Beacon Lights of History, Volume XII
John Lord

Part 3 out of 4

One of these was the tariff question, which gave him great uneasiness.
He opened his eyes to see that protection and internal improvements, so
ably advocated by Henry Clay, and even by himself in 1816, were becoming
the policy of the government to the enriching of the North. True, it was
only an economical question, but it seemed to him to lay the axe to the
root of Southern prosperity. It was his settled conviction that tariffs
for protection would increase the burdens of the South by raising the
price of all those articles which it was compelled to buy, and that
large profits on articles manufactured in the United States would only
enrich the Northern manufacturers. The South, being an agricultural
country exclusively, naturally sought to buy in the cheapest market, and
therefore wanted no tariff except for revenue. When Mr. Calhoun saw that
protectionist duties were an injury to the slaveholding States he
reversed entirely his former opinions. And what influence he could
exert as the presiding officer of the Senate was now displayed against
the Adams party, which had favored his election to the vice-presidency,
and of course alienated his Northern supporters, especially Adams, who
now turned against him, and as bitterly denounced as once he had favored
and praised him. Calhoun had now both the Jackson and Adams parties
against him, though for different reasons.

Up to this time, until the agitation of the tariff question began, Mr.
Calhoun had not been a party man. He was regarded throughout the country
as a statesman, rather than as a politician.

But when manufactures of cotton and woollen goods were being established
in Lowell, Lawrence, Dover, Great Falls, and other places in New
England, wherever there was a water-power to turn the mills, it became
obvious that a new tariff would be imposed to protect these infant
industries and manufacturing interests everywhere. The tariff of 1824
had borne heavily on the South, producing great irritation, and very
naturally "the planters complained that they had to bear all the burdens
of protection without enjoying its benefits,--that the things they had
to buy had become dearer, while the things produced and exported found a
less market." Financial ruin stared them in the face. It seemed to them
a great injustice that the interests of the planters should be
sacrificed to the monopolists of the North.

In the defence of Southern interests Mr. Calhoun in the Senate at first
appealed to reason and patriotism. It is true that he now became a
partisan, but he had been sent to Congress as the champion of the cotton
lords. He was no more unpatriotic than Webster, who at first, as the
representative of the merchants of Boston, advocated freer trade in the
interests of commerce, and afterwards, as the representative of
Massachusetts at large, turned round and advocated protective duties for
the benefit of the manufacturer. It is a nice question, as to where a
Congressman should draw the line of advocacy between local and general
interests. What are men sent to Congress for, except to advance the
interests intrusted to them by their constituents? When are these to be
merged in national considerations? Calhoun's mission was to protect
Southern interests, and he defended them with admirable logical power.
He was one of three great masters of debate in the Senate. No one could
reasonably blame him for the opinions he advanced, for he had a right to
them; and if he took sectional ground he did as most party leaders do.
It was merely a congressional fight.

But when, after the tariff of 1828, it appeared to Calhoun that there
was no remedy; that protection had become the avowed and permanent
policy of the government; that the tobacco and cotton of the South,
being the chief bulk of our exports, were paying tribute to Northern
manufactures, which were growing strong under protection of Federal
taxes on competing imports; and that the South was menaced with
financial ruin,--he took a new departure, the first serious political
error of his life, and became disloyal to the Union.

In July, 1831, he made an elaborate address to the people of South
Carolina, in which, discussing the theoretical relations of the States
to the Union, he put forth the doctrine that any State could nullify the
laws of Congress when it deemed them unconstitutional, as he regarded
the existing tariff to be. He looked upon the State, rather than the
Union of States, as supreme, and declared that the State could secede if
the Union enforced unconstitutional measures. This, as Von Hoist points
out, practically meant that, "whenever different views are entertained
about the powers conferred by the Constitution upon the Federal
government, those of the _minority_ were to prevail,"--an evident
absurdity under a republican government.

In June, 1832, was passed another tariff bill, offering some reductions,
but still based on protection as the underlying principle. In
consequence, South Carolina, entirely subservient to the influence of
Calhoun, who in August issued another manifesto, passed in November the
nullification ordinance, to take effect the following February. As
already recited, President Jackson took the most vigorous measures,
sustained by Congress, and gave the nullifiers clearly to understand
that if they resisted the laws of the United States, the whole power of
the government would be arrayed against them. They received the
proclamation defiantly, and the governor issued a counter one.

It was in this crisis that Calhoun resigned the vice-presidency, and was
immediately elected to the United States Senate, where he could fight
more advantageously. Then the President sent a message to Congress
requesting new powers to put down the nullifiers by force, should the
necessity arrive, which were granted, for he was now at the height of
his popularity and influence. The nullifiers enraged him, and though
they abstained from resorting to extreme measures, they continued their
threats. The country appeared to be on the verge of war.

The party leaders felt the necessity of a compromise, and Henry Clay
brought forward in the Senate a bill which, in March, 1833, became a
law, which reduced the tariff. It apparently appeased the South, not yet
prepared to go out of the Union, and the storm blew over. There was no
doubt, however, that, had the South Carolinians resisted the government
with force of arms they would have been put down, for Jackson was both
Infuriated and firm. He had even threatened to hang Calhoun as high as
Haman,--an absurd threat, for he had no power to hang anybody, except
one with arms in his hands,--and then only through due process of
law,--while Calhoun was a Senator, as yet using only legitimate means to
gain his ends.

In the compromise which Clay effected, the South had the best of the
bargain, and in view of it the culmination of the "irrepressible
conflict" was delayed nearly thirty years. Calhoun himself maintained
that the Compromise Tariff of 1833 was due to the resistance which his
State had made, but he also felt that the Force Bill with which Congress
had backed up the President was a standing menace, and, as usual with
him, he looked forward to impending dangers. The Compromise Tariff,
which reduced duties to twenty per cent in the main, and made provision
for still further reduction, found great opponents in the Senate, and
was regarded by Webster as anything but a protection bill; nor was
Calhoun altogether satisfied with it. It was received with favor by the
country generally, however, and South Carolina repealed her
nullification ordinance.

That subject being disposed of for the present, the attention of
Congress and the country was now turned to the President's war on the
United States Bank. As this most important matter has already been
treated in the lecture on Jackson, I have only to show the course Mr.
Calhoun took in reference to it. He was now fifty-three years old, in
the prime of his life and the full vigor of his powers. In the Senate he
had but two peers, Clay and Webster, and was not in sympathy with either
of them, though not in decided hostility as he was toward Jackson. He
was now neither Whig nor Democrat, but a South Carolinian, having in
view the welfare of the South alone, of whose interests he was the
recognized guardian. It was only when questions arose which did not
directly bear on Southern interests that he was the candid and patriotic
statesman, sometimes voting with one party and sometimes with another.
He was opposed to the removal of deposits from the United States Bank,
and yet was opposed to a renewal of its charter. His leading idea in
reference to the matter was, the necessity of divorcing the government
altogether from the banking system, as a dangerous money-power which
might be perverted to political purposes. In pointing out the dangers,
he spoke with great power and astuteness, for he was always on the
look-out for breakers. He therefore argued against the removal of
deposits as an unwarrantable assumption of power on the part of the
President, which could not be constitutionally exercised; here he
agreed with his great rivals, while he was more moderate than they in
his language. He made war on measures rather than on men personally,
regarding the latter as of temporary importance, of passing interest. So
far as the removal of deposits seemed an arbitrary act on the part of
the Executive, he severely denounced it, as done with a view to grasp
unconstitutional power for party purposes, thus corrupting the country,
and as a measure to get control of money. Said he: "With money we will
get partisans, with partisans votes, and with votes money, is the maxim
of our political pilferers." He regarded the measure as a part of the
"spoils system" which marked Jackson's departure from the policy of his

Calhoun detested the system of making politics a game, since it would
throw the government into the hands of political adventurers and mere
machine-politicians. He was too lofty a man to encourage anything like
this, and here we are compelled to do him honor. Whatever he said or did
was in obedience to his convictions. He was above and beyond all deceit
and trickery and personal selfishness. His contempt for political
wire-pullers amounted almost to loathing. He was incapable of doing a
mean thing. He might be wrong in his views, and hence might do evil
instead of good, but he was honest. In his severe self-respect and cold
dignity of character he resembled William Pitt. His integrity was
peerless. He could neither be bought nor seduced from his course.
Private considerations had no weight with him, except his aspiration for
the presidency, and even that seems to have passed away when his
disagreement with Jackson put him out of the Democratic race, and when
the new crisis arose in Southern interests, to which he ever after
devoted himself with entire self-abnegation.

In moral character Calhoun was as reproachless as Washington. He neither
drank to excess, nor gambled, nor violated the seventh commandment. He
had no fellowship with either fools or knaves. He believed that the
office of Senator was the highest to which Americans could ordinarily
attain, and he gave dignity to it, and felt its responsibilities. He
thought that only the best and most capable men should be elevated to
that post. Nor would he seek it by unworthy ends. The office sought him,
not he the office. It was this pure and exalted character which gave him
such an ascendency at the South, as much as his marvellous logical
powers and his devotion to Southern interests. His constituents believed
in him and followed him, perhaps blindly. Therefore, when we consider
what are generally acknowledged as his mistakes, we should bear in mind
the palliating circumstances.

Calhoun was the incarnation of Southern public opinion,--bigoted,
narrow, prejudiced, but intense in its delusions and loyal to its
dogmas. Hence he enslaved others as he was himself enslaved. He was
alike the idol and the leader of his State, impossible to be dethroned,
as Webster was with the people of Massachusetts until he misrepresented
their convictions. The consistency of his career was marvellous,--not
that he did not change some of his opinions, for there is no
intellectual progress to a man who does not. How can a young man,
however gifted, be infallible? But whatever the changes through which
his mind passed, they did not result from self-interest or ambition, but
were the result of more enlightened views and enlarged experience.
Political wisdom is not a natural instinct, but a progressive growth,
like that of Burke,--the profoundest of all the intellects of his

Calhoun made several great speeches in the Senate of the United States,
besides those in reference to a banking system connected with the
government, which, whether wise or erroneous, contained some important
truths. But the logical deduction of them all may be summed up in one
idea,--the supremacy of State rights in opposition to a central
government. This, from the time when the diverging interests of the
North and the South made him feel the dangers in "the unchecked will of
a majority of the whole," was the dogma of his life, from which he
never swerved, and which he pursued to all its legitimate conclusions.
Whatever measure tended to the consolidation of central power, whether
in reference to the encroachments of the Executive or the usurpations of
Congress, he denounced with terrible earnestness and sometimes with
great eloquence. This is the key to the significant portion of his
political career.

In his speech on the Force Bill, in 1834, he says:

"If we now raise our eyes and direct them towards that once beautiful
system, with all its various, separate, and independent parts blended
into one harmonious whole, we must be struck with the mighty change! All
have disappeared, gone,--absorbed, concentrated, and consolidated in
this government, which is left alone in the midst of the desolation of
the system, the sole and unrestricted representative of an absolute and
despotic majority.... In the place of their admirably contrived system,
the act proposed to be repealed has erected our great Consolidated
Government. Can it be necessary for me to show what must be the
inevitable consequences?... It was clearly foreseen and foretold on the
formation of the Constitution what these consequences would be. All the
calamities we have experienced, and those which are yet to come, are the
result of the consolidating tendency of this government; and unless this
tendency be arrested, all that has been foretold will certainly befall
us,--even to the pouring out of the last vial of wrath, military

That was what Mr. Calhoun feared,--that the consolidation of a central
power would be fatal to the liberties of the country and the rights of
the States, and would introduce a system of spoils and the reign of
demagogues, all in subserviency to a mere military chieftain, utterly
unfit to guide the nation in its complicated interests. But his gloomy
predictions fortunately were not fulfilled, in spite of all the misrule
and obstinacy of the man he intensely distrusted and disliked. The
tendency has been to usurpations by Congress rather than by the

It is impossible not to admire the lofty tone, free from personal
animus, which is seen in all Calhoun's speeches. They may have been
sophistical, but they appealed purely to the intellect of those whom he
addressed, without the rhetoric of his great antagonists. His speeches
are compact arguments, such as one would address to the Supreme Court on
his side of the question.

