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of Christian patriotism, combined to produce in that sunny Southland a people naturally high-minded and purposeful.
But the head that rested in the lap of the Delilah of ease and luxury was shorn of the locks of its strength, and slavery conspired with the Philistines of avarice and pride to pluck out the eyes of this Samson of the new world. Blinded to the high ideals of their noble forebears those chosen custodians of freedom became the proponents of slavery, and the hand that should have wielded the sword of chivalry in defense of the weak, wielded the lash of the taskmaster and riveted more tightly upon the limbs of men made in the image of God the galling fetters of cruel bondage. The wealth that should have sent the gospel to the heathen was expended in equipping vessels to plow the seas to capture them for slaves. This traffic attained such proportions “that not less than half a million slaves were imported direct from Africa and sold in this country after the slave trade had been declared piracy by law and by treaty with all civilized nations.” And to such an extent did the virus of avarice enter into cavalier blood that during all the years of that inhuman piracy “but one slave pirate was ever convicted and hanged in the United States." The record runs that on February 28th, 1862, nearly one year after Lincoln's first inauguration as President, Captain Nathaniel Gordon was executed in New York City, the first and only case of the conviction and punishment of one engaged in the African slave trade.
In November, 1853, the Southern Standard remarked: "We can not only preserve domestic servitude, but can defy the power of the world. With firmness and judgment we can open up the African Slave immigration again, and people this noble region of the tropics."
In 1857, only three years before Lincoln was elected President, DeBeau's Southern Review stated "that forty slavers were annually fitted out in the ports of New York and the east, and that the traffic yielded their owners an annual net profit of seventeen million dollars." This statement shows at once the motive for which slavery and the slave trade were clung to with such tenacity, and the depth of infamy to which a great wrong like slavery will inevitably sink even the best people if they become identified with it.
“The New York Evening Post published a list of names of 85 vessels, fitted out in the port of New York between the first of February, 1859, and the 15th of July, 1860, for the African Slave trade.
"The New York Leader, at that time a Tammany paper, asserted 'that an average of two vessels each week cleared out of our harbor bound for Africa and a human cargo.'
“The New York World declared that ‘from thirty to sixty thousand slaves a year, under the American flag, are taken from Africa, by vessels from the single port of New York.'
“A yacht called the Wanderer ran into a harbor near Brunswick, Georgia, in broad daylight, in December, 1858, and landed a human cargo of some three hundred or more slaves direct from Africa. This fact was duly chronicled at the time in the Southern newspapers, and some of the blacks were dressed up in flaming toggery and driven in carriages through the public streets, as a menace and defiance to the National Government."
Such was the monster which confronted Lincoln at every step, and crouched for deadly combat when he crossed the threshold of the White House.
According to his unequivocal declarations, Mr. Lincoln during all his life was
STRONGLY OPPOSED TO SLAVERY
On the 4th of April, 1864, during the fourth year of his Presidency and while his enemies were furiously opposing his renomination, in a letter to A. G. Hodges he stated that he was "naturally antislavery," and that he could not remember
2 Address of Hon. J. M. Ashley, Toledo, Ohio, June 2nd, 1890, pp. 18-19.
the time when he did not "think and feel" that slavery was wrong. These statements are in full accord with the record of his life. By no word nor act of which we have any knowledge did he ever contradict or to any degree weaken the meaning or force of those very strong declarations against slavery. His first known utterance upon the subject still quivers like forked lightning upon the horizon of that day in 1831, when he was but twenty-two years old, and stood transfixed by the horrors of a slave auction in the city of New Orleans.
On the 3rd of March, 1837, when Lincoln was twentyeight years old and a member of the Illinois Assembly, he joined with Dan Stone, a fellow member, in a protest against some pro-slavery resolutions which had recently been adopted by that body. In that protest it is declared "that the institution of slavery is founded on injustice and bad policy."
