The vote in the Senate was 27 ayes to 14 noes; but in the House the opposition was dangerously strong, and but for the precaution of securing the support of the administration the bill might have failed. There was a fierce parliamentary battle. Richardson, Douglas's friend and chief lieutenant, kept the House in continuous session thirty-six hours trying to force through a motion to fix a term for the debate. Feeling rose on both sides. Personal encounters were imminent. Douglas, in constant attendance, watched every move of the opposition and was instant with the counter-move. It was a month before the bill could be brought to a vote, and then it passed, with a slight change, by a majority of thirteen. At the end of May, the President signed it, and Douglas, turning from the work of enacting it into law to the harder task of defending it before the country, beheld the whole field of national politics transformed. The Whig party, crushed to earth in 1852, made no move to take a stand on the new issue; it was dead. His own historical Democratic party was everywhere throughout the North in a turmoil that seemed to forebode dissolution. One new party, sprung swiftly and secretly into life on the old issue of enmity to foreigners and Roman Catholics, seemed to stand for the idea that the best way to meet the slavery issue was to run away from it. Another new party, conceived in the spirit of the appeal of the independent Democrats, was struggling to be born. State after State was falling under the power of the Know-Nothings; and those men, Whigs and Democrats alike, who for years had been awaiting an opportunity to fight slavery outside of its breastworks of compromise, were forming at last under the name of Anti-Nebraska men. Before long, they began to call themselves Republicans.
He did not quail. Invited to pronounce the Independence Day oration at Philadelphia, he made of it the first thoroughgoing denunciation of the Know-Nothings that any eminent public man in the country had the courage to make. Democrats everywhere, bewildered by the mystery in which these new adversaries shrouded their designs, were heartened to an aggressive warfare. Some months later, he took the stump in Virginia, where Henry A. Wise had brought the Democrats firmly into line against the only rivals they had in the South, now that the Whigs were giving up the fight. The campaign was a crucial one, and the Know-Nothings never recovered from their defeat. Douglas's course had the merit of consistency as well as courage, for he had always championed the rights of the foreign born.
The Independence Day oration was also his first popular defense of the Kansas-Nebraska bill. But so soon as Congress adjourned he hastened home to face his own people of Illinois. Chicago was once more, as in 1850, a centre of hostility, and he announced that he would speak there the evening of September first. When the time came, flags at half mast and the dismal tolling of church bells welcomed him. A vast and ominously silent crowd was gathered, but not to hear him. Hisses and groans broke in upon his opening sentences. Hour after hour, from eight o'clock until midnight, he stood before them; time and again, as the uproar lessened, his voice combated it; but they would not let him speak. Nothing, in fact, but his resolute bearing saved him from violence. On the way home, his carriage was set upon and he was in danger of his life.
Wherever he went in Northern Illinois, similar scenes were enacted. But he got a hearing, and in the central counties and in "Egypt," the southern part of the State, where the people were largely of Virginian and Kentuckian descent, he was cordially received. He kept his hold upon his party in Illinois, and Illinois, alone of all the Northwestern States, would not go over completely to the opposition. The Democratic candidate for state treasurer was elected. The Know-Nothings and Anti-Nebraska men got a majority of the congressmen, and by the defection of certain state senators who held over from a previous election they were enabled to send Lyman Trumbull, Anti-Nebraska Democrat, to be Douglas's colleague at Washington. That, when compared with the results elsewhere in the North, was a striking proof of Douglas's power with his people. Moreover, the Democrats of the North who remained in the party had accepted his leadership. In the South, the party organization was soon free of any effective opposition. The two wings, so long as they were united, could still control the Senate and elect presidents. All would still be well, if only all went well on those Western plains whither Douglas declared that the slavery question was now banished forever from the halls of Congress.
But all was not going well there. When the Kansas-Nebraska bill passed, Sumner exultantly exclaimed: "It sets freedom and slavery face to face, and bids them grapple." Nebraska was conceded to freedom, but the day Kansas, the southern Territory, was thrown open to settlement, a long, confused, confusing struggle began. The whole country was drawn into it. Blue lodges in the South, emigrant aid societies in the North, hurried opposing forces into the field. The Southerners, aided by colonized voters from Missouri, got control of the territorial legislature and passed a slave code. The Free-Soilers, ignoring the government thus established, gathered in convention at Topeka, formed a free state constitution, and demanded to be admitted into the Union as a State. When a new Congress assembled in December, 1855, there were two governments in Kansas, and the people were separated into hostile camps. Brawls were frequent, and it was clear that very soon, unless the general government intervened, there would be concerted violence. A force of several thousand pro-slavery men, encamped on the Wakarusa River, were threatening Lawrence, the principal Free-Soil town. The Free-Soil men were in a majority, but their course had been in disregard of law. The pro-slavery men were in a minority, they had resorted to violence and fraud, but they had followed the forms of law.
