The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7

Mr. Speaker, old horses and military coat-tails, or tails of any
sort, are not figures of speech such as I would be the first to
introduce into discussions here; but as the gentleman from
Georgia has thought fit to introduce them, he and you are welcome
to all you have made, or can make by them. If you have any more
old horses, trot them out; any more tails, just cock them and
come at us. I repeat, I would not introduce this mode of
discussion here; but I wish gentlemen on the other side to
understand that the use of degrading figures is a game at which
they may not find themselves able to take all the winnings.

[“We give it up!”]

Aye, you give it up, and well you may; but for a very different
reason from that which you would have us understand. The point–
the power to hurt–of all figures consists in the truthfulness of
their application; and, understanding this, you may well give it
up. They are weapons which hit you, but miss us.

But in my hurry I was very near closing this subject of military
tails before I was done with it. There is one entire article of
the sort I have not discussed yet,–I mean the military tail you
Democrats are now engaged in dovetailing into the great
Michigander [Cass]. Yes, sir; all his biographies (and they are
legion) have him in hand, tying him to a military tail, like so
many mischievous boys tying a dog to a bladder of beans. True,
the material they have is very limited, but they drive at it
might and main. He invaded Canada without resistance, and he
outvaded it without pursuit. As he did both under orders, I
suppose there was to him neither credit nor discredit in them;
but they constitute a large part of the tail. He was not at
Hull’s surrender, but he was close by; he was volunteer aid to
General Harrison on the day of the battle of the Thames; and as
you said in 1840 Harrison was picking huckleberries two miles off
while the battle was fought, I suppose it is a just conclusion
with you to say Cass was aiding Harrison to pick huckleberries.
This is about all, except the mooted question of the broken
sword. Some authors say he broke it, some say he threw it away,
and some others, who ought to know, say nothing about it.
Perhaps it would be a fair historical compromise to say, if he
did not break it, he did not do anything else with it.

By the way, Mr. Speaker, did you know I am a military hero? Yes,
sir; in the days of the Black Hawk war I fought, bled, and came
away. Speaking of General Cass’s career reminds me of my own. I
was not at Stiliman’s defeat, but I was about as near it as Cass
was to Hull’s surrender; and, like him, I saw the place very soon
afterward. It is quite certain I did not break my sword, for I
had none to break; but I bent a musket pretty badly on one
occasion. If Cass broke his sword, the idea is he broke it in
desperation; I bent the musket by accident. If General Cass went
in advance of me in picking huckleberries, I guess I surpassed
him in charges upon the wild onions. If he saw any live,
fighting Indians, it was more than I did; but I had a good many
bloody struggles with the mosquitoes, and although I never
fainted from the loss of blood, I can truly say I was often very
hungry. Mr. Speaker, if I should ever conclude to doff whatever
our Democratic friends may suppose there is of black-cockade
federalism about me, and therefore they shall take me up as their
candidate for the Presidency, I protest they shall not make fun
of me, as they have of General Cass, by attempting to write me
into a military hero.

While I have General Cass in hand, I wish to say a word about his
political principles. As a specimen, I take the record of his
progress in the Wilmot Proviso. In the Washington Union of March
2, 1847, there is a report of a speech of General Cass, made the
day before in the Senate, on the Wilmot Proviso, during the
delivery of which Mr. Miller of New Jersey is reported to have
interrupted him as follows, to wit:

“Mr. Miller expressed his great surprise at the change in the
sentiments of the Senator from Michigan, who had been regarded as
the great champion of freedom in the Northwest, of which he was a
distinguished ornament. Last year the Senator from Michigan was
understood to be decidedly in favor of the Wilmot Proviso; and as
no reason had been stated for the change, he [Mr. Miller] could
not refrain from the expression of his extreme surprise.”

To this General Cass is reported to have replied as follows, to

“Mr. Cass said that the course of the Senator from New Jersey was
most extraordinary. Last year he [Mr. Cass] should have voted
for the proposition, had it come up. But circumstances had
altogether changed. The honorable Senator then read several
passages from the remarks, as given above, which he had committed
to writing, in order to refute such a charge as that of the
Senator from New Jersey.”

