This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
  • 1893
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days

when he said that the real dispute was whether slavery was a right thing or a wrong thing. If slavery was a right thing, a Union conducted upon a policy which was believed to doom it to “ultimate extinction” was not a right thing. But if slavery was a wrong thing, a revolution undertaken with the purpose of making it perpetual was also a wrong thing. Therefore, from beginning to end, Lincoln talked about slavery. By so doing he did what he could to give to the war a character far higher even than a war of patriotism, for he extended its meaning far beyond the age and the country of its occurrence, and made of it, not a war for the United States alone, but a war for humanity, a war for ages and peoples yet to come. In like manner, he himself also gained the right to be regarded as much more than a great party leader, even more than a great patriot; for he became a champion of mankind and the defender of the chief right of man. I do not mean to say that he saw these things in this light at the moment, or that he accurately formulated the precise relationship and fundamental significance of all that was then in process of saying and doing. Time must elapse, and distance must enable one to get a comprehensive view, before the philosophy of an era like that of the civil war becomes intelligible. But the philosophy is not the less correct because those who were framing it piece by piece did not at any one moment project before their mental vision the whole in its finished proportions and relationship.


[75] As an example of Greeley’s position, see letter quoted by N. and H. ii. 140, note. The fact that he was strenuously pro-Douglas and anti-Lincoln is well known. Yet afterward he said that it “was hardly in human nature” for Republicans to treat Douglas as a friend. Greeley’s _American Conflict_, i. 301.

[76] Wilson, _Rise and Fall of the Slave Power_, ii. 567; for sketches of Douglas’s position, see Blaine, _Twenty Years of Congress_, i. 141-144; von Holst, _Const. Hist. of U.S._ vi. 280-286; Herndon, 391-395; N. and H. ii. 138-143; Lamon, 390-395; Holland, 158. Crittenden was one of the old Whigs, who now sorely disappointed Lincoln by preferring Douglas. N. and H. ii. 142.

[77] Several months afterward, October 25, 1858, Mr. Seward made the speech at Rochester which contained the famous sentence: “It is an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces, and it means that the United States must and will, sooner or later, become either entirely a slaveholding nation or entirely a free-labor nation.” Seward’s _Works_, new edition, 1884, iv. 292. But Seward ranked among the extremists and the agitators. See _Lincoln and Douglas Deb._ 244. After all, the idea had already found expression in the Richmond _Enquirer_, May 6, 1856, quoted by von Hoist, vi. 299, also referred to by Lincoln; see _Lincoln and Douglas Deb._ 262.

[78] Letter to Hon. Geo. Robertson, N. and H. i. 392; and see Lamon, 398; also see remarks of von Holst, vi. 277.

[79] _Lincoln and Douglas Deb._ 93. W.P. Fessenden, “who,” says Mr. Blaine, “always spoke with precision and never with passion,” expressed his opinion that if Fremont had been elected instead of Buchanan, that decision would never have been given. _Twenty Years of Congress_, i. 133.

[80] Stephen A. Douglas, Franklin Pierce, Roger B. Taney, James Buchanan.

[81] _Lincoln and Douglas Deb._ 198. At Chicago he said that he would vote for the prohibition of slavery in a new Territory “in spite of the Dred Scott decision.” _Lincoln and Douglas Deb._ 20; and see the rest of his speech on the same page. The Illinois Republican Convention, June 16. 1858, expressed “condemnation of the principles and tendencies of the extra-judicial opinions of a majority of the judges,” as putting forth a “political heresy.” Holland, 159.

Years ago Salmon P. Chase had dared to say that, if the courts would not overthrow the pro-slavery construction of the Constitution, the people would do so, even if it should be “necessary to overthrow the courts also.” Warden’s _Life of Chase_, 313.

[82] For Lincoln’s explanation of his position concerning the Dred Scott decision, see _Lincoln and Douglas Deb._ 20.

[83] A nickname for the southern part of Illinois.

[84] Henry Wilson has made his criticism in the words that “some of his [Lincoln’s] assertions and admissions were both unsatisfactory and offensive to anti-slavery men; betrayed too much of the spirit of caste and prejudice against color, and sound harshly dissonant by the side of the Proclamation of Emancipation and the grand utterances of his later state papers.” _Rise and Fall of the Slave Power_, ii. 576.

[85] Blaine, _Twenty Years of Congress_, i. 145

[86] N. and H. ii. 159, 160, 163; Arnold, 151; Lamon, 415, 416, and see 406; Holland, 189; Wilson, _Rise and Fall of the Slave Power_, ii. 576; Blaine, _Twenty Years of Congress_, i. 148.

[87] Arnold, 144. This writer speaks with discriminating praise concerning Lincoln’s oratory, p. 139. It is an illustration of Lincoln’s habit of adopting for permanent use any expression that pleased him, that this same phrase had been used by him in a speech made two years before this time. Holland, 151.

[88] Published in Columbus, in 1860, for campaign purposes, from copies furnished by Lincoln; see his letter to Central Exec. Comm., December 19, 1859, on fly-leaf.

[89] Many tributes have been paid to Douglas by writers who oppose his opinions; _e.g._, Arnold says: “There is, on the whole, hardly any greater personal triumph in the history of American politics than his reelection,” pp. 149, 150; Blaine, _Twenty Years of Congress_, i. 149.

[90] See Lincoln’s letter to Judd, quoted N. and H. ii. 167; also _Ibid._ 169.

[91] Raymond, 76.

[92] The Senate showed 14 Democrats, 11 Republicans; the House, 40 Democrats, 35 Republicans.

[93] In September, 1859. These are included in the volume of _The Lincoln and Douglas Debates_, printed at Columbus, 1860.

[94] _The Mirror_, quoted by Lamon, 442.



Mr. J.W. Fell, a leading citizen of Illinois, says that after the debates of 1858 he urged Lincoln to seek the Republican nomination for the presidency in 1860. Lincoln, however, replied curtly that men like Seward and Chase were entitled to take precedence, and that no such “good luck” was in store for him. In March, 1859, he wrote to another person: “In regard to the other matter that you speak of, I beg that you will not give it further mention. I do not think I am fit for the presidency.” He said the same to the editor of the “Central Illinois Gazette;” but this gentleman “brought him out in the issue of May 4,” and “thence the movement spread rapidly and strongly.”[95] In the winter of 1859-60 sundry “intimate friends,” active politicians of Illinois, pressed him to consent to be mentioned as a candidate. He considered the matter over night and then gave them the desired permission, at the same time saying that he would not accept the vice-presidency.

Being now fairly started in the race, he used all his well-known skill as a politician to forward his campaign, though nothing derogatory is to be inferred from these words as to his conduct or methods. February 9, 1860, he wrote to Mr. Judd: “I am not in a position where it would hurt much for me not to be nominated on the national ticket; but I am where it would hurt some for me not to get the Illinois delegates…. Can you help me a little in this matter at your end of the vineyard?” This point of the allegiance of his own State was soon made right. The Republican State Convention met in the “Wigwam” at Decatur, May 9 and 10, 1860. Governor Oglesby, who presided, suggested that a distinguished citizen, whom Illinois delighted to honor, was present, and that he should be invited to a place on the stand; and at once, amid a tumult of applause, Lincoln was lifted over the heads of the crowd to the platform. John Hanks then theatrically entered, bearing a couple of fence rails, and a flag with the legend that they were from a “lot made by Abraham Lincoln and John Hanks in the Sangamon Bottom, in the year 1830.” The sympathetic roar rose again. Then Lincoln made a “speech,” appropriate to the occasion. At last, attention was given to business, and the convention resolved that Abraham Lincoln was the first choice of the Republican party of Illinois for the presidency, and instructed their delegates to the nominating convention “to use all honorable means to secure his nomination, and to cast the vote of the State as a unit for him.”

With the opening of the spring of 1860 the several parties began the campaign in earnest. The Democratic Convention met first, at Charleston, April 23; and immediately the line of disruption opened. Upon the one side stood Douglas, with the moderate men and nearly all the Northern delegates, while against him were the advocates of extreme Southern doctrines, supported by the administration and by most of the delegates from the “Cotton States.” The majority of the committee appointed to draft the platform were anti-Douglas men; but their report was rejected, and that offered by the pro-Douglas minority was substituted, 165 yeas to 138 nays.[96] Thereupon the delegations of Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, and Texas, and sundry delegates from other States, withdrew from the convention,[97] taking away 45 votes out of a total of 303. Those who remained declared the vote of two thirds of a full convention, _i.e._, 202 votes, to be necessary for a choice. Then during three days fifty-seven ballots were cast, Douglas being always far in the lead, but never polling more than 152-1/2 votes. At last, on May 3, an adjournment was had until June 18, at Baltimore. At this second meeting contesting delegations appeared, and the decisions were uniformly in favor of the Douglas men, which provoked another secession of the extremist Southern men. A ballot showed 173-1/2 votes for Douglas out of a total of 191-1/2; the total was less than two thirds of the full number of the original convention, and therefore it was decided that any person receiving two thirds of the votes cast by the delegates present should be deemed the nominee. The next ballot gave Douglass 181-1/2. Herschel V. Johnson of Georgia was nominated for vice-president.

On June 28, also at Baltimore, there came together a collection composed of original seceders at Charleston, and of some who had been rejected and others who had seceded at Baltimore. Very few Northern men were present, and the body in fact represented the Southern wing of the Democracy. Having, like its competitor, the merit of knowing its own mind, it promptly nominated John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky and Joseph Lane of Oregon, and adopted the radical platform which had been reported at Charleston.

These doings opened, so that it could never be closed, that seam of which the thread had long been visible athwart the surface of the old Democratic party. The great record of discipline and of triumph, which the party had made when united beneath the dominion of imperious leaders, was over, and forever. Those questions which Lincoln obstinately and against advice had insisted upon pushing in 1858 had forced this disastrous development of irreconcilable differences. The answers, which Douglas could not shirk, had alienated the most implacable of men, the dictators of the Southern Democracy. His “looking-both-ways” theory would not fit with their policy, and their policy was and must be immutable; modification was in itself defeat. On the other hand, what he said constituted the doctrine to which the mass of the Northern Democracy firmly held. So now, although Republicans admitted that it was “morally certain” that the Democratic party, holding together, could carry the election,[98] yet these men from the Cotton States could not take victory and Douglas together.[99] It had actually come to this, that, in spite of all that Douglas had done for the slaveholders, they now marked him for destruction at any cost. Many also believe that they had another motive; that they had matured their plans for secession; and that they did not mean to have the scheme disturbed or postponed by an ostensibly Democratic triumph in the shape of the election of Douglas.

In May the convention of the Constitutional Union party met, also at Baltimore. This organization was a sudden outgrowth designed only to meet the present emergency. Its whole political doctrine lay in the opening words of the one resolution which constituted its platform: “That it is both the part of patriotism and of duty to recognize no political principle other than the Constitution of the country, the union of the States, and the enforcement of the laws.” This party gathered nearly all the peaceable elements of the community; it assumed a deprecatory attitude between angry contestants, and of course received the abuse and contempt of both; it was devoid of combative force, yet had some numerical strength. The Republicans especially mocked at these “trimmers,” as if their only platform was moral cowardice, which, however, was an unfair statement of their position. The party died, of necessity, upon the day when Lincoln was elected, and its members were then distributed between the Republicans, the Secessionists, and the Copperheads. John Bell of Tennessee, the candidate for the presidency, joined the Confederacy; Edward Everett of Massachusetts, the candidate for the vice-presidency, became a Republican. The party never had a hope of electing its men; but its existence increased the chance of throwing the election into Congress; and this hope inspired exertions far beyond what its own prospects warranted.

