The Life of Abraham Lincoln (Holland)/Chapter X
On returning to his home, Mr. Lincoln entered upon the duties of his profession, and devoted himself to them through a series of years, less disturbed by diversions into state and national politics than he had been during any previous period of his business life. It was to him a time of rest, of reading, of social happiness and of professional prosperity. He was already a father, and took an almost unbounded pleasure in his children. Their sweet young natures were to him a perpetual source of delight. He was never impatient with their petulance and restlessness, loved always to be with them, and took them into his heart with a fondness which was unspeakable. It was a fondness so tender and profound as to blind him to their imperfections, and to expel from him every particle of sternness in his management of them. It must be said that he had very little of what is called parental government. The most that he could say to any little rebel in his household was, "you break my heart, when you act like this;" and the loving eyes and affectionate voice and sincere expression of pain were usually enough to bring the culprit to his senses and his obedience. A young man bred in Springfield speaks of a vision that has clung to his memory very vividly, of Mr. Lincoln as he appeared in those days. His way to school led by the lawyer's door. On almost any fair summer morning, he could find Mr. Lincoln on the sidewalk, in front of his house, drawing a child backward and forward, in a child's gig. Without hat or coat, and wearing a pair of rough shoes, his hands behind him holding to the tongue of the gig, and his tall form bent forward to accommodate himself to the service, he paced up and down the walk, forgetful of everything around him, and intent only on some subject that absorbed his mind. The young man says he remembers wondering, in his boyish way, how so rough and plain a man should happen to live in so respectable a house.
The habit of mental absorption--absent-mindedness, as it is called--was common with him always, but particularly during the formative periods of his life. The New Salem people, it will be remembered, thought him crazy, because he passed his best friends in the street without seeing them. At the table, in his own family, he often sat down without knowing or realizing where he was, and ate his food mechanically. When he "came to himself," it was a trick with him to break the silence by the quotation of some verse of poetry from a favorite author. It relieved the awkwardness of "the situation," served as a blind to the thoughts which had possessed him, and started conversation in a channel that led as far as possible from the subject that he had set aside.
Mr. Lincoln's lack of early advantages and the limited character of his education were constant subjects of regret with him. His intercourse with members of Congress and with the cultivated society of Washington had, without doubt, made him feel his deficiencies more keenly than ever before. There is no doubt that his successes were a constant surprise to him. He felt that his acquisitions were very humble, and that the estimate which the public placed upon him was, in some respects, a blind and mistaken one. It was at this period that be undertook to improve himself somewhat by attention to mathematics, and actually mastered the first six books of Euclid. In speaking of this new acquisition to a friend, he said that, in debates, he had frequently heard the word "demonstration" used, and he determined to ascertain for himself what it meant. After his mastery of geometry, he had no further uncertainty on the subject.
Allusion has been made to Mr. Lincoln's mechanical genius. That he had enough of this to make him a good mechanic, there is no doubt. With such rude tools as were at his command he had made cabins and flat-boats; and after his mind had become absorbed in public and professional affairs he often recurred to his mechanical dreams for amusement. One of his dreams took form, and he endeavored to make a practical matter of it. He had had experience in the early navigation of the Western rivers. One of the most serious hinderances to this navigation was low water, and the lodgment of the various craft on the shifting shoals and bars with which these rivers abound. He undertook to contrive an apparatus which, folded to the hull of a boat like a bellows, might be inflated on occasion, and, by its levity, lift it over any obstruction upon which it might rest. On this contrivance, illustrated by a model whittled out by himself, and now preserved in the patent office at Washington, he secured letters patent; but it is certain that the navigation of the Western rivers was not revolutionized by it.
