Table of Contents
The Political Debates of the 1830s
The 1838 Congressional Election
The Lincoln-Douglas-Calhoun Debates of 1839-1840
The 1840 Presidential Election
The Election of 1844 and the Tariff
The Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854
Bleeding Kansas in 1855-1857
The Lecompton Constitution
Senator Douglas Versus President Buchanan
The Kansas Territorial Elections
Douglas and the 1858 Congressional Debate
The 1858 Senate Campaign
The Death of Lecompton, Calhoun and Douglas
Illinois - a large state with a small population in the 1830s - produced an unusual collection of men (they were virtually all men) who shaped the future of the country. Abraham Lincoln was one. Stephen A. Douglas was another. Their mutual friend and colleague, John Calhoun, was a third. Calhoun has appeared in the biographies of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas primarily as a walk-on character. Calhoun shows up, for example, early in young Lincoln's life when he provides the young New Salem resident with a much-needed job. The role he played in Lincoln's life over two and a half decades was more substantial and would prove much more important. Calhoun, for example, shows up in Douglas's life a few years later when he pushes the Little Giant to run for Congress.
"The ambitions of Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln ran in parallel lines," wrote Illinois historian Charles A. Church. "Each was the incarnation of the principles he espoused. They were the two poles of the political thought of their time, as Hamilton and Jefferson had been in the days of the fathers. Douglas, as an audacious and ready debater, has never been surpassed in either branch of congress. He had a personal magnetism which made him a popular idol and a born leader of men. He was self-confident and even arrogant, and was withal a dangerous antagonist."1 Lincoln spent more than two decades studying his opponent and knew how to handle him by the time Lincoln faced the senator in the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858.
The political ambitions of Douglas, Lincoln, and Calhoun were often in conflict and would intersect in 1858 in a way that would lead to the Civil War. Compared to Douglas, John Calhoun was a more dangerous and more closely reasoned, antagonist in Lincoln's eyes. Lincoln's own fortunes sometimes ran diametrically opposite to those of Calhoun and often of Douglas as well. Lincoln's career as a village merchant collapsed in 1833, burying him in debt. Through the intervention of a mutual friend, then Sangamon County surveyor Calhoun agreed to give Lincoln a much-needed job. Calhoun's later misdeeds as a federal appointee in Kansas gave Lincoln a much-needed and thoroughly unintended boost toward the presidential election in 1860. Simultaneously, they injured Douglas' own chances to win a united Democratic nomination for the presidency.
Still, Lincoln never forgot Calhoun's early help nor held against Calhoun his later political transgressions. Lincoln's contemporaries were less kind to Calhoun. Lincoln's principal wartime aides and biographers called Calhoun "one of the most able and unscrupulous leaders in the pro-slavery cabal" in Kansas in the mid-1850s and referred to his leadership as the "Calhoun dictatorship."2 Even these critics, however, acknowledged Calhoun as a "man of considerable professional and political talent."3 The authors of an early Illinois history wrote that Calhoun had "few equals in point of ability, but he lacked energy and was the slave of the cup."4
Lincoln, Douglas and Calhoun men sharpened their rhetorical swords in the new Illinois capital of Springfield. Lincoln helped move the legislation that made Springfield a "city" in 1839 - although an 1835 census showed only 1419 people resided in the community. From 1839 to 1840, Lincoln served briefly as a town trustee, helping guide Springfield's transition to a new form of municipal government. It was typical of the closely intertwined Springfield scene in those days that the man Lincoln replaced as trustee, Samuel H. Treat, became the judge of the Eighth Judicial Circuit on which he practiced, would later become a State Supreme Court Justice before whom Lincoln practiced, and still later become a U.S. District Court judge before whom Lincoln practiced. And when he was not appearing before Judge Treat, Lincoln could often be found playing chess with him - or telling stories to the judge and Lincoln's fellow lawyers. It was Treat who made the underemployed Calhoun the clerk of his court for several years in the 1840s.
Such was the small pond of Springfield in which many future big fish swam. Sometimes, these fish took decades to emerge as congressman, generals, governors, and senators, but in the stormy seas of the Civil War, they did emerge. In 1838, when Douglas was just 25, he effectively stole the congressional nomination from the Democratic incumbent and faced off against Whig John Todd Stuart, the law partner of Abraham Lincoln and cousin of Lincoln's future wife. After Stuart, Lincoln, Douglas and their colleagues ended their spring swing around the Eighth Judicial District, Stuart and Douglas embarked on a series of joint appearances across the vast, 34-county congressional district in northern Illinois.
One contemporary recalled that Stuart and Douglas "often occup[ied] the same bed during their travels around the country."5 At one tavern in Hancock County, the only room was already booked. Twenty-one-year-old John M. Palmer - future state legislator, general, and Illinois governor and U.S. senator - was peddling clocks in the area with a colleague and secured the room's two beds. The proprietor of the tavern indicated that Douglas and Stuart would have to share the beds with Palmer and his friend. Douglas demanded of the pedlars to divulge were their politics. When Douglas found that Palmer was a Democrat and his colleague a Whig, Douglas decided the sleeping arrangements: "Then, Stuart, I'll sleep with the Democrat and you may sleep with the Whig."6 Douglas and Palmer would become good friends, but about 16 years later, Palmer broke with Douglas and become a strong supporter of Lincoln and the Republican Party.
Before the 1838 campaign even began, Lincoln, writing under pseudonym, accused Douglas engaging in a deal to get a federal job and then being persuaded of another deal to give up his federal job to run for Congress. On the evening of the publication of these charges, Lincoln made a speech which, while seemingly allegorical, can be interpreted as suggesting that Douglas was a dangerous reincarnation of Napoleon. Douglas was incensed by the anonymous newspaper accusation and demanded that the writer of these accusations reveal himself. He wrote: "Conscious of my own innocence, and the rectitude of my conduct, I am desirous that the curtain should be raised, and every act of my life exposed to the searching eye of public scrutiny. I also desire to drag my accusers from their hiding places, to strip off the mask that conceals their names from the public eye, give them an opportunity of maintaining their assertions, or let them cover themselves with infamy, which is the certain reward of the midnight assassin, and foul mouthed slanderer."7 By the standards of this exchange, the Lincoln-Douglas debates two decades later were tame affairs indeed. In those 1858 exchanges, Douglas would accuse Lincoln of making a deal for the Republican nomination with Lyman Trumbull, who had been elected senator over Lincoln in 1855. Charges and denials of deals seem to have been built into the Lincoln-Douglas relationship from its inception.
When in late 1839 four Democrats and four Whigs were chosen to debate national economic issues in Springfield, they included three future U.S. senators, one future President, and John Calhoun.8 As Mary Todd Lincoln would later remember, "In our little coterie in Springfield in the days of my girlhood, we had a society of gentlemen, who have since, been distinguished, in a greater or less degree, in the political world. My great and glorious husband come first, 'a world above them all.' Douglas, Trumbull, Baker, Hardin, Shields, such choice spirits were the habituĂ©s of our drawing room."9 Of Douglas who briefly courted her, Mary would say: "Mr. Douglas is a very little, little giant by the side of my tall Kentuckian, and intellectually my husband towers above Douglas just as he does physically."10
The married Calhoun was not part of this group of young bachelors. And unlike Douglas, who made his political base in Jacksonville, then Quincy, and later Chicago, Calhoun lived and labored in Sangamon County, one of the few areas that Whigs dominated in the 1830s and 1840s. John Calhoun had the makings of one of the big fish who never quite made it. Sangamon County historian John Carroll Power generously described Calhoun as "a man of genial, hopeful, generous temperament; ever ready to serve or defend a friend, but rarely defending himself, except on the spur of the moment; of great, ability, and for a time was the best political orator in the State of Illinois. He was brilliant, but deficient in practical application."11 Like Douglas, Calhoun was an accomplished and persuasive speaker. He was, wrote one Douglas biographer, "one of the ablest men in the party."12 He was ambitious but lazy. As historian Robert W. Johannsen wrote, Calhoun "always remained a second-rate politician."13 Johannsen contended: "Political success did not come easy for him, partly, perhaps, because he was a Democrat running for office in a predominantly Whig district, but also because he lacked the ability to stir the public imagination. He held more appointive positions than he did elective offices; he was honored more by his party organization than he was by the electorate."14
Calhoun made a very substantive appearance in Illinois politics and Lincoln's life in the period between 1839-1840 when he, Douglas, Lincoln and others engaged in a series of debates. They repeated these appearances the presidential contest of 1844. Thereafter, Calhoun endured a decade of personal and political decline although he managed to win three terms as mayor of Springfield. There was little in the Massachusetts-born Calhoun's background to suggest that he would be the northern doughface who would open Kansas to southern slavery. In early December 1857, the Albany Atlas and Argus published a short article that attempted to establish political pedigree of the Massachusetts-born politician: "Wm. B. Calhoun of Springfield, Mass., the oldest brother of John Calhoun, has long been a prominent man in that State. Chas. Calhoun, another brother of John, was Clerk of the Senate of Massachusetts some fourteen or fifteen years; was also held in high esteem in his State for talents and unblemished character. A. H. Calhoun is known in this State as an editor, of some twenty years' standing, of a Whig paper, Clerk of the Senate, and Canal Appraiser, holding the latter office nine years. Henry Calhoun, another brother, has been for several years, and until this Fall, Deputy-Collector in the New York Custom-House. Rev. S. H. Calhoun, another brother, has for many years been absent in the Missionary service, and is now in Abish, on Mount Lebanon, in Syria."15 Johannsen noted that John "was the only member of his family to embrace the Democratic political faith."16
But in 1857, Calhoun had brought the family name into disrepute. The Democratic newspaper then stated: "Such is the President of the Kansas Convention, and such the stock of freemen he represents. He is an advocate of Freedom in Kansas; and his personal vote and influence will be given to bring Kansas into the Union as a Free State."17 By then, Calhoun was at the center of the national political hurricane in Kansas, where he was surveyor-general for Kansas and Nebraska and leader of the blatantly pro-slavery constitutional convention at Lecompton. The hurricane's center, argued historian James A. Rawley, was the issue of race and the way that "a blundering generation, flawed by its belief in the inferiority of the blacks amongst them" sought to reframe the nation's political debates along the lines of other issues like popular sovereignty or states' rights.18 Allan Nevins wrote: "As President John Calhoun brought down his gavel and proclaimed the termination of the convention, few would have thought that such a cheap, disorderly assemblage had carried the nation a long step nearer to civil war."19
John Calhoun has had his defenders in the years since his death. A sympathetic Roy Nichols wrote: "It seemed to be Calhoun's task, almost singlehanded, to find some means of securing submission" of the Lecompton constitution.20 A similarly sympathetic historian, Philip Shriver Klein, wrote: "Working frantically to prevent such a bombshell from landing on Buchanan's desk, Calhoun induced the convention to adjourn for a few days and reconsider the two-constitution scheme. Almost by a miracle, he persuaded the delegates to approve his proposal by a vote of 27 to 25."21 Historian Philip Auchampaugh argued that Calhoun "was shown beyond doubt, to have spoken and worked ardently up to the minute before the final vote was taken, for submission of the entire document to the voters, as the plan favored by the Administration...The issue hung on not more than three votes."22
For Douglas, the convention was an anathema because it did not embody his principle of popular sovereignty. For Lincoln, it was an anathema because it acceded to the spread of slavery. For Lincoln, union, equality and constitutional law were not divisible. As historian Herman Belz noted: "Lincoln's public life was dominated by confrontation with Democrat-party popular sovereignty, first in the controversy over the extension of slavery into the territories, and then in the secession crisis."23 He focused on these issues with laser-like concentration.
In September 1854, Lincoln had tested his political ideas regarding the extension of slavery and the equality clause of the Declaration of Independence in a debate with Calhoun, who was a trusted supporter of Senator Douglas and his Kansas-Nebraska Act. It was not a new theme for Lincoln. In 1852, Lincoln had referred to the Declaration as the country's bedrock: "Of our political revolution of '76, we all are justly proud. It has given us a degree of political freedom, far exceeding that of any other of the nations of the earth. In it the world has found a solution of that long mooted problem, as to the capability of man to govern himself. In it was the germ which has vegetated, and still is to grow and expand into the universal liberty of mankind."24 But the principles of the Declaration took on a new significance for Lincoln has he fought against the extension of slavery and the destruction of the equality principle of the Declaration.
After helping Douglas fight off Lincoln and his allies in 1854, Calhoun had moved to Kansas and became a central figure in the agitation over slavery that gripped that territory in the mid-1850s. Over the next three years, one governor after another tried without success to rein in the conflict between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces in the territory. Presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan joined Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in trying dispose of the issue of slavery - and only succeeded in highlighting it.
In Senator Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln had an opponent worthy of his talents. Iowa politician Joseph B. Grinnell described Douglas as "supreme in sociability, fertile in expedients, eloquent and fervid in discussions."25 Historian Allen C. Guelzo noted that "Douglas had emerged by the 1850s as the single greatest name in Democratic party politics."26 But Douglas was a man of intense contradictions, noted historian Allan Nevins: "We have the Douglas of prodigious energy, toiling on legislation until his health sank; we have the Douglas who threw his arms about low cronies in Washington barrooms." Nevins noted that Douglas "is the harder to understand because he never took pains to reveal himself. If ever a man was an extrovert, a believer in action, it was Douglas; if ever a man was a practised, fluent speaker, it was Douglas." But Nevins noted that Douglas did not commit his thoughts to paper - seldom writing even to close political associates. It is perhaps understandable, therefore, that there is no known correspondence between Douglas and John Calhoun for the critical months in 1857 when Calhoun thought he was doing Douglas's bidding in Kansas. Nevins noted that Douglas "never found time to express his inner self in letters or diary."27 As a result, Douglas's thinking is primarily understood through his speeches while Lincoln is known through his speeches, his letters, his state papers and the many recollections of his contemporaries.
With the exception of popular sovereignty, argued Nevins, Douglas's speeches are devoid of "a single statement or idea...that could be torn from its context and set up as a principle....he was totally incapable of writing a true state paper." As Nevins contended, Douglas was in this respect very different from the reflective and philosophical Abraham Lincoln. For deep ideas, Nevins wrote, Douglas substituted "three or four broad emotional beliefs: (1) "faith in the popular will; (2) "believe in national growth; and (3) "optimism respecting America."28 For Lincoln, Douglas represented shiny and superficially appealing approach to politics. Lincoln understood that Douglas's principle of popular sovereignty was a plausible but flawed approach to dealing with a moral problem such as slavery. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was the first act in the tragedy that Lincoln foresaw. The Dred Scott case of 1857 was the second act in the unfolding tragedy of slavery's nationalization. The ongoing conflicts in Kansas were the battleground for the third act culminating in the Lecompton Constitution. As one historian framed the situation in 1857: "The Dred Scott decision in fact whetted rather than satisfied Southern territorial appetites, and Kansas was still the only meal at hand....U.S. Land Surveyor John Calhoun...became the leader of proslavery forces in politics, brag, and intimidation. It was Douglas's protĂ©gĂ© Calhoun who presided over the writing of the Lecompton Constitution, with its careful provisions that he and his proslavery forces would supervise and count the vote."29 The tragedy of Lecompton could easily have been foreseen by Lincoln - but not by Douglas or Calhoun.
In 1857, Calhoun and Douglas played very different roles. Calhoun took on the cloak of the devil as the mastermind behind the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution controversy that split the Democratic Party and doomed Douglas's chances of becoming president. In response, Douglas played the heroic martyr. Historian Mark E. Neely wrote that Calhoun "had opposed the extreme proslavery forces in Kansas and acquiesced only reluctantly in the compromise of partial submission of the constitution."30 Although Calhoun has his defenders, most contemporaries and historians have generally blamed him for the chaos that ensued in 1857-58. Fewer have discussed Calhoun's pivotal role in breaking apart the Democrat party and the nation. Paul Simon, himself a 20th century senator from Illinois, wrote: "Calhoun's fraud had become a national scandal. But more important than that, Calhoun had been instrumental in splitting the Democratic party into Northern and Southern wings."31 In 1854 Lincoln had predicted what would happen if Calhoun took down the fences in the meadow that prevented slavery from entering new territories. Calhoun seemed determined to prove Lincoln right - that the extension of slavery would ensue in a country without fences to halt slavery's spread. As Nevins wrote, the Kansas-Nebraska Act "which Douglas had said would quiet sectional antagonisms, had increased them. That enactment, which he had declared would furnish a relatively quick, automatic, and natural solution of the slavery issue, had produced delays, artificial interventions, and endless broils. That bill, presented as an embodiment of justice, had fostered fraud, dishonesty, and outrage."32
Calhoun took the brunt of much of the abuse in the north for Lecompton. But even in the South he was denounced. After Calhoun certified some anti-slavery election results in the spring of 1858, the Charleston Mercury proclaimed: "Were not his pimpled and burnished hide tanned with the whiskey that he has for years been pouring down his open gullet, he would fall to pieces on the street."33
More important than Calhoun's vilification was the political ostracization of Senator Douglas - himself long a stalwart of Democratic loyalty. Biographer William Garrott Brown noted that in the late 1830s Douglas had "defended [President Martin] Van Buren's plan of a sub-treasury when many even of those who had supported Jackson's financial measures wavered in the face of the disfavor into which hard times had brought the party in power."34 Van Buren's policies had led to a financial recession in 1837 that made Democrats unpopular across the country, but Douglas stood by them. So had Calhoun. Two decades later under President James Buchanan, Calhoun's actions would make Douglas a Democratic outcast and Calhoun a northern villain. One biographer of James Buchanan wrote: "It was the ambition of Douglas, or perhaps his desire to sustain himself in Illinois....which fatally divided the Democracy."35 Equally plausibly, one can argue that it was Buchanan's and Douglas's myopia that led to the conflict.
But Douglas was also a victim of his own social extroversion. He thought his personal sociability and political loyalty merited the respect and friendship of southern Democrats. Too late, Douglas discovered that too many southerners and their northern allies simply did not like or trust him. Some simply thought him crass and had used him when he thought he was using them. In 1857, Douglas had been effectively frozen out of President Buchanan's inner circle - so that when the Lecompton crisis came, there were virtually no avenues of fruitful communication between Douglas and Buchanan, who was said to dislike his Illinois rival intensely. Douglas's sudden isolation was ironic because, as Johannsen noted "Many of Douglas's contemporaries agreed that he had leaned 'too far to the southern section' against the interests of his own. In fact, some argued that the 'attempt to destroy the government' which Douglas so strongly decried was indeed the result of his leaning 'too far' to the South. Ever since he had entered Congress eighteen years before, he had been attacked almost continuously by northern critics for turning his back on his own section in favor of pro-southern policies."36
Although for two decades John Calhoun was a Democratic ally of Douglas, ultimately it was Calhoun's actions in Kansas that helped destroy the presidential aspirations of Senator Douglas. In so doing, Calhoun's actions prepared the way for the climatic campaign debates between Lincoln and Douglas in 1858. Those debates in turn made Lincoln a dark horse candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. As Lincoln friend Isaac N. Arnold recalled the debates: "Each of these great men, I doubt not, at that time, sincerely believed he was right. Douglas' ardor, while in such a conflict, would make him think, for the time being, he was right, and I know that Lincoln argued for freedom against the extension of slavery with the most profound conviction that on the result hung the fate of his country, Lincoln had two advantages over Douglas; he had the best side of the question, and the best temper. He was always good humored, always had an apt story for illustration, while Douglas sometimes, when hard pressed, was irritable." Reflecting on the adversaries, the former Chicago congressman wrote
Douglas carried away the most popular applause, but Lincoln made the deeper and more lasting impression. Douglas did not disdain an immediate id captandium triumph, while Lincoln aimed at permanent conviction. Sometimes, when Lincoln's friends urged him to raise a storm of applause (which he could always do by his happy illustrations and amusing stories), he refused, saying the occasion was too serious, the issue too grave. 'I do not seek applause,' said he, 'nor to amuse the people, I want to convince them.'
"It was often observed, during this canvass, that while Douglas was sometimes greeted with the loudest cheers, when Lincoln closed, the people seemed solemn and serious, and could be heard, all through the crowd, gravely and anxiously discussing the topics on which he had been speaking.
Douglas secured the immediate object of the struggle, but the manly bearing, the vigorous logic, the honesty and sincerity, the great intellectual powers, exhibited by Mr. Lincoln, prepared the way, and, two years later, secured his nomination and election to the Presidency. It is a touching incident, illustrating the patriotism of both these statesmen, that, widely as they differed, and keen as had been their rivalry, just as soon as the life of the Republic was menaced, by treason, they joined hands to shield and save the country they loved."37
In most Lincoln and Douglas biographies, the incidents involving John Calhoun's relations with Lincoln and Douglas over a 25-year-period are generally dealt with in isolation - useful to provide some context and color for Lincoln's and Douglas's development - much like the grammar tutorials that New Salem resident Mentor Graham gave Lincoln or the incident where Douglas bit the thumb of Lincoln's law partner in a campaign altercation. Indeed, Calhoun can easily be pigeonholed as a forgettable bit player. The truth, however, is that for Abraham Lincoln, Calhoun was a formative character whose actions - and opposition - helped hone Lincoln's own thinking, rhetoric and action that made him a formidable political leader. They battled in debate and they probably also battled through the pages of the local Springfield papers - the Sangamo Journal and its successor the State Journal in Lincoln's case. For Calhoun, it was the Springfield Republican that he helped found and the State Journal with which it later merged.
Nothing Calhoun did during those two decades made Lincoln's nomination and election as president inevitable - but much that Calhoun did made Lincoln's presidency possible. Strangely, nothing Calhoun did erased Lincoln's respect for and gratitude to Calhoun. There is no extant correspondence between Calhoun and Lincoln over the last decade of Calhoun's life. But another Illinois lawyer, Usher Linder, also a Democrat who sided with Douglas against Lincoln over the issue of slavery, wrote President Lincoln: "I am constrained to beleeve [sic] friend Lincoln that you have ever cherished the kindest feelings for me, as I know I have for you, and although we have been often thrown in opposition to each other I think there has never been any thing said by either that has left a pang behind."38 One can imagine John Calhoun might have harbored feelings similar to those of Linder.
About a year before Lincoln was elected president in 1860, Calhoun died suddenly and mysteriously of strychnine poisoning. About 19 months later in June 1861, Douglas died after strenuously campaigning to support Lincoln's defense of the Union. By then, Douglas had experienced the disdain of the slaveocracy for about three years. He had become a political realist and a militant unionist. Lincoln's own stressful defense of the Union would ultimately be successful but be cut short by an assassin's bullet.
In the 1830s Douglas, Lincoln and Calhoun had all been ambitious young politicians in Springfield. Douglas had worked hard to advance politically. Calhoun had wanted to advance without working too hard. Rough and ready as a young politician, Lincoln nevertheless had valued his principles over his ambition. Unlike Calhoun and Douglas, Lincoln did not drink. Convivial as he was, Lincoln took time to think deeply and reflectively. In December 1839, while debating Calhoun and Douglas in Springfield, Lincoln had concluded his speech on the Subtreasury:
If ever I feel the soul within me elevate and expand to those dimensions not wholly unworthy of its Divine Architect, it is when I contemplate the cause of my country, deserted by all the world beside, and I standing up boldly and alone, hurling defiance at her victorious oppressors. Here, without contemplating consequences, before heaven and in the face of the world, I swear eternal fealty to the just cause, as I deem it, of the land of my life, my liberty, and my love. And who, that thinks with me, will not fearlessly adopt the oath I take! Let none falter who thinks he is right, and we may succeed. But if, after all, we shall fail, be it so; we still have the proud consolation of saying to our consciences, and to the departed shade of our country's freedom, that the cause approved of our judgments and adored of our hearts we never faltered in defending.39
In the years leading up to the Civil War, onetime Springfield attorney John Calhoun became "notorious" in the North.40 For a longtime political opponent like Abraham Lincoln, it would have been easy to denounce Calhoun for his leadership role in creating the 1857 Lecompton Constitution. Calhoun's friend and fellow Democrat, Stephen A. Douglas, had no problem disowning Calhoun. Republican Lincoln never did so. While Calhoun became a political pariah across the North, Lincoln continued to nurtured a great debt for Calhoun's help more 24 years earlier when Lincoln's economic fortunes in Illinois were at a low ebb. For two and a half decades after they met, the lives of Lincoln, Douglas and Calhoun repeatedly intersected in ways that ultimately would change the history of the United States.
"Mr. Lincoln never forgot or ceased to be grateful for [Calhoun's] kindness," wrote Chicago journalist John Locke Scripps, who wrote an 1860 campaign biography about the Republican presidential nominee. "Although he and Mr. Calhoun were ever afterwards political opponents, he always treated him fairly, placed the most charitable construction possible upon his actions, and never lost an opportunity to do a kindly act either for him or his family."41 The author of The History of the Early Settlers of Sangamon County wrote of Calhoun and Lincoln: "The chain of their friendship continued to the end of their lives, although they were ardent partizans of different schools in politics. President Lincoln has been heard to say that John Calhoun was the strongest man he had ever met on the stump; that he could manage Douglas, but that Calhoun always gave his hands full."42 Stephen Douglas apparently had similar respect for Calhoun. According to the recollections of one Kansan: "I have heard Stephen A. Douglas say that the only man he dreaded in a political debate was Calhoun."43
Twenty-seven months older than Lincoln, John Calhoun had been born and raised in Massachusetts - the son of a Boston merchant. In 1821 his family had moved to New York and in 1830 the 23-year-old Calhoun moved by himself to Springfield - arriving in the state just a year before Lincoln. Calhoun had begun to study law in New York, but the requirements to become a lawyer were much less stringent in Illinois. By December 1831, the 24-year-old had married Sarah Cutter and settled down in the future state capital.44
In 1833, the state's lower bar to the legal profession would prompt a twenty-year-old Stephen A. Douglas, also New England-born transplant, to leave New York for Illinois.45 He was admitted to the Illinois bar in March 1834 - more than two years before Abraham Lincoln. Douglas, a firm admirer of President Andrew Jackson, appropriately settled in Jacksonville, Illinois. The Vermont native half-heartedly pursued the practice of law and energetically pursued the practice of politics. Douglas would rise quickly in Democratic ranks - winning the posts of state prosecutor, state legislator, federal register of lands, state Democratic chairman, state secretary of state, and judge of the State Supreme Court within a six-year period. Douglas biographer James L. Huston cited three characteristics that accelerated Douglas's rise up the political ladder: "First, he was a genuinely friendly person who enjoyed conversation and conviviality....Second, he had skills that readily solved the problems of collective action. Douglas was excellent at writing and debating...Third, Douglas was a workaholic who enjoyed politics, speech making, and policy creation."46
John Calhoun settled in Springfield where he became a well-respected school teacher and eventually a politician.47 One of his students was Richard Yates, a future political opponent. Another was William H. Herndon, Lincoln's future law partner. Herndon recalled: "As an instructor he was the popular one of his day and age."48 Herndon described Calhoun as "a Yankee and a typical gentleman. He was brave, intellectual, self-possessed, and cultivated." The History of The Early Settlers of Sangamon County, Illinois described Calhoun as a "man of genial, hopeful, generous temperament; ever ready to serve of defend a friend, but rarely defending himself, except on the spur of the moment; of great ability, and for a time was the best political orator in the State of Illinois." The book described Calhoun as "a man of great intellect, and, when aroused, of unsurpassed ability as a political debater."49 Historian Michael Burlingame noted: "Better educated than Lincoln, Calhoun had devoted himself singlemindedly to the study of politics."50
Lincoln biographer Benjamin Thomas described Calhoun as "one of the most prominent Jacksonian politicians in the county."51 In his Lincoln biography, Ward Hill Lamon wrote that Calhoun "was one of the foremost chieftains of the political party which invariably carried the county and the district in which Mr. Lincoln lived."52 A Lincoln contemporary described Calhoun as "a man of first class ability but too indolent to be a leader." As a result, "he occupied a Subordinate position in his party."53 Subordinate, perhaps, but Calhoun was always ambitious for better paying, more secure jobs. He allied himself with similarly ambitious politicians and won appointment by the governor as the Sangamon County surveyor in 1833.54
Young Lincoln, then 21, had moved from Indiana to Illinois in 1830. Breaking off from his family the next year, he settled in a small community northwest of Springfield along the Sangamon River. The Kentucky native took up residence and business in New Salem - first as a store clerk and then as a store owner. Like Calhoun, Lincoln joined the militia to fight in the Black Hawk War in 1832.55 When Lincoln's New Salem store went bust the following year, he was in dire need of a new livelihood. At the behest of Democratic friends, Lincoln was appointed the village postmaster in 1833 and would be elected to the Legislature in 1834 as Whig. He was, however, in deep debt from the store collapse and very much needed the income he received from doing odd jobs in and around New Salem.
Lincoln's financial condition led a Sangamon Democrat named Pollard Simmons to take pity on him sometime in the second half of 1833.56 Simmons, a Kentucky-born farmer who had settled in Petersburg, north of New Salem, "loved Lincoln, who was very poor at that time, and he tried to get Lincoln in some business," recalled one contemporary.57 Lincoln biographer William H. Herndon wrote that Simmons "applied to Calhoun as the friend of Lincoln to give him a deputyship in the surveying business."58 Calhoun badly needed the help. Lincoln biographers John G. Nicolay and John Hay wrote that Calhoun "was at this time overburdened with work. The principal industry then was speculation in land. Every settler of course wanted his farm surveyed and marked out for him, and every community had its syndicate of leading citizens who cherished a scheme of laying out a city somewhere. In many cases the city was plotted, the sites of the principal buildings, including a court-house and a university, were determined, and a sonorous name was selected out of Plutarch, before its location was even considered. For this latter office the intervention of an official surveyor was necessary, and therefore Mr. Calhoun had more business than he could attend to without assistance."59 Historian Benjamin Thomas noted: "Surveying in those days...was an important and responsible job."60
"The recommendation of Lincoln's friends was sufficient to induce Calhoun to appoint him one of his deputies. At the time he received notice of his selection by Calhoun, Lincoln was out in the woods near New Salem," wrote Herndon."61 One contemporary remembered that after Calhoun was convinced to hire Lincoln, patron Simmons searched out Lincoln "whom he found in the woods mauling rails." Simmons announced: "Lincoln, I've got you a job." Lincoln responded: "Pollard, I thank you for your trouble, but now let me ask you a question - Do I have to give up any of my principles for this job[?] If I have to surrender any thought or principle to get it I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole." When Simmons told Lincoln that he would not have to compromise himself, Lincoln thanked Simmons and Calhoun for the opportunity they presented.62
Lincoln's known integrity and intelligence were his primary qualifications for the surveying job.63 Calhoun and Lincoln lived more than 20 miles apart and had apparently never previously met. Nor was Lincoln professionally prepared to begin his new job. Lacking basic knowledge of geometry and surveying, Lincoln allegedly asked New Salem friend Mentor Graham to help him with an intensive, two-month course in the fundamentals. "I taught him the rules of surveying," recalled Graham, who also helped Lincoln with the rules of grammar.64 Historian Michael Burlingame disputes this account, arguing: "Graham knew little math."65 Fortunately, Lincoln was a quick study and "mastered" the necessary skills, according to a Lincoln contemporary.66 "Calhoun furnished him with books, directing him to study them till he felt competent to begin work," wrote Herndon. Among the books Lincoln reviewed were System of Geometry and Trigonometry with a Treatise on Surveying by Abel Flint and Theory and Practice of Surveying by Robert Gibson.67 According to Burlingame, "Both books emphasized higher math, including logarithms, plane geometry, and trigonometry. It is not certain how much time Lincoln spent learning the art of surveying, but it was surely more than six weeks, as some have improbably asserted. He had studied the surveyor's art ever since mastering grammar."68 Despite his lack of formal education, Lincoln had a talent for the mathematics required to be a good surveyor. "His mind ran to mathematical exactness about things," recalled a fellow attorney. "Exactness in the statement of things was a peculiarity with him."69
"Lincoln was not a mathematician by nature, and hence, with him, learning meant labor," countered William Herndon. "Graham's daughter is authority for the statement that her father and Lincoln frequently sat up till midnight, engrossed in calculations, and only ceased when her mother drove them out after a fresh supply of wood for the fire."70 Writing of himself in the third person, Lincoln later recalled: "He accepted, procured a compass and chain, studied Flint, and Gibson a little, and went at it. This procured bread, and kept soul and body together."71 Lincoln's diligence in his studies was such that friends worried about his health; they "noticed that he was so emaciated we feared he might bring on mental derangement."72
Before starting work, Lincoln reported to the home of his new boss. Lincoln "called on Calhoun, then living with his father-in-law, Seth R. Cutter, on Upper Lick Creek. After the interview was concluded, Mr. Lincoln, about to depart, remarked: 'Calhoun, I am entirely unable to repay you for your generosity at present. All that I have you see on me, except a quarter of a dollar in my pocket.'" Calhoun's sister-in-law, then 16, recalled this incident. After Lincoln's departure, she and Calhoun's wife joked "about his uncanny appearance." John Calhoun interjected: "For all that, he is no common man."73
Because Sangamon County was then much bigger than it was later, Lincoln was assigned to survey its northern area - what became Menard County. "When a friend told him he needed a horse, Lincoln demurred, saying he 'was somewhat of a 'hoss' himself,'" wrote Burlingame. "For a time he borrowed a mount from Jack Armstrong; eventually he bought one, along with a bridle and saddle, on credit."74 It is uncertain when Lincoln began his new duties but his first survey - for Russell Godbey - was registered on January 14, 1834.75 Lincoln was paid with two buckskins.76 Lincoln's business misfortunes caught up to him, however. Peter Van Bergen sued Lincoln for payment of the financial notes Lincoln had signed for the debts of his failed general store in New Salem. In a judgment issued against Lincoln, Lincoln's horse and surveying tools were put up for auction to pay his debts. Friend Jimmy Short, a farmer in the New Salem area, bid on the lot and returned them to Lincoln, who would have been unable to pursue his new livelihood without them.
Lincoln's new occupation was hard. Friends furnished Lincoln with lodging as he moved about the county. Elizabeth Abell, a neighborhood friend whose sister would later briefly become engaged to Lincoln, wrote that she "got acquainted with [Lincoln when] he stayed at our house on the bluff when he was surveying all those Hills between us and Petersburg our oldest boy carryed the Chain for him." She remembered that "when Lincoln would come in at night all ragged and scratch up with the Bryers he would laugh over it and say that was a poore mans lot[.] I told him to get me a buck skin and I would fix him so the Bryers would not scratch him he done so and I Foxd, his pants for him."77
By all reports, Lincoln was skilled at his job. A Petersburg lawyer recalled that Lincoln "[w]as a good surveyor - found as many old corners as any one."78 Lincoln contemporary Robert L. Wilson recalled: "At that early period the Set[t]lers made it a point to Secure choice lots of timber land, to go with their pra[i]rie land, often not entering the pra[i]rie part of the farm until it had been under cultivation long enough to make the money of the land to enter it. But the timber lots had to be Surveyed for the purpose of entering them, but also to protect from trespass by cutting[.] To accomplish this, lines must be run and clearly marked."79 Herndon wrote: "It has never been denied that his surveys were accurate and just, and he was so manifestly fair that he was often chosen to settle disputed questions of corners and measurements."80
By nature, Lincoln was careful. "Surveying was an excellent occupation for Lincoln; it gave him a chance to exercise his passion for precision - and he was willing to take time to insure precision," wrote biographer Ida Tarbell. "He did not like to guess, to decide until he was confident he was right. It is said that no survey of his has ever been changed...he steadily improved in map-making and in note-taking; that a comparison of his maps and plans shows clearly - also we know that his reputation for skill and accuracy became such that he was sometimes sent for in disputes outside of his territory."81 According to contemporary Robert L. Wilson: "Mr[.] Lincoln had the monopoly of finding the lines, and when any dispute arose among the Settlers, Mr Lincolns Compass and chain always settled the matter satisfactorily. He was a good woods man. at home in the dense forest."82
"His instruments were few and simple; contemporaries have said that his first chain was a grape-vine," wrote Lincoln friend and biographer Noah Brooks. "But maps and plots of land surveyed by Lincoln, still extant, show a neatness and semblance of accuracy that testify to the rigid care that he always exercised in all his work."83 This work played an important role in Mr. Lincoln's political development, according to historian Kenneth J. Winkle. "Surveying took Lincoln up to one hundred miles from New Salem, so he met people, and made friends over a much wider area. All but the smallest jobs took at least two days, and marking off a new townsite could occupy months, so Lincoln boarded with local families until the work was done."84 Lincoln contemporary Isaac N. Arnold wrote that Lincoln's "work was so accurate, and the settlers had such confidence in him, that he was much sought after to survey, fix and mark the boundaries of farms, and to plot and lay off new towns and villages. Among others, he plotted and laid off the town of Petersburg....He did not speculate in the land he surveyed. Had he done so, the rapid advance in the value of real estate would have made it easy for him to make good investments. But he was not in the least like one of his appointees when President - a surveyor-general of a western territory, who bought up much of the best land, and to whom the President said: 'I am told, sir, you are monarch of all you survey.'"85
Surveying, moreover, served as a prelude to Lincoln's entry into the legal profession. According to Winkle, "Lincoln became privy to land deals, both large and small, throughout the region. He routinely witnessed deeds, mediated disputes, and settled lawsuits between property owners."86 Lincoln not only was technically proficient; he also had a remarkable memory for the work he completed. One 15-year-old acquaintance of Abraham Lincoln recalled driving Mr. Lincoln on an 1858 campaign trip: "The details of the trip I have entirely forgotten, except that I remember we passed through a region with which he was very familiar from his youthful experience as a surveyor, and on several occasions he stopped the buggy and laughingly asked me to go to a little distance in the woods where I would find a blazed tree, which he described, and which he had marked as a survey corner. As I say, he did this several times and never made a mistake."87
Although Lincoln was precise in his work, he was not unfeeling about its consequences. "While platting Petersburg, Lincoln changed a line as an act of kindness to Jemima Elmore, widow of a member of the company he had commanded in the Black Hawk War," wrote historian Michael Burlingame. "He calculated that if he ran a street in the usual fashion it would slice a few feet off the end of Mrs. Elmore's house, which was all she owned or was ever likely to own. Lincoln said: 'I reckon it won't hurt anything out here if I skew the line a little.' Lincoln's work in laying out New Boston earned high praise from Peter Van Bergen, who had invested money to develop the site. 'Mr. Lincoln was a good surveyor,' Van Bergen said: 'he did it all himself, without help from anybody except chainmen &c. and also made a plat of it.' The founders of Huron liked his work so much that they allegedly offered him $5,000 to establish a store there."88 Lincoln's daily rate appears to have been $3.00, according to a bill submitted in 1834 for work on a road in Sangamon County.89 But, noted biographer Ida Tarbell, "even three dollars a day did not enable him to meet all his financial obligations. The heavy debts of the store hung over him. He was obliged to help his father's family. The long distances he had to travel in his new employment had made it necessary to buy a horse, and for it he had gone into debt."90
When Lincoln began his surveying career, there was a land boom underway in Illinois. The speculation was spurred by the financial policies of President Andrew Jackson. Stephen Douglas wrote in 1834, shortly after he arrived in Illinois: "Towns are being laid out every few days, and lots sold for a mere trifle which soon become valuable. Money makes the more go, and will command anything."91 The policies of the Jackson Administration - first removing federal funds from the Bank of the United States and then enacting the Specie Circular - spurred a massive speculation in land, especially in the Old Northwest Historian Walter A. McDougall wrote: " Sales of public land in the Mississippi Valley soared from 4 million acres in 1834 to 20 million in 1836...Jackson sponsored the Distribution Act of 1836 authorizing the Treasury to lend the surplus to state governments promoting internal improvements. All that did was to encourage boosters in Indiana, Illinois and elsewhere to launch impossibly ambitious canal and railroad projects. It almost goes without saying that the loans were never repaid."92 Central Illinois had big dreams - but it would take more than a decade for their visions of extensive railroad connections to be realized. Lincoln, Douglas, and Calhoun would all be backers in 1837 of the ambitious internal improvements plan passed by the State Legislature - a plan which quickly bankrupted the state coffers.
