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of the presidency. Mr. Lincoln had discharged his duties well-ably and conscientiously, at least. He found to his regret that he had not entirely pleased his constituents in his course on the questions connected with the war. It is probable that he could have secured a renomination had he himself been willing to risk the result. That a man with his desire for public life would willingly retire from Congress at the end of a single term of service is not probable; and while it has been said that he peremptorily refused to be again considered a candidate, on account of his desire to engage more exclusively in the duties of his profession, it is not credible that this was his only motive.* Indeed, there is evidence that he sought another office, in consequence of the fact that his professional business had suffered so severely by his absence that he would have been glad to quit it altogether. He was in no hurry to return to it, certainly, for at the close of the session, he visited New England, and made a number of very effective campaign speeches, and then went home, and devoted his time to the canvass for the election of General Taylor until he had the satisfaction of witnessing the triumph of his candidate, and the national success of the party to whose fortunes he had been so long and so warmly devoted.
In his own district, Mr. Lincoln helped to give General Taylor a majority nearly equal to that by which he had been elected to Congress. The general result of the election brought to him great satisfaction. It justified his own judgment touching the candidate's availability, and promised a return to the policy which he believed essential to the welfare of the country. But little time was left between the close of the canvass and the commencement of the second session, so that Mr. Lincoln had no more than sufficient space for the transaction of his personal business at home, before he was obliged to take his departure again for Washington.
The second session of this Congress was comparatively a
*Mr. Scripps, in his campaign biography, says that his refusal to be again a candidate, was in accordance with an understanding with the leading whigs of his district before his election.
quiet one. Several months had elapsed since the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo had ratified peace between the United States and Mexico, the presidential campaign had transpired, and the national political caldron had ceased to boil. Mr. Lincoln carried into this session the anti-slavery record of an anti-slavery whig. He had voted forty-two times for the Wilmot Proviso, had stood firmly by John Quincy Adams and Joshua R. Giddings on the right of petition, and was recognized as a man who would do as much in opposition to slavery as his constitutional obligations would permit him to do. Early in the session, Mr. Gott of New York introduced a resolution instructing the Committee on the District of Columbia to report a bill prohibiting the slave trade in the District. The language of the preamble upon which the resolution was based was very strong, and doubtless seemed to Mr. Lincoln unnecessarily offensive; and we find him voting with the pro-slavery men of the House to lay it on the table, and subsequently voting against its adoption. He had probably been maturing a measure which he intended should cover the same ground, in another way, and on the sixteenth of January he introduced a substitute for this resolution, which had been carried along under a motion to reconsider. It provided that no person not within the District, and no person thereafter born within the District, should be held to slavery within the District, or held to slavery without its limits, while it provided that those holding slaves in the slave states might bring them in and take them out again, when visiting the District on public business. It also provided for the emancipation of all the slaves legally held within the District, at the will of their masters, who could claim their full value at the hands of the government, and that the act itself should be subject to the approval of the voters of the District. The bill had also a provision, "that the municipal authorities of Washington and Georgetown, within their respective jurisdictional limits," should be "empowered and required to provide active and efficient means to arrest and deliver up to their owners all fugitive slaves escaping into said District."
If any evidence were needed to establish the fact that Mr. Lincoln regarded slaves as property under the Constitution, this bill would seem to furnish all that is desired. If he did not so regard them, this bill convicts him of friendliness rather than enmity to slavery. If he did not so regard them, his whole record relating to slavery was a record of duplicity. Mr. Lincoln's character as an anti-slavery man can have no consistency on any basis except that of his firm belief that slaves were recognized as property under the Constitution of the United States; and those who impute to him the opposite opinion, or action based upon the opposite opinion, inflict a wrong upon his memory.* He recognized slaves as property not only in Congress, but on the stump and even in his busiHe was once employed by General Matteson of Bourbon County, Kentucky, who had brought five or six negroes into Coles County, Illinois, and worked them on a farm for two or three years, to get them out of the hands of the civil authorities, which had interfered to keep him from taking them back to Kentucky. Judge Wilson and Judge Treat, both of the Supreme Court, sat on the case, and decided against the claim of the slaveholder, as presented by Mr. Lincoln. It is remembered that he made a very poor plea, and exercised a good deal of research in presenting the authorities for and against, and that all his sympathies were on the side of the slaves, but such a man as Mr. Lincoln would never have consented to act on this case if he had not believed that slaves were recognized as property by the Constitution. It is true that in a speech delivered afterwards, during the famous Douglas campaign, he denied the statement made by the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott decision, that "the right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution;" but there was to him, and there is in fact, a great difference between a distinct and express affirmation, and a real though it may be only a tacit recognition of property in a slave. Slavery was to him legally right and morally wrong.
*“ His vote is recorded against the pretence that slaves were property under the Constitution.”—Charles Sumner's Eulogy at Boston, June 1, 1865.
He was equally loyal to the Constitution and loving to his kind; and when the time came which gave him the privilege of striking off the fetters of the slave, in order to preserve his country and its Constitution, he did it, and counted the act the crowning one of his life.
Mr. Lincoln did not bring his bill forward without consultation. Mr. Seaton, of the National Intelligencer, is understood to have been most in his confidence; and Mr. Lincoln said, on presenting his bill to the House, that he was authorized to say that, of about fifteen of the leading citizens of the District to whom the proposition had been submitted, there was not one who did not give it his approval. A substitute for the bill was moved, and finally the whole subject was given up, and left to take its place among the unfinished business of the Congress. The reason for this is reported to have been Mr. Seaton's withdrawal from the support of the plan; and Mr. Seaton's withdrawal from the support of the plan is said to have been owing to the visits and expostulations of members of Congress from the slave states. Mr. Lincoln could hope to do nothing without the approval of the voters of the District, and to secure this approval he must secure the support of the National Intelligencer. That taken from his scheme, he took no further interest in pursuing it.
Mr. Lincoln had other occasions, during the session, to record his votes against slavery, in his own moderate way—always moved by his humanity and his love of that which was morally right, and withheld and controlled by his obligations to the Constitution and the law, as he apprehended those obligations.
The fourth of March brought his Congressional career to a close. While he had maintained a most respectable position in the House, there is no reason to believe that he made any great impression upon legislation, or upon the mind of the country. His highest honors were to be won in another field, for which his two years in the House were in part a preparation. After his return to Springfield, he found his practice dissipated. He saw that he should be obliged to begin again.
Business, for the time, had taken new channels, as it never fails to do in like cases. The charms of the old life in Washington came back to him, and he was ready to take an office. He had a fancy that he would like to be Commissioner of the General Land Office, and Mr. Defrees, now the superintendent of public printing at Washington, and then the editor of the Indiana State Journal, wrote an extended article, urging his appointment, and published it in that newspaper. The effort miscarried, very much to Mr. Lincoln's and the country's advantage; and Mr. Butterfield of Illinois secured the coveted place. The unsuccessful application for this appointment was subsequently a theme of much merriment between Mr. Lincoln and his friends.