John Hay.

Abraham Lincoln, a History — Volume 02 online

. (page 3 of 33)
Online LibraryJohn HayAbraham Lincoln, a History — Volume 02 → online text (page 3 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


province, we may be excused for stating that, from the most reliable
information that we have been able to gather, by the secret warfare of
the guerrilla system, and in well-known encounters, the number of
lives sacrificed in Kansas during the period mentioned probably
exceeded rather than fell short of two hundred.... That the excitement
in the Eastern and Southern States, in 1856, was instigated and kept
up by garbled and exaggerated accounts of Kansas affairs, published in
the Eastern and Southern newspapers, is true, most true; but the half
of what was done by either party was never chronicled!" - House
Reports, 2d Sess. 36th Cong. Vol. III., Part I, pp. 90 and 93.

[20] We quote the following from the executive minutes of Governor
Geary to show that border strife had not entirely destroyed the
kindlier human impulses, which enabled him to turn a portion of the
warring elements to the joint service of peace and order:

"September 24, 1856. For the purpose of obtaining information
which was considered of great value to the Territory, the Governor
invited to Lecompton, Captain [Samuel] Walker, of Lawrence, one of
the most celebrated and daring leaders of the anti-slavery party,
promising him a safe-conduct to Lecompton and back again to
Lawrence. During Walker's visit at the Executive Office, Colonel
[H.T.] Titus entered, whose house was, a short time since,
destroyed by a large force under the command of Walker; an offense
which was subsequently retaliated by the burning of the residence
of the latter. These men were, perhaps, the most determined
enemies in the Territory. Through the Governor's intervention, a
pacific meeting occurred, a better understanding took place,
mutual concessions were made, and pledges of friendship were
passed; and, late in the afternoon, Walker left Lecompton in
company with and under the safeguard of Colonel Titus. Both these
men have volunteered to enter the service of the United States as
leaders of companies of territorial militia." - Geary, Executive
Minutes. Senate Executive Documents, 3d Session 34th Congress,
Vol. II., pp. 137-8.




CHAPTER II

THE CONVENTIONS OF 1856


[Sidenote] 1856.

In the State of Illinois, the spring of the year 1856 saw an almost
spontaneous impulse toward the formation of a new party. As already
described, it was a transition period in politics. The disorganization
of the Whig party was materially increased and hastened by the
failure, two years before, to make Lincoln a Senator. On the other
hand, the election of Trumbull served quite as effectively to
consolidate the Democratic rebellion against Douglas in his
determination to make the support of his Nebraska bill a test of party
orthodoxy. Many of the Northern counties had formed "Republican"
organizations in the two previous years; but the name was entirely
local, while the opposition, not yet united, but fighting in factions
against the Nebraska bill, only acknowledged political affinity under
the general term of the "Anti-Nebraska" party.

[Sidenote] 1856.

In the absence of any existing party machinery, some fifteen editors
of anti-Nebraska newspapers met for conference at Decatur on the 22d
of February and issued a call for a delegate State convention of the
"Anti-Nebraska party," to meet at Bloomington on the 29th of May.
Prominent leaders, as a rule, hesitated to commit themselves by their
presence at Decatur. Not so with Mr. Lincoln. He could not attend the
deliberations as an editor; but he doubtless lent his suggestion and
advice, for we find him among the distinguished guests and speakers at
the banquet which followed the business session, and toasts to his
candidacy as "the next United States Senator" show that his leadership
had suffered no abatement. The assembled editors purposely set the
Bloomington Convention for a somewhat late day in the campaign, and
before the time arrived the political situation in the State was
already much more clearly defined.

[Sidenote] Davidson and Stuvé, "History of Illinois," p. 616.

One factor which greatly baffled the calculations and forecast of
politicians was the Know-Nothing or American party. It was apparent to
all that this order or affiliation had during the past two years
spread into Illinois, as into other States. But as its machinery and
action were secret, and as no general election had occurred since 1854
to exhibit its numerical strength, its possible scope and influence
could only be vaguely estimated. Still it was clearly present as a
positive force. Its national council had in February at Philadelphia
nominated Fillmore and Donelson as a presidential ticket; but the
preponderating Southern membership forced an indorsement of the
Kansas-Nebraska act into its platform, which destroyed the unity and
power of the party, driving the Northern delegates to a bolt.
Nevertheless many Northern voters, indifferent to the slavery issue,
still sought to maintain its organization; and thus in Illinois the
State Council met early in May, ratified the nomination of Fillmore
for President, and nominated candidates for Governor, and other State
officers.

