Abraham Lincoln, A History, Volume 2
John George Nicolay and John Hay

Part 4 out of 8

distinction between the two things--to show that the one is either
more wicked or more unlawful; to show on original principles, that
one is better or worse than the other; or to show by the
Constitution, that one differs a whit from the other. He will tell
me, doubtless, that there is no constitutional provision against
people taking slaves into the new Territories, and I tell him that
there is equally no constitutional provision against buying slaves
in Africa....

Then I say, if this principle is established, that there is no
wrong in slavery, and whoever wants it has a right to have it;
that it is a matter of dollars and cents; a sort of question how
they shall deal with brutes; that between us and the negro here
there is no sort of question, but that at the South the question
is between the negro and the crocodile; that it is a mere matter
of policy; that there is a perfect right according to interest to
do just as you please--when this is done, where this doctrine
prevails, the miners and sappers will have formed public opinion
for the slave trade....

[Sidenote] Lincoln, Columbus Speech, Sept. 16, 1859. Debates, pp.

Public opinion in this country is everything. In a nation like
ours this popular sovereignty and squatter sovereignty have
already wrought a change in the public mind to the extent I have
stated. There is no man in this crowd who can contradict it. Now,
if you are opposed to slavery honestly, as much as anybody, I ask
you to note that fact, and the like of which is to follow, to be
plastered on layer after layer, until very soon you are prepared
to deal with the negro everywhere as with the brute. If public
sentiment has not been debauched already to this point, a new turn
of the screw in that direction is all that is wanting; and this is
constantly being done by the teachers of this insidious popular
sovereignty. You need but one or two turns further until your
minds, now ripening under these teachings, will be ready for all
these things; and you will receive and support, or submit to, the
slave trade revived with all its horrors, a slave code enforced in
our Territories, and a new Dred Scott decision to bring slavery up
into the very heart of the free North.

This Government is expressly charged with the duty of providing
for the general welfare. We believe that the spreading out and
perpetuity of the institution of slavery impairs the general
welfare. We believe--nay, we know, that this is the only thing
that has ever threatened the perpetuity of the Union itself....

[Sidenote] Lincoln Cincinnati Speech, Sept. 17, 1859. Debates, pp.

I say we must not interfere with the institution of slavery in the
States where it exists, because the Constitution forbids it, and
the general welfare does not require us to do so. We must not
withhold an efficient fugitive-slave law, because the Constitution
requires us, as I understand it, not to withhold such a law. But
we must prevent the outspreading of the institution, because
neither the Constitution nor the general welfare requires us to
extend it. We must prevent the revival of the African slave trade,
and the enacting by Congress of a Territorial slave code. We must
prevent each of these things being done by either congresses or
courts. The people of these United States are the rightful masters
of both congresses and courts, not to overthrow the Constitution,
but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.

[Sidenote] Parsons and others to Lincoln, Dec. 7, 1859. Debates,

The Ohio Republicans gained a decided success at the October election.
Ascribing this result in a large measure to the influence of Lincoln's
speeches, the State Executive Committee resolved to publish in cheap
book form the full Illinois joint debates and the two Ohio addresses,
to serve as campaign material for the ensuing year. "We regard them,"
wrote the committee to Lincoln, "as luminous and triumphant
expositions of the doctrines of the Republican party, successfully
vindicated from the aspersions of its foes, and calculated to make a
document of great practical service to the Republican party in the
approaching Presidential contest."

[Sidenote] Lincoln to Parsons and others, Dec. 19, 1859. Ibid.

Lincoln, thanking them for the flattering terms of their request,
explained in his reply: "The copies I send you, are as reported and
printed by the respective friends of Senator Douglas and myself at the
time--that is, his by his friends, and mine by mine. It would be an
unwarrantable liberty for us to change a word or a letter in his, and
the changes I have made in mine, you perceive, are verbal only, and
very few in number. I wish the reprint to be precisely as the copies I
send, without any comment whatever."

The enterprise proved a success beyond the most sanguine expectations.
A Columbus firm undertook the publication, itself assuming all
pecuniary risk. Three large editions were sold directly to the public,
without any aid from or any purchase by the committee--the third
edition containing the announcement that up to that date, June 16,
1860, thirty thousand copies had already been circulated.[2]

[1] Partly printed in Hollister, "Life of Colfax," p. 146. We are
indebted to Mrs. Colfax for the full manuscript text of this and other
valuable letters which we have used.

[2] The preface to this third edition contains a letter from Douglas,
alleging that injustice had been done him because, "the original
reports as published in the 'Chicago Times,' although intended to be
fair and just, were necessarily imperfect, and in some respects
erroneous"; charging at the same time that Lincoln's speeches had been
revised, corrected, and improved.[A] To this the publishers replied:
"The speeches of Mr. Lincoln were never 'revised, corrected, or
improved' in the sense you use those words. Remarks by the crowd which
were not responded to, and the reporters' insertions of 'cheers,'
'great applause,' and so forth, which received no answer or comment
from the speaker, were by our direction omitted, as well from Mr.
Lincoln's speeches as yours, as we thought their perpetuation in book
form would be in bad taste, and were in no manner pertinent to, or a
part of, the speech."[B] And the publishers add a list of their

[A] Douglas to Follet, Foster & Co., June 9, 1860. Debates, third
edition, preface.

[B] Follet, Foster & Co. to Douglas, June 16, 1860. Ibid.



There now occurred another strange event which, if it had been
specially designed as a climax for the series of great political
sensations since 1852, could scarcely have been more dramatic. This
was John Brown's invasion of Harper's Ferry in order to create a slave
insurrection. We can only understand the transaction as far as we can
understand the man, and both remain somewhat enigmatical.

Of Puritan descent, John Brown was born in Connecticut in the year
1800. When he was five years old, the family moved to Ohio, at that
time a comparative wilderness. Here he grew up a strong, vigorous boy
of the woods. His father taught him the tanner's trade; but a restless
disposition drove him to frequent changes of scene and effort when he
grew to manhood. He attempted surveying. He became a divinity student.
He tried farming and tanning in Pennsylvania, and tanning and
speculating in real estate in Ohio. Cattle-dealing was his next
venture; from this to sheep-raising; and by a natural transition to
the business of a wool-factor in Massachusetts. This not succeeding,
he made a trip to Europe. Returning, he accepted from Gerrit Smith a
tract of mountain land in the Adirondacks, where he proposed to found
and foster colonies of free negroes. This undertaking proved abortive,
like all his others, and he once more went back to the wool business
in Ohio.

Twice married, nineteen children had been born to him, of whom eleven
were living when, in 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska bill plunged the
country into the heat of political strife. Four of his sons moved away
to the new Territory in the first rush of emigrants; several others
went later. When the Border-Ruffian hostilities broke out, John Brown
followed, with money and arms contributed in the North. With his sons
as a nucleus, he gathered a little band of fifteen to twenty
adventurers, and soon made his name a terror in the lawless guerrilla
warfare of the day. His fighting was of the prevailing type,
justifiable, if at all, only on the score of defensive retaliation,
and some of his acts were as criminal and atrocious as the worst of
those committed by the Border Ruffians.[1] His losses, one son
murdered, another wounded to the death, and a third rendered insane
from cruel treatment, are scarcely compensated by the transitory
notoriety he gathered in a few fool-hardy skirmishes.

[Sidenote] James Redpath, "Life of John Brown," p. 48.

[Sidenote] Sanborn, in the "Atlantic," April, 1872.

These varied experiences give us something of a clue to his character:
a strong will; great physical energy; sanguine, fanatical temperament;
unbounded courage and little wisdom; crude, visionary ideality; the
inspiration of biblical precepts and Old Testament hero-worship; and
ambition curbed to irritation by the hard fetters of labor, privation,
and enforced endurance. In association, habit, language, and conduct,
he was clean, but coarse; honest, but rude. In disposition he mingled
the sacrificing tenderness with the sacrificial sternness of his
prototypes in Jewish history. He could lay his own child on the altar
without a pang. The strongest element of his character was religious
fanaticism. Taught from earliest childhood to "fear God and keep his
commandments," he believed firmly in the divine authenticity of the
Bible, and memorized much of its contents. His favorite texts became
literal and imperative mandates; he came to feel that he bore the
commission and enjoyed the protection of the Almighty. In his Kansas
camps he prayed and saw visions; believed he wielded the sword of the
Lord and of Gideon; had faith that the angels encompassed him. He
desired no other safeguard than his own ideas of justice and his own
convictions of duty. These ideas and convictions, however, refused
obedience to accepted laws and morals, and were mere fantastic and
pernicious outgrowths of his religious fanaticism. His courage partook
of the recklessness of insanity. He did not count odds. "What are five
to one?" he asked; and at another time he said, "One man in the right,
ready to die, will chase a thousand." Perhaps he even believed he held
a charmed life, for he boasted that he had been fired at thirty times
and only his hair had been touched. In personal appearance he was tall
and slender, with rather a military bearing. He had an impressive,
half-persuasive, half-commanding manner. He was always very secretive,
affected much mystery in movements, came and went abruptly, was direct
and dogmatic to bluntness in his conversation. His education was
scant, his reading limited; he wrote strong phrases in bad
orthography. If we may believe the intimations from himself and those
who knew him best, he had not only acquired a passionate hatred of the
institution of slavery, but had for twenty years nursed the longing to
become a liberator of slaves in the Southern States. To this end he
read various stories of insurrections, and meditated on the
vicissitudes, chances, and strategy of partisan warfare. A year's
border fighting in Kansas not only suddenly put thought into action,
but his personal and family sacrifices intensified his visionary
ambition into a stern and inflexible purpose.

[Illustration: JOHN BROWN.]

It is impossible to trace exactly how and when the Harper's Ferry
invasion first took practical shape in John Brown's mind, but the
indications are that it grew little by little out of his Kansas
experience. His earliest collisions with the Border Ruffians occurred
the spring and summer of 1856. In the autumn of that year the United
States troops dispersed his band, and generally suppressed the civil
war. In January, 1857, we find him in the Eastern States, appealing
for arms and supplies to various committees and in various places,
alleging that he desired to organize and equip a company of one
hundred minute-men, who were "mixed up with the people of Kansas," but
who should be ready on call to rush to the defense of freedom. This
appeal only partly succeeded. From one committee he obtained authority
as agent over certain arms stored in Iowa, the custody and control of
which had been in dispute. From another committee he obtained a
portion of the clothing he desired. From still other sources he
received certain moneys, but not sufficient for his requirements. Two
circumstances, however, indicate that he was practicing a deception
upon the committees and public. He entered into a contract with a
blacksmith, in Collinsville, Connecticut, to manufacture him 1000
pikes of a certain pattern,[2] to be completed in 90 days, and paid
$550 on the contract. There is no record that he mentioned this matter
to any committee. His proposed Kansas minute-men were only to be one
hundred in number, and the pikes could not be for them; his
explanation to the blacksmith, that they would be a good weapon of
defense for Kansas settlers, was clearly a subterfuge. These pikes,
ordered about March 23, 1857, were without doubt intended for his
Virginia invasion; and in fact the identical lot, finished after long
delay, under the same contract, were shipped to him in September,
1859, and were actually used in his Harper's Ferry attempt. The other
circumstance is that, about the time of his contract for the pikes, he
also, without the knowledge of committees or friends, engaged an
adventurer, named Forbes, to go West and give military instruction to
his company--a measure neither useful nor practicable for Kansas
defense. These two acts may be taken as the first preparation for
Harper's Ferry.

