Robert H. (Robert Henry) Browne.

Abraham Lincoln and the men of his time online

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Time had softened the asperities against this faction.
Douglas and many of his more zealous followers had de-
risively called them Abolitionists. The Old-line Whigs en-
joyed this more than anything the Democrats had said;
for they had said as much, or more, themselves. Besides,
Douglas had been a tireless and keen-cutting satirist of the
Whigs, and had said many things of them for which he
had not been forgiven; but when he denounced our faction
as Abolitionists, these old Whig fossils enjoyed it, and, ele-
vating their noses, they gave us second seats only in the
formation of the new party. We accepted these restrictions
uncomplainingly, fully believing Lincoln's prophecy in more
ways than one, that our new party would soon be "all slave
or all free," as well as the Nation, and that we would quietly
endure the transformation that was going our way. As
time passed, the Southern leaders, in 1858, still high author-
ity to many on mongrel slang and party epithets, kept on
denouncing Mr. Seward and Mr., Lincoln and the old Whig
part of the forming black Eepubliean party. After this
they openly denounced Judge Douglas as having surren-
dered to the Abolitionists. Where men were not throttled
or restrained in speech, this "Abolitionist" slang and epithet-
making fell like a broken kite. But a few of the most sil-
vered of .the antediluvians in all parties were reconciled to
us, and we took front benches in all the Eepubliean meet-
ings of 1860.

The Whigs claimed to be first in succession in the
work of construction. Their party had so generally and


completely fallen to pieces in 1853 that there could be no
doubt that they were tbe first ready for some kind of re-
organization, as they had been without any two years be-
fore the Republican party had any kind of existence. This
put them in the most favorable condition in the free States
to be the first body of recruits in the new formation. This
was the case, as a rule, in all the States east of Indiana,
where Mr. Seward, Mr. Greeley, and the New England con-
tingent, following and succeeding Mr. Webster, Mr. Choate,
and others, became the leaders.

These Eastern Whigs took kindly to all anti-slavery
societies, Free Soilers, and others, readily uniting on the
basis of Seward's "higher law" on the most advanced anti-
slavery ground then held, short of actual interference with
slavery where it existed. They recognized Mr. Seward's
position that there was "an irrepressible conflict" between
freedom and slavery.

Mr. Seward's "higher-law" interpretation was, in sub-
stance, that God's righteous laws would sooner or later
prevail against slavery and all other forms of human op-
pression. On these findings, Seward, Weed, Greeley, and
the whole Eastern and New England section were denounced
as Abolitionists by the slave-leaders, and held to be more
dangerous than the older Free Soil party, because of the
boldness of Seward's "unconstitutional" "higher-law" doc-
trine. So the accession of these leaders and their followers
to the new forming party was from purely Abolition
sources in the slave-leaders' definitions.

They were mainly Whigs, however, with anti-slavery
beliefs, wto came into the new party after having zealously
supported General Scott in 1852. Scott was too good a
man, too faithfully and sincerely devoted to our country
and its (institutions and a stalwart patriot, and chiefly be-
cause of this he was deliberately defeated by the pro-
slavery faction of his own party, who gained nothing bet-
VoL. n.— 25


ter than extinction in the defeat of the patriot of Chippewa,
Lundy's Lane, and Chapultepec.

The subdivision of the Whigs in Ohio, Indiana, Illi-
nois, and States westward, were mostly of the Henry Clay
faction. Thousands of these were from the slave States —
mainly Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee — ^in which and in
all the West, Mr. Clay was the lifetime leader, without a
rival, for almost fifty years. This was the exact reverse
of the situation in the New England and ISTorth Atlantic
States, where Mr. Webster was the most prominent leader
and advocate of any party during the last thirty' years of
Clay's lead and ascendency in the South and West.

The main body of these Southern people who emi-
grated to the fertile lands of the Northwest were hard work-
ing and industrious. They were from the rocky, mountain-
ous, unproductive, and, in some parts, the almost barren
regions of the States mentioned. They were descendants
of the Scotch-Irish, Irish, English, and Welsh peoples, gen-
erally the most independent and determined of our race
to begin with. Two or three generations of growth and
development in the mountainous limestone regions of the
AUeghanies had taken nothing from their self-reliance, but
strengthened their independence of character.

