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candidates had met at Springfield, as is the custom in the western states, for a public discussion of the questions involved in the canvass; and a large number of citizens had gathered in the Court House to hear the speeches. Ninian W. Edwards, then a whig, led off, and was followed by Dr. Early, a sharp debater and a representative man among the democrats. Early bore down very heavily upon Edwards80 much so that the latter wanted the opportunity for an immediate rejoinder, but Lincoln took his turn upon the platform. Embarrassed at first, and speaking slowly, he began to lay down and fix his propositions. His auditors followed him with breathless attention, and saw him inclose his adversary in a wall of fact, and then weave over him a network of deductions so logically tight in all its meshes, that there was no escape for the victim.
He forgot himself entirely, as he grew warm at his work. His audience applauded, and with ridicule and wit he riddled the man whom he had made helpless. Men who remember the speech allude particularly to the transformation which it wrought in Mr. Lincoln's appearance. The homely man was majestic, the plain, good-natured face was full of expression, the long, bent figure was straight as an arrow, and the kind and dreamy eyes flashed with the fire of true inspiration. His reputation was made, and from that day to the day of his death, he was recognized in Illinois as one of the most powerful orators in the state.
The Sangamon County delegation, consisting of nine representatives, was so remarkable for the physical altitude of its members that they were known as “The Long Nine.” Not a man of the number was less than six feet high, and Lincoln was the tallest of the nine, as he was the leading man intellectually, in and out of the House. Among those who composed the House, were General John A. McClernand, afterwards a member of Congress, Jesse K. Dubois, afterwards auditor of the state; James Semple, the speaker of this and the previous House, and subsequently United States Senator; Robert Smith, afterwards member of Congress; John Hogan, at present a member of Congress from St. Louis; General James Shields, afterwards United States Senator; John Dement, who has since been treasurer of the state; Stephen A. Douglas, whose subsequent public career is familiar to all ; Newton Cloud, president of the convention which framed the present state constitution of Illinois; John J. Hardin, who fell at Buena Vista; John Moore, afterwards Lieutenant Governor of the state; William A. Richardson, subsequently United States Senator, and William McMurtny, who has since been Lieutenant Governor of the state. This list does not embrace all who had then, or who have since been distinguished, but it is large enough to show that Lincoln was, during the term of this legislature, thrown into association and often into antagonism with the brightest men of the new state. It is enough, with this fact in mind, to say that he was by them and by the people regarded as one of the leading men in the House.
The principal measure with this legislature was the adoption of a general system of public improvements. It was a great object with the special friends of this measure to secure che co-operation and support of the two senators and nine representatives from Sangamon County, but they firmly refused to support the measure, unless the removal of the capital from Vandalia to Springfield was made a part of the proposed system. So the measure for this removal passed through its various stages in company with the internal improvement bill, and both were enacted on the same day. The measure which thus changed the location of the capital of the state to Springfield, brought great popularity to the members from Sangamon, at least in their own home, and especially to Mr. Lincoln, who was put forward on all occasions to do the important work in securing it. When it is remembered that he had achieved his position before the people and among the leading men of the state at the early age of twenty-seven, it must be admitted that the disadvantages under which he had labored had not hindered him from doing what the best educated and most favored would have been proud to do.
It was at this session that Mr. Lincoln met Stephen A.
Douglas for the first time. Mr. Douglas was then only twenty-three years old, and was the youngest man in the House. Mr. Lincoln, in speaking of the fact subsequently, said that Douglas was then “the least man he ever saw.' He was not only very short but very slender. The two young men, who commenced their intellectual and political sparring during the session, could hardly have foreseen the struggle in which they were to engage in after years- -a struggle which foreshadowed and even laid the basis of an epoch in the national history, and in the history of freedom and progress throughout the world.
This session of the legislature was notable for its connection with the beginning of Mr. Lincoln's anti-slavery history. It was at Vandalia, at this time, that Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Douglas marked out the course in which they were to walkone to disappointment and a grave of unsatisfied hopes and baffled ambitions, the other to the realization of his highest dreams of achievement and renown, and a martyrdom that crowns his memory with an undying glory.