But merely to conceive great enterprises is not to perform them, and
every after-step of John Brown reveals his lamentable weakness and
utter inadequacy for the heroic role to which he fancied himself
called. His first blunder was in divulging all his plans to Forbes, an
utter stranger, while he was so careful in concealing them from
others. Forbes, as ambitious and reckless as himself, of course soon
quarreled with him, and left him, and endeavored first to supplant and
then betray him.

[Sidenote] Realf, Testimony Mason Report, p. 91. Ibid., pp. 91-4.

Meanwhile, little by little, Brown gathered one colored and six white
confederates from among his former followers in Kansas, and assembled
them for drill and training in Iowa; four others joined him there.
These, together with his son Owen, counted, all told, a band of twelve
persons engaged for, and partly informed of, his purpose. He left them
there for instruction during the first three months of the year 1858,
while he himself went East to procure means.

[Sidenote] "Atlantic," July, 1872, p. 51.

At the beginning of February, 1858, John Brown became, and remained
for about a month, a guest at the house of Frederick Douglass, in
Rochester, New York. Immediately on his arrival there he wrote to a
prominent Boston abolitionist, T.W. Higginson: "I now want to get, for
the perfecting of by far the most important undertaking of my whole
life, from $500 to $800 within the next sixty days. I have written
Rev. Theodore Parker, George L. Stearns, and F.B. Sanborn, Esquires,
on the subject."

[Sidenote] Sanborn, "Life and Letters of John Brown," p. 438.

Correspondence and mutual requests for a conference ensued, and
finally these Boston friends sent Sanborn to the house of Gerrit
Smith, in Peterboro, New York, where a meeting had been arranged.
Sanborn was a young man of twenty-six, just graduated from college,
who, as secretary of various Massachusetts committees, had been the
active agent for sending contributions to Kansas. He arrived on the
evening of Washington's birthday, February 22, 1858, and took part in
a council of conspiracy, of which John Brown was the moving will and
chief actor.

[Sidenote] "Atlantic," July, 1872, p. 52. Sanborn in "Atlantic,"
March, 1875, p. 329; also, Mason Report, pp. 48-59.

Brown began by reading to the council a long document which he had
drafted since his stay in Rochester. It called itself a "Provisional
Constitution and Ordinances for the People of the United States,"
which, as it explained, looked to no overthrow of States or
dissolution of the Union, but simply to "amendment and repeal." It was
not in any sense a reasonable project of government, but simply an
ill-jointed outline of rules for a proposed slave insurrection. The
scheme, so far as any comprehension of it may be gleaned from the
various reports which remain, was something as follows:

[Sidenote] Mason Report, p. 55.

[Sidenote] Blair, Testimony, Mason Report, pp. 121-5.

[Sidenote] Sanborn, "Life and Letters of John Brown," p. 438.

Somewhere in the Virginia mountains he would raise the standard of
revolt and liberation. Enthusiasts would join him from the free
States, and escaped blacks come to his help from Canada. From Virginia
and the neighboring slave-States of North Carolina, South Carolina,
Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky, fugitive slaves, with their
families, would flock to his camps. He would take his supplies,
provisions, and horses by force from the neighboring plantations.
Money, plate, watches, and jewelry would "constitute a liberal safety
or intelligence fund." For arms, he had 200 Sharps rifles, and 200
revolvers, with which he would arm his best marksmen. His ruder
followers, and even the women and children, he would arm with pikes to
defend the fortifications. He would construct defenses of palisades
and earth-works. He would use natural strongholds; find secret
mountain-passes to connect one with another; retreat from and evade
attacks he could not overcome. He would maintain and indefinitely
prolong a guerrilla war, of which the Seminole Indians in Florida and
the negroes in Hayti afforded examples. With success, he would enlarge
the area of his occupation so as to include arable valleys and
low-lands bordering the Alleghany range in the slave-States; and here
he would colonize, govern, and educate the blacks he had freed, and
maintain their liberty. He would make captures and reprisals,
confiscate property, take, hold, and exchange prisoners and especially
white hostages and exchange them for slaves to liberate. He would
recognize neutrals, make treaties, exercise humanity, prevent crime,
repress immorality, and observe all established laws of war. Success
would render his revolt permanent, and in the end, through "amendment
and repeal," abolish slavery. If, at the worst, he were driven from
the mountains he would retreat with his followers through the free
States to Canada. He had 12 recruits drilling in Iowa, and a
half-executed contract for 1000 pikes in Connecticut; furnish him $800
in money and he would begin operations in May.

[Sidenote] Sanborn in "Atlantic," March, 1875, p. 329.

[Sidenote] Redpath, "Life of John Brown," p. 206.

[Sidenote] Sanborn in "Atlantic," July, 1872, p. 52.

This, if we supply continuity and arrangement to his vagaries, must
have been approximately what he felt or dreamily saw, and outlined in
vigorous words to his auditors. His listening friends were dumfounded
at the audacity as well as heart-sick at the hopelessness of such an
attempt. They pointed out the almost certainty of failure and
destruction, and attempted to dissuade him from the mad scheme; but to
no purpose. They saw they were dealing with a foregone conclusion; he
had convoked them, not to advise as to methods, but to furnish the
means. All reasonable argument he met with his rigid dogmatic
formulas, his selected proverbs, his favorite texts of Scripture. The
following, preserved by various witnesses as samples of his sayings at
other times, indicate his reasoning on this occasion: "Give a slave a
pike and you make him a man. I would not give Sharps rifles to more
than ten men in a hundred, and then only when they have learned to use
them. A ravine is better than a plain. Woods and mountain-sides can be
held by resolute men against ten times their force. Nat Turner, with
fifty men, held Virginia five weeks; the same number, well organized
and armed, can shake the system out of the State." "A few men in the
right, and knowing they are right, can overturn a king. Twenty men in
the Alleghanies could break slavery to pieces in two years." "If God
be for us, who can be against us? Except the Lord keep the city, the
watchman waketh but in vain."

[Sidenote] Ibid., March, 1875, p. 329.

[Sidenote] Sanborn, "Life and Letters of John Brown," p. 439.

[Sidenote] Sanborn, "Atlantic," July, 1872, pp. 53-4.

One of the participants relates, that--"When the agitated party broke
up their council for the night, it was perfectly plain that Brown
could not be held back from his purpose." The discussion of the
friends on the second day (February 23) was therefore only whether
they should aid him, or oppose him, or remain indifferent. Against
every admonition of reason, mere personal sympathy seems to have
carried a decision in favor of the first of these alternatives. "You
see how it is," said the chief counselor, Gerrit Smith; "our dear old
friend has made up his mind to this course and cannot be turned from
it. We cannot give him up to die alone; we must support him." Brown
has left an exact statement of his own motive and expectation, in a
letter to Sanborn on the following day. "I have only had this one
opportunity in a life of nearly sixty years ... God has honored but
comparatively a very small part of mankind with any possible chance
for such mighty and soul-satisfying rewards ... I expect nothing but
to endure hardness, but I expect to effect a mighty conquest, even
though it be like the last victory of Samson."

[Sidenote] Realf, Testimony, Mason Report, p. 99.

Nine days later Brown went to Boston, where the conspiracy was
enlarged and strengthened by the promises and encouragements of a
little coterie of radical abolitionists.[3] Within the next two months
the funds he desired were contributed and sent him. Meanwhile Brown
returned West, and moved his company of recruits from Iowa, by way of
Chicago and Detroit, to the town of Chatham, in Canada West, arriving
there about the 1st of May. By written invitations, Brown here called
together what is described as "a quiet convention of the friends of
freedom," to perfect his organization. On the 8th of May, 1858, they
held a meeting with closed doors, there being present the original
company of ten or eleven white members and one colored, whom Brown had
brought with him, and a somewhat miscellaneous gathering of negro
residents of Canada. Some sort of promise of secrecy was mutually
made; then John Brown, in a speech, laid his plan before the meeting.
One Delany, a colored doctor, in a response, promised the assistance
of all the colored people in Canada. The provisional constitution
drafted by Brown at Rochester was read and adopted by articles, and
about forty-five persons signed their names to the "Constitution," for
the "proscribed and oppressed races of the United States." Two days
afterwards, the meeting again convened for the election of officers;
John Brown was elected commander-in-chief by acclamation; other
members were by the same summary method appointed secretary of war,
secretary of state, secretary of the treasury, and two of them members
of congress. The election of a president was prudently postponed.

This Chatham Convention cannot claim consideration as a serious
deliberative proceeding. John Brown was its sole life and voice. The
colored Canadians were nothing but spectators. The ten white recruits
were mere Kansas adventurers, mostly boys in years and waifs in
society, perhaps depending largely for livelihood on the employment or
bounty, precarious as it was, of their leader. Upon this reckless,
drifting material the strong despotic will, emotional enthusiasm, and
mysterious rhapsodical talk of John Brown exercised an irresistible
fascination; he drew them by easy gradations into his confidence and
conspiracy. The remaining element, John Brown's son in the Chatham
meeting, and other sons and relatives in the Harper's Ferry attack,
are of course but the long educated instruments of the father's
thought and purpose.

[Sidenote] Stearns to Brown, May 14, 1858: Howe, Testimony, Mason
Report, p. 177.

With funds provided, with his plan of government accepted, and himself
formally appointed commander-in-chief, Brown doubtless thought his
campaign about to begin; it was however destined to an unexpected
interruption. The discarded and disappointed adventurer Forbes had
informed several prominent Republicans in Washington City that Brown
was meditating an unlawful enterprise; and the Boston committee,
warned that certain arms in Brown's custody, which had been
contributed for Kansas defense, were about to be flagrantly misused,
dared not incur the public odium of complicity in such a deception and
breach of faith. The Chatham organization was scarcely completed when
Brown received word from the Boston committee that he must not use the
arms (the 200 Sharps rifles and 200 revolvers) which had been
intrusted to him for any other purpose than for the defense of Kansas.
Brown hurried to Boston; but oral consultation with his friends
confirmed the necessity for postponement; and it was arranged that, to
lull suspicion, he should return to Kansas and await a more favorable
opportunity. He yielded assent, and that fall and winter performed the
exploit of leading an armed foray into Missouri, and carrying away
eleven slaves to Canada--an achievement which, while to a certain
degree it placed him in the attitude of a public outlaw, nevertheless
greatly increased his own and his followers' confidence in the success
of his general plan. Gradually the various obstacles melted away.
Kansas became pacified. The adventurer Forbes faded out of sight and
importance. The disputed Sharps rifles and revolvers were transferred
from committee to committee, and finally turned over to a private
individual to satisfy a debt. He in turn delivered them to Brown
without any hampering conditions. The Connecticut blacksmith finished
and shipped the thousand pikes. The contributions from the Boston
committee swelled from one to several thousands of dollars. The
recruits, with a few changes, though scattered in various parts of the
country, were generally held to their organization and promise, and
slightly increased in number. The provisional constitution and sundry
blank commissions were surreptitiously printed, and captains and
lieutenants appointed by the signature of John Brown "Commander-in-Chief,"
countersigned by the "Secretary of War."

Gradually, also, the commander-in-chief resolved on an important
modification of his plan: that, instead of plunging at once into the
Virginia mountains, he would begin by the capture of the United States
armory and arsenal at Harper's Ferry. Two advantages seem to have
vaguely suggested themselves to his mind as likely to arise from this
course: the possession of a large quantity of Government arms, and the
widespread panic and moral influence of so bold an attempt. But it
nowhere appears that he had any conception of the increased risk and
danger it involved, or that he adopted the slightest precaution to
meet them.

