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Repeal of the Missouri Compromise-State Fair Debate -Peoria Debate-Trumbull Elected-Letter to Robinson-The Know-Nothings-Decatur Meeting-Bloomington Convention-Philadelphia Convention-Lincoln's Vote for Vice-President-Frémont and Dayton -Lincoln's Campaign Speeches-Chicago Banquet Speech
FTER the expiration of his term in Congress Mr.
duity to the practice of law, which the growth of the State in population, and the widening of his acquaintanceship, no less than his own growth in experience and legal acumen, rendered ever more important and absorbing.
"In 1854," he writes, "his profession had almost superseded the thought of politics in his mind, when the repeal of the Missouri Compromise aroused him as he had never been before."
Not alone Mr. Lincoln, but, indeed, the whole nation, was so aroused-the Democratic party, and nearly the entire South, to force the passage of that repeal through Congress, and an alarmed majority, including even a considerable minority of the Democratic party in the North, to resist its passage.
Mr. Lincoln, of course, shared the general indignation of Northern sentiment that the whole of the remaining Louisiana Territory, out of which six States, and the greater part of two more, have since been
FIREBRAND OF "REPEAL"
organized and admitted to the Union, should be opened to the possible extension of slavery. But two points served specially to enlist his energy in the controversy. One was personal, in that Senator Douglas of Illinois, by whom the repeal was championed, and whose influence as a free-State senator and powerful Democratic leader alone made the repeal possible, had been his personal antagonist in Illinois politics for almost twenty years. The other was moral, in that the new question involved the elemental principles of the American government, the fundamental maxim of the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal. His intuitive logic needed no demonstration that bank, tariff, internal improvements, the Mexican War, and their related incidents, were questions of passing expediency; but that this sudden reaction, needlessly grafted upon a routine statute to organize a new territory, was the unmistakable herald of a coming struggle which might transform republican institutions.
It was in January, 1854, that the accidents of a Senate debate threw into Congress and upon the country the firebrand of the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. The repeal was not consummated till the month of May; and from May until the autumn elections the flame of acrimonious discussion ran over the whole country like a wild fire. There is no record that Mr. Lincoln took any public part in the discussion until the month of September, but it is very clear that he not only carefully watched its progress, but that he studied its phases of development, its historical origins, and its legal bearings with close industry, and gathered from party literature and legislative documents a harvest of substantial facts and data, rather than the wordy campaign phrases and explosive epithets with which more impulsive students and speakers were content
to produce their oratorical effects. Here we may again quote Mr. Lincoln's exact written statement of the manner in which he resumed his political activity:
"In the autumn of that year  he took the stump, with no broader practical aim or object than to secure, if possible, the reëlection of Hon. Richard Yates to Congress. His speeches at once attracted a more marked attention than they had ever before done. As the canvass proceeded he was drawn to different parts of the State, outside of Mr. Yates's district. He did not abandon the law, but gave his attention by turns to that and politics. The State Agricultural Fair was at Springfield that year, and Douglas was announced to speak there."
The new question had created great excitement and uncertainty in Illinois politics, and there were abundant signs that it was beginning to break up the organization of both the Whig and the Democratic parties. This feeling brought together at the State fair an unusual number of local leaders from widely scattered counties, and almost spontaneously a sort of political tournament of speech-making broke out. In this Senator Douglas, doubly conspicuous by his championship of the Nebraska Bill in Congress, was expected to play the leading part, while the opposition, by a common impulse, called upon Lincoln to answer him. Lincoln performed the task with such aptness and force, with such freshness of argument, illustrations from history, and citations from authorities, as secured him a decided oratorical triumph, and lifted him at a single bound to the leadership of the opposition to Douglas's propagandism. Two weeks later, Douglas and Lincoln met at Peoria in a similar debate, and on his return to Springfield Lincoln wrote out and printed his speech
THE PEORIA DEBATE
The reader who carefully examines this speech will at once be impressed with the genius which immediately made Mr. Lincoln a power in American politics. His grasp o of the subject is so comprehensive, his statement so clear, his reasoning so convincing, his language so strong and eloquent by turns, that the wonderful power he manifested in the discussions and debates of the six succeeding years does not surpass, but only amplifies this, his first examination of the whole brood of questions relating to slavery precipitated upon the country by Douglas's repeal. After a searching history of the Missouri Compromise, he attacks the demoralizing effects and portentous consequences of its repeal.
"This declared indifference," he says, "but, as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world; enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites; causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity; and especially because it forces so many good men among ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty, criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest. Slavery is founded in the selfishness of man's nature-opposition to it in his love of justice. These principles are an eternal antagonism, and when brought into collision so fiercely as slavery extension brings them, shocks and throes and convulsions must ceaselessly follow. Repeal the Missouri Compromise, repeal all compromises, repeal the Declaration of Independence, repeal all past history, you still cannot repeal human nature. It still will be the abundance of man's heart that slavery extension is wrong,
and out of the abundance of his heart his mouth will continue to speak."
With argument as impetuous, and logic as inexorable, he disposes of Douglas's plea of popular sovereignty:
"Here, or at Washington, I would not trouble myself with the oyster laws of Virginia, or the cranberry laws of Indiana. The doctrine of self-government is right—absolutely and eternally right-but it has no just application as here attempted. Or perhaps I should rather say, that whether it has such application depends upon whether a negro is not or is a man. If he is not a man, in that case, he who is a man may, as a matter of self-government, do just what he pleases with him. But if the negro is a man, is it not to that extent a total destruction of self-government to say that he too shall not govern himself? When the white man governs himself, that is self-government; but when he governs himself and also governs another man, that is more than self-government-that is despotism. I particularly object to the new position which the avowed principle of this Nebraska law gives to slavery in the body politic. I object to it because it assumes that there can be moral right in the enslaving of one man by another. I object to it as a dangerous dalliance for a free people-a sad evidence that, feeling prosperity, we forget right; that liberty, as a principle, we have ceased to revere. Little by little, but steadily as man's march to the grave, we have been giving up the old for the new faith. Near eighty years ago we began by declaring that all men are created equal; but now, from that beginning, we have run down to the other declaration, that for some men to enslave others is a 'sacred right of self-government.' These principles cannot stand together. They are as opposite as God and Mammon."