Robert H. (Robert Henry) Browne.

Abraham Lincoln and the men of his time online

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his party, in which he has the same right to act and con-
tend for what he believes as we have. It is often just such
hot-tempered bigots, as you seem by your remarks to be,
that bring the bitter personal and party disputes of our time,
of which I believe I have endured more than any other
dozen whom I know; and I am only grieved at such insolent
references as you have made on Mr. Lincoln."

When parting, I said, "I feel very sure you are
making progress, and we will soon have you on the front
benches." He smiled out of his grim remembrance of tflie
ugly incident, saying: "Do n't mention anything about this
unpleasant occurrence to Mr. Lincoln. What an incorrigible
Abolitionist your father was! and I have always missed him.
I would be very glad indeed to have him with us, unreason-
able as he was on slavery; but I see he has impressed you
to follow in his footsteps, and you seem to be improving
the opportunity."

I went back to the hotel wiifti Mr. Lincoln. After a very
light meal he spoke to an outdoor meeting, a street full of
enthusiastic thousands, for more than an hour, from the
upper floor of the hotel porch. A great many farmer people
had remained to hear, and the city was ablaze with coal-oil
lamps and party-shouting and enthusiasm. He was as much
at home there as anywhere in the State out of Springfield.
The people never tired of greeting him and turning out
in thousands to hear 'him. This was as true of those who
heard him frequently as of those who did for the first time.
It was what was called a rousing political rally, and the light
that flashed from the torches reflected another light from
the faces of enthusiastic men. TMs was the beginning of the
blazing torch and street parade of hundreds of men march-
ing in line — "Wide-awakes," as they were named. They grew


to permanent organization as marching clubs, and became
a prominent feature in political campaigns from that time
in all parties.

Douglas returned to Illinois from the long contest in
Congress, and entered the public discussion for re-election
with the favor and earnest sympathy of many prominent
Eepublicauis, independents, and loyalists in the East, with
Senator Crittenden, of Kentucky, and a few prominent
Whigs like him, who were isolated and independent of all
parties. Of the general desire for his return to Congress,
Crittenden's indorsement in a public letter was conclusive.
Besides being a lifelong opponent of Douglas in their long
service in the Senate, his support was full corroboration of
the high estimate that had been placed on the patriotic serv-
ice of Douglas. It was a high recognition that conservative
men like him — ^Badger, of North Carolina; John Minor Botts,
of Virginia, and others — sustained Douglas as they did. It
was all the stronger in the case of Crittenden, who had been
for years, and remained, a personal friend of Lincoln.

Notwithstanding this strong outside influence in favor
of Douglas, it was an impossible realization, though seriously
entertained by many worthy and distinguished men, that the
Eepublican party of that day could consent to it without eon-
testing his re-election. The Democratic and Republican par-
ties in the State were two strong, hopeful, powerful, and nearly
equally-divided parties. They agreed in enough to make
■ttiem both faithful, patriotic Americans, but still differing
enough to make them distinct and determined contestants.

With this view of it, if all the leaders of both of them,
big and little, or any one of them, had failed and left them,
there were enough talented young men to select from, with
every qualification for leadership, except the experience.
This would soon have been gained by these ambitious young
men, like all our people, who can soon fit themselves for
any necessary occupation or employment. Under such con-


sideration we can imderstand that an earnest political con-
test in Illinois in 1858 was a certainty, with. Douglas and
Lincoln as leaders, or even without them.

At the time we write of, Mr. Lincoln 'had been selected by
the Eepubliean party of the State, by the desire of many
of the Eepublieans and by many independents, as the party's
candidate for senator; and the correspondence was about
completed which provided for the joint debate with Doug-
las. Mr. Lincoln was ambitious, more for the cause than
for his own personal distinction. He was never in better
physical health and the enjoyment of ripened and matured
manhood, making him easily the best-fitted and strongest
man for such an encounter that could have been found in
the land. He was then a wise, experienced leader, with
popular qualities, the wit, the humor, and, far above these,
the genius that made him the distinct character that he
was. He was the equal of Douglas, who was, as we have
written, then in his full prime as a great leader, which had
been proven by his long struggle with the slave-leaders.