Harper's Ferry was a town of five thousand inhabitants, lying between
the slave-States of Maryland and Virginia, at the confluence of the
Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers, where the united streams flow
through a picturesque gap in the single mountain-range called the Blue
Ridge. The situation possesses none of the elements which would make
it a defensible fastness for protracted guerrilla warfare, such as was
contemplated in Brown's plan. The mountains are everywhere
approachable without difficulty; are pierced by roads and farms in all
directions; contain few natural resources for sustenance, defense, or
concealment; are easily observed or controlled from the plain by
superior forces. The town is irregular, compact, and hilly; a bridge
across each stream connects it with the opposite shores, and the
Government factory and buildings, which utilized the water-power of
the Potomac, lay in the lowest part of the point of land between the
streams. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad crosses the Potomac bridge.

On the 4th of July, 1859, John Brown, under an assumed name, with two
sons and another follower, appeared near Harper's Ferry, and soon
after rented the Kennedy Farm, in Maryland, five miles from town,
where he made a pretense of cattle-dealing and mining; but in reality
collected secretly his rifles, revolvers, ammunition, pikes, blankets,
tents, and miscellaneous articles for a campaign. His rather eccentric
actions, and the irregular coming and going of occasional strangers at
his cabin, created no suspicion in the neighborhood. Cautiously
increasing his supplies, and gathering his recruits, he appointed the
attack for the 24th of October; but for some unexplained reason (fear
of treachery, it is vaguely suggested) he precipitated his movement in
advance of that date. From this point the occurrences exhibit no
foresight or completeness of preparation, no diligent pursuit of an
intelligent plan, nor skill to devise momentary expedients; only a
blind impulse to act.

On Sunday evening, October 16, 1859, Brown gave his final orders,
humanely directing his men to take no life where they could avoid it.
Placing a few pikes and other implements in his one-horse wagon, he
started with his company of eighteen followers at 8 o'clock in the
evening, leaving five men behind. They cut the telegraph wires on the
way, and reached Harper's Ferry about 11 o'clock. He himself broke
open the armory gates, took the watchmen prisoners, and made that
place his headquarters. Separating his men into small detachments, he
took possession of, and attempted to hold, the two bridges, the
arsenal, and the rifle-factory. Next he sent six of his men five miles
into the country to bring in several prominent slaveowners and their
slaves. This was accomplished before daylight, and all were brought as
prisoners to Brown at the armory. With them they also brought a large
four-horse farm wagon, which he now sent to transfer arms from the
Kennedy farm to a school-house on the Maryland side of the Potomac,
about one mile from the town.

Meanwhile, about midnight of Sunday, they detained the railroad train
three hours, but finally allowed it to proceed. A negro porter was
shot on the bridge. The town began to be alarmed. Citizens were
captured at various points, and brought to swell the number of
prisoners at the armory, counting forty or fifty by morning. Still,
not until daylight, and even until the usual hour of rising on Monday
morning, did the town comprehend the nature and extent of the trouble.

What, now, did Brown intend to do? What result did he look for from
his movement thus far? Amid his conflicting acts and contradictory
explanations, the indications seem clear only on two or three points.
Both he and his men gave everybody to understand without reserve that
they had come not to kill whites, but only to liberate slaves. Soon,
also, he placed pikes in the hands of his black prisoners. But that
ceremony did not make soldiers of them, as his favorite maxim taught.
They held them in their hands with listless indifference, remaining
themselves, as before, an incumbrance instead of a reenforcement. He
gave his white prisoners notice that he would hold them as hostages,
and informed one or two that, after daylight, he would exchange them
for slaves. Before the general fighting began, he endeavored to effect
an armistice or compromise with the citizens, to stop bloodshed, on
condition that he be permitted to hold the armory and retain the
liberated negroes. All this warrants the inference that he expected to
hold the town, first, by the effect of terror; secondly, by the
display of leniency and kindness; and supposed that he could remain
indefinitely, and dictate terms at his leisure. The fallacy of this
scheme became quickly apparent.

As the day dawned upon the town and the truth upon the citizens, his
situation in a military point of view was already hopeless--eighteen
men against perhaps 1000 adults, and these eighteen scattered in four
or five different squads, without means of mutual support,
communication, or even contingent orders! Gradually, as the startled
citizens became certain of the insignificant numbers of the
assailants, an irregular street-firing broke out between Brown's
sentinels and individuals with firearms. The alarm was carried to
neighboring towns, and killed and wounded on both sides augmented the
excitement. Tradition rather than definite record asserts that some of
Brown's lieutenants began to comprehend that they were in a trap, and
advised him to retreat. Nearly all his eulogists have assumed that
such was his original plan, and his own subsequent excuses hint at
this intention. But the claim is clearly untenable. He had no means of
defensive retreat--no provisions, no transportation for his arms and
equipage, no supply of ammunition. The suggestion is an evident

Whether from choice or necessity, however, he remained only to find
himself more and more closely pressed. By Monday noon the squad in the
rifle-works, distant one mile from the armory, had been driven out,
killed, and captured. The other squads, not so far from their leader,
joined him at the armory, minus their losses. Already he was driven to
take refuge with his diminished force in the engine-house, a low,
strong brick building in the armory yard, where they barricaded doors
and improvised loop-holes, and into which they took with them ten
selected prisoners as hostages. But the expedient was one of
desperation. By this movement Brown literally shut himself up in his
own prison, from which escape was impossible.

A desultory fire was kept up through doors and loop-holes. But now the
whole country had become thoroughly aroused, and sundry military
companies from neighboring towns and counties poured into Harper's
Ferry. Brown himself at length realized the hopelessness of his
position, and parleyed for leave to retreat across the river on
condition of his giving up his prisoners; but it was too late.
President Buchanan also took prompt measures; and on Monday night a
detachment of eighty marines from the Washington navy-yard, under
command of Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee, of the United States army,
the same who afterwards became the principal leader of the Confederate
armies in the rebellion, reached the scene of action, and were
stationed in the armory yard so as to cut off the insurgents from all
retreat. At daylight on Tuesday morning Brown was summoned to
surrender at discretion, but he refused. The instant the officer left
the engine-house a storming-party of marines battered in the doors; in
five minutes the conflict was over. One marine was shot dead in the
assault; Brown fell under severe sword and bayonet wounds, two of his
sons lay dead or dying, and four or five of his men were made
prisoners, only two remaining unhurt. The great scheme of liberation
built up through nearly three years of elaborate conspiracy, and
designed to be executed in defiance of law, by individual enterprise
with pikes, rifles, forts, guerrilla war, prisoners, hostages, and
plunder, was, after an experimental campaign of thirty-six hours, in
utter collapse. Of Brown's total force of twenty-two men, ten were
killed, five escaped, and seven were captured, tried, and hanged. Of
the townspeople, five had been killed and eight wounded.


[Sidenote] Sanborn in the "Atlantic," Dec. 1875. p. 718.

While John Brown's ability for military leadership was too
insignificant even for comment, his moral and personal courage
compelled the admiration of his enemies. Arraigned before a Virginia
court, the authorities hurried through his trial for treason,
conspiracy, and murder, with an unseemly precipitancy, almost
calculated to make him seem the accuser, and the commonwealth the
trembling culprit. He acknowledged his acts with frankness, defended
his purpose with a sincerity that betokened honest conviction, bore
his wounds and met his fate with a manly fortitude. Eight years
before, he had written, in a document organizing a band of colored
people in Springfield, Massachusetts, to resist the fugitive-slave
law: "Nothing so charms the American people as personal bravery. The
trial for life of one bold, and to some extent successful, man, for
defending his rights in good earnest, would arouse more sympathy
throughout the nation than the accumulated wrongs and sufferings of
more than three millions of our submissive colored population." Even
now, when mere Quixotic knight-errantry and his own positive violation
of the rights of individuals and society had put his life in forfeit,
this sympathy for his boldness and misfortune came to him in large
measure. Questioned by Governor Wise, Senator Mason, and
Representative Vallandigham about his accomplices, he refused to say
anything except about what he had done, and freely took upon himself
the whole responsibility. He was so warped by his religious training
as to have become a fatalist as well as a fanatic. "All our actions,"
he said to one who visited him in prison, "even all the follies that
led to this disaster, were decreed to happen ages before the world was
made." Perverted Calvinistic philosophy is the key which unlocks the
mystery of Brown's life and deeds.

He was convicted, sentenced, and hanged on the 2d of December.
Congress met a few days afterwards, and the Senate appointed an
investigating committee to inquire into the seizure of the United
States armory and arsenal. The long and searching examination of many
witnesses brought out with sufficient distinctness the varied personal
plottings of Brown, but failed to reveal that half a dozen radical
abolition clergymen of Boston were party to the conspiracy; nor did
they then or afterwards justify their own conduct by showing that
Christ ever counseled treason, abetted conspiracy, or led rebellion
against established government. From beginning to end, the whole act
was reprehensible, and fraught with evil result. Modern civilization
and republican government require that beyond the self-defense
necessary to the protection of life and limb, all coercive reform
shall act by authority of law only.

[Sidenote] Mason Report, p. 18.

Upon politics the main effect of the Harper's Ferry incident was to
aggravate the temper and increase the bitterness of all parties.
Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi; Mason, of Virginia; and Fitch, of
Indiana, Democratic members of the Senate investigating committee,
sought diligently but unsuccessfully to find grounds to hold the
Republican party at large responsible for Brown's raid. They felt
obliged to report that they could not recommend any legislation to
meet similar cases in the future, since the "invasion" of Virginia was
not of the kind mentioned in the Constitution, but was "simply the act
of lawless ruffians, under the sanction of no public or political
authority." Collamer, of Vermont, and Doolittle, of Wisconsin,
Republican members of the committee, in their minority report,
considered the affair an outgrowth of the pro-slavery lawlessness in
Kansas. Senator Douglas, of Illinois, however, apparently with the
object of still further setting himself right with the South, and
atoning for his Freeport heresy, made a long speech in advocacy of a
law to punish conspiracies in one State or Territory against the
government, people, or property of another; once more quoting
Lincoln's Springfield speech, and Seward's Rochester speech as
containing revolutionary doctrines.

[Sidenote] Dec, 2, 1859.

[Sidenote] James Redpath, "Echoes of Harper's Ferry," p. 41.

[Sidenote] George Willis Cooke, "Life of Emerson," p. 140.

In the country at large, as in Congress, the John Brown raid excited
bitter discussion and radically diverse comment--some execrating him
as a deservedly punished felon, while others exalted him as a saint.
His Boston friends particularly, who had encouraged him with voice or
money, were extravagant in their demonstrations of approval and
admiration. On the day of his execution religious services were held,
and funeral bells were tolled. "The road to heaven," said Theodore
Parker, "is as short from the gallows as from a throne; perhaps, also,
as easy." "Some eighteen hundred years ago," said Thoreau, "Christ
was crucified; this morning, perchance, Captain Brown was hung. These
are the two ends of a chain which is not without its links." Emerson,
using a yet stronger figure, had already called him "a new saint,
waiting yet his martyrdom, and who, if he shall suffer, will make the
gallows glorious like the cross."

[Sidenote] Lecture at Brooklyn, November 1, 1859.

