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Abraham Lincoln and the Union, A Chronicle of the Embattled North by Nathaniel W. Stephenson

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Abraham Lincoln and the Union, A Chronicle of the Embattled North




In spite of a lapse of sixty years, the historian who attempts to
portray the era of Lincoln is still faced with almost impossible
demands and still confronted with arbitrary points of view. It
is out of the question, in a book so brief as this must
necessarily be, to meet all these demands or to alter these
points of view. Interests that are purely local, events that did
not with certainty contribute to the final outcome, gossip, as
well as the mere caprice of the scholar--these must obviously be
set aside.

The task imposed upon the volume resolves itself, at bottom, into
just two questions: Why was there a war? Why was the Lincoln
Government successful? With these two questions always in mind I
have endeavored, on the one hand, to select and consolidate the
pertinent facts; on the other, to make clear, even at the cost of
explanatory comment, their relations in the historical sequence
of cause and effect. This purpose has particularly governed the
use of biographical matter, in which the main illustration, of
course, is the career of Lincoln. Prominent as it is here made,
the Lincoln matter all bears in the last analysis on one
point--his control of his support. On that the history of the
North hinges. The personal and private Lincoln it is impossible
to present within these pages. The public Lincoln, including the
character of his mind, is here the essential matter.

The bibliography at the close of the volume indicates the more
important books which are at the reader's disposal and which it
is unfortunate not to know.

NATHANIEL W. STEPHENSON. Charleston, S. C., March, 1918.




















"There is really no Union now between the North and the South....
No two nations upon earth entertain feelings of more bitter
rancor toward each other than these two nations of the Republic."

This remark, which is attributed to Senator Benjamin Wade of
Ohio, provides the key to American politics in the decade
following the Compromise of 1850. To trace this division of the
people to its ultimate source, one would have to go far back into
colonial times. There was a process of natural selection at work,
in the intellectual and economic conditions of the eighteenth
century, which inevitably drew together certain types and
generated certain forces. This process manifested itself in one
form in His Majesty's plantations of the North, and in another in
those of the South. As early as the opening of the nineteenth
century, the social tendencies of the two regions were already so
far alienated that they involved differences which would scarcely
admit of reconciliation. It is a truism to say that these
differences gradually were concentrated around fundamentally
different conceptions of labor--of slave labor in the South, of
free labor in the North.

Nothing, however, could be more fallacious than the notion that
this growing antagonism was controlled by any deliberate purpose
in either part of the country. It was apparently necessary that
this Republic in its evolution should proceed from confederation
to nationality through an intermediate and apparently reactionary
period of sectionalism. In this stage of American history,
slavery was without doubt one of the prime factors involved, but
sectional consciousness, with all its emotional and psychological
implications, was the fundamental impulse of the stern events
which occurred between 1850 and 1865.

By the middle of the nineteenth century the more influential
Southerners had come generally to regard their section of the
country as a distinct social unit. The next step was inevitable.
The South began to regard itself as a separate political unit.
It is the distinction of Calhoun that he showed himself toward
the end sufficiently flexible to become the exponent of this new
political impulse. With all his earlier fire he encouraged the
Southerners to withdraw from the so-called national parties, Whig
and Democratic, to establish instead a single Southern party, and
to formulate, by means of popular conventions, a single concerted
policy for the entire South.

At that time such a policy was still regarded, from the Southern
point of view, as a radical idea. In 1851, a battle was fought
at the polls between the two Southern ideas--the old one which
upheld separate state independence, and the new one which
virtually acknowledged Southern nationality. The issue at stake
was the acceptance or the rejection of a compromise which could
bring no permanent settlement of fundamental differences.

Nowhere was the battle more interesting than in South Carolina,
for it brought into clear light that powerful Southern leader who
ten years later was to be the masterspirit of secession--Robert
Barnwell Rhett. In 1851 he fought hard to revive the older idea
of state independence and to carry South Carolina as a separate
state out of the Union. Accordingly it is significant of the
progress that the consolidation of the South had made at this
date that on this issue Rhett encountered general opposition.
This difference of opinion as to policy was not inspired, as some
historians have too hastily concluded, by national feeling.
Scarcely any of the leaders of the opposition considered the
Federal Government supreme over the State Government. They
opposed Rhett because they felt secession to be at that moment
bad policy. They saw that, if South Carolina went out of the
Union in 1851, she would go alone and the solidarity of the South
would be broken. They were not lacking in sectional patriotism,
but their conception of the best solution of the complex problem
differed from that advocated by Rhett. Their position was summed
up by Langdon Cheves when he said, "To secede now is to secede
from the South as well as from the Union." On the basis of this
belief they defeated Rhett and put off secession for ten years.

There is no analogous single event in the history of the North,
previous to the war, which reveals with similar clearness a
sectional consciousness. On the surface the life of the people
seemed, indeed, to belie the existence of any such feeling. The
Northern capitalist class aimed steadily at being non-sectional,
and it made free use of the word national. We must not forget,
however, that all sorts of people talked of national
institutions, and that the term, until we look closely into the
mind of, the person using it, signifies nothing. Because the
Northern capitalist repudiated the idea of sectionalism, it does
not follow that he set up any other in its place. Instead of
accomplishing anything so positive, he remained for the most part
a negative quantity.

Living usually somewhere between Maine and Ohio, he made it his
chief purpose to regulate the outflow of manufactures from that
industrial region and the inflow of agricultural produce. The
movement of the latter eastward and northward, and the former
westward and southward, represents roughly but graphically the
movement of the business of that time. The Easterner lived in
fear of losing the money which was owed him in the South. As the
political and economic conditions of the day made unlikely any
serious clash of interest between the East and the West, he had
little solicitude about his accounts beyond the Alleghanies. But
a gradually developing hostility between North and South was
accompanied by a parallel anxiety on the part of Northern capital
for its Southern investments and debts. When the war eventually
became inevitable, $200,000,000 were owed by Southerners to
Northerners. For those days this was an indebtedness of no
inconsiderable magnitude. The Northern capitalists, preoccupied
with their desire to secure this account, were naturally eager to
repudiate sectionalism, and talked about national interests with
a zeal that has sometimes been misinterpreted. Throughout the
entire period from 1850 to 1865, capital in American politics
played for the most part a negative role, and not until after the
war did it become independent of its Southern interests.

For the real North of that day we must turn to those Northerners
who felt sufficient unto themselves and whose political
convictions were unbiased by personal interests which were
involved in other parts of the country. We must listen to the
distinct voices that gave utterance to their views, and we must
observe the definite schemes of their political leaders.
Directly we do this, the fact stares us in the face that the
North had become a democracy. The rich man no longer played the
role of grandee, for by this time there had arisen those two
groups which, between them, are the ruin of aristocracy--the
class of prosperous laborers and the group of well-to-do
intellectuals. Of these, the latter gave utterance, first, to
their faith in democracy, and then, with all the intensity of
partisan zeal, to their sense of the North as the agent of
democracy. The prosperous laborers applauded this expression of
anopinion in which they thoroughly believed and at the same time
gave their willing support to a land policy that was typically

American economic history in the middle third of the century is
essentially the record of a struggle to gain possession of public
land. The opposing forces were the South, which strove to
perpetuate by this means a social system that was fundamentally
aristocratic, and the North, which sought by the same means to
foster its ideal of democracy. Though the South, with the aid of
its economic vassal, the Northern capitalist class, was for some
time able to check the land-hunger of the Northern democrats, it
was never able entirely to secure the control which it desired,
but was always faced with the steady and continued opposition of
the real North. On one occasion in Congress, the heart of the
whole matter was clearly shown, for at the very moment when the
Northerners of the democratic class were pressing one of their
frequent schemes for free land, Southerners and their sympathetic
Northern henchmen were furthering a scheme that aimed at the
purchase of Cuba. From the impatient sneer of a Southerner that
the Northerners sought to give "land to the landless" and the
retort that the Southerners seemed equally anxious to supply
"niggers to the niggerless," it can be seen that American history
is sometimes better summed up by angry politicians than by

We must be on our guard, however, against ascribing to either
side too precise a consciousness of its own motives. The old
days when the American Civil War was conceived as a clear-cut
issue are as a watch in the night that has passed, and we now
realize that historical movements are almost without exception
the resultants of many motives. We have come to recognize that
men have always misapprehended themselves, contradicted
themselves, obeyed primal impulses, and then deluded themselves
with sophistications upon the springs of action. In a word,
unaware of what they are doing, men allow their aesthetic and
dramatic senses to shape their conceptions of their own lives.

That "great impersonal artist," of whom Matthew Arnold has so
much to say, is at work in us all, subtly making us into
illusions, first to ourselves and later to the historian. It is
the business of history, as of analytic fiction, both to feel the
power of these illusions and to work through them in imagination
to the dim but potent motives on which they rest. We are prone
to forget that we act from subconscious quite as often as from
conscious influences, from motives that arise out of the dim
parts of our being, from the midst of shadows that psychology has
only recently begun to lift, where senses subtler than the
obvious make use of fear, intuition, prejudice, habit, and
illusion, and too often play with us as the wind with blown

True as this is of man individually, it is even more
fundamentally true of man collectively, of parties, of peoples.
It is a strikingly accurate description of the relation of the
two American nations that now found themselves opposed within the
Republic. Neither fully understood the other. Each had a social
ideal that was deeper laid than any theory of government or than
any commercial or humanitarian interest. Both knew vaguely but
with sure instinct that their interests and ideals were
irreconcilable. Each felt in its heart the deadly passion of
self-preservation. It was because, in both North and South, men
were subtly conscious that a whole social system was the issue at
stake, and because on each side they believed in their own ideals
with their whole souls, that, when the time came for their trial
by fire, they went to their deaths singing.

In the South there still obtained the ancient ideal of
territorial aristocracy. Those long traditions of the Western
European peoples which had made of the great landholder a petty
prince lay beneath the plantation life of the Southern States.
The feudal spirit, revived in a softer world and under brighter
skies, gave to those who participated in it the same graces and
somewhat the same capacities which it gave to the knightly class
in the days of Roland--courage, frankness, generosity, ability in
affairs, a sense of responsibility, the consciousness of caste.
The mode of life which the planters enjoyed and which the
inferior whites regarded as a social paradise was a life of
complete deliverance from toil, of disinterested participation in
local government, of absolute personal freedom--a life in which
the mechanical action of law was less important than the more
human compulsion of social opinion, and in which private
differences were settled under the code of honor.

