George Haven Putnam.

Abraham Lincoln online

. (page 3 of 16)
Online LibraryGeorge Haven PutnamAbraham Lincoln → online text (page 3 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the Ordinance of 1787, which in prohibiting the introduction of slavery,
consecrated to freedom the great territory of the North-west, and this
measure was fully approved by Washington and by the other great leaders
from the South. Where slavery exists, full liberty refuses to enter. It
was only through this wise action of the Fathers that it was possible to
bring into existence, through colonisation, the great territories and
great States of the North-west. It is this settlement, and the later
adjustment of 1820, that Douglas and his friends in the South are
undertaking to overthrow. Slavery is not, as Judge Douglas contends, a
local issue; it is a national responsibility. The repeal of the Missouri
Compromise throws open not only a great new territory to the curse of
slavery; it throws open the whole slavery question for the embroiling of
the present generation of Americans. Taking slaves into free territory
is the same thing as reviving the slave-trade. It perpetuates and
develops interstate slave-trade. Government derives its just powers from
the consent of the governed. The Fathers did not claim that "the right
of the people to govern negroes was the right of the people to govern

The policy of Judge Douglas was based on the theory that the people did
not care, but the people did care, as was evinced two years later by the
popular vote for President throughout the North. One of those who heard
these debates says: "Lincoln loved truth for its own sake. He had a
deep, true, living conscience; honesty was his polar star. He never
acted for stage effect. He was cool, spirited, reflective,
self-possessed, and self-reliant. His style was clear, terse, compact
... He became tremendous in the directness of his utterance when, as his
soul was inspired with the thought of human right and Divine justice,
he rose to impassioned eloquence, and at such times he was, in my
judgment, unsurpassed by Clay or by Mirabeau."

As the debates progressed, it was increasingly evident that Douglas
found himself hard pushed. Lincoln would not allow himself to be swerved
from the main issue by any tergiversation or personal attacks. He
insisted from day to day in bringing Douglas back to this issue: "What
do you, Douglas, propose to do about slavery in the territories? Is it
your final judgment that there is to be no further reservation of free
territory in this country? Do you believe that it is for the advantage
of this country to put no restriction to the extension of slavery?"
Douglas wriggled and squirmed under this direct questioning and his
final replies gave satisfaction neither to the Northern Democrats nor to
those of the South. The issue upon which the Presidential contest of
1860 was to be fought out had been fairly stated. It was the same issue
under which, in 1861, the fighting took the form of civil war. It was
the issue that took four years to fight out and that was finally decided
in favour of the continued existence of the nation as a free state. In
this fight, Lincoln was not only, as the contest was finally shaped, the
original leader; he was the final leader; and at the time of his death
the great question had been decided for ever.

Horace White, in summing up the issues that were fought out in debate
between Lincoln and Douglas, says:

"Forty-four years have passed away since the Civil War came to an end
and we are now able to take a dispassionate view of the question in
dispute. The people of the South are now generally agreed that the
institution of slavery was a direful curse to both races. We of the
North must confess that there was considerable foundation for the
asserted right of States to secede. Although the Constitution did in
distinct terms make the Federal Government supreme, it was not so
understood at first by the people either North or South. Particularism
prevailed everywhere at the beginning. Nationalism was an aftergrowth
and a slow growth proceeding mainly from the habit into which people
fell of finding their common centre of gravity at Washington City and of
viewing it as the place whence the American name and fame were blazoned
to the world. During the first half century of the Republic, the North
and South were changing coats from time to time, on the subject of State
Rights and the right to secede, but meanwhile the Constitution itself
was working silently in the North to undermine the particularism of
Jefferson and to strengthen the nationalism of Hamilton. It had
accomplished its work in the early thirties, when it found its perfect
expression in Webster's reply to Hayne. But the Southern people were
just as firmly convinced that Hayne was the victor in that contest as
the Northern people were that Webster was. The vast material interests
bottomed on slavery offset and neutralised the unifying process in the
South, while it continued its wholesome work in the North, and thus the
clashing of ideas paved the way for the clash of arms. That the
behaviour of the slaveholders resulted from the circumstances in which
they were placed and not from any innate deviltry is a fact now conceded
by all impartial men. It was conceded by Lincoln both before the War and
during the War, and this fact accounts for the affection bestowed upon
him by Southern hearts to-day."

