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when he labored through Blackstone, or even farther back when he was yet struggling with Kirkham's grammar on the shady knolls of New Salem. Compared with these rocks and pitfalls of letters, the anecdotes, the wit, the epigrammatic arguments of the "Louisville Journal" were a very garden of delight, not only to Lincoln, but to the crude yet knowledge-hungry intellects of the whole Mississippi Valley. In time the "Journal" became a great luminary, and the name of its witty editor a household word. For long years it was a beacon and watchtower of the Whig party; then the Pandora's box of the Nebraska bill was opened; and when finally in the extraordinary campaign of 1860 Lincoln read this once-favorite sheet, it was to find himself the victim of its satire and depreciation. Victory, however, is a sovereign balm for detraction; and it must have been easy for him to forgive his old friend George D. Prentice when the latter wrote him (October 26th): "There is evidently a very strong probability of your being elected to the presidency by the popular vote." Expressing the "strongest" confidence in both his "personal and political integrity," he suggests that in the event of his election he should publish a letter setting forth his conservative views and intentions, " to assure all good citizens of the South and to take from the disunionists every excuse or pretext for treason."* To this appeal Mr. Lincoln prepared a reply, October 29th, though it was not then sent. "Your suggestion," wrote he, "that I in a certain event shall write a letter setting forth my conservative views and intentions, is certainly a very worthy one. But would it do any good? If I were to labor a month, I could not express my conservative views and intentions more clearly and strongly than they are expressed in our platform and in my many speeches already in print and before the public. And yet even you, who do occasionally speak of me in terms of personal kindness, give no prominence to these oft-repeated expres sions of conservative views and intentions, but busy yourself with appeals to all conservative men to vote for Douglas, to vote any way which can possibly defeat me,- thus impressing your readers that you think I am the very worst man living. If what I have already said has failed to convince you, no repetition of it would convince you. The writing of your letter, now before me, gives assurance that you would publish such a letter from me as you suggest; but, till now, what reason had I to suppose the 'Louisville Journal,' even, would publish a repetition of that which is already at its command, and which it does not press upon the public attention? And now, my friend,- for such I esteem you personally, do not misunderstand me. I have not decided that I will not do substantially what you suggest. I will not forbear from doing so merely on punctilio and pluck. If I do finally abstain, it will be because of apprehension that it would do harm. For the good men of the South-and I regard the majority of them as such-I have no objection to repeat seventy and seven times. But I have bad men also to deal with, both North and South; men who are eager for something * Prentice to Lincoln, Oct. 26th, 1860. Unpublished MS. + Lincoln to Prentice, Oct. 29th, 1860. Unpublished MS.
new upon which to base new misrepresentations; men who would like to frighten me, or at least to fix upon me the character of timidity and cowardice. They would seize upon almost any letter I could write as being an awful coming down.' I intend keeping my eye upon these gentlemen, and to not unnecessarily put any weapons in their hands."†
On the 16th of November he wrote a letter of very similar purport to Mr. N. Paschal, editor of the "Missouri Republican."
This letter was withheld till after election.
"I could say nothing which I have not already said, and which is in print, and accessible to the public. Please pardon me for suggesting that if the papers like yours, which heretofore have persistently garbled and misrepresented what I have said, will now fully and fairly place it before their readers, there can be no further misunderstanding. I beg you to believe me sincere, when I declare I do not say this in a spirit of complaint or resentment; but that I urge it as the true cure for any real uneasiness in the country, that my course may be other than conservative. The Republican newspapers now and for some time past are and have been republishing copious extracts from my many published speeches, which would at once reach the whole public if your class of papers would also publish them. I am not at liberty to shift my ground- that is out of the question. If I thought a repetition would do any good itive harm. The secessionists per se, believing they I would make it. But in my judgment it would do poshad alarmed me, would clamor all the louder."
With solicitations of this nature coming in part from his political friends, Mr. Lincoln was not only as firm and decided, but more emphatic and unsparing in criticism. On November 5th, the day before the presidential election, there arrived at Springfield, and called upon the President-elect, a gentleman from New England of some prominence in political and official life, who brought and presented letters of this same tenor from a considerable number of citizens representing business, commercial, and manufacturing industries of that region. He was one of those keen, incisive talkers who went direct to the heart of his mission.
