John George Nicolay.

Abraham Lincoln: a History — Volume 01 online

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Democratic members, boldly nominating Mr. Richardson, the House leader
on the Nebraska bill, as their candidate for Speaker, made a long and
determined push for success. But his highest range of votes was about
74 to 76; while through 121 ballotings, continuing from December 3 to
January 23, the opposition remained divided, Mr. Banks, the anti-
Nebraska favorite, running at one time up to 106 - within seven votes
of an election. At this point, Richardson, finding it a hopeless
struggle, withdrew his name as a candidate, and the Democratic
strength was transferred to another, but with no better prospects.
Finally, seeing no chance of otherwise terminating the contest, the
House yielded to the inevitable domination of the slavery question,
and resolved, on February 2, by a vote of 113 to 104, to elect under
the plurality rule after the next three ballotings. Under this rule,
notwithstanding the most strenuous efforts to rescind it, Nathaniel P.
Banks, of Massachusetts, was chosen Speaker by 103 votes, against 100
votes for William Aiken, of South Carolina, with thirty scattering.
The "ruthless" repeal of the Missouri Compromise had effectually
broken the legislative power of the Democratic party.




CHAPTER XXI

LINCOLN AND TRUMBULL


[Sidenote: 1854.]

To follow closely the chain of events, growing out of the repeal of
the Missouri Compromise at Douglas's instigation, we must now examine
its effect upon the political fortunes of that powerful leader in his
own State.

The extreme length of Illinois from north to south is 385 miles; in
geographical situation it extends from the latitude of Massachusetts
and New York to that of Virginia and Kentucky. The great westward
stream of emigration in the United States had generally followed the
parallels of latitude. The pioneers planted their new homes as nearly
as might be in a climate like the one they had left. In process of
time, therefore, northern Illinois became peopled with settlers from
Northern or free States, bringing their antislavery traditions and
feelings; southern Illinois, with those from Southern or slave States,
who were as naturally pro-slavery. The Virginians and Kentuckians
readily became converts to the thrift and order of free society; but
as a class they never gave up or conquered their intense hatred of
antislavery convictions based on merely moral grounds, which they
indiscriminately stigmatized as "abolitionism." Impelled by this
hatred the lawless element of the community was often guilty of
persecution and violence in minor forms, and in 1837, as already
related, it prompted the murder of Lovejoy in the city of Alton by a
mob, for persisting in his right to publish his antislavery opinions.
This was its gravest crime. But a narrow spirit of intolerance
extending even down to the rebellion kept on the statute books a
series of acts prohibiting the settlement of free blacks in the State.

It was upon this field of radically diverse sentiment that in the year
1854 Douglas's sudden project of repeal fell like a thunderbolt out of
a clear sky. A Democratic Governor had been chosen two years before; a
Democratic Legislature, called together to consider merely local and
economic questions, was sitting in extra session at Springfield. There
was doubt and consternation over the new issue. The Governor and other
prudent partisans avoided a public committal. But the silence could
not be long maintained. Douglas was a despotic party leader, and
President Pierce had made the Nebraska bill an Administration
question. Above all, in Illinois, as elsewhere, the people at once
took up the discussion, and reluctant politicians were compelled to
avow themselves. The Nebraska bill with its repealing clause had been
before the country some three weeks and was yet pending in Congress
when a member of the Illinois Legislature introduced resolutions
indorsing it. Three Democratic State Senators, two from northern and
one from central Illinois, had the courage to rise and oppose the
resolutions in vigorous and startling speeches. They were N. B. Judd,
of Chicago, B. C. Cook, of La Salle, and John M. Palmer, of Macoupin.
This was an unusual party phenomenon and had its share in hastening
the general agitation throughout the State. Only two or three other
members took part in the discussion; the Democrats avoided the issue;
the Whigs hoped to profit by the dissension. There was the usual rush
of amendments and of parliamentary strategy, and the indorsing
resolutions, which finally passed in both Houses in ambiguous language
and by a diminished vote were shorn of much of their political
significance.

