« AnteriorContinuar »
ing home, he became a candidate for a seat in the Legislature onlyten days before election, but being an Adams man, he was defeated, though in his own precinct he received more votes than both rival candidates for Congress. He was sometime engaged in surveying, and in 1834 was elected to the Legislature, to which he was subsequently thrice chosen,, and devoted himself to the practical work of the people's representative. Says one of his biographers:
"The period embraced by the eight years in which Lincoln represented Sangamon County, was one of the greatest material activity in Illinois, So early as 1820, the young State was seized with the * generous rage' for public internal improvements then prevalent in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and in its sessions for a score of succeeding years, the Legislature was occupied by the discussion of various schemes for enhancing the prosperity of the State. The large canal uniting the waters of Lake Michigan and the Illinois River was completed at a cost of more than eight millions. By a Board of Commissioners of Public Works, specially created, provisions were made for expensive improvements of the Wabash, Illinois, Rock, Kaskaskia and the Little Wabash, and the great Western mail route from Vincennes to St. Louis. Under the charge of the same Board, six railroads, connecting principal points, were projected, and appropriations made for their completion at an immense outlay.
"One effect of a policy so wild and extravagant was to sink the State in debt. Another was to attract vast immigration, and fill up her broad prairies with settlers. Individuals were ruined; the corporate State became embarrassed; but benefits have resulted in a far greater degree than could have been hoped when the crash first came. It is not yet time to estimate the ultimate good to be derived from these improvements, though the immediate evil has been tangible enough.
"The name of Abraham Lincoln is not found recorded in favor of the more visionary of these schemes, but he has always favored public improvements, and his voice was for whatever project seemed feasible and practical. During his first term of service, he was a member of the Committee on Public Accounts and Expenditures. He voted for a bill to incorporate agricultural societies; for the improvement ©f public roads; for the incorporation of various institutions of learning; for the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal; he always fostered the interests of public education, and favored low salaries for public officials. In whatever pertained to the local benefit of his own County, he was active and careful; but his record on this subject is of little interest to the general reader.
"Lincoln's voice was ever for measures that relieved the struggling poor man from pecuniary or political difficulties—he had himself experienced these difficulties—he therefore supported resolutions for the removal of the property qualification in franchise, and for the granting of pre-emption rights to settlers on the public lands. He was the author of a measure permitting Revolutionary pensioners to loan their pen
Lincoln's Peobia Speech. <5g
«ion money without taxation. He advocated a bill exempting from execution Bibiea, school-books, and mechanics' tools. V
"His first recorded vote against Stephen A. Douglas, was on the election of thai politician to the Attorney Generalship by the Legislature.
"He twice voted for the Whig candidates for the United States Senate. Otherwise than in the election of Senators, State Legislatures were not then occupied with national affairs, and it is difficult to find anything in Mr. Lincoln's legislative history which is of great national interest. There were no exciting questions, and Mr, Lincoln's speeches were few and brief.* He was twice the candidate (in 1838 and 1840) of the Whig minority for Speaker of the House."f
For six years he remained in private life, devoting himself to the practice of law, which he had studied. In 1844 he canvassed his State in behalf of the Whig candidate for the Presidency. In 1847 he took his seat in Congress, the only Whig Representative from Illinois, which then had seven members in the House of Representatives. He was a staunch advocate of the Wilmot Proviso, showing, in 1847, the same care to secure the Territories to freedom which he manifested in the Kansas struggle and in 1860. He declined candidacy for re-election. In 1849 he received the vote of his party in the Legislature for the U. S. Senate.
In 1854 the celebrated Nebraska Bill was passed, rallying anew and into permanent organization the opposition to slavery. In his celebrated " Peoria speech" he went fully into the principles involved in the proposed repeal of the Missouri Compromise. He was replying to Senator Douglas and showing the results of the repeal. The following words there spoken on that 16th of October, 1854, sound now, that ten years have gone, like history written "before the fact."
