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Chapter 10.

  • Lincoln's Kansas speeches
  • -- the Cooper Institute speech -- New England speeches -- the Democratic schism- -- Senator Brown's resolutions -- Jefferson Davis's resolutions -- the Charleston convention -- majority and minority reports -- cotton State delegations secede -- Charleston convention Adjourns -- Democratic Baltimore convention Splits -- Breckinridge nominated -- Douglas nominated -- Bell nominated by Union constitutional convention -- Chicago convention -- Lincoln's letters to Pickett and Judd -- the pivotal States -- Lincoln nominated
    During the month of December, 1859, Mr. Lincoln was invited to the Territory of Kansas, where he made speeches at a number of its new and growing towns. In these speeches he laid special emphasis upon the necessity of maintaining undiminished the vigor of the Republican organization and the high plane of the Republican doctrine.

    “We want, and must have,” said he, “a national policy as to slavery which deals with it as being a wrong. Whoever would prevent slavery becoming national and perpetual yields all when he yields to a policy which treats it either as being right, or as being a matter of indifference.” “To effect our main object we have to employ auxiliary means. We must hold conventions, adopt platforms, select candidates, and carry elections. At every step we must be true to the main purpose. If we adopt a platform falling short [137] of our principle, or elect a man rejecting our principle, we not only take nothing affirmative by our success, but we draw upon us the positive embarrassment of seeming ourselves to have abandoned our principle.”

    A still more important service, however, in giving the Republican presidential campaign of 1860 precise form and issue was rendered by him during the first three months of the new year. The public mind had become so preoccupied with the dominant subject of national politics, that a committee of enthusiastic young Republicans of New York and Brooklyn arranged a course of public lectures by prominent statesmen, and Mr. Lincoln was invited to deliver the third one of the series. The meeting took place in the hall of the Cooper Institute in New York, on the evening of February 27, 1860; and the audience was made up of ladies and gentlemen comprising the leading representatives of the wealth, culture, and influence of the great metropolis.

    Mr. Lincoln's name and arguments had filled so large a space in Eastern newspapers, both friendly and hostile, that the listeners before him were intensely curious to see and hear this rising Western politician. The West was even at that late day but imperfectly understood by the East. The poets and editors, the bankers and merchants of New York vaguely remembered having read in their books that it was the home of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, the country of bowie-knives and pistols, of steamboat explosions and mobs, of wild speculation and the repudiation of State debts; and these half-forgotten impressions had lately been vividly recalled by a several years' succession of newspaper reports retailing the incidents of Border Ruffian violence and free-State guerrilla reprisals during the civil war in Kansas. What was to be the type, [138] the character, the language of this speaker? How would he impress the great editor Horace Greeley, who sat among the invited guests; David Dudley Field, the great lawyer, who escorted him to the platform; William Cullen Bryant, the great poet, who presided over the meeting?

    Judging from after effects, the audience quickly forgot these questioning thoughts. They had but time to note Mr. Lincoln's impressive stature, his strongly marked features, the clear ring of his rather high-pitched voice, and the almost commanding earnestness of his manner. His beginning foreshadowed a dry argument, using as a text Douglas's phrase that “our fathers, when they framed the government under which we live, understood this question just as well and even better than we do now.” But the concise statements, the strong links of reasoning, and the irresistible conclusions of the argument with which the speaker followed his close historical analysis of how “our fathers” understood “this question,” held every listener as though each were individually merged in the speaker's thought and demonstration.

    “It is surely safe to assume,” said he, with emphasis, “that the thirty-nine framers of the original Constitution and the seventy-six members of the Congress which framed the amendments thereto, taken together, do certainly include those who may be fairly called ‘our fathers who framed the government under which we live.’ And, so assuming, I defy any man to show that any one of them ever, in his whole life, declared that, in his understanding, any proper division of local from Federal authority, or any part of the Constitution, forbade the Federal government to control as to slavery in the Federal Territories.”

    With equal skill he next dissected the complaints, [139] the demands, and the threats to dissolve the Union made by the Southern States, pointed out their emptiness, their fallacy, and their injustice, and defined the exact point and center of the agitation.

