John George Nicolay.

Abraham Lincoln: a History — Volume 01 online

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but there is the clearest proof of the contrary. Two or more of them
were candidates for the nomination at every election from the time
when Stuart retired until the Whigs lost the district.

At the same time it is not to be denied that there was a tacit
understanding among the Whigs of the district that whoever should, at
each election, gain the honor of representing the one Whig
constituency of the State, should hold himself satisfied with the
privilege, and not be a candidate for reelection. The retiring member
was not always convinced of the propriety of this arrangement. In the
early part of January, 1846, Hardin was the only one whose name was
mentioned in opposition to Lincoln. He was reasonably sure of his own
county, and he tried to induce Lincoln to consent to an arrangement
that all candidates should confine themselves to their own counties in
the canvass; but Lincoln, who was very strong in the outlying counties
of the district, declined the proposition, alleging, as a reason for
refusing, that Hardin was so much better known than he, by reason of
his service in Congress, that such a stipulation would give him a
great advantage. There was fully as much courtesy as candor in this
plea, and Lincoln's entire letter was extremely politic and civil. "I
have always been in the habit," he says, "of acceding to almost any
proposal that a friend would make, and I am truly sorry that I cannot
to this." A month later Hardin saw that his candidacy was useless, and
he published a card withdrawing from the contest, which was printed
and commended in the kindest terms by papers friendly to Lincoln, and
the two men remained on terms of cordial friendship.

[Sidenote: Lincoln to James, Nov. 24, 1845. Unpublished MS.]

[Sidenote: Lincoln to James, Jan. 14, 1846. Unpublished MS.]

[Sidenote: Ibid.]

It is not to be said that Lincoln relied entirely upon his own merits
and the sentiment of the constituents to procure him this nomination.
Like other politicians of the time, he used all proper means to attain
his object. A package of letters, written during the preliminary
canvass, which have recently come into our hands, show how intelligent
and how straightforward he was in the ways of politics. He had no fear
of Baker; all his efforts were directed to making so strong a show of
force as to warn Hardin off the field. He countenanced no attack upon
his competitor; he approved a movement - not entirely disinterested -
looking to his nomination for Grovernor. He kept up an extensive
correspondence with the captains of tens throughout the district; he
suggested and revised the utterances of country editors; he kept his
friends aware of his wishes as to conventions and delegates. He was
never overconfident; so late as the middle of January, he did not
share the belief of his supporters that he was to be nominated without
a contest. "Hardin," he wrote, "is a man of desperate energy and
perseverance, and one that never backs out; and, I fear, to think
otherwise is to be deceived.... I would rejoice to be spared the labor
of a contest, 'but being in' I shall go it thoroughly...." His
knowledge of the district was curiously minute, though he
underestimated his own popularity. He wrote: "As to my being able to
make a break in the lower counties, ... I can possibly get Cass, but I
do not think I will. Morgan and Scott are beyond my reach, Menard is
safe to me; Mason, neck and neck; Logan is mine. To make the matter
sure your entire senatorial district must be secured. Of this I
suppose Tazewell is safe, and I have much done in both the other
counties. In Woodford I have Davenport, Simms, Willard, Braken, Perry,
Travis, Dr. Hazzard, and the Clarks, and some others, all specially
committed. At Lacon, in Marshall, the very most active friend I have
in the district (if I except yourself) is at work. Through him I have
procured the names and written to three or four of the most active
Whigs in each precinct of the county. Still, I wish you all in
Tazewell to keep your eyes continually on Woodford and Marshall. Let
no opportunity of making a mark escape. When they shall be safe, all
will be safe - I think." His constitutional caution suggests those
final words. He did not relax his vigilance for a moment until after
Hardin withdrew. He warned his correspondents day by day of every move
on the board; advised his supporters at every point, and kept every
wire in perfect working order.

The convention was held at Petersburg on the 1st of May. Judge Logan
placed the name of Lincoln before it, and he was nominated
unanimously. The Springfield "Journal," giving the news the week
after, said: "This nomination was of course anticipated, there being
no other candidate in the field. Mr. Lincoln, we all know, is a good
Whig, a good man, an able speaker, and richly deserves, as he enjoys,
the confidence of the Whigs of this district and of the State."