With this common belief and confidence prevailing in
both parties and their respective leaders, with the alternative
thougiht among many that, next to their own leader, the
other leader — whether Douglas or Lincoln — was the best; man
in the country, the coming debate between these distinguished
and incomparable leaders was a pleasure and high expectation
to the whole population, such as they had not anticipated.
As public dangers multiplied and widened in the gravity,
the overturnings, and the growl of the approaching storm,
the people in Illinois first, and then all over the loyal States,
gathered around and drew closer to these wise and trusted
men, and hung more confidingly on their words of wisdom
and counsel as the conflict ripened into dreadful war.

Mr. Lincoln's speech at night and the one of Judge
Douglas in the afternoon were made in anticipation of the
earnest and exhaustive dispute that both, like athletes, were


measuring and stripping themselves in readiness for. Mr.
Lincoln spoke for more than an hour in his earnest and sin-
cere way, with interludes of wit and, humor that kept the
multitude as much interested as he was, eager and enthusi-
astic to the close.

Late at night we took a train for Clinton, twenty miles
south. It was a slow train, hesides being late, so that we
were on it two hours or more, arriving at our destination
about midnight. There were crowds, noise> and confusion
about the station where we took Uhe train. A lot of the
p«ople were getting home who had attended the meeting,
and delayed it with the getting on and the frequent stops to
get off at their homes. We sat down about the middle of a
smoky, crowded car. As we did, we saw a few interested and
excited people had gathered together about a very noisy
talker in the front end, who derisively mentioned Mr. Lin-
coln's name several times.

!N"ot knowing the man, I turned to Mr. Lincoln and in-
quired, "Who is he?" He smiled, and, raising his voice to
one of its high-sounding keys that rang through the car,

replied: "That's Long Jim Davis, of . There are two

of them, both small politicians in the same town; and the
'Short Jim' Davis is very much the best man. He has
something in him like integrity and gratitude; but this
one hasn't a bit of either in his make-up, and is only a
man because he looks like one. Through my recommenda-
tion he was given an appointment under the Harrison Ad-
ministration in 1841, and returned to the same place under
Taylor in 1849, with a relative or two crowded into office
employment with him. He not only has not recognized my
help in a grateful way, but has been busy ever since the
Democrats turned him out in abusing me. He claimed to
be a Whig, but kept blaming me for not keeping him in
office, as he insisted I was able to do, against all parties
and what was common practice of the Democrats in making


removals. Now I understand he has turned Democrat, with
all the zeal of a new convert, and is set on me like a little
fice, to provoke and annoy me. I am to speak in the after-
noon; and he will raise his lofty voice in his lo8t-ofS.ce sort
of disappointment that will be chiefly personal strictures of
myself. He has heen running very loosely for some time
that way, as I learn. For myself, I am glad to be rid of
'him, even on his terms; but before I take up the subject of
my speech I am going to take him up first, and peel him
as clean as you can strip a hickory sprout when the sap
rises in the spring."

Prom this cutting, humorous disposition of "Long Jim"
I was at once interested in him and went to the end of the
ear to hear what I could. It was the bitterest personal de-
nunciation I had ever heard him utter against any one. When
I reached the crowd, I found that Mr. Lincoln had effect-
ually silenced him and all the rest of them. I could not get
any replies or satisfaction from him or the rest of them
as to what he had said. Jim himself curled up in his seat,
and was too sleepy to talk. At Clinton he was sound asleep
in his seat, and went on with the train south; and that ended
his following and replying to Lincoln.

When the talk quieted down, Mr. Lincoln doubled him-
self down on two seats turned together, where he took a
good hour's sleep. When he was comfortably at his ease,
he could lie down and take an hoxir's sound refreshing sleep
almost anywhere, rise up from it rested, invigorated, and
ready for the irregular and laborious work of his campaigns,
for which no man had the health, strength, and endurance
he then had.

