The Life of Stephen A. Douglas
Part 2 out of 3
decisive action. But he was detained by sickness and did not take
his seat until February 11th.
On the 12th of March he presented to the Senate a most elaborate
report from his Committee, together with a bill to authorize the
people of Kansas to organize a State whenever they should number
It is impossible to read this report, which was prepared by himself,
without admiring his subtle art and consummate skill. He argued
away the power of Congress to impose restrictions on new States
applying for their admission, other than that the Constitution be
republican in form, and insisted that the people of the Territories
must be left perfectly free to form their own institutions and were
entitled to admission as matter of right. He traced the trouble
to the pernicious activity of the Emigrant Aid Company, which had
attempted to force New England institutions and customs upon the
Territory. He accused this Company of systematic colonization
and drew a moving picture of the march of these political colonists
across Missouri, pouring out their denunciations of slavery,
exhibiting their hostility to the institutions of that State, until
at last the people in alarm resolved on defense. He admitted that
there might be some cause for regret over the occasional errors
and excesses of the Missourians; but it must not be forgotten that
they were defending their internal prosperity and domestic security
against the invasion of New England fanatics, who were bringing
in their grain "the horrors of servile insurrection and intestine
The attempt to organize a State government at Topeka he condemned
as a seditious movement, designed to overthrow the territorial
government and the authority of the United States. He justified
the law referring the question of slavery to the inhabitants, and
traced its failure to the intemperate passions of those who had
precipitated this mad contest for mastery.
Collamer of Vermont presented the minority report, condemning the
violence of the friends of slavery, deploring the fearful results
of the experiment of Squatter Sovereignty and urging speedy admission
of the State. It condemned the provision of the law referring
the question of slavery to the inhabitants and traced the entire
trouble to that blunder.
Sumner at once denounced the report of the majority, intimated
his purpose of properly setting the brand of falsehood upon it in
a subsequent speech, and told them to "begin their game with loaded
Douglas angrily challenged him to deny a single fact in the report
and said he was ready to overwhelm him with proof. "We are ready
to meet the issue," he said, "and there will be no dodging. We
intend to meet it boldly; to require submission to the laws and
to the constituted authorities; to reduce to subjection those who
resist them, and to punish rebellion and treason. I am glad that
a defiant spirit is exhibited here; we accept the issue."
Two days later Trumbull spoke in unsparing criticism of the report of
the Committee. It happened that Douglas was absent when he began.
Word was carried to him and he hurried to the Senate. When Trumbull
closed and the usual motion to adjourn was made, he protested
against it and denounced the discourtesy of discussing the report
during his absence. He was vexed especially by his colleague's
exasperating statement that was a "life-long Democrat and was
representing the Democracy of Illinois in the Senate." He assured
them that Trumbull was without party standing in that state, and
proposed that they sign a joint resignation, thus submitting their
quarrel to the people. But there was a deeper wound than this which
still rankled, and he turned from his colleague to pour out his
wrath on Sumner for the publication of the "Appeal of the Independent
Democrats," and the old quarrel between them was rehearsed anew
with increasing bitterness on both sides.
On the 20th he spoke for two hours and a half in defense of his
report. Charges of fraud, violence or illegal voting, he said,
were made in but seven of the eighteen election districts into
which Kansas was divided, although ample provisions had been made
for the presentation of protests to the Governor. A large majority
of both branches of the legislature were elected by these eleven
districts where no complaints were made. At least a quorum must
have been legally elected. The minority report charged that on
the day of the territorial election, "large bodies of armed men
from the State of Missouri appeared at the polls in most of the
districts, and by most violent and tumultuous carriage and demeanor,
over-awed the defenseless inhabitants and by their own votes, elected
a large majority of the members of both houses of said Assembly."
But the report contained not a word about the eleven uncontested
districts affected by this invasion. In the eleven uncontested
districts the judges made their returns in due form and, no
protests nor charges of fraud or illegal voting being presented,
the Governor granted certificates of election as a matter of course.
The minority stated that in many districts protest had not been
made because the inhabitants, discouraged and intimidated by the
Missouri invaders, had let the matter pass. Yet at Lawrence and
Leavenworth, the chief centers of the alleged Missouri violence
the people were not intimidated from contesting the election, what
reason was there to suppose that elsewhere, remote from the scene
of trouble, they were so completely conquered that they dared not
protest against their wrongs and petition for redress of their
The thirty-three judges appointed by the Government to conduct
the election in the eleven districts, all swore that the returns
contained a true statement of the votes polled by the lawful voters.
The Governor, two weeks after giving certificates of election,
issued his proclamation commanding the members to assemble on the
2d of July. He recognized the legitimacy of the legislature in
his message, invoking the Divine blessing on it and recommending
the passage of important laws. But he afterward quarreled with
the legislature. He then sought to repudiate it and impeach its
validity by charging that it had been elected by Missouri invaders.
The only evidence before the Committee tending to show irregularities
in the election was the hearsay statement of the Governor, which
flatly contradicted his solemn official declarations. The legislature
itself had investigated the elections of all members against whom
contests were filed and its legitimacy was finally and conclusively
established. The malcontents having failed to capture the
legislature, encouraged by Governor Reeder (who had meanwhile been
relieved from office), instituted their rebellious Topeka movement
and, in defiance of the law, attempted to organize a State.
The movement was revolutionary and intended to subvert the existing
Government. Only two laws enacted by the territorial legislature
were complained of as unjust,--that relating to elections and that
relating to slaves. The social, domestic and pecuniary relations
of the people had adjusted themselves to this body of laws which
Congress was asked to annul; and these friends of the negro who had
organized a rebellious State government in his behalf, had adopted
a Constitution which forever excluded him from the State. The
entire trouble in Kansas, he continued, rose not from any vice
inherent in the law, but from abuses of the rights given by it to
the people. The law simply permitted them to form their domestic
institutions in their own way. If that great principle had been
permitted free operation, there would have been no violence or
trouble in Kansas. The good order reigning in Nebraska, where the
law was fairly tried, was sufficient proof of its wisdom.
The opponents of this great principle had insisted on moulding the
State of Kansas from without. Having failed to induce Congress
to interfere in the internal affairs of the Territory, they then
sought to accomplish their purpose by means of a society organized
in Washington and charted in Massachusetts, with several millions
of capital. They had deliberately attempted to discredit the
Kansas-Nebraska bill and its supporters, in order to influence the
approaching presidential election. The whole responsibility for
the disturbance in Kansas rested upon the Massachusetts Emigrant
Aid Company and its affiliated societies. The people of Missouri
never contemplated the invasion of conquest of the Territory. If
they had imitated the example set by New England, they had done
it on the principle of self-defense, and had always been ready
to abandon their counter-movement as soon as the managers of the
New England invasion ceased their efforts to shape the domestic
institutions of the Territory by an unwarranted scheme of foreign
interference. When the cardinal principle of self-government
should be recognized as binding on all, there would be an end of
the slavery controversy, and the occupation of political agitators,
whose hopes of position and promotion depended upon their capacity
to disturb the country, would be gone.
The debate lingered along indecisively through the Spring weeks and
the Senators poured out their mutual recriminations with increasing
bitterness. Personal relations among them were seriously strained.
Both parties were conscious that their constituents shared their
passions and applauded their acrimony.
On the 19th and 20th of May, Sumner delivered his philippic on "The
Crime Against Kansas." The title of the speech was a gratuitous
insult to the power which had held sway in American politics for
fifty years and learned to enjoy that sense of superiority and
sacredness which characterized the hierarchy in the middle ages.
The assaults on brother Senators were brutal. Senator Butler of
South Carolina, a polite, formal gentleman of the old school, was
recognized as the social and intellectual head of the Southern
aristocracy. Douglas, though forever excluded from its inner
circles, was an efficient and useful ally.
These senatorial leaders of the slavery crusade in Kansas were the
victims of Sumner's bitter invective. He referred to them as the
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza of slavery and, as if to prove that
this comparison was not a mere momentary inspiration of playful
humor but the elaboration of malignant hate, he developed the
parallel to its minute details. He described Douglas in his speech
defending his report as "piling one mass of elaborate error on
another mass and constraining himself to unfamiliar decencies of
speech." But he drew hope from the reflection that the Illinois
Senator "is but mortal man; against him is immortal principle.
With finite power he wrestles with the Infinite and he must fall.
Against him are stronger battalions than any marshaled by mortal
arm, the inborn, ineradicable, invincible sentiments of the human
heart; against him is Nature with all her subtle forces; against
him is God. Let him try to subdue these." He compared the Kansas
troubles to the barbarous warfare of the Scottish Highlands when
blackmail was levied and robberies committed by marauders "acting
under the inspiration of the Douglas of other days," and compared
Douglas' recent speech to "the efforts of a distinguished logician
to prove that Napoleon Bonaparte never existed."
Douglas answered with extreme bitterness. He declared that Sumner's
speech had been got up like a Yankee bedquilt by sewing all the old
scraps and patches together. He pronounced his classic quotations
obscene and indecent.
"Is it his object," he asked, "to provoke some of us to kick
him as we would a dog in the street? * * * * * The Senator from
Massachusetts," he declared, "had his speech written, printed,
committed to memory, and practiced every night before the glass,
with a negro boy to hold the candle and watch the gestures." He
charged Sumner with perjury in taking the senatorial oath to his
personal grievance and complained that he had been burned and hung
in effigy under the advice of Sumner and his brother agitators
because of his unswerving devotion to the Constitution.
"I wish," he said, "the Senate to bear in mind that in the many
controversies in which I have been engaged since I have been a member
of this body, I never had one in which I was not first assailed. I
have always stood on the defensive. You arrange it on the opposite
side of the house to set your hounds after me and then complain
when I cuff them over the head and send them back yelping. I never
made an attack on any Senator; I have only repelled attacks." He
warned Sumner that Butler, who was absent during the speech, would
return to speak and act for himself.
Sumner briefly replied, defending himself against the charge
of disloyalty to the Constitution in his unwillingness to support
its fugitive slave clause, by quoting Jackson's famous dictum that
each man swears to support the Constitution as he understands it.
He then turned on Douglas with bitter scorn. He rebuked him for
his coarse personalities unbecoming a Senator and a gentleman.
"Let him remember," he said, "that the bowie-knife and bludgeon
are not the proper emblems of senatorial debate. Let him remember
that the swagger of Bob Acres and the ferocity of the Malay cannot
add dignity to this body. * * * * I will not go into the details
which have flowed out so naturally from his tongue. I only brand
them to his face as false. I say also to that Senator, and I wish
him to bear it in mind, that no person with the upright form of
man can be allowed--" He hesitated in doubt whether to proceed.
"Say it," exclaimed Douglas.
"I will say it," replied Sumner. "No person with the upright form
of man can be allowed, without violation of all decency, to switch
out from his tongue the perpetual stench of offensive personality.
Sir, that is not a proper weapon of debate, at least on this floor.
The noisome, squat and nameless animal to which I now refer is
not a proper model for an American Senator. Will the Senator from
Illinois take notice?"