Illinois contained many immigrants from the border slave states. Its territory was joined to two of them; and there was a strong desire to live in harmony with neighbors quick to anger and resentment, and sensitive touching their "peculiar institution.” The prevailing sentiment in the state was in favor of slavery, or in favor of slaveholders in the exercise of their legal and constitutional rights. There were, in fact, a few hundred slaves living in the state at that time, as appears by the census tables, but by what law is not apparent. The democratic party was unanimously pro-slavery, and whatever there may have been of anti-slavery sentiment among the whigs was practically of little account. The abolitionist was hated and despised by both parties alike, and the whigs deprecated and disowned the title with indignation. There was doubtless some anti-slavery sentiment among the whigs, but it was weak and timid. Both parties were strong in their professed regard for the Constitution, and neither party doubted that the Constitution protected the institution of American Slavery.
The agitation of the slavery question was just beginning to create uneasiness among slaveholders and politicians; and during the winter the subject was broached in the legislature. Resolutions were introduced of an extreme pro-slavery character, and the attempt was made to fix the stigma of abolitionism upon all who did not indorse them. They were carried through by the large democratic majority, and the opposition to them was weak in numbers and weaker still in its positions. We can judge something of its weakness when we learn that only two men among all the whig members were found willing to subscribe to a protest against these resolutions. Abraham Lincoln and Dan Stone,“ representatives from the County of Sangamon," entered upon the Journal of the House their reasons for refusing to vote for these offensive resolutions, and they were the only men in the state who had the manliness to do it. The points of the protest were these : that while “the Congress of the United States has no power under the Constitution to interfere with the institution of slavery in the different states," and that while “the promulgation of abolition doctrines tends rather to increase than abate its evils,” still, the “institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy,” and Congress " has the power, under the Constitution, to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia.” The latter proposition was qualified by the statement that this power u ought not to be exercised unless at the request of the people of said District.” Certainly this protest was a moderate one, and we may judge by it something of the character of the resolutions which compelled its utterance. We may judge something also of the low grade of anti-slavery sentiment in the whig party at that time, when only two men could be found to sign so moderate and guarded a document as this. Still, the refusal to sign may have been a matter of policy, for which a good reason could be given. It was something, however, for two men to stand out, and protest that slavery was a moral and political evil, over which Congress had power upon the national territory. It was the beginning of Mr. Lincoln's anti-slavery record, and modest and moderate as it was, and much as Mr. Lincoln afterwards accomplished for the abolition of slavery, he never became more extreme in his views than the words of this protest indicate. He never ceased to believe that Congress had no power under the Constitution to interfere with slavery in the different states. He never thought worse of slavery than that it was founded in injustice and bad policy. He never changed his belief touching the power of Congress over the institution of slavery in territory under the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States. This little protest, entered into with his brother representative, Dan Stone, was the outline of the platform upon which he stood, and fought out the great anti-slavery battle whose trophies were four million freedmen, and a nation redeemed to justice and humanity.
In the meantime, Mr. Lincoln had made no money. He had walked his hundred miles to Vandalia in 1836, as he did in 1834, and when the session closed he walked home again, A gentleman in Menard County remembers meeting him and a detachment of “The Long Nine” on their way home. They were all mounted except Lincoln, who had thus far kept up with them on foot. If he had money, he was hoarding it for more important purposes than that of saving leg-weariness and leather. The weather was raw, and Lincoln's clothing was none of the warmest. Complaining of being cold to one of his companions, this irreverent member of “The Long Nine” told his future President that it was no wonder he was cold—“there was so much of him on the ground.” None of the party appreciated this homely joke at the expense of his feet (they were doubtless able to bear it) more thoroughly than Lincoln himself. We can imagine the cross-fires of wit and humor by which the way was enlivened during this cold and tedious journey. The scene was certainly a rude one, and seems more like a dream than a reality, when we remember that it occurred less than thirty years ago, in a state which now contains hardly less than a million and a half of people and three thousand miles of railway.