It was almost twelve o'clock when we left the deserted
railway station at Clinton. He was strong, vigorous, and
active, and had something Hke the speed of a race horse,
as I then thought, after the run to the 'hotel. I was about
a foot under his height and not near his weight, but young


and vigorous. He took my arm as we stepped from the plat-
form, saying, "Come, Eobert, now for our hotel and a roost,
and a late one for me, as I have nothing much to do before
noon, seeing that Long Jim has run away." He almost
lifted me from the ground in his strong, firm grasp, tha,t
filled me besides with a sense of the wonderful energy of
the man.

We made the half-mile trot and run to the hotel in a few
minutes, where a sleepy watchman took us upstairs to the
end rooms of a narrow hall, giving us two little boxes on
either side of it, with the doors opening and facing each
other. He took us there because these were farthest re-
moved from the noisy part of the house, where Mr. Lin-
coln could take an undisturbed sleep in the morning. The
speed from the train had stirred up our blood, so that neither
of us was ready for the sleep we were anxious for.

In this mood, with our doors wide open, as the out-
side windows were also, Mr. Lincoln called me into his room,
where, in it and the narrow hall, we sat over two hours,
one of us on the side of our beds, changing at intervals, or
on the only chair in either of our rooms, with the other
standing or sitting on the bed. The air was soft and warm,
and everything was quiet and still about us, with no sound
but our own voices, which, as far as we knew, in that re-
mote corner, would not disturb any one. In his pleasing
and entertaining talk, that was sure to interest any one to
whom he gave his confidence, he reviewed the exciting pas-
sages of the day in humor and pathos that would have held
a houseful in close attention. He made it so real that it
seemed that we had passed them all over again in full cam-
paign style, in the way he led and recited the events, item
by item, man for man, and feature for feature.

As we went over the incidents of that day and the cam-
paign just then opening, he became entirely absorbed, seri-
ous, and thoughtful. He would sit at his ease, attentive for


a few minutes, then arouse suddenly, as if to take out the
burdensome task that was always present and deeply im-
pressed him. Although we were alone, with no helps to
raise his spirit or Hghten it up, like the presence of a crowd,
I never heard stronger nor more pathetic appeals for the
liberties of men nor sympathetic outbursts of hopeful ex-
pectation that our land and its free institutions might be
saved, that the Union, at once God's promise and fulfillment
of free goveernment on the earth, might be preserved, and
much as earnestly delivered that has been forgotten.

What he said of himself, his beliefs, his duty, or mis-
sion, or what he felt he must do and could not evade, can
not be forgotten. To me he opened his great heart as he
appeared and stood, the anointed of God, as much in mind
as I had Moses, David, Cromwell, or Washington. He
seemed in his line of duty and succession with these, with
the care and weight developing in his soul, under the load
of a greater undertaking and responsibility than any one
of them. He said: "I have not sought nor wanted leader-
ship, such as this, that comes like this Lovejoy contention;
but I am conscious that I must do as I have done, and sus-
tain our cause with whatever strength or power I have, if it
sacrifl'ces opinions and men by the score to do it.- I have
never sought position, and dislike very much to exercise the
power I have; but whenever it becomes my duty, I will
carry it out with as much celerity and determination as
Jackson ever did.

"I have not desired to be in the strife of contending par-
ties. I like the discussion of any question of right or justice
for my own and the general good that comes from these;
but since my settled success in the profession and my defeat
by Trumbull I have felt all the more certain that I should
abandon general politics or national issues as much as pos-
sible, and positively give up all thought of being a candi-
date for any political office.


"After I saw that I had to give way to TrumhuU, when
I had practically done all the work, had united all the fac-
tions and followers of the Tarionsly-named candidates, all
that were united, several of whom, besides myself, had a
better following than Trumbull, and I had forty-eight to his
three, I was more tired of and disgusted with the office-seek-
ing, office-getting, and distributing business than I have
ever been. I gave it up without reserve in my own mind,
and have been earnest and persistent as it is possible in avoid-
ing even the appearance of the evil of office-seeking. Our
friends are making me the candidate against Douglas, hon-
estly enough, no doubt. This is easier to do than to get
the senatorship; but with the probable contingency that, if
we succeed, some unheard-of person, with no more following
than Trumbull, will get it. He shall have it, too, as I will-
ingly gave it then.