"I have called to see," he said, "if the alarms of many persons in New England engaged in commerce and manufactures cannot by some means be relieved. I am myself largely interested in manufactures. Our trade has fallen off, our workmen are idle, we get no orders from the South, and with the increasing chances of civil war, bankruptcy and ruin stare us in the face."
Something in the persistence and manner of his interlocutor, something in the tone of the letters presented, and still more in the character of the signers, quickly irritated Lincoln to a warmth of retort he seldom reached until after long provocation. He divined at once the mercenary nature of the appeal about to be tried on him, and it roused him to repel the pressure. His visitor closed by asking some
conservative promise "to reassure the men honestly alarmed."
"There are no such men," bluntly replied Lincoln. "This is the same old trick by which the South breaks down every Northern victory. Even if I were personally willing to barter away the moral principle involved in this contest for the commercial gain of a new submission to the South, I would go to Washington without the countenance of the men who supported me and were my friends before the election; I would be as powerless as a block of buckeye wood."
The man still insisted, and Lincoln continued:
"The honest men (you are talking of honest men) will look at our platform and what I have said. There they will find everything I could now say, or which they would ask me to say. All I could add would be but repetition. Having told them all these things ten times already, would they believe the eleventh declaration? Let us be practical. There are many general terms afloat, such as 'conservatism,' enforcement of the irrepressible conflict at the point of the bayonet,' 'hostility to the South,' etc., all of which mean nothing without definition. What then could I say to allay their fears, if they will not define what particular act or acts they fear from me or my friends?"
At this stage of the conversation his visitor, who with true military foresight had provided a reserve, handed him an additional letter numerously signed, asking if he did not there recognize names that were a power.
"Yes," retorted Lincoln sharply, glancing at the document, "I recognize them as a set of liars and knaves who signed that statement about Seward last year."
The visitor was taken aback at this familiarity with the local politics of his State, but rallied and insisted that there were also other names on the list. Lincoln now looked through the paper more carefully, his warmth meanwhile cooling down a little.
"Well," answered he, laughing, "after reading it, it is about as I expected to find it. It annoyed me to hear that gang of men called respectable. Their conduct a year ago was a disgrace to any civilized citizen."
Here his visitor suggested that the South was making armed preparations.
"The North," answered Lincoln, "does not fear invasion from the slave-States, and we of the North certainly have no desire, and never had, to invade the South. They have talked about what they intend to do in the event of a Black Republican victory, until they have convinced themselves there is really no courage left in the North." VOL. XXXV.-13.
GEORGE D. PRENTICE. (FROM A PHOTOGRAPH BY BRADY.)
"Have we backed this time?" interrupted the visitor.
"That is just what I am pressed to do now," replied Lincoln. "If I shall begin to yield to these threats, if I begin dallying with them, the men who have elected me (if I shall be elected) would give me up before my election, and the South, seeing it, would deliberately kick me out. If my friends should desire me to repeat anything I have before said, I should have no objection to do so. If they required me to say something I had not yet said, I would either do so or get out of the way. If I should be elected, the first duty to the country would be to stand by the men who elected me."*
Still, from time to time the point was pressed upon him from other influential quarters. Mr. Raymond, editor of the "New York Times," joined in urging it. Lincoln, on November 28th, answered him confidentially as follows:
"Yours of the 14th was received in due course. I
have delayed so long to answer it, because my reasons for not coming before the public in any form just now had substantially appeared in your paper (the Times'), and hence I feared they were not deemed sufficient by you, else you would not have written me as you did. I now think we have a demonstration in favor of my view. On the 20th instant Senator Trumbull made a short speech, which I suppose you have both seen and approved. Has a single newspaper, heretofore against us, urged that speech upon its readers with a purpose to quiet public anxiety? Not one, so far as I know. On the contrary, the Boston Courier' and its class hold me responsible for that speech, and endeavor to inflame the North with the belief that it foreshadows coming administration; while the Washington Conan abandonment of Republican ground by the institution' and its class hold the same speech up to the South as an open declaration of war against them. This is just as I expected, and just what would happen *Nicolay, Manuscript memoranda.
with any declaration I could make. These political fiends are not half sick enough yet. Party malice, and not public good, possesses them entirely. They seek a sign, and no sign shall be given them.' At least such is my present feeling and purpose.'