President Pierce, swayed by Jefferson Davis, took the side of slavery. The House was nearly two months organizing, and then the President sent in a message to Congress denouncing the Free-Soilers for resisting the laws. He followed it up with a proclamation, and placed United States troops at the disposal of the regular territorial government. In March, Douglas, from his Committee on Territories, made a long report on all that had occurred. He, too, laid the blame on the emigrant aid societies. He was against the Topeka constitution, and offered, instead, a bill providing for the admission of Kansas, so soon as her population should reach 93,000, which would entitle her to one representative in Congress, with such constitution as her people might lawfully adopt. The House, with an anti-slavery majority, was for admitting Kansas at once with the Topeka constitution. So was the anti-slavery group in the Senate, now swelled into a strong minority. In the fierce debate that followed, Douglas had to defend the results, as well as the theory, of his law. Sumner was the bitterest of his assailants, and their controversy passed all bounds of parliamentary restraint. In Sumner's famous speech on the crime against Kansas, Butler, of South Carolina, was represented as the Don Quixote of slavery, Douglas as its Sancho Panza, "ready to do all its humiliating offices." The day after that speech, Lawrence was sacked, and civil war broke out in Kansas. The next day, Preston Brooks, of South Carolina, assaulted Sumner and beat him down on the floor of the Senate. Ten days later, the Democratic convention met at Cincinnati to name a candidate for the presidency.
Douglas had won a good following from the South, but Pierce was the first choice of the Southerners. They wanted a servant merely, not a leader, in the White House. But it was no longer a question of the South's preference alone: it was a question of holding the two or three Northern States that were still Democratic. Of these, Pennsylvania was the most important. Buchanan was the choice of the Northern delegates because he was a Pennsylvanian and because, abroad on a foreign mission, he had escaped all responsibility for Kansas. On the first ballot, he led with 135 votes, Pierce was second with 122, and Douglas had but 33, but as before he rose as the balloting proceeded. Pierce's vote fell away; after the fourteenth ballot, his name was withdrawn. On the fifteenth, Buchanan had 168, Douglas 118. Richardson, Douglas's manager, thereupon arose and read a dispatch from his chief directing his friends to obey the will of the majority and give Buchanan the necessary two thirds. Once more, the prize escaped him, though he had bid for it with his country's peace.
But the platform proclaimed the principle of his famous law to be "the only sound and safe solution of the slavery question." He was at the head of his party as Clay had for so many years headed the Whigs. He had the substance of power, the reality of leadership, whosesoever the trappings and the title might be. Every move in Congress was made with a view to its effect in the campaign, and it was he who arranged the issues. Toombs, of Georgia, offered an enabling act of admirable fairness, intended to secure the people of Kansas in their right to have such a state constitution as they might prefer, and Douglas adopted it and held the Senate for it against the House bill to admit Kansas with the Topeka constitution. No agreement could be reached, for the Republicans in their platform had declared for the prohibition of slavery in all the Territories. "Bleeding Kansas" was their war-cry, and Douglas charged, not without reason, that they meant to keep Kansas bleeding until the election. The House went so far as to attach a rider to the army appropriation bill forbidding the President to employ United States troops in aid of the territorial authorities, and would not permit the appropriations to pass in their ordinary form until Congress adjourned and the President was forced to call an extra session.
But the Republican party had not yet gathered into its ranks all those who in their hearts favored its policy. The reality of civil war in Kansas brought a sobering sense of danger to the Union which worked contrary to the angry revolt against the slave power, and Buchanan's appeal to the lovers of the Union in both sections was successful. He was elected, and the Democrats, with a majority in both houses of Congress, got once more a free hand with Kansas and the slavery question.
They had, too, a majority of the Supreme Court, and now for the first time the court came forward with its view of the question. Two days after the inauguration, the Dred Scott decision was handed down, and the territorial controversy passed into a new phase. All parties were forced to reconsider their positions. Douglas, especially, had need of all his adroitness to bring his doctrine of popular sovereignty into accord with the decision; for so far as it went it accorded completely with that extreme Southern view of Calhoun's and Yancey's and Jefferson Davis's which he had never yet, in his striving after an approachment with the South, ventured far enough to accept. The court decided that the Declaration of Independence did not mean negroes when it declared all men to be equal; that no negro could become a citizen of the United States; that the right of property in slaves was affirmed in the Constitution; and that Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in any Territory. The announcement that the eighth clause of the Missouri Compromise law was unconstitutional was acceptable enough to the man who had accomplished its repeal, but what became of popular sovereignty if the Constitution itself decreed slavery into the Territories? But Douglas, whether he met the difficulty effectively or not, faced it promptly. Speaking at Springfield in June, he indorsed the decision, not merely as authoritative, but as right; and he claimed that it was in accord with his doctrine. For slavery, he pointed out, was dependent for its existence anywhere upon positive legislation. This the inhabitants of a Territory, acting through their territorial legislature, could grant or deny as they chose. The constitutional right of a slaveholder to take his property into a Territory would avail him nothing if he found there no laws and police regulations to protect it.