Honesty, not greed, was the hallmark of Lincoln's work as a surveyor just as it later would for his later work as a lawyer. Herndon noted that "with all his knowledge of lands and their value and the opportunities that lay open to him for profitable and safe investments, he never made use of the information thus obtained from official sources, nor made a single speculation on his own account."93 According to historian Kenneth Winkle, however, Lincoln was not completely immune to the frenzy of land speculation that accompanied the potential development of public transportation. "Lincoln himself bought one share of stock in the proposed Beardstown and Sangamon Canal and forty-seven acres of land near Huron. Like many other 'paper towns,' however, neither the canal nor the town ever materialized, and the meticulously subdivided land reverted back to farming. In all, Lincoln divided at least five new towns into lots for various speculators. He thus became involved in the buying and selling of land, rather than simply working it with an axe or a hoe, and he began to invest in local real estate."94 In 1836 Lincoln had bought land along the Sangamon River and sold it soon thereafter. He then bought two lots in Springfield which he again he soon sold for a profit. He bought a few other properties in Springfield - holding them for a longer period. While Lincoln's real estate investments were modest for the period, during the 1850s he would become more active in making profitable loans secured by mortgages.95
Lincoln had other ambitions, however. While he surveyed the present in the mid-1830s, he was also studying law to prepare for his future.96
The Political Debates of the 1830s
In the 1832 elections, Sangamon County had trended Democratic, electing one future Whig (John Todd Stuart) and three Jacksonian Democrats (including Peter Cartwright, who in 1846 would be defeated by Lincoln for Congress) to the State House of Representatives for two-year terms. Party labels would only truly solidify in Illinois after 1836; these early contests reflected politicians' attitudes toward President Andrew Jackson, Senator Henry Clay, and the policies they advocated.
Lincoln's 1832 candidacy for the State House of Representatives had been advanced by friends. He had initially been reluctant to run, "avvering [sic] that it was impossible to be elected. It was suggested that a canvass of the County would bring him prominently before the people and in time would do him good. He reluctantly yielded to the solicitations of his friends, and made a partial canvas. The result, though he was defeated was highly gratifying to him and astonished even his most ardent admirers," recalled New Salem resident Robert B. Rutledge.97 Future law partner Stephen T. Logan heard Lincoln speak in Springfield just before the election and recalled that the "gawky" Lincoln did not make a good first impression: "But after he began speaking I became very much interested in him. He made a very sensible speech...and I thought he did it very well."98 Another New Salem resident recalled: "Mr Lincoln was in favor of Henry Clay in 1832[,] voted for him during that memorable campaign, though the New Salem precinct was largely for Jackson such was his personal popularity that he obtained a majority, verry many Jackson men of the most violent party feelings voting for him, on the grounds they believed him an honest and worthy young man."99 This political campaign lasted less than two weeks because Lincoln and several other candidates had been away at the Black Hawk War from April to mid-July. Still, it was a spirited race. Lincoln ran eighth among 13 candidates but did very well in the New Salem area where he was known; Lincoln claimed that he won 277 of 284 votes there. Only Lincoln's friend John Todd Stuart was elected as an anti-Jackson man in the county.100
By the summer 1834, Lincoln was better known (in part because of his surveying work) and better prepared for the legislative campaign. Even local Democrats wanted him to run as part of their ticket.101 Attorney Stephen T. Logan recalled: "In 1832 while he got a very large vote in his own precinct of New Salem, they hadn't voted for him very well in other parts of the county. This made his friends down there very mad, and as they were mostly democratic, but were for Lincoln on personal grounds, in the next race (1834) they told their democratic brethren in the other parts of the county that they must help elect Lincoln, or else they wouldn't support the other democratic candidates."102
Historian Michael Burlingame wrote that Lincoln "stumped extensively, staying with friends like Abner Y. Ellis in Springfield....Lincoln's personal qualities appealed to the voters, especially his geniality and humor, both of which were highly prized by frontiersmen, and he was gifted in the art of calling on people in their homes."103 One initially skeptical observer concluded after listening to Lincoln that he "knew more than all the other candidates put together."104 Burlingame noted: "He was folksy and congenial, and he made people feel he was one of them - clearly, a smarter version of them, but one of them nonetheless."105
"I accompanied him on one of his electionarying [sic] trips to the Island Grove and he Make a Speach which pleased his party friends Very Well indeed - though some of the Jackson Men tried to Make sport of him. He told several anecdotes in his Speach and applyed them as I thought Verry Well," remembered Sangamon merchant Abner Y. Ellis.106 As Ellis later reconstructed a speech, Lincoln said: "Gentlemen and fellow citizens I presume you all Know who I am I am humble Abraham Lincoln I have been Solicited by Many freinds [sic] to become a candidate for the Legislature My politicks are short and sweet like the old Womans dance. I am in favor of a National bank. I am in favor of the internal improvement system and a high protective Tariff - These are my sentiments and politicle [sic] principles if Elected I shall be thankful if not it will be all the Same."107
After Democrats approached Lincoln about supporting him, Lincoln warned Stuart that Democrats were seeking to unseat his friend.108 Stuart, whose nickname was "Jerry Sly," told Lincoln to take their help and that Stuart "would risk it." Stuart in turn concentrated on defeating Democrat Richard Quinton, who finished in the fifth and losing position behind Stuart. In the August 4 election, Lincoln came in second, just 14 votes behind the top vote-getter and 112 votes ahead of fourth-place Stuart.109 Lincoln's support crossed the growing divide between Whigs and Democrats.110 Again, Lincoln did very well in New Salem, collecting 250 of 288 votes. Biographer Benjamin Thomas noted "that there was no presidential contest in 1834 tended to subordinate national and partisan issues and make personal popularity a more important factor."111 Lincoln's popularity had spread.
Lincoln wasn't rigidly partisan in this period. In an August 1835 special election for two State Senate seats vacated by George Forquer and E. D. Taylor, Lincoln voted for Democrat John Calhoun over a fellow Springfield merchant Archer Herndon, whose political allegiances fell somewhere between the Whigs and the Democrats. Herndon, who narrowly prevailed, was the father of future Lincoln law partner William Herndon. (In the other special election for the State Senate that was held the same day, Lincoln voted for Whig Job Fletcher over Methodist minister Peter Cartwright. Fletcher was a more personable figure than the ascerbic Herndon.112) The presidential preferences of Calhoun and Herndon became a key issue in the short but nasty campaign. "In late July Herndon produced evidence proving that...Calhoun...had actually voted for Clay in the 1832 election. Congressman [William] May then personally entered the fray by publicly reading private letters Herndon had sent him. The correspondence implied that Herndon would back the candidate for president who offered him the greatest reward."113
When Lincoln had first run for the State House in 1832, Archer Herndon had criticized Lincoln as an "interloper." Another member of the Herndon family remembered Lincoln delivering a stinging rebuke to Herndon, saying that if he failed five or six times in an effort to win election, he would consider it a disgrace and be sure "never to try it again."114 So, Lincoln's vote for the State Senate may have been simultaneously for Calhoun and against Herndon.115 Archer's campaign attack on Calhoun for allegedly voting for Henry Clay in the 1832 presidential election may also have influenced Lincoln, who later called Clay his "beau ideal of a statesman."116
In addition to providing for his livelihood in the mid-1830s, Lincoln may have benefitted from his relationship to Calhoun in other, less pecuniary ways. "Calhoun and Lincoln frequently talked politics," noted historian Don E. Fehrenbacher.117 Springfield attorney Milton Hay contended that "John Calhoun was something of a factor in his [Lincoln's] political education. Calhoun in his late years from habits of dissipation became a moral and political wreck, a tool merely to aid the iniquities of Douglas and Buchanan in Kansas, but at the period to which I refer he was justly regarded as the strongest man intellectually in the Democratic ranks. He had not the declamatory power of Douglas, but in the clear statement of political issues and logical argument thereon he was greatly his superior, and this was Mr. Lincoln's estimate of the two men. Calhoun was specially strong in...colloquial street corner discussions... It was in these colloquial discussions that Calhoun and Lincoln not infrequently engaged. Like Lincoln he could fairly state his opponent's side of the question, and argue with fairness and preserve his temper. His educational qualifications had been better than Mr. Lincoln's, and politics seemed to be his only study. I have never heard the argument so effectively put against a protective tariff as Calhoun could put it. Frequent contact and conflict with such an opponent must have had its educational influence on Mr. Lincoln."118
In 1835, the post of county surveyor was switched from an appointive to an elective position. In the same August election (in which Calhoun was running for the State Senate), Lincoln voted for Thomas M. Neale, an anti-Van Buren Democrat, over two other candidates for surveyor. The Virginia-born lawyer was a Black War veteran who had lost a campaign for the State House of Representatives in 1832, when he ran behind Lincoln. Neale had lost again in 1834 when he won less than half the votes of Lincoln.119 He subsequently an active land speculator and served as Sangamon County surveyor until he died in August 1840.120 Neale, like Lincoln, was a longtime supporter of Henry Clay and the recharter of the Second Bank of the United States.121 Neale, who had been the chief deputy to Calhoun, kept both Lincoln and Calhoun as his deputies.122 On September 12, 1835, the Sangamo Journal printed a "Surveyor's Notice" from Neale: "I have appointed John B. Watson, Abram Lincoln, and John Calhoun deputy surveyors for Sangamon County. In my absence from town, any persons wishing their land surveyed will do well to call at the Recorder's office and enter his or their names in a book left for that purpose, stating township and range in which they respectively live, and their business shall be promptly attended to."123
In the 1836 elections Lincoln and Calhoun competed directly for Sangamon's seven seats in the State House of Representatives. Although Lincoln and Calhoun may have earlier crossed rhetorical swords, their first known confrontation was a six-way debate at the Sangamon County Court House on July 11. Lincoln responded - as he often would in subsequent years - to a speech given by Calhoun. Calhoun spoke fourth and Lincoln spoke fifth in the series. The local Whig newspaper, the Sangamo Journal, reported: "Mr. Lincoln succeeded Mr. Calhoun. At first he appeared embarrassed, and his air was such as modest merit always lends to one who speaks of his own acts. He claimed only so much credit as belonged to one of the members of the last Legislature, for getting the State out of debt. He next came to Mr. Calhoun and the land bill. At one fell stroke, he broke the ice upon which we have seen Mr. Calhoun standing, and left him to contend with the chilling waters and merciless waves. His speech became more fluent, and his manner more easy as he progressed. In these degenerate days it seems to be the fashion of the day for all parties to admire even the frailties of the administration. The Van Buren men, particularly, are even taking shelter like ghosts under the rotten bones and tombstones of the dead acts of the administration. Mr. Lincoln, however, lifted the lid and exposed to the eye the wretched condition of some of the acts of the Van Buren party. A girl might be born and become a mother before the Van Buren men will forget Mr. Lincoln. From beginning to end Mr. Lincoln was frequently interrupted by loud bursts of applause from a generous people."124 (When he announced his candidacy for reelection, Lincoln had declared himself a supporter of "Hugh L. White for President." Historian Kenneth Winkle noted: "This act clearly distinguished him as an Anti-Jacksonian and suggests his growing commitment not only to issues but to a party and party organization."125)
Lincoln biographer John L. Scripps wrote that Lincoln's reply to Dr. Jacob M. Early, a Methodist preacher, "achieved a signal victory over the acknowledge champion of Democracy" and "placed himself, by a single effort, in the very front rank of able and eloquent debaters."126 Lincoln neighbor John B. Weber remembered that Lincoln's speech against Early, under whom Lincoln had served in the Black Hawk War in 1832, was the "best" of the day: "I thought & felt that day that Lincoln was a young man of Superior intellect: he polite & courteous." Weber noted that Lincoln debated with "ability & honesty - more so than other politicians of the d[a]y. His candor and fairness - his Courteousy [sic] gained by Confidence."127
Joshua F. Speed, who became Lincoln's closest friend, recalled his impression of Lincoln in that campaign when he confronted Democrat George Forquer shortly after the former Springfield newspaper editor resigned his State Senate seat to take over the lucrative position of registrar in the Springfield land office. Speed said: "I was then fresh from Kentucky, and had heard many of her great orators. It seemed to me then, as it seems to me now, that I never heard a more effective speaker. He carried the crowd with him and swayed them as he pleased. So deep an impression did he make, that George Forquer, a man of much celebrity as a sarcastic speaker and great State reputation as an orator, rose and asked the people to hear him. He commenced his speech by saying that this young man would have to be taken down, and he was sorry that the task devolved upon him. He made what was called one of his slasher-gaff speeches, dealing much in ridicule and sarcasm. Lincoln stood near him with his arms folded, never interrupting him. When Forquer was done Lincoln walked to the stand, and replied so fully and completely that his friends bore him from the court-house on their shoulders."
Speed remembered that Lincoln concluded his counterattack on Forquer by referencing the former Whig's changed political allegiances and improved economic standing: "The gentleman commenced his speech by saying that this young man will have to be taken down, and he was sorry that the task devolved upon him. I am not so young in years as I am in the tricks and trades of a politician; but, live long, or die young, I would rather die now, than, like the gentleman, change my politics, and simultaneous with the change receive an office worth $3,000 per year, and then have to erect a lightning-rod over my house to protect a guilty conscience from an offended God."128 (The position to which Lincoln referred was the highly coveted job of registrar in the federal Land Office in Springfield.)
Lincoln scholar Paul Simon, who himself served in the U.S. Senate from Illinois, maintained: "Campaigning took Lincoln to any small gathering of people who would listen....Sometimes he would walk more than five miles to appear at a gathering."129 It was a rough campaign - rhetorically and physically. Lincoln friend James Gourley recalled that at one campaign appearance in Mechanicsburg, there was a fight. "Lincoln jumped in and Saw fair play," he recalled. In the final rally in Springfield, again at the county courthouse, Lincoln's future brother-in-law, Ninian W. Edwards, got into a dispute with Dr. Early, and Early challenged him to a duel. Gourley recalled Edwards drawing "a pistol on Achilles Morris."130 Early was a disputatious character "who had earned the epithet 'the fighting parson' for his habit of resigning his pastorate in order to fight duels that never quite came off."131
Sangamon County was "then was about as large at the State of Rhode Island," recalled Robert L. Wilson, one of the seven Whig candidates in the election.132 It had to have been an exhausting campaign as the Whig speakers alternated with the Democrats around the county. The winning "Long Nine" - two Whig senators in addition to the seven Whig representatives - were easily recognizable by their height.133 Altogether, noted one Whig, they "measured fifty four feet high."134 As Wilson remembered the election three decades later:
The campaign commenced about six weeks before the election, which under the old Constitution was held on the first Monday of August. Appointments being made and published in the Sangamo Journal and the State Register, the organs of the Parties then. We traveled on horseback from one grove to another - the pra[i]ries then were entirely unoccupied - The Speaking would begin in the forenoon, the candidates Speaking alternately until all who could Speak his turn, generally consuming the whole afternoon. The discussions were upon National and State questions, prominant [sic] among which were the Subject of a National Bank, and the Tariff, and a general System of internal improvement, by the State and the finishing the Illinois and Michigan Canal, then in progress of construction -
Mr Lincoln took a leading part, espouseing [sic] the Whig side of all those questions, manifesting Skill and tact in offensive and defensive debates, presenting the arguments with great force and ability, and boldly attacking the questions and positions taken by opposing Candidates.
The Saturday preceding the election, the Candidates were addressing the People in the Court House in Springfield. Dr. [Jacob Early] one of the Candidates on the Democratic Side made some charge that N. W. Edwards one of the Whig Candidates deemed untrue, climbed on a table so as to be seen by Dr Early and ever[r]y one in the house, and at the top of his voice told Early that the charge was false. The excitement that followed was intense, so much so, that fighting men [thought] that a duel must Settle the difficulty, Mr Lincoln by the programme followed Earley, he took up the subject in dispute and handled it fairly, and with such ability, that every one was astonished, and pleased. So that difficulty ended there. Then first time develloped [sic] by the excitement of the occasion he spooke [sic] in that tenor intonation of voice that ultimately settled down into that clear Shrill monotone Style of Speaking, that enabled his audience, however large, to hear disti[n]ctly the lowest Sound of his voice.135
Unlike the first Springfield debate, Lincoln did not concentrate on Calhoun in this confrontation. John Weber, then a Democrat who become a Republican in the 1850s, recalled "The Speech that Lincoln made was made on the current politics of the day and Especially against Doct[.] Early. Lincoln was the best Speaker, that d[a]y. I thought & felt that day that Lincoln was a young man of Superior intellect: he polite and courteous - debated the ability & honesty - more so than other politicians of the d[a]y."136 Joshua Speed recalled: "The crowd was large....I remember that his speech was a very able one, using with great power and originality all the arguments then used to sustain the principles of the Whig party, as against its great rival the Democratic party of that day - The speech produced a profound impression - The Crowd was with him."137
In the August 1 election, the voters were with Lincoln. He led the Whig ticket with 1716 votes while Calhoun led the losing Democratic ticket with 1278 votes and Early followed with 1194.138 The Whig "Long Nine" swept the election in Sangamon County. According to Benjamin T. Thomas, "Party discipline was stricter by this time and the Democrats did not offer him their organized support. But the returns show that many of his Democratic friends again voted for him. In New Salem, his 107 votes were 23 more than the number polled by...the next highest candidates."139
Lincoln was also apparently active in a presidential contest for the first time, using the pages of the Sangamo Journal to attack the local supporters of Vice President Martin Van Buren. Andy Van Meter, who chronicled the history of Sangamon's newspapers, wrote: "The Journal's February 20 issue published a letter that had animated the August local elections. The letter, written in frontier dialect, purported to be a communication from the Republican's editor, George R. Weber, to his chief in Washington, Congressman William L. May. The epistle was signed 'Johnny Blubberhead,' but everyone in town knew that the actual author was Abraham Lincoln. In the letter, the editor of the Republican reports that he has 'got clean out of writing' and requests 'instructions' from Washington. Blubberhead worries that Congressman May's man 'Friday,' John Calhoun, has bumped his head and 'hurt his eyedear.' Just the other day Blubberhead had heard Calhoun talking to himself: 'He said if took $200 twas nobody's business; he needed it - he'd worked for the party - and he'd be (and then he used an awful word) if he didn't blow up the whole party if they didn't do something for. He said...tho you promised so fine you never performed the paying part.'"
Van Meter continued: "The ridiculous caricature of editor Weber then warns the congressman that his 'successor,' George Forquer, the present registrar of the land office, has declared 'upon his honor as a politician that he won't pay another cent for printing presses - so you can't get no more from him.' Blubberhead closes by admonishing chief not to pull 'none of your old Edwardsville tricks,' a veiled reference to a quashed indictment for lechery and theft that lay buried in the congressman's past." Wisely perhaps, May did not return from Washington to campaign in the vast district. He triumphed over Lincoln's friend, John Todd Stuart, by 1500 votes.140
Calhoun did not take well his narrow campaign loss of 1836. The 1837 legislature took up two important bills - one a controversial bill to spend $14 million of state bonds on internal improvements. The second was a bill to relocate the state capital from Vandalia to another town. The "Long Nine" legislators from Sangamon County were united in their efforts to move the capital to Springfield. Not so Calhoun. According to historian Theodore Calvin Pease: "In revenge for [the] complete overthrow the democratic opponents, John Calhoun and his friends, attempted to defeat the Springfield project, some of them lobbying for Peoria and some for Illiopolis, a town set near the center of the state."141 The Sangamo Journal editorialized about Calhoun in July 1837: "To a citizen of our town while at Vandalia last winter, he declared emphatically, that he owed the people of Sangamon nothing; that he had been badly used by the county, and in return, he was against the county; that he never would be a candidate again, and swore by his God that he would remember the course of the county towards him."142 It would not be the only time that Calhoun was accused of forgetting the political interests of his home town.
Stephen A. Douglas, then 23, was also elected to the state legislature in 1836 - from smaller Morgan County. An outspoken defender of the policies of Andrew Jackson, Douglas was a natural campaigner. Unlike Lincoln, Douglas apparently had no difficulty "treating" voters to liquor.143 "The years 1836 and '37 were a sort of formation period; the starting point of many great men who distinguished themselves in the subsequent history of Illinois," recalled attorney Usher Linder, a Democratic legislator who served as state attorney general in 1837-39. Linder wrote that when he met Douglas, "[h]e looked like a boy, with his smooth face and diminutive proportions, but when he spoke in the House of Representatives, as he often did in 1836 and '37, he spoke like a man, and loomed up into the proportions of an intellectual giant, and it was at that session he got the name of the 'Little Giant,' by which he was called all over the Union til the day of his death..."144 Linder remembered that Douglas "was a very ready and expert debater, even at that early period of his life. He and Lincoln were very frequently pitted against each other, being of. different politics. They both commanded marked attention and respect from the House."145 Both Lincoln and Douglas supported the internal improvements which passed in February - to the state's great economic regret. Douglas, however, maintained, that the state's obligations under the legislation were far greater than he thought wise.
In mid-1837, one of Lincoln's House colleagues, Dan Stone, resigned to become a circuit court judge In the special election to fill the seat, Calhoun ran for the Democrats and Lincoln's friend Edward D. Baker ran for the Whigs. Lincoln did not vote. Benjamin T. Thomas noted: "By this time his position in the Whig party was such that if he voted he must cast his ballot for Baker, but knowing that he would be elected anyway he may have refrained from voting against his friend, Calhoun." Thomas noted that Calhoun supported the creation of a new county in northern Sangamon while Baker opposed the proposition; the Lincoln biographer wrote that "a vote for Baker would have been interpreted as a vote against division, and would have weakened his position among his old friends in the northern precincts."146 Calhoun lost again - by a margin of 1178-872. It was the first, but not the last time Calhoun would lose to Baker, who remained a close Lincoln friend until his battlefield death in 1861.
In the summer of 1838 Lincoln seemed to devote more time to his law practice than politics. Robert Wilson recalled: "A question of the division of the County was one of the local issues. Mr Lincoln and myself among others, residing in the portion of the county sought to be organized into a new County, and opposing the division, [i]t became necessary I should make a special canvas, through the North West part of the County, then known as Sand ridge. I made the canvass. Mr. Lincoln accompanied me being personally acquainted with every one. We called at nearly every house."147 This was the area where Lincoln had done much of his earlier surveying. Kenneth Winkle noted: "For years, Sangamon County's small-town and rural residents had proposed dividing the county into several smaller ones."148 Van Meter noted that the Whig leaders of Sangamon County such as Journal editor Simeon Francis "had invested heavily in Springfield and built up a strong Whig party. They had fought hard to secure the state capital, and they were going to oppose any attempt to diminish their growing town's importance."149 Lincoln was active, however, in writing anonymous letters for the Sangamon Journal attacking Democrats in the presidential election and on the local political issues.
On August 6, Lincoln again was the top vote getter for the State House of Representatives in Sangamon County with 1803 votes. This time, however, Calhoun won election with 1711 votes - he was the only Democrat to defeat a Whig in Sangamon County. The "Long Nine" were hurt by their support for division of Sangamon County. Lincoln's votes were now more partisan that personal. Paul Simon noted: "In the State Senate race between his friends 'Whiggish' Archer G. Herndon, one of the Long Nine, and Democrat Bowling Green, who had helped Lincoln get his political start at New Salem, Lincoln voted for Herndon."150 Green, for whom Lincoln had a deep affection, lost to Herndon by a margin of just 47 votes.151
Historian Mark E. Neely noted that once both were members of the state legislature, Calhoun and Lincoln differed strongly on slavery. The Massachusetts native defended slavery while the Kentucky native attacked it. On March 3, 1837, Lincoln and fellow Whig legislator Dan Stone had presented a "protest" against slavery:
Resolutions upon the subject of domestic slavery having passed both branches of the general Assembly at its present session, the undersigned hereby protest against the passage of the same.
They believe that the institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy; but that the promulgation of abolition doctrines tend rather to increase than to abate its evils.
They believe that the Congress of the United States has no power, under the constitution, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the different States.
They believe that the Congress of the United States has the power, under the constitution, to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia; but that that power ought not to be exercised unless at the request of the people of said District.
The difference between these opinions and those contained in the said resolutions, is their reason for entering this protest.152
The slavery controversy heated up again later in the year. The proximate cause for the debate was the controversy engendered by anti-slavery editor Elijah Lovejoy and his murder by a pro-slavery mob in November 1837. In the aftermath noted historian Robert W. Johannsen, many abolition petitions, most of them endorsing the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, were received by the legislature from over the state. In response to these petitions, Calhoun introduced a set of resolutions declaring that Illinois should openly announce its position on the slavery question. He maintained that Congress had no power to abolish slavery in the district of Columbia or in the territories of the United States, nor could the government halt the slave trade between the states; the question of slavery, he added, should not be a factor in the admission of a state into the Union." Historian Mark Neely wrote: "Lincoln voted to table Calhoun's resolutions denying that Congress could abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, stating no objection to the annexation of Texas or the addition of slave states to the Union, and condemning the repeal of laws 'which graduate the right of the citizens by the color of the skins.'"153 Johannsen wrote: "Action on Calhoun's resolutions was adverse, but his statements placed him clearly within the states rights philosophy of the Democratic party and forecast the position he was to assume later in the 1850s."154
The 1838 Congressional Election
Another approaching election in August 1838 overshadowed that for the State Legislature. Calhoun's Democratic friend, Stephen A. Douglas, held two jobs - state representative and register of the federal Land Office in Springfield. George Forquer, the Springfield Democrat whom Lincoln had lambasted after he got the land office job, had died. Douglas had been appointed land register in March1837 after the conclusion of the state legislative session in which he had backed Circuit Court Judge Richard M. Young for election as U.S. Senator. There was an apparent quid pro quo. "Young had secured Douglas's appointment," according to biographer Robert W. Johannsen. Douglas took up residence in Springfield. Just as Lincoln became an habitue of the Sangamo Journal, Douglas became a frequent visitor to the Springfield Republican, where Douglas read and sometimes wrote for the newspaper that Forquer once had edited. Douglas also became part of the editorial and physical feuds that followed sometimes venomous, sometimes satirical newspaper articles in the Republican (later the State Register) and the Journal.155
One local controversy involved the way that Douglas got his plum job. Douglas biographer Allen Johnson wrote: "It began to be rumored about that the young man owed his appointment to the Sangamon delegation, whose schemes [to move the state capital from Vandalia to Springfield] he had industriously furthered in the legislature. Finally, the Illinois Patriot made the direct accusation of bargain. Touched to the quick, Douglas wrote a letter to the editor which fairly bristles with righteous indignation. His circumstantial denial of the charge,-his well-known opposition to the removal of the capital and to all the schemes of the Sangamon delegation during the session,-cleared him of all complicity. Indeed, Douglas was too zealous a partisan to play into the hands of the Sangamon Whigs." Lincoln himself may have been the author of a brief and sour note that appeared in the Sangamo Journal: "The Land Office at this place was opened on Monday last. We are told the little man from Morgan was perfectly astonished, at finding himself making money at the rate of from one to two hundred dollars a day!"156 By the fall of 1837, Calhoun probably thought such a lucrative appointive job as Douglas held was more secure and more remunerative than any elective post.157 Calhoun saw an opportunity for himself. To get the Land Office post, it was alleged, Calhoun promoted Stephen A. Douglas to unseat Democratic Congressman William L. May, who himself had been the Land Office receiver before his election to the U.S. House.
Douglas himself fed Democratic disenchantment with May - especially from Senator Richard M. Young, whose election by the state legislature in 1836 May had opposed.158 In August 1837, Douglas wrote an attorney friend: "The fact is our Party will never support Col[.] May again for Congress, unless public sentiments takes a great change. I am unable to say or even imagine who will be our Candidate for Congress. I am decidedly in favor a District Convention to nominate a Candidate, and then let us all unite and elect him, be he who he may."159 Through the pages of the Illinois Republican that Douglas helped edit, discontent with May was stirred. Word of Douglas's activities reached Washington, where in September Congressman May, away from Illinois to attend a special session of Congress, complained to Secretary of the Treasury Levi Woodbury "that the Register of the Land Office at Springfield, Illinois, has been recently, and is perhaps at present engaged in a political electioneering tour through my district getting up meetings of the voters."160 Douglas defended himself to Woodbury in a letter in early October that mixed denial of wrong-doing with insistence on his rights to speak out on political issues:
"Upon what authority Mr May founds his charge I am unable to conceive, unless it is a short paragraph in a late number of the Sangamo Journal an opposition paper in this Town which seizes every opportunity to impugn the motives, and misrepresent the acts of every member of the Democratic Party. That you may better understand the nature of this charge and the circumstances out of which it had its origin I will give the facts which are as follows. Previous to my appointment to this office last Spring I devoted myself to the practice of Law in all the counties in this Judicial Circuit, and had considerable unfinished business which rendered it necessary to attend the late Terms of the Courts to attend to the business in which I had been previously engaged. I accordingly did so and confined myself exclusively to this Judicial Circuit a part of which is Mr May's Congressional District and a part in Mr [Adam] Snyder's. No political meetings were held and of course no delegates were appointed and pledged as stated by Mr May, in any county that I was in during the time I was there; not have I attended or in any manner participated in the proceedings of any political meeting in Mr May's District since I have held an Office under the General Government. From the facts you will perceive that the charge is not only destitute of any foundation in truth; but is the production of a suspicious jealous mind operated on by the slang of a petty newspaper managed and conducted for political and selfish purposes. I do not wish the department to construe my denial of all participation in political meetings recently as an admission that I would deem such a course culpable or in any degree improper, or that I have been prevented from doing so by the fact of holding Office. On the contrary, I feel myself as free to mingle with my fellow citizens and express my opinions of men and measures (not even excepting Mr. May) as I should if I had never received an Office at the hands of the Government."161
Douglas seemed to protest too much. So politically free did Douglas feel in his position that a month later Douglas signed a call for a Democratic convention in Peoria. May's influence with Woodbury was undoubtedly lessened because the congressman was voting against President Martin Van Buren on his Subtreasury proposal.162 While he was in Washington, May's troubles grew as did calls for a Democratic congressional convention to oust him. As Douglas biographer Allen Johnson related the events leading to a Democratic district convention: "When the legislature met for a special session in July , the leading spirits in the reform movement held frequent consultations, the outcome of which was a call for a Democratic State convention in December. Every county was invited to send delegates. A State committee of fifteen was appointed, and each county urged to form a similar committee. Another committee was also created - the Committee of Thirty - to prepare an address to the voters. Fifth on this latter committee was the name of S. A. Douglas of Sangamon. The machinery of the party was thus created out of hand by a group of unauthorized leaders. They awaited the reaction of the insoluble elements in the party, with some anxiety." Allen wrote:
The new organization had no more vigilant defender than Douglas. From his coign of vantage in the Land Office, he watched the trend of opinion within the party, not forgetting to observe at the same time the movements of the Whigs. There were certain phrases in the "Address to the Democratic Republicans of Illinois" which may have been coined in his mint. The statement that "the Democratic Republicans of Illinois propose to bring theirs [their candidates] forward by the full and consentaneous voice of every member of their political association," has a familiar, fullmouthed quality. The Democrats of Sangamon called upon him to defend the caucus at a mass-meeting; and when they had heard his eloquent exposition of the new System, they resolved with great gravity that it offered "the only safe and proper Way of securing union and victory." There is something amusing in the confident air of this political expert aged twenty-four; yet there is no disputing the fact that his words carried weight with men of far wider experience than his own.
Before many weeks of the campaign had passed, Douglas had ceased to be merely a consultative specialist on party ailments. Not at all unwillingly, he was drawn into active service. It was commonly supposed that the Honorable William L. May, who had served a term in Congress acceptably, would again become the nominee of the Democratic party without opposition. If the old-time practice prevailed, he would quietly assume the nomination "at the request of many friends." Still, consistency required that the nomination should be made in due form by a convention. The Springfield Republican clamored for a convention; and the Jacksonville News echoed the cry. Other Democratic papers took up the cry, until by general agreement a congressional district convention was summoned to meet at Peoria. The Jacksonville News was then ready with a list of eligible candidates among whom Douglas was mentioned. At the same time the enterprising [Jacksonville News editor S.S.] Brooks announced "authoritatively" that if Mr. May concluded to become a candidate, he would submit his claims to the consideration of the convention. This was the first intimation that the gentleman's claims were likely to be contested in the convention. Meantime, good friends in Sangamon County saw to it that the county delegation was made up of men who were favorably disposed toward Douglas, and bound them by instructions to act as a unit in the convention.163
On November 20, 1837, Douglas duly won the Democratic convention endorsement in Peoria over two-term incumbent Congressman May, who received no votes. It was not representative conclave; only 16 of the district's 33 counties were represented by just 40 delegates.164 Douglas however used his base in Morgan and Sangamon Counties to win the nomination with just 23 of the 39 votes cast. As Douglas biographer Gerald M. Capers wrote: "The substitution was clearly the work of the machine, and the statement of the Little Giant's friends that he accepted without hope of success merely to 'consolidate the party' is hardly credible."165 It is no wonder that Lincoln was skeptical of the new Democratic device - the convention - and skeptical of the master manipulator behind the conventions - Stephen Douglas. Capers noted that Douglas "was one of the early leaders in the successful movement to induce the party to adopt the practice of choosing only one candidate for each office instead of several, and of selecting the nominee by a convention at the county, district, or state level. Usually these conventions were rump affairs, controlled by Douglas and his cohorts."166 Douglas melded political principle and expediency behind his own personal interest. The Peoria convention strongly endorsed the economic policies of the Van Buren administration including the "Sub-Treasury system" and denounced Congressman May who, it said "has disregarded and forfeited the pledges given to his constituents before his election to the office which he now occupies, and that he be respectfully requested to resign his seat in Congress, in consideration of his opposition to the party and principles which elevated him to his present station."167 (Two decades later the table would turn and Douglas himself would be a similar situation.)
As Douglas biographer Henry Parker Willis observed: "Douglas, in fact was not a strong candidate. He was then less than twenty-five years of age; the party was generally in a bad condition; he was inexperienced save in purely local matters; he had no financial resources with which to back the organization. It was a wonderful tribute to his personality and skill as a manipulator that he should have received the nomination at all."168 Biographer Allen Johnson wrote:
The history of the [Peoria] district convention has never been written: it needs no historian. Under the circumstances the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Not all the counties were represented; some were poorly represented; most of the delegates came without any clearly defined aims; all were unfamiliar with the procedure of conventions. The Sangamon County delegation alone, with the possible exception of that from Morgan County, knew exactly what it wanted. When a ballot was taken, Douglas received a majority of votes cast, and was declared to be the regular nominee of the party for Congress.
There was much shaking of heads over this machinemade nomination. An experienced public servant had been set aside to gratify the ambition of a mere stripling. Even Democrats commented freely upon the untrustworthiness of a device which left nominations to the caprice of forty delegates representing only fourteen counties out of thirty-five. The Whigs made merry over the folly of their opponents. "No nomination could suit us better," declared the Sangamo Journal.169
Lincoln's newspaper friends were more than willing to stoke the May-Douglas controversy. "A series of letters appeared in the Sangamo Journal soon [after the convention], supposedly written by an anonymous conservative Democrat, which purported to reveal the inside story of Douglas' nomination," wrote historian Robert W. Johannsen. The letters suggested a backroom detail between Douglas and an unnamed co-conspirator who strongly appeared to be John Calhoun."170 The letters were the kind of political writing in which Abraham Lincoln sometimes engaged; he was a master of the pseudonymous letter. Lincoln scholars believe that many letters or editorials in the Sangamo Journal were written by Lincoln. Some of those letters made scandalous or satirical allegations about his political opponents. One of those letters would lead to a near-duel between Lincoln and his target, State Auditor James Shields, in 1842.
Lincoln scholar Glenn H. Seymour studied the "Conservative" letters and concluded that they followed a unique Lincoln writing pattern. Harry E. Pratt confirmed that notion by observing that the Illinois State Register directly charged Lincoln without both authorship and a subsequent attempt in July to attribute authorship to Circuit Judge Jesse B. Thomas, Jr.171 In the second "Conservative" letter, Lincoln attacks "a certain gentleman who resides in Sangamon county, and who has followed a variety of occupations both here and elsewhere, for a living and failed in all, cast about for some desperate manoevre [sic] that might save him, when he should be called upon to close up his loafing operations. After some considerable wandering, his eyes were finally settled upon a Land Office; and to remove the incumbent, and place himself in his stead, all the powers of his mind were put to the torture. He first made a set at the Receiver's Office in Springfield, but the Receiver seeing nothing in prospect that he liked better, and preferring himself to the best of his friends, chose not to be jostled from his place. Next he turned to the Register's Office. It was filled by a young man of respectable talents for one of his age, who had received rather an extraordinary succession of favors from his party, and who, mistaking those favors, which were merely designed to give him the means of living, as evidence of a high admiration of his talents, was more completely assailable on the score of vanity, and more susceptible of flattery than is often the lot of man to be."