Thus far his speeches in the Senate had been in reference to economic
theories and legislation antagonistic to the interests of the South, and
the usurpations of executive power, which threatened directly the rights
of independent States, and indirectly the liberties of the people and
the political degradation of the nation; but now new issues arose from
the agitation of the slavery question, and his fame chiefly rests on his
persistent efforts to suppress this agitation, as logically leading to
the dissolution of the Union and the destruction of the institution
with which its prosperity was supposed to be identified.

The early Abolitionists, as I remember them, were, as a body, of very
little social or political influence. They were earnest, clear-headed,
and uncompromising in denouncing slavery as a great moral evil, indeed
as a sin, disgraceful to a free people, and hostile alike to morality
and civilization. But in the general apathy as to an institution with
which the Constitution did not meddle, and the general government could
not interfere, except in districts and territories under its exclusive
control, the Abolitionists were generally regarded as fanatical and
mischievous. They had but few friends and supporters among the upper
classes and none among politicians. The pulpit, the bar, the press, and
the colleges were highly conservative, and did not like the popular
agitation much better than the Southerners themselves. But the leaders
of the antislavery movement persevered in their denunciations of
slaveholders, and of all who sympathized with them; they held public
meetings everywhere and gradually became fierce and irritating.

It was the period of lyceum lectures, when all moral subjects were
discussed before the people with fearlessness, and often with acrimony.
Most of the popular lecturers were men of radical sympathies, and were
inclined to view all evils on abstract principles as well as in their
practical effects. Thus, the advocates of peace believed that war under
all circumstances was wicked. The temperance reformers insisted that the
use of alcoholic liquors in all cases was a sin. Learned professors in
theological schools attempted to prove that the wines of Palestine were
unfermented, and could not intoxicate. The radical Abolitionists, in
like manner, asserted that it was wicked to hold a man in bondage under
any form of government, or under any guarantee of the Constitution.

At first they were contented to point out the moral evils of slavery,
both on the master and the slave; but this did not provoke much
opposition, since the evils were open and confessed, even at the South;
only, it was regarded as none of their business, since the evils could
not be remedied, and had always been lamented. That slavery was simply
an evil, and generally acknowledged to be, both North and South, was
taking rather tame ground, even as peace doctrines were unexciting when
it was allowed that, if we must fight, we must. But there was some
excitement in the questions whether it were allowable to fight at all,
or drink wine at any time, or hold a slave under any circumstances. The
lecturers must take stronger grounds if they wished to be heard or to
excite interest. So they next unhesitatingly assumed the ground that war
was a _malum per se_, and wine-drinking also, and all slave-holding,
and a host of other things. Their discussions aroused the intellect, as
well as appealed to the moral sense. Even "strong-minded" women
fearlessly went into fierce discussions, and became intolerant.
Gradually the whole North and West were aroused, not merely to the moral
evils of slavery, which were admitted without discussion, but to the
intolerable abomination of holding a slave under any conditions, as
against reason, against conscience, and against humanity.

The Southerners themselves felt that the evil was a great one, and made
some attempt to remedy it by colonization societies. They would send
free blacks to Liberia to Christianize and civilize the natives, sunk in
the lowest abyss of misery and shame. Many were the Christian men and
women at the South who pitied the hard condition under which their
slaves were born, and desired to do all they could to ameliorate it.

But when the Abolitionists announced that all slaveholding was a sin,
and when public opinion at the North was evidently drifting to this
doctrine, then the planters grew indignant and enraged. It became
unpleasant for a Northern merchant or traveller to visit a Southern
city, and equally unpleasant for a Southern student to enter a Northern
college, or a planter to resort to a Northern watering-place. The
common-sense of the planter was outraged when told that he was a sinner
above all others. He was exasperated beyond measure when incendiary
publications were transmitted through Southern mails. He did not believe
that he was necessarily immoral because he retained an institution
bequeathed to him by his ancestors, and recognized by the Constitution
of the United States.

Calhoun was the impersonation of Southern feelings as well as the
representative of Southern interests. He intensely felt the indignity
which the Abolitionists cast upon his native State, and upon its
peculiar institution. And he was clear-headed enough to see that if
public opinion settled down into the conviction that slavery was a sin
as well as an inherited evil, the North and South could not long live
together in harmony and peace. He saw that any institution would be
endangered with the verdict of the civilized world against it. He knew
that public opinion was an amazing power, which might be defied, but not
successfully resisted. He saw no way to stop the continually increasing
attacks of the antislavery agitators except by adopting an entirely new
position,--a position which should unite all the slaveholding States in
the strongest ties of interest.

Accordingly he declared, as the leader of Southern opinions and
interests, that slavery was neither an evil nor a sin, but a positive
good and blessing, supported even by the Bible as well as by the
Constitution, In assuming these premises he may have argued logically,
but he lost the admiration he had gained by twenty years' services in
the national legislature. His premises were wrong, and his arguments
would necessarily be sophistical and fall to the ground. He stepped down
from the lofty pedestal he had hitherto occupied, to become not merely a
partisan, but an unscrupulous politician. He had a right to defend his
beloved institutions as the leader of interests intrusted to him to
guard. His fault was not in being a partisan, for most politicians are
party men; it was in advancing a falsehood as the basis of his
arguments. But, if he had stultified his own magnificent intellect, he
could not impose on the convictions of mankind. From the time he assumed
a ground utterly untenable, whatever were his motives or real
convictions, his general influence waned. His arguments did not
convince, since they were deductions from wrong premises, and premises
which shocked and insulted the reason.

Calhoun now became a man of one idea, and that a false one. He was a
gigantic crank,--an arch-Jesuit, indifferent to means so long as he
could bring about his end; and he became not merely a casuist, but a
dictatorial and arrogant politician. He defied that patriotic burst of
public opinion which had compelled him to change his ground, that
mighty wave of thought, no more to be resisted than a storm upon the
ocean, and which he saw would gradually sweep away his cherished
institution unless his constituents and the whole South should be made
to feel that their cause was right and just; that slavery had not only
materially enriched the Southern States, but had converted fetich
idolaters to the true worship of God, and widened the domain of
civilization. The planters, one and all, responded to this sophistical
and seductive plea, and said to one another, "Now we can defy the
universe on moral grounds. We stand united,--what care we for the
ravings of fanatics outside our borders, so long as our institution is a
blessing to us, planted on the rock of Christianity, and endorsed by the
best men among us!" The theologians took up the cause, both North and
South, and made their pulpits ring with appeals to Scripture. "Were
not," they said, "the negroes descendants of Ham, and had not these
descendants been cursed by the Almighty, and given over to the control
of the children of Shem and Japhet,--not, indeed, to be trodden down
like beasts, but to be elevated and softened by them, and made useful in
the toils which white men could not endure?" Ultra-Calvinists united
with politicians in building up a public sentiment in favor of slavery
as the best possible condition for the ignorant, sensuous, and
superstitious races who, when put under the training and guardianship
of a civilized and Christian people, had escaped the harder lot which
their fathers endured in the deserts and the swamps of Africa.

The agitation at the North had been gradually but constantly increasing.
In 1831 William Lloyd Garrison started "The Liberator;" in 1832 the New
England Antislavery Society was founded in Boston; in 1833 New York had
a corresponding society, and Joshua Leavitt established "The
Emancipator." Books, tracts, and other publications began to be
circulated. By lectures, newspapers, meetings, and all manner of means
the propagandism was carried on. On the other hand, the most violent
opposition had been manifested throughout the North to these so-called
"fanatics." No language was too opprobrious to apply to them. The
churches and ministry were either dumb on the subject, or defended
slavery from the Scriptures. Mobs broke up antislavery meetings, and in
some cases proceeded even to the extreme of attack and murder,--as in
the case of Lovejoy of Illinois. The approach of the political campaign
of 1836, when Van Buren was running as the successor of Jackson,
involved the Democratic party as the ally of the South for political
purposes, and "Harmony and Union" were the offsets to the cry for

By 1835 the excitement was at its height, and especially along the line
of the moral and religious argumentation, where the proslavery men met
talk with talk. What could the Abolitionists do now with their Northern
societies to show that slavery was a wrong and a sin? Their weapons fell
harmless on the bucklers of warriors who supposed themselves fighting
under the protection of Almighty power in order to elevate and
Christianize a doomed race. Victory seemed to be snatched from victors,
and in the moral contest the Southern planters and their Northern
supporters swelled the air with triumphant shouts. They were impregnable
in their new defences, since they claimed to be in the right. Both
parties had now alike appealed to reason and Scripture, and where were
the judges who could settle conflicting opinions? The Abolitionists,
somewhat discouraged, but undaunted, then changed their mode of attack.
They said, "We will waive the moral question, for we talk to men without
conscience, and we will instead make it a political one. We will appeal
to majorities. We will attack the hostile forces in a citadel which they
cannot hold. The District of Columbia belongs to Congress. Congress can
abolish slavery if it chooses in its own territory. Having possession of
this great fortress, we can extend our political warfare to the vast and
indefinite West, and, at least, prevent the further extension of
slave-power. We will trust to time and circumstance and truth to do the
rest. We will petition Congress itself."

And from 1835 onward petitions rolled into both Houses from all parts of
the North and West to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, which
Congress could constitutionally do. The venerable and enlightened John
Quincy Adams headed the group of petitioners in the House of
representatives. There were now two thousand antislavery societies in
the United States. In 1837 three hundred thousand persons petitioned for
the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. The legislatures
of Massachusetts and Vermont had gone so far as to censure Congress for
its inaction and indifference to the rights of humanity.

But it was in January, 1836, that John C. Calhoun arose in his wrath and
denied the right of petition. The indignant North responded to such an
assumption in flaming words. "What," said the leaders of public opinion,
"cannot the lowest subjects of the Czar or the Shah appeal to ultimate
authority? Has there ever been an empire so despotic as to deny so
obvious a right? Did not Caesar and Cyrus, Louis and Napoleon receive
petitions? Shall an enlightened Congress reject the prayers of the most
powerful of their constituents, and to remove an evil which people
generally regard as an outrage, and all people as a misfortune?"

"We will not allow the reception of petitions at all," said the
Southern leaders, "for they will lead to discussion on a forbidden
subject. They are only an entrance wedge to disrupt the Union. The
Constitution has guaranteed to us exclusively the preservation of an
institution on which our welfare rests. You usurp a privilege which you
call a right. Your demands are dangerous to the peace of the Union, and
are preposterous. You violate unwritten law. You seek to do what the
founders of our republic never dreamed of. When two of the States ceded
their own slave territory to the central government, it was with the
understanding that slavery should remain as it was in the district we
owned and controlled. You cannot lawfully even discuss the matter. It is
none of your concern. It is an institution which was the basis of that
great compromise without which there never could have been a united
nation,--only a league of sovereign States. We have the same right to
exclude the discussion of this question from these halls as from the
capitals of our respective States. The right of petition on such a
subject is tantamount to consideration and discussion, which would be
unlawful interference with our greatest institution, leading
legitimately and logically to disunion and war. Is it right, is it
generous, is it patriotic to drive us to such an alternative? We only
ask to be let alone. You assail a sacred ark where dwell the seraphim
and cherubim of our liberties, of our honor, of our interests, of our
loyalty itself. To this we never will consent."

Mr. Clay then came forward in Congress as an advocate for considering
the question of petitions. He was for free argument on the subject. He
admitted that the Abolitionists were dangerous, but he could not shut
his eyes to an indisputable right. So he went half-way, as was his
custom, pleasing neither party, and alienating friends; but at the same
time with great tact laying out a middle ground where the opposing
parties could still stand together without open conflict. "I am no
friend," said he, "to slavery. The Searcher of hearts knows that every
pulsation of mine beats high and strong in the cause of civil liberty.
Wherever it is practicable and safe I desire to see every portion of the
human family in the enjoyment of it; but I prefer the liberty of my own
country to that of other people. The liberty of the descendants of
Africa in the United States is incompatible with the liberty and safety
of the European descendants." Such were the sentiments of the leading
classes of the North, not yet educated up to the doctrines which
afterwards prevailed. But the sentiments declared by Clay lost him the
presidency. His political sins, like those of Webster, were sins of
omission rather than of commission. Neither of them saw that the little
cloud in the horizon would soon cover the heavens, and pour down a
deluge to sweep away abominations worse than Ahab ever dreamed of. Clay
did not go far enough to please the rising party. He did not see the
power or sustain the rightful exercise of this new moral force, but he
did argue on grounds of political expediency for the citizens' right of
petition,--a right conceded even to the subjects of unlimited despotism.
An Ahasuerus could throw petitions into the mire, without reading, but
it was customary to accept them.

