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important statement, which still further strength- chap.xv. ened the contention of the Whigs. He said that in making the treaty of annexation he did not assume that the Rio del Norte was the western boundary of Texas; on the contrary, he assumed that the boundary was an unsettled one between Mexico and Texas; and that he had intimated to our charge d'affaires that we were prepared to settle the boundary ori the'most liberal terms! This was perfectly in accordance with the position held by most Democrats before the Bio Grande boundary was made an article of faith by the Pres­ident. C. J. Ingersoll, one of the leading men upon that side in Congress, in a speech three years before had said: " The stupendous deserts between the ISTueces and the Bravo rivers are the natural boundaries between the Anglo-Saxon and the Mauritanian races"; a statement which, however faulty from the point of view of ethnology and physical geography, shows clearly enough the view then held of the boundary question.

The discipline of both parties was more or less relaxed under the influence of the slavery question. It was singular to see Mr. McLane, of Baltimore, rebuking Mr. Clingman, of North Carolina, for mentioning that forbidden subject on the floor of the House ; Eeverdy Johnson, a Whig from Mary­land, administering correction to John P. Hale, an insubordinate Democrat from New Hampshire, for the same offense, and at the time screaming that the "blood of our glorious battle-fields in Mexico rested on the hands of the President"; Mr. Cling­man challenging the House with the broad state­ment that "it is a misnomer to speak of our


chap. xv. institution at the South as peculiar; ours is the general system of the world, and fhefree system is the peculiar one," and Mr. Palfrey dryly responding that slavery was natural just as barbarism was, just as fig-leaves and bare skins were a natural dress. When the time arrived, however, for leav­ing off grimacing and posturing, and the House went to voting, the advocates of slavery usually carried the day, as the South, Whigs and Demo­crats together, voted solidly, and the North was divided. Especially was this the case after the arrival of the treaty of peace between the United States and Mexico, which was signed at Gruadalupe Hidalgo on the 2d of February and was in the hands of the Senate only twenty days later. It was ratified by that body on the 10th of March, with a series of amendments which were at once accepted by Mexico, and the treaty of peace was officially promulgated on the national festival of the Fourth of July.

From the hour when the treaty was received in Washington, however, the discussion as to the conduct of the war naturally languished; the ablest speeches of the day before became obsolete in the presence of accomplished facts ; and the interest of Congress promptly turned to the more important subject of the disposition to be made of the vast domain which our arms had conquered and the treaty confirmed to us. No one in America then realized the magnitude of this acquisition; its stupendous physical features were as little appre­ciated as the vast moral and political results which were to flow from its absorption into our common­wealth. It was only known, in general terms, that


our new possessions covered ten degrees of latitude chap. xv. and fifteen of longitude; that we had acquired, in short, six hundred and thirty thousand square miles of desert, mountain, and wilderness. There was no dream, then, of that portentous discovery which, even while the Senate was wrangling over the treaty, had converted Captain Butter's mill at Coloma into a mining camp, for his ruin and the sudden up-building of many colossal fortunes. The name of California, which conveys to-day such opulent suggestions, then meant noth­ing but barrenness, and Nevada was a name as yet unknown; some future Congressman, inno­cent of taste and of Spanish, was to hit upon the absurdity of calling that land of silver and cactus, of the orange and the sage-hen, the land of snow. But imperfect as was the appreciation, at that day, of the possibilities which lay hidden in those sunset regions, there was still enough of instinctive greed in the minds of politicians to make the new realm a subject of lively interest and intrigue.1 At the first showing of hands, the South was successful.

In the Twenty-ninth Congress this contest had begun over the spoils of a victory not yet achieved. President Eolk, foreseeing the probability of an

i To show how crude and vague thousand square miles of this
were the ideas of even the most territory,, in New California, has
intelligent men in relation to this "been trod by the foot of no civil-
great empire, we give a few lines ized being. No spy or pioneer or
from the closing page of Ed- vagrant trapper has ever returned
ward D. Mansfield's "History to report the character and
of the Mexican War," published scenery of that waste and lonely
in!84:9: " But will the greater wilderness. Two hundred thou-
part of this vast space ever be sand square miles more are oc-
inhabited by any but the rest- cupied with broken mountains
less hunter and the wander- and dreary wilds. But little
ing trapper? Two hundred remains then for civilization,"