"In this state of affairs the Genius of Discord himself could scarcely have invented a way of again setting us by the ears, but by turning back and destroying the peace measures of the past. The counsels of that Genius seem to have prevailed; the Missouri Compromise was repealed; and here we are, in the midst of a new slavery agitation, such, I think, as we have never seen before. Who is responsible for this? Is it those who resist the measure? or those who, causelessly, brought it forward, and pressed it through, having reason to know, and, in fact, knowing, it must and would
*A protest from Mr. Lincoln appears on the journal of the House, in regard to gome resolutions which had passed. In this protest he pronounces distinctly against slavery, and takes the first public step toward what is now Republican doctrine.
f Howell's Life of Lincoln.
be so resisted? It could not but be expected by its author, that it would be looked upon as a measure for the extension of slavery, aggravated by a gross breach of faith,
"Argue as you will, and long as you will, this is the naked Front and Aspect of the measure, And, in this aspect, it could but produce agitation. Slavery is founded in the selfishness of man's nature—opposition to itf in his love of justice. These principles are in eternal antagonism; and, when brought into collision so fiercely as slavery extension brings them, shocks, and throes, and convulsions must ceaselessly follow. Repeal the Missouri Compromise—repeal all compromises—repeal the Declaration of Independence—repeal all past history—you still cannot repeal human nature. It ©till will be the abundance of man's heart that slavery extension is wrong, and, out of the abundance of his heart, his mouth will continue to speak.
"And, really, what is the result of this? Each party Witiiin having numerous and determined backers Without, is it not probable that the contest will come to blows and bloodshed? Could there be a more apt invention to bring about collision and violence, on the slavery question, than this Nebraska project is? I do not charge or believe that such was intended by Congress; but if they had literally formed a ring, and placed champions within it to fight out the controversy, the fight could be no more likely to come off than it is. And if this fight should begin, is it likely to take a very peaceful, Union-saving turn? Will not the first drop of blood, so shed, be the real knell of the Union?
"The Missouri Compromise ought to be restored. For the sake of the Union, it ought to be restored. We ought to elect a House of Representatives which will vote its restoration. If, by any means, we omit to do this, what follows? Slavery may or may not be established in Nebraska. But whether it be or not, we shall have repudiated—discarded from the councils of the nation—the Spirit of Compromise, for tohoy after this, will ever trust in a national compromise? The spirit of mutual concession—that spirit which first gave us the Constitution, and which has thrice saved the Union—we shall have strangled and cast from us forever. And what shall we have in lieu of it? The South, flushed with triumph and tempted to excesses; the North, betrayed, as they believe, brooding on wrong and burning for revenge. One side will provoke, the other resent. The one will taunt, the other defy; one aggresses, ihe other retaliates. Already a few in the North defy all Constitutional restrai: •.., resist the execution of the Fugitive Slave law, and even menace the institution > - slavery in the States where it exists. Already a few in the South claim the Constitutional right to take to and hold slaves in the Free States; demand the revival of the slave-trade; and demand a treaty with Great Britain, by which fugitive slaves may be reclaimed from Canada. As yet they are but few on either side. It is a grave question for the lovers of the Union, whether the final destruction of the Missouri Compromise, and with it the spirit of all compromise, will or will not embolden and embitter each of these, and fatally increase the number of both." In the extract which follows we find, blended with a conservatism NEBRASKA BILL IMMORAL. 57
so strong that it was not willing to see disturbed the Fugitive Slave Law, because it resulted from a compromise, and, odious as were some of its provisions, he would abide the compact, that honest manly sense of right which has been so marked a characteristic of Mr. Lincoln;—devotion to the right because it is right.
