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"It is true, but is it wise or politic to say so?" To which Lincoln replied: 1
That expression is a truth of all human experience, "a house divided against itself cannot stand." The proposition is also true, and has been true for six thousand years. I want to use some universally known figure expressed in simple language as universally well known, that may strike home to the minds of men in order to raise them up to the peril of the times. I do not believe I would be right in changing or omitting it. I would rather be defeated with this expression in the speech, and uphold and discuss it before the people, than be victorious without it."
Against such a spirit, with its disregard of personal consequences, Herndon had no heart to protest, though he felt like doing so, for he was naturally anxious for Lincoln to win. Here was true leadership, lifting still higher the very ideal which the party leaders in the East were even then seeking to lower. Although his mind was firmly made up, Lincoln called a caucus of his friends in the library of the State House and read the speech to them, as he had read it to Herndon. One by one they pronounced it too radical, predicting that it meant defeat in that it gave Douglas just the opportunity he coveted, while at the same time it would alienate many Anti-Lecompton Democrats. They pointed out that the situation was different from what it was in 1854, for though he had missed the victory itself at that time, the fruits of the victory had accrued to the cause in the election of Trumbull; whereas now both the victory and its fruits would be lost to Douglas, whom they were so eager to defeat. Not one endorsed the wisdom of making the speech except Herndon, who, after listening to these protests, exclaimed: "Lincoln, deliver that speech as read, and it will make you President!" So he reports himself foretelling, though the prophecy is weakened somewhat by the fact that it was recorded some years after the marvelous fulfilment. But there is no doubt that Herndon strongly backed his partner in this move, as in all others of like kind; for it was his mission to embody the ever-present moral protest against slav1 Abraham Lincoln, by Herndon and Weik, Vol. II, p. 67.
ery, and he did not fail to keep this side of the question alive in the soul of his friend.1
But none of these things moved Lincoln. After listening to his friends, he rose from his chair and made a brief talk in which, after alluding to the thought and care with which he had prepared the speech, he replied to all objections by saying that the time had come when those sentiments should be uttered, and added: "If it is decreed that I should go down because of this speech, then let me go down linked to the truth-let me die in the advocacy of what is just and right." Dr. William Jayne, who was present at this conference, gives a fuller report of the remarks of Lincoln, adding to other versions the following, which has every mark of authenticity:
I regret that my friend Herndon is the only man among you who coincides with my views and purposes of the propriety of making this speech; but I have determined in my own mind to make this speech, and in arriving at this determination I cheerfully admit to you that I am moved to this purpose by the noble sentiments expressed in those beautiful lines of William Cullen Bryant in his poem on "The Battlefield." (He then quoted six verses, emphasizing this one: Nor heed the shaft too surely cast,
The foul and hissing bolt of scorn;
Continuing, he said: I am aware that many of our friends, and all of our political enemies, will say like Scipio I am" carrying the war into Africa; " but that is an incident of politics which none of us can help, but it is an incident which in the long run will be forgotten and ignored. We believe that every human being, whatever may be his color, is born free, and that every human soul has an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Apostle Paul said, "The just shall live by faith." This doctrine, laid down by St. Paul, was taken up by the greatest reformer of the Christian era, Martin Luther, and was adhered to with a vigor and fidelity never surpassed until it won a supreme victory, the benefits and advantages of which we are enjoying today.
1 Abraham Lincoln, by D. J. Snider, p. 405 (1908).
I lay down these propositions in the speech I propose to make and risk the chance of winning a seat in the United States Senate because I believe the propositions are true, and that ultimately we shall live to see, as Bryant says, "The victory of endurance born.