The decision was, however, universally and rightly considered a great victory for slavery. It condemned the Republican programme as unconstitutional, and it strengthened the contention of the Southerners. But the Southern leaders were in little need of heartening: no cause ever had bolder and firmer champions. Under cover of the panic of 1857, which drew men's minds away from politics, a group of them were already planning a most daring last attempt to bring Kansas into the Union as a slave State. In the grappling there, freedom had shown itself stronger than slavery. Robert J. Walker, a slaveholder, whom Buchanan and Douglas had persuaded to accept the governorship, reported that the Free-Soilers outnumbered their adversaries three to one. The legislature had provided for the election of delegates to a constitutional convention, and when the question of submitting the constitution to the people arose, the governor, an upright man, promptly announced that it would be submitted, and the administration sustained him. Many Free-Soilers, however, made the mistake of staying away from the polls on election day. The convention, under control of the pro-slavery leaders, met in October at Lecompton, drew up a constitution which safeguarded slavery elaborately, and hit upon an extraordinary way to submit it to the people. The electors were permitted to vote either "for the constitution with slavery," or "for the constitution without slavery," but not against the constitution as a whole. Even if "the constitution without slavery" carried, such slaves as were already held in Kansas could continue to be held.
So far had the Democratic party progressed toward the extreme Southern view, and such was the ascendency of the Southerners over Buchanan, that he would not stand up against the outrageous scheme, and it seemed on the point of succeeding. But Douglas was come now to a parting of the ways. Forced to choose between absolute subserviency to the South and what was left of his principle of popular sovereignty, he remonstrated angrily with the President for breaking faith with Walker and the Kansans. At the end of a stormy interview, Buchanan, stirred out of his wonted placidity, threateningly reminded the senator that no Democrat ever broke with a Democratic administration without being crushed. Douglas scornfully retorted: "Mr. President, I wish you to remember that General Jackson is dead." The new Congress was no sooner assembled than the Lecompton programme became the central issue, and Douglas, in flat rebellion against his party's Southern masters, in open defiance of his party's President, was again the man of the hour.
Superb fighter that he was, he had a fighter's best opportunity,—great odds to fight against, and at last a good cause to fight for. The administration proscribed him. The whole South, so lately reciting his praises, rose up against him and reviled him as a traitor. Of his party associates in the Senate, but two or three were brave enough to follow him. Moreover, the panic had swept away his wealth. He was near the end of his term of office, and the trend in Illinois was toward the Republicans. The long tide which had so steadily borne him on to fortune seemed to ebb. Married again but recently, and to the most beautiful woman in Washington, he must have had in mind, as he took up his new role, some such thought as that which fortified his favorite hero at Marengo: one battle was lost, but there was time enough to win another.
The Lecompton plotters had reckoned on the opposition of the Republicans. It was Douglas and his handful of followers who confounded them. At once, they accused him of deserting them to make sure of his reelection to the Senate. But as the debate progressed, and his name kept appearing on the same side with Sumner's and Seward's in the divisions, another notion spread. Horace Greeley and other Republicans began to suggest that he might be the man to lead the new party to victory on a more moderate platform. Throughout the North, people who had abhorred him came first to wonder at him and then to praise him.
But he fought the Lecompton conspiracy from his old base. It was contrary to the principle of the Kansas-Nebraska Act; there had been gross frauds at the election of delegates; the form of submission was a mockery of the electors. He would say nothing for slavery or against it. He cared not "whether slavery was voted up or voted down." Give the people a fair and free chance to form and adopt a constitution, and he would accept it. Let them have a fair vote on the Lecompton constitution, and if they ratified it he would accept that. Ratified it was at the absurd election the convention had ordered, for the great majority of the settlers could not vote their opposition, but when the legislature, now Free-Soil, took the authority to submit it as a whole, the majority against it by far exceeded the highest total of votes the pro-slavery men had ever mustered. Nevertheless, the Senate passed it, Douglas and three other Democrats voting in the negative. His following in the House was greater, and the bill was there amended so as to provide for submitting the constitution to the people. There was a conference, and in its final form the bill offered the people of Kansas a bribe of lands if they would accept the constitution, and threatened them with an indefinite delay of statehood if they should reject it. Douglas, however, after some hesitation, refused to vote for the bill as amended, and when the time came the Kansans, by more than five to one, rejected the constitution and the bribe.
So the session brought no settlement, and Kansas was still the burning issue when Douglas went back to Illinois and took the stump in the senatorial campaign. Victor in a stirring parliamentary contest, this time Chicago welcomed him. But there awaited him treason in the ranks of his own party,—for the administration, beaten in Congress, attacked him at home,—and an opposition now completely formed and led by a man whom Douglas himself, in his own heart, dreaded as he had never dreaded the ablest of his rivals at Washington. The Republicans had taken the unusual course of holding a convention to nominate their candidate for the Senate, and the candidate was Abraham Lincoln.
