Page images
PDF
EPUB

was against its adoption in Illinois, and in every other place where he had a right to oppose it. “As I understand the spirit of our institutions,” said Mr. Lincoln, “it is designed to promote the elevation of men. I am, therefore, hostile to anything that tends to their debasement. It is well known that I deplore the depressed condition of the blacks, and it would, therefore, be very inconsistent for me to look with approval upon any measure that infringes upon the inalienable rights of white men, whether or not they are born in another land, or speak a different language from our own. As to the inquiry touching the fusion of all the opposition elements, he was in favor of it, if it could be done on republican principles, and upon no other condition. 66 A fusion upon any other platform,” the letter proceeds, “would be as insane as unprincipled. It would thereby lose the whole North, while the common enemy would still have the support of the entire South. The question in relation to men is different. There are good and patriotic men and able statesmen in the South whom I would willingly support, if they would place themselves on republican ground; but I shall oppose the lowering of the republican standard even by a hair's breadth.”

It is to be remembered in this connection that Massachusetts was a representative republican state, and, regarding the ignorant foreign population, particularly of the eastern states, as holding the balance of power between the democratic and republican parties, which it never failed to exercise in the interest of the former and in the support of African slavery, had instituted measures which rendered naturalization a more difficult process. This embarrassed the republicans of the West, who were associated with a large and generally intelligent German population, with leanings toward the republican party rather than to the democratic. Hence this letter to Mr. Lincoln and his reply, which latter undoubtedly had its office in shaping public opinion, and in bringing the foreign population of the West into hearty sympathy with Mr. Lincoln himself.

It was during this year that the movement for making Mr. Lincoln the republican candidate for the presidency took form. He was present as a spectator at the Illinois state republican convention held at Decatur on the tenth of May. When he entered the hall, he was greeted with such enthusiasm as few defeated men are favored with. There was no mistaking the high honor and warm affection in which the audience held him, and no doubting the fact that they regarded that which was nominally his defeat as a great triumph, whose fruits would not long be delayed. He had hardly taken his seat when Governor Oglesby of Decatur announced that an old democrat of Macon County desired to make a contribution to the convention. The offer being at once accepted, two old fence-rails were borne into the convention, gaudily decorated, and hearing the inscription: “ ABRAHAM LINCOLN, the rail candidate for the presidency in 1860. Two rails from a lot of three thousand, made in 1830, by Thomas Hanks and Abe Lincoln-whose father was the first pioneer of Macon County.”

The effect of this upon an audience already excited can be imagined by those only who have been familiar with the effect of similar melo dramatic incidents under similar circumstan

The cheers were prolonged for fifteen minutes, or until the strength of the enthusiastic assembly was exhausted. Mr. Lincoln was called upon to explain the matter of the rails, which he did, repeating the story already in the reader's possession—the story of his first work in Illinois, when he helped to build a cabin for his father, and to fence in a field of corn.

It is the misfortune of great men who are candidates for office, that appeals must be made by them, or on their behalf, to the groundlings. It was a great misfortune to Mr. Lincoln that he was introduced to the nation as pre-eminently a railsplitter, and that it was deemed necessary to his political fortunes that he should be called such. There is no question that the designation belittled him in the eyes of all people of education and culture, at home and abroad. And this, not because there was any prejudice among these people against

ces.

labor, and not because they attached the slightest dishonor to Mr. Lincoln on account of his early poverty and humble pursuits. Splitting rails was in no way allied to the duties of the presidency. The ability to split rails did not add to moral or intellectual power. The fact that Mr. Lincoln had split rails did not increase his qualifications for office. Mr. Lincoln himself regretted that, while he was splitting these rails, he had not been in school or college. He felt that he should have been very much better fitted for the great duties that had been devolved upon him if, instead having devoted the best of his youth to splitting rails and other manual labor, he had enjoyed the advantages of a thorough education. The country took Mr. Lincoln at the estimate of his friends; and those friends thrust him before the country as a man whose grand achievement was the splitting of many rails. It took years for the country to learn that Mr. Lincoln was not a boor. It took years for them to unlearn what an unwise and boyish introduction of a great man to the public had taught them. It took years for them to comprehend the fact that in Mr. Lincoln the country had the wisest, truest, gentlest, noblest, most sagacious president who had occupied the chair of state since Washington retired from it. At this very period he said to Judge Drummond of Chicago, who had remarked to him that people were talking of him for the presidency: “It seems as if they ought to find somebody who knows more than I do.” The rails and that which they symbolized were what troubled him, and, in his own judgment, detracted from his qualifications for the high office.

