« PreviousContinue »
On the 29th of May, 1856, in Bloomington, Illinois, at the first republican state convention, Mr. Lincoln delivered one of the ablest and most immediately effective speeches of his life, in which, after denouncing slavery in as strong terms as he ever employed, he said: “Let us revere the Declaration of Independence. Let us continue to obey the Constitution and laws. Let us keep step with the music of the Union. In seeking to attain these results—so indispensable if the liberty which is our pride and boast shall endure—we will be loyal to the Constitution and to the 'Flag of our Union,' no matter what our grievance.” 11
In 1858, in his debates with Douglas, and in all his speeches during that campaign for the senate, Mr. Lincoln constantly maintained the attitude of loyalty to the national government and obedience to its Constitution and laws. Again and again, and in a great variety of ways, during that year, as at all times, he declared his unyielding opposition to all interference with slavery and his purpose to aid in safeguarding that institution in the states where it then existed. He did this without any retraction or modification of his repeated, unequivocal declarations that slavery was a great wrong and should be abolished or prohibited "wherever our votes can rightfully reach it.” But he never forgot that slavery could not be rightfully reached in states where it existed, by any act of the General Government, nor by the people in other states, and he kept that fact before the people quite as prominently as he did his conviction that slavery was wrong.
On February 27th, 1860, in his Cooper Institute speech, after proving conclusively that "our fathers who framed the government” understood that the Constitution conferred upon Congress full authority and power to prevent the extension of slavery into the territories of the United States, he said: “As those fathers marked it, so let it again be marked, as an evil not to be extended but to be tolerated and protected
11 Federal Edition, Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol. II., pp. 273, 274, 275.
only because and so far as its actual presence among us makes that toleration a necessity. Let all the guarantees those fathers gave it be not grudgingly but fully and fairly maintained.. 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.'
On the 6th of March, 1860, eight days after the Cooper Institute address was delivered, in a speech at New Haven, Connecticut, he said: “The other policy is one that squares with the idea that slavery is wrong, and it consists in doing everything that we ought to do if it is wrong. Now, I don't wish to be misunderstood, nor to leave a gap down to be misrepresented, even. I don't mean that we ought to attack it where it exists. To me it seems that if we were to form government anew, in view of the actual presence of slavery, we should find it necessary to frame just such a government as our fathers did; giving to the slaveholder the entire control where the system was established, while we possess the power to restrain it from going outside those limits. From the necessities of the case we should be compelled to form just such a government as our blessed fathers gave us; and surely if they have so made it, that adds another reason why we should let slavery alone where it exists.” 13
Thus Mr. Lincoln came to the Presidential office fully and unequivocally committed to the protection of slavery as required by the Constitution of the United States. And into that great office with all its authority and power he carried a fixed purpose to be faithful and true to all the declarations he had made respecting the constitutional rights of slavery.
On the 4th of March, 1861, in
12 Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol. V., pp. 309-327. 13 Ibid., p. 347
His First INAUGURAL ADDRESS, he said: "Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States that by the accession of a republican administration their property and their peace and personal security are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you. I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that 'I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.' Those who have nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this and many similar declarations, and had never recanted them.' I now reiterate these sentiments; and, in doing so, I only press upon the public attention the most conclusive evidence of which the case is susceptible, that the property, peace and security of no section are to be in any wise endangered by the now incoming administration. .
"I take the official oath today with no mental reservations, and with no purpose to construe the Constitution or laws by any hypercritical rules.
"In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to 'preserve, protect and defend it.'” 14
In a still more striking and impressive manner did Mr. Lincoln in that Inaugural Address state his conservative views and purposes respecting slavery by approving of the following Constitutional amendment: "No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere within any State with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State." 15
14 Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol. VI., pp. 169-185.
This amendment was prepared and introduced by Hon. Thomas Corwin of Ohio, chairman of the committee of thirtythree, and had passed both houses of Congress by substantial majorities and was signed by President Buchanan. Referring to that constitutional amendment, which at the time required only the approval of three-fourths of the states to become a part of the national Constitution, Mr. Lincoln in his inaugural address said: "Holding such a provision to now be amply Constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable."
Had that amendment become a part of the national Constitution it would have made it forever impossible to abolish slavery by peaceable and constitutional methods. Yet, it was approved by President Lincoln and by his administration, through Secretary Seward it was sent out to the several states for their approval, and had it been accepted by the South it would undoubtedly have received the approval of the requisite three-fourths of the states and become a part of the fundamental law of the land. From that dire calamity the nation was saved by the mad assault upon Fort Sumter and the cruel Civil War.
15 Nicolay and Hay, Abraham Lincoln, A History, Vol. X., p. 90.
HE civilized world has come to recognize Abraham
Lincoln as the divinely chosen agent for the destruc
tion of slavery. This he accomplished by the authority and power of the Presidential office. But when he assumed the duties of that exalted station he was bound by an imperious sense of duty and by solemn promises not to interfere with that institution in the states where it then existed. That Mr. Lincoln intended faithfully and fully to keep his promises respecting slavery is beyond question. That he hoped to save the nation without interfering with slavery is also certain. That he earnestly and perseveringly endeavored to accomplish both of these results is now a matter of history. In so doing it became necessary for him to interpose his great authority and power as President to protect slavery from the assaults of his subordinates.
For a time this did not become necessary. In his call for a special session of Congress to meet on the Fourth of July, 1861, and in his message to that body, he made no reference to slavery and no action of Congress during that session was at variance with his declared purposes respecting that institution. Both branches of Congress were dominated by a spirit of exalted patriotism, all the acts of the President in the emergency brought on by the rebellion were approved and made legal, and even in excess of his requests provisions for the vigorous prosecution of the war were enthusiastically made. As the location and movements of the Union army were chiefly in the states were slavery existed, it was impossible to ignore that institution, but everything proceeded as fully as possible in harmony with the President's well-known policy. This continued without interruption for nearly five