The Democratic party, or rather so much of that party as did not
openly repudiate the policy and principle of the Kansas-Nebraska act,
made early preparations for a vigorous campaign. The great loss in
prestige and numbers he had already sustained admonished Douglas that
his political fortunes hung in a doubtful balance. But he was a bold
and aggressive leader, to whom controversy and party warfare were
rather an inspiration than a discouragement. Under his guidance, the
Democratic State Convention nominated for Governor of Illinois William
A. Richardson, late a member of the House of Representatives, in which
body as chairman of the Committee on Territories he had been the
leader to whom the success of the Nebraska bill was specially
intrusted, and where his parliamentary management had contributed
materially to the final passage of that measure.

Thus the attitude of opposing factions and the unorganized unfolding
of public opinion, rather than any mere promptings or combinations of
leaders, developed the course of the anti-Nebraska men of Illinois.
Out of this condition sprung directly one important element of future
success. Richardson's candidacy, long foreshadowed, was seen to
require an opposing nominee of unusual popularity. He was found in the
person of Colonel William H. Bissell, late a Democratic representative
in Congress, where he had denounced disunion in 1850, and opposed the
Nebraska bill in 1854. He had led a regiment to the Mexican war, and
fought gallantly at the battle of Buena Vista. His military laurels
easily carried him into Congress; but the exposures of the Mexican
campaign also burdened him with a disease which paralyzed his lower
limbs, and compelled retirement from active politics after his second
term. He was now, however, recovering; and having already exhibited
civic talents of a high order, the popular voice made light of his
physical infirmity, and his friends declared their readiness to match
the brains of Bissell against the legs of his opponents.

[Sidenote] January 23, 1850, Appendix, "Globe," 1849-50, p. 78.

One piece of his history rendered him specially acceptable to young
and spirited Western voters. His service in Congress began amid
exciting debates over the compromise measures of 1850, when the
Southern fire-eaters were already rampant. Seddon, of Virginia, in his
eagerness to depreciate the North and glorify the South, affirmed in a
speech that at the battle of Buena Vista, "at that most critical
juncture when all seemed lost save honor," amid the discomfiture and
rout of "the brave but unfortunate troops of the North through a
mistaken order," "the noble regiment of Mississippians" had snatched
victory from the jaws of death. Replying some days later to Seddon's
innuendo, Bissell, competent by his presence on the battle-field to
bear witness, retorted that when the 2d Indiana gave way, it was
McKee's 2d Kentucky, Hardin's 1st Illinois, and Bissell's 2d Illinois
which had retrieved the fortunes of the hour, and that the vaunted
Mississippi regiment was not within a mile and a half of the scene of
action. Properly this was an issue of veracity between Seddon and
Bissell, of easy solution. But Jefferson Davis, who commanded the
Mississippi regiment in question, began an interchange of notes with
Bissell which from the first smelt of gunpowder. "Were his reported
remarks correct?" asked Davis in substance. Bissell answered, repeating
the language of his speech and defining the spot and the time to which
it applied, adding: "I deem it due, in justice alike to myself and the
Mississippi regiment, to say that I made no charge against that
regiment." Davis persisting, then asked, in substance, whether he
meant to deny General Lane's official report that "the regiment of
Mississippians came to the rescue at the proper time to save the
fortunes of the day." Bissell rejoined: "My remarks had reference to a
different time and place from those referred to by General Lane."

[Sidenote] Pamphlet, Printed correspondence.