"I will," answered Douglas, "and therefore will not imitate you in
that capacity, recognizing the force of the illustration."
"Again," replied Sumner, "the Senator has switched his tongue and
again he fills the Senate with its offensive odor."
Two days after the speech, Preston H. Brooks, a relative of
Butler, who represented a district of South Carolina in the House,
entered the Senate Chamber after adjournment and, finding Sumner in
his seat writing, approached him and struck him down with a heavy
cane. There was a brief struggle in which Sumner was stunned and
When the assault occurred Douglas was in the reception room adjoining
the Senate Chamber conversing with friends. A messenger ran in
shouting that someone was beating Mr. Sumner. He rose intending to
interfere in the fray, but, recalling their unpleasant relations,
returned to his seat. When the violence was ended he went to the
Chamber to see the result. Sumner, dazed, bruised and bleeding, had
been helped to his feet and was leaning against a chair. Douglas
cast a momentary glance at the victim of this brutal and cowardly
outrage, then passed on without comment.
On the day before the assault, the Missouri ruffians had sacked the
town of Lawrence. On the day following, John Brown's Pottawotamie
adventure occurred. A crisis was at hand imperiously demanding
more effective action on the part of Congress. The country was
aroused, alarmed and horrified. The Conventions were to be held
in June and it was necessary that the Democrats bestir themselves
and make some disposition of the harassing problem of Kansas.
The existing condition in the hag-ridden Territory was directly
chargeable to a measure whose authorship Douglas had boasted. There
was danger that the tragic failure of his masterpiece of state-craft
would wreck his party and load his own name with odium which even
his rugged vitality could not throw off. Such uncontrollable
passion had been stirred by his pending bill that it seemed prudent
to quietly drop it.
On the 24th of June, Toombs introduced a bill providing for the
taking of a census, the holding of an election of delegates to a
Constitutional Convention, and the orderly organization of a State.
It was referred to Douglas' Committee, which promptly reported
back an amended bill so infinitely better than the measures thus
far attempted that it seemed comparatively just. It provided for
the appointment of commissioners to prepare lists of all citizens
over twenty-one years old resident in the Territory since the 4th
of July, who were to vote at the election; also for the holding of
a Convention, the drafting of a Constitution and the admission of
There were three objections to the bill. The commissioners were
to be appointed by President Pierce. The 4th of July, from which
residence must date, was a time at which great numbers of Northern
settlers would be absent from the Territory on account of the
turbulence and disorder which had rendered life there not only
uncomfortable but unsafe. Moreover, no express provision was made
for submitting the Constitution to a vote. However, it was regarded
as a concession to the demands of an aroused public, clothed with
the power of promptly and authoritatively expressing its disapproval.
But there were those in the Senate who feared the gift-bearing
Greeks and thought it well, now that the majority had shown some
regard for public opinion, to insist upon an explicit declaration
of their purpose to submit the slavery question to the people of
the Territory fairly and without juggling tricks. On the 2d of
July, Trumbull offered an amendment declaring it to be the true
intent and meaning of the bill organizing the Territory of Kansas
to confer upon the inhabitants "full power at any time, through its
territorial legislature, to exclude slavery from said Territory or
to recognize and regulate it therein."
This amendment seemed with utmost fairness to declare the meaning
of that law precisely as Douglas expounded it. But the South had
already taken the advanced ground that, as the Constitution of the
United States expressly established slavery, it was not within the
power of Congress or its creature, the territorial legislature,
to abolish it. This was not the creed of the Northern Democracy,
which had embraced the popular sovereignty doctrine of Douglas
and Cass. To abandon that doctrine was to alienate the Northern
Democrats and lose the presidential election. To carry it out in
good faith was to surrender Kansas and the remaining Territories to
anti-slavery institutions; for it was already evident that popular
sovereignty meant free States. It was at no time a part of
the serious political philosophy of the South, but the ingenious
invention of the Northern leaders to hold their following. The
South had permitted is Northern allies to give currency to the
doctrine, but the more sagacious saw that it was a failure and
were preparing, when the election was over, to cast it aside and
announce the true Southern dogma, that no sovereignty except that
of a State could forbid slavery anywhere in the Union.
Already the Dred Scott case was pending in the Supreme Court
and had been once argued; but the decision was reserved until the
elections were over and the new President inaugurated. Well informed
Southern statesmen did not doubt that this ultra doctrine of their
party would receive the authoritative sanction of that tribunal
and the temporary scaffolding of popular sovereignty would then be
summarily kicked aside. They could not afford to adopt Trumbull's
declaration of power in the Territory to abolish slavery, for they
secretly expected to establish that it had no such power. They
could not afford to frankly declare against it while still courting
the Northern Democrats. Benjamin, who was an accomplished lawyer,
and with the lawyer's instincts depended more on constitutional
defenses than on wavering popular majorities, moved to add the
words "subject only to the Constitution of the United States." Now
that the Constitution had become the bulwark of slavery, there was
nervous dread that Congress and the people might forget that it
was the supreme law to which all legislation was subject. Douglas
earnestly objected to Trumbull's amendment. He protested against
it as wholly unnecessary. He also voted against it as did the
great majority of the Senators.
The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 33 to 12; but the House
declined to consider it, and on the 3d passed an act to admit Kansas
under the Topeka Constitution. No compromise of differences so
radical was possible. Douglas remarked truly to his biographer
that "it was evident during all the proceedings that the Republicans
were as anxious to keep the Kansas question open as the Democrats
were to close it, in view of the approaching presidential election."
Chapter IX. The Conventions of 1856.
Douglas was now at the zenith of his success, master of all his
resources, the most admired, dreaded and powerful man in American
public life. History must inexorably condemn much of his most brilliant
and successful work, but the very emphasis of its condemnation is
an involuntary tribute to the matchless efficiency of the man. At
this period he was the most masterful and commanding personage of
purely civil character that has "strutted his hour upon the stage"
of American politics. The cabinet maker's apprentice, the village
schoolmaster, the Western lawyer, had, by sheer force, established
his right to this position of real master of his country. A weak
President was cringing at his feet. He had overcome the brilliant
and powerful opposition in the Senate. The aristocratic South,
which instinctively dreaded and despised a plebeian, was paying
him temporary homage.
He was barely 43 years old. So strenuous and effective had
been his youth that people hesitated to set bounds to his future
possibilities. So strongly had his overmastering force impressed
the popular imagination that the sobriquet, "Little Giant," suggested
by his small stature and enormous energy, had become household
words. He had come to Washington fifteen years before, a crude,
coarse, blustering youth, as described by the accomplished Adams
whose social ideals were borrowed from the courts of Europe. But
he had readily adjusted himself to his new environment and taken on
the polish of the Capital. Though never rich, he made money with
ease and spent it with princely munificence. He was not only the
political dictator but the social lion of Washington. He lived in
splendid style, in harmony with his exalted station, entertained
generously and responded freely to the numerous invitations of
friends and admirers. "His ready wit, his fine memory, made him
a favorite. * * * * He delighted in pleasant company. Unused to
what is called etiquette, he soon adapted himself to its rules and
took rank in the dazzling society of the Capital. * * * To see
him threading the glittering crowds with a pleasant smile or kind
word for everybody one would have taken him for a trained courtier."
Tradition, backed by General McClellan, says he was a heavy drinker,
though not a drunkard, and some of his finest speeches at this
period of his life appear to have been delivered after unrestrained
carousals that would have prostrated ordinary men.
Ever since 1852, when his youth and indiscretion had defeated
his presidential aspirations, he had been waiting impatiently for
the Convention of 1856. During the past four years he had been
conspicuously "riding in the whirlwind and directing the storm"
of politics. He had perhaps intensified the hostile prejudices of
the New England Puritans; but they were austere moralists, rather
than progressive politicians. He had certainly alienated many
friends in the Northwest, which was slowly withdrawing from its old
alliance with the South, and falling into sympathy with the stern
and uncompromising East. But, while he regretted the necessity
of giving offense to any section of the country or any body of the
people, he had deliberately chosen what he deemed the less of two
political evils,--the alienation of the Puritans of New England and
the Northwest rather than a breach with the salve holding baronage
of the South, which had established a prescriptive right to control
the Presidency. And yet the fact could not be blinked that all
his services and sacrifices to the South had failed to give him
its confidence and the enthusiastic loyalty that springs from it.
It viewed him with mingled emotions of admiration and fear. It
desired to retain his service but was unwilling to trust him with
power. It could not forget that in his zeal for its service that
he had trifled with the North and suspected that, if self-interest
prompted, he might break faith with the section which he now served
with such ardor.
The South, a decided minority in population, had long held its sway
by artful appeals to the selfish ambition of Northern politicians.
Although the undisputed command of the Democracy was in its hands and
the burning question of the time was that of slavery, no Southern
man had in late years been permitted to enter the field as a candidate
for the Presidency. The Southern leaders inexorably insisted on
giving the nomination to Northern men. There were at this time
three candidates from the North; Pierce, how would have joyfully
submitted to any terms and pledged himself to any service for another
four years of office; Buchanan, the great lawyer and distinguished
statesman, who had just returned from the English mission; and
Douglas, the giant of the Senate, the recognized head and practical
dictator of his party.
In point of ability and energy there was no comparison between
Douglas and either of his competitors. Pierce had laboriously
earned for himself the lasting contempt of the world. Buchanan
was an eminently respectable, dignified old gentleman of great
professional attainments and diplomatic experience, an admirable
Ambassador, a good Secretary of State, who might even have adorned
the Supreme Bench, but whose vacillating will and temporizing
character hopelessly unfitted him for the arduous duties of the
Presidency in the great crises that ensued. Had the positive,
combative and masterful Douglas been nominated at this time it may
be safely said that the most momentous chapter of American history
would have been widely different from what it is.
The Convention met at Cincinnati on the 2d of June and continued in
session for five days. The platform was adopted without dissent,
declaring the firm purpose of the party to "resist all attempts at
renewing, in Congress or out of it, the agitation of the slavery
question," and "recognizing and adopting the principle contained
in the organic law establishing the Territories of Nebraska and
Kansas as embodying the only sound and safe solution of the slavery
Buchanan's candidacy was engineered with rare skill. He was
fortunate in having been absent from the country, representing his
Government at the Court of St. James, during the three preceding
years crowded with great and stirring events, while Pierce and
Douglas had been skirmishing for the advantage, each seeking to
outbid the other in eager competition for Southern favor. The South
was deeply indebted to Douglas; but fear is strong than gratitude.
It was well satisfied with Pierce, but hesitated to nominate him lest
he might be overwhelmed with a storm of just contempt. Without an
element of positive strength, Buchanan was a formidable candidate.
On the first ballot he had 135 votes, Pierce 122, Douglas 33, and
Cass 5. Pierce lost steadily for 14 ballots while Buchanan and
Douglas gained. Pierce's name was then withdrawn. On the next
ballot Buchanan had 168 and Douglas 118 votes. Douglas then sent
a dispatch to Richardson, his manager, to withdraw his name and
make the nomination of Buchanan unanimous.