Mr. Lincoln never made his profession lucrative to himself. It was very difficult for him to charge a heavy fee to anybody, and still more difficult for him to charge his friends anything at all for professional services. To a poor client, he was quite as apt to give money as to take it from him. He never encouraged the spirit of litigation. Henry McHenry, one of his old clients, says that he went to Mr. Lincoln with a case to prosecute, and that Mr. Lincoln refused to have anything to do with it, because he was not strictly in the right. "You can give the other party a great deal of trouble," said the lawyer, "and perhaps beat him, but you had better let the suit alone." Mr. Lincoln had on hand a case for this same gentleman for three years, and took it through three courts to the Supreme Court, and charged him for his services only seventy-five dollars. His wants were not large. He had no expensive vices, took no delight in fine clothing, and had no strong desire to accumulate money. Indeed, after all his years of practice, which closed only with his election to the presidency, he had accumulated, as the sum total of all his gold and goods, only the estimated value of sixteen thousand dollars.
Some incidents illustrating his practice, and the motives which controlled him in it, may with propriety be stated here, although they are not all of them associated with this period of his life. An old woman of seventy-five years, the widow of a revolutionary pensioner, came tottering into his office one day, and, taking a seat, told him that a certain pension agent had charged her the exorbitant fee of two hundred dollars for collecting her claim. Mr. Lincoln was satisfied by her representations that she had been swindled, and finding that she was not a resident or the town, and that she was poor, gave her money, and set about the work of procuring restitution. He immediately entered suit against the agent to recover a portion of his ill-gotten money. The suit was entirely successful, and Mr. Lincoln's address to the jury before which the case was tried is remembered to have been peculiarly touching in its allusions to the poverty of the widow, and the patriotism of the husband she had sacrificed to secure the nation's independence. He had the gratification of paying back to her a hundred dollars, and sending her home rejoicing. One afternoon an old negro woman came into the office of Lincoln & Herndon, and told the story of her trouble, to which both lawyers listened. It appeared that she and her offspring were born slaves in Kentucky, and that her owner, one Hinkle, had brought the whole family into Illinois, and given them their freedom. Her son had gone down the Mississippi as a waiter or deck hand, on a steamboat. Arriving at New Orleans, he had imprudently gone ashore, and had been snatched up by the police, in accordance with the law then in force concerning free negroes from other states, and thrown into confinement. Subsequently he was brought out and tried. Of course he was fined, and, the boat having left, he was sold, or was in immediate danger of being sold, to pay his fine and the expenses. Mr. Lincoln was very much moved, and requested Mr. Herndon to go over to the State House, and inquire of Governor Bissell if there was not something that he could do to obtain possession of the negro. Mr. Herndon made the inquiry, and returned with the report that the Governor regretted to say that he had no legal or constitutional right to do anything in the premises. Mr. Lincoln rose to his feet in great excitement, and exclaimed, "By the Almighty, I'll have that negro back soon, or I'll have a twenty years' agitation in Illinois, until the Governor does have a legal and constitutional right to do something in the premises." He was saved from the latter alternative--at least in the direct form which he proposed. The lawyers sent money to a New Orleans correspondent--money of their own--who procured the negro, and returned him to his mother.
