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All that year and the next 1853-4 this study went on at odd hours, in the midst of a practice always busy, and rapidly becoming lucrative, until they knew the subject from both sides, through and through, from end to end. This fact should be kept in mind by those who seem to think that Lincoln was led by intuition rather than by brains, and that his speeches were made as if by magic. These country lawyers canvassed the slavery question in all its phases, and when they had finished no conceivable aspect of it had escaped them. One arrived at truth by swift flashes of insight, the other by a slow and labored process; but when they arrived they stood together, and nothing could move them. During this time Herndon served as mayor of Springfield to the credit of himself and his city, while his partner was as indifferent to local affairs as he was to the beauty of trees and flowers.
"The Genius of Discord"
History had dealt severely with Stephen A. Douglas for the part he played in the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, in 1854. Of that Compact he had said, some years before, that it was canonized in the hearts of the American people as a sacred thing which no ruthless hand would ever be reckless enough to disturb." Yet he it was who made that Compact null and void, opening Pandora's box and letting loose again the furies of sectional discord which all hoped had been laid and locked up. Whatever may have been his motives and they are as muddy today as they were then he precipitated a revolution, and became the avant courier of Civil War.
While it is true that Senator Douglas did not originate the Repeal, yet as the leader of his party he not only accepted the fatal amendment,' but boasted of it as his work and the master feat of his career. Drawn further than perhaps he had intended to go, he was forced to follow if he was to retain his leadership, much less his hope of the Presidency. So astute and sagacious a politician could not have been unaware of the temper of the country and the peril of his course. He, himself, had prophesied it in 1850. Yet so obsessed was he by his ambition that he was deaf to the voices of protest heard while the Bill was brewing in Congress, and plunged into a policy of madness which, as some of his best friends warned him, sealed his political doom. Adroitly and persuasively he
1 Strangely enough, the amendment to repeal the Missouri Compromise was introduced by Senator Archibald Dixon, of Kentucky, a Whig who had been appointed to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Henry Clay. The True History of the Missouri Compromise and its Repeal, by Mrs. A. Dixon (1899). It was the irony of fate that the work of Clay should be undone by his successor.
tried to justify himself by appeal to his elastic dogma of "popular sovereignty," which had apparently taken such hold of him as to obscure his mind, otherwise clear. That dogma would have meant, in its ultimate logic, that there could be no slavery without the consent of the slaves; but it became in his hands only another form of that referendum whereby politicians seek to evade issues and shift responsibility. When tested on the prairies of Kansas it proved to be
squatter sovereignty," enacting a wearisome story of rump legislatures, fraudulent constitutions, and outrages at the polls, from which Douglas himself revolted. Whatever may have been the motives of Douglas, the Repeal was an act of political suicide for himself and a tragedy for the nation.
It has often been noted, as an instance of how great things hang upon small things, that it was a sleepy old game of whist that led to the repeal of the Compact of 1820. The KansasNebraska Bill was framed, so runs the story, to make a Territory immediately west of Missouri, which David R. Atchison was to go and organize and bring in as a State; so returning to the seat in the Senate he had lost, and back to the sleepy old game of whist whose players loved and missed him. The country itself, resting in the belief that slavery was in course of ultimate extinction, was more than half asleep. But when the Kansas-Nebraska Bill was introduced 2 there was a rude
1 Concerning the acrobatics of Douglas much has been written, and many have been the theories as to his motives. Perhaps the best discussion of the whole subject, from all sides, is The Repeal of the Missouri Compromise: Its Origin and Authorship, by P. Orman Ray (1909). There all the circumstances are recalled without heat or passion, and if the question of motive is not settled it is because it must remain a puzzle. See Stephen A. Douglas, by Allen Johnson, Chap. XI (1908). Some of the motives attributed to Senator Douglas by polemical writers are incredible; he was unwise, but he was neither stupid nor vicious.