Hamilton and Jefferson, Clay and Jackson, Douglas and Lincoln,—these are the three great rivalries of American politics. The third was not the least. If it fell short of the others in variety of confrontments, if it was not so long drawn out, or accompanied with so frequent and imposing alignments and realignments of vast contending forces on a broad and national field, it surpassed them in the clearness of the sole and vital issue it involved, in a closer contact and measuring of powers, in the complete and subtle correspondence of the characters of the rivals to the causes for which they fought.
Douglas was the very type of that instant success which waits on ability undistracted by doubt and undeterred by the fear of doing wrong; the best exemplar of that American statesmanship which accepted things as they were and made the most of them. Facile, keen, effective, he had found life a series of opportunities easily embraced. Precocious in youth, marvelously active in manhood, he had learned without study, resolved without meditation, accomplished without toil. Whatever obstacles he had found in his path, he had either adroitly avoided them or boldly overleaped them, but never laboriously uprooted them. Whatever subject he had taken in hand, he had swiftly compassed it, but rarely probed to the heart of it. With books he dealt as he dealt with men, getting from them quickly what he liked or needed; he was as unlikely to pore over a volume, and dog-ear and annotate it, as he was with correspondence and slow talk and silences to draw out a friendship. Yet he was not cold or mean, but capable of hero-worship, following with ardor the careers of great conquerors like Caesar and Napoleon, and capable, too, of loyalty to party and to men. He had great personal magnetism: young men, especially, he charmed and held as no other public man could, now Clay was dead. His habits were convivial, and the vicious indulgence of his strong and masculine appetites, the only relaxation he craved in the intervals of his fierce activities, had caused him frequent illnesses; but he was still a young man, even by American standards, for the eminence he had attained. At the full of his extraordinary powers, battling for the high place he had and the higher he aspired to, there was nowhere to be seen his equal as a debater or a politician,—nowhere but in the ungainly figure, now once more erected into a posture of rivalry and defiance, of the man whom he had long ago outstripped and left behind him in the home of their common beginnings.
Slower of growth, and devoid altogether of many brilliant qualities which his rival possessed, Lincoln nevertheless outreached him by the measure of the two gifts the other lacked: the twin gifts of humor and of brooding melancholy. Bottomed by the one in homeliness, his character was by the other drawn upward to the height of human nobility and aspiration. His great capacity of pain, which but for his buffoonery would no doubt have made him mad, was the source of his rarest excellencies. Familiar with squalor, and hospitable to vulgarity, his mind was yet tenanted by sorrow, a place of midnight wrestlings. In him, as never before in any other man, were high and low things mated, and awkwardness and ungainliness and uncouthness justified in their uses. At once coarser than his rival and infinitely more refined and gentle, he had mastered lessons which the other had never found the need of learning, or else had learned too readily and then dismissed. He had thoroughness for the other's competence; insight into human nature, and a vast sympathy, for the other's facile handling of men; a deep devotion to the right for the other's loyalty to party platforms. The very core of his nature was truth, and he himself is reported to have said of Douglas that he cared less for the truth, as the truth, than any other man he knew.
Hanging for some years upon the heels of his rival's rapid ascent, Lincoln had entered the House as Douglas left it for the Senate, but at the end of the term he retired from politics baffled and discouraged. Tortured with the keen apprehension of a form and grace into which he could never mould his crudeness, tantalized with a sense that there must be a way for him to get a hold on his fellows and make a figure in the history of his times, he had watched the power of Douglas grow and the fame of Douglas spread until it seemed that Douglas's voice was always speaking and Douglas's hand was everywhere. Patiently working out the right and wrong of the fateful question Douglas dealt with so boldly, he came into the impregnable position of such as hated slavery and yet forbore to violate its sanctuary. Suddenly, with the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, Douglas himself had opened a path for him. He went back into politics, and took a leading part in the Anti-Nebraska movement. Whenever opportunity offered, he combated Douglas on the stump. The year Trumbull won the senatorship, Lincoln had first come within a few votes of it. Risen now to the leadership of the Republicans in Illinois, he awaited Douglas at Chicago, listened to his opening speech, answered it the next evening, followed him into the centre of the State, and finally proposed a series of joint debates before the people. Douglas hesitated, but accepted, and named seven meeting-places: Ottawa and Freeport, in the northern stronghold of the Republicans; Galesburg, Quincy, and Charleston, in a region where both parties had a good following; and Jonesboro and Alton, which were in "Egypt." The first meeting was at Ottawa, in August; the last, at Alton, in the middle of October. Meanwhile, both spoke incessantly at other places, Douglas oftener than once a day. First the fame of Douglas, and then Lincoln's unexpected survival of the early meetings, drew the eyes of the whole country upon these two foremost Americans of their generation, face to face there on the Western prairie, fighting out the great question of the times.