On May 16 the Republican Convention came together at Chicago, where the great “Wigwam” had been built to hold 10,000 persons. The intense interest with which its action was watched indicated the popular belief that probably it would name the next President of the United States. Many candidates were named, chiefly Seward, Lincoln, Chase, Cameron, Edward Bates of Missouri, and William L. Dayton of New Jersey. Thurlow Weed was Seward’s lieutenant. Horace Greeley, chiefly bent upon the defeat of Seward, would have liked to achieve it by the success of Bates. David Davis, aided by Judge Logan and a band of personal friends from Illinois, was manager for Lincoln. Primarily the contest lay between Seward and Lincoln, and only a dead-lock between these two could give a chance to some one of the others. But Seward’s friends hoped, and Lincoln’s friends dreaded, that the New Yorker might win by a rush on the first ballot. George Ashmun of Massachusetts presided. With little discussion a platform was adopted, long and ill-written, overloaded with adjectives and rhetoric, sacrificing dignity to the supreme pleasure of abusing the Democracy, but honest in stating Republican doctrines, and clearly displaying the temper of an earnest, aggressive party, hot for the fight and confident of victory. The vote of acceptance was greeted with such a cheering that “a herd of buffaloes or lions could not have made a more tremendous roaring.”

The details of the brief but sharp contest for the nomination are not altogether gratifying. The partisans of Seward set about winning votes by much parading in the streets with banners and music, and by out-yelling all competitors within the walls of the convention. For this intelligent purpose they had engaged Tom Hyer, the prize fighter, with a gang of roughs, to hold possession of the Wigwam, and to howl illimitably at appropriate moments. But they had undertaken a difficult task in trying to outdo the great West, in one of its own cities, at a game of this kind. The Lincoln leaders in their turn secured a couple of stentorian yellers (one of them a Democrat), instructed them carefully, and then filled the Wigwam full actually at daybreak, while the Seward men were marching; so in the next yelling match the West won magnificently. How great was the real efficiency of these tactics in affecting the choice of the ruler of a great nation commonly accounted intelligent, it is difficult to say with accuracy; but it is certain that the expert managers spared no pains about this scenic business of “enthusiasm.”

Meanwhile other work, entirely quiet, was being done elsewhere. The objection to Seward was that he was too radical, too far in advance of the party. The Bates following were pushing their candidate as a moderate man, who would be acceptable to “Union men.” But Bates’s chance was small, and any tendency towards a moderate candidate was likely to carry his friends to Lincoln rather than to Seward; for Lincoln was generally supposed, however erroneously,[100] to be more remote from Abolitionism than Seward was. To counteract this, a Seward delegate telegraphed to the Bates men at St. Louis that Lincoln was as radical as Seward. Lincoln, at Springfield, saw this dispatch, and at once wrote a message to David Davis: “Lincoln agrees with Seward in his irrepressible-conflict idea, and in Negro Equality; but he is opposed to Seward’s Higher Law. _Make no contracts that will bind me_.” He underscored the last sentence; but when his managers saw it, they recognized that such independence did not accord with the situation, and so they set it aside.

The first vote was:–

Whole number 465
Necessary for choice 233

William H. Seward of New York 173-1/2 Abraham Lincoln of Illinois 102
Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania 50-1/2 Salmon P. Chase of Ohio 49
Edward Bates of Missouri 48
William L. Dayton of New Jersey 14 John McLean of Ohio 12
Jacob Collamer of Vermont 10

Scattering 6

The fact was, and Lincoln’s friends perfectly understood it, that Cameron held that peculiar kind of power which gave him no real prospect of success, yet had a considerable salable value. Could they refrain from trying the market? They asked the owners of the 50-1/2 Cameron votes what was their price. The owners said: The Treasury Department. Lincoln’s friends declared this extravagant. Then they all chaffered. Finally Cameron’s men took a place in the cabinet, without further specification. Lamon says that another smaller contract was made with the friends of Caleb B. Smith. Then the Lincoln managers rested in a pleasing sense of security.

The second ballot showed slight changes:–

Seward 184-1/2
Lincoln 181
Cameron 2
Chase 42-1/2
Bates 5
Dayton 10
McLean 8

Scattering 2

Upon the third ballot delivery was made of what Mr. Davis had bought. That epidemic foreknowledge, which sometimes so unaccountably foreruns an event, told the convention that the decision was at hand. A dead silence reigned save for the click of the telegraphic instruments and the low scratching of hundreds of pencils checking off the votes as the roll was called. Those who were keeping the tally saw that it stood:–

Seward 180
Lincoln 231-1/2
Chase 24-1/2
Bates 22
Dayton 1
McLean 5

Scattering 1

Cameron was out of the race; Lincoln was within 1-1/2 votes of the goal. Before the count could be announced, a delegate from Ohio transferred four votes to Lincoln. This settled the matter; and then other delegations followed, till Lincoln’s score rose to 354. At once the “enthusiasm” of 10,000 men again reduced to insignificance a “herd of buffaloes or lions.” When at last quiet was restored, William M. Evarts, who had led for Seward, offered the usual motion to make the nomination of Abraham Lincoln unanimous. It was done. Again the “tremendous roaring” arose. Later in the day the convention nominated Hannibal Hamlin[101] of Maine, on the second ballot, by 367 votes, for the vice-presidency. Then for many hours, till exhaustion brought rest, Chicago was given over to the wonted follies; cannon boomed, music resounded, and streets and barrooms were filled with the howling and drinking crowds of the intelligent promoters of one of the great moral crusades of the human race.

Lamon says that the committee deputed to wait upon Lincoln at Springfield found him “sad and dejected. The reaction from excessive joy to deep despondency–a process peculiar to his constitution–had already set in.”[102] His remarks to these gentlemen were brief and colorless. His letter afterward was little more than a simple acceptance of the platform.

* * * * *

Since white men first landed on this continent, the selection of Washington to lead the army of the Revolution is the only event to be compared in good fortune with this nomination of Abraham Lincoln. Yet the convention deserved no credit for its action. It did not know the true ratio between Seward and Lincoln, which only the future was to make plain. By all that it did know, it ought to have given the honor to Seward, who merited it by the high offices which he had held with distinction and without blemish, by the leadership which he had acquired in the party through long-continued constancy and courage, by the force and clearness with which he had maintained its principles, by his experience and supposed natural aptitude in the higher walks of statesmanship. Yet actually by reason of these very qualifications[103] it was now admitted that the all-important “October States” of Indiana and Pennsylvania could not be carried by the Republicans if Seward were nominated; while Greeley, sitting in the convention as a substitute for a delegate from Oregon, cast as much of the weight of New York as he could lift into the anti-Seward scale. In plain fact, the convention, by its choice, paid no compliment either to Lincoln or to the voters of the party. They took him because he was “available,” and the reason that he was “available” lay not in any popular appreciation of his merits, but in the contrary truth,–that the mass of people could place no intelligent estimate upon him at all, either for good or for ill. Outside of Illinois a few men, who had studied his speeches, esteemed him an able man in debate; more had a vague notion of him as an effective stump speaker of the West; far the greatest number had to find out about him.[104] In a word, Mr. Lincoln gained the nomination because Mr. Seward had been “too conspicuous,” whereas he himself was so little known that it was possible for Wendell Phillips to inquire indignantly: “Who is this huckster in politics? Who is this county court advocate?”[105] For these singular reasons he was the most “available” candidate who could be offered before the citizens of the United States!

It cannot be said that the nomination was received with much satisfaction. “Honest old Abe the rail-splitter!” might sound well in the ear of the masses; but the Republican party was laden with the burden of an immense responsibility, and the men who did its thinking could not reasonably feel certain that rail-splitting was an altogether satisfactory training for the leader in such an era as was now at hand. Nevertheless, nearly[106] all came to the work of the campaign with as much zeal as if they had surely known the full value of their candidate. Shutting their minds against doubts, they made the most spirited and energetic canvass which has ever taken place in the country. The organization of the “Wide-Awake” clubs was an effective success.[107] None who saw will ever forget the spectacle presented by these processions wherein many thousands of men, singing the campaign songs, clad in uniform capes of red or white oil-cloth, each with a flaming torch or a colored lantern, marched nightly in every city and town of the North, in apparently endless numbers and with military precision, making the streets a brilliant river of variously tinted flame. Torchlight parades have become mere conventional affairs since those days, when there was a spirit in them which nothing has ever stirred more lately. They were a good preparation for the more serious marching and severer drill which were soon to come, though the Republicans scoffed at all anticipations of such a future, and sneered at the timid ones who croaked of war and bloodshed.

Almost from the beginning it was highly probable that the Republicans would win, and it was substantially certain that none of their competitors could do so. The only contrary chance was that no election might be made by the people, and that it might be thrown into Congress. Douglas with his wonted spirit made a vigorous fight, traveling to and fro, speaking constantly in the North and a few times in the South, but defiant rather than conciliatory in tone. He did not show one whit the less energy because it was obvious that he waged a contest without hope. If there were any road to Democratic success, which it now seems that there was not, it lay in uniting the sundered party. An attempt was made to arrange that whichever Democratic candidate should ultimately display the greater strength should receive the full support of the party. Projects for a fusion ticket met with some success in New York. In Pennsylvania like schemes were imperfectly successful. In other Northern States they were received with scant favor. Except some followers of Bell and Everett, men were in no temper for compromise. At the South fusion was not even attempted; the Breckenridge men would not hear of it; the voters in that section were controlled by leaders, and these leaders probably had a very distinct policy, which would be seriously interfered with by the triumph of the Douglas ticket.

The chief anxiety of Lincoln and the Republican leaders was lest some voters, who disagreed with them only on less important issues, might stay away from the polls. All the platforms, except that of the Constitutional Union party, touched upon other topics besides the question of slavery in the Territories; the tariff, native Americanism, acquisition of Cuba, a transcontinental railway, public lands, internal improvements, all found mention. The Know-Nothing party still by occasional twitchings showed that life had not quite taken flight, and endeavors were made to induce Lincoln to express his views. But he evaded it.[108] For above all else he wished to avoid the stirring of any dissension upon side issues or minor points; his hope was to see all opponents of the extension of slavery put aside for a while all other matters, refrain from discussing troublesome details, and unite for the one broad end of putting slavery where “the fathers” had left it, so that the “public mind should rest in the belief that it was in the way of ultimate extinction.” He felt it to be fair and right that he should receive the votes of all anti-slavery men; and ultimately he did, with the exception only of the thorough-going Abolitionists.

It was not so very long since he had spoken of the Abolitionist leaders as “friends;” but they did not reciprocate the feeling, nor indeed could reasonably be expected to do so, or to vote the Republican ticket. They were even less willing to vote it with Lincoln at the head of it than if Seward had been there.[109] But Republicanism itself under any leader was distinctly at odds with their views; for when they said “_abolition_” they meant accurately what they said, and abolition certainly was impossible under the Constitution. The Republicans, and Lincoln personally, with equal directness acknowledged the supremacy of the Constitution. Lincoln, therefore, plainly asserted a policy which the Abolitionists equally plainly condemned. In their eyes, to be a party to a contract maintaining slavery throughout a third of a continent was only a trifle less criminal than aiding to extend it over another third. Yet it should be said that the Abolitionists were not all of one mind, and some voted the Republican ticket as being at least a step in the right direction. Joshua R. Giddings was a member of the Republican Convention which nominated Lincoln. But Wendell Phillips, always an extremist among extremists, published an article entitled “Abraham Lincoln, the Slave-hound of Illinois,” whereof the keynote was struck in this introductory sentence: “We gibbet a Northern hound to-day, side by side with the infamous Mason of Virginia.” Mr. Garrison, a man of far larger and sounder intellectual powers than belonged to Phillips, did not fancy this sort of diatribe, though five months earlier he had accused the Republican party of “slavish subserviency to the Union,” and declared it to be “still insanely engaged in glorifying the Union and pledging itself to frown upon all attempts to dissolve it.” Undeniably men who held these views could not honestly vote for Mr. Lincoln.

The popular vote and the electoral vote were as follows:[110]–

Li: Abraham Lincoln, Illinois.
Do: Stephen A. Douglas, Illinois.
Br: John C. Breckenridge, Kentucky. Be: John Bell, Tennessee.

