The Life of Abraham Lincoln (Holland)/Chapter XIV

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The winter of 1858 and 1859 found Mr. Lincoln at leisure. His absorption in political pursuits had materially interfered with his professional business, although he retained all that he had the disposition to attend to. At this point occurred one of those strange diversions that were so characteristic of the man. He eat down and wrote, in the form of a lecture, a comprehensive history of inventions, beginning with the handiwork in brass and iron of Tubal Cain, and ending with the latest products of inventive art. This lecture he delivered at Springfield, and, in a single instance, in another city, but there the public delivery of it ceased. Whether he undertook this to detach his mind from subjects which had held it so long, or whether he did it to be able to meet the invitations that came to him from many quarters to address the winter lyceums, does not appear. The effort does not seem to have been a satisfactory one to himself; and it is easy to see that it was not likely to be particularly attractive to the lecture-going public. Reading lectures and delivering stump speeches are very different styles of effort; and the most effective political orators often surprise themselves as much as they do their audiences by their dryness and dreariness upon the platform of the lecturer. The facts of the matter are principally interesting as showing the natural drift of Mr. Lincoln's mind when diverted from professional and political pursuits.

This diversion was only temporary. Mr. Lincoln had become a political man. Whatever may have been his inclinations at this time, he felt that he was in the hands of the party to which he had just given the ripest and best efforts of his life. He was a representative man, and was already regarded by the great masses of the new party at the West as their best man for the next presidential campaign. His senatorial contest had done much to make his name known to the politicians of the nation. Political men everywhere had read his masterly debates with Senator Douglas, and had given him his position among the best politicians and most notable political orators of the time. While this is true, it is also true that east of the Alleghanies he was not much known among the people. He had not been much in public office; and his field of action and influence was so distant that they had heard but little about him. If they had been told that within two years Abraham Lincoln would be elected president of the United States, three out of every four would have inquired who Abraham Lincoln was. At the West all was different. Everybody knew "Old Abe." He was the people's friend--the man of the people--the champion of freedom and free labor--the man who had beaten the "little giant" in the popular vote of the democratic state of Illinois. His peculiarities were as well known to the people of the West as if he had been the member of every man's family. To look upon him was to look upon a lion. To shake hands with him or to hear him speak, was a great privilege--a subject of self-gratulation or neighborly boasting.

On the 17th of May, 1859, we find Mr. Lincoln answering a letter addressed to him by Dr. Theodor Canisius, a German citizen of Illinois, who, with an eye to the future, inquired concerning Mr. Lincoln's views of the constitutional provision recently adopted in Massachusetts, in relation to naturalized citizens, and whether he opposed or favored a fusion of the republicans and other opposition elements in the approaching campaign of 1860. Mr. Lincoln replied that, while he had no right to advise the sovereign and independent state of Massachusetts, concerning her policy, he would say that so far as he understood the provision she had consummated, he was against its adoption in Illinois, and in every other place where he had a right to oppose it. "As I understand the spirit of our institutions," said Mr. Lincoln, "it is designed to promote the elevation of men. I am, therefore, hostile to anything that tends to their debasement. It is well known that I deplore the depressed condition of the blacks, and it would, therefore, be very inconsistent for me to look with approval upon any measure that infringes upon the inalienable rights of white men, whether or not they are born in another land, or speak a different language from our own." As to the inquiry touching the fusion of all the opposition elements, he was in favor of it, if it could be done on republican principles; and upon no other condition. "A fusion upon any other platform," the letter proceeds, "would be as insane as unprincipled. It would thereby lose the whole North, while the common enemy would still have the support of the entire South. The question in relation to men is different. There are good and patriotic men and able statesmen in the South whom I would willingly support, if they would place themselves on republican ground; but I shall oppose the lowering of the republican standard even by a hair's breadth."

It is to be remembered in this connection that Massachusetts was a representative republican state, and, regarding the ignorant foreign population, particularly of the eastern states, as holding the balance of power between the democratic and republican parties, which it never failed to exercise in the interest of the former and in the support of African slavery, had instituted measures which rendered naturalization a more difficult process. This embarrassed the republicans of the West, who were associated with a large and generally intelligent German population, with leanings toward the republican party rather than to the democratic. Hence this letter to Mr. Lincoln and his reply, which latter undoubtedly had its office in shaping public opinion, and in bringing the foreign population of the West into hearty sympathy with Mr. Lincoln himself.