At that point in the letter, Lincoln zeroed in on Calhoun's supposed attempts to convince the 24-year-old Douglas that he should move up the political ladder and vacate his lucrative post. Already having served a state legislator, prosecutor, and now land register, Douglas's ascent had indeed been rapid. Lincoln wrote that: "Long practice enabled him [Calhoun] to discover the vulnerable point of the Register: and there he directed his attack. He commenced, as is supposed, by telling him that he regretted to see him confined to the dry and laborious occupation of writing answers to the endless and silly enquiries of every applicant about N W. of S. E. of 23, T. 24 R. 3 W, etc., etc.; that for one whom nature designed for nothing else but to be
'Fixed to one certain spot,
To draw nutrition, propegate [sic], and rot.[']
such a plodding occupation was well enough; but that for one of his towering genius, it was absolutely intolerable."172
As historian Michael Burlingame has detailed, Lincoln in the 1830s and 1840s could be a very tough and cruel politician. Having set up the two characters for the "Conservative" article, Lincoln proceeded to skewer Calhoun's flattery and Douglas' vanity. "You may be President of these United States just as well as not," Lincoln quoted Calhoun supposedly telling Douglas. "A seat in Congress is not worthy to be your abiding place, though you might with propriety serve one term in the capacity of Representative - not that it would at all become you; but merely in imitation of some king, who being called to the throne from obscurity, lodges for one night in a hovel as he journies [sic] to the place. History gives no account of a man your age occupying such high ground as you do now." Lincoln then skewered Douglas's small stature by having Calhoun supposedly compare Douglas to Napoleon and the diminutive President Martin Van Buren: "The only difference [with Van Buren], perhaps is, that his own was but the miniature of what your's is the life size." Lincoln then presented a conversation between the Land Office register and his flatterer:
Douglas: "But, do you really think a seat in Congress within my reach?"
Calhoun character: "With your reach! What a question! - How strange it is, that while true genius can place a true estimate upon everything else, it never can upon its own powers. There is no doubt of a seat in Congress being within your reach. The only question is whether you will condescend to occupy it. Our party have the majority in this District, and all you have to do is to get nominated at a District Convention as a party candidate. Get the nomination, place this office in my hands, (which I would by no means accept, only for the opportunity it will afford me of serving you) and take the field boldly, and make a regular electioneering campaign of it from this time to the election, and, depend upon it, success is certain.."
Douglas: "Done," says the Register. "Procure me the nomination of the District Convention, and the office is yours."
Calhoun character: "I fear you mistake my motive," says the man of expedients. "I only proposed to take office as a means of serving you."
Douglas: "Just so I understand you," says the Register.
Calhoun character: "So let it be then."
"The whole story was a spoof on Douglas' youth and ambition," Johannsen wrote of "Conservative #2." It was also a commentary on Calhoun's need for steady employment. Lincoln would have had multiple reasons for writing such an article. First, Douglas had used the new convention system - which Lincoln disliked - to unseat two-term Congressman William L. May, for whom Lincoln had once voted and whose anti-Van Buren economic ideas he shared. Second, Douglas's Whig opponent was Lincoln's law partner and friend, John Todd Stuart, whom May had defeated for Congress in August 1836. Third, Lincoln's writings during this period showed a low, even mocking opinion of Douglas's ambition and vanity. Finally, Lincoln may have been frustrated by the shifting political stands taken by Calhoun and been disillusioned by his laziness.
Douglas was infuriated by "Conservative." He first sent a letter to Simeon Francis, editor of the Sangamo Journal to "demand of you the name of the author of the article alluded to." Douglas wrote: "I desire the name of the author; I would like to see the face of the cowardly wretch, who has had the hardihood to prefer false charges against me, over a false name, and then sneakingly shrink from the responsibility and infamy that would follow the exposure under the poor, pitiful, contemptible pretext that his charges 'did not contain any thing that requires an author's name to be furnished.' I dislike to use harsh language or opprobrious epithets. It is repugnant to my feelings, contrary to my usual intercourse with my fellow-citizens, and I always scrupulously avoid it, whenever milder terms can be employed to call things by their right names." Douglas wrote that the author of the letter to the Sangamo Journal was an "INFAMOUS, VILLAINOUS LIAR and a COWARDLY SCOUNDREL." Douglas wrote: "My acts have been misrepresented, my opinions perverted, my motives impugned, and my character traduced in language as unkind and ungentlemanly as it was unjust and untrue."174
Historian Michael Burlingame argued that pairing "Conservative #2" with the "Young Men's Lyceum" speech that Lincoln delivered in Springfield the same night the Sagamo Journal article by "A Conservative" appeared provides further insight into Lincoln's critique of Douglas - especially in Lincoln's allusions to Napoleon in both the article and the speech. Lincoln's warning in the Lyceum speech of the threat of a "towering genius" was a sarcastic reference to the diminutive Douglas. Burlingame wrote: "'Conservative' likened Douglas to Bonaparte; Lincoln at Lyceum warned against men like Napoleon. 'Conservative' suggested that Douglas would not be content with a mere seat in Congress; Lincoln at the Lyceum denounced any man whose ambition would not be satisfied with such a post. Since the rules of the Lyceum forbade political speeches, Lincoln could not directly attack Douglas, but because his audience was politically aware, he could assume that they had read 'Conservative No. 2' earlier in the day and thus understood that Douglas was the target of his remarks about the coming Caesar. It was a clever maneuver to circumvent the ban on partisanship at the Lyceum."175 There may also have been a tinge of jealousy in Lincoln's remarks since his law partner John Todd Stuart later recalled that Lincoln was "not so ready or ingenious as Douglas."176
Lincoln's comments about Douglas proved prophetic. Two decades later, at the beginning of the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas senatorial campaign, Lincoln declared: "Senator Douglas is of world-wide renown. All of the anxious politicians of his party, or who have been of his party for years past, have been looking upon him as certainly, at no distant day, to be the President of the United States. They have seen, in his jolly, fruitful face, post offices, land offices, marshalships and cabinet appointments, chargeships and foreign missions, bursting and sprouting forth in wonderful exuberance, ready to be laid hold of by their greedy hands. On the contrary, nobody has ever expected me to be President. In my poor, lean, lank face nobody has ever seen that any cabbages were sprouting out."177 At another debate, Lincoln said, somewhat sardonically: "I know the Judge is a great man, while I am only a small man."178 Lincoln scholar Fred Kaplan wrote: "Lincoln's description of Douglas' hyperbolic branding alluded by inversion to the contrast between the candidates' physical appearances: Don Quixote resided in Lincoln's own lean, lank face and body, the idealistic knight raising the lance of principle against a low-minded opponent, the stubby peasant like Douglas."179
Lincoln's comments about the need to respect the law in his Lyceum speech also proved prophetic. Douglas's congressional nomination would prove fatal for one of his Sangamon allies. The same Peoria convention that nominated Douglas for Congress over William May called for the removal of May's son-in-law, Henry B. Truett, from his position as register of the Galena Land Office.180 In the lobby of Springfield's Spotswood Hotel on March 7, 1838, Truett confronted Dr. Jacob Early, the Democratic politician and minister against whom Lincoln had campaigned in 1836. Both Truett and Early had reputations for their hot tempers. In January, Early had verbally attacked Lincoln's friend Simeon Francis. In the hotel, Truett demanded to know if Early had prepared the offending resolution. Truett called Early a "damned scoundrel" and other names. He then pulled out a gun on Early, whom he blamed for the resolution. Early picked up a chair. The two circled the room before Truett shot Early. The 32-year-old Early died three days later. According to Andy Van Meter, "Sentiment in Springfield ran strong against the popular doctor's accused murderer."181 In a curious twist of fate, Douglas was appointed special prosecutor against Truett. Truett was indicted, but the trial was postponed until October by the defendants' attorneys who sought a less heated environment in which to empanel a jury.
Fortuitously for the attorneys, the trial would be held after an active summer campaign. Lincoln, Stuart and several other lawyers defended Truett on the grounds that Truett was protecting himself from Early - but sought to have his trial postponed as long as possible Douglas contended that the armed Truett had come to the hotel with the intention of murder. Partly as a result of Lincoln's summation before the jury, Truett was acquitted. It was lawyer Lincoln's first case of murder. Politics in Illinois could be touchy and violent. With the passage of time, jurors and voters tended to be forgiving of that violence.182
The 1838 congressional contest between indefatigable Douglas and the better-known Stuart was spirited and at first relatively friendly. Stuart had an advantage in exposure because he had run against Congressman May in 1836. Simeon Francis thought that Douglas's loyalty to the increasingly unpopular Van Buren - which had helped get him the nomination - would hurt him in the general election.183 Douglas had used his Land Office position, however, to increase his public exposure. The candidates started the campaign on the spring judicial circuit, making speeches after the courts adjourned. Sixty years after the campaign, the Bloomington Pantagraph reported that in early May, 1838, Stuart fell ill during the court term in Bloomington. Law partner Lincoln supposedly debated Douglas in Stuart's stead - perhaps the very first one-on-one Lincoln-Douglas debate in their long political rivalry.184
Later in the month, Douglas went north where he demonstrated his innate conviviality and an equally innate ability to stretch the truth to get votes. Work on the Michigan and Illinois canal had led to the importation of hundreds of Irish workers whose votes the 92-pound Douglas courted. Douglas biographer Frank E. Stevens wrote that Douglas was "up at Joliet where there were hundreds of men working on the canal. Most of them were just from the 'ould sod,' and of course in those days, all these were Democrats. Douglas said: 'I had an appreciative audience; they cheered me; in fact, they were too friendly. I was extolling the patriotism of Ireland, the virtues of her people, the bravery of her sons, and beauty of her daughters; I even referred to myself as being descended from a long line of patriotic sires of Irish descent. When I had said that,' continued Douglas, a great big burly Irishman, over six foot high, rose and said, 'Do you say, Mr. Dooglas, that you descind from the great McDooglas's of Ireland?' Mr. Douglas assented. [']Coming forward where I was talking the big man patronizingly leaned over me, spreading out his brawny arms, and said "What a divil of a dissint!" which closed my speech.' But Douglas said, "I expect to get all their votes.'"185 Historian George Fort Milton noted: "Stuart told them he was a Scotch immigrant, with a family kinship to the Irish. But Douglas portrayed himself as a real Irishman, descended from the McDouglases, and made such progress that Stuart accepted a challenge, earlier refused for joint debate."186
Stuart understood that Douglas could not be allowed to campaign alone and agreed to a joint program. Douglas understood that victory demanded an all-out effort. In this campaign nothing was beneath Douglas. In Chicago, he asked future Congressman John Wentworth to print some handbills for a joint debate with Stuart. When Wentworth needed help producing the flyers, "Douglas performed the duties of roller boy."187 One resident of the village of McHenry later recalled that Douglas "came here to discuss the political issues of the day which were almost exclusively confined to the Banks and the Tariff. There was a whiskey barrel in one end of the room, with a dry goods box beside it, and they chose Rev. Joel Wheeler as chairman of the meeting, and placed him on the drug goods box and then placed Douglas on the whiskey barrel, and he entertained the audience for about two hours with one of the most convincing speeches that was ever delivered in the country or that was my pleasure to hear. Douglas remained in the village several days, fishing, playing euchre, and when tired of that he would go out in the street and play 'pin' on the top of a hat."188
Bank policy was the center of the campaign. Douglas biographer James L. Huston wrote that national bank policy: "It would seem that Douglas pressed the party line every time he spoke: a specie currency was a good thing, national banks were engines of monopoly, the independent treasury was the only solution to the banking crisis, and Whigs were really Federalists who wanted to leech prosperity away from the people. The Whigs found Douglas a horrid example of demagoguery: full of 'unequalled harangue,' his ideas on banks 'are altogether without a parallel,' and Douglas shockingly declared himself to have an 'unconquerable hostility to all Banks.'"189
One key debate was held on July 2, 1838, in Springfield where Democratic Judge Jesse B. Thomas, Jr., was holding court on the Early murder. The pro-Stuart Journal reported that Whig Stuart "surpassed the expectations of his friends." The pro-Douglas Republican argued that Stuart's performance had "mortified" his friends. Andy Van Meter wrote: "The Republican [newspaper] accused Circuit Judge Jesse B. Thomas of convening the court so as to prevent a response to [Edward D.] Baker by John Calhoun, a charge that the judge vigorously denied and that may have encouraged him to grant the continuance of the case, which Lincoln and Stuart sought. The two partners did not want the Truett trial to influence the elections."190
The congressional campaign must have also been exhausting because the enormous Third District included all of the northern half of the state up to the Wisconsin line. Campaigning every day but Sunday, the candidates were not able completely to cover the district. Lincoln biographer Ida Tarbell wrote: "For five months of the spring and summer of 1838 they rode together from town to town all over the northern part of Illinois...speaking six days out of seven."191 The campaign ended in a violent altercation between the two candidates in Springfield. One local resident recalled that "they fought in a grocery...Slippery with Slop."192 According to one version, "Douglas used language which Stuart thought offensive. Stuart, tall and strong, seized Douglas around the neck and before friends could separate them, carried him around the building in front of which the meeting was held. During the scuffle, Douglas is said to have got the right thumb of Douglas into his mouth and to it did such damage that the scare which remained to the day of his death, served to remind Stuart of the impulsive and undignified encounter."193
The results of the congressional election in early August took weeks to clarify. "Douglas charged fraud, which undoubtedly had been practised," wrote Lincoln biographer Albert Beveridge.194 Ballots for both candidates were disqualified because names were misspelled - some of the ballots for Douglas apparently were deliberately printed with misspelling so that the votes of Irish laborers would be thrown out.195 Douglas's friend and biographer James W. Sheahan wrote: "There was no telegraph nor railroads at that time, and returns were slow in reaching county seats, and still slower in reaching the seat of government. For weeks the state was in suspense. It was soon ascertained that the aggregate vote exceeded 36,000, and that the majority either way would not exceed twenty. Returns came imperfectly made up, and were sent back for correction. Errors and mistakes were discovered, and friends on both sides were industriously engaged for weeks in having these corrected. Hundreds of votes were cast for 'Stephen Douglas,' and for Douglas with various other and misplaced initials. Votes were in a like manner given for Mr. Stuart with his initials and given names transposed or misstated. The majority, however, of these errors were on the Douglas tickets. At one precinct on the Michigan-Illinois canal Douglas lost a large vote by a trick of one of the bosses, who had tickets prepared with the name of S. A. Douglas printed in large type, but placed as a candidate for the Legislature. At last the state officers announced the official canvass, and by it Stuart was declared to have a majority of five votes."196 In the original canvass, Stuart had prevailed by just 36 votes.
Lincoln and other Whig leaders were vigilant for any evidence of Democratic fraud, including voting by non-citizen immigrants or other non-qualified voters - some of whom might have come to the state to work on the Michigan-Illinois Canal near Chicago. "From present indications we have every reason to believe that Mr. Douglass will contest the right of Mr Stuart to a seat in Congress. We deem it a matter of great importance to the Whig party of this District that they should be prepared to meet such contest," wrote Lincoln and four other Whig leaders to Whig editors around the large district in June 1839.197 In March 1839, Douglas wrote Stuart a proposal for a recount, but Stuart declined.198 Douglas sought the advice of Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton, a fellow Democrat who offered his full assistance.
Douglas threatened to contest the election results right up until the time Stuart left Springfield for Congress - more than a year after the election. Lincoln clearly did not trust Douglas; he wrote Stuart on November 14, 1839: "I have been to the Secretary's office within the last hour; and find things precisely as you left them - no new arrivals of returns on either side. Douglass has not been here since you left. A report is in circulation here now, that he has abandoned the idea of going to Washington; though the report does not come in a verry authentic form, so far as I can learn. Though, by the way, speaking of authenticity, you know that if we had heard Douglass say that he had abandoned the contest, it would not be verry authentic."199
When the State Legislature had organized in December 1838, Lincoln was the Whig candidate for speaker of House. Lincoln trailed the Democratic candidate from Vandalia by only three votes on the first ballot, but neither candidate had a majority. Calhoun chose his party over his county and supported Lincoln's opponent, who was elected on the fourth ballot.200 When Douglas resigned from the federal Land Office post in 1838 after his campaign for Congress, Calhoun was not appointed to succeed him. Such may have been one of the consequences of the "Conservative" letters. Failing in his supposed scheme to get a federal appointive post, Calhoun now switched his focus to getting a state appointment. After finally winning election to the state legislature in 1838, Calhoun resigned when he was appointed treasurer of the Canal Authority, replacing Democrat John A. McClernand who was in turn named by the governor as the new Illinois secretary of state. Whigs declared Calhoun constitutionally ineligible for the canal post because the legislature had voted to raise the post's salary while he was a state representative. In a complicated game of musical appointments, Calhoun vacated the canal office when the clerk of the House was appointed to that job.
Calhoun was then elected clerk of the House on December 10, 1839 - serving until 1841. Lincoln voted for Quincy Whig Andrew Johnston, the law partner of his good friend Archibald Williams. Lincoln was no longer supporting Calhoun for any elected or appointive post.201 Calhoun would serve as the House clerk until 1842. A special election in November 1839 for Calhoun's seat was won by Democrat Thomas J. Nance by just 36 votes; Whigs claimed that one reason was that immigrant workers, mostly Irish, had voted illegally.202 The State Register thought Lincoln had dictated the choice of Nance's opponent: "Would Mr. Lincoln be likely to urge a candidate upon the people, unless he were well assured that he would, if elected, go the whole hog with the Springfield Junto members?"203
The Lincoln-Douglas-Calhoun Debates of 1839-1840
During this 1839-1840 period, noted Paul Simon, both Democrats and Whigs preferred to focus on the problems of national politics than the state insolvency posed by the crisis over unfunded public works.204 The Whig planning for the 1840 presidential campaign began in January 1839. In February, Whigs met in Vandalia, still the state capital, and passed a resolution authored by Lincoln "that a committee of nine be appointed by the chair, to draft an address to the people of this State, setting forth the causes of our opposition to the present administration, and recommending all the opponents of the misrule of the government to unite upon the common platform of union and compromise." Lincoln was duly appointed to the Whig committee.205 Whigs gathered in a state convention in October 1839 to organize for the 1840 campaign. Lincoln was appointed as one of five Whig candidates for Illinois elector and one of five members of a Whig "Junto" to direct the party's campaign - he was the only Whig to be appointed to both groups. The uneducated and unkempt young lawyer had become one of the Whig Party's acknowledged leaders. The presidential campaign leader for Illinois Democrats in the campaign would be Stephen A. Douglas.
For the Whigs, in addition to being a major spokesman, Lincoln was also a major organizer. Historian Joel Silbey noted that Lincoln "help[ed] to plan a very tight and detailed Whig electoral organization for the various Illinois races, notably in 1840, but thereafter, regularly as well. He was absorbed in close attention to detail that marked him as among the shrewdest politicians of his era. His approach...involved two different elements: a powerful dedication to organization and a determination to exploit the arts of shaping compromises party members could live with in order to accomplish Whiggery's broad purposes." Silbey referred to another "element to Lincoln's Whiggery: his persistent, deep commitment to his party, its leaders and what it stood for. Such commitment was one of the central aspects of this particular political culture and, as Lincoln's case indicates, a deeply rooted and meaningful part of it. Americans lived within highly charged, closely knit, partisan networks." As part of the Springfield Junto, Lincoln stood at the top of one of those networks. Lincoln was, suggested Silbey, a skilled politician: "Other men had developed and nurtured the system and defined what Whiggery was. Lincoln implemented their vision through his gift for political organization and his ability to communicate to others the crucial nature of election campaigns and legislative action."206 Based on the evidence, Lincoln was a more skilled politician than John Calhoun during this period and was just as skillful as Stephen Douglas.
Meanwhile, because of the 1837 recession and the overly ambitious internal improvements program that Douglas and Lincoln both supported, the state's finances were deteriorating dramatically. In March 1839, Lincoln, Calhoun and three other Sangamon County legislators signed a call for a public meeting in Springfield on the state's fiscal problems: "We invite every man in the County, who opposes the Revenue Law, to come armed with all the arguments against it that he can, and we confidently believe, we will be able to show, that none of them are well founded." The Lincoln-Calhoun unity dissolved, however, at the meeting itself. "During the meeting Calhoun came out against the internal improvements system," noted Paul Simon. "The Whig Sangamo Journal lost no time in pointing out that Democrat Calhoun was the secretary of the original state internal improvements convention. 'It now appears that he was opposed to the system - at the time he recommended its adoption,' commented the paper."207 By the late 1830s, Lincoln and Calhoun had become articulate spokesmen for the differences between the Whig and Democratic economic positions - especially regarding the national bank system and the federal tariff. They agreed, at least initially on the need for public support of internal improvements in Illinois - until Democratic mishandling of the program led to withdrawal of Democratic support in 1839.
In the fall of 1839, national and state politics heated up in Springfield. The state's fiscal situation had been compounded by the unfavorable (and perhaps corrupt) terms that Illinois' negotiators had arranged - much to Governor Thomas Carlin's chagrin.208 This was a stressful period in Illinois. Governor Carlin called for an end to new internal improvement projects that the state government could not afford, and he called the state legislature into special session for November. (The new state capitol in Springfield was not yet finished, so legislative meetings would be held elsewhere.) Many state legislators thought the state government should back out of at least one of its funding contracts. According to Albert Beveridge, "Members were nervous, irritable, suspicious. Their state of mind and temper indicated that the session would be what Governor Ford afterward described it, full of 'bitterness and personal hatred.'"209
Representative Lincoln thought the state's economic problems might be solved by assigning proceeds from federal lands to the states. Beveridge called this "scheme...Lincoln's favorite idea and had been since his first candidacy for the Legislature." But Lincoln's support for internal improvements softened somewhat by late 1839. He attended a Whig convention in Springfield that resolved: "We are opposed to the creation of so large a debt, as it is now discovered, would be entailed on the state by carrying out the internal improvement System, as contemplated by law; and that we believe the System needs classification, curtailment or suspension."210 Lincoln nevertheless thought something should be salvaged of the public works program, telling the House of Representatives in January 1840 that they should try "to save something to the State, from the general wreck...at least some portion of our Internal Improvements should be carried on. That after the immense debt, we have incurred in carrying these works almost to completion, at least one work calculated to yield something towards defraying its expense, should be finished and put in operation."211
In addition to its fiscal crisis, Illinois faced a related one concerning the State Bank whose financing was hurt by the recession affecting Illinois from 1837 to 1842. When the legislature was convened for its regular session in December 1839, Lincoln was appointed to a joint legislative committee charged with investigating the bank. A resolution calling for repeal of the internal improvements program narrowly failed to pass the House. Democrats tried to blame Whigs for problems with both the internal improvements projects and the state bank. In a situation reminiscent of the demise of the Second Bank of the United States earlier in the decade at the federal level, Democrats sought abruptly to end operations of the State Bank. When the bank suspended payment of notes in specie for more than sixty days, its charter automatically terminated. As Lincoln predicted to Congressman Stuart, "The legislature...has suffered the Bank to forfeit it's charter without Benefit of Clergy."212 A month later, he predicted: "The Bank will be resusitated [sic] with some trifling modifications."213
The legislature met in special session in early November 1839. National economic issues were joined during several days of partisan debate that were held at the Springfield court house. By then, recalled legal colleague Milton Hay, "It had become a fashion during every political excitement to have a regularly arranged and organized set-to between the party champions."214 This occasion was apparently designed to frame the political debate surrounding the special election of Calhoun's successor in the State House of Representatives - although neither the Democratic or Whig candidate for the seat themselves spoke at the conclave. Lincoln, Douglas and Calhoun were among the representatives of their parties. It was the first of several Lincoln-Douglas debates that would be held over the next year. On the first night, Douglas spoke between remarks from two Whigs, Cyrus Walker and Lincoln. Douglas "had a rough time of it" according to the Democratic State Register, which chided Lincoln, who followed Douglas, for his "clownish manner." The newspaper complained: "Lincoln misrepresented Douglas, as was apparent to every man present. This brought a warm rejoinder from Mr. Douglas."215 Douglas, presaging his future complaints about political opponents ganging up on him, objected to the "two-pick-one" setup.216
On the second night - Wednesday, November 20 - Lincoln replied to a presentation by Douglas against a national bank. The State Register reported that the "Lincoln of Wednesday night was not the Mr. Lincoln of Tuesday." The Democratic paper contended that Lincoln "could only meet the arguments of Mr. Douglass [sic], by relating stale anecdotes and old stories, and left the stump literally whipped off of it, even in the estimation of his own friends."217 This debate may have been the exchange to which attorney Joseph Gillespie referred when he wrote that Lincoln "was pitted by the Whigs in 1840 to debate with Mr Douglass [sic] the Democratic champion[.] Lincoln did not come up to the requirements of the occasion[.] He was conscious of his failure and I never saw any man so much distressed[.] He begged to be permitted to try it again and was reluctantly indulged and in the next effort he transcended our highest expectations[.] I never heard & never expect to hear such a triumphant vindication as he then gave of Whig measures or policy[.]"218 Edward D. Baker was the designated Whig speaker on Thursday and again on Saturday against John Calhoun. The State Register reported that Calhoun argued that even national Whigs acquiesced to the shift of federal funds to state banks: "Mr. Calhoun contended that this was the true issue before the country, and that when the Federal orators (Walker, Lincoln, & Co.) held up a national bank as a Whig measure, they were only throwing dust in the eyes of the people for a local purpose."219
Another series of speeches was arranged after the Democrats held a state convention in Springfield on December 9 - at which Douglas gave a speech on economic affairs. That gave impetus to a new round of debates. Lincoln had moved from New Salem to Springfield in the spring of 1837. The new attorney had found lodging with Kentucky native Joshua F. Speed, who managed a general store on the first floor and lived on the second. "After he made his home with me," Speed recalled, "on every winter's night at my store, by a big wood fire, no matter how inclement the weather, eight or ten choice spirits assembled, without distinction of party. It was a sort of social club without organization. They came there because they were sure to find Lincoln. His habit was to engage in conversation upon any and all subjects except politics." Speed recalled that one night in early December 1839 - after the Democrats had held a state convention, the political discussions in his general store got political and heated: Stephen "Douglas Sprang up and Said - Gentlemen, this is no place to talk politics - We will discuss the questions &c publicly with you."220
In a resolution authored by Lincoln, Springfield Whigs challenged their Democratic counterparts to debates. The Second Presbyterian Church, where the State House of Representatives met during the day, was chosen as the location for the confrontations. In eight separate meetings, four Democrats and four Whigs took turns arguing the tariff and banks issues that preoccupied the nation during the 1803s - as well as the upcoming contest between President Martin Van Buren, a Democrat, and Whig William H. Harrison who had shown unexpected strength in an 1836 run for the White House. Lincoln was one of the Whigs - along with fellow attorneys Stephen T. Logan, Edwin D. Baker, and Orville H. Browning.221 Douglas was one of the Democrats. So were John Calhoun and local attorneys Josiah Lamborn and Jesse B. Thomas, Jr.222 "Like true knights, they came to fight in intellectual armor," recalled Speed.223 Democrat John Palmer recalled: "There were giants in those days."224 The debaters were cognizant that with the state legislature in session in Springfield, their debates would have a bigger audience than those held in November before the legislators gathered.225 Locals called it the "great debate."226
This second series of Springfield debates began on Wednesday, December 18 with a speech by Lincoln on fiscal policy. The Sangamo Journal reported that Lincoln's speech was "characterized by that great force and point for which he is so justly admired. He set out with a statement of three propositions, which he believed he could demonstrate to the satisfaction of every unprejudiced mind in the house. 1st, That there had been a total change in the administration of the Government, within the last ten years; and that change had been for the WORSE. 2d. That a new and corrupt system of tactics had been introduced into the National administration, unknown to former administrations: and thirdly, that the consummation and perfection of this whole scheme of fraud and corruption, was in the establishment of the SUB-TREASURY. These several propositions he sustained, not by rant, declamation and assertion, but by an array of documentary evidence, which could not be disputed."227
Douglas replied to Lincoln's attack on Van Buren's financial policies. "It was in vain that Mr. Douglas...attempted to aver the force of these propositions, so fully established, by his usual pretext of their being 'foreign to the subject.'"228 A few days later, Lincoln wrote his law partner, Congressman Stuart: "The Democratic giant is here; but he is not now worth talking about."229 At that point, it was not then certain if Douglas would run against Stuart for Congress in 1840.
Years later, John M. Palmer recalled hearing Calhoun, Douglas, Browning and Alexander P. Field debate at the church and described Calhoun speaking "with great dignity and force."230 After presentations by three other Whigs and four Democrats on the following two nights, the sessions adjourned for Christmas. According to Milton Hay, "The contest was so evenly kept up and the interest created was so great, that when the speakers had all got through, and neither party being signally vanquished, it was determined to continue the discussion. For this the Whig committee selected Lincoln, and the Democratic committee selected Calhoun. In this discussion I think Lincoln took a sort of rank, and his ability was received and accepted as an established fact - it was conceded that in a sustained and thorough discussion of political issues Lincoln was in advance of the other leaders."231
On December 26, 1839, the discussions resumed. Lincoln delivered a tightly researched speech on the Van Buren Administration's banking policies. Unlike previous presentations at the Second Presbyterian Church, this speech may have been given in the hall of the State House of Representatives.232 Lincoln biographer Ida Tarbell wrote: "He started his speech with some melancholy, self-deprecatory reflections, complaining that the small audience cast a damp upon his spirits which he was sure he would be unable to overcome during the evening. He did better than he expected, overcoming the damp on his spirits so effectually that he made what was regarded as the best speech of the series."233
The substantive detail in the speech was especially impressive given that Lincoln had been busy throughout December on both legal and legislative business. Lincoln began his speech by explaining the impact of the sub-treasury system on the money supply: "By the Sub-Treasury, the revenue is to be collected, and kept in iron boxes until the government wants it for disbursement; thus robbing the people of the use of it, while the government does not itself need it, and while the money is performing no nobler office than that of rusting in iron boxes. The natural effect of this change of policy, every one will see, is to reduce the quantity of money in circulation." Lincoln continued: "This position is strengthened by the recollection, that the revenue is to be collected in specie, so that the mere amount of revenue is not all that is withdrawn, but the amount of paper circulation that the 40 millions would serve as a basis to, is withdrawn; which would be in a sound state at least 100 millions."234 According to Lincoln, "It may be said, that what the debtor loses, the creditor gains by this operation; but on examination this will be found true only to a very limited extent. It is more generally true that all lose by it. The creditor, by losing more of his debts, than he gains by the increased value of those he collects; the debtor by either parting with more of his property to pay his debts, that he received in contracting them; or, by entirely breaking up in his business, and thereby being thrown upon the world in idleness."235
Lincoln, the self-taught student of economics, contended: "When the quantity of money shall be reduced, and consequently every thing under individual control brought down in proportion, the price of those lands, being fixed by law, will remain as now. Of necessity, it will follow that the produce or labor that now raises money sufficient to purchase 80 acres, will then raise but sufficient to purchase 40, or perhaps not that much. And this difficulty and hardship will last as long, in some degree, as any portion of these lands shall remain undisposed of. Knowing, as I well do, the difficulty that poor people now encounter in procuring homes, I hesitate not to say, that when the price of the public lands shall be doubled or trebled; or, which the same thing produce and labor cut down to one-half or one-third of their present prices, it will be little less than impossible for them to procure those homes at all."
Lincoln attempted to exploit weaknesses in his opponents' arguments. Douglas biographer Frank E. Stevens noted: "Characteristic of Douglas, who was apt all the days of his political life, to make statements from the stump, without first making an examination of the facts, expecting of course to reach no ears which would know the difference, he left a vulnerable opening for Lincoln. In this particular case, his speech is not preserved, but Lincoln's reply to it, is preserved."236 Lincoln refuted much of what Douglas had contended:
Mr. Douglass, seeing that the enormous expenditure of 1838, has no parallel in the olden times, comes in with a long list of excuses for it. This list of excuses I will rapidly examine, and show, as I think, that the few of them which are true, prove nothing; and that the majority of them are wholly untrue in fact. He first says, that the expenditures of that year were made under the appropriations of Congress - one branch of which was a Whig body. It is true that those expenditures were made under the appropriations of Congress; but it is untrue that either branch of Congress was a Whig body. The Senate had fallen into the hands of the administration, more than a year before, as proven by the passage of the Expunging Resolution; and at the time those appropriations were made, there were too few Whigs in that body, to make a respectable struggle, in point of numbers, upon any question. This is notorious to all. The House of Representatives that voted those appropriations, was the same that first assembled at the called session of September, 1838. Although it refused to pass the Sub-Treasury Bill, a majority of its members were elected as friends of the administration, and proved their adherence to it, by the election of a Van Buren Speaker, and two Van Buren clerks. It is clear then, that both branches of the Congress that passed those appropriations were in the hands of Mr. Van Buren's friends, so that the Whigs had no power to arrest them, as Mr. Douglass would insist. And is not the charge of extravagant expenditures, equally well sustained, if shown to have been made by a Van Buren Congress, as if shown to have been made in any other way? A Van Buren Congress passed the bill; and Mr. Van Buren himself approved them, and consequently the party are wholly responsible for them.
While Democrats relied on broad plausible assertions, Mr. Lincoln relied on the records: "Again, Mr. Douglass says that the removal of the Indians to the country west of the Mississippi created much of the expenditure of 1838. I have examined the public documents in relation to this matter, and find that less was paid for the removal of Indians in that than in some former years. The whole sum expended on that account in that year did not much exceed one-quarter of a million. For this small sum, altho' we do not think the administration entitled to credit, because large sums have been expended in the same way in former years, we consent it may take one and make the most of it."
Next, Mr. Douglass says that five millions of the expenditures of 1838 consisted of the payment of the French indemnity money to its individual claimants. I have carefully examined the public documents, and thereby find this statement to be wholly untrue. Of the forty millions of dollars expended in 1838, I am enabled to say positively that not one dollar consisted of payments on the French indemnities. So much for that excuse."237
Lincoln used the past to predict the future with two metaphors: "What has once happened, will invariably happen again, when the same circumstances which combined to produce it, shall again combine in the same way. We all feel that we know that a blast of wind would extinguish the flame of the candle that stands by me. How do we know it? We have never seen this flame thus extinguished. We know it, because we have seen through all our lives, that a blast of wind extinguishes the flame of a candle whenever it is thrown fully upon it. Again, we all feel to know that we have to die. How? We have never died yet. We know it, because we know, or at least think we know, that of all the beings, just like ourselves, who have been coming into the world for six thousand years, not one is now living who was here two hundred years ago....I repeat then, that we know nothing of what will happen in future, but by the analogy of experience, and that the fair analogy of past experience proves that the Sub-Treasury would be a less safe depository of the public money than a National Bank."238
Midway through the speech, Lincoln drew particular attention to John Calhoun, who was scheduled to reply to him two days later: "Omitting, for want of time, what I had intended to say as to the effect of the Sub-Treasury, to bring the public money under the more immediate control of the President, than it has ever heretofore been, I now only ask the audience, when Mr. Calhoun shall answer me, to hold him to the questions. Permit him not to escape them. Require him either to show, that the Sub-Treasury would not injuriously affect the currency, or that we should in some way, receive an equivalent for that injurious effect. Require him either to show that the Sub-Treasury would not be more expensive as a fiscal agent, than a Bank, or that we should, in some way be compensated for that additional expense. And particularly require him to show, that the public money would be as secure in the Sub-Treasury as in a National Bank, or that the additional insecurity would be over-balanced by some good result of the proposed change."239
The series continued into the new year with Orville H. Browning speaking on financial issues on January 2.240 But clearly, Lincoln's speech had been a highlight of the series. Joshua Speed recalled: "Mr. Lincoln delivered this speech without manuscript or notes. It filled seven columns in the Sangamon Journal, and was pronounced by all who heard it as exactly what he had said."241 The Quincy Whig reported that Lincoln delivered "a speech which no man can answer, but Calhoun will try Saturday evening."242 Democrats were less impressed by Lincoln's effort. "Though Mr. Lincoln may be a believer in the practability and usefulness of an inconvertible paper currency, we are no believers in that doctrine," reported the State Register more than a month after the speech had been delivered. The fact that they were replying a month after the speech suggests that it had a political impact: "When we notice the strong terms which Mr. Lincoln employs in making use of the argument, we feel justified in saying, that whether its use arises from ignorance of the subject under discussion, or from a design to mislead individuals who it is supposed will not take the trouble to investigate the matter, it is alike discreditable to those who advance it."243
The State Register denigrated Lincoln's remarks: "We derive great pleasure from the fact, that powerful as it is thought to be by them, that it can be answered with so much ease and effect."244 John M. Palmer, then a Democrat but, later admitted he was impressed by a Lincoln speech he witnessed in December 1839. Lincoln "surprised me by his ability and by his apparent logical frankness. He seemed to concede to his adversary almost everything he could claim, but I observed that he always found means to escape the effect of his own concessions. His language was simple but exact. His statements were clear and his arguments must have given great satisfaction to the party he represented. He asserted his propositions with firmness and supported them in the most effective manner."245 These were the rhetorical characteristics that would characterize Mr. Lincoln for the rest of his life.