Mr. Lincoln's early athletic struggle with Jack Armstrong, the representative man of the "Clary's Grove Boys," will be remembered. From the moment of this struggle, which Jack agreed to call "a drawn battle," in consequence of his own foul play, they became strong friends. Jack would fight for Mr. Lincoln at any time, and would never bear him spoken against. Indeed, there were times when young Lincoln made Jack's cabin his home, and here Mrs. Armstrong, a most womanly person, learned to respect the rising man. There was no service to which she did not make her guest abundantly welcome, and he never ceased to feel the tenderest gratitude for her kindness. At length, her husband died, and she became dependent upon her sons. The oldest of these, while in attendance upon a camp-meeting, found himself involved in a melee, which resulted in the death of a young man; and young Armstrong was charged by one of his associates with striking the fatal blow. He was arrested, examined, and imprisoned to await his trial. The public mind was in a blaze of excitement, and interested parties fed the flame. Mr. Lincoln knew nothing of the merits of this case, that is certain. He only knew that his old friend Mrs. Armstrong was in sore trouble; and he sat down at once, and volunteered by letter to defend her son. His first act was to procure the postponement and a change of the place of the trial. There was too much fever in the minds of the immediate public to permit of fair treatment. When the trial came on, the case looked very hopeless to all but Mr. Lincoln, who had assured himself that the young man was not guilty. The evidence on behalf of the state being all in, and looking like a solid and consistent mass of testimony against the prisoner, Mr. Lincoln undertook the task of analyzing and destroying it, which he did in a manner that surprised every one. The principal witness testified that "by the aid of the brightly shining moon, he saw the prisoner inflict the death blow with a slung shot." Mr. Lincoln proved by the almanac that there was no moon shining at the time. The mass of testimony against the prisoner melted away, until "not guilty" was the verdict of every man present in the crowded court-room. There is, of course, no record of the plea made on this occasion, but it is remembered as one in which Mr. Lincoln made an appeal to the sympathies of the jury which quite surpassed his usual efforts of the kind, and melted all to tears. The jury were out but half an hour, when they returned with their verdict of "not guilty." The widow fainted in the arms of her son, who divided his attention between his services to her and his thanks to his deliverer. And thus the kind woman who cared for the poor young man, and showed herself a mother to him in his need, received the life of a son, saved from a cruel conspiracy, as her reward, from the hand of her grateful beneficiary.
The lawyers of Springfield, particularly those who had political aspirations, were afraid to undertake the defense of anyone who had been engaged in helping off fugitive slaves. It was a very unpopular business in those days and in that loca1ity; and few felt that they could afford to engage in it. One who needed such aid went to Edward D. Baker, and was refused defense distinctly and frankly, on the ground that, as a political man, he could not afford it. The man applied to an ardent anti-slavery friend for advice. He spoke of Mr. Lincoln, and said, "He's not afraid of an unpopular case. When I go for a lawyer to defend an arrested fugitive slave, other lawyers will refuse me, but if Mr. Lincoln is at home, he will always take my case."
A sheep-grower sold a number of sheep at a stipulated average price. When he delivered the animals, he delivered many lambs, or sheep too young to come fairly within the terms of the contract. He was sued for damages by the injured party, and Mr. Lincoln was his attorney. At the trial, the facts as to the character of the sheep delivered were proved, and several witnesses testified as to the usage by which all under a certain age were regarded as lambs, and of inferior value. Mr. Lincoln, on comprehending the facts, at once changed his line of effort, and confined himself to ascertaining the real number of inferior sheep delivered. On addressing the jury, he said that from the facts proved they must give a verdict against his client, and he only asked their scrutiny as to the actual damage suffered.
In another case, Mr. Lincoln was conducting a suit against a railroad company. Judgment having been given in his favor, and the court being about to allow the amount claimed by him, deducting a proved and allowed offset, he rose and stated that his opponents had not proved all that was justly due them in offset; and proceeded to state and allow a further sum against his client, which the court allowed in its judgment. His desire for the establishment of exact justice always overcame his own selfish love of victory, as well as his partiality for his clients' feelings and interests.
These incidents sufficiently illustrate the humane feelings and thorough honesty which Mr. Lincoln carried into the practice of his profession, and, as allusion has already been made to the high estimate placed by the people upon his ability as a lawyer, it will be proper to record here the high opinion of his professional merits entertained by the most eminent representatives of the bar of Illinois. His death in 1865 was, in accordance with usage, made the subject of notice by the various courts of the state. The Supreme Court in session at Ottawa, received a series of resolutions from the bar, which were placed upon its records. Ex-Judge Caton, in presenting them, said, "He (Mr. Lincoln) understood the relations of things, and hence his deductions were rarely wrong, from any given state of facts. So he applied the principles of law to the transactions of men with great clearness and precision. He was a close reasoner. He reasoned by analogy, and enforced his views by apt illustration. His mode of speaking was generally of a plain and unimpassioned character, and yet, he was the author of some of the most beautiful and eloquent passages in our language, which, if collected, would form a valuable contribution to American literature. The most punctilious honor ever marked his professional and private life."
