Page images

it impossible for them ever to become free states-as the subsequent exhibitions of "border ruffianism" in Kansas sufficiently testified. This great political iniquity aroused Mr. Lincoln as he had never before been aroused. It was at this time that he fully comprehended the fact that there was to be no peace on the slavery question until either freedom or slavery should triumph. He knew slavery to be wrong.. He had always known and felt it to be so. He knew that he regarded the institution as the fathers of the republic had regarded it; but a new doctrine had been put forward. Slavery was right. Slavery was entitled to equal consideration with freedom. Slavery claimed the privilege of going wherever, into the national domain, it might choose to go. Slavery claimed national protection everywhere. Instead of remaining contentedly within the territory it occupied under the protection of the Constitution, it sought to extend itself indefinitely—to nationalize itself.

Judge Douglas of Illinois was the responsible author of what was called the Kansas-Nebraska bill-a bill which he based upon what he was pleased to denominate "popular sovereignty"—the right of the people of a territory to choose their own institutions; and between Judge Douglas and Mr. Lincoln was destined to be fought "the battle of the giants" on the questions that grew out of this great political crime. Mr. Lincoln's indignation was an index to the popular feeling all over the North. The men who, in good faith, had acquiesced in the compromise measures, though with great reluctance and only for the sake of peace-who had compelled themselves to silence by biting their lips-who had been forced into silence by their love of the Union whose existence the slave power had threatened-saw that they had been over-reached and foully wronged.

Mr. Douglas, on his return to his constituents, was met by a storm of indignation, so that when he first undertook to speak in vindication of himself he was not permitted to do so. He found that he had committed a great political blunder, even if he failed to comprehend the fact that he had been

[ocr errors]

guilty of a criminal breach of faith. The first exhibitions of popular rage naturally passed away, so that the city which refused to hear him speak, now honors his dust as that of a great and powerful and famous man; but the city and the state have discarded his political principles; and the party which once honored him with so much confidence, remembers with regret-possibly with bitterness-that he was mainly responsible for its overthrow. Mr. Douglas, without doubt, foresaw what was coming, as the result of his political misdeeds, but he tried to avert the popular judgment. He spoke in various places in the state, but with little effect. Congress had adjourned early in August. His attempt to speak in Chicago was made on the first of September, and early in October, on the occasion of the State Fair, he found himself at Springfield.

The Fair had brought together a large number of representative men, from all parts of the state, many of whom had come for the purposes of political reunion and consultation. There was a great deal of political speaking, but the chief interest of the occasion centered in a discussion between Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Douglas. It had been many years since these two men had found themselves pitted against each other in debate, and during nearly all these years, Mr. Douglas had been in public life. He was a man known to the whole nation. He was the recognized leader of his party in Illinois, notwithstanding the fact that his course had driven many from his support. His experience in debate, his easy audacity and assurance, his great ability, his strong will, his unconquerable ambition, and his untiring industry, made him a most formidable antagonist. To say that his unlimited self-confidence, which not unfrequently made him arrogant and overbearingat least, in appearance-assisted him in the work which he had before him, would be to insult the independent common sense of the people he addressed. Mr. Douglas entered into an exposition and defense of his principles and policy with the bearing of a man who had already conquered. His long and uninterrupted success had made him restive under inquisition, impatient of dispute, and defiant of opposition.

On the day following the speech of Mr. Douglas, Mr. Lincoln, who had listened to him, replied, and Mr. Douglas was among his auditors. The speech delivered on this occasion was one of the most powerful and eloquent efforts of his life. Mr. Lincoln began by saying that he wished to present nothing to the people but the truth, to which they were certainly entitled, and that, if Judge Douglas should detect him in saying anything untrue, he (Judge Douglas) would correct him. Mr. Douglas took license from this remark to interrupt him constantly, with the most unimportant questions, and in such a way as to show Mr. Lincoln that his only motive was to break him down. Finally, the speaker lost his patience, and said, "Gentlemen, I cannot afford to spend my time in quibbles. I take the responsibility of asserting the truth myself, relieving Judge Douglas from the necessity of his impertinent corrections." From this point, he was permitted to proceed uninterruptedly, until a speech occupying three hours and ten minutes was concluded. No report of this speech was made, and no judgment can be formed of it, except such as can be made up from the cotemporary newspaper accounts, the recollections of those who heard it, and its effect upon the politics of the state. The enthusiasm of the party press was unbounded, and was manifestly genuine. The Kansas-Nebraska bill was the subject of debate; and his exposure of its fallacies and iniquities was declared to be overwhelming. His whole heart was in his words. The Springfield Journal, in describing the speech and the occasion, says: "He quivered with feeling and emotion. The whole house was as still as death. He attacked the bill with unusual warmth and energy, and all felt that a man of strength was its enemy, and that he intended to blast it if he could by strong and manly efforts. He was most successful; and the house approved the glorious triumph of truth by loud and longcontinued huzzas. Women waved their white handkerchiefs in token of woman's silent but heartfelt consent. * Mr. Lincoln exhibited Douglas in all the attitudes he could be placed in in a friendly debate. He exhibited the bill in all its

