« PreviousContinue »
ever, that we shall be beaten. Standing as a unit among yourselves, you can, directly, and indirectly, bribe enough of our men to carry the day-as you could on an open proposition to establish monarchy. Get hold of some man in the North whose position and ability are such that he can make the support of your measure—whatever it may be-a democratic party necessity, and the thing is done.
“Apropos of this, let me tell you an anecdote. Douglas introduced the Nebraska bill in January. In February, afterwards, there was a called session of the Illinois legislature. Of the one hundred members comprising the two branches of that body, about seventy were democrats. The latter held a caucus in which the Nebraska bill was talked of, if not formally discussed. It was thereby discovered that just three, and no more, were in favor of the measure. In a day or two, Douglas' orders came on to have resolutions passed, approving the bill, and they were passed by large majorities!!! The truth of this is vouched for by a bolting democratic member. The masses, too, democratic as well as whig, were even more unanimous against it, but as soon as the party necessity of supporting it became apparent, the way the democracy began to see the wisdom and justice of it was perfectly astonishing.
“ You say if Kansas fairly votes herself a free state, as a Christian you will rather rejoice at it. All decent slaveholders talk that way, and I do not doubt their candor. But they never yote that way. Although, in a private letter or conversation you will express your preference that Kansas shall be free, you would vote for no man for Congress who would say the same thing publicly. No such man could be elected, from any district, of any slave state. You think Stringfellow & Co. ought to be hung; and yet you will vote for the exact type and representation of Stringfellow. The slave-breeders and slave-traders are a small and detested class among you, and yet in politics they dictate the course of all of you, and are as completely your masters as you are the masters of your own negroes.
"You inquire where I now stand. That is a disputed point. I think I am a whig; but others say there are no whigs, and that I am an abolitionist. When I was in Washington, I voted for the Wilmot Proviso as good as forty times, and I never heard of any attempt to unwhig me for that. I now do no more than oppose the extension of slavery. I am not a Know-Nothing,--that is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of the negroes be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that all men are created equal.' We now practically read it all men are created equal except negroes.' When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read, “all men are created equal except negroes and foreigners and Catholics. When it comes to that, I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty-to Russia for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy. • Your friend forever,
" A. LINCOLN."
This letter, written with perfect freedom to an old personal friend attached to the interests of slavery in a slave state, gives with wonderful clearness the state of the slavery question at the time, and Mr. Lincoln's own views and feelings. Events justified the writer's judgment, and verified his
predictions. Mr. Lincoln still considered himself a whig. The name was one he loved, and the old party associations were very precious to him. But he was passing through the weaning process, and was realizing more and more, with the passage of every month, that there could be no resuscitation of the dead or dying organization. The interests of slavery had severed from it forever that portion that had made it a powerful national party. It could not extend itself an inch south of Mason's and Dixon's line. The slavery question was the great question. Opposition to the extension and encroachments of slavery was sectional, and any party which exercised this opposition, however broad its views might be, was necessarily sectional. Mr. Lincoln's logical mind soon discovered this, and accordingly we find him, May 29th, 1856, attending a convention at Bloomington, of those who were opposed to the democratic party. Here, and with Mr. Lincoln's powerful assistance, the republican party of Illinois was organized, a platform adopted, a state ticket nominated, and delegates were appointed to the National Republican Convention in Philadelphia, which was to be held on the seventeenth of the following month.
There is no doubt that, from the date of this meeting, he felt himself more a free man in politics than ever before. His hatred of slavery had been constantly growing, and now he was the member of a party whose avowed purpose it was to resist the extension of slavery, and to shut it up in the territory where it held its only rights under the Constitution. The speech which he made on this occasion was one of distinguished power and eloquence. Mr. Scripps, in the little sketch of his life to which an allusion has already been made in this volume, says:
Never was an audience more completely electrified by human eloquence. Again and again during the progress of its delivery, they sprang to their feet and upon the benches, and testified by long continued shouts and the waving of hats, how deeply the speaker had wrought upon
their minds and hearts. It fused the mass of hitherto incongruous elements into perfect homogeneity, and from that day to the present they have worked together in harmonious and fraternal union.
