E. B. (Elihu Benjamin) Washburne.

Abraham Lincoln, his personal history and public record online

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His Personal History and Public Record.




Delivered in the U. S. House of Representatives, May 29, i860.


Tbe House being in Committee of the 'WTiole oa the state
of the Uuiou —

Mr. WASHBURNE, of Illinois, said:
Mr. CuAiHMAN : The Republican party, through
its proper organization, has placed in nomina-
tion for President of the United States, Abraham
Lincoln, of Illinois. The people, who will be
called upon to pass upon that nomination, have
a right to inquire into the life, the character,
and the political opinions, of the man who is
commended to their suffrages for the highest
office in their gift. The State which I in part
represent on this floor, having been honored by
this nomination, I come here to-day to speak of
the personal and political history of the candi-
date. I have known Mr. Lincoln well for twenty
years. I have known him in private life, I have
known him at the bar, and have been associated
with him in every political contest in our State
since the advent of " Tippecanoe and Tyler too,"
in 1840. While I may speak with the accents of
a strong personal friendship, I shall speak with
the frankness of conscious truth, and, I trust,
without exaggeration.

Springing from the humblest ranks in life, and
unaided by the adventitious supports of family
or wealth, Mr. Lincoln has reached his present
exalted position by the strength of his will, the
power of his intellect, and the honesty of his
heart. He was born in Hardin county, Ken-
tucky, February 12, 1808; his family removed
to Spencer county, Indiana, in 1816, where he
passed his boyhood amid the roughest hardships
and the most trying experiences of a frontier
life. Without schools, and almost without books,
he spent bis. time amid the wild and romantic
scenes of the border, alleviating the hard labors
of the farm by the sport of the huntsman. Of
fine physical development, with a vigorous intel-
lect, quick intelligence, ready wit, and genial
character, he gave early evidences of the supe-
riority he has since attained. His first advent into
tb«5 great wor^d, from the comparative seclusion
of his frontier home, was down the Wabash and

Ohio rivers in charge of & flat-boat, of aclass known
to all the old river men of the West as "broad-
horns." These boats, laden with the productions
of the farmers, floated down stream until a mar-
ket was found for the cargo; and when that was
disposed of, the boat itself was sold, and those in
charge made their way back, in the best manner
they could, to their homes. A great many per-
sons have heard Mr. Lincoln relate, with inimita-
ble effect, the anecdotes of his experience of that
po-rtion of his life.

In 1830, Mr. Lincoln emigrated to that State,
with which his great name has now become his-
torically connected. He passed the first year in
Macon county, and actively labored on a farm,
where he and a fellow-laborer, by the name of
John Hanks, split three thousand rails. This
portion of the history of Mr. Lincoln's life gave
rise to the incident in the late Republican State
Convention at Decatur, in Macon county, which
awakened the intensest enthusiasm of that vast
concourse of citizens from all parts of the State.
Mr. Lincoln was present as a spectator in that
Convention, and was invited to take a seat upon
the platform. When he had taken his seat, it
was announced to the Convention that John
Hanks, an old Democrat, who had grown gray in
the service of that party, desired to make a con-
tribution to the Convention ; and the offer being
accepted, forthwith two old-time fence rails,
decorated with flags and streamers, wera borne
through the crowd into the Convention, bearing
the inscription:



Two rails from a lot of 3,000 made iu
1830 by Jolm Haaks and Abo Lin-

The effect was electrical. One spontaneous
burst of applause went up from all parts of the
" wigwam." Of course, Mr. Lincoln was called
out, and made an explanation of the matter. He



tfjTr— t;

stated that, some thirty years ago, then just em-
igrating to the State, he stopped with bis mother's
family, for one season, ia what is now Macon
county ; that he huilt a cabin, split rails, and cul-
tivated a small farm down on the Sangamon
river, some six or eight miles from Decatur.
These, he was informed, were taken from that
fence; but,*whether they were or not, he had
mauled many, and better ones, since he had
grown to manhood.

From Macon county he removed to a settle-
ment called New Salem, which was then in San-
gamon, but now in Menard county. It was at
New Salem that Judge Douglas says he first knew
Lincoln, and I cannot do better than to read
here an extract from one of his speeches, made
in the Illinois campaign in 1858, at Ottawa :

" In the remarks I have made on this phiUbrin, and the
position of Mr. Lincoln upon it, I moan nothing personally
disrespectful or unkind to that gentleman. I have known
him for nearly twunly-five years. There were many points
of sympathy between us when we first got acquaintijd. We
were both comparatively boys, and both struggling with
poverty in a strange land. I was a scbool-t'aeher in the
town of Winchester, and he a llomisliuig grocery-keeper m
the town of Salem. He was more siicci'.'t^.slul in ni.s occupa-
tion than I was in mine, and lieuce more fortunate in thi,s
world's goods. Lincoln is one of tkciS'-. /irrtduir nu^n who ptr-
form with admirable skill tvenjUdiifj icukli tkij utukrUike." —
Lincoln and Douglas Debates, page 09.