[Sidenote] "Echoes of Harper's Ferry," p. 48.

[Sidenote] Letter to Committee of Merchants, December 20, 1859.
Ibid., p. 299.

Amid this conflict of argument, public opinion in the free-States
gravitated to neither extreme. It accepted neither the declaration of
the great orator Wendell Phillips, that "the lesson of the hour is
insurrection," nor the assertion of the great lawyer Charles O'Conor,
that slavery "is in its own nature, as an institution, beneficial to
both races."

This chapter would be incomplete if we neglected to quote Mr.
Lincoln's opinion of the Harper's Ferry attempt. His quiet and
common-sense criticism of the affair, pronounced a few months after
its occurrence, was substantially the conclusion to which the average
public judgment has come after the lapse of a quarter of a century:

[Sidenote] Lincoln, Cooper Institute Speech, Feb. 27, 1860.

Slave insurrections are no more common now than they were before
the Republican party was organized. What induced the Southampton
insurrection, twenty-eight years ago, in which at least three
times as many lives were lost as at Harper's Ferry? You can
scarcely stretch your very elastic fancy to the conclusion that
Southampton was "got up by Black Republicanism." In the present
state of things in the United States, I do not think a general or
even a very extensive slave insurrection is possible. The
indispensable concert of action cannot be attained. The slaves
have no means of rapid communication; nor can incendiary freemen,
black or white, supply it. The explosive materials are everywhere
in parcels; but there neither are nor can be supplied the
indispensable connecting trains.

Much is said by Southern people about the affection of slaves for
their masters and mistresses; and a part of it, at least, is true.
A plot for an uprising could scarcely be devised and communicated
to twenty individuals before some one of them, to save the life of
a favorite master or mistress, would divulge it. This is the rule;
and the slave revolution in Hayti was not an exception to it, but
a case occurring under peculiar circumstances. The gunpowder plot
of British history, though not connected with slaves, was more in
point. In that ease, only about twenty were admitted to the
secret; and yet one of them, in his anxiety to save a friend,
betrayed the plot to that friend, and, by consequence, averted the
calamity. Occasional poisonings from the kitchen, and open or
stealthy assassinations in the field, and local revolts extending
to a score or so, will continue to occur as the natural results of
slavery; but no general insurrection of slaves, as I think, can
happen in this country for a long time. Whoever much fears or much
hopes for such an event will be alike disappointed....

John Brown's effort was peculiar. It was not a slave insurrection.
It was an attempt by white men to get up a revolt among slaves, in
which the slaves refused to participate. In fact, it was so absurd
that the slaves, with all their ignorance, saw plainly enough it
could not succeed. That affair, in its philosophy, corresponds
with the many attempts related in history, at the assassination of
kings and emperors. An enthusiast broods over the oppression of a
people till he fancies himself commissioned by Heaven to liberate
them. He ventures the attempt, which ends in little else than his
own execution. Orsini's attempt on Louis Napoleon, and John
Brown's attempt at Harper's Ferry were, in their philosophy,
precisely the same. The eagerness to cast blame on old England in
the one ease, and on New England in the other, does not disprove
the sameness of the two things.

[Sidenote] "Tribune Almanac," 1860.

The aggravation of partisan temper over the Harper's Ferry incident
found a manifestation in a contest over the Speakership in the House
of Representatives as prolonged and bitter as that which attended the
election of Banks. In the Congressional elections of 1858, following
the Lecompton controversy, the Democrats had once more lost control of
the House of Representatives; there having been chosen 113
Republicans, 93 Administration Democrats, 8 anti-Lecompton Democrats,
and 23 South Americans, as they were called; that is, members, mainly
from the slave-States, opposed to the Administration.

[Sidenote] "Globe," December 5, 1859, p. 3.

This Thirty-sixth Congress began its session three days after the
execution of John Brown, and the election of a Speaker was the first
work of the new House of Representatives. The Republicans, not having
a majority, made no caucus nomination; but John Sherman, of Ohio, had
the largest following on the first ballot, and thereafter received
their united efforts to elect him. At this point a Missouri member
introduced a resolution declaring: "That the doctrines and sentiments
of a certain book called 'The Impending Crisis of the South--How to
Meet It,' purporting to have been written by one Hinton R. Helper [of
North Carolina], are insurrectionary and hostile to the domestic peace
and tranquillity of the country, and that no member of this House who
has indorsed and recommended it, or the compend from it, is fit to be
Speaker of this House."

This resolution was aimed at Sherman, who with some seventy
Republicans of the previous Congress had signed a circular indorsing
and recommending the book upon the general statement that it was an
anti-slavery work, written by a Southerner. The book addressed itself
to non-slaveholding Southern whites, and was mainly made up of
statistics, but contained occasional passages of intolerant and
vindictive sentiment against slaveholders. Whether it could be
considered "insurrectionary" depended altogether on the pro-slavery or
anti-slavery bias of the critic. Besides, the author had agreed that
the obnoxious passages should not be printed in the compendium which
the Republicans recommended in their circular. When interrogated, Mr.
Sherman replied that he had never seen the book, and that "I am
opposed to any interference whatever by the people of the free-States
with, the relations of master and slave in the slave-States." But the
disavowal did not relieve him from Southern enmity. The fire-eaters
seized the pretext to charge him with all manner of "abolition"
intentions, and by violent debate and the utterance of threats of
disunion made the House a parliamentary and almost a revolutionary
babel for nearly two months. Certain appropriations were exhausted,
and the treasury was in great need of funds. Efforts were made to
adopt the plurality rule, and to choose a Speaker for a limited
period; but every such movement was resisted for the purpose of
defeating Sherman, or rather, through his defeat to force the North
into unconditional submission to extreme pro-slavery sentiment. The
struggle, nominally over an incident, was in reality over a policy.

On January 30, 1860, Mr. Sherman withdrew his name, and the solid
Republican vote was given to William Pennington, of New Jersey,
another Republican, who, on February 1, was elected Speaker by 117
votes, 4 opposing members having come to his support. The South gained
nothing by the obstructionist policy of its members. During the long
contest, extending through forty-four ballots, their votes were
scattered among many candidates of different factions, while the
Republicans maintained an almost unbroken steadiness of party
discipline. On the whole, the principal results of the struggle were,
to sectionalize parties more completely, ripen Southern sentiment
towards secession, and combine wavering voters in the free-States in
support of Republican doctrines.

[1] On the night of May 24-25, 1856, five pro-slavery men living on
Pottawatomie Creek, in Kansas, were mysteriously and brutally
assassinated. The relatives and friends of the deceased charged John
Brown and his band with these murders, which the relatives and friends
of Brown persistently denied. His latest biographer, however,
unreservedly admits his guilt: "For some reason he [John Brown] chose
not to strike a blow himself; and this is what Salmon Brown meant when
he declared that his father 'was not a participator in the deed.' It
was a very narrow interpretation of the word 'participator' which
would permit such a denial; but it was no doubt honestly made,
although for the purpose of disguising what John Brown's real agency
in the matter was. He was, in fact, the originator and performer of
these executions, although the hands that dealt the wounds were those
of others."--Frank B. Sanborn, "Life and Letters of John Brown," pp.

[2] "He was exhibiting to a number of gentlemen, who happened to be
collected together in a druggist's store, some weapons which he
claimed to have taken from Captain Pate in Kansas. Among them was a
two-edged dirk, with a blade about eight inches long, and he remarked
that if he had a lot of those things to attach to poles about six feet
long, they would be a capital weapon of defense for the settlers of
Kansas.... When he came to make the contract, he wrote it to have
malleable ferrules, cast solid, and a guard to be of malleable iron.
That was all the difference.... After seeing the sample he made a
slight alteration. One was, to have a screw to put in, as the one here
has, so that they could be unshipped in case of necessity."--Blair,
Testimony before Investigating Committee, Senate Report No. 278, 1st
Sess. 36th Cong., pp. 121-2.

[3] "Meantime I had communicated his plans at his request to Theodore
Parker, Wentworth Higginson, and Dr. Howe, and had given Mr. Stearns
some general conception of them ... No other person in New England
except these four was informed by me of the affair, though there were
many who knew or suspected Brown's general purpose ... Brown's first
request, in 1858, was for a fund of $1000 only; with this in hand he
promised to take the field either in April or May. Mr. Stearns acted
as treasurer of this fund, and before the 1st of May nearly the whole
amount had been paid in or subscribed."--Frank B. Sanborn, "Atlantic,"
April, 1875, pp. 456-7.



[Sidenote] Lincoln to McNeill, April 6, 1860. Lamon, "Life of
Lincoln," p. 441.

[Sidenote] Jas. A. Briggs to Lincoln, November 1, 1859. MS. Jas. A.
Briggs in New York "Evening Post," August 16, 1867.

Among the many invitations to deliver addresses which Lincoln received
in the fall of 1859, was one from a committee asking him to lecture in
Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, in a course then in progress there,
designed for popular entertainment. "I wrote," said Lincoln, "that I
could do it in February, provided they would take a political speech,
if I could find time to get up no other." "Your letter was duly
received and handed over to the committee," was the response, "and
they accept your compromise. You may lecture at the time you mention,
and they will pay you $200. I think they will arrange for a lecture in
New York also, and pay you $200 for that."

[Sidenote] C.C. Nott to Lincoln, February 9, 1860. MS.

Financial obstacles, or other reasons, brought about the transfer of
the engagement to a new committee, and the invitation was repeated in
a new form: "The Young Men's Central Republican Union of this city
[New York] very earnestly desire that you should deliver what I may
term a political lecture during the ensuing month. The peculiarities
of the case are these: A series of lectures has been determined upon.
The first was delivered by Mr. Blair, of St. Louis, a short time ago;
the second will be in a few days, by Mr. Cassius M. Clay, and the
third we would prefer to have from you rather than any other person.
Of the audience I should add that it is not that of an ordinary
political meeting. These lectures have been contrived to call out our
better, but busier citizens, who never attend political meetings. A
large part of the audience will consist of ladies."

[Sidenote] Lincoln to McNeill, April 6, 1860. Lamon, "Life of
Lincoln." p. 441.

Lincoln, however, remained under the impression that the lecture was
to be given in Brooklyn, and only learned after he reached New York to
fulfill his engagement that he was to speak in the Cooper Institute.
When, on the evening of February 27, 1860, he stood before his
audience, he saw not only a well-filled house, but an assemblage of
listeners in which were many whom, by reason of his own modest
estimate of himself, he would have been rather inclined to ask advice
from than to offer instruction to. William Cullen Bryant presided over
the meeting; David Dudley Field escorted the speaker to the platform;
ex-Governor John A. King, Horace Greeley, James W. Nye, James A.
Briggs, Cephas Brainerd, Charles C. Nott, Hiram Barney, and others sat
among the invited guests. "Since the days of Clay and Webster," said
the "Tribune" next morning, "no man has spoken to a larger assemblage
of the intellect and mental culture of our city." Of course the
presence of such a gathering was no mere accident. Not only had
Lincoln's name for nearly two years found constant mention in the
newspapers, but both friendly and hostile comment had coupled it with
the two ranking political leaders in the free-States--Seward and
Douglas. The representative men of New York were naturally eager to
see and hear one who, by whatever force of eloquence or argument, had
attracted so large a share of the public attention. We may also fairly
infer that, on his part, Lincoln was no less curious to test the
effect of his words on an audience more learned and critical than
those collected in the open-air meetings of his Western campaigns.
This mutual interest was an evident advantage to both; it secured a
close attention from the house, and insured deliberation and emphasis
by the speaker, enabling him to develop his argument with perfect
precision and unity, reaching perhaps the happiest general effect ever
attained in any one of his long addresses.