Party organization was strong in Illinois, and for the greater part,
as the popular discussion proceeded, the Democrats sustained and the
Whigs opposed the new measure. In the northern counties, where the
antislavery sentiment was general, there were a few successful efforts
to disband the old parties and create a combined opposition under the
new name of Republicans. This, it was soon apparent, would make
serious inroads on the existing Democratic majority. But an alarming
counter-movement in the central counties, which formed the Whig
stronghold, soon began to show itself. Douglas's violent denunciation
of "abolitionists" and "abolitionismn" appealed with singular power to
Whigs from slave States. The party was without a national leader; Clay
had died two years before, and Douglas made skillful quotations from
the great statesman's speeches to bolster up his new propagandism. In
Congress only a little handful of Southern Whigs opposed the repeal,
and even these did not dare place their opposition on antislavery
grounds. And especially the familiar voice and example of the
neighboring Missouri Whigs were given unhesitatingly to the support of
the Douglas scheme. Under these combined influences one or two erratic
but rather prominent Whigs in central Illinois declared their
adherence to Nebraskaism, and raised the hope that the Democrats would
regain in the center and south all they might lose in the northern
half of the State.

[Illustration: LYMAN TRUMBULL]

One additional circumstance had its effect on public opinion. As has
been stated, in the opposition to Douglas's repeal the few avowed
abolitionists and the many pronounced Free-soilers, displaying
unwonted activity, came suddenly into the foreground to rouse and
organize public opinion, making it seem for the moment that they had
really assumed leadership and control in politics. This class of men
had long been held up to public odium. Some of them had, indeed, on
previous occasions used intemperate and offensive language; but more
generally they were denounced upon a gross misrepresentation of their
utterance and purpose. It so happened that they were mostly of
Democratic antecedents, which gave them great influence among
antislavery Democrats, but made their advice and arguments exceedingly
distasteful in strong Whig counties and communities. The fact that
they now became more prudent, conciliatory, and practical in their
speeches and platforms did not immediately remove existing prejudices
against them. A few of these appeared in Illinois. Cassius M. Clay
published a letter in which he advocated the fusion of anti-Nebraska
voters upon "Benton, Seward, Hale, or any other good citizen," and
afterwards made a series of speeches in Illinois. When he came to
Springfield, the Democratic officers in charge refused him the use of
the rotunda of the House, a circumstance, however, which only served
to draw him a larger audience in a neighboring grove. Later in the
summer Joshua B. Giddings and Salmon P. Chase, of Ohio, made a
political tour through the State, and at Springfield the future
Secretary and Chief-Justice addressed an unsympathetic audience of a
few hundreds in the dingy little court-house, almost unheralded, save
by the epithets of the Democratic newspapers. A few local speakers of
this class, of superior address and force, now also began to signalize
themselves by a new-born zeal and an attractive eloquence. Conspicuous
among these was Owen Lovejoy, of northern Illinois, brother of the man
who, for opinion's sake, had been murdered at Alton.

While thus in the northern half of Illinois the public condemnation of
Douglas's repeal was immediate and sweeping, the formation of
opposition to it was tentative and slow in the central and southern
counties, where, among Whigs of Southern birth, it proceeded rather
upon party feeling than upon moral conviction. The new question struck
through party lines in such a manner as to confuse and perplex the
masses. But the issue would not be postponed. The Congressional
elections were to be held in the autumn, and the succession of events
rather than the leadership of politicians gradually shaped the
campaign.

After a most exciting parliamentary struggle the repeal was carried
through Congress in May. Encouraged by this successful domination over
Representatives and Senators, Douglas prepared to force its acceptance
by the people. "I hear men now say," said he, "that they are willing
to acquiesce in it.... It is not sufficient that they shall not seek to
disturb Nebraska and Kansas, but they must acquiesce also in the
principle." [Footnote: Douglas's speech before the Union Democratic
Club of New York, June 3, 1854. New York "Herald," June 5, 1854.] In
the slave States this was an easy task. The most prominent Democrat
who had voted against the Nebraska bill was Thomas H. Benton. The
election in Missouri was held in August, and Benton was easily beaten
by a Whig who was as fierce for repeal as Douglas himself. In the free
States the case was altogether different. In Illinois the Democrats
gradually, but at last with a degree of boldness, shouldered the
dangerous dogma. The main body of the party rallied under Douglas,
excepting a serious defection in the north; on the other hand, the
Whigs in a body declared against him, but were weakened by a
scattering desertion in the center and south. Meanwhile both retained
their distinctive party names and organizations.

