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riority of intellect; without great quickness of perception-still, his mind was so vigorous, his comprehension so exact and clear, and his judgment so sure, that he easily mastered the intricacies of his profession, and became one of the ablest reasoners and most impressive speakers at our bar. With a probity of character known of all, with an intuitive insight into the human heart, with a clearness of statement which was itself an argument, with uncommon power and felicity of illustration,-often, it is true, of a plain and homely kind,--and with that sincerity and earnestness of manner which carried conviction, he was, perhaps, one of the most successful jury lawyers we have ever had in the state. He always tried a case fairly and honestly. He never intentionally misrepresented the evidence of a witness or the argument of an opponent. He met both squarely, and, if he could not explain the one or answer the other, substantially admitted it. He never misstated the law according to his own intelligent view of it.”
These tributes to the professional excellence of Mr. Lincoln, by those best qualified to judge it, are all the more significant from the fact that it was rendered by those who, throughout his whole career, were opposed to him politically-by democrats and conservatives. Judge David Davis, of Bloomington, Illinois, a strong personal friend of Mr. Lincoln, in responding to resolutions presented by the bar of Indianapolis, said that “in all the elements that constitute the great lawyer, he (Mr. Lincoln) had few equals. He was great both at Nisi Prius and before an appellate tribunal. He seized the strong points of a case, and presented them with clearness and great compactness. A vein of humor never deserted him, and he was always able to chain the attention of court and jury when the cause was the most uninteresting, by the appropriateness of his anecdotes."
It was during this period of Mr. Lincoln's life that he was called upon to pronounce a eulogy upon Henry Clay. The death of this eminent statesman occurred in 1852, and the citizens of Springfield thought of no man so competent to do his memory justice as he who had through so many years been devoted to his interests and his political principles. The eulogy was pronounced in the State House, and was listened to by a large audience. The discourse, as it was printed in the city newspapers of the day, was by no means a remarka
It is remembered as a very dull one at its delivery, and was so regarded by Mr. Lincoln himself, who complained that he lacked the imagination necessary for a performance of that character. It is possible that the effect upon his mind of the old visit to Ashland was not entirely obliterated; for Mr. Lincoln was quite accustomed to find expression for any admiration that was really within him. The closing words of the eulogy, though hortatory in form, were prophetic in fact, and, in the light of subsequent events, have a touching interest. “Such a man," said he, “the times have demanded, and such in the Providence of God was given us. But he is gone. Let us strive to deserve, as far as mortals may, the continued care of Divine Providence, trusting that in future national emergencies he will not fail to provide us the instruments of safety and security.” That Divine Providence which he so confidently trusted then, trusted him as the instrument for executing its own designs, in the greatest of national emergencies.
It is not to be supposed that during these years of quiet professional life Mr. Lincoln was entirely indifferent to the course of political affairs. Great national events were in progress, which must have impressed him profoundly. The slave states, conscious that power was departing from them, were desperate in their efforts and fruitful in their expedients to retain it. On the 9th of September, 1850, the free state of California was admitted to the Union. There was a double bitterness in this measure to those interested in the perpetuation of the influence of slavery in national affairs. The state was formed from territory on which the South had hoped to extend the area of their institution—which had been won from Mexico for that special purpose; and there was no slave state in readiness to be admitted with it, in accordance with southern policy and congressional usage. As an offset to this accession to the power of the free states, a series of concessions were exacted of them which excited great discontent among the people. The compromise measures of 1850, as they were called, did not satisfy either section. The South did not see in them the security they desired, and the North felt itself wronged and humiliated by them. Yet there was among the people of both sections a strong desire for peace. They had become weary with agitation, and readily fell in with the action of the two national conventions, which, in 1852, accepted these measures as a final settlement of the points of difference between the two sections of the country. It is easy, in looking back, to see how wretched a basis these measures furnished for peace between freedom and slavery; but the best men and the most patriotic men of the time found nothing better.
