« PreviousContinue »
is no doubt that Mr. Lincoln promised not to challenge him again to debate during the canvass, but abundant evidence exists that Mr. Lincoln did not leave the field at all, but spoke in various parts of the state.
Owing very materially to Mr. Lincoln's efforts, a political revolution swept the state. The old stronghold of the democratic party fell before the onslaughts made upon it, and, for the first time since the democratic party was organized, the legislature of Illinois was in the hands of the opposition. Politics were in a transitional, not to say chaotic state. The opposition was made up of whigs, Americans, and anti-Nebraska democrats. Among the men elected was Mr. Lincoln himself, who had been put in nomination while absent, by his friends in the county. As has already been stated, he resigned before taking his seat. His election was effected without consultation with him, and entirely against his wishes.
The excitement attending the election of this legislature did not die out with the election, for the new body had the responsibility of electing a United States senator. The old whigs elected had not relinquished the hope that, by some means, their party, which had in reality been broken up by the southern whigs in Congress going over to the democrats on the vote for the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, would again be united, while the anti-Nebraska democrats declined to go over to the whigs, supposing that, by clinging together, they could force the regular democracy of the state to come upon their ground. Here were two strongly antagonistic interests that were in some way to be harmonized, in order to beat the nominee of the great body of the democrats who still acknowledged the lead of Judge Douglas. The anti-Nebraska democrats refused to go into a nominating caucus with the whigs, and three candidates were placed in the field. Mr. Lincoln was the nominee of the whigs, Lyman Trumbull of the anti-Nebraska democrats, and General James Shields of the democrats of the Douglas school. After a number of undecisive ballots in the legislature, the democrats having dropped their candidate and adopted Governor Joel A. Mat
teson--a gentleman who had not committed himself to either side of the great question—it became possible for the supporters of Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Trumbull to elect one of those gentlemen, by a union of their forces. That Mr. Lincoln was ambitious for the honors of this high office there is no question, but he had seen Governor Matteson come within three votes of an election, and perceived that there was actual danger of his triumph. At this juncture, he begged his friends to leave him, and go for Mr. Trumbull. They yielded to his urgent entreaties, though it is said that strong men among them actually wept when they consented to do so. The consequence was the election of Mr. Trumbull, to the great astonishment of the democrats, who did not believe it possible for the opposition to unite. Their triumph was due simply to the magnanimity of Mr. Lincoln and his devotion to principle. He had no reproaches for those anti-Nebraska democrats who had refused to go for him, although his arguments had done more than those of any other man to give them their power, and he cared far more for the triumph of political truth and honor than for his own elevation. Mr. Lincoln never had reason to regret his self-sacrifice, for, upon the organization of the republican party, all the opposition parties found themselves together, and Mr. Lincoln became their foremost man.
THE legitimate fruit of the Kansas-Nebraska bill had already begun to manifest itself in Kansas. Emigrants from the eastern states and from the north-west began to pour into the territory, and those who had intended that it should become a slave state saw that their scheme was in danger. Mr. Douglas may not have cared whether slavery was "voted up or voted down” in Kansas, but slaveholders themselves showed a strong preference for voting it up, and not only for voting it up, but of backing up their votes by any requisite amount of violence. An organization in Platte County, Missouri, declared its readiness, when called upon by the citizens of Kansas, to assist in removing any and all emigrants who go there under the auspices of any of the “Emigrant Aid Societies;” which societies, by the way, were supposed to be organizations operating in the free state interest. This was in July, 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska bill having been passed during the previous May. One B. F. Stringfellow was the secretary of the organization, and a fortnight later he introducer, at a meeting of the society, resolutions declaring in favor of extendling slavery into Kansas. Almon H. Reecler was appointed Governor, and arrived in the territory during the following October. At two elections, held within the succeeding six months, the polls were entirely controlled by ruffians from the Missouri side of the border, and those disturbances were fully inaugurated which illustrated the desperate desire of slavery to extend its territory and its power, the hypocrisy of Mr. Douglas and his friends in the declaration that the people of the territory should be perfectly free to choose and form their institutions, and the shameful subserviency of the government at Washington to the interests of the barbarous institution.
