Page images
PDF
EPUB

the poetry of Robert Burns. When work for the day was done he was accustomed to tip himself back in his office chair, put his feet on the table, and read aloud. “I can understand it better," he said.

A poem, entitled “The Last Leaf," written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, gave him great pleasure. He often recited it to his friends. His lips were tremulous at times as he repeated the lines :

“ The mossy marbles rest
On the lips that he has prest

In their bloom ;
And the name he loved to hear
Has been carved for many a year

On the tomb." (3)

“ For pure pathos,” he said, in after years,“ there is, in my judgment, nothing finer in the English language.

Without doubt the lines awakened tender and holy memories of Ann Rutledge.

Mr. Lincoln was giving little attention to political affairs. His one term in Congress seems to have satisfied for the time all desire for political distinction. He had made the acquaintance of men prominent in public affairs, and taken the measure of their abilities. He had discovered that with most of them politics was not devotion to principles, but the advancement of selfish interests.

We have seen Mr. Lincoln assuming the joint indebtedness of Berry & Lincoln, store - keepers of New Salem. During the years that had passed since the death of Berry and the failure of the firm he had struggled under the burden, but the time came when the last cent of principal and interest was paid. It was a happy day when he left the Globe Tavern and began house-keeping in his own home, where he could dispense liberal hospitality to his friends. It was a pleasure to them to sit at a table bountifully supplied by Mrs. Lincoln. There was little formality in his intercourse with his guests. The repast was ever made enjoyable by flashes of wit, humor, and story-telling on the part of the host. When the meal was finished, and the company assembled in the room set apart for the library, the grave topics of the day were discussed. Although Mr. Lincoln was personally out of politics, he was not indifferent to the great political questions of the hour; on the contrary, he was keenly alive to them. He was a Whig from principle, but

he took little interest in the campaign between General Scott,

the Whig candidate for President, and Franklin Pierce, the Democratic candidate. It seems probable that he saw from the outset

1852.

[graphic][merged small]

"

that the Democratic Party would triumph. General Scott had been selected as candidate by the Whigs solely on account of his military services. Franklin Pierce, without national reputation, had been selected by the slave power because he would be subservient to their

18.53.

interests. We may believe Mr. Lincoln, in common with Daniel Webster, saw that after the election the Whig Party would live only in history; that new political combinations must be made. He knew the Compromise of 1850 had settled nothing. The law which compelled the return of fugitive saves to their masters was hateful, unrighteous, and contrary to human instincts. He knew that sooner or later vital questions would come up for consideration, but he little thought he was to be a leading actor in the historic drama of the future.

“ The Compromise of 1850," said President Pierce, in his inaugural address, “ has given repose to the country. That repose is to suffer no

shock during my official term if I have power to avert it.” Pres

ident Pierce, quite likely, was sincere in his expression. We are not to conclude he was cognizant of the plans of the slave - holders ; but he was a partisan, and ready to do the bidding of those who had elevated him to power.

Stephen A. Douglas, Senator, chairman of the Committee on Territories, reported a bill which gave authority to the people in the Territory of Nebraska to say whether they would or would not have slavery. It was north of the Missouri Compromise line. Senator Dixon, of Kentucky, in order to carry out the plans of the slave - holders, offered an amendment to repeal the act of 1820 which prohibited slavery north of that line. David R. Atchison, of Missouri, advocating the amendment, said: “ I am entirely devoted to the interests of the South, and I would sacrifice everything but my hope of heaven to advance her welfare." He wanted very much to be chairman of the Committee on Territories, that he might carry out his plans for making Kansas and Nebraska Slave States. He was President pro tem, of the Senate, and asked Douglas to change places with him. So earnest was he that he would willingly step down from the higher position. “I do not care to make such a change, but I intend to introduce a measure which will repeal the Compromise of 1820,” said Douglas. “I have become perfectly satisfied that it is my duty, as a fair-minded man, to co-operate with you for its repeal. It is due the South; it is due to the Constitution. The repeal, if we can effect it, will produce much stir and commotion in the Free States for a season. I shall be assailed by demagogues and fanatics without stint or moderation. Every opprobrious epithet will be applied to me. I probably shall be hung in effigy in many places. It is more than probable that I may become permanently odious among those whose friendship I have hitherto possessed. The proceeding may end my political career. But, acting under the sense of duty which animates me, I am prepared to make the sacrifice, and I will do it.” (1)

Having been assured that Douglas would do what Senators from the Slave States wanted done, Atchison was quite willing to remain President of the Senate.

On Sunday morning, January 22d, Senator Douglas, of Illinois, and Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, were ringing the bell at the White House, President Pierce did not attend to public business on Sunday; he did

[graphic][ocr errors][merged small]

1854.

not wish to have people call upon him on that day; but the two Senators had an important matter in hand: the Nebraska Bill, which Doug

las proposed to lay before the Senate, and which, if passed, would

repeal the Compromise of 1820. The President was ready to listen to their plea. “Yes, I will do all that I can to secure its passage,” his welcome words.

The sun went down on May 8, 1854, with cannon thundering upon Capitol Hill, in Washington, celebrating the passage of the KansasNebraska Bill, carried through Congress by Douglas, Pierce, Davis, and

[ocr errors]

the slave-holders, opening to slavery a region of country larger than the original thirteen States of the Union.

Just what motives animated Douglas to violate his pledges never will be known. Not many people thought him to have been sincere in his declarations, but believed he was influenced by an ardent desire to be President, and attempted to secure the prize by doing what the slave-holders wanted done. He saw nothing immoral or wrong in holding slaves. Many other men in the Northern States did not regard slavery as unchristian or sinful. It might or it might not be beneficial to a community. If the people of a Territory wanted slavery as one of their institutions, Douglas was willing they should have it.

In their estimate of the morality of the act which violated a solemn compact in order to secure the extension of slavery, Douglas, Davis, and Pierce did not stop to consider that for national wrong-doing there had been no abrogation of the eternal law : an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. It did not occur to them that divine Providence might have some part to enact in carrying out the plan. The booming of the cannon on Capitol Hill was heard in every city and town throughout the Northern States. It was seen that the first movement of the slaveholders would be to gain possession of Kansas, and there was therefore a determination to secure that Territory to freedom. The Free State men contemplated the establishing of towns, schools, colleges, churches, happy homes of free men and women, who should enjoy their civil and political rights under a Constitution guaranteeing freedom. The Slave Party determined to doom the beautiful region to the barbarism of slavery. The struggle began, the slave holders of Missouri taking possession of the lands nearest the territorial line in advance of any settlers from the Free States. A society was formed in Massachusetts to aid emigrants. It was a national society, and Abraham Lincoln was one of the Executive Committee; but there is no evidence that he was actively engaged in promoting the settlement of the Territory. The first party of settlers from Massachuseits reached Kansas, and laid out the town of Lawrence, naming it in honor of Mr. Amos A. Lawrence, the president of the society. The poet Whittier wrote a

[graphic]

FRANKLIN PIERCE.

« PreviousContinue »