Abraham Lincoln.

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

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legislature. By successive elections he was continued iu the legis-
ture tiU the latter part of 1806, when he was elected to fill a vacancy
of a single session in the United States Senate. In 1807 he was
again elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives, and by that
body chosen Speaker. In 1808 he was reelected to the same body.
In 1809 he was again chosen to fill a vacancy of two years in the
United States Senate. In 1811 he was elected to the United States
House of Representatives, and on the first day of taking his seat in
that body he was chosen its Speaker. In 1813 he was again elected
Speaker, Early m 1814, being the period of our last British war, Mr.
Clay was sent as commissioner, with others, to negotiate a treaty of
peace, which treaty was concluded in the latter part of the same
year. On his return from Europe he was again elected to the lower
branch of Congress, and on taking his seat in December, 1815, was


called to his old post— the Speaker's chair, a position in which he
was retained by successive elections, with one brief intermission, till
the inauguration of John Quincy Adams, in March, 1825, He was
then appointed Secretary of State, and occupied that important sta-
tion till the inauguration of General Jackson, in March, 1829. After
this he returned to Kentucky, resumed the practice of law, and con-
tinued it till the autumn of 1831, when he was by the legislature of
Kentucky again placed in the United States Senate. By a reelec-
tion he was continued in the Senate till he resigned his seat and re-
tired, in March, 1848. In December, 1849, he again took his seat in
the Senate, which he again resigned only a few months before his

By the foregoing it is perceived that the period from the begin-
ning of Mr. Clay's official life in 1803 to the end of 1852 is but one
year short of half a century, and that the sum of all the intei"vals
in it will not amount to ten years. But mere duration of time in
office constitutes the smallest part of Mr. Clay's history. Throughout
that long period he has constantly been the most loved and most im-
plicitly followed by friends, and the most dreaded by opponents, of
all living American politicians. In all the great questions which
have agitated the country, and particularly in those fearful crises,
the Missouri question, the nullification question, and the late slavery
question, as connected with the newly acquired territory, involving
and endangering the stability of the Union, his has been the leading
and most conspicuous part. In 1824 he was first a candidate for the
Presidency, and was defeated; and although he was successively
defeated for the same office in 1832 and in 1844, there has never been
a moment since 1824 till after 1848 when a very large portion of the
American people did not cling to him with an enthusiastic hope and
purpose of still elevating him to the Presidency. With other men,
to be defeated was to be forgotten ; but with him defeat was but a
trifling incident, neither changing him nor the world's estimate of
him. Even those of both political parties who have been preferred
to him for the highest office have run far briefer courses than he,
and left him still shining high in the heavens of the political world.
Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison, Polk, and Taylor all rose after, and
set long before him. The spell — the long-enduring spell — with
which the souls of men were bound to him is a miracle. Who can
compass it ? It is probably true he owed his preeminence to no one
quality, but to a fortunate combination of several. He was surpass-
ingly eloquent; but many eloquent men fail utterly, and they are
not, as a class, generally successful. His judgment was excellent;
but many men of good judgment live and die unnoticed. His will
was indomitable; but this quality often secures to its owner nothing
better than a character for useless obstinacy. These, then, were Mr.
Clay's leading quahties. No one of them is very uncommon ; but all
together are rarely combined in a single individual, and this is prob-
ably the reason why such men as Henry Clay are so rare in the world.

Mr. Clay's eloquence did not consist, as many fine specimens of
eloquence do, of types and figures, of antithesis and elegant ar-
rangement of words and sentences, but rather of that deeply earnest


and impassioned tone and manner which can proceed only from
great sincerity, and a thorough conviction in the speaker of the
justice and importance of his cause. This it is that truly touches
the chords of sympathy ; and those who heard Mr. Clay never failed
to be moved by it, or ever afterwai'd forgot the impression. All
his efforts were made for practical effect. He never spoke merely
to be heard. He never delivered a Fourth of July oration, or a
eulogy on an occasion like this. As a politician or statesman, no
one was so habitually careful to avoid all sectional ground. What-
ever he did he did for the whole country. In the construction of his
measures, he ever carefully surveyed every part of the field, and
duly weighed every conflicting interest. Peeling as he did, and as
the truth surely is, that the world's best hope depended on the con-
tinued Union of these States, he was ever jealous of and watchful
for whatever might have the slightest tendency to separate them.

