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President is equally wandering and indefinite. First, it is to be done by a more vigorous prosecution of the war in the vital parts of the enemy's country; and, after apparently talking himself tired on this point, the President drops down into a half despairing tone, and tells us, that with a people distracted and divided by contending factions, and a government subject to constant changes, by successive revolutions, the continued success of our arms may fail to obtain a satisfactory peace.' Then he suggests the propriety of wheedling the Mexican people to desert the counsels of their own leaders, and, trusting in our protection, to set up a government from which we can secure a satisfactory peace, telling us that this may become the only mode of obtaining such a peace.' But soon he falls into doubt of this too, and then drops back on to the already half-abandoned ground of ‘more vigorous prosecution. All this shows that the President is in no wise satisfied with his own positions. First, he takes up one, and, in attempting to argue us into it, he argues himself out of it; then seizes another, and goes through the same process; and then, confused at being able to think of nothing new, he snatches up the old one again, which he has some time before cast off. His mind, tasked beyond its power, is running hither and thither, like some tortured creature on a burning surface, finding no position on which it can settle down and be at ease.
“ Again, it is a singular omission in this message, that it nowhere intimates when the President expects the war to terminate. At its beginning, General Scott was, by this same President, driven into disfavor, if not disgrace, for intimating that peace could not be conquered in less than three or four months. But now at the end of about twenty months, during which time our arms have given us the most splendid successes-every department, and every part, land and water, officers and privates, regulars and volunteers, doing all that men could do, and hundreds of things which it had ever before been thought that men could not do: after all this, this same President gives us a long message without showing us that, as to the end, he has himself even an imaginary conception. As I have before said, he knows not where he is. He is a bewildered, confounded, and miserably-perplexed man. "God grant he may be able to show that there is not something about his conscience more painful than all his mental perplexity."
With this speech on record, it is strange that the genuine literary abilities of the man were so long and so persistently ignored by literary people. There were men who voted for him for the presidency more than twelve years afterwards— twelve years of culture and development to him—who were surprised to find his messages grammatically constructed, and
who suspected the intervention of a secretary whenever any touch of elegance appeared in his writings.
Mr. Lincoln had a position on the Committee on Post-offices and Post-roads, and, from the knowledge in his possession, felt called upon a few days previous to the speech on the war to expose a difficulty between the Postmaster-general and a transportation company, anxious to get the “Great Southern Mail” contract, and to get a better contract than the department had offered. The matter had excited some interest in Congress, and Mr. Lincoln showed a faithful study of the facts of the case in his speech and his freedom from any party feeling in the matter, by supporting the position of the Postmaster-general.
On the 1st of June, 1818, the National Whig Convention met at Philadelphia to nominate a candidate for the presidency, and Mr. Lincoln was among its members. Mr. Polk, by his war with Mexico, had been engaged, much against his inclinations, in manufacturing available if not able candidates for his own place, two of whom afterwards achieved it. General Taylor had become a hero. The brilliancy of his victories and the modesty of his dispatches had awakened in his behalf the enthusiastic admiration of the American people, without distinction of party. He was claimed by the whigs as a member of that party, and regarded by them as the one man in the Union by whose popularity they might hope to win the power they coveted. The majority would doubtless have preferred Mr. Clay, but Mr. Clay had been their candidate, and had been beaten. Mr. Lincoln would have been glad to support Mr. Clay, it is not doubted, but he shared in the feeling of the majority concerning his "availability.” It is possible that his visit to Mr. Clay, and its unsatisfactory results, already alluded to, had somewhat blunted his devotion and subdued his enthusiasm on behalf of the great chieftain. Certain it is that he was among those who believed that General Taylor and not Mr. Clay should be the nominee of his party.
Congress had continued its session into the summer, either for purposes of business, or with the design to control the nominating conventions, and do something to direct the campaign; and when the nominations were made it did according to its custom, and immediately commenced the campaign in a series of speeches. About two months after General Taylor was nominated, (July twenty-seventh.) Mr. Lincoln secured the floor, and made a speech concerning the points at issue between the two parties, and the merits of the respective candidates, General Cass having received the nomination of the democratic party. It was a telling, trenchant talk, rather than a speech-more like one of his stump orations in Illinois than like his previous efforts in the House. As a campaign harangue, touching the salient features of the principal questions in debate, and revealing the weak points of one candidate and the strong points of the other, it could not have been improved. Considered as a part of the business which he was sent to Washington to perform, it was execrable. He did what others did, and what his partisan supporters expected him to do; but his own sense of propriety must have suggested to him, or ought to have suggested to him if it did not, the indecency of the practice of president-making in Congress.