On June 17th the first Republican National Convention was held at
Philadelphia. It was not yet a united and well organized party.
It made little pretense of agreeing in anything but unyielding
opposition to slavery-propagandism and the fixed resolve to curb
the intolerable arrogance of the slave power. It was made up of
those who were opposed to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise,
to the further extension of slavery, and to the refusal to admit
Kansas as a free State. It consisted of Whigs, Free-spoilers,
Know-nothings and Democrats, who were inclined to apologize for
their temporary association under the name of this mushroom upstart
and were not willing to have it forgotten that their essential
political creeds were unchanged. They were Republicans for a time
until their own parties reformed or gathered strength for more
Yet, imperfect as was the organic unity of the party, it contained
a large part of the best political ability of the country. The real
leaders, who had evolved it from the incoherent chaos of earlier
years, impressed their energetic characters upon the organization,
and prescribed for it such formula of faith as it yet had, were
Seward and Chase. To one of them the nomination was clearly due.
Seward preferred to wait four years. It was not deemed prudent to
nominate Chase. On the first formal ballot John C. Fremont was
nominated. For the office of Vice-President Abraham Lincoln received
110 votes, but was fortunately defeated. The platform declared it
to be "the right and duty of Congress to prohibit in the Territories
those twin relics of barbarism, polygamy and slavery," condemned
in scathing terms the conduct of affairs in Kansas and demanded
its immediate admission under the Topeka Constitution.
An exciting campaign followed. Rallies, parades, fireworks
and theatrical displays were lavishly provided by the sanguine
Republicans. Their orators filled the land with eloquent denunciation
of the Pierce Administration and the Buchanan platform. Much as
it outwardly resembled the log cabin and hard cider campaign of
1840, it was wholly different in character. The Republicans were
in serious earnest. They had well defined, though discordant
opinions and convictions. But before the end of the contest it
was clear that they had blundered in nominating the picturesque
Douglas was not inactive during the campaign, being deeply interested,
not only in the election of Buchanan, but in restoring Democratic
supremacy in Illinois. He sold a hundred acres of land on the western
limit of Chicago for a hundred thousand dollars and contributed with
great liberality to the campaign fund, not only of his own State,
but also of Pennsylvania. The Democrats won both States, which,
with the entire vote of the South, elected Buchanan.
Millard Fillmore, a rather ghostly reminiscence of other days,
had been nominated by the American and Whig parties and carried
Maryland. The combined vote of Fremont and Fillmore exceeded that
of Buchanan by nearly half a million. The Democrats were evidently
approaching a crisis, and harmony, never so imperatively needed as
now, was never so hopelessly unattainable.
Chapter X. Popular Sovereignty in the Supreme Court.
The anger of the world was rising against American slavery. It was
confessedly a shocking anomaly in our system of universal freedom
and democratic equality. The people of the slave States were
inflexibly resolved to maintain and extend it in defiance of the
rising sentiment of the age. For many years they had succeeded
in holding their ground and stifling the anti-slavery agitation.
They had vigilantly kept control of the Government. During sixty
of the first sixty-eight years the presidential chair had been occupied
by Southern men or their dependents. The Senate had uniformly,
and the House usually, been under their sway. The Supreme Court
had also been composed of Southern men. Now that slavery was forced
to fight for its life, the South with increased energy sought the
active support of all the departments of Government. Pierce was its
humble servant. The efficient and imperious Douglas was serving it
in the Senate, and Cass was an eager rival. The Northern Democracy
followed their lead. A majority of the Supreme Court were zealous
advocates of slavery. It was unfortunate for the South, and for
Douglas, that the champions of Southern rights on the bench and
their advocates in Congress could not have understood each other in
advance. They were seeking to plant slavery on a safe foundation
and gird it round with impregnable defenses. Douglas had promulgated
the doctrine of squatter sovereignty with which the South was not
satisfied. It was possible for the Court to devise a safer remedy
for the threatened dangers.
In 1834, there was an army surgeon named Dr. Emmerson living in
Missouri who owned a slave named Dred Scott. He was transferred
to Fort Snelling in the Territory of Wisconsin and took his slave
with him, but in 1838 he returned with him to his former home. He
then sold Scott to a man named Sanford, who resided in New York, but
kept his slaves in Missouri. In 1854 the slave brought an action
in the United States Circuit Court of Missouri to recover his
freedom, on the ground that he had been voluntarily taken into the
Territory of Wisconsin, where, by the act of Congress known as the
Missouri Compromise, slavery was prohibited. His case rested upon
the rule that slavery, being the creature of positive municipal
law, had no legal existence beyond the limits of the sovereignty
creating or recognizing it. The law of Missouri establishing slavery
was of no efficacy in Wisconsin. Hence, it was urged, when Dred
was taken to that Territory, the relation of master and slave ended
and he became a free man.
Upon its merit the case presented but one question: Was slavery
forbidden in Wisconsin? There rose, however, a preliminary question
of great importance. To give the Federal Court jurisdiction it was
necessary to show that the plaintiff and defendant were citizens of
different States. Scott alleged that he was a citizen of Missouri
and Sanford a citizen of New York. The answer denied the jurisdiction
of the Court for the reason that Scott was not a citizen of any
State, being a negro slave, and hence not entitled to maintain his
action. The Circuit Court overruled this plea, but held Scott to
be still a slave, notwithstanding his sojourn in Wisconsin, and
awarded him to Sandford. The case was taken to the Supreme Court
and there argued by lawyers of great ability and learning. The
Court found unusual difficulties in it, held it under advisement
during the exciting summer of 1856, and directed a re-argument at
the December term. On March 6th, 1857, two days after the inauguration
of Buchanan, the Judges delivered their memorable opinions.
At this time the Court consisted of five Southern Democrats, two
Northern Democrats, one Whig and one Republican. Chief Justice
Taney wrote the opinion of the Court, and did it in a manner likely
to preserve his name from early oblivion. Judges McLean and Curtis
filed dissenting opinions.
The Court, after holding that Scott could not maintain his action
for want of citizenship, decided among other things that: "Whatever
the General Government acquires it acquires for the benefit of the
people of the several States who created it. It is their trustee,
acting for them and charged with the duty of promoting the interests
of the whole people of the Union. * * * * The right of property in
a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution.
The right to traffic in it, like an ordinary article of merchandise
and property, is guaranteed to the citizens of the United States.
* * * * The Government * * * is pledged to protect it in all future
time. * * * * The act of Congress which prohibits a citizen from
holding and owning property of this kind in the territory of the
United States north of the line mentioned (36 degrees 30 minutes)
is not warranted by the Constitution and is therefore void. * * *
* * If Congress cannot do this it will be admitted that it could
not authorize a territorial legislature to do it."
Thousands of copies of the opinion of Judge Taney were printed and
distributed among the people by the Democrats who, at first, were
so elated over the blow dealt to the Republican fanatics that they
overlooked the fact that the decision was even more fatal to the
favorite doctrine of the Northern wing of their own party.
The dissenting opinions were printed in enormous numbers by Republican
committees and distributed among the anti-slavery people of the
Northern and Middle States. Far from settling the controversy,
the powerful conflicting opinions confirmed the already inveterate
prejudices and disclosed with scientific clearness the fact, long
dimly felt, that there existed two fundamentally different and
irreconcilably hostile theories of government among the people
which must sooner or later grapple for the mastery. Naturally among
Northern Democrats the first emotion on hearing of the decision was
exultation over the disastrous reverse suffered by the Republicans,
whose whole political creed seemed annihilated. They had declared
in sounding phrase that it was the duty of Congress to wipe from the
Territories those twin relics of barbarism, slavery and polygamy;
and promptly the Supreme Court had decided that Congress had
no such power. But it soon grew uncomfortably clear to them that
while the decision upset the favorite dogma of the Republicans, it
was utterly inconsistent with the doctrine of popular sovereignty,
the fundamental tenet of Northern Democratic faith. The decision
was not only a victory of the Democrats over the Republicans, but
a complete victory of the Southern slave-holding Democracy over
that of the free North.
To Douglas the situation in which this left his party was disastrous.
Restlessly active and efficient as he had been in the practical
management of political affairs, his distinctive achievement had
been the powerful advocacy of the doctrine of popular sovereignty,
of which, if not the original author, he was at least the chief
sponsor. With this doctrine his fame as a statesman was indissolubly
linked. On its success the unity of the Northern wing of his party
depended; on which hung his hopes of victory.
Two days before the opinion was announced President Buchanan in
his inaugural address reminded the people that the great question
which had agitated them so long would soon be settled by the
Supreme court and bespoke general acquiescence in its decision.
This unhappy allusion gave rise to the unpleasant suspicion that
the relation between the new President and the Supreme Court in
their common service of the South was unduly intimate.
Had Douglas been great enough to sink the politician in the
statesman, he would now have broken with the Southern wing of his
party, which had contemptuously repudiated his entire system of
political doctrines; he would have rejected the new dogma imposed
upon his party by the Southern dictators and led the assault upon
this new creed, which was not only fatal to himself as a National
statesman, but could not fail ultimately to prove fatal to his party
and involve his country in the horrors of civil war. His squatter
sovereignty was pitiful enough. But this new doctrine, announced
by the Supreme Court, and approved by the President and his
party, stripped the settlers in the Territories of all semblance
of sovereignty and planted slavery among them by the self-acting
energy of the Constitution, in utter disregard of their wishes.
On the most important question then pending his party had reached
a conclusion which he believed to be utterly wrong. But it was
his opinion that moral ideas had no place in politics. He could
not break with the powerful party which he had led so long. He
could not unqualifiedly endorse the new doctrine without stultifying
himself. He attempted the impossible task of reconciling the new
creed with that which he had preached in the past.
The United States Grand Jury at Springfield invited him to address
the people of that city on the questions of the time. He spoke on
the 12th of June, 1857, to a large and enthusiastic audience. He
assured the people that he cordially accepted the decision and that
it was in perfect harmony with his favorite doctrine of squatter
sovereignty. The master's right to his slave in the Territories
he admitted was guaranteed by the Constitution and neither Congress
nor the legislature could interfere with it; yet practically this
right was worthless unless sustained, protected and enforced by
appropriate police regulations and local legislation prescribing
adequate remedies for its violation. These regulations and remedies
must depend entirely upon the will and wishes of the people
of the Territory, as they could only be prescribed by the local
legislature. Hence, the great principle of popular sovereignty
and self-government was sustained and firmly established by the
authority of the decision.
Perhaps, as pointed out by a recent historian, it would have
been wiser for Douglas to have planted himself on the sound legal
proposition that the only question decided by the Court was that
it had no jurisdiction of the cause and that everything in the
opinion beyond this was mere obiter dicta determining nothing.
But it was no easy matter for a politician in 1857 to explain to a
popular audience that a small fraction of the opinion of the highest
Court was binding, while the remainder was merely the private
opinion of the Judges on a matter not before them. Had Douglas been
defending his opinions before a bench of trained jurists he might
have safely rested his case on this sound but technical rule. He
afterwards did so justify his opinions in the Senate. An experience
politician determined to carry a popular election in a dangerous
crisis might well hesitate to attempt so doubtful an experiment.
