congress, and asked for admission beneath this unlooked-for “free” charter of statehood. The shock was aggravated by the fact that New Mexico, actually instigated thereto by the slaveholding President Taylor himself, was likely to follow close in the Californian foot-tracks. The admission of Texas had for a moment disturbed the senatorial equilibrium between North and South, which, however, had quickly been restored by the admission of Wisconsin. But the South had nothing to offer to counterbalance California and New Mexico, which were being suddenly filched from her confident expectation. In this emergency those extremists in the South who offset the Abolitionists at the North fell back upon the appalling threat of disunion, which could hardly be regarded as an idle extravagance of the “hotspurs,” since it was substantially certain that the Senate would never admit California with her anti-slavery Constitution; and thus a real crisis seemed at hand. Other questions also were cast into the seething caldron. Texas, whose boundaries were as uncertain as the ethics of politicians, set up a claim which included nearly all New Mexico, and so would have settled the question of slavery for that region at least. Further, the South called for a Fugitive Slave Law sufficiently stringent to be serviceable. Also, in encountering the Wilmot proviso, Southern statesmen had asserted the doctrine, far-reaching and subversive of established ideas and of enacted laws, that Congress could not constitutionally interfere with the property-rights of citizens of the United States in the Territories, and that slaves were property. Amid such a confused and violent hurly-burly the perplexed body of order-loving citizens were, with reason, seriously alarmed.

To the great relief of these people and to the equal disgust of the extremist politicians, Henry Clay, the “great compromiser,” was now announced to appear once more in the role which all felt that he alone could play. He came with much dramatic effect; an aged and broken man, he emerged from the retirement in which he seemed to have sought a brief rest before death should lay him low, and it was with an impressive air of sadness and of earnestness that he devoted the last remnants of his failing strength to save a country which he had served so long. His friends feared that he might not survive even a few months to reach the end of his patriotic task. On January 29, 1850, he laid before the Senate his “comprehensive scheme of adjustment.” But it came not as oil upon the angry waters; every one was offended by one or another part of it, and at once there opened a war of debate which is among the most noteworthy and momentous in American history. Great men who belonged to the past and great men who were to belong to the future shared in the exciting controversies, which were prolonged over a period of more than half a year. Clay was constantly on his feet, doing battle with a voice which gained rather than lost force from its pathetic feebleness. “I am here,” he solemnly said, “expecting soon to go hence, and owing no responsibility but to my own conscience and to God.” Jefferson Davis spoke for the extension westward of the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific Ocean, with a proviso positively establishing slavery south of that line. Calhoun, from the edge of the grave, into which only a few weeks later he was to fall, once more faced his old adversaries. On March 4 he sat beside Mason of Virginia, while that gentleman read for him to a hushed audience the speech which he himself was too weak to deliver. Three days later Webster uttered that speech which made the seventh day of March almost as famous in the history of the United States as the Ides of the same month had been in that of Rome. In the eyes of the anti-slavery men of New England the fall of Webster was hardly less momentous than the fall of Caesar had appeared in the Eternal City. Seward also spoke a noteworthy speech, bringing upon himself infinite abuse by his bold phrase, _a higher law than the Constitution_. Salmon P. Chase followed upon the same side, in an exalted and prophetic strain. In that momentous session every man gave out what he felt to be his best, while anxious and excited millions devoured every word which the newspapers reported to them.

Clay had imprudently gathered the several matters of his Compromise into one bill, which was soon sneeringly nicknamed “the Omnibus Bill.” It was sorely harassed by amendments, and when at last, on July 31, the Omnibus reached the end of its journey, it contained only one passenger, viz., a territorial government for Utah. Its trip had apparently ended in utter failure. But a careful study of individual proclivities showed that not improbably those measures might be passed one by one which could not be passed in combination. In this hope, five several bills, being all the ejected contents of the Omnibus, were brought forward, and each in turn had the success which had been denied to them together. First: Texas received $10,000,000, and for this price magnanimously relinquished her unfounded claim upon New Mexico. Second: California was admitted as a free State. Third: New Mexico was organized as a Territory, with the proviso that when she should form a state constitution the slavery question should be determined by the people, and that during her territorial existence the question of property in a slave should be left undisturbed by congressional action, to be determined by the Supreme Court of the United States. Fourth: A more efficient Fugitive Slave Law was passed. Fifth: Slave trading in the District of Columbia was abolished. Such were the terms of an arrangement in which every man saw so much which he himself disliked that he felt sure that others must be satisfied. Each plumed himself on his liberality in his concessions nobly made in behalf of public harmony. “The broad basis,” says von Holst, “on which the compromise of 1850 rested, was the conviction of the great majority of the people, both North and South, that it was fair, reasonable, and patriotic to come to a friendly understanding.”

Thus in the midsummer of 1850 did the nation, with intense relief, see the imminent disaster of civil discord averted,–or was it only postponed? It was ominous that no men who were deeply in earnest in public affairs were sincerely satisfied. The South saw no gain which offset the destruction of the balance of power by the admission of California. Thinking men at the North were alarmed at the recognition of the principle of non-intervention by Congress concerning slavery in the Territories, a principle which soon, under the seductive title of “popular sovereignty” in the Territories, threatened even that partial restriction heretofore given by the Missouri Compromise. Neither party felt sufficiently secure of the strength of its legal position to be altogether pleased at seeing the doctrine of treating the slave in the Territories as “property” cast into the lottery of the Supreme Court. Lincoln recognized the futility of this whole arrangement, and said truly that the slavery question could “never be successfully compromised.” Yet he accepted the situation, with the purpose of making of it the best that was possible. The mass of the people, less far-sighted, were highly gratified at the passing of the great danger; refused to recognize that a more temporary compromise was never patched up to serve a turn; and applauded it so zealously that in preparing for the presidential campaign of 1852 each party felt compelled to declare emphatically–what all wise politicians knew to be false–the “finality” of the great Compromise of 1850. Never, never more was there to be a revival of the slavery agitation! Yet, at the same time, it was instinctively felt that the concord would cease at once if the nation should not give to the South a Democratic President! In this campaign Lincoln made a few speeches in Illinois in favor of Scott; but Herndon says that they were not very satisfactory efforts. Franklin Pierce was chosen, and slavery could have had no better man.

This doctrine of non-intervention by Congress with slavery in the Territories lay as the seed of mortal disease imbedded in the vitals of the great Compromise even at the hour of its birth. All the howlings of the political medicine-men in the halls of Congress, and in the wigwams where the party platforms were manufactured, could not defer the inevitable dissolution. The rapid peopling of the Pacific coast already made it imperative to provide some sort of governmental organization for the sparsely inhabited regions lying between these new lands and the fringe of population near the Mississippi. Accordingly bills were introduced to establish as a Territory the region which was afterward divided between Kansas and Nebraska; but at two successive sessions they failed to pass, more, as it seemed, from lack of interest than from any open hostility. In the course of debate it was explained, and not contradicted, that slavery was not mentioned in the bills because the Missouri Compromise controlled that matter. Yet it was well known that the Missouri Compromise was no longer a sure barrier; for one wing of the pro-slavery party asserted that it was unconstitutional on the ground that slaves, being property, could not be touched in the Territories by congressional enactments; while another wing of the party preferred the plausible cry of “popular sovereignty,” than which no words could ring truer in American ears; and no one doubted that, in order to give that sovereignty full sway, they would at any convenient moment vote to repeal even the “sacred” Compromise. It could not be denied that this was the better course, if it were practicable; and accordingly, January 16, 1854, Senator Dixon of Kentucky offered an amendment to the pending Nebraska bill, which substantially embodied the repeal. In the Senate Douglas was chairman of the Committee on Territories, and was induced to cooeperate.[63] January 23, 1854, he introduced his famous “Kansas-Nebraska bill,” establishing the two Territories and declaring the Missouri Compromise “inoperative” therein. A later amendment declared the Compromise to be “inconsistent with the principle of non-intervention by Congress with slavery in the States and Territories, as recognized by the legislation of 1850,” and therefore “inoperative and void; it being the true intent and meaning of this Act not to legislate slavery into any Territory or State, nor to exclude it therefrom, but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution.” After a long and hard fight the bill was passed with this clause in it, which Benton well stigmatized as a “stump speech injected into the belly of the bill.” The insertion of the word State was of momentous significance.

This repeal set the anti-slavery party all ablaze. Among the rest Lincoln was fired with strenuous indignation, and roused from the condition of apparent indifference to public affairs in which he had rested since the close of his term in Congress. Douglas, coming home in the autumn, was so disagreeably received by an angry audience in Chicago that he felt it imperative to rehabilitate his stricken popularity. This difficult task he essayed at the great gathering of the State Fair in October. But Lincoln was put forward to answer him, and was brilliantly successful in doing so, if the highly colored account of Mr. Herndon may be trusted. Immediately after Lincoln’s close, Owen Lovejoy, the Abolitionist leader, announced “a meeting in the same place that evening of all the friends of freedom.” The scheme was to induce Lincoln to address them, and thus publicly to commit him as of their faith. But the astute Herndon, though himself an Abolitionist, felt that for Lincoln personally this was by no means desirable. So he hastened to Lincoln and strenuously said: “Go home at once! Take Bob with you, and drive somewhere into the country, and stay till this thing is over;” and Lincoln did take Bob and drove away to Tazewell Court House “on business.” Herndon congratulates himself upon having “saved Lincoln,” since either joining, or refusing to join, the Abolitionists at that time would have been attended with “great danger.” Lincoln had upon his own part a wise instinct and a strong purpose to keep hard by Douglas and to close with him as often as opportunity offered. Soon afterward the two encountered again, and on this occasion it is narrated that Lincoln gave Douglas so much trouble that Douglas cried for a truce, proposing that neither of them should make any more speeches that autumn, to which Lincoln good-naturedly assented.