It was during this year that the movement for making Mr. Lincoln the republican candidate for the presidency took form. He was present as a spectator at the Illinois state republican convention held at Decatur on the tenth of May. When he entered the hall, he was greeted with such enthusiasm as few defeated men are favored with. There was no mistaking the high honor and warm affection in which the audience held him, and no doubting the fact that they regarded that which was nominally his defeat as a great triumph, whose fruits would not long be delayed. He had hardly taken his seat when Governor Oglesby of Decatur announced that an old democrat of Macon County desired to make a contribution to the convention. The offer being at once accepted, two old fence-rails were borne into the convention, gaudily decorated, and bearing the inscription: "Abraham Lincoln, the rail candidate for the presidency in 1860. Two rails from a lot of three thousand, made in 1830, by Thomas Hanks and Abe Lincoln--whose father was the first pioneer of Macon County."

The effect of this upon an audience already excited can be imagined by those only who have been familiar with the effect of similar melo dramatic incidents under similar circumstances. The cheers were prolonged for fifteen minutes, or until the strength of the enthusiastic assembly was exhausted. Mr. Lincoln was called upon to explain the matter of the rails, which he did, repeating the story already in the reader's possession--the story of his first work in Illinois, when he helped to build a cabin for his father, and to fence in a field of corn.

It is the misfortune of great men who are candidates for office, that appeals must be made by them, or on their behalf, to the groundlings. It was a great misfortune to Mr. Lincoln that he was introduced to the nation as pre-eminently a rail-splitter, and that it was deemed necessary to his political fortunes that he should be called such. There is no question that the designation belittled him in the eyes of all people of education and culture, at home and abroad. And this, not because there was any prejudice among these people against labor, and not because they attached the slightest dishonor to Mr. Lincoln on account of his early poverty and humble pursuits. Splitting rails was in no way allied to the duties of the presidency. The ability to split rails did not add to moral or intellectual power. The fact that Mr. Lincoln had split rails did not increase his qualifications for office. Mr. Lincoln himself regretted that, while he was splitting these rails, he had not been in school or college. He felt that he should have been very much better fitted for the great duties that had been devolved upon him if, instead having devoted the best of his youth to splitting rails and other manual labor, he had enjoyed the advantages of a thorough education. The country took Mr. Lincoln at the estimate of his friends; and those friends thrust him before the country as a man whose grand achievement was the splitting of many rails. It took years for the country to learn that Mr. Lincoln was not a boor. It took years for them to unlearn what an unwise and boyish introduction of a great man to the public had taught them. It took years for them to comprehend the fact that in Mr. Lincoln the country had the wisest, truest, gentlest, noblest, most sagacious president who had occupied the chair of state since Washington retired from it. At this very period he said to Judge Drummond of Chicago, who had remarked to him that people were talking of him for the presidency: "It seems as if they ought to find somebody who knows more than I do." The rails and that which they symbolized were what troubled him, and, in his own judgment, detracted from his qualifications for the high office.

The latter part of 1859 and the first months of 1860 were broken by travel through various portions of the country, during which he delivered some of the best and most elaborate speeches of his life. He visited Kansas, and was received by her people with the honor due to one who had done brave battle for her freedom. On entering Leavenworth, although the weather was most inclement, he was met by a large procession of people, and escorted to his hotel, while a dense crowd gathered upon the sidewalks that lined the passage. All the doors, windows, balconies and porticos were filled with men, women and children, anxious to catch a glimpse of the man whose speeches they had read, and of whom they had heard so much. The Leavenworth Register, in its notice of the occasion, said:--"never did man receive such honors at the hands of our people, and never did our people pay honors to a better man, or one who has been a truer friend of Kansas." Here he made a speech, and the following paragraph, selected from it, will show the state of political feeling at the time, and Mr. Lincoln's relation to it:

"But you democrats are for the Union; and you greatly fear the success of the republicans would destroy the Union. Why? Do the republicans declare against the Union? Nothing like it. Your own statement of it is that if the black republicans elect a president, you 'wont stand it.' You will break up the Union. That will be your act, not ours. To justify it, you must show that our policy gives you just cause for such desperate action. Can you do that? When you attempt it, you will find that our policy is exactly the policy of the men who made the Union--nothing more, nothing less. Do you really think you are justified to break up the government rather than have it administered as it was by Washington? If you do, you are very unreasonable, and more reasonable men cannot and will not submit to you. While you elect presidents, we submit, neither breaking nor attempting to break up the Union. If we shall constitutionally elect a president, it will be our duty to see that you also submit. Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a state. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right. So, if we constitutionally elect a president, and, therefore, you undertake to destroy the Union, it will be our duty to deal with you as old John Brown has been dealt with. We shall try to do our duty. We hope and believe that in no section will a majority so act as to render such extreme measures necessary."

