Page images
PDF
EPUB

house, and, on making some remarks that were offensive to certain political rowdies in the crowd, they cried : “take him off the stand.” Immediate confusion ensued, and there was an attempt to carry the demand into execution. Directly over the speaker's head was an old scuttle, at which it appeared Mr. Lincoln had been listening to the speech. In an instant, Mr. Lincoln's feet came through the scuttle, followed by his tall and sinewy frame, and he was standing by Colonel Baker's side. He raised his hand, and the assembly subsided immediately into silence. “Gentlemen,” said Mr. Lincoln, " let us not disgrace the age and country in which we live. This is a land where freedom of speech is guarantied. Mr. Baker has a right to speak, and ought to be permitted to do 80. I am here to protect him, and no man shall take him from this stand if I can prevent it.” The suddenness of his appearance, his perfect calmness and fairness, and the knowledge that he would do what he had promised to do, quieted all disturbance, and the speaker concluded his remarks without difficulty.

Mr. Lincoln has already been spoken of as a strong party man, and his thorough devotion to his party, on some occasions, though very rarely, led him into hasty expressions and hasty actions, quite out of harmony with his usual self-poise and good nature. A scene occurred in the room occupied by Mr. Lincoln and his particular friend, Judge Davis, at Paris, on one occasion, which illustrates this. There was present, as a visitor, a young lawyer of the name of Constable, a gentleman of fine abilities, and at present a judge of the circuit court. Mr. Constable was a whig, but had probably been disappointed in some of his political aspirations, and did not feel that the party had treated him fairly. He was in the habit of speaking disparagingly of the policy of the party in the treatment of its own friends, and particularly of its young men, especially when he found whig leaders to listen to him. On this occasion he charged the party with being “old fogyish,” and indifferent to rising men, while the democratic party was lauded for the contrast which it presented in this particular. Mr. Lincoln felt the charge as keenly as if it had been a personal one. Indeed, his own experience disproved the whole statement. Constable went on, and charged the whig party with ingratitude and neglect in his own case. Mr. Lincoln stood with his coat off, shaving himself before his glass He had heard the charges without saying a word, but when Mr. Constable alluded to himself, as having been badly treated, he turned fiercely upon him, and said, “Mr. Constable, I understand you perfectly, and have noticed for some time back that you have been slowly and cautiously picking your way over to the democratic party." Both men were angry, and it required the efforts of all the others present to keep them from fighting. Mr. Lincoln seemed for a time, as one of the spectators of the scene remarks, to be “terribly willing.” Such instances as this have been very rare in Mr. Lincoln's life, and the fact that he was susceptible to the influence of such motives renders his notorious equanimity of temper all the more creditable to him. The matter was adjusted between him and Mr. Constable, and, not long afterwards, the latter justified Mr. Lincoln's interpretation of his motives, and was numbered among the democrats.

CHAPTER IX.

The political biographers of Mr. Lincoln have stated that in 1846 he was "induced to accept the nomination for Congress from the Sangamon district. It has already been seen that he had aspirations for this place; and it is quite as well to adopt Mír. Lincoln's own frankness and directness, and say that the tepresentatives of his wishes secured the nomination for him. As a party man, he had well earned any honor in the power of his party to bestow. As a man and a politician, his character was so sound and so truly noble that his nomination and election to Congress would be quite as honorable to his district as to him.

Having received the nomination, Mr. Lincoln did after the manner of Western nominees and “stumped” his district. He had abundant material for discussion. During the winter of 1845, Texas was admitted to the Union, and the war with Mexico was commenced. The tariff of 1812, constructed in accordance with the policy of the whig party, had been repealed. The country had a foreign war on its hands—a war which the whigs believed to have been unnecessarily begun, and unjustifiably carried on. It had received into the Union a new member in the interest of slavery. It had been greatly disturbed in its industrial interests by the subversion of the protective policy. The issues between the two parties then in the political field were positive and well defined. Mr. Lincoln's position on all the principal points at issue was that of the whig party, and the party had no reason to be ashamed of its western champion.

The eminent popularity of Mr. Lincoln in his own district was shown by the majority he received over that which it had given to Mr. Clay. Although he had made Mr. Clay's cause his own, and had advocated his clection with an enthusiasm which no personal object could have excited in him, he received in his district a majority of one thousand five hundred and eleven votes to the nine hundred and fourteen majority which the district had given Mr. Clay in 1811. He undoubtedly was supported, by more than the strength of his party, for his majority was unprecedented in the district, and has since had no parallel. It was not reached, on a much larger vote, by General Taylor in 1818. There is no question that this remarkable majority was the result of the popular faith in Mr. Lincoln's earnestness, conscientiousness and integrity.

He took his seat in the thirtieth Congress, December 6th, 1817, and was from the first entirely at home. He was no novice in politics or legislation. To the latter he had served a thorough apprenticeship in the Illinois legislature. To the study and discussion of the former, he had devoted perhaps the severest efforts of his life. He understood every phase of the great questions which agitated Congress and divided the people. Unlike many politicians who engage in the harangues of a political canvass, he had made himself the master of the subjects he discussed. He had been a debater, and not a declaimer. He had entertained a deeper interest in questions of public concern than he had felt in his own election; and he was at once recognized as the peer of his associates in the House. He derived considerable prominence from the fact that he was the only whig member from Illinois, a fact almost entirely due to his own presence and influence in the district which elected him.

It is noticeable here that Stephen A. Douglas took his seat in the Senate of the United States during this same session. They met first as representatives in the Illinois legislature, Mr. Douglas was the younger, the more adroit, the swifter in a political race. He had had with him the large democratic majority of the state, and had moulded it to his purposes. He had taken a step-perhaps many steps--in advance of Mr. Lincoln; but it seemed destined that the tallest man in the House and the shortest man in the Senate should keep in sight of each other, until the time should come when they should stand out before their own state and the country as the champions respectively of the antagonistic principles and policies which divided the American people.

It is interesting, at the close of a great rebellion, undertaken on behalf of slavery, to look back to this Congress, and see how, in the interests and associations of the old whig party, those men worked in harmony who have since been, or who, if they had lived would have been, so widely separated in feeling and action. John Quincy Adams voted on most questions with Robert Toombs; George Ashmun, afterwards president of the convention that nominated Mr. Lincoln for the presidency, with Alexander H. Stephens, afterwards vicepresident of the Southern Confederacy; Jacob Collamer with Thomas Butler King, and Samuel F. Vinton with Henry W. Hilliard. History must record that the Mexican war was undertaken in the interest of human slavery; yet, touching the questions arising out of this war, and questions directly associated with or bearing upon it, these men of the old whig party acted together. The slaveholder then yielded to party what he has since denied to patriotism, and the patriot abandoned a party which held out to him a constant temptation to complicity with slavery.

Mr. Polk, at that time the President of the United States, was evidently anxious to justify the war which he had commenced against Mexico, and to vindicate his own action before the American people, if not before his own judgment and conscience. His messages to Congress were burdened with this effort; and Mr. Lincoln had hardly become wonted to his seat when he made an unsuccessful effort to bring the President to a statement of facts, upon which Congress and the country might either verify or falsify his broad and general asseverations. On

« PreviousContinue »