During this winter Lincoln was elected to the state legislature, but contrary to his own wish. For he designed to be a candidate for the United States Senate, and there might be a question as to his eligibility if he remained a member of the electing body. Accordingly he resigned his seat, which, to his surprise and chagrin, was immediately filled by a Democrat; for there was a reaction in Sangamon County. On February 8, 1855, the legislature began voting to elect a senator. The “Douglas Democrats” wished to reelect Shields, the present incumbent. The first ballot stood, Lincoln, 45, Shields, 41, Lyman Trumbull, 5, scattering, 5 (or, according to other authority, 8). After several ballots Shields was thrown over in favor of a more “practicable” candidate, Governor Matteson, a “quasi-independent,” who, upon the ninth ballot, showed a strength of 47, while Trumbull had 35, Lincoln had run down to 15, and “scattering” caught 1. Lincoln’s weakness lay in the fact that the Abolitionists had too loudly praised him and publicly counted him as one of themselves. For this reason five Democrats, disgusted with Douglas for his attack on the Missouri Compromise, but equally bitter against Abolitionism, stubbornly refused ever to vote for a Whig, above all a Whig smirched by Abolitionist applause. So it seemed that Owen Lovejoy and his friends had incumbered Lincoln with a fatal handicap. The situation was this: Lincoln could count upon his fifteen adherents to the extremity; but the five anti-Douglas Democrats were equally stanch against him, so that his chance was evidently gone. Trumbull was a Democrat, but he was opposed to the policy of Douglas’s Kansas-Nebraska bill; his following was not altogether trustworthy, and a trifling defection from it seemed likely to occur and to make out Matteson’s majority. Lincoln pondered briefly; then, subjecting all else to the great principle of “anti-Nebraska,” he urged his friends to transfer their votes to Trumbull. With grumbling and reluctance they did so, and by this aid, on the tenth ballot, Trumbull was elected. In a letter to Washburne, Lincoln wrote: “I think you would have done the same under the circumstances, though Judge Davis, who came down this morning, declares he never would have consented to the 47 men being controlled by the 5. I regret my defeat moderately, but am not nervous about it.” If that was true which was afterwards so frequently reiterated by Douglas during the campaign of 1858, that a bargain had been struck between Lincoln and Trumbull, whereby the former was to succeed Shields and the latter was to succeed Douglas at the election two years later, then Lincoln certainly displayed on this occasion a “generosity” which deserves more than the very moderate praise which has been given it, of being “above the range of the mere politician’s vision.”[64]

An immediate effect of this repealing legislation of 1854 was to cast Kansas into the arena as booty to be won in fight between anti-slavery and pro-slavery. For this competition the North had the advantage that its population outnumbered that of the South in the ratio of three to two, and emigration was in accord with the habits of the people. Against this the South offset proximity, of which the peculiar usefulness soon became apparent. Then was quickly under way a fair fight, in a certain sense, but most unfairly fought. Each side contended after its fashion; Northern anti-slavery merchants subscribed money to pay the expenses of free-state immigrants. “Border ruffians” and members of “Blue Lodges” and of kindred fraternities came across the border from Missouri to take a hand in every politico-belligerent crisis. The parties were not unequally matched; by temperament the free-state men were inclined to orderly and legitimate ways, yet they were willing and able to fight fire with fire. On the other hand, the slave-state men had a native preference for the bowie-knife and the shot-gun, yet showed a kind of respect for the ballot-box by insisting that it should be stuffed with votes on their side. Thus for a long while was waged a dubious, savage, and peculiar warfare. Imprisonments and rescues, beatings, shootings, plunderings, burnings, sieges, and lootings of towns were interspersed with elections of civil officers, with legislative enactments in ordinary form, with trials, suits at law, legal arguments, and decisions of judges. It is impossible here to sketch in detail this strange phantasmagory of arson, bloodshed, politics, and law.

[Illustration: Lyman Trumbull]

Meantime other occurrences demand mention. In May, 1854, the seizure in Boston of Anthony Burns, as an escaped slave, caused a riot in which the court-house was attacked by a mob, one of the assailants was killed, and the militia were called out. Other like seizures elsewhere aroused the indignation of people who, whatever were their abstract theories as to the law, revolted at the actual spectacle of a man dragged back from freedom into slavery. May 22, 1856, Preston S. Brooks strode suddenly upon Charles Sumner, seated and unarmed at his desk in the senate-chamber, and beat him savagely over the head with a cane, inflicting very serious injuries. Had it been a fair fight, or had the South repudiated the act, the North might have made little of it, for Sumner was too advanced in his views to be politically popular. But, although the onslaught was even more offensive for its cowardice than for its brutality, nevertheless the South overwhelmed Brooks with laudation, and by so doing made thousands upon thousands of Republican votes at the North. The deed, the enthusiastic greeting, and the angry resentment marked the alarming height to which the excitement had risen.

The presidential campaign of the following summer, 1856, showed a striking disintegration and re-formation of political groups. Nominally there were four parties in the field: Democrats, Whigs, Native Americans or Know-Nothings, and Republicans. The Know-Nothings had lately won some state elections, but were of little account as a national organization, for they stood upon an issue hopelessly insignificant in comparison with slavery. Already many had gone over to the Republican camp; those who remained nominated as their candidates Millard Fillmore and Andrew J. Donelson. The Whigs were the feeble remnant of a really dead party, held together by affection for the old name; too few to do anything by themselves, they took by adoption the Know-Nothing candidates. The Republican party had been born only in 1854. Its members, differing on other matters, united upon the one doctrine, which they accepted as a test: opposition to the extension of slavery. They nominated John C. Fremont and William L. Dayton, and made a platform whereby they declared it to be “both the right and the duty of Congress to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism, polygamy and slavery;” by which vehement and abusive language they excited the bitter resentment of the Southern Democracy. In this convention 110 votes were cast for Lincoln for the second place on the ticket. Lamon tells the little story that when this was told to Lincoln he replied that he could not have been the person designated, who was, doubtless, “the great Lincoln from Massachusetts.”[65] In the Democratic party there were two factions. The favorite candidate of the South was Franklin Pierce, for reelection, with Stephen A. Douglas as a substitute or second choice; the North more generally preferred James Buchanan, who was understood to be displeased with the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. The struggle was sharp, but was won by the friends of Buchanan, with whom John C. Breckenridge was coupled. The campaign was eager, for the Republicans soon developed a strength beyond what had been expected and which put the Democrats to their best exertions. The result was

| Popular vote | Electoral vote ————————-+————–+————— Democrats. | 1,838,169 | 174
Republicans. | 1,341,264 | 114 Know-Nothings and Whigs. | 874,534 | 8

Thus James Buchanan became President of the United States, March 4, 1857,–stigmatized somewhat too severely as “a Northern man with Southern principles;” in fact an honest man and of good abilities, who, in ordinary times, would have left a fair reputation as a statesman of the second rank; but a man hopelessly unfit alike in character and in mind either to comprehend the present emergency or to rise to its demands.[66] Yet, while the Democrats triumphed, the Republicans enjoyed the presage of the future; they had polled a total number of votes which surprised every one; on the other hand, the Democrats had lost ten States[67] which they had carried in 1852 and had gained only two others,[68] showing a net loss of eight States; and their electoral votes had dwindled from 254 to 174.

On the day following Buchanan’s inauguration that occurred which had been foreshadowed with ill-advised plainness in his inaugural address. In the famous case of Dred Scott,[69] the Supreme Court of the United States established as law the doctrine lately advanced by the Southern Democrats, that a slave was “property,” and that his owner was entitled to be protected in the possession of him, as such, in the Territories. This necessarily demolished the rival theory of “popular sovereignty,” which the Douglas Democrats had adopted, not without shrewdness, as being far better suited to the Northern mind. For clearly the people enjoyed no sovereignty where they had no option. Consequently in the Territories there was no longer a slavery question. The indignation of anti-slavery men of all shades of opinion was intense, and was unfortunately justifiable. For wholly apart from the controversy as to whether the law was better expounded by the chief justice or by Judge Curtis in his dissenting opinion, there remained a main fact, undeniable and inexcusable, to wit: that the court, having decided that the lower court had no jurisdiction, and being therefore itself unable to remand the cause for a new trial, had then outstepped its own proper function and outraged legal propriety by determining the questions raised by the rest of the record,–questions which no longer had any real standing before this tribunal. This course was well known to have been pursued with the purpose on the part of the majority of the judges to settle by judicial authority, and by a _dictum_ conspicuously _obiter_, that great slavery question with which Congress had grappled in vain. It was a terrible blunder, for the people were only incensed by a volunteered and unauthorized interference. Moreover, the reasoning of Chief Justice Taney was such that the Republicans began anxiously to inquire why it was not as applicable to States as to Territories, and why it must not be extended to States when occasion should arrive; and in this connection it seemed now apparent why “States” had been named in the bill which repealed the Missouri Compromise.[70] In spite of this menace the struggle in Kansas was not slackened. Time had been counting heavily in favor of the North. Her multitudinous population ceaselessly fed the stream of immigrants, and they were stubborn fellows who came to stay, and therefore were sure to wear out the persistence of the boot-and-saddle men from over the Missouri border. Accordingly, in 1857, the free-state men so vastly outnumbered the slavery contingent, that even pro-slavery men had to acknowledge it. Then the slavery party made its last desperate effort. Toward the close of that year the Lecompton Constitution was framed by a convention chosen at an election in which the free-state men, perhaps unwisely, had refused to take part. When this pro-slavery instrument was offered to the people, they were not allowed to vote simply Yea or Nay, but only “for the Constitution with slavery,” or “for the Constitution with no slavery.” Again the free-state men refrained from voting, and on December 21, 6,143 ballots were declared to have been cast “for the Constitution with slavery,” and 589 “for the Constitution with no slavery.” Much more than one third of the 6,143 were proved to be fraudulent, but the residue far exceeded the requisite majority. January 4, 1858, state officers were to be chosen, and now the free-state men decided to make an irregular opportunity to vote, in their turn, simply for or against the Lecompton Constitution. This time the pro-slavery men, considering the matter already lawfully settled, refused to vote, and the result was that this polling showed 10,226 against the Constitution, 138 for the Constitution with slavery, 24 for the Constitution without slavery. It is an instance of Lincoln’s political foresight that nearly two years and a half before this condition of affairs came about he had written: “If Kansas fairly votes herself a slave State, she must be admitted, or the Union must be dissolved. But how if she votes herself a slave State unfairly?… Must she still be admitted, or the Union be dissolved? That will be the phase of the question when it first becomes a practical one.”[71]