    “Holding, as they do,” said he, “that slavery is morally right and socially elevating, they cannot cease to demand a full national recognition of it, as a legal right and a social blessing. Nor can we justifiably withhold this on any ground, save our conviction that slavery is wrong. If slavery is right, all words, acts, laws, and constitutions against it are themselves wrong, and should be silenced and swept away. If it is right, we cannot justly object to its nationality-its universality! If it is wrong, they cannot justly insist upon its extension-its enlargement. All they ask we could readily grant, if we thought slavery right; all we ask they could as readily grant, if they thought it wrong. Their thinking it right, and our thinking it wrong, is the precise fact upon which depends the whole controversy.... Wrong as we think slavery is we can yet afford to let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the national Territories, and to overrun us here in the free States? If our sense of duty forbids this, then let us stand by our duty, fearlessly and effectively. Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored, contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man; such as a policy of ‘don't care,’ on a question about which all true men do care; such as Union appeals beseeching true Union men to yield to [140] disunionists; reversing the divine rule, and calling, not the sinners, but the righteous to repentance; such as invocations to Washington, imploring men to unsay what Washington said, and undo what Washington did. Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the government nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”

    The close attention bestowed on its delivery, the hearty applause that greeted its telling points, and the enthusiastic comments of the Republican journals next morning showed that Lincoln's Cooper Institute speech had taken New York by storm. It was printed in full in four of the leading New York dailies, and at once went into large circulation in carefully edited pamphlet editions. From New York, Lincoln made a tour of speech-making through several of the New England States, and was everywhere received with enthusiastic welcome and listened to with an eagerness that bore a marked result in their spring elections. The interest of the factory men who listened to these addresses was equaled, perhaps excelled, by the gratified surprise of college professors when they heard the style and method of a popular Western orator that would bear the test of their professional criticism and compare with the best examples in their standard text-books.

    The attitude of the Democratic party in the coming presidential campaign was now also rapidly taking shape. Great curiosity existed whether the radical differences between its Northern and Southern wings could by any possibility be removed or adjusted, whether the adherents of Douglas and those of Buchanan could be brought to join in a common platform and in the support [141] of a single candidate. The Democratic leaders in the Southern States had become more and more outspoken in their pro-slavery demands. They had advanced step by step from the repeal of the Missouri Compromise in 1854, the attempt to capture Kansas by Missouri invasions in 1855 and 1856, the support of the Dred Scott decision and the Lecompton fraud in 1857, the repudiation of Douglas's Freeport heresy in 1858, to the demand for a congressional slave code for the Territories and the recognition of the doctrine of property in slaves. These last two points they had distinctly formulated in the first session of the Thirty-sixth Congress. On January 18, 1860, Senator Brown of Mississippi introduced into the Senate two resolutions, one asserting the nationality of slavery, the other that, when necessary, Congress should pass laws for its protection in the Territories. On February 2 Jefferson Davis introduced another series of resolutions intended to serve as a basis for the national Democratic platform, the central points of which were that the right to take and hold slaves in the Territories could neither be impaired nor annulled, and that it was the duty of Congress to supply any deficiency of laws for its protection. Perhaps even more significant than these formulated doctrines was the pro-slavery spirit manifested in the congressional debates. Two months were wasted in a parliamentary struggle to prevent the election of the Republican, John Sherman, as Speaker of the House of Representatives, because the Southern members charged that he had recommended an “abolition” book; during which time the most sensational and violent threats of disunion were made in both the --louse and the Senate, containing repeated declarations that they would never submit to the inauguration of a “Black Republican” President. [142]

    When the national Democratic convention met at Charleston, on April 23, 1860, there at once became evident the singular condition that the delegates from the free States were united and enthusiastic in their determination to secure the nomination of Douglas as the Democratic candidate for President, while the delegates from the slave States were equally united and determined upon forcing the acceptance of an extreme pro-slavery platform. All expectations of a compromise, all hope of coming to an understanding by juggling omissions or evasions in their declaration of party principles were quickly dissipated. The platform committee, after three days and nights of fruitless effort, presented two antagonistic reports. The majority report declared that neither Congress nor a territorial legislature could abolish or prohibit slavery in the Territories, and that it was the duty of the Federal government to protect it when necessary. To this doctrine the Northern members could not consent; but they were willing to adopt the ambiguous declaration that property rights in slaves were judicial in their character, and that they would abide the decisions of the Supreme Court on such questions.

