Page images

as we insist, has the power of restraining the extension of the institution—the power to insure that a slave insurrection shall never occur on any American soil which is now free from slavery.

John Brown's effort was peculiar. It was not a slave insurrection. It was an attempt by white men to get up a revolt among slaves, in which the slaves refused to participate. In fact, it was so absurd, that the slaves, with all their ignorance, saw plainly enough it could not succeed. That affair, in its philosophy, corresponds with the many attempts, related in history, at the assassination of kings and emperors. An enthusiast broods over the oppression of a people till he fancies himself commissioned by Heaven to liberate them. He ventures the attempt, which ends in little else than his own execution. Orsini's attempt on Louis Napoleon, and John Brown's attempt at Harper's Ferry were, in their philosophy, precisely the same. The eagerness to cast blame on old England in the one case, and on New England in the other, does not disprove the sameness of the two things.

Mr. Lincoln closed his discourse by the following passage which he addressed specially to the opponents of the extension of slavery, i. e., in his words, the Republicans, although there were many who united with him in that opposition and in these views as to its nature, its right, and its necessity, who had not acted with the Republican party.

A few words now to Republicans. It is exceedingly desirable that all parts of this great Confederacy shall be at peace, and in harmony, one with another. Let us Republicans do our part to have it so. Even though much provoked, let us do nothing through passion and ill-temper. Even though the Southern people will not so much as listen to us, let us calmly consider their demands, and yield to them if, in our deliberate view of our duty, we possibly can. Judging by all they say and do, and by the subject and nature of their controversy with us, let us determine, if we can, what will satisfy them.

Will they be satisfied if the Territories be unconditionally surrendered to them? We know they will not. In all their . present complaints against us, the Territories are scarcely mentioned. Invasions and insurrections are the rage now. Will it satisfy them, if, in the future, we have nothing to do with invasions and insurrections ? We know it will not. We so know, because we know we never had anything to do with invasions and insurrections; and yet this total abstaining does not exempt us from the charge and the denunciation. * * * *

In all our platforms and speeches we have constantly protested our purpose to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them. Alike unavailing to convince them, is the fact that they have never detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.

These natural, and apparently adequate means all failing, what will convince them ? This, and this only , cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly-done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated—we must place ourselves avowedly with them. Senator Douglas’s new sedition law must be enacted and enforced, suppressing all declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our Free State constitutions. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us. * * * * * *

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. Thinking it right, as they do, they are not to blame for desiring its full recognition, as being right; but, thinking it wrong, as we do, can we yield to them ? Can we cast our votes

with their view, and against our own? In view of our moral, social, and political responsibilities, can we do this ?

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 these 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 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.

Thus clearly, fairly and with eminent kindness and consideration towards the slave-holders did Mr. Lincoln set forth the Great Issue which he was afterwards called upon to try before the world. But previously he had expressed more tersely and almost epigramatically his judgment as to the future of this country in regard to this subject. When Mr. Lincoln was nominated to the Senate of the United States, in 1858, he made a speech, in the opening passage of 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.”

Surely political sagacity and foresight were never more manifest than in this prediction. It has been verified by subsequent events to the letter. The slaveholders were determined that the Government should be all slave.” During the years which immediately preceded the attempted secession, they thought that they were rapidly bringing about the end which they so much desired; and there is no reasonable doubt that at first secession itself was but a new and rough method adopted by them to accomplish this same purpose ;—that they believed that after they had shown their ability to defy and resist the Government and establish the principle of State Sovereignty, they could reconstruct the Union on a basis which would enable them to carry slavery into the Territories, and their slaves into any State of their reconstructed Union. They were rudely undeceived, and the man who, next to themselves, was the chief instrument of their destruction, was he who only six years before had told them that they

could not endure half slave and half free, and that the Union would not be dissolved.


Mr. Lincoln, unexpectedly to himself and to the country, was nominated to the Presidency by the convention of 1860, at Chicago. To the announcement of this fact made by a committee, he made the following reply:

Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of the Committee I tender to you, and through you to the Republican National Convention,

and all the people represented in it, my profoundest thanks for the high honor done me, which you now formally announce. Deeply, and even painfully sensible of the great responsibility which is inseparable from this high honor-a responsibility which I could almost wish had fallen upon some ono of the far more eminent men and experienced statesmen whose distinguished names were before the Convention, I shall, by your leave, consider more fully the resolutions of the Convention, denominated the platform, and without any unnecessary or unreasonable delay, respond to you, Mr. Chairman, in writing, not doubting that the platform will be found satisfactory, and the nomination gratefully accepted.

“And now I will not longer defer the pleasure of taking you, and each of you, by the hand.”

The response in writing to which he referred, was soon after received in the following words :

SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS, May, 1860. Sir—I accept the nomination tendered to me by the Convention over which you presided, of which I am formally apprized in a letter of yourself and others acting as a Committee of the Convention for that purpose. The declaration of principles and sentiments which accompanies your letter meets my approval, and it shall be my care not to violate it, or disregard it in any part. Imploring the assistance of Divine Providence, and with due regard to the views and feelings of all who were represented in the Convention, to the rights of all the States and Territories and people of the nation, to the inviolability of the Constitution, and the perpetual union, harmony, and prosperity of all, I am most happy to co-operate for the practical success of the principles declared by the Convention. Your obliging friend and fellow-citizen,


President of the Republican Convention. These were almost mere formalities. Yet their tone indicated the character of the man. The short speech was uttered in a tone and with a manner full of dignity,

« PreviousContinue »