The last sentence in the above extract is wor-
thy of especial note. Such a compliment ex-
torted from his bitterest adver.sary has a greatly
enhanced value. When Mr. Lincoln shall have
undertaken the administration of the Govern-
ment of this great country, the people will agree
with Mr. Douglas that

" Lincoln is one of those peculiar m^n loho perform wUh ad-
mirable skill everything wiiich they undertake."

Again : Mr. Douglas, in a speech in the Senate
of the United States, January 23, lytiO, refers to
Mr. Lincoln as one of '' the ablest and ■most clear-
headed men" of the Republican parly.

It may bo proper, however, here, to let the fol-
lowing reply of Mr. Lincoln be heard in regard
to his being a " flourishing grocery-keeper : "

" The Judge is wofnlly at fault about his ciirly friend Lin-
coln being a ' grocery-keeper.' I don't know an it would
be a great sin, if I had been; but he is mistaken. Lincoln
never kept a grocery anywhere ia the world. It is true that
Lincoln did work the latter part of one winter in a little still-
house, up at the head of a hollow."

Now it is proposed, that as Lincoln spent a
"part of one winter in a little slill-howBe, up at
the head of a hollow," he shall spend the whole
of four winters, at least, ia a largo lohile house at
the head of Pennsylvania avenue.

The Black Hawk war having broken out, Mr.
Lincoln was among the first to raise a company
of volunteers for that service, and he acquitted
himself with credit. Returning from that cam-
paign, he began in earnest to devoije the ener-
gies of his great intellect and superior will to the
acquisition of knowledge. He first acquired a
knowledge of the art of surveying, but the de-
mand for his services in that line of business was
not suflicient to support him, and he was com-
pelled to stirrender up his mathematical and sur-
veying instruments to the sherifl, to be sold on

Nothing daunted by his misfortune, then it
was he commenced the study of that profession

upon which he has conferred so much honor, and
in which he has attained so great a distinction.
Borrowing a few elementary law books, he
learned the rudiments of the profession by the
dim light thrown out from the fire-place of a log

In 183G he was placed in nomination, by the
Whigs of Sangamon county, for a seat in the
lower branch of the Legislature, which then met
at Vandalia. He was elected, and gave early
evidence of the superior qualities of his mind,
and his skill and power as a debater. lie was
elected, and served two subsequent sessions.
Wider avenues were now opened to him in the
acquisition of general knowledge, and of the
knowledge of the law, which he improved to the
utmost. Changing his residence from a precinct
in the county to Springfield, which had then be-
come the capital of the State, and where he has
ever since resided, he was admitted to the bar,
and embarked in his profession. His success
was immediate. He displayed a knowledge of
the principles of the law almost intuitive, and
bis arguments were marked by strength of rea-
soning, keenness of logic, a rough eloquence,
and a flow of wit and humor. His fairness to
his adversary, his disdain of all the little tricks
which sometimes disgrace the profession, his
entire candor and truthfulness, his original and
easy mode of illustrtitiou, made him all powerful
before a jury. He now ranks as the ablest and
most successful lawyer in the State.

My first knowledge of Mr. Lincoln was in the
great campaign of 1840. He was then an elector
on the Harrison electoral ticket. He stumped
all the middle :ind lower part of the State with
great eft'ect, travelling from the Wabash to the
Mississippi in the hot months of July and August,
shaking with the ague one day, and addressing
the people the next, and establishing a reputa-
tion as one of the most effective and popular
speakers in the State, a reputation which he has
ever siuce maintained.

From 1840 to 1844 Mr. Lincoln devoted him-
self entirely to the active pursuit of his profes-
sion. The Clay campaign of 1844 brought him
again into the political arena, and he headed
the Whig electoral ticket in that canvass. Ho
stumped the State, speaking to immense au-
diences everywhere he went, winning the ap-
plause of his friends, and extorting the admira-
tion of his enemies, for his eloquent and masterly
expositions of the principles of his party. After
the defeat of Mr. Clay, and up to 184C, he was
found devoted to his profession. In August of
1846 he was elected to Congress, by the Whigs
of the Springfield district, to succeed Col. E. D.

