Abraham Lincoln.

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

. (page 70 of 91)
Online LibraryAbraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; → online text (page 70 of 91)
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are the result of observation, reflection, and experiment. For in-
stance, it is quite certain that ever since water has been boiled in
covered vessels, men have seen the lids of the vessels rise and fall a
little, with a sort of fluttering motion, by force of the steam ; but so
long as this was not specially observed, and reflected, and experi-
mented upon, it came to nothing. At length, however, after many
thousand years, some man observes this long-known effect of hot
■water lifting a pot-Ud, and begins a train of reflection upon it. He
says, "Why, to be sure, the force that lifts the pot-lid will lift any-
thing else which is no heavier than the pot-lid. And as man has
much hard fighting to do, cannot this hot-water power be made to


help him 1" He has become a little excited on the subject, and he
fancies he hears a voice answering, " Try me." He does try it ; and
the observation, reflection, and trial give to the world the control of
that tremendous and now well-known agent called steam-power.
This is not the actual history in detail, but the general principle.

But was this first inventor of the application of steam wiser or
more ingenious than those who had gone before him? Not at all.
Had he not learned much of those, he never would have succeeded,
probably never would have thought of making the attempt. To be
fruitful in invention, it is indispensable to have a habit of observa-
tion and reflection ; and this habit our steam friend acquired, no
doubt, from those who, to him, were old fogies. But for the difference
in habit of observation, why did Yankees almost instantly discover
gold in California, which had been trodden upon and overlooked by
Indians and Mexican greasers for centuries ? Gold-mines are not the
only mines overlooked in the same way. There are more mines above
the earth's surface than below it. All nature — the whole world, ma-
terial, moral, and intellectual — is a mine; and in Adam's day it was a
wholly unexplored mine. Now, it was the destined work of Adam's
race to develop, by discoveries, inventions, and improvements, the
hidden treasures of this mine. But Adam had nothing to turn his
attention to the work. If he should do anything in the way of inven-
tions, he had first to invent the art of invention, the instance, at least,
if not the habit, of observation and reflection. As might be expected,
he seems not to have been a very observing man at first; for it ap-
pears he went abont naked a considerable length of time before he
ever noticed that obvious fact. But when he did observe it, the ob-
servation was not lost'upon him ; for it immediately led to the first of
all inventions of which we have any direct account — the fig-leaf apron.

The inclination to exchange thoughts with one another is proba-
bly an original impulse of our nature. If I be in pain, I wish to let
you know it, and to ask your sympathy and assistance; and my
pleasurable emotions also I wish to communicate to and share with
you. But to carry on such communications, some instrumentality
is indispensable. Accordingly, speech — articulate sounds rattled
off from the tongue — was used by our first parents, and even by
Adam before the creation of Eve. He gave names to the animals
while she was still a bone in his side ; and he broke out quite volu-
bly when she first stood before him, the best present of his Maker.
From this it would appear that speech was not an invention of man,
but rather the direct gift of his Creator. But whether divine gift
or invention, it is still plain that if a mode of communication had
been left to invention, speech must have been the first, from the
superior adaptation to the end of the organs of speech over every
other means within the whole range of nature. Of the organs of
speech the tongue is the principal; and if we shall test it, we shall
find the capacities of the tongue, in the utterance of articulate
sounds, absolutely wonderful. You can count from one to one
hundred quite distinctly in about forty seconds. In doing this two
hundred and eighty-three distinct sounds or syllables are uttered,
being seven to each second, and yet there should be enough differ-


ence between every two to be easily recognized by the ear of the
hearer. What other signs to represent things could possibly be
produced so rapidly ? or, even if ready made, could be arranged so
rapidly to express the sense? Motions with the hands are no ade-
quate substitute. Marks for the recognition of the eye, — writing, —
although a wonderful auxiliary of speech, is no worthy substi-
tute for it. In addition to the more slow and laborious process of
getting up a communication in writing, the materials — pen, ink,
and paper — are not always at hand. But one always has his
tongue with him, and the breath of his life is the ever-ready mate-
rial with which it works. Speech, then, by enabling different indi-
viduals to interchange thoughts, and thereby to combine their
powers of observation and reflection, greatly facilitates useful dis-
coveries and inventions. What one observes, and would himself
infer nothing from, he tells to another, and that other at once sees
a valuable hint in it. A result is thus reached which neither alone
would have arrived at. And this reminds me of what I passed un-
noticed before, that the very first invention was a joint operation.
Eve having shared with Adam the getting up of the apron. And,
indeed, judging from the fact that sewing has come down to our
times as " woman's work," it is very probable she took the leading
part, — he, perhaps, doing no more than to stand by and thread the
needle. That proceeding may be reckoned as the mother of all
" sewing-societies," and the first and. most perfect " World's Pair,"
all inventions and all inventors then in the world being on the spot.

