Report of Speech at Springfield, Illinois, 10 June 18561
Pursuant to much drumming and drilling the black republican leaders with the ex-leaders, of dark lanternism hereabouts, got together an assemblage of some two hundred persons at the court house on Tuesday night. The object was to ratify and glorify the nominations made by fusion at Bloomington.2 One third of the crowd, at least, were democrats, present to witness the gyrations of Messrs.[Messieurs] Lincoln, John M. Palmer and Richard Yates in their attempts to wheedle old party associates into the ranks of black republicanism. The latter gentleman was not present. After the claquers3 were properly stationed— among these we observed the prominent leaders of Sam’s corps in this quarter—4 Mr. Lincoln opened his speech, and for more than an hour he bored his audience with one of the weakest speeches that he ever perpetrated. He was evidently laboring under much restraint, conscious that he was doling out new doctrine to the old whigs about him, and fearful that in keeping within moderate bounds, he would so filter his discourse that it would not in any degree reach the end he desired. He would occasionally launch out and lead his hearers to think that the most ultra abolitionism would follow, when, under the old whig eyes we have mentioned, he would soften his remarks to a supposed palatable texture. In this way, backing and filling, he frittered away anything of argument that he might have presented, convincing his audience, however, that his niggerism has as dark a hue as that of Garrison or Fred Douglas, but that his timidity before the peculiar audience he addressed prevented its earnest advocacy with the power and ability he is known to possess.
The gist of his remarks were intended to show that the democratic party favors the extension of slavery, that black republicanism aims to prevent it; by what process we did not learn from him, nor did he furnish any evidence of the truth of his allegation against the democracy. He was opposed to the extension of slavery. So are we. But we desire to see it done in a constitutional manner— by the act of the people interested.5 For leaving the decision of the question there, by the adjustment of ‘50, and by the Nebraska act,6 black republicanism has raised another furor in the country, and until very lately, they have claimed for congress the power to refuse the admission of any new state recognizing slavery by its constitution.7 Latterly, this plank of their platform has been suppressed. We heard nothing of it on Tuesday evening from Mr. Lincoln. The same caving in as to the restoration of the Missouri restriction, marks the latter day policy of the sectional party, and he as[has] cautiously avoided it. They seek power, Mr. Lincoln naively told us, by the agglomeration of all the discordant elements of faction, and if obtained, the now suppressed platform of ultra abolitionism will be avowed and acted upon. He boldly avowed, in one of his many escapings, that there could be no Union with slavery. That agitatiod[agitation] would be ceaseless until it shall be swept away, but the mode of its eradication he left to inference from his own antecedents and those of the ruling spirits of black-republicanism— Garrison, Greeley, Seward, Sumner, and others of that genus.
To attain power, by whatever means, was the burden of his song, and he pointed to the complexion of the Bloomington ticket as evidence of the desire of the factions to attain it by any process. Bissell, a renegade democrat, headed it. Hoffman, a German nondescript, followed; Miller, ex-whig and probable know-nothing, followed next, while Hatch, Dubois and Powell, avowed know-nothings, brought up the rear. With such a medley— such a fusion of opposites, none can doubt that the end and aim of the Bloomington organization is “power”— and place, and that its managers would sink any principle, trample upon right, law and constitution to attain their object.
Mr. Lincoln’s allusion to Bissell’s services as a warrior was singularly malapropos, in him, at least; Bissell’s laurels having been won in a war, the “identical spot” on which it commenced never could be learned by Mr. L., and consequently had his inveterate opposition during its entire progress, by his congressional action in hampering the democratic administration in its prosecution. In this connection, Bissell may well exclaim— “Save me from such backing!”8
Except from the quad of claquers we have mentioned, Mr. Lincoln’s remarks were received with coldness. He convinced nobody of his own sincerity, of the justness of his cause, nor did he elicit any applause except from the drilled few who occupied the front benches.9
John M. Palmer, the renegade of Macoupin, followed Mr. Lincoln, in the same strain, with a tithe more hyperbole about freedom, and downtrodden Kansas, interlarded with copious abuse of Douglas, and being newer in the abolition ranks, of course he was more vehement in advocacy of black-republican doctrine. He never was a sound democrat, and now that he has thrown off the veil which has covered him for years, he is a most vociferous in his advocacy of the heresies that he ever had a penchant for, while he modestly proclaims that the democracy, as represented from every congressional district in the Union at Cincinnati last week,10 have left him! He declared, and essayed to prove it by documentary evidence, tha the, John M. Palmer, was fixed as the rock of Gibraltar, and that the democracy of the nation were bogus democrats, hence for comfort and prospect of place he condescends to permit the ancient enemies of democracy to act with him, for the advancement of democratic principles! Both he and Mr. Lincoln insisted that they had not budged an inch from their former positions, though professedly wide as the poles hitherto, but now standing shoulder to shoulder upon the narrow plank of sectionalism. The modus operandi of their conjunction, neither having moved his “spot,” they left to the philosophical inference of their highly amused audience.
The second demonstration of black republicanism at the capital, like the first, showed conclusively that the mass of people hereabouts have no sympathy with the black republican movement. Renegade leaders find in the abandonment of principle that they have lost their former hold upon the people, who are not to be veered about at the whim of aspiring demagogues, whose sole object is official position, though it may be reached by a sacrifice of the peace and best interests of the country, and even the stability of the Union. Hence the Bissell-Hoffman ratification of Tuesday night was a tame, spiritless affair. The wire-workers were already made to see that the people are not in their ring.11
1The weekly edition of the Illinois State Register published an identical report of Abraham Lincoln’s speech. A version of Lincoln’s speech in his own hand is not extant.
