Summary of Speech at Jacksonville, Illinois, 6 September 18561
The meeting was addressed during the afternoon by Hon. Abe Lincoln, in a speech which occupied some two hours. We reached the ground soon after he commenced speaking, and found him discussing the subject of Kansas affairs.2— He referred to the principle of the Kansas law; it permitted the people to settle the question of slavery for themselves, yet the territorial legislature, elected by a Missouri constituency, had passed, together with good wholesome laws, a law in direct conflict with this principle, making it a penal offense to declare that slavery was not legal in Kansas, or that Kansas should become a free State, and punishing the individual so offending by attaching to his leg a chain and ball.3 He omitted, however, to inform the audience that this very law was annulled by the Kansas bill which recently passed the democratic U.S. Senate; that every black republican in the Senate voted against thus annulling this obnoxious law; that the black republicans in the House also refused to pass the bill which annulled [the] law; and that, therefore, the black republicans are alone responsible for the [present] existence of such a law in Kansas.4 In connection with the charge that the legislature of Kansas was elected by a Missouri constituency, he overlooked the fact that the evidence adduced by the investigations upon this subject, embraced in the several reports, goes to prove that if every Missouri vote had been thrown out, (and they were thrown out at some of the precincts, and new elections had,) it would not have changed the majority in the body, nor changed the character of its legislation.5 The law above referred to by Mr. Lincoln, has been denounced by the most prominent democrats of the country, and by the more prominent of the democratic press. The democracy have proven the sincerity of their disapprobation of this obnoxious law by voting for its repeal, while the black republicans have voted against its repeal, and thus continued it on the statute book. Who, then, are the friends of this law, the democracy, or Mr. Lincoln and his party?6
After quoting an article from the Richmond Enquirer to prove that the democracy, to be consistent, should indorse slavery as morally right, that the constitution would afford no protection to slavery in the States unless this ground was assumed— he proceeded to state the gist of the issue in the present canvass.7 That issue was the intervention of congress to prohibit the extension of slavery— shall slavery be extended, or shall its extension be prohibited by a law of congress. To render Mr. Lincoln’s position more fully understood it should be stated thus:— shall the people of each territory be permitted to decide the question of slavery for themselves, in accordance with the compromise of 1850, and the Kansas-Nebraska law, or shall the extension of slavery be prohibited by a sectional majority in congress. This is the true meaning of the statement of the issue made by Mr. Lincoln. The free States comprise a large majority of the nation; Mr. Lincoln and the black republican party seek to unite the numerical strength of the north on this sectional question, and thus, by a majority vote in congress, nullify the popular sovereignty principle of the compromise of 1850, and the Kansas organic law.8
Without advancing any constitutional arguments to prove the power of congress to prohibit slavery in the territories, Mr. Lincoln assumed that it should be prohibited by congress, and should not be left discretionary with the people of the territory, who, he imagined, were incompetent to prevent its introduction even if so disposed; that if once introduced it would be harder to eradicate than to keep out at the start. He referred to the original introduction of slavery into the colonies by the mother country, and stated that the new territories occupy now exactly the same relation to the States of the Union that the colonies did to the mother country then; that England has been censured for permitting the introduction of slavery into the colonies then, and the States of the Union will hereafter be censured for suffering its introduction (by the will of the people of the territories themselves) into the new territories now. He also read an extract from a speech made by Henry Clay in reference to the territories acquired from Mexico, in which Mr. Clay expressed himself as opposed to legislating slavery into those territories, but Mr. Lincoln forgot to inform the audience that Mr. Clay was also opposed to prohibiting slavery in the territories; that the distinguished sage of Ashland was one of the leaders that established the doctrine of non-intervention by congress in reference to those very territories— the very principle Mr. Lincoln and his party are now assailing.9 Mr. Clay and Mr. Webster informed the country, in their speeches upon this subject, that they advocated the adjustment of the question of slavery in the territories upon this principle, becau[s]e the doctrine of leaving the question with the people of the territories was a right principle, and because they believed it to be the only means of preserving the Union. We have then the high authority of Mr. Clay and Mr. Webster to strengthen the inference that, in assailing the principle of non-intervention, Mr. Lincoln and the woolly party are working to endanger if not dissolve the Union.10