aspects, to show its humbuggery and falsehoods, and when thus torn to rags, cut into slips, held up to the gaze of the vast crowd, a kind of scorn was visible upon the face of the crowd and upon the lips of the most eloquent speaker." The editor, in concluding his account, says: "At the conclusion of the speech, every man felt that it was unanswerable that no human power could overthrow it, or trample it under foot. The long and repeated applause evinced the feelings of the crowd, and gave token of universal assent to Lincoln's whole argument; and every mind present did homage to the man who took captive the heart, and broke like a sun over the understanding."

The account of this speech in the Chicago Press and Tribune was not less enthusiastic in its praise, than the journal just quoted. After stating that, within the limits of a newspaper article, it would be impossible to give an idea of the strength of Mr. Lincoln's argument, and that it was by far the ablest effort of the campaign, he quotes the following passage directly from the speech, as remarkable in its power upon the audience: "My distinguished friend says it is an insult to the emigrants to Kansas and Nebraska to suppose they are not able to govern themselves. We must not slur over an argument of this kind because it happens to tickle the ear. It must be met and answered. I admit that the emigrant to Kansas and Nebraska is competent to govern himself, but (the speaker rising to his full hight,) I deny his right to govern any other person without that person's consent." That touched the very marrow of the matter, and revealed the whole difference between him and Douglas. The crowd understood it. They saw through the iniquity of "popular sovereignty," and the Kansas-Nebraska bill, and the applause which followed showed their appreciation of the clearness and thoroughness with which the speaker had exposed it.

When Mr. Lincoln concluded his speech, Mr. Douglas hastily took the stand, and said that he had been abused, "though in a perfectly courteous manner." He spoke until the adjournment of the meeting for supper, but touched only

slightly upon the great questions which Mr. Lincoln had handled with so much power. That he felt his effort to be a failure, is evident from subsequent events soon to be recounted. Before closing, he insisted on his right to resume his speech in the evening, but when evening came he did not resume, and did not choose to resume. The speech was never concluded. The next meeting between the two party champions took place at Peoria, though not by pre-arrangement. Mr. Lincoln followed Mr. Douglas to Peoria, and challenged him there, as he had done at Springfield. At Peoria, Mr. Lincoln's triumph was even more marked than at Springfield, for his antagonist had lost something of his assurance. was a wounded and weakened man, indeed. He had become conscious that he was not invulnerable. He had been a witness of Mr. Lincoln's power over the people; and it is quite possible that his faith in his own position had been shaken. It was noticed at Peoria that his manner was much modified, and that he betrayed a lack of confidence in himself, not at all usual with him. Here, as at Springfield, Mr. Lincoln occupied more than three hours in the delivery of his speech, and it came down upon Mr. Douglas so crushingly that the doughty debater did not even undertake to reply to it.


It is to be remembered that Mr. Lincoln, in his political speeches, resorted to none of the tricks common among what are called stump speakers. He was thoroughly in earnest and always closely argumentative. If he told stories, it was not to amuse a crowd, but to illustrate a point. The real questions at issue engaged his entire attention, and he never undertook to raise a false issue or to dodge a real one. Indeed, he seemed incapable of the tricks so often resorted to for the discomfiture of an opponent. Fortunately, the Peoria speech was reported, and we have an opportunity of forming an intelligent judgment of its character and its power. One passage will suffice to illustrate both. Mr. Douglas had urged that the people of Illinois had no interest in the question of slavery in the territories that it concerned only the people of the territories. This was in accordance with his own feeling, when he declared

« PreviousContinue »