This Southern life was carried on in the most appropriate
environment. On a landed estate, often larger than many of
Europe's baronies, stood the great house of the planter, usually
a graceful example of colonial architecture, surrounded by
stately gardens. This mansion was the center of a boundless
hospitality; guests were always coming and going; the hostess and
her daughters were the very symbols of kindliness and ease. To
think of such houses was to think of innumerable joyous days; of
gentlemen galloping across country after the hounds; of coaches
lumbering along avenues of noble oaks, bringing handsome women to
visit the mansion; of great feastings; of nights of music and
dancing; above all, of the great festival of Christmas,
celebrated much as had been the custom in "Merrie England"
centuries before.

Below the surface of this bright world lay the enslaved black
race. In the minds of many Southerners--it was always a secret
burden from which they saw no means of freeing themselves. To
emancipate the slaves, and thereby to create a population of free
blacks, was generally considered, from the white point of view,
an impossible solution of the problem. The Southerners usually
believed that the African could be tamed only in small groups and
when constantly surrounded by white influence, as in the case of
house servants. Though a few great capitalists had taken up the
idea that the deliberate exploitation of the blacks was the high
prerogative of the whites, the general sentiment of the Southern
people was more truly expressed by Toombs when he said: "The
question is not whether we could be more prosperous and happy
with these three and a half million slaves in Africa, and their
places filled with an equal number of hardy, intelligent, and
enterprising citizens of the superior race; but it is simply
whether, while we have them among us, we would be most prosperous
with them in freedom or in bondage."

The Southern people, in the majority of instances, had no hatred
of the blacks. In the main they led their free, spirited, and
gracious life, convinced that the maintenance of slavery was but
making the best of circumstances which were beyond their control.
It was these Southern people who were to hear from afar the
horrible indictment of all their motives by the Abolitionists and
who were to react in a growing bitterness and distrust toward
everything Northern.

But of these Southern people the average Northerner knew nothing.
He knew the South only on its least attractive side of
professional politics. For there was a group of powerful
magnates, rich planters or "slave barons," who easily made their
way into Congress, and who played into the hands of the Northern
capitalists, for a purpose similar to theirs. It was these men
who forced the issue upon slavery; they warned the common people
of the North to mind their own business; and for doing so they
were warmly applauded by the Northern capitalist class. It was
therefore in opposition to the whole American world of organized
capital that the Northern masses demanded the use of "the
Northern hammer"--as Sumner put it, in one of his most furious
speeches--in their aim to destroy a section where, intuitively,
they felt their democratic ideal could not be realized.

And what was that ideal? Merely to answer democracy is to dodge
the fundamental question. The North was too complex in its
social structure and too multitudinous in its interests to
confine itself to one type of life. It included all sorts and
conditions of men--from the most gracious of scholars who lived
in romantic ease among his German and Spanish books, and whose
lovely house in Cambridge is forever associated with the noble
presence of Washington, to the hardy frontiersman, breaking the
new soil of his Western claim, whose wife at sunset shaded her
tired eyes, under a hand rough with labor, as she stood on the
threshold of her log cabin, watching for the return of her man
across the weedy fields which he had not yet fully subdued. Far
apart as were Longfellow and this toiler of the West, they yet
felt themselves to be one in purpose.

They were democrats, but not after the simple, elementary manner
of the democrats at the opening of the century. In the North,
there had come to life a peculiar phase of idealism that had
touched democracy with mysticism and had added to it a vague but
genuine romance. This new vision of the destiny of the country
had the practical effect of making the Northerners identify
themselves in their imaginations with all mankind and in creating
in them an enthusiastic desire, not only to give to every
American a home of his own, but also to throw open the gates of
the nation and to share the wealth of America with the poor of
all the world. In very truth, it was their dominating passion to
give "land to the landless." Here was the clue to much of their
attitude toward the South. Most of these Northern dreamers gave
little or no thought to slavery itself; but they felt that the
section which maintained such a system so committed to
aristocracy that any real friendship with it was impossible.

We are thus forced to conceive the American Republic in the years
immediately following the Compromise of 1850 as, in effect, a
dual nation, without a common loyalty between the two parts.
Before long the most significant of the great Northerners of the
time was to describe this impossible condition by the appropriate
metaphor of a house divided against itself. It was not, however,
until eight years after the division of the country had been
acknowledged in 1850 that these words were uttered. In those
eight years both sections awoke to the seriousness of the
differences that they had admitted. Both perceived that, instead
of solving their problem in 1850, they had merely drawn sharply
the lines of future conflict. In every thoughtful mind there
arose the same alternative questions: Is there no solution but
fighting it out until one side destroys the other, or we end as
two nations confessedly independent? Or is there some conceivable
new outlet for this opposition of energy on the part of the
sections, some new mode of permanent adjustment?

It was at the moment when thinking men were asking these
questions that one of the nimblest of politicians took the center
of the stage. Stephen A. Douglas was far-sighted enough to
understand the land-hunger of the time. One is tempted to add
that his ear was to the ground. The statement will not, however,
go unchallenged, for able apologists have their good word to say
for Douglas. Though in the main, the traditional view of him as
the prince of political jugglers still holds its own, let us
admit that his bold, rough spirit, filled as it was with
political daring, was not without its strange vein of idealism.
And then let us repeat that his ear was to the ground. Much
careful research has indeed been expended in seeking to determine
who originated the policy which, about 1853, Douglas decided to
make his own. There has also been much dispute about his
motives. Most of us, however, see in his course of action an
instance of playing the game of politics with an audacity that
was magnificent.

His conduct may well have been the result of a combination of
motives which included a desire to retain the favor of the
Northwest, a wish to pave the way to his candidacy for the
Presidency, the intention to enlist the aid of the South as well
as that of his own locality, and perhaps the hope that he was
performing a service of real value to his country. That is, he
saw that the favor of his own Northwest would be lavished upon
any man who opened up to settlement the rich lands beyond Iowa
and Missouri which were still held by the Indians, and for which
the Westerners were clamoring. Furthermore, they wanted a
railroad that would reach to the Pacific. There were, however,
local entanglements and political cross-purposes which involved
the interests of the free State of Illinois and those of the
slave State of Missouri.

Douglas's great stroke was a programme for harmonizing all these
conflicting interests and for drawing together the West and the
South. Slaveholders were to be given what at that moment they
wanted most--an opportunity to expand into that territory to the
north and west of Missouri which had been made free by the
Compromise of 1820, while the free Northwest was to have its
railroad to the coast and also its chance to expand into the
Indian country. Douglas thus became the champion of a bill which
would organize two new territories, Kansas and Nebraska, but
which would leave the settlers in each to decide whether slavery
or free labor should prevail within their boundaries. This
territorial scheme was accepted by a Congress in which the
Southerners and their Northern allies held control, and what is
known as the Kansas-Nebraska Bill was signed by President Pierce
on May 30,1854.*

*The origin of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill has been a much discussed
subject among historians in recent years. The older view that
Douglas was simply playing into the hands of the "slavepower" by
sacrificing Kansas, is no longer tenable. This point has been
elaborated by Allen Johnson in his study of Douglas ("Stephen A.
Douglas: a Study in American Politics"). In his "Repeal of the
Missouri Compromise", P.O. Ray contends that the legislation of
1854 originated in a factional controversy in Missouri, and that
Douglas merely served the interests of the proslavery group led
by Senator David R. Atchinson of Missouri. Still another point
of view is that presented in the "Genesis of the Kansas-Nebraska
Act," by F. H. Hodder, who would explain not only the division of
the Nebraska Territory into Kansas and Nebraska, but the object
of the entire bill by the insistent efforts of promoters of the
Pacific railroad scheme to secure a right of way through
Nebraska. This project involved the organization of a
territorial government and the repeal of the Missouri Compromise.
Douglas was deeply interested in the western railroad interests
and carried through the necessary legislation.


In order to understand Douglas one must understand the Democratic
party of 1854 in which Douglas was a conspicuous leader. The
Democrats boasted that they were the only really national party
and contended that their rivals, the Whigs and the Know-Nothings,
were merely the representatives of localities or classes.
Sectionalism was the favorite charge which the Democrats brought
against their enemies; and yet it was upon these very Democrats
that the slaveholders had hitherto relied, and it was upon
certain members of this party that the label, "Northern men with
Southern principles," had been bestowed.

The label was not, however, altogether fair, for the motives of
the Democrats were deeply rooted in their own peculiar
temperament. In the last analysis, what had held their
organization together, and what had enabled them to dominate
politics for nearly the span of a generation, was their faith in
a principle that then appealed powerfully, and that still
appeals, to much in the American character. This was the
principle of negative action on the part of the government--the
old idea that the government should do as little as possible and
should confine itself practically to the duties of the policeman.
This principle has seemed always to express to the average mind
that traditional individualism which is an inheritance of the
Anglo-Saxon race. In America, in the middle of the nineteenth
century, it reenforced that tradition of local independence which
was strong throughout the West and doubly strong in the South.
Then, too, the Democratic party still spoke the language of the
theoretical Democracy inherited from Jefferson. And Americans
have always been the slaves of phrases!

Furthermore, the close alliance of the Northern party machine
with the South made it, generally, an object of care for all
those Northern interests that depended on the Southern market.
As to the Southerners, their relation with this party has two
distinct chapters. The first embraced the twenty years preceding
the Compromise of 1850, and may be thought of as merging into the
second during three or four years following the great
equivocation. In that period, while the antislavery crusade was
taking form, the aim of Southern politicians was mainly negative.
"Let us alone," was their chief demand. Though aggressive in
their policy, they were too far-sighted to demand of the North
any positive course in favor of slavery. The rise of a new type
of Southern politician, however, created a different situation
and began a second chapter in the relation between the South and
the Democratic party machine in the North. But of that

Until 1854, it was the obvious part of wisdom for Southerners to
cooperate as far as possible with that party whose cardinal idea
was that the government should come as near as conceivable to a
system of non-interference; that it should not interfere with
business, and therefore oppose a tariff; that it should not
interfere with local government, and therefore applaud states
rights; that it should not interfere with slavery, and therefore
frown upon militant abolition. Its policy was, to adopt a
familiar phrase, one of masterly inactivity. Indeed it may well
be called the party of political evasion. It was a huge, loose
confederacy of differing political groups, embracing paupers and
millionaires, moderate anti-slavery men and slave barons, all of
whom were held together by the unreliable bond of an agreement
not to tread on each other's toes.

