Page images


Entrance into Public Life - Election to State Legislature - Presidential Elector Election to Congress - Action therein, etc.

MR. LINCOLN early identified himself with the Whig party, and was long a disciple and admirer of "Harry of the West." He belongs by character and association to that school of moderate, conservative men, who sought the peaceful extinction of the slave system by the gradually ameliorating influences of advancing sentiment and civilization. When the party with which he had so long acted was fully handed over to the will of the Slave Power, Mr. Lincoln, like Mr. Seward and others, tried to save it from complete destruction. Failing this, he was found among the first to work for the formation of a new organization, which should direct the uprising waves of public feeling on the subject of slavery aggressions.

After Mr. Lincoln's return, in 1832, from the Black Hawk campaign, he became a candidate for the State legislature, but was defeated.

In 1834, he was returned to the legislature by his party, and served for the next six years in the lower house, running the gauntlet of three elections and succeeding in each. In 1836, Mr. Douglas was returned to the legislature and sat on the Democratic side of the House. Here commenced that personal as well as political rivalry which still continues between these two eminent men.

At this period the fever of speculation was at its height throughout the West. A magnificent scheme of internal improvement was projected for Illinois. The credit of the State was beginning to stagger under its erroneous banking system,

and the debts incurred to carry forward the projected canals and railroad. Mr. Lincoln was in favor of internal improvements, but his course was marked by judicious approval of plans well matured, likely to benefit the State and increase its prosperity.

Mr. Lincoln took up his residence at Springfield, the capitol of the State, and engaged in the practice of the law. He had studied during his first legislative term, and was admitted to the bar. He soon became a prominent and successful advocate.

The diligent attention necessary to secure success in his chosen profession did not prevent him from taking an active part in both local and, national politics. He soon became one of the recognized leaders of the Whig party in the Northwest, and was placed on the Harrison and Clay electoral tickets in the Presidential campaigns of 1840 and 1844. In the latter canvass he took the stump for Henry Clay, and made a tour of Illinois, advocating his claim, to the Presidency.

He was elected in 1846 to the popular branch of the national Congress, from the central district of Illinois. The State leg islature was Democratic, and at the same time Mr. Douglas was elected to the United States Senate. Mr. Lincoln took his seat in the Thirtieth Congress, in Dec., 1847. James K. Folk was President when Mr. Hamlin, at this session, first took his seat as Senator from Maine. He then acted with the Democratic party. The Mexican war was being waged. Much opposition existed to the administration on account thereof. The election as Speaker, by the House of Representatives, of Robert C. Winthrop, of Massachusetts, showed the President and Cabinet to be in a minority in that branch of Congress.

The sessions of the Thirtieth Congress were crowded with important events. The unjust war with Mexico, commenced mainly with a view to the extension of Slavery, was terminated on the 30th of May, 1848. By the treaty of peace, Mexico ceded to the United States the territory comprised in New Mexico and Upper California. The lower Rio Grande, from its mouth to El Paso, was made the boundary of Texas.

On the 22d of Dec. 1847, Mr. Lincoln introduced a resolution, calling upon the President to inform Congress whether the spot on which the first blood was shed, was on American soil or not. He voted steadily in opposition to the administration.

The question of organizing a Territorial Government in Oregon, came up for discussion during the first session of this Congress. Mr. Calhoun desired to insert in the Oregon bill, his doctrine, of no power in Congress to abolish slavery in the Territories. This brought up the whole subject. Mr. Douglas proposed in the Senate to extend the line of 36° 30", as laid down in the Wilmot proviso. This was one of that demagogue's first concessions to the South.

A bill for organizing Oregon, applying the conditions of the celebrated Northwest Ordinance of 1787, to the new Territory, was introduced into the House. The Slavery Prohibition provision was stricken out. Mr. Lincoln spoke and voted against the amendment. It was lost by a vote of 114 to 88. The bill passed the House on the 2d of August, 1848, by a vote of 127 to 70. In the Senate, Mr. Douglas moved to amend by extending the line of 36° 30", to the Pacific. This was agreed to, on the 12th of August. The amended bill was sent to the House, which disagreed by a vote of 121 to 82. Mr. Lincoln voted steadily throughout this contest in favor of congressional prohibition of slavery. He performed yeoman service during this session, making himself felt in the House, as a man of ability. His humorous, quick, keen oratorical powers made him a decided character, and when he rose to speak, the House, feeling sure that he would make his points clearly and say something worth hearing, always listened with attention. It was his custom to note down the points to which he wished to speak, and then trust to the glowing heat of his own mind for the sparks to fly whither they were meant. At first, his tone was slow and drawling, his manner heavy, but as he proceeded, he grew warm with argument. His features lighted up, his tone became clearer and more penetrating, and the orator, heated with his subject, would commence rapidly walking up and down

the floor, one hand behind his coat-tail, the other gesticulating, while fast as the House subsided under some repartee or witty anecdote, another would come tumbling forth, always hitting point-blank where it was aimed.

The second session of the Thirtieth Congress was marked by an exciting debate, caused by the introduction of a resolution of thanks to General Taylor, and the army in Mexico, for the conduct of the war. Mr. Ashmun, of Massachusetts, (President of the Chicago Convention,) moved to amend an amendment which virtually indorsed the administration in commencing the war, by adding the words, "In a war unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President of the United States."

This amendment was finally carried, by a vote of 85 to 82, Mr. Lincoln voting in the affirmative. Throughout his congressional career, he steadily voted with the Whigs against the administration and its measures, as carried out in the Mexican war, and attempted to be enforced in the organization of Oregon.

Mr. Lincoln took an active part in the Whig Convention, which, in 1848, nominated General Taylor for the Presidency. He canvassed his own State for the nominee. He also visited New England during the campaign, and attended the Whig State Convention, at Worcester. He afterwards went to New Bedford, where he made a political address, of which the Mercury of September 15, 1848, contains the following mention :

Mr. Page, Chairman of the Executive Committee, introduced the Hon. Abraham Lincoln, member of Congress from Illinois, who had kindly yielded to the earnest solicitations of the Committee to come from Worcester to address our citizens. Mr. Lincoln enchained the attention of a delighted audience for nearly two hours. His speech covered the whole ground of the national election, and was marked by great originality, clear, conclusive, convincing reasoning, and enlivened by frequent flashes of genuine, racy, Western wit. We have rarely seen a more attentive or interested audience. In fact, he took the hours right between wind and water, and made a most admirable

[ocr errors]

and effective speech, which cannot fail to make a lasting impression on his hearers, and to gain friends for that honest old man and tried patriot, as well as soldier, Zachary Taylor.

'After Mr. Lincoln finished his address, the audience gave him three hearty cheers, and repeated, with rousing cheers, for Taylor and Fillmore."

In the following year, he was the candidate of his party in the legislature for United States Senator, but the Whigs were in the minority.

« PreviousContinue »