Fragment of Speech regarding Sectionalism, [23 July 1856]1
It is constantly objected to Fremont & Dayton, that they are supported by a sectional party, who, by their sectionalism, endanger the National Union– This objection, more than all others, causes men, really opposed to slavery extension, to hesitate– Practically, it is the most difficult objection we have to meet–3
For this reason, I now propose to examine it, a little more carefully than I have heretofore done, or seen ^it^ done by others–4
First, then, what is the naked question between the parties, respectively represented by Buchanan and Fremomont?
Simply this: “Shall slavery be allowed to extend into U.S. teritories, now legally free?”5 Buchanan says it shall; and Fremont says it shall not–
That is the naked issue, and the whole of it– Lay the ^respective^ platforms side by side; and the difference between them, will be found to amount to precisely that–6
True, each party charges upon the other, designs much beyond what is involved in the issue, as stated; but as these charges can not be fully proved either way, it is probably better to reject them on both sides, and stick to the naked issue, as it is clearly made up on the record.
And now, to restate the question “Shall slavery be allowed to extend into U.S teritories, now legally free? I beg to know how one side of that question is more sectional than the other? Of course I expect to effect
<Page 3>nothing with the man who makes this charge of sectionalism, without caring whether it is just or not– But of the candid, fair, man ^who has been puzzled with this charge,^ I do ask “how is one side of this question, more sectional, than the other? I beg of him to consider well, and answer calmly–7
If one side be as sectional as the other, nothing is gained, as to sectionalism, by changing sides; so that each must choose sides of the question on some other ground— as I should think, according, as the one side or the other, shall appear nearest right–
If he shall really think slavery ought to be extended, let him go to Buchanan; if he think it ought not let go to Fremont–
But, Fremont and Dayton, are both residents of the free-states; and this fact has been vaunted, in high places, as excessive sectionalism–8
While interested individuals become indignant and excited, against this manifestation of sectionalism, I am very happy to know, that the Constitution remains calm— keeps cool— upon the subject– It does say that President and Vice President shall be resident of different states; but it does not say one must live in a slave, and the other in a free state–9
It has been a custom to take one from a slave, and the other from a free state; but the custom has not, at all been uniform– In 1828 Gen. Jackson and Mr Calhoun, both from slave-states, were placed on the same ticket; and Mr Adams and Dr Rush10 were pitted
<Page 5>both from the free-states, were pitted against them. Gen. Jackson and Mr Calhoun were elected; and qualified and served under the election; yet the whole thing never suggested the idea of sectionalism–
In 1841, the president, Gen. Harrison, died, by which Mr Tyler, the Vice-President ^& a slave state man,^ became president– Mr Mangum, another slave-state man, was placed in the Vice Presidential chair, served out the term, and no fuss about it— no sectionalism thought of–11
In 1853 the present president came into office– He is a free-state man– Mr King, the new Vice President elect, was a slave state man; but he died without entering on the duties of his office– At first, his vacancy was filled by Atchison, another slave-state man; but he soon resigned, and the place was supplied by Bright, a free-state man– So that right now, and for the year and a half last past, our president and vice-president are both actually free-state men–12
But, it is said, the friends of Fremont, avow the purpose of electing him exclusively by free-state votes, and that this is unendurable sectionalism–
This statement of fact, is not exactly true– With the friends of Fremont, it is an expected necessity, but it is not an “avowed purpose,” to elect him, if at all, principally, by free state votes; but it is, with equal intensity, true
<Page 7>that Buchanan's friends expect to elect him, if at all, chiefly by slave-state votes–
Here, again, the sectionalism, is just as much on one side as the other–
The thing which gives most color to the charge of Sectionalism, made against those who oppose the spread of slavery into free teritory, is the fact that they can get no votes in the slave-states, while their opponents get all, or nearly so, in the slave-states, and also, a large number in the free States– To state it in another way, the Extensionists, can get votes all over the Nation, while the Restrictionists can get them only in the free states–
This being the fact, why is it so? It is not because one side of the question dividing them, is more sectional than the other; nor because of any difference in the mental or moral structure of the people North and South– It is because, in that question, the people of the South have an immediate palpable ^and immensely great^ pecuniary interest; while, in ^with the people of^ the North, it is merely an abstract question of moral right, with only slight, and remote pecuniary interest added–
The slaves of the South, at a moderate estimate, are worth a thousand millions of dollars–13 Let it be permanently settled that this property may extend to new teritory, without restraint, and it greatly enhances, perhaps quite doubles, its value at once– This immense, palpable pecuniary interest, on the question of extending slavery, unites the Southern people, as as one man– But it can not be demonstrated that the North will gain a dollar by restricting it–
Moral principle is all, or nearly all, that unites us of the North– Pity ’tis[it is], it is so, but this is a looser bond, than pecuniary interest.