Of this party Douglas was the typical representative, both in
strength and weakness. He had all its pliability, its good
humor, its broad and easy way with things, its passion for
playing politics. Nevertheless, in calling upon the believers in
political evasion to consent for this once to reverse their
principle and to endorse a positive action, he had taken a great
risk. Would their sporting sense of politics as a gigantic game
carry him through successfully? He knew that there was a hard
fight before him, but with the courage of a great political
strategist, and proudly confident in his hold upon the main body
of his party, he prepared for both the attacks and the defections
that were inevitable.

Defections, indeed, began at once. Even before the bill had been
passed, the "Appeal of the Independent Democrats" was printed in
a New York paper, with the signatures of members of Congress
representing both the extreme anti-slavery wing of the Democrats
and the organized Free-Soil party. The most famous of these
names were those of Chase and Sumner, both of whom had been sent
to the Senate by a coalition of Free-Soilers and Democrats. With
them was the veteran abolitionist, Giddings of Ohio. The
"Appeal" denounced Douglas as an "unscrupulous politician" and
sounded both the warcries of the Northern masses by accusing him
of being engaged in "an atrocious plot to exclude from a vast
unoccupied region immigrants from the Old World and free laborers
from our own States."

The events of the spring and summer of 1854 may all be grouped
under two heads--the formation of an antiNebraska party, and the
quick rush of sectional patriotism to seize the territory laid
open by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The instantaneous refusal of
the Northerners to confine their settlement to Nebraska, and
their prompt invasion of Kansas; the similar invasion from the
South; the support of both movements by societies organized for
that purpose; the war in Kansas all the details of this thrilling
story have been told elsewhere.* The political story alone
concerns us here.

*See Jesse Macy, "The Anti-Slavery Crusade". (In "The Chronicles
of America".)

When the fight began there were four parties in the field: the
Democrats, the Whigs, the Free-Soilers, and the Know-Nothings.

The Free-Soil party, hitherto a small organization, had sought to
make slavery the main issue in politics. Its watchword was "Free
soil, free speech, free labor, and free men." It is needless to
add that it was instantaneous in its opposition to the
Kansas-Nebraska Act.

The Whigs at the moment enjoyed the greatest prestige, owing to
the association with them of such distinguished leaders as
Webster and Clay. In 1854, however, as a party they were dying,
and the very condition that had made success possible for the
Democrats made it impossible for the Whigs, because the latter
stood for positive ideas, and aimed to be national in reality and
not in the evasive Democratic sense of the term. For, as a
matter of fact, on analysis all the greater issues of the day
proved to be sectional. The Whigs would not, like the Democrats,
adopt a negative attitude toward these issues, nor would they
consent to become merely sectional. Yet at the moment negation
and sectionalism were the only alternatives, and between these
millstones the Whig organization was destined to be ground to
bits and to disappear after the next Presidential election.

Even previous to 1854, numbers of Whigs had sought a desperate
outlet for their desire to be positive in politics and had
created a new party which during a few years was to seem a
reality and then vanish together with its parent. The one chance
for a party which had positive ideas and which wished not to be
sectional was the definite abandonment of existing issues and the
discovery of some new issue not connected with sectional feeling.
Now, it happened that a variety of causes, social and religious,
had brought about bad blood between native and foreigner, in some
of the great cities, and upon the issue involved in this
condition the failing spirit of the Whigs fastened. A secret
society which had been formed to oppose the naturalization of
foreigners quickly became a recognized political party. As the
members of the Society answered all questions with "I do not
know," they came to be called "Know-Nothings," though they called
themselves "Americans." In those states where the Whigs had been
strongest --Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania--this last
attempt to apply their former temper, though not their
principles, had for a moment some success; but it could not
escape the fierce division which was forced on the country by
Douglas. As a result, it rapidly split into factions, one of
which merged with the enemies of Douglas, while the other was
lost among his supporters.

What would the great dying Whig party leave behind it? This was
the really momentous question in 1854. Briefly, this party
bequeathed the temper of political positivism and at the same
time the dread of sectionalism. The inner clue to American
politics during the next few years is, to many minds, to be found
largely in the union of this old Whig temper with a new-born
sectional patriotism, and, to other minds, in the gradual and
reluctant passing of the Whig opposition to a sectional party.
But though this transformation of the wrecks of Whiggism began
immediately, and while the Kansas-Nebraska Bill was still being
hotly debated in Congress, it was not until 1860 that it was

In the meantime various incidents had shown that the sectional
patriotism of the North, the fury of the abolitionists, and the
positive temper in politics, were all drawing closer together.
Each of these tendencies can be briefly illustrated. For
example, the rush to Kansas had begun, and the Massachusetts
Emigrant Aid Society was preparing to assist settlers who were
going west. In May, there occurred at Boston one of the most
conspicuous attempts to rescue a fugitive slave, in which a mob
led by Thomas Wentworth Higginson attacked the guards of Anthony
Burns, a captured fugitive, killed one of them, but failed to get
the slave, who was carried to a revenue cutter between lines of
soldiers and returned to slavery. Among numerous details of the
hour the burning of Douglas in effigy is perhaps worth passing
notice. In duly the anti-Nebraska men of Michigan held a
convention, at which they organized as a political party and
nominated a state ticket. Of their nominees, two had hitherto
ranked themselves as Free-Soilers, three as anti-slavery
Democrats, and five as Whigs. For the name of their party they
chose "Republican," and as the foundation of their platform the
resolution "That, postponing and suspending all differences with
regard to political economy or administrative policy," they would
"act cordially and faithfully in unison," opposing the extension
of slavery, and would "cooperate and be known as 'Republicans'
until the contest be terminated."

The history of the next two years is, in its main outlines, the
story of the war in Kansas and of the spread of this new party
throughout the North. It was only by degrees, however, that the
Republicans absorbed the various groups of anti-Nebraska men.
What happened at this time in Illinois may be taken as typical,
and it is particularly noteworthy as revealing the first real
appearance of Abraham Lincoln in American history.

Though in 1854 he was not yet a national figure, Lincoln was
locally accredited with keen political insight, and was, regarded
in Illinois as a strong lawyer. The story is told of him that,
while he was attending court on the circuit, he heard the news of
the Kansas-Nebraska Act in a tavern and sat up most of the night
talking about it. Next morning he used a phrase destined to
become famous. "I tell you," said he to a fellow lawyer, "this
nation cannot exist half slave and half free."

Lincoln, however, was not one of the first to join the
Republicans. In Illinois, in 1854, Lincoln resigned his seat in
the legislature to become the Whig candidate for United States
senator, to succeed the Democratic colleague of Douglas. But
there was little chance of his election, for the real contest was
between the two wings of the Democrats, the Nebraska men and the
anti-Nebraska men, and Lincoln withdrew in favor of the candidate
of the latter, who was elected.

During the following year, from the midst of his busy law
practice, Lincoln watched the Whig party go to pieces. He saw a
great part of its vote lodge temporarily among the Know-Nothings,
but before the end of the year even they began to lose their
prominence. In the autumn, from the obscurity of his provincial
life, he saw, far off, Seward, the most astute politician of the
day, join the new movement. In New York, the Republican state
convention and the Whig state convention merged into one, and
Seward pronounced a baptismal oration upon the Republican party
of New York.

In the House of Representatives which met in December, 1855, the
anti-Nebraska men were divided among themselves, and the
Know-Nothings held the balance of power. No candidate for the
speakership, however, was able to command a majority, and
finally, after it had been agreed that a plurality would be
sufficient, the contest closed, on the one hundred and
thirty-third ballot, with the election of a Republican, N. P.
Banks. Meanwhile in the South, the Whigs were rapidly leaving
the party, pausing a moment with the Know-Nothings, only to find
that their inevitable resting-place, under stress of sectional
feeling, was with the Democrats.

On Washington's birthday, 1856, the Know-Nothing national
convention met at Philadelphia. It promptly split upon the
subject of slavery, and a portion of its membership sent word
offering support to another convention which was sitting at
Pittsburgh, and which had been called to form a national
organization for the Republican party. A third assembly held on
this same day was composed of the newspaper editors of Illinois,
and may be looked upon as the organization of the Republican
party in that state. At the dinner following this informal
convention, Lincoln, who was one of the speakers, was toasted as
"the next United States Senator."

Some four months afterward, in Philadelphia, the Republicans held
their first national convention. Only a few years previous its
members had called themselves by various names--Democrats,
Free-Soilers, Know-Nothings, Whigs. The old hostilities of these
different groups had not yet died out. Consequently, though
Seward was far and away the most eminent member of the new party,
he was not nominated for President. That dangerous honor was
bestowed upon a dashing soldier and explorer of the Rocky
Mountains and the Far West, John C. Fremont.*

*For an account of Fremont, see Stewart Edward White, "The
Forty-Niners" (in "The Chronicles of America"), Chapter II.

The key to the political situation in the North, during that
momentous year, was to be found in the great number of able Whigs
who, seeing that their own party was lost but refusing to be
sidetracked by the make-believe issue of the Know-Nothings, were
now hesitating what to do. Though the ordinary politicians among
the Republicans doubtless wished to conciliate these unattached
Whigs, the astuteness of the leaders was too great to allow them
to succumb to that temptation. They seem to have feared the
possible effect of immediately incorporating in their ranks,
while their new organization was still so plastic, the bulk of
those conservative classes which were, after all, the backbone of
this irreducible Whig minimum.

The Republican campaign was conducted with a degree of passion
that had scarcely been equaled in America before that day. To
the well-ordered spirit of the conservative classes the tone
which the Republicans assumed appeared shocking. Boldly
sectional in their language, sweeping in their denunciation of
slavery, the leaders of the campaign made bitter and effective
use of a number of recent events. "Uncle Tom's Cabin", published
in 1852, and already immensely popular, was used as a political
tract to arouse, by its gruesome picture of slavery, a hatred of
slaveholders. Returned settlers from Kansas went about the North
telling horrible stories of guerrilla warfare, so colored as to
throw the odium all on one side. The scandal of the moment was
the attack made by Preston Brooks on Sumner, after the latter's
furious diatribe in the Senate, which was published as "The Crime
Against Kansas". With double skill the Republicans made equal
capital out of the intellectual violence of the speech and the
physical violence of the retort. In addition to this, there was
ready to their hands the evidence of Southern and Democratic
sympathy with a filibustering attempt to conquer the republic of
Nicaragua, where William Walker, an American adventurer, had
recently made himself dictator. Walker had succeeded in having
his minister acknowledged by the Democratic Administration, and
in obtaining the endorsement of a great Democratic meeting which
was held in New York. It looked, therefore, as if the party of
political evasion had an anchor to windward, and that, in the
event of their losing in Kansas, they intended to placate their
Southern wing by the annexation of Nicaragua.