Mr. Clay's predominant sentiment, from first to last, was a deep
devotion to the cause of human liberty — a strong sympathy with
the oppressed everywhere, and an ardent wish for their elevation.
"With him this was a primary and all-controlling passion. Sub-
sidiary to this was the conduct of his whole life. He loved his
country partly because it was his own country, and mostly because
it was a free country ; and he burned with a zeal for its advance-
ment, prosperity, and glory, because he saw in such the advance-
ment, prosperity, and glory of human liberty, human right, and
human nature. He desired the prosperity of his countrymen, partly
because they were his countrymen, but chiefly to show to the world
that free men could be prosperous.

That his views and measures were always the wisest needs not to
be affirmed : nor should it be on this occasion, where so many
thinking differently join in doing honor to his memory. A free
people in times of peace and qtiiet — when pressed bv no common
danger— naturally divide into parties. At such times the man who
is of neither party is not, cannot be, of any consequence. Mr. Clay
therefore was of a party. Taking a prominent part as he did, in ail
the great political questions of his country for the last half century,
the wisdom of his course on many is doubted and denied by a large
portion of his countrymen; and of such it is not now proper to
speak particularly. But there are many others, about his course
upon which there is little or no disagreement amongst intelligent
and patriotic Americans. Of these last are the war of 1812, the Mis-
souri question, nullification, and the now recent compromise mea-
siu-es. In 1812 Mr. Clav, though not unknown, was still a young
man. Whether we should go to war with Great Britain being the
question of the day, a minority opposed the declaration of war by
Congress, while the majority, though apparently incUned to war
had for years wavered, and hesitated to act decisively. Meanwhile
British aggressions multiplied, and grew more daring and aggra-
vated. By Mr. Clay more than any other man the struggle was
brought to a decision in Congress. The question, being now fully
before Congress, came up in a variety of ways in rapid succession on
most of which occasions Mr. Clay spoke. Adding to all the logic of


which the subject was susceptible that noble inspiration which came
to him as it came to no other, he aroused and nerved and inspired his
friends, and confounded and bore down aU opposition. Several of
his speeches on these occasions were reported and are still extant,
but the best of them all never was. During its delivery the reporters
forgot their vocations, dropped their pens, and sat enchanted from
near the beginning to quite the close. Tne speech now lives only
in the memory of a few old men, and the enthusiasm with which
they cherish their recollection of it is absolutely astonishing. The
precise language of this speech we shall never know; but we do
know — we cannot help knowing — that with deep pathos it pleaded
the cause of the injured sailor, that it invoked the genius of the
Revolution, that it apostrophized the names of Otis, of Henry, and
of Washington, that it appealed to the interest, the pride, the
honor, and the glory of the nation, that it shamed and taunted
the timidity of friends, that it scorned and scouted and withered the
temerity of domestic foes, that it bearded and defied the British
lion, and, rising and swelling and maddening in its course, it
sounded the onset, till the charge, the shock, the steady strug-
gle, and the glorious victory all passed in vivid review before the
entranced hearers.