The struggle was now transferred to Washington. President Buchanan had solemnly pledged himself to accept the result of the popular vote. Now he was confronted by two popular votes, of which the one made somewhat the better technical and formal showing, and the other undeniably expressed the true will of a large majority of lawful voters. He selected the former, and advised Congress to admit Kansas under the Lecompton Constitution with slavery. But Douglas took the other side. The position of Douglas in the nation and in the Democratic party deserves brief consideration, for in a way it was the cause of Lincoln’s nomination as the Republican candidate for the presidency in 1860. From 1852 to 1860 Douglas was the most noteworthy man in public life in the country. Webster, Clay, and Calhoun had passed away. Seward, Chase, and Sumner, still in the earlier stages of their brilliant careers, were organizing the great party of the future. This interval of eight years belonged to Douglas more than to any other one man. He had been a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1852 and again in 1856; and had failed to secure it in part by reason of that unwritten rule whereby the leading statesmen are so often passed over, in order to confer the great prize upon insignificant and therefore presumably submissive men. Douglas was not of this type; he had high spirit, was ambitious, masterful, and self-confident; he was also an aggressive, brilliant, and tireless fighter in a political campaign, an orator combining something of the impressiveness of Webster with the readiness and roughness of the stump speaker. He had a thorough familiarity with all the politics, both the greater and the smaller, of the time; he was shrewd and adroit as a politician, and he had as good a right as any man then prominent in public life to the more dignified title of statesman. He had the art of popularity, and upon sufficient occasion could be supple and accommodating even in the gravest matters of principle. He had always been a Democrat. He now regarded himself as properly the leader of the Democratic party; and of course he still aimed at the high office which he had twice missed.[72] With this object in view, he had gone very far to retain his hold upon the South. He told Southerners that by his happy theory of “popular sovereignty” he had educated the public mind, and accomplished the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. When the Dred Scott decision took the life out of his “popular sovereignty,” he showed his wonted readiness in adapting himself to the situation. To the triumphant South he graciously admitted the finality of a decision which sustained the most extreme Southern doctrine. To the perturbed and indignant North he said cheeringly that the decision was of no practical consequence whatsoever! For every one knew that slavery could not exist in any community without the aid of friendly legislation; and if any anti-slavery community should by its anti-slavery legislature withhold this essential friendly legislation, then slavery in that State might be lawful but would be impossible. So, he said, there is still in fact “popular sovereignty.”[73] When the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution came up for consideration Douglas decided not to rest content with the form of popular approval, but to stand out for the substance. He quarreled with Buchanan, and in an angry interview they exchanged threats and defiance. Douglas felt himself the greater man of the two in the party, and audaciously indicated something like contempt for the rival who was not leader but only President. Conscience, if one may be allowed gravely to speak of the conscience of a professional politician, and policy were in comfortable unison in commending this choice to Douglas. For his term as senator was to expire in 1858, and reelection was not only in itself desirable, but seemed essential to securing the presidency in 1860. Heretofore Illinois had been a Democratic State; the southern part, peopled by immigrants from neighboring slave States, was largely pro-slavery; but the northern part, containing the rapidly growing city of Chicago, had been filled from the East, and was inclined to sympathize with the rest of the North. Such being the situation, an avowal of Democratic principles, coupled with the repudiation of the Lecompton fraud, seemed the shrewd and safe course in view of Douglas’s political surroundings, also the consistent, or may we say honest, course in view of his antecedent position. If, in thus retaining his hold on Illinois, he gave to the Southern Democracy an offense which could never be forgotten or forgiven, this misfortune was due to the impracticable situation and not to any lack of skillful strategy on his part. In spite of him the bill passed the Senate, but in the House twenty-two Northern Democrats went over to the opposition, and carried a substitute measure, which established that the Lecompton Constitution must again be submitted to popular vote. Though this was done by the body of which Douglas was not a member, yet every one felt that it was in fact his triumph over the administration. A Committee of Conference then brought in the “English bill.” Under this the Kansans were to vote, August 3, 1858, either to accept the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution, with the _douceur_ of a land grant, or to reject it. If they accepted it, the State was to be admitted at once; if they rejected it, they were not to be admitted until the population should reach the number which was required for electing a member to the House of Representatives. At present the population was far short of this number, and therefore rejection involved a long delay in acquiring statehood. Douglas very justly assailed the unfairness of a proposal by which an anti-slavery vote was thus doubly and very severely handicapped; but the bill was passed by both Houses of Congress and was signed by the President. The Kansans, however, by an enormous majority,[74] rejected the bribes of land and statehood in connection with slavery. For his action concerning the Lecompton Constitution and the “English bill” Douglas afterward took much credit to himself.

Such was the stage of advancement of the slavery conflict in the country, and such the position of Douglas in national and in state politics, when there took place that great campaign in Illinois which made him again senator in 1858, and made Lincoln President in 1860.

FOOTNOTES:

[61] For a striking comparison of the condition of the South with that of the North in 1850, see von Holst’s _Const. Hist. of U.S._ v. 567-586.

[62] December, 1845.

[63] For a description of Douglas’s state of mind, see N. and H. i. 345-351, quoting original authorities.

[64] N. and H. i. 388.

[65] Thus when John Adams first landed in Europe, and was asked whether he was “the great Mr. Adams,” he said: No, the great Mr. Adams was his cousin, Samuel Adams of Boston.

[66] For a fair and discriminating estimate of Buchanan, see Blaine, _Twenty Years in Congress_, vol. i. ch. x., especially pp. 239-241.

[67] Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, all for Fremont; Maryland for Fillmore.

[68] Tennessee and Kentucky.

[69] Dred Scott, plff. in error, _vs._ Sandford, Sup. Ct. of U.S. Dec. Term, 1856, 19 Howard, 393. After the conclusion of this case Scott was given his freedom by his master.

[70] _Ante_, pp. 94, 95.

[71] August 24, 1855; Holland, 145.

[72] For a good sketch of Douglas, see Elaine, _Twenty Years of Congress_, i. 144.

[73] This doctrine was set forth by Douglas in a speech at Springfield, Ill., June 12, 1857. A fortnight later, June 26, at the same place, Lincoln answered this speech. N. and H. ii. 85-89.

[74] By 11,300 against 1,788, August 2, 1858. Kansas was admitted as a State at the close of January, 1861, after many of the Southern States had already seceded.

CHAPTER V

THE LINCOLN-DOUGLAS JOINT DEBATE

About this time Lincoln again became active in the politics of his State, aiding in the formation of the Republican party there. On May 29, 1856, a state convention of “all opponents of anti-Nebraska legislation” was held at Bloomington. After “a platform ringing with strong anti-Nebraska sentiments” had been adopted, Lincoln, “in response to repeated calls, came forward and delivered a speech of such earnestness and power that no one who heard it will ever forget the effect it produced.” It was “never written out or printed,” which is to be regretted; but it lives in one of those vivid descriptions by Herndon which leave nothing to the imagination. For the moment this triumph was gratifying; but when Lincoln, leaving the hot enthusiasts of Bloomington, came home to his fellow townsmen at Springfield, he passed into a chill atmosphere of indifference and disapproval. An effort was made to gather a mass meeting in order to ratify the action of the state convention. But the “mass” consisted of three persons, viz., Abraham Lincoln, Herndon, and one John Pain. It was trying, but Lincoln was finely equal to the occasion; in a few words, passing from jest to earnest, he said that the meeting was larger than he _knew_ it would be; for while he knew that he and his partner would attend, he was not sure of any one else; and yet another man had been found brave enough to come out. But, “while all seems dead, the age itself is not. It liveth as sure as our Maker liveth. Under all this seeming want of life and motion the world does move, nevertheless. Be hopeful, and now let us adjourn and appeal to the people!”

In the presidential campaign of 1856 the Republicans of Illinois put Lincoln on their electoral ticket, and he entered into the campaign promptly and very zealously. Traveling untiringly to and fro, he made about fifty speeches. By the quality of these, even more than by their number, he became the champion of the party, so that pressing demands for him came from the neighboring States. He was even heard of in the East. But there he encountered a lack of appreciation and in some quarters an hostility which he felt to be hurtful to his prospects as well as unjust towards a leading Republican of the Northwest. Horace Greeley, enthusiastic, well meaning, ever blundering, the editor of the New York “Tribune,” cast the powerful influence of that sheet against him; and as the senatorial contest of 1858 was approaching, in which Lincoln hoped to be a principal, this ill feeling was very unfortunate.[75] “I fear,” he said, “that Greeley’s attitude will damage me with Sumner, Seward, Wilson, Phillips, and other friends in the East,”–and by the way, it is interesting to note this significant list of political “friends.” Thereupon Herndon, as guardian of Lincoln’s political prospects, went to pass the opening months of the important year upon a crusade among the great men of the East, designing to extinguish the false lights erroneously hung out by persons ignorant of the truth. Erelong he cheered Lincoln by encouraging accounts of success, and of kind words spoken by many Eastern magnates.