The result was a decision on the part of Congress to admit the
petitions, but to pay no further attention to them.

The Abolitionists, however, had resorted to less scrupulous measures.
They sent incendiary matter through the mails, not with the object of
inciting the slaves to rebellion,--this was hopeless,--but with the
design of aiding their escape from bondage, and perchance of influencing
traitors in the Southern camp. To this new attack Calhoun responded with
dignity and with logic. And we cannot reasonably blame him for repelling
it. The Southern cities had as good a right to exclude inflammatory
pamphlets as New York or Boston has to prevent the introduction of the
cholera. It was the instinct of self-preservation; whatever may be said
of their favorite institution on ethical grounds, they had the legal
right to protect it from incendiary matter.

But what was incendiary matter? Who should determine that point?
President Jackson in 1835 had recommended Congress to pass a law
prohibiting under severe penalties the circulation in the Southern
States, through the mails, of incendiary publications. But this did not
satisfy the Southern dictator. He denied the right of Congress to
determine what publications should be or should not be excluded. He
maintained that this was a matter for the States alone to decide. He
would not trust postmasters, for they were officers of the United States
government. It was not for them to be inquisitors, nor for the Federal
government to interfere, even for the protection of a State institution,
with its own judgment. He proposed instead a law forbidding Federal
postmasters to deliver publications prohibited by the laws of a State,
Territory, or District. In this, as in all other controverted questions,
Calhoun found means to argue for the supremacy of the State and the
subordination of the Union. His bill did not pass, but the force of his
argument went forth into the land.

How far antislavery documents had influence on the slaves themselves, it
is difficult to say. They could neither read nor write; but it is
remarkable that from this period a large number of slaves made their
escape from the South and fled to the North, protected by
philanthropists, Abolitionists, and kind-hearted-people generally.

How they contrived to travel a thousand miles without money, without
suitable clothing, pursued by blood-hounds and hell-hounds, hiding in
the daytime in swamps, morasses, and forests, walking by night in
darkness and gloom, until passed by friendly hands through "underground
railroads" until they reached Canada, is a mystery. But these efforts to
escape from their hard and cruel masters further intensified the
exasperation of the South.

It was in 1836 that Michigan and Arkansas applied for admission as
States into the Union,--one free and the other with slavery. Discussions
on some technicalities concerning the conditions of Michigan's admission
gave Mr. Calhoun a chance for more argumentation about the sovereignty
of a State, which, considering the fact that Michigan had not then been
admitted but was awaiting the permission of Congress _to be_ a State,
showed the weakness of his logic in the falsity of his premise. Besides
Arkansas, the slave-power also gained access to a strip of free
territory north of the compromise line of 36 deg.30' and the Missouri
River. In 1837 John Quincy Adams, "the old man eloquent" of the House
of Representatives, narrowly escaped censure for introducing a petition
from slaves in the District of Columbia. In 1838 Calhoun introduced
resolutions declaring that petitions relative to slavery in the District
were "a direct and dangerous attack on the institutions of all the
slave-holding States." In 1839 Henry Clay offered a petition for the
repression of all agitation respecting slavery in the District. Calhoun
saw and constantly denounced the danger. He knew the power of public
opinion, and saw the rising tide. Conservatism heeded the warning, and
the opposition to agitation intensified all over the South and the
North; but to no avail. New societies were formed; new papers were
established; religious bodies began to take position for and against the
agitation; the Maine legislature passed in the lower House, and almost
in the upper, resolutions denouncing slavery in the District; while the
Abolitionists labored incessantly and vigorously to "Blow the trumpet;
cry aloud and spare not; show my people their sins," as to slavery.

In 1840 Van Buren and Harrison, the Democratic and Whig candidates for
the presidency were both in the hands of the slave-power; and Tyler, who
as Vice-President succeeded to the Executive chair on Harrison's death,
was a Virginian slaveholder. The ruling classes and politicians all over
the land were violently opposed to the antislavery cause, and every test
of strength gave new securities and pledges to the Southern elements and
their Northern sympathizers.

Notwithstanding the frequent triumphs of the South, aided by Whigs and
Democrats from the North, who played into the hands of Southern
politicians, Mr. Calhoun was not entirely at rest in his mind. He saw
with alarm the increasing immigration into the Western States, which
threatened to disturb the balance of power which the South had ever
held; and with the aid of Southern leaders he now devised a new and bold
scheme, which was to annex Texas to the United States and thus enlarge
enormously the area of slavery. It was probably his design, not so much
to strengthen the slaveholding interests of South Carolina, as to
increase the political power of the South. By the addition of new slave
States he could hope for more favorable legislation in Congress. The
arch-conspirator--the haughty and defiant dictator--would not only
exclude Congress from all legislation over its own territory in the
national District, but he now would make Congress bolster up his cause.
He could calculate on a "solid South," and also upon the aid of the
leaders of the political parties at the North,--"Northern men with
Southern principles,"--who were strangely indifferent to the extension
of slavery.

The Abolitionists were indeed now a power, but the antislavery sentiment
had not reached its culmination, although it had become politically
organized. For the campaign of 1840, seeing the futility of petition
and the folly of expecting action on issues foreign to those on which
Congressmen had been elected, the Abolitionists boldly called a National
Convention, in which six States were represented, and nominated
candidates for the presidency and vice-presidency. It was a small and
despised beginning, but it was the germ of a mighty growth. From that
time the Liberty Party began to hold State and National Conventions, and
to vote directly on the question of representatives. They did not for
years elect anybody, but they defeated many an ultra pro-slavery man,
and their influence began to be felt. In 1841 Joshua R. Giddings, from
Ohio, and in 1843 John P. Hale from New Hampshire and Hannibal Hamlin
from Maine brought in fresh Northern air and confronted the slave-power
in Congress, in alliance with grand old John Quincy Adams,--whose last
years were his best years, and have illumined his name.

Most of the antislavery men were still denounced as fanatics, meddling
with what was none of their business. In 1843 they had not enrolled in
their ranks the most influential men in the community. Ministers,
professors, lawyers, and merchants generally still held aloof from the
controversy, and were either hostile or indifferent to it. So, with the
aid of the "Dough-Faces," as they were stigmatized by the progressive
party, Calhoun was confident of success in the Texan scheme.

At that time many adventurers had settled in Texas, which was then a
province of Mexico, and had carried with them their slaves. In 1820
Moses Austin, a Connecticut man, long resident in Missouri, obtained
large grants of land in Texas from the Mexican government, and his son
Stephen carried out after the father's death a scheme of colonization of
some three hundred families from Missouri and Louisiana. They were a
rough and lawless population, but self-reliant and enterprising. They
increased rapidly, until, in 1833, being twenty thousand in number, they
tried to form a State government under Mexico; and, this being denied
them, declared their independence and made revolution. They were headed
by Sam Houston, who had fought under General Jackson, and had been
Governor of Tennessee. In 1836 the independence of Texas was proclaimed.
Soon after followed the battle of San Jacinto, in which Santa Anna, the
President of the Mexican republic and the commander of the Mexican
forces, was taken prisoner.

Immediately after this battle Mr. Calhoun tried to have it announced as
the policy of the government to recognize the independence of Texas.
When Tyler became President, by the death of Harrison, although elected
by Whig votes he entered heart and soul into the schemes of Calhoun,
who, to forward them, left the Senate, and became Secretary of State, as
successor to Mr. Upshur. In 1843 it became apparent that Texas would be
annexed to the United States. In that same year Iowa and Florida--one
free, the other slave--were admitted to the Union.

The Liberty party beheld the proposed annexation of Texas with alarm,
and sturdily opposed it as far as they could through their friends in
Congress, predicting that it would be tantamount to a war with Mexico.
The Mexican minister declared the same result. But "Texas or Disunion!"
became the rallying cry of the South. The election of Polk, the
annexationist Democrat, in 1844, was seized upon as a "popular mandate"
for annexation, although had not the Liberty Party, who like the Whigs
were anti-annexationists, divided the vote in New York State, Clay would
have been elected. The matter was hurried through Congress; the Northern
Democrats made no serious opposition, since they saw in this annexation
a vast accession of territory around the Gulf of Mexico, of indefinite
extent. Thus, Texas, on March 1, 1845, was offered annexation by a Joint
Resolution of the Senate and House of Representatives, in the face of
protests from the wisest men of the country, and in spite of certain
hostilities with Mexico. On the following fourth of July Texas,
accepting annexation, was admitted to the Union as a slave State, to the
dismay of Channing, of Garrison, of Phillips, of Sumner, of Adams, and
of the whole antislavery party, now aroused to the necessity of more
united effort, in view of this great victory to the South; for it was
provided that at any time, by the consent of its own citizens, Texas
might be divided into four States, whenever its population should be
large enough; its territory was four times as large as France.

The Democratic President Polk took office in March, 1845; the Mexican
War, beginning in May, 1846, was fought to a successful close in a year
and five months, ending September, 1847; the fertile territory of
Oregon, purchased from Spain, had been peaceably occupied by rapid
immigration and by settlement of disputed boundaries with Great Britain;
California--a Mexican province--had been secured to the American
settlers of its lovely hills and valleys by the prompt daring of Capt.
John C. Fremont; and the result of the war was the formal cession to the
United States by Mexico of the territories of California and New Mexico,
and recognition of the annexation and statehood of Texas.

Both the North and the South had thus gained large possibilities, and at
the North the spirit of enterprise and the clear perception of the
economic value of free labor as against slave labor were working
mightily to help men see the moral arguments of the antislavery people.
The division of interest was becoming plain; the forces of good sense
and the principles of liberty were consolidating the North against
farther extension of the slave-power. The perils foreseen by Calhoun,
which he had striven to avoid by repression of all political discussion
of slavery, were nigh at hand. The politicians of the North, too,
scented the change, and began to range themselves with their section;
and, while there was a long struggle yet ahead before the issues would
be made up, to the eye of faith the end was already in sight, and the
"Free-Soilers" now redoubled their efforts both in discussion and in
political action.

Thus far, most of the political victories had been with the slave-power,
and the South became correspondently arrogant and defiant. The war of
ideas against Southern interests now raged with ominous and increasing
force in all the Northern States. Public opinion became more and more
inflamed. Passions became excited in cities and towns and villages which
had been dormant since the Constitution had been adopted. The decree of
the North went forth that there should be no more accession of slave
territory; and, more than this, the population spread with unexampled
rapidity toward the Pacific Ocean in consequence of the discovery of
gold in California, in 1848, and attracted by the fertile soil of
Oregon. Immigrants from all nations came to seek their fortunes in
territories north of 36 deg.30'.

What Calhoun had anticipated in 1836, when he cast his eyes on Texas,
did not take place. Slave territory indeed was increased, but free
territory increased still more rapidly. The North was becoming richer
and richer, and the South scarcely held its own. The balance which he
thought would be in favor of the South, he now saw inclining to the
North. Northern States became more numerous than Southern ones, and more
populous, more wealthy, and more intelligent. The political power of the
Union, when Mr. Polk closed his inglorious administration, was
perceptibly with the North, and not political power only, but moral
power. The great West was the soil of freemen.

But the haughty and defiant spirit of Calhoun was not broken. He
prophesied woes. He became sad and dejected, but more and more
uncompromising, more and more dictatorial. He would not yield. "If we
yield an inch," said he, "we are lost." The slightest concession, in his
eyes, would be fatal. When he declared his nullification doctrines it
was because he thought that State rights were invaded by hostile
tariffs. But after the Mexican War slavery was to him a matter of life
and death. He made many excellent and powerful speeches, which tasked
the intellect of Webster to refute; but, whatever the subject, it was
seen only through his Southern spectacles, and argued from partisan
grounds and with partisan zeal. Everything he uttered was with a view of
consolidating the South, and preparing it for disunion and secession, as
the only way to preserve the beloved institution. In his eyes, slavery
and the Union could not co-exist. This he saw plainly, but if either
must perish it should be the Union; and this doctrine he so constantly
reiterated that he won over to it nearly the entire South. But in
consolidating the South, he also consolidated the North. He forced on
the issue, believing that even yet the South, united with Northern
allies, was the stronger, and that it could establish its independence
on a slavery basis. The Union was no union at all, and its Constitution
was a worthless parchment. "He proposed a convention of the Southern
States which should agree that, until full justice was rendered to the
South, all the Southern ports should be closed to the sea-going vessels
of the North." He arrogantly would deprive the North even of its
constitutional rights in reference to the exclusion of slavery from the
Territories. In no way should the North meddle with the slavery
question, on penalty of secession; and the sooner this was understood
the better. "We are," said he, "relatively stronger than we shall be
hereafter, politically and morally."