In December, 1847, Mr. Lincoln took his seat
in Congress. It is but proper that his recorded
opinions, while a member of Congress, upon the
questions then agitating the country, should be
known, and I now propose to briefly review the
record made by him in the Thirtieth Congress.

In the House of Representatives, on the 3d of
January, 184S, Mr. Evans, of Maryland, offered
the following resolution .


" nesnlved, Tlint tho onpitiilation of llontcrcy meets with
l)ic culirc saiictiou and approbrition of (bis Cougross, and
lliat I lie terms of that capitulation were as crodil;iblo to tlic
liiimanity ami skill ol tlic (,'allaut Taylor, as the achicvcmcut
ol tlic victory ctMoatoroy was glorious to our arms."

Mr. Asbmnn, of Massachusetts, moved to amend
hy adding the word.s: " ia a wnr unnecessarily
and uncoQstilutionally begun by the President
' of the United States." The yeas and nays were
onk'ied upon this nmcndment, and it was agreed
to — yeas 85, niiys 81. [Congressional Globe,
Vol. 18, /"7ye 9.J.) It was a strict party vote,
every Whiff member of the House voting in the
iifiiimaiive. Among the distinguished names of
those who voted for this amcKdment I fmd that
of Abraham Lincoln. 1 find also that he voted
in what would now be called good Democratic
company, and with men who are at the present
time bright and shiuing lights in the Democratic
party, and who have never been denounced as
Irailors, taking sides with the enemy in time of
war. Hon. Thomas L. Clingman, at present a
Democratic Senator from North Carolina ; lion.
Alexander II. Stephens, of Georgia, a leader of
the Democratic party in the House of Represent-
atives for several Congresses prior to the present
one; Hon. Thomas Butler King, of Georgia, now
II Democratic member of the Senate of that St.ite;
lion. Daniel M. Barrirger, of Korth Carolina,
late Minister to Spain, now a Democrat ; and
Hon. Robert Toombs, the present able ond dis-
Imguished Senator from Georgia, all of whom
served with Mr. Lincoln in the Thirtieth Con-
gress — with whom Mr. Toombs says, in a late
speech, be had an " agreeable acquaintsmce,"
and all of whom voted precisely as Lincoln did,
for this amendment of Mr. Ashmun.

In regard to this vote, I prefer to let Mr. Lin-
coln speak for himself. In replying to a speech
of Judge Douglas, in the celebrated campaign
in onr State in 1838, Mr. Lincoln said :

" And so I thiuic my friend, tii3 Judgo, is equallj' at fault,
vriisii ho ctiarges me, at the time when I was m Cuuiti-ess, of
baviiig opposed our soldiers wlio were fighting in the Mex-
ican war. The Judge did not make his charge very distinct-
ly ; but X sail tell you what ho can prove by ro'erritig to the
record. You remember I was an old Whig, and whenever
the llcmocratic parly ti'ied to get me to vote that the war
Lad been righteously buguu by the Pre.=ident, 1 would uot
doit. Hut whenever they asked for any money, or laud
T.-anants, or anything to pay the soldiers there, during all
that time, I gave llio same vote that Judge Douglas did. Vou
«.an think as you please as to whether that was consistent.
Such is the truth ; and the Judge lias the right to maka all
ho can out of it. Bu' when he by a general charge convey;;
tho idea that I withheld supplies from the soldiers who were
li.^hling m the Mexican war, or did anything else to hiudcr
the soldiers, be is, to say the least, grossly and altogether
mistaken, as a cousn'.tatiou of tlie records will prove to
Lull " — Lincoln ayid Doujlas Di:haL'K,paje 75.

In a speech in this House, on the 27th day of
July, 1848, Mr. Lincoln, referring to the same
matter, spoke in the following language of trui:h,
eloquence, and patriotism :

'• II', when the war had begun, and had become the cause
of the country, the giving of our money and our I)!ood, in
common witli yours, was support of the war, then it is not
true that we have always oi>poso(l the war. With few indi-
vidual e.xcoptions, you have constantly bad our votes hero
for all the necessary supplier. And, more than this, you
Lave had the services, tho blood, and the lives, of our politi-
cal brcthreu, in every trial, and on every field. Tho beard-
less lioy and the mature man, the humble and the distin-
fjuish^d — you have had them. TliroNgh suffering and death,
I'V disease and in battle, they have endured and fought and
(ell with you. Clay >iud Webster each gave a sou, never to

bo returned. From tho State of ray own residence, besides
other worthy but less known Whig names, we sent Mar-
shall, Morrison, Baker, and Hardin; they all fought, and
one fell, and in tho fall of that one we lost our best Whig^

" Nor were the Whigs few in number, or laggard in ths
day (if danger. In that fearful, bloody,' breathless struggle
at Bucua Vist^i , where each man's hard Uisk was to beat
back live foes or die himself, of tho five high officers who
perished, four were Whigs.

