Page images
PDF
EPUB

lar sovereignty;' but never a man among you in favor of federal prohibition of slavery in federal territories, according to the practice of our fathers who framed the government under which we live. Not one of all your various plans can show a precedent or an advocate in the century within which our government originated. Consider, then, whether your claim of conservatism for yourselves, and your charge of destructiveness against us, are based on the most clear and stable foundations.

“ Again, you say we have made the slavery question more prominent than it formerly was. We deny it. We admit that it is more prominent, but we deny that we made it so. It was not we, but you, who discarded the old policy of the fathers. We resisted, and still resist, your innovation; and thence comes the greater prominence of the question. Would you have that question reduced to its former proportions? Go back to that old policy. What has been will be again, under the same conditions. If you would have the peace of the old times, re-adopt the precepts and policy of the old times.”

Alluding to their threats to break up the Union if slavery should be shut out of the territories, he said:

“In that supposed event, you say you will destroy the Union; and then you say the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A ighwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth: Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!' To be sure, what the robber demanded of memy money-was my own; and I had a clear right to keep it; but it was no more my own than my vote is my own; and threat of death to me to extort my money, and threat of destruction to the Union to extort my vote, can scarcely be distinguished in principle."

Certainly this illustration disposed of the whole question as to who would be responsible for the destruction of the Union, under the circumstances stated.

His words to the republicans were words of profoundest wisdom. He told them that nothing would satisfy the South but to cease calling slavery wrong, and to join with them in calling it right, and to do it thoroughly by acts as well as words. “We must arrest and return their slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our free state constitutions. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all

their troubles proceed from us.”

proceed from us." He continued: “I am quite aware they do not state their case precisely in this way. Most of them would probably say to us, 'let us alone, do nothing to us, and say what you please about slavery.' But we do let them alone-have never disturbed them so that, after all, it is what we say that dissatisfies them. They will continue to accuse us of doing until we cease saying.” After saying that we could not consistently deny the South in its most extreme demands, on any ground except the wrong of slavery, he put the case forcibly, as follows: “If slavery is right, all words, acts, laws and constitutions against it are themselves wrong, and should be silenced and swept away. If it is right, we cannot justly object to its nationality—its universality; if it is wrong, they cannot justly insist upon its extension, its enlargement. All they ask, we could readily grant if we thought slavery right; all we ask they could as readily grant if they thought slavery wrong. Their thinking it right and our thinking it wrong is the precise fact upon which depends the whole controversy.” The closing paragraph is equally remarkable for its wit and wisdom—its pith and patriotism:

“ Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the national territories, and to overrun us here in these free states? If our sense of duty forbids this, then let us stand by our duty, fearlessly and effectively. Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored-contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man—such as a policy of don't care' on a question about which all true men do care-such as Union appeals beseeching true Union men to yield to disunionists, reversing the divine rule, and calling not the sinners, but the righteous to repentance-such as invocations to Washington, imploring men to unsay what Washington said, and undo what Washington did. Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government, nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty, as we understand it.” The speech was, in the popular acceptation of the phrase, a great success. Through all his passages of close and crowded reasoning, his audience followed him with an interest that produced the profoundest silence, and at every triumphant establishment of a point broke out into sudden and hearty applause. Those who came from motives of curiosity went away thoughtful. Many who had entered the hall in doubt as to their duty, went away with their path bright before them. Most of all were the New York politicians affected; and it is not to be doubted that the impressions of that evening left them convinced that if Mr. Seward, the man of their choice, should be set aside, as the republican candidate for the presidency, Mr. Lincoln, the favorite of the West, would be abundantly, worthy of their support.

At the conclusion of the speech, a few friends took the speaker to the rooms of the Atheneum Club for supper. Mr. Lincoln appreciated his success, and was in good humor over it. He was as happy at the table as he was upon the platform-full of good humor, and abounding with jokes and pleasant stories. Throwing off all reserve, and opening his heart like a boy, he talked long and late; and when he parted with his friends for the night they were as much charmed with the man as they had been instructed by his speech and entertained by his conversatiom

The papers of the city were full of his address and with comments upon it the next day. The Illinois lawyer was a lion. Critics read the speech, and marveled at its pure and compact English, its felicity of statement and its faultless logic. It was read during the day not only by New York but by nearly all New England.