Lincoln carried into politics the same standard of consistency of action
that had characterised his work at the Bar. He writes, in 1859, to a
correspondent whom he was directing to further the organisation of the
new party: "Do not, in order to secure recruits, lower the standard of
the Republican party. The true problem for 1860, is to fight to prevent
slavery from becoming national. We must, however, recognise its
constitutional right to exist in the States in which its existence was
recognised under the original Constitution." This position was
unsatisfactory to the Whigs of the Border States who favoured a
continuing division between Slave States and Free States of the
territory yet to be organised into States. It was also unsatisfactory to
the extreme anti-slavery Whigs of the new organisation who insisted upon
throttling slavery where-ever it existed. It is probable that the raid
made by John Brown, in 1859, into Virginia for the purpose of rousing
the slaves to fight for their own liberty, had some immediate influence
in checking the activity of the more extreme anti-slavery group and in
strengthening the conservative side of the new organisation. Lincoln
disapproved entirely of the purpose of Brown and his associates, while
ready to give due respect to the idealistic courage of the man.

In February, 1860, Lincoln was invited by certain of the Republican
leaders in New York to deliver one of a series of addresses which had
been planned to make clear to the voters the purposes and the
foundations of the new party. His name had become known to the
Republicans of the East through the debates with Douglas. It was
recognised that Lincoln had taken the highest ground in regard to the
principles of the new party, and that his counsels should prove of
practical service in the shaping of the policy of the Presidential
campaign. It was believed also that his influence would be of value in
securing voters in the Middle West. The Committee of Invitation
included, in addition to a group of the old Whigs (of whom my father was
one), representative Free-soil Democrats like William C. Bryant and John
King. Lincoln's methods as a political leader and orator were known to
one or two men on the committee, but his name was still unfamiliar to an
Eastern audience. It was understood that the new leader from the West
was going to talk to New York about the fight against slavery. It is
probable that at least the larger part of the audience expected
something "wild and woolly." The West at that time seemed very far off
from New York and was still but little understood by the Eastern
communities. New Yorkers found it difficult to believe that a man who
could influence Western audiences could have anything to say that would
count with the cultivated citizens of the East. The more optimistic of
the hearers were hoping, however, that perhaps a new Henry Clay had
arisen and were looking for utterances of the ornate and grandiloquent
kind such as they had heard frequently from Clay and from other
statesmen of the South.

The first impression of the man from the West did nothing to contradict
the expectation of something weird, rough, and uncultivated. The long,
ungainly figure upon which hung clothes that, while new for this trip,
were evidently the work of an unskilful tailor; the large feet, the
clumsy hands of which, at the outset, at least, the orator seemed to be
unduly conscious; the long, gaunt head capped by a shock of hair that
seemed not to have been thoroughly brushed out, made a picture which did
not fit in with New York's conception of a finished statesman. The first
utterance of the voice was not pleasant to the ear, the tone being harsh
and the key too high. As the speech progressed, however, the speaker
seemed to get into control of himself; the voice gained a natural and
impressive modulation, the gestures were dignified and appropriate, and
the hearers came under the influence of the earnest look from the
deeply-set eyes and of the absolute integrity of purpose and of devotion
to principle which were behind the thought and the words of the speaker.
In place of a "wild and woolly" talk, illumined by more or less
incongruous anecdotes; in place of a high-strung exhortation of general
principles or of a fierce protest against Southern arrogance, the New
Yorkers had presented to them a calm but forcible series of
well-reasoned considerations upon which their action as citizens was to
be based. It was evident that the man from the West understood
thoroughly the constitutional history of the country; he had mastered
the issues that had grown up about the slavery question; he knew
thoroughly, and was prepared to respect, the rights of his political
opponents; he knew with equal thoroughness the rights of the men whose
views he was helping to shape and he insisted that there should be no
wavering or weakening in regard to the enforcement of those rights; he
made it clear that the continued existence of the nation depended upon
having these issues equitably adjusted and he held that the equitable
adjustment meant the restriction of slavery within its present
boundaries. He maintained that such restrictions were just and necessary
as well for the sake of fairness to the blacks as for the final welfare
of the whites. He insisted that the voters in the present States in the
Union had upon them the largest possible measure of responsibility in so
controlling the great domain of the Republic that the States of the
future, the States in which their children and their grandchildren were
to grow up as citizens, must be preserved in full liberty, must be
protected against any invasion of an institution which represented
barbarity. He maintained that such a contention could interfere in no
way with the due recognition of the legitimate property rights of the
present owners of slaves. He pointed out to the New Englander of the
anti-slavery group that the restriction of slavery meant its early
extermination. He insisted that war for the purpose of exterminating
slavery from existing slave territory could not be justified. He was
prepared, for the purpose of defending against slavery the national
territory that was still free, to take the risk of the war which the
South threatened because he believed that only through such defence
could the existence of the nation be maintained; and he believed,
further, that the maintenance of the great Republic was essential, not
only for the interests of its own citizens, but for the interests of
free government throughout the world. He spoke with full sympathy of the
difficulties and problems resting upon the South, and he insisted that
the matters at issue could be adjusted only with a fair recognition of
these difficulties. Aggression from either side of Mason and Dixon's
Line must be withstood.