This much of the history of Kansas, in order to a perfect appreciation of a private letter of Mr. Lincoln to his Kentucky friend, Mr. Speed:
66 SPRINGFIELD, August 24, 1855. 6 DEAR SPEED:-You know what a poor correspondent I am. Ever sin I received your very agreeable letter of the twenty-second of May, I have been intending to write you in answer to it. You suggest that in political action now, you and I would differ. You know I dislike slavery, and you fully admit the abstract wrong of it. So far, there is no cause of difference. But you say that sooner than yield your legal right to the slave, especially at the bidding of those who are not themselves interested, you would see the Union dissolved. I am not aware that any one is bidding you yield that right-very certainly I am not. I leave that matter entirely to yourself. I also acknowledge your rights and my obligations under the Constitution, in regard to your slaves. I confess I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down, and caught and carried back to their stripes and unrequited toil; but I bite my lip, and keep quiet. In 1841, you and I had together a tedious, low-water trip on a steamboat from Louisville to St. Louis. You may remember, as I well do, that from Louisville to the mouth of the Ohio, there were on board ten or a dozen slaves, shackled together with irons. That sight was a continual torment to me, and I see something like it every
time I touch the Ohio, or any other slave border. It is not fair for you to assume that I have no interest in a thing which has, and continually exercises, the power of making me miserable. You ought rather to appreciate how much the great body of the people of the North do crucify their feelings, in order to maintain their loyalty to the Constitution and the Union.
“I do oppose the extension of slavery, because my judgment and feelings so prompt me; and I am under no obligations to the contrary. If, for this, you and I must differ, differ we must. You say if you were President you would send an army, and hang the leaders of the Missouri outrages upon the Kansas elections; still, if Kansas fairly votes herself a slave state, she must be admitted, or the Union must be dissolved. But how if she votes herself a slave state unfairly—that is, by the very means for which you would hang men? Must she still be admitted, or
the Union dissolved? That will be the phase of the question when it first becomes a practical one. *
“ In your assumption that there may be a fair decision of the slavery question in Kansas, I plainly see you and I would differ about the Nebraska law. I look upon that enactment not as a law, but as a violence, from the beginning. It was conceived in violence, passed in violence, is maintained in violence, and is being executed in violence. I say it was conceived in violence, because the destruction of the Missouri Compromise under the Constitution was nothing less than violence. It was passed in violence, because it could not have passed at all but for the votes of many members in violent disregard of the known will of their constituents. It is maintained in violence, because the elections since clearly demand its repeal, and the demand is openly disregarded.
“You say men ought to be hung for the way they are executing that law; and I say the way it is being executed is quite as good as any of its antecedents. It is being executed in the precise way which was intended from the first, else, why does no Nebraska man express astonishment or condemnation? Poor Reeder has been the only man who has been silly enough to believe that anything like fairness was ever intended, and he has been bravely undeceived.
66 That Kansas will form a slave constitution, and with it, will ask to be admitted into the Union, I take to be an already settled question, and so settled by the very means you so pointedly condemn. By every principle of law ever held by any court, North or South, every negro taken to Kansas is free; and in utter disregard of this—in the spirit of violence merely--that beautiful legislature gravely passes a law to hang men who shall venture to inform a negro of his legal rights. This is the substance and real object of the law. If, like Haman, they should hang upon the gallows of their own building, I shall not be among the mourners for their fate.
“In my humble sphere, I shall advocate the restoration of the Missouri Compromise so long as Kansas remains a territory; and when, by all these foul means it seeks to come into the Union as a slave state, I shall oppose it. / I am very loth, in any case, to withhold my assent to the enjoyment of property acquired or located in good faith ; but I do not admit that good faith in taking a negro to Kansas, to be held in slavery, is a possibility with any man. Any man who has sense enough to be the controller of his own property, has too much sense to misunderstand the outrageous character of the whole Nebraska business.
“But I digress. In my opposition to the admission of Kansas, I shall have some company; but we may be beaten. If we are, I shall not, on that account, attempt to dissolve the Union. I think it probable, how
*This confident prediction was made two years before the Lecompton Constitution was framed.