"Some men, mostly Whigs, who condemn the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, nevertheless hesitate to go for its restoration, lest, the)7 be thrown in company with the Abolitionists. Will they allow me, as an old Whig, to tell them, good-humoredly that I think this is very silly? Stand by anybody that stands Right. Stand with him while he is right, and Part with him when he is Wrong. Stand With the Abolitionist in restoring the Missouri Compromise, and stand Against him when he attempts to repeal the Fugitive Slave Law. In the latter case you stand with the Southern disunionist. What of that? you are still right. In both cases you are right. In both cases you oppose the dangerous extremes. In both you stand on middle ground, and hold the ship level and steady. In both you are national, and nothing less than national. This is the good old Whig ground. To desert such ground because of any company, is to be less than a Whig—less than a man—less than an American.*
The most ultra enemy of slavery, as interpreted in the red glare of four years of civil war, now scarcely surpasses the sentiments of ten years ago as further expressed:
"I particularly object to the New position which the avowed principle of this Nebraska law gives to slavery in the body politic. I object to it because it assumes that there Can Be A Moral Right in the enslaving of one man by another. I object to it as a dangerous dalliance for a free people—a sad evidence that, feeling prosperity we forget right—that liberty, as a principle, we have ceased to revere. I object to it, because the fathers of the Republic eschewed and rejected it. The argument of * necessity/was the only argument they ever admitted in favor of slavery, and so far, and so far only, as it carried them did they ever go. They found the institution existing among us, which they could not help, and they cast the blame upon the British king for having permitted its introduction. Before the Constitution they prohibited its introduction into the Northwestern Territory, the only country we owned then free from it. At the framing and adoption of the Constitution, they forebore to so much as mention the word 'slave,'or 'slavery,'in the whole instrument. In the provision for the recovery of fugitives, the slave is spoken of as a 'person held to service or labor.' In that prohibiting the abolition of the African slave-trade for twenty years, that trade is spoken of as 'the migration or importation of such persons as any of the States Now Existing shall think proper to admit,' etc. These are the only provisions alluding to slavery. Thus the thing is hid away in the Constitution, just as an afflicted man hides away a wen or cancer, which he dares not cut out at once, lest he bleed to death, with the promise, nevertheless, that the cutting may begin at the end of a certain time. Less than this our fathers could not do, and more they would not do. Necessity drove them so far, and further they would not go. But this is not all. The earliest Congress under the Constitution took the same view of slavery. They hedged and hemmed it in to the narrowest limits of necessity.
"In 1*794, they prohibited an outgoing slave-trade—that is, the taking of slaves from the United States to sell.
"In 1798, they prohibited the bringing of slaves from Africa into the Mississippi Territory—this Territory then comprising what are now the States of Mississippi and Alabama. This was ten years before they had the authority to do the same thing as to the States existing at the adoption of the Constitution.
"In 1800, they prohibited American citizens from trading in slaves between foreign countries, as, for instance, from Africa to Brazil.
"In 1803, they passed a law in aid of one or two Slave State laws, in restraint of the internal slave-trade.
"In 1807, in apparent hot haste, they passed the law, nearly a year in advance, to take effect the first day of 1808—the very first day the Constitution would permit—prohibiting the African slave-trade by heavy pecuniary and corporeal penalties.
"In 1820, finding these provisions ineffectual, they declared the slave-trade piracy, and annexed to it the extreme penalty of death. While all this was passing in the General government, five or six of the original Slave States had adopted systems of gradual emancipation, by which the institution was rapidly becoming extinct within these limits.
"Thus we see the plain, unmistakable spirit of that age, toward slavery, was hostility to the principle, and toleration only by necessity.
"But now it is to be transformed into a "sacred right." Nebraska brings it forth, places it on the high road to extension and perpetuity, and, with a pat on the back, says to it, * Go, God speed you.' Henceforth, it is to be the chief jewel of the nation—the very figure-head of the ship of state. Little by little, but steadily as man's march to the grave, we have been giving up the old for the new faith. Near eighty years ago we began by declaring that all men are created equal, but now, from that beginning, we have run down to the other declaration, that for some men to enslave others is a * sacred right of self-government.' These principles cannot stand together. They are as opposite as God and mammon, and whoever holds to the one must despise the other. When Pettit, in connection with his support of the Nebraska bill, called the Declaration of Independence a * self-evident lie,' he only did what consistency and candor require all other Nebraska men to do. Of the forty odd Nebraska Senators who sat present and heard him, no one rebuked him. Nor am I apprised that any Nebraska newspaper, or any Nebraska orator, in the whole nation has ever yet rebuked him. If this had been said among Marion's men, Southerners though they were, what would have become of the man who said it? If this had been said to the men who captured Andre, the man who said it would probably have been hung sooner than Andre was. If it had been said in old Independence