History would have less temptation to call him a demagogue had he
pursued that course. But we may well doubt whether, considered as
a problem of practical politics, he was not wise in depending on
his ingenious sophistry, rather than on this sound legal proposition.
Two weeks after his speech Lincoln addressed the people of Springfield
in reply, pointing out the fallacy of Douglas' chief argument. But
Lincoln was still an obscure lawyer; Douglas was the omnipotent
Senator whose ipse dixit was final and carried conviction to the
Chapter XI. Popular Sovereignty in Congress.
While the Supreme Court was dedicating the Territories to slavery
and Douglas was preaching local nullification, anarchy continued
its delirious dance in Kansas. Guerilla warfare continued to vex
the Territory as with unconscious humor the settlers illustrated
the doctrine of popular sovereignty in practical operation.
On January 12th, 1857, the legislature met at Lecompton. On the
same day the pro-slavery party held a convention in which it was
decided that it was useless to continue the struggle. But the
more active and determined leaders were not so easily discouraged
and decided with the aid of the Administration to force a pro-slavery
Constitution upon the people and drag the young Commonwealth into
the Union as a slave State. By the middle of February a bill
passed the legislature providing for the holding of a Constitutional
Convention. It made no provision for submitting the Constitution
to a vote. Governor Geary vetoed it. The bill was at once passed
over the veto. The election of delegates to the Convention was
set for the 15th of June.
Among the earliest acts of the new President was the appointment
of Ex-Senator Robert J. Walker of Mississippi as Governor of the
Territory. Before going to his post of duty, Walker visited Douglas
at Chicago for counsel and showed him his inaugural address, in
which he declared that any Constitution adopted must be submitted
to a vote of the resident citizens of the Territory. Douglas
heartily approved this and with all sincerity wished the new Governor
God-speed in his perilous enterprise. Walker arrived late in May.
In the name of the President he promised that the election of
delegates to the Convention should be free from fraud and violence
and that the Constitution should be fairly submitted to a vote.
Buchanan assured him that on the question of submitting the
Constitution to the bona fide resident settlers he was willing to
stand or fall.
When the election was held the Republicans, who numbered at least
two-thirds of the voters of the Territory, committed the blunder
of refusing to vote. It was within their power to control the
Convention and dictate the Constitution. But their bitter experience
had produced utter distrust of the Federal Government and silent
rebellion against it. They had organized themselves into a band of
rebels bent on maintaining their free State. The election resulted
in the choice of a majority of rabid pro-slavery delegates.
The Convention which met on October 19th produced a unique
Constitution, declaring that the right of property was before and
higher than any constitutional sanction, that the right of the
owner of a slave to such slave and his increase was the same and
as inviolable as the right of the owner of any property whatever,
and provided that it could not be amended before 1865, and then
could not interfere with slavery. With exquisite ingenuity it was
decided to call an election on December 21st and let the people
vote on the question whether they were "for the Constitution with
slavery," or "for the Constitution with no slavery." No vote
against the Constitution was permitted. To make assurance doubly
sure, it was provided that, if "the Constitution with no slavery"
carried, slavery should not exist in the State except that the right
of property in slaves then in the Territory should in no measure
be interfered with.
Walker denounced it as a fraud. Buchanan in his feeble way intended
at fist to support him. But the Southern hotspurs, who understood
the vacillating old man, threatened secession and general ruin
unless he adopted their program. He yielded and threw the whole
influence of his office for the admission of the State with this
But this was too much for the patient Northern Democrats. Murmurs
of criticism, swelling to shouts of denunciation, were heard in
the North without much regard to politics. Douglas, who was in
Chicago when the news arrived of the attempted swindle, immediately
denounced it and promised his strenuous opposition. The situation
of Kansas was tragical. But that of Douglas was still more so. He
had staked his standing as a statesman upon the establishment of
the right of the settlers to mould their own institutions and had
successfully urged the election of Buchanan on the solemn pledge that
the principle of popular sovereignty would be faithfully applied.
He had reached the parting of the ways. At the last election Michigan
had defeated Cass for his political sins and elected the radical
Chandler in his place. Would Illinois' patience last forever? Was
it certain that the cool, deep-plotting Lincoln would not succeed
in overthrowing his power if he accepted the program of his party?
He must stand for reelection next year and Illinois sentiment
could not be trifled with now. The rebellion of Northern Democrats
against Southern policies was not limited to Michigan. If he would
be President, he must retain his Northern Democratic support. He
would gladly have the South, but he must have Illinois.
Already history has rendered a divided verdict upon this period
of his life. He heartily abhorred the Kansas fraud and would
really have liked to see the people given a fair chance to make a
government for themselves. He believed in fair play and despised
sharp practice and pettifogging tricks. He had the sincere faith
in popular wisdom and virtue characteristic of the West. His
cherished doctrine had been embodied in a ghastly abortion. His
pledge to the people had been shamelessly broken. While the course
of honor happened to be that of prudence, Douglas was not incapable
of choosing it from pure and unselfish patriotism.
The people of Kansas, outraged by the proceedings of the Convention,
in large numbers petitioned the Governor to call a special session
of the legislature to remedy the wrong. He summoned it to meet
December 7th and it at once ordered the whole Constitution submitted
to the people on January 4th. The election ordered by the Convention
was held on December 21st. The free-State people declined to vote.
"The Constitution with slavery" carried by a vote of 6,143 to 589.
On January 4th the pro-slavery men took part in the election of
State officers, but refused to vote on the Constitution, holding
that the legislature had no power to submit it. More than ten
thousand votes were cast against the Constitution and another set
of officers for an imaginary state selected.
The Constitution was sent to Buchanan to be submitted to Congress.
This was the beginning of Douglas' official relation to the affair.
Congress met on the 5th of December. When Douglas reached Washington
he called on the President to discuss the program for the winter.
He told him that it would never do to send the Constitution to Congress
for approval. It violated the plighted faith of the President and
his party. His advice was that it be summarily rejected. Buchanan
must submit it and recommend its approval. Douglas told him he
would denounce it in the Senate. The President, excited and alarmed,
rose from his seat and said, with great solemnity:
"Mr. Douglas, I desire you to remember that no Democrat ever yet
differed from an Administration of his own choice without being
crushed;" then he bade him beware of the fate of certain noted
insurgents in the old Jackson-VanBuren days.
"Mr. President," replied Douglas, "I wish you to remember that
General Jackson is dead."
On the 8th of December Buchanan transmitted his first message to
Congress, which satisfied the world that he had abandoned such faint
convictions as he had theretofore had and surrendered unconditionally
to the South. He confessed that he had formerly pledged himself
that the Constitution should be submitted to a vote of the people.
But he said he had reached the conclusion that the only question
upon which it was important to take the popular judgement was that
of slavery. This question could not be more clearly or distinctly
submitted than it would be under the ordinance of the Convention on
December 21st. Should the Constitution without slavery be adopted,
it, of course guarded the right of property in all slaves then in
the Territory; but that was only common justice.
It was a great day in Washington. As a leading statesman declared,
"the Administration had staked their all upon sustaining the Kansas
Constitution, * * * * but Douglas was against it, decidedly, but
not extravagantly." It was felt that a great storm was brewing,
but of so uncertain and mysterious a character that no one knew what
to expect. Douglas, who had theretofore scoffed at moral ideas in
politics, had turned stern moralist, though still protesting his
old cynical indifference, and was declaring inexpiable war on those
whose champion he had been on a hundred hard fought fields. And
strange to say, the allies with whom he was now to join hands, were
Seward and Hale, perhaps even Chase and Sumner.
When the message was read on the 8th, he moved that 15,000 extra
copies of it be printed for the use of the Senate and announced his
intention to attack that part of it relating to Kansas. The next
day when he rose to speak the galleries were thronged with an
eager multitude. He congratulated the country that the President
had not endorsed the Constitution or recommended its approval, but
had only expressed his own satisfaction with it. He patronizingly
apologized for Buchanan's error in supposing that the Kansas-Nebraska
act provided only for the submission of the slavery question to a
vote, recalling the fact that, at the time that act was passed he
was representing the country with great wisdom and distinction at
a foreign court and had never given the matter serious thought.
They had, in fact, repealed the Missouri Compromise and justified
it everywhere on the ground that the people of the Territories had
the right to form all their institutions according to their will.
The President's later doctrine was in error, radical, fundamental,
subversive of the platform on which he was elected. His suggestion
that the Convention, throughout the territorial legislature, had the
implied sanction of Congress, was without foundation. The Toombs
bill expressly authorizing the calling of a Convention had recently
passed the Senate, but was defeated in the House, clearly indicating
that Congress disapproved it. The legislature could not give consent
for Congress which it had itself refused. The Administration of
Jackson solemnly decided in the case of Arkansas that a Territory
had no right to hold a Constitutional Convention until Congress
passed an act authorizing it. The Lecompton Convention differed
from the Topeka Convention only in this; that the latter was called
in opposition to the will of the legislature, while the former was
sanctioned by it. But that body was utterly without authority in
the matter until Congress empowered it to act.
When the delegates to this Convention were elected everyone supposed
that their work would be submitted to a vote. The President and
his Cabinet so understood it. Governor Walker so understood it
and pledged his own word and that of the President that it would
be submitted. A form of submission had been devised such that all
men might come forward freely and vote for the Constitution and no
man was permitted to vote against it. This resembled the French
election when the First Consul sent the soldiers to the polls telling
them to vote just as they pleased; but adding, "if you vote for
Napoleon all is well; if you vote against him you will be shot."
The objection to submitting the Constitution to a vote was that it
would be voted down.
"Sir," he said, "my honor is pledged; and before it shall be tarnished
I will take whatever consequences personal to myself may come; but
never ask me to do an act which the President in his message has
said is a forfeiture of faith, a violation of honor. * * * I will
go as far as any of you to save the party. I have as much heart in
the great cause that binds us together as any man living. I will
sacrifice anything short of principle and honor for the peace of
the party; but if the party will not stand by its principles, its
faith, its pledges, I will stand there and abide whatever consequences
may result from the position. * * * It is none of my business
which way the slavery clause is decided. I care not whether it is
voted up or voted down."
He urged the wisdom of passing a fair enabling act authorizing the
people to hold a Constitutional Convention and providing for the
submission of its work to the people and the orderly admission
of the State. "But if this Constitution is to be forced down our
throats," he continued, "in violation of the fundamental principles
of free government, under a mode of submission that is a mockery
and an insult, I will resist it to the last. I have no fear of
any party associations being severed; * * * but if it must be, if
I cannot act with you and preserve my faith and honor, I will stand
on the great principle of popular sovereignty which declares the
right of all people to be left perfectly free to form and regulate
their institutions in their own way."