"I am not at all unwilling to contend for the senator-
ship with Douglas, especially so as I have not sought it; but
I am much more willing to discuss the threatening condition
of things, and help arouse the people to the impending dan-
ger, that they may rise in their might and save our country
and its liberties, which are actually the one and only hope
of free government on the earth. In that duty I feel that,
to the eextent of my abilities, no one shall surpass me, and
that I have as high a purpose before me as any man can

I said: "The people of the State have a high appreciation
of you as a lawyer, a wise man of sound judgment, and a
learned counselor. "Were it not for the conspicuous and pa-
triotic service of Judge Douglas, your defeat would be im-
possible. As it is, from all we can learn — and we have been
anxious and inquisitive about this — we believe that your
chances are as good as his. It is certainly a great opportunity
for you, whether you win or not. With your masterly ability
and the affectionate hold you have on the people, to meet


on equal terms and contend with a statesman and leader of
such imquestionable eminence and distinction as Judge
Douglas firmly holds, is a necessity in your present situa-
tion and party relations that you can not decline.

"In your kindness, though a young man, you have made
me a personal friend, and, against my strong Democratic
inclinations, an earnest follower. I have mingled lately with
a lot of your best friends, all of them, as far as I could see
them. After all the talk, with Mr. Gridley leading, perhaps
we are all united and all anxious that you should strip your-
self for this political battle as you never have done, and
make it the most earnest and noted contest of your life. It
seems to me that your whole career — all there is of you as a
leader — ^is wrapped up in this honorable coaitention against
Douglas, whom we should not misunderstand. He is a great
man, an untiring and capable leader, and now in the best
favor he has reached for years, because of his recent patri-
otic and able contention against the slave-power.

"If men follow destiny, it is surely yours to contend with
Douglas as you have done from the time of your beginnings.
There is no doubt of his ability and learning; but he has
fallen into the common error of nearly all our prominent
statesmen since the foundation of the Government, and deals
with slavery, not as a wrong, but as a question of policy and
expediency. Whereas I am satisfied, confirmed by your inde-
pendent and resolute action to-day, and your beliefs sus-
taining, that you will take it up on the basis of principle
and high public morality, according to God's law that all
men are equal before him. There are thousands of young
men in the State who share my views, who, if they had
gained your confidence, as you have favored me, would be
as zealous as I am, or perhaps more so, and among your ear-
nest and stalwart supporters.

"If you had given way to Davis in his suppression of
Lovejoy, or in his attempt to suppress him, I would have


been sorely disappointed. As it stands, Davis has no just
reason to complain. I had full confidence that you would
decide it as you have. Nevertheless I feel that you have
rendered a great service to the men so deeply concerned, and
greater, if possible, to the cause you so manfully upheld. As
it is, I am delighted and believe in you as our chief leader,
if not in this, then in some future campaign; for I am sure
that God's cause of right is growing rapidly among the peo-
ple, and no one appears anything like so outspoken in its
presentment and defense.

"I saw Mr. Gridley this afternoon, and talked to him of
our trial and arbitration of the Lovejoy dispute before you
to-day. He replied, as you can easily appreciate, but as those
who do not know him never can, saying: 'Why, Robert, you
are all a pack of Abolitionists, and it will be all that Judge
Davis and the Springfield crowd of Old-line Whigs, Browning,
of Quincy, and such reliable and conservative men as my-
self, can do to hold you impulsive young men back and save
the Union and a good many offices for these experienced old-
liners; but, seriously, I am glad to see you so well pleased.
Lincoln is growing, and the best thing about him is that he
is always big enough for the question when it comes.' "

When I paused, I saw that my remarks pleased and the
facts and recital sustained him, as he believed he should be,
in what was public and friendly employment. He was
thoughtful a few moments, the melancholy cast ran down
slowly over his clear-lined face. In a few moments it haA.
passed, w'hen he raised his hand and rushed it through his
coarse, tangled, dark hair, that lighted up his pale face in
reflection, when he continued.