Judge Breese, in responding to the resolutions and the remarks of Judge Caton, was still more outspoken in his high opinion of Mr. Lincoln, as a lawyer. "For my single self," he said, "I have for a quarter of a century regarded Mr. Lincoln as the finest lawyer I ever knew, and of a professional bearing so high-toned and honorable as justly, and without derogating from the claims of others, entitling him to be presented to the profession as a model well worthy of the closest imitation." Judge Thomas Drummond of Chicago, representing the bar of that city, said, "I have no hesitation in saying that he was one of the ablest lawyers I have ever known." In addition, he said, "no intelligent man who ever watched Mr. Lincoln through a hard-contested case at the bar, questioned his great ability." Judge Drummond's picture of Mr. Lincoln at the bar, and his mode of speech and action is so graphic and so just that it deserves to be quoted:
"With a voice by no means pleasant, and, indeed, when excited, in its shrill tones, sometimes almost disagreeable; without any of the personal graces of the orator; without much in the outward man indicating superiority of intellect; without great quickness of perception--still, his mind was so vigorous, his comprehension so exact and clear, and his judgment so sure, that he easily mastered the intricacies of his profession, and became one of the ablest reasoners and most impressive speakers at our bar. With a probity of character known to all, with an intuitive insight into the human heart, with a clearness of statement which was itself an argument, with uncommon power and felicity of illustration,--often, it is true, of a plain and homely kind,--and with that sincerity and earnestness of manner which carried conviction, he was, perhaps, one of the most successful jury lawyers we have ever had in the state. He always tried a case fairly and honestly. He never intentionally misrepresented the evidence of a witness or the argument of an opponent. He met both squarely, and, if he could not explain the one or answer the other, substantially admitted it. He never misstated the law according to his own intelligent view of it."
These tributes to the professional excellence of Mr. Lincoln, by those best qualified to judge it, is all the more significant from the fact that it was rendered by those who, throughout his whole career, were opposed to him politically--by democrats and conservatives. Judge David Davis, of Bloomington, Illinois, a strong personal friend of Mr. Lincoln , in responding to resolutions presented by the bar of Indianapolis, said that "in all the elements that constitute the great lawyer, he (Mr. Lincoln) had few equals. He was great both at Nisi Prius and before an appellate tribunal. He seized the strong points of a case, and presented them with clearness and great compactness. A vein of humor never deserted him, and he was always able to chain the attention of court and jury when the cause was the most uninteresting, by the appropriateness of his anecdotes."
It was during this period of Mr. Lincoln's life that he was called upon to pronounce a eulogy upon Henry Clay. The death of this eminent statesman occurred in 1852, and the citizens of Springfield thought of no man so competent to do his memory justice as he who had through so many years been devoted to his interests and his political principles. The eulogy was pronounced in the State House, and was listened to by a large audience. The discourse, as it was printed in the city newspapers of the day, was by no means a remarkable one. It is remembered as a very dull one at its delivery, and was so regarded by Mr. Lincoln himself, who complained that he lacked the imagination necessary for a performance of that character. It is possible that the effect upon his mind of the old visit to Ashland was not entirely obliterated; for Mr. Lincoln was quite accustomed to find expression for any admiration that was really within him. The closing words of the eulogy, though hortatory in form, were prophetic in fact, and, in the light of subsequent events, have a touching interest. "Such a man," said he, "the times have demanded, and such in the Providence of God was given us. But he is gone. Let us strive to deserve, as far as mortals may, the continued care of Divine Providence, trusting that in future national emergencies he will not fail to provide us the instruments of safety and security." That Divine Providence which he so confidently trusted then, trusted him as the instrument for executing its own designs, in the greatest of national emergencies.