The 1840 Presidential Election
President Martin Van Buren, a machine Democrat from New York who had succeeded Andrew Jackson in 1837, sought reelection in 1840. The Whigs sought an opportunity to defeat the unpopular and easily caricatured Van Buren by nominating a popular former general, William Henry Harrison of Ohio. Lincoln and his fellow Whigs sought to blame the state's economic problems on the national economic policies pursued by the "Red Fox of Kinderhook" - especially his Subtreasury scheme to replace the defunct national bank. Both Democrats and Whigs seemed determined to ignore the state's own pressing economic problems. Historian Robert W. Johannsen noted that the "Democratic campaign strategy emphasized national issues. To the dismay of some, such pressing local issues as the mounting state debt and the ill-advised internal improvements system were pushed into the background."246 Lincoln scholar Harry E. Pratt observed: "The logical issues in Illinois - internal improvements and the reduction of the ten million dollar state debt - were submerged in the national battle of personalties between Harrison and Van Buren."247
Lincoln was clearly anxious to collect research material for his political speeches. "Be sure to send me as many copies of the life of Harrison, as you can spare from other uses," wrote Lincoln to his law partner, Congressman John Todd Stuart, in mid-January. "And, in general, send me every thing you think will be a good 'war-club.' The nomination of Harrison takes first rate. You know I am never sanguine; but I believe we will carry the state. The chance for doing so, appears to me 25 per cent better than it did for you to beat Douglass [sic]. A great many of the grocery sort of Van Buren men, as formerly, are out for Harrison. Our Irish Blacksmith Gregory, is for Harrison." Irish voters were generally considered reliable Democratic votes. Referring to his December speech, Lincoln added: "You have heard that the Whigs and Locos had a political discussion shortly after the meeting of the Legislature. Well, I made a big speech, which is in progress of printing in pamphlet form. To enlighten you and the rest of the world, I shall send you a copy when it is finished."248 The printed version of Lincoln's speech - and its reprinting in Whig newspapers in Illinois extended its impact.249
But Lincoln and his four fellow Harrison electors - were named to head the Whig State Central Committee and organize the campaign. Lincoln drafted a "secret" circular for Whigs to "organize the Whole State" which Democratic newspapers then printed and criticized.250 With the legislature in session, Whigs scheduled a rally for William Henry Harrison at the State Capital for February 3.251 When the legislature adjourned, Lincoln traveled to Peoria to speak at a "Harrison Festival" on February 10.252 After a parade featuring a wheeled canoe celebrating "Tippecanoe" Harrison, a dinner was held at Clinton House. Among the toasts made was one to "Mr. Lincoln, the fearless and eloquent expounder of the iniquities of the sub-treasury scheme. The Peoria Register and North-Western Gazetteer reported: "Mr. Lincoln here rose and made just such a speech as would be expected from a gentlemen [sic] of his high reputation for argument and eloquence. No sketch from memory of his remarks...could do them justice." Another toast was made to Lincoln "for his late expose of the corruptions of the present administration."253
Neighbor James Gourley recalled that Lincoln was a frequent speaker before the Harrison Club in Springfield in 1840.254 But Lincoln's impact extended beyond the state capital. William H. Herndon recalled: "During the Presidential race between Harrison and Van Buren in '40, Lincoln and Douglas frequently discussed the political questions of the day on the stump."255 One early biographer claimed that Douglas made 207 speeches in the campaign.256 Cabinetmaker John B. Weber, then a Democrat, remembered: "The discussion[s] between Douglas & Lincoln were fairly and ably discussed: they were able speeches - truly so."257 Weber remembered: "Lincoln used to stagger me with his tariff speeches: he so arranged his facts - his arguments - his logic that it approached me from such a peculiar angle that they struck me forcibly."258
This was a tough campaign. "It was during this same canvass that Lincoln by his manly interference protected his friend E. D. Baker from the anger of an infuriated crowd," wrote William H. Herndon. "Baker was a brilliant and effective speaker, and quite as full too of courage as invective. He was addressing a crowd in the court room, which was immediately underneath Stuart and Lincoln's office. Just above the platform on which the speaker stood was a trap door in the floor, which opened into Lincoln's office. Lincoln at the time, as was often his habit, was lying on the floor looking down through the door at the speaker. I was in the body of the crowd. Baker was hot-headed and impulsive, but brave as a lion."259 Baker implicitly attacked the editor of the State Register, George Weber, a close political ally of Calhoun. Baker snidely observed: "Wherever there is a land office there is a paper to defend the Corruptions of office." The editor's brother, John Weber, cried: "Pull him down."260
Herndon recalled: "Just then a long pair of legs were seen dangling from the aperture above, and instantly the figure of Lincoln dropped on the platform. Motioning with his hands for silence and not succeeding, he seized a stone water-pitcher standing near by, threatening to break it over the head of the first man who laid hands on Baker. 'Hold on, gentlemen,' he shouted, 'this is the land of free speech. Mr. Baker has a right to speak and ought to be heard. I am here to protect him, and no man shall take him from this stand if I can prevent it.' His interference had the desired effect. Quiet was soon restored, and the valiant Baker was allowed to proceed. I was in the back part of the crowd that night, and an enthusiastic Baker man myself. I knew he was a brave man, and even if Lincoln had not interposed, I felt sure he wouldn't have been pulled from the platform without a bitter struggle."261
On another occasion Lincoln feared for the safety of Usher Linder after he gave a speech that incensed Democrats. Linder recalled giving a speech at the State Capitol "which I think now, looking back at it from this point was the very best I ever made in my life; and while I was addressing the vast assembly some ruffian in the galleries flung at me a gross personal insult, accompanied with a threat. Lincoln and Col. Baker, who were both present, and warm personal and political friends of mine, anticipating that I might be attacked when I left the State House, came up upon the stand a little before I concluded my speech and took their station on each side of me, and when I was through, and after my audience had greeted me with three hearty cheers, each took one of my arms, and Lincoln said to me: "Baker and I are apprehensive that you may be attacked by some of those ruffians who insulted you from the galleries, and we have come up to escort you to your hotel. We both think we can do a little fighting, so we want you to walk between us until we get you to your hotel; your quarrel is our quarrel, and that of the great Whig party of this nation, and your speech upon this occasion is the greatest one that has been made by any of us, for which we wish to honor, love, and defend you."262
Lincoln could agitate and insult as well as protect. It was also during the 1840 campaign that Lincoln crossed rhetorical swords with former Illinois Attorney General Jesse B. Thomas, Jr., a Democratic judge before whom Lincoln had practiced and with whom he had debated in late 1839. Thomas, who was an unsuccessful candidate for the state legislature that year, addressed an election rally in which he had denounced and ridiculed Lincoln and the Long Nine. Lincoln was not present for the first part of the speech but arrived in time to hear its conclusion. Lincoln then commenced what was afterwards known as the "skinning" of Thomas - a bitterly sarcastic imitation by Lincoln of Thomas's physical and rhetorical manners. Herndon wrote that Lincoln "imitated Thomas in gesture and voice, at times caricaturing his walk and the very motion of his body. Thomas, like everybody else, had some peculiarities of expression and gesture, and these Lincoln succeeded in rendering more prominent than ever. The crowd yelled and cheered as he continued. Encouraged by these demonstrations, the ludicrous features of the speaker's performance gave way to intense and scathing ridicule. Thomas, who was obliged to sit near by and endure the pain of this unique ordeal, was ordinarily sensitive; but the exhibition goaded him to desperation. He was so thoroughly wrought up with suppressed emotion that he actually gave way to tears."263
At this stage of his career, Lincoln could be as rough and tough a politician as Douglas, but their styles would evolve very differently. Herndon wrote that in contrast to the emotional Douglas, the logical "Lincoln himself was constructed on an entirely different foundation. His base was plain common- sense, direct statement, and the inflexibility of logic....He analyzed everything, laid every statement bare, and by dint of his broad reasoning powers and manliness of admission inspired his hearers with deep conviction of his earnestness and honesty. Douglas may have electrified the crowds with his eloquence or charmed them with his majestic bearing and dexterity in debate, but as each man, after the meetings were over and applause had died away, went to his home, his head rang with Lincoln's logic and appeal to manhood."264 Douglas, Lincoln, and their colleagues continued their debates as they traveled around central Illinois on legal business - however, there is no evidence that Calhoun joined them. Historical writer Gary Ecelbarger wrote: "By the end of the campaign, Lincoln was known statewide and was even mentioned as a gubernatorial candidate."265
Lincoln scholar George W. Smith wrote: "The 1840 tour began in April with Whig rallies in Carlinville, Alton, and Belleville, addressed by several prominent local politicians and Lincoln, the Springfield missionary. Lincoln spoke of hard times brought by the Democrats, illustrating this by stating that he had witnessed a fine horse sold that morning by a constable for a paltry twenty-seven dollars. Embarrassingly, the constable called out that the horse had only one eye. Lincoln's speech did not impress Gustave Koerner, later a prominent Lincoln ally." Koerner recalled:
In point of melody of voice and graceful delivery, though not in argument, most all the other speakers surpassed him....His exceedingly tall and very angular form made his movements rather awkward. Nor were his features, when he was not animated, pleasant, owing principally to his high cheek-bones. His complexion had no roseate hue of health, but was then rather bilious, and, when not speaking, his face seemed to be overshadowed by melancholy thoughts. I observed him closely, thought I saw a good deal of intellect in him, while his looks were genial and kind. I did not believe, however that he had much reserve will-power.266
(Speaking in August 1852 on behalf of Whig presidential candidate Winfield Scott, Lincoln harkened back to these 1840 exchanges. He opened his speech to the Springfield Scott Club by saying: "Soon after the Democratic nomination for President and vice-President in June last at Baltimore, it was announced somewhat ostentatiously, as it seemed me, that Judge Douglas would, previous to the election, make speeches in favor of those nominations, in twenty-eight of the thirty-one States. Since then, and as I suppose, in part performance of this undertaking, he has actually made one speech at Richmond, Virginia. This speech has been published, with high commendations, in at least one of the democratic papers in this state, and I suppose it has been, and will be, in most of the others. When I first saw it, and read it, I was reminded of old times - of the times when Judge Douglas was not so much greater man than all the rest of us, as he now is - of the Harrison campaign, twelve years ago, when I used to hear, and try to answer many of his speeches; and believing that the Richmond speech though marked with the same species of 'shirks and quirks' as the old ones, was not marked with any greater ability, I was seized with a strong inclination to attempt an answer to it; and this inclination it was that prompted me to seek the privilege of address you on this occasion."267)
Lincoln campaigned throughout Illinois in 1840. According to Lincoln neighbor James Gourley, Lincoln "advocated the Tariff - Bank - Internal improvements by the Gen[eral] government - & the distribution of the proceeds of the Sale of the public land, and particularly & generally all the whig measures."268 One Lincoln friend recalled that Lincoln and Edward Baker stumped across southern Illinois "where...they would make speeches one day and shake with the ague the next. The speakers were obliged to travel on horseback, carrying their saddle-bags filled with 'hickory' shirts and woolen socks. They were frequently obliged to travel long distances, through swamps and over prairies, to meet their appointments. The accommodations were invariably wretched, and no matter how tired, jaded and worn the speaker might be, he was obliged to respond to the call of the waiting and eager audiences.""269
Lincoln was determined to do his party duty as defined by a Whig campaign circular in January 1840 which he had probably authored and certainly endorsed: "To overthrow the trained bands that are opposed to us, whose salaried officers are ever on the watch, and whose misguided followers are ever ready to obey their smallest commands, every Whig must not only know his duty, but must firmly resolve, whatever of time and labor it may cost, boldly and faithfully to do it. Our intention is to organize the whole State, so that every Whig can be brought to the polls in the coming presidential contest."270 Lincoln was optimistic about victory. "I have never seen the prospects of our party so right in these parts as they are now," he wrote Congressman Stuart in early March.271 Although Lincoln concentrated on substance, there was a great deal of political gimmickry that dominated the "Log Cabin and Hard Cider Campaign."
Stuart's law partner was particularly active in this campaign because he had been chosen as one of the Harrison's presidential electors in Illinois. Along with Speed and Edward D. Baker, Lincoln was one of five members of the Whig State Central Committee who prepared a detailed plan for organization of the campaign. Lincoln liked secrecy even when it was impractical. The committee's plan included a warning that "Plan of operations will of course be concealed from every one except our good friends, who of right ought to know them."272 Lincoln also liked political sarcasm. During this period, Lincoln could be scathing in his critiques of his political opponents. William H. Herndon remembered:
Lincoln used to call his opponents Locofocos, denied that they were the true and genuine article, not a particle of Democracy about them, that they were a fraud, only an assumption of genuineness, and to point his charge frequently told this story: "Once an old farmer in the country heard a devil of a racket in his hen house, heard it often before, so he thought to get up and see what was the matter and kill the thing if it was some wild animal. He got up, lit his candle, and went gun in hand to see and fight it out. On going into the hen house he looked around on the floor and on the roosts and at last found his enemy, a polecat, crouched in the corner with two or three dead chickens. The farmer seized the polecat and dragged him out, and all who know the nature of such a cat know what followed - a devil of a stink. The polecat demurred as well as he could in his own language, saying that he was no such brute as charged, but an innocent animal and a friend of the farmer just come to take care of his chickens. The farmer to this replied: 'You look like a polecat, just the size of a polecat, act like one' - and snuffing up his nose - 'and smell like one, and you are one, by God, and I'll kill you, innocent and as friendly to me as you say you are.' These Locofocos," said Lincoln, 'claim to be true Democrats, but they are only Locofocos - they look like Locofocos, just the size of Locofocos, act like Locofocos, and" - turning up his nose and backing away a little on the stand as if the smell was about to smother him - "are Locofocos, by God."
Herndon recalled that even Democrats laughed at the story: "The effect was electric, it could not be resisted." In calling their Democratic opponents "Locofocos," Lincoln and his fellow Whigs tried to separate Democrats from their Jefferson-Jackson heritage. Noted Herndon: "The Whigs declared that the good old Democracy was no more, was dead, and that a bastard generation of poor machine politicians had grown up like a mushroom."273 Lincoln's rhetoric during the campaign emphasized sarcasm and ridicule as well as reason. Lincoln contributed to the Whig newspaper, The Old Soldier, writing Stuart in March that subscription requests "pour in without abatement."274 The use of pejorative labels was hardly Lincoln's alone; Stephen A. Douglas liked to call Whigs "Federalists" in order to suggest their supposed elitism and discredited politics.275
Douglas, who assumed the chairmanship of the Democratic state committee and the Van Buren campaign, did not take kindly to ridicule and took particular offense to something written in the Whig Sangamo Journal. Douglas biographer Robert W. Johannsen wrote that Douglas and Journal editor Simeon Francis "delighted in attacking and misrepresenting the other." The Democratic campaign newspaper, for example, called the Francis a "compound of goose fat and sheep's wool."276 As Lincoln wrote Congressman Stuart in early March: "Yesterday Douglas, having chosen to consider himself insulted by something in the 'Journal,' undertook to cane [Editor Simeon] Francis in the street. Francis caught him by the hair and jammed him back against a market-cart, where the matter ended by Francis being pulled away from him. The whole affair was so ludicrous that Francis and everybody else (Douglas excepted) have been laughing about it ever since." Francis had a strong advantage over Douglas in both height and weight.
The Democratic slant on the confrontation came from the State Register which reported: "Mr. Francis had applied scurrilous language to Mr. Douglas, which could be noticed in no other way. Mr. Douglas, therefore, gave him a sound caning, which Mr. Francis took with Abolition patience, and is now praising God that he was neither killed nor scathed."277 Francis snidely wrote of his confrontation with Douglas: "He came, he saw, he got made...he got a stick bigger than himself - snatched by his irresistible energy from the unwilling hand of John Calhoun, he came up by a masterly flank movement - big words fell from his lips, his might hand raised the stick - it fell and we received the blow upon an unoffending apple, which was as we thought secure from the chances of war."278
Lincoln sought to use whatever ammunition he could to wound President Van Buren; he repeatedly resorted to allegations that Van Buren has supported black suffrage in New York State.279 According to Frank E. Stevens: "In his speech, Lincoln, imputed to Van Buren the unpardonable sin from a Douglas standpoint, of having voted in the New York State Convention for Negro suffrage with a property qualification. Douglas denied the fact vigorously and demanded Lincoln's authority. In reply, Lincoln offered to prove his assertion by reading from Holland's 'Life of Van Buren,' which contained a letter covering the point, from Van Buren to one Mr. Fithian. At that, Douglas grew angry; he snatched the book and as he tossed it into the crowd, exclaimed angrily, 'Damn such a book!'"280 Lincoln's attacks were ironic because few northerners were more sympathetic to the South and slaveholders in 1820s than was Van Buren.
Both Lincoln and Douglas toured the Eighth Judicial Circuit that spring; they attended in court in the mornings and make political speeches in the afternoon.281 Frank Stevens wrote: "From a week of joint debate in March between [John] Hardin, Edward D. Baker, Lamborn and Douglas to the day before the November election, Douglas was on the stump."282 Lincoln and Douglas met in Tremont for a debate on Saturday, May 2, 1840. Jesse Thomas also spoke for the Democrats. Former Congressman William L. May spoke for the Whigs when the debate continued on Monday. (May shifted back and forth from the Democrats to the Whigs and back to the Democrats; in 1844 Lincoln would debate born-again-Democrat May in Peoria and satirize his party changes to May's consternation.) The Sangamo Journal reported that "Mr. Lincoln, who after some general and appropriate remarks concerning the design and object of all Governments, drew a vivid picture of our prosperous and happy condition previous to the time of the war which was waged against the U.S. Bank, the constitutionality, as well as the great utility of which he vindicated in a most triumphant manner. He next turned his attention to the Sub-Treasury, the hideous deformity and injurious effects of which were exposed in a masterly style. He then reviewed the political course of Mr. Van Buren, and especially his votes in the New York Convention in allowing Free Negroes the right of suffrage, and his Janus-faced policy in relation to the war [of 1812]. In this part of his speech Mr. Lincoln was particularly felicitous, and the frequent and spontaneous bursts of applause from the People, gave evidence that their hearts were with him. He related many highly amusing anecdotes which convulsed the house with laughter; and concluded his eloquent address with a successful vindication of the civil and military reputation of the Hero of Tippecanoe."283
In Clinton later in the month Lincoln and Douglas united to serve as counsel for an accused murderer. On May 21 before the trial began, Douglas and Thomas competed against Lincoln and May on the political issues of the day. Their client was acquitted - just as Early's murdered had been.284 Soon thereafter, the Quincy Whig reported later that month: "Mr. Lincoln, one of the presidential electors for the state, is `going it with a perfect rush' in some of the interior counties. Thus far the Locofocos have not been able to start a man that can hold a candle to him in political debate. All their crack nags... have come off the field crippled or broken down. He is wending his way north."285 In early June, Lincoln returned to Springfield for a "Young Men's Whig Convention" that attracted Whigs from all over Illinois as well as neighboring states. There were speeches all day on June 4 but no record that Lincoln spoke.
Lincoln's statewide efforts on behalf of Harrison seem to have hurt him locally in the summer of 1840.286 Lincoln was reelected to the State House of Representatives in August, but instead of leading the Whig ticket in Sangamon County, he trailed it. Indeed, late in the winter of 1839-40, he feared he would not even be nominated by the Whigs because of resentment among small-town Whigs that the county's politics was dominated by the comparatively big-city Springfield "Junto." After the Whig convention in March, Lincoln wrote: "The fact is, the country delegates made the nominations as they pleased; and they pleased to make them all from the country, except [Edward] Baker & me, whom they supposed necessary to make stump speeches."287
Calhoun, the top Democratic vote-getter, ran behind Lincoln, who ran last among the winning Whigs in his reelection to the legislature. Lincoln's 1844 votes were, however, far ahead of the 1266 votes cast for Calhoun, who ran sixth and best among the losing Democrats.288 In addition to the Democrats, there are also a number of anti-Junto Whigs on the ballot. "Lincoln would have done better had he devoted less time to campaigning around the state and more to campaigning in Sangamon County," wrote Lincoln scholar Paul Simon.289 Statewide, Democrats actually increased their advantage over Whigs in the State House of Representatives. When it met that December, Lincoln would lose the speakership by a 46-36 margin.
The Whigs had done badly in southern Illinois in the August legislative elections so Whig leaders turned their south for the presidential race.290 During late August and September, Lincoln and Secretary of State Alexander P. Field left Calhoun & Douglas behind and spent much time in campaigning in the southern half of Illinois. The Democratic State Register dubbed Lincoln and Field - both were about 6'4", great story tellers, and masters of political invective - as "missionaries...to the benighted region."291 Attorney Stephen T. Logan later recalled that it was "supposed that his [Lincoln's] character and style of speaking suited the people down there more than up north."292 Lincoln may even have spoken in Kentucky during this campaign. His major Democratic adversaries included John McClelland, a lawyer-politician whom Lincoln would commission as a general in the Civil War, and attorney Josiah Lamborn. Lincoln returned to the practice of law in the Eighth Judicial Circuit in late September and October but was in southern Illinois on election day - where he could not cast a ballot.
When Lincoln and Douglas again confronted each other in Springfield, wrote historian Allen Guelzo, "Douglas tried to tag 'the Whigs' as 'federalists - Tories - Aristocrats &c. That the whigs were opposed to freedom, Justice & progress.' This stung Lincoln, who 'detested aristocracy in all its forms' and who looked on the Jacksonians as the real aristocrats."293 Stephen Douglas remembered the election nearly two decades later: "It took the country many years to recover from the general bankruptcy [in 1837-1839], and in 1840 the Whigs, with Harrison and Tyler, appealed to the public to make a change in the Government, charging the Democratic party as responsible for all the evils which had befallen the country; that its policy had broken the National Bank and the State banks, and all the moneyed institutions of the country, and brought universal bankruptcy to every man's door, and crushed the merchants. The whole people being convinced that no change could be for the worse, financially speaking, determined to see if it could be for the better."294
Nationwide, Harrison triumphed. Illinois, however, was one of two northern states where Van Buren was victorious - in part because of the votes from Irish workers on working on the Michigan-Illinois Canal, votes that Douglas had protected in arguments before the State Supreme Court.295 In November, the five Whig electors backing Harrison in Illinois ran about two thousand votes behind their Democrat counterparts backing Van Buren. Lincoln, with 45,385 votes ran last among the Whigs - 189 votes behind the Whig leader.296 Calhoun received the same number of votes as most of the other Democratic electors. In Sangamon County, however, the Whigs did far better there, taking 62% of the votes. After the 1840 election, the State Legislature assembled in Springfield. The Whigs were still a minority in Illinois. Calhoun easily won reelection as clerk of the State House of Representatives while Lincoln lost an election for House speaker by a margin of 46-36.297
In 1840 Stephen Douglas had chosen neither to challenge Stuart for Congress nor to run for the State Legislature. After declining a legislative nomination in March, Douglas instead concentrated on campaigning for Van Buren. The Little Giant was rewarded with an appointment as Illinois' secretary of state in November 1840 and an appointment as a judge of the State Supreme Court a few months later.298 Personally, Lincoln did less well - breaking up his engagement with Mary Todd on January 1, 1841 and exhibiting what he admitted was "a most discreditable exhibition of myself in the way of hypochrondriasism."299 A few days later, he confessed to "the deplorable state of my mind at this time."300 As a consequence, Lincoln missed a number of legislative sessions in January. Douglas's ambitious rise continued unabated; in December 1842 he came in second in the Democratic caucus deliberations to choose the nominee for the seat of U.S. Senator Richard M. Young. In the final vote, Judge Douglas was defeated by Judge Sidney Breese, 56 to 51.
The Election of 1844 and the Tariff
Out of office after leaving the state legislature in 1841, Lincoln turned his attention to his law practice and his personal life. He formed a new partnership with William H. Herndon as the junior but equal partner. He finally married Mary Todd on November 4, 1842 - about 22 months after a traumatic breakup with her and less than two months after a near duel with State Auditor James Shields. Lincoln lost the Whig nomination to Congress in 1843. Physically, this congressional district had shrunk dramatically since the number of Illinois districts had increased from three to seven.
Judge Douglas took advantage of the expanded options to seek the Democratic nomination for the Fifth congressional district; he was nominated by convention in Quincy in June 1843. Although he and William A. Richardson trailed far behind former Governor Thomas Carlin on the first convention ballot, Douglas prevailed after a recess.301 One Douglas biographer called the convention "machine-made and machine-controlled."302 Douglas was clearly at the controls of the machine. Biographer Allen Johnson wrote: "Douglas made a show of declining the nomination on the score of ill-health, but yielded to the urgent solicitations of friends, who would fain have him believe that he was the only Democrat who could carry the district. Secretly pleased to be overruled, Douglas burned his bridges behind him by resigning his [judicial] office, and plunged into the thick of the battle."303 During June and July, Douglas engaged in a series of debates - primarily on national economic questions like the tariff - against Lincoln's Whig friend Orville H. Browning, another Kentucky-born veteran of the Black Hawk War who had been nominated on May 1.
"In the forenoon of a bright summer day in June, the court was brought to a close, for the term, in the last county in the circuit, and he at once resigned his judgeship," recalled Browning of Douglas 18 years later. "In the afternoon of the same day, by previous mutual arrangement, and at the urgent solicitation of both political parties, we addressed a large assemblage of Whigs and Democrats, thus opening one of the most excited, arduous, and earnest political campaigns that was ever made in the State.
The next day we passed into another county, and again addressed the people; and from that time forward till the election, we traveled together, often in the same conveyance, and spoke together from the same stand on an average of two hours each per day, and that repeated every day, as my memory now serves me, with the exception only of the Sabbath. The district was one of the largest in the United States, both in population and territory, and the summer unusually warm; and it is, perhaps, not to be wondered at that the health of both of us gave way under the constant and heavy draft thus made on our physical and intellectual energies-mine a little before, and his on the day of the election.
Perhaps at no time in our country's history did party spirit run higher, or wax warmer, than at this time it did in Illinois. Personal rancor was almost universal, and personal conflicts not unfrequent between opposing candidates. Impressed with a sense of how pernicious the influence of such an example was upon the public mind; how adverse to a calm and impartial hearing, and fair estimate of discussion of the questions which separated us, and vitally interested the country; and how incompatible with the dignity which ought to characterize the deportment of gentlemen aspiring to high positions of trust and honor, we came to a mutual understanding, before entering upon the canvass, not to violate with each other the courtesies and proprieties of life; and not to permit any ardor or excitement of debate to betray us into coarse and unmanly personalities. And, I am proud to say, that the compact was well and faithfully kept on both sides. During the entire campaign not one unkind word or discourteous net passed between us; andwe closed the canvass with the friendly relations which had previously subsisted undisturbed, and maintained them, without interruption, to the day of his death."304
Browning was an educated, articulate, courtly, and somewhat aristocratic Whig whose arguments could be lost in the torrent of Douglas's enthusiasm and charming conversation. Douglas biographer Robert W. Johannsen wrote: "Younger than Browning by seven years, [Douglas's] easy informality in both dress and demeanor contrasted sharply with the formality of his opponent. Browning, dignified and deliberate, became known throughout the district for his dress coat, ruffled shirt, and large cuffs."305 Browning biographer Maurice Baxter noted: "In a down-to-earth approach, Douglas could expertly make small talk, ask about the health of a sick member of the family, and offer well-chosen pleasantries. If Browning was not so successful at this sort of thing, it was due to his natural reserve and aristocratic inclinations rather than to an aversion to Douglas' techniques."306
The battleground of the campaign was economics. "Protectionism and national banks were the focus of both men's arguments," wrote another Douglas biographer, James L. Huston. "Browning stood for a high tariff to create a home market to stimulate manufacturing, and a national bank to regulate the currency. Douglas declared himself for 'glorious free trade,' holding that 'the tariff arrays the rich against the poor.' As to banks, Douglas, according to one person, was op[p]osed to banks of all kinds and believed in a 'hard money system.'"307 Johannsen wrote: "Appealing to his agrarian audiences, Douglas charged that the Whig tariff bills discriminated against agriculture, favored the rich at the expense of the poor, and were injurious to western interests. He insisted on a tariff for revenue only and called for a return to the levels of the 1833 compromise tariff which Clay himself had engineered."
Political style, however, may have been more important than substance. "Even allowing for distortion, the Whig reaction to Douglas was interesting," Huston wrote. "Douglas talked probably twice as long as Browning. When it was his turn, he 'threw out a keg of cider and a coon skin, rolled up his sleeves, and went to the attack.' In his argument, the 'young Sampson of the locofoco party' was full of errors and issued to the audience a 'tirade of nonsense and falsehood.' One Whig observer did Douglas some justice, however. 'I admit what he said,' wrote the Whig, 'he said well, and with much energy of manner; but there was no argument, no reason, no patriotism; it was all bold and vague assertion, without proof, intended to work on the passions and prejudices." Huston commented: "Douglas in his speeches often rolled out one fact after another without any central principle holding everything together. His speeches displayed an amazing command of factual information -- not always scrupulously used."308
Such disregard of the facts meant the combative Douglas could be politically dangerous - but in Lincoln's eyes less formidable than a debater like Calhoun who actually presented coherent arguments. For the entire length of their acquaintance, Lincoln seemed to nurse a disdain for Douglas's careless use of the truth and lack of scruples. Douglas, however, had to nurse himself back to health for two months after the August 7 election, which he narrowly won by 461 votes. (Douglas allies had prepared for the election, noted historian Theodore Calvin Pease, by adding Green and Macoupin counties to the district "with the express intention of beating Browning if possible."309) Douglas's health, never good, often was stretched to breaking by his campaign exertions. Browning too was exhausted and bedridden with "bilious fever" at the end of the race.310 Nearly 18 years later, Browning would succeed Douglas in the U.S. Senate.311
Once in Congress, Douglas quickly made an unfavorable impression on former President John Quincy Adams. The Massachusetts congressman wrote in his diary in February 1844 that Congressman Douglas "had taken the floor last evening, and now raved out his hour in abusive invectives upon the members who had pointed out its slanders, and upon the Whig party. His face was convulsed, his gesticulation frantic, and he lashed himself into such a heat that if his body had been made of combustible matter it would have burnt out. In the midst of his roaring, to save himself from choking, he stripped off and cast away his cravat, unbuttoned his waistcoat, and had the air and aspect of a half-naked pugilist. And this man comes from a judicial bench, and passes for an eloquent orator!"312 That pugilistic streak would entertain the galleries in Washington and audiences in Illinois, but Douglas's rhetoric did not really educate or inform. Instead, he concentrated on persuasion. Historian Allan Nevins argued that Douglas "was intent on convincing, and poured forth his arguments and facts as a general in battle throws successive waves of shock troops against a position. He was never flowery, never flatulent, never weak."313
While Lincoln concentrated on the law and his personal life during this period, he apparently also took time to broaden his study of economics. Economic historian Olivier FrayssĂ© wrote "Of all the Illinois Whigs, Lincoln was the only one (or almost the only one) who dealt with the issue of the tariff in electoral meetings in 1840. Once again, he demonstrated his political courage by going against the general opinion of rural Illinois. In 1843-44 he perhaps took advantage of the rise in agricultural prices, particularly of wool, in comparison to the general index of prices. The rise, which coincided with the adoption of a Whig tariff in 1842, increasing duties by an average of 34.4 percent, made it possible to describe the short-term advantages of protectionism for the farmer. This concern will be found again in Lincoln's efforts in Congress to obtain protection for American hemp."314
Among Lincoln's reading during this period was Francis Wayland's Elements of Policy Economy and Henry C. Carey's Essay on the Rate of Wages.315 While Wayland was a tariff opponent, Carey would become a strong tariff supporter. Carey, a publisher and author who had strong ties to Pennsylvania's manufacturing sector, would later get to know President-elect Lincoln. Henry moved from free trade to protectionism in the1840s - a position which Carey's father Matthew had advocated. FrayssĂ© wrote: "Basically, Lincoln's theoretical position, which placed him in 'the avant-garde of American tariff economics,' was identical to that of Henry Carey's. He refused to see any contradiction at all, even temporary, between landed property owners, capitalists, and workers."316
Through extensive reading during this period Lincoln also developed the research techniques that he would later apply to the study of slavery and the American Founding. "In 1843 Lincoln boldly set forth his Whig policies, and also his enthusiasm for Clay," noted historian Gabor Boritt. "When the time of actual campaigning arrived, however, he characteristically focused on a single subject, in this case protectionism. In part a Lincolnian peculiarity produced this result. Long before he became the singleminded antislavery champion, he demonstrated that he was a one-issue politician on the stump, whether the issue was banking, internal improvements, or whatever. His thorough mind preferred to concentrate on one subject and dig deeply into it."317
Planning for the 1844 campaign began when Whig chieftains convened in Springfield on June 9-10, 1843. In a resolution reminiscent of December 1839, the Whig leaders resolved: "That we invite our democratic brethren to select two or three members of their party to meet a like number of ours to discuss the question of difference between the two political parties of the Nation, during all the evenings of next week; each Speaker to occupy one evening, the parties to take evening and evening about, and the speaker whose lot it shall be to open the debate, to have the privilege of making the closing speech on his own side of the question."318 Democrats did not immediately take up Lincoln's challenge, however, and Lincoln spent most of the remainder of 1843 on legal matters. It would be March of 1844 before Lincoln and Calhoun would revive their 1840 debates, this time concentrating on the tariff issue. In December 1843, Lincoln was selected as one of nine Whig candidates for the Electoral College. President Harrison had died shortly after his inauguration in 1841; Vice President John Tyler had succeeded Harrison, but had not succeeded in pleasing Whigs; he had proven closer to Democrats than the party which had elected him. Taylor twice vetoed legislation Clay's proposal for a new national bank as well as a revised tariff legislation.319
Lincoln and Calhoun had a healthy respect for each other's talents and were ready for more verbal duels as presidential electors, respectively, for Whig Henry Clay and Democrat James Polk. Calhoun's appointment in 1842 by Judge Samuel Treat as clerk of the Eighth Judicial Circuit meant that like Lincoln, he traveled throughout central Illinois.320 According to a political biography of Lincoln prepared in 1860 by his friend Jesse W. Fell, Lincoln "was an ardent friend of Henry Clay and exerted himself powerfully in his behalf in 1844, traversing the entire State of Illinois and addressing public meetings daily until near the close of the campaign, when, becoming convinced that his labors in that field would be unavailing, he crossed over into Indiana, and continued his efforts up to the day of the election." In Illinois, noted Fell, Lincoln and Calhoun "were the heads of the opposing electoral tickets. Calhoun...was then in full vigor of his really great powers, and was accounted the ablest debater of his party. They stumped the State together, or nearly so, making speeches usually on alternate days at each place and each addressing large audiences at great length, sometimes four hours together. Mr. Lincoln, in these elaborate speeches, evinced a thorough mastery of the principles of political economy which underlie the tariff question, and presented arguments in favor of the protective policy with a power and conclusiveness rarely equalled, and at the same time in a manner so lucid and familiar and so well interspersed with happy illustrations and apposite anecdotes as to secure the delighted attention of his auditory."321
In March 1844, Calhoun and Lincoln met in a week-long series of evening debates in a room in Hoffman's Row off the central square in Springfield. Lincoln and Calhoun "held a long discussion, say three or four nights, on protective tariffs. Both these men were strong men, strong on this question. Calhoun in 1844 was a strong, very strong, and clear-headed man, Lincoln's equal and the superior of Douglas," wrote William H. Herndon.322 John L. Scripps wrote in his 1860 campaign biography of Lincoln that in this campaign "Calhoun exerted himself as he never had done before. Not even Douglas, in his palmiest days, ever bore aloft the Democratic standard more gallantly, or brought more strength of intellect to the defense of its principles. But it was only the endeavor of a pigmy against an intellectual giant. His arguments were torn to tatters by Lincoln, his premises were left without foundation, and he had only the one course of the demagogue left-to raise the party cry, and to urge the faithful to a union of effort. The issues of that day made the discussion of the tariff a prominent part of every political speech. It is believed by the most intelligent of Mr. Lincoln's hearers, that the doctrine of tariff for the protection of home industry has never received, in this country, a more exhaustive exposition, and a more triumphant vindication than in his speeches during that canvass."323
"Lincoln's arguments were profound - [C]alhoun was an able man - No mistake - one of the ablest men that ever made Stump Speeches in Ills - He came nearer of whipping Lincoln in debate than Douglas did," recalled Lincoln neighbor James Gourley, who referred to the series as "their great Tariff debate."324 Turner R. King recalled that "Calhoun & Lincoln discussed the tariff: they were the best debaters - most Logical & finest debates on the Tariff question in the State."325 Democrat John B. Weber remembered: "The discussion[s] between Douglas & Lincoln were fairly and ably discussed: they were able speeches - truly so."326 Historian Gabor Boritt, however, has downplayed the debates' impact, arguing: "The press barely mentioned the affair." Nevertheless, Boritt noted that private reports of the debate favored Lincoln: "One Lincoln partisan reported that there was nothing left of the animal save ears & hoofs,' another that Lincoln had made his opponent 'hang down his under lip,' and a third that he had left the Locos 'pretty much down in the mouth.'"327
These Springfield debates from March 18 to March 25, 1844 followed a debate on March 16 in Jacksonville in which Whigs Baker and Lincoln debated Democrats Calhoun and Judge Alfred W. Cavarly, with whom Lincoln had served in the State Legislature and traveled on the court circuit.328 The Illinois State Register reported on March 22: "This being the first week of our Circuit Court, arrangements have been made by the public speakers, of both parties, to devote the evening hours, to the discussion of the great questions involved in the coming Presidential election."329 The rival Illinois State Journal reported: "There has been an interesting public discussion at the Court Room, on the political questions which divide the country, every evening of last week and Monday evening of this week."330 According to the State Register, a comment by Judge Cavarly "so disturbed Mr. Lincoln, that he promised to forfeit his 'ears' and his 'legs' if he did not demonstrate, that protected articles have been cheaper since the late Tariff than before."331
On the evening of March 20, Calhoun "developed the hidden mysteries of the Tariff, and leading measures of the whigs, to the public gaze," reported the State Register. "So completely did he expose modern whiggery and its anti-republican measures, that Baker himself turned pale, and Lincoln trembled at the thought of loosing [sic] his legs and his ears."332 In a subsequent edition, the State Register reported: "Mr. Calhoun proved beyond all cavil that in its operation the entire burden [of the tariff] fell on the consumer, yet Mr. Lincoln had the hardihood to assert that it might probably fall upon the manufacturer, after Mr. Calhoun had shown that it positively fell upon the consumer....Notwithstanding that it is so superlatively foolish, and carries with its own refutation, Mr. Lincoln had the presumption to insult the understanding of his hearers, by re-asserting that such was the case [that goods were cheaper because of the tariff]." The Democratic newspaper concluded: "Whiggery may well exclaim - save me from my friends! A more complete and perfect expose of the iniquity and absurdity of the tariff system, could not be desired than was unwittingly furnished by Mr. Lincoln himself. It stands very much in need of another advocate to protect it from Mr. L's defence."333 The topic of these debates was the Tariff of 1842, passed under the leadership of Senator Henry Clay to replace the much less protectionist Tariff of 1833, which he had also spearheaded and which gradually reduced tariffs over a decade. The 1842 bill returned tariff rates to their pre-1833 levels.