Popular Vote | Electoral Vote State Li Do Br Be | Li Do Br Be ——————————————————-+————– Maine 62,811 26,693 6,368 2,046 | 8 — — — New Hampshire 37,519 25,881 2,112 441 | 5 — — — Vermont 33,808 6,849 218 1,969 | 5 — — — Massachusetts 106,533 34,372 5,939 22,231 | 13 — — — Rhode Island 12,244 7,707[B] — — | 4 — — — Connecticut 43,792 15,522 14,641 3,291 | 6 — — — New York 362,646 312,510[B] — — | 35 — — — New Jersey 58,324 62,801[B] — — | 4 3 — — Pennsylvania 268,030 16,765 178,871[B] 12,776 | 27 — — — Delaware 3,815 1,023 7,337 3,864 | — — 3 — Maryland 2,294 5,966 42,482 41,760 | — — 8 — Virginia 1,929 16,290 74,323 74,681 | — — — 15 North Carolina — 2,701 48,539 44,990 | — — 10 — South Carolina[A] — — — — | — — 8 — Georgia — 11,590 51,889 42,886 | — — 10 — Florida — 367 8,543 5,437 | — — 3 — Alabama — 13,651 48,831 27,875 | — — 9 — Mississippi — 3,283 40,797 25,040 | — — 7 — Louisiana — 7,625 22,861 20,204 | — — 6 — Texas — — 47,548 15,438[B]| — — 4 — Arkansas — 5,227 28,732 20,094 | — — 4 — Missouri 17,028 58,801 31,317 58,372 | — 9 — — Tennessee — 11,350 64,709 69,274 | — — — 12 Kentucky 1,364 25,651 53,143 66,058 | — — — 12 Ohio 231,610 187,232 11,405 12,194 | 23 — — — Michigan 88,480 65,057 805 405 | 6 — — — Indiana 139,033 115,509 12,295 5,306 | 13 — — — Illinois 172,161 160,215 2,404 4,913 | 11 — — — Wisconsin 86,110 65,021 888 161 | 5 — — — Minnesota 22,069 11,920 748 62 | 4 — — — Iowa 70,409 55,111 1,048 1,763 | 4 — — — California 39,173 38,516 34,334 6,817 | 4 — — — Oregon 5,270 3,951 5,006 183 | 3 — — — ——————————————————-+————– Totals 1,866,452 1,375,157 847,953 590,631 | 180 12 72 39

[A] By legislature.
[B] Fusion electoral tickets.

Messrs. Nicolay and Hay say that Lincoln was the “indisputable choice of the American people,” and by way of sustaining the statement say that, if the “whole voting strength of the three opposing parties had been united upon a single candidate, Lincoln would nevertheless have been chosen with only a trifling diminution of his electoral majority.”[111] It might be better to say that Lincoln was the “indisputable choice” of the electoral college. The “American people” fell enormously short of showing a majority in his favor. His career as president was made infinitely more difficult as well as greatly more creditable to him by reason of the very fact that he was _not_ the choice of the American people, but of less than half of them,–and this, too, even if the Confederate States be excluded from the computation.[112]

The election of Lincoln was “hailed with delight” by the extremists in South Carolina; for it signified secession, and the underlying and real desire of these people was secession, and not either compromise or postponement.[113]


[95] Lamon, 422.

[96] The majority report was supported by 15 slave States and 2 free States, casting 127 electoral votes; the minority report was supported by 15 free States, casting 176 electoral votes. N. and H. ii. 234.

[97] This action was soon afterward approved in a manifesto signed by Jefferson Davis, Toombs, Iverson, Slidell, Benjamin, Mason, and others. _Ibid._ 245.

[98] Greeley’s _Amer. Conflict_, i. 326.

[99] _Ibid._ i. 306, 307.

[100] Mr. Blaine says that Lincoln “was chosen in spite of expressions far more radical than those of Mr. Seward.” _Twenty Years of Congress_, i. 169.

[101] “In strong common sense, in sagacity and sound judgment, in rugged integrity of character, Mr. Hamlin has had no superior among public men.” Blaine, _Twenty Years of Congress_, i. 170.

[102] Lamon, 453.

[103] McClure adds, or rather mentions as the chief cause, Seward’s position on the public-school question in New York. _Lincoln and Men of War-Times_, 28, 29.

[104] “To the country at large he was an obscure, not to say an unknown man.” _Life of W.L. Garrison_, by his children, iii. 503.

[105] _Life of W.L. Garrison_, by his children, iii. 503.

[106] See remarks of McClure, _Lincoln and Men of War-Times_, 28, 29.

[107] See N. and H. ii. 284 n.

[108] See letter of May 17, 1859, to Dr. Canisius, Holland, 196; N. and H. ii. 181.

[109] _Life of W.L. Garrison_, by his children, iii. 502.

[110] This table is taken from Stanwood’s _History of Presidential Elections_.

[111] N. and H. iii. 146.

[112] The total popular vote was 4,680,193. Lincoln had 1,866,452. In North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Tennessee, no vote was cast for the Lincoln ticket; in Virginia only 1929 voted it. Adding the total popular vote of all these States (except the 1929), we get 854,775; deducting this from the total popular vote leaves a balance of 3,825,418, of which one half is 1,912,709; so that even outside of the States of the Confederacy Lincoln did not get one half of the popular vote. South Carolina is not included in any calculation concerning the popular vote, because she chose electors by her legislature.

[113] Letter of Henry A. Wise of Virginia, May 28, 1858, quoted N. and H. ii. 302 n.



For a while now the people of the Northern States were compelled passively to behold a spectacle which they could not easily reconcile with the theory of the supreme excellence and wisdom of their system of government. Abraham Lincoln was chosen President of the United States November 6, 1860; he was to be inaugurated March 4, 1861. During the intervening four months the government must be conducted by a chief whose political creed was condemned by an overwhelming majority of the nation.[114] The situation was as unfair for Mr. Buchanan as it was hurtful for the people. As head of a republic, or, in the more popular phrase, as the chief “servant of the people,” he must respect the popular will, yet he could not now administer the public business according to that will without being untrue to all his own convictions, and repudiating all his trusted counselors. In a situation so intrinsically false efficient government was impossible, no matter what was the strength or weakness of the hand at the helm. Therefore there was every reason for displacing Buchanan from control of the national affairs in the autumn, and every reason against continuing him in that control through the winter; yet the law of the land ordained the latter course. It seemed neither sensible nor even safe. During this doleful period all descriptions of him agree: he seemed, says Chittenden, “shaken in body and uncertain in mind,… an old man worn out by worry;” while the Southerners also declared him as “incapable of purpose as a child.” To the like purport spoke nearly all who saw him.

During the same time Lincoln’s position was equally absurd and more trying. After the lapse of four months he was, by the brief ceremony of an hour, to become the leader of a great nation under an exceptionally awful responsibility; but during those four months he could play no other part than simply to watch, in utter powerlessness, the swift succession of crowding events, which all were tending to make his administration of the government difficult, or even impossible. Throughout all this long time, the third part of a year, which statutes scarcely less venerable than the Constitution itself freely presented to the disunion leaders, they safely completed their civil and military organization, while the Northerners, under a ruler whom they had discredited, but of whom they could not get rid, were paralyzed for all purposes of counter preparation.

As a trifling compensation for its existence this costly interregnum presents to later generations a curious spectacle. A volume might be made of the public utterances put forth in that time by men of familiar names and more or less high repute, and it would show many of them in most strange and unexpected characters, so entirely out of keeping with the years which they had lived before, and the years which they were to live afterward, that the reader would gaze in hopeless bewilderment. In the “solid” South, so soon to be a great rebelling unit, he would find perhaps half of the people opposed to disunion; in the North he would hear everywhere words of compromise and concession, while coercion would be mentioned only to be denounced. If these four months were useful in bringing the men of the North to the fighting point, on the other hand they gave an indispensable opportunity for proselyting, by whirl and excitement, great numbers at the South. Even in the autumn of 1860 and in the Gulf States secession was still so much the scheme of leaders that there was no popular preponderance in favor of disunion doctrines. In evidence of this are the responses of governors to a circular letter of Governor Gist of South Carolina, addressed to them October 5, 1860, and seeking information as to the feeling among the people. From North Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, and Alabama came replies that secession was not likely to be favorably received. Mississippi was non-committal. Louisiana, Georgia, and Alabama desired a convention of the discontented States, and might be influenced by its action. North Carolina, Louisiana, and Alabama would oppose forcible coercion of a seceding State. Florida alone was rhetorically belligerent. These reports were discouraging in the ears of the extremist governor; but against them he could set the fact that the disunionists had the advantage of being the aggressive, propagandist body, homogeneous, and pursuing an accurate policy in entire concert. They were willing to take any amount of pains to manipulate and control the election of delegates and the formal action of conventions, and in all cases except that of Texas the question was conclusively passed upon by conventions. By every means they “fired the Southern heart,” which was notoriously combustible; they stirred up a great tumult of sentiment; they made thunderous speeches; they kept distinguished emissaries moving to and fro; they celebrated each success with an uproar of cannonading, with bonfires, illuminations, and processions; they appealed to those chivalrous virtues supposed to be peculiar to Southerners; they preached devotion to the State, love of the state flag, generous loyalty to sister slave-communities; sometimes they used insult, abuse, and intimidation; occasionally they argued seductively. Thus Mr. Cobb’s assertion, that “we can make better terms out of the Union than in it,” was, in the opinion of Alexander H. Stephens, the chief influence which carried Georgia out of the Union. In the main, however, it was the principle of state sovereignty and state patriotism which proved the one entirely trustworthy influence to bring over the reluctant. “I abhor disunion, but I go with my State,” was the common saying; and the States were under skillful and resolute leadership. So, though the popular discontent was far short of the revolutionary point, yet individuals, one after another, yielded to that sympathetic, emotional instinct which tempts each man to fall in with the big procession. In this way it was that during the Buchanan interregnum the people of the Gulf States became genuinely fused in rebellion.

It is not correct to say that the election of Lincoln was the cause of the Rebellion; it was rather the signal. To the Southern leaders, it was the striking of the appointed hour. His defeat would have meant only postponement. South Carolina led the way. On December 17, 1860, her convention came together, the Palmetto flag waving over its chamber of conference, and on December 20 it issued its “Ordinance.”[115] This declared that the Ordinance of May 23, 1788, ratifying the Constitution, is “hereby repealed,” and the “Union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of the United States of America, is hereby dissolved.” A Declaration of Causes said that South Carolina had “resumed her position among the nations of the world as a separate and independent State.” The language used was appropriate for the revocation of a power of attorney. The people hailed this action with noisy joy, unaccompanied by any regret or solemnity at the severance of the old relationship. The newspapers at once began to publish “Foreign News” from the other States. The new governor, Pickens, a fiery Secessionist, and described as one “born insensible to fear,”–presumably the condition of most persons at that early period of existence,–had already suggested to Mr. Buchanan the impropriety of reinforcing the national garrisons in the forts in Charleston harbor. He now accredited to the President three commissioners to treat with him for the delivery of the “forts, magazines, lighthouses, and other real estate, with their appurtenances, in the limits of South Carolina; and also for an apportionment of the public debt, and for a division of all other property held by the government of the United States as agent of the Confederate States of which South Carolina was recently a member.” This position, as of the dissolution of a copartnership, or the revocation of an agency, and an accounting of debts and assets, was at least simple; and by way of expediting it an appraisal of the “real estate” and “appurtenances” within the state limits had been made by the state government. Meanwhile there was in the harbor of Charleston a sort of armed truce, which might at any moment break into war. Major Anderson in Fort Moultrie, and the state commander in the city, watched each other like two suspicious animals, neither sure when the other will spring. In short, in all the overt acts, the demeanor and the language of this excitable State, there was such insolence, besides hostility, that her emissaries must have been surprised at the urbane courtesy with which they were received, even by a President of Mr. Buchanan’s views.