Congress adjourned early in August, but Douglas delayed his return to
Illinois. The 1st of September had come, when it was announced he
would return to his home in Chicago. This was an anti-slavery city,
and the current of popular condemnation and exasperation was running
strongly against him. Public meetings of his own former party friends
had denounced him. Street rowdies had burned him in effigy. The
opposition papers charged him with skulking and being afraid to meet
his constituents. On the afternoon of his coming many flags in the
city and on the shipping in the river and harbor were hung at half-
mast. At sunset sundry city bells were tolled for an hour to signify
the public mourning at his downfall. When he mounted the platform at
night to address a crowd of some five thousand listeners he was
surrounded by a little knot of personal friends, but the audience
before him was evidently cold if not actively hostile.

He began his speech, defending his course as well as he could. He
claimed that the slavery question was forever settled by his great
principle of "popular sovereignty," which took it out of Congress and
gave it to the people of the territories to decide as they pleased.
The crowd heard him in sullen silence for three-quarters of an hour,
when their patience gave out, and they began to ply him with
questions. He endured their fire of interrogatory for a little while
till he lost his own temper. Excited outcry followed angry repartee.
Thrust and rejoinder were mingled with cheers and hisses. The mayor,
who presided, tried to calm the assemblage, but the passions of the
crowd would brook no control. Douglas, of short, sturdy build and
imperious and controversial nature, stood his ground courageously,
with flushed and lowering countenance hurling defiance at his
interrupters, calling them a mob, and shaking his fist in their faces;
in reply the crowd groaned, hooted, yelled, and made the din of
Pandemonium. The tumultuous proceeding continued until half-past ten
o'clock at night, when the baffled orator was finally but very
reluctantly persuaded by his friends to give up the contest and leave
the stand. It was trumpeted abroad by the Democratic newspapers that
"in the order-loving, law-abiding, abolition-ridden city of Chicago,
Illinois's great statesman and representative in the United States
Senate was cried down and refused the privilege of speaking"; and as
usual the intolerance produced its natural reaction.

Since Abraham Lincoln's return to Springfield from his single term of
service in Congress, 1847 to 1849, though by no means entirely
withdrawn from politics, his campaigning had been greatly diminished.
The period following had for him been years of work, study, and
reflection. His profession of law had become a deeper science and a
higher responsibility. His practice, receiving his undivided
attention, brought him more important and more remunerative cases.
Losing nothing of his genial humor, his character took on the dignity
of a graver manhood. He was still the center of interest of every
social group he encountered, whether on the street or in the parlor.
Serene and buoyant of temper, cordial and winning of language,
charitable and tolerant of opinion, his very presence diffused a glow
of confidence and kindness. Wherever he went he left an ever-widening
ripple of smiles, jests, and laughter. His radiant good-fellowship was
beloved and sought alike by political opponents and partisan friends.
His sturdy and delicate integrity, recognized far and wide, had long
since won him the blunt but hearty sobriquet of "Honest Old Abe." But
it became noticeable that he was less among the crowd and more in the
solitude of his office or his study, and that he seemed ever in haste
to leave the eager circle he was entertaining.

It is in the midsummer of 1854 that we find him reappearing upon the
stump in central Illinois. The rural population always welcomed his
oratory, and he never lacked invitations to address the public. His
first speeches on the new and all-absorbing topic were made in the
neighboring towns, and in the counties adjoining his own. Towards the
end of August the candidates for Congress in that district were, in
Western phrase, "on the track." Richard Yates, afterwards one of the
famous "war governors," sought a reelection as a Whig. Thomas L.
Harris as a Douglas-Democrat strove to supplant him. Local politics
became active, and Lincoln was sent for from all directions to address
the people. When he went, however, he distinctly announced that he did
not purpose to take up his time with this personal and congressional
controversy. His intention was to discuss the principles of the
Nebraska Bill.