Springfield's Whig newspaper saw the debate differently than the State Register did.
On March 28, the Sangamon Journal reported: "The efforts of Mr. Lincoln were distinguished for ability, and in all candor we must say, that we did not discover a single position raised by Mr. Calhoun, that he did not entirely demolish."334 Herndon remembered that he "toted books" and "hunted up authorities" for Lincoln.335 His debates on economic issues with Douglas and Calhoun in the 1840s helped hone rhetorical techniques that Lincoln would refine with Douglas on slavery issues in the 1850s. Gabor Boritt noted: "In 1844 Lincoln continued from earlier contests...the joint debate technique that had proved successful for him. He continued to put theoretical reasoning into local dialect and supplement it with both homely parables and precise statistics."336 According to historian Michael Burlingame, "In the spring and fall, Lincoln stumped Illinois, often with Calhoun as a sparring partner; when not debating face-to-face, one of them would speak and the other would do so the next day at the same location."337
(Historian William C. Harris noted that "only two brief newspaper accounts of these debates exist. Later, in October 1860, a correspondent for the New York Herald in Springfield learned of the debates and provided the readers of his newspaper with a report of them."338 "The report, which was read by many pro-tariff Pennsylvanians, probably aided Lincoln in the presidential election."339 Lincoln himself wrote in 1860: "In 1844, I was on the Clay electoral ticket in this State (i.e., Illinois) and, to the best of my ability, sustained, together, the tariff of 1842 and the tariff plank of the Clay platform. This could be proven by hundreds - perhaps thousands - of living witnesses; still it is not in print, except by inference. The Whig papers of those years all show that I was upon the electoral ticket; even though I made speeches, among other things about the tariff, but they do not show what I said about it. The papers show that I was one of a committee which reported, among others, a resolution in these words: 'That we are in favor of an adequate revenue on duties from imports so levied as to afford ample protection to American industry.'"340)
Lincoln campaigned vigorously for Clay in 1844, according to an 1860 campaign biography compiled by Bloomington friend Jesse W. Fell: "He was an ardent friend of Henry Clay, and exerted himself powerfully in his behalf, in 1844, traversing the entire State of Illinois, and addressing public meetings daily until near the close of the campaign, when, becoming convinced that his labors in that field would be unavailing, he crossed over into Indiana, and continued his efforts up to the day of the election. The contest of that year in Illinois was mainly on the tariff question."341 A Rockport, Indiana newspaper reported at the end of October 1844 that Lincoln "addressed a large and respectable audience at the court house on Wednesday evening last, upon the whig policy. His main argument was directed in pointing out the advantages of a Protective Tariff. He handled that subject in a manner that done honor to himself and the whig cause. Other subjects were investigated in a like manner. His speech was plain, argumentative and of an hour's duration."342 A resident of Boonville later recalled that Lincoln "made a speech in our Court House. All who heard him (without distinction of party) concur in saying he made one of the best speeches ever delivered in this place. His speech was mainly on the Tariff question."343 Despite his best efforts in Illinois and Indiana, "Lincoln's tariff campaign appears to have been weaker in content than his bank campaign of 1840," wrote Gabor Boritt. "It was probably still the high water mark of the Illinois Whig effort."344
In this campaign Calhoun had even more at stake politically than did Lincoln. Lincoln had dropped out of the three-way race for the Whig congressional nomination for central Illinois in 1843. Among the Whigs, it was understood that fellow attorney John Hardin would take the first term, friend Edward D. Baker the second one in 1844, and perhaps Lincoln would get the 1846 nomination for the Whigs.345 (The winner of the 1846 election would not take office until December 1847.) In 1844 Calhoun was the Democratic candidate against attorney Baker for the central Illinois congressional district.) Lincoln had sought the Whig nomination for that seat in 1843 but lost a three-way race to John Hardin with Baker coming in second.) After their Springfield debates in March, Calhoun probably had little interest in taking on Lincoln as well as the British-born Baker, himself a very accomplished and combative orator. Calhoun lost a congressional race in 1844, by a 49-39 percent margin.346
"Politics rage now hereabouts," wrote attorney David Davis as the Tazewell County court opened - a few days before Lincoln went to Peoria to speak and about 10 days before he debated John Calhoun there in mid-April. "The first day of every court is occupied with political speaking, usually by an Elector on each side of politics, each person generally take some three or four hours....Lincoln is the best stump speaker in the State.347 Peoria editor Thomas Pickett, a Lincoln friend, recalled that Calhoun came to Peoria to give a campaign speech a week after Lincoln had spoken at the Peoria county court house on a soggy Saturday night, April 6. "In their handbills announcing the meeting the Whigs were invited to make a reply. Learning that Mr. Lincoln was at Tremont...twelve miles distant, and believing we had no speaker capable of meeting Calhoun, I sent a messenger for him and Mr. Lincoln reached Peoria about the time the meeting opened." Democrats later claimed that Lincoln was snuck into the two-story court house and remained outside the room while Calhoun began speaking on the evening of Saturday, April 13. Pickett recalled that Lincoln "repaired to the courthouse, where the gathering was held, and quietly took a seat near the door."348
Both Democrats and Whigs gathered to hear Calhoun. Although publicity for the Democratic meeting stated that a Whig reply to Calhoun was invited, Calhoun himself denied he ever agreed to a rebuttal; he probably had too much experience with Lincoln to enjoy another confrontation. The Peoria Democratic Press reported the next week: "Last Saturday night for the first time in the present contest we were favored with a public address from a Democratic speaker. Mr. Calhoun, the Democratic candidate of the Sangamon district for elector of president and vice president, paid us a visit by invitation on that day and public notice having been given of his intention to deliver a political address, a larger number of persons of both political parties assembled at the court house at candle lighting to hear him. He spoke until a late hour principally on the tariff subject, which he handled with much ability, and in a manner highly satisfactory to his democratic friends to say no farther. A portion of the Whig audience, however, manifested in a way not very commendable, their impatience under the force of his argument and proof of the falsity of the position they assume and the issue they desire to make between the parties."349
Calhoun tried to filibuster so Lincoln would not have an intact audience to hear his rebuttal. Decades later, the editor of the Peoria Democratic Press would tell a different story - alleging that Lincoln was an interloper who had surreptitiously entered the court house. "Mr. Lincoln was taken into Judge Thomas Bryant's office on the first floor of the court house and E. N. Powell, George C. Bestor, Judge Bryant and perhaps Mr. Pickett stood watch, and when the road was clear, Mr. Calhoun being fully under way in his arguments, these gentlemen ushered Mr. Lincoln up stairs and put him in one of the jury rooms unbeknown to the democrats, and the door of that room standing ajar, Mr. Lincoln was enabled to take notes of Mr. Calhoun's speech."350 Calhoun probably was not surprised by Lincoln's presence since the two men had given speeches earlier in the week in nearby Tazewell County where court sessions were being held at Tremont. (Following a Democratic candidate and offering to give a rebuttal was a strategy that Lincoln would follow a decade later in the campaign against the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 and again pursue in 1858 when he challenged Senator Stephen A. Douglas. Neither Calhoun nor Douglas liked this tactic.)
There was no report of alleged skullduggery in the Peoria Democratic Press of 1844: "Mr. Lincoln, the opposing candidate of Mr. Calhoun, followed in reply. He set out by stating that Mr. C's great complaint against the tariff was that it taxed the people. That was enough for us on that occasion. We did not stay to hear him out. Mr. Calhoun did not object to the tariff laws to an extent sufficient to raise adequate revenue to defray the necessary expense of government, but he objected to the gross impunity of the present Whig high protective tariff, which imposed the burden of taxation on the poor and laboring portions of communities designedly for the benefit of the rich and great manufacturing portions of the country. This Mr. Calhoun did do - this Democrats generally do, and they can prove it up to the conviction of any one that is willing to be influenced by the truth though it runs counter to preconceived opinion." Nearly four decades after the meeting, Sloan remembered: "After Mr. Calhoun had spoken about two hours, the Whigs began to get restless, and were moving in and out a good deal, and the name of Lincoln was whispered all over the room. Pretty soon one bellowed out, 'Lincoln is at the door.' After some sharp talk between the leaders of the two parties, Mr. Calhoun took a fresh start. He spoke until nearly 12 o'clock." It was indeed almost midnight when Lincoln got his chance to rebut Calhoun. Editor Pickett reported that "for thirty minutes poor Calhoun was first skinned and then drawn and quartered, and the operation was performed with the utmost good nature."351
Later in April 1844, reported one Illinois onlooker: "Lincoln and Calhoun have returned from Tazewell. Our people are in the best spirits there. So far as we learnt, Lincoln never left Calhoun on any one occasion, that he did not make him hang down his under lip."352 One Democrat, however, reported that Lincoln gave "all the sterotyped slanders" against the Van Buren Administration which Calhoun "ably and successfully rebutted."353 One reason that Calhoun was a tougher opponent than Douglas was that he was a more astute student of economics. With a touch of self-deprecating irony, Stephen A. Douglas once said in a congressional debate: "I have learned enough about the tariff to know that I know scarcely anything about it at all; and a man makes considerable progress on a question of this of this kind when he ascertains that fact."354
Presidential candidates Clay and Van Buren actually took very similar positions towards Texas - in late April 1844, both opposed immediate annexation but tried to equivocate.355 Van Buren's position caused him to lose the support of his mentor Andrew Jackson and ultimately to lose the Democratic nomination. In late May, Lincoln wrote Congressman John J. Hardin: "The Locos here are in considerable trouble about Van Buren's letter on Texas, and the Virginia electors. They are growing sick of the Tariff question; and consequently are much confounded at V. B.'s cutting them off from the new Texas question."356 The next day, Lincoln addressed a meeting at the State Capitol called to discuss "the question of immediate annexation." Lincoln agreed with Clay and Van Buren "that Annexation at this time upon the terms agreed upon by John Tyler was altogether inexpedient."357
Clay's position on Texas caused him to lose the election. The winner of Andrew Jackson's support, the Democratic nomination and the election was James K. Polk, a Tennessee slaveholder. Historian Yonathan Eyal wrote: "Thinking that he could make Texas annexation the foundation of a new political movement, Tyler unsuccessfully introduced an annexation treaty into Congress. His labors bore fruit immediately before he left office, however, when Congress acquired the new state through a joint resolution. By that point, James K. Polk had made the Texas position his own."358 Too late, Clay attempted to recast his position with "Alabama letters" contending that he did not personally oppose the annexation of Texas.
In June 1844 Lincoln again spoke in Peoria, this time at the Whig Party convention where more than 2000 party representatives had gathered. Again, the subject was the tariff. Illinois editor Jeriah Bonham recalled that "Lincoln was among the 'big guns' in the grand army of eminent statesman and eloquent speakers present on that occasion, a galaxy of bright particular stars in the constellation of talent and patriotism." Among those speakers were former Lincoln law partners John Todd Stuart and Stephen T. Logan as well as future Illinois Senators Orville H. Browning and Richard Yates. Bonham recalled that "none attracted greater and more marked attention than Mr. Lincoln." As Lincoln stood to speak, he "did not on rising show his full height; stood rather in a stooping posture, his long-tailed coat hanging loosely around his body, descending round and over an ill-fitting pair of pantaloons that covered his not very symmetrical legs," reported Bonham. "He commenced his speech in a rather diffident manner[,] even seemed for a while at a loss for words; his voice was irregular, a little tremulous, as at first he began his argument by laying down his propositions. As he proceeded, he seemed to gain more confidence, his body straightened up, his countenance brightened, his language became free and animated, as, during this time he had illustrated his argument by two or three well-told stories, that drew the attention of the thousands of his audience to every word he uttered. Then he became eloquent, carrying the swaying crowd at his will, who, at every point he made in his forcible argument, were tumultuous in their applause. His subject was the exposition of the protective system - the tariff, - the method of raising revenue by a system of duties levied on foreign importations, which at the same time would afford protection to American industries. Mr. Lincoln spoke a little over an hour. His arguments were unanswerable. This speech raised him to the proudest height to which he had ever before attained. He had greatly strengthened the Whig organization in the state and established his reputation as one of the most powerful political debaters in the country."359
Clearly, Lincoln, although out-of-office in 1844, was still the Whig Party's leading spokesman in Illinois, especially on the intricacies of the tariff. "If the Whigs were well satisfied with Lincoln's performance, the opposition seemed to be equally certain that this 'great Goliath' of protectionism had been slain over and over again by Democratic Davids," wrote historian Gabor Boritt. "Yet that Polk's Illinois brethren were less than happy with the local tariff debate can be detected (quite apart from their emphasis on Texas and Oregon) in the tone of Springfield's State Register. At first it took a straightforward stand against 'Lincoln's defence of the coon tariff.' In time it backed down to proving Clay to be a weak supporter of the policy, or else Polk just as strong. It even cast doubt on the Whig pedigree of the Tariff of 1842 and pointed out that Democrats, too, had voted for it. In the final stretch of the campaign the paper occupied firm ground again but tied protection to a less acceptable policy with the justified claim that Whig economics had to be rejected in a package: 'Bank and Tariff - One and Inseparable.'"360 Polk defeated Clay in Illinois by a margin of 58,795 to 45,854. The results in Indiana were much closer; Polk won 70,183 votes to 67,866 for Clay. Lincoln himself did not vote in the election, but Sangamon County easily produced a majority for Clay, who won 57% of the vote.361
Although Lincoln made the tariff the center point of the 1844 campaign, the election probably was decided by the issues of slavery and the annexation of Texas. Nearly a year after the campaign ended, Lincoln analyzed the impact of anti-slavery voters in New York on the final result. He wrote Williamson Durley concerning the impact of slavery opponents on the 1844 election and sketched out arguments he would expand in the following decade. He clearly understood the importance to develop a new political alliance: "When I saw you at home, it was agreed that I should write to you and your brother Madison. Until I then saw you, I was not aware of your being what is generally called an abolitionist, or, as you call yourself, a Liberty-man; though I well knew there were many such in your county. I was glad to hear you say that you intend to attempt to bring about, at the next election in Putnam, a union of the whigs proper, and such of the liberty men, as are whigs in principle on all questions save only that of slavery. So far as I can perceive, by such union, neither party need yield any thing, on the point in difference between them. If the whig abolitionists of New York had voted with us last fall, Mr. Clay would now be president, whig principles in the ascendent, and Texas not annexed; whereas by the division, all that either had at stake in the contest, was lost. And, indeed, it was extremely probable, beforehand, that such would be the result. As I always understood, the Liberty-men deprecated the annexation of Texas extremely; and this being so, why they should refuse to so cast their votes as to prevent it, even to me, seemed wonderful. What was their process of reasoning, I can only judge from what a single one of them told me. It was this: "We are not to do evil that good may come." This general, proposition is doubtless correct; but did it apply? If by your votes you could have prevented the extention, &c. of slavery, would it not have been good and not evil so to have used your votes, even though it involved the casting of them for a slaveholder? By the fruit the tree it is to be known. An evil tree can not bring forth good fruit. If the fruit of electing Mr. Clay would have been to prevent the extension of slavery, could the act of electing have been evil?"
But I will not argue farther. I perhaps ought to say that individually I never was much interested in the Texas question. I never could see much good to come of annexation; inasmuch, as they were already a free republican people on our model; on the other hand, I never could very clearly see how the annexation would augment the evil of slavery. It always seemed to me that slaves would be taken there in about equal numbers, with or without annexation. And if more were taken because of annexation, still there would be just so many the fewer left, where they were taken from. It is possibly true, to some extent, that with annexation, some slaves may be sent to Texas and continued in slavery, that otherwise might have been liberated. To whatever extent this may be true, I think annexation an evil. I hold it to be a paramount duty of us in the free states, due to the Union of the states, and perhaps to liberty itself (paradox though it may seem) to let the slavery of the other states alone; while, on the other hand, I hold it to be equally clear, that we should never knowingly lend ourselves directly or indirectly, to prevent that slavery from dying a natural death - to find new places for it to live in, when it can no longer exist in the old. Of course I am not now considering what would be our duty, in cases of insurrection among the slaves.
To recur to the Texas question, I understand the Liberty men to have viewed annexation as a much greater evil than I ever did; and I, would like to convince you if I could, that they could have prevented it, without violation of principle, if they had chosen.362
The tariff issue would fade after Polk's election. The country would soon focus on the Mexican-American War. It would be another decade before Lincoln focused exclusively on the slavery issue.
While Stephen Douglas's star rose steadily in the 1840s, Calhoun's star barely budged in the Illinois firmament. Lincoln's star also seemed stalled for several years. Sangamo Journal editor Simeon Francis had tried to promote Lincoln for governor in 1844 but soon learned that there was resentment about Springfield Whigs getting too many positions.363 Two years later in 1846, Lincoln himself would run for the congressional seat that Edward D. Baker vacated to fight in the Mexican-American War. That year, Calhoun sought the Democratic nomination for Governor but lost out in a state convention to Augustus C. French, a former state representative who like Calhoun had been a Democratic presidential elector in 1844. Calhoun ran third among the six candidates on the convention's first ballot. The initial frontrunner was Lyman Trumbull, who had been appointed Illinois secretary of state in 1841, succeeding newly-appointed Supreme Court Judge Stephen Douglas. The Democratic convention contest had been expected to be between Calhoun and Trumbull. French was a dark horse, but Governor Thomas Ford, who had clashed with Trumbull, intervened to push Calhoun's supporters to back French.364 Calhoun's supporters tried to prevent Trumbull's victory by withdrawing on the fourth ballot. Trumbull also withdrew, throwing the nomination to the relatively uncontroversial and reticent French, who would serve as governor for six years.365 At the same election in August in which French easily triumphed over the Whig candidate for governor, Abraham Lincoln won his congressional campaign over Democrat Peter Cartwright, a well-known Methodist minister who had been an unsuccessful candidate for the state legislature against Lincoln in 1832.
(Early in French's first term - in March 1847 - Congressman Douglas won election to the U.S. Senate by a vote of the state legislature. Trumbull would oppose Douglas over the Kansas-Nebraska bill in 1854 and win election to Congress as an anti-Nebraska Democrat. When the Illinois State Legislature met in February 1855, Abraham Lincoln would be the front-runner for election to the U.S. Senate. Trumbull's five Democratic supporters stubbornly refused to support Whig Lincoln; rather than allow a pro-Nebraska candidate to triumph, Lincoln threw his support to Trumbull on the tenth ballot. Those five hold-outs would become Lincoln's strongest supporters when he ran for the Senate in 1858 and president in 1860.)
Later in 1847, before Congressman-elect Lincoln left for Washington, he served as Calhoun's attorney in several cases, on which he had begun legal work two years earlier. Still backing internal improvements, the two men were among ten Sangamon County leaders who wrote an open letter to area residents in support of a Sangamon and Alton Railroad which long had been a dream of Springfield leaders. Lincoln's was the first signature and Calhoun's the third.366 They were ahead of their times - although chartered in 1847, the railroad would not be completed until 1852. It connected Springfield with a point on the Mississippi just north of St. Louis. In 1851, Lincoln represented the railroad in several court suits against several stockholders who refused to make required payments.
While contemporaries Douglas, Lincoln and Baker went to Washington, Calhoun remained stuck in Springfield, where he was elected to three terms as mayor at the turn of the decade.367 The mayoral election on April 15,1850 ended in a tie between Calhoun and James C. Conkling, a longtime Lincoln friend who had previously served as mayor in 1845. Four days later, Calhoun won a runoff. Lincoln partner William H. Herndon won election that year as city clerk and city attorney.368 Clearly, Calhoun had fallen on hard times. Herndon recalled of Calhoun that "whisky ruined him long, long before he went to Kansas. Calhoun was a noble man in his original nature...but whisky, poverty, etc., etc. did their work. He fell and yet in his fall he was a gentleman in every sense of the word. He loved Lincoln and as well as Lincoln could he returned it."369 Attorney Milton Hay contended that "Calhoun in his late years from habits of dissipation became a moral and political wreck, a tool merely to aid the iniquities of Douglas and Buchanan in Kansas."370 Calhoun was in need of well-paid work - especially with a wife and nine children to support.371 Still Calhoun and Lincoln, when he returned from Congress, would find some common ground; they joined together in January 1852 to celebrate the cause of Hungarian freedom fighters and the visit of Louis Kossuth to the United States. Lincoln spoke and Calhoun chaired the Springfield meeting on January 9.372
The Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854
In 1852 Calhoun again ran for Congress for the Springfield seat. His opponent was incumbent Richard Yates, who in 1850 retook the old Lincoln seat from Democrat Thomas L. Harris, a Mexican-American war hero who won it in 1848 when Congressman Lincoln retired after one term. Lincoln scholar Allen D. Spiegel wrote that "Yates was charismatic, genial, handsome, an eloquent orator, and more emotional than intellectual."373 Attorney Usher Linder recalled that Yates "was eminently social and a little too convivial, as most of us were in early times."374 In 1854, Lincoln professed no knowledge of Yates' alcohol-induced conviviality.
Illinois historian John Moses wrote that the 1850 campaign against Harris "was able and hotly maintained. Joint discussions, in the old-fashioned way, were held in every county. Harris was the better debater, but Yates the more eloquent speaker, and together they made a splendid match. Off the stump, however, Yates had greatly the advantage. He possessed a personal magnetism which enabled him to attach his friends to his support with hooks of steel. Without the unpolished strength and genius of Lincoln in argument, or the grace and wit of Baker in oratory, he was the superior of either in the personal management of a political campaign. Yates was elected by a small majority, and was the only whig congressman who achieved success in Illinois that year."375
At 32 Yates had become the youngest member of the House of Representatives. Like Lincoln, Kentucky's Henry Clay was Yates' political model.376 In 1852, Calhoun, who had been "one of [Yates'] teachers," won the congressional nomination over several other candidates including Harris, at the Democratic convention in Springfield on August 18. Because of redistricting and the presidential election, Calhoun as a Democrat was presumed to have the advantage.377 In September, Yates reached out to another congressional candidate to research Calhoun's role in 1848 in fighting the "State Policy System" which opposed the chartering of the Cincinnati and Ohio Railroad and any railroad which would terminate at St. Louis.378 Elihu B Washburne wrote Yates that "Calhoun enlisted against the system that winter, and has continued to fight it every session since, and has done all in his power at the very last session to pass the charter."379 During much of this time, Calhoun was mayor of Springfield.
By then Yates was barnstorming the district but the congressman admitted that he was trailing behind Calhoun's frequent appearances in the district's counties: "Calhoun has been through them all, and has spoken in some of them twice." Yates suggested to Calhoun that they canvass the southern counties together. Calhoun promised to respond, according to Yates, and then disappeared without replying to the proposal. Although a good debater, Calhoun did not relish rhetorical competition if it could be avoided. On September 22, Yates angrily wrote: "But before the first of the week, on Saturday last, I found that Mr. Calhoun in violation to our agreement, had published notices for speeches in nearly every precinct in Morgan County without even consulting me, and without my knowledge, and at the bottom of these notices, he says he hopes to meet Mr. Yates at those appointments. This I considered as a clean back-out on his part, and very unfair, as it prevented me from giving longer notice of my appointments."380 Lincoln friend James Matheny wrote Yates in early October, advising him not to "Spare any means, for to the Eternal God to beat Calhoun now would be a 'glory beyond all that the minstrel has told.' It would set you up forever."381
Newspaper editor Jeriah Bonham noted that "the democrats ungenerously threw Harris overboard and nominated John Calhoun, one of their most eloquent champions in the state. The canvass was a brilliant one, as we remember it, the candidates traveling together and speaking from the same stand."382 Historian Arthur Charles Cole said that Calhoun "suffered somewhat from democratic defection."383 According to the History of Sangamon County, the campaign was "quite spirited, each party placing their most popular men in the field."384 Yates's "district had been so changed in the apportionment that it was supposed any democrat could be elected," wrote Illinois historian John Moses. "But in this his opponents had underestimated the strength and resources of Yates, who was again successful, although the district gave Pierce, for president, 1096 majority."385
Calhoun had hopes, however, that his party loyalty would be rewarded by the new Democratic president, Franklin Pierce, a dark horse candidate from New Hampshire who had defeated better-known aspirants like Stephen Douglas at the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore. Calhoun was again an Illinois presidential elector in 1852 and represented the state by physically delivering its votes to Washington.386 He clearly was looking to Washington for his livelihood. In the distribution of Pierce's political patronage, Calhoun apparently did not get his first choice - appointment as territorial governor of Oregon, a patronage post which Lincoln had considered and rejected in 1849.387
After Douglas engineered passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in the spring of 1854, President Pierce named Calhoun as surveyor general of the Kansas territory on the recommendation of Senator Douglas. Calhoun, who again served as clerk of the State House of Representatives that year, was recommended by political friends. Kansas historian Barbara Brackman wrote: "Springfield's postmaster wrote Douglas that Calhoun needed a job and his drinking was under control. 'He is doing nothing, and is as poor as men generally get to be.. In justice to Calhoun, I will also state that his habits are, and have been for more than a year unexceptionable.'"388 The clear implication was that Calhoun was sober and therefore would not embarrass Douglas. Calhoun received his presidential commission on August 4, but he did not leave quickly for his new job. which one historian described as "probably the most powerful of the territorial offices because of the patronage it commanded."389 Senator Douglas probably knew he was in a major political fight in which the services of an experienced debater like Calhoun would be valuable.
Meanwhile, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 resurrected Lincoln's political career. The act also was, in the words of Kansas historian James C. Malin, "a turning point in the life of Douglas and in the history of the United States."390 Embodied in the Kansas-Nebraska Act was the principle of popular sovereignty which Douglas thought had been accepted as a general principle in the Compromise of 1850. "By throwing the decision to legalize slavery into the laps of the settlers in the territories, Douglas was saving Congress the trouble of controversy; but he was also suggesting that it was no one's concern but the inhabitants of those territories whether slavery was legalized within their boundaries or not," wrote Allen C. Guelzo.391 Abraham Lincoln for one, thought the extension of slavery was his concern. As far back as 1845, Lincoln had written "that we should never knowingly lend ourselves directly or indirectly, to prevent that slavery from dying a natural death - to find new places for it to live in, when it can no longer exist in the old."392
The Douglas legislation shook up American politics - and it shook Abraham Lincoln out of his five-year political hibernation. He particularly wanted to reelect Congressman Yates, who was considering retirement, in order to continue Yates' spirited opposition to Kansas-Nebraska and his equally spirited support of free labor. In a well-received speech on the House floor, Yates said: "Slave labor converts the richest soil into barrenness - free labor causes fertility and vegetation to spring from every rock. It is the energizing power of free labor which has built our railroads, set the wheels of machinery in motion, added new wings of commerce, and laid the solid foundation of our permanent prosperity and renown."393 Lincoln took an active role in recruiting Yates for renomination although he later worried about rumors about Yates' drinking. After five years of virtual retirement from politics, Lincoln had decided to reenter politics in order to support the reelection of Yates, who faced a difficult challenge from former Congressman Harris. Nominally, Lincoln was candidate for election to the State House of Representatives. In reality, he was the primary opponent of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. As Nicolay and Hay wrote of the new Lincoln:
His intention was to discuss the principles of the Nebraska bill. Once launched upon this theme, men were surprised to find him imbued with an unwonted seriousness. They heard from his lips fewer anecdotes and more history. Careless listeners who came to laugh at his jokes were held by the strong current of his reasoning and the flashes of his earnest eloquence, and were lifted up by the range and tenor of his argument into a fresher and purer political atmosphere. The new discussion was fraught with deeper questions than the improvement of the Sangamon, protective tariffs, or the origin of the Mexican war. Down through incidents of legislation, through history of government, even underlying cardinal maxims of political philosophy, it touched the very bed-rock of primary human rights. Such a subject furnished material for the inborn gifts of the speaker, his intuitive logic, his impulsive patriotism, his pure and poetical conception of legal and moral justice."394
That fall, Yates faced former Congressman Harris once again. Despite Lincoln's help, Yates would lose his reelection bid by about 400 votes. Yates was injured by supposed connections to abolitionism and Know-Nothings while Harris was linked to supposed support of polygamy in Utah. It was during this campaign that the Douglas' Springfield mouthpiece, the State Register, first printed a fraudulent article about the positions of the nascent Republican Party; the article would be resurrected in 1858 for use against Lincoln.395 In the Galesburg debate in October 1858, Lincoln would charge: "The main object of that forgery at that time was to beat Yates and elect Harris to Congress, and that object was known to be exceedingly dear to Judge Douglas at that time. Harris and Douglas were both in Springfield when the Convention was in session, and although they both left before the fraud appeared in the 'Register,' subsequent events show that they have both had their eyes fixed upon that Convention."396)
As Lincoln had earlier studied economics, Lincoln that summer studied the history of American slavery since the Founding. He spent days at the State Library in the State Capitol, doing his research and preparing his arguments for speeches that he began in August. Calhoun remained in Springfield where he debated Lincoln at the Sangamon County Court House on Saturday, September 9. The pro-Lincoln State Journal admitted that on September 9 Calhoun gave an able speech, but added that "but if any of his positions were left standing after Mr. Lincoln closed, gentlemen who were present and heard both speeches, could not discover them."397 The pro-Douglas State Register contended that Lincoln, "with his usual ability, made the best of a bad position. We have never heard him when more at fault in covering up the heresies which he habitually takes to. The whole tenor of his discussion was to satisfy the whig portion of his audience that affiliation with abolitionism was the only salvation of their party, and (Heaven save the mark!) of the country! He knew nothing of the secret institution of which Mr. Calhoun spoke, and, like the Journal, even 'doubted its existence.' Of course he did. He 'Knows Nothing' about it."398 Lincoln would avoid the "Know Nothing" or American Party label throughout the 1850s at the same time that he sought to attract the nativist group's leaders to the Republican Party.) Lincoln biographers John G. Nicolay and John Hay noted: "Calhoun was still in Illinois doing campaign work in propagating the Nebraska faith. He was recognized as a man of considerable professional and political talent, and had made a speech in Springfield to which Lincoln had replied."399
Two days after the Lincoln-Calhoun meeting, an editorial by Lincoln was published in the Illinois State Journal. Lincoln's article continued the debate with an imaginary dialogue between Lincoln and Calhoun. Lincoln began by quoting from the 14th section of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, adding: "The state of the case in a few words, is this: The Missouri Compromise excluded slavery from the Kansas-Nebraska territory. The repeal opened the territories to slavery. If there is any meaning to the declaration in the 14th section, that it does not mean to legislate slavery into the territories, [it] is this: that it does not require slaves to be sent there. The Kansas and Nebraska territories are now as open to slavery as Mississippi or Arkansas were when they were territories." In his Journal editorial, Lincoln spoke of himself in the third person, presenting an analogy to the Kansas-Nebraska crisis caused by the repeal of the Missouri Compromise."
To illustrate the case: Abraham Lincoln has a fine meadow, containing beautiful springs of water, and well fenced, which John Calhoun had agreed with Abraham (originally owning the land in common) should be his, and the agreement had been consummated in the most solemn manner, regarded by both as sacred. John Calhoun, however, in the course of time, had become owner of an extensive herd of cattle - the prairie grass had become dried up and there was no convenient water to be had. John Calhoun then looks with a longing eye on Lincoln's meadow, and goes to it and throws down the fences, and exposes it to the ravages of his starving and famishing cattle. 'You rascal,' says Lincoln, 'What have you done? What do you do this for?' 'Oh,' replied Calhoun, 'everything is right, I have taken down your fence, but nothing more. It is my true intent and meaning not to drive my cattle into your meadow, nor to exclude them therefrom, but to leave them perfectly free to form their own notions of the feed, and to direct their movements in their own way."
Now would not the man who committed this outrage be deemed both a knave and a fool,- a knave in removing the restrictive fence, which he had solemnly pledged himself to sustain; - and a fool in supposing that there could be one man found in the country to believe that he had not pulled down the fence for the purpose of opening the meadow for his cattle?400
Calhoun was still in Springfield in early October when Douglas and Lincoln squared off on the Kansas-Nebraska Act at the State Capitol. The occasion was the annual State Fair outside Springfield where Douglas was expected to be part of a Democratic rally along with Thomas Harris and other Democrats401 Because of heavy rain, Douglas instead delivered a three-hour speech in the Hall of the House of Representatives on Wednesday October 3 and Lincoln followed with a speech at 2 PM on October 4. Douglas began his speech by asking whether Lincoln was in the audience so that "some plan upon which to carry out this discussion" could be arranged. Douglas then proceeded to lay out his version of the history of popular sovereignty and the necessity of the Kansas-Nebraska Act: "The necessity of opening this vast Territory is self-evident to every candid, intelligent mind. The thousands of emigrants crossing the plains could not go through that Territory without breaking the Indian intercourse law, and subjecting themselves to heavy fines and imprisonment. Such is the actual fact. Should not this Indian barrier be broken down? Is that vast country to remain a perpetual wilderness? Is the march of Christianity and civilization to stop there; and are our railroads and highways to the Pacific there to end?"402
There was another pro-Nebraska speech of two and a half hours that night at the State Capitol, but Lincoln waited until the next day to reply to Douglas in the same venue with Douglas seated right in front of him. Douglas interrupted Lincoln repeatedly and made a reply when Lincoln finished. Douglas biographer Frank E. Stevens noted: "It were impossible not to observe that the people fell in with what Lincoln had said at Springfield. John Calhoun, the true and tried friend of Douglas perceived the fact at once, especially the reference of Lincoln to the apostrophe once pronounced by Douglas; 'The Missouri Compromise is canonized in the hearts of the American people, which no ruthless hand would dare to be reckless enough to disturb.'"403
Other speakers on Kansas-Nebraska followed at the State Capitol on October 5 after Lincoln left town for court business. Late that afternoon, former Senator Sidney Breese, a longtime bitter rival of Douglas, spoke against the Kansas-Nebraska bill. He was followed by John Calhoun who said "that with regard to the personal dislike to Mr. Douglas which appeared to animate Judge Breese, he had nothing to do; and then proceeded to show that the compromise of 1850 superseded the Missouri compromise, by establishing the principle of non-intervention, to which both national whigs and democrats were committed; he taunted the speakers with not meeting Douglas at his appointment, but waiting until the enemy had departed, and then, Parthian-like, discharging their poisoned arrows after him," wrote the authors of an early Illinois history. John McClernand also spoke on behalf of the legislation and anti-Nebraska Democrat Lyman Trumbull spoke against it that night.404
Calhoun had important responsibilities to survey the territory and arrange for the registration of land titles by new residents but his first responsibility seems to have been helping Douglas campaign that fall. The job came with a very welcome annual salary of $2500 and a four-year term.405 Eventually, Calhoun would employ more a hundred people to handle the work in Kansas and Nebraska although he started work with just a small staff. Douglas himself would seek political favors through Calhoun, writing him occasionally to place some worthwhile Democrat in a position in Kansas. Calhoun apparently left for Kansas in late October to begin his new duties - taking with him two Illinois surveyors as deputies, Charles A. Manners and Joseph Ledlie.406 Calhoun had, noted historian William H. Beezley, "a more powerful position than the territorial governor in the division of spoils."407 Calhoun's responsibilities were heavy, noted Robert W. Johannsen: "The land situation in Kansas Territory at the time it was opened to settlement was extremely confused." Until surveys were taken and titles issues, it would stay confused.408 But a delay in the base line survey of the dividing border between Kansas and Nebraska - caused by Calhoun's selection in 1854 of a poorly trained surveyor to do the work - would continue the confusion because that only the first 108 miles of that base line would be completed by October 1858. Meanwhile, settlement began in the northeast section of the state where the surveying had been completed.409 Historian William H. Beezley noted that once work began in earnest in 1855, "Calhoun's administrative ability [assured] that he surveyed as much land as he did. If he is damned as an administrator, it should not be because he did too little, but because he did too much. By accepting pre-emption entries on land before drawing-up plat books, he complicated the entire question of land titles."410 Calhoun reported to the secretary of the Interior in 1856: "In selecting land for survey I have been governed by the settlements made and likely to be made this fall and next spring." Surveying of Kansas would not be completed until 1877.411
In late November 1854, Calhoun may have returned to Illinois. On December 1, Lincoln wrote a friend that "Calhoun told me to-day that the Nebraska men will stave off the election [for the U.S. Senate seat held by James Shields] if they can. Even if we get into joint vote, we shall have difficulty to unite our forces."412 Lincoln was right; anti-Nebraska Whigs and Democrats - found it impossible to unite behind a Whig like Lincoln. One of those Democrats was John M. Palmer, the Democratic pedlar that Douglas chose to share a bed with in 1838.
As a result of the opposition of Palmer and his colleagues to Lincoln in the state legislative election in February 1855, on the tenth ballot Lincoln asked his own supporters to switch to anti-Nebraska Democrat Lyman Trumbull. Trumbull then captured the Senate seat for the anti-Nebraska coalition - embarrassing Douglas in his home state and providing a strong voice in the Senate against the extension of slavery. Out of political office, for the next five years, Lincoln would persist in opposing the extension of and the potential nationalization of slavery.