chap. xv. acquisition of territory by treaty, had asked Con­gress to make an appropriation for that purpose. A bill was at once reported in that sense, appro­priating $30,000 for the expenses of the negotiation and $2,000,000 to be used in the President's discre­tion. But before it passed, a number of Northern Democratsl had become alarmed as to the disposi­tion that might be made of the territory thus acquired, which was now free soil by Mexican law. After a hasty consultation they agreed upon a proviso to the bill, which was presented by David Wilmot, of Pennsylvania. He was a man of respectable abilities, who then, and long after­wards, held a somewhat prominent position among the public men of his State; but his chief claim to a place in history rests upon these few lines which he moved to add to the first section of .the bill under discussion:

Provided, That as an express and fundamental condi­
tion to the acquisition of any territory from the Republic
of Mexico by the United States, by virtue of any treaty
that may be negotiated between them, and to the use by
the Executive of the moneys herein appropriated, neither
slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist in any part
of said territory, except for crime, whereof the party
shall first be duly convicted. '

This condition seemed so fair, when first pre­sented to the Northern conscience, that only three members from the free States voted " no " in com­mittee. The amendment was adopted— eighty to sixty-four — and the bill reported to the House. A desperate effort was then made by the pro-slavery

i Some of the more conspicuous York; Wilmot, of Pennsylvania; among them were Hamlin, of Brinckerhoff, of Ohio, and McClel-Maine; Preston King, of New land, of Michigan.


members to,kill the bill for the purpose of destroy- chap.xv, ing the amendment with it. This failed,1 and the bill, as amended, passed the House; but going to the Senate a few hours before the close of the ses­sion, it lapsed without a vote.

As soon as the was ended and the treaty of peace was sent to the Senate, this subject assumed a new interest and importance, and a resolution embodying the principle of the Wilmot proviso was brought before the House by Mr. Harvey Put­nam, of New York, but no longer with the same success. The South was now solid against it, and such a disintegration of conscience among North­ern Democrats had set in, that whereas only three of them in the last Congress had seen fit to approve the introduction of slavery into free terri­tory, twenty-five now voted with the South against maintaining the existing conditions there. The fight was kept up during the session in various places; if now and then a temporary advantage seemed gained in the House, it was lost in the Senate, and no permanent progress was made.

What we have said in regard to the general dis­cussion provoked by the Mexican war, appeared necessary to explain the part taken by Mr. Lincoln on the floor. He came to his place unheralded and without any special personal pretensions. His first

1 In this important and signifi- members from slave-holding
cant vote all t}ie Whigs but one States, except Thomasson and
and almost al|, the Democrats, Grider, and the following from
from the free States, together free States, Douglas and John A.
with Win. P. Thomasson and MeClernand from Illinois, Petit
Henry Grider, Whigs from Ken- from Indiana, and Sohenok, a
tueky, voted against killing the Whig, from Ohio, in all seventy-
amended bill, in all ninety-three,
nine.—Greeley's "American Con-
On the other side were all the flict," I. p, 189,



Letter to

Win. H.


January 8,


chap. xv. participation in debate can best be described in his own quaint and simple words: "As to speech-mak­ing, by way of getting the hang of the House, I made a little speech two or three days ago on a post-office question of no general interest. I find speaking here and elsewhere about the same thing. I was about as badly scared, and no worse, as I am when I speak in court. I expect to make one within a week or two in which I hope to succeed well enough to wish you to see it." He evidently had the orator's temperament — the mixture of dread and eagerness which all good speakers feel before facing an audience, which made Cicero tremble and turn pale when rising in the Forum. The speech he was pondering was made only four days later, on the 12th of January, and few better maiden speeches — for it was his first formal discourse in Congress—have ever been made in that House. He preceded it, and prepared for it, by the introduction, on the 22d of December, of. a series of resolutions referring to the President's persistent assertions that the war had been begun by Mexico, " by invading our territory and shed­ding the blood of our citizens on our own soil," and calling upon him to give the House more specific information upon these points. As these resolutions became somewhat famous afterwards, and were relied upon to sustain the charge of a lack of patriotism made by Mr. Douglas against their author, it may be as well to give them here, especially as they a?e the first production of Mr. Lincoln's pen after his entry upon the field of national politics. We omit the preamble, which consists of quotations from the President's message.