Right here is the plain cause of their perfect union and our want of it– ^And see how it works–^ If a Southern man aspires to be president, they choke him down instantly, in order that the glittering prize of the presidency, may be held up, on Southern terms, to the greedy eyes of Northern ambition– With this they tempt us, and break in upon us–
The democratic party, in 1844, elected a Southern president– Since then, they have neither had a ^Southern^ candidate for election, or nomination– Their Conventions of 1848– 1852 and 1856, have been struggles exclusively among Northern men, each vieing to outbid the other for the Southern vote— the South standing a calmly by to finally say ^cry^ going, going, gone, to the highest bidder; and, at the same time, to make its power more distinctly seen, and thereby to secure a still higher bid at the next succeeding struggle–14
“Actions speak louder than words” is the maxim; and, if true, the South now distinctly says to the North “Give us the measures, and you take the men”
The total withdrawal of Southern aspirants, ^for the presidency,^ multiplies the number of Northern ones– These last, in competing with each other, commit themselves to the utmost verge that, through their own greediness, they have the least hope their Northern supporters will bear,– Having got committed, in a race of competetion, necessity drives them into union to sustain themselves. Each, at first secures all he can, on personal attach-
<Page 13>ments to him, and through hopes resting on him personally– Next, they unite with one another, and with the perfectly banded South, to make the offensive position they have got into, “a party measure”– This done, large additional numbers are secured–
When the repeal of the Missouri Compromise was first proposed, at the North there was litterally “nobody” in favor of it– In February 1854 our Legislature met in call- or extra, session– From them Douglas sought an indorsement of his then pending measure of Repeal– In In our Legislature were about 70 democrats to 30 whigs– The former held a caucus, in which it was resolved to give Douglas the desired indorsement– Some of the members of that caucus bolted— would not stand it— and they now divulge the secrets– They say that the caucus fairly confessed that the Repeal was wrong; and they placed their determination to indorse it, solely on the ground that it was necessary to sustain Douglas– Here we have the direct evidence of how the Nebraska-bill obtained it’s strength in Illinois– It was given, not in a sense of right, but in the teeth of a sense of wrong, to sustain Douglas– 15So Illinois was divided– So New England, for Pierce; Michigan for Cass, and Pensylvania for Buchan, and all for the Democratic party–
And when, by such means, they have got a large portion of the Northern people into a position contrary to their own honest impulses, and sense of right; they have the impudence
<Page 15>to turn upon those who do stand firm, and call them sectional–
Were it not too serious a matter, this cool impudence would be laughable, to say the least–
Recurring to the question "Shall slavery be allowed to extend into U.S. teritory now legal free?
This is a sectional question— that is to say, it is a question, in its nature calculated to divide the American people geographically– Who is to blame for that? who can help it? Either side can help it; but how? Simply by yielding to the other side– There is no other way– In the whole range of possibility, there is no other way– Then, which side shall yield? To this again, there can be but one answer— the side which is in the wrong– True, we differ, as to which side is wrong; and we boldly say, let all who really think slavery ought to spread into free teritory, openly go over against us– There is where they rightfully belong–
But why should any go, who really think slavery ought not to spread? Do they really think the right ought to yield to the wrong? Are they afraid to stand by the right? Do they fear that the constitution is too weak to sustain them in the right? Do they really think that by right surrendering to wrong, the hopes of our constitution, our Union, and our liberties, can possibly be bettered?
2Lincoln gave a speech in Galena, Illinois, on this date, which was covered in the Weekly Northwestern Gazette and the Daily Illinois State Journal. In the speech, Lincoln refuted the Democratic Party’s charge that Republicans were disunionists and demanded specific examples to illustrate the allegation. He was aiming for additional support for John C. Fremont in the presidential election of 1856. Republicans nominated Fremont as their first presidential candidate, while Democrats nominated James Buchanan. The American Party, in its final participation in a presidential election, nominated Millard Fillmore. See 1856 Federal Election.
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:432-33; Philip G. Auchampaugh, “Campaign of 1856,” Dictionary of American History, rev. ed. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1976), 1:420-21.