Elevated side by side on wooden platforms in the open air, thrown into relief against the low prairie sky line, the two figures take strong hold upon the imagination: the one lean, long-limbed, uncommonly tall; the other scarce five feet high, but compact, manful, instinct with energy, and topped with its massive head. In voice and gesture and manner, Douglas was incomparably the superior, as he was, too, in the ready command of a language never, indeed, ornate or imaginative, and sometimes of the quality of political commonplace, but always forcible and always intelligible to his audience. Lincoln had the sense of words, the imagination, the intensity of feeling, which go to the making of great literature; but for his masterpieces he always needed time. His voice was high and strained, his gestures ungraceful, his manner painful, save in the recital of those passages which he had carefully prepared or when he was freed of his self-consciousness by anger or enthusiasm. Neither of them, in any single speech, could be compared to Webster in the other of the two most famous American debates, but the series was a remarkable exhibition of forensic power. The interest grew as the struggle lengthened. People traveled great distances to hear them. At every meeting-place, a multitude of farmers and dwellers in country towns, with here and there a sprinkling of city-folk, crowded about the stand where "Old Abe" and the "Little Giant" turned and twisted and fenced for an opening, grappled and drew apart, clinched and strained and staggered,—but neither fell. The wonder grew that Lincoln stood up so well under the onslaughts of Douglas, at once skillful and reckless, held him off with so firm a hand, gripped him so shrewdly. Now, the wonder is that Douglas, wrestling with the man and the cause of a century, kept his feet and held his own.
He was fighting, too, with an enemy in the rear. When he turned to strike at the administration, Lincoln would call out: "Go it, husband! Go it, bear!" Apart from that diversion, however, the debate, long and involved as it was, followed but three general lines. The whole is resolvable into three elements,—personalities, politics, and principles. There were the attacks which each made upon the other's record; the efforts which each made to weaken the other's position before the people; and the contrary views which were advanced.
Douglas began, indeed, with gracious compliments to his opponent, calling him "an amiable, kindly, and intelligent gentleman." Lincoln, unused to praise from such a source, protested he was like the Hoosier with the gingerbread: "He reckoned he liked it better than any other man, and got less of it." But in a moment Douglas was charging that Lincoln and Trumbull, Whig and Democrat, had made a coalition in 1854 to form the Black Republican party and get for themselves the two senatorships from Illinois, and that Trumbull had broken faith with Lincoln. Lincoln in turn made a charge that Douglas had conspired with Presidents Pierce and Buchanan and Chief Justice Taney to spread slavery and make it universal. The Kansas-Nebraska Act was their first step, the Dred Scott decision the second; but one more step, and slavery could be fastened upon States as they had already fastened it upon Territories. Douglas protesting that to bring such a charge, incapable of proof or disproof, was indecent, Lincoln pointed out that Douglas had similarly charged the administration with conspiring to force a slave constitution upon Kansas; and afterwards took up a charge of Trumbull's that Douglas himself had at first conspired with Toombs and other senators to prevent any reference to the people of whatsoever constitution the Kansas convention might adopt. When they moved southward, Douglas charged Lincoln with inconsistency in that he changed his stand to suit the leanings of different communities. Of all these charges and counter-charges, however, none was absolutely proved, and no one now believes those which Douglas brought. But he made them serve, and Lincoln's, though he sustained them with far better evidence, and pressed them home with a wonderful clearness of reasoning,—once, he actually threw his argument into a syllogism,—did no great harm to Douglas.
It was Douglas, too, who began the sparring for a political advantage. He knew that Lincoln's following was heterogeneous. "Their principles," he jeered, "in the north are jet black, in the centre they are in color a decent mulatto, and in lower Egypt they are almost white." His aim, therefore, was to fix upon Lincoln such extreme views as would alarm the more moderate of his followers, since the extremists must take him perforce, as a choice of two evils, even though he fell far short of their radical standard. To this end, Douglas produced certain resolutions which purported to have been adopted by an Anti-Nebraska convention at Springfield in 1854, and would have held Lincoln responsible for them. In a series of questions, he asked whether Lincoln were still opposed to a fugitive slave law, to the admission of any more slave States, and to acquiring any more territory unless the Wilmot Proviso were applied to it, and if he were still for prohibiting slavery outright in all the Territories and in the District of Columbia, and for prohibiting the interstate slave trade. It soon transpired that Lincoln was not present at the Springfield convention, and that the resolutions were not adopted there, but somewhere else, and Douglas had to defend himself against a charge of misrepresentation. Nevertheless, when they met the second time, at Freeport, Lincoln answered the questions. He admitted the right of the South to a fugitive slave law. He would favor abolition in the District only if it were gradual, compensated, and accomplished with the consent of the inhabitants. He was not sure of the right of Congress to prohibit the interstate slave trade. He would oppose the annexation of fresh territory if there were reason to believe it would tend to aggravate the slavery controversy. He could see no way to deny the people of a Territory if slavery were prohibited among them during their territorial life and they nevertheless asked to come into the Union as a slave State. These cautious and hesitating answers displeased the stalwart anti-slavery men. Lincoln would go their lengths in but one particular: he was for prohibiting slavery outright in all the Territories.