This mountainous Alleghany region, though lacking the
productive qualities of richer, wider alluvial valleys, was
full of the elements that grow massive, large-boned, strong-
framed, iron-sinewed men, whose stature averaged six feet
in many localities. These people heartily disliked slavery
in any form, not because of much sympathy with the Negro,
but that their beliefs were that all, without exception,
should work and follow some industrious occupation for
themselves. They did their own work, and wanted neither
slaves, dependents, nor supernumeraries about them, in the
way, or in competition with them. Their mountain eleva-
tion gave them abundant oxygen and uncontaminated air.


Their waters were filtered and cleansed through sand and
limestone beds, with finely-blended iron and soluble phos-
phates. The hills, the mountains, the varying landseapey
were magnificent in nature's splendor, inspiring to this
thoughtful commingled race, who had all these and the ex-
panse, bounded only by their highest peaks, from earth to
sky, to grow and mature tribes of as clear-headed men as
have ever been produced in our marvelous civilization. With
the strong aversion of this Southern mountain people to
slavery, they were nevertheless, by kindred ties, associa-
tion, the few Negroes among them, and neighborly con-
siderations, so tinctured by the influences of slavery that
they were firmly opposed to all kinds of interference with
it or speech against it. They looked upon Abolitionists as
meddlesome agitators who would stir up needless strife
and perhaps bloody insurrection.

Mr. Lincoln was one of this race of people. His family
had made several migrations westward. He had been in
two of them. He had grown to manhood and political lead-
ership alongside such men; but, leader as he always was to
them, and much as they honored and respected him for his
integrity and high capacities, there was no faction or part
of one in the forming new party so hard to reconcile to
any declaration against or interference with slavery or
its extension as this same free State body of emigrating
Clay Whigs, with whom Mr. Lincoln had no end of trouble.

He labored with them so patiently and so long that
many of them grew to think that they alone were the men
who should guide him or who could save the new party, or,
in the greater emergency, the Nation, but that they would
render that service only on condition of getting all they
wanted in favor or office-holding. They were an incon-
siderable part in the forming party, of which ninety per
cent were stoutly opposed to further spread of slavery and
the least aggressive policy of the slaveholders. Still this


little faction domineered as far and as long as they could.
That Mr. Lincoln succeeded and had no open rupture with
this faction, out of which he grew, was proof of his surpass-
ing capacity and ahilities; for they would not and did not
suhmit to any other leadership, nor could any other man
then living have conducted the war and the ordinary ailairs
of state and kept so many antiquated statesmen from de-
stroying each other, as himself. It must be remembered
also that this small faction had to be kept on the side of
the Union, if it was to be saved.

Out of these two East and West factions of Whigs, and
all the factions of anti-slavery people indiscriminately, with
the larger faction coming from the dissolving Democratic
party, the Eepublican organization was formed and sprang
into strong and actual existence as a great party.

The people of the Northwest, in large majorities, had
been Democrats from the time of the admission of several
of the Territories as States, firmly and almost unchange-
ably-so from the time of Jackson. They were well informed,
as intelligent a mass of men as ever tilled the soil, who fully
employed themselves in the kindred pursuits of opening up
and building into civilization a new country. Most of them
were Democrats because of the principles and traditions
of the party.

Those of them who were foreign born, and, in some in-
stances, the second generation, were Democrats because of
the oppressions in the lands from which they had emi-
grated. All had groaned under the heaviest loads they
could bear, imposed on them by the oppressive exactions
of tyrants, until they were distrustful of even representa-
tive government, and wanted in its stead self-government.
With this inilux added to the strong Puritanism of the
North Atlantic colonies, the great Northwest had been zeal-
ously and reliably Democratic as the Nation had been.