The great fight arose in 1849. The people in the Northwestern
territories had been encouraged to form governments, and had already
tasted the delights of self-rule. President Polk had recommended the
extension of the old Missouri Compromise line of 36 deg. 30' westward to
the Pacific, leaving the territory south of that open to slavery. This
would divide California, and was opposed by all parties. Calhoun now
went so far as to claim the constitutional right to take slaves into
any Territory, while Webster argued the power of Congress to rule the
Territories until they should become States. So excited was the
discussion that a convention of Southern States was held to frame a
separate government for the "United States South." The threat of
secession was ever their most potent argument. The contest in Congress
centred upon the admission of California as a State and the condition
of slavery in the Territories of Utah and New Mexico.

A great crisis had now arrived. Clay, "the great pacificator," once more
stepped into the arena with a new compromise. To provide for concessions
on either side, he proposed the admission of California (whose new
constitution prohibited slavery); the organization of Utah and New
Mexico as Territories without mention of slavery (leaving it to the
people); the arrangement of the boundary of Texas; the abolition of
slavery in the District of Columbia; and the enactment of a more
stringent fugitive-slave law, commanding the assistance of people in the
free States to capture runaways, when summoned by the authorities.

The general excitement over the discussion of this bill will never be
forgotten by those who witnessed it. The South raged, and the North
blazed with indignation,--especially over the Fugitive-Slave Bill.

Meanwhile Calhoun was dying. His figure was bent, his voice was feeble,
his face was haggard, but his superb intellect still retained its vigor
to the last. Among the multitude of ringing appeals to the reason and
moral sense of the North was a newspaper article from _The Independent_
of New York, by a young Congregational minister, Henry Ward Beecher. It
was entitled "Shall we Compromise?" and made clear and plain the issue
before the people: "Slavery is right; Slavery is wrong: Slavery shall
live; Slavery shall die: are these conflicts to be settled by any mode
of parcelling out certain Territories?" This article was read to Calhoun
upon his dying bed. "Who wrote that?" he asked. The name was given him.
"That man understands the thing. He has gone to the bottom of it. He
will be heard from again." It was what the great Southerner had
foreseen and foretold from the first.

The compromise bill at last became a law. It averted the final outbreak
for ten years longer, but contained elements that were to be potent
factors in insuring the final crisis.

With the burden of the whole South upon his shoulders Calhoun tottered
to the grave a most unhappy man, for though he saw the "irrepressible
conflict" as clearly as Seward had done, he also saw that the South,
even if successful, as he hoped, must go through a sea of tribulation.
When he was no longer able to address the Senate in person he still
waged the battle. His last great speech was read to the Senate by Mr.
Mason of Virginia, on the 4th of March, 1850. It was not bitter, nor
acrimonious; it was a doleful lament that the Southern States could not
long remain in the Union with any dignity, now that the equilibrium was
destroyed. He felt that he had failed, but also that he had done his
duty; and this was his only consolation in view of approaching
disasters. On the last day of March he died, leaving behind him his
principles, so full of danger and sophistries, but at the same time an
unsullied name, and the memory of earlier public services and of private
virtues which had secured to him the respect of all who knew him.

In reviewing the career of Mr. Calhoun it would seem that the great
error and mistake of his life was his disloyalty to the Union. When he
advocated State rights as paramount over those of the general government
he merely took the ground which was discussed over and over again at the
formation of the Constitution, and which resulted in a compromise that,
with control over matters of interest common to all States, the central
government should have no power over the institution of slavery, which
was a domestic affair in the Southern States. Only these States, it was
settled, had supreme control over their own "peculiar institution." As a
politician, representing Southern interests, he cannot be severely
condemned for his fear and anger over the discussion of the slavery
question, which, politically considered, was out of the range of
Congressional legislation or popular agitation. But when he advocated or
threatened the secession of the Southern States from the Union, unless
the slavery question was let alone entirely both by Congress and the
Northern States, he was unpatriotic, false in his allegiance, and
unconstitutional in his utterances. A State has a right to enter the
Union or not, remaining of course, in either case, United States
territory, over which Congress has legislative power. But when once it
has entered into the Union, it must remain there as a part of the whole.
Otherwise the States would be a mere league, as in the Revolutionary

Mr. Calhoun had a right to bring the whole pressure of the slave States
on a congressional vote on any question. He could say, as the Irish
members of Parliament say, "Unless you do this or that we will obstruct
the wheels of government, and thus compel the consideration of our
grievances, so long as we hold the balance of power between contending
parties." But it is quite another thing for the Irish legislators to
say, "Unless you do this or that, we will secede from the Union," which
Ireland could not do without war and revolution. Mr. Calhoun, in his
onesidedness, entirely overlooked the fact that the discontented States
could not secede without a terrible war; for if there is one sentiment
dear to the American people, it is the preservation of the Union, and
for it they will make any sacrifice.

And the same may be said in reference to Calhoun's nullification
doctrines. He would, if he could, have taken his State out of the Union,
because he and the South did not like the tariff. He had the right, as a
Senator in Congress, to bring all the influence he could command to
compel Congress to modify the tariff, or abolish it altogether. And with
this he ought to have been contented. With a solid South and a divided
North, he could have compelled a favorable compromise, or prevented any
legislation at all. It is legitimate legislation for members of Congress
to maintain their local and sectional interest at any cost, short of
disunion; only, it may be neither wise nor patriotic, since men who are
supposed to be statesmen would by so doing acknowledge themselves to be
mere politicians, bound hand and foot in subjection to selfish
constituents, and indifferent to the general good.

Mr. Calhoun became blind to general interests in his zeal to perpetuate
slavery, or advance whatever would be desirable to the South,
indifferent to the rest of the country; and thus he was a mere partisan,
narrow and local. What made him so powerful and popular at the South
equally made him to be feared and distrusted at the North. He was a
firebrand, infinitely more dangerous and incendiary than any
Abolitionist whom he denounced. Calhoun's congressional career was the
opposite of that of Henry Clay, who was more patriotic and more of a
statesman, for he always professed allegiance to the whole Union, and
did all he could to maintain it. His whole soul was devoted to tariffs
and internal improvements, but he would yield important points to
produce harmony and ward off dangers. Calhoun, with his
State-sovereignty doctrines, his partisanship, and his unscrupulous
defiance of the Constitution, forfeited his place among great statesmen,
and lost the esteem and confidence of a majority of his countrymen,
except so far as his abilities and his unsullied private life entitled
him to admiration.


I know of no abler and more candid life of Calhoun than that of Von
Holst. Although deficient in incidents, it is no small contribution to
American literature, apparently drawn from a careful study of the
speeches of the great Nullifier. If the author had had more material to
work upon, he would probably have made a more popular work, such as Carl
Schurz has written of Henry Clay, and Henry Cabot Lodge of Daniel
Webster and Alexander Hamilton. In connection read the biographies of
Clay, Webster, and Jackson; see Wilson's History of the Rise and Fall of
the Slave Power, also Benton's Thirty Years of Congressional History,
and Calhoun's Speeches.




In the year 1830, or thereabouts, a traveller on the frontier
settlements of Illinois (if a traveller was ever known in those dreary
regions) might have seen a tall, gaunt, awkward, homely, sad-looking
young man of twenty-one, clothed in a suit of brown jean dyed with
walnut-bark, hard at work near a log cabin on the banks of the river
Sangamon,--a small stream emptying into the Illinois River. The man was
splitting rails, which he furnished to a poor woman in exchange for some
homespun cloth to make a pair of trousers, at the rate of four hundred
rails per yard. His father, one of the most shiftless of the poor whites
of Kentucky, a carpenter by trade, had migrated to Indiana, and, after a
short residence, had sought another home on a bluff near the Sangamon
River, where he had cleared, with the assistance of his son, about
fifteen acres of land. From this he gained a miserable and
precarious living.

The young rail-splitter had also a knack of slaughtering hogs, for
which he received thirty cents a day. Physically he had extraordinary
strength, and no one could beat him in wrestling and other athletic
exercises. Mentally, he was bright, inquiring, and not wholly
illiterate. He had learned, during his various peregrinations, to read,
write, and cipher. He was reliable and honest, and had in 1828 been
employed, when his father lived in Indiana, by a Mr. Gentry, to
accompany his son to New Orleans, with a flat-boat of produce, which he
sold successfully.

It is not my object to dwell on the early life of Abraham Lincoln. It
has been made familiar by every historian who has written about him, in
accordance with the natural curiosity to know the beginnings of
illustrious men; and the more humble, the more interesting these are to
most people. It is quite enough to say that no man in the United States
ever reached eminence from a more obscure origin.

Rail-splitting did not achieve the results to which the ambition of
young Lincoln aspired, so he contrived to go into the grocery business;
but in this he was unsuccessful, owing to an inherent deficiency in
business habits and aptitude. He was, however, gifted with shrewd sense,
a quick sense of humor with keen wit, and a marked steadiness of
character, which gained him both friends and popularity in the miserable
little community where he lived; and in 1832 he was elected captain of
a military company to fight Indians in the Black Hawk War. There is no
evidence that he ever saw the enemy. He probably would have fought well
had he been so fortunate as to encounter the foe; for he was cool,
fearless, strong, agile, and active without rashness. In 1833 he was
made postmaster of a small village; but the office paid nothing, and his
principal profit from it was the opportunity to read newspapers and some
magazine trash. He was still very poor, and was surrounded with rough
people who lived chiefly on corn bread and salt pork, who slept in
cabins without windows, and who drank whiskey to excess, yet who were
more intelligent than they seemed.

Such was Abraham Lincoln at the age of twenty-four,--obscure, unknown,
poverty-stricken, and without a calling. Suppose at that time some
supernatural being had appeared to him in a dream, and announced that he
would some day be President of the United States; and not merely this,
but that he would rule the nation in a great crisis, and save it from
dismemberment and anarchy by force of wisdom and character, and leave
behind him when he died a fame second only to that of Washington! Would
he not have felt, on awaking from his dream, pretty much as did the aged
patriarch whose name he bore, when the angel of the Lord assured him
that he would be the father of many nations, that his seed would
outnumber the sands of the sea, and that through him all humanity would
be blessed from generation to generation? Would he not have felt as the
stripling David, among the sheep and the goats of his father's flocks,
when the prophet Samuel announced to him that he should be king over
Israel, and rule with such success and splendor that the greatness and
prosperity of the Jewish nation would be forever dated from his
matchless reign?

The obscure postmaster, without a dollar in his pocket, and carrying the
mail in his hat, had indeed no intimation of his future elevation: but
his career was just as mysterious as that of David, and an old-fashioned
religious man would say that it was equally providential; for of all the
leading men of this great nation it would seem that he turned out to be
the fittest for the work assigned to him,--chosen, not because he was
learned or cultivated or experienced or famous, or even interesting, but
because his steps were so ordered that he fell into the paths which
naturally led to his great position, although no genius could have
foreseen the events which logically controlled the result. If Lincoln
had not been gifted with innate greatness, though unknown to himself and
all the world, to be developed as occasions should arise, no fortunate
circumstances could have produced so extraordinary a career. If Lincoln
had not the germs of greatness in him,--certain qualities which were
necessary for the guidance of a nation in an emergency,--to be developed
subsequently as the need came, then his career is utterly insoluble
according to any known laws of human success; and when history cannot
solve the mysteries of human success,--in other words, "justify the ways
of Providence to man,"--then it loses half its charm, and more than half
its moral force. It ceases to be the great teacher which all nations
claim it to be.