Bleeding Kansas in 1855-1857
As a politician in Kansas, Calhoun had better luck than Lincoln and Douglas had during the next three years. Within a year of his arrival in Kansas, Calhoun became heavily involved in the pro-slavery wing of Kansas politics - trying to create a unified Democratic Party in the state. In the fall of 1855, he was one of founders of the Law and Order Party that was designed to combat the Free State anti-slavery residents.413 Calhoun wrote: "Thus order and consistency are established by the democratic party in Kansas and the extravagant follies of Atchinson [sic] & Co., are repudiated."414 (Former Senator David Rice Atchison had been one of the driving forces in passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and after his defeat for reelection, he became one of the driving forces behind the interference of pro-slavery Missourians in Kansas affairs - leading the "Border Ruffians" into the territory to subvert a March 1855 election.) Although not the governor of the territory, Calhoun acted with more power and influence that the any of the governors dispatched from Washington. An aide to one governor complained that "the pro-slavery party...had selected" Calhoun as their very own "governor." They "were resolved not to receive with favor any other than the man they had chosen."415
By the nature of his position and disposition, Calhoun had become a major leader of the Democratic Party in Kansas. His office "enabled the Surveyor-General to secure a prominence in territorial affairs that was denied to other officers, and for a politically ambitious appointee, served as an easy road to power," wrote Robert W. Johannsen.416
"The land offices were natural citadels of power in Kansas," wrote historian Allan Nevins. "Calhoun, with several hundred employees, could exert a powerful influence on the settlement and development of the Territory. All settlers came to the offices to have preemptions confirmed; all speculators eyed them hungrily. Calhoun and [clerk L. A.] Maclean could hold out an attractive bait; they could say that once Kansas was admitted, Indian titles to new tracts would be extinguished, and liberal grants of land would be made to the new State for schools, colleges, asylums, and railroads - especially a Pacific Railroad."417
Calhoun of course was in charge of the land surveys - which were of great concern to everyone in Kansas - especially land speculators like the territory's first governor. Land was at the center of life in Kansas and the controversy over slavery fueled land speculation. Historian Arthur Charles Cole wrote: "The promoters of rival communities rejoiced that the local slavery issue promised to bring them steady reenforcements. 'If it was not for land and town lot speculations,' insisted a disillusioned settler, perhaps with some extravagance, 'there would have been no trouble in Kansas.'"418
Calhoun stayed in good favor with President Pierce and his successor, James Buchanan - even as Calhoun's nominal superiors, the territorial governors of Kansas, fell quickly out of presidential graces. The governors were fired or quit as they battled with proslavery Democrats that the White House esteemed. Historian Thomas E. Schott wrote that "any governor would have been hard-pressed to maintain order and rule judiciously. Unfortunately, neither of Pierce's first two appointees proved equal to the task. The first, Andrew H. Reeder, who arrived in Kansas in October, 1854, promptly alienated the proslavery element by delaying elections for a territorial legislature to allow a census of the territory to be taken, a necessary step in establishing the number of qualified voters."419 Roy F. Nichols noted that Reeder's "late arrival in the territory meant that no census could be ready upon which to base a legislative apportionment until spring. Also, bureaucracy was slow in making land surveys and in providing the section maps which were necessary before land titles could be located and registered. Thus, in respect to government and property, everything remained uncertain for more than a year after the Kansas-Nebraska Act had been passed."420
Tensions between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions in Kansas were quickly rising. "Though this was certainly not Stephen Douglas's original intention, the terms of the Kansas-Nebraska Act invited conflict in Kansas in that they essentially promised the control of the territory's government to whatever faction was present in the greatest number when the first elections were held there in March 1855," wrote Lincoln scholars Rodney O. Davis and Douglas L. Wilson. "The turmoil that attended the passage of the act by Congress made such contention even more likely."421 Pro-slavery settlers and pseudo-settlers from Missouri flocked to the territory and vied for supremacy with anti-slavery settlers. Missouri's proximity gave pro-slavery forces an advantage in the March elections while anti-slavery forces set up their own alternative government. Governor Reeder tried to void the worst cases of fraud, but a pro-slavery legislature worked to undermine Reeder in Washington.
When Reeder was dismissed by President Pierce in July 1855 on charges of land speculation, the governor was forced to flee the state to escape arrest. Calhoun stayed on. The new governor was Wilson Shannon, a former congressman who had voted for the Kansas-Nebraska Act during his single term in Washington. Previously, Shannon had served two terms as governor of Ohio. He now had an impossible job which he probably made more difficult by clearly siding with pro-slavery forces in the territory as well as those from neighboring Missouri. Shannon would later say: "Govern Kansas in 1855 and '56! You might as well attempt to govern the devil in hell."422 Shannon lasted less than a year before he was fired in August 1856.423 Democrats were gearing up for the fall presidential campaign and the continuing violence in Kansas was an embarrassment. "Bloody Kansas" also illustrated the kind of anarchic, mob rule that Abraham Lincoln had warned against in his Lyceum speech of 1838 - when one of his targets was the leadership represented by Stephen A. Douglas and another target was the proslavery mob that had killed abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy.
Historian George Fort Milton wrote that: "On returning to the Territory in November [1855, Calhoun] found a decided change in the attitude of the Pro-Slavery party, whose leaders now perceived the impossibility of their success. Moreover, Shannon, though a drunkard, was when sober, a sensible fellow, his advice paralleled Calhoun's and finally the Pro-Slavery party leaders agreed to abandon any distinctive Pro-Slavery organization, and to seek ground 'which would enable all Democrats and State Rights Whigs to make common cause against Abolitionism.'" Calhoun argued that the first priority of pro-slavery Democrats must be to make Kansas Democratic. "The consequence was a great convention at Leavenworth, at which the Pro-Slavery party abandoned its program and framed an effective counter to the Topeka rebellion. Now the Pro-Slavery leaders were willing to broaden the base of the party to one of opposition to 'Abolitionism and its revolutionary designs.' Calhoun became the Moses of the new movement."424
Shannon's replacement as governor was a Pennsylvanian turned Californian. John White Geary, who had served in the Mexican-American War. At 6' 5", he commanded respect and for a short while he got it in Kansas. Geary was, according to historian James W. Rawley, the "ablest of the Kansas territorial governors."425 Noted historian Sean Wilentz, "Directed to stop the Kansas border war, he did so inside of two months, skillfully deploying federal troops, disbanding the rival 'armies,' and showing no quarter to either side."426 However, Geary alienated proslavery forces in Kansas - a certain way to end one's career. According to Douglas biographer Louis Howland, "A delegation headed by John Calhoun...visited Washington to bring about the removal of the governor."427
In Kansas Calhoun openly spoke against Geary. One history of Geary's administration noted a meeting "called at the instance of General Calhoun...for the express purpose of denouncing Governor Geary. The occasion was the re-arrest of the murderer Hays. The friends of the governor, though a hundred fold more numerous than the agitators, did not go to this meeting with knives, pistols and guns, to break it up. Nay, the most respectable portion of the citizens stayed away, refusing to give it the sanction of their presence....No! this was a meeting to denounce, not approve, the policy and action of his excellency; and hence it was right, lawful, just and proper that it should be held, and he would have been a despot of the vilest sort, had he attempted in any way to interfere. Some impetuous friends of the governor, indignant at the outrages that were being committed, under the pretence of 'law and order,' did, it is true, call upon him and solicit permission to throw the Lecompton Union into the river, and drive Calhoun and his band of conspirators from the town; but they were severely rebuked, and commanded to preserve the peace." According to this account:
"The meeting was held at Brooke's Hotel. The fire-eaters were there in their glory. The assembly consisted of a dozen or more of these and the attachĂ©s of the surveyor-general's office. Calhoun was the spokesman of the day, and was in a happy vein. His sentiments were plainly told. There was no attempt at disguise. The "impartial" policy of the governor was denounced in unmeasured terms. It was never intended that free-state and pro-slavery men should be placed upon an equality in Kansas. The laws of the legislative assembly were not for the punishment of the pro-slavery party. The governor had made a mistake in supposing that there was an act upon the statute-book that made it criminal for one of that party to rob a free-state man of his horse, or shoot him down in cold blood, if he refused freely to give it up upon demand. Hays had committed no offence in killing Buffum; [Judge Samuel D.] Lecompte was deserving of their gratitude in setting him free; and Geary of eternal condemnation in persisting in punishing him, and charging other pro-slavery men, who had simply taken the goods and lives of abolitionists, with crime. Such was the tenor of the surveyor-general's remarks; such the infamous doctrines which he boldly and unblushingly advocated."
The account's author, John H. Gihon, then quoted an article from the Lecompton Union, which Gihon wrote was "under the immediate control of Calhoun and his associates. Nothing finds a place in its columns that does not meet his sanction and approbation: "To the northern men who, with a devotion amounting to heroism, have bared their breasts and received the blows aimed at the freedom of the south, state equality, and consequently the perpetuity of the Union, are the people of this Union indebted more than any others. To this class belongs General John Calhoun, surveyor-general of Kansas. Born and raised in the north, his sympathies are all with the south, and he is to-day stronger on the slavery question than one-half of those born and raised in the south; and we say this, too, without doubting their devotion to the clime of their birth, or for want of confidence in their will to defend us when necessary against any enemy."
Calhoun's newspaper then asserted a clear link from Calhoun to Senator Douglas: "He belongs to the Douglas school of politicians, the men upon whose shoulders the weight of the Union has fallen. Bold in thought,- untiring in action, and sound in principle, such men are governed by principle, not motive. There is an under-covering of common honesty in their composition that defies the corrupting influences of brain-sick abolitionism. Neither gold, the glittering prize that dazzles the ambitious eye, the fear of scorn and contumacy, can tempt them from the strict line of duty; but planted upon the rock of principle, they resist the seductive influences of the one and defy the stings of the other.
Gihon then quoted extensively from Calhoun's speech - which defended the Law and Order party and denounced anti-slavery forces: "The idea of appeasing the insatiable gluttony of abolition rage and fanaticism by harassing and plastering with indictments the law and order men, under the pretence of 'impartial justice,' savors of lunacy. If one-half of the law and order men in the country should be swung up by the neck on tomorrow, the sacrifice would not in the least abate their hellish desire, but like the horse leech, they would cry give, until the life of every man that opposed them was offered up. They came into the country to disturb its peace, to break its laws, to kill, burn and plunder - outlaws and traitors, they deserve the traitor's fate."428
Like other Kansas governors, Geary didn't last - his veto of a legislative bill authorizing a constitutional convention led to threats against him life. When he didn't get protection from federal forces, Geary resigned just as incoming President James Buchanan took office in March 1857. While the governor's office was a political turnstyle in Kansas, legislative affairs and elections were even worse. They were marked by repeated fraud and charges of fraud and separate elections by pro- and anti-slavery forces. Kansas politics during this period were highly confused; one Bostonian wrote that they were "unintelligible."429 Antislavery Kansans didn't participate in elections sponsored by proslavery Kansans and vice versa - usually resulting in competing governments.
Through all this political turmoil, Calhoun survived and thrived. And, he appeared to maintain his relationship with Senator Douglas, who in 1855 requested that Calhoun hire an Illinois Democratic editor as a surveyor.430 Douglas, after all, was not only his political patron but the chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories - in whose hands the fate of Kansas rested. In February 1857, Douglas wrote the commissioner of the General Land Office asking for a leave of absence for Calhoun, who "has been constantly at his post in Kansas for nearly twelve months without visiting his family or attending to his private affairs."431 The nature of the Calhoun-Douglas relationship appeared to change, however. Douglas biographer Gerald M. Capers wrote: "Originally an unofficial agent of Douglas instructed to work for a compromise, Calhoun betrayed his chief to promote his own financial interest."432
Douglas during this period was working to promote statehood for Kansas. He was doing so under difficult personal and political conditions. The widowed Douglas had become rather undone. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "Douglas's drinking had drawn notice long before the 1858 campaign. According to Herndon, in 1854 Douglas was 'a little "cocked" when he interrupted Lincoln repeatedly during his speech at Springfield. Two years thereafter, an attendee at a Douglas rally alleged that the Little Giant 'was considerably drunk and made one of the most sophistical and deceitful speeches I ever listened to."433 Douglas biographer William A. Gardner wrote: "Tradition, backed by General [George B.] McClellan, says he was a heavy drinker, though not a drunkard, and some of his finest speeches at this period of his life appear to have been delivered after unrestrained carousals that would have prostrated ordinary men."434 Lincoln chronicler Roy Morris wrote: "Douglas's new home at the intersection of New Jersey Avenue and I Street in Washington was nicknamed 'Mount Julep' for the copious amounts of whiskey, brandy, cognac, and champagne that were said to be quaffed by the senator and his brain trust.'"435
In the spring of 1856, Douglas pushed legislation to grant statehood for Kansas which leaned toward the side of the proslavery forces. Gardner wrote that in the Senate, "Douglas was the recognized leader of the majority, without whose presence they were unwilling to take any decisive action. But he was detained by sickness and did not take his seat until February11th. On the 12th of March he presented to the Senate a most elaborate report from his Committee, together with a bill to authorize the people of Kansas to organize a State whenever they should number 93,420.
It is impossible to read this report, which was prepared by himself, without admiring his subtle art and consummate skill. He argued away the power of Congress to impose restrictions on new States applying for admission, other than that the Constitution be republican in form, and insisted that the people of the Territories must be left perfectly free to form their own institutions and were entitled to admission as matter of right. He traced the trouble to the pernicious activity of the Emigrant Aid Company, which had attempted to force New England institutions and customs upon the Territory. He accused this Company of systematic colonization and drew a moving picture of the march of these political colonists across Missouri, pouring out their denunciations of slavery, exhibiting their hostility to the institutions of that State, until at last the people in alarm resolved on defence. He admitted that there might be some cause for regret over the occasional errors and excesses of the Missourians; but it must not be forgotten that they were defending their internal prosperity and domestic security against the invasion of New England fanatics, who were bringing in their train "the horrors of servile insurrection and intestine war."436
In June 1856 at the Democratic National Convention in Cincinnati, Douglas competed with Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan for the Democratic presidential nomination. After 16 ballots, Douglas withdrew in favor of Buchanan. Douglas contributed liberally to the Democratic campaign in 1856 - selling a parcel of land on the outskirts of Chicago for $100,000 in order to help fund Buchanan's election. He reasonably expected to have significant influence on the incoming Buchanan administration, but he quickly discovered that the administration had largely been hijacked by his southern enemies. To Douglas's dismay, he realized that the problem was not simply a national one; it extended to Illinois as well.437
Lincoln was more realistic about Kansas than Douglas - although he too exaggerated the situation in Kansas. Lincoln himself said he had doubts that there were really any anti-slavery Democrats in Kansas. In a June 1857 speech, he said: "Allow me to barely whisper my suspicion that there were no such things in Kansas 'as free state Democrats' - that they were altogether mythical, good only to figure in newspapers and speeches in the free states. If there should prove to be one real living free state Democrat in Kansas, I suggest that it might be well to catch him, and stuff and preserve his skin, as an interesting specimen of that soon to be extinct variety of the genus, Democrat."438
At the time, argued historian Robert W. Johannsen, Douglas had a similar political objective to Calhoun's - making Kansas a firmly Democratic territory and then state: "The surveyor general sought to organize the party on a basis broad enough to include both free state and proslavery Democrats, but his plans were threatened almost immediately by the intrusions from Missouri. His greatest embarrassment, he reported to Douglas, was the persistence of the proslavery men in maintaining their own organization, thus discouraging others from acting with them. It was more important, he concluded, that Kansas be a Democratic state than a free state." Calhoun's objective was thwarted by continuing dissension between pro-slavery and anti-slavery Democrats. "The elements composing the democratic party here are of such a character that we cannot in any way make them harmonize," wrote Calhoun to Douglas.439
Back in Washington, Douglas thought Calhoun was acting as his agent in Kansas. Calhoun sought to preserve that appearance but his actions suggested that their goals were diverging. Calhoun updated Senator Douglas regularly on political developments in Kansas. He wrote Douglas in January 1857 to reassure him that his opinions were being heard in the territory.440 Douglas was "deeply alarmed by the reckless course of the Kansas legislature," noted historian Allan Nevins. "He had wished to see the obnoxious laws on the [Kansas] statute book repealed, and had made this plain to Calhoun as an old Springfield friend, long under his influence. Calhoun had sent him an explicit promise that it would be done, yet some of the worst laws were left untouched."441 Johannsen observed: "Some of the so-called 'bogus' laws, Calhoun reported, had already been repealed by the upper house of the legislature, in accordance with Douglas' wishes, and he expected the unanimous concurrence of the lower chamber. Earlier he had been promised that attempts to execute 'the odious provisions of their fugitive slave law' would be abandoned by the territorial authorities. 'Your wishes in this matter, as a northern man,' Calhoun assured the Senator, 'have been more consulted than all things else; and if you should have observed any other defects a suggestion from you would do more for its removal than could be done by the whole force of the administration.'"442
What now happened derailed the upward political trajectory that Douglas had been on for two decades. The man who was a Democratic powerhouse in Washington and Illinois and who was presumed to be a future Democratic president was about to become a Democratic pariah. The ultimate Democratic loyalist was going to have his loyalty tested, questioned, and abused. "Had anyone prophesied at the close of the year 1856, that within a twelvemonth Douglas would be denounced as a traitor to Democracy, he would have been thought mad," wrote biographer Allen Johnson. "That Douglas of all men should break with his party under any circumstances was almost unthinkable. His whole public career had been inseparably connected with his party."443 Douglas had preached and practiced Democratic loyalty. Biographer James L. Huston noted that in 1839 Douglas authored a statement of the Democratic party's principles in which he wrote: "Political infidelity...is an evil not to be overlooked."444 But Stephen Douglas was about to split from party orthodoxy and the man largely responsible for the split would be his longtime political colleague John Calhoun.
In the spring of 1857 Robert J. Walker was appointed the new territorial governor of Kansas. Although northern-born, Walker had long been a prominent resident of and officeholder in Mississippi as well as secretary of the treasury under President James Polk. In the opinion of Kansas historian Frank Heywood Hodder, "Walker was by far the most distinguished man ever sent to Kansas."445 Walker's appointment was one of the very few things about Kansas policy on which Douglas and President Buchanan would agree.446 Both Buchanan and Douglas fed Walker's considerable ego. According Buchanan biographer Elbert Smith, the president persuaded Walker that he "would probably return as a senator from Kansas with a reputation that would make him president. Being both optimistic and self-confident, Walker accepted the challenge on condition that his friend Frederick P. Stanton, a former ten-term congressman from Tennessee, should be his territorial secretary."447 (As a congressman in 1854, Stanton had supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act.) The 56-year-old Walker reluctantly succumbed to pressure from Douglas and Buchanan to take the post - so long as the territory's upcoming constitution would be presented to its residents for ratification.448 Buchanan agreed to this stipulation.
As Douglas later related these events: "When Mr. Walker was first appointed Governor he declined to accept the appointment, but was induced to reconsider, at the personal solicitation of Mr. Buchanan, and of other friends, and at last consented to accept it, on the condition that upon the comparison of opinions between himself, the President, and his Cabinet, it should be found that they concurred in the policy that the Constitution to be formed by the convention, which had been provided for, should be submitted to the people for ratification or rejection, at a fair election, to be held in pursuance of law, for that purpose, before it should be sent to Congress for acceptance. Mr. Buchanan and his entire Cabinet agreed to this condition as the line of policy to be pursued by the Federal administration, Governor Walker, while yet at Washington, prepared his inaugural address to the people of Kansas, in which he urged the people of all parties in Kansas to vote for delegates at the election which was about to be held, with the assurance that the convention would assemble only for the purpose of framing a Constitution to be submitted to the people for ratification or rejection, and not for the purpose of adopting a Constitution to be put in force without ratification. In this inaugural address, Governor Walker assured the people of Kansas that in the event that the Constitution should not be submitted to the people for ratification, and should not be ratified by a majority of the legal voters at such election, he would use his best efforts to defeat the admission of Kansas under such Constitution, and that he was authorized to say that the President and every member of his Cabinet endorsed this position. When Governor Walker left Washington en route for Kansas, he stopped one day in Chicago to consult with me, as he stated, at the request of the President, and to see whether I would endorse and sanction the line of policy upon which they had agreed in respect to the submission of the Constitution to the people; and in order that I might understand precisely what that position was, Governor Walker read his inaugural address to me, as slightly modified by interlineations in the handwriting of the President of the United States himself. I said to Governor Walker that while I did not precisely comprehend what right the President and his Cabinet had to interfere with the convention, by insisting that the Constitution should be submitted to the people, yet as a Senator who would have to vote for or against the admission of Kansas under the Constitution, I had no hesitation in saying that I should require satisfactory evidence that the Constitution was the act and deed of the people of Kansas and a faithful embodiment of their will, and that I should regard a ratification by the people at a fair election held for that purpose as the best evidence of that fact. With this assurance Governor Walker proceeded to Kansas, and published his inaugural address, containing these pledges on behalf of himself and of the President and his Cabinet, that the Constitution must be submitted to the people before Kansas could be admitted into the Union under it."449
Walker, who like Douglas had presidential ambitions, went to Kansas and told Kansas residents that any constitution would be subject to a popular vote.450 According to historian Sean Wilentz, Walker was "more of a partisan Democratic realist than a sectionalist. Surveying the territory's electorate, he estimated, accurately, that although most of the voters were Democrats, the majority were Yankee free-staters who wished to keep slavery out of Kansas in order to keep blacks out of Kansas."451 Nevertheless, noted Kansas historian Nicole Etcheson, "Walker managed to offend both parties. He spoke of both 'the treason and fanaticism of abolition' and the hypocrisy of the Topeka government, which had forbidden free black emigration to the territory. But he deemed Kansas's climate unsuitable to slavery, offending proslavery listeners."452 Buchanan biographer Phillip Shriver Klein argued that Walker violated Buchanan's instructions. Klein contended that Buchanan "had not committed himself to submission of the whole constitution but only of the slavery question and he certainly never dreamed that the governor would tell the territorials how to adopt their constitution, under threat of rejection by Congress if they did not follow his advice." Klein wrote that Buchanan "agreed with Walker that Kansas inevitably would become a free state, but he felt that the governor's indiscreet speech at a time when the Administration wanted to emphasize its rigid impartiality in guiding the two sections of Kansas toward statehood would cause trouble."453
By the time Walker arrived in Kansas on May 24, Stanton had already arranged for a constitutional convention and selection of delegates in June, but Free State Kansans thought the distribution of delegates was biased to pro-slavery forces because it was based on an inaccurate census of residents of the territory.454 The pro-slavery forces in Kansas had put in motion a constitutional process when in February 1857 the legislature authorized an election of delegates to a constitutional convention. Historian Mark W. Summers wrote: "The legislature chose proslavery county sheriffs to do the enumeration of all free male citizens over twenty-one years old, and proslavery boards of county commissioners to select the judges of election. No free-state man could take part in the process, challenge returns, or challenge the accuracy fo the list."455 A majority of Kansans were therefore ineligible or unwilling to vote in June. Only 2000 Kansans participated in the election of pro-slavery delegates to the September convention.456 It was a highly suspect process since no census was done in 15 of the state's 38 counties. From the outset, the process that created the Lecompton Constitution was fatally flawed and judged so by most Kansans.
At this stage of Kansas history, a good deal of disagreement emerged about Calhoun and his motives - disagreement which has continued to split historians. Douglas biographer Allen A. Johnson wrote "Governor Walker had retained Calhoun in that office because of Douglas's assurance that Calhoun would support the policy of submission. Moreover, Governor Walker had gone to his post with the assurance that the leaders of the administration would support this course."457 Frederick P. Stanton later charged that Calhoun had more "patronage than the Governor, and, it seems, with more influence at Washington, for he had power there to command the support of the administration for fraud and wrong, while the Governor was powerless to bring the President and his cabinet to protect and defend the suffering rights of the people."458 Historian Elbert B. Smith argued: "Calhoun and his assistant, L.A. Maclean, had just returned from Washington and conferences with Walker, Secretary Thompson, and Jefferson Davis. They were prepared to create a slave state regardless of the consequences."459 Calhoun, wrote Douglas biographer George Fort Milton, was "instructed to carry out Walker's program in good, faith."460
There is other evidence of Calhoun's duplicity. Historian Kenneth M. Stampp noted: "Prior to their election, the delegates from Douglas County, among them, John Calhoun, had publicly pledged to vote for the submission of the Lecompton constitution for popular ratification."461 Douglas biographer Frank E. Stevens noted: "Still skeptical from previous treatment, many Free Soil Democratic voters demanded from the candidates who offered themselves, a pledge in writing, to agree to no constitution which should not be submitted to the people for ratification or rejection. In Douglas county, the largest in the territory, such a pledge was prepared, signed and published by our friend John Calhoun....During the canvass, it was conceded by all concerned that the convention was to frame a constitution merely, and not to permit its operation without submission for ratification or rejection."462
Instead of a peaceful implementation of popular sovereignty and rejection of slavery, Calhoun became either a willing ally or reluctant tool of the pro-slavery interests in Kansas and Washington. Certainly the attitude of Calhoun's deputy suggests an immediate conflict with the new governor. The day after Walker gave his inaugural address stressing that climate would decide that slavery was not suited for Kansas, Calhoun's aide, L. A. McLean, gave a speech in Lecompton.463 Historian Elbert B. Smith wrote that MacLean, "a huge red-haired bully who had been drinking heavily, gave the diminutive Walker the word: 'And you come here to rule over us? - you, a miserable pigmy like you? You come here with ears erect, but you will leave with your tail between your legs.'"464 Calhoun's deputy archly suggested that proslavery forces had "unmade governors" before and could do so again in Walker's case.465
"Prior to their election, the delegates from Douglas County, among them, John Calhoun, had publicly pledged to vote for the submission of the Lecompton constitution for popular ratification," wrote historian Kenneth M. Stampp.466 But their pledges were based on their continued control of Kansas politics. When anti-slavery Kansans decided to participate in joint legislative elections in October, the political environment changed abruptly. As a result, Kansas was on the brink of a major and rare confrontation of pro-slavery and antislavery forces at the polls. The convention then recessed for elections to the territorial legislature - the first Kansas contest in which both anti-slavery and pro-slavery forces would face each other on relatively fair terms. Although the delegates gathered at Lecompton in early September, the proslavery forces needed to abandon the work of the convention to attend to the work of the legislative election scheduled for October 4-6.
When the constitutional convention convened on September 7, Calhoun was named president (over the opposition of Governor Walker) by the pro-slavery delegates meeting in Lecompton, Kansas.467 Robert W. Johannsen wrote: "The delegates opened their convention in a simple two-story frame building on September 7 and remained in session for four days."468 It was an unprepossessing convention in an unprepossessing town. The New York Herald reported the beginning of the convention: "Although the Constitutional Convention...has brought to this miserable little town a large number of people - some of them of the most excitable character - everything goes on quietly and peaceably. There has been so far no disturbance."469 Historian Roy F. Nichols wrote of the delegates: "Even with allowance for prejudiced free-soil reporting, it was composed of poor material. Its members were largely ignorant, unstable, frontier adventurers, too often drunk. Though the convention officially numbered sixty, a large part were irregular in attendance and inattentive when present. Any Democrat was permitted to sit with them, and the manner of conducting business was slovenly in the extreme." An anti-slavery newspaper, the Emporia Kansas News, described the delegates as "broken-down political hacks, demagogues, fire-eaters, perjurers, ruffians, ballot-box stuffers, and loafers."470 The Northern press drew a caricature of what was probably not a very distinguished bunch of delegates. "Faces so much like snakes you could hear their sibilant hisses," reported one New Hampshire newspaper.471 Historian Robert W. Johannsen, who did his own analysis of the delegates, argued that the truth was more mundane: "The body was, as the New York Herald correspondent had noted, one of 'ordinary respectability,' differing from numerous other frontier political conventions only in the one-sided political alignment represented."472
Relatively moderate delegates like Calhoun were far outnumbered by more radical advocates of slavery who wanted a constitution with slavery and without a referendum. "Calhoun had emerged from the ranks of the law and order movement to become a prominent opponent of the free staters," noted historian Nicole Etcheson.473 "A man of formidable temper, Calhoun had to be restrained when he attempted to cane a fellow speaker," she wrote. Newspaper reports on Calhoun's character differed. A correspondent for a St. Louis paper called him "a discreet, conservative man."474 A Free-State paper in Kansas reported that Calhoun was a "political demagogue" whose "principal aim has been to advance ruffianism, annoy the Free State men, drink bad liquor and do the smallest amount of work possible."475
Calhoun was being boxed in between his personal commitment and political reality that he faced at Lecompton. Etcheson wrote: "In taking the chair, Calhoun advised that the constitution should be 'framed in such a manner, and have such an indorsement [sic]' that Kansas would be admitted without question. The anti-submission party argued that the Dred Scott decision had rendered popular sovereignty null and void."476 Calhoun told the delegates: "I think that the character of the members of this convention over which I have the honor to preside, ought to give the world assurance that their deliberations will result, not merely in the settlement of difficulties here, but in the settlement of the question as to whether this Union shall continue."477
Four days after the convention convened, it adjourned. Only in August had Free-Staters decided to participate in the October legislative elections. Pro-slavery forces knew that this would be the first true election in the state. They were in a tactical bind about the effect that failing to submit the constitution to the voters might have on congressional approval,478 Roy Nichols wrote that Calhoun thought that the recess would help promote submission of the constitution to voters.479 It would be one of many Calhoun misjudgements. Anti-slavery forces triumphed in the legislative elections. Pro-slavery forces, however, attempted to steal the election through blatant fraud in Oxford and McGee counties - fraud in which Calhoun supposedly participated.
Governor Walker's response further ostracized him from Calhoun and the Lecompton convention.480 Walker personally investigated the allegations - driving the Oxford County and determining that a district with less than 200 houses could not produce 1648 votes.481 About 1500 of those votes had been copied directly from a directory of Cincinnati residents: among those listed was Ohio Republican political leader Salmon P. Chase. On October 19 ruled against the fraudulent votes - despite orders from Secretary of State Lewis Cass not to do so.482 Walker's actions infuriated proslavery forces and stimulated opposition in the Lecompton Convention to submitting any constitution to voters. In order not to further inflame the delegates, an ailing Walker left Lecompton but stayed nearby. Nichols wrote: "His absence was not unwelcome to Calhoun. He and the Governor had never seen eye to eye, and now they had split over the Oxford McGee returns [in the October elections]."483
The Lecompton Constitution
"The actual work of shaping the constitution was in the hands of Calhoun, Hugh Moore of Georgia (president pro tempore of the convention), former Territorial Judge Rush Elmore, and editor John D. Henderson, with Walker and Stanton in the background," wrote historian Roy F. Nichols.487 They had their work cut out for them because the delegates were not in a mood to be handled. Douglas biographer George Fort Milton argued that Calhoun quickly abandoned any support for full submission of the constitution to voters.488 David M. Potter countered that "even if there was a conspiracy, Calhoun could have been a victim of it, rather than a party to it, especially in view of his adherence to Douglas."489
Faced with the likelihood that the work of a pro-slavery convention would be rejected by the anti-slavery majority in Kansas, the unruly delegates balked at submitting the constitution to the voters - as mandated by President Buchanan and Governor Walker. One version of Kansas history suggests that Calhoun opposed an end run around the popular will and "threatened to resign, and opposed it by every method in his power, unless it was submitted; and when it came to the polls he voted against adopting the pro-slavery clause."490 Kenneth M. Stampp wrote that Calhoun "played a curious role." Stampp wrote: "Free-state partisans hated him for tolerating the 'border ruffians' and for his suspected role in the Oxford precinct frauds. Yet, Calhoun led the moderates at the convention, urging the delegates to submit their constitution to a popular vote"491 An unsympathetic Allan Nevins noted that Calhoun "was an honest believer in popular sovereignty. But his limited moral stamina had been weakened by whisky - the Chicago Tribune reporter wrote of his florid face, swinish eyes, and Bardolph nose - and by association with proslavery Kansas politicians." Instead, the pro-slavery members of the convention - also very much weakened by whiskey - dominated.492
The professed policy of the Buchanan administration was to submit any proposed constitution to Kansas residents. Proslavery leaders wanted to bypass the voters and transmit the new constitution directly to Congress. Proslavery leaders in the Buchanan Cabinet - Jacob Thompson and Howell Cobb - sent out a Mississippian, Henry Martin, to Kansas to convey their concerns and work for a solution satisfactory to proslavery forces in Kansas and Washington.493 Historian David M. Potter noted that "Martin went to Kansas to work with the proslavery leaders in controlling the convention. Martin carried with him the message that Secretary [Jacob] Thompson favored submission of the constitution to the voters but would not object 'if a pro-slavery constitution should be made and sent directly to Congress by the convention.' Ostensibly, this statement adhered to the official position of the administration, but cryptically, with a wink and a nod, it encouraged the delegates to do just the opposite of what Walker wanted them to do." Potter blamed the convention's scheme on Martin and Calhoun.494 Nevins wrote: "Martin wished [the referendum] taken in a fashion which would allow a strong chance for the State to preserve existing elements of slavery; and he conveyed this idea to Calhoun."
Under pressure from Calhoun, the Lecompton convention narrowly decided to allow Kansas residents a limited option regarding slavery and the constitution. Martin influenced Calhoun, and Calhoun influenced the convention, but did Buchanan directly influence Martin and Calhoun? George Milton Fort maintained that "the President was not privy to Martin's mission."495 Buchanan biographer Philip Shriver Klein countered that Martin "had come as an agent of Buchanan to propose that the convention draw up two constitutions: one would protect slavery; the other would not. The White House sponsors thought this plan would please Douglas and create a free, Democratic Kansas. Calhoun and Martin believed they had won over the convention, but it suddenly voted to draft a proslavery constitution and send it directly to Washington." Klein wrote: "Working frantically to prevent such a bombshell from landing on Buchanan's desk. Calhoun induced the convention to adjourn for a few days and reconsider the two-constitution scheme. Almost by a miracle, he persuaded the delegates to approve his proposal by a vote of 27 to 25....In case the vote went antislavery, as Calhoun presumed it would, the owners of the 200 slaves in the Territory were to be temporarily protected by the anticonfiscation feature common to the abolition laws of the northern states, and slavery would vanish as speedily in Kansas as it had in Massachusetts or Pennsylvania. Calhoun felt, with reason, that he had prevented a renewal of civil war, guaranteed the political loyalty of Kansas to the Democrats, and saved both Douglas and the Buchanan Administration from certain ruin."496
Calhoun told Governor Walker he was doing to the bidding of President Buchanan.497 Clearly, Calhoun had too many masters and too few written instructions from those who truly counted. No one then or since could be sure what instructions, if any, Calhoun was following. A very unsympathetic George Fort Milton saw Calhoun's behavior in conspiratorial terms. "When the question of full submission was brought to a vote, it was defeated, John Calhoun making the gesture of voting for it." Milton wrote that Calhoun tried to convince Walker that his was the preferred plan of the Buchanan Administration: "If only Walker would go along, he could make himself. President. Walker said it was 'impossible' that the President had agreed to this trick, and showed Calhoun Buchanan's letter of July 12. The Surveyor-General said it made no matter - Buchanan had changed his mind."498
Calhoun offered no proof of this shift by Buchanan. The more unlikely reality is that Calhoun was following instructions from other Buchanan cabinet members, which he may indeed have thought came from Buchanan. Governor Walker protested that he would never change his position. "Mr. Calhoun continued to insist that I ought to go with the President upon this subject. I denied that he had any right to speak for the President."499 Historian James Earl Rhodes wrote: "It was a shallow and wicked performance, worthy perhaps of a border-ruffian convention, representing only twenty-two hundred voters; but it is astounding when we know there is reason to believe that the plan emanated from Southern politicians of high position at Washington." Walker argued: "I consider such a submission of the question a vile fraud, a base counterfeit, and a wretched device to prevent the people voting even' on the slavery question. 'I will not support it,' he continued, 'but I will denounce it, no matter whether the administration sustains it or not.'"500
The position of Senator Douglas was even more in doubt. Historian Roy Nichols maintained that Calhoun had sought Douglas's "advice, but had received no reply...Lacking instructions, Calhoun turned to the Douglas organ, the Chicago Times of October 14, where there appeared a pointed editorial which advised that 'if any members of the Convention desire...to have a regular, direct vote upon Slave State and Free State, let a Free State Constitution...and a Slave State Constitution be prepared. Let them both be submitted to the people...and have the long controversy settled finally....In the six months after the admission of Kansas Black Republicans will be no more.'" Rather than a direct communication from Douglas, Calhoun interpreted this newspaper editorial as his directive, wrote Nichols. "Calhoun believed that this was the word of Douglas. So he went to work. He had some old correspondence from Douglas about submission to the voters, and with this and the editorial he went to certain of the Senator's friends and persuaded them that a compromise drafted by Martin was what the Little Giant would want."501 The editorial, however, delivered two messages. The Chicago Times also editorialized: that "any attempt to force a pro-slavery constitution upon the people without an opportunity of voting it down at the polls will be regarded, after the recent expression of sentiment, as so undecidedly unjust, oppressive, and unworthy of a free people, that the people of the United States will not sanction it."502 Gerald M. Capers wrote that "Douglas issued an unmistakable warning.... The Douglas organ asserted that Kansas would accept 'nothing less than a constitution which shall exclude and prohibit slavery."503
What seems strange is that there is no evidence that either Douglas nor Calhoun tried to communicate with each other directly during this period. No letters exist between then - though it may have been in both their interests to destroy any they did exchange. The Lecompton delegates were elected in June and a final determination on submission of the voters was not made until November. Douglas had plenty of time to weigh in with advice to Calhoun and Calhoun had plenty of time to seek advice from Douglas. Calhoun may have thought he was truly doing to the bidding of Buchanan and Douglas but it seems weird that Calhoun would be so naive given the obdurate attitude of Governor Walker, who presumably was acting as an agent of both Buchanan and Douglas. Certainly, an economic recession, triggered in August 1857 by the collapse of an Ohio bank, may have diverted the country's attention from Kansas in late summer, but it hardly blinded the leaders to what was happening in and around Lecompton.
