Page images

ful prosecution of a war which they had opposed. They were charged, of course, with inconsistency by their opponents, and were placed in the awkward position of being obliged to draw nice distinctions. It is possible that they deserved the embarrassment from which they suffered. General Taylor had, beyond dispute, been nominated because he was a military hero, and not because he had any natural or acquired fitness for the presidency. The war had made him; and the whigs had seized upon this product of the war as an instrument by which they might acquire power. Mr. Lincoln alluded to this in his speech, but showed that while the whigs had believed the war to be unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun, they had voted supplies, and sent their men. "Through suffering and death," said he, "by disease and in battle, they have endured, and fought, and fallen with you. Clay and Webster each gave a son, never to be returned. From the state of my own residence, besides other worthy but less known whig names, we sent Marshall, Morrison, Baker and Hardin; they all fought, and one fell, and in the fall of that one we lost our best whig man. Nor were the whigs few in numbers, or laggard in the day of danger. In that fearful, bloody, breathless struggle at Buena Vista, where each man's hard task was to beat back five foes, or die himself, of the five high officers who perished, four were whigs." With an allusion to the distinction between the cause of the President in beginning the war, and the cause of the country after it was begun, Mr. Lincoln closed his speech.

During the time these presidential discussions were going on in Congress, Mr. Lincoln was in close communication with the whig leaders in Illinois, laying out the work of the canvass, and trying to convert the active men of the party to his own ideas of sound policy in the conduct of the campaign. Indeed, he began this work before General Taylor was nominated, under the evident conviction that he would be the candidate, and the strong desire that he should be. As early in the year as February twentieth, he wrote a letter to U. F. Linder, a prominent whig orator of Illinois, on this subject.

It betrays the perplexity to which more than one allusion has been made, of the whigs at the time. Mr. Lincoln says, in this letter, "In law, it is good policy to never plead what you need not, lest you oblige yourself to prove what you cannot. Reflect on this well before you proceed. The application I mean to make of this rule is that you should simply go for General Taylor, because you can take some democrats and lose no whigs; but if you go also for Mr. Polk, on the origin and mode of prosecuting the war, you will still take some democrats, but you will lose more whigs, so that, in the sum of the operation, you will be loser. This is, at least, my opinion; and if you will look around, I doubt if you do not discover such to be the fact among your own neighbors. Further than this: by justifying Mr. Polk's mode of prosecuting the war, you put yourself in opposition to General Taylor himself, for we all know he has declared for, and, in fact, originated, the defensive line policy."

In this letter, Mr. Lincoln talks like a politician (and he was one of the most acute that the country ever produced,) to a politician. It looks as if he were handling grave questions of state with reference only to party ends; but the letter does not represent him wholly. In a subsequent note to the same friend, in answer to the question whether "it would not be just as easy to elect General Taylor without opposing the war, as by opposing it," he replies: "the locofocos here will not let the whigs be silent, *** so that they are compelled to speak, and their only option is whether they will, when they speak, tell the truth, or tell a foul, villainous and bloody falsehood." In this declaration, the politician sinks, and the man rises, and seems to be what he really is-honest and conscientious.

On the fourteenth day of August, the first session of the Thirtieth Congress came to a close, and the members went home to continue and complete the campaign which they had inaugurated at Washington. The session had been one of strong excitements, particular interest attaching to every important debate in consequence of its bearing upon the question

of the presidency. Mr. Lincoln had discharged his duties well-ably and conscientiously, at least. He found to his regret that he had not entirely pleased his constituents in his course on the questions connected with the war. It is probable that he could have secured a renomination had he himself been willing to risk the result. That a man with his desire for public life would willingly retire from Congress at the end of a single term of service is not probable; and while it has been said that he peremptorily refused to be again considered a candidate, on account of his desire to engage more exclusively in the duties of his profession, it is not credible that this was his only motive.* Indeed, there is evidence that he sought another office, in consequence of the fact that his professional business had suffered so severely by his absence that he would have been glad to quit it altogether. He was in no hurry to return to it, certainly, for at the close of the session, he visited New England, and made a number of very effective campaign speeches, and then went home, and devoted his time to the canvass for the election of General Taylor until he had the satisfaction of witnessing the triumph of his candidate, and the national success of the party to whose fortunes he had been so long and so warmly devoted.