However obscure the birth of Lincoln, and untoward as were all the
circumstances which environed him, he was doubtless born ambitious, that
is, with a strong and unceasing desire to "better his condition." That
at the age of twenty-four he ever dreamed of reaching an exalted
position is improbable. But when he saw the ascendency that his wit and
character had gained for him among rude and uncultivated settlers on the
borders of civilization, then, being a born leader of men, as Jackson
was, it was perfectly natural that he should aspire to be a politician.
Politics ever have been the passion of Western men with more than
average ability, and it required but little learning and culture under
the sovereignty of "squatters" to become a member of the State
legislature, especially in the border States, where population was
sparse, and the people mostly poor and ignorant.

Hence, "smart" young men, in rude villages, early learned to make
speeches in social and political meetings. Every village had its
favorite stump orator, who knew all the affairs of the nation, and a
little more, and who, with windy declamation, amused and delighted his
rustic hearers. Lincoln was one of these. There was never a time, even
in his early career, when he could not make a speech in which there was
more wit than knowledge; although as he increased in knowledge he also
grew in wisdom, and his good sense, with his habit of patient thinking,
gave him the power of clear and convincing statement. Moreover, at
twenty-four, he was already tolerably intelligent, and had devoured all
the books he could lay his hand upon. Indeed, it was to the reading of
books that Lincoln, like Henry Clay, owed pretty much all his schooling.
Beginning with Weems's "Life of Washington" when a mere lad, he
perseveringly read, through all his fortunes, all manner of books,--not
only during leisure hours by day, when tending mill or store, but for
long months by the light of pine shavings from the cooper's shop at
night, and in later times when traversing the country in his various
callings. And his persistent reading gave him new ideas and
broader views.

With his growing thoughts his aspirations grew. So, like others, he took
the stump, and as early as 1832 offered himself a candidate for the
State legislature. His maiden speech in an obscure village is thus
reported: "Fellow citizens, I am humble Abraham Lincoln. My politics are
short and sweet, like the old woman's dance. I am in favor of a National
Bank, of internal improvements, and a high protective tariff. These are
my sentiments. If elected, I shall be thankful; if not, it will be all
the same."

Lincoln was not elected, although supported by the citizens of New
Salem, where he lived, and to whom he had promised the improvement of
the Sangamon River. Disappointed, he went into the grocery business once
again, and again failed, partly because he had no capital, and partly
because he had no business talents in that line; although from his known
integrity he was able to raise what money he needed. He then set about
the study of the law, as a step to political success, read books, and
the occasional newspapers, told stories, and kept his soul in
patience,--which was easier to him than to keep his body in
decent clothes.

It was necessary for him to do something for a living while he studied
law, since the grocery business had failed, and hence he became an
assistant to John Calhoun, the county surveyor, who was overburdened
with work. Just as he had patiently worked through an English Grammar,
to enable him to speak correctly, he took up a work on surveying and
prepared himself for his new employment in six weeks. He was soon
enabled to live more decently, and to make valuable acquaintances,
meanwhile diligently pursuing his law studies, not only during his
leisure, but even as he travelled about the country to and from his
work; on foot or on horseback, his companion was sure to be a law-book.

In 1834 a new election of representatives for the State legislature took
place, and Lincoln became a candidate,--this time with more success,
owing to the assistance of influential friends. He went to Vandalia, the
State capital, as a Whig, and a great admirer of Henry Clay. He was
placed on the Committee of Public Accounts and Expenditures, but made no
mark; yet that he gained respect was obvious from the fact that he was
re-elected by a very large vote. He served a second term, and made
himself popular by advocating schemes to "gridiron" every county with
railroads, straighten out the courses of rivers, dig canals, and cut up
the State into towns, cities, and house-lots. One might suppose that a
man so cool and sensible as he afterwards proved himself to be must have
seen the absurdity of these wild schemes, and hence only fell in with
them from policy as a rising member of the legislature, to gain favor
with his constituents. Yet he and his colleagues were all crude and
inexperienced legislators, and it is no discredit to Lincoln that he was
borne along with the rest in an enthusiasm for "developing the country."
The mania for speculation was nearly universal, especially in the new
Western States. Illinois alone projected 1,350 miles of railroad,
without money and without credit to carry out this Bedlam legislation,
and in almost every village there were "corner lots" enough to be sold
to make a great city. Aside from this participation in a bubble destined
to burst, and to be followed by disasters, bankruptcies, and universal
distress, Lincoln was credited with steadiness, and gained great
influence. He was prominent in securing the passage of a bill which
removed the seat of government to Springfield, and was regarded as a
good debater. In this session, too, he and Daniel Stone, the two
representatives from Sangamon County, introduced a resolution declaring
that the institution of slavery was "founded on both injustice and bad
policy;" that the Congress had no power to interfere with slavery in the
States; that it had power in the District of Columbia, but should not
exercise it unless at the request of the people of the District. There
were no votes for these resolutions, but it is interesting to see how
early Lincoln took both moral and constitutional ground concerning
national action on this vexed question.

In March, 1837, Lincoln, then twenty-eight years old, was admitted to
the bar, and made choice of Springfield, the new capital, as a
residence, then a thriving village of one or two thousand inhabitants,
with some pretension to culture and refinement. It was certainly a
political, if not a social, centre. The following year he was again
elected to the legislature, and came within a few votes of being made
Speaker of the House. He carried on the practice of the law with his
duties as a legislator. Indeed, law and politics went hand in hand; as a
lawyer he gained influence in the House of Representatives, and as a
member of the legislature he increased his practice in the courts. He
had for a partner a Major Stuart, who in 1841 left him, having been
elected Representative in Congress, and was succeeded in the firm by
Stephen T. Logan. Lincoln's law practice was far from lucrative, and he
was compelled to live in the strictest economy. Litigation was very
simple, and it required but little legal learning to conduct cases. The
lawyers' fees were small among a people who were mostly poor.
Considering, however, his defective education and other disadvantages,
Lincoln's success as a lawyer was certainly respectable, if not great,
in his small sphere.

In 1840, three years after his admission to the bar, Lincoln was chosen
as an elector in the Harrison presidential contest, and he stumped the
State, frequently encountering Stephen A. Douglas in debate, with great
credit to himself, for Douglas was the most prominent political orator
of the day. The heart of Lincoln, from the start, was in politics rather
than the law, for which he had no especial liking. He was born to make
speeches in political gatherings, and not to argue complicated legal
questions in the courts. All his aspirations were political. As early as
1843 he aspired to be a member of Congress, but was defeated by Colonel
Baker. In 1846, however, his political ambition was gratified by an
election to the House of Representatives. His record in Congress was a
fair one; but he was not distinguished, although great questions were
being discussed in connection with the Mexican War. He made but three
speeches during his term, in the last of which he ridiculed General
Cass's aspiration for the presidency with considerable humor and wit,
which was not lost on his constituents. His career in Congress
terminated in 1848, he not being re-elected.

In the meantime Lincoln married, in 1842, Miss Mary Todd, from
Lexington, Kentucky, a lady of good education and higher social position
than his own, whom he had known for two or three years. As everybody
knows, this marriage did not prove a happy one, and domestic troubles
account, in a measure, for Lincoln's sad and melancholy countenance.
Biographers have devoted more space than is wise to this marriage since
the sorrows of a great man claim but small attention compared with his
public services. Had Lincoln not been an honorable man, it is probable
that the marriage would never have taken place, in view of
incompatibilities of temper which no one saw more clearly than he
himself, and which disenchanted him. The engagement was broken, and
renewed, for, as the matter stood,--the lady being determined and the
lover uncertain,--the only course consistent with Lincoln's honor was to
take the risk of marriage, and devote himself with renewed ardor to his
profession,--to bury his domestic troubles in work, and persistently
avoid all quarrels. And this is all the world need know of this sad
affair, which, though a matter of gossip, never was a scandal. It is
unfortunate for the fame of many great men that we know too much of
their private lives. Mr. Froude, in his desire for historical
impartiality, did no good to the memory of his friend Carlyle. Had the
hero's peculiarities been vices, like those of Byron, the biographer
might have cited them as warnings to abate the ardor of popular idolatry
of genius. If we knew no more of the private failings of Webster than we
do of those of Calhoun or Jefferson Davis, he might never have been
dethroned from the lofty position he occupied, which, as a public
benefactor, he did not deserve to lose.

After his marriage, Lincoln was more devoted to his profession, and
gradually became a good lawyer; but I doubt if he was ever a great one,
like his friend Judge Davis. His law partner and biographer, William H.
Herndon, who became associated with him in 1845, is not particularly
eulogistic as to his legal abilities, although he concedes that he had
many of the qualities of a great lawyer, such as the ability to see
important points, lucidity of statement, and extraordinary logical
power. He did not like to undertake the management of a case which had
not justice and right on its side. He had no method in his business, and
detested mechanical drudgery. He rarely studied law-books, unless in
reference to a case in which he was employed. He was not learned in the
decisions of the higher courts. He was a poor defender of a wrong cause,
but was unappalled by the difficulties of an intricate case; was patient
and painstaking, and not imposed upon by sophistries.

Lincoln's love of truth, for truth's sake, even in such a technical
matter as the law, was remarkable. No important error ever went
undetected by him. His intellectual vision was clear, since he was
rarely swayed by his feelings. As an advocate he was lucid, cold, and
logical, rather than rhetorical or passionate. He had no taste for
platitudes and "glittering generalities." There was nothing mercenary in
his practice, and with rare conscientiousness he measured his charges
by the services rendered, contented if the fees were small. He carried
the strictest honesty into his calling, which greatly added to his
influence. If there was ever an honest lawyer he was doubtless one. Even
in arguing a case, he never misrepresented the evidence of a witness,
and was always candid and fair. He would frequently, against his own
interest, persuade a litigant of the injustice of his case, and induce
him to throw it up. If not the undisputed leader of his circuit, he was
the most beloved. Sometimes he disturbed the court by his droll and
humorous illustrations, which called out irrepressible laughter but
generally he was grave and earnest in matters of importance; and he was
always at home in the courtroom, quiet, collected, and dignified,
awkward as was his figure and his gesticulation.

But it was not as a lawyer that Lincoln was famous. Nor as a public
speaker would he compare with Douglas in eloquence or renown. As a
member of Congress it is not probable that he would ever have taken a
commanding rank, like Clay or Webster or Calhoun, or even like Seward.
His great fame rests on his moral character, his identification with a
great cause, his marvellous ability as a conservative defender of
radical principles, and his no less wonderful tact as a leader of men.

The cause for which he stands was the Antislavery movement, as it grew
into a political necessity rather than as a protest against moral evil.
Although from his youth an antislavery man, Lincoln was not an
Abolitionist in the early days of the slavery agitation. He rather kept
aloof from the discussion, although such writers as Theodore Parker, Dr.
Channing, and Horace Greeley had great charm for him. He was a
politician, and therefore discreet in the avowal of opinions. His turn
of mind was conservative and moderate, and therefore he thought that all
political action should be along the lines established by law under the

But when the Southern leaders, not content with non-interference by
Congress with their favorite institution in their own States, sought to
compel Congress to allow the extension of slavery in the Territories it
controlled, then the indignation of Lincoln burst the bounds, and he
became the leader in his State in opposition to any movement to
establish in national territory that institution "founded on both
injustice and bad policy." Although he was in Congress in 1847-8, his
political career really began about the year 1854, four years after the
death of Calhoun.

As has been shown in previous chapters, the great slavery agitation of
1850, when the whole country was convulsed by discussions and ominous
threats of disunion, was laid at rest for a while by the celebrated
compromise bill which Henry Clay succeeded in passing through Congress.
By the terms of this compromise California was admitted to the Union as
a free State; the Territories of New Mexico and Utah were organized to
come in as States, with or without slavery as their people might
determine when the time should arrive; the domestic slave-trade in the
District of Columbia was abolished; a more stringent fugitive-slave law
was passed; and for the adjustment of State boundaries, which reduced
the positive slave-area in Texas and threw it into the debatable
territory of New Mexico, Texas received ten millions of dollars.
Although this adjustment was not entirely satisfactory to either the
North or the South, the nation settled itself for a period of quiet to
repair the waste and utilize the conquests of the Mexican War. It became
absorbed in the expansion of its commerce, the development of its
manufactures, and the growth of its emigration, all quickened by the
richness of its marvellous new gold-fields,--until, unexpectedly and
suddenly, it found itself once again plunged into political controversy
more distracting and more ominous than the worst it had yet experienced.