In 1858, ability, courage, activity, ambition, the prestige of success, and a plausible moderation in party politics combined to make Douglas the most conspicuous individual in the public view. There was no other way whereby any other man could so surely attract the close and interested attention of the whole people as by meeting Douglas in direct personal competition. If Douglas had not held the position which he did, or if, holding it, he had lived in another State than Illinois, Lincoln might never have been President of the United States. But the essential facts lay favorably for effecting that presentation before the people which was indispensable for his fortunes. In April, 1858, the Democratic State Convention of Illinois indorsed the position which Douglas had taken in the Kansas business. This involved that the party should present him as its candidate for reelection to the national Senate by the legislature whose members were to be chosen in the following autumn. “In the very nature of things,” says the enthusiastic Herndon, Lincoln was at once selected by the Republicans, and on June 16 their convention resolved that “Hon. Abraham Lincoln is our first and only choice for United States senator to fill the vacancy about to be created by the expiration of Mr. Douglas’s term of office.” Immediately the popular excitement gave measure of the estimate placed upon the two men by those who most accurately knew their qualities. All Illinoisians looked forward eagerly to the fine spectacle of a battle royal between real leaders.

The general political condition was extremely confused. The great number of worthy citizens, who had been wont to save themselves from the worry of critical thought in political matters by the simple process of uniform allegiance to a party, now found the old familiar organizations rapidly disintegrating. They were dismayed and bewildered at the scene; everywhere there were new cries, new standards, new leaders, while small bodies of recruits, displaying in strange union old comrades beside old foes, were crossing to and fro and changing relationships, to the inextricable confusion of the situation. In such a chaos each man was driven to do his own thinking, to discover his genuine beliefs, and to determine in what company he could stand enduringly in the troublous times ahead. It was one of those periods in which small men are laid aside and great leaders are recognized by popular instinct; when the little band that is in deepest earnest becomes endowed with a force which compels the mass of careless, temporizing human-kind to gravitate towards it. Such bands were now the Abolitionists at the North and the Secessionists at the South. Between them lay the nation, disquieted, contentious, and more than a little angry at the prevalent discomfort and alarm. At the North nine men out of ten cared far less for any principle, moral or political, than they did for the discovery of some course whereby this unwelcome conflict between slavery and freedom could be prevented from disorganizing the course of daily life and business; and since the Abolitionists were generally charged with being in great measure responsible for the present menacing condition, they were regarded with bitter animosity by a large number of their fellow citizens. The Secessionists were not in equal disfavor at the South, yet they were still very much in the minority, even in the Gulf States.

Illinois had been pretty stanchly Democratic in times past, but no one could forecast the complexion which she would put on in the coming campaign. The Whigs were gone. The Republican party, though so lately born, yet had already traversed the period of infancy and perhaps also that of youth; men guessed wildly how many voters would now cast its ballot. On the other hand, the Democrats were suffering from internal quarrels. The friends of Douglas, and all moderate Democrats, declared him to be the leader of the Democracy; but Southern conventions and newspapers were angrily “reading him out” of the party, and the singular spectacle was witnessed of the Democratic administration sending out its orders to all Federal office-holders in Illinois to oppose the Democratic nominee, even to the point of giving the election to the Republicans; for if discipline was to exist, a defection like that of which Douglas had been guilty must be punished with utter and everlasting destruction at any cost. This schism of course made the numerical uncertainties even more uncertain than they rightfully should have been. Yet, in an odd way, the same fact worked also against Lincoln; for Douglas’s recent votes against the pro-slavery measures of the administration for the admission of Kansas, together with his own direct statements on recent occasions, had put him in a light which misled many Northern anti-slavery men, whose perception did not penetrate to the core-truth. For example, not only Greeley, but Henry Wilson, Burlingame, Washburne, Colfax, and more, really believed that Douglas was turning his back upon his whole past career, and that this brilliant political strategist was actually bringing into the anti-slavery camp[76] all his accumulations of prestige, popularity, and experience, all his seductive eloquence, his skill, and his grand mastery over men. Blinded by the dazzling prospect, they gave all their influence in favor of this priceless recruit, forgetting that, if he were in fact such an apostate as they believed him to be, he would come to them terribly shrunken in value and trustworthiness. Some even were so infatuated as to insist that the Republicans of Illinois ought to present no candidate against him. Fortunately the Illinoisians knew their fellow citizen better; yet in so strange a jumble no one could deny that it was a doubtful conflict in which these two rivals were joining.

Lincoln had expected to be nominated, and during several weeks he had been thinking over his speech of acceptance. However otherwise he might seem at any time to be engaged, he was ceaselessly turning over this matter in his mind; and frequently he stopped short to jot down an idea or expression upon some scrap of paper, which then he thrust into his hat. Thus, piece by piece, the accumulation grew alike inside and outside of his head, and at last he took all his fragments and with infinite consideration moulded them into unity. So studiously had he wrought that by the time of delivery he had unconsciously committed the whole speech accurately to memory. If so much painstaking seemed to indicate an exaggerated notion of the importance of his words, he was soon vindicated by events; for what he said was subjected to a dissection and a criticism such as have not often pursued the winged words of the orator. When at last the composition was completed, he gathered a small coterie of his friends and admirers, and read it to them. The opening paragraph was as follows:–

“If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated with the avowed object and confident promise of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved,–I do not expect the house to fall,–but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new,–North as well as South.”

As the reader watched for the effect of this exordium he only saw disapproval and consternation. His assembled advisers and critics, each and all save only the fiery Herndon, protested that language so daring and advanced would work a ruin that might not be mended in years. Lincoln heard their condemnation with gravity rather than surprise. But he had worked his way to a conviction, and he was immovable; all he said was, that the statement was true, right, and just, that it was time it should be made, and that he would make it, even though he might have “to go down with it;” that he would “rather be defeated with this expression in the speech … than to be victorious without it.” Accordingly, on the next day he spoke the paragraph without the change of a word.

It is not without effort that we can now appreciate fully why this utterance was so momentous in the spring of 1858.[77] By it Lincoln came before the people with a plain statement of precisely that which more than nine hundred and ninety-nine persons in every thousand, especially at the North, were striving with all their might to stamp down as an untruth; he said to them what they all were denying with desperation, and with rage against the asserters. Their bitterness was the greater because very many, in the bottom of their hearts, distrusted their own painful and strenuous denial. No words could be more unpopular than that the divided house could not permanently stand, when the whole nation was insisting, with the intensity of despair, that it could stand, would stand, must stand. Consequently occurrences soon showed his friends to be right so far as concerned the near, practical point: that the paragraph would cost more voters in Illinois than Lincoln could lose without losing his election. But beyond that point, a little farther away in time, much deeper down amid enduring results, Lincoln’s judgment was ultimately seen to rest upon fundamental wisdom, politically as well as morally. For Lincoln was no idealist, sacrificing realities to abstractions; on the contrary, the right which he saw was always a practical right, a right which could be compassed. In this instance, the story goes that he retorted upon some of those who grumbled about his “mistake,” that in time they “would consider it the wisest thing he ever said.” In this he foretold truly; that daring and strong utterance was the first link in the chain of which a more distant link lay across the threshold of the White House.

A battle opened by so resounding a shot was sure to be furious. Writers and speakers fell upon the fateful paragraph and tore it savagely. They found in it a stimulus which, in fact, was not needed; for already were present all the elements of the fiercest struggle,–the best man and the best fighter in each party at the front, and not unevenly matched; a canvass most close and doubtful; and a question which stirred the souls of men with the passions of crusading days. Douglas added experience and distinction to gallantry in attack, adroitness in defense, readiness in personalities, and natural aptitude for popular oratory. Lincoln frankly admitted his formidable qualifications. But the Republican managers had a shrewd appreciation of both opponents; they saw that Lincoln’s forte lay in hitting out straight, direct, and hard; and they felt that blows of the kind he delivered should not go out into the air, but should alight upon a concrete object,–upon Douglas. They conceived a wise plan. On July 24, 1858, Lincoln challenged Douglas to a series of joint debates. Douglas accepted, and named seven meetings, which he so arranged that he opened and closed four times and Lincoln opened and closed three times; but Lincoln made no point of the inequality; the arrangement was completed, and this famous duel constituted another link in that White House chain.

The setting of the spectacle had the picturesqueness of the times and the region. The people gathered in vast multitudes, to the number of ten thousand, even of twenty thousand, at the places named for the speech-making; they came in their wagons from all the country round, bringing provisions, and making camps in the groves and fields. There were bonfires and music, parading and drinking. He was a singular man in Illinois who was not present at some one of these encounters.