Important and exciting as was the war question of 1812, it never
so alarmed the sagacious statesmen of the country for the safety of
the Republic as afterward did the Missouri question. This sprang
from that unfortunate source of discord — negro slavery. When
our Federal Constitution was adopted, we owned no territory beyond
the hmits or ownership of the States, except the territory northwest
of the River Ohio and east of the Mississippi. What has since been
formed into the States of Maine, Kentucky, and Tennessee, was, I be-
lieve, within the limits of or owned by Massachusetts, Virginia, and
North Carolina. As to the Northwestern Territory, provision had
been made even before the adoption of the Constitution that slavery
should never go there. On the admission of States into the Union,
carved from the territory we owned before the Constitution, no ques-
tion, or at most no considerable question, arose about slavery —
those which were within the limits of or owned by the old States
following respectively the condition of the parent State, and those
within the Northwest Territory following the previously made pro-
vision. But in 1803 we purchased Louisiana of the French, and it
included with much more what has since been formed into the State
of Missouri. With regard to it, nothing had been done to forestall
the question of slavery. When, therefore, in 1819, Missouri, having
formed a State constitution, without excluding slavery, and with
slavery already actually easting within its limits, knocked at the
door of the Union for admission, almost the entire representation of
the non-slaveholding States objected. A fearful and angry struggle
instantly followed. This alarmed thinking men more than any pre-
vious question, because, unlike all the former, it divided the country
by geographical lines. Other questions had their opposing partisans
in all localities of the country and in almost every family, so that no
division of the Union could foUow such vdthout a separation of


friends to quite as great an extent as that of opponents. Not so with
the Missouri question. Ou this a geographiciU line could bo traced,
which in the main would separate opponents only. This was the
danger. Mr. Jefferson, then in retii-ement, wrote:

I had for a long time oeased to read newspapers or to pay any attention
to public afEaks, oonfidont they were in good hands and content to W a
passenger in our bark to the shore from ^vhioh I am not distant. But this
momentous question, hke a fire-beU m the night, awakened and Med me
with terror, I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed,
indeed, for the moment. But this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence.
A geographical line coinciding with a marked principle, moral and pohti-
oal, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be
obhterated, and every irritation wdlmai-kit deeper and deeper. I can say
with conscious truth that there is not a man on earth who would sacrihce
more than I woidd to reheve us from this heavy reproach in any practicable
way. The cession of that kind of property— for it is so misnamed— is a bag-
atelle which would not cost me a second thought if in that way a general
emancipation and expatriation could be effected, and gradually and with
due sacrifices I think it might be. But as it is, we have the wolf by the
ears, and we can neither hold him nor safely let him go. Justice is in one
scale, and self-preservation in the other.

Mr. Clay was in Congress, and, perceiving the danger, at once en-
gaged his whole energies to avert it. It began, as I have said, in
1819 ; and it did not terminate till 1821. Missouri would not yield
the point; and Congress — that is, a majority in Congress— by re-
peated votes showed a determination not to admit the State unless
it should yield. After several failures and great labor on the part
of Mr. Clay to so present the question that a majority could consent
to the admission, it was by a vote rejected, and as all seemed to
think, finally. A sullen gloom hun^ over the nation. All felt that
the rejection of Missouri was equivalent to a dissolution of the
Union, because those States which already had what Missouri was
rejected for refusing to relinquish would go with Missouri. All
deprecated and deplored this, but none saw how to avert it. For
the judgment of members to be convinced of the necessity of yield-
ing was not the whole difficulty; each had a constituency to meet
and to answer to. Mr. Clay, though worn down and exhausted, was
appealed to by members to renew his efforts at compromise. He
did so, and by some judicious modifications of his plan, coupled with
laborious efforts with individual members and his own overmaster-
ing eloquence upon that floor, he finally secured the admission of
the State. Brightly and captivating as it had previously shown,
it was now perceived that his great eloquence was a mere embellish-
ment, or at most but a helping hand to his inventive genius, and
his devotion to his country m the day of her extreme peiil.

After the settlement of the Missouri question, although a portion
of the American people have differed with Mr. Clay, and a majority
even appear generally to have been opposed to him on questions of
ordinary administration, he seems constantly to have been regarded
by all as the man for a crisis. Accordingly, in the days of nullifi-
cation, and more recently in the reappearance of the slavery ques-
tion connected with our territory newly acquired of Mexico, the


task of devising a mode of adjustment seems to have been cast
upon Mr. Clay by common consent — and his performance of the
task in each case was little else than a Kteral fulfilment of the
public expectation.