Here, indeed, was a stronger political tempest than Douglas,
weatherwise though he was, had foreseen. How was political
evasion to brave it? With a courage quite equal to the boldness
of the Republicans, the Democrats took another tack and steered
for less troubled waters. Their convention at Cincinnati was
temperate and discreet in all its expressions, and for President
it nominated a Northerner, James Buchanan of Pennsylvania, a man
who was wholly dissociated in the public mind from the struggle
over Kansas.

The Democratic party leaders knew that they already had two
strong groups of supporters. Whatever they did, the South would
have to go along with them, in its reaction against the furious
sectionalism of the Republicans. Besides the Southern support,
the Democrats counted upon the aid of the professional
politicians--those men who considered politics rather as a
fascinating game than as serious and difficult work based upon
principle. Upon these the Democrats could confidently rely, for
they already had, in Douglas in the North and Toombs in the
South, two master politicians who knew this type and its impulses
intimately, because they themselves belonged to it. But the
Democrats needed the support of a third group. If they could
only win over the Northern remnant of the Whigs that was still
unattached, their position would be secure. In their efforts to
obtain this additional and very necessary reinforcement, they
decided to appear as temperate and restrained as possible--a well
bred party which all mild and conservative men could trust.

This attitude they formulated in connection with Kansas, which at
that time had two governments: one, a territorial government, set
up by emigrants from the South; the other, a state government,
under the constitution drawn up at Topeka by emigrants from the
North. One authorized slavery; the other prohibited slavery; and
both had appealed to Washington for recognition. It was with
this quite definite issue that Congress was chiefly concerned in
the spring of 1856. During the summer Toombs introduced a bill
securing to the settlers of Kansas complete freedom of action and
providing for an election of delegates to a convention to draw up
a state constitution which would determine whether slavery or
freedom was to prevail--in other words, whether Kansas was to be
annexed to the South or to the North. This bill was merely the
full expression of what Douglas had aimed at in 1854 and of what
was nicknamed "popular sovereignty"--the right of the locality to
choose for itself between slave and free labor.

Two years before, such a measure would have seemed radical. But
in politics time is wonderfully elastic. Those two years had
been packed with turmoil. Kansas had been the scene of a bloody
conflict. Regardless of which side had a majority on the ground,
extremists on each side had demanded recognition for the
government set up by their own party. By contrast, Toombs's
offer to let the majority rule appeared temperate.

The Republicans saw instantly that they must discredit the
proposal or the ground would be cut from under them. Though the
bill passed the Senate, they were able to set it aside in the
House in favor of a bill admitting Kansas as a free state with
the Topeka constitution. The Democrats thereupon accused the
Republicans of not wanting peace and of wishing to keep up the
war-cry "Bleeding Kansas" until election time.

That, throughout the country, the two parties continued on the
lines of policy they had chosen may be seen from an illustration.
A House committee which had gone to Kansas to investigate
submitted two reports, one of which, submitted by a Democratic
member, told the true story of the murders committed by John
Brown at Pottawatomie. And yet, while the Republicans spread
everywhere their shocking tales of murders of free-state
settlers, the Democrats made practically no use of this equally
shocking tale of the murder of slaveholders. Apparently they
were resolved to appear temperate and conservative to the bitter

And they had their reward. Or, perhaps the fury of the
Republicans had its just deserts. From either point of view, the
result was a choice of evils on the part of the reluctant Whigs,
and that choice was expressed in the following words by as
typical a New Englander as Rufus Choate: "The first duty of
Whigs," wrote Choate to the Maine State central committee, "is to
unite with some organization of our countrymen to defeat and
dissolve the new geographical party calling itself Republican....
The question for each and every one of us is...by what vote can I
do most to prevent the madness of the times from working its
maddest act the very ecstasy of its madness--the permanent
formation and the actual triumph of a party which knows one half
of America only to hate and dread it. If the Republican party,"
Choate continued, "accomplishes its object and gives the
government to the North, I turn my eyes from the consequences.
To the fifteen states of the South that government will appear an
alien government. It will appear worse. It will appear a
hostile government. It will represent to their eye a vast region
of states organized upon anti-slavery, flushed by triumph,
cheered onward by the voice of the pulpit, tribune, and press;
its mission, to inaugurate freedom and put down the oligarchy;
its constitution, the glittering and sounding generalities of
natural right which make up the Declaration of Independence....
Practically the contest, in my judgment, is between Mr. Buchanan
and Colonel Fremont. In these circumstances, I vote for Mr.

The party of political evasion thus became the refuge of the old
original Whigs who were forced to take advantage of any port in a
storm. Buchanan was elected by an overwhelming majority. To the
careless eye, Douglas had been justified by results; his party
had triumphed as perhaps never before; and yet, no great
political success was ever based upon less stable foundations.
To maintain this position, those Northerners who reasoned as
Choate did were a necessity; but to keep them in the party of
political evasion would depend upon the ability of this party to
play the game of politics without acknowledging sectional bias.
Whether this difficult task could be accomplished would depend
upon the South. Toombs, on his part, was anxious to continue
making the party of evasion play the great American game of
politics, and in his eagerness he perhaps overestimated his hold
upon the South. This, however, remains to be seen.

Already another faction had formed around William L. Yancey of
Alabama--a faction as intolerant of political evasion as the
Republicans themselves, and one that was eager to match the
sectional Northern party by a sectional Southern party. It had
for the moment fallen into line with the Toombs faction because,
like the Whigs, it had not the courage to do otherwise. The
question now was whether it would continue fearful, and whether
political evasion would continue to reign.

The key to the history of the next four years is in the growth of
this positive Southern party, which had the inevitable result of
forcing the Whig remainder to choose, not as in 1856 between a
positive sectional policy and an evasive nonsectional policy, but
in 1860 between two policies both of which were at once positive
and sectional.


The South had thus far been kept in line with the cause of
political evasion by a small group of able politicians, chief
among whom were Robert Toombs, Howell Cobb, and Alexander H.
Stephens. Curiously enough all three were Georgians, and this
might indeed be called the day of Georgia in the history of the

A different type of man, however, and one significant of a
divergent point of view, had long endeavored to shake the
leadership of the Georgian group. Rhett in South Carolina,
Jefferson Davis in Mississippi, and above all Yancey in Alabama,
together with the interests and sentiment which they represented,
were almost ready to contest the orthodoxy of the policy of
"nothing doing." To consolidate the interests behind them, to
arouse and fire the sentiment on which they relied, was now the
confessed purpose of these determined men. So little attention
has hitherto been given to motive in American politics that the
modern student still lacks a clear-cut and intelligent perception
of these various factions. In spite of this fact, however, these
men may safely be regarded as being distinctly more intellectual,
and as having distinctly deeper natures, than the men who came
together under the leadership of Toombs and Cobb, and who had the
true provincial enthusiasm for politics as the great American

The factions of both Toombs and Yancey were intensely Southern
and, whenever a crisis might come, neither meant to hesitate an
instant over striking hard for the South. Toombs, however,
wanted to prevent such a situation, while Yancey was anxious to
force one. The former conceived felicity as the joy of playing
politics on the biggest stage, and he therefore bent all his
strength to preserving the so-called national parties; the
latter, scornful of all such union, was for a separate Southern

Furthermore, no man could become enthusiastic about political
evasion unless by nature he also took kindly to compromise. So,
Toombs and his followers were for preserving the negative
Democratic position of 1856. In a formal paper of great ability
Stephens defended that position when he appeared for reelection
to Congress in 1857. Cobb, who had entered Buchanan's Cabinet as
Secretary of the Treasury, and who spoke hopefully of making
Kansas a slave state, insisted nevertheless that such a change
must be "brought about by the recognized principles of carrying
out the will of the majority which is the great doctrine of the
Kansas Bill." To Yancey, as to the Republicans, Kansas was a
disputed border-land for which the so-called two nations were

The internal Southern conflict between these two factions began
anew with the Congressional elections of 1857. It is worth
observing that the make-up of these factions was almost a
resurrection of the two groups which, in 1850, had divided the
South on the question of rejecting the Compromise. In a letter
to Stephens in reference to one of the Yancey men, Cobb
prophesied: "McDonald will utterly fail to get up a new Southern
Rights party. Burnt children dread the fire, and he cannot get up
as strong an organization as he did in 1850. Still it is
necessary to guard every point, as McDonald is a hard hand to
deal with." For the moment, he foretold events correctly. The
Southern elections of 1857 did not break the hold of the

Yancey turned to different machinery, quite as useful for his
purpose. This he found in the Southern commercial conventions,
which were held annually. At this point there arises a vexed
question which has, of late, aroused much discussion. Was there
then what we should call today a slave "interest"? Was organized
capital deliberately exploiting slavery? And did Yancey play
into its hands?* The truth seems to be that, between 1856 and
1860, both the idealist parties, the Republicans and the
Secessionists, made peace with, shall we say, the Mammon of
unrighteousness, or merely organized capital? The one joined
hands with the iron interest of the North; the other, with the
slave interest of the South. The Republicans preached the
domination of the North and a protective tariff; the Yancey men
preached the independence of the South and the reopening of the
slave trade.

* For those who would be persuaded that there was such a slave
interest, perhaps the best presentation is to be found in
Professor Dodd's Life of Jefferson Davis.

These two issues Yancey, however, failed to unite, though the
commercial convention of 1859 at last gave its support to a
resolution that all laws, state or federal, prohibiting the
African slave trade ought to be repealed. That great body of
Northern capital which had dealings with the South was ready, as
it always had been, to finance any scheme that Southern business
desired. Slavers were fitted out in New York, and the city
authorities did not prevent their sailing. Against this somber
background stands forth that much admired action of Lewis Cass of
Michigan, Buchanan's Secretary of State. Already the slave trade
was in process of revival, and the British Navy, impelled by the
powerful anti-slavery sentiment in England, was active in its
suppression. American ships suspected of being slavers were
visited and searched. Cass seized his opportunity, and declaring
that such things "could not be submitted to by an independent
nation without dishonor," sent out American warships to prevent
this interference. Thereupon the British government consented to
give up trying to police the ocean against slavers. It is indeed
true, therefore, that neither North nor South has an historical
monopoly of the support of slavery!

