Report of Speech at Decatur, Illinois, 22 February 18561
Owing to the failure of two trains, a portion of the Editorial brethren failed to arrive in time to particpate in the Convention, and some returned home without visiting our city. There was, however, quite a number of presses represented personally and by proxy, sufficient to transact the business for which they were called.2
The session was a very harmonious one, and all went away with bright expectations for the future. The Platform and proceedings may be found on the outside.3
At ½ past 3 p.m., the Editorial Fraternity, along with a goodly number of citizens of this city, and invited guests, repaired to the spacious dining room of the Cassell House, where a sumptuous dinner had been prepared by the citizens, under the supervision of the Committee,— Capt.[Captain] I. C. Pugh, Dr. H. C. Johns, Maj.[Major] E. O. Smith, and others,— Capt. Pugh, presiding. After partaking of the substantials, and etc., the meeting was called to order by the President, who delivered a neat and appropriate address, welcoming the Editorial Fraternity to the hospitality of the citizens. His remarks were well received.
Mr. Blaisdell, in behalf of the press, respond. . . as a sentiment: “The citizens of Decatur— we fully appreciate their hospitality.”
Mr. Oglesby was then loudly called for. Mr. O. made a number of witty remarks, and concluded by toasting Mr. Abram Lincoln, as the warm and consistent friend of Illinois, and our next candidate for the U.S. Senate. (Prolonged applause.)4
Mr. Lincoln arose, and said, the latter part of that sentiment I am in favor of. (Laughter.) Mr. L. said, that he was very much in the position of the man who was attacked by a robber, demanding his money, when he answered, “my dear fellow, I have no money, but if you will go with me to the light, I will give you my note;” and, resumed Mr. L., if you will let me off, I will give you my note. (Laughter, and loud cries of go on.) Mr. Lincoln then proceeded to address the assemblage for some half hour, in his usual masterly manner, frequently interrupted by the cheers of his hearers.
Mr. Baker, of the State Journal, was then called for, and responded, that owing to the bountiful dinner, he was too full for utterance, but would give as a toast, “Hon. Dick Oglesby the next Secretary of State.” (Applause.)5
Mr. Ray addressed the audience upon the Kansas difficulty, at some length, and was listened to with marked attention.
To give all the toasts and speeches, uttered . . . on the occasion, would exceed our space, and . . . bring this article to a close, by the remark, . . . that we were somewhat surprised, that our Nebraska friends, both in the city and attending [fr]om abroad, did not participate in the dinner, . . . such was the intention of the Committee.
1The Peoria Republican also published a report of Abraham Lincoln’s speech. A version of Lincoln’s speech in his own hand is not extant.
Peoria Weekly Republican (IL), 29 February 1856, 2:5.
2In January 1856, Paul Selby, editor of the Morgan Journal, suggested that editors in Illinois opposed to the Kansas-Nebraska Act gather in a conference to make arrangements to organize anti-Nebraska forces for the approaching national and state elections. John Moses of the Winchester Chronicle and William J. Usrey of the Illinois State Chronicle endorsed the suggestion, and Usrey suggested a meeting at Decatur on February 22--the one hundred and twenty-fourth anniversary of George Washington’s birth. Editors from twenty-five anti-Nebraska newspapers signed the call for a meeting. Twelve editors arrived in time for the opening meeting. A heavy snowstorm blocked the railroads, keeping a number from attendance, and a few others arrived too late to take part in the proceedings.
Illinois State Chronicle (Decatur, IL), 14 February 1856, 2:1; Arthur Charles Cole, The Era of the Civil War 1848-1870, vol. 3 of The Centennial History of Illinois (Springfield, IL: Illinois Centennial Commission, 1919), 143-44; Paul Selby, “The Editorial Convention of 1856,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 5 (October 1912), 343-44.
3Lincoln helped compose at least some of the planks of the platform adopted by the delegates. Delegates opposed the further extension of slavery or its introduction into territory already free; affirmed that freedom, as defined by the Declaration of Independence, was the rule and slavery the exception; demanded restoration of the Missouri Compromise, disavowed any intention to interfere with slavery where it already existed; declared in favor of the widest possible tolerance in matters of religion, urged reform of state government, vowed to protect the nation’s public schools, and endorsed, within current naturalization law, emigration from Europe . The education plank sought to garner support of the American Party, which opposed public funding of Catholic schools, while the religious toleration and naturalization planks represented a subtle rebuke of nativism and the Know Nothing movement.
The convention appointed a central committee consisting of one member from each congressional district and two at-large members. Delegates also passed a separate resolution calling for opponents of the Kansas-Nebraska Act to hold state convention at Bloomington on May 29. Held ostensibly to nominate anti-Nebraska candidates for the upcoming state elections, the Bloomington convention became the founding meeting of the Republican Party in Illinois. See 1856 Illinois Anti-Nebraska Convention.
Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 27 February 1856, 2:2; Arthur Charles Cole, The Era of the Civil War 1848-1870, 143-44; Paul Selby, “The Editorial Convention of 1856,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, 345-46; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:412-13.
4Lincoln had suffered defeat in his bid to win election to the U.S. Senate in February 1855. In June 1858, Republicans would nominate Lincoln to oppose the incumbent Stephen A. Douglas. Lincoln would fail in his bid to unseat Douglas. See the 1858 Illinois Republican Convention and the 1858 Federal Election.
Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-55; Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 17 June 1858, 2:2-6.
5Delegates at the Anti-Nebraska Convention in Bloomington nominated Ozias M. Hatch for secretary of state. Hatch defeated William H. Snyder, the candidate for the Democratic Party, to become secretary of state.
Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 2 May 1856, 2:2; 30 May 1856, 2:3; James A. Rose, comp., Blue Book of the State of Illinois 1911 (Danville, IL: Illinois Printing, 1911), 121; Ezra M. Prince, ed., “Meeting of May 29, 1900 Commemorative of the Convention of May 29, 1856 that Organized the Republican Party in the State of Illinois,” Transactions of the McLean County Historical Society 3 (1900), 164.
6Reference to pro-slavery citizens of Missouri who crossed the border into the Kansas Territory to ensure that Kansas entered the Union as a slave state. The New York Tribune coined the term border ruffian in 1855. See Bleeding Kansas.
Wendell H. Stephenson, “Border Ruffians,” Dictionary of American History, rev. ed. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1976), 1:341.
Copy of Printed Document, 1 page(s), Illinois State Chronicle (Decatur, IL), 28 February 1856, 2:1.