The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7

General Taylor’s opinion, as expressed in his Allison letter, is
as I now read:

“The power given by the veto is a high conservative power; but,
in my opinion, should never be exercised except in cases of clear
violation of the Constitution, or manifest haste and want of
consideration by Congress.”

It is here seen that, in Mr. Jefferson’s opinion, if on the
constitutionality of any given bill the President doubts, he is
not to veto it, as the gentleman from Kentucky would have him do,
but is to defer to Congress and approve it. And if we compare
the opinion of Jefferson and Taylor, as expressed in these
paragraphs, we shall find them more exactly alike than we can
often find any two expressions having any literal difference.
None but interested faultfinders, I think, can discover any
substantial variation.

But gentlemen on the other side are unanimously agreed that
General Taylor has no other principles. They are in utter
darkness as to his opinions on any of the questions of policy
which occupy the public attention. But is there any doubt as to
what he will do on the prominent questions if elected? Not the
least. It is not possible to know what he will or would do in
every imaginable case, because many questions have passed away,
and others doubtless will arise which none of us have yet thought
of; but on the prominent questions of currency, tariff, internal
improvements, and Wilmot Proviso, General Taylor’s course is at
least as well defined as is General Cass’s. Why, in their
eagerness to get at General Taylor, several Democratic members
here have desired to know whether, in case of his election, a
bankrupt law is to be established. Can they tell us General
Cass’s opinion on this question?

[Some member answered, “He is against it.”]

Aye, how do you know he is? There is nothing about it in the
platform, nor elsewhere, that I have seen. If the gentleman
knows of anything which I do not know he can show it. But to
return. General Taylor, in his Allison letter, says:

“Upon the subject of the tariff, the currency, the improvement of
our great highways, rivers, lakes, and harbors, the will of the
people, as expressed through their representatives in Congress,
ought to be respected and carried out by the executive.”

Now this is the whole matter. In substance, it is this: The
people say to General Taylor, “If you are elected, shall we have
a national bank?” He answers, ” Your will, gentlemen, not mine.
” What about the tariff?” “Say yourselves.” “Shall our rivers
and harbors be improved?” “Just as you please. If you desire a
bank, an alteration of the tariff, internal improvements, any or
all, I will not hinder you. If you do not desire them, I will
not attempt to force them on you. Send up your members of
Congress from the various districts, with opinions according to
your own, and if they are for these measures, or any of them, I
shall have nothing to oppose; if they are not for them, I shall
not, by any appliances whatever, attempt to dragoon them into
their adoption.”

Now can there be any difficulty in understanding this? To you
Democrats it may not seem like principle; but surely you cannot
fail to perceive the position plainly enough. The distinction
between it and the position of your candidate is broad and
obvious, and I admit you have a clear right to show it is wrong
if you can; but you have no right to pretend you cannot see it at
all. We see it, and to us it appears like principle, and the
best sort of principle at that–the principle of allowing the
people to do as they please with their own business. My friend
from Indiana (C. B. Smith] has aptly asked, “Are you willing to
trust the people?” Some of you answered substantially, “We are
willing to trust the people; but the President is as much the
representative of the people as Congress.” In a certain sense,
and to a certain extent, he is the representative of the people.
He is elected by them, as well as Congress is; but can he, in the
nature of things know the wants of the people as well as three
hundred other men, coming from all the various localities of the
nation? If so, where is the propriety of having a Congress?
That the Constitution gives the President a negative on
legislation, all know; but that this negative should be so
combined with platforms and other appliances as to enable him,
and in fact almost compel him, to take the whole of legislation
into his own hands, is what we object to, is what General Taylor
objects to, and is what constitutes the broad distinction between
you and us. To thus transfer legislation is clearly to take it
from those who understand with minuteness the interests of the
people, and give it to one who does not and cannot so well
understand it. I understand your idea that if a Presidential
candidate avow his opinion upon a given question, or rather upon
all questions, and the people, with full knowledge of this, elect
him, they thereby distinctly approve all those opinions. By
means of it, measures are adopted or rejected contrary to the
wishes of the whole of one party, and often nearly half of the
other. Three, four, or half a dozen questions are prominent at a
given time; the party selects its candidate, and he takes his
position on each of these questions. On all but one his
positions have already been indorsed at former elections, and his
party fully committed to them; but that one is new, and a large
portion of them are against it. But what are they to do? The
whole was strung together; and they must take all, or reject all.
They cannot take what they like, and leave the rest. What they
are already committed to being the majority, they shut their
eyes, and gulp the whole. Next election, still another is
introduced in the same way. If we run our eyes along the line of
the past, we shall see that almost if not quite all the articles
of the present Democratic creed have been at first forced upon
the party in this very way. And just now, and just so,
opposition to internal improvements is to be established if
General Cass shall be elected. Almost half the Democrats here
are for improvements; but they will vote for Cass, and if he
succeeds, their vote will have aided in closing the doors against
improvements. Now this is a process which we think is wrong. We
prefer a candidate who, like General Taylor, will allow the
people to have their own way, regardless of his private opinions;
and I should think the internal-improvement Democrats, at least,
ought to prefer such a candidate. He would force nothing on them
which they don’t want, and he would allow them to have
improvements which their own candidate, if elected, will not.