It is but fair to add that, so far as the movement to reopen the
slave trade found favor outside the slave barons and their New
York allies, it was advocated as a means of political defense, of
increasing Southern population as an offset to the movement of
free emigration into the North, and of keeping the proportion of
Southern representation in Congress. Stephens, just after Cass
had successfully twisted the lion's tail, took this position in a
speech that caused a sensation. In a private letter he added,
"Unless we get immigration from abroad, we shall have few more
slave states. This great truth seems to take the people by
surprise. Some shrink from it as they would from death. Still,
it is as true as death." The scheme, however, never received
general acceptance; and in the constitution of the Southern
Confederacy there was a section prohibiting the African slave
trade. On the other of these two issues--the independence of the
South--Yancey steadily gained ground. With each year from 1856
to 1860, a larger proportion of Southerners drew out of political
evasion and gave adherence to the idea of presenting an ultimatum
to the North, with secession as an alternative.

Meanwhile, Buchanan sent to Kansas, as Governor, Robert J.
Walker, one of the most astute of the Democrats of the opposite
faction and a Mississippian. The tangled situation which Walker
found, the details of his attempt to straighten it out, belong in
another volume.* It is enough in this connection merely to
mention the episode of the Lecompton convention in the election
of which the Northern settlers refused to participate, though
Walker had promised that they should have full protection and a
fair count as well as that the work of the convention should be
submitted to a popular vote. This action of Walker's was one
more cause of contention between the warring factions in the
South. The fact that he had met the Northerners half-way was
seized upon by the Yancey men as evidence of the betrayal of the
South by the Democratic moderates. On the other hand, Cobb,
writing of the situation in Kansas, said that "a large majority
are against slavery and...our friends regard the fate of Kansas
as a free state pretty well fixed...the pro-slavery men, finding
that Kansas was likely to become a Black Republican State,
determined to unite with the free-state Democrats." Here is the
clue to Walker's course. As a strict party man, he preferred to
accept Kansas free, with Democrats in control, rather than risk
losing it altogether.

* See Jesse Macy, "The Anti-Slavery Crusade". (In "The
Chronicles of America".)

The next step in the affair is one of the unsolved problems in
American history. Buchanan suddenly changed front, disgraced
Walker, and threw himself into the arms of the Southern
extremists. Though his reasons for doing so have been debated to
this day, they have not yet been established beyond dispute.
What seems to be the favorite explanation is that Buchanan was in
a panic. What brought him to that condition may have been the
following events.

The free-state men, by refusing to take part in electing the
convention, had given control to the slaveholders, who proved
they were not slow to seize their opportunity. They drew up a
constitution favoring slavery, but this constitution, Walker had
promised, was to be submitted in referendum. If the convention
decided, however, not to submit the constitution, would not
Congress have the right to accept it and admit Kansas as a Mate?
This question was immediately raised. It now became plain that,
by refusing to take part in the election, the free-state Kansans
had thrown away a great tactical advantage. Of this blunder in
generalship the Yancey men took instant advantage. It was known
that the proportion of Free-Soilers in Kansas was very great--
perhaps a majority--and the Southerners reasoned that they should
not be obliged to give up the advantage they had won merely to
let their enemies retrieve their mistake. Jefferson Davis
formulated this position in an address to the Mississippi
Legislature in which he insisted that Congress, not the Kansas
electorate, was entitled to create the Kansas constitution, that
the Convention was a properly chosen body, and that its work
should stand. What Davis said in a stately way, others said in a
furious way. Buchanan stated afterward that he changed front
because certain Southern States had threatened that, if he did
not abandon Walker, they would secede.

Be that as it may, Buchanan did abandon Walker and threw all the
influence of the Administration in favor of admitting Kansas with
the Lecompton constitution. But would this be true to that
principle of "popular sovereignty" which was the very essence of
the Kansas-Nebraska Act? Would it be true to the principle that
each locality should decide for itself between slavery and
freedom? On this issue the Southerners were fairly generally
agreed and maintained that there was no obligation to go behind
the work of the convention. Not so, however, the great exponent
of popular sovereignty, Douglas. Rising in his place in the
Senate, he charged the President with conspiring to defeat the
will of the majority in Kansas. "If Kansas wants a slave state
constitution," said he, "she has a right to it; if she wants a
free state constitution, she has a right to it. It is none of my
business which way the slavery clause is decided. I care not
whether it is voted up or down."

There followed one of those prolonged legislative battles for
which the Congress of the United States is justly celebrated.
Furious oratory, propositions, counter-propositions, projected
compromises, other compromises, and at the end nothing positive.
But Douglas had defeated the attempt to bring in Kansas with the
Lecompton constitution. As to the details of the story, they
include such distinguished happenings as a brawling, all-night
session when "thirty men, at least, were engaged in the
fisticuff," and one Representative knocked another down.

Douglas was again at the center of the stage, but his term as
Senator was nearing its end. He and the President had split
their party. Pursued by the vengeful malice of the
Administration, Douglas went home in 1858 to Illinois to fight
for his reelection. His issue, of course, was popular
sovereignty. His temper was still the temper of political
evasion. How to hold fast to his own doctrine, and at the same
time keep to his programme of "nothing doing"; how to satisfy the
negative Democrats of the North without losing his last hold on
the positive men of the South--such were his problems, and they
were made still more difficult by a recent decision of the
Supreme Court.

The now famous case of Dred Scott had been decided in the
previous year. Its bewildering legal technicalities may here be
passed over; fundamentally, the real question involved was the
status of a negro, Dred Scott. A slave who had been owned in
Missouri, and who had been taken by his master to the State of
Illinois, to the free territory of Minnesota, and then back to
Missouri, now claimed to be free. The Supreme Court undertook to
decide whether his residence in Minnesota rendered him free, and
also whether any negro of slave descent could be a citizen of the
United States. The official opinion of the Court, delivered by
Chief Justice Taney, decided both questions against the
suppliant. It was held that the "citizens" recognized by the
Constitution did not include negroes. So, even if Scott were
free, he could not be considered a citizen entitled to bring suit
in the Federal Courts. Furthermore, he could not be considered
free, in spite of his residence in Minnesota, because, as the
Court now ruled, Congress, when it enacted the Missouri
Compromise, had exceeded its authority; the enactment had never
really been in force; there was no binding prohibition of slavery
in the Northwestern territories.

If this decision was good law, all the discussion about popular
sovereignty went for nothing, and neither an act of Congress nor
the vote of the population of a territory, whether for or against
slavery, was of any value whatsoever. Nothing mattered until the
newmade state itself took action after its admission to the
Union. Until that time, no power, national or local, could
lawfully interfere with the introduction of slaves. In the case
of Kansas, it was no longer of the least importance what became
of the Lecompton constitution or of any other that the settlers
might make. The territory was open to settlement by slaveholders
and would continue to be so as long as it remained a territory.
The same conditions existed in Nebraska and in all the Northwest.
The Dred Scott decision was accepted as orthodox Democratic
doctrine by the South, by the Administration, and by the
"Northern men with Southern principles." The astute masters of
the game of politics on the Democratic side struck the note of
legality. This was law, the expression of the highest tribunal
of the Republic; what more was to be said? Though in truth there
was but one other thing to be said, and that revolutionary, the
Republicans, nevertheless, did not falter over it. Seward
announced it in a speech in Congress on "Freedom in Kansas," when
he uttered this menace: "We shall reorganize the Court and thus
reform its political sentiments and practices."

In the autumn of 1858 Douglas attempted to perform the acrobatic
feat of reconciling the Dred Scott decision, which as a Democrat
he had to accept, with that idea of popular sovereignty without
which his immediate followers could not be content. In accepting
the Republican nomination as Douglas's opponent for the
senatorship, Lincoln used these words which have taken rank among
his most famous utterances: "A house divided against itself
cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure
permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union
to be dissolved. I do not expect the house to fall but I do
expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing
or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the
further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall
rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate
extinction; or its advocates will push it forward till it shall
become alike lawful in all the states, old as well as new--North
as well as South."

No one had ever so tellingly expressed the deathgrapple of the
sections: slavery the weapon of one, free labor the weapon of the
other. Though Lincoln was at that time forty-nine years old, his
political experience, in contrast with that of Douglas, was
negligible. He afterward aptly described his early life in that
expressive line from Gray, "The short and simple annals of the
poor." He lacked regular schooling, and it was altogether from
the practice of law that he had gained such formal education as
he had. In law, however, he had become a master, and his
position, to judge from the class of cases entrusted to him, was
second to none in Illinois. To that severe yet wholesome cast of
mind which the law establishes in men naturally lofty, Lincoln
added the tonic influence of a sense of style--not the verbal
acrobatics of a rhetorician, but that power to make words and
thought a unit which makes the artist of a man who has great
ideas. How Lincoln came by this literary faculty is, indeed, as
puzzling as how Burns came by it. But there it was, disciplined
by the court room, made pungent by familiarity with plain people,
stimulated by constant reading of Shakespeare, and chastened by
study of the Bible.

It was arranged that Douglas and Lincoln should tour the State
together in a series of joint debates. As a consequence there
followed a most interesting opposition of methods in the use of
words, a contest between the method formed in Congress at a time
when Congress was a perfect rhetorical academy, and that method
of using words which was based on an arduous study of Blackstone,
Shakespeare, and Isaiah. Lincoln issued from the debates one of
the chief intellectual leaders of America, and with a place in
English literature; Douglas came out a Senator from Illinois.

But though Douglas kept his following together, and though
Lincoln was voted down, to Lincoln belonged the real strategic
victory. In order to save himself with his own people, Douglas
had been forced to make admissions that ruined him with the
South. Because of these admissions the breach in the party of
political evasion became irreparable. It was in the debate at
Freeport that Douglas's fate overtook him, for Lincoln put this
question: "Can the people of a United States territory, in any
lawful way, against the wish of any citizen of the United States,
exclude slavery from its limits, prior to the formation of a
state constitution?"

Douglas answered in his best style of political thunder. "It
matters not," he said, "what way the Supreme Court may hereafter
decide as to the abstract question whether slavery may or may not
go into a territory under the Constitution; the people have the
lawful means to introduce it or exclude it as they please, for
the reason that slavery cannot exist a day or an hour anywhere
unless it is supported by local police regulations. Those police
regulations can only be established by the local legislatures;
and if the people are opposed to slavery, they will elect
representatives to that body who will by unfriendly legislation
effectually prevent the introduction of it into their midst. If,
on the contrary, they are for it, their legislation will favor
its extension. Hence, no matter what the decision of the Supreme
Court may be on that abstract question, still the right of the
people to make a slave territory or a free territory is perfect
and complete under the Nebraska Bill."