A referendum, scheduled by the Lecompton convention for December 21, 1857, provided voters with only one choice - to accept "the constitution with slavery" or without it. Under the Lecompton constitution, however, slaves already in Kansas were protected from emancipation regardless of whether slavery was accepted or rejected in the referendum. The language of the Constitutions was unequivocally pro-slavery. The proposed constitution declared that slave property was "before and higher than any constitutional sanction." Historian Allan Nevins wrote that the Lecompton compromise "was open to two strong objections: first, that it was a transparent device for preserving the shreds of slavery already in the Territory; and second, that it fell far short of the full and fair submission promised by Buchanan and demanded by Walker and [his successor, Frederick] Stanton."504 Clearly, the Lecompton Constitution failed to meet the test of "popular sovereignty" that Buchanan, Douglas, Walker, and Calhoun both supposedly backed. Nevins noted that "Calhoun should have realized that it would never satisfy his friend Senator Douglas."505 And Calhoun's actions certainly would not satisfy northern critics. "Calhoun," noted historian Craig Miner, "was portrayed in the Northern press as a representative of slaveocracy evil and as trickery incarnate."506 Roy Nichols wrote that Calhoun thought "he had saved the administration, Douglas, and himself." He was very, very wrong.507
Governor Walker was not at all satisfied with Calhoun's partial-submission compromise. Kansas contemporary George Crawford later contended: "From, the moment that Governor Walker pledged himself to urge the rejection of the constitution, if it were not submitted to the people, the surveyor-general's clique began to plot his overthrow. If they could not remove him they would secure the defeat of his confirmation. A submission to the people would lose Kansas to slavery. It would defeat Calhoun's chances for the United States senate. It would end their long reign of terror here. All depended, first, on the overthrow of Walker, and second, as a consequence, the easy triumph of 'the Lecompton' and slavery."508 Ironically, a Mississippi man was siding with antislavery forces while an Illinois man was championing the slave interests. The person who would most benefit from their conniving and confrontation was Abraham Lincoln. "When I first arrived in Kansas, every effort to make Kansas a slave State was apparently entirely abandoned," Walker recalled. But, noted Walker, efforts were revived "in the fall of 1857. It first was fully developed by the terrible forgeries in the pretended returns...that were sent to me as governor of the Territory, and which I rejected.....at length it was fully developed that, contrary to all the pledges given, especially by Calhoun himself, the president of the convention, that they would submit the constitution to the vote of the people, another course was resolved upon."
The Kansas Constitution now played out on two stages - one in Kansas and a larger arena. With the Lecompton constitution in play, the rest of America joined the debate. Walker and Stanton were both affronted by the convention's election procedure which effectively emasculated them. As Frederick Stanton later phrased it: "To this man, Calhoun, the Lecompton Convention confided the entire machinery of the elections under their proposed constitution. He was to appoint all the commissioners of election, receive all the returns, and pronounce the result. All the machinery of the Territorial Government was set aside, and this extraordinary scheme of one-man power, uncontrolled and irresponsible, substituted in its place."509 Historian Kenneth M. Stampp wrote that "the powers of both Governor Walker and the new free-state territorial legislature were to be taken from them and given to the president of the convention, John Calhoun."510
"By mid-November, a week after the convention finished its work, the substance of the Lecompton constitution was known throughout much of the country, and the outlines of another fierce sectional controversy had begun to emerge," wrote historian Don E. Fehrenbacher. The Chicago Tribune printed a note from a Kansas correspondent: "The child is born and christened pro-slavery, with John Calhoun standing godfather."511 Fehrenbacher wrote: "Many northern Democrats joined the Republicans in condemning the 'Lecompton swindle,' while southerners, though not without considerable doubt and some open dissent, showed a strong disposition to close ranks in militant support of the document. Up to this point, Walker still did not know where he stood with the administration, but recent rumors from the East were not encouraging."512 The New York Tribune proclaimed: "We stand on the threshold of a political crisis in Kansas."513
Stripped of his executive power, Governor Walker had even more reason to oppose the Lecompton Constitution. Walker announced he needed to take care of personal financial business and turned over the operation of the Kansas government to Stanton. On November 17, 1857, Walker left for Washington to present his case against the Lecompton Constitution. As he had done on his way to Kansas. Walker stopped in Chicago and briefed Senator Douglas on what had transpired. Douglas already understood the mood in Illinois; all but one of the state's newspapers opposed the Lecompton Constitution.514 What he may not have understood was the mood in the nation's capital, which was very different.
Back in Washington President Buchanan was about to strip himself of his moral authority. Caught between his own professed principles regarding popular sovereignty and a revolt among his southern supporters, Buchanan sided with the South. Nineteenth-century historian James Schouler wrote that Walker "found on his arrival that the Lecompton scheme, in its whole length and breadth, had already the inflexible approval of the President and his cabinet. And more than this, he found that Southern ultras were already execrating him as a turncoat, and calling for his official head."515 Walker met with President Buchanan for two hours on November 26; Buchanan made clear his support for Lecompton. Finding his views out of favor with the Buchanan administration, Walker resigned as governor in a December 15 letter to Secretary of State Lewis Cass. The missive took up 15 printed pages. Walker noted that he took the office only "on the express condition that I should advocate the submission of the constitution to the vote of the people for ratification or rejection." The resignation quoted extensively from Walker's previous writings and expounded on Walker's interpretation of popular sovereignty and popular government. It went on to deny that the Lecompton Convention was representative of the people of Kansas or that the Lecompton Constitution could be approved without a true referendum.516 In his response, Secretary Cass blamed Walker for violating Buchanan's instructions to refer election fraud allegations to the Kansas territorial legislature and not handle them himself. Those instructions of course meant that the fraud would have been ignored and pro-slavery forces would have been put in unquestioned control of Kansas.
Acting Governor Stanton was soon fired; his sin was calling a special session of the Kansas territorial legislature on December 7. He was operating under concerted pressure from anti-slavery forces.517 "I thought the peace of the territory would be cheaply maintained at the expense of a short session of the legislative assembly," Stanton wrote the Buchanan administration. The legislature, however, passed legislation invalidating the constitutional convention and ordered an up or down vote on the constitution. Ironically, like fellow southerner Walker, Stanton would become a strong opponent of Kansas statehood under Lecompton. Stanton was succeeded on December 21 as acting governor by James W. Denver, who had previously been the Buchanan administration's commissioner of Indian affairs for the territory and earlier a congressman from California. Calhoun's job was still safe. After all, he was the agent of Pennsylvania native Buchanan and his southern allies. In his new job Denver saw himself as an agent of the devil, writing his wife:
Confound the place, it seems to have been cursed of God and man. Providence gave them no crops last year, scarcely, and now it requires all the powers conferred on me by the President to prevent them from cutting each others throats...They are ready to cheat, to swindle, to violate their word of honor given in the most solemn manner, - in fact they are in good part a most rascally set."518
Senator Douglas Versus President Buchanan
Calhoun's close relationship to Senator Douglas may have given President Buchanan the wrong impression of Douglas's position on Lecompton. A classic failure of communication between the nation's top two Democrats ensued. Historian James Rawley wrote: "Buchanan, ineptly, had not consulted Douglas, and had incorrectly supposed the Calhoun compromise had Douglas's support."519 Just as Calhoun had not checked with Douglas on Lecompton; neither did Buchanan check with Douglas. Buchanan had become separated from political reality; he had quickly decided to back the Lecompton Constitution and punish all who opposed him. And as biographer Elbert Smith noted, "the people whose love, friendship, and respect he wanted most were Southerners."520 Buchanan did not much care what Northerners thought.
Douglas, however, did not seem to have been truly engaged by events in Kansas until the latter part of November. He responded to a letter regarding Lecompton from Illinois Congressman John A. McClernand, a close ally, on November 23: "Of course we must stand firmly by the principle of the Kansas organic act, which guarantees the right of the people of each State & Territory to form and regulate their own institutions in their own way....The only question is whether the constitution formed at Lecompton is the act & will of the people of Kansas, [or] whether it be the act and will of a small minority, who have attempted to cheat & defraud the majority by tricker & juggling. If it be the will of the people freely & fairly express it is all right, if not it must be rebuked. Of course I will not pronounce a final judgement on this point until I get the facts officially before me, altho the newspaper accounts look as if trickery & juggling have been substituted for fair dealing. If this shall turn out to be true we have but one course to pursue, and that is to vindicate the principle of the organic act and the Cincinnati Platform by refering [sic] the whole matter back to the people."521
Buchanan had little problem alienating Douglas, whom he detested. A decade later, a Buchanan friend commented: "Mr. Buchanan disliked Douglas more than any contemporary Democrat."522 Southerners were different. "Buchanan had already done a great deal for the South," noted historian Jean H. Baker, "and now he prepared to do even more by using the full powers of the executive to push the Lecompton constitution through Congress, 'naked,' in the terminology of the day, without changes, modifications and criticisms."523 Still, the President thought his actions were based on principle. Buchanan biographer Philip Shriver Klein wrote: "Buchanan would have admitted privately that many of his arguments for Lecompton were expedient and shallowly political, but not his defense of its legality....Said he, "I acknowledge no master but the law.'"524 That was a clear rationalization. Historian Roy F. Nichols observed that the "proslavery gang was now attempting a subterfuge which was designed to ensure slave property in Kansas."525
Buchanan contended he was trying to end, not stoke, the controversy. In his annual message to Congress on December 8, 1857, Buchanan wrote: "Kansas has for some years occupied too much of the public attention. It is high time this should be directed to far more important issues."526 Instead, Buchanan's actions assured all of Washington's attention would be directed to Kansas. In Kenneth M. Stampp's opinion, it was because Buchanan did not do "what he said he was going to do. And that was to insist that the Lecompton Constitution be submitted to an honest vote, the whole constitution. He made the commitment in his inaugural address, where he talked about submitting the document." Stampp noted that "Buchanan wrote a letter to Walker on 12 July 1857, saying, 'I will stand or fall on my commitment of the submission of the constitution for ratification."527 Stampp went on to state that "Douglas had really set a precedent for him. Douglas had raised a hell of a fuss back in 1854 with his Kansas-Nebraska Act, and two years later the Democrats won the presidential election again." Buchanan in 1857 "rais[ed] a hell of a fuss, but supposing he brought Kansas in under the Lecompton Constitution, as he almost did.....he might have thought, they'll cool off by 1860 and we'll have a harmonious convention and a chance to win the presidency again."528
Buchanan's more sympathetic biographer Philip Shriver Klein wrote: "Buchanan approved of submission, and he had hoped that the convention would agree. But he had never suggested that he would require it. Douglas himself, in his Springfield speech of June 12, 1857, had declared that submission was not at all necessary. The convention had done what it had a right to do, and the president could not reject its work because he had preferred a different decision."529 Klein wrote that "out of the 63 constitutions which had been adopted by the 33 states from 1776 to 1858, 30 had been ratified by popular vote and 33 had been proclaimed in force by a constitutional convention."530 That may have been so, but that process was not what Douglas and Walker thought Buchanan had promised in the spring of 1857.
Another Buchanan biographer, Philip G. Auchampaugh, saw the Buchanan-Douglas feud as an outgrowth of ongoing tension between Douglas and southern leaders of the Democratic party - such as Louisiana Senator John Slidell. Auchampaugh argued that Buchanan did not seek a confrontation with Douglas, but his advisors foresaw it and Douglas's own ego preordained it: "Douglas had evidently adjudged himself to be the greatest man in the party at the North. Biographers have since been inclined to take him at his own estimation. He probably held that it was his invention, the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, which had saved the party in 1856 and had placed James Buchanan in the White House." Douglas and historians, argued Auchampaugh, overestimated his importance. He argued that Douglas's ego contributed to the confrontation over Lecompton. "Douglas had evidently adjudged himself to be the greatest man in the part at the North," wrote Auchampaugh. So did Douglas's enemies in Buchanan's cabinet - where no one represented Douglas's interests.531 A Douglas ally like James W. Sheahan argued the converse regarding Buchanan's cabinet: "If the Lecompton question had not served them with a pretext for pursuing Mr. Douglas, they would doubtless have found some other that would have answered."532
During this period of American history, the president's annual message was delivered to Congress in writing. Before officially transmitting it, Buchanan released the text on December 2. Douglas liked a good fight. Historian Walter A. McDougall wrote: "Stephen Douglas, that human wrecking ball, now swung to the other extreme."533 Senator Douglas reacted quickly and vehemently to Buchanan's support for Lecompton. The Kansas-Nebraska Act had been his work. It was based on Douglas's notion of popular sovereignty which Buchanan had now, in Douglas's opinion, clearly subverted. Buchanan and Douglas confronted each other at the White House on December 3. Douglas biographer Philip Shriver Klein wrote that Douglas arrived "angry because Buchanan had already released the Kansas portion of his message without having consulted him. Buchanan, thinking that the Calhoun compromise at Lecompton had the support of Douglas and sure that the product of the convention, provocative as it was, nevertheless met precisely the terms of the of the Kansas-Nebraska law, had not expected the Little Giant to be up in arms."534 That seems to suggest that Buchana was naive.
Douglas tried to convince Buchanan that the president should not support Lecompton, but Buchanan rejected the advice and made threatening suggestions about the fate that would befall a senator who crossed the president. "Mr. President, I wish you to remember that General Jackson is dead," responded the Little Giant, referring to Andrew Jackson's steely response to opposition. Secretary of the Navy Isaac Toucey tried to plead the good of the party required peace between them. Douglas concluded his response to Toucey by casting aspersions on the influence of Buchanan's cabinet on the decision, saying that "while the Constitution declares that Congress may admit new States, it hasn't a word in it about Cabinets admitting them."535
The nation now had twin spectacles: Bloody Kansas and Bloody Washington. A failure to communicate between Buchanan and Douglas escalated into a political war - a war that neither would win. Neither, however, saw any other alternative. "The Lecompton constitution finally made Stephen Douglas snap," wrote historian Sean Wilentz.536 Douglas' anger was understandable because much of his political capital had been invested in the Kansas-Nebraska legislation and the principles of popular sovereignty on which it was based.537 Historian James A. Rawley observed that Douglas "saw his chance of being reelected later [in 1858] and nominated for president two years later in jeopardy. Public opinion in Illinois and elsewhere in the North decried the Lecompton constitution. Principle aside, if he wanted to survive in politics, he must fight the president's policy."538 After Buchanan's message was read in Congress on December 8, Douglas rose to object, saying that "in regard to one topic - that of Kansas - I totally dissent from all that portion of the message which may fairly be construed as approving of the proceedings of the Lecompton convention."539 Further verbal dissent was anticipated by his Senate colleagues.
Douglas already had strong patronage disagreements with the Buchanan administration. Now, there would be no reconciliation between the two political potentates. Douglas, noted historian James Ford Rhodes, "struck the key-note of the opposition to the Lecompton scheme when he said he regarded it 'as a trick, a fraud upon the rights of the people.'"540 Historian William E. Gienapp noted that while both Douglas and Buchanan shared responsibility for the feud, it was incumbent on Buchanan as a national leader to make the first move: "While grounded in fundamental differences of principle, the bitter Douglas-Buchanan feud became increasingly personal, for which the president deserves most of the blame."541 Gienapp wrote: "The situation required more than false bravado and meaningless threats on the president's part; its outcome amply demonstrated the inadequacy of Buchanan's leadership."542
For Buchanan, it was as much personal as it was political. The two Democratic leaders did not like each other. One Douglas friend informed the senator that Buchanan "hated you in the most bitter and unrelenting manner."543
They were also very different. Douglas embraced conflict. Buchanan shrank from it. Douglas biographer Philip Shriver Klein wrote: "Buchanan was the kind of man who tried to avoid risk, Douglas the kind who welcomed it as a relish and stimulus. No amount of arbitration could alter these differences in their nature. Buchanan had little ambition for further political honor, but he was tremendously eager to achieve a 'historical' reputation. He would attain this, he thought, if he could settle the problem of slavery in the Territories by the swift admission of Kansas. Thus would he not only preserve the union but also encourage a final solution of the sectional problem, for he thought that slavery would die out in time 'by the silent operation of economic and moral forces."544 Buchanan's motives may have been less altruistic. Historian Richard R. Stenberg argued that though Buchanan publicly pledged to serve only one term, he made some private indications of his desire for a second term. Stenberg wrote: "Denouncing and fighting Douglas for a 'defection from the party' inspired by 'overweening ambition,' while concealing his own ambition (which if known would have caused contemporaries and posterity to place on his conduct an even more unfavorable interpretation), Buchanan played his hand with an artful hypocrisy quite worthy of Jefferson or of Andrew Jackson....By dissimulating his ambition he placed himself in appearance wholly on high ground during his term."545 Posturing seemed to tempt both rivals.
Douglas and Buchanan would be badly hurt by the conflict. Buchanan was politically maladroit - making relations with Douglas worse than they already were. His ineptitude in handling personal and political relations had alienated even his chief Pennsylvania backer, newspaper editor John W. Forney, who had been chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic committee during the 1856 presidential election.546 Douglas had reasons to think Buchanan was an ingrate. Historian Elbert Smith noted that "Douglas claimed that he spent $42,000 of his own money helping Buchanan get elected, and Buchanan wrote him a letter of thanks addressed to The Honorable Samuel A. Douglas. That would upset anybody."547
Douglas saw his reputation - and his chances for the presidency for which he had long yearned - deteriorating. Douglas's friend and biographer James W. Sheahan wrote: "The Lecompton controversy was the most severe and painful that has ever attended Mr. Douglas's public career."548 Because of Calhoun's actions, Douglas was driven into opposition to the Buchanan Administration - an apparent martyr to his dedication to "popular sovereignty" in the face of proslavery opponents. Douglas wrote Springfield editor Charles Lanphier: "The battle will soon begin. We will nail our colors to the mast and defend the right of the people to govern themselves against all assaults from all quarters. We are sure to triumph."549 The Lecompton Constitution would make it difficult for Douglas to position himself in 1858 as a unifier of the national Democratic Party - as he had in 1854. Thus, Lecompton made impossible Douglas's nomination by a unified Democratic Party in Illinois in 1858 and would make his nomination by a unified national party in 1860 impossible as well. Irving Stone wrote of Douglas: "The war in Kansas, Chief Justice Taney, President Buchanan and the solidarity of the Democratic party were in process of making him a dead duck."550
Unwittingly, John Calhoun had driven a wedge between Buchanan and Douglas that neither Democratic leader was willing to remove. Buchanan soon launched an all-out attack on Douglas and his political operation in Illinois - removing Douglas supporters from patronage positions like postmaster and stripping Douglas newspapers of valuable printing contracts. (The situation was ironic, because as historian Don E. Fehrenbacher noted, Douglas had done much the same thing in 1854 to Illinois postmasters who did not support the Kansas-Nebraska Act. At the time, the Illinois State Journal announced: "Senator Douglas is taking off the heads of all the postmasters in the northern part of the State who are not Nebraska men."551) Historian Mark W. Summers wrote: "Never had any President used the patronage power as flagrantly to reward congressmen and penalize the anti-Lecompton Democrats."552
The day after President Buchanan's message formally presented his message on December 8, Douglas attacked Lecompton with a major speech on the Senate floor - with his wife and mother-in-law in the gallery. "If this constitution is to be forced down our throats, in violation of the fundamental principle of free government, under a mode of submission that is a mockery and insult, I will resist it to the last!" Douglas told a crowded Senate.553 Albert Beveridge wrote: "Douglas was in fine form, and spoke with unwonted moderation of manner. His argument was an exposition of the principle of popular sovereignty, made with that lucidity characteristic of all his speeches - the fundamental right of the people to pass upon the entire Constitution, 'each and every clause of it."554 Philip Auchampaugh wrote that "Douglas did not assail the Administration in vituperative language. He largely confined himself to the merits of his case."555 The Little Giant's predominantly southern Democratic colleagues were annoyed, but many northern Democrats were rallied by what Robert W. Johannsen has called "probably the most significant [speech] in his career."556 Historian James Ford Rhodes described it as "a manly speech. His language was courteous, but his manner was bold, haughty, and defiant. 'Henceforth,' wrote [Senator William H.] Seward to his wife, 'Douglas is to tread the thorny path I have pursued. The administration and slave power are broken. The triumph of freedom is not only assured, but near.' 'He never seemed to have so much heart in any of his public discussions as now,' wrote Simonton to the New York Times; 'never was he more resolute and scornfully defiant of all assaults or opposition.""557
The battle lines were clearly drawn on both sides. In the Senate debate on December 23, California Senator David Broderick, observed: "If I understand this subject, and I hope I do, I think that the President of the United States is alone responsible for the present state of affairs in Kansas. It is the first time, I believe, in the history of this country, that a President of the United States ever stepped down from the exalted position he held, to attempt to coerce the people into a base submission to the will of an illegalized body of men."558 Historical writer Bruce Chadwick wrote: "Feelings on Kansas were so volatile in the nation's capital...that the National Intelligencer, one of Washington's leading newspapers, pleaded with its readers on December 28, 1857, to suspend all argument on the subject during the holiday week. Instead of trying to broker a compromise on Lecompton and stake out a successful national policy on slavery, President Buchanan dismissed the issue just about every time it came up in conversation."559
Inadvertently, Calhoun's actions pushed Democrat Douglas toward those politicians he had been deriding for years at "Black Republicans." Some Republicans indeed thought they had found a new hero and met with Douglas to discuss strategy. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote that Republican Congressman Schuyler "Colfax described at length a three-hour interview he and [Massachusetts Congressman Anson] Burlingame had with Douglas on December 14, 1857....The Little Giant asked Pennsylvania Congressman John Covode to request Trumbull to win the backing of Illinois Republicans for his reelection."560 But, argued Gerald M. Capers, Republicans "used him and he used them, with all the patter that goes with a crucial trade." He noted that Douglas told Congressmen Colfax and Burlingame: "If this issue is settled right, new issues will come up hereafter and will divide again. If this is not settled rightly...we can let the future determine our duties and positions."561 The Republican dilemma was suggested by the sardonic comment of Ohio Senator Benjamin Wade: "I have never seen a slave insurrection before."562 Republicans were using Douglas to make the case against Lecompton - ordering 100,000 copies of his December 9 attack on the Lecompton affair.563
Lincoln saw Douglas's strategy even before the Lecompton issue blew up with Buchanan's message in early December. At the end of November Lincoln wrote Illinois Senator Lyman Trumbull: "What think you of the probable 'rumpus'' among the democracy over the Kansas constitution? I think the Republicans should stand clear of it. In their view both the President and Douglas are wrong; and they should not espouse the cause of either, because they may consider the other a little the farther wrong of the two. From what I am told here, Douglas tried, before leaving [Chicago], to draw off some Republicans on this dodge, and even succeeded in making some impression on one or two."564
Trumbull also saw Douglas's strategy clearly, writing on December 14: "Douglas does not mean, I presume, to join the Republicans; but he will evidently be in disfavor with the African Democracy for the future. His political associates from our State will probably all go with him and being clearly right in the issue he has made with the administration, most of the party in Illinois will doubtless go with them; but they will not be recognized as part of the National Democracy and Douglas' prospect for a nomination at Charleston are gone. Can he keep up the issue between the Republicans and Anti-Buchanan Democrats in Illinois so as to maintain his position in the Senate from our State? He certainly cannot if the Administration has any considerable strength there. Should Douglas be driven out of the African Democracy, as I think he will be, and really join us, what are we to do with him? You know 'the man who won the elephant' found it troublesome to dispose of him."565
Senator Trumbull himself was opposed to any rapprochement with Douglas, writing Lincoln in January 1858: "The unexpected course of Douglas has taken us all somewhat by surprise & we must wait for further developments before we can exactly tell what the effect is to be-- I did not believe he would go so far as to offend the South till he did it, & even now he may yet unite with them upon some compromise - Should he do so, he will have made nothing by his present move." Trumbull added: "Some of our friends here act like fools in running after & flattering Douglas."566 Lincoln had defined the conflict in 1854 as between those who supported the extension of slavery and those who opposed the extension of slavery. He was unwilling to let the nature of the debate be changed by Lecompton into a battle over the application of popular sovereignty.
According to Michael Burlingame: "In December 1857, Lincoln prepared a speech angrily warning Republicans not to flock to Douglas's banner, no matter how much they might admire his attacks on the Buchanan administration. He scorned the demagoguery of the Little Giant, whom he called 'the most dangerous enemy of liberty, because the most insidious one.'"567 Lincoln sputtered at Douglas' indifference to slavery and he repeatedly attacked that indifference. At Cincinnati in 1859 Lincoln complained that "the Judge never says your institution of Slavery is wrong; he never says it is right, to be sure, but he never says it is wrong." Burlingame wrote: "Douglas's indifference to the evils of slavery, which contrasted starkly with the Republican view that the peculiar institution was 'not only morally wrong, but a 'deadly poison' in a government like ours, professedly based on the equality of men,' aroused Lincoln's ire. Republicans, he advised, should not 'oppose any measure merely because Judge Douglas proposes it.' Indeed, they ought to join him in assaulting the Lecompton Constitution, which 'should be throttled and killed as hastily and as heartily as a rabid dog.' But the 'combined charge of Nebraskaism, and Dred Scottism must be repulsed, and rolled back. The deceitful cloak of 'self-government' wherewith 'the sum of all villanies' [i.e., slavery] seeks to protect and adorn itself, must be torn from it's hateful carcass." Burlingame quoted a letter Jesse K. Dubois, Lincoln's neighbor in Springfield wrote in April 1858: "It is asking too much for human nature...to now surrender to Judge Douglas after having driven him by force of Public opinion to do what he has done to quietly let him step foremost in our ranks now and make us all take back seats."568
Lincoln viewed popular sovereignty as a Trojan horse for extension of slavery. Lincoln had ample grounds for his concern. Douglas's position was not against the extension slavery, about which he professed indifference. Rather, Douglas was boxed in by his position on popular sovereignty on which his political reputation rested. Douglas biographer Capers noted: "The broad issues upon which the Little Giant now took his stand was not the issue of slavery. It was rather the right of local self-government and the related concept of strict construction of the Constitution: specifically the denial of the power of Congress over local institutions."569 Lincoln believed that Congress indeed believed that Congress had the power to block the extension of slavery and should use it. Buchanan's allies also questioned Douglas's sincerity. New York's Daniel S. Dickinson wrote Buchanan that back before 1850, when Lewis Cass coined the term, Douglas never "understood to be, or to have been the champion of 'popular sovereignty' until after the people had clearly sanctioned and approved the measure."570
While appealing to northern Republicans, Douglas had effectively destroyed the relations with southern leaders that he had carefully nurtured. Historian Eric H. Walther wrote: "Jefferson Davis and other Southerners now considered the Democratic Party all but destroyed as a national institution and placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of Douglas. To Davis popular sovereignty had proved 'a siren's song...a thing shadowy and fleeting, changing its color as often as the chameleon.'"571 Lincoln biographers John G. Nicolay and John Hay wrote: "The anti-Lecompton recusancy of Douglas baffled the plotting extremists of the South, and created additional dissension in the Democratic ranks; and this growing Democratic weakness and the increasing Republican ardor and strength presaged a possible Republican success in the coming Presidential election. While this condition of things gave national politics an unusual interest, the State of Illinois now became the field of a local contest which for the moment held the attention of the entire country in such a degree as to involve and even eclipse national issues." Only one of the 56 newspapers in Illinois supported the Lecompton Constitution. Even if had he wanted to support Lecompton, Douglas was in box. Nicolay and Hay wrote:
In this local contest in Illinois, the choice of candidates on both sides was determined long beforehand by a popular feeling, stronger and more unerring than ordinary individual or caucus intrigues. Douglas, as author of the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, as a formidable Presidential aspirant, and now again as leader of the antiLecompton Democrats, could, of course, have no rival in his party for his own Senatorial seat. Lincoln, who had in 1854 gracefully yielded his justly won Senatorial honors to Trumbull, and who alone bearded Douglas in his own State throughout the whole anti-Nebraska struggle, with anything like a show of equal political courage and intellectual strength, was as inevitably the leader and choice of the Republicans."572
Nationally, Lecompton had reheated the Kansas controversy. Historian Elbert B. Smith wrote: "Only one of twenty newspapers in Kansas supported new constitution, but the Southern press and the administration organ, the Washington Union, immediately began praising it to the skies. With equal fervor, newspapers throughout the North denounced it as a plot to deprive Kansans of their democratic rights."573
The Kansas Territorial Elections
The Lecompton Constitution authorized 51-year-old John Calhoun to act as "regent" to supervise state elections - in order to block any participation by Governor Robert Walker or his designate in certifying the results. This role would eventually embroil Calhoun in widespread allegations he had participated in fraud. For critics, putting Calhoun in charge of the election was like appointing the fox to police the hen house. The selection of Calhoun to oversee the election essentially predetermined the result. Anti-slavery Kansans boycotted the Lecompton referendum on December 21 as illegitimate - so the pro-slavery forces easily approved slavery in the constitution by a 6143-569 margin. Many of the pro-slavery votes were later shown to have been fraudulent. Calhoun personally counted and certified the votes on January 13. One Democratic critic of Calhoun later wrote that Calhoun was "determined to...make himself a United States senator of the slave state of Kansas."574 The ambition of each of the three Springfield lawyers of 1838 was, two decades later, was focused on the U.S. Senate. Only one would be elected in 1858.
Fraud was alleged to have been committed in the December 21 election. An investigation unearthed a packet of forged ballots for the December and January elections secreted in a candle box buried behind Calhoun's office. Lincoln biographer Charles Carleton Coffin wrote that Calhoun "had a list of 379 names in a precinct where only forty-three votes were cast. To keep them out of the hands of a committee of Congress he secreted them in a candle-box under a wood-pile. For that act John Calhoun was branded 'Candle-box Calhoun.'"575 When he departed for Washington in early January, Calhoun left the election returns with his chief clerk, L. A. McLean, who was instructed to cooperate with any proper investigating body. Anti-slavery leader Thomas Ewing, Jr., feared that "Calhoun will cheat us yet. He has gone to Washington and will not give certificates or declare the result finally until we are admitted. If the result then declared be against us, we are ruined, for there will be Civil War - certain."576
The 28-year-old Ewing, who headed a Kansas legislative commission charged with investigating the fraud, was well-connected in national politics. He wrote on January 18, 1858: "Calhoun left for Washington today-fled. He would have been brought up for forging election returns, of which there is evidence enough, I believe, to warrant a presentment. He is the instigator of all the frauds, I have not a shadow of a doubt."577 As deposed Governor Stanton later recalled Calhoun's departure: "John Calhoun had a company of dragoons to protect him as he carried these forged returns, or their fraudulent results, out of this Territory. With my own eyes I saw him escorted in this way from Lecompton. I do not mean to charge that General Cass or President Buchanan intended this use of the army, but I do say that such was the perversion of its functions, in spite of the better purposes proclaimed in the instructions."578
When a group led by Ewing confronted McLean at Calhoun's office, the deputy lied and claimed that Calhoun had taken the ballots to Washington. Crawford wrote: "Calhoun, determining they should not see the returns, fled to Missouri. His chief clerk remained to manage all. Putting on an air of conscious innocence, he ventured to a ball at the Eldridge House, in Lawrence. While on the floor, the finger of an officer touched him on the shoulder, and he followed into the presence of the committee. There he swore Calhoun had taken the returns to Missouri! The dance 'went on, and joy' with him 'was unconfined.' The public knows that on the second morning thereafter the free-state sheriff of Douglas county, with a posse, found the returns in a candle-box under a wood-pile at Lecompton, and took them before the committee."579
McLean had slipped up, however, and revealed that he had the ballots in a conversation with a woman working for Calhoun's opponents. Confronted with his lie, McLean hid the ballots in a candlebox buried under a woodpile near Calhoun's office. Confronted with a search warrant, McLean first denied where the ballots' location and tried to prevent a search. He failed and they were uncovered.580 Ewing learned "that about 2 A.M. on the night of January 27, Calhoun's clerks - John Sherrard and McLean - had buried the returns in a candle box under a woodpile near the surveyor general's office in Lecompton," according to Nichole Etcheson. "Ewing and the other commissioners drew up a complaint and procured a warrant. Sheriff Samuel Walker found the box under the woodpile and opened it in Governor Denver's presence. The returns showed the vote at Delaware Crossing to have been 43, rather than the claimed 379. From Washington, Ewing's brother reported the reaction of the Buchanan Administration: 'The Calhoun Crew have been sculking all day - invisible. The strong presumption is that they have been drinking whiskey in the President's Kitchen.'"581
According to Thomas Ewing, Jr., ""The returns of the election, as provided in the schedule of the Constitution, were sent to John Calhoun, at Lecompton, who was surveyor-general of Kansas, and president of the Convention. He made and published his official statement of the result in each county, showing the election of the entire pro-slavery State ticket, and a pro-slavery majority in both branches of the Legislature. His decision was prima facie correct, and beyond review or reversal by any Territorial authority. Calhoun forthwith left for Washington to report the result to Buchanan's administration, that it might be officially laid before Congress.
Immediately on this announcement, and solely on my own impulse and initiative, I went to the Territorial Legislature, which had assembled at Lawrence in regular session, January 4, 1858, and was controlled by the Free State party, and there procured the passage of a law, approved January 14, 1858, creating a Board to investigate and report upon the frauds committed at the election on the adoption of the Constitution, December 21, 1857; and also at the election for officers under the Constitution, January 4, 1858, and in the returns thereof. Henry J. Adams, J. B. Abbott, Dillon Pickering, E. L. Taylor, H. T. Green, and myself, composed the Board. L. A. McLean, who was Surveyor-General Calhoun's chief clerk, was summoned to appear before us as a witness, together with other pro-slavery men employed in the office of the surveyor-general at Lecompton, where the election returns and all the other archives relating to the Lecompton Constitution had been filed. McLean appeared and swore that Calhoun had taken all the returns relating to the elections under the Lecompton Constitution with him to Washington. This struck us as a very improbable story; but McLean stuck to it with a respectfulness, dignity and sincerity of manner which were very impressive. No one could be found to throw a doubt on his statement. We had the Surveyor-General's office at Lecompton searched for the returns by our sergeant-at-arms; but not a scrap of them was found. Our investigation, obviously, could amount to nothing without these returns; so, with Calhoun in Washington, and his subordinates swearing that he took the returns with him, we felt utterly baffled and beaten.
At a late hour of the second night after McLean's testimony was given, as I was returning to my room at the Eldridge House, I was accosted in the dark, on a lonely street, by a man whom I did not know, who asked my name, but refused to give his own. He handed me his revolver as an assurance of his pacific intentions, saying that he had been watching on the street for me for several hours. He said he had heard a report of McLean's testimony before our board, and desired to know if it was given as stated. I replied that it was. He said it was a lie, and he could prove it, if it would do any good. He said, however; that he lived at Lecompton, and would in all probability be murdered if he should be known to have informed on McLean and his associates. I satisfied him that if he could and would give me information exposing the falsity of McLean's testimony, his action should not be known, and that with that information, we could drive Calhoun and his gang from the Territory, and defeat the Lecompton Constitution.
He then said that late in the night preceding the day when McLean appeared as a witness before our Board, he [McLean] had buried a large candle-box under a woodpile adjoining his office, and that he had been seen by Charley Torrey, the janitor, who slept in the building and who told my informant. He then gave me his name as Henry W. Petrikin, and described himself as being a clerk in the office of William Brindle, receiver of the United States land office at Lecompton. This was a voucher for his good faith, for I knew enough of General Brindle to know that he would have no rascals about him.
Next day, aided by my official position as one of the commissioners to investigate the election frauds, I obtained from Josiah Miller, Probate Judge of Douglas county, now deceased, a search warrant directed to Captain Samuel Walker, sheriff of Douglas county-who had already done loyal service to the Free State cause and was eager to do more-commanding him to enter upon and search the premises of the Surveyor-General, in Lecompton, and - if practicable - to find, take and bring before Judge Miller all the original returns of elections on or under the Lecompton Constitution. Enjoining Judge Miller to secrecy, I then sought Sheriff Walker and requested him to pick out a dozen fighting men well armed, to go with him as a posse, and told him I had a writ for him to execute, and would tell him at daybreak next morning where to go and what to do. Captain Walker was on hand punctually, with his trusty squad in a back alley; and after receiving the warrant and full instructions from me, he set out unobserved from Lawrence for Lecompton, eight miles away. He pounced upon the Surveyor-General's premises early in the morning, dug up a buried candle-box from under a great woodpile adjoining the office, and before noon he rode up Massachusetts street, in Lawrence, at the head of his squad, holding the candlebox on the pommel of his saddle.
C. W. Babcock, President of the Council; G. W. Dietzler, Speaker of the House of Representatives; and J. W. Denver, acting Governor, met the Investigating Board in the office of Judge Miller. Sheriff Walker made return of his search-warrant and delivered the candle-box to Judge Miller, who opened and produced from it all the returns of the election for officers of the Lecompton Constitution, which McLean had sworn had been taken by Calhoun to Washington. The Kickapoo returns had swollen to 995, from 553, which was the actual vote - chiefly fraudulent - when the polls closed, there being 442 names added to the list of voters after the names of Currier and Ewing, and after the polls closed. Oxford, which had a legitimate vote of about one hundred, had the number increased in the returns, through obvious forgery, to 1,266; the returns from Shawnee showed about fifty real voters, to which had been added names-fictitious names, bringing the total up to 729. The fraudulent additions were as apparent on the face of the returns as would be extension in the leg's of a boys trowsers. They were all on the pro-slavery side; but proving insufficient to effect the desired result, a return from Delaware Crossing, in Leavenworth county, which had been honestly made by the two judges of election, was forged, by splicing with a sheet containing 336 additional names of pro-slavery voters in a different handwriting and in different ink - these fraudulent votes electing the whole legislative ticket of eleven members from Leavenworth county, and giving both branches of the Legislature to the pro-slavery party.
These entire returns showed 6,875 votes cast for Free State candidates, and counting in all the returns, valid and fraudulent, a few hundred more for pro-slavery candidates. On the same day, the fourth of January, 1858, an election was held under a statute then recently passed by the Free State legislature, to take a vote on the adoption or rejection of the Lecompton Constitution, at which 10,226 votes were cast against it, and none in its favor. This last-named vote shows the whole strength of the Free State party of Kansas, while the vote of 6,872 for Free State candidates under the Lecompton Constitution, shows that 3,351 Free State men who voted against the Lecompton Constitution did not vote for officers under it. In other words, the Free State men who opposed the voting policy were thus shown to comprise only one-third of the Free State party.
