By john g. Nioolay and john hay



Download 4.94 Mb.
Page31/45
Date conversion21.02.2016
Size4.94 Mb.
1   ...   27   28   29   30   31   32   33   34   ...   45
Arnold,

Speech

before tb

State Bar

Agsocia-

.xvii. whether he was the ablest lawyer on the circuit, there was never any dissent from the opinion that he was the one most cordially and universally liked. If he did not himself enjoy his full share of the happiness of life, he certainly diffused more of it among his fellows than is in the power of most men. His arrival was a little festival in the county-seats where his pursuits led him to pass so much of his time. Several eye-witnesses have described these scenes in terms which would seem exaggerated if they were not so fully confirmed. The bench and bar would gather at the tavern where he was expected, to give him a cordial wel­come ; says one writer, " He brought light with him." This is not hard to understand. Whatever his cares, he never inflicted them upon others. He talked singularly well, but never about himself. He was full of wit which never wounded, of humor which mellowed the harshness of that new and raw life of the prairies. He never asked for help, but was always ready to give it. He received everybody's confidence, and rarely gave his own in return. He took no mean advantages in court or in conversation, and, satisfied with the respect and kindliness which he everywhere met, he sought no quarrels and seldom had to decline them. He did not accumulate wealth; as Judge Davis said, " He seemed never to care for it." He had a good income from his profession, though the fees he received would bring a smile to the well-paid lips of the great attorneys of to-day. The largest fee he ever got was one of five thou­sand dollars from the Illinois Central Eailway, and he had to bring suit to compel them to pay it. He

THE CIRCUIT LAWYER

309

spent what he received in the education of his ch.xvii. children, in the care of his family, and in a plain L N and generous way of living. One who often visited

him writes, referring to " the old-fashioned hospi- stateeBar tality of Springfield," "Among others I recall with a sad pleasure, the dinners and evening parties given by Mrs. Lincoln. In her modest and sim­ple home, where everything was so orderly and refined, there was always on the part of both host and hostess a cordial and hearty Western welcome which put every guest perfectly at ease. Their table was famed for the excellence of many rare Kentucky dishes, and for the venison, wild tur-keys, and other game, then so abundant. Yet it was her genial manner and ever-kind welcome, and Mr. Lincoln's wit and humor, anecdote and unrivaled conversation, which formed the chief attraction."

Here we leave him for a while, in this peaceful and laborious period of his life ; engaged in useful and congenial toil; surrounded by the love and respect of the entire community; in the fullness of his years and strength ; the struggles of his youth, which were so easy to his active brain and his mighty muscles, all behind him, and the titanic labors of his manhood yet to come. We shall now try to sketch the beginnings of that tremen­dous controversy which he was in a few years to take up, to guide and direct to its wonderful and tragical close,

CHAPTEE XVIII

THE BALANCE OP POWER

ch. xvin. ~\1[TE shall see in the course of the present work V V how the life of Abraham Lincoln divides itself into three principal periods, with correspond­ing stages of intellectual development: the first, of about forty years, ending with his term in Congress; the second, of about ten years, con­cluding with his final campaign of political speech-making in New York and in New England, shortly before the Presidential nominations of 1860; and the last, of about five years, terminating at his death. We have thus far traced his career through the first period of forty years. In the several stages of frontier experience through which he had passed, and which in the main but repeated the trials and vicissitudes of thousands of other boys and youths in the West, only so much individuality had been developed in him as brought him into the leading class of his contemporaries. He had risen from laborer to student, from clerk to lawyer, from politician to legislator. That he had lifted himself by healthy ambition and unaided industry out of the station of a farm-hand, whose routine life begins and ends in a backwoods log-cabin, to that representative character and authority which seated

310

THE BALANCE OF POWER 311

him in the national Capitol to aid in framing laws oh.'xviii. for his country, was already an achievement that may well be held to crown honorably a career of forty years.

