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LINCOLN FROM 1857 TO 1860-THE LINCOLN AND DOUGLAS
LINCOLN'S NOMINATION FOR THE SENATE HIS SPRINGFIELD SPEECH-HE CHALLENGES DOUGLAS TO JOINT DISCUSSION DOUGLAS ACCEPTS-THE DEBATE-THE MEETING AT FREEPORT --SPEECH AT COLUMBUS-AT CINCINNATI-AT COOPER INSTITUTE -THE "RAIL-SPLITTER."
PERHAPS, the man to whom Abraham Lincoln was more indebted for his greatness and his fame, than any other, was his great political rival, Stephen A. Douglas. Mr. Lincoln said, on one occasion, in 1856, of Mr. Douglas, "Twenty-two years ago, Judge Douglas and I, first became acquainted; we were both young then-he a trifle younger than I. Even then we were both ambitious, I, perhaps, quite as much as he. With me, the race of ambition has been a failure-a flat failure. With him, it has been one of splendid success. His name fills the Nation, and it is not unknown in foreign lands. I affect no contempt for the high eminence he has reached; so reached that the oppressed of my species might have shared with me in the elevation, I would rather stand on that eminence, than wear the richest crown that ever pressed a monarch's brow." These great men, alike self-made, self-educated, coming early in life to Illinois, soon became leaders, each of his party. Lincoln had contended for supremacy, in generous emulation with Hardin, Baker, Browning, Logan, and Trumbull. Douglas had had keen rivals in Breese, Shields, Young, McClernand, and others; but in 1857, each was confessedly, the leader of his party in Illinois. No two men were ever more unlike. Physically and mentally, they were contrasts. Lincoln was the real,
literal, physical giant; Douglas was "the Little Giant," in person, but a real giant in intellect, as has already been stated. Douglas was bold, unflinching, impetuous, denunciatory, and determined; possessing in an eminent degree, those qualities which create personal popularity; and he was ever the idol of his friends. His iron will, indomitable energy, firm faith in himself and his cause, united with frank, genial, magnetic manners; familiar, accessible and generous, made him altogether one of the strongest men in the Nation. These two men, as has been stated, were members of the Illinois. Legislature together, as early as 1836.
Douglas had distinguished himself as an able debater and controversialist, in Illinois, in the House of Representatives, and in the Senate of the United States. His position on the slavery question had not been consistent. He had voted for the Wilmot proviso, and to extend the Missouri compromise line across Texas. He finally settled down upon the position of "popular sovereignty," or "squatter sovereignty" as it was called; that is, that the people of each territory should settle the slavery question for themselves. It being, as he declared, his true intent and meaning, "not to legislate slavery into any State or territory, nor to exclude it therefrom, but to leave the people thereof, perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States." As already stated, he had reported and carried through Congress, the bill to repeal the Missouri Compromise. When Mr. Buchanan's adminis tration became a party to the conspiracy to force Kansas to become a slave State, Douglas was faithful to this principle, and defended the right of the people, to decide freely and fairly, the question for themselves. This brought him in collision with Buchanan and the slave power, and the slave leaders in the Senate sought to degrade him, by removing him from the Chairmanship of the Committee on Territories. He aided effectually in defeating the scheme to force a proslavery Constitution upon Kansas.
His Senatorial term was drawing near its close, and in July, 1858, he came home to enter upon the canvass, for reëlection. In June, 1858, the Republican State Convention
met at Springfield, and nominated, with perfect unanimity, and amidst the greatest enthusiasm, Abraham Lincoln, as their candidate for the Senate. The speech which Mr. Lincoln made on that occasion, brief as it is, is one of the most remarkable in American History. He gave so clear an exposition of the antagonism, and the "irrepressible conflict" between liberty and slavery, that his words immediately seized the attention of the whole Nation, and became historical. Up to that time his position on the slavery question, had not entirely satisfied the radical anti-slavery men of Northern Illinois. But when that philosophic speech was pronounced, one of the most radical men present exclaimed, "Lincoln is right in principle, if he is not quite up to us in details;" the man who plants himself on a great principle, will soon be right on all details. Governor Seward, afterwards, at Rochester, New York, October 25th, 1858, expressed the same idea, in words which have also become memorable. "It is," said he, "an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces, and it means that the United States will sooner or later become either an entirely slaveholding Nation, or an entirely free labor Nation." The speech of Mr. Lincoln is the text of the great debate between himself and Douglas, and its importance demands its insertion:
MR. PRESIDENT, AND GENTLEMEN OF THE CONVENTION: If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do, and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated with the avowed object, and confident promise of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. "A house divided against itself cannot stand." I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall - but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new-North as well as South. Have we no tendency to the latter condition?