As to the moral aspect of his actions, Douglas must ultimately be
judged by the significance which this position in which he placed
himself assumed in his own mind. Friendly critics excuse him: an
interpretation of the Dred Scott decision which explained it away
as an irresponsible utterance on a subject outside the scope of
the case, a mere obiter dictum, is the justification which is
called in to save him from the charge of insincerity. His
friends, today, admit that this interpretation was bad law, but
maintain that it may have been good morals, and that Douglas
honestly held it. But many of us have not yet advanced so far in
critical generosity, and cannot help feeling that Douglas's
position remains political legerdemain--an attempt by a great
officer of the government, professing to defend the Supreme
Court, to show the people how to go through the motions of
obedience to the Court while defeating its intention. If not
double-dealing in a strict sense, it must yet be considered as
having in it the temper of double-dealing.* This was, indeed, the
view of many men of his own day and, among them, of Lincoln. Yet
the type of man on whom the masters of the game of politics
relied saw nothing in Douglas's position at which to be
disturbed. It was merely playing politics, and if that absorbing
sport required one to carry water on both shoulders, why--play
the game! Douglas was the man for people like that. They cheered
him to the echo and sent him back to the Senate. So well was
this type understood by some of Lincoln's friends that they had
begged him, at least according to tradition, not to put the
question at Freeport, as by doing so he would enable Douglas to
save himself with his constituency. Lincoln saw further,
however. He understood better than they the forces then at work
in America. The reply reported of him was: "If Douglas answers,
he can never be President, and the battle of 1860 is worth a
hundred of this."

* There are three ways of regarding Douglas's position: (1) As a
daring piece of evasion designed to hold all the Democrats
together; (2) as an attempt to secure his locality at all costs,
taking his chances on the South; (3) as a sincere expression of
the legal interpretation mentioned above. It is impossible in
attempting to choose among these to escape wholly one's
impression of the man's character.

Well might Yancey and his followers receive with a shout of joy
the "Freeport Doctrine," as Douglas's supreme evasion was called.
Should Southerners trust any longer the man who had evolved from
the principle of let-'em-alone to the principle of
double-dealing? However, the Southerners were far from
controlling the situation. Though the events of 1858 had created
discord in the Democratic party, they had not consolidated the
South. Men like Toombs and Stephens were still hopeful of
keeping the States together in the old bond of political evasion.
The Democratic machine, damaged though it was, had not yet lost
its hold on the moderate South, and while that continued to be
the case, there was still power in it.


The Southern moderates in 1859 form one of those political
groups, numerous enough in history, who at a crisis arrest our
imagination because of the irony of their situation.
Unsuspecting, these men went their way, during the last summer of
the old regime, busy with the ordinary affairs of state, absorbed
in their opposition to the Southern radicals, never dreaming of
the doom that was secretly moving toward them through the plans
of John Brown. In the soft brilliancy of the Southern summer
when the roses were in bloom, many grave gentlemen walked slowly
up and down together under the oaks of their plantation avenues,
in the grateful dusk, talking eagerly of how the scales trembled
in Southern politics between Toombs and Yancey, and questioning
whether the extremists could ride down the moderate South and
reopen the slave trade. In all their wondering whether Douglas
would ever come back to them or would prove the blind Samson
pulling down their temple about their ears, there was never a
word about the approaching shadow which was so much more real
than the shades of the falling night, and yet so entirely shut
away from their observation.

In this summer, Stephens withdrew as he thought from public life.
With an intensely sensitive nature, he had at times flashes of
strange feeling which an unsophisticated society would regard as
prophetic inspirations. When he left Washington "on the
beautiful morning of the 5th of March, 1859, he stood at the
stern of the boat for some minutes gazing back at the capital."
He had announced his intention of not standing again as a
Representative, and one of his fellow-passengers asked jokingly
whether he was thinking of his return as a Senator. Stephen's
reply was full of emotion, "No, I never expect to see Washington
again unless I am brought here as a prisoner of war." During the
summer he endeavored to cast off his intuition of approaching
disaster. At his plantation, "Liberty Hall," he endeavored to be
content with the innumerable objects associated with his youth;
he tried to feel again the grace of the days that were gone, the
mysterious loveliness of the Southern landscape with its immense
fields, its forests, its great empty spaces filled with glowing
sunshine. He tried to possess his troubled soul with the severe
intellectual ardor of the law. But his gift of second sight
would not rest. He could not overcome his intuition that, for all
the peace and dreaminess of the outward world, destiny was upon
him. Looking out from his spiritual seclusion, he beheld what
seemed to him complete political confusion, both local and
national. His despairing mood found expression a little later in
the words: "Indeed if we were now to have a Southern convention
to determine upon the true policy of the South either in the
Union or out of it, I should expect to see just as much
profitless discussion, disagreement, crimination, and
recrimination amongst the members of it from different states and
from the same state, as we witness in the present House of
Representatives between Democrats, Republicans, and Americans."

Among the sources of confusion Stephens saw, close at home, was
the Southern battle over the reopening of the slave trade. The
reality of that issue had been made plain in May, 1859, when the
Southern commercial congress at Vicksburg entertained at the same
time two resolutions: one, that the convention should urge all
Southern States to amend their constitutions by a clause
prohibiting the increase of African slavery; the other, that the
convention urge all the Legislatures of Southern States to
present memorials to Congress asking the repeal of the law
against African slave trade. Of these opposed resolutions, the
latter was adopted on the last day of the convention*, though the
moderates fought hard against it.

*It is significant that the composition of these Southern
commercial congresses and the Congress of the whole Southern
people was strikingly different in personnel. Very few members
of the commercial congresses reappear in the Confederate

The split between Southern moderates and Southern radicals was
further indicated by their differing attitudes toward the
adventurers from the United States in Central America. The
Vicksburg Convention adopted resolutions which were thinly veiled
endorsements of southward expansion. In the early autumn another
Nicaraguan expedition was nipped in the bud by the vigilance of
American naval forces. Cobb, prime factor in the group of
Southern moderates as well as Secretary of the Treasury, wrote to
Buchanan expressing his satisfaction at the event, mentioning the
work of his own department in bringing it about, and also
alluding to his arrangments to prevent slave trading off the
Florida coast.

But the spirit of doubt was strong even among the moderates.
Douglas was the target. Stephens gives a glimpse of it in a
letter written during his last session in Congress. "Cobb called
on me Saturday night," he writes. "He is exceedingly bitter
against Douglas. I joked him a good deal, and told him he had
better not fight, or he would certainly be whipped; that is, in
driving Douglas out of the Democratic party. He said that if
Douglas ever was restored to the confidence of the Democracy of
Georgia, it would be over his dead body politically. This shows
his excitement, that is all. I laughed at him, and told him he
would run his feelings and his policy into the ground." The
anger of Cobb, who was himself a confessed candidate for the
Democratic nomination, was imperiling the Democratic national
machine which Toombs was still struggling so resolutely to hold
together. Indeed, as late as the autumn of 1859 the machine
still held together.

Then came the man of destiny, the bolt from the blue, the end of
the chapter. A marvelous fanatic--a sort of reincarnation of the
grimmest of the Covenanters--by one daring act shattered the
machine and made impossible any further coalition on the
principle of "nothing doing." This man of destiny was John
Brown, whose attack on Harper's Ferry took place October 16th,
and whose execution by the authorities of Virginia on the charges
of murder and treason occurred on the 2nd of December.

The incident filled the South with consternation. The prompt
condemnation of it by many Republican leaders did not offset, in
the minds of Southerners, the fury of praise accorded by others.
The South had a ghastly tradition derived chiefly from what is
known as Nat Turner's Rebellion in Virginia, a tradition of the
massacre of white women and children by negroes. As Brown had
set opt to rouse a slave rebellion, every Southerner familiar
with his own traditions shuddered, identifying in imagination
John Brown and Nat Turner. Horror became rage when the
Southerners heard of enthusiastic applause in Boston and of
Emerson's description of Brown as "that new saint" who was to
"make the gallows glorious like the cross." In the excitement
produced by remarks such as this, justice was not done to
Lincoln's censure. In his speech at Cooper Institute in New
York, in February, 1860, Lincoln had said: "John Brown's
effort...in its philosophy corresponds with the many attempts
related in history at the assassination of kings and emperors.
An enthusiast broods over the oppression of a people, until he
fancies himself commissioned by Heaven to liberate them. He
ventures the attempt which ends in little else than in his own
execution." A few months afterwards, the Republican national
convention condemned the act of Brown as "among the gravest of

An immediate effect of the John Brown episode was a passionate
outburst from all the radical press of the South in defense of
slavery. The followers of Yancey made the most of their
opportunity. The men who voted at Vicksburg to reopen the slave
trade could find no words to measure their hatred of every one
who, at this moment of crisis, would not declare slavery a
blessing. Many of the men who opposed the slave traders also felt
that, in the face of possible slave insurrection, the peril of
their families was the one paramount consideration.
Nevertheless, it is easy for the special pleader to give a wrong
impression of the sentiment of the time. A grim desire for
self-preservation took possession of the South, as well as a
deadly fear of any person or any thing that tended directly or
indirectly to incite the blacks to insurrection. Northerners of
abolitionist sympathies were warned to leave the country, and in
some cases they were tarred and feathered.

Great anger was aroused by the detection of book-agents who were
distributing a furious polemic against slavery, "The Impending
Crisis of the South: How to Meet It", by Hinton Rowan Helper, a
Southerner of inferior social position belonging to the class
known as poor whites. The book teemed with such sentences as
this, addressing slaveholders: "Do you aspire to become victims
of white non-slave-holding vengeance by day and of barbarous
massacres by the negroes at night?" It is scarcely strange,
therefore, that in 1859 no Southerner would hear a good word of
anyone caught distributing the book. And yet, in the midst of all
this vehement exaltation of slavery, the fight to prevent a
reopening of the slave trade went bravely on. Stephens, writing
to a friend who was correspondent for the "Southern Confederacy",
in Atlanta, warned him in April, 1860, "neither to advocate
disunion or the opening of the slave trade. The people here at
present I believe are as much opposed to it as they are at the
North; and I believe the Northern people could be induced to open
it sooner than the Southern people."

The winter of 1859-1860 witnessed a famous congressional battle
over the speakership. The new Congress which met in December
contained 109 Republicans, 101 Democrats, and 27 Know-Nothings.
The Republican candidate for speaker was John Sherman of Ohio.
As the first ballot showed that he could not command a majority,
a Democrat from Missouri introduced this resolution "Whereas
certain members of this House, now in nomination for speaker, did
endorse the book hereinafter mentioned, resolved, That the
doctrines and sentiments of a certain book, called 'The Impending
Crisis of the South: How to Meet It', are insurrectionary and
hostile to the peace and tranquillity of the country, and that no
member of this House, who has indorsed or recommended it, is fit
to be speaker of the House."