How far Mr. Lincoln shared in the desire that these measures should be the final settlement of the slavery question in the country, or believed it possible that they could be, is not known. Although he consented to stand on the Scott electoral ticket in 1852, he does not seem to have gone into the canvass with his characteristic earnestness. His party had committed him, in advance, to silence on the subject of slavery; and it was quite possible that he was willing to see how much could be done towards stifling what seemed to be a fruitless agitation. He made but few speeches, and these few made little impression. The defeat of General Scott and the election of General Pierce was in accordance with the popular expectation. Mr. Lincoln had not been diverted from his professional pursuits by the campaign, and for two years thereafter he found nothing in politics to call him from his business.
In 1854, a new political era opened. Events occurred of immeasurable influence upon the country; and an agitation of the slavery question was begun which was destined not to cease until slavery itself should be destroyed. Disregarding the pledges of peace and harmony, the party in the interest of slavery effected in Congress the abrogation of the Missouri Compromise of 1820—a compromise which was intended to shut slavery forever out of the north-west; and a bill organizing the territories of Kansas and Nebraska was enacted, which left them free to choose whether they would have slavery as an institution or not. The intention, without doubt, was to force slavery upon those territories—to make
it impossible for them ever to become free states as the subsequent exhibitions of “border ruffianism” in Kansas sufficiently testified. This great political iniquity aroused Mr. Lincoln as he had never before been aroused. It was at this time that he fully comprehended the fact that there was to be no peace on the slavery question until either freedom or slavery should triumph. He knew slavery to be wrong. He had always known and felt it to be so. He knew that he regarded the institution as the fathers of the republic had regarded it; but a new doctrine had been put forward. Slavery was right. Slavery was entitled to equal consideration with freedom. Slavery claimed the privilege of going wherever, into the national domain, it might choose to go. Slavery claimed national protection everywhere. Instead of remaining contentedly within the territory it occupied under the protection of the Constitution, it sought to extend itself indefinitely—to nationalize itself.
Judge Douglas of Illinois was the responsible author of what was called the Kansas-Nebraska bill-a bill which he based upon what he was pleased to denominate “popular sovereignty”—the right of the people of a territory to choose their own institutions; and between Judge Douglas and Mr. Lincoln was destined to be fought “the battle of the giants” on the questions that grew out of this great political crime. Mr. Lincoln's indignation was an index to the popular feeling all over the North. The men who, in good faith, had acquiesced in the compromise measures, though with great reluctance and only for the sake of peace—who had compelled themselves to silence by biting their lips—who had been forced into silence by their love of the Union whose existence the slave power had threatened-saw that they had been over-reached and foully wronged.
Mr. Douglas, on his return to his constituents, was met by a storm of indignation, so that when he first undertook to speak in vindication of himself he was not permitted to do so. He found that he had committed a great political blunder, even if he failed to comprehend the fact that he had been
guilty of a criminal breach of faith. The first exhibitions of popular rage naturally passed away, so that the city which refused to hear him speak, now honors his dust as that of a great and powerful and famous man; but the city and the state have discarded his political principles; and the party which once honored him with so much confidence, remembers with regret-possibly with bitterness—that he was mainly responsible for its overthrow. Mr. Douglas, without doubt, foresaw what was coming, as the result of his political misdeeds, but he tried to avert the popular judgment. He spoke in various places in the state, but with little effect. Congress had adjourned early in August. His attempt to speak in Chicago was made on the first of September, and early in October, on the occasion of the State Fair, he found himself at Springfield.
The Fair had brought together a large number of representative men, from all parts of the state, many of whom had come for the purposes of political reunion and consultation. There was a great deal of political speaking, but the chief interest of the occasion centered in a discussion between Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Douglas. It had been many years since these two men had found themselves pitted against each other in debate, and during nearly all these years, Mr. Douglas had been in public life. He was a man known to the whole nation. He was the recognized leader of his party in Illinois, notwithstanding the fact that his course had driven many from his support. His experience in debate, his easy audacity and assurance, his great ability, his strong will, his unconquerable ambition, and his untiring industry, made him a most formidable antagonist. To say that his unlimited self-confidence, which not unfrequently made him arrogant and overbearingat least, in appearance-assisted him in the work which he had before him, would be to insult the independent common sense of the people he addressed. Mr. Douglas entered into an exposition and defense of his principles and policy with the bearing of a man who had already conquered. His long and uninterrupted success had made him restive under inquisition, impatient of dispute, and defiant of opposition.