After the secession of South Carolina the other Gulf States hesitated briefly. Mississippi followed first; her convention assembled January 7, 1861, and on January 9 passed the ordinance, 84 yeas to 15 nays, subsequently making the vote unanimous. The Florida convention met January 3, and on January 10 decreed the State to be “a sovereign and independent nation,” 62 yeas to 7 nays. The Alabama convention passed its ordinance on January 11 by 61 yeas to 39 nays; the President announced that the idea of reconstruction must be forever “dismissed.” Yet the northern part of the State appeared to be substantially anti-secession. In Georgia the Secessionists doubted whether they could control a convention, yet felt obliged to call one. Toombs, Cobb, and Iverson labored with tireless zeal throughout the State; but in spite of all their proselyting, Unionist feeling ran high and debate was hot. The members from the southern part of the State ventured to menace and dragoon those from the northern part, who were largely Unionists. The latter retorted angrily; a schism and personal collisions were narrowly avoided. Alexander H. Stephens spoke for the Union with a warmth and logic not surpassed by anything that was said at the North. He and Herschel V. Johnson both voted against secession; yet, on January 18, when the vote was taken, it showed 208 yeas against 89 nays. On January 26 Louisiana followed, the vote of the convention being 113 yeas to 17 nays; but it refused to submit the ordinance to the people for ratification. The action of Texas, the only other State which seceded prior to the inauguration of Lincoln, was delayed until February 1. There Governor Houston was opposing secession with such vigor as remained to a broken old man, whereby he provoked Senator Iverson to utter the threat of assassination: “Some Texan Brutus may arise to rid his country of this old hoary-headed traitor.” But in the convention, when it came to voting, the yeas were 166, the nays only 7.

By the light that was in him Mr. Buchanan was a Unionist, but it was a sadly false and flickering light, and beneath its feeble illumination his steps staggered woefully. For two months he diverged little from the path which the Secessionist leaders would have marked out for him, had they controlled his movements. At the time of the election his cabinet was:–

Lewis Cass of Michigan, secretary of state. Howell Cobb of Georgia, secretary of the treasury. John B. Floyd of Virginia, secretary of war. Isaac Toucey of Connecticut, secretary of the navy. Jacob Thompson of Mississippi, secretary of the interior. Aaron V. Brown of Tennessee, postmaster-general. Jeremiah S. Black of Pennsylvania, attorney-general.

Of these men Cobb, Floyd, and Thompson were extreme Secessionists. Many felt that Cobb should have been made President of the Southern Confederacy instead of Davis. In December Thompson went as commissioner from Mississippi to North Carolina to persuade that State to secede, and did not resign his place in the cabinet because, as he said, Mr. Buchanan approved his mission.

Betwixt his own predilections and the influence of these advisers Mr. Buchanan composed for the Thirty-sixth Congress a message which carried consternation among all Unionists. It was of little consequence that he declared the present situation to be the “natural effect” of the “long-continued and intemperate interference” of the Northern people with slavery. But it was of the most serious consequence that, while he condemned secession as unconstitutional, he also declared himself powerless to prevent it. His duty “to take care that the laws be faithfully executed” he knew no other way to perform except by aiding federal officers in the performance of their duties. But where, as in South Carolina, the federal officers had all resigned, so that none remained to be aided, what was he to do? This was practically to take the position that half a dozen men, by resigning their offices, could make the preservation of the Union by its chief executive impossible![116] Besides this, Mr. Buchanan said that he had “no authority to decide what should be the relations between the Federal government and South Carolina.” He afterward said that he desired to avoid a collision of arms “between this and any other government.” He did not seem to reflect that he had no right to recognize a State of the Union as being an “other government,” in the sense in which he used the phrase, and that, by his very abstention from the measures necessary for maintaining unchanged that relationship which had hitherto existed, he became a party to the establishment of a new relationship, and that, too, of a character which he himself alleged-to be unconstitutional. In truth, his chief purpose was to rid himself of any responsibility and to lay it all upon Congress. Yet he was willing to advise Congress as to its powers and duties in the business which he shirked in favor of that body, saying that the power to coerce a seceding State had not been delegated to it, and adding the warning that “the Union can never be cemented by the blood of its citizens shed in civil war.” So the nation learned that its ruler was of opinion that to resist the destruction of its nationality was both unlawful and inexpedient.

If the conclusions of the message aroused alarm and indignation, its logic excited ridicule. Senator Hale gave a not unfair synopsis: The President, he said, declares: 1. That South Carolina has just cause for seceding. 2. That she has no right to secede. 3. That we have no right to prevent her from seceding; and that the power of the government is “a power to do nothing at all.” Another wit said that Buchanan was willing to give up a _part_ of the Constitution, and, if necessary, the _whole_, in order to preserve the _remainder_! But while this message of Mr. Buchanan has been bitterly denounced, and with entire justice, from the hour of its transmission to the present day, yet a palliating consideration ought to be noted: he had little reason to believe that, if he asserted the right and duty of forcible coercion, he would find at his back the indispensable force, moral and physical, of the people. Demoralization at the North was widespread. After the lapse of a few months this condition passed, and then those who had been beneath its influence desired to forget the humiliating fact, and hoped that others might either forget or never know the measure of their weakness. In order that they might save their good names, it was natural that they should seek to suppress all evidence which had not already found its way upon the public record; but enough remains to show how grievously for a while the knees were weakened under many who enjoy–and rightfully, by reason of the rest of their lives–the reputation of stalwart patriots. For example, late in October, General Scott suggested to the President a division of the country into four separate confederacies, roughly outlining their boundaries. Scott was a dull man, but he was the head of the army and enjoyed a certain prestige, so that it was impossible to say that his notions, however foolish in themselves, were of no consequence. But if the blunders of General Scott could not fatally wound the Union cause, the blunders of Horace Greeley might conceivably do so. If there had been in the Northern States any newspaper–apart from Mr. Garrison’s “Liberator”–which was thoroughly committed to the anti-slavery cause, it was the New York “Tribune,” under the guidance of that distinguished editor. Republicans everywhere throughout the land had been educated by his teachings, and had become accustomed to take a large part of their knowledge and their opinions in matters political from his writings. It was a misfortune for Abraham Lincoln, which cannot be overrated, that from the moment of his nomination to the day of his death the “Tribune” was largely engaged in criticising his measures and in condemning his policy.

No sooner did all that, which Mr. Greeley had been striving during many years to bring about, seem to be on the point of consummation, than the demoralized and panic-stricken reformer became desirous to undo his own achievements, and to use for the purpose of effecting a sudden retrogression all the influence which he had gained by bold leadership. November 9, 1860, it was appalling to read in the editorial columns of his sheet, that “if the Cotton States shall decide that they can do better out of the Union than in it, we insist on letting them go in peace;” that, while the “Tribune” denied the right of nullification, yet it would admit that “to withdraw from the Union is quite another matter;” that “whenever a considerable section of our Union shall deliberately resolve to go out, we shall resist all coercive measures designed to keep it in.”[117] At the end of another month the “Tribune’s” famous editor was still in the same frame of mind, declaring himself “averse to the employment of military force to fasten one section of our confederacy to the other,” and saying that, “if eight States, having five millions of people, choose to separate from us, they cannot be permanently withheld from so doing by federal cannon.” On December 17 he even said that the South had as good a right to secede from the Union as the colonies had to secede from Great Britain, and that he “would not stand up for coercion, for subjugation,” because he did not “think it would be just.” On February 23, 1861, he said that if the Cotton States, or the Gulf States, “choose to form an independent nation, they have a clear moral right to do so,” and if the “great body of the Southern people” become alienated from the Union and wish to “escape from it, we will do our best to forward their views.” A volume could be filled with the like writing of his prolific pen at this time, and every sentence of such purport was the casting of a new stone to create an almost impassable obstruction in the path along which the new President must soon endeavor to move. Thurlow Weed, editor of the Albany “Evening Journal,” and the confidential adviser of Seward, wrote in favor of concessions; he declared that “a victorious party can afford to be tolerant;” and he advocated a convention to revise the Constitution, on the ground that, “after more than seventy years of wear and tear, of collision and abrasion, it should be no cause of wonder that the machinery of government is found weakened, or out of repair, or even defective.” Frequently he uttered the wish, vague and of fine sound, but enervating, that the Republicans might “meet secession as patriots and not as partisans.” On November 9 the Democratic New York “Herald,” discussing the election of Lincoln, said: “For far less than this our fathers seceded from Great Britain;” it also declared coercion to be “out of the question,” and laid down the principle that each State possesses “the right to break the tie of the confederacy, as a nation might break a treaty, and to repel coercion as a nation might repel invasion.”

Local elections in New York and Massachusetts “showed a striking and general reduction of Republican strength.” In December the mayor of Philadelphia, though that city had polled a heavy Republican majority, told a mass meeting in Independence Square that denunciations of slavery were inconsistent with national brotherhood, and “must be frowned down by a just and law-abiding people.” The Bell and Everett men, generally, desired peace at any price. The business men of the North, alarmed at the prospect of disorder, became loudly solicitous for concession, compromise, even surrender.[118] In Democratic meetings a threatening tone was adopted. One proposal was to reconstruct the Union, leaving out the New England States. So late even as January 21, 1861, before an immense and noteworthy gathering in New York, an orator ventured to say: “If a revolution of force is to begin, it shall be inaugurated at home;” and the words were cheered. The distinguished Chancellor Walworth said that it would be “as brutal to send men to butcher our own brothers of the Southern States as it would be to massacre them in the Northern States.” When DeWitt Clinton’s son, George, spoke of secession as “rebellion,” the multitude hailed the word with cries of dissent. Even at Faneuil Hall, in Boston, “a very large and respectable meeting” was emphatically in favor of compromise. It was impossible to measure accurately the extent and force of all this demoralization; but the symptoms were that vast numbers were infected with such sentiments, and that they would have been worse than useless as backers of a vigorous policy on the part of the government.

With the North wavering and ready to retreat, and the South aggressive and confident, it was exacting to expect Mr. Buchanan to stand up for a fight. Why should he, with his old-time Democratic principles, now by a firm, defiant attitude precipitate a crisis, possibly a civil war, when Horace Greeley and Wendell Phillips were conspicuously running away from the consequences of their own teachings, and were loudly crying “Peace! peace!” after they themselves had long been doing all in their power to bring the North up to the fighting point? When these leaders faced to the rear, it was hard to say who could be counted upon to fill the front rank. In truth, it was a situation which might have discouraged a more combative patriot than Buchanan. Meanwhile, while the Northerners talked chiefly of yielding, the hot and florid rhetoric of the Southern orators, often laden with contemptuous insult, smote with disturbing menace upon the ears even of the most courageous Unionists. It was said at the South and feared at the North that secession had a “Spartan band in every Northern State,” and that blood would flow in Northern cities at least as soon and as freely as on the Southern plantations, if forcible coercion should be attempted. Was it possible to be sure that this was all rodomontade? To many good citizens there seemed some reason to think that the best hope for avoiding the fulfillment at the North of these sanguinary threats might lie in the probability that the anti-slavery agitators would not stand up to encounter a genuinely mortal peril.

When the Star of the West retired, a little ignominiously, from her task of reinforcing Fort Sumter, Senator Wigfall jeered insolently. “Your flag has been insulted,” he said; “redress it if you dare! You have submitted to it for two months, and you will submit forever…. We have dissolved the Union; mend it if you can; cement it with blood; try the experiment!” Mr. Chestnut of South Carolina wished to “unfurl the Palmetto flag, fling it to the breeze … and ring the clarion notes of defiance in the ears of an insolent foe.” Such bombastic but confident language, of which a great quantity was uttered in this winter of 1860-61, may exasperate or intimidate according to the present temper of the opponent whose ear it assaults; for a while the North was more in condition to be awestruck than to be angered. Her spokesmen failed to answer back, and left her to listen not without anxiety to fierce predictions that Southern flags would soon be floating over the dome of the Capitol and even over Faneuil Hall, if she should be so imprudent as to test Southern valor and Southern resources.