After the specch, he spent several days in New York, familiarizing himself with its wonders. Some of his explorations he made alone, and on one occasion found his way into the Sunday School of the Five Points Mission. The superintendent noticing his look of interest in the proceedings, invited him to speak to the children. His remarks interested his young audience so much that on every attempt to stop they

name,

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

cried out “go on, oh! do go on!” Nore knew who he was, and as he turned to depart, the superintendent inquired his

“ Abraham Lincoln of Illinois," was the answer. Invitations were received by Mr. Lincoln from many places in New England, to speak on political questions. On the fifth of March, he spoke at Hartford, in the city hall, and was escorted to the hall by the first company of“ Wide-Awakes" ever organized in the country. This organization became universal throughout the free states, but was intended only for campaign service. He had an immense audience in Hartford, and produced a powerful impression. On the following day he was waited upon by a number of prominent citizens, and visited several objects of interest in the city, among which were the armories of Colt and Sharp. On the sixth of March, he spoke at New Haven, at Meriden on the seventh, at Woonsocket, Rhode Island, on the eighth, at Norwich, Connecticut, on the ninth, and at Bridgeport on the tenth. His speaking was always to immense audiences. Connecticut was that year carried by the republicans by about five hundred majority, against the most powerful efforts of the democrats--a fact which was due more to the speeches of Mr. Lincoln than to any other cause.

Some very interesting reminiscences of this trip were communicated to the public in 1864, by Rev. John P. Gulliver of Norwich, who listened to his address in that city.* On the morning following the speech, he met Mr. Lincoln upon a train of cars, and' entered into conversation with him. In speaking of his speech, Mr. Gulliver remarked to Mr. Lincoln that he thought it the most remarkable one he ever heard. “Are you sincere in what you say?" inquired Mr. Lincoln. “I mean every word of it,” replied the minister. “Indeed, sir,” he continued, “I learned more of the art of public speaking last evening than I could from a whole course of lectures on rhet, oric.” Then Mr. Lincoln informed him of “a most extraordinary circumstance” that occurred at New Haven a few days previously. A professor of rhetoric in Yale College, he had

* New York Independent of September 1, 1864.

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

been told, came to hear him, took notes of his speech, and gave a lecture on it to his class the following day; and, not satisfied with that, followed him to Meriden the next evening, and heard him again for the same purpose. All this seemed to Mr. Lincoln to be “very extraordinary." He had been sufficiently astonished by his success at the West, but he had no expectation of any marked success at the East, particularly among literary and learned men. “Now," said Mr. Lincoln, “I should like very much to know what it was in my speech which you thought so remarkable, and which interested my friend the professor so much?” Mr. Gulliver's answer was: “The clearness of your statements, the unanswerable style of your reasoning, and, especially, your illustrations, which were romance and pathos and fun and logic all welded together.”

After Mr. Gulliver had fully satisfied his curiosity by a further exposition of the politician's peculiar power, Mr. Lincoln said, “I am much obliged to you for this. I have been wishing for a long time to find some one who would make this analysis for me. It throws light on a subject which has been dark to me. I can understand very readily how such a power as you have ascribed to me will account for the effect which seems to be produced by my speeches. I hope you have not been too flattering in your estimate. Certainly I have had a most wonderful success for a man of

my

limited education.” Then Mr. Gulliver inquired into the processes by which he had acquired his education, and was rewarded with many interesting details. When they were about to part, the minister said: “Mr. Lincoln, may I say one thing to you before we separate?” “Certainly; anything you please,” was the response. “You have just spoken,” said Mr. Gulliver, “ of the tendency of politioal life in Washington to debase the moral convictions of our representatives there, by the admixture of considerations of mere political expediency. You have become, by the controversy with Mr. Douglas, one of our leaders in this great struggle with slavery, which is undoubtedly the struggle of the nation and the age. What I would like to say is this, and I say it with a full heart: Be

« PreviousContinue »