Report of Speech at Taunton, Massachusetts, [21] September 18481
The Taylor men were well entertained Wednesday evening, the 20th inst., at Union Hall, by an address from the Hon. Abraham Lincoln of Illinois.2 The address as well as the speaker was such as to give unlimited satisfaction to the disheartened Taylorites. Such a treat it is indeed seldom their good luck to get, and they were in ecstasies! At former meetings their spirits were too low for a good hearty cheer, but on this occasion ‘the steam was up.’ It was reviving to hear a man speak as if he believed what he was saying and had a grain or two of feeling mixed up with it; one who could not only speak highly of Taylor, but could occasionally swell with indignation or burst in hatred on the Free Soilers. When political spite runs high nothing can be too pungent or severe, and the speaker is appreciated in proportion as his statements are rash and unscrupulous. So it was on this occasion. The speaker was far inferior as a reasoner to others who hold the same views, but then he was more unscrupulous, more facetious and with his sneers he mixed up a good
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deal of humor. His awkward gesticulations, the ludicrous management of his voice and the comical expression of his countenance, all conspired to make his hearers laugh at the mere anticipation of the joke before it appeared. But enough concerning the speaker; let us examine his arguments.
General Taylor, he argued, has principles, though he has not given expression to them on the Tariff, Bank and other questions of policy.3 This, however, is in direct contradiction of Taylor, himself, who in his letter to Delany writes, ‘As regards the second and third inquiries (about a bank and tariff), I am not prepared to answer them. I could only do so after investigating them. I am no politician; near forty years of my life have been passed on the Western frontier and in the Indian county.’4 The speaker next discussed the veto question and said that Taylor was the first Whig candidate that had come fully up to the Whig platform in this point, because unlike all other candidates before him he had not even claimed the right to advise Congress on matters of policy. The proper limitation of the veto, he contended, was the Whig platform itself, and General Taylor by his equivocal silence had come up to it better than the great parent of Whig principles—Henry Clay.5 He did not know that General Taylor had professed that he would not veto the Wilmot proviso, but believed that he would not, because General Taylor had promised not to veto any measure unless it was unconstitutional or passed in haste and acknowledged that to be constitutional which had been established by long usage and acquiesced in by the people. As the constitutionality of the Wilmot Proviso he said ‘had never been disputed,’ it was therefore acquiesced in by the people and consequently Taylor was bound not to veto it.6
He subsequently admitted in speaking of Cass, that in the Nicholson letter the constitutional power of Congress to exclude slavery from any territory in the Union was denied.7 Yet he seemed to forget this when he said that the constitutionality of the Proviso had never been disputed. He seemed to be entirely ignorant that every propagandist of slavery in existence, with John C. Calhoun at their head, claimed the right, under the Constitution, and independent of Congress, to carry their ‘property’ into any part of the United States territory and there to hold it.8
Calhoun said in the Senate that when the South consented to the Missouri Compromise the rights of the South granted by the Constitution were given up but belonged to the South the same as if no compromise had been made.9 Thomas Corwin said in his speech on the Compromise Bill introduced in the Senate last session of Congress that the constitutionality of any measure excluding slavery from the territories could not with safety be left to the decision of the Supreme Court.10 The House of Representatives had the same views and rejected the bill.11 None of these facts did the speaker allude to, but instead uttered the stupendous falsehood that the ‘constitutionality of the Proviso’ had never been disputed. Without this ‘whopper,’ however, the argument would have been defective. There would have been a gap in it, so the lie was made big enough to fill the gap that the argument might thereby be made sound and conclusive.
He related a conversation which he overheard at the dinner table of a house in Lowell between two Free Soilers. One of them remarked that the reasoning of the Taylor men was not logical, for it certainly was illogical to say, ‘General Taylor is a slaveholder, therefore we go for him to prevent the extension of slavery.’ He thought this was an unfair statement of the case and gave what he deemed the correct one in the form of a syllogism as follows: ‘General Taylor is a slaveholder, but he will do more to prevent the extension of slavery than any other man whom it is possible to elect; therefore we go for Taylor.’
It needs no argument to prove that the major proposition does not include the minor and has nothing to do with it. But let that pass. The minor proposition asserts that General Taylor will do ‘more’ to prevent the extension of slavery than any other man it is possible to elect, and this assertion is made before the
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logician has even attempted to prove that General Taylor was opposed to the extension of slavery at all! The attempt is made to prove that he will do more than any other man before it is proved that he will do the first thing. But taking for granted that General Taylor will not veto the Proviso (a position founded on a lie) is that a proof that he will do anything to prevent the extension of slavery? He may never have a chance to veto the Proviso even if elected in November. The slave states are equal with the free states in the Senate and before the Proviso can pass that body one or two of the Southern Senators must yield.