On June 16th, the Republican State convention assembled in Springfield, and it was an enthusiastic body. Nearly six hundred delegates were present, and they, with their alternates, completed a round thousand of earnest men, gathered from all parts of the State. Aside from the Senatorial question, there was but little interest in the proceedings. Gustave Koerner was made chairman by unanimous vote-a reward, as he frankly confessed, for having written the article dissecting Douglas for the Anzeiger des Westens six months before." James Miller and Newton Bateman were named for the two offices to be filled, emphatic approval was given to the course of Senator Trumbull, and a series of resolutions was adopted as a platform. As only the members of the Legislature were to be elected, the convention was ready to adjourn, but a thrilling incident delayed it. Delegates from Cook County appeared with a banner upon which was inscribed, "Cook County for Abram Lincoln for United States Senator!" Evidently this had been carefully planned and well timed, for Norman Judd, in a very happy address, referred to the significance of this banner. Whereupon a delegate from Peoria arose, and, waving a flag on which was printed the word "Illinois," moved that it be nailed over "Cook County," making the banner read, "Illinois for Abraham Lincoln ! And it was so done, amidst cheers three times three and three extra, after which a resolution was adopted declaring:
That Abraham Lincoln is our first and only choice for United States Senator to fill the vacancy about to be created by the retirement of Stephen A. Douglas."
1 Abraham Lincoln, by Wm. Jayne, pp. 42-3 (1908).
2 Life of Lincoln, by J. G. Holland, p. 159 (1866).
3 Memoirs of Gustave Koerner, Vol. II, pp. 56-7 (1909).
4 Just when Lincoln began to dream of the Presidency is not definitely known; but almost certainly not until after his debates with Douglas.
This direct nomination of Lincoln was unusual, as if the election of a Senator were to be decided by popular vote; but many things lay behind it. That all present were embarrassed by persistent hints of a coalition with Douglas, there is no question. It was not according to the wish of many of the delegates to make such a formal nomination, yet, as Douglas had intimated that it was the intention to use the name of Lincoln in the canvass, and to adopt another name in the Legislature, all precedents were cast aside.1 Hence this ringing resolution, with its emphasis upon "our first and only choice,” which not only hushed the busy rumors of fusion, but put the political life of Douglas in jeopardy from that hour. Thenceforth not only the issues, but the personalities of the campaign stood out clearly defined, and this added zest to the contest. Still, as we shall see, Douglas, while dealing in denunciation on the stump, continued to dicker with Republican leaders outside the State to the end.
In the evening the hall of the State House was packed to excess awaiting the speech of Lincoln, which inspired more of fear among his friends than among his foes. Today those solemn opening words rise up before us and march with the foot-fall of destiny, and even to the men who heard them, on that summer evening, they seemed heavy with awful prophecies. If radicalism means rootedness, then Lincoln went as straight as a line of light to the root of the national discord, while at the same time he saved his party from apostasy and ruin. Slowly and impressively he read his speech, beginning after the manner of Webster in his reply to Hayne, which had served him as a model:
If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do, and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was During this convention a poll of the delegates was taken to ascertain their preference for President, and the name of Lincoln was not in the list of favorites, though Trumbull received a number of votes. Seward led, and other names mentioned were Fremont, McLean, Chase, and Bissell.
1 Life of Lincoln, by J. G. Holland, p. 160 (1866).
initiated with the avowed object and confident promise of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. "A house divided against itself cannot stand." I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved- I do not expect the house to fall but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new - North as well as South.1
From one point of view this paragraph was a tactical blunder, but time proved that his straightforwardness was, after all, the best strategy. Indeed, the speech was more remarkable for its conservatism than for its radicalism, since it did not demand the abolition of slavery, but only a restriction of the evil within the original limit assigned to it, in the hope that it would finally disappear. Of course he did not foresee how Douglas would so twist his words as to make it appear that he was foisting the alternatives of a divided Union or a uniformity of custom; "all one thing or all the other." Neither idea had been in his mind, nor did he set any date when slavery would at last cease to be. All else was left out of mind in his attempt to focus attention upon the spread of slavery as the cause of discord, and a threat of disunion.
1 Of course this idea was not new. Beecher, Parker, and others had used similar expressions at various times in the North. Four months later Mr. Seward, in his famous Rochester speech, October 25, summed up the situation as an irrepressible conflict," and his phrase became a slogan, while the New York Herald denounced him as an arch agitator of a bloody program."- Life of Seward, by Frederick Bancroft, Vol. I, pp. 461-3 (1900). Even the Richmond Enquirer, which Lincoln read regularly, had said something of the kind as early as 1856 (Constitutional History, by Von Holst, Vol. VI, p. 299), and Wade had told the Senate that Slavery must now become general, or it must cease to be at all."— Abraham Lincoln, by J. T. Morse, Vol. I, p. 119 (1896).