We think the assertion made by Mr. Lincoln, that the Territories occupy the same relative position to the States as did the Colonies to the mother country, an unfortunate one for himself, his principles and his party. If this parallel be a true one, then do the black republicans seek to enforce the very doctrines which caused the American revolution and a separation from the mother country? The mother country imposed upon the colonies local laws against their consent, and denied them the privilege of regulating their own domestic affairs— hence the revolution. The black republicans would impose upon the people of the territories a law in reference to their local affairs whether they (the people of the territories) desire it or not, thus imitating the tyranny of the mother country, and denying the great principle of self government. If the relations of the territories to the States be parallel to those which existed between the colonies and the mother country, then the people of the territories have the right to resist, even by revolution, the imposition of such a law— as did the people of the colonies. If Mr. Lincoln denies the right of the people of the territories to so resist, then he condemns the act of the American revolution, and sustains the tyranny of George the Third against our revolutionary sires.
England introduced slavery into the colonies against the wishes of the people of the colonies. England may therefore justly be censured for the evil she has imposed. The doctrine of non-intervention does not legislate slavery, nor necessarily introduce it, into the territories. If the people of the territories themselves introduce and establish slavery; they alone are responsible for the evil— not the States of the Union.
Mr. Lincoln then defined Fremont’s position. He was in favor of congressional intervention, as warranted both by the constitution and expediency. He (Lincoln) would go for Fremont on that account— would go for the woolly horse itself, if necessary to secure congressional prohibition of slavery in the territories. (Meaning the woolly horse which Fremont certified had been taken by him in the Rocky Mountains, and with which, on the faith of Fremont’s certificate, Barnum humbugged the public)11 He referred to the charge that the black republicans were a sectional party: he presumed this charge was based upon the fact that the republican candidates were from the free States; that if this made them a sectional party, so was the democratic party a sectional party— the present executive and vice-president were both citizens of the north. He denied that the black republicans were a sectional party, although he admitted they expected to elect their ticket by the exclusive votes of the free States: and charged, as an offset, that the democrats rested their hopes for the success of Buchanan on the southern States alone.12
The attempt of Mr. Lincoln to evade the conclusion that the black republicans are a sectional party, by referring to the fact that Mr. Pierce is also a northern man, is a dodge we have seen attempted by some of the country fusion papers, but were surprised to see such a weak and silly subterfuge advanced to an intelligent audience by a gentleman of ability and standing like Mr. Lincoln.
It is well known that Mr. Pierce was nominated by a national convention, composed of delegates from every State in the Union, that thus he was the candidate of a national party, and as such he has been sustained in his administration by all sections of the country. Mr. Buchanan was nominated in the same way. He is thus a national candidate. Fremont was nominated by a convention composed only of delegates from the northern States. He has no party, no supporters, in one half of the Union; therefore he is a sectional candidate of a sectional party. The flattering illusion that Buchanan does not expect a support in the free States, will be disipated in a few weeks, if such an illusion really exists in the mind of Mr. Lincoln.13
Towards the close of the speech the distinguished speaker referred to the charge that the principles and issue of the black republican party tended to a dissolution of the Union. He denied that it was so— asked who was going to dissolve the Union. The black republicans would not do it in the event of success; they would then be in the majority; would have the power; would have the army, the navy and the treasury under their control, and could compel obedience to the laws enacted. A majority would never want to dissolve the Union. Then it would be done, if done at all, by the minority— by the south. In that event the minority would alone be responsible— not the black republican party.