Such achievement and such distinction, how­ever, were not so uncommon as to appear phe­nomenal. Hundreds of other boys born in log-cabins had won similar elevation in the manly, practical school of Western public life. Even in ordinary times there still remained within the reach of average intellects several higher grades of public service. It is quite probable that the talents of Lincoln would have made him Governor of Illinois or given him a place in the United States Senate. But the story of his life would not have com­manded, as it now does, the unflagging attention of the world, had there not fallen upon his gen­eration the unusual conditions and opportunities brought about by a series of remarkable convulsions in national politics. If we would correctly under­stand how Lincoln became, first a conspicuous actor, and then a chosen leader, in a great strife of national parties for supremacy and power, we must briefly study the origin and development of the great slavery controversy in American legislation which found its highest activity and decisive cul­mination in the single decade from 1850 to 1860. But we should greatly err if we attributed the new events in Lincoln's career to the caprice of fortune. The conditions and opportunities of which we speak were broadly national, and open to all with­out restriction of rank or locality. Many of his contemporaries had seemingly overshadowing advantages, by prominence and training, to seize

312 ABRAHAM LINCOLN

ch. xvni. and appropriate them to their own advancement. It is precisely this careful study of the times which shows us by what inevitable process of selection honors and labors of which he did not dream fell upon him ; how, indeed, it was not the individual who gained the prize, but the paramount duty which claimed the man.

It is now universally understood, if not con­ceded, that the Rebellion of 1861 was begun for the sole purpose of defending and preserving to the seceding States the institution of African slavery and making them the nucleus of a great slave em­pire, which in their ambitious dreams they hoped would include Mexico, Central America, and the West India Islands, and perhaps even the tropical States of South America. Both a real and a pre­tended fear that slavery was in danger lay at the bottom of this design. The real fear arose from the palpable fact, impossible to conceal, that the slave system was a reactionary obstacle in the pathway of modern civilization, and its political, material, philosophical, and religious development. The pretended danger was the permanent loss of political power by the slave States of the Union, as shown in the election of Lincoln to the presidency, which they averred would necessarily throw all the forces of the national life against the "peculiar institution," and crush it under forms of law. It was by magnifying this danger from remote into immediate consequence that they excited the population of the cotton States to resistance an4 rebellion. Seizing this opportunity, it was their present purpose to establish a slave Confederacy, consisting of the cotton States, which should in

THE BALANCE OP POWEB 313

due time draw to itself, by an irresistible gravi- ch. xvin. tation of sympathy and interest, first, the border slave States, and, in the further progress of events, the tropical countries towards the equator.

The popular agitation, or war of worlds between the North and the South on the subject of slavery, which led to the armed insurrection was three­fold : First, the economic efforts to prevent the de­struction of the monetary value of four millions of human beings held in bondage, who were bought and sold as chattels, and whose aggregate valuation, under circumstances existing at the outbreak of the civil war, was variously computed at $400,000,000 to $1,600,000,000;l second, a moral debate as to the abstract righteousness or iniquity of the system; and, third, a political struggle for the balance of power in government and public policy, by which the security and perpetuity of the institution might be guaranteed.

This sectional controversy over the institution of slavery in its threefold aspect had begun with the very birth of the nation, had continued with its growth, and become intensified with its strength. The year before the Mayflower brought the Pilgrims to Plymouth Rock, a Dutch ship landed a cargo of African slaves at Jamestown, in Virginia. Dur­ing the long colonial period the English Government fostered and forced the importation of slaves to America equally with English goods. In the orig­inal draft of the Declaration of Independence,

1 The Convention of Missis- the rate of a thousand dollars for
sippi, which passed the secession each slave, an average absurdly
ordinance, in its Declaration of excessive, and showing their ex-
Causes placed the total value of aggerated estimate of the mone-
their property in slaves at "four tary value of the institution of
billions of money," This was at slavery.