Resolved fry the House of Representatives, That the Presi- chap xv. dent of the United States "be respectfully requested to inform this House:

First. "Whether the spot on which the blood of our citizens was shed, as in his messages declared, was or was not within the territory of Spain, at least after the treaty of 1819, until the Mexican revolution.

Second. Whether that spot is or is not within the terri­tory which was wrested from Spain by the revolutionary government of Mexico.

Third. Whether that spot is or is not within a settle­ment of people, which settlement has existed ever since long before the Texas revolution and until its inhabitants fled before the approach of the United States army.

Fourth. Whether that settlement is or is not isolated from any and all other settlements by the Gulf and the Rio Grande on the south and west, and by wide unin­habited regions in the north and east.

Fifth. Whether the people of that settlement, or a majority of them, or any of them, have ever submitted themselves to the government or laws of Texas or of the United States, by consent or by compulsion, either by ac­cepting office, or voting at elections, or paying tax, or serving on juries, or having process served upon them, or in any other way.

Sixth. Whether the people of that settlement did or did not flee from the approach of the United States army, leaving unprotected their homes and their growing crops, "before the blood was shed, as in the messages stated; and whether the first blood so shed was or was not shed within the inclosure of one of the people who had thus fled from it.

Seventh. Whether our citizens whose blood was shed, as in his messages declared, were or were not at that time armed officers and soldiers, sent into that settlement by the mil­itary order of the President, through the Secretary of War.

Mghth. Whether the military force of the United States was or was not so sent into that settlement after General Taylor had more than once intimated to the War Depart-


chap. xv. ment that in his opinion no such movement was neces­sary to the defense or protection of Texas.

It would have been impossible for the President to answer these questions, one by one, according to the evidence in his possession, without sur­rendering every position he had taken in his messages for the last two years. An answer was probably not expected; the resolutions were never acted upon by the House, the vote on the Ashmun proposition having sufficiently indicated the view which the majority held of the President's precipitate and unconstitutional proceeding. But they served as a text for the speech which Lincoln made in Committee of the Whole, which deserves the attentive reading of any one who imagines that there was anything accidental in the ascend­ency which he held for twenty years among the public men of Illinois. The winter was mostly de­voted to speeches upon the same subject from men of eminence and experience, but it is within bounds to say there was not a speech made in the House, that year, superior to this in clearness of statement, severity of criticism combined with soberness of style, or, what is most surprising, finish and correctness. In its close, clear argu­ment, its felicity of illustration, its restrained yet burning earnestness, it belongs to precisely the same class of addresses as those which he made a dozen years later. The ordinary Congressman can never conclude inside the limits assigned him; he must beg for unanimous consent for an extension of time to complete his sprawling peroration. But this masterly speech covered the whole ground of the controversy, and so intent was Lincoln on not


exceeding his hour that he finished his task, to his chap. xv. own surprise, in forty-five minutes. It is an ad­mirable discourse, and the oblivion which overtook it, along with the volumes of other speeches made at the same time, can be accounted for only by re­membering that the Guadalupe Treaty came sud­denly in upon the debate, with its immense consequences sweeping forever out of view all consideration of the causes and the processes which led to the momentous result.

Lincoln's speech and his resolutions were alike inspired with one purpose: to correct what he considered an error and a wrong; to rectify a misrepresentation which he could not, in his very nature, permit to go uncontradicted. It gratified his offended moral sense to protest against the false pretenses which he saw so clearly, and it pleased his fancy as a lawyer to bring a truth to light which somebody, as he thought, was trying to conceal. He certainly got no other reward for his trouble. His speech was not particularly well received in Illinois. His own partner, Mr. Herndon, a young and ardent man, with more heart than learning, more feeling for the flag than for inter­national justice, could not, or would not, understand Mr. Lincoln's position, and gave him great pain by his letters. Again and again Lincoln explained to him the difference between approving the war and voting supplies to the soldiers, but Herndon was ob­stinately obtuse, and there were many of his mind,

Lincoln's convictions were so positive in regard to the matter that any laxity of opinion among his friends caused him real suffering. In a letter to the Eev. J. M. Peck, who had written a defense

vol. 1—18

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