    The usual expedient of recommitting both reports brought no relief from the deadlock. A second majority and a second minority report exhibited the same irreconcilable divergence in slightly different language, and the words of mutual defiance exchanged in debating the first report rose to a parliamentary storm when the second came under discussion. On the seventh day the convention came to a vote, and, the Northern delegates being in the majority, the minority report was substituted for that of the majority of the committee by one hundred and sixty-five to one hundred and thirty-eight delegates — in other words, the Douglas [143] platform was declared adopted. Upon this the delegates of the cotton States-Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, Florida, Texas, and Arkansas-withdrew from the convention. It soon appeared, however, that the Douglas delegates had achieved only a barren victory. Their majority could indeed adopt a platform, but, under the acknowledged two-thirds rule which governs Democratic national conventions, they had not sufficient votes to nominate their candidate. During the fifty-seven ballots taken, the Douglas men could muster only one hundred and fifty-two and one half votes of the two hundred and two necessary to a choice; and to prevent mere slow disintegration the convention adjourned on the tenth day, under a resolution to reassemble in Baltimore on June 18.

    Nothing was gained, however, by the delay. In the interim, Jefferson Davis and nineteen other Southern leaders published an address commending the withdrawal of the cotton States delegates, and in a Senate debate Davis laid down the plain proposition, “We want nothing more than a simple declaration that negro slaves are property, and we want the recognition of the obligation of the Federal government to protect that property like all other.”

    Upon the reassembling of the Charleston convention at Baltimore, it underwent a second disruption on the fifth day; the Northern wing nominated Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, and the Southern wing John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky as their respective candidates for President. In the meanwhile, also, regular and irregular delegates from some twenty-two States, representing fragments of the old Whig party, had convened at Baltimore on May g and nominated John Bell of Tennessee as their candidate for President, upon [144] a platform ignoring the slavery issue and declaring that they would “recognize no other political principle than the Constitution of the country, the union of the States, and the enforcement of the laws.”

    In the long contest between slavery extension and slavery restriction which was now approaching its culmination, the growing demands and increasing bitterness of the pro-slavery party had served in an equal degree to intensify the feelings and stimulate the efforts of the Republican party; and, remembering the encouraging opposition strength which the united vote of Fremont and Fillmore had shown in 1856, they felt encouraged to hope for possible success in 1860, since the Fillmore party had practically disappeared throughout the free States. When, therefore, the Charleston convention was rent asunder and adjourned on May 10 without making a nomination, the possibility of Republican victory seemed to have risen to probability. Such a feeling inspired the eager enthusiasm of the delegates to the Republican national convention which met, according to appointment, at Chicago on May 16.

    A large, temporary wooden building, christened “The Wigwam,” had been erected in which to hold its sessions, and it was estimated that ten thousand persons were assembled in it to witness the proceedings. William H. Seward of New York was recognized as the leading candidate, but Chase of Ohio, Cameron of Pennsylvania, Bates of Missouri, and several prominent Republicans from other States were known to have active and zealous followers. The name of Abraham Lincoln had also often been mentioned during his growing fame, and, fully a year before, an ardent Republican editor of Illinois had requested permission to announce him in his newspaper.. Lincoln, [145] however, discouraged such action at that time, answering him:

    As to the other matter you kindly mention, I must in candor say I do not think myself fit for the presidency. I certainly am flattered and gratified that some partial friends think of me in that connection; but I really think it best for our cause that no concerted effort, such as you suggest, should be made.

    He had given an equally positive answer to an eager Ohio friend in the preceding July; but about Christmas, 1859, an influential caucus of his strongest Illinois adherents made a personal request that he would permit them to use his name, and he gave his consent, not so much in any hope of becoming the nominee for President, as in possibly reaching the second place on the ticket; or at least of making such a showing of strength before the convention as would aid him in his future senatorial ambition at home, or perhaps carry him into the cabinet of the Republican President, should one succeed. He had not been eager to enter the lists, but once having agreed to do so, it was but natural that he should manifest a becoming interest, subject, however, now as always, to his inflexible rule of fair dealing and honorable faith to all his party friends.