In September, Mr. Lincoln paid a visit to Ohio, following Mr. Douglas, and made two speeches, one at Columbus and another at Cincinnati. These were the first occasions on which he had ever had the privilege of speaking to Ohio audiences, and the introductions to these speeches betrayed his diffidence. In Illinois the people knew and understood him. He had won a reputation there, but, as he traveled eastward, he felt himself away from home. The names of Chase, Corwin and Wade were in his mind--eminent speakers, with whose voices the people of Ohio were familiar--and he felt that it would be difficult for him to establish his position as a political orator when brought in close comparison with them. His style of speech and mode of reasoning he knew to be his own; and he had misgivings touching their reception among those whose ideas of oratory were derived from other models. But these misgivings were groundless. His plainness, clearness, earnestness and thorough comprehension of the merits of his subject secured for him the honest admiration and esteem of all who heard him.

At Columbus, he devoted himself mainly to the discussion of a few points of an elaborate article that had previously appeared in Harper's Magazine, from the pen of Judge Douglas. In this article, the Senator had contrived to spread throughout the country his views touching the relations of slavery to the Constitution. It was the old talk of the senatorial campaign repeated with unimportant variations, though with some new illustrations. It was familiar ground with Mr. Lincoln; and, while his speech was a new one, it would convey but few new ideas to those who had read his speeches of the previous autumn. Mr. Douglas had preceded him at Cincinnati, and had alluded to him there. It was the battle of Illinois repeated upon the soil of Ohio. The contestants were the same--the questions upon which they took issue were the same. Popular sovereignty, the Dred Scott decision, the right and wrong of slavery, negro equality, the nationalization of slavery--these subjects, presented and illustrated in every possible way already, were again made the themes of discussion by these two men; and the people of Ohio gave them abundant audience. One of Mr. Lincoln's most effective points at Cincinnati was made upon the assumption that, being near the Kentucky border, some Kentuckians were present, to whom he addressed himself in an attempt to prove that they ought to nominate Judge Douglas at Charleston, as peculiarly the southern candidate for the presidency. He told them that Judge Douglas was the only man in the whole nation who gave them any hold of the free states; and then he proceeded to show that Mr. Douglas was as sincerely, and quite as wisely, for them, as they were for themselves. The points made in this part of the speech against his old antagonist were very ingenious and very damaging, so far as they related to his standing in Ohio, whatever effect they may have had upon the possible Kentuckians in the audience. After telling them that they must take Douglas under any circumstance. or be defeated, and that it was possible, if they did take him, that they might be beaten, he told them what the opposition proposed to do with them in case it should be successful in the approaching presidential contest. The passage is worth quoting, as it is an embodiment of the policy he subsequently pursued when, the opposition having succeeded, he found himself endowed with the responsibilities of office, as well as a prophecy of the result of a collision then conditionally proposed.

"I will tell you, so far as I am authorized to speak for the opposition, what we mean to do with you. We mean to treat you, as near as we possibly can, as Washington, Jefferson and Madison treated you. We mean to leave you alone, and in no way to interfere with your institution; to abide by all and every compromise of the Constitution, and, in a word, coming back to the original proposition, to treat you, so far as degenerated men (if we have degenerated) may, according to the examples of those noble fathers--Washington, Jefferson and Madison. We mean to remember that you are as good as we; that there is no difference between us other than the difference of circumstances. We mean to recognize and bear in mind always that you have as good hearts in your bosoms as other people, or as we claim to have, and treat you accordingly. We mean to marry your girls when we have a chance--the white ones I mean--and I have the honor to inform you that I once did have a chance in that way.