314 ABRAHAM LINCOLN

ch. xviii. Thomas Jefferson invoked the reprobation of man­kind upon the British King for his share in this inhuman traffic. On reflection, however, this was discovered to be but another case of Satan rebuking sin. The blood money which reddened the hands of English royalty stained equally those of many an American rebel. The public opinion of the colonies was already too much debauched to sit in unanimous moral judgment on this crime against humanity. The objections of South Carolina and Georgia sufficed to cause the erasure and suppres­sion of the obnoxious paragraph. Nor were the Northern States guiltless: Newport was yet a great slave-mart, and the commerce of New England drew more advantage from the traffic than did the agriculture of the South.

Jf« Slaw1!*1' -^ ^e elements of the later controversy already andeBdo°nd- existed. Slave codes and fugitive-slave laws, abo-ppe'228-3iiL lition societies and emancipation bills, are older than our Constitution; and negro troops fought in the Revolutionary war for American independence. Liberal men could be found in South Carolina who hated slavery, and narrow men in Massachusetts who defended it. But these individual instances of prejudice or liberality were submerged and lost in the current of popular opinion springing from prevailing interests in the respective localities, and institutions molded principles, until in turn principles should become strong enough to re­form institutions. In short, slavery was one of the many "relics of barbarism"—like the divine right of kings, religious persecution, torture of the accused, imprisonment and enslavement for debt, witch-burning, and kindred " institutions "—

THE BALANCE OF POWER 315

which were transmitted to that generation from ch. xvm. former ages as so many burdens of humanity, for help in the removal of which the new nation was in the providence of Grod perhaps called into existence. The whole matter in its broader aspects is part of that persistent struggle of the centuries between despotism and individual free­dom; between arbitrary wrong, consecrated by tradition and law, and the unfolding recognition of* private rights; between the thraldom of public opinion and liberty of conscience; between the greed of gain and the G-olden Rule of Christ. Whoever, therefore, chooses to trace the remote origin of the American Rebellion will find the germ of the Union armies of 1861-5 in the cabin of the Mayfloiver, and the inception of the Secession forces between the decks of that Dutch slaver which planted the fruits of her avarice and piracy in the James River colonies in 1619.

So elaborate and searching a study, however, is not necessary to the purposes of this work. A very brief mention of the principal landmarks of the long contest will serve to show the historical rela­tion, and explain the phraseology, of its final issues.

The first of these great landmarks was the Ordi­nance of 1787. All the States tolerated slavery and permitted the slave-trade during the Revolution. But in most of them the morality of the system was strongly drawn in question, especially by the abolition societies, which embraced many of the most prominent patriots. A public opinion, not indeed unanimous, but largely in the majority, demanded that the " necessary evil" should cease. When the Continental Congress came to the practi-

316 ABEAHAM LINCOLN

t

oh. xvin. cal work of providing a government for the " West­ern lands," which the financial pressure and the absolute need of union compelled New York and Virginia to cede to the general Government, Thomas Jefferson proposed, among other features in his plan and draft of 1784, to add a clause pro­hibiting slavery in all the North-west territory after the year 1800. A North Carolina member moved to strike out this clause. The form of the question put by the chairman was, " Shall the clause stand ?" Sixteen members voted aye and seven members voted no; but under the clumsy legislative ma­chinery of the Confederation these seven noes car­ried the question, since a majority of States had failed to vote in the affirmative.

Three years later, July 13, 1787, this first ordi­nance was repealed by a second, establishing our more modern form of territorial government. It is justly famed for many of its provisions; but its chief value is conceded to have been its sixth article, ordaining the immediate and perpetual prohibition of slavery. Upon this all the States present in Congress — three Northern and five Southern — voted in the affirmative; five States were absent, four Northern and one Southern. This piece of legislation is remarkable in that it was an entirely new bill, substituted for a former and altogether different scheme containing no prohibition whatever, and that it was passed through all the forms and stages of enactment in the short space of four days. History sheds little light on the official transaction, but con­temporary evidence points to the influence of a powerful lobby.

1   ...   27   28   29   30   31   32   33   34   ...   45


The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2016
send message

    Main page