Into a competition so momentous Lincoln entered with a full appreciation of the burden and responsibility which it put upon him. He had at once to meet a false gloss of his famous sentence; and though he had been very precise and accurate in his phraseology for the express purpose of escaping misinterpretation, yet it would have been a marvel in applied political morals if the paraphrases devised by Douglas had been strictly ingenuous. The favorite distortion was to alter what was strictly a forecast into a declaration of a policy, to make a prediction pass for an avowal of a purpose to wage war against slavery until either the “institution” or “Abolitionism” should be utterly defeated and forever exterminated. It was said to be a “doctrine” which was “revolutionary and destructive of this government,” and which “invited a warfare between the North and the South, to be carried on with ruthless vengeance, until the one section or the other shall be driven to the wall and become the victim of the rapacity of the other.” Such misrepresentation annoyed Lincoln all the more because it was undeserved. The history of the utterance thus maltreated illustrates the deliberate, cautious, thorough way in which his mind worked. So long ago as August 15, 1855, he had closed a letter with the paragraph: “Our political problem now is: Can we, as a nation, continue together _permanently_–_forever_, half slave and half free? The problem is too mighty for me. May God in his mercy superintend the solution.”[78] This is one among many instances which show how studiously Lincoln pondered until he had got his conclusion into that simple shape in which it was immutable. When he had found a form which satisfied him for the expression of a conviction, he was apt to use it repeatedly rather than to seek new and varied shapes, so that substantially identical sentences often recur at distant intervals of time and place.

When one has been long studying with much earnest intensity of thought a perplexing and moving question, and at last frames a conclusion with painstaking precision in perfectly clear language, it is not pleasant to have that accurate utterance misstated with tireless reiteration, and with infinite art and plausibility. But for this vexation Lincoln could find no remedy, and it was in vain that he again and again called attention to the fact that he had expressed neither a “doctrine,” nor an “invitation,” nor any “purpose” or policy whatsoever. But as it seemed not altogether courageous to leave his position in doubt, he said: “Now, it is singular enough, if you will carefully read that passage over, that I did not say in it that I was in favor of anything. I only said what I expected would take place…. I did not even say that I desired that slavery should be put in course of ultimate extinction. I do say so now, however, so there need be no longer any difficulty about that.” He felt that nothing short of such extinction would surely prevent the revival of a dispute which had so often been settled “_forever_.” “We can no more foretell,” he said, “where the end of this slavery agitation will be than we can see the end of the world itself…. There is no way of putting an end to the slavery agitation amongst us but to put it back upon the basis where our fathers placed it…. Then the public mind will rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction.”

There was much of this eloquence about “the fathers,” much evocation of the shades of the great departed, who, having reached the eternal silence, could be claimed by both sides. The contention was none the less strenuous because it was entirely irrelevant; since the opinion of “the fathers” could not make slavery right or wrong. Many times therefore did Douglas charge Lincoln with having said “that the Union could not endure divided as our fathers made it, with free and slave States;” as though this were a sort of blasphemy against the national demigods. Lincoln aptly retorted that, as matter of fact, these same distinguished “fathers”–“Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Hamilton, Jay, and the great men of that day”–did not _make_, but _found_, the nation half slave and half free; that they set “many clear marks of disapprobation” upon slavery, and left it so situated that the popular mind rested in the belief that it was in the course of ultimate extinction. Unfortunately it had not been allowed to remain as they had left it; but on the contrary, “all the trouble and convulsion has proceeded from the efforts to spread it over more territory.”

Pursuing this line, Lincoln alleged the purpose of the pro-slavery men to make slavery “perpetual and universal” and “national.” In his great speech of acceptance at Springfield he put this point so well that he never improved upon this first presentation of it. The repeal of the Missouri Compromise in 1854 “opened all the national territory to slavery, and was the first point gained. But so far Congress only had acted, and an indorsement by the people, real or imaginary,” was obtained by “the notable argument of ‘squatter sovereignty,’ otherwise called ‘sacred right of self-government,’ which latter phrase, though expressive of the only rightful basis of any government, was so perverted in this attempted use of it as to amount to just this: that if any _one_ man choose to enslave _another_, no _third_ man shall be permitted to object. That argument was incorporated into the Nebraska bill.” In May, 1854, this bill was passed. Then the presidential election came. “Mr. Buchanan was elected, and the indorsement was secured. That was the second point gained.” Meantime the celebrated case of the negro, Dred Scott, was pending in the Supreme Court, and the “President in his inaugural address fervently exhorted the people to abide by the forthcoming decision, whatever it might be. Then in a few days came the decision,” which was at once emphatically indorsed by Douglas, “the reputed author of the Nebraska bill,” and by the new President.

“At length a squabble springs up between the President and the author of the Nebraska bill on the mere question of _fact_, whether the Lecompton Constitution was or was not, in any just sense, made by the people of Kansas; and in that quarrel the latter declares that all he wants is a fair vote for the people, and that he cares not whether slavery be voted _down_ or voted _up_.

… “The several points of the Dred Scott decision in connection with Senator Douglas’s ‘care not’ policy constitute the piece of machinery in its present state of advancement. This was the third point gained.

… “We cannot absolutely know that all these exact adaptations are the result of preconcert. But when we see a lot of framed timbers, different portions of which we know have been gotten out at different times and places and by different workmen,–Stephen, Franklin, Roger, and James, for instance,–and when we see these timbers joined together, and see they exactly make the frame of a house or a mill, all the tenons and mortices exactly fitting, and all the lengths and proportions of the different pieces exactly adapted to their respective places, and not a piece too many or too few,–not omitting even scaffolding; or, if a single piece be lacking, we see the place in the frame exactly fitted and prepared yet to bring such piece in,–in such a case, we find it impossible not to believe that Stephen and Franklin and Roger and James all understood one another from the beginning, and all worked upon a common plan or draft drawn up before the first blow was struck.

“It should not be overlooked that by the Nebraska bill the people of a _State_ as well as a Territory were to be left ‘perfectly free,’ ‘subject only to the Constitution.’ Why mention a _State_?… Why is mention of this lugged into this merely territorial law?

… “Put this and that together, and we have another nice little niche, which we may erelong see filled with another Supreme Court decision, declaring that the Constitution of the United States does not permit a _State_ to exclude slavery from its limits. And this may especially be expected if the doctrine of ‘care not whether slavery be voted down or voted up’ shall gain upon the public mind sufficiently to give promise that such a decision can be maintained when made. Such a decision is all that slavery now lacks of being alike lawful in all the States.” Following out this idea, Lincoln repeatedly put to Douglas a question to which he could never get a direct answer from his nimble antagonist: “If a decision is made, holding that the people of the _States_ cannot exclude slavery, will he support it, or not?”

Even so skillful a dialectician as Douglas found this compact structure of history and argument a serious matter. Its simple solidity was not so susceptible to treatment by the perverting process as had been the figurative and prophetic utterance about the “house divided against itself.” Neither could he find a chink between the facts and the inferences. One aspect of the speech, however, could not be passed over. Lincoln said that he had not charged “Stephen and Franklin and Roger and James” with collusion and conspiracy; but he admitted that he had “arrayed the evidence tending to prove,” and which he “thought did prove,” these things.[79] It was impossible for the four distinguished gentlemen[80] who owned the rest of these names to refuse to plead. Accordingly Douglas sneered vehemently at the idea that two presidents, the chief justice, and he himself had been concerned in that grave crime against the State which was imputed to them; and when, by his lofty indignation, he had brought his auditors into sympathy, he made the only possible reply: that the real meaning, the ultimate logical outcome, of what Lincoln had said was, that a decision of the Supreme Court was to be set aside by the political action of the people at the polls. The Supreme Court had interpreted the Constitution, and Lincoln was inciting the people to annul that interpretation by some political process not known to the law. For himself, he proclaimed with effective emphasis his allegiance to that great tribunal in the performance of its constitutional duties. Lincoln replied that he also bowed to the Dred Scott decision in the specific case; but he repudiated it as a binding rule in political action.[81] His point seemed more obscure than was usual with him, and not satisfactory as an answer to Douglas. But as matter of fact no one was deceived by the amusing adage of the profession: that the courts do not _make_ the law, but only _declare what it is_. Every one knew that the law was just what the judges chose from time to time to say that it was, and that if judicial _declarations_ of the law were not reversed quite so often as legislative _makings_ of the law were repealed, it was only because the identity of a bench is usually of longer duration than the identity of a legislative body. If the people, politically, willed the reversal of the Dred Scott decision, it was sure in time to be judicially reversed.[82]

Douglas boasted that the Democrats were a national party, whereas the “Black Republicans” were a sectional body whose creed could not be uttered south of Mason and Dixon’s line. He was assiduous in fastening upon Lincoln the name of “Abolitionist,” and “Black Republican,” epithets so unpopular that those who held the faith often denied the title, and he only modified them by the offensive admission that Lincoln’s doctrines were sometimes disingenuously weakened to suit certain audiences: “His principles in the north [of Illinois] are jet black; in the centre they are in color a decent mulatto; and in lower Egypt[83] they are almost white.”

Concerning sectionalism, Lincoln countered fairly enough on his opponent by asking: Was it, then, the case that it was slavery which was national, and freedom which was sectional? Or, “Is it the true test of the soundness of a doctrine that in some places people won’t let you proclaim it?” But the remainder of Douglas’s assault was by no means to be disposed of by quick retort. When Lincoln was pushed to formulate accurately his views concerning the proper status of the negro in the community, he had need of all his extraordinary care in statement. Herein lay problems that were vexing many honest citizens and clever men besides himself, and were breeding much disagreement among persons who all were anti-slavery in a general way, but could by no means reach a comfortable unison concerning troublesome particulars. The “all men free and equal” of the Constitution, and the talk about human brotherhood, gave the Democrats wide scope for harassing anti-slavery men with vexatious taunts and embarrassing cross-interrogatories on practical points. “I do not question,” said Douglas, “Mr. Lincoln’s conscientious belief that the negro was made his equal, and hence is his brother. But for my own part, I do not regard the negro as my equal, and positively deny that he is my brother, or any kin to me whatever.” He said that “the signers of the Declaration had no reference to the negro,… or any other inferior and degraded race, when they spoke of the equality of men,” but meant only “white men, of European birth and descent.” This topic opens the whole subject of Lincoln’s political affiliations and of his opinions concerning slavery and the negro, opinions which seem to have undergone no substantial change during the interval betwixt this campaign and his election to the presidency. Some selections from what he said may sufficiently explain his position.