"I have told you what we mean to do. I want to know, now, when that thing takes place, what you mean to do. I often hear it intimated that you mean to divide the Union whenever a republican or anything like it is elected president of the United States. [A voice--'That is so.'] 'That is so,' one of them says; I wonder if he is a Kentuckian? [A voice--'He is a Douglas man.'] Well, then, I want to know what you are going to do with your half of it? Are you going to split the Ohio down through, and push your half off a piece? Or are you going to keep it right alongside of us outrageous fellows? Or are you going to build up a wall some way between your country and ours, by which that movable property of yours can't come over here any more, to the danger of your losing it? Do you think you can better yourselves on that subject, by leaving us here under no obligation whatever to return those specimens of your movable property that come hither? You have divided the Union because we would not do right with you, as you think, upon that subject; when we cease to be under obligations to do anything for you, how much better off do you think you will be? Will you make war upon us and kill us all? Why, gentlemen, I think you are as gallant and as brave men as live; that you can fight as bravely in a good cause, man for man, as any other people living; that you have shown yourselves capable of this upon various occasions; but man for man, you are not better than we are, and there are not so many of you as there are of us. You will never make much of a hand at whipping us. If we were fewer in numbers than you, I think that you could whip us; if we were equal it would likely be a drawn battle; but being inferior in numbers, you will make nothing by attempting to master us."

It is proper to say of Mr. Lincoln and Judge Douglas that no two men in the nation better apprehended the real nature of the struggle between the North and South than they. Mr. Douglas, so far back as the date of the abrogation of the Missouri Compromise, foresaw the coming conflict, and by that measure attempted to avert it. His bringing forward that measure at a time when the South did not demand it, could have been from no motive other than his wish to provide ground upon which the northern and southern democracy could stand together, in the presidential contest of 1860, when it was his expectation to be their candidate. Slavery was becoming discontented under the conviction that it was about to lose its power. It found itself either legally or practically shut out of the national domain. It is not at all improbable that the Senator knew something of the intrigues of those who were bent on disunion. It was then that he invented "popular sovereignty"--what he was accustomed to call his "great principle"--and there was indeed nothing foolish in the tenacity with which he clung to it. It was his only ground of hope for election to the presidency. He had no personal responsibility for the Dred Scott decision. It was not for him to say what the rights of slavery were among the people of a territory; but he was willing to take the responsibility of giving slavery and freedom the same rights. There was great plausibility in his view, and he had little difficulty in carrying his party with him. It was a sort of neutral ground--speciously it was catholic ground. His intention was to give slavery a chance to enter territory then free,--territory forever set apart to freedom. If he did not intend to give this chance, his movement was without motive. On this chance, he intended, without doubt, to build up a claim upon southern support; but he had a heavy load to carry, as events proved. Mr. Lincoln was a thorn in his side. If he spoke in Illinois, Mr. Lincoln challenged him to debate, and exposed his fallacies. If he went to Ohio, Mr. Lincoln followed close upon his heels. If he betook himself to a New York publication, Mr. Lincoln took measures practically to meet him there.

Mr. Lincoln's opportunity to meet his antagonist in the press of New York came through an invitation to speak in Brooklyn, at Mr. Beecher's church. This speech, which it was finally concluded should be delivered at the Cooper Institute, in New York, was by many regarded as the best he ever made. It was the last elaborate speech of his life, and was spread broadcast over the country by the press of the city.

Mr. Lincoln arrived in the great metropolis on the 25th of February, 1860. He expected, as has been stated, to speak at Mr. Beecher's church in Brooklyn, and had prepared his address with some reference to the place. On learning that he was expected to speak in New York, he said he must review his speech. He reached the Astor House on Saturday, and spent the whole day in making such modifications of his manuscript as seemed necessary, under the change of circumstances. On Sunday, he attended upon Mr. Beecher's preaching, and seemed to take great satisfaction in the services. When waited upon on Monday, by representative members of the Republican Club, under whose auspices he was to appear, he was found encased in a new and badly wrinkled suit of black, which had evidently spent too much time in a small valise. He talked freely of the unbecoming dress, and, like a boy, expressed his surprise at finding himself in the great city. On being applied to for slips containing the speech of the evening, he showed that he was not familiar with the habit of eastern speakers of supplying such slips to the press in advance, and even expressed the doubt whether any of the papers would care to publish it entire. During the interview, he referred frequently to Mr. Douglas, and in so kind and cordial a manner that it was impossible to regard him as that gentleman's personal enemy in any sense.[1]

Being at leisure during the day, he accepted an invitation to ride about the city. Some of the more important streets were passed through, and a number of large establishments visited. At one place, he met an old acquaintance from Illinois, whom he addressed with an inquiry as to how he had fared since leaving the West. "I have made a hundred thousand dollars, and lost all," was his reply. Then turning questioner he said: "How is it with you, Mr. Lincoln?" "Oh very well," said he; "I have the cottage at Springfield, and about eight thousand dollars in money. If they make me vice-president with Seward, as some say they will, I hope I shall be able to increase it to twenty thousand; and that is as much as any man ought to want."