Then he brought forward some questions for Douglas to answer. Would Douglas vote to admit Kansas with less than 93,000 inhabitants if she presented a free state constitution? Would he vote to acquire fresh territory without regard to its effect on the slavery dispute? If the Supreme Court should decide against the right of a State to prohibit slavery, would he acquiesce? "Can the people of a United States Territory, in any lawful way, against the wish of any citizen of the United States, exclude slavery from its limits prior to the formation of a state constitution?"
Douglas had no great difficulty with the first three questions, and the fourth—the second, as Lincoln read them—he had in fact answered several times already, and in a way to please the Democrats of Illinois. But Lincoln, contrary to the advice of his friends, pressed it on him again with a view to the "all hail hereafter," for it was meant to bring out the inconsistency of the principle of popular sovereignty with the Dred Scott decision, and the difference between the Northern and the Southern Democrats. Douglas answered it as he had before. The people of a Territory, through their legislature, could by unfriendly laws, or merely by denying legislative protection, make it impossible for a slave-owner to hold his slaves among them, no matter what rights he might have under the Constitution. Lincoln declared that the answer was historically false, for slaves had been held in Territories in spite of unfriendly legislation, and pointed out that if the Dred Scott decision was right the members of a territorial legislature, when they took an oath to support the Constitution, bound themselves to grant slavery protection. Later, in a fifth and last question, he asked whether, in case the slave-owners of a Territory demanded of Congress protection for their property, Douglas would vote to give it to them. But Douglas fell back upon his old position that Congress had no right to intervene. He would not break with his supporters in Illinois, but by his "Freeport Doctrine" of unfriendly legislation he had broken forever with the men who were now in control of his party in the Southern States.
It was Lincoln who took the aggressive on principles. A famous paragraph of his speech before the convention which nominated him began with the words: "'A house divided against itself cannot stand.' I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free." That was a direct challenge to Douglas and his whole plan with slavery, and throughout the debate, at every meeting, the doctrine of the divided house was attacked and defended. Douglas declared that Lincoln was inciting half his countrymen to make war upon the other half; that he went for uniformity of domestic institutions everywhere, instead of letting different communities manage their domestic affairs as they chose. But no, Lincoln protested, he was merely for resisting the spread of slavery and putting it in such a state that the public mind would rest in the hope of its ultimate extinction. "But why," cried Douglas, "cannot this government go on as the fathers left it, as it has gone on for more than a century?" Lincoln met him on that ground, and had the better of him in discussing what the fathers meant concerning slavery. They did not mean, he argued, to leave it alone to grow and spread, for they prohibited it in the Northwest Territory, they left the word "slave" out of the Constitution in the hope of a time when there should be no slaves under the flag. Over the true meaning of the Declaration of Independence, however, Douglas had a certain advantage, for Lincoln found the difficulty which candid minds still find in applying the principle of equality to races of unequal strength. Douglas plainly declared that ours is a white man's government. Lincoln admitted such an inferiority in negroes as would forever prevent the two races from living together on terms of perfect social and political equality, and if there must be inequality he was in favor of his own race having the superior place. He could only contend, therefore, for the negro's equality in those rights which are set forth in the Declaration. Douglas made the most of this, and of Lincoln's failure, through a neglect to study the economic character of slavery, to show clearly how the mere restriction of it would lead to its extinction.
But Douglas did not, and perhaps he could not, follow Lincoln when he passed from the Declaration and the Constitution to the "higher law," from the question of rights to the question of right and wrong; for there Lincoln rose not merely above Douglas, but above all that sort of politics which both he and Douglas came out of. There, indeed, was the true difference between these men and their causes. Douglas seems to shrink backward into the past, and Lincoln to come nearer and grow larger as he proclaims it: "That is the real issue. That is the issue which will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles—right and wrong—throughout the world."