At Freeport, August 27, replying to a series of questions from Douglas, he declared that he had supposed himself, “since the organization of the Republican party at Bloomington, in May, 1856, bound as a party man by the platforms of the party, then and since.” He said: “I do not now, nor ever did, stand in favor of the unconditional repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law.” He believed that under the Constitution the Southerners were entitled to such a law; but thought that the existing law “should have been framed so as to be free from some of the objections that pertain to it, without lessening its efficiency.” He would not “introduce it as a new subject of agitation upon the general question of slavery.”

He should be “exceedingly sorry” ever to have to pass upon the question of admitting more slave States into the Union, and exceedingly glad to know that another never would be admitted. But “if slavery shall be kept out of the Territories during the territorial existence of any one given Territory, and then the people shall, having a fair chance and a clear field, when they come to adopt their constitution, do such an extraordinary thing as to adopt a slave constitution, uninfluenced by the actual presence of the institution among them, I see no alternative, if we own the country, but to admit them into the Union.” He should also, he said, be “exceedingly glad to see slavery abolished in the District of Columbia,” and he believed that Congress had “constitutional power to abolish it” there; but he would favor the measure only upon condition: “First, that the abolition should be gradual; second, that it should be on a vote of the majority of qualified voters in the District; and, third, that compensation should be made to unwilling owners.” As to the abolition of the slave trade between the different States, he acknowledged that he had not considered the matter sufficiently to have reached a conclusion concerning it. But if he should think that Congress had power to effect such abolition, he should “not be in favor of the exercise of that power unless upon some conservative principle, akin to what I have said in relation to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia.” As to the territorial controversy, he said: “I am impliedly, if not expressly, pledged to a belief in the _right_ and _duty_ of Congress to prohibit slavery in all the United States Territories.” Concerning the acquisition of new territory he said: “I am not generally opposed to honest acquisition of territory; and in any given case I would or would not oppose such acquisition, according as I might think such acquisition would or would not aggravate the slavery question among ourselves.” The statement derived its immediate importance from the well-known purpose of the administration and a considerable party in the South very soon to acquire Cuba. All these utterances were certainly clear enough, and were far from constituting Abolitionist doctrine, though they were addressed to an audience “as strongly tending to Abolitionism as any audience in the State of Illinois,” and Mr. Lincoln believed that he was saying “that which, if it would be offensive to any person and render them enemies to himself, would be offensive to persons in this audience.”

At Quincy Lincoln gave his views concerning Republicanism with his usual unmistakable accuracy, and certainly he again differentiated it widely from Abolitionism. The Republican party, he said, think slavery “a moral, a social, and a political wrong.” Any man who does not hold this opinion “is misplaced and ought to leave us. While, on the other hand, if there be any man in the Republican party who is impatient over the necessity springing from its actual presence, and is impatient of the constitutional guarantees thrown around it, and would act in disregard of these, he, too, is misplaced, standing with us. He will find his place somewhere else; for we have a due regard … for all these things.” … “I have always hated slavery as much as any Abolitionist,… but I have always been quiet about it until this new era of the introduction of the Nebraska bill again.” He repeated often that he had “no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists;” that he had “no lawful right to do so,” and “no inclination to do so.” He said that his declarations as to the right of the negro to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” were designed only to refer to legislation “about any new country which is not already cursed with the actual presence of the evil,–slavery.” He denied having ever “manifested any impatience with the necessities that spring from the … actual existence of slavery among us, where it does already exist.”

He dwelt much upon the equality clause of the Declaration. If we begin “making exceptions to it, where will it stop? If one man says it does not mean a negro, why not another say it does not mean some other man?” Only within three years past had any one doubted that negroes were included by this language. But he said that, while the authors “intended to include _all_ men, they did not mean to declare all men equal _in all respects_,… in color, size, intellect, moral development, or social capacity,” but only “equal in certain inalienable rights.” “Anything that argues me into his [Douglas’s] idea of perfect social and political equality with the negro is but a specious and fantastic arrangement of words, by which a man can prove a horse chestnut to be a chestnut horse…. I have no purpose to produce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality; and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position…. But I hold that … there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas that he is not my equal in many respects,–certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without the leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, _he is my equal, and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man_.” Later at Charleston he reiterated much of this in almost identical language, and then in his turn took his fling at Douglas: “I am not in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people…. I do not understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. My understanding is that I can just let her alone…. I have never had the least apprehension that I or my friends would marry negroes, if there was no law to keep them from it; but as Judge Douglas and his friends seem to be in great apprehension that _they_ might, if there were no law to keep them from it, I give him the most solemn pledge that I will to the very last stand by the law of this State, which forbids the marrying of white people with negroes.”

By all this it is made entirely evident that Lincoln held a faith widely different from that of the great crusading leaders of Abolitionism at the East.[84] Equally marked was the difference between him and them in the matters of temper and of the attitude taken towards opponents. The absence of any sense of personal hostility towards those who assailed him with unsparing vindictiveness was a trait often illustrated in his after life, and which was now noted with surprise, for it was rare in the excited politics of those days. In this especial campaign both contestants honestly intended to refrain from personalities, but the difference between their ways of doing so was marked. Douglas, under the temptation of high ability in that line, held himself in check by an effort which was often obvious and not always entirely successful. But Lincoln never seemed moved by the desire. “All I have to ask,” he said, “is that we talk reasonably and rationally;” and again: “I hope to deal in all things fairly with Judge Douglas.” No innuendo, no artifice, in any speech, gave the lie to these protestations. Besides this, his denunciations were always against _slavery_, and never against _slaveholders_. The emphasis of condemnation, the intensity of feeling, were never expended against persons. By this course, unusual among the Abolitionists, he not only lost nothing in force and impressiveness, but, on the contrary, his attack seemed to gain in effectiveness by being directed against no personal object, but exclusively against a practice. His war was against slavery, not against the men and women of the South who owned slaves. At Ottawa he read from the Peoria speech of 1854: “I have no prejudice against the Southern people. They are just what we would [should] be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist among them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist among us, we should not instantly give it up…. It does seem to me that systems of gradual emancipation might be adopted; but for their tardiness in this, I will not undertake to judge our brethren of the South.” Repeatedly he admitted the difficulty of the problem, and fastened no blame upon those Southerners who excused themselves for not expelling the evil on the ground that they did not know how to do so. At Peoria he said: “If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do as to the existing institution.” He contributed some suggestions which certainly were nothing better than chimerical. Deportation to Africa was his favorite scheme; he also proposed that it would be “best for all concerned to have the colored population in a State by themselves.” But he did not abuse men who declined to adopt his methods. Though he was dealing with a question which was arousing personal antagonisms as bitter as any that history records, yet he never condemned any one, nor ever passed judgment against his fellow men.

Diagnosis would perhaps show that the trait thus illustrated was mental rather than moral. This absence of animosity and reproach as towards individuals found its root not so much in human charity as in fairness of thinking. Lincoln’s ways of mental working are not difficult to discover. He thought slowly, cautiously, profoundly, and with a most close accuracy; but above all else he _thought fairly_. This capacity far transcended, or, more correctly, differed from, what is ordinarily called the judicial habit of mind. Many men can weigh arguments without letting prejudice get into either scale; but Lincoln carried on the whole process of thinking, not only with an equal clearness of perception, but also with an entire impartiality of liking or disliking for both sides. His aim, while he was engaged in thinking, was to discover what was really true; and later when he spoke to others his purpose was to show them the truth which he had discovered, and to state to them on what grounds he believed it to be the truth; it did not involve a judgment against the individuals who failed to recognize that truth. His singular trait of impersonality was not made more apparent in any other way. His effort never was to defeat the person who happened to be his adversary, but always was to overcome the arguments of that adversary. Primarily he was discussing a topic and establishing a truth; it was only incidental that in doing these things he had to oppose a man. It is noteworthy that his opponents never charged him with misstating their case in order to make an apparently effective answer to it. On the contrary, his hope of success seemed always to lie in having both sides presented with the highest degree of clearness and honesty. He had perfect confidence in the ultimate triumph of the truth; he was always willing to tie fast to it, according as he could see it, and then to bide time with it. This being a genuine faith and not mere lip-service, he used the same arguments to others which he used to himself, and staked his final success upon the probability that what had persuaded his mind would in time persuade also the minds of other intelligent men. It has been well said of him by an excellent judge: “He loved the truth for the truth’s sake. He would not argue from a false premise, or be deceived himself, or deceive others, by a false conclusion…. He did not seek to say merely the thing which was best for that day’s debate, but the thing which would stand the test of time, and square itself with eternal justice…. His logic was severe and faultless. He did not resort to fallacy.”[85]

To return to the points made in the debate: Douglas laid down the “great principle of non-interference and non-intervention by Congress with slavery in the States and Territories alike;” which he assured his audience would enable us to “continue at peace with one another.” In the same connection he endeavored to silver-coat for Northern palates the bitter pill of the Dred Scott decision, by declaring that the people of any State or Territory might withhold that protecting legislation, those “friendly police regulations,” without which slavery could not exist. But this was, indeed, a “lame, illogical, evasive answer,” which enabled Lincoln to “secure an advantage in the national relations of the contest which he held to the end.”

