Some time before the repeal of the Missouri Compromise a lawyer
friend said to him: "Lincoln, the time is near at hand when we
shall have to be all Abolitionists or all Democrats."
"When that time comes my mind is made up," he replied, "for I
believe the slavery question never can be compromised."
THE LION IS AROUSED TO ACTION.
While Lincoln took a mild interest in politics, he was not a
candidate for office, except as a presidential elector, from the
time of leaving Congress until the repeal of the Missouri
Compromise. This repeal Legislation was the work of Lincoln's
political antagonist, Stephen A. Douglas, and aroused Mr. Lincoln
to action as the lion is roused by some foe worthy of his great
strength and courage.
Mr. Douglas argued that the true intent and meaning of the act
was not to legislate slavery into any territory or state, nor to
exclude it therefrom, but to leave the people perfectly free to
form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way.
"Douglas' argument amounts to this," said Mr. Lincoln, "that if
any one man chooses to enslave another no third man shall be
allowed to object."
After the adjournment of Congress Mr. Douglas returned to
Illinois and began to defend his action in the repeal of the
Missouri Compromise. His most important speech was made at
Springfield, and Mr. Lincoln was selected to answer it. That
speech alone was sufficient to make Mr. Lincoln the leader of
anti-Slavery sentiment in the West, and some of the men who heard
it declared that it was the greatest speech he ever made.
With the repeal of the Missouri Compromise the Whig party began
to break up, the majority of its members who were pronounced
Abolitionists began to form the nucleus of the Republican party.
Before this party was formed, however, Mr. Lincoln was induced to
follow Douglas around the State and reply to him, but after one
meeting at Peoria, where they both spoke, they entered into an
agreement to return to their homes and make no more speeches
during the campaign.
SEEKS A SEAT IN THE SENATE.
Mr. Lincoln made no secret at this time of his ambition to
represent Illinois in the United States Senate. Against his
protest he was nominated and elected to the Legislature, but
resigned his seat. His old rival, James Shields, with whom he was
once near to a duel, was then senator, and his term was to expire
the following year.
A letter, written by Mr. Lincoln to a friend in Paris, Illinois,
at this time is interesting and significant. He wrote:
"I have a suspicion that a Whig has been elected to the
Legislature from Eagar. If this is not so, why, then, 'nix cum
arous;' but if it is so, then could you not make a mark with him
for me for United States senator? I really have some chance."
Another candidate besides Mr. Lincoln was seeking the seat in the
United States Senate, soon to be vacated by Mr. Shields. This was
Lyman Trumbull, an anti-slavery Democrat. When the Legislature
met it was found that Mr. Lincoln lacked five votes of an
election, while Mr. Trumbull had but five supporters. After
several ballots Mr. Lincoln feared that Trumbull's votes would be
given to a Democratic candidate and he determined to sacrifice
himself for the principle at stake. Accordingly he instructed his
friends in the Legislature to vote for Judge Trumbull, which they
did, resulting in Trumbull's election.
The Abolitionists in the West had become very radical in their
views, and did not hesitate to talk of opposing the extension of
slavery by the use of force if necessary. Mr. Lincoln, on the
other hand, was conservative and counseled moderation. In the
meantime many outrages, growing out of the extension of slavery,
were being perpetrated on the borders of Kansas and Missouri, and
they no doubt influenced Mr. Lincoln to take a more radical stand
against the slavery question.
An incident occurred at this time which had great effect in this
direction. The negro son of a colored woman in Springfield had
gone South to work. He was born free, but did not have his free
papers with him. He was arrested and would have been sold into
slavery to pay his prison expenses, had not Mr. Lincoln and some
friends purchased his liberty. Previous to this Mr. Lincoln had
tried to secure the boy's release through the Governor of
Illinois, but the Governor informed him that nothing could be
Then it was that Mr. Lincoln rose to his full height and
"Governor, I'll make the ground in this country too hot for the
foot of a slave, whether you have the legal power to secure the
release of this boy or not."
HELPS TO ORGANIZE THE REPUBLICAN PARTY.