When this same question of congressional prohibition of slavery in the territories was agitated in congress in 1850, threatening to cause a disruption of the government, the North constituted, as now, the majority. Mr. Fillmore, a northern man, occupied the executive chair; they had a northern majority in congress, and through the executive and that majority held the power; they had the army, the navy, and the treasury under their control; yet they did not undertake to subdue the South to submission on this question of intervention.— Mr. Webster, a northern man, and the acknowledged leader of the whig party in the north, did not press an act of prohibition upon the South, and say to them, a majority has done this; if you refuse to submit, upon you alone will rest the responsibility of disunion. Mr. Webster acknowledged the minority rights of the South, and he appreciated too highly the inestimable value of the Union to endanger it by infringing upon those rights. His capacious mind grasped the great principle of popular sovereignty as the only safe and just rule for the adjustment of the question. That adjustment was made and sanctioned by the country. Mr. Lincoln tells us that the black republican party are striving to unite the votes of the north on Fremont for the express purpose of annulling that adjustment principle— to secure by the majority of northern votes a prohibition of slavery in the territories by congress. If, as Mr. Webster foresaw, disunion follow the act, the South are to bear the responsibility of resisting the majority; the black republicans will be no disunionists; they will have merely introduced a civil war, in which they will have the army, navy and treasury to back them.
Mr. Lincoln referred briefly to Mr. Fillmore. He considered that Fillmore stood upon the same platform with Buchanan. Scolded at Douglas for opening the door, (permitting the people of the territory to decide the question for themselves,) but refusing to shut it; there could be no middle ground on this question; there could be no third party. Mr. Fillmore had taken position with Buchanan (and he might have added with Clay and Webster,) in favor of non-intervention. He could not go for Fillmore for another reason. He (Lincoln) did not like the Know Nothings. They were, however, an ephemeral party, and would soon pass away.14
He closed by giving a glowing and prophetic picture of the exultation and joy that would animate the country should Buchanan be elected. Rockets would go up in all directions; guns would be fired, and a general shout would go up all over the country. Could a stranger witness these rejoicings from the region of the clouds, he would naturally imagine that new era of freedom had dawned upon the country, but, said Mr. L., it would only be the extension of slavery; and he urged upon his friends to prevent, if possible, these rejoicings, which seemed to loom prophetically upon his mental vision. He then made a far-fetched appeal to the democrats, as the longtime advocates of individual liberty as against the whig party, to support Fremont— after which he left the stand.
We must say that we regard Mr. Lincoln as a fine speaker. He is certainly the ablest black republican that has taken the stump at this place during the canvass; yet he utterly failed to sustain by satisfactory arguments the black republican issue of intervention. We have given the leading points of his speech. In the evening a small crowd, the tail end of the meeting, was addressed by Mr. Knapp, of Winchester. We did not attend.
1This summary appeared in the September 12, 1856 edition of the Illinois Sentinel in Jacksonville. The headline read “Black Republican Rally—Lincoln Speech.”
From July 1856 onwards, Lincoln gave over fifty speeches across Illinois in support of Republican presidential candidate John C. Fremont and to rally the disparate elements of the emerging Republican Party. See the 1856 Federal Election.
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:425-33.
2The most recent violence in the era of “Bleeding Kansas” before this speech was an August 30 confrontation between a group of several hundred pro-slavery men under John W. Reid and a much smaller group of free-state men under John Brown, labeled the Battle of Osawatomie. Just prior to the encounter, Brown’s son Frederick lost his life to a pro-slavery bullet.
Illinois Sentinel (Jacksonville), 12 September 1856, 2:6; Nicole Etcheson, Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004), 122; Frank W. Blackmar, ed., Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History (Chicago: Standard, 1912), 2:402.
