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ion. His opinions on public questions were formed early, under the example and teaching of Henry Clay, and he never departed from them, though constantly tempted, or pressed by local majorities, in the name of a false democracy. It is interesting to know that thus early he espoused those two ideas which entered so largely into the terrible responsibilities of his last years, — I mean the Unity of the Republic, and the supreme value of Liberty. He did not believe that a State, in its own mad will, had a right to break up this Union. As reader of Congressional speeches, and student of what was said by the political teachers of that day, he was no stranger to those marvellous efforts of Daniel Webster, when, in reply to the treasonable pretensions of Nullification, the great orator of Massachusetts asserted the indestructibility of the Union, and the folly of those who assail it. On the subject of Slavery, he had the experience of his own family and the warnings of his own conscience. Naturally, one of his earliest acts in the Legislature of Illinois was a protest in the name of Liberty.
At a later day, he was in Congress for a single term, beginning in December, 1847, being the only Whig Representative from Illinois. His speeches during this brief period have the characteristics of his later productions. They are argumentative, logical, and spirited, with quaint humor and sinewy sententiousness. His votes were constant against Slavery. For the Wilmot Proviso he voted, according to his own statement, "in one way and another, about forty times." His vote is recorded against the pretence that slaves are property under the Constitution. From Congress he passed again to his profession. The day was at hand, when all
his powers, enlarged by experience and quickened to highest activity, would be needed to repel that haughty domination already overshadowing the Republic.
The next field of conflict was in his own State, with no less an antagonist than Stephen A. Douglas, at that time in alliance with the Slave Power. The too famous Kansas and Nebraska Bill, introduced by the latter into the Senate, assumed to set aside the venerable safeguard of Freedom in the territory west of Missouri, under pretence of allowing the inhabitants "to vote Slavery up or to vote it down," and this barbarous privilege was called by the fancy name of Popular Sovereignty. The champion of Liberty did not hesitate to denounce this most baleful measure in a series of popular addresses, where truth, sentiment, humor, and argument all blended. As the conflict continued, he was brought forward for the Senate against its able author. The debate that ensued is one of the most memorable in our political history, whether we consider the principles involved or the way it was conducted.
It commenced with a close, well-woven speech from the Republican candidate, showing insight into the actual condition of things, in which were these memorable words: "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 one thing, or all the other." 1 Here was the true starting-point. Only a few days before his death, in reply to my inquiry, if at the time he had any doubt
1 Speech at Springfield, June 17, 1858: Political Debates between Hon. Abraham Lincoln and Hon. Stephen A. Douglas in 1858, p. 1.
about this declaration, he said, "Not in the least. It was clearly true, and time has justified me." With like plainness he exposed the Douglas pretence of Popular Sovereignty as meaning simply, "that, if any one man choose to enslave another, no third man shall be allowed to object," 1 and he announced his belief in the existence of a conspiracy to perpetuate and nationalize Slavery, of which the Kansas and Nebraska Bill and the Dred Scott decision were essential parts. Such was the character of this debate at the beginning, and so it continued on the lips of our champion to the end.
The inevitable topic to which he returned with most frequency, and to which he clung with all the grasp of his soul, was the practical character of the Declaration of Independence in announcing the Liberty and Equality of all Men. No idle words were there, but substantial truth, binding on the conscience of mankind. I know not if this grand pertinacity has been noticed before; but I deem it a duty to declare that to my mind it is by far the most important incident of that controversy, and perhaps the most interesting in the biography of the speaker. Nothing previous to his nomination for the Presidency is comparable to it. Plainly his whole subsequent career took impulse and complexion from that championship. And here, too, is our first debt of gratitude. The words he then uttered live after him, and nobody now hears how he then battled without feeling a new motive to fidelity in support of Human Rights.
As early as 1854, in a speech at Peoria against the Kansas and Nebraska Bill, after denouncing Slavery as a "monstrous injustice," which "enables the enemies of free institutions to taunt us as hypocrites," and "causes
1 Speech at Springfield, June 17, 1858: Political Debates, p. 2.
the real friends of Freedom to doubt our sincerity, he complains especially that "it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty, criticizing the Declaration of Independence." Thus, according to him, criticism of the Declaration was the climax of infidelity as citizen.
Mr. Douglas opened the debate, on his side, at Chicago, July 9, 1858, by a speech, where he said, among other things, "I am opposed to negro equality. I repeat, that this nation is a white people. . . . . I am opposed to taking any step that recognizes the negro man or the Indian as the equal of the white man. I am opposed to giving him a voice in the administration of the Government." 2 Thus was the case stated for Slavery.
To this speech the Republican candidate replied promptly, and did not forget his championship. Quoting the great words, "We hold these truths to be selfevident, that all men are created equal," he proceeds :
"That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world. . . . . I should like to know, if, taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal, upon principle, and making exceptions to it, where will it stop? If one man says it does not mean a negro, why not another say it does not mean some other man? If that Declaration is not the truth, let us get the statute-book in which we find it and tear it out. Who is so bold as to do it? If it is not true, let us tear it out. [Cries of "No, no!"] Let us stick to it, then; let us stand firmly by it, then."
1 Political Debates, p. 75.
2 Ibid., p. 12.
Noble utterance, worthy of perpetual memory! And he finished his speech with a farewell truly apostolic:
"I leave you, hoping that the lamp of Liberty will burn in your bosoms until there shall no longer be a doubt that all men are created free and equal."1
He has left us now, and for the last time. I catch the closing benediction of that speech, already sounding through the ages like a choral harmony.
The debate continued from place to place. At Bloomington, July 16th, Mr. Douglas denied again that colored persons could be citizens, and then broke forth upon the champion:
"I will not quarrel with Mr. Lincoln for his views on that subject. I have no doubt he is conscientious in them. I have not the slightest idea but that he conscientiously believes that a negro ought to enjoy and exercise all the rights and privileges given to white men ; but I do not agree with him. I believe that this government of ours was founded on the white basis. I believe that it was established by white men. 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, Indians, or other inferior races, with white men, as citizens. He wants them to vote. I am opposed to it. If they had a vote, I reckon they would all vote for him in preference to me, entertaining the views I do." 2
Then again at Springfield, the next day, Mr. Douglas repeated his denial that the colored man was embraced by the Declaration, and thus argued for the exclusion :
1 Speech at Chicago, July 10, 1858: Political Debates, pp. 23, 24. 2 Ibid., pp. 35, 36.