Mr. Lincoln was now regarded, not only by the republicans of Illinois, but by all the western states, as their first man. Accordingly they presented his name to the national convention as their candidate for the vice-presidency. On the informal ballot, he received one hundred and ten votes to two hundred and fifty-nine for Mr. Dayton. This, of course, decided the matter against him, but the vote was a complimentary one, and was Mr. Lincoln's formal introduction to the nation. Mr. Lincoln labored with his accustomed zeal during the campaign for Fremont and Dayton, the republican nominees, and had the pleasure, at the end of the canvass, of finding the state revolutionized. Colonel William H. Bissell, the opposition candidate for Governor, was elected by a notable majority, although there were men enough who were not aware that the whig party was dead to give the electoral vote to Mr. Buchanan, through their support of Mr. Fillmore.
A little incident occurred during the campaign that illustrated Mr. Lincoln's readiness in turning a political point. He was making a speech at Charleston, Coles County, when a voice called out, “Mr. Lincoln, is it true that you entered this state barefoot, driving a yoke of oxen?” Mr. Lincoln paused for full half a minute, as if considering whether he should notice such cruel impertinence, and then said that he thought he could prove the fact by at least a dozen men in the crowd, any one of whom was more respectable than his
questioner. But the question seemed to inspire him, and he went on to show what free institutions had done for himself, and to exhibit the evils of slavery to the white man wherever it existed, and asked if it was not natural that he should hate slavery, and agitate against it. “Yes,” said he, “we will speak for freedom and against slavery, as long as the Constitution of our country guarantees free speech, until everywhere on this wide land, the sun shall shine and the rain shall fall and the wind shall blow upon no man who goes forth to unrequited toil.”
From this time to the close of his life, he was almost entirely absorbed by political affairs. He still took charge of important cases in court, and practiced his profession at intervals; but he was regarded as a political man, and had
many responsibilities thrown upon him by the new organization. During the summer succeeding the presidential canvass, and after Mr. Buchanan had taken his seat, Mr. Douglas was invited by the grand jury of the United States District Court for Southern Illinois, to deliver a speech at Springfield, when the court was in session. In that speech, the senator showed the progress he had made in his departure from the doctrines of the fathers, by announcing that the framers of the Declaration of Independence, when they asserted that “all men are created equal,” only meant to say that “British subjects on this continent were equal to British subjects born and residing in Great Britain.” Mr. Lincoln was invited by a large number of citizens to reply to this speech, and did so. After showing in his own quiet and ingenious way the absurdity of this assumption of Judge Douglas, telling his auditors that, as they were preparing to celebrate the Fourth of July, and would read the Declaration, he would like to have them read it in Judge Douglas' way, viz: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all British subjects who were on this continent eighty-one years ago, were created equal to all British subjects born and then residing in Great Britain,”—he said: “And now I appeal to all—to democrats as well as others: are you really willing that the Declaration shall thus be frittered
away?-thus left no more, at most, than an interesting memorial of the dead past?-thus shorn of its vitality and its practical value, and left without the germ or even the suggestion of the inalienable rights of man in it?” Then Mr. Lincoln added his opinion as to what the authors of the Declaration intended; and it has probably never been stated with a more catholic spirit, or in choicer terms:
"I think the authors of that notable instrument intended to include all men; but they did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness in what respects they did consider all men equal-equal in certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This they said and this they meant. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet that they were about to confer it upon them. In fact, they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and, even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere."
The project of making Kansas a slave state was in full progress.
The event which Mr. Lincoln had so distinctly prophesied—the formation of a pro-slavery constitution by unfair means and alien agents—was in full view; and those who were interested in it did their best to prepare the minds of the people for it. Political morality seemed at its lowest ebb. A whole party was bowing to the behests of slavery, and those who were opposed to the institution and the power born of it had become stupefied in the presence of its bold assumptions and rapid advances. People had ceased to be surprised at any of its claims, and any exhibition of its spirit and policy. If Mr. Buchanan had any conscientious scruples, they were easily overborne, and he lent himself to the schemes of the plotters. A pro-slavery legislature was elected mainly