Page images
PDF
EPUB

“I wrote to him,” continued Mr. Linder, “giving him all the circumstances, telling him of my wife's grief and my own, and soliciting that he would come and assist me to defend my son, though I feared he had been employed against him...He condoled with us in our misfortune, and assured us that, no matter what business he might be engaged in, he would come, and that he was truly sorry that I had supposed he would take part in the prosecution of the son of a friend of his.” To the offer of a fee he replied that he knew no act of his that would justify the supposition “that he would take money from a friend for assisting in the defense of a child.” The young man got clear, went South, and as a prisoner of war received further favors from the same benefactor in another capacity.

CHAPTER XIII.

1858.

The Lecompton Constitution Another Democratic Schism

Lincoln a Candidate for Senator.

Douglas undoubtedly wished Kansas promptly admitted and the annoyance fairly out of the way. The new Congress was strongly Democratic in both houses. A personal friend of Douglas from Illinois, John Calhoun, presided over the Constitutional Convention at Lecompton, and was actively concerned in the subsidiary work at the polls. The situation was at first altogether promising. But certain ugly facts ere long began to come into the light — sinister shapes, which no flimsy veil could screen. Before Congress met the public mind at the North had become deeply impressed with the conviction—shared by Senator Crittenden and other candid Southern men—that the Lecompton constitution was an intolerable imposition. Douglas himself could honestly have no other feeling. Still less could he be blind to the new dangers into which he was drifting.

The case did not come before Congress until early in February, when the President in a special message recommended the acceptance of the Lecompton constitution, and declared that Kansas was slave territory.

( 156 )

Douglas promptly announced his disagreement with the President, and soon after, in a set speech, declared against "forcing the constitution down the throats of the people of Kansas, in opposition to their wishes and in violation of our pledges.” In spite of him the measure so denounced passed the Senate by a good majority, only two others of the forty Democratic Senators voting with him. In the House he had a better following, though not a large one. After a protracted struggle, lasting till the end of April (1858), Congress ordered a submission of the Lecompton constitution to the people of Kansas for their adoption or rejection. Conditions having so changed before the time appointed that a reasonably fair vote was possible, the Free-State men improved the opportunity, and the constitution was repudiated.

It is notable that for a time some prominent Republicans, including Henry Wilson and Horace Greeley, favored the adoption of Douglas as a party leader, and were ready to support his re-election to the Senate. In some of the Congressional districts, at the ensuing election, the Republicans helped to return Anti-Lecompton Democrats to the House, and the fusion was ultimately advantageous to the stronger party. The case was different as to one in the position of Douglas; and, at all events, this policy found little support among the Republicans of Illinois. The Democrats of that State, at their convention on the 21st of April, gave Douglas an unconditional indorsement. A few dissentients, indeed, some time later effected a nominal organization, claiming to be the genuine Administration party, and declaring for ex-Senator Breese as their candidate; but

their course rather helped than hurt Douglas in his canvass.

One finds it difficult to digest the stubborn truth that ardent and able anti-slavery men should be willing to follow as a heroic leader one who was indifferent whether slavery were voted up or voted down in Kansas, and all because — while he had been foremost in repealing the restriction which, if left alone, had already settled the question forever-he insisted merely that the voting should be fairly done. It is especially curious that Mr. Greeley — after both Lincoln and Douglas had ended all their work — near the close of his life not only avowed his active zeal in this direction, but also declared his unchanged opinion, that in 1858 the Republicans of Illinois should have aided in the re-election of Douglas instead of supporting Lincoln.

Congress sat until the 16th of June. This happened to be the date at which the Republican State Convention met at Springfield, and resolved that Abraham Lincoln was its first and only choice for United States Senator as the successor of Stephen A. Douglas. In the evening Lincoln addressed the convention, making one of his most famous speeches. Some passages specially noticed in the Lincoln-Douglas canvass are here given:

Gentlemen of the Convention :- If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it. We are now far on into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object and confident promise of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. “A house divided against itself can not stand.” I believe this Government can not endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in course of ultimate extinction, or its advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the States — old as well as new — North as well as South.

Have we no tendency to the latter condition ? Let any one who doubts carefully contemplate that now almost complete legal combination — piece of machinery, so to speak - compounded of the Nebraska doctrine and the Dred Scott decision. Let him consider not only what work the machinery is adapted to do, and how well adapted, but also let him study the history of its construction, and trace, if he can, or rather fail, if he can, to trace the evidences of de sign and concert of action among its chief master-workers from the beginning. ...

While the Nebraska bill was passing through Congress, a law case, involving the question of a negro's freedom, by reason of his owner having voluntarily taken him first into a free State and then into a Territory covered by the Congressional prohibition, and held him as a slave — for a long time in each — was passing through the United States Circuit Court for the District of Missouri, and both Nebraska bill and lawsuit were brought to a decision in the same month of May, 1854. The negro's name was “Dred Scott,” which name now designates the decision finally made in the case. Before the then next Presidential election the law case came to and was argued in the Supreme Court of the United States; but the decision of it was deferred until after the election. ...

At length a squabble springs up between the President and the author of the Nebraska bill on the mere question of fact, whether the Lecompton constitution was or was not in any just sense made by the people of Kansas; and in that squabble the latter declares that all he wants is a fair vote for the people, and that he cares not whether slavery be voted down or voted up.

« PreviousContinue »