This remarkable speech was recognized by all who heard it as
marking an epoch, not merely in the life of the orator, but in the
evolution of party politics at a time when parties were bending
in death grapple and them most portentous civil war in history
was looming in the distance. The speech was a clean, powerful,
dispassionate argument delivered with an air of dignity and fortitude
that greatly mollified the hearts of his old enemies.
Bigler of Pennsylvania, rising to defend the President, reminded
the Senate that only a short year ago Douglas had voted for the
Toombs bill, which provided for the holding of a Constitutional
Convention without submitting its work to the people. Douglas
protested that he did not so understand the bill and challenged
Bigler for evidence that a single Senator so understood it. A
remarkable dialogue followed. Bigler, who was a Democrat and a
humble admirer of Douglas, said:
"I was present when that subject was discussed by Senators before
the bill was introduced, and the question whether the Constitution
when formed should be submitted to a vote of the people. It was
held by those most intelligent on the subject that * * * it would
be better that there should be no (such) provision in the Toombs
bill; and it was my understanding * * * that the Convention would
make a Constitution and send it here without submitting it to the
Douglas inquired, angrily, whether he meant to insinuate that he had
been present at any such conference. Bigler hesitated and sought
to avoid the disclosure of the proceedings at their secret caucus,
but Douglas impetuously released him from all secrecy and challenged
him, if he knew, to declare, that, directly or indirectly, publicly or
privately, anywhere on the face of the earth, he was ever present
at such a consultation when it was called to his attention and
he agreed to approve a Constitution without submitting it to the
Bigler, who had an uneasy suspicion that he was improperly disclosing
party secrets, could not decline the challenge, and replied that he
remembered very well that the question was discussed at a conference
held at Douglas' own house. "It was then urged," he said, "by
Toombs, that there should be no provision for the submission of the
Constitution to the people." He did not remember whether Douglas
took part in the discussion, but his own understanding of the
sense of the caucus was that the Convention should have the right
to make a Constitution and send it directly to Congress for approval.
Douglas protested that he was innocent of any such conspiracy. He
confessed that his attention was called to the fact that no provision
was made in the Toombs bill for the submission of the Constitution,
but his understanding was that, powers not delegated being reserved,
it would, of course, be submitted. Bigler reminded him that, while
he had taken this for granted in the case of Kansas, he had about
the same time drafted a bill for the admission of Minnesota in
which he took care to provide in express terms that the Constitution
must be submitted. If he then thought general principles of law
secured the submission of the Kansas Constitution without providing
for it in the enabling act, why this care to expressly provide for
it in the Minnesota act?
He was now swimming amid perilous breakers. He had thrown down
the gage of battle to his party. In the twinkling of an eye he was
transformed from recognized chief to a rebel; but he was isolated
and unsupported. He could not consort with Republicans. The
rankling wounds of the by-gone years could not heal so suddenly.
Moreover, he did not want their society. He intended to remain
a Democrat and hoped to force upon his party such policies that
Illinois and the Northwest would be solidly at his back. With the
Democratic States of the North standing firmly with him he could
still dictate terms to the South, which would have to choose between
Northern Democrats and Northern Republicans.
Chapter XII. The Lecompton Constitution.
On February 2nd Buchanan sent to Congress his message, transmitting
the Lecompton Constitution and urging its approval. As apology
for his change of front and excuse for a like change in others he
drew a dark picture of the disturbed condition of affairs in the
Territory, portraying the Topeka free State enterprise as a vast
insurrectionary movement. He told Congress that it was impossible
to submit the whole instrument to a vote because the free State
faction, who were the majority, would vote against any Constitution,
however perfect, except their own. He commended the entire regularity
of the Lecompton Convention and the fairness with which the slavery
question had been submitted to a vote and urged immediate admission.
When the motion to print and refer to the Committee on Territories
was made, Trumbull denounced the message with great energy and
at some length. He asked sneeringly what had become of the once
celebrated principle of popular sovereignty? The people of Kansas
were denied the right of voting on their Constitution at all and the
Dred Scott decision had settled that at no stage had the people of
a Territory power to interfere with slavery. The whole doctrine,
he declared, had been absolutely repudiated.
The message having been referred to the Committee on Territories
after six days' debate, on the 18th of February a bill was reported
by a majority of the Committee for the admission of Kansas into
the Union under the Lecompton Constitution and Douglas presented
a minority report protesting against it. For two weeks he was
confined to his room by sickness, but, as the day for the vote was
near, notice was given that he would speak on the 22nd of March.
On that day the Senate met at the early hour of ten. Already the
galleries were crowded. Long before noon the passages leading to
the Chamber were thronged with men and women vainly seeking admission.
In a moment of graceful gallantry the Senators admitted the ladies
to the floor. Through long hours of debate the crowd waited. The
Senate adjourned until seven o'clock, at which time Douglas was to
speak. The visitors who were lucky enough to have gained admission
waited with patient good humor for the return of the Senators, who
at last began to force their way back into the Chamber through the
A little before seven the short figure of Douglas was observed at
the door and he was greeted with loud applause from the galleries.
The session resumed and he rose to speak. Cheered as he was by
the sympathy and admiration of the visitors, it was to him a stern
enough hour when he must finally break with his powerful party and
battle with his utmost strength against its cherished program. He
must attack, not Buchanan, but the organized Democracy, now more
powerfully entrenched than ever before. It controlled the President
and the Supreme Court and had bent them to its will in this precise
quarrel. The Senate was Democratic nearly two to one, and but
two of the majority followed him in his revolt. In the House the
Democrats had a majority of twenty-five.
Foreseeing the personal consequences of his act, he opened his speech
with an elaborate review of his course in Congress in relation to
slavery in the Territories, showing that from the beginning he had
favored leaving the whole question fairly to the inhabitants. He
stood on the principle of the Compromise of 1850 as approved and
interpreted by the legislature of Illinois in 1851. That body had
declared that the people of a Territory had a right to form such
government as they chose. But was the Lecompton Constitution the
act and deed of the people of Kansas? Did it embody their will?
If not, Congress had no right to impose it on them. Where was the
evidence that it did embody their will? By a fraudulent vote on
December 12th it was adopted by 5,500 majority. By a fair vote on
January 4th it was defeated by 10,000 majority. The election on
December 21st was ordered by the Lecompton Convention, deriving its
authority from the territorial legislature. The legislature itself
ordered the election on January 4th. Granting the argument that
the organic act was in effect an enabling act, then the territorial
legislature had power to authorize the Lecompton Convention and
also to order it work submitted to a vote. The legislature either
had the full power of Congress over the subject or it had none.
But, it was claimed, the Constitution would have been voted down
if submitted. What right had Congress to force it upon the people?
It was a mockery to call it an embodiment of their will and a crime
to attempt to enforce it. If it ever became the Constitution of
Kansas it would be the act of Congress that made it so and not the
decision of the people. That it could be changed thereafter was no
apology for this outrage. It was as much a violation of fundamental
principle, a violation of popular sovereignty, to force a Constitution
on an unwilling people for a day as for a year or for a longer
If a few thousand Free Soilers had fabricated a Constitution
in this fashion, prohibiting slavery forever, would the gentlemen
from the South have submitted to the outrage? They were asked to
admit Kansas with a State government brought into existence not
only by fraudulent voting but forged returns sustained by perjury.
He paused to comment on certain diatribes in the Washington Union
which had denounced him as a renegade, traitor and deserter, and
read from its columns an article presenting the extreme claims
of the South, arguing that all laws and Constitutions of the free
States forbidding slavery were violations of the Federal Constitution,
and that the emancipation of slaves in the Northern States was
a gross outrage on the rights of property. But this article, he
said, was in harmony with the Lecompton Constitution, which declared
the right of property in a slave to be higher than Constitutions.
This meant that the Constitutions of the free States forbidding
slavery were in conflict with the Constitution of the United States
and of no validity. Hence slavery had right to exist in all the
States. But this was not the authentic Democratic faith, which
left the whole question to the option of the several States. If
each one took care of its own affairs, minded its own business
and let its neighbors alone, there would be peace in the country.
Seward had proclaimed a higher law which forbade slavery everywhere.
this instrument and the Administration paper proclaimed a higher
law which established it in all the States. It was time to quit
this folly and yield obedience to the Constitution and laws of the
It was the most arrant presumption for the Administration to attempt
to make this a party measure. By what right did these accidental
and temporary holders of office prescribe party politics? There had
been no Convention, not even a caucus, since this question arose.
The party was not committed. The President had no right to tell a
Senator his duty and command his allegiance. He had no power to
prescribe tests. A Senator's first duty was to his State. "If
the will of my State is one way and the will of the President is
the other, am I to be told that I must obey the Executive and betray
my State, or else be branded as a traitor to the party and hunted
down by all the newspapers that share the patronage of the Government?
And every man who holds a petty office in any part of my State to
have the question put to him, 'Are you Douglas' enemy? If not,
your head comes off.'"
What despotism on earth could equal this? The obedience of Senators
was demanded on this question only. On all else they were free.
The President was evidently guided by the old adage that a man needs
no friends when he knows he is right and only want his friends to
stand by him when he is wrong.
The President regretted that the Constitution was not submitted
to the people, although he knew that if it had been submitted
it would have been rejected. Hence, he regretted that it had not
been rejected. Would he regret that it had not been submitted and
rejected if he did not think it was wrong? And yet, he demanded
their assistance in forcing it on an unwilling people and threatened
vengeance on all who refused.
"For my part," he continued, * * * "come what may, I intend to vote,
speak and act according to my own sense of duty, so long as I hold
a seat in this Chamber. * * * I have no professions to make of
my fidelity. I have no vindication to make of my course. Let it
speak for itself. * * * I intend to perform my duty in accordance
with my own convictions. Neither the frowns of power nor the
influence of patronage will change my action, nor drive me from my
principles. I stand firmly and immovably upon those great principles
of self-government and State sovereignty upon which the campaign
was fought and won. I stand by the time honored principles of the
Democratic party, illustrated by Jefferson and Jackson, those principles
of State rights, of State sovereignty, of strict construction, upon
which the great Democratic party has ever stood. I will stand by
the Constitution of the United States with all its compromises and
perform all my obligations under it. I will stand by the American
Union as it exists under the Constitution. If standing firmly by
my principles I shall be driven into private life, it is a fate
that has no terrors for me. * * * If the alternative be private
life or servile obedience to the Executive will, I am prepared to
retire. Official position has no charm for me when deprived of
that freedom of thought and action which becomes a gentleman and
When he closed, Toombs rose to reply. The speech was offensively
bitter and personal, in one memorable passage of which he announced
that the slave States would take care of themselves and were prepared
to bid defiance to the North and to the world. Green of Missouri
answered in coarser strain, both intimating that Douglas had been
guilty of deliberate perfidy in his change of front.
On the 23rd the vote was taken and the bill passed, 33 being for
it and 25 against it.