Let any one who doubts, carefully contemplate that now almost complete legal combination- piece of machinery, so to speak-compounded of the Nebraska doctrine, and the Dred Scott decision. Let him consider not only what work the machinery is adapted to do, and how well adapted; but also let him study the his tory of its constrnction, and trace, if he can, or rather fail, if he can, to trace the evidences of design, and concert of action, among its chief architects, from the beginning.
LINCOLN'S SPRINGFIELD SPEECH, JUNE, 1858.
The new year of 1854 found slavery excluded from more than half the States by State Constitutions, and from most of the National territory by Congressional prohibition. Four days later, commenced the struggle which ended in repealing that Congressional prohibition. This opened all the National territory to slavery, and was the first point gained.
But, so far, Congress only had acted; and an indorsement by the people, real or apparent, was indispensable, to save the point already gained, and give chance for
This necessity had not been overlooked; but had been provided for, as well as might be, in the notable argument of “squatter sovereignty," otherwise called "sacred right of self-government," which latter phrase, though expressive of the only rightful basis of any government, was so perverted in this attempted use of it as to amount to just this: That if any one man choose to enslave another, no third man shall be allowed to object. That argument was incorporated into the Nebraska bill itself, in the language which follows: "It being the true intent and meaning of this act not to legislate slavery into any Territory or State, nor to exclude it therefrom; but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States" Then opened the roar of loose declamation in favor of “Squatter Sovereignty," and "sacred right of self-government." "But," said opposition members, let us amend the bill so as to expressly declare that the people of the Territory may exclude slavery." "Not we," said the friends of the measure; and down they voted the amendment.
While the Nebraska bill was passing through Congress, a law case involving the question of a negro's freedom, by reason of his owner having voluntarily taken him first into a free S ate and then into a free Territory covered by the Congressional prohibition, and held him as a slave for a long time in each, was passing through the United States Circuit Court for the District of Missouri; and both Nebraska bill, and law suit were brought to a decision in the same month of May, 1834. The negro's name was "Dred Scott," which name now designates the decision finally made in the case. Before the then next Presidential election, the law case came to, and was argued in the Supreme Court of the United States; but the decision of it was deferred until after the election. Still, before the election, Senator Trumbull, on the floor of the Senate, requested the leading advocate of the Nebraska bill to state his opinion whether the people of a Territory can Constitutionally exclude slavery from their limits; and the latter answers: "That is a question for the Supreme Court."
The election came. Mr. Buchanan was elected, and the endorsement, such as it was, secured. That was the second point gained. The indorsement, however, fell short of a clear popular majority by nearly four hundred thousand votes, and so, perhaps was not overwhelmingly reliable and satisfactory. The outgoing President, in his last annual message, as impressively as possible echoed back upon the people the weight and authority of the indorsement. The Supreme Court met again; did not announce their decision, but ordered a re-argument. The Presidential inauguration came, and still no decision of the court; but the incoming President in his inaugural address, fervently exhorted the people to abide by the forthcoming decision, whatever it might be. Then in a few days, came the decision.
The reputed author of the Nebraska bill finds an early occasion to make a speech at this capital indorsing the Dred Scott decision, and vehemently denouncing all opposition to it. The new President, too, seizes the early occasion of the Silliman letter to indorse and strongly construe that decision, and to express his astonishment that any different view had ever been entertained!