The Democrats gave Mr. Lincoln a singular competitor - the famous
Methodist preacher, Peter Cartwright. It was not the first time they
had met in the field of politics. When Lincoln ran for the Legislature
on his return from the. Black Hawk war, in 1832, one of the successful
candidates of that year was this indefatigable circuit-rider. He was
now over sixty years of age, in the height of his popularity, and in
all respects an adversary not to be despised. His career as a preacher
began at the beginning of the century and continued for seventy years.
He was the son of one of the pioneers of the West, and grew up in the
rudest regions of the border land between Tennessee and Kentucky. He
represents himself, with the usual inverted pride of a class-leader,
as having been a wild, vicious youth; but the catalogue of his crimes
embraces nothing less venial than card-playing, horse-racing, and
dancing, and it is hard to see what different amusements could have
been found in southern Kentucky in 1801.

This course of dissipation did not continue long, as he was "converted
and united with the Ebenezer Methodist Episcopal Church" in June of
that year, when only sixteen years old, and immediately developed such
zeal and power in exhortation that less than a year later he was
licensed to "exercise his gifts as an exhorter so long as his practice
is agreeable to the gospel." He became a deacon at twenty-one, an
elder at twenty-three, a presiding elder at twenty-seven, and from
that time his life is the history of his church in the West for sixty
years. He died in 1872, eighty-seven years of age, having baptized
twelve thousand persons and preached fifteen thousand sermons. He was,
and will always remain, the type of the backwoods preacher. Even in
his lifetime the simple story of his life became so overgrown with a
net-work of fable that there is little resemblance between the simple,
courageous, prejudiced itinerant of his "Autobiography" and the
fighting, brawling, half-civilized, Protestant Friar Tuck of bar-room
newspaper legend.

It is true that he did not always discard the weapons of the flesh in
his combats with the ungodly, and he felt more than once compelled to
leave the pulpit to do carnal execution upon the disturbers of the
peace of the sanctuary; but two or three incidents of this sort in
three-quarters of a century do not turn a parson into a pugilist. He
was a fluent, self-confident speaker, who, after the habit of his
time, addressed his discourses more to the emotions than to the reason
of his hearers. His system of future rewards and punishments was of
the most simple and concrete character, and formed the staple of his
sermons. He had no patience with the refinements and reticences of
modern theology, and in his later years observed with scorn and sorrow
the progress of education and scholarly training in his own communion.
After listening one day to a prayer from a young minister which shone
more by its correctness than its unction, he could not refrain from
saying, "Brother - , three prayers like that would freeze hell over!" -
a consummation which did not commend itself to him as desirable. He
often visited the cities of the Atlantic coast, but saw little in them
to admire. His chief pleasure on his return was to sit in a circle of
his friends and pour out the phials of his sarcasm upon all the
refinements of life that he had witnessed in New York or Philadelphia,
which he believed, or affected to believe, were tenanted by a species
of beings altogether inferior to the manhood that filled the cabins of
Kentucky and Illinois. An apocryphal story of one of these visits was
often told of him, which pleased him so that he never contradicted it:
that becoming bewildered in the vastness of a New York hotel, he
procured a hatchet, and in pioneer fashion "blazed" his way along the
mahogany staircases and painted corridors from the office to his room.
With all his eccentricities, he was a devout man, conscientious and
brave. He lived in domestic peace and honor all his days, and dying,
he and his wife, whom he had married almost in childhood, left a
posterity of 129 direct descendants to mourn them. [Transcriber's
Note: Lengthy footnote (1) relocated to chapter end.]

With all his devotion to the cause of his church, Peter Cartwright was
an ardent Jackson politician, with probably a larger acquaintance
throughout the district than any other man in it, and with a personal
following which, beginning with his own children and grandchildren and
extending through every precinct, made it no holiday task to defeat
him in a popular contest. But Lincoln and his friends went
energetically into the canvass, and before it closed he was able to
foresee a certain victory.