Matters looked even worse for the Union cause in Congress than in the country. Occasionally some irritated Northern Republican shot out words of spirit; but the prevalent desire was for conciliation, compromise, and concession, while some actually adopted secession doctrines. For example, Daniel E. Sickles, in the House, threatened that the secession of the Southern States should be followed by that of New York city; and in fact the scheme had been recommended by the Democratic mayor, Fernando Wood, in a message to the Common Council of the city on January 6; and General Dix conceived it to be a possibility. In the Senate Simon Cameron declared himself desirous to preserve the Union “by any sacrifice of feeling, and I may say of principle.” A sacrifice of political principle by Cameron was not, perhaps, a serious matter; but he intended the phrase to be emphatic, and he was a leading Republican politician, had been a candidate for the presidential nomination, and was dictator in Pennsylvania. Even Seward, in the better days of the middle of January, felt that he could “afford to meet prejudice with conciliation, exaction with concession which surrenders no principle, and violence with the right hand of peace;” and he was “willing, after the excitement of rebellion and secession should have passed away, to call a convention for amending the Constitution.”

This message of Buchanan marked the lowest point to which the temperature of his patriotism fell. Soon afterward, stimulated by heat applied from outside, it began to rise. The first intimation which impressed upon his anxious mind that he was being too acquiescent towards the South came from General Cass. That steadfast Democrat, of the old Jacksonian school, like many of his party at the North, was fully as good a patriot and Union man as most of the Republicans were approving themselves to be during these winter months of vacillation, alarm, and compromise. In November he was strenuously in favor of forcibly coercing a seceding State, but later assented to the tenor of Mr. Buchanan’s message. The frame of mind which induced this assent, however, was transitory; for immediately he began to insist upon the reinforcement of the garrisons of the Southern forts, and on December 13 he resigned because the President refused to accede to his views. A few days earlier Howell Cobb had had the grace to resign from the Treasury, which he left entirely empty. In the reorganization Philip F. Thomas of Maryland, a Secessionist also, succeeded Cobb; Judge Black was moved into the State Department; and Edwin M. Stanton of Pennsylvania followed Black as attorney-general. Mr. Floyd, than whom no Secessionist has left a name in worse odor at the North, had at first advised against any “rash movement” in the way of secession, on the ground that Mr. Lincoln’s administration would “fail, and be regarded as impotent for good or evil, within four months after his inauguration.” None the less he had long been using his official position in the War Department to send arms into the Southern States, and to make all possible arrangements for putting them in an advantageous position for hostilities. Fortunately about this time the famous defalcation in the Indian Department, in which he was guiltily involved, destroyed his credit with the President, and at the same time he quarreled with his associates concerning Anderson’s removal to Fort Sumter. On December 29 he resigned, and the duties of his place were laid for a while upon Judge Holt, the postmaster-general.

On Sunday morning, December 30, there was what has been properly called a cabinet crisis. The South Carolina commissioners, just arrived in Washington, were demanding recognition, and to treat with the government as if they were representatives of a foreign power. The President declined to receive them in a diplomatic character, but offered to act as go-between betwixt them and Congress. The President’s advisers, however, were in a far less amiable frame of mind, for their blood had been stirred wholesomely by the secession of South Carolina and the presence of these emissaries with their insolent demands. Mr. Black, now at the head of the State Department, had gone through much the same phases of feeling as General Cass. In November he had been “emphatic in his advocacy of coercion,” but afterward had approved the President’s message and even declared forcible coercion to be “_ipso facto_ an expulsion” of the State from the Union; since then he had drifted back and made fast at his earlier moorings. On this important Sunday morning Mr. Buchanan learned with dismay that either his reply to the South Carolinians must be substantially modified, or Mr. Black and Mr. Stanton would retire from the cabinet. Under this pressure he yielded. Mr. Black drafted a new reply to the commissioners, Mr. Stanton copied it, Holt concurred in it, and, in substance, Mr. Buchanan accepted it. This affair constituted, as Messrs. Nicolay and Hay well say, “the President’s virtual abdication,” and thereafterward began the “cabinet regime.” Upon the commissioners this chill gust from the North struck so disagreeably that, on January 2, they hastened home to their “independent nation.” From this time forth the South covered Mr. Buchanan with contumely and abuse; Mr. Benjamin called him “a senile executive, under the sinister influence of insane counsels;” and the poor old man, really wishing to do right, but stripped of friends and of his familiar advisers, and confounded by the views of new counselors, presented a spectacle for pity.

On January 8 Mr. Thompson, secretary of the interior, resigned, and the vacancy was left unfilled. A more important change took place on the following day, when Mr. Thomas left the Treasury Department, and the New York bankers, whose aid was essential, forced the President, sorely against his will, to give the place to General John A. Dix. This proved an excellent appointment. General Dix was an old Democrat, but of the high-spirited type; he could have tolerated secession by peaceable agreement, but rose in anger at menaces against the flag and the Union. He conducted his department with entire success, and also rendered to the country perhaps the greatest service that was done by any man during that winter. On January 29 he sent the telegram which closed with the famous words: “If any one attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot.”[119] This rung out as the first cheering, stimulating indication of a fighting temper at the North. It was a tonic which came at a time of sore need, and for too long a while it remained the solitary dose!

So much of the President’s message as concerned the condition of the country was referred in the House to a Committee of Thirty-three, composed by appointing one member from each State. Other resolutions and motions upon the same subject, to the number of twenty-five, were also sent to this committee. It had many sessions from December 11 to January 14, but never made an approach to evolving anything distantly approaching agreement. When, on January 14, the report came, it was an absurd fiasco: it contained six propositions, of which each had the assent of a majority of a quorum; but seven minority reports, bearing together the signatures of fourteen members, were also submitted; and the members of the seceding States refused to act. The only actual fruit was a proposed amendment to the Constitution: “That no amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.” In the expiring hours of the Thirty-sixth Congress this was passed by the House, and then by the Senate, and was signed by the President. Lincoln, in his inaugural address, said of it: “Holding such a provision to be now constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.” This view of it was correct; it had no real significance, and the ill-written sentence never disfigured the Constitution; it simply sank out of sight, forgotten by every one.

Collaterally with the sitting of this House committee, a Committee of Thirteen was appointed in the Senate. To these gentlemen also “a string of Union-saving devices” was presented, but on the last day of the year they reported that they had “not been able to agree upon any general plan of adjustment.”

The earnest effort of the venerable Crittenden to Affect a compromise aroused a faint hope. But he offered little else than an extension westward of the Missouri Compromise line; and he never really had the slightest chance of effecting that consummation, which in fact _could not be_ effected. His plan was finally defeated on the last evening of the session.

Collaterally with these congressional debates there were also proceeding in Washington the sessions of the Peace Congress, another futile effort to concoct a cure for an incurable condition. It met on February 4, 1861, but only twenty-one States out of thirty-four were represented. The seven States which had seceded said that they could not come, being “Foreign Nations.” Six other States[120] held aloof. Those Northern States which sent delegates selected “their most conservative and compromising men,” and so great a tendency towards concession was shown that Unionists soon condemned the scheme as merely a deceitful cover devised by the Southerners behind which they could the more securely carry on their processes of secession. These gentlemen talked a great deal and finally presented a report or plan to Congress five days before the end of the session; the House refused to receive it, the Senate rejected it by 7 ayes to 28 nays. The only usefulness of the gathering was as evidence of the unwillingness of the South to compromise. In fact the Southern leaders were entirely frank and outspoken in acknowledging their position; they had said, from the beginning, that they did not wish the Committee of Thirty-three to accomplish anything; and they had endeavored to dissuade Southerners from accepting positions upon it. Hawkins of Florida said that “the time of compromise had passed forever.” South Carolina refused to share in the Peace Congress, because she did “not deem it advisable to initiate negotiations when she had no desire or intention to promote the object in view.” Governor Peters of Mississippi, in poetic language, suggested another difficulty: “When sparks cease to fly upwards,” he said, “Comanches respect treaties, and wolves kill sheep no more, the oath of a Black Republican might be of some value as a protection to slave property.” Jefferson Davis contemptuously stigmatized all the schemes of compromise as “quack nostrums,” and he sneered justly enough at those who spun fine arguments of legal texture, and consumed time “discussing abstract questions, reading patchwork from the opinions of men now mingled with the dust.”

It is not known by what logic gentlemen who held these views defended their conduct in retaining their positions in the government of the nation for the purpose of destroying it. Senator Yulee of Florida shamelessly gave his motive for staying in the Senate: “It is thought we can keep the hands of Mr. Buchanan tied and disable the Republicans from effecting any legislation which will strengthen the hands of the incoming administration.” Mr. Toombs of Georgia, speaking and voting at his desk in the Senate, declared himself “as good a rebel and as good a traitor as ever descended from Revolutionary loins,” and said that the Union was already dissolved,–by which assertion he made his position in the Senate absolutely indefensible. The South Carolina senators resigned before their State ordained itself a “foreign nation,” and incurred censure for being so “precipitate.” In a word, the general desire was to remain in office, hampering and obstructing the government, until March 4, 1861, and at a caucus of disunionists it was agreed to do so. But the pace became too rapid, and resignations followed pretty close upon the formal acts of secession.

On the same day on which the Peace Congress opened its sessions in Washington, there came together at Montgomery, in Alabama, delegates from six States for the purpose of forming a Southern Confederacy. On the third day thereafter a plan for a provisional government, substantially identical with the Constitution of the United States, was adopted. On February 9 the oath of allegiance was taken, and Jefferson Davis and Alexander H. Stephens were elected respectively President and Vice-President. On February 13 the military and naval committees were directed to report plans for organizing an army and navy. Mr. Davis promptly journeyed to Montgomery, making on the way many speeches, in which he told his hearers that no plan for a reconstruction of the old Union would be entertained; and promised that those who should interfere with the new nation would have to “smell Southern powder and to feel Southern steel.” On February 18 he was inaugurated, and in his address again referred to the “arbitrament of the sword.” Immediately afterward he announced his cabinet as follows:–

Robert Toombs of Georgia, secretary of state. C.G. Memminger of South Carolina, secretary of the treasury. L.P. Walker of Alabama, secretary of war. S.R. Mallory of Florida, secretary of the navy. J.H. Reagan of Texas, postmaster-general. Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana, attorney-general.

On March 11 the permanent Constitution was adopted.[121] Thus the machine of the new government was set in working order. Mr. Greeley gives some interesting figures showing the comparative numerical strength of the sections of the country at this time:[122]–

The free population of the seven States which had seceded, was 2,656,948 The free population of the eight slave States[123] which had not seceded, was 5,633,005 Total 8,289,953
The slaves in the States of the first list were 2,312,046 The slaves in the States of the second list were 1,638,297 Total of slaves 3,950,343 The population of the whole Union by the census of 1860, was 31,443,321

[Illustration: Alexander H. Stephens]

The disproportion would have discouraged the fathers of the new nation, if they had anticipated that the North would be resolute in using its overwhelming resources. But how could they believe that this would be the case when they read the New York “Tribune” and the reports of Mr. Phillips’s harangues?