At this point both parties might with great propriety have ended the
correspondence. Sufficient inquiry had been met by generous
explanation. But Davis, apparently determined to push Bissell to the
wall, now sent his challenge. This time, however, he met his match, in
courage. Bissell named an officer of the army as his second,
instructing him to suggest as weapons "muskets, loaded with ball and
buckshot." The terms of combat do not appear to have been formally
proposed between the friends who met to arrange matters, but they were
evidently understood; the affair was hushed up, with the simple
addition to Bissell's first reply that he was willing to award the
Mississippi regiment "the credit due to their gallant and
distinguished services in that battle."

[Sidenote] 1856.

The Bloomington Convention came together according to call on the 29th
of May. By this time the active and observant politicians of the State
had become convinced that the anti-Nebraska struggle was not a mere
temporary and insignificant "abolition" excitement, but a deep and
abiding political issue, involving in the fate of slavery the fate of
the nation. Minor and past differences were therefore generously
postponed or waived in favor of a hearty coalition on the single
dominant question. A most notable gathering of the clans was the
result. About one-fourth of the counties sent regularly chosen
delegates; the rest were volunteers. In spirit and enthusiasm it was
rather a mass-meeting than a convention; but every man present was in
some sort a leader in his own locality. The assemblage was much more
representative than similar bodies gathered by the ordinary caucus
machinery. It was an earnest and determined council of five or six
hundred cool, sagacious, independent thinkers, called together by a
great public exigency, led and directed by the first minds of the
State. Not only did it show a brilliant array of eminent names, but a
remarkable contrast of former antagonisms: Whigs, Democrats,
Free-Soilers, Know-Nothings, Abolitionists; Norman B. Judd, Richard
Yates, Ebenezer Peck, Leonard Swett, Lyman Trumbull, David Davis, Owen
Lovejoy, Orville H. Browning, Ichabod Godding, Archibald Williams, and
many more. Chief among these, as adviser and actor, was Abraham
Lincoln.

Rarely has a deliberative body met under circumstances more exciting
than did this one. The Congressional debates at Washington and the
civil war in Kansas were each at a culmination of passion and
incident. Within ten days Charles Sumner had been struck down in the
Senate Chamber, and the town of Lawrence sacked by the guerrilla posse
of Atchison and Sheriff Jones. Ex-Governor Reeder, of that suffering
Territory, addressed the citizens of Bloomington and the
earliest-arriving delegates on the evening of the 28th, bringing into
the convention the very atmosphere of the Kansas conflict.

The convention met and conducted its work with earnestness and
dignity. Bissell, already designated by unmistakable popular
indications, was nominated for governor by acclamation. The candidate
for lieutenant-governor was named in like manner. So little did the
convention think or care about the mere distribution of political
honors on the one hand, and so much, on the other, did it regard and
provide for the success of the cause, that it did not even ballot for
the remaining candidates on the State ticket, but deputed to a
committee the task of selecting and arranging them, and adopted its
report as a whole and by acclamation. The more difficult task of
drafting a platform was performed by another committee, with such
prudence that it too received a unanimous acceptance. It boldly
adopted the Republican name, formulated the Republican creed, and the
convention further appointed delegates to the coming Republican
National Convention.

There were stirring speeches by eloquent leaders, eagerly listened to
and vociferously applauded; but scarcely a man moved from his seat in
the crowded hall until Mr. Lincoln had been heard. Every one felt the
fitness of his making the closing argument and exhortation, and right
nobly did he honor their demand. A silence full of emotion filled the
assembly as for a moment before beginning his tall form stood in
commanding attitude on the rostrum, the impressiveness of his theme
and the significance of the occasion reflected in his thoughtful and
earnest features. The spell of the hour was visibly upon him; and
holding his audience in rapt attention, he closed in a brilliant
peroration with an appeal to the people to join the Republican
standard, to

Come as the winds come, when forests are rended;
Come as the waves come, when navies are stranded.

The influence was irresistible; the audience rose and acknowledged the
speaker's power with cheer upon cheer. Unfortunately the speech was
never reported; but its effect lives vividly in the memory of all who
heard it, and it crowned his right to popular leadership in his own
State, which thereafter was never disputed.

[Sidenote] 1856.

