Report of Speech at Galena, Illinois, 23 July 18561
Lincoln on Disunion.
Hon. Abraham Lincoln hits the nail on the head every time, and in this instance it will be seen, he has driven it entirely out of sight,— if we succeed as well as we anticipate in re-producing from memory his argument in relation to “Disunion.”
Mr. Lincoln was addressing himself to the opponents of Fremont and the Republican party,2 and had referred to the charge of “sectionalism,” and then spoke something as follows in relation to another charge, and said:
“You further charge us with being Disunionists. If you mean that it is our aim to dissolve the Union, for myself I answer, that is untrue; for those who act with me I answer, that it is untrue. Have you heard us assert that as our aim? Do you really believe that such is our aim? Do you find it in our platform, our speeches, our conversation, or anywhere? If not, withdraw the charge.
But, you may say, that though it is not your aim, it will be the result, if we succeed, and that we are therefore Disunionists in fact. This is a grave charge you make against us, and we certainly have a right to demand that you specify in what way we are to dissolve the Union. How are we to effect this?
The only specification offered is volunteered by Mr. Fillmore, in his Albany speech. His charge is, that if we elect a President and Vice President both from the Free States, it will dissolve the Union.3 This is open folly. The Constitution provides, that the President and Vice President of the United States shall be of different States; but says nothing as to the latitude and longitude of those States4In 1828, Andrew Jackson of Tennesse, and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, were elected President and Vice President, both from slave States; but no one thought of dissolving the Union then, on that account. In 1840, Harrison of Ohio, and Tyler of Virginia, were elected. In 1849, Harrison died,5 and John Tyler succeeded to the Presidency, and W. P. Mangum, of N. Carolina, was elected Acting Vice President by the Senate;6 but no one supposed that the Union was in danger. In fact, at the very time Mr. Fillmore uttered this idle charge, the state of things in the United States disproved it. Mr Pierce of New Hampshire, and Mr Bright of Indiana,— both from free States,— are President and Vice President; and the Union stands, and will stand.7 You do not contend that it ought to dissolve the Union, and the facts show that it won’t; therefore, the charge may be dismissed without further consideration.
No other specification is made, and the only one that could be made is, that the restoration of the restriction of ‘87, making the United States territory free territory, would dissolve the Union. Gentlemen, it will require a decided majority to pass such an act. We the majority, being able constitutionally to do all that we purpose, would have no desire to dissolve the Union Do you say that such restriction of slavery would be unconstitutional and that some of the States would not submit to its enforcement? I grant you that an unconstitutional act is not a law; but I do not ask, and will not take your construction of the Constitution. The Supreme Court of the United States is the tribunal to decide such questions, and we will submit to its decisions; and if you do also, there will be an end of the matter. Will you? If not, who are the disunionists, you or we? We, the majority, would not strive to dissolve the Union; and if any attempt is made it must be by you, who so loudly stigmatize us as disunionists. But the Union, in any event, won’t be dissolved We don’t want to dissolve it, and if you attempt it, we won’t let you. With the purse and sword, the army and navy and treasury in our hands and at our command, you couldn’t do it. This Government would be very weak, indeed, if a majority, with a disciplined army and navy, and a well-filled treasury, could not preserve itself, when attacked by an unarmed, undisciplined, unorganized minority
All this talk about the dissolution of the Union is humbug— nothing but folly. We won’t dissolve the Union, and you shan’t.”8
1On July 29, 1856, the Weekly Northwestern Gazette published this summary of a speech that Abraham Lincoln delivered in Galena, Illinois on July 23. The Daily Illinois State Journal also published a report of the speech on August 8. The original speech in Lincoln’s hand has not been located; however, a fragment of a speech on the topic of sectionalism in Lincoln’s hand is extant.
Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 8 August 1856, 2:2.
2During its national convention in June 1856, the Republican Party selected John C. Fremont as its candidate for president. It also nominated William L. Dayton for vice president. See the 1856 Federal Election.
Proceedings of the First Three Republican National Conventions of 1856, 1860 and 1864 (Minneapolis, MN: Charles W. Johnson, 1893), 58-59, 65-66.
3Lincoln is referring to American Party presidential candidate Millard Fillmore’s so-called “Union Speech,” which he delivered in Albany, New York on June 26. In this speech, Fillmore criticized the Republican Party for nominating a presidential and vice-presidential candidate who were both from free states and claimed that the party was a “sectional party” representing only the interests of the free states of the nation. He asserted that this was dangerous and argued that if the Republican Party gained power it would lead “inevitably to the destruction” of the nation.
Frank H. Severance, ed., Millard Fillmore Papers (Buffalo, New York: Buffalo Historical Society, 1907), 2:3, 19, 21-22.
4The 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 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:426.
5President William H. Harrison died April 4, 1841, not 1849.
Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1949 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1950), 1276.
6Upon 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.
The report in the Daily Illinois State Journal identified William R. D. King, not Willie P. Mangum, as the person elected president pro tempore of the Senate after Tyler assumed the presidency. Neither account was accurate; Samuel L. Southard of New Jersey succeeded King as the Senate’s president pro-tempore on March 11, 1841, serving until May 1842. 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, 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.
7Jesse D. Bright served as president pro-tempore of the U.S. Senate from 1853 to 1857, placing him second in line for the presidency after the death of Vice President King in April 1853.
Vernon L. Volpe, “Bright, Jesse David,” American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, 3:550; Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1949, 19.
8Lincoln gave this speech as he canvassed the state on behalf of Republican candidates during the 1856 Federal Election. He stumped from July through November 1856.
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, 1:426-28, 432; The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1 November 1856, http://thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1856-11-01.
Copy of Printed Document, 1 page(s), Weekly Northwestern Gazette (Galena, IL), 29 July 1856, 2:5.