    “I do not understand Trumbull and myself to be rivals,” he wrote December 9, 1859. “You know I am pledged not to enter a struggle with him for the seat in the Senate now occupied by him; and yet I would rather have a full term in the Senate than in the presidency.”

    And on February g he wrote to the same Illinois friend:

    I am not in a position where it would hurt much for me not to be nominated in the national ticket; but I [146] am where it would hurt some for me not to get the Illinois delegates. What I expected when I wrote the the letter to Messrs. Dole and others is now happening. Your discomfited assailants are most bitter against me; and they will, for revenge upon me, lay to the Bates egg in the South, and to the Seward egg in the North, and go far toward squeezing me out in the middle with nothing. Can you not help me a little in this matter in your end of the vineyard?

    It turned out that the delegates whom the Illinois State convention sent to the national convention at Chicago were men not only of exceptional standing and ability, but filled with the warmest zeal for Mr. Lincoln's success; and they were able at once to impress upon delegates from other States his sterling personal worth and fitness, and his superior availability. It needed but little political arithmetic to work out the sum of existing political chances. It was almost self-evident that in the coming November election victory or defeat would hang upon the result in the four pivotal States of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Illinois. It was quite certain that no Republican candidate could carry a single one of the fifteen slave States; and equally sure that Breckinridge, on his extreme pro-slavery platform, could not carry a single one of the eighteen free States. But there was a chance that one or more of these four pivotal free States might cast its vote for Douglas and popular sovereignty.

    A candidate was needed, therefore, who could successfully cope with Douglas and the Douglas theory; and this ability had been convincingly demonstrated by Lincoln. As a mere personal choice, a majority of the convention would have preferred Seward; but in the four pivotal States there were many voters who [147] believed Seward's antislavery views to be too radical. They shrank apprehensively from the phrase in one of his speeches that “there is a higher law than the Constitution.” These pivotal States all lay adjoining slave States, and their public opinion was infected with something of the undefined dread of “abolitionism.” When the delegates of the pivotal States were interviewed, they frankly confessed that they could not carry their States for Seward, and that would mean certain defeat if he were the nominee for President. For their voters Lincoln stood on more acceptable ground. His speeches had been more conservative; his local influence in his own State of Illinois was also a factor not to be idly thrown away.

    Plain, practical reasoning of this character found ready acceptance among the delegates to the convention. Their eagerness for the success of the cause largely overbalanced their personal preferences for favorite aspirants. When the convention met, the fresh, hearty hopefulness of its members was a most inspiring reflection of the public opinion in the States that sent them. They went at their work with an earnestness which was an encouraging premonition of success, and they felt a gratifying support in the presence of the ten thousand spectators who looked on at their work. Few conventions have ever been pervaded by such a depth of feeling, or exhibited such a reserve of latent enthusiasm. The cheers that greeted the entrance of popular favorites, and the short speeches on preliminary business, ran and rolled through the great audience in successive moving waves of sound that were echoed and reechoed from side to side of the vast building. Not alone the delegates on the central platform, but the multitude of spectators as well, felt that they were playing a part in a great historical event. [148]

    The temporary, and afterward the permanent organization, was finished on the first day, with somewhat less than usual of the wordy and tantalizing small talk which these routine proceedings always call forth. On the second day the platform committee submitted its work, embodying the carefully considered and skilfully framed body of doctrines upon which the Republican party, made up only four years before from such previously heterogeneous and antagonistic political elements, was now able to find common and durable ground of agreement. Around its central tenet, which denied “the authority of Congress, of a territorial legislature, or of any individuals, to give legal existence to slavery in any territory of the United States,” were grouped vigorous denunciations of the various steps and incidents of the pro-slavery reaction, and its prospective demands; while its positive recommendations embraced the immediate admission of Kansas, free homesteads to actual settlers, river and harbor improvements of a national character, a railroad to the Pacific Ocean, and the maintenance of existing naturalization laws.