It is not to be supposed that during these years of quiet professional Mr. Lincoln was entirely indifferent to the course of political affairs. Great national events were in progress, which must have impressed him profoundly. The slave states, conscious that power was departing from them, were desperate in their efforts and fruitful in their expedients to retain it. On the 9th of September, 1850, the free state of California was admitted to the Union. There was a double bitterness in this measure to those interested in the perpetuation of the influence of slavery in national affairs. The state was formed from territory on which the South had hoped to extend the area of their institution--which had been won from Mexico for that special purpose; and there was no slave state in readiness to be admitted with it, in accordance with southern policy and congressional usage. As an offset to this accession to the power of the free states, a series of concessions were exacted of them which excited great discontent among the people. The compromise measures of 1850, as they were called, did not satisfy either section. The South did not see in them the security they desired, and the North felt itself humiliated and wronged by them. Yet there was among the people of both sections a strong desire for peace. They had become weary with agitation, and readily fell in with the action of the two national conventions, which, in 1852, accepted these measures as a final settlement of the points of difference between the two sections of the country. It is easy, in looking back, to see how wretched a basis these measures furnished for peace between freedom and slavery; but the best men and the most patriotic men of the time found nothing better.
How far Mr. Lincoln shared in the desire that these measures should be the final settlement of the slavery question in the country, or believed it possible that they could be, is not known. Although he consented to stand on the Scott electoral ticket in 1852, he does not seem to have gone into the canvass with his characteristic earnestness. His party had committed him, in advance, to silence on the subject of slavery; and it was quite possible that he was willing to see how much could be done towards stifling what seemed to be a fruitless agitation. He made but few speeches, and these few made little impression. The defeat of General Scott and the election of General Pierce was in accordance with the popular expectation. Mr. Lincoln had not been diverted from his professional pursuits by the campaign, and for two years thereafter he found nothing in politics to call him from his business.
In 1854, a new political era opened. Events occurred of immeasurable influence upon the country; and an agitation of the slavery question was begun which was destined not to cease until slavery itself should be destroyed. Disregarding the pledges of peace and harmony, the party in the interest of slavery effected in Congress the abrogation of the Missouri Compromise of 1820--a compromise which was intended to shut slavery forever out of the north-west; and a bill organizing the territories of Kansas and Nebraska was enacted, which left them free to choose whether they would have slavery as an institution or not. The intention, without doubt, was to force slavery upon those territories--to make it impossible for them ever to become free states--as the subsequent exhibitions of "border ruffianism" in Kansas sufficiently testified. This great political iniquity aroused Mr. Lincoln as he had never before been aroused. It was at this time that he fully comprehended the fact that there was to be no peace on the slavery question until either freedom or slavery should triumph. He knew slavery to be wrong. He had always known and felt it to be so. He knew that he regarded the institution as the fathers of the republic had regarded it; but a new doctrine had been put forward. Slavery was right. Slavery was entitled to equal consideration with freedom. Slavery claimed the privilege of going wherever, into the national domain, it might choose to go. Slavery claimed national protection everywhere. Instead of remaining contentedly within the territory it occupied under the protection of the Constitution, it sought to extend itself indefinitely--to nationalize itself.
Judge Douglas of Illinois was the responsible author of what was called the Kansas-Nebraska bill--a bill which he based upon what he was pleased to denominate as "popular sovereignty"--the right of the people of a territory to choose their own institutions; and between Judge Douglas and Mr. Lincoln was destined to be fought "the battle of the giants" on the questions that grew out of this great political crime. Mr. Lincoln's indignation was an index to the popular feeling all over the North. The men who, in good faith, had acquiesced in the compromise measures, though with great reluctance and only for the sake of peace--who had compelled themselves to silence by biting their lips--who had been forced into silence by their love of the Union whose existence the slave power had threatened--saw that they had been over-reached and foully wronged.