3The first legislature in the territory of Kansas, fraudulently elected in March 1855, met in Shawnee in July 1855 and immediately created a slave code, transferring the strong pro-slavery sentiment in Western Missouri over to Kansas. Section twelve of the code stated: “If any free person, by speaking or writing, assert or maintain that persons have not the right to hold slaves in this territory, or shall introduce into this territory, print, publish, write, circulate, or cause to be introduced into this territory, written, printed, published or circulated in this territory, any book, paper, magazine, pamphlet or circular, containing any denial of the right of persons to hold slaves in this territory, such person shall be deemed guilty of felony, and punished by imprisonment at hard labor for a term of not less than two years.” The sentence of hard labor included wearing a ball and chain.
“An Act to Punish Offences Against Slave Property,” 14 August 1855, The Statutes of the Territory of Kansas (1855), 715-17; Nicole Etcheson, Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era, 52, 63; Sara T. L. Robinson, Kansas; Its Interior and Exterior Life (Boston: Crosby, Nichols, 1899), 96-99; James D. McCabe, The Life and Public Services of Schuyler Colfax: Together with His Most Important Speeches (New York: United States Publishing, 1868), 73.
4On June 23, 1856, Senator Robert A. Toombs announced his intention to introduce a bill to attempt to quell the escalating political violence in Kansas. The so-called Toombs Bill sought to resolve issues in Kansas by formulating a process for bringing the territory into the union as a new state. The bill proposed taking a census of the Kansas Territory’s inhabitants, empowering President Franklin Pierce to appoint five commissioners to ensure that voting integrity existed in the territory and authorizing white men over twenty-one years of age residing in the territory to elect a convention to form a state government. The bill passed in the U.S. Senate, which had a Democratic majority, on July 2, but ultimately failed in the U.S. House of Representatives, in which Republicans held a majority. A convention of supporters of a free Kansas described Toombs’ bill as, “deceptive and fraudulent in as much as it sustains the validity of the government imposed upon the people, by an armed invasion, and leaves the great wrongs of Kansas unredressed.”
S. 356. 34th Cong. 1st sess. (1856); U.S. Senate Journal. 1856. 34th Cong., 1st sess., 402, 414; Cong. Globe, 34th Cong., 1st Sess., 1439, 1506, 1519, 1539 (1856); Cong. Globe, 34th Cong., 1st Sess., Appendix, 796-98 (1856); David M. Potter and Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), 215; Ulrich B. Phillips, The Life of Robert Toombs (New York: Macmillan, 1913), 128.
5The Kansas territorial census of 1855 showed a population of 8,601; however, only 2,905 were eligible to vote. The election of the legislature on March 30, 1855, counted 6,307 votes. Although territory rules required Kansas residency to vote, a loose definition of “resident” allowed pro-slavery Missourians to participate. The census also revealed that emigrants from slave states outnumbered emigrants from free states by more than 600, and a legitimate election would still have resulted in a pro-slavery victory.
David M. Potter and Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861, 201-2.
6Anti-slavery attendees of the National Kansas Aid Convention concluded that the law in question was, “only designed to make Kansas a slave state.”
7A strongly Democratic newspaper, the Enquirer offered a plethora of articles from which Lincoln could have quoted. For example, the newspaper described the anti-slavery movement as the “seeds of social, moral and political destruction” coming from the northern free states.
George Ripley and Charles A. Dana, eds., The New American Cyclopædia: A Popular Dictionary of General Knowledge (New York: D. Appleton, 1862), 14:98; Richmond Enquirer (VA), 5 September 1856, 2:4.
8In 1856, the sixteen free states, with a white population of 13,238,670, had 144 members in the House of Representatives and thirty-two Senators. The fifteen slave states, with a white population of 6,186,477, had ninety members in the House and thirty Senators.
William C. Reynolds & J. C. Jones, Reynold’s Political Map of the United States (New York: Wm. C. Reynolds and J. C. Jones, 1856), https://www.loc.gov/item/2003627003/, accessed 21 March 2023.