I was but a boy when I first looked upon the gaunt figure of the man who
was to become the people's leader, and listened to his calm but forcible
arguments in behalf of the principles of the Republican party. It is not
likely that at the time I took in, with any adequate appreciation, the
weight of the speaker's reasoning. I have read the address more than
once since and it is, of course, impossible to separate my first
impressions from my later direct knowledge. I do remember that I was at
once impressed with the feeling that here was a political leader whose
methods differed from those of any politician to whom I had listened.
His contentions were based not upon invective or abuse of "the other
fellow," but purely on considerations of justice, on that everlasting
principle that what is just, and only what is just, represents the
largest and highest interests of the nation as a whole. I doubt whether
there occurred in the whole speech a single example of the stories which
had been associated with Lincoln's name. The speaker was evidently
himself impressed with the greatness of the opportunity and with the
dignity and importance of his responsibility. The speech in fact gave
the keynote to the coming campaign.

It is hardly necessary to add that it also decided the selection of the
national leader not only for the political campaign, but through the
coming struggle. If it had not been for the impression made upon New
York and the East generally by Lincoln's speech and by the man himself,
the vote of New York could not have been secured in the May convention
for the nomination of the man from Illinois.

Robert Lincoln (writing to me in July, 1908) says:

"After my father's address in New York in February, 1860, he made a
trip to New England in order to visit me at Exeter, N.H., where I
was then a student in the Phillips Academy. It had not been his plan
to do any speaking in New England, but, as a result of the address
in New York, he received several requests from New England friends
for speeches, and I find that before returning to the West, he spoke
at the following places: Providence, R.I., Manchester, N.H., Exeter,
N.H., Dover, N.H., Concord, N.H., Hartford, Conn., Meriden, Conn.,
New Haven, Conn., Woonsocket, R.I., Norwalk, Conn., and Bridgeport,
Conn. I am quite sure that coming and going he passed through
Boston merely as an unknown traveller."

Mr. Lincoln writes to his wife from Exeter, N.H., March 4, 1860, as

"I have been unable to escape this toil. If I had foreseen it, I
think I would not have come East at all. The speech at New York,
being within my calculation before I started, went off passably well
and gave me no trouble whatever. The difficulty was to make nine
others, before reading audiences who had already seen all my ideas
in print."[1]

An edition of Mr. Lincoln's address was brought into print in September,
1860, by the Young Men's Republican Union of New York, with notes by
Charles C. Nott (later Colonel, and after the war Judge of the Court of
Claims in Washington) and Cephas Brainerd. The publication of this
pamphlet shows that as early as September, 1860, the historic importance
and permanent value of this speech were fairly realised by the national
leaders of the day. In the preface to the reprint, the editors say:

"The address is characterised by wisdom, truthfulness and learning
...From the first line to the last - from his premises to his
conclusion, the speaker travels with a swift, unerring directness
that no logician has ever excelled. His argument is complete and is
presented without the affectation of learning, and without the
stiffness which usually accompanies dates and details ...A single
simple sentence contains a chapter of history that has taken days of
labour to verify, and that must have cost the author months of
investigation to acquire. The reader may take up this address as a
political pamphlet, but he will leave it as an historical
treatise - brief, complete, perfect, sound, impartial truth - which
will serve the time and the occasion that called it forth, and which
will be esteemed hereafter no less for its unpretending modesty than
for its intrinsic worth."[2]

Horace White, who was himself present at the Chicago Convention, writes
(in 1909) as follows:

"To anybody looking back at the Republican National Convention of
1860, it must be plain that there were only two men who had any
chance of being nominated for President.

"These were Lincoln and Seward. I was present at the Convention as a
spectator and I knew this fact at the time, but it seemed to me at
the beginning that Seward's chances were the better. One third of
the delegates of Illinois preferred Seward and expected to vote for
him after a few complimentary ballots for Lincoln. If there had been
no Lincoln in the field, Seward would certainly have been nominated
and then the course of history would have been very different from
what it was, for if Seward had been nominated and elected there
would have been no forcible opposition to the withdrawal of such
States as then desired to secede. And as a consequence the
Republican party would have been rent in twain and disabled from
making effectual resistance to other demands of the South.

"It was Seward's conviction that the policy of non-coercion would
have quieted the secession movement in the Border States and that
the Gulf States would, after a while, have returned to the Union
like repentant prodigal sons. His proposal to Lincoln to seek a
quarrel with four European nations, who had done us no harm, in
order to arouse a feeling of Americanism in the Confederate States,
was an outgrowth of this conviction. It was an indefensible
proposition, akin to that which prompted Bismarck to make use of
France as an anvil on which to hammer and weld Germany together, but
it was not an unpatriotic one, since it was bottomed on a desire to
preserve the Union without civil war."