For, while calmly accepting the divers political arrangements made for
distant States and Territories, the men of the North, who had fumed and
argued against the passage of the Fugitive-Slave Law, when its
enforcement was attempted in their very presence were altogether
outraged. When the "man-hunters" chased and caught negroes in their
village market-places and city streets, when free men were summoned to
obey that law by helping to seize trembling fugitives and send them back
to worse than death, then they burst forth in a fierce storm of rage
that could not be quieted. The agitation rose and spread; lecturers
thundered; newspapers denounced; great meetings were held; politicians
trembled. And even yet the conservatism of the North was not wholly
inflamed; for political partisanship is in itself a kind of slavery, and
while the Northern Democrats stood squarely with the South, the Northern
Whigs, fearing division and defeat, made strenuous efforts to stand on
both sides, and, admitting slavery to be an "evil," to uphold the
Fugitive-Slave Law because it was a part of the "great compromise." In
Congress and out, in national conventions, and with all the power of the
party press, this view was strenuously advocated; but in 1852 the
Democrats elected Franklin Pierce as President, while the compromising
Whigs were cast out. Webster, the leader of the compromisers, had not
even secured a nomination, but General Scott was the Whig candidate;
while William H. Seward, at the head of the Antislavery Whigs, had at
least the satisfaction of seeing that, amid the dissolving elements of
the Whig party, the antislavery sentiment was gaining strength day by
day. The old issues of tariffs and internal improvements were losing
their vitality, while _Freedom_ and _Slavery_ were the new poles about
which new crystallizations were beginning to form.

But the Compromise of 1850 had loosed from its Pandora's box another
fomenter of trouble, in the idea of leaving to the people of the
Territories the settlement of whether their incoming States should be
slave or free,--the doctrine of "popular sovereignty" as it was called.
The nation had accepted that theory as a makeshift for the emergency of
that day; but slave cultivation had already exhausted much of the
Southern land, and, not content with Utah and New Mexico for their
propagandism, the slaveholders cast envious eyes upon the great
territory of the Northwest, stretching out from the Missouri border,
although it was north of the prohibited line of 36 deg. 30'. And so it came
about that, within four short years after the compromise of 1850, the
unrest of the North under the Fugitive-Slave Law, followed by the
efforts of the South to break down the earlier compromise of 1821, awoke
again with renewed fierceness the slavery agitation, in discussing the
bill for the organization of the Territories of Kansas and Nebraska,--an
immense area, extending from the borders of Missouri, Iowa, and
Minnesota, west to the Rocky Mountains, and from the line of 36 deg. 30'
north to British America.

The mover of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, Stephen A. Douglas, Senator from
Illinois, a Democrat and a man of remarkable abilities, now came into
prominent notice. He wanted to be President of the United States, and
his popularity, his legal attainments, his congressional services, his
attractive eloquence and skill in debate, marked him out as the rising
man of his party, He was a Vermonter by birth, and like Lincoln had
arisen from nothing,--a self-made man, so talented that the people
called him "the little giant," but nevertheless inferior to the giants
who had led the Senate for twenty years, while equal to them in
ambition, and superior as a wire-pulling politician. He was among those
who at first supposed that the Missouri Compromise of 1821 was a final
settlement, and was hostile to the further agitation of the slavery
question. He was a great believer in "American Destiny," and the
absorption of all North America in one grand confederation, in certain
portions of which slavery should be tolerated. As chairman of the Senate
Committee on Territories he had great influence in opening new routes of
travel, and favored the extension of white settlements, even in
territory which had been given to the Indians.

To further his ambitious aspirations, Douglas began now to court the
favor of Southern leaders, and introduced his famous Kansas-Nebraska
Bill, which was virtually the repeal of the Missouri Compromise,
inasmuch as it opened the vast territories to the north of 36 deg. 30' to
the introduction of slavery if their people should so elect. This the
South needed, to secure what they called the balance of power, but what
was really the preponderance of the Slave States, or at least the
curtailment of the political power of the Free States. In 1854, during
the administration of Franklin Pierce, and under the domination of the
Democratic party, which played into the hands of the Southern leaders,
the compromise which Clay had effected in 1821 was repealed under the
influence of his compromise of 1850, and the slavery question was thus
reopened for political discussion in every State of the Union,--showing
how dangerous it is to compromise principle in shaping a policy.

Popular indignation at the North knew no bounds at this new retrograde
movement. The Whigs uttered protests, while the Free-Soil party, just
coming into notice, composed mainly of moderate antislavery men from
both the old parties, were loud in their denunciations of the
encroachments of the South. Even some leading Democrats opened their
eyes, and joined the rising party. The newspapers, the pulpits, and the
platforms sent forth a united cry of wrath. The Whigs and the
Abolitionists were plainly approaching each other. The year 1854 saw a
continuous and solid political campaign to repress the further spread of
slavery. The Territories being then thrown open, there now began an
intense emulation to people them, on the one hand, with advocates of
slavery, and on the other, with free-soilers. Emigration societies were
founded to assist _bona fide_ settlers, and a great tide of families
poured into Kansas from the Northern States; while the Southern States,
and chiefly Missouri, sent also large numbers of men.

At the South the repeal of the Missouri Compromise was universally
welcomed, and the Southern leaders felt encouragement and exultation.
The South had gained a great victory, aided by Northern Democrats, and
boldly denounced Chase, Hale, Sumner, Seward, and Giddings in the
Congress as incendiaries, plotting to destroy precious rights. A
memorable contest took place in the House of Representatives to prevent
the election of Banks of Massachusetts as Speaker. But the tide was
beginning to turn, and Banks, by a vote of 113 against 104, obtained the

Then followed "border ruffianism" in Kansas, when armed invaders from
Missouri, casting thousands of illegal votes, elected, by fraud and
violence, a legislature favorable to slavery, accompanied with civil
war, in which the most disgraceful outrages were perpetrated, the
central government at Washington being blind and deaf and dumb to it
all. The _bona fide_ settlers in Kansas who were opposed to slavery then
assembled at Topeka, refused to recognize the bogus laws, and framed a
constitution which President Pierce--"a Northern man with Southern
principles," gentlemanly and cultivated, but not strong--pronounced to
be revolutionary. Nor was ruffianism confined to Kansas. In 1856 Charles
Sumner of Massachusetts, one of the most eloquent and forceful
denunciators of all the pro-slavery lawlessness, was attacked at his
desk in the Senate chamber, after an adjournment, and unmercifully
beaten with a heavy cane by Preston Brooks, a member of the House of
Representatives, and nephew of Senator Butler of South Carolina. It took
years for Sumner to recover, while the aristocratic ruffian was
unmolested, and went unpunished; for, though censured by the House and
compelled to resign his seat, he was immediately re-elected by his

But this was not all. In that same year the Supreme Court came to the
aid of the South, already supported by the Executive and the Senate. Six
judges out of nine, headed by Chief Justice Taney, pronounced judgment
that slaves, whether fugitive or taken by their masters into the free
States, should be returned to their owners. This celebrated case arose
in Missouri, where a negro named Dred Scott--who had been taken by his
master to States where slavery was prohibited by law, who had, with his
master's consent, married and had children in the free States, and been
brought back to Missouri--sued for his freedom. The local court granted
it; the highest court of the State reversed the decision; and on appeal
to the Supreme Court of the United States the case was twice argued
there, and excited a wide and deep interest. The court might have simply
sent it back, as a matter belonging to the State court to decide; but it
permitted itself to argue the question throughout, and pronounced on the
natural inferiority of the negro, and his legal condition as property,
the competence of the State courts to decide his freedom or slavery, and
the right of slaveholders under the Constitution to control their
property in the free States or Territories, any legislation by Congress
or local legislatures to the contrary notwithstanding. This was the
climax of slavery triumphs. The North and West, at last aroused,
declared in conventions and legislative halls that slavery should
advance no further. The conflict now indeed became "irrepressible."

At this crisis, Abraham Lincoln stepped upon the political stage, and
his great career began.

As a local lawyer, even as a local politician, his work was practically
done. He came forth as an avowed antagonist of Douglas, who was the
strongest man in Illinois, and the leader of the Democratic party in
Congress. He came forth as the champion of the antislavery cause in his
native State, and soon attracted the eyes of the whole nation. His
memorable controversy with Douglas was the turning-point of his life. He
became a statesman, as well as a patriot, broad, lofty, and indignant at
wrongs. Theretofore he had been a conservative Whig, a devoted follower
of Clay. But as soon as the Missouri Compromise was repealed he put
forth his noblest energies in behalf of justice, of right, and
of humanity.

As he was driving one day from a little town in which court had been
held, a brother lawyer said to him, "Lincoln, the time is coming when we
shall either be Abolitionists or Democrats;" to which he replied,
musingly, "When that time comes, my mind is made up, for I believe the
slavery question can never be successfully compromised." And when his
mind was made up, after earnest deliberation, he rarely changed it, and
became as firm as a rock. His convictions were exceedingly strong, and
few influences could shake them. That quiet conversation in his buggy,
in a retired road, with a brother lawyer, was a political baptism. He
had taken his stand on one side of a great question which would rend in
twain the whole country, and make a mighty conflagration, out of whose
fires the truth should come victorious.

The Whig party was now politically dead, and the Republican party
arose, composed of conscientious and independent-minded men from all the
old organizations, not afraid to put principle before party,
conservative and law-abiding, yet deeply aroused on the great
issue of the day, and united against the further extension of
slavery,--organizing with great enthusiasm for a first presidential
campaign in 1856, under Fremont, "the Pathfinder," as their candidate.
They were defeated, and James Buchanan, the Democratic candidate, became
President; but, accepting defeat as a lesson toward victory, they grew
stronger and stronger every day, until at last they swept the country
and secured to the principle "non-extension of slavery" complete
representation in the national government.

Lincoln, who was in 1857 the Republican candidate for United States
Senator from Illinois, while Douglas sought the votes of the Democracy,
first entered the lists against his rival at Springfield, in a speech
attacking that wily politician's position as to the Dred-Scott decision.
He tried to force Douglas to a declaration of the logical consequence of
his position, namely, that, while he upheld the decision as a wise
interpretation of the rights of the slave-owners to hold slaves in the
Territories, yet the people of a Territory, under "the great principle
of Popular Sovereignty" (which was Douglas's chief stock in trade),
could exclude slavery from its limits even before it had formed a State
constitution. "If we succeed in bringing him to this point," he wrote a
friend, "he will say that slavery cannot actually exist in the
Territories unless the people desire it, which will offend the South."
If Douglas did not answer Lincoln's question he would jeopardize his
election as Senator; if he did answer he would offend the South, for his
doctrine of "squatter sovereignty" conflicted not only with the
interests of slavery, but with his defence of the Dred-Scott
decision,--a fact which Lincoln was not slow to point out. Douglas did
answer, and the result was as Lincoln predicted.

The position taken by Lincoln himself in the debate was bold and clear.
Said he, "A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this
government cannot endure half-slave and half-free. Either the opponents
of slavery will avert the further spread of it, and place it where the
public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of
ultimate extinction, or its advocates will push it forward till it shall
become alike lawful in all the States,--old as well as new, North as
well as South." When his friends objected that this kind of talk would
defeat him for senatorship, he replied, "But it is _true_ ... I would
rather be defeated with these expressions in my speech held up and
discussed before the people than be victorious without it." He was
defeated: but the debates made his fame national and resulted in his
being president; while the politic Douglas gained the senatorship and
lost the greater prize.

In these famous debates between the leaders, Lincoln proved himself
quite the equal of his antagonist, who was already famous as a trained
and prompt debater. Lincoln canvassed the State. He made in one campaign
as many as fifty speeches. It is impossible, within my narrow limits, to
go into the details of those great debates. In them Lincoln rose above
all technicalities and sophistries, and not only planted himself on
eternal right, but showed marvellous political wisdom. The keynote of
all his utterances was that "a house divided against itself could not
stand." Yet he did not pass beyond the constitutional limit in his
argument: he admitted the right of the South to a fugitive-slave law,
and the right of a Territory to enact slavery for itself on becoming a
State; he favored abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia only
on the request of its inhabitants, and would forward the colonization of
the negroes in Liberia if they wished it and their masters consented. He
was a pronounced antislavery man, but not an Abolitionist, and took with
the great mass of the Northerners a firm stand against the _extension_
of slavery. It was this intuitive perception of the common-sense of the
situation that made him and kept him the remarkable representative of
the Northern people that he was to the very end.