The organization of the Republican party for the nation at large
proceeded very much in the same manner as that in the State of
Illinois. Pursuant to separate preliminary correspondence and calls
from State committees, a general meeting of prominent Republicans and
anti-Nebraska politicians from all parts of the North, and even from a
few border slave-States, came together at Pittsburgh on Washington's
birthday, February 22. Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania sent the
largest contingents; but around this great central nucleus were
gathered small but earnest delegations aggregating between three and
four hundred zealous leaders, representing twenty-eight States and
Territories. It was merely an informal mass convention; but many of
the delegates were men of national character, each of whose names was
itself a sufficient credential. Above all, the members were cautious,
moderate, conciliatory, and unambitious to act beyond the requirements
of the hour. They contented themselves with the usual parliamentary
routine; appointed a committee on national organization; issued a call
for a delegate convention; and adopted and put forth a stirring
address to the country. Their resolutions were brief and formulated
but four demands: the repeal of all laws which allow the introduction
of slavery into Territories once consecrated to freedom; resistance by
constitutional means to slavery in any United States Territory; the
immediate admission of Kansas as a free-State, and the overthrow of
the present national Administration.

In response to the official call embodied in the Pittsburgh address,
the first National Convention of the Republican party met at
Philadelphia on the 17th of June, 1856. The character and dignity of
the Pittsburgh proceedings assured the new party of immediate prestige
and acceptance; with so favorable a sponsorship it sprang full-armed
into the political conflict. That conflict which opened the year with
the long congressional contest over the speakership, and which found
its only solution in the choice of Banks by a plurality vote, had been
fed by fierce congressional debates, by presidential messages and
proclamations, by national conventions, by the Sumner assault, by the
Kansas war; the body politic throbbed with activity and excitement in
every fiber. Every free-State and several border States and
Territories were represented in the Philadelphia Convention; its
regular and irregular delegates counted nearly a thousand local
leaders, full of the zeal of new proselytes; Henry S. Lane, of
Indiana, was made its permanent chairman.

The party was too young and its prospect of immediate success too
slender to develop any serious rivalry for a presidential nomination.
Because its strength lay evidently among the former adherents of the
now dissolved and abandoned Whig party, William H. Seward of course
took highest rank in leadership; after him stood Salmon P. Chase as
the representative of the independent Democrats, who, bringing fewer
voters, had nevertheless contributed the main share of the courageous
pioneer work. It is a just tribute to their sagacity that both were
willing to wait for the maturer strength and riper opportunities of
the new organization. Justice John McLean, of the Supreme Bench, an
eminent jurist, a faithful Whig, whose character happily combined both
the energy and the conservatism of the great West, also had a large
following; but as might have been expected, the convention found a
more typical leader, young in years, daring in character, brilliant in
exploit; and after one informal ballot it nominated John C. Frémont,
of California. The credit of the selection and its successful
management has been popularly awarded to Francis P. Blair, senior,
famous as the talented and powerful newspaper lieutenant of President
Jackson; but it was rather an intuitive popular choice, which at the
moment seemed so appropriate as to preclude necessity for artful
intrigue.

[Illustration: MILLARD FILLMORE.]

There was a dash of romance in the personal history of Frémont which
gave his nomination a high popular relish. Of French descent, born in
Savannah, Georgia, orphaned at an early age, he acquired a scientific
education largely by his own unaided efforts in private study; a sea
voyage as teacher of mathematics, and employment in a railroad survey
through the wilderness of the Tennessee Mountains, developed the taste
and the qualifications that made him useful as an assistant in
Nicollet's scientific exploration of the great plateau where the
Mississippi River finds its sources, and secured his appointment as
second lieutenant of topographical engineers. These labors brought him
to Washington, where the same Gallic restlessness which made the
restraint of schools insupportable, brought about an attachment,
elopement, and marriage with the daughter of Senator Thomas H. Benton,
of Missouri.