9The Mexican War ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo and the United States’ acquisition of about 525,000 square miles of Mexican territory including Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. Prior to its annexation to the United States, the land in question was designated free from slavery under Mexican law. Henry Clay believed that there would be no clamor by inhabitants to introduce slavery into the new territories. In a February 5-6, 1850 speech regarding his resolutions that would become the Compromise of 1850, Clay described the pitfall that came with anti-slavery advocates giving Congress the authority to prohibit slavery: “I admit if the argument be maintained that the power exists to exclude slavery, it necessarily follows that the power must exist, if Congress chose to exercise it, to tolerate or introduce slavery within the territories.”
Jay Gitlin, Barbara Berglund, Adam Arenson, eds. Frontier Cities: Encounters at the Crossroads of Empire (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 207; Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo [Exchange copy]; 2/2/1848; Perfected Treaties, 1778 - 1945; General Records of the United States Government, Record Group 11; National Archives Building, Washington, DC, https://www.archives.gov/milestone-documents/treaty-of-guadalupe-hidalgo, accessed 12 April 2023; Peter Hinks and John McKivigan, eds., Encyclopedia of Antislavery and Abolition (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007), 2:417; Speech of the Hon. Henry Clay, of Kentucky, On Taking up his Compromise Resolutions on the Subject of Slavery (New York: Stringer & Townsend, 1850), 9-10.
10“Woolly head” was a nineteenth-century term for African Americans, derived from the texture of their hair. Opponents of the Republicans attached the term to the party and used it in partisan attacks. Supporting abolitionism was also described through the phrase, “found the woolly horse.”
Daniel Webster outlined his support for what ultimately became the Compromise of 1850 in two speeches in the U.S. Senate, his famous March 7, 1850, speech “The Constitution and the Union,” and his follow up speech of July 17, 1850, entitled “The Compromise Measures”.
The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia (New York: Century, 1889), 8:6972; David S. Reynolds, Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times (New York: Penguin, 2020), 377; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, 1:428; Charles M. Wiltse and Alan R. Berolzheimer, eds., The Papers of Daniel Webster: Speeches and Formal Writings, Volume 2, 1834-1852 (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1988), 513-51, 553-78; Richard N. Current, “Lincoln and Daniel Webster,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 48 (Autumn 1955), 312-14.
11On John C. Fremont’s 1848 expedition, which involved crossing the Rocky Mountains, his party encountered a devastating snowstorm that temporarily ceased all advancement. When famed entertainer Phineas T. Barnum heard the news that Fremont had been lost in the snowy mountains, but had survived, he grasped the story for his own purposes. Barnum, who had recently purchased a horse covered with “thick, fine hair or wool, which curled tight to his skin,” placed his new acquisition on display in New York and announced that it had been captured in the Rocky Mountains by Fremont’s party.
John Bigelow, Memoir of the Life and Public Services of John Charles Fremont (New York: Derby & Jackson, 1856), 357, 367-68; P. T. Barnum, Struggles and Triumphs: Or, Forty Years' Recollections of P. T. Barnum (London: Sampson Low, Son, and Marston, 1869), 150.
12In July 1856, Lincoln wrote a speech regarding the charge of sectionalism toward the Republicans and argued that the Democratic Party was as equally sectional as the Republican Party.
13The outcome of the 1856 presidential election illustrated the sectional crisis. Democratic candidate James Buchanan took just over 45 percent of the national popular vote, and Republican candidate John C. 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 Illinois. American Party candidate Millard 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; Philip G. Auchampaugh, “Campaign of 1856,” Dictionary of American History, rev. ed. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1976), 1:420-21.
14The 1856 Federal Election was the last for the American, or Know Nothing, Party.
Fillmore maintained relative neutrality on the issue of the expansion of slavery to the territories. Fillmore instead focused on the preservation of the union, denouncing Democrats for reawakening sectionalism by introducing the Kansas-Nebraska Act and Republicans for inflaming the issue.
David M. Potter and Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861, 259; Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 973.
Copy of Printed Document, 1 page(s), Illinois Sentinel (Jacksonville), 12 September 1856, 2:2-4.