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These tactics so enraged Herndon, who plunged into the fray with all his ardor, that Lincoln had to warn him not to retort in kind, lest in his indignant zeal he do more harm than good. Quietly they organized the Whig forces, using political methods as against religious prejudice, and so thorough was the canvass that a few days before the end Lincoln could say to a friend of the other party, who promised to vote for him if it seemed necessary, "I have got the preacher, and don't need your vote." The Democrats, mistaking sound and fury for a rising tide of sentiment, were sure of a sweeping victory. But it fell otherwise; the "Sangamon Chief," as his friends called him, receiving a majority of sixteen hundred and eleven; a vote greater than his party strength greater, indeed, than that of Henry Clay two years before. Herndon was jubilant, not more from pride that his partner had been elected to Congress than that the spectre of religious bigotry had been laid.
Thereafter Lincoln was prudently reticent in matters of religion, except to Herndon and other young friends, and even with them he talked guardedly. Superstition, faith, and doubt were strangely blended in him, uniting a sense of iron law with belief in luck and omens as portents of good and evil fortune. So far as is known he formulated no system, though he was quite emphatic in his denial of certain doctrines of the creeds the atonement, for example, the miracles, and the dogma of eternal hell. But all who stood near him felt that in a poetic and mystic way he was profoundly religious, even if the cast of his mind made many things dim to him which were clear to others. If one would know Lincoln as he was, one must keep in mind his "talent for growth," as Horace Bushnell would say, and watch the slow unfolding of his faith. For surely, as far as a man may, he exemplified the spirit of Jesus in his life, and it is there that one must look for the real religion of the man.
his hands and put it into the stove. - Abraham Lincoln, by Herndon and Weik, Vol. II, pp. 149-151.
In his Autobiography Peter Cartwright does not mention the canvass of 1846, perhaps because he was not proud of it.
Although elected to Congress in 1846, Lincoln did not take his seat until December, 1847, the only Whig member from Illinois. The Mexican War was in progress and one of his friends, J. J. Hardin, had fallen in the battle of Buena Vista. Accompanied by his wife and two little boys, Robert and Edward, he set out for Washington, leaving Herndon to take care of the practice of the firm. The Thirtieth Congress was an able and industrious body, having for leaders the last of the giants of former days-Webster, Calhoun, Clay, and grand old John Quincy Adams, who died in his seat before the end of the session. Douglas, after a brilliant career in the House, was now for the first time a member of the Senate. From the South, Calhoun, Mason, Hunter, and Jefferson Davis were in the Senate, and Stephens, Toombs, Rhett, and Cobb in the House. Lincoln, at once a favorite for his goodfellowship, was among those invited to the breakfasts given by Webster, where he met Joshua Giddings. Owing to the war-policy of President Polk, the Whigs were in the majority, and, while voting supplies to the army, were trying to make capital out of the victories of their generals in the field. Such a program, however artful, was not without its pitfalls, for it is perilous while the fighting is going on to cavil about a national war, just or unjust. By this method, as the sequel showed, Thomas Corwin dug his political grave in the Senate.
Herndon wrote to Lincoln asking him to send the Congressional Globe, assuring him at the same time of the exalted expectations of his friends. In closing his reply, after giving instructions about the payment of certain debts- he was still paying on the old debt incurred by the purchase of the store at New Salem - Lincoln remarked: "As you are all so anxious for me to distinguish myself, I have concluded to do so before long." Herndon wrote an encouraging letter, reporting among other things the rumor of a wish for his re-election. Lincoln's reply must be read:
Washington, D. C., Jan. 8, 1848. Dear William:- Your letter of December 27 was received a day or two ago. I am much obliged to you for the trouble
you have taken. As to speech-making, by way of getting the hang of the House I made a little speech two or three days ago on a postoffice question of no general interest. I find speaking here and elsewhere about the same thing. I was about as badly scared, and no worse, as I am when I speak in court. I expect to make one within a week or two, in which I hope to succeed well enough to wish you to see it.
It is very pleasant to learn from you that there are some who desire that I should be re-elected. I most heartily thank them for their kind partiality; and I can say, as Mr. Clay said of the annexation of Texas, that "personally I would not object" to a re-election, although I thought at the time, and still think, it would be quite as well for me to return to the law at the end of a single term. I made the declaration that I would not be a candidate again, more from a wish to deal fairly with others, to keep peace among our friends, and to keep the district from going to the enemy, than for any cause personal to myself; so that, if it should so happen that nobody else wishes to be elected, I could not refuse the people the right of sending me again. But to enter myself as a competitor of others, or to authorize any one so to enter me, is what my word and honor forbid. Yours truly, A. LINCOLN.