In the “remarks above reduced to writing” is one numbered four,
as follows, to wit:

“Fourth. Legislation now would be wholly inoperative, because no
territory hereafter to be acquired can be governed without an act
of Congress providing for its government; and such an act, on its
passage, would open the whole subject, and leave the Congress
called on to pass it free to exercise its own discretion,
entirely uncontrolled by any declaration found on the statute-

In Niles’s Register, vol. lxxiii., p. 293, there is a letter of
General Cass to _______Nicholson, of Nashville, Tennessee, dated
December 24, 1847, from which the following are correct extracts:

“The Wilmot Proviso has been before the country some time. It
has been repeatedly discussed in Congress and by the public
press. I am strongly impressed with the opinion that a great
change has been going on in the public mind upon this subject,–
in my own as well as others’,–and that doubts are resolving
themselves into convictions that the principle it involves should
be kept out of the national legislature, and left to the people
of the confederacy in their respective local governments….
Briefly, then, I am opposed to the exercise of any jurisdiction
by Congress over this matter; and I am in favor of leaving the
people of any territory which may be hereafter acquired the right
to regulate it themselves, under the general principles of the
Constitution. Because–‘First. I do not see in the Constitution
any grant of the requisite power to Congress; and I am not
disposed to extend a doubtful precedent beyond its necessity,–
the establishment of territorial governments when needed,–
leaving to the inhabitants all the right compatible with the
relations they bear to the confederation.”

These extracts show that in 1846 General Cass was for the proviso
at once; that in March, 1847, he was still for it, but not just
then; and that in December, 1847, he was against it altogether.
This is a true index to the whole man. When the question was
raised in 1846, he was in a blustering hurry to take ground for
it. He sought to be in advance, and to avoid the uninteresting
position of a mere follower; but soon he began to see glimpses of
the great Democratic ox-goad waving in his face, and to hear
indistinctly a voice saying, “Back! Back, sir! Back a little!” He
shakes his head, and bats his eyes, and blunders back to his
position of March, 1847; but still the goad waves, and the voice
grows more distinct and sharper still, “Back, sir! Back, I say!
Further back!”–and back he goes to the position of December,
1847, at which the goad is still, and the voice soothingly says,
“So! Stand at that!”

Have no fears, gentlemen, of your candidate. He exactly suits
you, and we congratulate you upon it. However much you may be
distressed about our candidate, you have all cause to be
contented and happy with your own. If elected, he may not
maintain all or even any of his positions previously taken; but
he will be sure to do whatever the party exigency for the time
being may require; and that is precisely what you want. He and
Van Buren are the same “manner of men”; and, like Van Buren, he
will never desert you till you first desert him.

Mr. Speaker, I adopt the suggestion of a friend, that General
Cass is a general of splendidly successful charges–charges, to
be sure, not upon the public enemy, but upon the public treasury.
He was Governor of Michigan territory, and ex-officio
Superintendent of Indian Affairs, from the 9th of October, 1813,
till the 31st of July, 1831–a period of seventeen years, nine
months, and twenty-two days. During this period he received from
the United States treasury, for personal services and personal
expenses, the aggregate sum of ninety-six thousand and twenty
eight dollars, being an average of fourteen dollars and seventy-
nine cents per day for every day of the time. This large sum was
reached by assuming that he was doing service at several
different places, and in several different capacities in the same
place, all at the same time. By a correct analysis of his
accounts during that period, the following propositions may be

First. He was paid in three different capacities during the
whole of the time: that is to say–(1) As governor a salary at
the rate per year of $2000. (2) As estimated for office rent,
clerk hire, fuel, etc., in superintendence of Indian affairs in
Michigan, at the rate per year of $1500. (3) As compensation and
expenses for various miscellaneous items of Indian service out of
Michigan, an average per year of $625.

Second. During part of the time–that is, from the 9th of
October, 1813, to the 29th of May, 1822 he was paid in four
different capacities; that is to say, the three as above, and, in
addition thereto, the commutation of ten rations per day,
amounting per year to $730.

Third. During another part of the time–that is, from the
beginning of 1822 to the 31st of July, ’83 he was also paid in
four different capacities; that is to say, the first three, as
above (the rations being dropped after the 29th of May, 1822),
and, in addition thereto, for superintending Indian Agencies at
Piqua, Ohio; Fort Wayne, Indiana; and Chicago, Illinois, at the
rate per year of $1500. It should be observed here that the last
item, commencing at the beginning of 1822, and the item of
rations, ending on the 29th of May, 1822, lap on each other
during so much of the time as lies between those two dates.