Mr. Speaker, I have said General Taylor’s position is as well
defined as is that of General Cass. In saying this, I admit I do
not certainly know what he would do on the Wilmot Proviso. I am
a Northern man or rather a Western Free-State man, with a
constituency I believe to be, and with personal feelings I know
to be, against the extension of slavery. As such, and with what
information I have, I hope and believe General Taylor, if
elected, would not veto the proviso. But I do not know it. Yet
if I knew he would, I still would vote for him. I should do so
because, in my judgment, his election alone can defeat General
Cass; and because, should slavery thereby go to the territory we
now have, just so much will certainly happen by the election of
Cass, and in addition a course of policy leading to new wars, new
acquisitions of territory and still further extensions of
slavery. One of the two is to be President. Which is

But there is as much doubt of Cass on improvements as there is of
Taylor on the proviso. I have no doubt myself of General Cass on
this question; but I know the Democrats differ among themselves
as to his position. My internal-improvement colleague [Mr.
Wentworth] stated on this floor the other day that he was
satisfied Cass was for improvements, because he had voted for all
the bills that he [Mr. Wentworth] had. So far so good. But Mr.
Polk vetoed some of these very bills. The Baltimore convention
passed a set of resolutions, among other things, approving these
vetoes, and General Cass declares, in his letter accepting the
nomination, that he has carefully read these resolutions, and
that he adheres to them as firmly as he approves them cordially.
In other words, General Cass voted for the bills, and thinks the
President did right to veto them; and his friends here are
amiable enough to consider him as being on one side or the other,
just as one or the other may correspond with their own respective
inclinations. My colleague admits that the platform declares
against the constitutionality of a general system of
improvements, and that General Cass indorses the platform; but he
still thinks General Cass is in favor of some sort of
improvements. Well, what are they? As he is against general
objects, those he is for must be particular and local. Now this
is taking the subject precisely by the wrong end. Particularity
expending the money of the whole people for an object which will
benefit only a portion of them–is the greatest real objection to
improvements, and has been so held by General Jackson, Mr. Polk,
and all others, I believe, till now. But now, behold, the
objects most general–nearest free from this objection–are to be
rejected, while those most liable to it are to be embraced. To
return: I cannot help believing that General Cass, when he wrote
his letter of acceptance, well understood he was to be claimed by
the advocates of both sides of this question, and that he then
closed the door against all further expressions of opinion
purposely to retain the benefits of that double position. His
subsequent equivocation at Cleveland, to my mind, proves such to
have been the case.

One word more, and I shall have done with this branch of the
subject. You Democrats, and your candidate, in the main are in
favor of laying down in advance a platform–a set of party
positions–as a unit, and then of forcing the people, by every
sort of appliance, to ratify them, however unpalatable some of
them may be. We and our candidate are in favor of making
Presidential elections and the legislation of the country
distinct matters; so that the people can elect whom they please,
and afterward legislate just as they please, without any
hindrance, save only so much as may guard against infractions of
the Constitution, undue haste, and want of consideration. The
difference between us is clear as noonday. That we are right we
cannot doubt. We hold the true Republican position. In leaving
the people’s business in their hands, we cannot be wrong. We are
willing, and even anxious, to go to the people on this issue.