In a photographic establishment on Broadway, he met and was introduced to George Bancroft, the historian. The contrast which he presented in his person and manner to this gentleman was certainly not to his advantage; but his bluff, hearty way carried all before it. He informed Mr. Bancroft that he was on his way to Massachusetts where he had a son in college, who, if report were true, already knew much more than his father.

He was to speak at Cooper Institute that night, and having caught a glimpse of the great capital and of its gigantic interests and affairs, it is not strange that he should have been oppressed with a sense of his own insignificance. It was one of his peculiarities that, while he was the subject of the most exalted aspirations and ambitions, and the ready undertaker of the highest and most difficult tasks, he always bore about with him a sense of his imperfections, and experienced a sort of surprise at every success. Indeed, his triumphs became the subjects of his study. They really puzzled him; and frequent conversations with others betrayed his desire to find the secrets of his own power.

But Mr. Lincoln was not more curious concerning himself, or concerning the new scenes among which he found himself, than the people of New York were concerning him. There was a great and general curiosity to see and hear him; and when he entered the hall he found the platform covered with the republican leaders of the city, and of Brooklyn, and, in his audience, many ladies. The venerable William Cullen Bryant presided, and in introducing the speaker said: "It is a grateful office that I perform, in introducing to you an eminent citizen of the West, hitherto known to you only by reputation." There was nothing in the introduction, however, which pleased Mr. Lincoln so much as Mr. Bryant's statement in the next day's Evening Post, (of which he was the editor) that for the publication of such words of weight and wisdom as those of Mr. Lincoln, the pages of that journal were "indefinitely elastic."

Mr. Lincoln began his address in a low, monotonous tone, but gaining confidence in the respectful stillness, his tones, that had long been keyed to out-of-door efforts, rose in strength and gained in clearness, until every ear heard every word. His style of speech was so fresh, his mode of statement was so simple, his illustrations were so quaint and peculiar, that the audience eagerly drank in every sentence. The backwoods orator had found one of the most appreciative audiences he had ever addressed, and the audience gave abundant testimony that they were listening to the utterances of a master.

The speech which Mr. Lincoln made on this occasion must have cost him much labor in the preparation. The historical study which it involved--study that led into unexplored fields, and fields very difficult of exploration--must have been very great; but it was intimate and complete. Gentlemen who afterward engaged in preparing the speech for circulation as a campaign document were much surprised by the amount of research that it required to be able to make the speech, and were very much wearied with the work of verifying its historical statements in detail. They were weeks in finding the works consulted by him.

As a text for the subject of his discourse, he took the words of Senator Douglas, uttered in a speech at Columbus, Ohio, the previous autumn, viz: "Our fathers when they framed the government under which we live, understood this question (the question of slavery) just as well, and even better, than we do now." To this statement the speaker agreed, so that he and the senator had a common starting point for discussion. The inquiry was, simply: what was the understanding those then had of the question mentioned? As questions preliminary to this inquiry he gave these: "what is the frame of government under which we live?" and "who were our fathers who framed the Constitution?" The frame of government is the Constitution itself, consisting of the original, framed in 1787, and twelve subsequent amendments, ten of which were framed in 1789. The thirty-nine men who framed the original Constitution are legitimately to be called the fathers, and these he took as "our fathers who framed the government under which We live." The question fully written out, which Senator Douglas thought these men understood better than we do, was: "Does the proper division of local from federal authority, or anything in the Constitution, forbid the federal government control as to slavery in our federal territories?"