During two months there were strange scenes in the House, while
the clerk acted as temporary speaker and furious diatribes were
thundered back and forth across the aisle that separated
Republicans from Democrats, with a passage of fisticuffs or even
a drawn pistol to add variety to the scene. The end of it all
was a deal. Pennington, of the "People's Party" of New Jersey,
who had supported Sherman but had not endorsed Helper, was given
the Republican support; a Know-Nothing was made sergeant-at-arms;
and Know-Nothing votes added to the Republican votes made
Pennington speaker. In many Northern cities the news of his
election was greeted with the great salute of a hundred guns, but
at Richmond the papers came out in mourning type.

Two great figures now advanced to the center of the Congressional
stage--Jefferson Davis, Senator from Mississippi, a lean eagle of
a man with piercing blue eyes, and Judah P. Benjamin, Senator
from Louisiana, whose perpetual smile cloaked an intellect that
was nimble, keen, and ruthless. Both men were destined to play
leading roles in the lofty drama of revolution; each was to
experience a tragic ending of his political hope, one in exile,
the other in a solitary proscription amid the ruins of the
society for which he had sacrified his all. These men, though
often spoken of as mere mouthpieces of Yancey, were in reality
quite different from him both in temper and in point of view.

Davis, who was destined eventually to become the target of
Yancey's bitterest enmity, had refused ten years before to join
in the secession movement which ignored Calhoun's doctrine that
the South had become a social unit. Though a believer in slavery
under the conditions of the moment, Davis had none of the passion
of the slave baron for slavery at all costs. Furthermore, as
events were destined to show in a startlingly dramatic way, he
was careless of South Carolina's passion for state rights. He
was a practical politician, but not at all the old type of the
party of political evasion, the type of Toombs. No other man of
the moment was on the whole so well able to combine the elements
of Southern politics against those more negative elements of
which Toombs was the symbol. The history of the Confederacy
shows that the combination which Davis now effected was not as
thorough as he supposed it was. But at the moment he appeared to
succeed and seemed to give common purpose to the vast majority of
the Southern people. With his ally Benjamin, he struck at the
Toombs policy of a National Democratic party.

On the day following the election of Pennington, Davis introduced
in the Senate a series of resolutions which were to serve as the
Southern ultimatum, and which demanded of Congress the protection
of slavery against territorial legislatures. This was but
carrying to its logical conclusion that Dred Scott decision which
Douglas and his followers proposed to accept. If Congress could
not restrict slavery in the territories, how could its creature,
a territorial legislature do so? And yet the Douglas men
attempted to take away the power from Congress and to retain it
for the territorial legislatures. Senator Pugh of Ohio had
already locked horns with Davis on this point, and had attempted
to show that a territorial Legislature was independent of
Congress. "Then I would ask the Senator further," retorted the
logical Davis, "why it is he makes an appropriation to pay
members of the territorial legislature; how it is that he invests
the Governor with veto power over their acts; and how it is that
he appoints judges to decide upon the validity of their acts."

In the Democratic convention which met at Charleston in April,
1860, the waning power of political evasion made its last real
stand against the rising power of political positivism. To
accept Douglas and the idea that somehow territorial legislatures
were free to do what Congress could not do, or to reject Douglas
and endorse Davis's ultimatum--that in substance was the issue.
"In this convention where there should be confidence and
harmony," said the "Charleston Mercury", "it is plain that men
feel as if they were going into a battle." In the committee on
resolutions where the States were equally represented, the
majority were anti-Douglas; they submitted a report affirming
Davis's position that territorial legislatures had no right to
prohibit slavery and that the Federal Government should protect
slavery against them. The minority refused to go further than an
approval of the Dred Scott case and a pledge to abide by all
future decisions of the Supreme Court. After both reports had
been submitted, there followed the central event of the
convention--the now famous speech by Yancey which repudiated
political evasion from top to bottom, frankly defended slavery,
and demanded either complete guarantees for its continued
existence or, as an alternative, Southern independence. Pugh
instantly replied and summed up Yancey's speech as a demand upon
Northern Democrats to say that slavery was right, and that it was
their duty not only to let slavery alone but to aid in extending
it. "Gentlemen of the South," he exclaimed, "you mistake us--you
mistake us--we will not do it."

In the full convention, where the representation of the States
was not equal, the Douglas men, after hot debate, forced the
adoption of the minority report. Thereupon the Alabama
delegation protested and formally withdrew from the convention,
and other delegations followed. There was wild excitement in
Charleston, where that evening in the streets Yancey addressed
crowds that cheered for a Southern republic. The remaining
history of the Democratic nominations is a matter of detail. The
Charleston convention adjourned without making nominations. Each
of its fragments reorganized as a separate convention, and
ultimately two Democratic tickets were put into the field, with
Breckinridge of Kentucky as the candidate on the Yancey ticket
and Douglas on the other.

While the Democrats were thus making history through their
fateful break-up into separate parties, a considerable number of
the so-called best people of the country determined that they had
nowhere politically to lay their heads. A few of the old Whigs
were still unable to consort either with Republicans or with
Democrats, old or new. The Know-Nothings, likewise, though their
number had been steadily melting away, had not entirely
disappeared. To unite these political remnants in any definite
political whole seemed beyond human ingenuity. A common
sentiment, however, they did have--a real love of the Union and a
real unhappiness, because its existence appeared to be
threatened. The outcome was that they organized the
Constitutional Union Party, nominating for President John Bell of
Tennessee, and for Vice President Edward Everett of
Massachusetts. Their platform was little more than a profession
of love of the Union and a condemnation of sectional selfishness.

This Bell and Everett ticket has a deeper significance than has
generally been admitted. It reveals the fact that the sentiment
of Union, in distinction from the belief in the Union, had become
a real force in American life. There could be no clearer
testimony to the strength of this feeling than this spectacle of
a great congregation of moderate people, unable to agree upon
anything except this sentiment, stepping between the sectional
parties like a resolute wayfarer going forward into darkness
along a perilous strand between two raging seas. That this
feeling of Union was the same thing as the eager determination of
the Republicans, in 1860, to control the Government is one of
those historical fallacies that have had their day. The
Republican party became, in time and under stress of war, the
refuge of this sentiment and proved sufficiently far-sighted to
merge its identity temporarily in the composite Union party of
1864. But in 1860 it was still a sectional party. Among its
leaders Lincoln was perhaps the only Unionist in the same sense
as Bell and Everett.

Perhaps the truest Unionists of the North, outside the
Constitutional Union Party, in 1860, were those Democrats in the
following of Douglas who, after fighting to the last ditch
against both the sectional parties, were to accept, in 1861, the
alternative of war rather than dissolution. The course of
Douglas himself, as we shall see hereafter, showed that in his
mind there was a fixed limit of concession beyond which he could
not go. When circumstances forced him to that limit, the
sentiment of Union took control of him, swept aside his political
jugglery, abolished his time-serving, and drove him into
cooperation with his bitterest foes that the Union might be
saved. Nor was the pure sentiment of Union confined to the North
and West. Though undoubtedly the sentiment of locality was more
powerful through the South, yet when the test came in the
election of 1860, the leading candidate of the upper South, in
Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, was John Bell, the
Constitutional Unionist. In every Southern State this sentiment
was able to command a considerable part of the vote.*

*A possible exception was South Carolina. As the presidential
electors were appointed by the legislature, there is no certain
record of minority sentiment.

Widely different in temper were those stern and resolute men
whose organization, in perfect fighting trim, faced eagerly the
divided Democrats. The Republicans had no division among
themselves upon doctrine. Such division as existed was due to
the ordinary rivalry of political leaders. In the opinion of all
his enemies and of most Americans, Seward was the Republican man
of the hour. During much of 1859 he had discreetly withdrawn from
the country and had left to his partisans the conduct of his
campaign, which seems to have been going well when he returned in
the midst of the turmoil following the death of John Brown.
Nevertheless he was disturbed over his prospects, for he found
that in many minds, both North and South, he was looked upon as
the ultimate cause of all the turmoil. His famous speech on the
"irrepressible conflict" was everywhere quoted as an exultant
prophecy of these terrible latter days.

It was long the custom to deny to Seward any good motive in a
speech which he now delivered, just as it was to deny Webster any
good motive for his famous 7th of March speech. But such
criticism is now less frequent than it used to be. Both men were
seeking the Presidency; both, we may fairly believe, were shocked
by the turmoil of political currents; each tried oiling the
waters, and in the attempt each ruined his candidacy. Seward's
speech in condemnation of John Brown in February, 1860, was an
appeal to the conservative North against the radical North, and
to many of his followers it seemed a change of front. It
certainly gained him no new friends and it lost him some old
ones, so that his star as a presidential candidate began its

The first ballot in the Republican convention surprised the
country. Of the votes, 233 were necessary for a choice. Seward
had only 173 1/2. Next to him, with 102 votes, stood none of the
leading candidates, but the comparatively obscure Lincoln. A gap
of more than 50 votes separated Lincoln from Cameron, Chase, and
Bates. On the second ballot Seward gained 11 votes, while
Lincoln gained 79. The enemies of Seward, finding it impossible
to combine on any of the conspicuous candidates, were moving
toward Lincoln, the man with fewest enemies. The third ballot
gave Lincoln the nomination.

We have seen that one of the basal questions of the time was
which new political group should absorb the Whig remainder. The
Constitutional Union party aimed to accomplish this. The
Republicans sought to out-maneuver them. They made their
platform as temperate as they could and yet consistent with the
maintenance of their opposition to Douglas and popular
sovereignty; and they went no further in their anti-slavery
demands than that the territories should be preserved for free

Another basal question had been considered in the Republican
platform. Where would Northern capital stand in the
reorganization of parties? Was capital, like men, to become
frankly sectional or would it remain impersonal, careless how
nations rose or fell, so long as dividends continued? To some
extent capital had given an answer. When, in the excitement
following the John Brown incident, a Southern newspaper published
a white list of New York merchants whose political views should
commend them to Southerners, and a black list of those who were
objectionable, many New Yorkers sought a place in the white list.
Northern capital had done its part in financing the revived slave
trade. August Belmont, the New York representative of the
Rothschilds, was one of the close allies of Davis, Yancey, and
Benjamin in their war upon Douglas. In a word, a great portion
of Northern capital had its heart where its investments were--in
the South. But there was other capital which obeyed the same law,
and which had investments in the North; and with this capital the
Republicans had been trafficking. They had succeeded in winning
over the powerful manufacturing interests of Pennsylvania, the
pivotal State that had elected Buchanan in 1856.