In his own district, Mr. Lincoln helped to give General Taylor a majority nearly equal to that by which he had been elected to Congress. The general result of the election brought to him great satisfaction. It justified his own judgment touching the candidate's availability, and promised a return to the policy which he believed essential to the welfare of the country. But little time was left between the close of the canvass and the commencement of the second session, so that Mr. Lincoln had no more than sufficient space for the transaction of his personal business at home, before he was obliged to take his departure again for Washington.

The second session of this Congress was comparatively a *Mr. Scripps, in his campaign biography, says that his refusal to be again a candidate, was in accordance with an understanding with the leading whigs of his district before his election.

quiet one. Several months had elapsed since the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo had ratified peace between the United States and Mexico, the presidential campaign had transpired, and the national political caldron had ceased to boil. Mr. Lincoln carried into this session the anti-slavery record of an anti-slavery whig. He had voted forty-two times for the Wilmot Proviso, had stood firmly by John Quincy Adams and Joshua R. Giddings on the right of petition, and was recognized as a man who would do as much in opposition to slavery as his constitutional obligations would permit him to do. Early in the session, Mr. Gott of New York introduced a resolution instructing the Committee on the District of Columbia to report a bill prohibiting the slave trade in the District. The language of the preamble upon which the resolution was based was very strong, and doubtless seemed to Mr. Lincoln unnecessarily offensive; and we find him voting with the pro-slavery men of the House to lay it on the table, and subsequently voting against its adoption. He had probably been maturing a measure which he intended should cover the same ground, in another way, and on the sixteenth of January he introduced a substitute for this resolution, which had been carried along under a motion to reconsider. It provided that no person not within the District, and no person thereafter born within the District, should be held to slavery within the District, or held to slavery without its limits, while it provided that those holding slaves in the slave states might bring them in and take them out again, when visiting the District on public business. It also provided for the emancipation of all the slaves legally held within the District, at the will of their masters, who could claim their full value at the hands of the government, and that the act itself should be subject to the approval of the voters of the District. The bill had also a provision, "that the municipal authorities of Washington and Georgetown, within their respective jurisdictional limits,” should be "empowered and required to provide active and efficient means to arrest and deliver up to their owners all fugitive slaves escaping into said District."

If he did

If any evidence were needed to establish the fact that Mr. Lincoln regarded slaves as property under the Constitution, this bill would seem to furnish all that is desired. not so regard them, this bill convicts him of friendliness rather than enmity to slavery. If he did not so regard them, his whole record relating to slavery was a record of duplicity. Mr. Lincoln's character as an anti-slavery man can have no consistency on any basis except that of his firm belief that slaves were recognized as property under the Constitution of the United States; and those who impute to him the opposite opinion, or action based upon the opposite opinion, inflict a wrong upon his memory.* He recognized slaves as property not only in Congress, but on the stump and even in his business. He was once employed by General Matteson of Bourbon County, Kentucky, who had brought five or six negroes into Coles County, Illinois, and worked them on a farm for two or three years, to get them out of the hands of the civil authorities, which had interfered to keep him from taking them back to Kentucky. Judge Wilson and Judge Treat, both of the Supreme Court, sat on the case, and decided against the claim of the slaveholder, as presented by Mr. Lincoln. It is remembered that he made a very poor plea, and exercised a good deal of research in presenting the authorities for and against, and that all his sympathies were on the side of the slaves, but such a man as Mr. Lincoln would never have consented to act on this case if he had not believed that slaves were recognized as property by the Constitution. It is true that in a speech delivered afterwards, during the famous Douglas campaign, he denied the statement made by the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott decision, that "the right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution;" but there was to him, and there is in fact, a great difference between a distinct and express affirmation, and a real though it may be only a tacit recognition of property in a slave. Slavery was to him legally right and morally wrong.

"His vote is recorded against the pretence that slaves were property under the Constitution."-Charles Sumner's Eulogy at Boston, June 1, 1865.

« PreviousContinue »