On December 22nd Lincoln had introduced his "Spot Resolutions," so named because after quoting the words of President Polk that the war had been justified by the fact that Mexico had "invaded our territory," and "shed the blood of our citizens on our own soil," they requested the President in a series of adroit questions to inform the House on what spot the alleged outrages had taken place.1 Of course the request, reviving as it did the charge that Polk had tricked the nation into a war at the behest of the Slave Power, met with silence at the White House. Nor was the silence broken
1 All now agree as to the relation of the Polk administration to the Mexican War. If any doubt had remained, it would have been dispelled by the luminous portrayal of the facts by Dr. Von Holst in his Constitutional History of the United States, Vol. III, p. 336. The rebuke administered to the Democratic party, by changing its majority into a minority, deserves, as Von Holst remarks, "to be counted among the most meritorious proofs of the sound and honorable feeling of the American nation.''
when, three weeks later, Lincoln called up the resolutions and spoke in their support, demanding that the President reply fully, fairly, and candidly. No action was taken, but the speech served to distinguish its author by exciting the laughter of the Democrats and evoking a murmur of protest in the Whig ranks. Elated by its majority in the House, if not dazzled by the trophies of war, the Whig party had changed front, and preferred to deny rather than to admit that the President had exceeded his power. Others held that, since the war was closing, the criticism was belated. Even his friends at Springfield felt that Lincoln had gone too far when he voted for the Ashmun amendment to the supply bill, which affirmed that the war had been unjustly and unlawfully begun by the President. Herndon, in apprising his partner of the state of sentiment at home, argued that Polk had been justified by a threat of invasion, and that his action was made lawful by necessity. A letter from Lincoln revealed at once his willingness to stake all on a principle and his desire to be understood by his personal and political friends:
Washington, D. C., Feb. 1, 1848. Dear William:- Your letter of the 19th ultimo was received last night, and for which I am much obliged. The only thing in it that I wish to talk to you at once about is that because of my vote for Ashmun's amendment you fear that you and I disagree about the war. I regret this, not because of any fear that we shall remain disagreed after you have read this letter, but because if you misunderstand I fear other good friends may also.
The vote affirms that the war was "" unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commenced by the President;" and I will stake my life that if you had been in my place you would have voted just as I did. Would you have voted what you felt and knew to be a lie? I know you would not. Would you have gone out of the House - skulked the vote? I expect not. If you had skulked one vote, you would have had to skulk many more before the end of the session. Richardson's resolutions, introduced before I made any move or gave any vote upon the subject, make the direct question of the justice of the war; so that no man can be silent if he would. You are compelled to speak; and
your only alternative is to tell the truth or tell a lie. I cannot doubt which you would do.
I do not mean this letter for the public, but for you. Before it reaches you you will have read my pamphlet speech and perhaps have been scared anew by it. After you get over your scare read it over again, sentence by sentence, and tell me what you honestly think of it. I condensed all I could for fear of being cut off by the hour rule; and when I had got through I had spoken but forty minutes. Yours forever, A. LINCOLN.
Herndon remained unconvinced, even after reading the speech sentence by sentence, and continued to argue the question in his letters, but he taxed his wits to allay the discontent in the district. A note from Lincoln, dated the day following the above letter, showed his susceptibility to noble eloquence and the half-melancholy sentiment evoked by it. Although not yet forty years of age, his sorrow-worn spirit looked upon itself as already old and weary:
Washington, D. C., Feb. 2, 1848. Dear William:-I just take my pen to say that Mr. Stephens, of Georgia, a little, slim, pale-faced, consumptive man, with a voice like Logan's, has just concluded the very best speech of an hour's length I ever heard. My old, withered, dry eyes are full of tears yet. If he writes out anything like he delivered it, our people shall see a good many copies of it. Yours truly, A. LINCOLN.
One who reads that speech today finds it replete with legal and constitutional lore, with moral grandeur and righteous indignation, and tinged with such glimpses of battle and death, and needless suffering and sorrow, that it is no wonder that men wept over the picture.1 From that time forward Lincoln never ceased to admire Alexander H. Stephens, of Georgia. They did not meet again after their days in Congress until the memorable Hampton Roads Conference, in 1865, when Stephens, then Vice-President of the Confederacy, with Campbell and Hunter, met President Lincoln and Secretary Seward in behalf of peace. After traversing the field of official routine to no purpose, Lincoln, still the old 1 Abraham Lincoln in 1854, by Horace White (1908).