The steps by which the new party of enthusiasm made its deal with
the body of capital which was not at one with Belmont and the
Democrats are not essential to the present narrative. Two facts
suffice. In 1857 a great collapse in American business--"the
panic of fifty-seven"--led the commercial world to turn to the
party in power for some scheme of redress. But their very
principles, among which was non-intervention in business, made
the Democrats feeble doctors for such a need, and they evaded the
situation. The Republicans, with their insistence on positivism
in government, had therefore an opportunity to make a new
application of the doctrine of governmental aid to business. In
the spring of 1860, the Republican House of Representatives
passed the Morrill tariff bill, consideration of which was
postponed by the Democratic Senate. But it served its purpose:
it was a Republican manifesto. The Republicans felt that this
bill, together with their party platform, gave the necessary
guarantee to the Pennsylvania manufacturers, and they therefore
entered the campaign confident they would carry Pennsylvania nor
was their confidence misplaced.

The campaign was characterized by three things: by an ominous
quiet coupled with great intensity of feeling; by the
organization of huge party societies in military
form--"Wide-awakes" for Lincoln, numbering 400,000, and "Minute
Men" for Breckenridge, with a membership chiefly Southern; and by
the perfect frankness, in all parts of the South, of threats of
secession in case the Republicans won.

In none of the States which eventually seceded were any votes
cast for Lincoln, with the exception of a small number in
Virginia. In almost all the other Southern States and in the
slave-holding border States, all the other candidates made
respectable showings. In Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky, Bell
led. But everywhere else in the other slave-holding States
Breckinridge led, excepting in Missouri where Douglas won by a
few hundred. Every free State except New Jersey went for
Lincoln. And yet he did not have a majority of the popular vote,
which stood: Lincoln, 1,866,459; Douglas, 1,376,957;
Breckinridge, 849,781; Bell, 588,879*. The majority against
Lincoln was nearly a million. The distribution of the votes was
such that Lincoln had in the Electoral College, 180 electors;
Breckinridge, 72; Bell, 39; Douglas, 12. In neither House of
Congress did the Republicans have a majority.

*The figures of the popular vote are variously given by different
compilers. These are taken from Stanwood, "A History of the


In tracing American history from 1854 to 1860 we cannot fail to
observe that it reduces itself chiefly to a problem in that
science which politicians understand so well--applied psychology.
Definite types of men moulded by the conditions of those days are
the determining factors--not the slavery question in itself; not,
primarily, economic forces; not a theory of government, nor a
clash of theories; not any one thing; but the fluid, changeful
forces of human nature, battling with circumstances and
expressing themselves in the fashion of men's minds. To say this
is to acknowledge the fatefulness of sheer feeling. Davis
described the situation exactly when he said, in 1860, "A
sectional hostility has been substituted for a general
fraternity." To his own question, "Where is the remedy?" he gave
the answer, "In the hearts of the people." There, after all, is
the conclusion of the whole matter. The strife between North and
South had ceased to be a thing of the head; it had become a thing
of the heart. Granted the emotions of 1860, the way in which our
country staggered into war has all the terrible fascination of a
tragedy on the theme of fate.

That a secession movement would begin somewhere in the South
before the end of 1860 was a foregone conclusion. South Carolina
was the logical place, and in South Carolina the inevitable
occurred. The presidential election was quickly followed by an
election of delegates, on the 6th of December, to consider in
convention the relations of the State with the Union. The
arguments before the Convention were familiar and had been
advocated since 1851. The leaders of the disunionists were the
same who had led the unsuccessful movement of ten years before.
The central figure was Rhett, who never for a moment had wavered.
Consumed his life long by the one idea of the independence of
South Carolina, that stern enthusiast pressed on to a triumphant
conclusion. The powers which had defeated him in 1851 were now
either silent or converted, so that there was practically no
opposition. In a burst of passionate zeal the independence of
South Carolina was proclaimed on December 20, 1860, by an
ordinance of secession.

Simultaneously, by one of those dramatic coincidences which make
history stranger than fiction, Lincoln took a step which
supplemented this action and established its tragic significance.
What that step was will appear in a moment.

Even before the secession began, various types of men in politics
had begun to do each after his kind. Those whom destiny drove
first into a corner were the lovers of political evasion. The
issue was forced upon them by the instantaneous demand of the
people of South Carolina for possession of forts in Charleston
Harbor which were controlled by the Federal Government.
Anticipating such a demand, Major Robert Anderson, the commandant
at Charleston, had written to Buchanan on the 23d of November
that "Fort Sumter and Castle Pinckney must be garrisoned
immediately, if the Government determines to keep command of this

In the mind of every American of the party of political evasion,
there now began a sad, internal conflict. Every one of them had
to choose among three courses: to shut his eyes and to continue
to wail that the function of government is to do nothing; to make
an end of political evasion and to come out frankly in approval
of the Southern position; or to break with his own record, to
emerge from his evasions on the opposite side, and to confess
himself first and before all a supporter of the Union. One or
another of these three courses, sooner or later, every man of the
President's following chose. We shall see presently the relative
strength of the three groups into which that following broke and
what strange courses sometimes tragic, sometimes comic--two of
the three pursued. For the moment our concern is how the
division manifested itself among the heads of the party at

The President took the first of the three courses. He held it
with the nervous clutch of a weak nature until overmastered by
two grim men who gradually hypnotized his will. The
turning-point for Buchanan, and the last poor crisis in his
inglorious career, came on Sunday, December 30th. Before that
day arrived, his vacillation had moved his friends to pity and
his enemies to scorn. One of his best friends wrote privately,
"The President is pale with fear"; and the hostile point of view
found expression in such comments as this, "Buchanan, it is said,
divides his time between praying and crying. Such a perfect
imbecile never held office before."

With the question what to do about the forts hanging over his
bewildered soul, Buchanan sent a message to Congress on December
4, 1860, in which he sought to defend the traditional evasive
policy of his party. He denied the constitutional right of
secession, but he was also denied his own right to oppose such a
course. Seward was not unfair to the mental caliber of the
message when he wrote to his wife that Buchanan showed
"conclusively that it is the duty of the President to execute the
laws--unless somebody opposes him; and that no State has a right
to go out of the Union unless it wants to."

This message of Buchanan's hastened the inevitable separation of
the Democratic party into its elements. The ablest Southern
member of the Cabinet, Cobb, resigned. He was too strong an
intellect to continue the policy of "nothing doing" now that the
crisis had come. He was too devoted a Southerner to come out of
political evasion except on one side. On the day Cobb resigned
the South Carolina Representatives called on Buchanan and asked
him not to make any change in the disposition of troops at
Charleston, and particularly not to strengthen Sumter, a fortress
on an island in the midst of the harbor, without at least giving
notice to the state authorities. What was said in this interview
was not put in writing but was remembered afterward in different
ways with unfortunate consequences.

Every action of Buchanan in this fateful month continued the
disintegration of his following. Just as Cobb had to choose
between his reasonings as a Democratic party man and his feelings
as a Southerner, so the aged Cass, his Secretary of State, and an
old personal friend, now felt constrained to choose between his
Democratic reasoning and his Northern sympathies, and resigned
from the Cabinet on the 11th of December. Buchanan then turned
instinctively to the strongest natures that remained among his
close associates. It is a compliment to the innate force of
Jeremiah S. Black, the Attorney-General, that Buchanan advanced
him to the post of Secretary of State and allowed him to name as
his successor in the Attorney-Generalship Edwin M. Stanton. Both
were tried Democrats of the old style, "let-'em-alone" sort; and
both had supported the President in his Kansas policy. But each,
like every other member of his party, was being forced by
circumstances to make his choice among the three inevitable
courses, and each chose the Northern side. At once the question
of the moment was whether the new Secretary of State and his
powerful henchmen would hypnotize the President.

For a couple of weeks the issue hung in the balance. Then there
appeared at Washington commissioners from South Carolina
"empowered to treat...for the delivery of forts...and other real
estate" held by the Federal Government within their State. On
the day following their arrival, Buchanan was informed by
telegraph that Anderson had dismantled Fort Moultrie on the north
side of the harbor, had spiked its guns, and had removed its
garrison to the island fortress, Sumter, which was supposed to be
far more defensible. At Charleston his action was interpreted as
preparation for war; and all South Carolinians saw in it a
violation of a pledge which they believed the President had given
their congressmen, three weeks previous, in that talk which had
not been written down. Greatly excited and fearful of designs
against them, the South Carolina commissioners held two
conferences with the President on the 27th and 28th of December.
They believed that he had broken his word, and they told him so.
Deeply agitated and refusing to admit that he had committed
himself at the earlier conference, he said that Anderson had
acted on his own responsibility, but he refused to order him back
to the now ruined Fort Moultrie. One remark which he let fall
has been remembered as evidence of his querulous state of mind:
"You are pressing me too importunately" exclaimed the unhappy
President; "you don't give me time to consider; you don't give me
time to say my prayers; I always say my prayers when required to
act upon any great state affair." One remembers Hampden "seeking
the Lord" about ship money, and one realizes that the same act
may have a vastly different significance in different

Buchanan, however, was virtually ready to give way to the demand
of the commissioners. He drew up a paper to that effect and
showed it to the Cabinet. Then the turning-point came. In a
painful interview, Black, long one of his most trusted friends,
told him of his intention to resign, and that Stanton would go
with him and probably also the Postmaster-General, Holt. The
idea of losing the support of these strong personalities
terrified Buchanan, who immediately fell into a panic. Handing
Black the paper he had drawn up, Buchanan begged him to retain
office and to alter the paper as he saw fit. To this Black
agreed. The demand for the surrender of the forts was refused;
Anderson was not ordered back to Moultrie; and for the brief
remainder of Buchanan's administration Black acted as prime

A very powerful section of the Northern democracy, well typified
by their leaders at Washington, had thus emerged from political
evasion on the Northern side. These men, known afterwards as War
Democrats, combined with the Republicans to form the composite
Union party which supported Lincoln. It is significant that
Stanton eventually reappeared in the Cabinet as Lincoln's
Secretary of War, and that along with him appeared another War
Democrat, Gideon Welles, Lincoln's Secretary of the Navy. With
them, at last, Douglas, the greatest of all the old Democrats of
the North, took his position. What became of the other factions
of the old Democratic party remains to be told.

While Buchanan, early in the month, was weeping over the

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