3The Rock Island Argus, a Democrat-leaning newspaper, declared in their July 2, 1856 issue, “The democratic party is the only national party.” The same paper published the following accusation in their August 8, 1856 issue: “Shall the constitution and the union stand or fall? Fremont, the sectional candidate of the advocates of dissolution! Buchanan, the candidate of those who advocate One Country! One Union! One Constitution! and One Destiny!”
Franklin William Scott, Newspapers and Periodicals of Illinois, 1814-1879, vol. 6 of Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1910), 303; Rock Island Morning Argus (IL), 2 July 1856, 2:1; 8 August 1856, 2:2.
4Less than a week prior, on July 19, Lincoln gave a speech in Chicago, where a witness described, “his refutation of the charge of sectionalism, so flippantly made by the slavery-extensionists against the Republican party, was full and able.”
5The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise by allowing new states’ inhabitants to decide whether or not slavery would be permitted in that state. This opened the door for the spread of slavery into the western United States, including territories that were previously free under the Compromise.
“An Act to Organize the Territories of Nebraska and Kansas,” 30 May 1854, Statutes at Large of the United States 10 (1855):277-90; Jeannette P. Nichols, “Kansas-Nebraska Act,” Dictionary of American History, 4:28-30.
6At the 1856 Democratic National Convention, delegates adopted a platform that included an endorsement of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the principle of popular sovereignty. Delegates at the 1856 Republican National Convention adopted a platform that opposed the extension of slavery into the territories.
Official Proceedings of the National Democratic Convention, Held in Cincinnati. June 2-6, 1856 (Cincinnati: Enquirer, 1856), 26; Proceedings of the First Three Republican National Conventions of 1856, 1860 and 1864 (Minneapolis, MN: Charles W. Johnson, 1893), 43.
7The outcome of the 1856 presidential election illustrated the sectional crisis. Buchanan took just over 45 percent of the national popular vote, and Fremont took around 33 percent. Fremont swept New England and won New York, in addition to the mid-western states of Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa. However, Fremont ballots were only available in four slave states, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Virginia; he did not register a single popular vote in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, or Texas. Buchanan swept the south but also won Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, California, and, as predicted by Lincoln, Illinois. American Party candidate Fillmore and his anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic campaign took just over 21 percent of the national popular vote and won only Maryland.
Lewis Clephane, Birth of the Republican Party, with a Brief History of the Important Part Taken by the Original Republican Association of the National Capital (Washington: Gibson Bros., 1889), 15; Cong. Globe, 34th Cong., 3rd Sess., 652 (1857); 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), 1:652; John Bicknell, Lincoln’s Pathfinder: John C. Frémont and the Violent Election of 1856 (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2017), 276.
8Fremont, although born in Georgia, lived in California. Dayton lived in New Jersey.
Pamela Herr, “Frémont, John Charles,” American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 8:459-62; Norman B. Ferris, “Dayton, William Lewis,” American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, 6:280-81.
9The Twelfth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that, in federal elections, each state’s electors “shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves.” Although, by the mid-nineteenth century, it had become customary for party tickets to include one candidate from a free state and another from a slave state, no law required it.
U.S. Const. art. XII; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, 1:426.
10There is no record of Richard Rush having an advanced degree. Lincoln may have been confusing him with his famous father, Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia.
“Attorney General: Richard Rush,” The United States Department of Justice, https://www.justice.gov/ag/bio/rush-richard, accessed 28 April 2023; Stephen Fried, Rush: Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father (New York: Broadway Books, 2018), 6.
11Upon the death of William H. Harrison, confusion reigned over a successor. The U.S. Constitution was ambiguous over presidential succession, and the judiciary had never issued an official pronouncement on the issue. Article two, section one of the Constitution stated that upon the death of a president, the duties and powers of the office devolved upon the vice president, so Vice President John Tyler assumed the office of the president. Tyler’s ascendancy to the presidency left the vice-presidency vacant, leaving the U.S. Senate without a president. Under article one, section three of the Constitution, the Senate president pro tempore assumed the duties of president of the Senate in the absence of the vice president. Since President Tyler had no vice president, this technically made the president pro tempore of the Senate the acting vice president of the United States.
Samuel L. Southard of New Jersey succeeded William R. D. King as the Senate’s president pro-tempore on March 11, 1841, serving until May 1842. Willie P. Mangum succeeded Southard, serving from May 1842 to March 1845. In the absence of a vice president, Southard and Mangum were, in effect, acting vice presidents of the United States.
