Page images
[ocr errors]

fact that he had been elected to the United States Senate when California applied for admission as a free State, and that the resistance of the South to her admission had been the entering wedge of the slavery agitation of 1850. This, however, was in reality a minor consideration. It was rather his romantic fame as a daring Rocky Mountain explorer, appealing strongly to popular imagination and sympathy, which gave him prestige as a presidential candidate.

It was at this point that the career of Abraham Lincoln had a narrow and fortunate escape from a premature and fatal prominence. The Illinois Bloomington convention had sent him as a delegate to the Philadelphia convention; and, no doubt very unexpectedly to himself, on the first ballot for a candidate for Vice-President he received one hundred and ten votes against two hundred and fifty-nine votes for William L. Dayton of New Jersey, upon which the choice of Mr. Dayton was at once made unanimous. But the incident proves that Mr. Lincoln was already gaining a national fame among the advanced leaders of political thought. Happily, a mysterious Providence reserved him for larger and nobler uses.

The nominations thus made at Philadelphia completed the array for the presidential battle of 1856. The Democratic national convention had met at Cincinnati on June 2, and nominated James Buchanan for President and John C. Breckinridge for Vice-President. Its work presented two points of noteworthy interest, namely: that the South, in an arrogant proslavery dictatorship, relentlessly cast aside the claims of Douglas and Pierce, who had effected the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, and nominated Buchanan, in apparently sure confidence of that superserviceable zeal in behalf of slavery which he so obedi


ently rendered; also, that in a platform of intolerable length there was such a cunning ambiguity of word and concealment of sense, such a double dealing of phrase and meaning, as to render it possible that the pro-slavery Democrats of the South and some antislavery Democrats of the North might join for the last time to elect a "Northern man with Southern principles.'



Candle meta


Again, in this campaign, as in several former presidential elections, Mr. Lincoln was placed upon the electoral ticket of Illinois, and he made over fifty speeches in his own and adjoining States in behalf of Frémont and Dayton. Not one of these speeches was reported in full, but the few fragments which have been preserved show that he occupied no doubtful ground on the pending issues. Already the Democrats were raising the potent alarm cry that the Republican party was sectional, and that its success would dissolve the Union. Mr. Lincoln did not then dream that he would ever have to deal practically with such a contingency, but his mind was very clear as to the method of meeting it. Speaking for the Republican party, he said:

"But the Union in any event will not be dissolved. We don't want to dissolve it, and if you attempt it, we won't let you. With the purse and sword, the army and navy and treasury, in our hands and at our command, you could not do it. This government would be very weak, indeed, if a majority, with a disciplined army and navy and a well-filled treasury, could not preserve itself when attacked by an unarmed, undisciplined, unorganized minority. All this talk about the dissolution of the Union is humbug, nothing but folly. We do not want to dissolve the Union; you shall not." While the Republican party was much cast down by the election of Buchanan in November, the Demo

217, Vigg

[ocr errors]

crats found significant cause for apprehension in the unexpected strength with which the Frémont ticket had been supported in the free States. Especially was this true in Illinois, where the adherents of Frémont and Fillmore had formed a fusion, and thereby elected a Republican governor and State officers. One of the strong elements of Mr. Lincoln's leadership was the cheerful hope he was always able to inspire in his followers, and his abiding faith in the correct political instincts of popular majorities. This trait was happily exemplified in a speech he made at a Republican banquet in Chicago about a month after the presidential election. Recalling the pregnant fact that though Buchanan gained a majority of the electoral vote, he was in a minority of about four hundred thousand of the popular vote for President, Mr. Lincoln thus summed up the chances of Republican success in the future:

"Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion, can change the government, practically, just so much. Public opinion on any subject always has a 'central idea,' from which all its minor thoughts radiate. That 'central idea' in our political public opinion at the beginning was, and until recently has continued to be, 'the equality of men.' And although it has always submitted patiently to whatever of inequality there seemed to be as matter of actual necessity, its constant working has been a steady progress towards the practical equality of all men. The late presidential election was a struggle by one party to discard that central idea and to substitute for it the opposite idea that slavery is right in the abstract; the workings of which as a central idea may be the perpetuity of human slavery and its extension to all countries and colors. All of us who did not vote for Mr. Buchanan, taken together, are a ma



jority of four hundred thousand. But in the late contest we were divided between Frémont and Fillmore. Can we not come together for the future? Let every one who really believes, and is resolved, that free society is not and shall not be a failure, and who can conscientiously declare that in the past contest he has done only what he thought best-let every such one have charity to believe that every other one can say as much. Thus let bygones be bygones; let past differences as nothing be; and with steady eye on the real issue, let us reinaugurate the good old 'central ideas' of the republic. We can do it. The human heart is with us; God is with us. We shall again be able, not to declare that 'all States as States are equal,' nor yet that 'all citizens as citizens are equal,' but to renew the broader, better declaration, including both these and much more, that 'all men are created equal.'



Buchanan Elected President-The Dred Scott Decision -Douglas's Springfield Speech, 1857-Lincoln's Answering Speech-Criticism of Dred Scott DecisionKansas Civil War-Buchanan Appoints WalkerWalker's Letter on Kansas-The Lecompton Constitution-Revolt of Douglas


HE election of 1856 once more restored the Democratic party to full political control in national affairs. James Buchanan was elected President to succeed Pierce; the Senate continued, as before, to have a decided Democratic majority; and a clear Democratic majority of twenty-five was chosen to the House of Representatives to succeed the heavy opposition majority of the previous Congress.

Though the new House did not organize till a year after it was elected, the certainty of its coming action was sufficient not only to restore, but greatly to accelerate the pro-slavery reaction begun by the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. This impending drift of national policy now received a powerful impetus by an act of the third coördinate branch, the judicial department of the government.

Very unexpectedly to the public at large, the Supreme Court of the United States, a few days after Buchanan's inauguration, announced its judgment in what quickly became famous as the Dred Scott decision. Dred Scott, a negro slave in Missouri, sued for his freedom on the ground that his master had taken

« PreviousContinue »