Nevertheless, Douglas won the senatorship and kept his hold on the Northern Democrats. Immediately, he made a visit to the South. He got a hearing there, and so made good his boast that he could proclaim his principles anywhere in the Union; but when he returned to Washington he found that the party caucus, controlled by Buchanan and the Southerners, had deposed him from the chairmanship of the Committee on Territories, which he had held so many years, and from this time he was constantly engaged with the enemies he had made by his course on Lecompton and by his Freeport Doctrine. His Northern opponents were no longer in his way. He had overmatched Sumner and Seward in the Senate, and beaten the administration, and held his own with Lincoln, but the unbending and relentless Southerners he could neither beat nor placate. It was men like Jefferson Davis in the Senate, and Yancey at Southern barbecues and conventions, who stood now between him and his ambition. That very slave power which he had served so well was upreared to crush him because he had come to the limit of his subserviency. His plan of squatter sovereignty had not got the Southerners Kansas, or any other slave State, to balance California and Minnesota and Oregon. They demanded of Congress positive protection for slavery in the Territories. The most significant debate of the session was between Douglas on the one side and a group of Southern senators, led by Jefferson Davis, on the other. He stood up against them manfully, and told them frankly that not a single Northern State would vote for any candidate on their platform, and they as flatly informed him that he could not carry a single Southern State on his.
He was too good a politician to yield, even if there had been no other reason to stand firm, but continued to defend the only doctrine on which there was the slightest chance of beating the Republicans in the approaching election. One method he took to defend it was novel, but he has had many imitators among public men of a later day. He wrote out his argument for "Harper's," the most popular magazine of the day. The article is not nearly so good reading as his speeches, but it was widely read. Judge Jeremiah Black, the Attorney-General of Buchanan's cabinet, made a reply to it, and Douglas rejoined; but little of value was added to the discussions in Congress and on the stump. The Southerners, however, would not take warning. As they saw their long ascendency in the government coming to an end, their demands rose higher. Some of them actually began to agitate for a revival of the African slave trade; and this also Douglas had to oppose. His following in the Senate was now reduced to two or three, and one of these, Broderick, of California, a brave and steadfast man, was first defeated by the Southern interest, and then slain in a duel. John Brown's invasion of Virginia somewhat offset the aggressions of the South; but that, too, might have gone for a warning. The elections in the autumn of 1859 were enough to show that the North was no longer disposed to forbearance with slavery. Douglas went as far as any man in reason could go in denouncing John Brown and those who were thought to have set him on; and he supported a new plan for getting Cuba. But Davis, on the very eve of the Democratic convention at Charleston, was pressing upon the Senate a series of resolutions setting forth the extreme demand of the South concerning the Territories. He was as bitter toward Douglas as he was toward the Republicans. At Charleston, Yancey took the same tone with the convention.
Practically the whole mass of the Northern Democrats were for Douglas now, and the mass of Southern Democrats were against him. The party was divided, as the whole country was, by a line that ran from East to West. Yet it was felt that nothing but the success of that party would avert the danger of disunion, and the best judges were of opinion that it could not succeed with any other candidate than Douglas or any other platform than popular sovereignty. His managers at Charleston offered the Cincinnati platform of 1856, with the addition of a demand for Cuba and an indorsement of the Dred Scott decision and of any future decisions of the Supreme Court on slavery in the Territories. But the Southerners would not yield a hair's breadth. Yancey, their orator, upbraided Douglas and his followers with cowardice because they did not dare to tell the North that slavery was right. In that strange way the question of right and wrong was forced again upon the man who strove to ignore it. Senator Pugh, of Ohio, spokesman for Douglas, answered the fire-eaters. "Gentlemen of the South," he cried, "you mistake us! You mistake us! We will not do it." The Douglas platform was adopted, and the men of the cotton States withdrew. On ballot after ballot, a majority of those who remained, and a majority of the whole convention, stood firm for Douglas, but it was decided that two thirds of the whole convention was required to nominate. Men who had followed his fortunes until his ambition was become their hope in life, wearied out with the long deferment, broke down and wept. Finally, it was voted to adjourn to Baltimore. In the interval, Davis and Douglas fell once more into their bitter controversy in the Senate.
At Baltimore, a new set of delegates from the cotton States appeared in place of the seceders, but they were no sooner admitted than another group withdrew, and even Cushing, the chairman, left his seat and followed them. Douglas telegraphed his friends to sacrifice him if it were necessary to save his platform, but the rump convention adopted the platform and nominated him. The two groups of seceders united on the Yancey platform and on Breckinridge, of Kentucky, for a candidate. A new party of sincere but unpractical Union-savers took the field with John Bell, an old Whig, for a candidate, and a platform of patriotic platitudes. The Republicans, guided in ways they themselves did not understand, had put aside Seward and taken Lincoln to be their leader.