In the opinion of W. E. Curtis, as stated by Nicolay and Hay, this protest was "the first formal declaration against the system of slavery that was ever made in any legislative body in the United States, at least west of the Hudson River." 4
This statement by Mr. Curtis is important in that it shows Mr. Lincoln to be a leader rather than one who followed in the wake of others. Slavery was not at that time an issue before the people, and had been forced upon his attention by the action of the Assembly of which he was a member in its denunciation of antislavery organizations and teachings. His sense of honor required him to express his convictions relative to the subject and, notwithstanding his youth and lack of experience, he did so by the unusual method of a written protest entered upon the journal of the Assembly, and thus made a matter of public record. From the hour he stood before the auction block at New Orleans until he delivered his second inaugural address, Mr. Lincoln's opinion of the character of slavery underwent no essential change.
3 Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol. I., p. 51. 4 Ibid., p. 53.
There were many changes in his conviction respecting methods of dealing with slavery, but there was no retreat from the decision that slavery was wrong; and with him that verdict could never be reversed.
Wesley's characterization of slavery as “the sum of all villainies” was the keynote of the antislavery movement until Lincoln, in his letter of April 4th, 1864, to A. G. Hodges, said: “If slavery is not wrong nothing is wrong.” When that famous aphorism rang out upon the air the thinking world paused and seemed to look up in expectation of beholding an angelic figure sweeping through the heavens with a flaming sword ready to execute divine judgments. Instantly hosts of patriots joined in the new inspiring battle-cry and shouted Lincoln's burning words beside the blazing watchfires of "a hundred circling camps," and throughout all the loyal regions of the nation. By the anxious members of the Union Soldier's family at their evening hour of prayer, by the ministers of God in the sanctuary of worship, in political meetings of the Union party, in caucuses and conventions throughout the loyal states; in lyceum lectures and in the debates in Congress, those words of Lincoln were repeated until they became a new confession of religio-political faith for the nation.
My participation in the political struggles of those momentous months enabled me to realize something of the tremendous potency of that unequivocal characterization of an institution which at that time was filling the land with anguish and woe.
At close range I saw the patriot's eye shine with a brighter luster as he read or listened to those words. I saw the marching legions close their ranks because of the assurance that the period of vacillation and uncertainty was forever passed and that slavery was doomed to swift and certain destruction.
I heard “The Battle-cry of Freedom” sung with increased fervor after that declaration of Lincoln was published throughout the nation; a declaration which seemed to have been written by a celestial messenger in letters of living light upon the dark clouds that hung above the field of battle.
Some writers who were not in touch with the loyal masses during those years, as it was my great privilege constantly to be, have failed to note the tremendous influence upon the people of that very striking statement of President Lincoln respecting the character of slavery; and I have failed to find in the history of those times any mention of the prominence given to it in the final debates in Congress upon the constitutional amendment abolishing slavery. Those debates were of greater strength and spirit than were the discussions of that measure in the senate and house of representatives during the preceding session of Congress. My own literary work in connection with those final debates began with the critical review of the first speech upon that measure, previous to its delivery in the House. I approached that work with mind alert and nerves at high tension, for I believed, as did the distinguished author of that speech, that on the final vote the amendment would be adopted. As I sat at night alone perusing the manuscript my blood tingled when glancing at the page before me I discovered that the first sentence was President's Lincoln's characterization of slavery; and as I proceeded with the work of examination I discovered that the distinguishing features of that able speech were cast in the mold of that famous saying. On the 6th of January, 1865, after preliminary motions had been acted upon, Speaker Colfax announced that the question before the house was the reconsideration of the vote at the previous session on the constitutional amendment, and that the gentleman from Ohio (Ashley) had the floor. The solemn silence which fell upon the audience was broken by the sound of a strong, clear voice, saying, “Mr. Speaker, 'If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.' Thus simply and truthfully hath spoken our worthy Chief Magistrate.” Instantly the mighty struggle against slavery was lifted to a high moral plane upon which it continued to the end.