Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; online

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city, chained to a tree, and actually burned to death ; and aU within
a single hour from the time he had been a freeman attending to his
own business and at peace with the world.

Sucb are the effects of mob law, and such are the scenes becoming
more and more frequent in this land so lately famed for love of law
and order, and the stories of which have even now grown too fa-
miliar to attract anything more than an idle remark.

But you are perhaps ready to ask, " What has this to do with the
perpetuation of our political institutions ? " I answerj " It has muck
to do with it." Its direct consequences are, comparatively speaking,
but a small evil, and much of its danger consists in the proneness
of our minds to regard its direct as its only consequences. Ab-
stractly considered, the hanging of the gamblers at Vicksburg was
of but little consequence. They constitute a portion of population
that is worse than useless in any community ; and their death, if no
pernicious example be set by it, is never matter of reasonable regret
with any one. If they were annually swept from the stage of exis-
tence by the plague or smallpox, honest men would perhaps be
much profited by the operation. Similar too is the correct reason-
ing in regard to the burning of the negro at St. Louis. He had
forfeited His life by the perpetration of an outrageous murder upon


one of the most worthy and respectable citizens of the city, and had
he not died as he did, he must have died by the sentence of the law
in a very short time afterward. As to him alone, it was as well the
way it was as it could otherwise have been. But the example in
either case was fearful. When men take it in their heads to-day to
hang gamblers or burn murderers, they should recollect that inthe
confusion usually attending such transactions they will be as likely
to hang or burn some one who is neither a gambler nor a murderer
as one who is, and that, acting upon the example they set, the mob
of to-morrow may, and probably will, hang or burn some of them
by the very same mistake. And not only so ; the innocent, those
who have ever set their faces against violations of law in every shape,
alike with the guilty fall victims to the ravages of mob law; and thus
it goes on, step by step,till all the walls erected for the defense of the
persons and property of individuals are trodden down and disre-
garded. But all this, even, is not the full extent of the evil. By such
examples, by instances of the perpetrators of such acts going unpun-
ished, the lawless in spirit are encouraged to become lawless in
practice ; and having been used to no restraint but dread of punish-
ment, they thus become absolutely unrestrained. Having ever re-
garded government as their deadliest bane, they make a jubilee of
the suspension of its operations, and pray for nothing so much as
its total annihilation. "While, on the other hand, good men, men
who love tranquillity, who desire to abide by the laws and enjoy their
benefits, who would gladly spill their blood in the defense of their
country, seeing their property destroyed, their families insulted,
and their lives endangered, their persons injured, and seeing no-
thing in prospect that forebodes a change for the better, become tired
of and disgusted with a government that offers them no protection,
and are not much averse to a change in which they imagine they
have nothing to lose. Thus, then, by the operation of this mobo-
cratic spirit which all must admit is now abroad in the land, the
strongest bulwark of any government, and particularly of those
constituted like ours, may effectually be broken down and de-
stroyed — I mean the attachment of the people. Whenever this
effect shall be produced among us ; whenever the vicious portion of
population shaU. be permitted to gather in bands of hundreds and
thousands, and burn churches, ravage and rob provision-stores,
throw printing-presses into rivers, shoot editors, and hang and biirn
obnoxious persons at pleasure and with impunity, depend on it,
this government cannot last. By such things the feelings of the
best citizens will become more or less alienated from it, and thus it
will be left without friends, or with too few, and those few too weak
to make their friendship effectual. At such a time, and under such
circumstances, men of sufficient talent and ambition wUl not be
wanting to seize the opportunity, strike the blow, and overturn that
fair fabric which for the last half century has been the fondest
hope of the lovers of freedom throughout the world.

I know the American people are much attached to their govern-
ment ; I know they would suffer much for its sake ; I know they
would endure evils long and patiently before they would ever think


of exchanging it for another, — yet, notwithstanding all this, if the
laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be
secure in their persons and property are held by no better tenure
than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from
the government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or
later, it must come.

Here, then, is one point at which danger may be expected.

The question recurs, "How shall we fortify against it?" The
answer is simple. Let every American, every lover of liberty, every
well-wisher to his posterity swear by the blood of the Eevolution
never to violate in the least particular the laws of the country, and
never to tolerate their violation by others. As the patriots of
seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence,
so to the support of the Constitution and laws let every American
pledge his me, his property, and his sacred honor — let every man
remember that to violate the law is to trample on the blood of his
father, and to tear the charter of his own and his children's lib-
erty. Let reverence for the laws be breathed by every American
mother to the lisping babe that prattles on her lap ; let it be taught
in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in
primers, spelling-books, and in almanacs ; let it be preached from
the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of
justice. And, in short, let it become the poHtieal religion of the
nation ; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the
grave and the gay of all sexes and tongues and colors and condi-
tions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

WhUe ever a state of feeling such as this shall universally or
even very generally prevail throughout the nation, vain will be
every effort, and fruitless every attempt, to subvert our national

When I so pressingly urge a strict observance of aU the laws, let
me not be understood as saying there are no bad laws, or that
grievances may not arise for the redress of which no legal pro-
visions have been made. .1 mean to say no such thing. But I
do mean to say that although bad laws, if they exist, should be
repealed as soon as possible, still, while they continue in force, for
the sake of example they should be religiously observed. So also
in unprovided cases. If such arise, let proper legal provisions be
made for them with the least possible delay, but tiU then let them,
if not too intolerable, be borne with.