Mr. Clay's efforts in behalf of the South Americans, and after-
ward in behalf of the Greeks, in the times of their respective strug-
gles for civil liberty, are among the finest on record, upon the
noblest of all themes, and bear ample corroboration of what I have
said was his ruling passion — a love of liberty and right, unselfishly,
and for their own sakes.

Having been led to aUude to domestic slavery so frequently al-
ready, I am unwiQing to close without referring more particularly
to Mr. Clay's views and conduct in regard to it. He ever was on
principle and in feehng opposed to slavery. The very earliest, and
one of the latest, public efforts of his life, separated by a period of
more than fifty years, were both made in favor of gradual emanci-
pation. He did not perceive that on a question of human right the
negroes were to be excepted from the human race. And yet Mr.
Clay was the owner of slaves. Cast into life when slavery was al-
ready widely spread and deeply seated, he did not perceive^ as I
think no wise man has perceived, how it could be at once eradicated
without producing a greater evil even to the cause of human liberty
itself. His feeling and his judgment, therefore, ever led him to
oppose both extremes of opinion on the subject. Those who would
shiver into fragments the Union of these States, tear to tatters its
now venerated Constitution, and even burn the last copy of the
Bible, rather than slavery should continue a single hour, together
with all their more halting sympathizers, have received, and are
receiving, their just execration; and the name and opinions and
influence of Mr. Clay are fully and, as I trust, effectually and en-
duringly arrayed against them. But I would also, if I could, array
his name, opinions, and influence against the opposite extreme —
against a few but an increasing number of men who, for the sake
of perpetuating slavery, are beginning to assail and to ridicule the
white man's charter of freedom, the declaration that " all men are
created free and equal." So far as I have learned, the flrst American
of any note to do or attempt this was the late John C. Calhoun ;
and if I mistake not, it soon after found its way into some of the
messages of the Governor of South Carolina. We, however, look
for and are not much shocked by political eccentricities and here-
sies in South Carolina. But only last year I saw with astonishment
what purported to be a letter of a very distinguished and influen-
tial clergyman of Virginia, copied, with apparent approbation, into
a St. Louis newspaper, containing the following to me very unsat-
isfactory language :

I am fully aware that there is a text in some Bibles that is not in mine.
Professional Abolitionists have made more use of it than of any passage
in the Bible. It came, however, as I trace it, from Saint Voltaire, and was
baptized by Thomas Jefferson, and since almost universally regarded as
canonical authority, " All men are born free and equal."

This is a genuine coin in the political currency of our generation. I am


sorry to say that I have never seen two men of whom it is true. But I must
admit I never saw the Siamese Twins, and therefore will not dogmatically
say that no man ever saw a proof of this sage aphorism.

This sounds strangely in republican America. The like was not
heard in the fresher days of the republic. Let us contrast with it
the language of that truly national man whose life and death we
now commemorate and lament. I quote from a speech of Mr. Clay
delivered before the American Colonization Society in 1827 :

We are reproached with doing mischief by the agitation of this question.
The society goes into no household to disturb its domestic tranquiUity. It
addresses itself to no slaves to weaken their obligations of obedience. It
seeks to affect no man's property. It neither has the power nor the will to
affect the property of any one contrary to his consent. The execution of
its scheme would augment instead of diminishing the value of property left
behind. The societj', composed of free men, concerns itself only with the
free. Collateral consequences we are not responsible for. It is not this
society which has produced the great moral revolution which the age ex-
hibits. What would they who thus reproach us have done ? If they
would repress all tendencies toward liberty and ultimate emancipation,
they must do more than put down the benevolent efforts of society. They
must go back to the era of our liberty and independence, and muzzle the
cannon which thunders its annual joyous return. They must renew the
slave-trade, with all its train of atrocities. They must suppress the work-
ings of British rfiilanthropy, seeking to meliorate the condition of the un-
fortunate West Indian slave. They must arrest the career of South Amer-
ican deliverance from thraldom. They must blow out the moral hght
around us and extinguish that greatest torch of aU which America presents
to a benighted world — pointing the way to their rights, their hberties, and
their happiness. And when they have achieved aU those purposes their
work will be yet incomplete. They must penetrate the hmnan soul, and
eradicate the light of reason and the love of Hberty. Then, and not tiU then,
when universal darkness and despair prevail, can you perpetuate slavery
and repress all sympathy and all humane and benevolent efforts among
free men iu behalf of the unhappy portion of our race doomed to bondage.