But speech alone, valuable as it ever has been and is, has not ad-
vanced the condition of the world much. This .is abundantly evident
when we look at the degraded condition of all those tribes of human
creatures who have no considerable additional means of communi-
cating thoughts. Writing, the art of communicating thoughts to
the mind through the eye, is the gi-eat invention of the world. Great
is the astonishing range of analysis and combination which neces-
sarily underlies the most crude and general conception of it — great,
very great, in enabling us to converse with the dead, the absent, and
the unborn, at all distances of time and space ; and great, not only
in its direct benefits, but greatest help to all other inventions. Sup-
pose the art, with all conceptions of it, were this day lost to the world,
how long, think you, would it be before Young America could get up
the letter A with any adequate notion of using it to advantage? The
precise period at which writing was invented is not known, but it
certainly was as early as the time of Moses ; from which we may
safely infer that its inventors were very old fogies.

Webster, at the time of writing his dictionary, speaks of the Eng-
lish language as then consisting of seventy or eighty thousand words.
If so, the language in which the five books of Moses were written
must at that time, now thirty-three or -four hundred years ago, have
consisted of at least one quarter as many, or twenty thousand. When
we remember that words are sounds merely, we shall conclude that
the idea of representing those sounds by marks, so that whoever
should at any time after see the marks would understand what
sounds they meant, was a bold and ingenious conception, not likely


to occur to one man in a million in tlie run of a thousand years.
And when it did occur, a distinct mark for each word, giving twenty
thousand different marks first to be learned, and afterward to be re-
membered, would follow as the second thought, and would present
such a difficulty as would lead to the conclusion that the whole thing
was impracticable. But the necessity still would exist ; and we may
readily suppose that the idea was conceived, and lost, and repro-
duced, and dropped, and taken up again and again, until at last the
thought of dividing sounds into parts, and making a mark, not to
represent a whole sound, but only a part of one, and then of com-
bining those marks, not very many in number, upon principles of
permutation, so as to represent any and all of the whole twenty thou-
sand words, and even any additional number, was somehow conceived
and pushed into practice. This was the invention of phonetic writing,
as distinguished from the clumsy picture-writing of some of the na-
tions. That it was difficult of conception and execution is apparent,
as well by the foregoing reflection, as the fact that so many tribes of
men have come down from Adam's time to our own without ever
having possessed it. Its utility may be conceived by the reflection
that to it we owe everything which distinguishes us from savages.
Take it from us, and the Bible, all history, all science, all govern-
ment, aU commerce, and nearly all social intercourse go with it.

The great activity of the tongue in articulating sounds has already
been mentioned, and it may be of some passing interest to notice
the wonderful power of the eye in conveying ideas to the mind from
writing. Take the same example of the numbers from one to one
hundred written down, and you can run your eye over the list, and
be assured that every number is in it, in about one half the time it
would require to pronounce the words with the voice; and not only
so, but you can in the same short time determine whether every
word is spelled correctly, by which it is evident that every separate
letter, amounting to eight hundred and sixty-four, has been recog-
nized and reported to the mind within the incredibly short space of
twenty seconds, or one third of a minute.

I have already intimated my opinion that in the world's history
certain inventions and discoveries occurred of peculiar value, on
account of their great efficiency in facilitating all other inventions
and discoveries. Of these were the art of writing and of printing,
the discovery of America, and the introduction of patent laws. The
date of the first, as already stated, is unknown; but it certainly was
as much as fifteen hundred years before the Christian era; the
second — printing — came in 1436, or nearly three thousand years
after the first. The others followed more rapidly — the discovery of
America in 1492, and the first patent laws in 1624. Though not
apposite to my present purpose, it is but justice to the fruitfubiess
of that period to mention two other important events — the Lu-
theran Reformation in 1517, and, still earlier, the invention of
negroes, or of the present mode of using them, in 1434. But to
return to the consideration of printing, it is plain that it is but the
other half, and in reality the better half, of writing; and that both
together are but the assistants of speech in the communication of