Mr. Douglas, on his return to his constituents, was met by a storm of indignation, so that when he first undertook to speak in vindication of himself he was not permitted to do so. He found that he had committed a great political blunder, even if he failed to comprehend the fact that he had been guilty of a criminal breach of faith. The first exhibitions of popular rage naturally passed away, so that the city which refused to hear him speak, now honors his dust as that of a great and powerful and famous man; but the city and the state have discarded his political principles; and the party which once honored him with so much confidence, remembers with regret--possibly with bitterness--that he was mainly responsible for its overthrow. Mr. Douglas, without doubt, foresaw what was coming, as the result of his political misdeeds, but he tried to avert the popular judgment. He spoke in various places in the state, but with little effect. Congress had adjourned early in August. His attempt to speak in Chicago was made on the first of September, and early in October, on the occasion of the State Fair, he found himself at Springfield.
The Fair had brought together a large number of representative men, from all parts of the state, many of whom had come for the purposes of political reunion and consultation. There was a great deal of political speaking, but the chief interest of the occasion centered in a discussion between Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Douglas. It had been many years since these two men had found themselves pitted against each other in debate, and during nearly all these years, Mr. Douglas had been in public life. He was a man known to the whole nation. He was the recognized leader of his party in Illinois, notwithstanding the fact that his course had driven many from his support. His experience in debate, his easy audacity and assurance, his great ability, his strong will, his unconquerable ambition, and his untiring industry, made him a most formidable antagonist. To say that his unlimited self-confidence, which not unfrequently made him arrogant and overbearing--at least, in appearance--assisted him in the work which he had before him, would be to insult the independent common sense of the people he addressed. Mr. Douglas entered into an exposition and defense of his principles and policy with the bearing of a man who had already conquered. His long and uninterrupted success had made him restive under inquisition, impatient of dispute, and defiant of opposition.
On the day following the speech of Mr. Douglas, Mr. Lincoln, who had listened to him, replied, and Mr. Douglas was among his auditors. The speech delivered on this occasion was one of the most powerful and eloquent efforts of his life. Mr. Lincoln began by saying that he wished to present nothing to the people but the truth, to which they were certainly entitled, and that, if Judge Douglas should detect him in saying anything untrue, he (Judge Douglas) would correct him. Mr. Douglas took license from this remark to interrupt him constantly, with the most unimportant questions, and in such a way as to show Mr. Lincoln that his only motive was to break him down. Finally, the speaker lost his patience, and said, "Gentlemen, I cannot afford to spend my time in quibbles. I take the responsibility of asserting the truth myself, relieving Judge Douglas from the necessity of his impertinent corrections." From this point, he was permitted to proceed uninterruptedly, until a speech occupying three hours and ten minutes was concluded. No report of this speech was made, and no judgment can be formed of it, except such as can be made up from the cotemporary newspaper accounts, the recollections of those who heard it, and its effect upon the politics of the state. The enthusiasm of the party press was unbounded, and was manifestly genuine. The Kansas-Nebraska bill was the subject of debate; and his exposure of its fallacies and iniquities was declared to be overwhelming. His whole heart was in his words. The Springfield Journal, in describing the speech and the occasion, says: "He quivered with feeling and emotion. The whole house was as still as death. He attacked the bill with unusual warmth and energy, and all felt that a man of strength was its enemy, and that he intended to blast it if he could by strong and manly efforts. He was most successful; and the house approved the glorious triumph of truth by loud and long-continued huzzas. Women waved their white handkerchiefs in token of woman's silent but heartfelt consent... Mr. Lincoln exhibited Douglas in all the attitudes he could be placed in in a friendly debate. He exhibited the bill in all its aspects, to show its humbuggery and falsehoods, and when thus torn to rags, cut into slips, held up to the gaze of the vast crowd, a kind of scorn was visible upon the face of the crowd and upon the lips of the most eloquent speaker." The editor, in concluding his account, says: "At the conclusion of the speech, every man felt that it was unanswerable--that no human power could overthrow it, or trample it under foot. The long and repeated applause evinced the feelings of the crowd, and gave token of universal assent to Lincoln's whole argument; and every mind present did homage to the man who took captive the heart, and broke like a sun over the understanding."