Under such circumstances, is it likely that any Senator from the South will be influenced to vote for the Proviso by the executive patronage of the unrepentant slaveholder, Zachary Taylor? Is it not more probable that it would be brought to bear on some Northern doughface?12 It would be quite safe for Taylor to make an equivocal promise not to veto the Proviso, but he has not even done so much as that. The speaker contended that Van Buren had approved the policy of the Mexican War and the annexation of new territory. This he did not prove from Van Buren’s letter written in 1844. If he had read that letter to his hearers they would have found that Van Buren wrote against annexation, partly because it would produce war. The proof he gave was the fact that some of the same individuals who supported Van Buren in 1844 had since voted both for Texas and war.13
He said in another part of his speech that the Northern Democrats were opposed to the annexation of Texas in 1844. Yet he undertook to prove that Van Buren was in favor of annexation and war from the fact that these men once supported him and that at the very time they themselves were opposed to annexation. But why should Van Buren be held responsible for all his friends? Where is the proof that he ever favored the extension of slavery in all his life? Is General Taylor responsible for all who now support him? Are the sins of Berrien Mangum and other propagandists of slavery to be laid to his charge? He has enough to answer for on his own account if we acquit him of all guilt connected with the Native Church burning of Philadelphia.14
To show the recklessness and audacity of the honorable gentleman and the low estimate he had formed of his hearers, it will suffice to give but one specimen. Speaking of Van Buren, he said ‘he (Van Buren) won’t have an electoral vote in the nation nor as many as all others in any county in the nation.’15 The reasoning adopted by the Whig Free Soilers he gave in the form of a syllogism as follows: ‘We can’t go for General Taylor because he is not a Whig. Van Buren is not a Whig; therefore, we go for him.’ This dishonest statement of the case elicited warm applause from his truth-loving hearers. The syllogism should have stood thus: We can’t vote for a man without principles. General Taylor has got none, and Van Buren has, at least, got one good Whig principle; therefore, we go for Van Buren against Taylor.
For the benefit of those who are like the speaker, always misrepresenting the Free Soil Party, I will define our position in a pro-syllogism. The abolition of slavery in the territory of the United States can never be accomplished unless the North is united. But the North cannot be united until old party lines are broken down. But these lines cannot be broken down unless every man is willing to sacrifice his attachment to minor questions and make opposition to slavery the leading idea; therefore, we have come out of the old pro-slavery parties and formed the United Party of the North.
1At the end of the first session of the Thirtieth Congress, Lincoln spent eleven days in Massachusetts stumping for Zachary Taylor to win the presidential election of 1848. Lincoln left Washington on Saturday, September 9 and arrived in Worcester, Massachusetts on September 12. Lincoln spoke at Cambridge, Massachusetts on September 20, and traveled to Taunton by train on September 21 and spoke there twice, in the afternoon and the evening.
The author of this report was Dr. William Gordon, an adherent of the Free Soil Party.
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:280-84; The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 9 September 1848,; 12 September 1848,; 20 September 1848,; 21 September 1848,; Abraham Lincoln to Junius Hall; William F. Hanna, Abraham Among the Yankees: Abraham Lincoln’s 1848 Visit to Massachusetts (Taunton, MA: The Old Colony Historical Society, 1983), 65-66, 67-68, 72.
2Since Lincoln spoke in Cambridge on Wednesday, September 20, the Bristol County Democrat was in error on the date. The American Whig (Taunton, Massachusetts) published an extra sheet on the afternoon of the 21st informing readers of Lincoln’s speech that evening. The Taunton Daily Gazette, September 23, 1848, mentioned the speech and assigned it the date of September 21.
William F. Hanna, Abraham Among the Yankees: Abraham Lincoln’s 1848 Visit to Massachusetts, 67-68; Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 2:6.
3Anti-slavery and some regular Whigs condemned the nomination of Taylor, a southern slaveholder who had no previous political affiliation, as an abandonment of Whig principles. As an act of protest, Henry Clay and many others refused to endorse Taylor and participate in the campaign.
Accusations that Taylor was not a Whig plagued his campaign, and Lincoln and other Taylorite Whigs, led by John J. Crittenden, spent the fall of 1848 working to convince party faithful and neutrals of the general’s Whig bona fides.
Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 333-39; K. Jack Bauer, Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985), 243-44.
4Taylor wrote this letter on June 9, 1847 from the front at Monterrey, Mexico; the Niles’ National Register published it on August 21. The quotation here mimics Taylor’s words, with a few clauses eliminated.
Niles’ National Register (Baltimore, MD), 21 August 1847, 389:1-2.
5Ever since President Andrew Jackson made broad use of the veto power to reject internal improvements, a National Bank, and other parts of Henry Clay’s American System, the Whigs had railed against “executive usurpation.” Congressional supremacy became a mantra for the Whig Party, and Whig orators made what they deemed unconstitutional use of the veto power by Jackson’s successors a theme in most elections up to 1848. In the presidential campaign of 1848, Whigs sought to mobilize their supporters and gain neutral voters by claiming that Lewis Cass, the Democratic candidate, would continue James K. Polk’s unconstitutional usurpation of power, most notably in commencing and waging the Mexican War.
In a letter dated April 22, 1848 and addressed to John S. Allison, Taylor embraced the Whig notion of a weak executive, declaring that Congress should exercise leadership on the tariff, banks, and internal improvements, and that the executive should only use the veto power when a law was clearly unconstitutional.