When the Charleston Convention was assembled, the


Democracy could look tack over a period of more than
thirty years of almost unbroken supremacy. They could
have continued so under a wise and just administration,
but the spirit of Pharaoh was rampant and ascendant. A
great popular leader was to be stricken because he would
not bend his neck to the broken faith. They marshaled
their hosts against him; and their best Democratic states-
man and best-followed leader was beaten in the sundered,
dissolving party.

God laid the finger of his wrath upon them, and not
Eameses and all his godless Egyptians suffered greater pri-
vations, plagues, and slayings than the designing propa-
gandists and the deluded, suffering, and dying Southern
people. Poor, old, shaking Buchanan, the wretched specter
of a man, late an honored citizen, willingly obeyed them
and piteously pleaded for peace after he had faithlessly
thrown away his opportunity to command and enforce it.
He vainly endeavored to arrest the dreadful, war-rising de-
struction his neglect had done so much to precipitate, but
his prayer and his power were mocked, and he stood before
the unmasked treason of his own Cabinet and the ruin of
his once powerful party, a broken, palsied, chattering Presi-
dent, parleying for peace, when the conspiracy that had
thrived and grown under his want of observance and exer-
cise of force to suppress it was taking the field for war.

God weighed him and, though he was not bad in every-
thing of himself, he proved lighter than the chaff of the
threshing-floor. ISTebuchadnezzar was not more completely
driven from power and authority. Nor was his seven years'
grass-living more diatinct 'or impressive than Buchanan's
life-ending solitude, -which never for a day lifted from or
left him.

The breakiag-up of the Democratic party brought
recruits to the Eepublicans by hundreds of thousands. It
was because of their independent character that two mil-


lions of them, sure of political power, willingly broke in
fragments the party they held next to Church and family
altar, rather than have continued power at the cost of sacri-
ficed principles. Out of these elements which have passed
before us was made the powerful, victorious Eepublican
party. The dissolution of the Democratic party was an
illustration, oft-repeated, of the downfall of conceited, self-
glorious men, parties, kingdoms, and dynasties.


IiJ the latter months of 1859, in the central counties of
Illinois, the main subject of interest was what would be

done in the way of getting ready and presenting Mr. Lin-
coln as our choice for nomination at Chicago. He was our
home man, and almost every one in those eight counties
knew him and held him as a friendly adviser in all matters
of trouble and distress. To those who knew him well —
and there were many who shared his confidence — ^he was
very much the same as a father, a brother, or a dutiful son;
and these people had taken him into their hearts as they
could take no other man.

With this plain understanding it will be clear to the
minds of men that, when he was being considered and looked
over as a contingent availability for President, the ques-
tion in our home counties was not, "Will you support him?"
but "What can we do to help?" It was in the air, and it
was the spirit of the people that they were for him as far
as they could be, including thousands of Democrats. Many
Democrats whom I knew said something like this: "If you
Eepublicans would do so sensible a thing as to nominate Abe
Lincoln, I will vote for him. I am a Democrat, and I have
not deserted my principles nor our leader. Judge Douglas,
whom we would support more earnestly than ever if he had
any chance ; but those Southern fire-eaters, who are no bet-
ter than traitors, have made his election impossible ever
since he stood firm for fair elections in Kansas, and I would
like to give them a lesson in electing Abe Lincoln that they
will be sure to remember. He is as smart as any one of



them. He is as loyal as any man that lives. He is always
Sor the poor man and always on the side of any one in dis-
tress. He's always just plain Abe Lincoln, as friendly to
a poor hoy as he was to me when I had no vote and was n't
thinking of such a thing, as he was to the big men, the poli-
ticians, judges, or governors, who could influence a hundred
to my one any time. I tell you, I like Abe Lincoln, and
sure as he is nominated, I 'm going to vote for him straight ;
and if you let me know how I can help to hurry up things
and help nominate him, I '11 do it."