An incident is related to show how accurately Lincoln could calculate
political results in advance - a faculty which remained with him all
his life. A friend, who was a Democrat, had come to him early in the
canvass and had told him he wanted to see him elected, but did not
like to vote against his party; still he would vote for him, if the
contest was to be so close that every vote was needed. A short time
before the election Lincoln said to him: "I have got the preacher, and
I don't want your vote."

The election was held in August, and the Whig candidate's majority was
very large - 1511 in the district, where Clay's majority had been only
914, and where Taylor's, two years later, with all the glamour of
victory about him, was ten less. Lincoln's majority in Sangamon County
was 690, which, in view of the standing of his competitor, was the
most remarkable proof which could be given of his personal popularity;
[Transcriber's Note: Lengthy footnote (2) relocated to chapter end.]
it was the highest majority ever given to any candidate in the county
during the entire period of Whig ascendancy until Yates's triumphant
campaign of 1852.

This large vote was all the more noteworthy because the Whigs were
this year upon the unpopular side. The annexation of Texas was
generally approved throughout the West, and those who opposed it were
regarded as rather lacking in patriotism, even before actual
hostilities began. But when General Taylor and General Ampudia
confronted each other with hostile guns across the Rio Grande, and
still more after the brilliant feat of arms by which the Americans
opened the war on the plain of Palo Alto, it required a good deal of
moral courage on the part of the candidates and voters alike to
continue their attitude of disapproval of the policy of the
Government, at the same time that they were shouting paeans over the
exploits of our soldiers. They were assisted, it is true, by the fact
that the leading Whigs of the State volunteered with the utmost
alacrity and promptitude in the military service. On the 11th of May,
Congress authorized the raising of fifty thousand volunteers, and as
soon as the intelligence reached Illinois the daring and restless
spirit of Hardin leaped forward to the fate which was awaiting him,
and he instantly issued a call to his brigade of militia, in which he
said: "The general has already enrolled himself as the first volunteer
from Illinois under the requisition. He is going whenever ordered. Who
will go with him? He confidently expects to be accompanied by many of
his brigade." The quota assigned to Illinois was three regiments;
these were quickly raised, [Footnote: The colonels were Hardin,
Bissell, and Forman.] and an additional regiment offered by Baker was
then accepted. The sons of the prominent Whigs enlisted as private
soldiers; David Logan was a sergeant in Baker's regiment. A public
meeting was held in Springfield on the 29th of May, at which Mr.
Lincoln delivered what was considered a thrilling and effective speech
on the condition of affairs, and the duty of citizens to stand by the
flag of the nation until an honorable peace was secured.

It was thought probable, and would Have been altogether fitting, that
either Colonel Hardin, Colonel Baker, or Colonel Bissell, all of them
men of intelligence and distinction, should be appointed general of
the Illinois Brigade, but the Polk Administration was not inclined to
waste so important a place upon men who might thereafter have views of
their own in public affairs. The coveted appointment was given to a
man already loaded to a grotesque degree with political employment -
Mr. Lincoln's old adversary, James Shields, He had left the position
of Auditor of State to assume a seat on the Bench; retiring from this,
he had just been appointed Commissioner of the General Land Office. He
had no military experience, and so far as then known no capacity for
the service; but his fervid partisanship commended him to Mr. Polk as
a safe servant, and he received the commission, to the surprise and
derision of the State. His bravery in action and his honorable wounds
at Cerro Gordo and Chapultepec saved him from contempt and made his
political fortune. He had received the recommendation of the Illinois
Democrats in Congress, and it is altogether probable that he owed his
appointment in great measure to the influence of Douglas, who desired
to have as few Democratic statesmen as possible in Springfield that
winter. A Senator was to be elected, and Shields had acquired such a
habit of taking all the offices that fell vacant that it was only
prudent to remove him as far as convenient from such a temptation. The
election was held in December, and Douglas was promoted from the House
of Representatives to that seat in the Senate which he held with such
ability and distinction the rest of his life.

[Sidenote: December 28, 1841.]