The Administration now declared war on him. The patronage
was unsparingly used against his friends and it was better for an
applicant for Federal appointment to be accused of any crime than
suspected of friendship with Douglas. This separation from his
party touched his feelings more deeply than any other event of his
life, and we find surprising evidence of his being shaken by deep
emotions that seem out of harmony with his robust and unsentimental
nature. But when we remember that all his life had been spent
in the activities of politics, that his thoughts, sentiments and
passions had all been political for twenty years, that the Democratic
platform was at once his creed and his philosophy, we can understand
something of the choking emotion that threatened to overpower him
as he announced that he was thenceforth a rebel and a heretic.
After December 9th, the Administration press attacked him bitterly
and he found himself everywhere proclaimed a traitor and deserter.
He told the Senate that he knew the knife would be put to the throats
of his followers. The Administration Senators assailed him. But
he was equal to all emergencies and his new position as the recognized
leader of the anti-Lecompton revolt gave him the enthusiastic
applause of the Northwest.
On March 23rd the bill went to the House. A motion was made to
refer it to a special committee. A contest over this motion arose,
lasted all night, and degenerated into a general brawl, in which
a Member from Pennsylvania knocked down a South Carolina Member,
and many others were engaged in fisticuffs. At last a reference
was agreed to.
On April 1st, while the House had the bill under consideration,
Montgomery of Pennsylvania offered a substitute which had been
offered by Crittenden in the Senate and there rejected, providing
that the Constitution should be submitted to a vote, and, if adopted,
the President should at once proclaim the admission of the State;
if rejected, the inhabitants should hold a new Constitutional
Convention. This substitute passed the House but was rejected by
the Senate. A conference Committee was appointed, which reported
the notorious English bill, providing that a generous grant of land
should be offered to Kansas, and the people at a special election
vote to accept it. If they so voted, they were to be admitted
as a State with the Lecompton Constitution. If they rejected the
grant, they could not be admitted until they numbered 93,000, which
meant indefinite postponement. The bill was merely an offer of a
bribe to the people to accept a Constitution which they abhorred.
Its form was such that men who still believe it well to maintain
the guise of decency could vote for it on the pretence that it was
a land grant.
Douglas, who had now tried the thorny path of rebellion, faltered.
He was tempted to support the bill and seek reconciliation, but
decided to vote against it. It passed the Senate by a majority of
nine and the House by a majority of eight. In the following August
the proposition was submitted and rejected so decisively that the
maddest fanatic must have seen that all hope of making Kansas a
slave State was gone forever.
Chapter XIII. The Illinois Campaign.
Congress adjourned on June 16th and Douglas, after spending a few
days in New York, returned to Chicago. Meanwhile the people of
Illinois had awakened to great political activity. On April 21st
the regular Democratic Convention was held at Springfield and
without opposition passed a resolution endorsing his candidacy for
re-election. On June 9th the "Administration Democracy," consisting
of the Federal office holders and those democrats who condemned
his anti-Lecompton battle, held a Convention at Springfield, the
purpose of which was to divide the party and insure his defeat. On
the 17th the Republicans held their Convention at Springfield and
chose Lincoln as their candidate for United States Senator.
The nomination of Lincoln was not an accident. He was prepared to
accept it in a speech that should serve as the text of his campaign
and was destined to great fame in after years. Against the resolve of
his friends he announced the dangerous doctrine that the Government
could not endure permanently half slave and half free. "A house
divided against itself cannot stand." He did not expect the Union
to be dissolved or the house to fall, but that it would cease to be
divided. "Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further
spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in
the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction, or its
advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful
in all the States, old as well as new, North as well as South."
The repeal of the Missouri Compromise and the establishment of
squatter sovereignty was a great step towards the nationalization of
slavery. This was followed by the Dred Scott decision forbidding
Congress to interfere with it in the Territories. All the
legislation of Congress had carefully reserved a place for this
expected decision. Douglas had hinted it in the Senate long before
it was announced. Pierce and Buchanan had proclaimed it before the
Judges. "We cannot absolutely know that all these exact adaptations
are the result of preconcert. But when we see a lot of framed
timbers, different portions of which we know have been gotten
out at different times and different place, and by different
workmen,--Stephen, Franklin, Roger and James, for instance,--and
when we see these timbers all joined together and see they exactly
make the frame of a house or mill, all the tenons and mortises
exactly fitting, * * * * * we find it impossible not to believe
that Stephen and Franklin and Roger and James all understood one
another from the beginning and all worked upon a common plan or
draft drawn up before the first blow was struck."
He repelled the suggestion made in some quarters that the Republicans
ought to cease their fight on Douglas and rally to his support in
his contest with the slavery propagandists. He reminded them that
the very essence of Republican faith was hostility to slavery, while
Douglas frankly declared that he did not care whether it was voted
up or voted down. The cause must be entrusted to those whose hearts
were in the work and who did care for the result.
On the 9th of July Douglas returned to Chicago and received
a royal welcome. A special train loaded with prominent citizens
was dispatched to meet him. On his arrival he was greeted with
tumultuous applause. He addressed the vast multitude from the
balcony of the Tremont House. Thirty thousand people are said
to have gathered to hear him. He was profoundly pleased by this
splendid ovation so strikingly in contrast with the reception
four years before, when his neighbors refused even to hear him in
defense of his course. Among the distinguished visitors on the
speakers' stand sat Lincoln.
After thanking his audience for the enthusiastic reception, he plunged
into the subject then uppermost in the public mind by rehearsing
his relation to the whole Kansas problem. He reminded them of his
early and consistent devotion to popular sovereignty, which had
been so utterly outraged by the Lecompton Constitution. He assured
his hearers, however, that his opposition to that Constitution arose
from no sentimental morality and bore no relation to the ethics of
slavery. He insisted, not that it be good or just, but that it be
submitted to a vote of the settlers.
He then addressed himself to Lincoln's Springfield speech. He
attacked his extreme doctrines with characteristic adroitness.
Lincoln's speech was of doubtful prudence as a campaign argument.
It really foreboded civil war or a peaceful dissolution of the
Union. While this alternative was, perhaps, inevitable, political
expediency forbade its avowal. Douglas declared the necessary
result of his philosophy to be a war of sections, a war of the North
against the South, of the free States against the slave States,
to be continued relentlessly until the one or the other should
be subdued and all should either become free States or all become
slave States. But this was not the true theory of the American
Union. The States differed widely in soil, climate, resources,
tastes and habits. Their laws and institutions were utterly unlike.
New Hampshire's laws were unfit for South Carolina; those of New
York were not suited to the Pacific Coast. Uniformity in local
and domestic affairs would be destructive of State rights, State
sovereignty and personal liberty. Uniformity was the parent
of despotism the world over. The only way of attaining Lincoln's
proposed uniformity would be to abolish State legislatures, blot
out State sovereignty and merge the States into one consolidated
empire. But diversity, dissimilarity, variety in all their local and
domestic institutions was the great safeguard of their liberties.
He insisted on reverently bowing to the Supreme Court as the
authoritative expounder of the Constitution, rather than appealing
from it to a tumultuous town meeting where constitutional questions
arose. The Federal Government was founded on the white basis.
It was made by white men, for the benefits of white men, to be
administered by white men in such manner as they should determine.
Let each State decide for itself how it would treat the negroes
and let its neighbors alone.
"The issues between Mr. Lincoln and myself," he said, "are made
up, * * * *. He goes for uniformity in our domestic institutions,
for a war of sections, until one or the other shall be subdued. I
go for * * * the right of the people to decide for themselves. On
the other hand Mr. Lincoln goes for a warfare on the Supreme Court.
* * * * I yield obedience to the decisions of that Court. * * *
* I am opposed to negro equality. I repeat that this nation is a
white people, * * * * a people that have established this Government
for themselves and their posterity. * * * * I am opposed to taking
any step that recognizes the negro man * * * as the equal of the
white man. I am opposed to giving him a voice in the administration
of the Government."
The reception was recognized by the politicians of both parties
as a great success. It was a brilliant opening of the senatorial
campaign. The Republicans were anxious to counteract it. On the
following evening Lincoln spoke at the same place. He had a large
and enthusiastic audience. But he was not an impromptu orator at
all comparable to Douglas. While his carefully prepared Springfield
speech was decidedly better than Douglas' dashing address in
Chicago, his unprepared speech was by no means equal to it. The
marked disparity between the two speeches must have intensified
the suspicion among Lincoln's friends that he was no match for his
rival on the stump.
On the 16th of July Douglas again spoke to a vast multitude at
Bloomington. He made an artful appeal for the Whig vote by a well
turned compliment to "Kentucky's great and gallant statesman, John
J. Crittenden," who proposed to refer the whole question back to
the people of Kansas and thus "showed himself a worthy successor
of the immortal Clay." The Republicans had "endorsed the great
principle of the Kansas-Nebraska bill," they had "come to the
Douglas platform in supporting the Crittenden-Montgomery bill." The
compromise of 1850 embodied the principle that every people ought
to have the privilege of forming and regulating their own institutions
to suit themselves. Each State had that right and no reason existed
why it should not be extended to the Territories. The Illinois
House of Representatives by an almost unanimous vote had asserted
that the principle embodied in the measures of 1850 was the
birth-right of free men, the gift of heaven, a principle vindicated
by our Revolutionary fathers, that no limitation should ever be placed
upon it either in the organization of a territorial government or
the admission of a State into the Union. In conformity with that
principle he had brought in the Kansas-Nebraska bill, for which
Lincoln and his friends were seeking his defeat.
"I have known Lincoln well," he said, "for a quarter of a century.
I have known him as you all know him, a kind-hearted, amiable
gentleman, a right good fellow, a worthy citizen, of eminent ability
as a lawyer, and, I have no doubt, sufficient ability to make a
He examined Lincoln's "house divided-against-itself" philosophy,
pointing out that the house had been divided for nearly seventy
years and still stood.
"How is Lincoln, if elected Senator, going to carry out that principle
which he says is essential to the existence of this Union; that
slavery must be abolished in all the States, or must be established
in all? * * * * He invites, by his proposition, a war between
Illinois and Kentucky, a war between the free States and the slave
States, a war between the North and the South, for the purpose of
either exterminating slavery in every Southern State, or planting
it in every Northern State. * * * * * What man in Illinois would
not lose the last drop if his heart's blood before he would submit
to the institution of slavery being forced upon us by the other
States against our will? * * * What Southern man would not shed
the last drop of his heart's blood to prevent Illinois or any other
Northern State from interfering to abolish slavery in his State? *
* * * I am opposed to organizing a sectional party which appeals to
Northern pride and Northern passion and prejudice against Southern
institutions, thus stirring up ill feeling and hot blood between
brethren of the same Republic. * * * * How is he to carry out his
principles when he gets to the Senate? Does he intend to introduce
a bill to abolish slavery in Kentucky? Does he intend to introduce
a bill to interfere with slavery in Virginia? How is he to accomplish
what he professes must be done to save the Union?
"There would be but one way to carry out his ideas. That would be
to establish a consolidated empire as destructive to the liberties
of the people and the rights of the citizen as that of Austria
or Russia or any other despotism that rests upon the necks of the
people * * * *. Who among you expects to live or have his children
live until slavery shall be established in Illinois or abolished in
South Carolina? * * * * There is but one possible way in which
slavery can be abolished and that is by leaving a State * * *
* perfectly free to form and regulate its institutions in its own
way. That was the principle upon which this Republic was founded.
