Page images
PDF
EPUB

benefit of white people; that the declaration in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are born free and equal" only meant that British subjects in the colonies were equal in their rights with British subjects in England; that the decision in the Dred Scott case was the supreme law, and as such must be respected and obeyed by all good citizens; and denounced the Republicans as being favorable to the admixture of the white and black races.

Mr. Lincoln replied the following day. The Springfield Journal thus pictures the scene: “He quivered with feeling and emotion. The whole house was still as death. He attacked the Senator's Kansas-Nebraska Bill with 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 his strong and manly efforts. He was most successful, and the house approved the glorious triumph of truth by loud and long-continued huzzas. He exhibited the bill in all its aspects, to show its humbuggery and falsehood; and when thus torn to tatters and held up to the vast crowd, a kind of scorn was visible upon the face of the crowd and upon the lips of the eloquent speaker. . At the conclusion of the speech,

POPULAR SOVEREIGNTY.

73

every man felt that it was unanswerable; that no human power could overthrow it or trample it under fuot.”

As a specimen passage from this argument, the following may be quoted : “My distinguished friend says it is an insult to the emigrants to Kansas and Nebraska to suppose that 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 height) I DENY HIS RIGHT TO GOVERN ANY OTHER PERSON WITHOUT THAT PERSON'S CONSENT.”

Never was sophistry more hopelessly impaled than was Mr. Douglas's “great principle" by that one sharp and luminous sentence.

The next discussion was held, a few days after, at Peoria. Mr. Lincoln's triumph here was even more signal than at Springfield. One of his happy rejoinders was as follows: “In the course of my main argument, Judge Douglas interrupted me to say that the principle of the Nebraska Bill was very old ; that it originated when God made m:an, and placed good and evil before

a

him, allowing him to choose for himself, being responsible for the choice he should make. At the time I thought that this was merely playful, and I answered it accordingly; bụt in his reply to me he renewed it as a serious argument. In seriousness, then, the facts of his proposition are not true, as stated. God did not place good and evil before man, telling him to make his choice. On the contrary, he did tell him there was one tree of the fruit of which, if he ate, he should surely die. I could scarcely wish so strong a prohibition of slavery in Nebraska.”

In 1858 occurred the most memorable politi. cal canvass, at a State election, that the country has ever witnessed. Mr. Douglas's term of office as United States Senator was about to expire, and it would devolve upon the Legislature of the State to be chosen at that election to appoint his successor. The Democratic Convention which assembled to nominate State officers also named Mr. Douglas as their choice for Senator, and the Republicans, following their example, nominated Abraham Lincoln. Douglas received, soon after, a challenge from Lincoln to canvass the State in friendly public discussions. They accordingly met and debated the questions at

DEFEAT AS CANDIDATE.

75

issue before immense audiences in various parts of the State. The manner in which Mr. Lincoln acquitted himself in these debates may be judged by the fact that they were collected and published in full, giving Mr. Douglas's speeches without abridgment, by the Republicans in other States, and circulated free as campaign documents.

The result of this campaign was that the Republicans carried the State by about five thousand majority, but a large number of Democratic legislators who had been elected the previous year held their offices at the next session, and were sufficient to overcome Mr. Lincoln's gain and reëlect Mr. Douglas. But such was the enthusiasm aroused for the defeated aspirant, that he was immediately named ir various parts of the North as the Republican candidate for the Presidency in 1860—rather a remarkable result for a defeated politician.

Mr. Douglas was as able a political debater as our country has produced. He had not the breadth and stateliness of Webster, nor the finish and brilliance of Clay, but in readiness, audacity, compression of style, and in dauntless courage he had no superior. He lacked nothing to place him among the first of American orators and statesmen, except that high moral principle which prefers truth and right to every inferior consideration. He accomplished much for the material prosperity of his State, and for the temporary triumphs of his party. He exhibited on many occasions the elements of profound statesmanship and far-reaching forecast; and had the American people been dealing with questions of material interest merely, his reputation would be different from what it now is. But the issues contested before the people directly involved the laws of God concerning the rights of man. With all his sagacity and knowledge he did not know that those laws are far mightier than the ablest inventions of man, and that they would vindicate themselves to the defeat and shame of any man or party who undertook to trample them beneath their feet. Mr. Lincoln did most thoroughly understand this great truth. He sought footing on those resistless moral forces, God's laws, and by them, not by his own intellectual powers, was carried forward over prostrate opposition to enduring triumph. On the contrary, Mr. Douglas, with all his rare intellectual gifts, his wide influence, his

« PreviousContinue »