    The platform was about to be adopted without objection, when a flurry of discussion arose over an amendment, proposed by Mr. Giddings of Ohio, to incorporate in it that phrase of the Declaration of Independence which declares the right of all men to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Impatience was at once manifested lest any change should produce endless delay and dispute. “I believe in the ten Commandments,” commented a member, “but I do not want them in a political platform” ; and the proposition was voted down. Upon this the old antislavery veteran felt himself aggrieved, and, taking up his hat, marched out of the convention. In the course of an [149] hour's desultory discussion however, a member, with stirring oratorical emphasis, asked whether the convention was prepared to go upon record before the country as voting down the words of the Declaration of Independence-whether the men of 1860, on the free prairies of the West, quailed before repeating the words enunciated by the men of ‘76 at Philadelphia. In an impulse of patriotic reaction, the amendment was incorporated into the platform, and Mr. Giddings was brought back by his friends, his face beaming with triumph; and the stormy acclaim of the audience manifested the deep feeling which the incident evoked.

    On the third day it was certain that balloting would begin, and crowds hurried to the Wigwam in a fever of curiosity. Having grown restless at the indispensable routine preliminaries, when Mr. Evarts nominated William H. Seward of New York for President, they greeted his name with a perfect storm of applause. Then Mr. Judd nominated Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, and in the tremendous cheering that broke from the throats of his admirers and followers the former demonstration dwindled to comparative feebleness. Again and again these contests of lungs and enthusiasm were repeated as the choice of New York was seconded by Michigan, and that of Illinois by Indiana.

    When other names had been duly presented, the cheering at length subsided, and the chairman announced that balloting would begin. Many spectators had provided themselves with tally-lists, and when the first roll-call was completed were able at once to perceive the drift of popular preference. Cameron, Chase, Bates, McLean, Dayton, and Collamer were indorsed by the substantial votes of their own States; but two names stood out in marked superiority: Seward, who [150] had received one hundred and seventy-three and one half votes, and Lincoln, one hundred and two.

    The New York delegation was so thoroughly persuaded of the final success of their candidate that they did not comprehend the significance of this first ballot. Had they reflected that their delegation alone had contributed seventy votes to Seward's total, they would have understood that outside of the Empire State, upon this first showing, Lincoln held their favorite almost an even race. As the second ballot progressed, their anxiety visibly increased. They watched with eagerness as the complimentary votes first cast for State favorites were transferred now to one, now to the other of the recognized leaders in the contest, and their hopes sank when the result of the second ballot was announced: Seward, one hundred and eighty-four and one half, Lincoln, one hundred and eighty-one; and a volume of applause, which was with difficulty checked by the chairman, shook the Wigwam at this announcement.

    Then followed a short interval of active caucusing in the various delegations, while excited men went about rapidly interchanging questions, solicitations, and messages between delegations from different States. Neither candidate had yet received a majority of all the votes cast, and the third ballot was begun amid a deep, almost painful suspense, delegates and spectators alike recording each announcement of votes on their tally-sheets with nervous fingers. But the doubt was of short duration. The second ballot had unmistakably pointed out the winning man. Hesitating delegations and fragments from many States steadily swelled the Lincoln column. Long before the secretaries made the official announcement, the totals had been figured up: Lincoln, two hundred and thirtyone [151] and one half, Seward, one hundred and eighty. Counting the scattering votes, four hundred and sixty-five ballots had been cast, and two hundred and thirty-three were necessary to a choice. Seward had lost four and one half, Lincoln had gained fifty and one half, and only one and one half votes more were needed to make a nomination.

    The Wigwam suddenly became as still as a church, and everybody leaned forward to see whose voice would break the spell. Before the lapse of a minute, David K. Cartter sprang upon his chair and reported a change of four Ohio votes from Chase to Lincoln. Then a teller shouted a name toward the skylight, and the boom of cannon from the roof of the Wigwam announced the nomination and started the cheering of the overjoyed Illinoisans down the long Chicago streets; while in the Wigwam, delegation after delegation changed its vote to the victor amid a tumult of hurrahs. When quiet was somewhat restored, Mr. Evarts, speaking for New York and for Seward, moved to make the nomination unanimous, and Mr. Browning gracefully returned the thanks of Illinois for the honor the convention had conferred upon the State. In the afternoon the convention completed its work by nominating Hannibal Hamlin of Maine for Vice-President; and as the delegates sped homeward in the night trains, they witnessed, in the bonfires and cheering crowds at the stations, that a memorable presidential campaign was already begun.

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