* * * * Under its operation slavery disappeared from New Hampshire,
from Rhode Island, from Connecticut, from New York, from New Jersey,
from Pennsylvania, from six of the twelve original slave holding
States; and this gradual emancipation went on so long as we in the
free states minded our own business and left our neighbors alone,
* * * * so long as the free States were content with managing their
own affairs and leaving the South perfectly free to do as they
pleased. But the moment the North said, 'We are powerful enough to
control you of the South,' * * * * that moment the South combined
to resist the attack and thus sectional parties were formed and
gradual emancipation ceased in all the Northern slave holding States
* * *.
"Lincoln makes another issue, * * * * a crusade against the Supreme
Court of the United Sates because of its decision in the Dred Scott
case. * * * * I have no crusade to preach against that august
body. * * * * I receive the decision of the Judges of that Court
when pronounced as the final adjudication upon all questions within
their jurisdiction. * * * * Unless we respect and bow in deference
to the final decisions of the highest judicial tribunal in our
country, we are driven at once to anarchy, to violence, to mob law,
and there is no security left for our property or our own civil
rights. * * * * Are we to appeal from the Supreme Court to a country
meeting like this? * * * Does Mr. Lincoln intend to appeal from
the decision of the Supreme Court to a Republican caucus or a town
meeting? * * * He tells you that he is opposed to the decision in
the Dred Scott case. Well, suppose he is; what is he going to do
about it? I never got beat in a law suit in my life that I was not
opposed to the decision. * * * * This Government is divided into
three separate and distinct branches. * * * * Each one is supreme
within the circle of its own powers. The functions of Congress are
to enact the statutes, the province of the Court is to pronounce
upon their validity, and the duty of the Executive is to carry the
decision into effect."
Yet, he said, Lincoln wants to be elected Senator in order to
reverse the Dred Scott decision by passing another unconstitutional
statute. He can not get rid of the Judges now on the bench until
they die. He must first elect a Republican President by Northern
votes bound by pledges to appoint none but Republicans to the bench.
He must then persuade the Judges to die. The President must pledge
his new Judges in advance to decide this slavery question according
to the wishes of his party, regardless of the Constitution. What
confidence would the people have in a Court thus constituted?--a
Court composed of partisan Judges, appointed on political grounds,
catechized in advance and pledged in regard to a decision before
the argument and without reference to the state of facts? Would
such a Court command the respect of the country? Without regard
to the Dred Scott decision slavery will go just where the people
want it and not one inch further.
"I tell you, my friends, it is impossible under our institutions to
force slavery on an unwilling people. If this principle of popular
sovereignty * * * be fairly carried out by letting the people decide
the question for themselves by a fair vote at a fair election and
with honest returns, slavery will never exist one day or one hour
in any Territory against the unfriendly legislation of an unfriendly
people. I care not how the Dred Scott decision may have settled the
abstract question so far as the practical results are concerned. *
* * If the people of the Territory want slavery they will encourage
it by passing affirmatory laws and the necessary police regulations,
patrol laws and slave code; if they do not want it they will
withhold that legislation and by withholding it slavery is a dead
as if prohibited by a constitutional provision. * * * * * They
could pass such local laws as would drive slavery out in one day
or one hour, if they were opposed to it; and therefore, so far as
the question of slavery in the Territory is concerned, so far as
the principle of popular sovereignty is concerned in its practical
operation, it matters not how the Dred Scott case may be decided.
* * * * * Whether slavery shall exist or shall not exist in any
State or Territory will depend on whether the people are for or
against it; and which ever way they shall decide it will be entirely
satisfactory to me."
The Dred Scott case, he continued, decides that negroes are
not citizens. But Lincoln insists on conferring on them all the
privileges, rights and immunities of citizens. "I believe this
Government of ours was founded on the white basis. I believe
it was established for white men, of the benefit of white men and
their posterity in all time to come. I do not believe that it
was the design or intention of the signers of the Declaration of
Independence or the framers of the Constitution to include negroes
as citizens. * * * The position Lincoln has taken on this question
not only presents him as claiming for them the right to vote, but
their right under the divine law and the Declaration of Independence
to be elected to office, to become members of the legislature, to
go to Congress, to become Governors or United States Senators, or
Judges of the Supreme Court. * * * He would permit them to marry,
would he not? And if he gives them that right I suppose he will
let them marry whom they please, provided they marry their equals.
If the divine law declares that the white man is the equal of the
negro woman, that they are on a perfect equality, I suppose he admits
the right of the negro woman to marry the white man. * * * I do
not believe that the signers of the Declaration had any reference
to negroes when they used the expression that all men were created
equal. * * * They were speaking only of the white race. * * *
Every one of the thirteen colonies was a slave-holding constituency.
Did they intend * * * to declare that their own slaves were on an
equality with them? What are the negroes' rights and privileges?
That is a question which each State and Territory must decide for
itself. We have decided that question. We have said that in this
State the negro shall not be a slave but that he shall enjoy no
political rights; that negro equality shall not exist. * * * For
my own part, I do not consider the negro any kin to me nor to any
other white man; but I would still carry my humanity and philanthropy
to the extent of giving him every privilege and every immunity that
he could enjoy consistent with our own good."
Maine allows the negro to vote on an equality with the white man.
New York permits him to vote, provided he owns $250 worth of
property. In Kentucky they deny the negro all political and civil
rights. Each is a sovereign State and has a right to do as it
pleases. Let us mind our own business and not interfere with them.
Lincoln is not going into Kentucky, but will plant his batteries
on this side of the Ohio and throw his bomb shells--his Abolition
documents--over the River and will carry on the political warfare
and get up strife between the North and South until he elects a
sectional President, reduces the South to the condition of dependent
colonies, raises the negro to an equality and forces the South to
submit to the doctrine that a house divided against itself cannot
stand; that the Union divided into half slave States and half free
cannot endure; that they must be all free or all slave; and that,
as we in the North are in the majority, we will not permit them to
be all slave and therefore they in the South must consent to the
States being all free.
"These are my views and these are the principles to which I have
devoted all my energies since 1850, when I acted side by side
with the immortal Clay and the god-like Webster in that memorable
struggle in which the Whigs and the Democrats united upon a common
platform of patriotism and the Constitution. * * * And when
I stood beside the death-bed of Mr. Clay and heard him refer with
feelings and emotions of the deepest solicitude to the welfare of
the country, and saw that he looked upon the principle embodied in
the great Compromise of 1850, the principle of the Nebraska bill,
the doctrine of leaving each State and Territory free to decide
its institutions for itself, as the only means by which the peace
of the country could be preserved and the Union perpetuated. I
pledged him on that death-bed of his that so long as I lived my
energy should be devoted to the vindication of that principle and
of his fame as connected with it. I gave the same pledge to the
great expounder of the Constitution, he who has been called the
god-like Webster. I looked up to Clay and him as a son would to a
father, and I call upon the people of Illinois and the people of
the whole Union to bear testimony that never since the sod has been
laid upon the graves of these eminent statesmen have I failed on
any occasion to vindicate the principle with which the last great
crowning acts of their lives were identified. * * * And now my
life and energy are devoted to this work as the means of preserving
this Union. * * * It can be maintained by preserving the sovereignty
of the States, the right of each State and each Territory to settle
its domestic concerns for itself and the duty of each to refrain
from interfering with the other in any of its local or domestic
institutions. Let that be done, and the Union will be perpetuated.
Let that be done, and this Republic which began with thirteen
States and which now numbers thirty-two, which when it began only
extended from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, but now reaches to
the Pacific, may yet expand north and south until it covers the
whole continent and becomes one vast, ocean-bound Confederacy. *
* * * Let us maintain the great principles of popular sovereignty,
of State rights and of the Federal Union as the Constitution has
made it, and this Republic will endure forever."
On the following day he spoke at Springfield, repeating his
Bloomington speech with slight abridgment.
In the evening, Lincoln, who had attended Douglas' Bloomington meeting
and accompanied him to Springfield, spoke to a large audience. He
twitted him for his noisy, spectacular campaign, "the thunderings
of cannon, the marching and music, the fizzle-gigs and fireworks. * * *
"Does Judge Douglas," he asked, "when he says that several of the
past years of his life have been devoted to the question of popular
sovereignty and that all the remainder of his life shall be devoted
to it, mean to say that he has been devoting his life to securing
to the people of the territories the right to exclude slavery? *
* * He and every one knows that the decision of the Supreme Court,
which he approves and makes a special ground of attack upon me for
disapproving, forbids the people of a Territory to exclude slavery.
This covers the whole ground from the settlement of a Territory
till it reaches the degree of maturity entitling it to form a State
Constitution. So far as all that ground is concerned, the Judge
is not sustaining popular sovereignty, but absolutely opposing it.
He sustains the decision which declares that the popular will of
the Territory has no constitutional power to exclude slavery during
their territorial existence. This being so, the period of time
from the first settlement of the Territory till it reaches the point
of forming a State Constitution is not the thing that the Judge is
fighting for; but, on the contrary, he is fighting for the thing
that annihilates and crushes out that same popular sovereignty. *
* * He is contending for the right of the people, when they come to
make a State Constitution, to make it for themselves and precisely
as best suits themselves. That is quixotic. Nobody is opposing or
has opposed the right of the people when they form a Constitution
to form it for themselves. This being so, what is he going to spend
his life for? Is he going to spend it in maintaining a principle
that nobody on earth opposes? Does he expect to stand up in
majestic dignity and go through this apothesis and become a god
in maintaining a principle that neither man nor mouse in all God's
creation opposes? * * * What is there in the opposition of Judge
Douglas to the Lecompton Constitution that entitles him to be
considered the only opponent to it, * * * the very quintessence
of that opposition? * * *
He in the Senate and his class of men there formed the number of
about twenty. It took one hundred and twenty to defeat the measure.
There were six Americans and ninety-four Republicans. Why is it
that twenty should be entitled to all the credit for doing that
work and the hundred to none? Does he place his superior claim
to credit on the ground that he has performed a good act that was
never expected of him? Perhaps he places himself somewhat on the
ground of the parable of the lost sheep which went astray upon the
mountains, and when the owner of the hundred sheep found the one
that was lost, there was more rejoicing over the one sheep that was
lost and had been found than over the ninety-and-nine in the fold."
In opposing the Dred Scott decision, he said, he was sustained by
the authority of Mr. Jefferson, who denounced the doctrine that the
Judges were the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions
as dangerous and tending to oligarchic despotism and insisted
that, while they were as honest as other men, they were not more
so, having the common passion for party, for power and the privilege
of their crops, and ought not to be trusted with the dangerous power
of deciding the great questions of State. The Supreme Court once
decided that the national back was constitutional. The Democratic
party revolted against the decision. Jackson himself asserted
that he would not hold a national back to be constitutional, even
though the Court had decided it to be so. The declaration that
Congress had not power to establish a bank was contained in every
Democratic platform since that time, in defiance of the solemn
ruling of the Court. In fact, they had reduced the decision to an
absolute nullity. And still Douglas boasted in the very speeches
in which he denounced others for opposing the Dred Scott decision
that he stood on the Cincinnati platform which repudiated and
condemned the old bank decision. He was for Supreme Court decisions
when he liked them and against them when he did not like them.