Norma Lois Peterson, The Presidencies of William Henry Harrison & John Tyler (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1989), 14, 89-90, 97; Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, 27-30, 49, 60, 67, 69, 110, 128, 130-34, 137-39, 146-50, 166, 310, 350-51.
6Throughout the campaign, Lincoln suggested that Cass would be more likely than Taylor to veto the Wilmot Proviso or other congressional action prohibiting slavery in territory acquired from Mexico.
7On December 24, 1847, Cass wrote Alfred P. O. Nicholson regarding his views on the status of slavery in the acquisitions from Mexico and the Wilmot Proviso. The Washington Union published the letter on December 30. In the letter, Cass offered one of the first articulations of popular sovereignty as a solution to the problem of slavery in the territories. The Nicholson Letter became Cass’s personal platform in the presidential campaign of 1848.
Holman Hamilton, Prologue to Conflict: The Crisis & Compromise of 1850 (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1964), 145; Daily Union (Washington, DC), 30 December 1847, 2:5-6, 3:1.
8Calhoun and Cass used the same term--nonintervention--to describe different theories. While Cass used it to espouse popular sovereignty, Calhoun used it to deny either Congress or any territorial governments the right to prevent slave-owners from taking their slaves into the territories acquired from Mexico.
Holman Hamilton, Prologue to Conflict: The Crisis & Compromise of 1850, 145.
9Calhoun suggested this in a speech made in the Senate on presenting resolutions on the slavery question, February 19, 1847.
Cong. Globe, 29th Cong., 2nd Sess. 453-55, (1847); Richard K. Crallé, ed., The Works of John C. Calhoun: Vol IV (New York: D. Appleton, 1854), 4:339-49.
10Corwin made his speech opposing the compromise bill on July 24, 1848.
Cong. Globe, 30th Cong., 1st Sess. 994, (1848); Isaac Strohm, ed., Speeches of Thomas Corwin, with a Sketch of his Life (Dayton, OH: W. F. Comly, 1859), 404-61.
11The compromise bill referenced came out of a bipartisan committee in the Senate chaired by John Clayton. Submitted to the Senate on July 18, 1848, the bill created a territorial government for Oregon, explicitly allowing the provisional government’s unofficial ban on slavery to continue until the new territorial legislature could decide the fate of slavery in Oregon. It also established territorial governments for California and New Mexico, but it barred those governments from either establishing or prohibiting slavery. The decision would rest with the federal courts, with the Supreme Court the final arbiter. The Senate passed the bill on July 27, but the House rejected it on July 28.
Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, 335-37; A Bill to Establish the Territorial Governments of Oregon, California, and New Mexico.
12A term coined by John Randolph during debates over the Missouri Compromise, a doughface referred to northern men with southern principles. In the 1840s and 1850s, it became synonymous with northern politicians, particularly Democrats, who voted with the South regardless of the issue.
Leonard L. Richards, The Slave Power: The Free North and Southern Domination, 1780-1860 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000), 85-86, 106.
13On April 27, 1844, Martin Van Buren wrote a letter to William H. Hammet, a Democratic congressman from Mississippi, rejecting the potential annexation of Texas, which was highly popular among Democrats.
Previously the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president in 1844, Van Buren’s letter to Hammet led to his rejection at the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore. On May 28, 1844, the Democrats nominated pro-annexation James K. Polk as their candidate for president.
Amy S. Greenberg, A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico (New York: Vintage Books, 2013), 19, 38-41; John Niven, Martin Van Buren: The Romantic Age of American Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), 526-42.
14Reference to anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic riots in the spring and summer of 1844 during which members of the nascent nativism movement burned numerous Roman Catholic churches. Democrats associated Taylor with the “church-burning” nativist groups because the “Know-Nothings” had nominated Taylor for president at a convention in Philadelphia in September 1847. Moreover, most of the nativist press endorsed his candidacy.
J. Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott, History of Philadelphia. 1609-1884 (Philadelphia: L. H. Everts, 1884) 1:663-73; Darcy G. Richardson, Others: Third-Party Politics from the Nation’s Founding to the Rise and Fall of the Greenback-Labor Party (New York: iUniverse, 2004), 137; Joseph G. Rayback, Free Soil: The Election of 1848 (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1907), 266-67.
15For some “Conscience” Whigs, the nomination of Taylor proved the last straw, and they began making plans for an anti-slavery party. Conscience Whigs and Van Buren Democrats came together to form the Free Soil Party. The party held a convention in Buffalo in August and nominated Martin Van Buren for president.
In the canvass, Van Buren did not win an electoral votes, but he did get 10.1 percent of the popular vote and received more votes than Cass in New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont.
Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, 333-39; John L. Moore, Jon P. Preimesberger, and David R. Tarr, eds., Congressional Quarterly’s Guide to U.S. Elections, 4th ed. (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2001), 1:650, 732.

Copy of Printed Document, 3 page(s), James Stanley Allen, “Abraham Lincoln in 1848,” National Magazine, [Boston, MA], 31 (February 1910), 523-25.