The latter part of 1859 and the first months of 1860 were broken by travel through various portions of the country, during which he delivered some of the best and most elaborate speeches of his life. He visited Kansas, and was received by her people with the honor due to one who had done brave battle for her freedom. On entering Leavenworth, although the weather was most inclement, he was met by a large procession of people, and escorted to his hotel, while a dense crowd gathered upon the sidewalks that lined the passage. All the doors, windows, balconies and porticos were filled with men, women and children, anxious to catch a glimpse of the man whose speeches they had read, and of whom they had heard so much. The Leavenworth Register, in its notice of the occasion, said:-“never did man receive such honors at the hands of our people, and never did our people pay honors to a better man, or one who has been a truer friend of Kan

Here he made a speech, and the following paragraph, selected from it, will show the state of political feeling at the time, and Mr. Lincoln's relation to it:

sas."

“But you democrats are for the Union; and you greatly fear the success of the republicans would destroy the Union. Why? Do the republicans declare against the Union ? Nothing like it. Your own statement of it is that if the black republicans elect a president, you wont stand it.' You will break up the Union. That will be your act, not ours. To justify it, you must show that our policy gives you just cause for such desperate action. Can you do that? When you attempt it, you will find that our policy is exactly the policy of the men who made the Union-nothing more, nothing less. Do you really think you are justified to break up the government rather than have it administered as it was by Washington? If you do, you are very unreasonable, and more reasonable men cannot and will not submit to you. While you elect presidents, we submit, neither breaking nor attempting to break up the Union.

the Union. If we shall constitutionally elect a president, it will be our duty to see that you also submit. Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a state. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right. So, if we constitutionally elect a president, and, therefore, you undertake to destroy the Union, it will be our duty to deal with you as old John Brown has been dealt with. We shall try to do our duty. We hope and believe that in no section will a majority so act as to render such extreme measures necessary.”

In September, Mr. Lincoln paid a visit to Ohio, following Mr. Douglas, and made two speeches, one at Columbus and another at Cincinnati. These were the first occasions on which he had ever had the privilege of speaking to Ohio audiences, and the introductions to these speeches betrayed his diffidence. In Illinois the people knew and understood him. He had won a reputation there, but, as he traveled eastward, he felt himself away from home. The names of Chase, Corwin and Wade were in his mind—eminent speakers, with whose voices the people of Ohio were familiar—and he felt that it would be difficult for him to establish his position as a political orator when brought into close comparison with them. His style of speech and mode of reasoning he knew to be his own; and he had misgivings touching their reception among those whose ideas of oratory were derived from other models. But these misgivings were groundless. His plainness, clearness, earnestness and thorough comprehension of the merits of his subject secured for him the honest admiration and esteem of all who heard him.

At Columbus, he devoted himself mainly to the discussion of a few points of an elaborate article that had previously appeared in Harper's Magazine, from the pen of Judge Douglas. In this article, the Senator had contrived to spread throughout the country his views touching the relations of slavery to the Constitution. It was the old talk of the senatorial campaign repeated with unimportant variations, though with some new illustrations. It was familiar ground with Mr. Lincoln; and, while his speech was a new one, it would convey but few new ideas to those who had read his speeches of the previous au

Mr. Douglas had preceded him at Cincinnati, and had alluded to him there. It was the battle of Illinois repeated upon the soil of Ohio. The contestants were the same—the questions upon which they took issue were the same. Popular sovereignty, the Dred Scott decision, the right and wrong of slavery, negro equality, the nationalization of slavery—these subjects, presented and illustrated in every possible way already, were again made the themes of discussion by these two men; and the people of Ohio gave them abundant audience. One of Mr. Lincoln's most effective points at Cincinnati was made upon the assumption that, being near the Kentucky border, some Kentuckians were present, to whom he addressed himself in an attempt to prove that they ought to nominate Judge Douglas at Charleston, as peculiarly

tumn.

« PreviousContinue »