* * * * *

On February 13 the electoral vote was to be counted in Congress. Rumors were abroad that the Secessionists intended to interfere with this by tumults and violence; but the evidence is insufficient to prove that any such scheme was definitely matured; it was talked of, but ultimately it seems to have been laid aside with a view to action at a later date. Naturally enough, however, the country was disquieted. In the emergency the action of General Scott was watched with deep anxiety. A Southerner by birth and by social sympathies, he had been expected by the Secessionists to join their movement. But the old soldier–though broken by age and infirmities, and though he had proposed the folly of voluntarily quartering the country, like the corpse of a traitor–had his patriotism and his temper at once aroused when violence was threatened. On and after October 29 he had repeatedly advised reinforcement of the Southern garrisons; though it must be admitted, in Buchanan’s behalf, that the general made no suggestion as to how or where the troops could be obtained for this purpose. In the same spirit he now said, with stern resolution, that there should be ample military preparations to insure both the count and the inauguration; and he told some of the Southerners that he would blow traitors to pieces at the cannon’s mouth without hesitation. Disturbed at his vehemence, they denounced him bitterly, and sent him frequent notices of assassination. Floyd distributed orders concerning troops and munitions directly from the War Department, and carefully concealed them from the general who was the head of the army. But secrecy and intimidation were in vain. The aged warrior was fiercely in earnest; if there was going to be any outbreak in Washington he was going to put it down with bullets and bayonets, and he gathered his soldiers and instructed his officers accordingly. But happily the preparation of these things was sufficient to render the use of them unnecessary. When the day came Vice-President Breckenridge performed his duty, however unwelcome, without flinching. He presided over the joint session and conducted the count with the air of a man determined to enforce law and order, and at the close declared the election of Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin.

Still only the smaller crisis had been passed. Much more alarming stories now flew from mouth to mouth,–of plots to seize the capital and to prevent the inauguration, even to assassinate Lincoln on his journey to Washington. How much foundation there was for these is not accurately known. That the idea of capturing Washington had fascinated the Southern fancy is certain. “I see no reason,” said Senator Iverson, “why Washington city should not be continued the capital of the Southern Confederacy.” The Richmond “Examiner” railed grossly: “That filthy cage of unclean birds must and will assuredly be purified by fire…. Our people can take it,–they will take it…. Scott, the arch-traitor, and Lincoln, the beast, combined, cannot prevent it. The ‘Illinois Ape’ must retrace his journey more rapidly than he came.” The abundant talk of this sort created uneasiness; and Judge Holt said that there was cause for alarm. But a committee of Congress reported that, though it was difficult to speak positively, yet they found no evidence sufficient to prove “the existence of a secret organization.” Alexander H. Stephens has denied that there was any intention to attack the city, and probably the notion of seizure did not pass beyond the stage of talk.

But the alleged plot to assassinate Mr. Lincoln was more definite. He had been spending the winter quietly in Springfield, where he had been overrun by visitors, who wished to look at him, to advise him, and to secure promises of office; fortunately the tedious procession had lost part of its offensiveness by touching his sense of humor. Anxious people made well-meaning but useless efforts to induce him to say something for effect upon the popular mind; but he resolutely and wisely maintained silence. His position and opinions, he said, had already been declared in his speeches with all the clearness he could give to them, and the people had appeared to understand and approve them. He could not improve and did not desire to change these utterances. Occasionally he privately expressed his dislike to the conceding and compromising temper which threatened to undo, for an indefinite future, all which the long and weary struggle of anti-slavery men had accomplished. In this line he wrote a letter of protest to Greeley, which inspired that gentleman to a singular expression of sympathy; let the Union go to pieces, exclaimed the emotional editor, let presidents be assassinated, let the Republican party suffer crushing defeat, but let there not be “another nasty compromise.” To Mr. Kellogg, the Illinoisian on the House Committee of Thirty-three, Lincoln wrote: “Entertain no proposition for a compromise in regard to the extension of slavery. The instant you do, they have us under again; all our labor is lost, and sooner or later must be done over again.” He repeated almost the same words to E.B. Washburne, a member of the House. Duff Green tried hard to get something out of him for the comfort of Mr. Buchanan, but failed to extort more than commonplace generalities. To Seward he wrote that he did not wish to interfere with the present status, or to meddle with slavery as it now lawfully existed. To like purport he wrote to Alexander H. Stephens, induced thereto by the famous Union speech of that gentleman. He eschewed hostile feeling, saying: “I never have been, am not now, and probably never shall be, in a mood of harassing the people, either North or South.” Nevertheless, while he said that all were “brothers of a common country,” he was perfectly resolved that the country should remain “common,” even if the bond of brotherhood had to be riveted by force. He admitted that this necessity would be “an ugly point;” but he was perfectly clear that “the right of a State to secede is not an open or debatable question.” He desired that General Scott should be prepared either to “hold or retake” the Southern forts, if need should be, at or after the inauguration; but on his journey to Washington he said to many audiences that he wished no war and no bloodshed, and that these evils could be avoided if people would only “keep cool” and “keep their temper, on both sides of the line.”

On Monday, February 11, 1861, Mr. Lincoln spoke to his fellow citizens of Springfield a very brief farewell, so solemn as to sound ominous in the ears of those who know what afterward occurred. It was arranged that he should stop at various points upon the somewhat circuitous route which had been laid out, and that he should arrive in Washington on Saturday, February 23. The programme, was pursued accurately till near the close; he made, of course, many speeches, but none added anything to what was already known as to his views.

Meantime the thick rumors of violence were bringing much uneasiness to persons who were under responsibilities. Baltimore was the place where, and its villainous “Plug Uglies” were the persons by whom, the plot, if there was one, was to be executed. Mr. Felton, president of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad Company, engaged Allan Pinkerton to explore the matter, and the report of this skillful detective indicated a probability of an attack with the purpose of assassination. At that time the cars were drawn by horses across town from the northern to the southern station, and during the passage an assault could be made with ease and with great chance of success. As yet there was no indication that the authorities intended to make, even if they could make,[124] any adequate arrangements for the protection of the traveler. At Philadelphia Mr. Lincoln was told of the fears of his friends, and talked with Mr. Pinkerton, but he refused to change his plan. On February 22 he was to assist at a flag-raising in Philadelphia, and was then to go on to Harrisburg, and on the following day he was to go from there to Baltimore. He declined to alter either route or hours.

But other persons besides Mr. Felton had been busy with independent detective investigations, the result of which was in full accord with the report of Mr. Pinkerton. On February 22 Mr. Frederick W. Seward, sent by his father and General Scott, both then at Washington, delivered to Mr. Lincoln, at Philadelphia, the message that there was “serious danger” to his life if the time of his passage through Baltimore should be known. Yet Lincoln still remained obdurate. He declared that if an escorting delegation from Baltimore should meet him at Harrisburg, he would go on with it. But at Harrisburg no such escort presented itself. Then the few who knew the situation discussed further as to what should be done, Norman B. Judd being chief spokesman for evading the danger by a change of programme. Naturally the objection of seeming timid and of exciting ridicule was present in the minds of all, and it was put somewhat emphatically by Colonel Sumner. Mr. Lincoln at last settled the dispute; he said: “I have thought over this matter considerably since I went over the ground with Pinkerton last night. The appearance of Mr. Frederick Seward, with warning from another source, confirms Mr. Pinkerton’s belief. Unless there are some other reasons besides fear of ridicule, I am disposed to carry out Judd’s plan.”

This plan was accordingly carried out with the success which its simplicity insured. Mr. Lincoln and his stalwart friend, Colonel Lamon, slipped out of a side door to a hackney carriage, were driven to the railway station, and returned by the train to Philadelphia. Their departure was not noticed, but had it been, news of it could not have been sent away, for Mr. Felton had had the telegraph wires secretly cut outside the town. He also ordered, upon a plausible pretext, that the southward-bound night train on his road should be held back until the arrival of this train from Harrisburg. Mr. Lincoln and Colonel Lamon passed from the one train to the other without recognition, and rolled into Washington early on the following morning. Mr. Seward and Mr. Washburne met Lincoln at the station and went with him to Willard’s Hotel. Soon afterward the country was astonished, and perhaps some persons were discomfited, as the telegraph carried abroad the news of his arrival.

Those who were disappointed at this safe conclusion of his journey, if in fact there were any such, together with many who would have contemned assassination, at once showered upon him sneers and ridicule. They said that Lincoln had put on a disguise and had shown the white feather, when there had been no real danger. But this was not just. Whether or not there was the completed machinery of a definite, organized plot for assault and assassination is uncertain; that is to say, this is not _proved_; yet the evidence is so strong that the majority of investigators seem to agree in the opinion that _probably_ there was a plan thoroughly concerted and ready for execution. Even if there was not, it was very likely that a riot might be suddenly started, which would be as fatal in its consequences as a premeditated scheme. But, after all, the question of the plot is one of mere curiosity and quite aside from the true issue. That issue, so far as it presented itself for determination by Mr. Lincoln, was simply whether a case of such probability of danger was made out that as a prudent man he should overrule the only real objection,–that of exciting ridicule,–and avoid a peril which the best judges believed to exist, and which, if it did exist, involved consequences of immeasurable seriousness not only to himself but to the nation. For a wise man only one conclusion was possible. The story of the disguise was a silly slander, based upon the trifling fact that for this night journey Lincoln wore a traveling cap instead of his hat.

Lincoln’s own opinion as to the danger is not quite clear.[125] He said to Mr. Lossing that, after hearing Mr. Seward, he believed “such a plot to be in existence.” But he also said: “I did not then, nor do I now, believe I should have been assassinated, had I gone through Baltimore as first contemplated; but I thought it wise to run no risk, where no risk was necessary.”

The reflection can hardly fail to occur, how grossly unfair it was that Mr. Lincoln should be put into the position in which he was put at this time, and then that fault should be found with him even if his prudence was overstrained. Many millions of people in the country hated him with a hatred unutterable; among them might well be many fanatics, to whom assassination would seem a noble act, many desperadoes who would regard it as a pleasing excitement; and he was to go through a city which men of this stamp could at any time dominate. The custom of the country compelled this man, whom it had long since selected as its ruler, to make a journey of extreme danger without any species of protection whatsoever. So far as peril went, no other individual in the United States had ever, presumably, been in a peril like that which beset him; so far as safeguards went, he had no more than any other traveler. A few friends volunteered to make the journey with him, but they were useless as guardians; and he and they were so hustled and jammed in the railway stations that one of them actually had his arm broken. This extraordinary spectacle may have indicated folly on the part of the nation which permitted it, but certainly it did not involve the disgrace of the individual who had no choice about it. The people put Mr. Lincoln in a position in which he was subjected to the most appalling, as it is the most vague, of all dangers, and then left him to take care of himself as best he could. It was ungenerous afterward to criticise him for exercising prudence in the performance of that duty which he ought never to have been called upon to perform at all.[126]

Immediately after his arrival in Washington Mr. Lincoln received a visit from the members of the Peace Congress. Grotesque and ridiculous descriptions of him, as if he had been a Caliban in education, manners, and aspect, had been rife among Southerners, and the story goes that the Southern delegates expected to be at once amused and shocked by the sight of a clodhopper whose conversation would be redolent of the barnyard, not to say of the pigsty. Those of them who had any skill in reading character were surprised,–as the tradition is,–discomfited, even a little alarmed, at what in fact they beheld; for Mr. Lincoln appeared before them a self-possessed man, expressing to them such clear convictions and such a distinct and firm purpose as compelled them into new notions of his capacity and told them of much trouble ahead. His remark to Mr. Rives, coming from one who spoke accurately, had an ominous sound in rebellious ears: “My course is as plain as a turnpike road. It is marked out by the Constitution. I am in no doubt which way to go.” The wiser Southerners withdrew from this reception quite sober and thoughtful, with some new ideas about the man with whom their relationship seemed on the verge of becoming hostile. After abundant allowance is made for the enthusiasm of Northern admirers, it remains certain that Lincoln bore well this severe ordeal of criticism on the part of those who would have been glad to despise him. Ungainly they saw him, but not undignified, and the strange impressive sadness seldom dwelt so strikingly upon his face as at this time, as though all the weight of misery, which the millions of his fellow citizens were to endure throughout the coming years, already burdened the soul of the ruler who had been chosen to play the most responsible part in the crisis and the anguish.