In the light of subsequent events, the speech contains some passages that are very curious and suggestive. In revealing the position and policy of General Taylor in 1818, he was unconsciously marking out his own in 1860 and 1864. General Taylor, in a letter to Mr. Allison, had said, “upon the subject of the tariff, the currency, the improvement of our great highways, rivers, lakes and harbors, the will of the people, as expressed through their representatives in Congress, ought to be respected and carried out by the executive.” Mr. Lincoln, in remarking upon this, said: “The people say to General Taylor, 'if you are elected, shall we have a national bank?' He answers, Your will, gentlemen, not mine.' • What about the tariff?' 'Say yourselves.' 'Shall our rivers and harbors be improved ?' *Just as you please. If you desire a bank, an alteration of the tariff, internal improvements, any or all, I will not hinder you; if
do not desire them, I will not attempt to force them on you. Send up your
members of Congress from the various districts, with opinions according to your own, and if they are for these measures, or any of them, I shall have nothing to oppose; if they are not for them, I shall not, by any appliances whatever, attempt to dragoon them into their adoption.'” From this point Mr.
”' Lincoln went on to show in what respect a president is a representative of the people. He said: “In a certain sense, and to a certain extent, he is a representative of the people. He is elected by them as Congress is. But can he, in the nature of things, know the wants of the people as well as three hundred other men coming from all the various localities of the nation? If so, where is the propriety of having a Congress?”
There is much in this exposition of General Taylor's position to remind us of that upon which the speaker himself subsequently stood, when invested with the powers of the chief magistracy.
Mr. Lincoln's dissection of General Cass position upon the questions of the canvass, was effected with characteristic neatness and thoroughness. Alluding to the subject of internal improvements Mr. Lincoln said, “My internal improvement colleague (Mr. Wentworth) stated on this floor the other day that he was satisfied Cass was for improvements because that he had voted for all the bills that he (Wentworth) had. So far, so good. But Mr. Polk vetoed some of these very bills; the Baltimore Convention passed a set of resolutions among other things approving these vetoes, and Cass declares in his letter accepting the nomination that he has carefully read these resolutions, and that he adheres to them as firmly as he approves them cordially. In other words, General Cass voted for the bills, and thinks the President did right to veto them; and his friends here are amiable enough to consider him as being one side or the other, just as one or the other may correspond with their own respective inclinations. My colleague admits that the platform declares against the constitutionality of a general system of improvements, and that General Cass indorses the platform, but he still thinks General Cass is in favor of some sort of improvements. Well, what are they? As he is against general objects, those he is for must be particular and local. Now this is taking the subject precisely by the wrong end. Particularity-expending the money of the whole people for an object which will benefit only a portion of them—is the greatest real objection to improvements, and has been so held by General Jackson, Mr. Polk, and all others, I believe, till now.” Certainly this was
I a very logical exposition of General Cass on internal improvements; and the charge of double dealing or gross inconsistency which it involved was unanswerable.
Mr. Lincoln tried his powers of ridicule on General Cass on this occasion. One of his palpable hits has already been quoted in connection with the history of Mr. Lincoln's participation in the Black Hawk war, in which he draws a parallel between his own bloodless experiences and those of the democratic candidate. Quoting extracts to show how General Cass had vacillated in his action on the Wilmot Proviso, he added, “These extracts show that in 1846 General Cass was for the Proviso at once, that in March, 1847, he was still for it, but not just then; and that in December he was against it altogether. This is a true index to the whole man. When the question was raised in 1846, he was in a blustering hurry to take ground for it, * * * but soon he began to see glimpses of the great democratic ox-gad waving in his face, and to hear indistinctly, a voice saying, “back! back, sir! back a little!' He shakes his head, and bats his eyes, and blunders back to his position of March, 1847; but still the gad waves, and the voice grows more distinct and sharper still — back, sir! back, I say! further back!' and back he goes to the position of December, 1817; at which the gad is still, and the voice soothingly says—so! stand still at that!” The homely illustration, culled from his early experiences, was certainly forcible, if not elegant.
In this political canvass, the whigs found themselves nearly as much perplexed in the treatment of the Mexican war as they had been in Congress. They had selected as their candidate a man whose reputation had been made by the success