Lincoln, in replying, agreed that “all the States have the right to do exactly as they please about all their domestic relations, including that of slavery.” But he said that the proposition that slavery could not enter a new country without police regulations was historically false; and that the facts of the Dred Scott case itself showed that there was “vigor enough in slavery to plant itself in a new country even against unfriendly legislation.” Beyond this issue of historical fact, Douglas had already taken and still dared to maintain a position which proved to be singularly ill chosen. The right to hold slaves as property in the Territories had lately, to the infinite joy of the South, been declared by the Supreme Court to be guaranteed by the Constitution; and now Douglas had the audacity to repeat that notion of his, so abhorrent to all friends of slavery,–that this invaluable right could be made practically worthless by unfriendly local legislation, or even by the negative hostility of withholding friendly legislation! From the moment when this deadly suggestion fell from his ingenious lips, the Southern Democracy turned upon him with vindictive hate and marked him for destruction. He had also given himself into the hands of his avowed and natural enemies. The doctrine, said Mr. Lincoln, is “no less than that a thing may lawfully be driven away from a place where it has a lawful right to be.” “If you were elected members of the legislature, what would be the first thing you would have to do, before entering upon your duties? _Swear to support the Constitution of the United States_. Suppose you believe, as Judge Douglas does, that the Constitution of the United States guarantees to your neighbor the right to hold slaves in that Territory,–that they are his property,–how can you clear your oaths, unless you give him such legislation as is necessary to enable him to enjoy that property? What do you understand by supporting the Constitution of a State, or of the United States? Is it not to give such constitutional helps to the rights established by that Constitution as may be practically needed?… And what I say here will hold with still more force against the judge’s doctrine of ‘unfriendly legislation.’ How could you, having sworn to support the Constitution, and believing it guaranteed the right to hold slaves in the Territories, assist in legislation _intended to defeat that right_?” “Is not Congress itself under obligation to give legislative support to any right that is established under the United States Constitution?” Upon what other principle do “many of us, who are opposed to slavery upon principle, give our acquiescence to a Fugitive Slave Law?” Does Douglas mean to say that a territorial legislature, “by passing unfriendly laws,” can “_nullify a constitutional right_?” He put to Douglas the direct and embarrassing query: “If the slaveholding citizens of a United States Territory should need and demand congressional legislation for the protection of their slave property in such Territory, would you, as a member of Congress, vote for or against such legislation?” “Repeat that,” cried Douglas, ostentatiously; “I want to answer that question.” But he never composed his reply.

Another kindred question had already been put by Lincoln: “Can the people of a United States Territory, in any lawful way, against the wish of any citizen of the United States, exclude slavery from its limits, prior to the formation of a State Constitution?” Friends advised him not to force this, as it seemed against the immediate policy of the present campaign. But it was never his way to subordinate his own deliberate opinion to the opinions of advisers; and on this occasion he was merciless in pressing this question. A story has been very generally repeated that he told the protesters that, whatever might be the bearing on the senatorship, Douglas could not answer that question and be elected President of the United States in 1860. “I am killing larger game,” he said; “the battle of 1860 is worth a hundred of this.”[86] A few legends of this kind are extant, which tend to indicate that Lincoln already had in mind the presidential nomination, and was fighting the present fight with an eye to that greater one in the near future. It is not easy to say how much credit should be given to such tales; they may not be wholly inventions, but a remark which is uttered with little thought may later easily take on a strong color in the light of subsequent developments.

In presenting the Republican side of the question Lincoln seemed to feel a duty beyond that of merely outarguing his opponent. He bore the weighty burden of a responsibility graver than personal success. He might prevail in the opinions of his fellow citizens; without this instant triumph he might so present his cause that the jury of posterity would declare that the truth lay with him; he might even convince both the present and the coming generations; and though achieving all these triumphs, he might still fall far short of the peculiar and exacting requirement of the occasion. For the winning of the senatorship was the insignificant part of what he had undertaken; his momentous charge was to maintain a grand moral crusade, to stimulate and to vindicate a great uprising in the cause of humanity and of justice. His full appreciation of this is entirely manifest in the tone of his speeches. They have an earnestness, a gravity, at times even a solemnity, unusual in such encounters in any era or before any audiences, but unprecedented “on the stump” before the uproarious gatherings of the West at that day. Repeatedly he stigmatized slavery as “a moral, a social, a political evil.” Very impressively he denounced the positions of an opponent who “cared not whether slavery was voted down or voted up,” who said that slavery was not to be differentiated from the many domestic institutions and daily affairs which civilized societies control by police regulations. He said that slavery could not be treated as “only equal to the cranberry laws of Indiana;” that slaves could not be put “upon a par with onions and potatoes;” that to Douglas he supposed that the institution really “looked small,” but that a great proportion of the American people regarded slavery as “a vast moral evil.” “The real issue in this controversy–the one pressing upon every mind–is the sentiment on the part of one class that looks upon the institution of slavery _as a wrong_, and of another class that does _not_ look upon it as a wrong…. No man can logically say he does not care whether a wrong is voted up or voted down. He [Douglas] contends that whatever community wants slaves has a right to have them. So they have, if it is not a wrong. But if it is a wrong, he cannot say people have a right to do wrong. He says that, upon the score of equality, slaves should be allowed to go into a new Territory, like other property. This is strictly logical if there is no difference between it and other property…. But if you insist that one is wrong and the other right, there is no use to institute a comparison between right and wrong…. That is the real issue. That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles, right and wrong, throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time, and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity, and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says: ‘You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.'” “I ask you if it is not a false philosophy? Is it not a false statesmanship that undertakes to build up a system of policy upon the basis of caring nothing about _the very thing that everybody does care the most about_?”

We cannot leave these speeches without a word concerning their literary quality. In them we might have looked for vigor that would be a little uncouth, wit that would be often coarse, a logic generally sound but always clumsy,–in a word, tolerably good substance and very poor form. We are surprised, then, to find many and high excellences in art. As it is with Bacon’s essays, so it is with these speeches: the more attentively they are read the more striking appears the closeness of their texture both in logic and in language. Clear thought is accurately expressed. Each sentence has its special errand, and each word its individual importance. There is never either too much or too little. The work is done with clean precision and no waste. Nowhere does one pause to seek a meaning or to recover a connection; and an effort to make out a syllabus shows that the most condensed statement has already been used. There are scintillations of wit and humor, but they are not very numerous. When Lincoln was urged to adopt a more popular style, he replied: “The occasion is too serious; the issues are too grave. I do not seek applause, or to amuse the people, but to convince them.” This spirit was upon him from the beginning to the end. Had he been addressing a bench of judges, subject to a close limitation of minutes, he would have won credit by the combined economy and force which were displayed in these harangues to general assemblages. To speak of the lofty tone of these speeches comes dangerously near to the distasteful phraseology of extravagant laudation, than which nothing else can produce upon honest men a worse impression. Yet it is a truth visible to every reader that at the outset Lincoln raised the discussion to a very high plane, and held it there throughout. The truth which he had to sustain was so great that it was perfectly simple, and he had the good sense to utter it with appropriate simplicity. In no speech was there fervor or enthusiasm or rhetoric; he talked to the reason and the conscience of his auditors, not to their passions. Yet the depth of his feeling may be measured by the story that once in the canvass he said to a friend: “Sometimes, in the excitement of speaking, I seem to see the end of slavery. I feel that the time is soon coming when the sun shall shine, the rain fall, on no man who shall go forth to unrequited toil. How this will come, when it will come, by whom it will come, I cannot tell,–but that time will surely come.”[87] It is just appreciation, and not extravagance, to say that the cheap and miserable little volume, now out of print, containing in bad newspaper type, “The Lincoln and Douglas Debates,”[88] holds some of the masterpieces of oratory of all ages and nations.

The immediate result of the campaign was the triumph of Douglas, who had certainly made not only a very able and brilliant but a splendidly gallant fight, with Republicans assailing him in front and Administrationists in rear.[89] Lincoln was disappointed. His feelings had been so deeply engaged, he had worked so strenuously, and the result had been so much in doubt, that defeat was trying. But he bore it with his wonted resolute equanimity. He said that he felt “like the boy that stumped his toe,–‘it hurt too bad to laugh, and he was too big to cry.'” In fact, there were encouraging elements.[90] The popular vote stood,[91] Republicans, 126,084; Douglas Democrats, 121,940; Lecompton Democrats, 5,091. But the apportionment of districts was such that the legislature contained a majority for Douglas.[92] So the prestige of victory seemed separated from its fruits; for the nation, attentively watching this duel, saw that the new man had convinced upwards of four thousand voters more than had the great leader of the Democracy. Douglas is reported to have said that, during his sixteen years in Congress, he had found no man in the Senate whom he would not rather encounter in debate than Lincoln. If it was true that Lincoln was already dreaming of the presidency, he was a sufficiently shrewd politician to see that his prospects were greatly improved by this campaign. He had worked hard for what he had gained; he had been traveling incessantly to and fro and delivering speeches in unbroken succession during about one hundred of the hot days of the Western summer, and speeches not of a commonplace kind, but which severely taxed the speaker. After all was over, he was asked by the state committee to contribute to the campaign purse! He replied: “I am willing to pay according to my ability, but I am the poorest hand living to get others to pay. _I have been on expense_ so long, without earning anything, that I am absolutely without money now for even household expenses. Still, if you can put in $250 for me,… I will allow it when you and I settle the private matter between us. This, with what I have already paid,… will exceed my subscription of $500. This, too, is exclusive of my ordinary expenses during the campaign, all of which being added to my loss of time and business bears pretty heavily upon one no better off than I am…. You are feeling badly; ‘and this, too, shall pass away;’ never fear.”