Fourth. Still another part of the time–that is, from the 31st
of October, 1821, to the 29th of May, 1822–he was paid in six
different capacities; that is to say, the three first, as above;
the item of rations, as above; and, in addition thereto, another
item of ten rations per day while at Washington settling his
accounts, being at the rate per year of $730; and also an
allowance for expenses traveling to and from Washington, and
while there, of $1022, being at the rate per year of $1793.

Fifth. And yet during the little portion of the time which lies
between the 1st of January, 1822, and the 29th of May, 1822, he
was paid in seven different capacities; that is to say, the six
last mentioned, and also, at the rate of $1500 per year, for the
Piqua, Fort Wayne, and Chicago service, as mentioned above.

These accounts have already been discussed some here; but when we
are amongst them, as when we are in the Patent Office, we must
peep about a good deal before we can see all the curiosities. I
shall not be tedious with them. As to the large item of $1500
per year–amounting in the aggregate to $26,715 for office rent,
clerk hire, fuel, etc., I barely wish to remark that, so far as I
can discover in the public documents, there is no evidence, by
word or inference, either from any disinterested witness or of
General Cass himself, that he ever rented or kept a separate
office, ever hired or kept a clerk, or even used any extra amount
of fuel, etc., in consequence of his Indian services. Indeed,
General Cass’s entire silence in regard to these items, in his
two long letters urging his claims upon the government, is, to my
mind, almost conclusive that no such claims had any real

But I have introduced General Cass’s accounts here chiefly to
show the wonderful physical capacities of the man. They show
that he not only did the labor of several men at the same time,
but that he often did it at several places, many hundreds of
miles apart, at the same time. And at eating, too, his
capacities are shown to be quite as wonderful. From October,
1821, to May, 1822, he eat ten rations a day in Michigan, ten
rations a day here in Washington, and near five dollars’ worth a
day on the road between the two places! And then there is an
important discovery in his example–the art of being paid for
what one eats, instead of having to pay for it. Hereafter if any
nice young man should owe a bill which he cannot pay in any other
way, he can just board it out. Mr. Speaker, we have all heard of
the animal standing in doubt between two stacks of hay and
starving to death. The like of that would never happen to
General Cass. Place the stacks a thousand miles apart, he would
stand stock-still midway between them, and eat them both at once,
and the green grass along the line would be apt to suffer some,
too, at the same time. By all means make him President,
gentlemen. He will feed you bounteously–if–if there is any
left after he shall have helped himself.

But, as General Taylor is, par exel1ence, the hero of the Mexican
War, and as you Democrats say we Whigs have always opposed the
war, you think it must be very awkward and embarrassing for us to
go for General Taylor. The declaration that we have always
opposed the war is true or false, according as one may understand
the term “oppose the war.” If to say “the war was unnecessarily
and unconstitutionally commenced by the President” be opposing
the war, then the Whigs have very generally opposed it. Whenever
they have spoken at all, they have said this; and they have said
it on what has appeared good reason to them. The marching an
army into the midst of a peaceful Mexican settlement, frightening
the inhabitants away, leaving their growing crops and other
property to destruction, to you may appear a perfectly amiable,
peaceful, unprovoking procedure; but it does not appear so to us.
So to call such an act, to us appears no other than a naked,
impudent absurdity, and we speak of it accordingly. But if, when
the war had begun, and had become the cause of the country, the
giving of our money and our blood, in common with yours, was
support of the war, then it is not true that we have always
opposed the war. With few individual exceptions, you have
constantly had our votes here for all the necessary supplies.
And, more than this, you have had the services, the blood, and
the lives of our political brethren in every trial and on every
field. The beardless boy and the mature man, the humble and the
distinguished–you have had them. Through suffering and death,
by disease and in battle they have endured and fought and fell
with you. Clay and Webster each gave a son, never to be
returned. From the State of my own residence, besides other
worthy but less known Whig names, we sent Marshall, Morrison,
Baker, and Hardin; they all fought, and one fell, and in the fall
of that one we lost our best Whig man. Nor were the Whigs few in
number, or laggard in the day of danger. In that fearful,
bloody, breathless struggle at Buena Vista, where each man’s hard
task was to beat back five foes or die himself, of the five high
officers who perished, four were Whigs.

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