The account of this speech in the Chicago Press and Tribune was not less enthusiastic in its praise, than the journal just quoted: After stating that, within the limit of a newspaper article, it would be impossible to give an idea of the strength of Mr. Lincoln's argument, and that it was by far the ablest effort of the campaign, he quotes the following passage directly from the speech, as remarkable in its power upon the audience: "My distinguished friend says it is an insult to the emigrants to Kansas and Nebraska to suppose they are not able to govern themselves. We must not slur over an argument of this kind because it happens to tickle the ear. It must be met and answered. I admit that the emigrant to Kansas and Nebraska is competent to govern himself, but (the speaker rising to his full hight,) I deny his right to govern any other person without that person's consent." That touched the very marrow of the matter, and revealed the whole difference between him and Douglas. The crowd understood it. They saw through the iniquity of "popular sovereignty" and the Kansas-Nebraska bill, and the applause which followed showed their appreciation of the clearness and thoroughness with which the speaker had exposed it.
When Mr. Lincoln concluded his speech, Mr. Douglas hastily took the stand, and said that he had been abused, "though in a perfectly courteous manner." He spoke until the adjournment Of the meeting for supper, but touched only slightly upon the great questions which Mr. Lincoln had handled with so much power. That he felt his effort to be a failure, is evident from subsequent events soon to be recounted. Before closing, he insisted on his right to resume his speech in the evening, but when evening came he did not resume, and did not choose to resume. The speech was never concluded.
The next meeting between the two party champions took place at Peoria, though not by pre-arrangement. Mr. Lincoln followed Mr. Douglas to Peoria, and challenged him there, as he had done at Springfield. At Peoria, Mr. Lincoln's triumph was even more marked than at Springfield, for his antagonist had lost something of his assurance. He was a wounded and weakened man, indeed. He had become conscious that he was not invulnerable. He had been a witness of Mr. Lincoln's power over the people; and it is quite possible that his faith in his own position had been shaken. It was noticed at Peoria that his manner was much modified, and that he betrayed a lack of confidence in himself, not at all usual with him. Here, as at Springfield, Mr. Lincoln occupied more than three hours in the delivery of his speech, and it came down upon Mr. Douglas so crushingly that the doughty debater did not even undertake to reply to it.
It is to be remembered that Mr. Lincoln, in his political speeches, resorted to none of the tricks common among what are called stump speakers. He was thoroughly in earnest and always closely argumentative. If he told stories, it was not to amuse a crowd, but to illustrate a point. The real questions at issue engaged his entire attention, and he never undertook to raise a false issue or to dodge a real one. Indeed, he seemed incapable of the tricks so often resorted to for the discomfiture of an opponent. Fortunately, the Peoria speech was reported, and we have an opportunity of forming an intelligent judgment of its character and its power. One passage will suffice to illustrate both. Mr. Douglas had urged that the people of Illinois had no interest in the question of slavery in the territories--that it concerned only the people of the territories. This was in accordance with his own feeling, when he declared that he did not care whether slavery was "voted up or voted down" in Kansas. Mr. Lincoln opposed this on the broad ground of humanity and the terms of the declaration of independence; but to bring the matter more directly home, and to show that the people of Illinois had a practical interest in the question of slavery in the territories, he said:
"By the Constitution, each state has two senators--each has a number of representatives in proportion to the number of its people, and each has a number of presidential electors, equal to the whole number of its representatives and senators together. But in ascertaining the number of the people for the purpose, five slaves are counted as being equal to three whites. The slaves do not vote; they are only counted, and so used as to swell the influence of the white people's votes. The practical effect of this is more aptly shown by a comparison of the states of South Carolina and Maine. South Carolina has six representatives and so has Maine; South Carolina has eight presidential electors and so has Maine. This is precise equality so far; and of course they are equal in senators, each having two. Thus, in the control of the government, they are equals precisely. But how are they in the number of their white people? Maine has 581,813, while South Carolina has 274,567. Maine has twice as many as South Carolina, and 32,679 over. Thus each white man in South Carolina is more than the double of any man in Maine. This is all because South Carolina, besides her free people, has 387,984 slaves. The South Carolinian has precisely the same advantage over the white man in every other free state as well as in Maine. He is more than the double of any one of us. The same advantage, but not to the same extent, is held by all the citizens of the slave states over those of the free; and it is an absolute truth, without an exception, that there is no voter in any slave state but who has more legal power in the government than any voter in any free state. There is no instance of exact equality; and the disadvantage is against us the whole chapter through. This principle, in the aggregate, gives the slave states in the present Congress twenty additional representatives--being seven more than the whole majority by which they passed the Nebraska bill.