There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law.
In any case that may arise, as, for instance, the promulgation of
abolitionism, one of two positions is necessarily true — that is, the
thing is right within itself, and therefore deserves the protection
of all law and all good citizens, or it is wrong, and therefore proper to
be prohibited by legal enactments ; and in neither case is the inter-
position of mob law either necessary, justifiable, 6r excusable.

But it may be asked, " Why suppose danger to our political insti-
tutions ? Have we not preserved them for more than fifty years 1
And why may we not for fifty times as long?"

We hope there is no sufficient reason. We hope all danger may


be overcome ; but to conclude that no danger may ever arise would
itself be extremely dangerous. There are now, and will hereafter
be, many causes, dangerous in their tendency, which have not ex-
isted heretofore, and which are not too insignificant to merit atten-
tion. That our government should have been maintaiued in its
original form, from its establishment until now, is not much to be
wondered at. It had many props to support it through that pe-
riod, which now are decayed and crumbled away. Through that
period it was felt by all to be an undecided experiment ; now it is
understood to be a successful one. Then, all that sought celebrity
and fame and distinction expected to find them in the success of
that experiment. Their aU was staked upon it ; their destiny was
inseparably linked with it. Their ambition aspired to display be-
fore an admiring world a practical demonstration of the truth of a
proposition which had hitherto been considered at best no better
than problematical — namely, the capability of a people to govern
themselves. If they succeeded they were to be immortalized ; their
names were to be transferred to counties, and cities, and rivers, and
mountains ; and to be revered and sung, toasted through all time.
If they failed, they were to be called knaves, and fools, and fanatics
for a fleeting hour ; then to sink and be forgotten. They succeeded.
The experiment is successful, and thousands have won their death-
less names in making it so. But the game is caught ; and I believe
it is true that with the catching end the pleasures of the chase.
This field of glory is harvested, and the crop is already appropriated.
But new reapers will arise, and they too will seek a field. It is to
deny what the history of the world tells us is true, to suppose that
men of ambition and talents will not continue to spring up amongst
us. And when they do, they will as naturally seek the giatification
of their ruling passion as others have done before them. The
question then is. Can that gratification be found in supporting and
maintaining an edifice that has been erected by others ? Most cer-
tainly it cannot. Many great and good men, sufficiently qualified
for any task they should undertake, may ever be found whose am-
bition would aspire to nothing beyond a seat in Congress, a guber-
natorial or a presidential chair ; but such belong not to the family
of the lion, or the tribe of the eagle. What ! think you these places
would satisfy an Alexander, a Csesar, or a Napoleon ? Never 1
Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto
unexplored. It sees no distinction in adding story to story upon
tiie monuments of fame erected to the memory of others. It de-
nies that it is glory enough to serve under any chief. It scorns to
tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious. It
thirsts and burns for distinction ; and if possible, it will have it,
whether at the expense of emancipating slaves or enslaving free-
men. Is it unreasonable, then, to expect that some man possessed
of the loftiest genius, coupled with ambition suflScient to push it to
its utmost stretch, will at some time spring up among us ? And
when such an one does, it will require the people to be united with
each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally in-
telligent, to successfully frustrate his designs.


Distinction will be Ms paramount object, and altbougb he would
as willingly, perhaps more so, acqiiire it by doing good as harm,
yet, that opportunity being past, and nothing left to be done in the
way of building up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down.

Here then is a probable ease, highly dangerous, and such an one
as could not have well existed heretofore.

Another reason which once was, but which, to the same extent, is
now no more, has done much in maintaining our institutions thus
far. I mean the powerful influence which the interesting scenes of
the Revolution had upon the passions of the people as distinguished
from their judgment. By this influence, the jealousy, envy, and
avarice incident to our nature, and so common to a state of peace,
prosperity, and conscious strength, were for the time in a great
measure smothered and rendered inactive, while the deep-rooted
principles of hate^ and the powerful motive of revenge, instead of
being turned against each other, were directed exclusively against
the British nation. And thus, from the force of circumstances, the
basest principles of our nature were either made to lie dormant, or
to become the active agents in the advancement of the noblest of
causes — that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious

But this state of feeling must fade, is fading, has faded, with the
circumstances that produced it.