Once launched upon this theme, men were surprised to find him imbued
with an unwonted seriousness. They heard from his lips fewer anecdotes
and more history. Careless listeners who came to laugh at his jokes
were held by the strong current of his reasoning and the flashes of
his earnest eloquence, and were lifted up by the range and tenor of
his argument into a fresher and purer political atmosphere. The new
discussion was fraught with deeper questions than the improvement of
the Sangamon, protective tariffs, or the origin of the Mexican war.
Down through incidents of, legislation, through history of government,
even underlying cardinal maxims of political philosophy, it touched
the very bedrock of primary human rights. Such a subject furnished
material for the inborn gifts of the speaker, his intuitive logic, his
impulsive patriotism, his pure and poetical conception of legal and
moral justice.

Douglas, since his public rebuff at Chicago on September 1, had begun,
after a few days of delay and rest, a tour of speech-making southward
through the State. At these meetings he had at least a respectful
hearing, and as he neared central Illinois the reception accorded him
became more enthusiastic. The chief interest of the campaign finally
centered in a sort of political tournament which took place at the
capital, Springfield, during the first week of October; the State
Agricultural Fair having called together great crowds, and among them
the principal politicians of Illinois. This was Lincoln's home, in a
strong Whig county, and in a section of the State where that party had
hitherto found its most compact and trustworthy forces. As yet Lincoln
had made but a single speech there on the Nebraska question. Of the
Federal appointments under the Nebraska bill, Douglas secured two for
Illinois, one of which, the office of surveyor-general of Kansas, was
given to John Calhoun, the same man who, in the pioneer days twenty
years before, was county surveyor in Sangamon and had employed Abraham
Lincoln as his deputy. He was also the same who three years later
received the sobriquet of "John Candlebox Calhoun," having acquired
unenviable notoriety from his reputed connection with the "Cincinnati
Directory" and "Candlebox" election frauds in Kansas, and with the
famous Lecompton Constitution. Calhoun was still in Illinois doing
campaign work in propagating the Nebraska faith. He was recognized as
a man of considerable professional and political talent, and had made
a speech in Springfield to which Lincoln had replied. It was, however,
merely a casual and local affair and was not described or reported by
the newspapers.

The meetings at the State Fair were of a different character. The
audiences were composed of leading men from nearly all the counties of
the State. Though the discussion of party questions had been going on
all summer with more or less briskness, yet such was the general
confusion in politics that many honest and intelligent voters and even
leaders were still undecided in their opinions. The fair continued
nearly a week. Douglas made a speech on the first day, Tuesday,
October 3. Lincoln replied to him on the following day, October 4.
Douglas made a rejoinder, and on that night and the succeeding day and
night a running fire of debate ensued, in which John Calhoun, Judge
Trumbull, Judge Sidney Breese, Colonel E. D. Taylor, and perhaps
others, took part.

Douglas's speech was doubtless intended by him and expected by his
friends to be the principal and the conclusive argument of the
occasion. But by this time the Whig party of the central counties,
though shaken by the disturbing features of the Nebraska question, had
nevertheless reformed its lines, and assumed the offensive to which
its preponderant numbers entitled it, and resolved not to surrender
either its name or organization. In Sangamon County, its strongest
men, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen T. Logan, were made candidates for
the Legislature. The term of Douglas's colleague in the United States
Senate, General James Shields, was about to expire, and the new
Legislature would choose his successor. To the war of party principles
was therefore added the incentive of a brilliant official prize. The
Whigs were keenly alive to this chance and its influence upon their
possible ascendency in the State.

Lincoln's Whig friends had therefore seen his reappearance in active
discussion with unfeigned pleasure. Of old they knew his peculiar hold
and influence upon the people and his party. His few speeches in the
adjoining counties had shown them his maturing intellect, his
expanding power in debate. Acting upon himself, this renewed practice
on the stump crystallized his thought and brought method to his
argument. The opposition newspapers had accused him of "mousing about
the libraries in the State House." The charge was true. Where others
were content to take statements at second hand, he preferred to verify
citations as well as to find new ones. His treatment of his theme was
therefore not only bold but original.