2 Of the seventy Democrats in the Illinois Legislature, then in session, only three were in favor of the Bill. Two days later orders came from Douglas that resolutions be passed endorsing it, and so complete was the "" flop "' that only three Senators stood out against it. Those three were John M. Palmer, Norman Judd, and B. C. Cook, nor could they be whipped into line. See History of the Republican Party, by F. A. Flower (1884).
awakening, and when it became a law there burst forth such a blaze of protest as had not been seen in the land since 1776. This move was unexpected by the masses of the people, and a proposition to repeal the Constitution could hardly have stirred the nation more deeply. So daring an act filled the North with amazement, which quickly deepened into furious indignation, and men everywhere felt the fear, the hope, and the dread of impending upheaval. The signs were unmistakable. No mere party or faction arrayed itself against the scheme; the moral force of the North was against it. At last it was clear that the supreme question, now reopened by the insanity of the slave-holding interest and its allies, had to be settled if the Republic was to endure. No longer was it a sleepy old game, but an "irrepressible conflict" destined to rage with ever increasing force until slavery was destroyed in the flames kindled by its own folly.
Amidst the confusion only one thing was certain, and that was that the barrier which had excluded slavery from the territory in question had been swept away. The "stumpspeech injected into the belly of the Bill," as Senator Thomas H. Benton called it, declared the policy to be applicable to any State or Territory. Consternation reigned, and no one could tell what a year might bring forth. Whigs and Democrats of anti-slavery sentiments, who had long been deaf to the appeals of Abolition leaders, began to organize themselves into a new party to defeat the men who had wrought this mischief. In Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio they assumed the name Republican; everywhere they were known as " AntiNebraska men," drawn together by a common determination to resist the attempt of the South to seize and enslave Kansas. In Illinois, however, the movement was slower. Many discordant elements delayed fusion, especially in the southern counties where opposition to Douglas was regarded with the more disfavor because it was associated with bolting Democrats and Abolitionist extremists.1 But in the northern
1 For the movements of Abolitionists in Illinois, see "Anti-Slavery Agitation in Illinois,” by Z. Eastman, in Blanchard's History of Illinois (Old Edition). And more recently, Negro Servitude in Illinois, by N. D.
counties, settled chiefly by folk of New England origin, it was different. In Chicago, pulpit and press were arrayed against the Repeal particularly the pulpit, which turned the city blue and sulphurous in its damnation of Douglas. Literal fire was also used to burn him in hundreds of effigies, by whose light he once said himself he could travel all the way from Illinois to the Atlantic.
Two or three days after his arrival in Chicago, Senator Douglas announced that on the night of September 1st, he would speak in front of North Market Hall. All that afternoon flags were at half mast on lake boats, and when the crowds began to gather church bells were tolled, as though some great public calamity impended. When Douglas began to address the people, at a quarter past eight, he was greeted with groans, jeers, and hisses. He paused until these had subsided, but no sooner did he begin again than pandemonium broke loose. Interruption was something that he could never brook good-naturedly, and he appeared at a grave disadvantage and in no conciliatory mood, amidst the rapid fire of questions aimed at him. For over two hours he wrestled with the noisy crowd, appealing to their sense of fairness; but he could not gain a hearing. "Finally, for the first time in his life, he was forced to admit defeat. Drawing his watch from his pocket and observing that the hour was late, he shouted, in an interval of comparative quiet,' It is now Sunday morning — I'll go to church, and you may go to Hell!' At the imminent risk of his life, he went to his carriage and was driven to his hotel. After Douglas left, some one announced that Abra
Harris (1904). This last volume sifts a vast mass of material and gives the winnowed result, and is interesting in its account of Abolitionist journalism in the State.
1 Stephen A. Douglas: A Study in American Politics, by Allen Johnson, p. 259 (1908). "I was on the platform as a reporter, "writes Mr. Horace White, "and my recollection of what happened is still vivid. There was nothing like violence at any time, but there was disorder growing out of the fact that the people had come prepared to dispute Douglas's sophisms and that Douglas was far from conciliatory when he found himself facing an unfriendly audience." - Lincoln in 1854, by Horace White, p. 9 (1908).