thoughts between man and man. When man was possessed of
speech alone, the chances of invention, discovery, and improvement
were very limited; but by the introduction of each of these they
were greatly multiplied. When writing was invented, any impor-
tant observation likely to lead to a discovery had at least a chance of
being written down, and consequently a little chance of never being
forgotten, and of being seen and reflected upon by a much gi-eater
number of persons; and thereby the chances of a valuable hint being
caught proportionately augmented. By this means the observation
of a single individual might lead to an important invention years,
and even centuries, after he was dead. In one word, by means of
writing, the seeds of invention were more permanently preserved
and more widely sown. And yet for three thousand years during
which printing remained undiscovered after writing was in use, it
was only a small portion of the people who could write, or read writ-
ing; and consequently the field of invention, though much extended,
still continued very limited. At length printing came. It gave ten
thousand copies of any written matter quite as cheaply as ten were
given before; and consequently a thousand minds were brought into
the field where there was but one before. This was a great gain — and
history shows a great change corresponding to it — in point of time.
I wUl venture to consider it the true termination of that period
called "the dark ages." Discoveries, inventions, and improvements
followed rapidly, and have been increasing their rapidity ever since.
The effects could not come all at once. It required time to bring them
out ; and they are still coming. The capacity to read could not be
multiplied as fast as the means of reading. Spelling-books just
began to go into the hands of the children, but the teachers were
not very numerous or very competent, so that it is safe to infer they
did not advance so speedily as they do nowadays. It is very prob-
able — almost certain — that the great mass of men at that time
were utterly unconscious that their condition or their minds were
capable of improvement. They not only looked upon the educated
few as superior beings, but they supposed themselves to be naturally
incapable of rising to equality. To emancipate the mind from this
false underestimate of itself is the great task which printing came
into the world to perform. It is difficult for us now and here to
conceive how strong this slavery of the mind was, and how long
it did of necessity take to break its shackles, and to get a habit of
freedom of thought established. It is, in this connection, a curious
fact that a new country is most favorable — almost necessary —
to the emancipation of thought, and the consequent advancement
of civilization and the arts. The human family originated, as is
thought, somewhere in Asia, and have worked their way principally
westward. Just now in civilization and the arts the people of Asia
are entirely behind those of Europe; those of the east of Europe
behind those of the west of it; while we, here, in America, think we
discover, and invent, and improve faster than any of them. They
may think this is arrogance; but they cannot deny that Russia has
called on us to show her how to build steamboats and railroads,
while in the older parts of Asia they scarcely know that such things


as steamboats and railroads exist. In anciently inhabited countries,
the dust of ages — a real, downright old-fogyism — seems to settle
upon and smother the intellects and energies of man. It is in this
view that I have mentioned the discovery of America as an event
gi-eatly favoring and facilitating useful discoveries and inventions.
Next came the patent laws. These began in England in 1624, and
in this country with the adoption of our Constitution. Before then
any man [might] instantly use what another man had invented, so
that the inventor had no special advantage from his invention. The
patent system changed this, secured to the inventor for a limited
time exclusive use of his inventions, and thereby added the fuel
of interest to the fire of genius in the discovery and production of
new and useful things.

March 1, 1859. — Speech at Chicago on the Night
OF the Municipal Election.

I understand that you have to-day rallied around your principles,
and they have again triumphed in the city of Chicago. I am ex-
ceedingly happy to meet you under such cheering auspices on this
occasion — the first on which I have appeared before an audience
since the campaign of last year. It is unsuitable to enter into a
lengthy discourse, as is quite apparent, at a moment like this. I
shall therefore detain you only a very short while.

It gives me peculiar pleasure to find an opportunity under such
favorable circumstances to return my thanks for the gallant support
that the Republicans of the city of Chicago and of the State gave to
the cause in which we were aU engaged in the late momentous
struggle in Illinois.

I remember in that canvass but one instance of dissatisfaction
with my course, and I allude to that now not for the purpose of reviv-
ing any matter of dispute or producing any unpleasant feeling, but
in order to help to get rid of the point upon which that matter of
disagreement or dissatisfaction arose. I understand that in some
speeches I made I said something, or was supposed to have said
something, that some very good people, as I really believe them to
be, commented upon unfavorably, and said that rather than support
one holding such sentiments as I had expressed, the real friends of
hberty could afford to wait a while. I don't want to say anything
that shall excite unkind feeling, and I mention this simply to sug-
gest that I am afraid of the effect of that sort of argument. I do not
doubt that it comes from good men, but I am afraid of the result upon
organized action where great results are in view, if any of us allow
ourselves to seek out minor or separate points, on which there may
be difference of views as to policy and n^ht, and let them keep us
from uniting in action upon a great principle in a cause on which we
all agree ; or are deluded into the belief that all can be brought to
consider alike and agree upon every minor point before we unite and
press forward in organization, asking the cooperation of all good
men in that resistance to the extension of slavery upon which we all
agree. I am afraid that such methods would result in keeping the


friends of liberty waiting longer than we ought to. I say this for
the purpose of suggesting that we consider whether it would not be
better and wiser, so long as we all agree that this matter of slavery
is a moral, political, and social wrong, and ought to be treated as a
wrong, not to let anything minor or subsidiary to that main princi-
ple and purpose make us fail to cooperate.