By a sort of common consent his party looked to him to answer
Douglas's speech. This was no light task, and no one knew it better
than Lincoln. Douglas's real ability was, and remains, unquestioned.
In many qualities of intellect he was truly the "Little Giant" which
popular fancy nicknamed him. It was no mere chance that raised the
Vermont cabinet-maker's apprentice from a penniless stranger in
Illinois in 1833 to a formidable competitor for supreme leadership in
the great Democratic party of the nation in 1852. When after the lapse
of a quarter of a century we measure him with the veteran chiefs whom
he aspired to supplant, we see the substantial basis of his confidence
and ambition. His great error of statesmanship aside, he stands forth
more than the peer of associates who underrated his power and looked
askance at his pretensions. In the six years of perilous party
conflict which followed, every conspicuous party rival disappeared in
obscurity, disgrace, or rebellion. Battling while others feasted,
sowing where others reaped, abandoned by his allies and persecuted by
his friends, Douglas alone emerged from the fight with loyal faith and
unshaken courage, bringing with him through treachery, defeat, and
disaster the unflinching allegiance and enthusiastic admiration of
nearly three-fifths of the rank and file of the once victorious army
of Democratic voters at the north. He had not only proved himself
their most gallant chief, but as a final crown of merit he led his
still powerful contingent of followers to a patriotic defense of the
Constitution and government which some of his compeers put into such
mortal jeopardy.

We find him here at the beginning of this severe conflict in the full
flush of hope and ambition. He was winning in personal manner,
brilliant in debate, aggressive in party strategy. To this he added an
adroitness in evasion and false logic perhaps never equaled, and in
his defense of the Nebraska measure this questionable but convenient
gift was ever his main reliance. Besides, his long official career
gave to his utterances the stamp and glitter of oracular
statesmanship. But while Lincoln knew all Douglas's strong points he
was no less familiar with his weak ones. They had come to central
Illinois about the same time, and had in a measure grown up together.
Socially they were on friendly terms; politically they had been
opponents for twenty years. At the bar, in the Legislature, and on the
stump they had often met and measured strength. Each therefore knew
the temper of the other's steel no less than every joint in his armor.

It was a peculiarity of the early West - perhaps it pertains to all
primitive communities - that the people retained a certain fragment of
the chivalric sentiment, a remnant of the instinct of hero-worship. As
the ruder athletic sports faded out, as shooting-matches, wrestling-
matches, horse-races, and kindred games fell into disuse, political
debate became, in a certain degree, their substitute. But the
principle of championship, while it yielded high honor and
consideration to the victor, imposed upon him the corresponding
obligation to recognize every opponent and accept every challenge. To
refuse any contest, to plead any privilege, would be instant loss of
prestige. This supreme moment in Lincoln's career, this fateful
turning of the political tide, found him fully prepared for the new
battle, equipped by reflection and research to permit himself to be
pitted against the champion of Democracy - against the very author of
the raging storm of parties; and it displays his rare self-confidence
and consciousness of high ability, to venture to attack such an
antagonist.

[Sidenote: Correspondence of the "Missouri Republican," October 6,
1854.]

Douglas made his speech, according to notice, on the first day of the
fair, Tuesday, October 3. "I will mention," said he, in his opening
remarks, "that it is understood by some gentlemen that Mr. Lincoln, of
this city, is expected to answer me. If this is the understanding, I
wish that Mr. Lincoln would step forward and let us arrange some plan
upon which to carry out this discussion." Mr. Lincoln was not there at
the moment, and the arrangement could not then be made. Unpropitious
weather had brought the meeting to the Representatives' Hall in the
State House, which was densely packed. The next day found the same
hall filled as before to hear Mr. Lincoln. Douglas occupied a seat
just in front of him, and in his rejoinder he explained that "my
friend Mr. Lincoln expressly invited me to stay and hear him speak to-
day, as he heard me yesterday, and to answer and defend myself as best
I could. I here thank him for his courteous offer." The occasion
greatly equalized the relative standing of the champions. The familiar



Online LibraryJohn George NicolayAbraham Lincoln: a History — Volume 01 → online text (page 25 of 31)