The session of 1846-7 opened with the Sangamon district of Illinois
unrepresented in Congress. Baker had gone with his regiment to Mexico,
It did not have the good fortune to participate in any of the earlier
actions of the campaign, and his fiery spirit chafed in the enforced
idleness of camp and garrison. He seized an occasion which was offered
him to go to Washington as bearer of dispatches, and while there he
made one of those sudden and dramatic appearances in the Capitol which
were so much in harmony with his tastes and his character. He went to
his place on the floor, and there delivered a bright, interesting
speech in his most attractive vein, calling attention to the needs of
the army, disavowing on the part of the Whigs any responsibility for
the war or its conduct, and adroitly claiming for them a full share of
the credit for its prosecution.

He began by thanking the House for its kindness in allowing him the
floor, protesting at the same time that he had done nothing to deserve
such courtesy. "I could wish," he said, "that it had been the fortune
of the gallant Davis [Footnote: Jefferson Davis, who was with the army
in Mexico.] to now stand where I do and to receive from gentlemen on
all sides the congratulations so justly due to him, and to listen to
the praises of his brave compeers. For myself, I have, unfortunately,
been left far in the rear of the war, and if now I venture to say a
word in behalf of those who have endured the severest hardships of the
struggle, whether in the blood-stained streets of Monterey, or in a
yet sterner form on the banks of the Rio Grande, I beg you to believe
that while I feel this a most pleasant duty, it is in other respects a
duty full of pain; for I stand here, after six months' service as a
volunteer, having seen no actual warfare in the field;"

Yet even this disadvantage he turned with great dexterity to his
service. He reproached Congress for its apathy and inaction in not
providing for the wants of the army by reinforcements and supplies; he
flattered the troops in the field, and paid a touching tribute to
those who had died of disease and exposure, without ever enjoying the
sight of a battle-field, and, rising to lyric enthusiasm, he repeated
a poem of his own, which he had written in camp to the memory of the
dead of the Fourth Illinois. [Transcriber's Note: Lengthy footnote (3)
relocated to chapter end.] He could not refrain from giving his own
party all the credit which could be claimed for it, and it is not
difficult to imagine how exasperating it must have been to the
majority to hear so calm an assumption of superior patriotism on the
part of the opposition as the following: "As a Whig I still occupy a
place on this floor; nor do I think it worth while to reply to such a
charge as that the Whigs are not friends of their country because many
of them doubt the justice or expediency of the present war. Surely
there was all the more evidence of the patriotism of the man who,
doubting the expediency and even the entire justice of the war,
nevertheless supported it, because it was the war of his country. In
the one it might be mere enthusiasm and an impetuous temperament; in
the other it was true patriotism, a sense of duty. Homer represents
Hector as strongly doubting the expediency of the war against Greece.
He gave his advice against it; he had no sympathy with Paris, whom he
bitterly reproached, much less with Helen; yet, when the war came, and
the Grecian forces were marshaled on the plain, and their crooked
keels were seen cutting the sands of the Trojan coast, Hector was a
flaming fire, his beaming helmet was seen in the thickest of the
fight.

They did not die in eager strife
Upon a well-fought field;
Nor from the red wound poured their life
Where cowering foemen yield.
Death's ghastly shade was slowly cast
Upon each manly brow,
But calm and fearless to the last,
They sleep securely now.

Yet shall a grateful country give
Her honors to their name;
In kindred hearts their memory live,
And history guard their fame.
Not unremembered do they sleep
Upon a foreign strand,
Though near their graves thy wild waves sweep,
O rushing Rio Grande!

There are in the American army many who have the spirit of Hector; who
strongly doubt the propriety of the war, and especially the manner of
its commencement; who yet are ready to pour out their hearts' best
blood like water, and their lives with it, on a foreign shore, in
defense of the American flag and American glory."

Immediately after making this speech, Baker increased the favorable
impression created by it by resigning his seat in Congress and
hurrying as fast as steam could carry him to New Orleans, to embark
there for Mexico. He had heard of the advance of Santa Anna upon
Saltillo, and did not wish to lose any opportunity of fighting which
might fall in the way of his regiment. He arrived to find his troops
transferred to the department of General Scott; and although he missed
Buena Vista, he took part in the capture of Vera Cruz, and greatly
distinguished himself at Cerro Gordo. When Shields was wounded, Baker
took command of his brigade, and by a gallant charge on the Mexican
guns gained possession of the Jalapa road, an act by which a great
portion of the fruits of that victory were harvested.