Lincoln gained so much fame from his contest with Douglas that he was,
during the spring of the following year, invited to speak in the Eastern
States; and in the great hall of the Cooper Institute in New York, in
February, 1860, he addressed a magnificent audience presided over by
Bryant the poet. He had made elaborate preparation for this speech,
which was a careful review of the slavery question from the foundation
of the republic to that time, and a masterly analysis of the relative
positions of political parties to it. The address made a deep
impression. The speaker was simply introduced as a distinguished
politician from the West. The speech was a surprise to those who were
familiar with Western oratory. There was no attempt at rhetoric, but the
address was pure logic from beginning to end, like an argument before
the Supreme Court, and exceedingly forcible. The chief point made was
the political necessity of excluding slavery from the Territories. The
orator did not dwell on slavery as a crime, but as a wrong which had
gradually been forced upon the nation, the remedy for which was not in
violent denunciations. He did not abuse the South; he simply pleaded for
harmony in the Republican ranks, and avoided giving offence to extreme
partisans on any side, contending that if slavery could be excluded
from the Territories it would gradually become extinct, as both
unprofitable and unjust. He would tolerate slavery within its present
limits, and even return fugitive slaves to their owners, according to
the laws, but would not extend the evil where it did not at present
exist. As it was a wrong, it must not be perpetuated.

The moderation of this speech, coming from an Illinois politician, did
much to draw attention to him as a possible future candidate for the
presidency, to which, by this time, he undoubtedly aspired. And why not?
He was the leader of his party in Illinois, a great speech-maker, who
had defeated Douglas himself in debate, a shrewd, cool, far-sighted man,
looking to the future rather than the present; and political friends had
already gathered about him as a strong political factor.

Mr. Lincoln after his great speech in New York returned to his home. He
had a few years before given some political speeches in Boston and the
adjacent towns, which were well received, but made no deep
impression,--from no fault of his, but simply because he had not the
right material to work upon, where culture was more in demand than vigor
of intellect.

Indeed, one result of the election of Lincoln, and of the war which
followed, was to open the eyes of Eastern people to the intellect and
intelligence of the West. Western lawyers and politicians might not have
the culture of Sumner, the polished elocution of Everett, the urbanity
of Van Buren, and the courtly manners of Winthrop, but they had
brain-power, a faculty for speech-making, and great political sagacity.
And they were generally more in sympathy with the people, having mostly
sprung from their ranks. Their hard and rugged intellects _told_ on the
floor of Congress, where every one is soon judged according to his
merits, and not according to his clothes. And the East saw that
thereafter political power would centre in the West, and dominate the
whole country,--against which it was useless to complain or rebel,
since, according to all political axioms, the majority will rule, and
ought to rule. And the more the East saw of the leading men of the West,
the more it respected their force of mind, their broad and comprehensive
views, and their fitness for high place under the government.

It was not the people of the United States who called for the nomination
of Lincoln, as in the case of General Jackson. He was not much known
outside of Illinois, except as a skilful debater and stump orator. He
had filled no high office to bring him before the eyes of the nation. He
was not a general covered with military laurels, nor a Senator in
Congress, nor governor of a large State, nor a cabinet officer. No man
had thus far been nominated for President unless he was a military
success, or was in the line of party promotion. Though a party leader in
Illinois, Lincoln was simply a private citizen, with no antecedents
which marked him out for such exalted position. But he was
"available,"--a man who could be trusted, moderate in his views, a Whig
and yet committed to antislavery views, of great logical powers, and
well-informed on all the political issues of the day. He was not likely
to be rash, or impulsive, or hasty, or to stand in the way of political
aspirants. He was eminently a safe man in an approaching crisis, with a
judicial intellect, and above all a man without enemies, whom few
envied, and some laughed at for his grotesque humor and awkward manners.
He was also modest and unpretending, and had the tact to veil his
ambition. In his own State he was exceedingly popular. It was not
strange, therefore, that the Illinois Republican State Convention
nominated him as their presidential candidate, to be supported in the
larger national convention about to assemble.

In May, 1860, the memorable National Republican Convention met in
Chicago, in an immense building called the Wigwam, to select a candidate
for the presidency. Among the prominent Republican leaders were Seward,
Chase, Cameron, Dayton, and Bates. The Eastern people supposed that
Seward would receive the nomination, from his conceded ability, his
political experience, his prominence as an antislavery Whig, and the
prestige of office; but he had enemies, and an unconciliatory
disposition. It soon became evident that he could not carry all the
States. The contest was between Seward, Chase, and Lincoln; and when, on
the third ballot, Lincoln received within a vote and a-half of the
majority, Ohio gave him four votes from Chase, and then delegation after
delegation changed its vote for the victor, and amid great enthusiasm
the nomination became unanimous.

The election followed, and Lincoln, the Republican, received one hundred
and eighty electoral votes; Breckinridge, the Southern Democrat,
seventy-two; Bell, of the Union ticket--the last fragment of the old
Whig party--thirty-nine; and Douglas, of the Northern Democracy, but
twelve. The rail-splitter became President of the United States, and
Senator Hannibal Hamlin, of Maine, Vice President. It was a victory of
ideas. It was the triumph of the North over the South,--of the aroused
conscience and intelligence of the people against bigotry, arrogance,
and wrong. Men and measures in that great contest paled before the
grandeur of everlasting principles. It was not for Lincoln that bonfires
were kindled and cannons roared and bells were rung and huzzas ascended
to heaven, but for the great check given to the slave-power, which,
since the formation of the Constitution, had dominated the nation. The
Republicans did not gain a majority of the popular vote, as the combined
opposing tickets cast 930,170 votes more than they; but their vote was
much larger than that for any other ticket, and gave them a handsome
majority in the electoral college.

Between the election in November, 1860, and the following March, when
Lincoln took the reins of government, several of the Southern States had
already seceded from the Union and had organized a government at
Montgomery. Making the excuse of the election of a "sectional and
minority president," they had put into effect the action for which their
leaders during several months had been secretly preparing. They had
seized nearly all the Federal forts, arsenals, dock-yards,
custom-houses, and post-offices within their limits, while a large
number of the officers of the United States army and navy had resigned,
and entered into their service, on the principle that the authority of
their States was paramount to the Federal power.

Amid all these preparations for war on the part of the seceding States,
and the seizure of Federal property, Buchanan was irresolute and
perplexed. He was doubtless patriotic and honest, but he did not know
what to do. The state of things was much more serious than when South
Carolina threatened to secede in the time of General Jackson. The want
of firmness and decision on the part of the President has been severely
criticised, but it seems to me to have been not without excuse in the
perplexing conditions of the time, while it was certainly fortunate that
he did not precipitate the crisis by sending troops to reinforce Fort
Sumter, in Charleston harbor, which was invested and threatened by South
Carolina troops. The contest was inevitable anyway, and the management
of the war was better in the hands of Lincoln than it could have been in
those of Buchanan, with traitors in his cabinet, or even after they had
left and a new and loyal cabinet was summoned, but with an undecided man
at the head. There was needed a new and stronger government when
hostilities should actually break out.

On the 4th of March, 1861, the inauguration of Lincoln took place, and
well do I remember the ceremony. The day was warm and beautiful, and
nature smiled in mockery of the bloody tragedy which was so soon to
follow. I mingled with the crowd at the eastern portico of the Capitol,
and was so fortunate as to hear and see all that took place,--the high
officials who surrounded the President, his own sad and pensive face,
his awkward but not undignified person arrayed in a faultless suit of
black, the long address he made, the oath of office administered by
Chief Justice Taney, and the dispersion of the civil and military
functionaries to their homes. It was not a great pageant, but was an
impressive gathering. Society, in which the Southern element
predominated, sneered at the tall ruler who had learned so few of its
graces and insincerities, and took but little note of the thunder-clouds
in the political atmosphere,--the distant rumblings which heralded the
approaching storm so soon to break with satanic force.

The inaugural address was not only an earnest appeal for peace, but a
calm and steadfast announcement of the law-abiding policy of the
government, and a putting of the responsibility for any bloodshed upon
those who should resist the law. Two brief paragraphs contain
the whole:--

"The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the
property and places belonging to the government, and to collect the
duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects
there will be no invasion, no use of force among the people anywhere.

"In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is
the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you.
You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors."

This was the original chart of the course which the President followed,
and his final justification when by use of "the power confided to him"
he had accomplished the complete restoration of the authority of the
Federal Union over all the vast territory which the seceded States had
seized and so desperately tried to control.

Lincoln was judicious and fortunate in his cabinet. Seward, the ablest
and most experienced statesman of the day, accepted the office of
Secretary of State; Salmon P. Chase, who had been governor of Ohio, and
United States Senator, was made Secretary of the Treasury; Gideon
Welles, of great executive ability and untiring energy, became Secretary
of the Navy; Simon Cameron, an influential politician of Pennsylvania,
held the post of Secretary of War for a time, when he was succeeded by
Edwin M. Stanton, a man of immense capacity for work; Montgomery Blair,
a noted antislavery leader, was made Postmaster-General; Caleb B. Smith
became Secretary of the Interior; and Edward Bates, of Missouri,
Attorney-General. Every one of these cabinet ministers was a strong man,
and was found to be greater than he had seemed.

Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, an old-time Democrat, was elected
President of the Southern Confederacy, and Alexander H. Stephens, a
prominent Whig of Georgia, Vice-President. Davis was born in Kentucky in
1808, and was a graduate of West Point. He was a Congressman on the
outbreak of the Mexican War, resigned his seat, entered the army, and
distinguished himself, rising to the rank of colonel. He was Secretary
of War in President Pierce's cabinet, and Senator from Mississippi on
the accession of President Buchanan,--a position which he held until the
secession of his State. He thus had had considerable military and
political experience. He was a man of great ability, but was proud,
reserved, and cold, "a Democrat by party name, an autocrat in feeling
and sentiment,--a type of the highest Southern culture, and exclusive
Southern caste." To his friends--and they were many, in spite of his
reserve--there was a peculiar charm in his social intercourse; he was
beloved in his family, and his private life was irreproachable. He
selected an able cabinet, among whom were Walker of Alabama, Toombs of
Georgia, and Benjamin of Louisiana. The Provisional Congress authorized
a regular army of ten thousand men, one hundred thousand volunteers, and
a loan of fifteen millions of dollars.

But actual hostilities had not as yet commenced. The Confederates,
during the close of Buchanan's administration, were not without hopes of
a peaceful settlement and recognition of secession, and several
conferences had taken place,--one overture being made even to the new
administration, but of course in vain.

The spark which kindled the conflagration--but little more than a month
after Lincoln's inauguration, April 12, 1861--was the firing on Fort
Sumter, and its surrender to the South Carolinians. This aroused both
the indignation and the military enthusiasm of the North, which in a
single day was, as by a lightning flash, fused in a white heat of
patriotism and a desire to avenge the dishonored flag. For the time all
party lines disappeared, and the whole population were united and solid
in defence of the Union. Both sides now prepared to fight in good
earnest. The sword was drawn, the scabbard thrown away. Both sides were
confident of victory. The Southern leaders were under the delusion that
the Yankees would not fight, and that they cared more for dollars than
for their country. Moreover, the Southern States had long been training
their young men in the military schools, and had for months been
collecting materials of war. As cotton was an acknowledged "king," the
planters calculated on the support of England, which could not do
without their bales. Lastly, they knew that the North had been divided
against itself, and that the Democratic politicians sympathized with
them in reference to slavery. The Federal leaders, on the other hand,
relied on the force of numbers, of wealth, and national prestige. Very
few supposed that the contest would be protracted. Seward thought that
it would not last over three months. Nor did the South think of
conquering the North, but supposed it could secure its own
independence. It certainly was resolved on making a desperate fight to
defend its peculiar institution. As it was generally thought in England
that this attempt would succeed, as England had no special love for the
Union, and as the Union, and not opposition to slavery, was the rallying
cry of the North, England gave to the South its moral support.