The American Colonization Society was organized in 1816. Mr.
Clay, though not its projector, was one of its earliest members; and
he died, as for many preceding years he had been, its president. It
was one of the most cherished objects of his direct care and consid-
eration, and the association of his name with it has probably been
its very greatest collateral support. He considered it no demerit in
the society that it tended to relieve the slaveholders from the trou-
blesome presence of the free negroes; but this was far from being
its whole merit in his estimation. In the same speech from which
we have quoted he says:

There is a moral fitness in the idea of returning to Africa her children
whose ancestors have been torn from her by the ruthless hand of fraud and
violence. Transplanted in a forei^ land, they will carry back to their na-
tive soil the nch fruits of religion, civilization, law, and hberty. May it not
be one of the great designs of the Enler of the universe, whose ways are
often inscrutable by short-sighted mortals, thus to transform an original
crime mto a signal blessing to that most unfortunate portion of the globe 1

This suggestion of the possible ultimate redemption of the African
race and African continent was made twenty-five years ago. Every


succeeding year has added strengtli to the hope of its realization.
May it indeed be realized. Pharaoh's country was cursed with
plagues, and his hosts were lost in the Red Sea, for striving to retain
a captive people who had already served them more than four hun-
dred years. May like disasters never befall us! If, as the friends
of colonization hope, the present and coming generations of our
countrymen shall by any means succeed in freeing our land from the
dangerous presence of slavery, and at the same time in restoring a
captive people to their long-lost fatherland with bright prospects for
the future, and this too so gradually that neither races nor individ-
uals shall have suffered by the change, it will indeed be a glorious
consummation. And if to such a consummation the efforts of Mr.
Clay shall have contributed, it will be what he most ardently wished,
and none of his labors will have been more valuable to his country
and his kind.

But Henry Clay is dead. His long and eventful life is closed. Our
country is prosperous and powerful; but could it have been quite
all it has been, and is, and is to be, without Henry Clay ? Such a
man the times have demanded, and such in the providence of God
was given us. But he is gone. Let us strive to deserve, as far as
mortals may, the continued care of Divine Providence, trusting that
in future national emergencies He will not fail to provide us the in-
struments of safety and security.

Note. — "We are indebted for a copy of this speech to the courtesy of
Major Wm. H. Bailhaclie, formerly one of the proprietors of the " Tilinois
State Journal."

November 1, 1852. — Opinion on the Illinois Election Law.

Challenged Voters.

Springfield, November 1, 1852.
A leading article in the " Daily Register" of this morning has in-
duced some of our friends to request our opinion on the election laws
as applicable to challenged voters. We have examined the present
constitution of the State, the election law of 1849, and the unrepealed
parts of the election law in the revised code of 1845 ; and we are of
the opinion that any person taking the oath prescribed in the act of
1849 is entitled to vote unless counter-proof be made satisfactory to
a majority of the judges that such oath is untrue; and that for the
purpose of obtaining such counter-proof, the proposed voter may be
asked questions in the way of cross-examination, and other inde-
pendent testimony may be received. We base our opinion as to
receiving counter-proof upon the unrepealed section nineteen of the
election law in the revised code.

A. Lincoln,

B. S. Edwards,
S. T. Logan.

I concur in the foregoing opinion,

S. H. Treat.


October 3, 1853. — Letter to M. Brayjian.

Pekin, October 3, 1853.

Online LibraryAbraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; → online text (page 22 of 91)