From this point Mr. Lincoln went on to draw from the history of Congress every recorded act of these thirty-nine men on the question of slavery. Question after question upon which these men acted was stated in brief; and it was found that, of the thirty-nine fathers, twenty-one, a clear majority, so acted that they would be guilty of perjury if they did not believe that the federal government had power to control slavery in the territories. Two voted against special measures, but in such a way as not to show whether they believed the government possessed this power or not. Of the remaining sixteen, there is no record, but it is fair to conclude they had the same understanding with the majority, particularly as they included some of the most noted anti-slavery men of the time, among whom were Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris.

The historical argument was entirely unanswerable. It was a solid and logical statement of facts and conclusions that no sane man would undertake to controvert. The first third of the speech was devoted to this historical argument, and the remainder in about equal proportions to addresses to the southern people, and to the republicans. His remarks addressed particularly to the South were in the kindest spirit, but they were charged with a force of argument and statement that is wonderful. It is well that Mr. Lincoln be permitted. to state his own attitude toward those to whom he was destined to come into such strange and momentous relations. He said:

"You say we are sectional. We deny it. That makes an issue; and the burden of proof is upon you. You produce your proof; and what is it? Why, that our party has no existence in your section--gets no votes in your section. The fact is substantially true; but does it prove the issue? If it does, then, in case we should, without change of principle, begin to get votes in your section, we should thereby cease to be sectional. You cannot escape this conclusion; and yet, are you willing to abide by it? If you are, you will probably soon find that we have ceased to be sectional, for we shall get votes in your section this very year. You will then begin to discover, as the truth plainly is, that your proof does not touch the issue. The fact that we get no votes in your section is a fact of your making, and not of ours. And if there be fault in that fact, that fault is primarily yours, and remains so until you show that we repel you by some wrong principle or practice. If we do repel you by any wrong principle or practice, the fault is ours; but this brings us to where you ought to have started--to a discussion of the right or wrong of our principle. If our principle, put in practice, would wrong your section for the benefit of ours, or for any other object, then our principle, and we with it, are sectional, and are justly opposed and denounced as such. Meet us, then, on the question of whether our principle, put in practice, would wrong your section; and so meet it as if it were possible that something may be said on our side. Do you accept the challenge? No? Then you really believe that the principle which our fathers, who framed the government under which we live, thought so clearly right as to adopt it, and indorse it again and again upon their official oaths, is, in fact, so clearly wrong as to demand your condemnation without a moment's consideration.

"Some of you delight to flaunt in our faces the warning against sectional parties given by Washington in his Farewell Address. Less than eight years before Washington gave that warning, he had, as President of the United States, approved and signed an act of Congress enforcing the prohibition of slavery in the Northwestern Territory, which act embodied the policy of the government upon that subject, up to and at the very moment he penned that warning; and about one year after he penned it he wrote Lafayette that he considered that prohibition a wise measure, expressing, in the same connection, his hope that we should some time have a confederacy of free states.

"Bearing this in mind, and seeing that sectionalism has since arisen upon this same subject, is that warning a weapon in your hands against us, or in our hands against you? Could Washington himself speak, would he cast the blame of that sectionalism upon us, who sustain his policy, or upon you, who repudiate it? We respect that warning of Washington, and we commend it to you, together with his example pointing to the right application of it.

"But you say you are conservative--eminently conservative--while we are revolutionary, destructive, or something of the sort. What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried against the new and untried? We stick to, contend for, the identical old policy on the point in controversy which was adopted by our fathers who framed the government under which we live; while you, with one accord, reject, and scout, and spit upon that old policy, and insist upon substituting something new. True, you disagree among yourselves as to what that substitute shall be. You have considerable variety of new propositions and plans, but you are unanimous in rejecting and denouncing the old policy of the fathers. Some of you are for reviving the foreign slave-trade; some for a congressional slave-code for the territories; some for Congress forbidding the territories to prohibit slavery within their limits; some for maintaining slavery in the territories through the Judiciary; some for the 'gur-reat pur-rinciple' that, 'if one man would enslave another, no third man should object,' fantastically called 'popular sovereignty;' but never a man among you in favor of federal prohibition of slavery in federal territories, according to the practice of our fathers who framed the government under which we live. Not one of all your various plans can show a precedent or an advocate in the century within which our government originated. Consider, then, whether your claim of conservatism for yourselves, and your charge of destructiveness against us, are based on the most clear and stable foundations.