" In speaking of this, I mean no odious comparison be-
tween the lion-hearted Whigs and Democrats who fought
there. On other occasions, and among the lower ofBcers
and privates on (/laj occasion, I doubt not the proportion was
dil^'rcnl. I wish to do justice to all. I think of all those
brave men as Americans, in whoso proud Came, as an Amer-
ican, I too have a share. Many of them, Whigs and Demo-
crais, lire my constituents and personal friends; and I thank
them — more than thank them — one and all, for the high,
imperishable honor they have conferred on our couuuoa
State." — C(Wi/7rcs.sto?m7 Ghbr,v(jl. 10,3)aye 1042.

Such being the patriotic and consistent po-
sition of Mr. Lincoln on the war, when the bill
for supplit,* for our army in Mexico came up oa
the 8ih day of March, 1848, his vote is of course
found recorded in favor of the bill. (Congret'
sional Globe, i^ol. IS, jja^e 445.)

Following this up, we find Mr. Lincoln ever
watchful ot the interests of the soldier, propo-
sing to extend the bounty land act, not only so
far as regarded the volunteers to Mexico, but to
the war-worn veterans of 1812 ; thus putting in
motion that great measure of public justice
which was finally meted out to those brave and
patriotic men. On the proposition to amend the
bounty land law of February 11, 1847, which
was jiassed before Mr. Lincoln became a member
of Congress, Mr. Lincoln spoke aa follows:

" If there was a g(uieral desire on the part of the House to
pass the bill now, he should bo glad to have it doue — con-
curring as ho did giuierally with tho gentleman from Arkan-
sas, [Mr. Joiixso.t.l that the pu.stponement might jeopard the
safely of the iiroposilion. If, however, a reterenco was to
be made, he wished to make a very few remarks ia relation
to thcs iveral subjects desired by gentlemen to be embraced
in amendments to tho ninth serijou of the actof tho last ses-
sion of Congress. The first amendment desired by members
of this House had lor its only object to give bounty lauds to
such persons as had served for a limo as privates, but had
ucvor been discharged as such, because promoted to oflBce.
That subject, and no other, was embraced in this bill. There
were some others who desired, while they were legislating
on this subject, that they should also give bounty lands to
the volunteers of the war of 1812. His friend from Mary-
lanrl [Jlr. Evans] said there were no such men. Ho (Mr.
L ) did not s ly there were many, but ho was very confident
there were some. His friend from Kentucky near him [Mr.
Gaines] told him he himself was one.

" There was still another jiroposition touching this matter:
that was, that persons entitled to bounty land should by law
bo eiilltled to locate these lands in parcels, and not be re-
quired to locate them in one body, as was provided by the
existing law.

" Now, he had carefully drawn up a bill embracing these
separate propositions, which ho intended to propose as a
substitute for all these bills in the Houec.or in Committee of
tiie Wiiole oa the slate of the Union, at some suitable time.
If there was a disposition on the jiart of the House to act at
once on this separate proposition, he repeated that, with the
gentleman from Arkansas, ho should prefer it, lest they
should lose all. But if there was to be a refcrence,Tie de-
sired to introduce his bill embracing the three propositions—
thus enabling the Committee and the Houso to act at the
same time, whether favorably or unfavorably, upon all." —
Concirrxaiimal Globe, vol. 18, jiri(/« 550.

Thus it will be seen tliat Mr. Lincoln not only
favored the bill before the House, but he pro-
posed embracing the soldiers of the war of 1812,
and also to authorize the soldier to locate his
land in parcels, and not be obliged to locate it
in one body; a most just and liberal propo-

On the great question of rivers and harbors,
Mr. Lincoln is eminently sound and practical,
and his views must meet with the approbation
of the country. On the 2-2d day of June, 184S, he
made a speech in the House of Uepresentatives, on
the message of President Polk vetoing the river
and harbor bill. In reply to that part of the mes-
eage of Mr. Polk touching the suggestion of a
change of the Constitution, he made the follow-
ing observations, which should sink deep into
the hearts ot the American people :

" As a general rule, I think we would do much bettor to
let it aloue. No sligUt occusioa should tempi us to touch it.
Better not take the first step, which m!iy load to a h;iuit ol
altering it. Better riilher hab.tualo ourselves to thiulv of it
aa unalterable. It cun scarcely bo made bettor than it i.s.
New provisions would introduce new difflculties, and thus
create and increase appotito lor still further change. N'o,
sir; let it stand as it is. Now liands have never touched it.
The men who made ithavedoue their work, and tuvo passed
away. Who shall improve ou wtiat they didf"