But I suppose I cannot reasonably hope to convince you that we
have any principles. The most I can expect is to assure you that
we think we have and are quite contented with them. The other
day one of the gentlemen from Georgia [Mr. Iverson], an eloquent
man, and a man of learning, so far as I can judge, not being
learned myself, came down upon us astonishingly. He spoke in
what the ‘Baltimore American’ calls the “scathing and withering
style.” At the end of his second severe flash I was struck blind,
and found myself feeling with my fingers for an assurance of my
continued existence. A little of the bone was left, and I
gradually revived. He eulogized Mr. Clay in high and beautiful
terms, and then declared that we had deserted all our principles,
and had turned Henry Clay out, like an old horse, to root. This
is terribly severe. It cannot be answered by argument–at least
I cannot so answer it. I merely wish to ask the gentleman if the
Whigs are the only party he can think of who sometimes turn old
horses out to root. Is not a certain Martin Van Buren an old
horse which your own party have turned out to root? and is he
not rooting a little to your discomfort about now? But in not
nominating Mr. Clay we deserted our principles, you say. Ah! In
what? Tell us, ye men of principle, what principle we violated.
We say you did violate principle in discarding Van Buren, and we
can tell you how. You violated the primary, the cardinal, the
one great living principle of all democratic representative
government–the principle that the representative is bound to
carry out the known will of his constituents. A large majority
of the Baltimore convention of 1844 were, by their constituents,
instructed to procure Van Buren ‘s nomination if they could. In
violation–in utter glaring contempt of this, you rejected him;
rejected him, as the gentleman from New York [Mr. Birdsall] the
other day expressly admitted, for availability–that same
“general availability” which you charge upon us, and daily chew
over here, as something exceedingly odious and unprincipled. But
the gentleman from Georgia [Mr. Iverson] gave us a second speech
yesterday, all well considered and put down in writing, in which
Van Buren was scathed and withered a “few” for his present
position and movements. I cannot remember the gentleman’s
precise language; but I do remember he put Van Buren down, down,
till he got him where he was finally to “stink” and “rot.”

Mr. Speaker, it is no business or inclination of mine to defend
Martin Van Buren in the war of extermination now waging between
him and his old admirers. I say, “Devil take the hindmost”–and
the foremost. But there is no mistaking the origin of the
breach; and if the curse of “stinking” and “rotting” is to fall
on the first and greatest violators of principle in the matter, I
disinterestedly suggest that the gentleman from Georgia and his
present co-workers are bound to take it upon themselves. But the
gentleman from Georgia further says we have deserted all our
principles, and taken shelter under General Taylor’s military
coat-tail, and he seems to think this is exceedingly degrading.
Well, as his faith is, so be it unto him. But can he remember no
other military coat-tail under which a certain other party have
been sheltering for near a quarter of a century? Has he no
acquaintance with the ample military coat tail of General
Jackson? Does he not know that his own party have run the five
last Presidential races under that coat-tail, and that they are
now running the sixth under the same cover? Yes, sir, that coat-
tail was used not only for General Jackson himself, but has been
clung to, with the grip of death, by every Democratic candidate
since. You have never ventured, and dare not now venture, from
under it. Your campaign papers have constantly been “Old
Hickories,” with rude likenesses of the old general upon them;
hickory poles and hickory brooms your never-ending emblems; Mr.
Polk himself was “Young Hickory,” or something so; and even now
your campaign paper here is proclaiming that Cass and Butler are
of the true “Hickory stripe.” Now, sir, you dare not give it up.
Like a horde of hungry ticks you have stuck to the tail of the
Hermitage Lion to the end of his life; and you are still sticking
to it, and drawing a loathsome sustenance from it, after he is
dead. A fellow once advertised that he had made a discovery by
which he could make a new man out of an old one, and have enough
of the stuff left to make a little yellow dog. Just such a
discovery has General Jackson’s popularity been to you. You not
only twice made President of him out of it, but you have had
enough of the stuff left to make Presidents of several
comparatively small men since; and it is your chief reliance now
to make still another.

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