"Again, you say we have made the slavery question more prominent than it formerly was. We deny it. We admit that it is more prominent, but we deny that we made it so. It was not we, but you, who discarded the old policy of the fathers. We resisted, and still resist, your innovation; and thence comes the greater prominence of the question. Would you have that question reduced to its former proportions? Go back to that old policy. What has been will be again, under the same conditions. If you would have the peace of the old times, re-adopt the precepts and policy of the old times."

Alluding to their threats to break up the Union if slavery should be shut out of the territories, he said:

"In that supposed event, you say you will destroy the Union; and then you say the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth: 'Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!' To be sure, what the robber demanded of me--my money--was my own; and I had a clear right to keep it; but it was no more my own than my vote is my own; and threat of death to me to extort my money, and threat of destruction to the Union to extort my vote, can scarcely be distinguished in principle."

Certainly this illustration disposed of the whole question as to who would be responsible for the destruction of the Union, under the circumstances stated.

His words to the republicans were words of profoundest wisdom. He told them that nothing would satisfy the South but to cease calling slavery wrong, and to join with them in calling it right, and to do it thoroughly by acts as well as words. "We must arrest and return their slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our free state constitutions. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us." He continued: "I am quite aware they do not state their case precisely in this way. Most of them would probably say to us, 'let us alone, do nothing to us, and say what you please about slavery.' But we do let them alone--have never disturbed them--so that, after all, it is what we say that dissatisfies them. They will continue to accuse us of doing until we cease saying." After saying that we could not consistently deny the South in its most extreme demands, on any ground except the wrong of slavery, he put the case forcibly, as follows: "If slavery is right, all words, acts, laws, and constitutions against it are themselves wrong, and should be silenced and swept away. If it is right, we cannot justly object to its nationality--its universality; if it is wrong, they cannot justly insist upon its extension, its enlargement. All they ask, we could readily grant if we thought slavery right; all we ask, they could as readily grant if they thought slavery wrong. Their thinking it right and our thinking it wrong is the precise fact upon which depends the whole controversy." The closing paragraph is equally remarkable for its wit and wisdom--its pith and patriotism:

"Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone where is is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the national territories, and to overrun us here in these free states? If our sense of duty forbids this, then let us stand by our duty, fearlessly and effectively. Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored--contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man--such a policy of 'don't care' on a question about which all true men do care--such as Union appeals beseeching true Union men to yield to disunionists, reversing the divine rule, and calling not the sinners, but the righteous to repentance-such as invocations to Washington, imploring men to unsay what Washington said, and undo what Washington did. Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government, nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty, as we understand it."

The speech was, in the popular acceptation of the phrase, a great success. Through all his passages of close and crowded reasoning, his audience followed him with an interest that produced the profoundest silence, and at every triumphant establishment of a point broke out into sudden and hearty applause. Those who came from motives of curiosity went away thoughtful. Many who had entered the hall in doubt as to their duty, went away with their path bright before them. Most of all were the New York politicians affected; and it is not to be doubted that the impressions of that evening left them convinced that if Mr. Seward, the man of their choice, should be set aside, as the republican candidate for the presidency, Mr. Lincoln, the favorite of the West, would be abundantly worthy of their support.

At the conclusion of the speech, a few friends took the speaker to the rooms of the Atheneum Club for supper. Mr. Lincoln appreciated his success, and was in good humor over it. He was as happy at the table as he was upon the platform--full of good humor, and abounding with jokes and pleasant stories. Throwing off all reserve, and opening his heart like a boy, he talked long and late; and when he parted with his friends for the night they were as much charmed with the man as they had been instructed by his speech and entertained by his conversation.

The papers of the city were full of his address and with comments upon it the next day. The Illinois lawyer was a lion. Critics read the speech, and marveled at its pure and compact English, its felicity of statement and its faultless logic. It was read during the day not only by New York but by nearly all New England.

After the speech, he spent several days in New York, familiarizing himself with its wonders. Some of his explorations he made alone, and on one occasion found his way into the Sunday School of the Five Points Mission. The superintendent noticing his look of interest in the proceedings, invited him to speak to the children. His remarks interested his young audience so much that on every attempt to stop they cried out "go on, oh! do go on!" None knew who he was, and as he turned to depart, the superintendent inquired his name. "Abraham Lincoln of Illinois," was the answer.