Would he not graciously allow the Republicans to do with the Dred
Scott decision what they did with the bank decision?
Springfield was Lincoln's home. He knew his audience and met it
with confidence. He now felt that he was Douglas' equal in the
field in which he had hitherto eclipsed all rivals.
But it was evident that the current was running with Douglas.
The great reception at Chicago had been a glorious opening. His
journeys through the State were triumphal processions. Special
trains, splendidly decorated, were at his service. Military
escorts received him with the firing of cannon and the loud music
of bands. He commanded and marshaled with the skill of a great
artist all the pomp and circumstance of victory. He owned much
property in Chicago, which with the growth of the city had greatly
increased in value. He mortgaged this for campaign funds, borrowing
eighty thousand dollars, a debt that harassed him to the grave.
Wealthy friends contributed freely and the campaign was run regardless
Yet with all these advantages the contest was evidently a hard one.
Two years before, the combined Republicans and Whigs of the State
outnumbered the Democrats by nearly thirty thousand. The Whig party
was breaking up. It was a serious question of practical politics
whether they would drift to the Democrats or the Republicans.
Illinois comprised two utterly distinct communities. The northern
part of the State was settled by people from New England and the
Northwest. The Southern part was settled from Kentucky and the other
Southern States. The growth of Chicago and the rapid development
of the northern counties had made the State extremely doubtful
even for Douglas. To any other man his task was hopeless. In the
north the anti-slavery sentiment was strong, even to fanaticism,
and many of his own supporters prayed fervently for the arrival
of the day when slavery would be blotted from existence. In the
south, though slavery was prohibited by law, it was cherished in
the hearts of the people who remembered with warm affection the
old homesteads in Kentucky and Tennessee.
Lincoln had, with more frankness than discretion announced his views
on the great question. It was supremely important to compel Douglas
to explicitly declare himself, to hold him down to the dangerous
issue and force him to speak plainly. Each had the disadvantage
of pleasing one section of the State at the cost of offending the
other section. But Douglas was further embarrassed by the necessity
of avoiding offense to the slave holding States of the South. He
was a candidate not only for the Senate, but also for the Presidency.
Chapter XIV. The Debates with Lincoln.
Chicago, Ill., July 24, 1858. "Hon. S. A. Douglas:
"My dear Sir:--Will it be agreeable to you to make an arrangement
for you and myself to divide time and address the same audiences the
present canvass? Mr. Judd, who will hand you this, is authorized
to receive your answer; and, if agreeable to you, to enter into
the terms of such an arrangement.
"Your obedient servant,
This is the note received by Douglas a week after his return from
Springfield. On the same day he returned the following answer:
"Chicago, Ill., July 24, 1858. "Hon. A. Lincoln:
"Dear Sir:--Your note of this date * * * was handed me by Mr. Judd. *
* * I went to Springfield last week for the purpose of conferring
with the Democratic State Central Committee upon the mode of conducting the
canvass, and with them * * * made a list of appointments covering
the entire period until late in October. The people of the
several localities have been notified of the times and places of
the meetings. * * * I cannot refrain from expressing my surprise,
if it was your original intention to invite such an arrangement,
that you should have waited until after I had made my appointments,
in as much as we were both here in Chicago together for several
days after my arrival, and again at Bloomington, Atlanta, Lincoln
and Springfield, where it was well known I went for the purpose
of consulting with the State Central Committee and agreeing upon
the plan of campaign. * * * I will, in order to accommodate you,
as far as it is in my power to do so, take the responsibility of
making an arrangement with you for a discussion between us at one
prominent point in each congressional district in the State, except
the Second and Sixth, where we have both spoken and in each of
which you had the concluding speech. If agreeable to you, I will
indicate the following places as the most suitable in the several
congressional districts at which we should speak, to wit: Freeport,
Ottawa, Galesburg, Quincy, Alton, Jonesboro and Charleston. * * *
"Very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
"S. A. Douglas."
"Springfield, July 29, 1858.
"Hon. S. A. Douglas:
Dear Sir:--Yours of the 24th in relation to an arrangement to divide
time and address the same audiences, is received; and, in apology
for not sooner replying, allow me to say that, when I sat by you at
dinner yesterday, I was not aware that you had answered my note,
nor, certainly, that my own note had been presented to you. An
hour after, I saw a copy of your answer in the Chicago Times, and
reaching home I found the original awaiting me. * * * As to your
surprise that I did not sooner make the proposal to divide time
with you, I can only say, I made it as soon as I resolved to make
it. I did not know but that such a proposal would come from you;
I waited respectfully to see. * * * I agree to an arrangement
for us to speak at the seven places you have named and at your own
times, provided you name the times at once, so that I, as well as
you, can have to myself the time not covered by the arrangement.
As to the other details, I wish perfect reciprocity, and no more.
I wish as much time as you and that conclusions shall alternate.
That is all.
"Your obedient servant,
On the next day Douglas wrote:
"Bement, Piatt Co., Ill., July 30, 1858.
"Dear Sir:--Your letter, dated yesterday, accepting my proposition
for a joint discussion at one prominent point in each congressional
district * * * was received this morning. The times and places
designated are as follows:
Ottawa, La Salle County ......... August 21, 1858.
Freeport, Stephenson County ..... August 27, 1858.
Jonesboro, Union County ...... September 15, 1858.
Charleston, Coles County ..... September 18, 1858.
Galesburgh, Knox County ......... October 7, 1858.
Quincy, Adams County ........... October 13, 1858.
Alton, Madison County .......... October 15, 1858.
"I agree to your suggestion that we shall alternately open and close
the discussion. I will speak at Ottawa one hour, you can reply,
occupying an hour and a half, and I will then follow for half an
hour. At Freeport, you shall open the discussion and speak one hour;
I will follow for an hour and a half, and you can then reply for
half an hour. We will alternate in like manner in each successive
"Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
"S. A. Douglas."
To which Lincoln replied:
"Springfield, July 31, 1858.
"Hon. S. A. Douglas:
"Dear Sir:--Yours of yesterday, naming places, time and terms for
joint discussions, between us, was received this morning. Although
by the terms as you propose, you take four openings and closes
to my three, I accede, and thus close the arrangement. * * *
"Your obedient servant,
Now that Lincoln has become idealized and is safely classed
with the great men of all ages, his modest challenge seems like
a condescension of the immortal President to his rival. It then
seemed an act of temerity bordering on madness. Lincoln's friends
thought it rash. Douglas' friends had no hope that his adversary
would be so easily delivered into his hands.
Yet Lincoln was not a despised antagonist. He was the most prominent
Republican in Illinois. But Douglas was the recognized head of a
great national party, the giant of the Senate, the most resourceful
American statesman then living. Through years of desperate battling
he had successfully repelled the assaults of Seward, Sumner and
Chase. He had more recently encountered with equal ease all the
Southern Senators. It seemed a simple task to meet this humble
Western lawyer and make his friends ashamed of their senatorial
candidate. Douglas did not share the pleasant illusion of his
friends. Before leaving Washington, when he heard that Lincoln
was nominated, he said to Forney:
"I shall have my hands full. He is a strong man of his party,--full
of wit, facts, dates,--and the best stump speaker, with his droll
ways and dry jokes, in the West. He is as honest as his is shrewd;
and if I beat him my victory will be hardly won."
Lincoln was burning with jealousy. He believed himself to be
Douglas' full equal in mental endowment. Fortune, he thought, with
a tinge of bitterness, had dealt with them most unequally, clothing
his rival with the glory of a world-renowned statesman, and leaving
him to waste his powers on the obscure quarrels of litigious clients
in a small town. He yearned for the opportunity to measure himself
with the great Senator on a conspicuous stage.
This series of debates was a rare piece of strategy on Lincoln's
part. Douglas had so long been wrapped in his senatorial toga
that his greatness had become exaggerated to the popular mind of
Illinois; while Lincoln had been a plain, modest lawyer, moving
among the people in the daily round of routine life. The dogmatic
statement of the great Senator carried more weight than the
profoundest argument of the clearest demonstration of the country
lawyer. But these debates brought them to a common level. They
measured their intellectual strength in the presence of the people,
with all official trappings laid aside; and while no one could well
be disappointed in Douglas' strength, the whole country was amazed
at the unexpected power of Lincoln.
There were disadvantages to Douglas in this mode of combat. He
must sacrifice the glamour of senatorial dignity and enter the arena
on equal footing with his antagonist. He was a brilliant debater.
"In the whole field of American politics no man has equaled him
in the expedients and strategy of debate. * * * He was tireless,
ubiquitous, unseizable. It would have been as easy to hold
a globule of mercury under the finger's tip as to fasten him to a
point he desired to evade. * * * In spirit he was alert, combative,
aggressive; in manner patronizing and arrogant by turns." But
he had to meet in argument a man of imperturbably temper, who had
thought deeply on the great questions of the time, who by unerring
instinct could lay his finger on every flaw in his chain of
reasoning, could rise to heights of eloquence beyond the reach of
his unimaginative mind and pour out streams of quaint humor that
must have filled him with despair.
So great was the interest of the people in this extraordinary contest
that it was found impossible to hold the meetings in halls. They
were held during the warm autumn days in the open air, where the
crowds, numbering from five to twenty thousand, struggled to get
within range of the speakers' voices.
It would be difficult to conceive a more picturesque contest than
that now waged by these politicians as they strove for the mastery,
and the enormous crowds of friends and sympathizers listened with
intense interest to the weighty arguments, or shouted applause when
their favorite scored a point. The audiences, consisting largely
of farmers, who had made long journeys in wagons and lived in tents
or camped out in the open air while awaiting the great event, were
in stern earnest, despite their holiday appearance, and listened
with thoughtful faces and troubled hearts as the grave theme was
discussed which had distracted the country for years.
And the orators, who were unconsciously playing a great role on
the historic stage, were surely among the most interesting products
of modern times. Lincoln's lank, ungainly figure, nearly six and
a half feet tall, clad in loose fitting clothes, contrasted oddly
with the short, stout figure of Douglas, barely five feet in height,
trimly and rather sprucely dressed. The sad, calm face o Lincoln,
his humble and unheroic bearing, were in marked contrast with the
finely chiseled, powerful, defiant face and magnificent Napoleonic
head surmounting the short, thick neck of Douglas, who strode with
kingly air before he admiring throngs. The manner of Douglas was
so masterful and strong that a wavering audience must have been
swept away by it. His finely modulated voice reached with ease to
the utmost limits of the crowds as he thundered out his decisive
arguments or condescended to compliment his aspiring rival; while
Lincoln manifestly labored to so pitch his unmusical voice that the
distant listeners could hear, and was never betrayed into a single
Back to Full Books