The year after Mr. Trumbull's election to the Senate the
Republican party was formally organized. A state convention of
that party was called to meet at Bloomington May 29, 1856. The
call for this convention was signed by many Springfield Whigs,
and among the names was that of Abraham Lincoln. Mr. Lincoln's
name had been signed to the call by his law partner, but when he
was informed of this action he endorsed it fully. Among the
famous men who took part in this convention were Abraham
Lincoln, Lyman Trumbull, David Davis, Leonard Swett, Richard
Yates, Norman, B. Judd and Owen Lovejoy, the Alton editor, whose
life, like Lincoln's, finally paid the penalty for his Abolition
views. The party nominated for Governor, Wm. H. Bissell, a
veteran of the Mexican War, and adopted a platform ringing with
Mr. Lincoln was the greatest power in the campaign that followed.
He was one of the Fremont Presidential electors, and he went to
work with all his might to spread the new party gospel and make
votes for the old "Path-Finder of the Rocky Mountains."
An amusing incident followed close after the Bloomington
convention. A meeting was called at Springfield to ratify the
action at Bloomington. Only three persons attended--Mr. Lincoln,
his law partner and a man named John Paine. Mr. Lincoln made a
speech to his colleagues, in which, among other things, he said:
"While all seems dead, the age itself is not. It liveth as sure
as our Maker liveth."
In this campaign Mr. Lincoln was in general demand not only in
his own state, but in Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin as well.
The result of that Presidential campaign was the election of
Buchanan as President, Bissell as Governor, leaving Mr. Lincoln
the undisputed leader of the new party. Hence it was that two
years later he was the inevitable man to oppose Judge Douglas in
the campaign for United States Senator.
THE RAIL SPLITTER vs. THE LITTLE GIANT.
No record of Abraham Lincoln's career would be complete without
the story of the memorable joint debates between the
"Rail-Splitter of the Sangamon Valley" and the "Little Giant."
The opening lines in Mr. Lincoln's speech to the Republican
Convention were not only prophetic of the coming rebellion, but
they clearly made the issue between the Republican and Democratic
parties for two Presidential campaigns to follow. The memorable
sentences were as follows:
"A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this
Government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I
do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the
house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It
will become all the one thing or the other. 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 becomes alike lawful in all the states, old as
well as new, North as well as South."
It is universally conceded that this speech contained the most
important utterances of Mr. Lincoln's life.
Previous to its delivery, the Democratic convention had endorsed
Mr. Douglas for re-election to the Senate, and the Republican
convention had resolved that "Abraham Lincoln is our first and
only choice for United States Senator, to fill the vacancy
about to be created by the expiration of Mr. Douglas' term of
Before Judge Douglas had made many speeches in this Senatorial
campaign, Mr. Lincoln challenged him to a joint debate, which
was accepted, and seven memorable meetings between these two
great leaders followed. The places and dates were: Ottawa, August
21st; Freeport, August 27th; Jonesboro, September 15th;
Charleston, September 18th; Galesburg, October 7th; Quincy,
October 13th; and Alton, October 15th.
The debates not only attracted the attention of the people in the
state of Illinois, but aroused an interest throughout the whole
country equal to that of a Presidential election.
WERE LIKE CROWDS AT A CIRCUS.
All the meetings of the joint debate were attended by immense
crowds of people. They came in all sorts of vehicles, on
horseback, and many walked weary miles on foot to hear these two
great leaders discuss the issues of the campaign. There had never
been political meetings held under such unusual conditions as
these, and there probably never will be again. At every place the
speakers were met by great crowds of their friends and escorted
to the platforms in the open air where the debates were held. The
processions that escorted the speakers were most unique. They
carried flags and banners and were preceded by bands of music.
The people discharged cannons when they had them, and, when they
did not, blacksmiths' anvils were made to take their places.
Oftentimes a part of the escort would be mounted, and in most of
the processions were chariots containing young ladies
representing the different states of the Union designated by
banners they carried. Besides the bands, there was usually vocal
music. Patriotic songs were the order of the day, the
"Star-Spangled Banner" and "Hail Columbia" being great favorites.
So far as the crowds were concerned, these joint debates took on
the appearance of a circus day, and this comparison was
strengthened by the sale of lemonade, fruit, melons and
confectionery on the outskirts of the gatherings.