He said: "Eobert, if you are not an Abolitionist, since
the Bloomington meeting, you are an enthusiast. I concede
what you say of Douglas. I could do no less; for so many
men in all parties have done so, that it would seem small
and spiteful in me not to agree with them. Your father was


a man of learning and ability, an avowed Abolitionist, twenty
years ago, when it was a disadvantage and a perilous venture
to many. His opinion running that way with others, helped
me to respect the man, while I disapproved the politician.
He said that Douglas was an able, indefatigable man, serv-
ing the slave-power for policy's sake. He was right. His
judgment was correct, and he discerned then, in the time
of the Mexican War, what Douglas did not and would not
believe, that the slave-mongers would cast him aside 'as merci-
lessly as they do others. They cast Benton aside, ripe in
age, experience, and stored-up wisdom, throwing him off
like an old shoe, as they are now trying to do to Douglas.

"But do you believe that a plain, common man, as I am,
of the back-river, if not 'backwoods' country, is or can be
what you so ardently wish I should be, a real leader of the
people? You surely do not believe that I am a great man,
but rather that I am an earnest and sincere one."

I looked directly into his soul-expressive face, and the
words of my reply seemed to come to me without thought
as I said: "I do not know whether you are a great man or
not; but I do know that you have the strongest power over men
— whether a houseful, or a streetful, or over me here alone —
in effect and speech of any one I ever saw. You know that
we Scotch people are determined and stoutly held, faithful
in our beliefs, and slow to change. We are called hardheaded,
cautious, even superstitious, never ahead, but commonly
behind the drift of popular opinion. "We all believe in Eob-
ert Bruce, William Wallace, John Knox, Eobert Burns, and
sympathize with the persecuted and unfortunate Mary Stuart.
Now, by the faith and sympathy I have in these, one of them
and all of them together, and as I believe in Moses, Joshua,
David, Luther, Cromwell, and Washington, I firmly believe
■that you are a great leader, and more than that, and for
good reasons, much more, to my mind, in the approaching
crisis; for responsibility increases in the world's and man's


development. You are one of God's leaders of the people.
I have faith — ^growing faith — that you, plain naan of the
people, are all this, and that you will be faithful to the end.

"You know me well, and have from schoolboy to the
present beginning manhood. You can put the value of. all
I know on my knowledge or opinions. If I am wrong in this,
I am in all else of thought or reasoning. I have contrasted
you with men I know; and more, I have studied hard to
understand; with those like Davis, Trumbull, Logan, Brown-
ing, and many such. They are changing, doubting, half-
going, half-coming, temporizing all the time. I have put you
alongside Douglas, the untiring student, so alert and full of
energy that he never seems to rest. He has more of the
statesman and statecraft about him than the others, but he
is yielding in principle, too often giving way to the false
and fading lights of expediency, as my father held.

"I have likened and compared you with each other. I
like Douglas; my father loved the man, and believed that he
would outlive his frailties, which he hoped were more of
caution than settled disposition. There can be no comparison
between you. Illinois is big enough with its two parties for
both. Douglas is without any doubt a great leader, and as
surely as 'he is, you are. It seems his duty to lead a great
party on the lines of policy and expediency. Is it not yours
to lead another on the broader grounds of God's eternal truth,
justice, and law, against evil and wrong of whatever kind or
character?" *

Mr. Lincoln replied: "All the reforms in human history
come under active and independent leadership and bitter eon-
test. In free government, to keep the doctrine of human lib-
erty alive it must 'have progress. War for increased liberty is
better than acquiescence and submission to wealth, and arro-
gated power in any form that always accompanies it in eras
of increasing wealth and apparent prosperity. Under these
all the increase drifts into the hands of a few, whether of
Vol. II.— 13


wealth or power. Hence now, as in all past time, if freedom
is to live on this continent, a heroic body of men, party, or
army must fight its battles on principle, against the greater
evil of avowed prerogative of every kind, and the lesser ones
lurking under conservatism, policy, and expediency."

After this he seemed lost in thought again, and the deep
melancholy shade again overspread his features. His face was
loosely held and the lines were more deeply drawn; the in-
tegument almost folded over itself as it rolled down on his

Online LibraryRobert H. (Robert Henry) BrowneAbraham Lincoln and the men of his time → online text (page 15 of 55)