Norma Lois Peterson, The Presidencies of William Henry Harrison and John Tyler (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1989), 45-50; U.S. Const. art. I, § 3, art. II, § 1; Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 8 August 1856, 2:2; U.S. Senate Journal. 1841. 27th Cong., special sess., 250, 268; Thomas E. Jeffrey, “Mangum, Willie Person,” American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 14:407; Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1949 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1950), 1842-43; J. Mills Thornton III, “King, William Rufus Devane,” American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, 12:720-21.
12David R. Atchison was president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate at the time of Vice President King’s death in April 1853. Since President Franklin Pierce had no vice president after King’s death, this technically made Atchison the acting vice president of the United States, and, consequently, second in line for the presidency.
When the Thirty-Third Congress opened its second session in December 1854, Atchison did not appear; he was leading pro-slavery forces in Bleeding Kansas instead. In his absence, the Senate elected first Lewis Cass and later Jesse D. Bright president pro tempore. When Atchison returned to the Senate on December 22, 1854, Bright offered to step aside so that Atchison could reclaim the role, but Atchison declined. Atchison failed in his bid for reelection, leaving the Senate in March 1855 and becoming a leader of pro-slavery forces in the Kansas Territory throughout 1855 and 1856.
Lincoln’s musings about presidents and vice-presidents in the previous paragraphs found their way into a speech he delivered in Galena, Illinois, on July 23, 1856.
Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1949, 19, 251, 890; U.S. Senate Journal. 1853. 33rd Cong., special sess., 331; U.S. Senate Journal. 1854. 33rd Cong., 2nd sess., 5-6, 26, 65; Steven G. O’Brien, American Political Leaders: From Colonial Times to the Present (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1991), 16; William E. Parrish, “David Rice Atchison of Missouri,” University of Missouri Studies 34, no. 1 (1961), 167-68; Report of Speech at Galena, Illinois; Report of Speech at Galena, Illinois.
13Lincoln’s estimate is fairly accurate, if potentially an underestimate. According to the federal census of 1850, there were 3,204,313 enslaved persons in the United States. At the time of the census, $400 was used in statistical assessments as the average value of an enslaved person, although some considered $400 a low estimate. When applied to the population figure of 3,204,313 enslaved persons, this places the estimated worth of enslaved persons at nearly 1.3 billion dollars in 1850—reasonably close to Lincoln’s estimate. By 1860, the population of enslaved persons had increased to 4 million and the estimated worth nearly $3.5 million.
Lincoln included his estimates in a speech made at Kalamazoo, Michigan, on August 27, 1856.
J. D. B. DeBow, Statistical View of the United States (Washington, DC: A. O. P. Nicholson, 1854), 82; Henry Chase and Charles H. Sanborn, The North and the South: Being a Statistical View of the Condition of the Free and Slave States (Boston, MA: John P. Jewett, 1857), 80; Roger L. Ransom, “The Economic of the Civil War,” EH.net, https://eh.net/encyclopedia/the-economics-of-the-civil-war/, accessed 23 March 2023.
14In 1848, 1852, and 1856, Democrats nominated Lewis Cass, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan, respectively--all coming from states in the North, as their candidate for president.
Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1949 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1950), 908, 957, 1681.
15The Illinois Senate passed resolutions in support of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and Stephen A. Douglas on February 23, 1854 by a vote of fourteen to eight, with five Democrats voting against the resolutions. The Illinois House of Representatives passed resolutions of approval two days later, with thirty-six house members voting for the resolutions, twenty-two voting against them, and eighteen not voting. Among Democrats in the House, thirty-three supported the resolutions, eight voted against them, and thirteen did not vote.
Lincoln first recounted this story to Joshua F. Speed in August 1855. In another telling of this anecdote to Speed, Lincoln altered his description of the episode, saying that a “bolting democratic member” of the Illinois General Assembly, who broke ranks with the caucus on this issue, confessed publicly that the resolutions were actually unpopular with Illinois Democrats, who supported them not as a matter of conscience, but only to bolster Douglas. Lincoln did not identify this “bolting democratic member,” but one possibility is Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, John Reynolds, who voted in support of the resolutions only to recant his vote the following month and declare the resolutions to be a mistake on the part of the General Assembly and “a misrepresentation of the popular will.”
Arthur Charles Cole, The Era of the Civil War 1848-1870, vol. 3 of The Centennial History of Illinois (Springfield: Illinois Centennial Commission, 1919), 121-22; Illinois House Journal. 1854. 18th G. A., 2nd sess., 166-68; Illinois Senate Journal. 1854. 18th G. A., 2nd sess., 78-81; The Belleville Advocate (IL), 22 March 1854, 2:1.
Handwritten Document, 16 page(s), John Schiede Collection, Princeton University (Princeton, NJ).