Never was a political leadership more fairly, more nobly, and more
reasonably won. When the ballot boxes were opened on the first Tuesday
in November, Lincoln was found to have secured the electoral vote of
every Northern State except New Jersey, and in New Jersey four electors
out of seven. Breckinridge, the leader of the extreme Southern
Democrats, had back of him only the votes of the Southern States outside
of the Border States, these latter being divided between Bell and
Douglas. Douglas and his shallow theories of "squatter sovereignty" had
been buried beneath the good sense of the voters of the North.



After the election of November, 1860, events moved swiftly. On the 20th
of December, comes the first act of the Civil War, the secession of
South Carolina. The secession of Georgia had for a time been delayed by
the influence of Alexander H. Stephens who, on the 14th of November, had
made a great argument for the maintenance of the Union. His chief local
opponent at the time was Robert Toombs, the Southern leader who proposed
in the near future to "call the roll-call of his slaves on Bunker Hill."
Lincoln was still hopeful of saving to the cause of the Union the Border
States and the more conservative divisions of States, like North
Carolina, which had supported the Whig party.

In December, we find correspondence between Lincoln and Gilmer of North
Carolina, whom he had known in Washington. "The essential difference,"
says Lincoln, "between your group and mine is that you hold slavery to
be in itself desirable and as something to be extended. I hold it to be
an essential evil which, with due regard to existing rights, must be
restricted and in the near future exterminated."

On the 23d of February, 1861, Lincoln reaches Washington where he is to
spend a weary and anxious two weeks of waiting for the burden of his new
responsibilities. He is at this time fifty-two years of age. In one of
his brief addresses on the way to Washington he says:

"It is but little to a man of my age, but a great deal to thirty
millions of the citizens of the United States, and to posterity in
all coming time, if the Union of the States and the liberties of the
people are to be lost. If the majority is not to rule, who would be
the judge of the issue or where is such judge to be found?"

It is difficult to imagine a more exasperating condition of affairs than
obtained in Washington while Lincoln was awaiting the day of
inauguration. The government appeared to be crumbling away under the
nerveless direction, or lack of direction, of President Buchanan and his
associates. In his last message to Congress, Buchanan had taken the
ground that the Constitution made no provision for the secession of
States or for the breaking up of the Union; but that it also failed to
contain any provision for measures that could prevent such secession and
the consequent destruction of the nation. The old gentleman appeared to
be entirely unnerved by the pressure of events. He could not see any
duty before him. He certainly failed to realise that the more immediate
cause of the storm was the breaking down, through the repeal of the
Missouri Compromise, of the barriers that had in 1820, and in 1850, been
placed against the extension of slavery. He evidently failed to
understand that it was his own action in backing up the infamous
Lecompton Constitution, and the invasion of Kansas by the slave-owners,
which had finally aroused the spirit of the North, and further that it
was the influence of his administration which had given to the South the
belief that it was now in a position to control for slavery the whole
territory of the Republic.

It has before now been pointed out that, under certain contingencies,
the long interval between the national election and the inaugural of the
new President from the first Tuesday in November until the fourth day of
March must, in not a few instances, bring inconvenience, disadvantage,
and difficulty not only to the new administration but to the nation.
These months in which the members of an administration which had
practically committed itself to the cause of disintegration, were left
in charge of the resources of the nation gave a most serious example and
evidence of such disadvantage. This historic instance ought to have been
utilised immediately after the War as an influence for bringing about a
change in the date for bringing into power the administration that has
been chosen in November.

By the time when Lincoln and the members of his Cabinet had placed in
their hands the responsibilities of administration, the resources at the
disposal of the government had, as far as practicable, been scattered or
rendered unavailable. The Secretary of the Navy, a Southerner, had taken
pains to send to the farthest waters of the Pacific as many as possible
of the vessels of the American fleet; the Secretary of War, also a
Southerner, had for months been busy in transferring to the arsenals of
the South the guns and ammunition that had been stored in the Federal
arsenals of the North; the Secretary of the Treasury had had no
difficulty in disposing of government funds in one direction or another
so that there was practically no balance to hand over to his successor
available for the most immediate necessities of the new administration.

One of the sayings quoted from Washington during these weeks was the
answer given by Count Gurowski to the inquiry, "Is there anything in
addition this morning?" "No," said Gurowski, "it is all in subtraction."

By the day of the inaugural, the secession of seven States was an
accomplished fact and the government of the Confederacy had already been
organised in Montgomery. Alexander H. Stephens had so far modified his
original position that he had accepted the post of Vice-President and in
his own inaugural address had used the phrase, "Slavery is the
corner-stone of our new nation," a phrase that was to make much mischief
in Europe for the hopes of the new Confederacy.

In the first inaugural, one of the great addresses in a noteworthy
series, Lincoln presented to the attention of the leaders of the South
certain very trenchant arguments against the wisdom of their course. He

1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryGeorge Haven PutnamAbraham Lincoln → online text (page 3 of 16)