I do not mean to say that the scenes of the Revolution are now
or ever will be entirely forgotten, but that, like everything else,
they must fade upon the memory of the world, and grow more and
more dim by the lapse of time. In history, we hope, they will be
read of, and recounted, so long as the Bible shall be read; but
even granting that they will, their influence cannot be what it here-
tofore has been. Even then they cannot be so universally known
nor so vividly felt as they were by the generation just gone to rest.
At the close of that struggle, nearly every adult male had been a
participator in some of its scenes. The consequence was that of
those scenes, in the form of a husband, a father, a son, or a brother,
a living history was to be found in every family — a history bearing
the indubitable testimonies of its own authenticity, in the limbs
mangled, in the scars of wounds received, in the midst of the
very scenes related — a history, too, that could be read and un-
derstood alike by all, the wise and the ignorant, the learned and the
unlearned. But those histories are gone. They can be read no
more forever. They were a fortress of strength ; but what invad-
ing foeman could never do, the silent ^rtiUery of time has done —
the leveling of its walls. They are gone. They were a forest of
giant oaks ; but the aU-restless hurricane has swept over them, and
left only here and there a lonely trunk, despoiled of its verdure,
shorn of its foliage, unshadiug and unshaded, to murmur in a few
more gentle breezes, and to combat with its mutilated limbs a few
more ruder storms, then to sink and be no more.

They were pillars of the temple of liberty ; and now that they
have crumbled away that temple must fall unless we, their descen-
dants, supply their places vrith other pillars, hewn from the solid


quarry of sober reason. Passion has helped us, but can do so no
more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason — cold, calculating,
unimpassioned reason — must furnish all the materials for our future
support and defense. Let those materials be molded into general
inteiligenee, sound morality, and, in particular, a reverence for the
Constitution and laws ; and that we improved to the last, that we
remainedfi'ee to the last, that we revered his name to the last, that
during his long sleep we permitted no hostile foot to pass over or
desecrate his resting-place, shall be that which to learn the last
trump shall awaken our Washington.

Upon these let the proud fabric of freedom rest, as the rock of
its basis ; and as truly as has been said of the only greater institu-
tion, " the gates of heU shall not prevail against it."

March 3, 1837. — Protest in the Illinois Legislature on the
Subject op Slavery.

March 3, 1837.
The following protest was presented to the House, which was
read and ordered to be spread on the journals, to wit:

Resolutions upon the subject of domestic slavery having passed both
branches of the General Assembly at its present session, the undersigned
hereby protest against the passage of the same.

They believe that the institution of slavery is founded on both injustice
and bad poUcy, but that the promulgation of aboHtion doctrines tends
rather to increase than abate its evils.

They beUeve that the Congress of the United States has no power under
the Constitution to interfere with the institution of slavery in the different

They believe that the Congress of the United States has the power, under
the Constitution, to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, but that
the power ought not to be exercised, unless at the request of the people
of the District.

The difference between these opinions and those contained in the said
resolutions is their reason for entering this protest.

Dan Stone,
A. Lincoln,
Representatives from the County of Sangamon.

May 7, 1837. — Letter to Miss Mary Owens.

Springfield, May 7, 1837.
Miss Mary S. Owens.

Friend Mary : I have commenced two letters to send you before
this, both of which displeased me before I got half done, and so I
tore them up. The first I thought was not serious enough, and the
second was on the other extreme. I shall send this, turn out as it

This thing of living in Springfield is rather a dull business, after
all ; at least it is so to me. I am quite as lonesome here as I ever
was anywhere in my life. I have been spoken to by but one woman


since I have been here, and should not have been by her if she
could have avoided it. I 've never been to church yet, and probably
shall not be soon. I stay away because I am conscious I should not
know how to behave myself.

I am often thinking of what we said about your coming to live at
Springfield. I am afraid you would not be satisfied. There is a
great deal of flourishing about in carriages here, which it would be
your doom to see without sharing it. You would have to be poor,
without the means of hidi ng y our poverty. Do you believe you
could bear that patiently ? Whatever woman may cast her lot with
mine, should any ever do so, it is my intention to do all in my
power to make her happy and contented ; and there is nothing I
can imagine that would make me more unhappy than to fail in the
effort. I know I should be much happier with you than the way I
am, provided I saw no signs of discontent in you. What you have
said to me may have been in the way of jest, or I may have misun-
derstood it. If so, then let it be forgotten ; if otherwise, I much
wish you would think seriously before you decide. What I have
said 1 will most positively abide by, provided you wish it. My
opinion is that you had better not do it. You have not been accus-
tomed to hardship, and it may be more severe than you now imagine.
I know you are capable of thinking correctly on any subject, and if
you deliberate maturely upon this before you decide, then I am will-
ing to abide your decision.