He took as his text a phrase uttered by Senator Douglas in the late
Ohio campaign--"Our fathers, when they framed the government under
which we live, understood this question just as well, and even better
than we do now." Lincoln defined "this question," with a lawyer's
exactness, thus:

Does the proper division of local from Federal authority, or
anything in the Constitution, forbid our Federal Government to
control as to slavery in our Federal Territories? Upon this
Senator Douglas holds the affirmative, and the Republicans the
negative. This affirmation and denial form an issue, and this
issue--this question--is precisely what the text declares our
fathers understood "better than we."

From this "precise and agreed starting-point" Lincoln next traced with
minute historical analysis the action of "our fathers" in framing "the
government under which we live," by their votes and declarations in
the Congresses which preceded the Constitution and in the Congresses
following which proposed its twelve amendments and enacted various
Territorial prohibitions. His conclusions were irresistibly

The sum of the whole is [said he] that of our thirty-nine fathers
who framed the original Constitution, twenty-one--a clear majority
of the whole--certainly understood that no proper division of
local from Federal authority, nor any part of the Constitution,
forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the
Federal Territories; while all the rest probably had the same
understanding. Such unquestionably was the understanding of our
fathers who framed the original Constitution; and the text affirms
that they understood the question "better than we".... It is
surely safe to assume that the thirty-nine framers of the original
Constitution and the seventy-six members of the Congress which
framed the amendments thereto, taken together, do certainly
include those who may be fairly called "our fathers who framed the
Government under which we live." And so assuming, I defy any man
to show that any one of them ever, in his whole life, declared
that in his understanding any proper division of local from
Federal authority, or any part of the Constitution, forbade the
Federal Government to control as to slavery in the Federal
Territories. I go a step further. I defy any one to show that any
living man in the whole world ever did, prior to the beginning of
the present century (and I might almost say prior to the beginning
of the last half of the present century), declare that in his
understanding any proper division of local from Federal authority,
or any part of the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government to
control as to slavery in the Federal Territories. To those who now
so declare, I give, not only "our fathers who framed the
government under which we live," but with them all other living
men within the century in which it was framed, among whom to
search, and they shall not be able to find the evidence of a
single man agreeing with them.

Now, and here, let me guard a little against being misunderstood.
I do not mean to say we are bound to follow implicitly in whatever
our fathers did. To do so would be to discard all the lights of
current experience--to reject all progress, all improvement. What
I do say is, that if we would supplant the opinions and policy of
our fathers in any case, we should do so upon evidence so
conclusive, and argument so clear, that even their great
authority, fairly considered and weighed, cannot stand; and most
surely not in a case, whereof we ourselves declare they understood
the question better than we.

If any part of the audience came with the expectation of hearing the
rhetorical fire-works of a Western stump-speaker of the "half-horse,
half-alligator" variety, they met novelty of an unlooked for kind. In
Lincoln's entire address he neither introduced an anecdote nor essayed
a witticism; and the first half of it does not contain even an
illustrative figure or a poetical fancy. It was the quiet, searching
exposition of the historian, and the terse, compact reasoning of the
statesman, about an abstract principle of legislation, in language
well-nigh as restrained and colorless as he would have employed in
arguing a case before a court. Yet such was the apt choice of words,
the easy precision of sentences, the simple strength of propositions,
the fairness of every point he assumed, and the force of every
conclusion he drew, that his listeners followed him with the interest
and delight a child feels in its easy mastery of a plain sum in

With the sympathy and confidence of his audience thus enlisted,
Lincoln next took up the more prominent topics in popular thought, and
by words of kindly admonition and protest addressed to the people of
the South, showed how impatiently, unreasonably, and unjustly they
were charging the Republican party with sectionalism, with radicalism,
with revolutionary purpose, with the John Brown raid, and kindred
political offenses, not only in the absence of any acts to justify
such charges, but even in the face of its emphatic and constant
denials and disavowals. The illustration with which he concluded this
branch of his theme could not well be surpassed in argumentative

But you will not abide the election of a Republican President! In
that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then
you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us!
That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters
through his teeth, "Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and
then you will be a murderer!" To be sure what the robber demanded
of me--my money--was my own; and I had a clear right to keep it;
but it was no more my own than my vote is my own; and the threat
of death to me to extort my money, and the threat of destruction
to the Union to extort my vote, can scarcely be distinguished in

But the most impressive, as well as the most valuable, feature of
Lincoln's address was its concluding portion, where, in advice
directed especially to Republicans, he pointed out in dispassionate
but earnest language that the real, underlying conflict was in the
difference of moral conviction between the sections as to the inherent
right or wrong of slavery, and in view of which he defined the proper
duty of the free-States.

A few words now [said he] to Republicans. It is exceedingly
desirable that all parts of this great Confederacy shall be at
peace and in harmony one with another. Let us Republicans do our
part to have it so. Even though much provoked, let us do nothing
through passion and ill temper. Even though the Southern people
will not so much, as listen to us, let us calmly consider their
demands, and yield to them if, in our deliberate view of our duty,
we possibly can. Judging by all they say and do, and by the
subject and nature of their controversy with us, let us determine,
if we can, what will satisfy them.

Will they be satisfied if the Territories be unconditionally
surrendered to them? We know they will not. In all their present
complaints against us the Territories are scarcely mentioned.
Invasions and insurrections are the rage now. Will it satisfy them
if, in the future, we have nothing to do with invasions and
insurrections? We know it will not. We so know, because we know we
never had anything to do with invasions and insurrections; and yet
this total abstaining does not exempt us from the charge and the

The question recurs. What will satisfy them? Simply this: We must
not only let them alone, but we must, somehow, convince them that
we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy
task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very
beginning; of our organization, but with no success. In all our
platforms and speeches we have constantly protested our purpose to
let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them.
Alike unavailing to convince them is the fact that they have never
detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.

These natural and apparently adequate means all failing, what will
convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong,
and join them in calling it right. And this must be done
thoroughly--done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be
tolerated; we must place ourselves avowedly with them. Senator
Douglas's new sedition law must be enacted and enforced,
suppressing all declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made
in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest
and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. We must
pull down our free-State constitutions. The whole atmosphere must
be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery before they
will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us.

I am quite aware they do not state their case precisely in this
way. Most of them would probably say to us, "Let us alone, do
nothing to us, and say what you please about slavery." But we do
let them alone--have never disturbed them; so that, after all, it
is what we say which dissatisfies them. They will continue to
accuse us of doing until we cease saying.

I am also aware they have not, as yet, in terms, demanded the
overthrow of our free-State constitutions. Yet those constitutions
declare the wrong of slavery, with more solemn emphasis than do
all other sayings against it, and when all these other sayings
shall have been silenced, the overthrow of these constitutions
will be demanded and nothing be left to resist the demand. It is
nothing to the contrary that they do not demand the whole of this
just now. Demanding what they do, and for the reason they do, they
can voluntarily stop nowhere short of this consummation. Holding,
as they do, that slavery is morally right, and socially elevating,
they cannot cease to demand a full national recognition of it, as
a legal right and a social blessing.

Nor can we justifiably withhold this on any ground, save our
conviction that slavery is wrong. If slavery is right, all words,
acts, laws, and constitutions against it are themselves wrong, and
should be silenced and swept away. If it is right, we cannot
justly object to its nationality--its universality! if it is
wrong, they cannot justly insist upon its extension--its
enlargement. All they ask we could readily grant, if we thought
slavery right; all we ask they could as readily grant, if they
thought it wrong. Their thinking it right, and our thinking it
wrong, is the precise fact upon which depends the whole
controversy. Thinking it right, as they do, they are not to blame
for desiring its full recognition, as being right; but thinking it
wrong, as we do, can we yield to them? Can we cast our votes with
their view and against our own! In view of our moral, social, and
political responsibilities, can we do this?

Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone
where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising
from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our
votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the national
Territories, and to overrun us here in the free-States? If our
sense of duty forbids this, then let us stand by our duty,
fearlessly and effectively. Let us be diverted by none of those
sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied
and belabored, contrivances such as groping for some middle ground
between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who
should be neither a living man nor a dead man, such as a policy of
"don't care," on a question about which all true men do care, such
as Union appeals beseeching true Union men to yield to
Disunionists; reversing the divine rule, and calling, not the
sinners, but the righteous to repentance; such as invocations to
Washington, imploring men to unsay what Washington said, and undo
what Washington did.

Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations
against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to
the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith
that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end,
dare to do our duty as we understand it.

[Sidenote] "New York Tribune," February 28, 1860.

The smiles, the laughter, the outburst of applause which greeted and
emphasized the speaker's telling points, showed Mr. Lincoln that his
arguments met ready acceptance. The next morning the four leading New
York dailies printed the speech in full, and bore warm testimony to
its merit and effect. "Mr. Lincoln is one of nature's orators," said
the "Tribune," "using his rare powers solely to elucidate and
convince, though their inevitable effect is to delight and electrify
as well. We present herewith a very full and accurate report of this
speech; yet the tones, the gestures, the kindling eye, and the
mirth-provoking look defy the reporter's skill. The vast assemblage
frequently rang with cheers and shouts of applause, which were
prolonged and intensified at the close. No man ever before made such
an impression on his first appeal to a New York audience."

[Illustration: CALEB CUSHING.]

[Sidenote] Pamphlet edition with notes and preface by Charles C. Nott
and Cephas Brainerd, September, 1860.

A pamphlet reprint was at once announced by the same paper; and later,
in the Presidential campaign, a more careful edition was prepared and
circulated, to which were added copious notes by two members of the
committee under whose auspices the address was delivered. Their
comment, printed in the preface, is worth quoting as showing its
literary value under critical analysis. "No one who has not actually
attempted to verify its details can understand the patient research
and historical labor which it embodies. The history of our earlier
politics is scattered through numerous journals, statutes, pamphlets,
and letters; and these are defective in completeness and accuracy of
statement, and in indices and tables of contents. Neither can any one
who has not traveled over this precise ground appreciate the accuracy
of every trivial detail, or the self-denying impartiality with which
Mr. Lincoln has turned from the testimony of 'the fathers' on the
general question of slavery, to present the single question which he
discusses. From the first line to the last, from his premises to his
conclusion, he travels with a swift, unerring directness which no
logician ever excelled, an argument complete and full, without the
affectation of learning, and without the stiffness which usually
accompanies dates and details. A single, easy, simple sentence of
plain Anglo-Saxon words, contains a chapter of history that, in some
instances, has taken days of labor to verify, and which must have cost
the author months of investigation to acquire."

From New York Lincoln went to fill other engagements to speak at
several places in New England, where he met the same enthusiastic
popular reception and left the same marked impression, especially upon
his more critical and learned hearers. They found no little surprise
in the fact that a Western politician, springing from the class of
unlettered frontiersmen, could not only mold plain strong words into
fresh and attractive phraseology, but maintain a clear, sustained,
convincing argument, equal in force and style to the best examples in
their college text-books.



The great political struggle between the North and the South, between
Freedom and Slavery, was approaching its culmination. The
"irrepressible conflict" had shifted uneasily from caucus to Congress;
from Congress to Kansas; incidentally to the Supreme Court and to the
Congressional elections in the various States; from Kansas it had come
back with renewed intensity to Congress. The next stage of development
through which it was destined to pass was the Presidential election of
1860, where, necessarily, the final result would depend largely upon
the attitude and relation of parties, platforms, and candidates as
selected and proclaimed by their National conventions.