Illinois State Register (Springfield), 12 June 1856, 3:1-2.
2On May 26, 1856, opponents of the Kansas-Nebraska Act met in Bloomington in what effectively became the founding convention of the Republican Party in Illinois. Delegates to the convention nominated the party’s slate of state candidates for the election of 1856: William H. Bissell for governor, Francis A. Hoffman for lieutenant governor, Ozias M. Hatch for secretary of state, Jesse K. Dubois for auditor of public accounts, James Miller for treasurer, and William H. Powell for superintendent of public instruction.
Lincoln attended the convention and delivered a speech in which, according to extant newspaper accounts, he voiced his commitment to the Union and opposition to slavery.
After Hoffman’s nomination for lieutenant governor, party leaders discovered that he was ineligible to run for state office under the 1848 Illinois Convention. Hoffman withdrew, and in September 1856, anti-Nebraska delegates met in Springfield and nominated John Wood as their new candidate for lieutenant governor.
David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Touchstone, 1995) , 191-92; The Weekly Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL), 4 June 1856, 2:3; Summary of Remarks at Bloomington, Illinois; Summary of Remarks at Bloomington, Illinois; Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 25 September 1856, 2:1; J. H. A. Lacher, "Francis A. Hoffman of Illinois and Hans Buschbauer of Wisconsin," Wisconsin Magazine of History 13 (June 1930): 342-43.
3A “claqueur” is a member of a claque—a group of admirers or flatterers hired to applaud at a performance.
“Claqueur,” “Claque.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/claqueur, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/claque, accessed 26 October 2022.
4“Sam” was a common nickname for the American Party due to that party’s frequent references to Uncle Sam and to the party’s adherents as “Uncle Sam’s sons.”
E. Cobham Brewer, The Reader's Handbook of Allusions, References, Plots and Stories (London: Chatto and Windus, 1880), 865.
5Per the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the status of new states as free states or slave states would be determined by the constitutions of each new state.
“An Act to Organize the Territories of Nebraska and Kansas,” 30 May 1854, Statutes at Large of the United States 10 (1855):277.
6This is a reference to the fact that the Kansas-Nebraska Act effectively repealed the Compromise of 1850 as well the Missouri Compromise, an “adjustment” that Democrats such as Stephen A. Douglas framed as merely applying the principles of the Compromise of 1850 to the Nebraska Territory. By leaving the slave statuses of any new states that emerged from the Nebraska Territory up to a vote, Douglas and other Democrats argued that they were merely extending the concept of popular sovereignty from the territories under consideration in the Compromise of 1850 to the Nebraska Territory.
David Herbert Donald, Lincoln, 167-68, 201-4.
7Per the platform adopted at Anti-Nebraska Convention in Bloomington, the nascent Republicans asserted that “under the constitution, Congress possesses full power to prohibit slavery in the territories.”
At the Republican National Convention, delegates similarly asserted that “the Constitution confers upon Congress sovereign power over the Territories of the United States for their government,” and that Congress possessed not only the right but the “imperative duty“ to prohibit slavery in the nation’s territories.
The Weekly Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL), 4 June 1856, 2:3; Henry H. Smith, ed., All the Republican National Conventions, From Philadelphia, June 17, 1856 to and Including St. Louis, June 16, 1896 (Washington, DC: Robert Beall, 1896), 12.
8Bissell served as a colonel during the Mexican War. While serving as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Lincoln spoke out against the war and, on December 22, 1847, gave a speech in which he challenged President James K. Polk’s claims that the war was necessary because American blood had been spilled upon American soil. Lincoln presented what became known as the “Spot Resolutions,” which requested that President Polk inform the U.S. House of Representatives of the “particular spot of soil on which the blood of our citizens was so shed.” This earned him the nickname “Spotty Lincoln,” and political opponents—including Stephen A. Douglas—employed this as a basis to impugn Lincoln’s patriotism throughout the remainder of his political career.
John M. Palmer, ed., The Bench and Bar of Illinois: Historical and Reminiscent (Chicago: Lewis, 1899), 1:441; U.S. House Journal. 1847. 30th Cong., 1st sess., 149-51; David Herbert Donald, Lincoln, 123, 128; ‘Spot’’ Resolutions in the United States House of Representatives; ‘Spot’’ Resolutions in the United States House of Representatives.
9The Illinois State Journal reported that Lincoln delivered his speech to a large crowd who cheered for he, Palmer, and the Republican Party’s nominees at the conclusion of the event.
Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 11 June 1856, 2:2.
10During the first week in June, the Democratic Party held its 1856 national convention in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 6 June 1856, 2:1.
11Wire worker or wire puller was a someone who pulled the wires of a puppet show. In the context of American politics, terms was used for politicians who manipulated or influence others, particularly from behind the scenes.
During the election of 1856, Illinois voters elected the entire slate of Republican candidates for state office.
Richard H. Thornton, An American Glossary: Being an Attempt to Illustrate Certain Americanisms Upon Historical Principles (London: Francis, 1912), 2:949-50; John R. Bartlett, Dictionary of Americanisms: A Glossary of Words and Phrases Usually Regarded as Peculiar to the United States(Boston: Little and Brown, 1860), 515. Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 20 November 1856, 2:2.
Printed Document, 1 page(s), Daily Illinois State Register (Springfield, IL), 12 June 1856, 2:1-2.