At length a squabble springs up between the President and the author of the Nebraska bill, on the mere question of fact, whether the Lecompton Constitution was or was not, in any just sense, made by the people of Kansas; and in that quarrel the latter delares that all he wants is a fair vote for the people, and that he cares not whether slavery be voted down or voted up. I do not understand his declaration that he cares not whether slavery be voted down or voted up, to be intended by him other than as an apt definition of the policy he would impress upon the public mind-the principle for which he declares he has suffered so much, and is ready to suffer to the end. And well may he cling to that principle. If he
has any parental feeling, well may he cling to it. That principle is the only shred left of his original Nebraska doctrine. Under the Dred Scott decision, “squatter sovereignty" squatted out of existence, tumbled down like temporary scaffolding like the mould at the foundry, it served through one blast and fell back into loose sand-helped to carry an election, and then was kicked to the winds. His late joint struggle with the republicans, against the Lecomption Constitution, involves nothing of the original Nebraska doctrine. That struggle was made on a point — the right of the people to make their own Constitution-upon which he and the republicans have never differed.
The several points of the Dred Scott decision, in connection with Senator Douglas' "care not" policy, constitute the piece of machinery, in its present state of advancement. This was the third point gained. The working points of that machinery are:
First, That no negro slave, imported as such from Africa, and no descendant of such slave, can ever be a citizen of any State, in the sense of that term as used in the Constitution of the United States. This point is made in order to deprive the negro, in every possible event, of the benefit of that provision of the United States Constitution, which declares "That citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States."
Secondly, That "subject to the Constitution of the United States," neither Congress nor a Territorial Legislature can exclude slavery from any United States territory. This point is made in order that individual men may fill up the Territories with slaves, without danger of losing them as property, and thus to enhance the chances of permanency to the institution through all the future.
Thirdly, That whether the holding a negro in actual slavery, in a free State, makes him free, as against the holder, the United States courts will not decide, but will leave to be decided by the courts of any slave State the negro may be forced into by the master. This point is made, not to be pressed immediately; but, if acquiesced in for awhile, and apparently indorsed by the people at an election, then to sustain the logical conclusion that what Dred Scott's master might lawfully do with Dred Scott, in the free State of Illinois, every other master may lawfully do with any other one, or one thousand slaves, in Illinois, or in any other free State. Auxiliary to all this, and working hand in hand with it, the Nebraska doctrine, or what is left of it, is to educate and mould public opinion, at least Northern public opinion, not to care whether slavery is voted down or voted up. This shows exactly where we now are; and partially, also, whither we are tending.
It will throw additional light on the latter, to go back, and run the mind over the string of historical facts already stated. Several things will now appear less dark and mysterious than they did when they were transpiring. The people were to be left "perfectly free," "subject only to the Constitution." What the Constitution had to do with it, outsiders could not then see. Plainly enough now, it was an exactly fitted niche, for the Dred Scott decision to afterwards come in, and declare the perfect freedom of the people, to be just no freedom at all. Why was the amendment expressly declaring the right of the people, voted down? Plainly enough now: the adoptionof it would have spoiled the niche for the Dred Scott decision. Why was the court decision held up? Why even a Senator s individual opinion withheld, till after the Presidential election? Plainly enough now: the speaking out then would have damaged the perfectly free argument upon which the election was to be carried. Why the outgoing President's felicitation on the indorsement? Why the delay of a re-argument? Why the incoming President's advance exhortation in favor of the decision? These things look like the cautious patting and petting of a spirited horse preparatory to mounting him, when it is dreaded that he may give the rider a fall. And why the hasty after-indorsement of the decision by the President and others?
We cannot absolutely know that all these exact adaptations are the result of preconcert. But when we see a lot of framed timbers, different portions of which we know have been gotten out at different times and places and by different workmen-Stephen, Franklin, Roger, and James, for instance *- and when we see these timbers joined together, and see they exactly make the frame of a house or a mill,
*Stephen A. Douglas, Franklin Pierce, Roger B. Taney, and James Buchanan.