The first of these National conventions was that of the Democratic
party, long appointed to meet at Charleston, South Carolina, on April
23, 1860. The fortunes of the party had greatly fluctuated. The repeal
of the Missouri Compromise had brought it shipwreck in 1854; it had
regained victory in the election of Buchanan, and a majority of the
House of Representatives in 1856; then the Lecompton imbroglio once
more caused its defeat in the Congressional elections of 1858. But
worse than the victory of its opponents was the irreconcilable schism
in its own ranks--the open war between President Buchanan and Senator
Douglas. In a general way the Southern Democracy followed Buchanan,
while the Northern Democracy followed Douglas. Yet there was just
enough local exception to baffle accurate calculation. Could the
Charleston Convention heal the feud of leaders, and bridge the chasm
in policy and principle? As the time approached, and delegation after
delegation was chosen by the States, all hope of accommodation
gradually disappeared. Each faction put forth its utmost efforts,
rallied its strongest men. Each caucus and convention only accentuated
and deepened existing differences. When the convention met, its
members brought not the ordinary tricks and expedients of politicians
with _carte blanche_ authority, but the precise formulated terms to
which their constituencies would consent. They were only messengers,
not arbitrators. The Charleston Convention was the very opposite of
its immediate predecessor, the Cincinnati Convention. At Cincinnati,
concealment and ambiguity had been the central thought and purpose.
Everybody was anxious to be hoodwinked. Delegates, constituencies, and
leaders had willingly joined in the game of "cheat and be cheated."
Availability, harmony, party success, were the paramount objects.

[Sidenote] Douglas, Reply to Black, Pamphlet, Oct., 1859.

No similar ambiguity, concealment, or bargain was possible at
Charleston. There was indeed a whole brood of collateral issues to be
left in convenient obscurity, but the central questions must not be
shirked. The Lecompton quarrel, the Freeport doctrine, the property
theory, the "slave-State" dogma, the Congressional slave code
proposal, must be boldly met and squarely adjusted. Even if the
delegates had been disposed to trifle with their constituents, the
leaders themselves would tolerate no evasion on certain cardinal
points. Douglas, in his Dorr letter, had announced that he would
suffer no interpolation of new issues into the Democratic creed. In
his pamphlet reply to Judge Black he repeated his determination with
emphasis. "Suppose it were true that I am a Presidential aspirant;
does that fact justify a combination by a host of other Presidential
aspirants, each of whom may imagine that his success depends upon my
destruction, and the preaching a crusade against me for boldly avowing
now the same principles to which they and I were pledged at the last
Presidential election! Is this a sufficient excuse for devising a new
test of political orthodoxy?... I prefer the position of Senator or
even that of a private citizen, where I would be at liberty to defend
and maintain the well-defined principles of the Democratic party, to
accepting a Presidential nomination upon a platform incompatible with
the principle of self-government in the Territories, or the reserved
rights of the States, or the perpetuity of the Union under the

[Sidenote] "Globe," p. 658.

[Sidenote] Jefferson Davis, Senate Speech, "Globe," May 17, 1860,
p. 2155.

[Sidenote] "Globe", March 1, 1860, p. 935.

This declaration very clearly defined the issue on one side. On the
other side it was also formulated with equal distinctness. Jefferson
Davis, already recognized as the ablest leader of the Buchanan wing of
the Democratic Senators, wrote and submitted to the United States
Senate, on February 2, 1860, a series of resolutions designed to
constitute the Administration or Southern party doctrines, which were
afterwards revised and adopted by a caucus of Democratic Senators.
These resolutions expressed the usual party tenets; and on two of the
controverted points asserted dogmatically exactly that which Douglas
had stigmatized as an intolerable heresy. The fourth resolution
declared "That neither Congress nor a Territorial Legislature, whether
by direct legislation or legislation of an indirect and unfriendly
character, possesses power to annul or impair the constitutional right
of any citizen of the United States to take his slave property into
the common Territories, and there hold and enjoy the same while the
Territorial condition remains." While the fifth resolution declared
"That if experience should at any time prove that the judiciary and
executive authority do not possess means to insure adequate protection
to constitutional rights in a Territory, and if the Territorial
government shall fail or refuse to provide the necessary remedies for
that purpose, it will be the duty of Congress to supply such

Party discipline was so strong among the Democrats that public
expectation looked confidently to at least a temporary agreement or
combination which would enable the factions, by a joint effort, to
make a hopeful Presidential campaign. But no progress whatever was
made in that direction. As the clans gathered at Charleston, the
notable difference developed itself, that while one wing was filled
with unbounded enthusiasm for a candidate, the other was animated by
an earnest and stubborn devotion to an idea.

[Sidenote] Murat Halstead, "Conventions of 1860."

"Douglas was the pivot individual of the Charleston Convention," wrote
an observant journalist; "every delegate was for or against him; every
motion meant to nominate or not nominate him; every parliamentary war
was _pro_ or _con_ Douglas." This was the surface indication, and,
indeed, it may be said with truth, it was the actual feeling of the
Northern faction of the Democratic party. Douglas was a genuinely
popular leader. He had the power to inspire a pure personal
enthusiasm. He had aroused such hero-worship as may be possible in
modern times and in American polities. Beyond this, however, the
Lecompton controversy, and his open persecution by the Buchanan
Administration, made his leadership and his candidacy a necessity to
the Northern Democrats.

With Southern Democrats the feeling went somewhat deeper. Forgetting
how much they owed him in the past, and how much they might still gain
through him in the future, they saw only that he was now their
stumbling-block, the present obstacle to their full and final success.
It was the Douglas doctrine, squatter sovereignty, and "unfriendly
legislation," rather than the _man_, which they had come to oppose,
and were determined to put down. Any other individual holding these
heresies would have been equally obnoxious. They had no candidate of
their own; they worshiped no single leader; but they followed a
principle with unfaltering devotion. They clung unswervingly not only
to the property theory, but advanced boldly to its logical
sequence--Congressional protection to slavery in the Territories.

Of the convention's preliminary work little is worth recording--there
were the clamor and protest of contesting delegations and small fire
of parliamentary skirmishes, by which factions feel and measure each
other's strength. Caleb Cushing was made permanent chairman, for the
triple reason that he was from Massachusetts, that he was the ablest
presiding officer in the body, and was for the moment filled with
blind devotion to Southern views. The actual temper of the convention
was made manifest by the ready agreement of both extremes to join
battle in making the platform before proceeding to the nomination of
candidates. The usual committee of one member from each State was
appointed, and to it was referred the deluge of resolutions which had
been showered upon the convention.

Had an amicable solution of the slavery issue been possible, this
platform committee would have found it, for it labored faithfully to
accomplish the miracle. But after three days and nights of fruitless
suggestion and persuasion, the committee reappeared in convention.
Upon four points they had come to either entire or substantial
agreement. In addition to re-affirming formally the Cincinnati
platform of 1856, they advised the convention to favor, 1. The
faithful execution of the fugitive-slave law. 2. The protection of
naturalized citizens. 3. The construction of a Pacific railroad. 4.
The acquisition of the Island of Cuba. But upon the principal topic,
the question of slavery in the Territories, they felt compelled to
report that even an approximate unanimity was impossible. In
undisguised sorrow they proceeded to present two radically different
reports. The convention, not yet in the least realizing that the great
Democratic party had suffered fatal shipwreck in the secret
committee-room, listened eagerly to the reports and explanatory
speeches of the majority and minority of the committee.

The majority report[1] planted itself squarely upon the property
theory and Congressional protection. Mr. Avery, of North Carolina,
said it was presented in the name of 17 States with 127 electoral
votes, every one of which would be cast for the nominee. He argued
that in occupying new Territories Southern men could not compete with
emigrant-aid societies at the North. These could send a voter to the
Territories for the sum of $200, while it would cost a Southern man
$1500. Secure political power by emigration, and permit the
Territorial Legislatures to decide the slavery question, and the South
would be excluded as effectually as by the Wilmot proviso. Cuba must
be acquired, and the flag of this great country must float over Mexico
and the Central American States. But if you apply this doctrine of
popular sovereignty, and establish a cordon of free-States from the
Pacific to the Atlantic, where in the future are the South to
emigrate? They asked the equal right to emigrate with their property,
and protection from Congress during the Territorial condition. They
would leave it to the people in convention assembled, when framing a
State constitution, to determine the question of slavery for
themselves. They had no purpose but to have a vexed question settled,
and to put the Democratic party on a clear unclouded platform, not a
doubled-faced one--one face to the North and one face to the South.

Henry B. Payne, of Ohio, presented and defended the report of the
minority.[2] It asserted that all questions in regard to property in
States or Territories were judicial in their character, and that the
Democratic party would abide by past and future decisions of the
Supreme Court concerning them. Mr. Payne explained that while the
majority report was supported by 15 slave and two free-States,[3]
representing 127 electoral votes, the minority report was indorsed by
15 free-States,[4] representing 176 electoral votes. He argued that,
by the universal consent of the Democratic party, the Cincinnati
platform referred this question of slavery to the people of the
Territories, declaring that Congress should in no event intervene one
way or the other, and that all controversies should be settled by the
courts. Now the proposition of the majority report was to make a
complete retraction of those two cardinal doctrines of the Cincinnati
platform. The Northern mind had become thoroughly imbued with this
great doctrine of popular sovereignty. You could not tear it out of
their hearts unless you tore out their heart-strings themselves. "I
repeat, that upon this question of Congressional non-intervention we
are committed by the acts of Congress, we are committed by the acts of
National Democratic Conventions; we cannot recede without personal
dishonor, and, so help us God, we never will recede!"

Between these extremes of recommendation another member of the
platform committee--Benjamin F. Butler, of Massachusetts--proposed a
middle course. He advocated the simple reaffirmance of the Cincinnati
platform. If it had suffered a double interpretation, so had the Bible
and the Constitution of the United States. But beyond serving to
consume time and amuse the convention, Mr. Butler's speech made no
impression. The real tournament of debate followed, between William L.
Yancey, of Alabama, and Senator George E. Pugh, of Ohio.

[Sidenote] Halstead, "Conventions of 1860," pp. 5, 48.

It turned out in the end that Mr. Yancey was the master-spirit of the
Charleston Convention, though that body was far from entertaining any
such suspicion at the beginning. In exterior appearance he did not
fill the portrait of the traditional fire-eater. He is described as "a
compact middle-sized man, straight-limbed, with a square-built head
and face, and an eye full of expression"; "a very mild and gentlemanly
man, always wearing a genuinely good-humored smile, and looking as if
nothing in the world could disturb the equanimity of his spirits." He
had, besides, a marvelous gift of persuasive oratory. He was the
Wendell Phillips of the South, for, like his Northern rival, he was a
born agitator. Above all his colleagues, he was the brain and soul and
irrepressible champion of the pro-slavery reaction throughout the
Cotton States. He was tireless and ubiquitous; traveling, talking,
writing, lecturing, animating every intrigue, directing every caucus,
making speeches and drafting platforms at every convention. To defend,
propagate, and perpetuate African slavery was his mission. He was the
ultra of the ultras, accepting the institution as morally right and
divinely sanctioned, desiring its extension and inclined to favor,
though not then himself advocating, the re-opening of the African
slave-trade. He held that all Federal laws prohibiting such trade
ought to be repealed so that each State might decide the question for
itself. Still more, Mr. Yancey was not only an agitator and
fire-eater, but for years an insidious, persevering conspirator to
promote secession. Occupying such a position, he was naturally the
champion of the Cotton States at Charleston. The defense of the ultra
demands of the South was by common consent devolved upon him,[5] and
it was understood long beforehand that he was prepared with the
principal speech from that side.