March 4, 1861, inauguration day, was fine and sunny. If there had ever been any real danger of trouble, the fear of it had almost entirely subsided. Northerners and Southerners had found out in good season that General Scott was not in a temporizing mood; he had in the city two batteries, a few companies of regulars,–653 men, exclusive of some marines,–and the corps of picked Washington Volunteers. He said that this force was all he wanted. President Buchanan left the White House in an open carriage, escorted by a company of sappers and miners under Captain Duane. At Willard’s Hotel Mr. Lincoln entered the carriage, and the two gentlemen passed along the avenue, through crowds which cheered but made no disturbance, to the Capitol. General Scott with his regulars marched, “flanking the movement, in parallel streets.” His two batteries, while not made unpleasantly conspicuous, yet controlled the plateau which extends before the east front of the Capitol. Mr. Lincoln was simply introduced by Senator Baker of Oregon, and delivered his inaugural address. His voice had great carrying capacity, and the vast crowd heard with ease a speech of which every sentence was fraught with an importance and scrutinized with an anxiety far beyond that of any other speech ever delivered in the United States. At its close the venerable Chief Justice Taney administered the oath of office, thereby informally but effectually reversing the most famous opinion delivered by him during his long incumbency in his high office.

The inaugural address was simple, earnest, and direct, unincumbered by that rhetorical ornamentation which the American people have always admired as the highest form of eloquence. Those Northerners who had expected magniloquent periods and exaggerated outbursts of patriotism were disappointed; and as they listened in vain for the scream of the eagle, many grumbled at the absence of what they conceived to be _force_. Yet the general feeling was of satisfaction, which grew as the address was more thoroughly studied. The Southerners, upon their part, looking anxiously to see whether or not they must fight for their purpose, construed the words of the new President correctly. They heard him say: “The union of these States is perpetual.” “No State upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union.” “I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States.” He also declared his purpose “to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the government, and to collect the duties and imposts.” These sentences made up the issue directly with secession, and the South, reading them, knew that, if the North was ready to back the President, war was inevitable; none the less so because Mr. Lincoln closed with patriotic and generous words: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”

Until after the election of Mr. Lincoln in November, 1860, the sole issue between the North and the South, between Republicans on the one hand and Democrats and Compromisers on the other, had related to slavery. Logically, the position of the Republicans was impregnable. Their platforms and their leaders agreed that the party intended strictly to respect the Constitution, and not to interfere at all with slavery in the States within which it now lawfully existed. They said with truth that they had in no case deprived the slaveholding communities of their rights, and they denied the truth of the charge that they cherished an inchoate design to interfere with those rights; adding very truly that, at worst, a mere design, which did not find expression in an overt act, could give no right of action to the South. Mr. Lincoln had been most explicit in declaring that the opposition to slavery was not to go beyond efforts to prevent its _extension_, which efforts would be wholly within the Constitution and the law. He repeated these things in his inaugural.

But while these incontrovertible allegations gave the Republicans a logical advantage of which they properly made the most, the South claimed a right to make other collateral and equally undeniable facts the ground of action. The only public matter in connection with which Mr. Lincoln had won any reputation was that of slavery. No one could deny that he had been elected because the Republican party had been pleased with his expression of opinion on this subject. Now his most pointed and frequently reiterated expression of that opinion was that slavery was a “moral, social, and political evil;” and this language was a fair equivalent of the statement of the Republican platform of 1856, classing Slavery and Mormonism together, as “twin relics of barbarism.” That the North was willing, or would long be willing, to remain in amicable social and political bonds with a moral, social, and political evil, and a relic of barbarism, was intrinsically improbable, and was made more improbable by the symptoms of the times.[127] Indeed, Mr. Seward had said, in famous words, that his section would not play this unworthy part; he had proclaimed already the existence of an “irrepressible conflict;” and therefore the South had the word of the Republican leader that, in spite of the Republican respect for the law, an anti-slavery crusade was already in existence. The Southern chiefs distinctly recognized and accepted this situation.[128] There was an avowed Northern condemnation of their institution; there was an acknowledged “conflict.” Such being the case, it was the opinion of the chief men at the South that the position taken by the North, of strict performance of clear constitutional duties concerning an odious institution, would not suffice for the safe perpetuation of that institution.[129] This, their judgment, appeared to be in a certain way also the judgment of Mr. Lincoln; for he also conceived that to put slavery where the “fathers” had left it was to put it “in the way of ultimate extinction;” and he had, in the most famous utterance of his life, given his forecast of the future to the effect that the country would in time be “all free.” The only logical deduction was that he, and the Republican party which had agreed with him sufficiently to make him president, believed that the South had no lawful recourse by which this result, however unwelcome or ruinous, could in the long run and the fullness of time be escaped. Under such circumstances Southern political leaders now decided that the time for separation had come. In speaking of their scheme they called it “secession,” and said that secession was a lawful act because the Constitution was a compact revocable by any of the parties. They might have called it “revolution,”[130] and have defended it upon the general right of any large body of people, dissatisfied with the government under which they find themselves, to cast it off. But, if the step was _revolution_, then the burden of proof was upon them; whereas they said that _secession_ was their lawful right, without any regard whatsoever to the motive which induced them to exercise it.[131] Such was the character of the issue between the North and the South prior to the first ordinance of secession. The action of South Carolina, followed by the other Gulf States, at once changed that issue, shifting it from pro-slavery versus anti-slavery to union versus disunion. This alteration quickly compelled great numbers of men, both at the North and at the South, to reconsider and, upon a new issue, to place themselves also anew.

It has been said by all writers that in the seven seceding States there was, in the four months following the election, a very large proportion of “Union men.” The name only signified that these men did not think that the present inducements to disunion were sufficient to render it a wise measure. It did not signify that they thought disunion unlawful, unconstitutional, and treasonable. When, however, state conventions decided the question of advisability against their opinions, and they had to choose between allegiance to the State and allegiance to the Union, they immediately adhered to the State, and this none the less because they feared that she had taken an ill-advised step. That is to say, at the South a “Union man” _wished_ to preserve the Union, whereas at the North a “Union man” recognized a supreme _obligation_ to do so.

While the South, by political alchemy, was becoming solidified and homogeneous, a corresponding change was going on at the North. In that section the great numbers–of whom some would have re-made the Constitution, others would have agreed to peaceable separation, and still others would have made any concession to retain the integrity of the Union–now saw that these were indeed, as Jefferson Davis had said, “quack nostrums,” and that the choice lay between permitting a secession accompanied with insulting menaces and some degree of actual violence, and maintaining the Union by coercion. In this dilemma great multitudes of Northern Democrats, whose consciences had never been in the least disturbed by the existence of slavery in the country or even by efforts to extend it, became “Union men” in the Northern sense of the word, which made it about equivalent to coercionists. Their simple creed was the integrity and perpetuity of the nation.

Mr. Lincoln showed in his inaugural his accurate appreciation of the new situation. Owing all that he had become in the world to a few anti-slavery speeches, elevated to the presidency by votes which really meant little else than hostility to slavery, what was more natural than that he should at this moment revert to this great topic and make the old dispute the main part and real substance of his address? But this fatal error he avoided. With unerring judgment he dwelt little on that momentous issue which had only just been displaced, and took his stand fairly upon that still more momentous one which had so newly come up. He spoke for the Union; upon that basis a united North _ought_ to support him; upon that basis the more northern of the slave States might remain loyal. As matter of fact, Union had suddenly become the real issue, but it needed at the hands of the President to be publicly and explicitly announced as such; this recognition was essential; he gave it on this earliest opportunity, and the announcement was the first great service of the new Republican ruler. It seems now as though he could hardly have done otherwise, or have fallen into the error of allying himself with bygone or false issues. It may be admitted that he could not have passed this new one by; but the important matter was that of proportion and relation, and in this it was easy to blunder. In truth it was a crisis when blundering was so easy that nearly all the really able men of the North had been doing it badly for three or four months past, and not a few of them were going to continue it for two or three months to come. Therefore the sound conception of the inaugural deserves to be considered as an indication, one among many, of Lincoln’s capacity for seeing with entire distinctness the great main fact, and for recognizing it as such. Other matters, which lay over and around such a fact, side issues, questions of detail, affairs of disguise or deception, never confused or misled him. He knew with unerring accuracy where the biggest fact lay, and he always anchored fast to it and stayed with it. For many years he had been anchored to anti-slavery; now, in the face of the nation, he shifted his anchorage to the Union; and each time he held securely.


[114] Breckenridge was the legitimate representative of the administrationists, and his ticket received only 847,953 votes out of 4,680,193. Douglas and Buchanan were at open war.

[115] See remarks of Mr. Elaine upon use of this word. _Twenty Years of Congress_, i. 219.

[116] But it should be said that Attorney-General Black supported these views in a very elaborate opinion, which he had furnished to the President, and which was transmitted to Congress at the same time with the message.

[117] Greeley afterwards truly said that his journal had plenty of company in these sentiments, even among the Republican sheets. _Amer. Conflict_, i. 359. Reference is made in the text to the utterances of the _Tribune_ more because it was so prominent and influential than because it was very peculiar in its position.

[118] Wilson, _Rise and Fall of Slave Power_, iii. 63-69; N. and H. in. 255. See account of “the Pine Street meeting,” New York, in Dix’s _Memoirs of Dix_, i. 347.

[119] For an account of this by General Dix himself, see _Memoirs of John A. Dix_, by Morgan Dix, i. 370-373.

[120] Arkansas, California, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, and Wisconsin

[121] It differed from that of the United States very little, save in containing a distinct recognition of slavery, and in being made by the States instead of by the people.

[122] _American Conflict_, i. 351.

[123] This includes Delaware, 110,420, and Maryland, 599,846.

[124] Marshal Kane and most of the police were reported to be Secessionists. Pinkerton, _Spy of the Rebellion_, 50, 61.

[125] Lamon says that Mr. Lincoln afterwards regretted this journey, and became convinced “that he had committed a grave mistake.” Lamon, 527. So also McClure, 45, 48.

[126] For accounts of this journey and statements of the evidence of a plot, see Schouler, _Hist. of Mass. in Civil War_, i. 59-65 (account by Samuel M. Felton, Prest. P.W. & B.R.R. Co.); N. and H. iii. ch. 19 and 20; Chittenden, _Recoll. of Lincoln_, x.; Holland, 275; Arnold, 183-187; Lamon, ch. xx. (this account ought to be, and doubtless is, the most trustworthy); Herndon, 492 (a bit of gossip which sounds improbable); Pinkerton, _Spy of the Rebellion_, 45-103. On the anti-plot side of the question the most important evidence is the little volume, _Baltimore and the Nineteenth of April_, 1861, by George William Brown. This witness, whose strict veracity is beyond question, was mayor of the city. One of his statements, especially, is of the greatest importance. It is obvious that, if the plot existed, one of two things ought to occur on the morning of February 23, viz.: either the plotters and the mobsmen should know that Mr. Lincoln had escaped them, or else they should be at the station at the hour set for his arrival. In fact they were not at the station; there was no sudden assault on the cars, nor other indication of assassins and a mob. Had they, then, received knowledge of what had occurred? Those who sustain the plot-theory say that the news had spread through the city, so that all the assassins and the gangs of the “Plug Uglies” knew that their game was up. This was _possible_, for Mr. Lincoln had arrived in the Washington station a few minutes after six o’clock in the morning, and the train which was expected to bring him to Baltimore did not arrive in Baltimore until half after eleven o’clock. But, on the other hand, the news was not dispatched from Washington immediately upon his arrival; somewhat later, though still early in the morning, the detectives telegraphed to the friends of Mr. Lincoln, but in cipher. Just at what time intelligible telegrams, which would inform the public, were sent out cannot be learned; but upon any arrangement of hours it is obvious that the time was exceedingly short for distributing the news throughout the lower quarters of Baltimore by word of mouth, and there is no pretense of any publication. But while the believers in the plot say, nevertheless, that this had been done and that the story of the journey had spread through the city so that all the assassins and “Plug Uglies” knew it in time to avoid assembling at the railway station about eleven o’clock, yet it appears that Mr. Brown, the mayor, knew nothing about it. On the contrary, he tells us that in anticipation of Mr. Lincoln’s arrival he, “as mayor of the city, accompanied by the police commissioners and supported by a strong force of police, was at the Calvert Street station on Saturday morning, February 23, at 11.30 o’clock … ready to receive with due respect the incoming President. An open carriage was in waiting, in which I was to have the honor of escorting Mr. Lincoln through the city to the Washington station, and of sharing in any danger which he might encounter. It is hardly necessary to say that I apprehended none.” To the “great astonishment” of Mr. Brown, however, the train brought only “Mrs. Lincoln and her three sons,” and “it was then announced that he had passed through the city _incognito_ in the night train.” This is a small bit of evidence to set against the elaborate stories of the believers in the plot, yet to some it will seem like the little obstruction which suffices to throw a whole railway train from the track. I would rather let any reader, who is sufficiently interested to examine the matter, reach his own conclusion, than endeavor to furnish one for him; for I think that a dispute more difficult of really conclusive settlement will not easily be found.