The rivals were again confronted, but on cruelly unequal terms. From the first, it was clear that nearly the whole North was going Republican, and that the cotton States were for Breckinridge or disunion. Whatever chance Douglas had in the border States and in the Democratic States of the North was destroyed by the new party. But he knew he was at the head of the true party of Jefferson, he felt that the old Union would not stand if he was beaten. He was the leader of a forlorn hope, but he led it superbly well. He undertook a canvass of the country the like of which no candidate had ever made before. At the very outset of it he was called upon to show his colors in the greater strife that was to follow. At Norfolk, in Virginia, it was demanded of him to say whether the election of a Black Republican President would justify the Southern States in seceding. He answered, no. Pennsylvania was again the pivotal State, and at an election in October the Republicans carried it over all their opponents combined. Douglas was in Iowa when he heard the news. He said calmly to his companions: "Lincoln is the next President. I have no hope and no destiny before me but to do my best to save the Union from overthrow. Now let us turn our course to the South"—and he proceeded through the border States straight to the heart of the kingdom of slavery and cotton. The day before the election, he spoke at Montgomery, Yancey's home; that night, he slept at Mobile. If in 1858 he was like Napoleon the afternoon of Marengo, now he was like Napoleon struggling backward in the darkness toward the lost field of Waterloo. There was a true dignity and a true patriotism in his appeal to his maddened countrymen not to lift their hands against the Union their fathers made:—
"Woodman, spare that tree! Touch not a single bough."
An old soldier of the Confederacy, scarred with the wounds he took at Bull Run, looking back over a wasted life to the youth he sacrificed in that ill-starred cause, remembers now as he remembers nothing else of the whole year of revolution the last plea of Douglas for the old party, the old Constitution, the old Union.
He carried but one State outright, and got but twelve votes in the electoral college. Lincoln swept the North, Breckinridge the South, and Bell the border States. Nevertheless, in the popular vote, hopeless candidate that he was, he stood next to Lincoln, and none of his competitors had a following so evenly distributed throughout the whole country.
When all was over, he could not rest, for he was still the first man in Congress, but hurried back to Washington and joined in the anxious conferences of such as were striving for a peaceable settlement. When South Carolina seceded, he announced plainly enough that he did not believe in the right of secession or consider that there was any grievance sufficient to justify the act. But he was for concessions if they would save the country from civil war. Crittenden, of Kentucky, coming forward after the manner of Clay with a series of amendments to the Constitution, and another Committee of Thirteen being named, Douglas was ready to play the same part he had played in 1850. But the plan could not pass the Senate, and one after another the cotton States followed South Carolina. Then he labored with the men of the border States, and broke his last lance with Breckinridge, who, when he ceased to be Vice-President, came down for a little while upon the floor as a senator to defend the men whom he was about to join in arms against their country. Douglas engaged him with all the old fire and force, and worsted him in the debate.
His bearing toward Lincoln was generous and manly. When Lincoln, rising to pronounce his first inaugural address, looked awkwardly about him for a place to bestow his hat that he might adjust his glasses to read those noble paragraphs, Douglas came forward and took it from his hand. The graceful courtesy won him praise; and that was his attitude toward the new administration. The day Sumter was fired on, he went to the President to offer his help and counsel. There is reason to believe that during those fearful early days of power and trial Lincoln came into a better opinion of his rival.
The help of Douglas was of moment, for he had the right to speak for the Democrats of the North. On his way homeward, he was everywhere besought to speak. Once, he was aroused from sleep to address an Ohio regiment marching to the front, and his great voice rolled down upon them, aligned beneath him in the darkness, a word of loyalty and courage. At Chicago he spoke firmly and finally, for himself and for his party. While the hope of compromise lingered, he had gone to the extreme of magnanimity, but the time for conciliation was past. "There can be no neutrals in this war," he said: "only patriots and traitors." They were the best words he could have spoken. They were the last he ever spoke to his countrymen, for at once he was stricken down with a swift and mortal illness and hurried to his end. A little while before the end, his wife bent over him for a message to his sons. He roused himself, and said: "Tell them to obey the laws and support the Constitution of the United States." He died on June 11, 1861, in the forty-ninth year of his age.
It was a hard time to die. War was at hand, and his strong nature stirred at the call. Plunged in his youth into affairs, and wonted all his life to action, he had played a man's part in great events, and greater were impending. He had taken many blows of men and circumstance, and stormy times might bring redress. He was a leader, and for want of him a great party must go leaderless and stumbling to a long series of defeats. He was a true American, and his country was in danger. He was ambitious, and his career was not rightly finished. He was the second man in the Republic, and he might yet be the first.
But first he never could have been while Lincoln lived, nor ever could have got a hold like Lincoln's on his kind. His place is secure among the venturesome, strong, self-reliant men who in various ages and countries have for a time hastened, or stayed, or diverted from its natural channel the great stream of affairs. The sin of his ambition is forgiven him for the good end he made. But for all his splendid energy and his brilliant parts, for all the charm of his bold assault on fortune and his dauntless bearing in adversity, we cannot turn from him to his rival but with changed and softened eyes. For Lincoln, indeed, is one of the few men eminent in politics whom we admit into the hidden places of our thought; and there, released from that coarse clay which prisoned him, we companion him forever with the gentle and heroic of older lands. Douglas abides without.
The Riverside Press
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