"Now all this is manifestly unfair; yet I do not mention it to complain of it, in so far as it is already settled. It is in the Constitution, and I do not for that cause, or any other cause, propose to destroy, or alter, or disregard the Constitution. I stand to it fairly, fully and firmly. But when I am told that I must leave it altogether to other people to say whether new partners are to be bred up and brought into the firm, on the same degrading terms against me, I respectfully demur. I insist that whether I shall be a whole man or only the half of one in comparison with others is a question in which I am somewhat concerned; and one which no other man can have a sacred right of deciding for me. If I am wrong in this--if it really be a sacred right of self-government in the man who shall go to Nebraska to decide whether he will be the equal of me or the double of me, then, after he shall have exercised that right, and thereby shall have reduced me to a still smaller fraction of a man than I already am, I should like for some gentleman deeply skilled in the mystery of 'sacred rights,' to provide himself with a microscope, and peep about and find out it he can what has become of my 'sacred rights.' They will surely be too small for detection by the naked eye.
"Finally, I insist that if there is anything that it is the duty of the whole people to never intrust to any hands but their own, that thing is the preservation and perpetuity of their own liberties and institutions. And if they shall think, as I do, that the extension of slavery endangers them more than any or all other causes, how recreant to themselves if they submit the question, and with it, the fate of their country, to a mere handful of men bent only on temporary self-interest!"
Mr. Douglas might well excuse himself from any attempt to answer this argument, or escape from its inevitable logic, for it was unanswerable.
It was naturally the wish of Mr. Lincoln to continue these discussions in other parts of the state. He felt that a revolution of public opinion was in progress--that parties were breaking up, and that he had his opponent at a disadvantage. But Mr. Douglas had had enough for this time. He wished to withdraw his forces before they were destroyed. He had had a heavy skirmish, and been worsted. He shrank from a continuance of the fight. The great and decisive battle was to come.
At the close of the debate, the two combatants held a conference, the result of which has been variously reported. One authority states that Mr. Douglas sent for Mr. Lincoln, and told him that if he would speak no more during the campaign, he (Douglas) would go home and remain silent during the same period, and that this arrangement was agreed upon and its terms fulfilled. That there was a conference on the subject sought by Mr. Douglas, there is no doubt; and there 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. Matteson--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.
- Mr. Lincoln had four children, all sons, viz: Robert Todd, Edwards, who died in infancy, William, who died in Washington during Mr. Lincoln's presidency, and Thomas. The oldest and youngest survive. The latter became the pet of the White House, and is known to the country as "Tad." This nickname was conferred by his father who, while Thomas was an infant in arms, and without a name, playfully called him "Tadpole." This was abbreviated to the pet name which he will probably never outlive.
- William H. Herndon, who became Mr. Lincoln's partner after he dissolved his association with Judge Logan.
- William H. Herndon, Mr. Lincoln's partner.