In the winter, as time sped along, it came to be the im-
portant subject that required some kind of settlement.
There were several able men, decided favorites in their
States or localities, who were being written of as capable
and worthy the high distinction by reason of their de-
votion and service in the cause of human rights. In that
direful time, without need for sensational or actual alarm,
our Nation, and all it held, seemed plunging like a vessel
on the shifting sand and sunken rocks of a treacherous

In the preliminary work of the Convention, in the first
meetings, and henceforward, my opportunities for accurate
knowledge of every political movement were as full and
complete in every way as our location, my personal ac-
quaintance, and other ordinary facilities could make them.
I was continued secretary of the Champaign County Com-
mittee until the opening of the war, in 1861. It was one
of the heavy Eepublican counties, held and relied on as
one of the best-organized in the State. It was centrally
located, and was a Lovejoy-Lineoln county out and out. It
was a great factor in a close State. It became the political
campaigning ground of great importance for all parties.

This gave me unusual means of becoming well acquainted
with every prominent political leader and speaker in our
own State, and others from Missouri, Iowa, and a great


many from Indiana. Being young and ambitious and anx-
ious to keep such business as came in order, and never be-
ing a candidate for office, I had the full confidence of all
our side in political ailairs, and was always welcome in all
conferences, committee work, or Conventions wherever I
had occasion or necessity of attending. In addition, our
personal intercourse with Douglas and other Democrats
gave me reliable information on political matters.

I still kept up my personal relations with Mr. Lincoln,
who stood to me very much in the place of a father. Po-
litical work came to me as an incident and without desire
to do more than to advance and defend my father's and my
own belief on the all-absorbing topic of human slavery. In
beginning my political work I became the pupil and protege
of Mr. Gridley, under the fatherly supervision of Mr. Lin-
coln. These I followed with the zeal and aptitude of a
new recruit. Gridley was one of the brig'htest and best-
informed men I ever knew. He was a, style-cutter and parer-
down to the point where he got the clearest meaning out of
words and sentences that seldom missed the brilliant and
exact expression he wanted. He joined words into phrases
that ran like shears cutting steel, with the brilliancy and
brightness that fastened them as he went along in his di-
rect, incisive, and frequently amusing descriptions, that gave
his talk a pertinence and power that were all his own.

My place up to the opening of hostilities seemed com-
monplace enough, and was no more than what a great many
were doing elsewhere in ordinary party work and progress
at the time; and not until later in life did it come to me in
all its force that I had the 'best of opportunities to gain a
full knowledge of Mr. Lincoln and the men who made his
career passible. This party service of mine, and the facili-
ties I had, opened the doors for seeing and gathering the
knowledge and fathoming the moitives of the chief actor
and leader through the preparation and struggle of war.


In the fall of 1859 and January of 1860, and from that
time on, our people took a much-increased interest in the
candidacy of Mr. Lincoln. He was spoken to quite often
about it. Newspaper men in several localities were ready to
take up his candidacy, in order to unite the friendly Ee-
publican and other newspapers in his favor. Numerous
friends wrote to him urging him to give his consent. As
frequently happens in the rise of a man in the people's
confidence, there were several who were ambitious to be
the very first man or newspaper to discover him and his
ability, and at that time to make him President.

His constant and unvarying reply to the few intimate
friends with whom he talked about it after his surprising
campaign of 1858, was, in substance: "I do not feel that
I have reached the place in public estimation, nor do I
feel that I possess the fitness and qualifications to be nomi-
nated for and possibly be elected President. Much as I
esteem the favor and generosity of friends who are kind
and partial enough to overlook my want of these, my am-
bition has been, and still is, to serve the cause with what-
ever of ability I have, to do so faithfully, without public
office or position, until, in fulfillment of expectation, I may
be elected a senator from Illinois. This would satisfy all
the ambition I have for office or public service. With a
full appreciation of the struggle, I do not feel any desire
to undertake the responsibility of the Presidential office."

This was the substance of his remarks as late as a few
days before Christmas 1859, when a few of us met him
and talked over the public interest in the subject in all our
central counties and over the State, and in some other West-
ern States as well as we could learn. At the time several
States were naming candidates. Ohio and Missouri were do-
ing so conspicuously. We knew that Mr. Lincoln's qualifi-
cations were certainly equal to any of the others mentioned,
and that Illinois was an essential and very important State,


as parties then stood, for the Eepublicans to win. In any
contingency it was a close and doubtful one, and almost
sure to vote for Douglas as against any Eastern Kepuhlican.
His friends in our home counties were zealously for him,
and esteemed it an honor to name him in form and in season
to the Eepublicans of Illinois and as many as could be led
in other States to believe in our candidate.