In full consciousness of the fact that he and his colleagues were then
at Charleston with a predetermination to force a programme of
disruption expressly designed as a prelude to intended disunion, Mr.
Yancey stood up and with smiling face and silvery tones assured his
hearers that he and his colleagues from Alabama were not disunionists
_per se_. Then he proceeded with his speech. Only its key-note was
new, but the novelty was of startling import to Northern delegates.
The Northern Democrats, he stated, were losing ground and falling
before their victorious adversaries. Why? Because they had tampered
with, and pandered to, the anti-slavery sentiment. They had admitted
that slavery was wrong. This was surrendering the very citadel of
their argument. They must re-form their lines and change their
tactics. They must come up to the high requirements of the occasion
and take a new departure. The remainder of his speech was an
insinuating plea for the property doctrine and Congressional
intervention, for which the galleries and convention rewarded him with
long and earnest applause. Even if the great Southern agitator's
speech had been wanting in point and eloquence, success was supplied
by the unmistakable atmosphere and temper of this great Charleston

The more astute of the Douglas delegates were struck with the dismay
of a new revelation. Their cause was lost--their party was gone.
Senator Pugh, of Ohio, resented the dictation of the advocates of
slavery in a warmth of just indignation. He thanked God that at last a
bold and honest man had told the whole truth of the demands of the
South. It was now before the country that the South did demand an
advanced step from the Democratic party. He accurately traced the
downfall of the Northern Democracy to her changing and growing
exactions. Taunted with their weakness, they were now told they must
put their hands on their mouths and their mouths in the dust.
"Gentlemen of the South," said Mr. Pugh, "you mistake us--we will not
do it."

Such language had never been heard in a Democratic National
Convention, and the hall was as still as a funeral. This was Friday
night, the fifth day of the convention. "A crisis" had long been
whispered of as the skeleton in the party closet. It seemed to be at
hand, and in a parliamentary uproar the "question" was vehemently
demanded, but the chairman skillfully managed at length to secure an

The "crisis" had in reality come on Thursday night, in the
committee-room, in the hopeless first double report of its platform
committee. The dissolution of the convention did not take place till
the Monday following. A great party, after a vigorous and successful
life of thirty years, could not die easily. The speeches of Avery and
Payne, of Yancey and Pugh, on Friday, were recognized as cries of
defiance, but not yet accepted as moans of despair. On Saturday
morning. President Buchanan's lieutenant, William Bigler, of
Pennsylvania, essayed to ride the storm and steer to a Southern
victory. But he only succeeded in securing a recommittal of both
platforms to the committee. Nothing, however, was gained by the
manoeuvre. Saturday afternoon the committee once more reported the
same disagreement in slightly changed phraseology;[6] two antagonistic
platforms, presenting the same sharp difference of principle--one
demanding Congressional intervention, the other declaring against it.
Then the parliamentary storm was unloosed for the remainder of that
day with such fury that the chairman declared his physical inability
to continue a contest with six hundred gentlemen as to who should cry
the loudest, and threatened to leave the chair. On Monday, April 30,
the seventh day of the convention, a final decision was reached. The
proposal of Butler's report simply to reaffirm the Cincinnati platform
was supported by only 105 ayes to 198 noes. Then, by 165 to 138, the
convention voted to substitute the minority report for that of the
majority; in other words, to adopt the Douglas non-intervention

[Illustration: W.L. YANCEY.]

The explosion was near, but still delayed, and the delegates of the
Cotton States sat sullenly through a tangle of routine voting.
Finally, the question was renewed on Butler's proposition to adopt the
Cincinnati platform pure and simple. This was the red flag to the mad
bull. Mississippi declared that the Cincinnati platform was a great
political swindle on one half the States of the Union; and from that
time on the Cotton States ceased to act as a part of the convention.
As soon as a lull in the proceedings permitted, Mr. Yancey put in
execution his programme of demand, disruption, disunion, and
rebellion, labored for through long years, and announced by himself,
with minute distinctness, nine months before.[7] Led by the Alabama
delegation, the Cotton States,--Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, South
Carolina, Florida, Texas, and Arkansas,--with protests and speeches,
with all the formality and "solemnity" which the occasion allowed,
seceded from the Charleston Convention, and withdrew from the
deliberations in Institute Hall.

That same Monday night the city of Charleston expressed its satisfaction
by a grand jubilee. Music, bonfires, and extravagant declamation held
an excited crowd in Court-house Square till a late hour; and in a
high-wrought peroration Yancey prophesied, with all the confidence and
exultation of a triumphant conspirator, that "perhaps even now the pen
of the historian is nibbed to write the story of a new revolution."


"Resolved, That the platform adopted at Cincinnati be affirmed, with
the following resolutions:

"Resolved, That the Democracy of the United States hold these cardinal
principles on the subject of slavery in the Territories: First. That
Congress has no power to abolish slavery in the Territories. Second.
That the Territorial Legislature has no power to abolish slavery in
any Territory, nor to prohibit the introduction of slaves therein, nor
any power to exclude slavery therefrom, nor any power to destroy or
impair the right of property in slaves "by any legislation

"Resolved, That it is the duty of the Federal Government to protect,
when necessary, the rights of persons and property on the high seas,
in the Territories, or wherever else its constitutional authority


"Resolved, That we, the Democracy of the Union, in convention
assembled, hereby declare our affirmance of the resolutions
unanimously adopted and declared as a platform of principles by the
Democratic Convention at Cincinnati in the year 1856, believing that
Democratic principles are unchangeable in their nature when applied to
the same subject-matters; and we recommend, as the only further
resolutions, the following:

"Resolved, That all questions in regard to the rights of property in
States or Territories arising under the Constitution of the United
States are judicial in their character, and the Democratic party is
pledged to abide by and faithfully carry out such determination of
these questions as has been, or may be made by the Supreme Court of
the United States."

[3] Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina,
Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas,
Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, California, Oregon.

[4] Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New
York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan,
Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and Massachusetts. As Mr. Butler, who
represented Massachusetts on the platform committee, had submitted a
separate report, Mr. Payne seems not to have included her in his total
of free-States, though he does appear to have included her electoral
vote in his estimate.

[5] "The leadership at Charleston, in this attempt to divide and
destroy the Democratic party, was intrusted to appropriate hands. No
man possessed the ability, or the courage, or the sincerity in his
object for such a mission in a higher degree than the gifted
Yancey."--Stephen A. Douglas, Senate Speech, May 16, 1860; Appendix to
"Congressional Globe," p. 313.


"_Resolved_, That the platform adopted by the Democratic party at
Cincinnati be affirmed with the following explanatory resolutions:

"_First_. That the government of a Territory organized by an act of
Congress is provisional and temporary, and, during its existence, all
citizens of the United States have an equal right to settle with their
property in the Territory without their rights, either of person or
property, being destroyed or impaired by Congressional or Territorial

"_Second_. That it is the duty of the Federal Government in all its
departments, to protect, when necessary, the rights of persons and
property in the Territories, and wherever else its constitutional
authority extends.

"_Third_. That when the settlers in a Territory having an adequate
population form a State constitution, the right of sovereignty
commences, and, being consummated by admission into the Union, they
stand on an equal footing with the people of other States, and the
State thus organized ought to be admitted into the Federal Union,
whether its constitution prohibits or recognizes the institution of


"1. _Resolved_, That we, the Democracy of the Union, in convention
assembled, hereby declare our affirmance of the resolutions
unanimously adopted and declared as a platform of principles by the
Democratic Convention at Cincinnati, in the year 1856, believing that
democratic principles are unchangeable in their nature when applied to
the same subject-matters; and we recommend as the only further
resolutions the following:

"Inasmuch as differences of opinion exist in the Democratic party as
to the nature and extent of the powers of a Territorial Legislature
and as to the powers and duties of Congress under the Constitution of
the United States over the institution of slavery within the

"2. _Resolved_, That the Democratic party will abide by the decisions
of the Supreme Court of the United States on the questions of
constitutional law."

[7] "To obtain the aid of the Democracy in this contest, it is
necessary to make a contest in its Charleston Convention. In that body
Douglas's adherents will press his doctrines to a decision. If the
States-Rights men keep out of that convention, that decision must
inevitably be against the South, and that either in direct favor of
the Douglas doctrine, or by the indorsement of the Cincinnati
platform, under which Douglas claims shelter for his principles." "The
States-Rights men should present in that convention their demands for
a decision, and they will obtain an indorsement of their demands, or a
denial of these demands. If indorsed, we shall have greater hope of
triumph within the Union. If denied, in my opinion, the States-Rights
wing should secede from the convention, and appeal to the whole people
of the South; without distinction of parties, and organize another
convention upon the basis of their principles, and go into the
election with a candidate nominated by it, as a grand constitutional
party. But in the Presidential contest a black Republican may be
elected. If this dire event should happen, in my opinion the only hope
of safety for the South is in a withdrawal from the Union before he
shall be inaugurated; before the sword and treasury of the Federal
Government shall be placed in the keeping of that party. I would
suggest that the several State legislatures should by law require the
Governor, when it shall be made manifest that the black Republican
candidate for the Presidency shall receive a majority of the electoral
votes, to call a convention of the people of the State, to assemble in
ample time to provide for their safety before the 4th of March, 1861.
If, however, a black Republican should not be elected, then, in
pursuance of the policy of making this contest within the Union, we
should initiate measures in Congress which should lead to a repeal of
all the unconstitutional acts against slavery. If we should fail to
obtain so just a system of legislation, then the South should seek her
independence out of the Union."--Speech of W.L. Yancey, delivered at
Columbia, S.C., July 8, 1859. Copied in The New York "Tribune," July
20, 1859.

The corroboration and fulfillment of the plot here indicated are found
in the official proceedings of the Alabama Convention and the Alabama
Legislature. The convention on January 13, 1860, expressly instructed
its delegation at Charleston to secede in case the ultra-Southern
doctrines were not incorporated in the National Democratic platform,
and sent Mr. Yancey as a delegate to execute their instructions, which
he did as the text states.

The Alabama Legislature, on its part, passed a joint resolution, which
the Governor approved, February 24, 1860, providing "that upon the
election of a President advocating the principles and action of the
party in the Northern States calling itself the Republican party," the
Governor should forthwith call a convention of the State. This
convention was duly called after the election of Mr. Lincoln, and
passed the secession ordinance of Alabama.



Though the compact voting body of the South had retired from the
Charleston Convention, her animating spirit yet remained in the
numbers and determination of the anti-Douglas delegates. When on
Tuesday morning, May 1, the eighth day, the convention once more met,
the Douglas men, with a view to making the most of the dilemma,
resolved to force the nomination of their favorite. But there was a
lion in the path. Usage and tradition had consecrated the two-thirds
rule. Charles E. Stuart, of Michigan, tried vainly to obtain the
liberal interpretation, that this meant "two-thirds of the votes
given," but Chairman Cushing ruled remorselessly against him, and at
the instance of John B. Howard, of Tennessee, the convention voted
(141 to 112) that no person should be declared nominated who did not
receive two-thirds of all the votes the full convention was entitled
to cast.