And in this purpose he remained steadfast to the end, though put to yet more trying tests. It has already been mentioned, that' with the opening of Congress, and the formation of the Senate Committee of Thirteen and the House Committee of Thirty-three, certain conservative men from the border slave-States endeavored to gain control of the political situation by forming a neutral or mediating party between the disunionists and the Republicans. Their policy was an utter mistake; for, while reprobating present dismemberment, their attitude on the slavery question indicated clearly enough that, if clung to, it would inevitably drive them to the extreme plans of the cottonStates. Some of these would-be "neutral" States eventually went that direful road; and those which did not were saved only by the restraint of the Union army. But for the present their leaders were sincerely patriotic. From one of the most prominent of these, Hon. John A. Gilmer of North Carolina, to whom Lincoln afterwards made a tender of a Cabinet appointment, he received an inquiry, dated December 10th, concerning his opinions on several points of the slavery controversy, saying:
"I am not without hope that a clear and definite exposition of your views on the questions mentioned may go far to quiet, if not satisfy, all reasonable minds that on most of them it will become plain that there is much more misunderstanding than difference, and that the balance are so much more abstract than practical."
However difficult to resist this appeal, so influential, so respectful, so promising, the President-elect felt himself bound to adhere to his
policy of refusing any public utterance, for reasons which he set forth at some length in a confidential answer, written December 15th.
"I am greatly disinclined," said he, " to write a letter on the subject embraced in yours; and I would not do so, even privately as I do, were it not that I fear you might misconstrue my silence. Is it desired that I shall shift the ground upon which I have been elected? I cannot do it. You need only to acquaint yourself with that ground, and press it on the attention of the South. It is all in print and easy of access. May I be pardoned if I ask whether even you have ever attempted to procure the reading of the Republican platform, or my speeches, by the Southern people? If not, what reason have I to expect that any additional production of mine would meet a better fate? It would make me appear as if I repented for the crime of having been elected and was anxious to apologize and beg forgiveness. To so represent me would be the principal use made of any letter I might now thrust upon the public. My old record cannot be so used; and that is precisely the reason that some new declaration is so much sought.
Lincoln to Raymond, Nov. 28th, 1860. Unpublished MS.
JOHN A. GILMER. (FROM A PHOTOGRAPH BY BRADY.)
"Now, my dear sir, be assured I am not questioning your candor; I am only pointing out, that while a new letter would hurt the cause which I think a just one, you can quite as well effect every patriotic object with the old record. Carefully read pages 18, 19, 74, 75, 88, Senator Douglas and myself with the Republican Plat89, and 267 of the volume of Joint Debates between form adopted at Chicago, and all your questions will ommending the abolition of slavery in the District of be substantially answered. I have no thought of recColumbia, nor the slave-trade among the slave-States, even on the conditions indicated; and if I were to make such recommendation, it is quite clear Congress would not follow it.
"As to employing slaves in arsenals and dockyards, ollection, till I saw your letter; and I may say of it it is a thing I never thought of in my life, to my recprecisely as I have said of the two points above.
"As to the use of patronage in the slave-States, where there are few or no Republicans. I do not expect to inquire for the politics of the appointee, or whether he does or not own slaves. I intend in that matter to accommodate the people in the several localities, if they themselves will allow me to accommodate them. In one word, I never have been, am not now, and probably never shall be in a mood of harassing the people either North or South.
"On the territorial question I am inflexible, as you see my position in the book. On that there is a difference between you and us; and it is the only substantial difference. You think slavery is right and ought to be extended; we think it is a wrong and ought to be restricted. For this neither has any just occasion to be angry with the other.
"As to the State laws, mentioned in your sixth question, I really know very little of them. I never have read one. If any of them are in conflict with the fugitive-slave clause, or any other part of the Constitution, I certainly shall be glad of their repeal; but I + Gilmer to Lincoln, Dec. 10th, 1860. Unpublished MS.
could hardly be justified, as a citizen of Illinois, or as President of the United States, to recommend the repeal of a statute of Vermont or South Carolina.'