Reconciliation followed in good time; and the unexplored Great West
being Benton's peculiar hobby, through his influence Frémont was sent
with an exploring party to the Rocky Mountains. Under his command
similar expeditions were repeated again and again to that mysterious
wonderland; and never were the wildest fictions read with more avidity
than his official reports of daily adventure, danger and discovery, of
scaling unclimbed mountains, wrecking his canoes on the rapids of
unvisited rivers, parleying and battling with hostile Indians, and
facing starvation while hemmed in by trackless snows. One of these
journeys had led him to the Pacific coast when our war with Mexico let
loose the spirit of revolution in the Mexican province of California.
With his characteristic restless audacity Frémont joined his little
company of explorers to a local insurrectionary faction of American
settlers, and raised a battalion of mounted volunteers. Though acting
without Government orders, he cooperated with the United States naval
forces sent to take possession of the California coast, and materially
assisted in overturning the Mexican authority and putting the remnant
of her military officials to flight. At the close of the conquest he
was for a short time military governor; and when, through the famous
gold discoveries, California was organized as a State and admitted to
the Union, Frémont became for a brief period one of her first United
States Senators.

So salient a record could not well be without strong contrasts, and of
these unsparing criticism took advantage. Hostile journals delineated
Frémont as a shallow, vainglorious, "woolly-horse," "mule-eating,"
"free-love," "nigger-embracing" black Republican; an extravagant,
insubordinate, reckless adventurer; a financial spendthrift and
political mountebank. As the reading public is not always skillful in
winnowing truth from libel when artfully mixed in print, even the
grossest calumnies were not without their effect in contributing to
his defeat. But to the sanguine zeal of the new Republican party, the
"Pathfinder" was a heroic and ideal leader; for, upon the vital point
at issue, his anti-slavery votes and clear declarations satisfied every
doubt and inspired unlimited confidence.

However picturesquely Frémont for the moment loomed up as the
standard-bearer of the Republican party, historical interest centers
upon the second act of the Philadelphia Convention. It shows us how
strangely to human wisdom vibrate the delicately balanced scales of
fate; or rather how inscrutable and yet how unerring are the
far-reaching processes of divine providence. The principal candidate
having been selected without contention or delay, the convention
proceeded to a nomination for Vice-President. On the first informal
ballot William L. Dayton, of New Jersey, received 259 votes and
Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois, 110; the remaining votes being scattered
among thirteen other names.[1] The dominating thought of the
convention being the assertion of principle, and not the promotion of
men, there was no further contest;[2] and though Mr. Dayton had not
received a majority support, his nomination was nevertheless at once
made unanimous. Those who are familiar with the eccentricities of
nominating conventions when in this listless and drifting mood know
how easily an opportune speech from some eloquent delegate or a few
adroitly arranged delegation caucuses might have reversed this result;
and imagination may not easily construct the possible changes in
history which a successful campaign of the ticket in that form might
have wrought. What would have been the consequences to America and
humanity had the Rebellion, even then being vaguely devised by
Southern Hotspurs, burst upon the nation in the winter of 1856, with
the nation's sword of commander-in-chief in the hand of the impulsive
Frémont, and Lincoln, inheriting the patient wariness and cool blood
of three generations of pioneers and Indian-fighters, wielding only
the powerless gavel of Vice-President? But the hour of destiny had not
yet struck.

The platform devised by the Philadelphia Convention was unusually bold
in its affirmations, and most happy in its phraseology. Not only did
it "deny the authority of Congress, or of a territorial legislature,
of any individual or association of individuals, to give legal
existence to slavery in any Territory of the United States"; it
further "Resolved, That the Constitution confers upon Congress
sovereign power over the Territories of the United States for their
government, and that in the exercise of this power it is both the
right and the duty of Congress to prohibit in the Territories those
twin relics of barbarism - polygamy and slavery." At Buchanan, recently
nominated by the Democratic National Convention in Cincinnati, it
aimed a barbed shaft: "Resolved, That the highwayman's plea that
'might makes right,' embodied in the Ostend circular, was in every
respect unworthy of American diplomacy, and would bring shame and
dishonor upon any government or people that gave it their sanction."
It demanded the maintenance of the principles of the Declaration of
Independence, of the Federal Constitution, of the rights of the
States, and the union of the States. It favored a Pacific railroad,
congressional appropriations for national rivers and harbors; it
affirmed liberty of conscience and equality of rights; it arraigned



Online LibraryJohn HayAbraham Lincoln, a History — Volume 02 → online text (page 3 of 33)