Invitations were received by Mr. Lincoln from many places in New England, to speak on political questions. On the fifth of March, he spoke at Hartford, in the city hall, and was escorted to the hall by the first company of "Wide-Awakes" ever organized in the country. This organization became universal throughout the free states, but was intended only for campaign service. He had an immense audience in Hartford, and produced a powerful impression. On the following day he was waited upon by a number of prominent citizens, and visited several objects of interest in the city, among which were the armories of Colt and Sharp. On the sixth of March, he spoke at New Haven, at Meriden on the seventh, at Woonsocket, Rhode Island, on the eighth, at Norwich, Connecticut, on the ninth, and at Bridgeport on the tenth. His speaking was always to immense audiences. Connecticut was that year carried by the republicans by about five hundred majority, against the most powerful efforts of the democrats--a fact which was due more to the speeches of Mr. Lincoln than to any other cause.

Some very interesting reminiscences of this trip were communicated to the public in 1864, by Rev. John P. Gulliver of Norwich, who listened to his address in that city.[2] On the morning following the speech, he met Mr. Lincoln upon a train of cars, and entered into conversation with him. In speaking of his speech, Mr. Gulliver remarked to Mr. Lincoln that he thought it the most remarkable one he ever heard. "Are you sincere in what you say?" inquired Mr. Lincoln. "I mean every word of it," replied the minister. "Indeed, sir," he continued, "I learned more of the art of public speaking last evening than I could from a whole course of lectures on rhetoric." Then Mr. Lincoln informed him of "a most extraordinary circumstance" that occurred at New Haven a few days previously. A professor of rhetoric in Yale College, he had been told, came to hear him, took notes of his speech, and gave a lecture on it to his class the following day; and, not satisfied with that, followed him to Meriden the next evening, and heard him again for the same purpose. All this seemed to Mr. Lincoln to be "very extraordinary." He had been sufficiently astonished by his success at the West, but he had no expectation of any marked success at the East, particularly among literary and learned men. "Now," said Mr. Lincoln, "I should like very much to know what it was in my speech which you thought so remarkable, and which interested my friend the professor so much?" Mr. Gulliver's answer was: "The clearness of your statements, the unanswerable style of your reasoning, and, especially, your illustrations, which were romance and pathos and fun and logic all welded together."

After Mr. Gulliver had fully satisfied his curiosity by a further exposition of the politician's peculiar power, Mr. Lincoln said, "I am much obliged to you for this. I have been wishing for a long time to find some one who would make this analysis for me. It throws light on a subject which has been dark to me. I can understand very readily how such a power as you have ascribed to me will account for the effect which seems to be produced by my speeches. I hope you have not been too flattering in your estimate. Certainly I have had a most wonderful success for a man of my limited education." Then Mr. Gulliver inquired into the processes by which he had acquired his education, and was rewarded with many interesting details. When they were about to part, the minister said: "Mr. Lincoln, may I say one thing to you before we separate?" "Certainly; anything you please," was the response. "You have just spoken," said Mr. Gulliver, "of the tendency of political life in Washington to debase the moral convictions of our representatives there, by the admixture of considerations of mere political expediency. You have become, by the controversy with Mr. Douglas, one of our leaders in this great struggle with slavery, which is undoubtedly the struggle of the nation and the age. What I would like to say is this, and I say it with a full heart: Be true to your principles, and we will be true to you, and God will be true to us all." Mr. Lincoln, touched by the earnestness of his interlocutor, took his hand in both of his own, and, with his face full of sympathetic light, exclaimed: "I say amen to that! amen to that!"

After visiting his son at Harvard College, making many acquaintances among the prominent men of New England, and looking with curious eyes upon New England scenes, and observing with his native shrewdness the characteristics of New England habits and manners, he turned his face homewards, spending a Sabbath in New York while on the way, and again attending Mr. Beecher's church.

One thing, at least, he had learned by this visit: that the people of the older states judge a man by the same rule that prevails on an Illinois prairie--by what he is, and what he can do, and not by the cloth he wears, the knowledge he has acquired, the wealth he possesses, or the blood that flows in his veins. He had been accepted as an honest, fresh, original and powerful man; and he went home gratified. Could he have made his visit longer, and been seen more generally by the people, it would not have been necessary for them to wait so long before knowing how great and good a man the providence of God had given to be their ruler.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. R.C. McCormick, in the New York Evening Post.
  2. New York Independent of September 1, 1864.