[127] Some of the Southern members of Congress collected and recited sundry noteworthy utterances of Republicans concerning slavery, and certainly there was little in them to induce a sense of security on the part of slaveholders. Wilson, _Rise and Fall of Slave Power_, iii. 97, 154.

[128] Toombs declared, as Lincoln had said, that what was wanted was that the North should _call slavery right_. Wilson, _Rise and Fall of Slave Power_, iii. 76. Stephens declared the “corner-stone” of the new government to be “the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery … is his natural and normal condition;” and said that it was the first government “in the history of the world based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” N. and H. iii. 203; and see his letter to Lincoln, _ibid._ 272, 273. Mississippi, in declaring the causes of her secession, said: “Our position is thoroughly identical with the institution of slavery,–the greatest material interest in the world.” N. and H. iii. 201. Senator Mason of Virginia said: “It is a war of sentiment, of opinion; a war of one form of society against another form of society.” Wilson, _Rise and Fall of Slave Power_, iii. 26. Green of Missouri ascribed the trouble to the “vitiated and corrupted state of public sentiment.” _Ibid._ 23. Iverson of Georgia said it was the “public sentiment” at the North, not the “overt acts” of the Republican administration, that was feared; and said that there was ineradicable enmity between the two sections, which had not lived together in peace, were not so living now, and could not be expected to do so in the future. _Ibid._ 17.

[129] Historians generally seem to admit that the South had to choose between making the fight now, and seeing its favorite institution gradually become extinct.

[130] Sometimes, though very rarely, the word was used.

[131] See Lincoln’s message to Congress, July 4, 1861.



From the inaugural ceremonies Lincoln drove quietly back through Pennsylvania Avenue and entered the White House, the President of the United States,–alas, united no longer. Many an anxious citizen breathed more freely when the dreaded hours had passed without disturbance. But burdens a thousand fold heavier than any which were lifted from others descended upon the new ruler. Save, however, that the thoughtful, far-away expression of sadness had of late seemed deeper and more impressive than ever before, Lincoln gave no sign of inward trouble. His singular temperament armed him with a rare and peculiar strength beneath responsibility and in the face of duty. He has been seen, with entire tranquillity, not only seeking, but seeming to assume as his natural due or destiny, positions which appeared preposterously out of accord alike with his early career and with his later opportunities for development. In trying to explain this, it is easier to say what was _not_ the underlying quality than what it was. Certainly there was no taint whatsoever of that vulgar self-confidence which is so apt to lead the “free and equal” citizens of the great republic into grotesque positions. Perhaps it was a grand simplicity of faith; a profound instinctive confidence that by patient, honest thinking it would be possible to know the right road, and by earnest enduring courage to follow it. Perhaps it was that so-called divine inspiration which seems always a part of the highest human fitness. The fact which is distinctly visible is, that a fair, plain and honest method of thinking saved him from the perplexities which beset subtle dialecticians in politics and in constitutional law. He had lately said that his course was “as plain as a turnpike road;” it was, to execute the public laws.

His duty was simple; his understanding of it was unclouded by doubt or sophistry; his resolution to do it was firm; but whether his hands would be strengthened sufficiently to enable him to do it was a question of grave anxiety. The president of a republic can do everything if the people are at his back, and almost nothing if the people are not at his back. Where, then, were now the people of the United States? In seven States they were openly and unitedly against him; in at least seven more they were under a very strong temptation to range themselves against him in case of a conflict; and as for the Republican States of the North, on that fourth day of March, 1861, no man could say to what point they would sustain the administration. There had as yet come slight indications of any change in the conceding, compromising temper of that section. Greeley and Seward and Wendell Phillips, representative men, were little better than Secessionists. The statement sounds ridiculous, yet the proof against each comes from his own mouth. The “Tribune” had retracted none of those disunion sentiments, of which examples have been given. Even so late as April 10, 1861, Mr. Seward wrote officially to Mr. C.F. Adams, minister to England: “Only an imperial and despotic government could subjugate thoroughly disaffected and insurrectionary members of the state. This federal, republican country of ours is, of all forms of government, the very one which is the most unfitted for such a labor.” He had been and still was favoring delay and conciliation, in the visionary hope that the seceders would follow the scriptural precedent of the prodigal son. On April 9 the rumor of a fight at Sumter being spread abroad, Mr. Phillips said:[132] “Here are a series of States, girding the Gulf, who think that their peculiar institutions require that they should have a separate government. They have a right to decide that question without appealing to you or me…. Standing with the principles of ’76 behind us, who can deny them the right?… Abraham Lincoln has no right to a soldier in Fort Sumter…. There is no longer a Union…. Mr. Jefferson Davis is angry, and Mr. Abraham Lincoln is mad, and they agree to fight…. You cannot go through Massachusetts and recruit men to bombard Charleston or New Orleans…. We are in no condition to fight…. Nothing but madness can provoke war with the Gulf States;”–with much more to the same effect.

If the veterans of the old anti-slavery contest were in this frame of mind in April, Lincoln could hardly place much dependence upon the people at large in March. If he could not “recruit men” in Massachusetts, in what State could he reasonably expect to do so? Against such discouragement it can only be said that he had a singular instinct for the underlying popular feeling, that he could scent it in the distance and in hiding; moreover, that he was always willing to run the chance of any consequences which might follow the performance of a clear duty. Still, as he looked over the dreary Northern field in those chill days of early March, he must have had a marvelous sensitiveness in order to perceive the generative heat and force in the depths beneath the cheerless surface and awaiting only the fullness of the near spring season to burst forth in sudden universal vigor. Yet such was his knowledge and such his faith concerning the people that we may fancy, if we will, that he foresaw the great transformation. But there were still other matters which disturbed him. Before his inauguration, he had heard much of his coming official isolation. One of the arguments reiterated alike by Southern Unionists and by Northerners had been that the Republican President would be powerless, because the Senate, the House, and the Supreme Court were all opposed to him. But the supposed lack of political sympathy on the part of these bodies, however it might beget anxiety for the future, was for the present of much less moment than another fact, viz., that none of the distinguished men, leaders in his own party, whom Lincoln found about him at Washington, were in a frame of mind to assist him efficiently. If all did not actually distrust his capacity and character,–which, doubtless, many honestly did,–at least they were profoundly ignorant concerning both. Therefore they could not yet, and did not, place genuine, implicit confidence in him; they could not yet, and did not, advise and aid him at all in the same spirit and with the same usefulness as later they were able to do. They were not to blame for this; on the contrary, the condition had been brought about distinctly against their will, since certainly few of them had looked with favor upon the selection of an unknown, inexperienced, ill-educated man as the Republican candidate for the presidency. How much Lincoln felt his loneliness will never be known; for, reticent and self-contained at all times, he gave no outward sign. That he felt it less than other men would have done may be regarded as certain; for, as has already appeared to some extent, and as will appear much more in this narrative, he was singularly self-reliant, and, at least in appearance, was strangely indifferent to any counsel or support which could be brought to him by others. Yet, marked as was this trait in him, he could hardly have been human had he not felt oppressed by the personal solitude and political isolation of his position when the responsibility of his great office rested newly upon him. Under all these circumstances, if this lonely man moved slowly and cautiously during the early weeks of his administration, it was not at his door that the people had the right to lay the reproach of weakness or hesitation.

Mr. Buchanan, for the convenience of his successor, had called an extra session of the Senate, and on March 5 President Lincoln sent in the nominations for his cabinet. All were immediately confirmed, as follows:–

William H. Seward, New York, secretary of state. Salmon P. Chase, Ohio, secretary of the treasury. Simon Cameron, Pennsylvania, secretary of war. Gideon Welles, Connecticut, secretary of the navy. Caleb B. Smith, Indiana, secretary of the interior. Edward Bates, Missouri, attorney-general. Montgomery Blair, Maryland, postmaster-general.

It is matter of course that a cabinet slate should fail to give general satisfaction; and this one encountered fully the average measure of criticism. The body certainly was somewhat heterogeneous in its composition, yet the same was true of the Republican party which it represented. Nor was it by any means so heterogeneous as Mr. Lincoln had designed to have it, for he had made efforts to place in it a Southern spokesman for Southern views; and he had not desisted from the purpose until its futility was made apparent by the direct refusal of Mr. Gilmer of North Carolina, and by indications of a like unwillingness on the part of one or two other Southerners who were distantly sounded on the subject. Seward, Chase, Bates, and Cameron were the four men who had manifested the greatest popularity, after Lincoln, in the national convention, and the selection of them, therefore, showed that Mr. Lincoln was seeking strength rather than amity in his cabinet; for it was certainly true that each one of them had a following which was far from being wholly in sympathy with the following of any one of the others. The President evidently believed that it was of more importance that each great body of Northern men should feel that its opinions were fairly presented, than that his cabinet officers should always comfortably unite in looking at questions from one and the same point of view. Judge Davis says that Lincoln’s original design was to appoint Democrats and Republicans alike to office. He carried this theory so far that the radical Republicans regarded the make-up of the cabinet as a “disgraceful surrender to the South;” while men of less extreme views saw with some alarm that he had called to his advisory council four ex-Democrats and only three ex-Whigs, a criticism which he met by saying that he himself was an “old-line Whig” and should be there to make the parties even. On the other hand, the Republicans of the middle line of States grumbled much at the selection of Bates and Blair as representatives of their section.

The cabinet had not been brought together without some jarring and friction, especially in the case of Cameron. On December 31 Mr. Lincoln intimated to him that he should have either the Treasury or the War Department, but on January 3 requested him to “decline the appointment.” Cameron, however, had already mentioned the matter to many friends, without any suggestion that he should not be glad to accept either position, and therefore, even if he were willing to accede to the sudden, strange, and unexplained request of Mr. Lincoln, he would have found it difficult to do so without giving rise to much embarrassing gossip. Accordingly he did not decline, and thereupon ensued much wire-pulling. Pennsylvania protectionists wanted Cameron in the Treasury, and strenuously objected to Chase as an ex-Democrat of free-trade proclivities. On the other hand, Lincoln gradually hardened into the resolution that Chase should have the Treasury. He made the tender, and it was accepted. He then offered consolation to Pennsylvania by giving the War portfolio to Cameron, which was accepted with something of chagrin. How far this Cameron episode was affected by the bargain declared by Lamon to have been made at Chicago cannot be told. Other biographers ignore this story, but I do not see how the direct testimony furnished by Lamon and corroborated by Colonel McClure can justly be treated in this way; neither is the temptation so to treat it apparent, since the evidence entirely absolves Lincoln from any complicity at the time of making the alleged “trade,” while he could hardly be blamed if he felt somewhat hampered by it afterward.

Seward also gave trouble which he ought not to have given. On December 8 Lincoln wrote to him that he would nominate him as secretary of state.