One other thing, — and that again I say in no spirit of unkindness.
There was a question amongst Republicans all the time of the can-
vass of last year, and it has not quite ceased yet, whether it was not
the true and better policy for the Republicans to make it their chief
object to reelect Judge Douglas to the Senate of the United States.
Now, I differ with those who thought that the true policy, but I have
never said an unkind word of any one entertaining that opinion. I
believe most of them were as sincerely the friends of our cause as I
claim to be myself; yet I thought they were mistaken, and I speak
of this now for the purpose of justifying the course that I took and
the course of those who supported me. In what I say now there is
no unkindness, even toward Judge Douglas. I have believed that
in the Republican situation iu Illinois, if we, the Republicans of this
State, had made Judge Douglas our candidate for the Senate of the
United States last year, and had elected him, there would to-day be
no Republican party in this Union. I believe that the principles
around which we have rallied and organized that party would live ;
they will live under all circumstances, while we will die. They would
reproduce another party in the futiire. But in the mean time all the
labor that has been done to build up the present Republican party
would be entirely lost, and perhaps twenty years of time, before we
would again have formed around that principle as solid, extensive,
and formidable an organization as we have, standing shoulder to
shoulder, to-night, in harmony and strength around the Republican

It militates not at all against this view to tell \is that the Repub-
licans could make something in the State of New York by electing
to Congress John B. Haskin, who occupied a position similar to
Judge Douglas; or that they could make something by electing
Hickman of Pennsylvania, or Davis of Indiana. I think it likely
that they could and do make something by it ; but it is false logic
to assume that for that reason anything could be gained by us in
electing Judge Douglas in Illinois. And for this reason : It is no
disparagement to these men, Hickman and Davis, to say that indi-
vidually they were comparatively small men, and the Republican
party could take hold of them, use them, elect them, absorb them,
expel them, or do whatever it pleased with them, and the Repub-
lican organization be in no wise shaken. But it is not so with Judge
Douglas. Let the Republican party of Illinois daily with Judge Doug-
las ; let them fall in behind him and make him their candidate, and
they do not absorb him — he absorbs them. They would come out at
the end all Douglas men, all claimed by him as having indorsed
every one of his doctrines upon the great subject with which the whole
nation is engaged at this hour — that the question of negro slavery
is simply a question of doUars and cents ; that the Almighty has
Vol. I.— 34.


drawn a line across the continent, on one side of wliicli labor — the
cultivation of the soil — must always be performed by slaves. It
would be claimed that we, like him, do not care whether slavery is
voted up or voted down. Had we made him our candidate and
given him a great majority, we should never have heard an end of
declarations by him that we had indorsed aU these dogmas.

You all remember that at the last session of Congress there was
a measure introduced in the Senate by Mr. Crittenden which pro-
posed that the pro-slavery Lecompton constitution should be left to a
vote to be taken in Kansas, and if it and slavery were adopted, Kan-
sas should be at once admitted as a slave State. That same measure
was introduced into the House by Mr. Montgomery, and therefore
got the name of the Crittenden-Montgomery bill; and in the House
of Representatives the Republicans all voted for it under the pecu-
liar circumstances in which they found themselves placed. Ton may
remember also that the New York "Tribune," which was so much in
favor of our electing Judge Douglas to the Senate of the United
States, has not yet got through the task of defending the Republi-
can party, after that one vote in the House of Representatives, from
the charge of having gone over to the doctrine of popular sove-
reignty. Now, how long would the New York "Tribune" have been
in getting rid of the charge that the Republicans had abandoned
their principles, if we had taken up Judge Douglas, adopted aU his
doctrines, and elected him to the Senate, when the single vote upon
that one point so confused and embarrassed the position of the Re-
publicans that it has kept them for one entire year arguing against
the effect of it?

This much being said on that point, I wish now to add a word
that has a bearing on the future. The Republican principle, the
profound central truth that slavery is wrong and ought to be dealt
with as a wrong, — though we are always to remember the fact of its
actual existence amongst us and faithfully observe all the constitu-
tional guarantees, — the unalterable principle never for a moment to
be lost sight of, that it is a wrong and ought to be dealt with as such,
cannot advance at all upon Judge Douglas's ground ; that there is
a portion of the country in which slavery must always exist ; that
he does not care whether it is voted up or voted down, as it is simply
a question of dollars and cents. Whenever in any compromise, or
arrangement, or combination that may promise some temporary ad-
vantage we are led upon that ground, then and there the great living
principle upon which we have organized as a party is surrendered.
The proposition now in our minds that this thing is wrong being
once driven out and surrendered, then the institution of slavery
necessarily becomes national.

One or two words more of what I did not think of when I rose.
Suppose it is true that the Almighty has drawn a line across this
continent, on the south side of which part of the people wiU hold the
rest as slaves ; that the Almighty ordered this ; that it is right, un-
changeably right, that men ought there to be held as slaves ; that their
fellow-men will always have the right to hold them as slaves. I ask
you, this once admitted, how can you believe that it is not right for


us, or for them coming here, to hold slaves on this other side of the
line! Once we come to acknowledge that it is right, that it is the

Online LibraryAbraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; → online text (page 70 of 91)