Lincoln assumed his burden with great modesty, but with a steady
firmness and determination, and surprised his cabinet by his force of
will. Nicolay and Hay relate an anecdote of great significance. Seward,
who occupied the first place in the cabinet, which he deserved on
account of his experience and abilities, was not altogether pleased with
the slow progress of things, and wrote to Lincoln an extraordinary
letter in less than a month after his inauguration, suggesting more
active operations, with specific memoranda of a proposed policy.
"Whatever policy we adopt," said he, "there must be an energetic
prosecution of it. For this purpose it must be somebody's business to
pursue and direct it incessantly. Either the President must do it
himself, or devolve it on some member of his cabinet. It is not my
especial province; but I neither seek to evade nor assume
responsibility." In brief, it was an intimation, "If you feel not equal
to the emergency, perhaps you can find a man not a thousand miles away
who is equal to it."

Lincoln, in his reply, showed transcendent tact. Although an
inexperienced local politician, suddenly placed at the head of a great
nation, in a tremendous crisis, and surrounded in his cabinet and in
Congress by men of acknowledged expert ability in statecraft, he had his
own ideas, but he needed the counsel and help of these men as well. He
could not afford to part with the services of a man like Seward, nor
would he offend him by any assumption of dignity or resentment at his
unasked advice. He good-naturedly replied, in substance: "The policy
laid down in my inaugural met your distinct approval, and it has thus
far been exactly followed. As to attending to its prosecution, if this
must be done, I must do it, and I wish, and suppose I am entitled to
have, the advice of all the cabinet."

After this, no member of the cabinet dared to attempt to usurp any
authority which belonged to the elected Commander-in-chief of the army
and navy,--unless it were Chase, at a later time. As the head of the
government in whom supreme Federal power was invested in time of war,
Lincoln was willing and eager to consult his cabinet, but reserved his
decisions and assumed all responsibilities. He probably made mistakes,
but who could have done better on the whole? The choice of the nation
was justified by results.

It is not my object in this paper to attempt to compress the political
and military history of the United States during the memorable
administration of Mr. Lincoln. If one wishes to know the details he must
go to the ten octavo biographical volumes of Lincoln's private
secretaries, to the huge and voluminous quarto reports of the
government, to the multifarious books on the war and its actors. I can
only glance at salient points, and even here I must confine myself to
those movements which are intimately connected with the agency and
influence of Lincoln himself. It is his life, and not a history of the
war, that it is my business to present. Nor has the time come for an
impartial and luminous account of the greatest event of modern times.
The jealousy and dissensions of generals, the prejudices of the people
both North and South, the uncertainty and inconsistency of much of the
material published, and the conceit of politicians, alike prevent a
history which will be satisfactory, no matter how gifted and learned may
be the historian. When all the actors of that famous tragedy, both great
and small, have passed away, new light will appear, and poetry will add
her charms to what is now too hideous a reality, glorious as were the
achievements of heroes and statesmen.

After the Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861, won by the Confederate
General Beauregard over General McDowell, against all expectation, to
the dismay and indignation of the whole North,--the result of
over-confidence on the part of the Union troops, and a wretchedly
mismanaged affair,--the attention of the Federal government was mainly
directed to the defence of Washington, which might have fallen into the
hands of the enemy had the victors been confident and quick enough to
pursue the advantage they had gained; for nothing could exceed the panic
at the capital after the disastrous defeat of McDowell. The
demoralization of the Union forces was awful. Happily, the condition of
the Confederate troops was not much better.

But the country rallied after the crisis had passed. Lincoln issued his
proclamation for five hundred thousand additional men. Congress
authorized as large a loan as was needed. The governors of the various
States raised regiment after regiment, and sent them to Washington, as
the way through Maryland, at first obstructed by local secessionists,
was now clear, General Butler having intrenched himself at Baltimore.
Most fortunately the governor of Maryland was a Union man, and with the
aid of the Northern forces had repressed the rebellious tendency in
Maryland, which State afterward remained permanently in the Union, and
offered no further resistance to the passage of Federal troops.
Arlington Heights in Virginia, opposite Washington, had already been
fortified by General Scott; but additional defences were made, and the
capital was out of danger.

With the rapid concentration of troops at Washington, the government
again assumed the offensive. General George B. McClellan, having
distinguished himself in West Virginia, was called to Washington, at the
recommendation of the best military authorities, and intrusted with the
command of the Army of the Potomac; and soon after, on the retirement of
General Scott, now aged and infirm, and unable to mount a horse,
McClellan took his place as commander of all the forces of the
United States.

At the beginning of the rebellion McClellan was simply a captain, but
was regarded as one of the most able and accomplished officers of the
army. His promotion was rapid beyond precedent; but his head was turned
by his elevation, and he became arrogant and opinionated, and before
long even insulted the President, and assumed the airs of a national
liberator on whose shoulders was laid the burden of the war. He
consequently estranged Congress, offended Scott, became distrusted by
the President, and provoked the jealousies of the other generals. But he
was popular with the army and his subordinates, and if he offended his
superiors his soldiers were devoted to him, and looked upon him as a
second Napoleon.

The best thing that can be said of this general is that he was a great
organizer, and admirably disciplined for their future encounters the raw
troops which were placed under his command. And he was too prudent to
risk the lives of his men until his preparations were made, although
constantly urged to attempt, if not impossibilities, at least what was
exceedingly hazardous.

It was expected by the President, the Secretary of War, and Congress,
that he would hasten his preparations, and advance upon the enemy, as he
had over one hundred thousand men; and he made grand promises and gave
assurances that he would march speedily upon Richmond. But he did not
march. Delay succeeded delay, under various pretences, to the
disappointment of the country, and the indignation of the responsible
government. It was not till April, 1862, after five months of inaction,
that he was ready to move upon Richmond, and then not according to
pre-arranged plans, but by a longer route, by the way of Fortress
Monroe, up the Peninsula between the York and James rivers, and not
directly across Virginia by Manassas Junction, which had been evacuated
in view of his superior forces,--the largest army theretofore seen on
this continent.

It is not for me, utterly ignorant of military matters, to make any
criticism of the plan of operations, in which the President and
McClellan were at issue, or to censure the general in command for the
long delay, against the expostulations of the Executive and of Congress.
He maintained that his army was not sufficiently drilled, or large
enough for an immediate advance, that the Confederate forces were
greater than his own, and were posted in impregnable positions. He was
always calling for reinforcements, until his army comprised over two
hundred thousand men, and when at last imperatively commanded to move,
some-whither,--at any rate to move,--he left Washington not sufficiently
defended, which necessitated the withdrawal of McDowell's corps from him
to secure the safety of the capital. Without enumerating or describing
the terrible battles on the Peninsula, and the "change of base," which
practically was a retreat, and virtually the confession of failure, it
may be said in defence or palliation of McClellan that it afterwards
took Grant, with still greater forces, and when the Confederates were
weakened and demoralized, a year to do what McClellan was expected to do
in three months.

The war had now been going on for more than a year, without any decisive
results so far as the Army of the Potomac was concerned, but on the
contrary with great disasters and bitter humiliations. The most
prodigious efforts had been made by the Union troops without success,
and thus far the Confederates had the best of it, and were filled with
triumph. As yet no Union generals could be compared with Lee, or
Johnston, or Longstreet, or Stonewall Jackson, while the men under their
command were quite equal to the Northern soldiers in bravery and

The times were dark and gloomy at the North, and especially so to the
President, as commander-in-chief of the army and navy, after all the
energies he put forth in the general direction of affairs. He was
maligned and misrepresented and ridiculed; yet he opened not his mouth,
and kept his soul in patience,--magnanimous, forbearing, and modest. In
his manners and conduct, though intrusted with greater powers than any
American before him had ever exercised, he showed no haughtiness, no
resentments, no disdain, but was accessible to everybody who had any
claim on his time, and was as simple and courteous as he had been in a
private station. But what anxieties, what silent grief, what a burden,
had he to bear! And here was his greatness, which endeared him to the
American heart,--that he usurped no authority, offended no one, and
claimed nothing, when most men, armed as he was with almost unlimited
authority, would have been reserved, arrogant, and dictatorial. He did
not even assume the cold dignity which Washington felt it necessary to
put on, but shook hands, told stories, and uttered jokes, as if he were
without office on the prairies of Illinois; yet all the while resolute
in purpose and invincible in spirit,--an impersonation of logical
intellect before which everybody succumbed, as firm, when he saw his way
clear, as Bismarck himself.

His tact in managing men showed his native shrewdness and kindliness, as
well as the value of all his early training in the arts of the
politician. Always ready to listen, and to give men free chance to
relieve their minds in talk, he never directly antagonized their
opinions, but, deftly embodying an argument in an apt joke or story,
would manage to switch them off from their track to his own without
their exactly perceiving the process. His innate courtesy often made him
seem uncertain of his ground, but he probably had his own way quite as
frequently as Andrew Jackson, and without that irascible old
fighter's friction.

But darker days were yet to come, and more perplexing duties had yet to
be discharged. The President was obliged to retire McClellan from his
command when, in August, 1862, that general's procrastination could no
longer be endured. McClellan had made no fatal blunders, was endeared to
his men, and when it was obvious that he could not take Richmond,
although within four miles of it at one time, he had made a successful
and masterly retreat to Harrison's Landing; yet the campaign against the
Confederate capital had been a failure, as many believed, by reason of
unnecessary delays on the part of the commander, and the President had
to take the responsibility of sustaining or removing him. He chose
the latter.

What general would Lincoln select to succeed McClellan? He chose General
John Pope, but not with the powers which had been conferred on
McClellan. Pope had been graduated at West Point in 1842, had served
with distinction in the Mexican War, and had also done good service in
the West. But it was his misfortune at this time to lose the second
battle of Bull Run, or Manassas, when there was no necessity of
lighting. He himself attributed his disaster to the inaction and
disobedience of General Porter, who was cashiered for it,--a verdict
which was reversed by a careful military inquiry after the war. Pope's
defeat was followed, although against the advice of the cabinet, by the
restoration of McClellan, since Washington was again in danger. After he
had put the capital in safety, McClellan advanced slowly against Lee,
who had crossed the Potomac into Maryland with designs on Pennsylvania.
He made his usual complaint of inadequate forces, and exaggerated the
forces of the enemy. He won, however, the battle of Antietam,--for,
although the Confederates afterwards claimed that it was a drawn battle,
they immediately retired,--but even then failed to pursue his advantage,
and allowed Lee to recross the Potomac and escape, to the deep disgust
of everybody and the grief of Lincoln. Encouraged by McClellan's
continued inaction, Lee sent his cavalry under Stuart, who with two
thousand men encircled the Federal army, and made a raid into
Pennsylvania, gathering supplies, and retired again into Virginia,
unhindered and unharmed. The President now deprived McClellan again of
his command, and that general's military career ended. He retired to
private life, emerging again only as an unsuccessful Democratic
candidate for the presidency against Lincoln in 1864.

It was a difficult matter for Lincoln to decide upon a new general to
command the Army of the Potomac. He made choice of Ambrose E. Burnside,
the next in rank,--a man of pleasing address and a gallant soldier, but
not of sufficient abilities for the task imposed upon him. The result
was the greatest military blunder of the whole war. With the idea of
advancing directly upon Richmond through Fredericksburg, Burnside made
the sad error of attacking equal forces strongly intrenched on the
Fredericksburg Heights, while he advanced from the valley of the
Rappahannock below, crossing the river under a plunging fire, and
attacking the enemy on the hill. It was a dismal slaughter, but Burnside
magnanimously took the whole blame upon himself, and was not disgraced,
although removed from his command. He did good service afterwards as a

It was soon after Burnside's unfortunate failure at Fredericksburg,
perhaps the gloomiest period of the war, when military reverses saddened
the whole North, and dissensions in the cabinet itself added to the
embarrassments of the President, that Lincoln performed the most
momentous act of his life, and probably the most important act of the
whole war, in his final proclamation emancipating the slaves, and
utilizing them in the Union service, as a military necessity.

Ever since the beginning of hostilities had this act been urged upon the
President by the antislavery men of the North,--a body growing more
intense and larger in numbers as the war advanced. But Lincoln remained
steady to his original purpose of _saving the Union,_---whether with or
without slavery. Naturally, and always opposed to slavery, he did not
believe that he had any right to indulge his private feeling in
violation of the Constitutional limitations of his civil power, unless,
as he said, "measures otherwise unconstitutional might become lawful by


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