After conclusively replying to the arguments
of the message, Mr. Lincoln proceeds with the
following eminently practical suggestions :

" Determine that the thinp can and shall be done, and then
wo shall QuU the way. The tendeucy to uuduo LXpausiou is
unquestiouably the chief difflcully. llow to do something,
and still nottodo too Jiiuc/i, is the desiileratum. Let each
contribute his mito iu the w.iy of auggesiiou. The lato .-^inui
Wright, in a letter to iho Chicago Cuuveutiou, contributed
his, which was worth snmi^thuig; and 1 now contribute miuo,
which may be worth nothing. At all events, it will mislead
nobo.ly, aud therefore will <lo no h.irin. I would not borrow
money. 1 a:o «g:iiusi an oveiwhi-.iniDg, cruslUn^ system.
Suppose that, lit each session, Con^n ss &h!ill lirsl determine
liuio much money tun, lor that year, b ; spared lor iiiiprovc-
menis ; then ajiiwriiou thatpuin to the most important ob-
jects, do tar, all is ea?y ; but how .-^hall wo dolTuiiuo which
aretl.i most important? On ihi.s q.Mjsilou come.s thecoUibiuii
of Mt?re.sts. 1 shad be .«low lo ac'Juowledgo lh;il yntr bar-
ber or yu'ir river is more imixirtjiuttli.in )/iine,aiidn"r'it:(.;a.
Tocif^a.- this difllculty, let us have that samo slat.si cat lu-
i'ormiuoa which the gentleman Irnin Uh.o (Mr. Vailoii| su;,'-
g?sii d at the liogmmug ol tlns.scssion. In ihal inloi oialion
we shall have afilc.'ii, imb'.'iidiiig b.isi.s (>( farlt — :i bis.s iti
no w se subject to whim, capnco, or local iut:TPSt. The pre-
houied amoMut of m'-au.-? will savo us from doing <i« much.
aud the statistics will savo us frcni doing what wo do in
wrong ylaca. Adopt and adhere lo this cours'-.nnil, it seems
to me, the dillkully is cleared. " — CunynMiunal Oi'jlK,aii.

On the passage of the river and harbor bill
by the House, August 11, 1843, Mr. Lincoln's
name is found in the affirmative. (Congressional
Globe, vol. iS,paje 1062.)

The tariff question was not up in Congress
during Mr. Lincoln';; term of service, but he
nevertheless had an opportunity of putting him-
self upon the record in favor of protecting the
great interests of American labor.

Hon. Andrew Stewart, of Pennsylvania, called
"Tariff Andy," ou the lOih day of June, 18 IS,
asked leave to introduce the following resolution:

" Retolrtd, That the Committee of Ways and Means be in-
structed to inquire into the expediency of reporting a bill
increasing the dut'es on foreign lusuriea ofall kinds, and on
such foreifu manufactures as arc now coming into ruinoua
competiiiou with American labor."

Upon the question being taken, Mr. Lincoln
voted in the affirmative. ( Congre^monal Globe, vol.
18, page 652.)

Mr. Lincoln was an early and consistent ad-
vocate of the doctrine of slavery prohibition in
the Teniiories, and of the power of Congress over
them. He voted for the amendment to the
Otegon bill, which extended the ordinance of

1 787 over Oregon Territory, and for the bill thna
amended. (Congressional Globe, vol. 18, page

Such is the record made by Mr. Lincoln on all
the important mailers before Congress while Iio
was a member. Though serving his constituents
with ability and fidelity, and to ihn entire satis-
faction of his friends, he declined a rcncraination,
prefering the quiet pursuit of his profession, and
the enjoyments of private life, to the blandisli-
ments of office and the turmoil of political strife.
Yet, such was his interest in political matters,
and so deeply did he feel the importance to the
country of the success of the principles ho up-
held, that he actively participated iu the Presi-
dential contest of 1852.

The repeal of the Missouri compromise, in
1854, called Mr. Lincoln again into the Deld of
politics, and he threw himself into the great
contest of that year, with all the euergy ot his
character and the power of his will. Stutuping
the State in all directions, and speaking to im-
mense audiences, he awakened the people to tiie
aggressive character of that Itgislation, and

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Online LibraryE. B. (Elihu Benjamin) WashburneAbraham Lincoln, his personal history and public record → online text (page 1 of 3)