His resignation left a vacancy in Congress, and a contest,
characteristic of the politics of the time, at once sprang up over it.
The rational course would have been to elect Lincoln, but, with his
usual overstrained delicacy, he declined to run, thinking it fair to
give other aspirants a chance for the term of two months. The Whigs
nominated a respectable man named Brown, but a short while before the
election John Henry, a member of the State Senate, announced himself
as a candidate, and appealed for votes on the sole ground that he was
a poor man and wanted the place for the mileage. Brown, either
recognizing the force of this plea, or smitten with a sudden disgust
for a service in which such pleas were possible, withdrew from the
canvass, and Henry got his election and his mileage.

[Illustration: THE BOUNDARIES OF TEXAS. This map gives the boundary
between Mexico and the United States as defined by the treaty of 1828;
the westerly bank of the Sabine River from its mouth to the 32d degree
of longitude west from Greenwich; thence due north to the Arkansas
River, and running along its south bank to its source in the Rocky
Mountains, near the place where Leadville now stands; thence due north
to the 42d parallel of latitude, which it follows to the Pacific
Ocean. On the west will be seen the boundaries claimed by Mexico and
the United States after the annexation of Texas. The Mexican
authorities considered the western boundary of Texas to be the Nueces
River, from mouth to source; thence by an indefinite line to the Rio
Pecos, and through the elevated and barren Llano Estacado to the
source of the main branch of the Red River, and along that river to
the 100th meridian. The United States adopted the Texan claim of the
Rio Grande del Norte as their western limit. By the treaty of peace of
1848, the Mexicans relinquished to the United States the territory
between the Nueces and the Rio Grande del Norte; also the territory
lying between the last-named river and the Pacific Ocean, and north of
the Gila River and the southern boundary of New Mexico, which was a
short distance above the town of El Paso.]

[Illustration: ZACHARY TAYLOR.]

[Relocated Footnote (1): The impressive manner of Mrs. Cartwright's
death, who survived her husband a few years, is remembered in the
churches of Sangamon County. She was attending a religious meeting at
Bethel Chapel, a mile from her house. She was called upon "to give her
testimony," which she did with much feeling, concluding with the
words, "the past three weeks have been the happiest of all my life; I
am waiting for the chariot."

When the meeting broke up, she did not rise with the rest. The
minister solemnly said, "The chariot has arrived." - "Early Settlers of
Sangamon County," by John Carroll Power.]

[Relocated Footnote (2):

Stuart's maj. over May in 1836 in Sangamon Co. was 543
" " " Douglas " 1838 " " " " 295
" " " Ralston " 1840 " " " " 575
Hardin's " " McDougall " 1843 " " " " 504
Baker's " " Calhoun " 1844 " " " " 373
Lincoln's " " Cartwright " 1846 " " " " 690
Logan's " " Harris " 1848 " " " " 263
Yates's " " Harris " 1850 " " " " 336 ]

[Relocated Footnote (3): We give a copy of these lines, not on account
of their intrinsic merit, but as illustrating the versatility of the
lawyer, orator, and soldier who wrote them.

Where rolls the rushing Rio Grande,
How peacefully they sleep!
Far from their native Northern land,
Far from the friends who weep.
No rolling drums disturb their rest
Beneath the sandy sod;
The mold lies heavy on each breast,
The spirit is with God.

They heard their country's call, and came
To battle for the right;
Each bosom filled with martial flame,
And kindling for the fight.
Light was their measured footsteps when
They moved to seek the foe;
Alas that hearts so fiery then
Should soon be cold and low!]




CHAPTER XV

THE THIRTIETH CONGRESS


The Thirtieth Congress organized on the 6th of December, 1847. Its
roll contained the names of many eminent men, few of whom were less
known than his which was destined to a fame more wide and enduring
than all the rest together. It was Mr. Lincoln's sole distinction that
he was the only Whig member from Illinois. He entered upon the larger
field of work which now lay before him without any special diffidence,
but equally without elation. Writing to his friend Speed soon after
his election he said: "Being elected to Congress, though I am very



Online LibraryJohn George NicolayAbraham Lincoln: a History — Volume 01 → online text (page 17 of 31)