He took it all in his candid, open-hearted way, thank-
ing his friends for their generous interest and kind ex-
pressions in his favor. We met him again the next day
when, taking a more serious look, he invited the half dozen
or m'ore to be seated, when he said: "One thing you have
mentioned has all the importance, or even more than you
give it; that is, that the nominee should be one who will
be the most acceptable to the party in the three doubtful
States of Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Illinois, as without
two of these States for our man we can not succeed.

"Por myself, I can cheerfully support any one of the
able and distinguished men named so far, and I will go
into the canvass for any one of them with all my might;
but as you make it, it is too delicate a subject for me to say
■Hrho can, or who can not, carry enougli of these doubtful
States to be elected. You, friends, have very kindly sug-
gested the use of my name as a candidate from this, one of
the doubtful States. I can not, so far, see that it is the
best thing to do; but you are all, as I am, aware and duly
appreciate that our party and many others in the State
have sustained me with such unhesitating and lasting favor
that no well-considered request from you and them can be
declined, no matter whether it suits or serves my personal

"As there are several candidates anyway, and only one out
of the six or seven is to be chosen, the mention of another
name should not seriously afEect those already in the race.
The presentation, which will be perhaps no more than a per-


sonal compliment, may have the beneficial effect in our own
doubtful State thatj as it has presented one of its citizens,
it may — at least, it should — ^more zealously support who-
ever is nominated by the Convention.

"In conclusion, after thanking you, gentlemen, as good
friends as any man ever had or deserved, we will do this.
As it has been stated, the State Committee will assemble
in a few weeks to call a State Convention for whatever
may be considered appropriate business. It will have an
attendance from every part of the State. If you will serve
me further hy letting the subject rest until then, without
agitation, the committee may settle and determine this, as
they did in 1858, and, I hope, with as satisfactory results;
for, although I was defeated, it was close running. I was
not badly hurt, and, as you see, I am well and as ready
for the next race as the rest of you.

"In your remarks you were sensible in believing that
it is going to be a hard pull indeed to defeat Judge Doug-
las in this closely-balanced State. I came as near doing
it as any one ever did, and I know just what kind of a
job it is. With those fiery hotspurs of the South attempt-
ing to punish and overthrow him, he is growing stronger
with our people and the entire Northern faction of his party
every day.

"We can hardly foretell the situation two weeks ahead
in the feverish and excited condition in the South, and at
Washington as well. So it is mostly speculation what may
happen to one or both parties by Convention or election
•time. But 'of one thing we are quite certain: if Judge
Douglas receives the nomination of his party and we can
carry this State against him, it will be a campaign where
several thousand of you will earn the victory by as hard
labor and perseverance as he who gets his living out of his
every-day's toil. I have tried it, and know a little better


perhaps tban any one of you what sort of an undertak-
ing it is."

With cordial handshakings the little meeting dispersed.
It was satisfactorily settled. Little was said or talked of
concerning it; for all desired that his wishes should be fully
complied with. As the result came about, Mr. Lincoln was
as much a candidate henceforward as either Seward, Chase,
or Bates; and Eiehard J. Oglesby, his neighbor, of Decatur,
was made the marshal militant of the hosts in the field in
our State and, incidentally, anywhere else, to lead in a
campaign where, for the first time in twenty years, Mr.
Lincoln was not the field-leader himself.

In the Christmas-times, not many days after the Spring-
field conference with Mr. Lincoln, I went to Bloonrington
to talk over the Chicago Convention situation with Mr.
Gridley, as, by Weed's consent, it was as- good as settled
that the N"ational Convention would be held there. In the
two or three intervening days he had been apprised of the
result of the conference, so when I met him, he seemed
full of spirit, more brightened up and sharpened for re-

Online LibraryRobert H. (Robert Henry) BrowneAbraham Lincoln and the men of his time → online text (page 31 of 55)