You must write me a good long letter after you get this. You
have nothing else to do, and though it might not seem interesting
to you after you had written it, it would be a good deal of com-
pany to me in this "busy wilderness." Tell your sister I don't
want to hear any more about selling out and moving. That gives
me the " hypo " whenever I think of it. Yours, etc.,


August 16, 1837.— Letter to Miss Mart Owens.

Springfield, August 16, 1837.
Frimd Mary : You will no doubt think it rather strange that I
should write you a letter on the same day on which we parted, and
I can only account for it by supposing that seeing you lately makes
me think of you more than usual; while at our late meeting we
had but few expressions of thoughts. You must know that I can-
not see you or tnink of you with entire indifference; and yet it may
be that you are mistaken in regard to what my real feelings toward
you are. If I knew you were not, I should not trouble you with
this letter. Perhaps any other man would know enough, without
further information ; but I consider it my peculiar right to plead
ignorance, and your bounden duty to allow the plea. I want in all
cases to do right, and most particularly so in all cases with women.
I want at this particular time, more than anything else, to do right
with you; and if I knew it would be doing right, as I rather suspect
it would, to let you alone, I would do it. And for the purpose of


making the matter as plain as possible, I now say that you can now
drop the subject, dismiss your thoughts (if you ever had any) from
me forever, and leave this letter unanswered, without calling forth
one accusing murmur from me. And I will even go further, and
say that if it will add anything to your comfort or peace of
mind to do so, it is my sincere wisn that you should. Do not under-
stand by this that I wish to cut your acquaintance. I mean no such
thing. What I do wish is that our further acquaintance shall
depend upon yourself. If such further acquaintance would contri-
bute nothing to your happiness, I am sure it would not to mine. If
you feel yourself in any degree bound to me, I am now willing to
release you, provided you wish it ; whUe, on the other hand, I am
willing and even anxious to bind you faster, if I can be convinced
that it wUI, in any considerable degree, add to your happiness.
This, indeed, is the whole question with me. Nothing would make
me more miserable than to believe you miserable — nothing more
happy than to know you were so.

In what I have now said, I think I cannot be misunderstood, and to
make myself understood is the only object of this letter.

If it suits you best to not answer this, farewell. A long life and a
merry one attend you. But if you conclude to write back, speak as
plainly as I do. There can be neither harm nor danger in saying to
me anything you think, just in the manner you think it.

My respects to your sister. Your friend,


April 1, 1838. — Letter to Mrs. O. H. Browning.

Springpield, April 1, 1838.

Bear Madam : Without apologizing for being egotistical, I shall
make the history of so much of my life as has elapsed since I saw
you the subject of this letter. And^ by the way, I now discover
that in order to give a full and intelligible account of the things I
have done and suffered since I saw you, I shaU necessarily have to
relate some that happened before.

It was, then, in the autumn of 1836 that a married lady of my
acquaintance, and who was a great friend of mine, being about to
pay a visit to her father and other relatives residing in Kentucky,
proposed to me that on her return she would bring a sister of hers
with her on condition that I would engage to become her brother-
in-law with all convenient despatch. I, of course, accepted the pro-
posal, for yon know I could not have done otherwise had I reaUy
been averse to it ; but privately, between you and me, I was most
confoundedly well pleased with the project. I had seen the said
sister some three years before, thought her intelligent and agree-
able, and saw no good objection to plodding life through hand in
hand with her. Time passed on, the lady took her journey and in
due time returned, sister in company, sure enough. This astonished
me a little, for it appeared to me that her comiug so readily showed
that she was a trifle too willing, but on reflection it occurred to me that
Vol. I.— 2.


she might have been prevailed on by her married sister to come, with-
out anything concerning me ever having been mentioned toher, and so
I concluded that if no other objection presented itself, I would con-
sent to waive this. All this occurred to me on hearing of her arrival
in the neighborhood— for, be it remembered, I had not yet seen her,
except about three years previous, as above mentioned. In a few
days we had an interview, and, although I had seen her before, she
did not look as my imagination had pictured her. I knew she was
over-size, but she now appeared a fair match for Falstaff. I knew
she was called an " old maid," and I felt no doubt of the truth of at
least half of the appellation, but now, when I beheld her, I could
not for my life avoid thinking of my mother; and this, not from
withered features, — for her skin was too full of fat to pennit of its
contracting into wrinkles, — but from her want of teeth, weather-
beaten appearance in general, and from a kind of notion that ran in
my head that nothing could have commenced at the size of infancy
and reached her present bulk in less than thirty-five or forty years;

Online LibraryAbraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; → online text (page 2 of 91)