This sealed the fate of Douglas. The Electoral College numbered 303;
202 votes therefore were necessary to a choice. Voting for candidates
was begun, and continued throughout all the next day (Wednesday, May
2). Fifty-seven ballots were taken in all; Douglas received 145-1/2 on
the first, and on several subsequent ballots his strength rose to
152-1/2. The other votes were scattered among eight different
candidates with no near approach to agreement.[1]

The dead-lock having become unmistakable and irremediable, and the
nomination of Douglas under existing conditions impossible, all
parties finally consented to an adjournment, especially as it was
evident that unless this were done the sessions would come to an end
by mere disintegration. Therefore, on the tenth day (May 3), the
Charleston Convention formally adjourned, having previously resolved
to reassemble on the 18th of June, in the city of Baltimore, with a
recommendation that the several States make provision to fill the
vacancies in their delegations.

Mr. Yancey and his seceders had meanwhile organized another convention
in St. Andrew's Hall. Their business was of course to report
substantially the platform rejected by the Douglas men, and for the
rejection of which they had retired. Mr. Yancey then explained to them
that the adoption of this platform was all the action they proposed to
take until the "rump democracy" should make their nomination, when, he
said, "it may be our privilege to indorse the nominee, or our duty to
proceed to make a nomination." Other seceders were more impatient, and
desired that something be done forthwith; but as the sessions were
continued to the second and third day, their overflowing zeal found a
safety-valve in their speeches. Mr. Yancey's programme prevailed, and
they also adjourned to meet again in Richmond on the 11th of June.

At the time of the disruption, rumors were current in Charleston that
the movement, if not prompted, was at least encouraged and sustained
by telegrams from leading Senators and Representatives then at their
Congressional duties in Washington. As the day for reassembling in
Baltimore drew near, the main fact was abundantly proved by the
publication of an address, signed by Jefferson Davis, Toombs, Iverson,
Slidell, Benjamin, Mason, and some fourteen others, in which they
undertook to point out a path to union and harmony in the Democratic
party. They recited the withdrawal of eight States at Charleston, and
indorsed the step without qualification. "We cannot refrain," said the
address, "from expressing our admiration and approval of this lofty
manifestation of adherence to principle, rising superior to all
considerations of expediency, to all trammels of party, and looking
with an eye single to the defense of the constitutional rights of the
States." They then alleged that the other Democratic States remained
in the convention only to make a further effort to secure "some
satisfactory recognition of sound principles," declaring, however,
their determination also to withdraw if their just expectation should
be disappointed. The address then urged that the seceders should defer
their meeting at Richmond, but that they should come to Baltimore and
endeavor to effect "a reconciliation of differences on a basis of
principle." If the Baltimore Convention should adopt "a satisfactory
platform of principles,"--and their votes might help secure it,--then
cause of dissension would have ceased. "On the other hand," continued
the address, "if the convention, on reassembling at Baltimore, shall
disappoint the just expectations of the remaining Democratic States,
their delegations cannot fail to withdraw and unite with the eight
States which have adjourned to Richmond." The address, in another
paragraph, explained that the seventeen Democratic States which had
voted at Charleston for the seceders' platform, "united with
Pennsylvania alone, comprise a majority of the entire electoral vote
of the United States, able to elect the Democratic nominees against
the combined opposition of all the remaining States."

This was a shrewd and crafty appeal. Under an apparent plea for
harmony lurked an insidious invitation to Delaware, Virginia, North
Carolina, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, California, Oregon, and
Pennsylvania to join the seceders, reconstruct the Democratic party,
cut off all the "popular sovereignty" recusants, and secure perpetual
ascendency in national politics through the consolidated South. The
signers of this address, forgetting their own constant accusation of
"sectionalism" against the Republicans, pretended to see no
impropriety in proposing this purely selfish and sectional alliance.
If it succeeded, their triumph in the Union was irresistible and
permanent; if it failed, it served to unite the South for secession
and a slave confederacy.

If any Democrat harbored a doubt that the proposed reconciliation
meant simply a reunion on the Davis-Yancey platform, the doubt was
soon removed. In the Senate of the United States, Jefferson Davis was
pressing to a vote his caucus resolutions, submitted in February, to
serve as a model for the Charleston platform; and this brought on a
final discussion between himself and Douglas.

[Sidenote] "Globe," May 7, 1860, p. 1940.

[Sidenote] Appendix. "Globe," May 15 and 16, 1860, pp. 312, 313,
and 316.

[Sidenote] "Globe," May 17, 1860, p. 2151.

[Sidenote] Ibid., p. 2153.

[Sidenote] Ibid., p. 2155.

Davis had begun the debate on the 7th of May by a savage onslaught on
"Squatter Sovereignty"--a fallacy, he said, fraught with mischief
more deadly than the fatal upas, because it spread its poison over the
whole Union. Douglas took up the gauntlet, and, replying on May 15 and
16, said he could not recognize the right of a caucus of the Senate or
the House to prescribe new tests for the Democratic party. Senators
were not chosen for the purpose of making platforms. That was the duty
of the Charleston Convention, and it had decided in his favor,
platform, organization, and least of all the individual, by giving him
a majority of fifty votes over all the other candidates combined. He
reprobated the Yancey movement as leading to dissolution and a
Southern confederacy. The party rejected this caucus platform. Should
the majority, he asked, surrender to the minority? Davis, replying on
the 17th, contended that Douglas had, on the Kansas policy of the
Administration, put himself outside the Democratic organization. He
desired no divided flag for the party. He preferred that the Senator's
banner should lie in its silken folds to feed the moth; "but if it
impatiently rustles to be unfurled in opposition to ours, we will
plant our own on every hill." Douglas retorted, and again attacked the
caucus dictation. "Why," he asked, "are all the great measures for the
public good made to give place to the emergency of passing some
abstract resolutions on the subject of politics to reverse the
Democratic platform, under the supposition that the representatives of
the people are men of weak nerve who are going to be frightened by the
thunders of the Senate Chamber?" Davis rejoined, that they wanted a
new article in the creed because they could not get an honest
construction of the platform as it stood. "If you have been beaten on
a rickety, double-construed platform, kick it to pieces, and lay one
broad and strong, on which men can stand." "We want nothing more than
a simple declaration that negro slaves are property, and we want the
recognition of the obligation of the Federal Government to protect
that property like all other." A somewhat restrained undertone of
personal temper had been running through the debate, and Jefferson
Davis could not resist an expression of contempt for his opponent.
"The fact is," said he, "I have a declining respect for platforms. I
would sooner have an honest man on any sort of a rickety platform that
you could construct, than to have a man I did not trust on the best
platform which could be made."

Douglas promptly called attention to the inconsistency of Davis's
method of forcing his resolutions with one breath and avowing his
indifference to a platform with another, especially as Yancey and his
own followers had seceded on the platform and not on the man; but he
did not press his adversary to the wall, as he might have done, on the
insincerity which Davis's sneer exposed. He was hampered by his own
attitude as a candidate. Douglas, who had received 150 votes at
Charleston, and who expected the whole at Baltimore, could not let his
tongue wag as freely as Davis, who had received only one vote and a
half at Charleston, and could count on none at Baltimore; else he
might have denounced him on the score of patriotism. For Jefferson
Davis, like Yancey, only not so constantly, and like so many others of
that secession coterie, blew hot and cold about disunion as occasion
demanded. This same debate of May 17 furnished an instructive example.

[Sidenote] "Globe," May 17, 1860, p. 2151.

In the beginning of the day's discussion Davis indulged in a
repetition of the old alarm-cry: "And so, sir, when we declare our
tenacious adherence to the Union, it is the Union of the Constitution.
If the compact between the States is to be trampled into the dust; if
anarchy is to be substituted for the usurpation which threatened the
Government at an earlier period; if the Union is to become powerless
for the purposes for which it was established, and we are vainly to
appeal to it for protection--then, sir, conscious of the rectitude of
our course, and self-reliant within ourselves, we look beyond the
confines of the Union for the maintenance of our rights."

[Sidenote] "Globe," May 17, 1860, p. 2156.

But after Douglas had made a damaging exposure of Yancey's disunion
intrigues, which had come to light, and had charged their animus on
the Charleston seceders, Davis changed his tone. He said there were
not more than seventy-five men in the lodges of the Southern Leagues.
He did not think the Union was in danger from them. "I have great
confidence," said he, "in the strength of the Union. Every now and
then I hear that it is about to tumble to pieces; that somebody is
going to introduce a new plank into the platform, and if he does, the
Union must tumble down; until at last I begin to think it is such a
rickety old platform that it is impossible to prop it up. But then I
bring my own judgment to bear, instead of relying on witnesses, and I
come to the conclusion that the Union is strong and safe--strong in
its power as well as in the affections of the people."

The debate made it very plain that it was not reconciliation but
domination which the South wanted. So in due time (May 25) the
Jefferson Davis resolutions, affirming the "property" theory and the
"protection" doctrine, were passed by a large majority of the
Democratic Senators.

[Sidenote] June 18, 1860.

When the Charleston Convention proper reassembled at Baltimore, it was
seen that the programme laid out by Jefferson Davis and others in their
published address had been adopted. The seceders had met at Richmond,
taken a recess, and now appeared at Baltimore making application for
readmission. But some of the States that withdrew at Charleston had
sent contesting delegations, and it resolved itself into tangled
rivalry and quarrel of platforms, candidates, and delegations all
combined. For four days a furious debate raged in the convention during
the day, while rival mass-meetings in the streets at night called each
other "disorganizes," "bolters," "traitors," "disunionists," and
"abolitionists." When Douglas, before a test-vote was reached, sent a
dispatch suggesting that the party and the country might be saved by
dropping his name and uniting upon some other candidate, his followers
suppressed the dispatch.

On the fifth day at Baltimore the Democratic National Convention
underwent its second "crisis," and suffered its second disruption.
This time the secession was somewhat broadened; Chairman Cushing
resigned his seat, and Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Delaware,
Maryland, Kentucky, and California withdrew wholly or in part to join
the States which had gone out at Charleston.

For the time the disunion extremists were keeping their scheme too
well masked for us to establish clearly its historical record. But
the signs and footprints of their underplot are evident. Here at
Baltimore, as at Charleston, and as on every critical occasion, Mr.
Yancey was conspicuously present. Here, as elsewhere, he was no doubt
persistently intriguing for disunion in secret while ostentatiously
denying disunion purposes in public.

[Sidenote] Halstead, "Conventions of 1860."

But little remained to do after the disruption at Baltimore, and that
little was quickly done. The fragments of the original convention
continued their session in the Front-street Theater, where they had
met, and on the first ballot nominated Stephen A. Douglas for
President by an almost unanimous vote. The seceders organized, under
the chairmanship of Caleb Cushing, in Maryland Institute Hall, and
also by a nearly unanimous ballot nominated as their candidate for
President, John C. Breckinridge, of Kentucky. Then Mr. Yancey, who in
a street mass-meeting had declared that he was neither for the Union
_per se_ nor for disunion _per se_, but for the Constitution, announced
that the Democracy, the Constitution, and, through them, the were yet

A month prior to the reassembling of the Charleston "Rumps" above
described, Baltimore had already witnessed another Presidential
convention and nomination, calling itself peculiarly "National," in
contradistinction to the "sectional" character which it charged upon


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