We have given samples of these solicitations coming from Republicans, from Douglas Democrats, and from the adherents of Bell; the following, coming from the fourth political school, will perhaps be found of equal if not greater interest. Its origin is given in the words of the principal actor, General Duff Green, who, in a letter some three years afterwards, thus described it :
"In December, 1869, at the request of the President of the United States, I went to Springfield to see Mr. Lincoln and urge him to go to Washington and exert his influence in aid of the adjustment of the questions then pending between the North and the South. I was authorized by Mr. Buchanan to say to him that if he came he would be received and treated with the cour tesy due to the President-elect. I saw Mr. Lincoln at his own house, and did urge the necessity of his going to Washington and uniting his efforts in behalf of peace, telling him that in my opinion he alone could prevent a civil war, and that if he did not go, upon his conscience must rest the blood that would be shed."
Whether this proposition came by authority or not, Lincoln could not publicly either question the truth of the envoy or the motive of the mission. In either case the appeal was most adroitly laid. Of course it was impossible to accept or even to entertain it; on the other hand, a simple refusal might be made the basis of very serious misrepresentation. He therefore wrote the following reply:
"SPRINGFIELD, ILI.., Dec. 28th, 1860.
"GEN. DUFF GREEN.
"MY DEAR SIR: I do not desire any amendment of the Constitution. Recognizing, however, that questions of such amendment rightfully belong to the American people, I should not feel justified nor inclined to withhold from them if I could a fair opportunity of expressing their will thereon through either of the modes prescribed in the instrument.
"In addition I declare that the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of powers on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend; and I denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter under what pretext, as the gravest of crimes.
"I am greatly averse to writing anything for the public at this time; and I consent to the publication of this only upon the condition that six of the twelve United States senators for the States of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, and Texas shall sign their names to what is written on this sheet *Lincoln to Gilmer, Dec. 15th, 1860. Unpublished MS. Duff Green to Jefferson Davis, May 26th, 1863. Unpublished MS.
Lincoln to Duff Green, Dec. 28th, 1860. Unpub. lished MS.
below my name, and allow the whole to be published together. "Yours truly, "A. LINCOLN. "We recommend to the people of the States we represent respectively, to suspend all action for dismemberment of the Union, at least until some act deemed to be violative of our rights shall be done by the incom ing administration."
This letter Lincoln transmitted to Senator
Trumbull at Washington, with the following direction:
"General Duff Green is out here endeavoring to draw a letter out of me. I have written one which herewith I inclose to you, and which I believe could not be used to our disadvantage. Still, if on consultation with our discreet friends you conclude that it may that the second clause of the letter is copied from the do us harm, do not deliver it. You need not mention Chicago Platform. If, on consultation, our friends, including yourself, think it can do no harm, keep a copy and deliver the letter to General Green." §
While the fact is not definitely known, it is probable that this letter was delivered. Nothing further came of Duff Green's mission except a letter from himself in the" New York Herald" mentioning his visit and its failure, in the vaguest generalities. His whole aim had been to induce Lincoln tacitly to assume rethe latter by his skillful answer pointed out the sponsibility for the Southern revolt; and when real conspirators, they were no longer anxious to have a publication made.
The whole attitude and issue of the controversy was so tersely summed up by Lincoln in a confidential letter to a Republican friend, under date of January 11th, 1861, that we cannot forbear citing it in conclusion:
"Yours of the 6th is received. I answer it only because I fear you would misconstrue my silence. What is our present condition? We have just carried an election on principles fairly stated to the people. Now we are told in advance the Government shall be broken up unless we surrender to those we have beaten, before we take the offices. In this they are either attempting to play upon us or they are in dead earnest. Either way, if we surrender, it is the end of us, and of the Government. They will repeat the experiment upon us ad libitum. A year will not pass till we shall have to take Cuba as a condition upon which they will stay in the Union. They now have the Constitution under which we have lived over seventy years, and acts of Congress of their own framing, with no prospect of their being changed; and they can never have a more shallow pretext for breaking up the Government, or extorting a compromise, than now. There is in my judgment but one compromise which would really settle the slavery question, and that would be a prohibition against acquiring any more territory."||
Lincoln to Trumbull, Dec. 28th, 1860. Unpublished MS.
|| Lincoln to Hon. J. T. Hale, Jan. 11th, 1861. Unpublished MS.