At Ottawa, after his speech, Mr. Lincoln was carried around on
the shoulders of his enthusiastic supporters, who did not put him
down until they reached the place where he was to spend the
In the joint debates, each of the candidates asked the other a
series of questions. Judge Douglas' replies to Mr. Lincoln's
shrewd questions helped Douglas to win the Senatorial election,
but they lost him the support of the South in the campaign for
President two years thereafter. Mr. Lincoln was told when he
framed his questions that if Douglas answered them in the way it
was believed he would that the answers would make him Senator.
"That may be," said Mr. Lincoln, "but if he takes that shoot he
never can be President."
The prophecy was correct. Mr. Douglas was elected Senator, but
two years later only carried one state--Missouri--for President.
HIS BUCKEYE CAMPAIGN.
After the close of this canvass, Mr. Lincoln again devoted
himself to the practice of his profession, but he was destined to
remain but a short time in retirement. In the fall of 1859 Mr.
Douglas went to Ohio to stump the state for his friend, Mr. Pugh,
the Democratic candidate for Governor. The Ohio Republicans at
once asked Mr. Lincoln to come to the state and reply to the
"Little Giant." He accepted the invitation and made two masterly
speeches in the campaign. In one of them, delivered at
Cincinnati, he prophesied the outcome of the rebellion if the
Southern people attempted to divide the Union by force.
Addressing himself particularly to the Kentuckians in the
audience, he said:
"I have told you what we mean to do. I want to know, now, when
that thing takes place, what do you mean to do? I often hear it
intimated that you mean to divide the Union whenever a
Republican, or anything like it, is elected President of the
United States. [A Voice--"That is so."] 'That is so,' one of them
says; I wonder if he is a Kentuckian? [A Voice--"He is a Douglas
man."] Well, then, I want to know what you are going to do with
your half of it?
"Are you going to split the Ohio down through, and push your half
off a piece? Or are you going to keep it right alongside of us
outrageous fellows? Or are you going to build up a wall some way
between your country, and ours, by which that movable property of
yours can't come over here any more, to the danger of your losing
it? Do you think you can better yourselves on that subject by
leaving us here under no obligation whatever to return those
specimens of your movable property that come hither?
"You have divided the Union because we would not do right with
you, as you think, upon that subject; when we cease to be under
obligations to do anything for you, how much better off do you
think you will be? Will you make war upon us and kill us all?
Why, gentlemen, I think you are as gallant and as brave men as
live; that you can fight as bravely in a good cause, man for man,
as any other people living; that you have shown yourselves
capable of this upon various occasions; but, man for man, you are
not better than we are, and there are not so many of you as there
are of us.
"You will never make much of a hand at whipping us. If we were
fewer in numbers than you, I think that you could whip us; if we
were equal, it would likely be a drawn battle; but, being
inferior in numbers, you will make nothing by attempting to
"But perhaps I have addressed myself as long, or longer, to the
Kentuckians than I ought to have done, inasmuch as I have said
that, whatever course you take, we intend in the end to beat
FIRST VISIT TO NEW YORK.
Later in the year Mr. Lincoln also spoke in Kansas, where he was
received with great enthusiasm, and in February of the following
year he made his great speech in Cooper Union, New York, to an
immense gathering, presided over by William Cullen Bryant, the
poet, who was then editor of the New York Evening Post. There was
great curiosity to see the Western rail-splitter who had so
lately met the famous "Little Giant" of the West in debate, and
Mr. Lincoln's speech was listened to by many of the ablest men in
This speech won for him many supporters in the Presidential
campaign that followed, for his hearers at once recognized his
wonderful ability to deal with the questions then uppermost in
the public mind.
FIRST NOMINATION FOR PRESIDENT.
The Republican National Convention of 1860 met in Chicago, May
16, in an immense building called the "Wigwam." The leading
candidates for President were William H. Seward of New York and
Abraham Lincoln of Illinois. Among others spoken of were Salmon
P. Chase of Ohio and Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania.
On the first ballot for President, Mr. Seward received one
hundred and seventy-three and one-half votes; Mr. Lincoln, one
hundred and two votes, the others scattering. On the first
ballot, Vermont had divided her vote, but on the second the
chairman of the Vermont delegation announced: "Vermont casts her
ten votes for the young giant of the West--Abraham Lincoln."