The platform which, with such precision and painstaking, Lincoln had constructed for himself was made by him even more ample and more strong by a few speeches delivered in the interval between the close of this great campaign and his nomination by the Republicans for the presidency. In Ohio an important canvass for the governorship took place, and Douglas went there, and made speeches filled with allusions to Lincoln and the recent Illinois campaign. Even without this provocation Lincoln knew, by keen instinct, that where Douglas was, there he should be also. In no other way had he yet appeared to such advantage as in encountering “the Little Giant.” To Ohio, accordingly, he hastened, and spoke at Columbus and at Cincinnati.[93] To the citizens of the latter place he said: “This is the first time in my life that I have appeared before an audience in so great a city as this. I therefore make this appearance under some degree of embarrassment.” There was little novelty in substance, but much in treatment. Thus, at Cincinnati, he imagined himself addressing Kentuckians, and showed them that their next nominee for the presidency ought to be his “distinguished friend, Judge Douglas;” for “in all that there is a difference between you and him, I understand he is sincerely for you, and more wisely for you than you are for yourselves.” Through him alone pro-slavery men retained any hold upon the free States of the North; and in those States, “in every possible way he can, he constantly moulds the public opinion to your ends.” Ingeniously but fairly he sketched Douglas as the most efficient among the pro-slavery leaders. Perhaps the clever and truthful picture may have led Mr. Greeley and some other gentlemen at the East to suspect that they had been inconsiderate in their choice between the Western rivals; and perhaps, also, Lincoln, while addressing imaginary Kentuckians, had before his inner eye some Eastern auditors. For at the time he did not know that his voice would ever be heard at any point nearer to their ears than the hall in which he then stood. Within a few weeks, however, this unlooked-for good fortune befell. In October, 1859, he was invited to speak in the following winter in New York. That the anti-slavery men of that city wished to test him by personal observation signified that his reputation was national, and that the highest aspirations were, therefore, not altogether presumptuous. He accepted gladly, and immediately began to prepare an address which probably cost him more labor than any other speech which he ever made. He found time, however, in December to make a journey through Kansas, where he delivered several speeches, which have not been preserved but are described as “repetitions of those previously made in Illinois.” Lamon tells us that the journey was an “ovation,” and that “wherever Lincoln went, he was met by vast assemblages of people.” The population of this agricultural State was hardly in a condition to furnish “vast assemblages” at numerous points, but doubtless the visitor received gratifying assurance that upon this battle-ground of slavery and anti-slavery the winning party warmly appreciated his advocacy of their cause.

On Saturday, February 25, 1860, Lincoln arrived in New York. On Monday his hosts “found him dressed in a sleek and shining suit of new black, covered with very apparent creases and wrinkles, acquired by being packed too closely and too long in his little valise. He felt uneasy in his new clothes and a strange place.” Certainly nothing in his previous experience had prepared him to meet with entire indifference an audience of metropolitan critics; indeed, had the surroundings been more familiar, he had enough at stake to tax his equanimity when William Cullen Bryant introduced him simply as “an eminent citizen of the West, hitherto known to you only by reputation.” Probably the first impression made upon those auditors by the ungainly Westerner in his outlandish garb were not the same which they carried home with them a little later. The speech was so condensed that a sketch of it is not possible. Fortunately it had the excellent quality of steadily expanding in interest and improving to the end.

Of the Dred Scott case he cleverly said that the courts had decided it “_in a sort of way_;” but, after all, the decision was “mainly based upon a mistaken statement of fact,–the statement in the opinion that ‘the right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution.'”

In closing, he begged the Republicans, in behalf of peace and harmony, to “do nothing through passion and ill-temper;” but he immediately went on to show the antagonism between Republican opinion and Democratic opinion with a distinctness which left no hope of harmony, and very little hope of peace. To satisfy the Southerners, he said, we must “cease to call slavery _wrong_, and join them in calling it _right_. And this must be done thoroughly,–done in _acts_ as well as in _words_…. We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our free-state Constitutions…. If slavery is right, all words, acts, laws, and constitutions against it are themselves wrong, and should be silenced and swept away. If it is right, we cannot object to its nationality, its universality; if it is wrong, they cannot justly insist upon its extension, its enlargement. All they ask we could readily grant, if we thought slavery right; all we ask they could as readily grant, if they thought it wrong. Their thinking it right and our thinking it wrong is the precise fact upon which depends the whole controversy. Thinking it right, as they do, they are not to blame for desiring its full recognition, as being right; but thinking it wrong, as we do, can we yield to them?… Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the national Territories, and to overrun us here in these free States? If our sense of duty forbids this … let us be diverted by no sophistical contrivances, such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man; such as a policy of ‘don’t care’ on a question about which all true men do care; such as Union appeals beseeching true Union men to yield to Disunionists, reversing the divine rule and calling not the sinners but the righteous to repentance.”

The next morning the best newspapers gave full reports of the speech, with compliments. The columns of the “Evening Post” were generously declared to be “indefinitely elastic” for such utterances; and the “Tribune” expressed commendation wholly out of accord with the recent notions of its editor. The rough fellow from the crude West had made a powerful impression upon the cultivated gentlemen of the East.

From New York Lincoln went to Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. In this last-named State he delivered speeches which are said to have contributed largely to the Republican success in the closely contested election then at hand. In Manchester it was noticed that “he did not abuse the South, the administration, or the Democrats, or indulge in any personalities, with the exception of a few hits at Douglas’s notions.”[94]

These speeches of 1858, 1859, and 1860 have a very great value as contributions to history. During that period every dweller in the United States was hotly concerned about this absorbing question of slavery, advancing his own views, weighing or encountering the arguments of others, quarreling, perhaps, with his oldest friends and his nearest kindred,–for about this matter men easily quarreled and rarely compromised. Every man who fancied that he could speak in public got upon some platform in city, town, or village, and secured an audience by his topic if not by his ability; every one who thought that he could write found some way to print what he had to say upon a subject of which readers never tired; and for whatever purpose two or three men were gathered together, they were not likely to separate without a few words about North and South, pro-slavery and anti-slavery. Never was any matter more harried and ransacked by disputation. Now to all the speaking and writing of the Republicans Lincoln’s condensed speeches were what a syllabus is to an elaborate discourse, what a lawyer’s brief is to his verbal argument. Perhaps they may better be likened to an anti-slavery gospel; as the New Testament is supposed to cover the whole ground of Christian doctrines and Christian ethics, so that theologians and preachers innumerable have only been able to make elaborations or glosses upon the original text, so Lincoln’s speeches contain the whole basis of the anti-slavery cause as maintained by the Republican party. They also set forth a considerable part of the Southern position, doubtless as fairly as the machinations of the Devil are set forth in Holy Writ. They only rather gingerly refrain from speaking of the small body of ultra-Abolitionists,–for while Lincoln was far from agreeing with these zealots, he felt that it was undesirable to widen by any excavation upon his side the chasm between them and the Republicans. So the fact is that the whole doctrine of Republicanism, as it existed during the political campaign which resulted in the election of Lincoln, also all the historical facts supporting that doctrine, were clearly and accurately stated in these speeches. Specific points were more elaborated by other persons; but every seed was to be found in this granary.

This being the case, it is worth noticing that both Lincoln and Douglas confined their disputation closely to the slavery question. Disunion and secession were words familiar in every ear, yet Lincoln referred to these things only twice or thrice, and incidentally, while Douglas ignored them. This fact is fraught with meaning. American writers and American readers have always met upon the tacit understanding that the Union was the chief cause of, and the best justification for, the war. An age may come when historians, treating our history as we treat that of Greece, stirred by no emotion at the sight of the “Stars and Stripes,” moved by no patriotism at the name of the United States of America, will seek a deeper philosophy to explain this obstinate, bloody, costly struggle. Such writers may say that a rich, civilized multitude of human beings, possessors of the quarter of a continent, believing it best for their interests to set up an independent government for themselves, fell back upon the right of revolution, though they chose not to call it by that name. Now, even if it be possible to go so far as to say that every nation has always a right to preserve by force, if it can, its own integrity, certainly it cannot be stated as a further truth that no portion of a nation can ever be justified in endeavoring to obtain an independent national existence; no citizen of this country can admit this, but must say that such an endeavor is justifiable or not justifiable according as its cause and basis are right or wrong. Far down, then, at the very bottom lay the question whether the Southerners had a sufficient cause upon which to base a revolution. Now this question was hardly conclusively answered by the perfectly true statement that the North had not interfered with Southern rights. Southerners might admit this, and still believe that their welfare could be best subserved by a government wholly their own. So the very bottom question of all still remained: Was the South endeavoring to establish a government of its own for a justifiable reason and a right purpose? Now the avowed purpose was to establish on an enduring foundation a permanent slave empire; and the declared reason was, that slavery was not safe within the Union. Underneath the question of the Union therefore lay, logically, the question of slavery.

Lincoln and the other Republican leaders said that, if slavery extension was prevented, then slavery was in the way of extinction. If the assertion was true, it pretty clearly followed that the South could retain slavery only by independence and a complete imperial control within the limits of its own homogeneous nationality; for undeniably the preponderant Northern mass was becoming firmly resolved that slavery should not be extended, however it might be tolerated within its present limits. So still, by anti-slavery statement itself, the ultimate question was: whether or not the preservation of slavery was a right and sufficient cause or purpose for establishing an independent nationality. Lincoln, therefore, went direct to the logical heart of the contention,