Immediately on this exposure-January 28, 1858-I swore out a warrant for the arrest of McLean, for perjury. But as soon as the candle-box had been dug up from the woodpile, he had fled with his fellow conspirators never to return to Kansas."582
Whoever was the real author of this farce, Calhoun was a more convenient and prominent scapegoat than was his deputy McLean, who quickly left the territory. It was easy for northerners and free-state Kansans to blame "Candlebox" Calhoun, who already had little credibility from his involvement in the Lecompton Constitution. According to Sangamon County historian John Carroll Power, "the odium of the dastardly acts of this man [McLean] were unjustly visited upon General Calhoun. Unqualified abuse and misrepresentations were heaped upon him, and... broadcast over the country by the press."583 Four Kansas politicians attested to what occurred in an affidavit:
That said board, under said acts, have the right to the possession of the election returns which have been sent by the judges of the said elections at the several precincts in this territory to John Calhoun, the president of the convention, so long as the possession of them may be necessary for the purposes of such investigation. That said John Calhoun. the custodian of said returns, is absent from the territory, and beyond the processes of the board. That L. A. McLean, a resident of Lecompton. and the chief clerk in the office of said Calhoun, has testified before the board that said Calhoun left the said returns in said McLean's possession and custody, and that subsequently, about the 18th or 19th of January, 1858, a person whose name was to him unknown called upon him. and stated that he had been sent for said returns by John Calhoun, and that he, said McLean, delivered said returns to the said messenger, and has not since had possession or custody of them. That they have been informed, and verily believe, that said returns have been stolen or embezzled, and that they are now concealed in or about the building in which is the office of the surveyor-general at Lecompton. or in or about the building adjacent thereto, and they ask that a search-warrant be issued by your honor directing the sheriff of this county to take said returns from their place of concealment, and bring them before your honor, and that said returns may be delivered to this board for examination, and then returned to such persons as may appear to have authority to receive them."584
In 1894, a former clerk in Calhoun's office wrote to Ewing, attesting to McLean's central role in the scandal: "I read with great interest your paper in the Cosmopolitan, 'Early History in Kansas.' It brought back to mind so vividly that portion of the narrative that covered events transpiring after I became a resident of Kansas. July, 1857, and with which I was familiar, as I was one of General Calhoun's staff of clerks in the surveyor-general's office, and although recognized as a free-state man. and as having no sympathy at all with the horde of ruffians that hung about Lecompton that year, was called in by General Calhoun when he desired to have letters copied of a confidential character. In that way I came to know very much of the real attitude of the Buchanan administration and of prominent public men towards the Lecompton plan of forcing Kansas into the Union.... Gen. L. A. McLean was an accomplished scoundrel, if one ever existed. There had been a growing mistrust of McLean on the part of Calhoun for a long time previous to the candle-box affair, and he, Calhoun, had given me to understand that he intended to get rid of him as soon as he could. After the election under the Lecompton constitution, General Calhoun turned the returns over to me as fast as received for the purpose of making up the official tables of the same for canvass, and instructed me not to permit McLean to have access to them. Calhoun left Lecompton for Washington before the returns were all in. His instructions to me, when leaving, were to wait until the returns were all in hand, then to complete the statements and send the latter to him at Washington, keeping the original returns with care until his return, but to give any committee from the legislature access to them that might come for that purpose, with the understanding that they were not to be taken from my custody. I religiously carried out my instructions and kept the returns locked up in a drawer in my office, after sending the copies of the canvass to Calhoun, at Washington. Coming down to the office one morning I found the drawer broken open and the returns gone, I went to McLean at once, and he told me that Calhoun had sent a special messenger for the returns during the night, and as there was no time to lose he had opened my drawer, taken them out and sent them to the general. Subsequently, at Nebraska City, McLean told me that General Calhoun had given Mr. Greene a note to me, directing me to permit him, Greene, to inspect the election returns, and that by G-d he didn't mean he should do it, and so told him that he (McLean) had sent the documents that very afternoon by special messenger to General Calhoun. That night he, McLean and John Sherrard, took the papers from my drawer and buried them where they were found. As this statement was confirmed by what Wasmund and Torrey, clerks in our office, and who had watched and seen them bury the box. had told me before, it was unquestionably true, General Calhoun had no more to do with the candle-box business than you or I. It was simply a piece of McLean's impudence and rascality, for which he ought to have suffered. Perhaps I have worried you with this long explanation, but I wanted you, in the light of correct history, to know the exact facts in the case.585 At the time, however, saw Calhoun's hand at work. McLean and Calhoun were after all close colleagues.
The Kansas territorial legislature elected in October was called into special session on December 7, 1857 by acting Governor Stanton, who was under considerable pressure from antislavery forces. The legislature authorized an election for January 4, 1858 on the entire Lecompton constitution - the same day that the pro-slavery convention had scheduled a vote on statewide officials. (A Democratic state convention meeting on December selected the pro-slavery slate and endorsed the pro-slavery constitution.) This time, the anti-slavery forces participated. They rejected the Lecompton Constitution by 10,226 votes; only 138 Kansans supported the Lecompton constitution "with slavery." Many of the antislavery voters boycotted the vote for statewide officials and the margin was narrower, although clearly won by the anti-slavery forces. Many pro-slavery votes were found to be fraudulent or improper. The struggle between the two sides now moved to Washington.
One public battle was over passage over the Lecompton Constitution by Congress. The other was over who was to blame for that constitution. The Cincinnati Gazette printed an article which attributed Calhoun's actions to his "seduction" by President Buchanan. "Calhoun yielded to the temptation against his personal inclinations and his sense of justice. On a visit to his friends at the East, before the tempter had secured him his coil, he explicitly declared his conviction that 'Kansas would and ought to be a Free State;' and that he should 'vote for it as such.' We are distinctly informed how this change of purpose was effected. The allurements placed before him by an Executive controlling an immense patronage, proved too strong for the ambitious man's virtue. He yield to the solicitations of President Buchanan, and with the hope of reward, consented toe become his compliant instrument for the execution of a scheme from which his better nature utterly revolted."586
Calhoun did not find a warm reception when he arrived in Washington. He brought, noted Craig Miner, "election results showing passage of the Lecompton Constitution with slavery on December 21, defeat of the entire constitution on January 4, and, at the same time, election of officers under it. Excitement, conflict and confusion were inevitable."587 The Lecompton constitution embarrassed Douglas, who opposed both it as an affront to popular sovereignty and the Buchanan Administration support of it. The question across the nation was no longer one of the Lecompton constitution's fairness. It was a question of the ratification's fairness. Historian Thomas E. Schott wrote that Buchanan "faced a fearsome choice. To accept the Lecompton constitution was to bestow his blessing on a rancid piece of political trickery. In a territory with more than twenty-four thousand people eligible for the franchise, representatives of a mere 8 percent of the voters had drawn up a document offering the overwhelmingly free-soil majority a choice between strychnine and cyanide. Lecompton was the grossest perversion of popular sovereignty Kansas slaveholders had yet devised. And hundreds of thousands of northerners - Republicans to a man and a substantial portion of an outraged Democracy - were having none of it."588 Antislavery Republicans in Kansas were particularly angry with Calhoun. In a speech in November 14, 1857, Kansas anti-slavery leader James Lane declared "that John Calhoun should have written upon his tomb-stone (if he ever die) 'Felon, Felon, Felon.'"589 Rousing cheers greeted Lane's condemnation of Calhoun.590
According to a report in abolitionist Independent, Calhoun was hardly more popular when he passed through Springfield, Illinois. The newspaper reported in early February 1858 that Springfield residents were "not a little mortified by the presence among them of the notorious John Calhoun, the agent of Buchanan and the slaveholders in preparing the infamous 'Lecompton Constitution.' His family still reside at Springfield....It would be an interesting point to be settled, how he came to be eligible to a seat in that famous Convention, when only absent from his home on public business; - and how many times he has voted in a territory beyond the bounds of the state of Illinois, where is his home and the residence of his family! But these are small matters beside the other and mightier questions which thrust themselves forward at the very mention of his name. How many false votes has he aided in procuring, or winked at, when the false and forged returns have come into his hands! Rather, what crime, thought to be necessary for the crushing out of the very life of Freedom in that beautiful, but deeply injured territory, has he not in some form made himself responsible for? But he is at Springfield - so say the papers - at his home, where, judging from the enclosed extracts, he finds few to greet him with a hearty welcome, and none to honor or respect him."
The Springfield correspondent contrasted Calhoun's past and present reputations: "Mr. C. is naturally a sensible man, a man of intelligence, and capable of noble sentiments and manly deeds. He has had great influence with his party in this state hitherto. He was 'hand-and-glove' with Douglas, whose influence probably gained for him the post in Kansas by which he has acquired his present infamy as the betrayer of her interests, and her would-be dictator." Calhoun, said the correspondent, "is a dishonored man; and whatever be the issue of the great contest now going on in Congress and in all the land, in reference to the Lecompton swindle, he is soon to sink and politically to rise no more."591
When he finally arrived in Washington, Calhoun did not change Senator Douglas's mind. Lincoln's biographers, John G. Nicolay and John Hay, argued that Calhoun had "hurried away to Washington, where he was received with open arms by the President and his advisers, who at once proceeded with a united and formidable effort to legalize the transparent farce by Congressional sanction."592 The reception was much more restrained when Calhoun visited the Douglas home on "Minnesota Row" in Washington. Douglas greeted "his guest coldly, chatted about general matters. Then he suddenly fixed his intensest gaze on the visitor. 'What about Delaware Crossing?' he demanded. Calhoun stuttered out that the returned had been properly certified. With quick step Douglas crossed to his desk, drew out the depositions of fraud, and slapped them on Calhoun's knee. 'Then how about this evidence?' he thundered. Calhoun turned pale and left the house," wrote Allan Nevins.593
Republicans had even tougher words for Calhoun. Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson declared on the Senate floor: "John Calhoun has cheated and defrauded the people of Kansas out of their sacred rights. He has committed a crime against the liberties of the people which will associate his name with tyranny and tyrants while the history of Kansas shall be read and remembered by mankind." According to Wilson, "God never allowed to walk the green earth any man who more richly deserves to die a traitor's death, and leave a traitor's name, than John Calhoun."594
Calhoun was in limbo. He had the returns to the January election, but he dared not certify not them. "Since he had arrived, various news despatches had come eastward," wrote historian Roy Nichols. "The most important consisted of affidavits in Kansas papers swearing that the rumored frauds were facts. Douglas took these items to Calhoun and asked him whether he would grant certificates based on fake ballots. Secretary Thompson also told Calhoun that Governor Denver had advised him that the election was a sham. Calhoun, in a quandary, finally said that if crooked voting were proved he would throw out the returns. By the end of February the investigating committee of the Kansas antislavery legislature concluded taking testimony and reported startling evidence" concerning Calhoun's candlebox.595
Calhoun now faced the same fate as the five Kansas territorial governors he had outlasted. He was buffeted from strong pressures. Historian Kenneth M. Stampp wrote: "On March 2, a member of the investigating committee brought the evidence to Washington, and an angry Douglas asked Calhoun whether he would certify results based on fraudulent returns. This was more than the administration could bear, and on March 19, under considerable pressure, Calhoun certified an anti-Lecompton majority in the prospective state legislature but left the other results undecided. Proof of another corrupt Kansas election under the supervision of Calhoun's appointees damaged the administration cause at a time when it already appeared all but lost."596 The president was not amused and Calhoun's job was endangered.
As Douglas recalled events: "After the result of the election of the 21st of December, on the adoption of the pro-slavery clause, was made known, Mr. Calhoun, president of the Convention, who was also Surveyor-General for the Territories of Kansas and Nebraska, a Federal officeholder, and therefore under the influence of Mr. Buchanan, holding office by his appointment, instead of complying with the directions of the Lecompton Convention, to transmit the Constitution direct to Congress, took it to the President of the United States, who himself transmitted it to Congress, accompanied by a special message, in which he gave his reasons for the admission of Kansas into the Union under it. It was in this message that Mr. Buchanan declared, that it had been decided by the highest judicial tribunal in the land, 'that slavery exists in Kansas in virtue of the Constitution of the United States' and therefore that Kansas was at that moment as much a slave State as Georgia or South Carolina, and that there was no possible mode in which slavery could be abolished therein, or excluded therefrom, but by the admission of Kansas into the Union as a State."597 According to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, "It was...understood that the Free-State men, of whom a large part had voted for members of the Legislature, had a decided majority in both branches of that body; but all depended upon the returns from Leavenworth County, the returns for some districts of which had been falsified on their way to Calhoun, and as he kept the whole body of returns in his pocket, and refused to certify to anybody's election till Congress had first acted on the question by admission, the matter long remained in doubt. It was generally understood that if Kansas was admitted. Calhoun would cook up the returns so as to produce a Pro-Slavery State government and Legislature."598
According to Calhoun's brother, John Calhoun resisted intense pressure to certify pro-slavery election results. "Calhoun announced a Free-State victory, which alienated the South without mollifying the North," wrote historian Elbert B. Smith. "Southern papers denounced Calhoun as a traitor and Buchanan promptly discharged him. Calhoun insisted that he would have been reappointed if he had certified a proslave victory."599 Calhoun's position "gave great umbrage to the Democratic party, and to President Buchanan in particular," wrote Andrew Calhoun. "That functionary gave him the cold shoulder at once; and very soon afterward evinced his disapprobation by superseding him in the office of Surveyor-General."600
Calhoun was replaced in his post by former army officer Ward B. Burnett, effective July 3, 1858.601 During Calhoun's service in Kansas, the territory had gone through seven governors. By this time, Calhoun may have been even more disliked by the Buchanan administration than Douglas, who apparently recommended Calhoun's replacement. It was a strange power to grant the Buchanan Administration's most prominent critic. Historian William H. Beezley wrote that "Senator Douglas called Burnett to the attention of Secretary of State Lewis Cass and was no doubt instrumental in securing his appointment."602
Douglas and the 1858 Congressional Debate
For four months, the future of the Lecompton Constitution consumed Congress and the Cabinet. Shortly after Calhoun reached Washington, Douglas wrote a letter to be read at an anti-Lecompton rally in Philadelphia: "That the Lecompton constitution is not the act of the people of Kansas, and that it does not embody the popular will of that Territory, is now conclusively and undeniably established by a vote of the people, taken at a fair election, held on the 4th day of January, 1858, in pursuance of a law passed by the Territorial Legislature established by Congress."603
Buchanan had decided to accept the legitimacy of the Lecompton Constitution and the supporting referendum. He forwarded the Lecompton Constitution to Congress for action on February 2, noting it was "received from J. Calhoun Esq. duly certified by himself."604 As sympathetic Buchanan biographer George Ticknor Curtis summarized Buchanan's arguments:
1. The Lecompton constitution was republican in form, and it had been framed and voted upon in a free and open ballot, which the convention had directed to be taken on the all important question of slavery.
2. The question of slavery was thus localized, confined to the people whom it immediately concerned, and banished from the halls of Congress, where it had been always exerting a baneful influence upon the country at large.
3. If Congress, for the sake of those who had refused to exercise their power of excluding slavery from the constitution of Kansas, should now reject it because slavery remained in it, the agitation would be renewed everywhere in a more alarming form than it had yet assumed.
4. After the admission of the State, its people would be sovereign over this and every other domestic question; they could mould their institutions as they should see fit, and if, as the President had every reason to believe, a majority of the people were opposed to slavery, the legislature already elected under this constitution could at once provide for amending it in the proper manner.
5. If this constitution should be sent back by Congress because it sanctioned slavery, a second constitution would have to be framed and sent to Congress, and there would be a revival of the slavery agitation, both in Congress and throughout the Union.
6. The speedy admission of Kansas, which would restore peace and harmony to the whole country, was of infinitely greater consequence than the small difference of time that would be required for the people to exercise their own sovereign power over the whole subject after they had become a State, compared with the process of a new convention to be held under the auspices of the Territorial government.605
Lecompton's opponents also were prepared. Philip Shriver Klein wrote: "The anti-Lecompton forces brought six indictments against the constitution and the Buchanan Administration: that the principle of majority rule had been violated; that the constitution was invalid because it had not been ratified by popular vote; that the people had no opportunity to choose between slavery or no slavery; that the constitution could not be amended until 1864; that Buchanan had betrayed Walker; and that the president had become the captive of a southern 'Directory.'"606
Once again, Buchanan valued expediency over legitimacy. In his message in support of the Lecompton Constitution, Buchanan said: "The people of Kansas have, then, 'in their own way,' and in strict accordance with the organic act, framed a constitution and State Government; have submitted the all-important question of slavery to the people, and have elected a governor, a member to represent them in Congress, members of the State Legislature, and other State officers. They now ask admission into the Union under this constitution, which is republican in its form. It is for Congress to decide whether they will admit or reject the State which has thus been created. For my own part, I am decidedly in favor of its admission, and thus terminating the Kansas question. This will carry out the great principle of non-intervention recognized and sanctioned by the organic act, which declares in express language in favor of 'non-intervention by Congress with slavery in the States or Territories,' leaving 'the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States.' In this manner, by localizing the question of slavery and confining it to the people whom it immediately concerned, every patriot anxiously expected that this question would be banished from the halls of Congress, where it has always exerted a baneful influence throughout the whole country."607
Buchanan's action was a virtual declaration of war on Kansas Free Staters and their northern supporters: "A great delusion seems to pervade the public mind in relation to the condition of parties in Kansas. This arises from the difficulty of inducing the American people to realize the fact that any portion of them should be in a state of rebellion against the government under which they live. When we speak of the affairs of Kansas, we are apt to refer merely to the existence of two violent political parties in that Territory, divided on the question of slavery, just as we speak of such parties in the States. This presents no adequate idea of the true state of the case. The dividing line there is not between two political parties, both acknowledging the lawful existence of the government, but between those who are loyal to this government and those who have endeavored to destroy its existence by force and by usurpation - between those who sustain and those who have done all in their power to overthrow the Territorial government established by Congress."608 Buchanan's unqualified rejection of the legitimacy of Free State grievances was particularly breathtaking when the position of his own appointee as territorial governor, Robert J. Walker, is considered. A month later, Walker proclaimed his opposition to Kansas statehood under the Lecompton: "Shall we drag Kansas from the camp and prison-house of Lecompton, as a chained and collared convict, into the Union?"609
The House moved quickly to take up the Lecompton issue and refer it to the Committee on Territories chaired by Georgian Alexander H. Stephens. The Buchanan forces were a few votes shy, however, of a majority. When they let down their guard briefly on Friday, February 5, the anti-Lecompton forces led by Springfield Congressman Thomas Harris moved to counterattack. The legislative tactics and debate occupied almost 15 hours - most of it relatively quiet. "The House presents a strange and impressive appearance under the mysterious looking yellow light, that descends from the pictured ceiling from the ruddy and golden interior of the hall," wrote a Chicago journalist about 1 AM. "The members, worn and sleepy are stretched in various attitudes upon their chairs and desks, a few fortunate ones having secured the sofas. At the sides of the chamber they are unusually quiet, and answer languidly to their names as the everlasting call of the roll goes on."610
The peacefulness was short-lived. Early on the Saturday morning of February 6, 1858, a massive fight among congressmen broke out on the House floor. Calhoun's handiwork and the struggle over ratification of the Lecompton Constitution precipitated unprecedented violence on the House floor, involving more than four dozen congressmen. In the confrontation "some fifty middle-aged and elderly gentlemen pitch[ed] into each other like so many Tipperary savages, most of them incapable, from want of wind and muscle, from doing each other any serious harm."611 In the end, however, on Monday, February 8, Harris prevailed with his resolution to refer the matter to a special committee with powers to investigate. The weekend had been occupied by intensive lobbying. Calhoun met with the President to discuss the election. Buchanan, wrote historian Roy Nichols, "discussed with the surveyor general the various dispatches, letters, and news items which had been accumulating. The President learned definitely that frauds as notorious as those of Oxford and McGee precinct probably had occurred elsewhere, and that the territorial legislature was investigating the returns from Delaware Crossing, Kickpaoo, and Shawnee. Whatever result Calhoun might declare was bound to be challenged." Buchanan would gain no advantage by having Calhoun announce a result of the legislative elections.612
Lecompton's supporters struggled to justify their positions. Leverett Wilson Spring, an early Kansas historian, observed: "Arguments in defense of the Lecompton measure - the debate filled more than nine hundred pages of the 'Congressional Globe' - made the most of technicalities. Samuel A. Smith, representative from Tennessee, stood almost alone in advocacy of its claims to popular approval. 'The whole people of Kansas,' he said, are in favor of the admission of the State under the Lecompton constitution, except [James] Lane with his marauders, his murderers, and his house-burners; - an insignificant gang that did not 'number more than eight hundred.' Foolish talk of this sort found little favor. For the constitution there was a single tenable line of defense - that it was the work of a legitimate convention which had observed all indispensable formalities."613
Buchanan was in no mood for compromise with Douglas. Forney, an editor with newspapers in Philadelphia and Washington, sided with Douglas against Buchanan. "I made every effort for peace," recalled Forney. "I solicited toleration for an honest difference of opinion. It was peremptorily refused. The party decree had gone forth." Forney later wrote: "Everybody who sympathized with us in office was removed. Douglas was degraded from the chairmanship of the Committee on Territories. All social intercourse between the rebels and the Administration ceased."614 The threat of dismissal was held over Douglas's patronage allies, but there were some significant exceptions. Douglas's father-in-law, James Madison Cutts, remained undisturbed in his Treasury Department post. "Cutts and his brother-in-law, Granger, are still in lucrative offices in this City, and I have no intention of removing either," wrote Buchanan in 1860.615 Just as curiously, in the middle of the Lecompton controversy, Douglas's long-time Illinois colleague, former Congressman William A. Richardson, was appointed governor of Nebraska despite his acknowledged loyalty to Douglas.616
In both the House and the Senate, control of the committees considering Lecompton was seized by the pro-Lecompton forces. Douglas was forced to write a minority report against Lecompton from his own Committee on Territories. The southern advantage in the Senate preordained support for Buchanan's position. Only two or three northern Democrats might oppose Buchanan. Nevertheless, at 7 P. M on March 22, 1858, an ill and weak Senator Douglas left his sick bed to speak against Lecompton on the Senate floor. It had been an eventful winter for him. In January, he and second wife, 22-year-old Adele Cutts Douglas, moved into their new mansion at the corner of New Jersey Avenue and I Street. Nearly two thousand people attended their housewarming. Then in February, Adele miscarried. First she, and then her husband, fell desperately ill and took weeks to recover. One Republican senator reported: "For ten days & nights he did not sleep at all - and for four days last week he was confined to his bed."617
As usual, the anticipation in Washington about Douglas's speech was great. Albert Beveridge wrote that "not for a moment did Douglas quail. Neither a long illness nor that of his wife, who came near dying, shook him."618 The Senate galleries overflowed as Douglas forcefully argued that the principle of popular sovereignty had been violated by the referendum Lecompton Constitution: "We are told that there is a majority of about five thousand five hundred votes recorded in its favor under these circumstances. I refrain from going into the evidence which has been taken before the commission recently held in Kansas to show what proportion of these votes were fraudulent; but supposing them all to have been legal, bona fide residents, what does that fact prove, when the people on that occasion were allowed only to vote for, and could not vote against the constitution?"619
After denouncing the fraud perpetrated by his friend Calhoun, Douglas said: "If further evidence were necessary to show that the Lecompton Constitution is not the will of the people of Kansas, you find it in the action of the Legislature of that Territory. On the first Monday of October an election took place for members of the Territorial Legislature. It was a severe struggle between the two great parties in the Territory. On a fair test, and at the fairest election, as is recorded on all hands, ever held in the Territory a Legislature was elected. That Legislature came together and remonstrated by an overwhelming majority against this Constitution as not being the act and deed of that people, and not embodying their will."620 Douglas went on to denounce the political pressures being exerted by President Buchanan: "For my own part, Mr. President, come what may, I intend to vote, speak, and act according to my own sense of duty so long as I hold a seat in this chamber. If, standing firmly by my principles, I shall be driven into private life, it is a fate that has no terrors for me. I prefer private life, preserving my own self-respect and manhood, to abject and servile submission to executive will. If the alternative be private life or servile obedience to executive will, I am prepared to retire.""621
In answer to a question from another senator, Douglas reviewed the evidence of "fraudulent voters." After casting doubt on the reliability of the certification of the election results and the delay in announcing the results of the elections for state offices in January, Douglas addressed Calhoun's actions and dismissed them as irrelevant and unreliable: "One day the rumor would be that Mr. Calhoun would declare the free-State ticket elected, and next day that he would declare the pro-slavery ticket elected. So it has alternated, like the chills and fever, day after day, until within the last three days, when the action of Congress became a little dubious, when it was doubtful whether Northern men were willing to vote for a State government depending on forgery and perjury, and then we find that the president of the Lecompton convention addresses a letter to the editor of the Star, a newspaper in this city, telling what he thinks is the result of the election. He says it is true that he has received no answer to his letters of inquiry to Governor Denver; he has no official information on the subject, but, from rumors and unofficial information, he is now satisfied that the Delaware Crossing return was a fraud; that it will be set aside; and that, accordingly, the result will that certificates will be issued to the free-State men. I do not mean to deny that Mr. Calhoun may think such will be result; but while he may think so, I would rather know how the fact is. His thoughts are not important, but the fact is vital in establishing the honesty or dishonesty of the State government which we are about to recognize. It so happens that Mr. Calhoun has no more power, no more authority over that question now, than the Senator from Missouri, or any other member of this body." Political authority was in flux again. Since Calhoun was out of the state, actual authority over the election had fallen to the president pro tempore, noted Douglas, and only his opinion was relevant.622
In his speech Douglas alleged that Calhoun's semi-certification of Free-Staters was a ploy to get acceptance of the Lecompton Constitution. As Douglas described Calhoun's actions: "As long as Mr. Calhoun took the ground that he would never declare the result until Lecompton was admitted, and that if it was not admitted, he would never make the decision, there seemed to be some reason in his course; but when, after taking that ground for months, it became understood that Lecompton was dead, or was lingering and languishing, and likely to die, and when a few more votes were necessary, and a pretext was necessary to be given, in order to secure them, we find this letter published by the deposed ex-president, giving his opinion when he had no power over the subject; and when it appears by the constitution itself that another man or another body of men has the decision in their hands, it is calculated to arouse our suspicions as to what the result will be after Lecompton is admitted."623 Indeed, Governor Denver had written President Buchanan in January 1858 that the Free-Staters were the winners of the January 4 territorial elections and that violence would ensue if the Lecompton Constitution were put into effect.624
The vote on Lecompton in the Senate was foreordained. Even most northern Democratic senators supported Lecompton. Only Republicans were solidly in opposition. The Lecompton controversy revealed the shallowness of Douglas's relationships with many southern Democrats like Louisiana's John Slidell and Mississippi's Jefferson Davis. Under his trendy clothes, the rough and ready Douglas retained his unpolished character. His extroverted nature was accompanied by sometimes uncouth behavior that worsened during the period between the death of his first wife in 1853 and his marriage to Adele Cutts in 1856. Douglas biographer Henry Willis Parker noted: "The haughty and, in their own judgment, aristocratic Southerners, accepted Douglas's aid in the Senate but they privately sneered at some of the crudities which he still from time to time betrayed. When the Kansas struggle took place these private strictures, previously suppressed, became public and the organs of Southern feeling referred to "the rugged vulgarities of his early education," which, it was asserted, had been "smoothed down" by "association with Southern gentlemen."625
The Lecompton vote in the House was much closer - and the deliberations much more violent - than that in the Senate. Historian Allan Nevins attributed part of the difficulty to "the antics of John Calhoun. Had that marplot stayed in Kansas, made a fair count of votes in the January election, and given prompt notice of the free State victory, he might have contributed much toward the success of Lecompton."626 "The Adm. has bought men like hogs in the market," charged Douglas ally Thomas Harris, who represented the Springfield area of Illinois.627 The Buchanan Cabinet failed, however, to move enough votes in the House for approval of Kansas statehood under Lecompton despite extensive coercion of northern members. "Contracts for shipbuilding and mail routes were dangled before wavering representatives; commissions, patronage jobs (either removals or extensions), funds for newspapers that favored Lecompton, and even cash were offered," wrote historian Jean H. Baker.628
Spearheading House efforts to ratify the Lecompton Constitution was Lincoln's old Whig colleague from Georgia, Alexander H. Stephens, who had had been allied with Douglas in the 1854 fight to pass the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Stephens wrote of his efforts in 1858: "We have so many fools....and from the South too, that there is no counting upon what will be done. With the right men there would been no difficulty. But patriotism, statesmanship, and public virtue were all either gone or 'fast dying out.'"629 Although Stephens was generally kind in his evaluation of Douglas and his motives, in this case the Illinois senator was effectively one of those "fools."
One of Douglas's closest allies was Springfield's congressional representative, Thomas Harris. Although suffering from a terminal illness, Harris insisted on being carried onto the congressional floor for the vote.630 In a letter back to Illinois, Harris wrote that "Nothing avails here now but submission to administration on southern dictation. A life of devotion to equal rights in every section...is nothing. We must vote to admit Kansas under the Lecompton Constitution, or we are Black Republicans, renegades, demagogues and all that."631
Failing to pass Lecompton outright in the House, Stephens sought an alternative mechanism for approval. Much of April was spent in seeking a compromise solution. Stephens' opportunity came when he was appointed to a conference committee to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation. Stephens used another conference committee member, Indiana Congressman William H. English, to put forward an alternative plan that called for a second vote by Kansans on the Lecompton constitution. Rejection of Lecompton by Kansas voters would mean a substantial delay in statehood until the territory had 90,000 residents. After much cajoling and bribery, the English compromise passed the House by a vote of 112-103 and the Senate by a 31-22 margin with Douglas opposing the work of his friends English and Stephens.632 Republicans in Kansas denounced the compromise and called it an attempt to bribe Kansas voters to accept Lecompton.
Douglas had vacillated on the English bill while Congressman Harris had sought to kill the legislation in the House. Douglas wavered when former Governors Walker and Stanton urged him to support the English bill.633 The senator's resolve was stiffened a day later when he told California Senator David Broderick and other allies of his decision to support the English bill. They were appalled. Buchanan wrote that Douglas gave way to the superior will of Senator Broderick: "I can't understand you, sir," Broderick told Douglas. "You will be crushed between the Administration and the Republicans. I shall denounce you, sir. You had better go into the street and blow out your brains." Historian Allan Nevins noted that Douglas spine was also stiffened by Illinois Democrats: "To the State Democratic Convention in Illinois on April 21, ninety-seven of the ninety-eight counties represented had sent anti-Lecompton delegates; and the convention had adopted resolutions of the most spirited character on Kansas. How would these delegates feel if Douglas let them down? He turned back decisively."634 Well, perhaps not quite so decisively as he sought a detente with Buchanan Democrats at the end of the congressional session in June. Kenneth M. Stampp noted that "Douglas...came close to a public announcement of his support. However, urgent advice not to yield from Illinois friends and a meeting with staunch anti-Lecompton congressional Democrats quickly changed his mind."635 According to Philip Auchampaugh: "Faced with the desertion of his handful of political followers in Washington, and by a possible desertion by some of his half-Republican Illinois supporters Douglas decided to refuse the olive branch."636
Despite his indecisiveness, Douglas continued to draw some Republican respect. Connecticut Senator James Dixon, a Republican, admired Douglas's stand. "I see more and more what a struggle it cost him to sever all personal and political ties, and take his stand on the foundation of eternal truth and justice. All sorts of blandishments and fascinations were applied in vain - and when promises proved unavailing, resort was had to threats. He could have had the assurance of fifteen States at the next Presidential election, with a good prospect of Illinois, Pennsylvania, and perhaps others. But he was decided and resolute."637
On April 29, 1858, the English bill passed both the House (112-103) and the Senate (31-22). English had succeeded in convincing nine anti-Lecompton Democrats to change their votes.
Back in Springfield, Lincoln understood that Douglas's tactics did not change his unswerving support of popular sovereignty and indifference to slavery's spread. In early May, Lincoln wrote to a correspondent in the nation's capital about the political reaction in Illinois: "The impulse of almost every Democrat is to stick to Douglas; but it horrifies them to have to follow him out of the Democratic party. A good many are annoyed that he did not go for the English contrivance, and thus heal the breach. They begin to think there is a 'negro in the fence,' - that Douglas really wants to have a fuss with the President;---that sticks in their throats."638 But Lincoln was worried about the impact of Douglas's behavior on Republicans in Illinois. Two weeks later, Lincoln wrote Illinois Congressman Elihu B. Washburne, whom it had been rumored was leaning toward support of Douglas: "Political matters just now bear a very mixed and incongruous aspect. For several days the signs have been that Douglas and the President have probably burned [sic] the hatchet, Doug's friends at Washington going over to the President's side, and his friends here & South of here, talking as if there never had been any serious difficulty, while the President himself does nothing for his own peculiar friends here. But this morning my partner, Mr. Herndon, receives a letter from Mr. Medill of the Chicago Tribune, showing the writer to be in great alarm at the prospect North of Republicans going over to Douglas, on the idea that Douglas is going to assume steep free-soil ground, and furiously assail the administration on the stump when he comes home. There certainly is a double game being played some how. Possibly - even probably - Douglas is temporarily deceiving the President in order to crush out the 8th of June convention here. Unless he plays his double game more successfully than we have often seen done, he can not carry many republicans North, without at the same time losing a larger number of his old friends South."639
The gulf between the long-time Illinois rivals seem to widen in the late 1850s. Lincoln had once written: "With me, the race of ambition has been a failure - a flat failure; with him it has been one of splendid success. His name fills the nation, and it is not unknown, even in foreign lands."640 But 1858 was a bad year for Douglas. Douglas biographer Gerald Mortimer Capers noted that Douglas "was bedridden with his old throat infection, his wife had a miscarriage, and the depression forced him to mortgage his Chicago properties heavily. He had a near duel with Senator [Graham N.] Fitch of Indiana, formal charges were made that he abused his position as chairman of the Committee on Territories, and untrue but damaging insinuations upon his political integrity were publicized by his own colleagues."641 Proceeds from the mortgage would be used to fund his Senate campaign.
The stubborn insistence of President Buchanan - of neither compromising with or meeting with Douglas - weakened the Buchanan Administration as well as Douglas. Its controversial actions in Kansas and elsewhere triggered an investigation by the House of Representatives. The committee, chaired by Pennsylvanian John Covode, would issue its damning report in April 1860 - further crippling the presidential prospects of a Democratic Party already split by slavery. Covode found that Buchanan's allies engaged in an "attempt to convert Kansas into a slave State by means of forgeries frauds, and force."642 The president worsened an already bad political situation, noted historian William E. Gienapp, who wrote that "under Buchanan the Democratic Party was torn to shreds by the Lecompton issue and the mounting hostility between Southern Democrats and Douglasites. Far from ending the feud and healing the breach, Buchanan contributed to it."643
Calhoun had effectively reestablished the basic conflict over the control of the federal government. Nicolay and Hay wrote: "The haste with which the Southern leaders advanced step by step, forced every issue, and were now pushing their allies to the wall was, to say the least, bad management, but it grew logically out of their situation. They were swimming against the stream. The leading forces of civilization, population, wealth, commerce, intelligence, were bearing them down. The balance of power was lost. Already there were sixteen free States to fifteen slave States. Minnesota and Oregon, inevitably destined also to become free, were applying for admission to the Union." Lincoln's biographers laid out the Lecompton scenario:
Still, the case of the South was not hopeless. Kansas was apparently within their grasp. Existing law provided for the formation and admission of four additional States to be carved out of Texas, which would certainly become slave States. Then there remained the possible division of California, and a race for the possession of New Mexico and Arizona. Behind all, or, more likely, before all except Kansas, in the order of desired events, was the darling ambition of President Buchanan, the annexation of Cuba. As United States Minister to England he had publicly declared that if Spain refused to sell us that coveted island we should be justified in wresting it from her by force; as Presidential candidate he had confidentially avowed, amid the first blushes of his new honor. "If I can be instrumental in settling the slavery question upon the terms I have mentioned, and then add Cuba to the Union, I shall, if President, be willing to give up the ghost, and let Breckinridge take the government." Thus, even excluding the more problematical chances which lay hidden in filibustering enterprises, there was a possibility, easily demonstrable to the sanguine, that a decade or two might change mere numerical preponderance from the free to the slave States. Nor could this possibility be waved aside by any affectation of incredulity. Not alone Mr. Buchanan but the whole Democratic party was publicly pledged to annexation. "Resolved," said the  Cincinnati platform, "that the Democratic party will expect of the next Administration that every proper effort be made to insure our ascendency in the Gulf of Mexico"; while another resolution declaring sympathy with efforts to "regenerate" Central America was no less significant.
But to accomplish such marvels, they must not sit with folded hands. The price of slavery was fearless aggression. They must build on a deeper foundation than Presidential elections, party majorities, or even than votes in the Senate. The theory of the government must be reversed, the philosophy of the republic interpreted anew. In this subtler effort they had made notable progress. By the Kansas-Nebraska act they had paralyzed the legislation of half a century. By the Dred Scott decision they had changed the Constitution and blighted the Declaration of Independence.
By the Lecompton trick they would show that in conflict with their dogmas the public will was vicious, and in conflict with their intrigues the majority powerless. They had the President, the Cabinet, the Senate, the House, the Supreme Court, and, by no means least in the immediate problem, John Calhoun with his technical investiture of far-reaching authority. The country had recovered from the shock of the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, and rewarded them with Buchanan. Would it not equally recover from the shock of the Lecompton Constitution prohibition against any change for seven years to come. With his authority to control election returns, there is every reason to suppose that Calhoun would have set up a pro-slavery State Legislature, to choose two pro-slavery senators, whom in its turn the strong Lecompton majority in the United States Senate would have admitted to seats; and thus the whole chain of fraud and usurpation back to the first Border-Ruffian invasion of Kansas would have become complete, legal, and irrevocable, on plea of mere formal and technical regularity.644
Douglas had helped block that eventuality. Lincoln would block it permanently.
The 1858 Senate Campaign
Abraham Lincoln was not moved by Douglas's opposition to Lecompton. He was not tempted to cede anti-slavery leadership to a man who had repeatedly declared his indifference to slavery. Lincoln could not be indifferent. And in his long wariness of Douglas's motives and manipulations, he would not be lulled into inaction. At the end of December 1857, Lincoln drafted a speech which began: "From time to time, ever since the Chicago 'Times' and 'Illinois State Register' declared their opposition to the Lecompton constitution, and it began to be understood that Judge Douglas was also opposed to it, I have been accosted by friends of his with the question, 'What do you think now?' Since the delivery of his speech in the Senate,] the question has been varied a little. 'Have you read Douglas's speech?' 'Yes.' 'Well, what do you think of it?' In every instance the question is accompanied with an anxious inquiring stare, which asks, quite as plainly as words could, 'Can't you go for Douglas now?'' Like boys who have set a bird-trap, they are watching to see if the birds are picking at the bait and likely to go under."645
Lincoln did not take the bait. In Lincoln's eyes, Douglas had caused the problems in Kansas - which would have been avoided had not the restrictions on slavery embodied in the Missouri Compromise of 1820 been continued. The Kansas-Nebraska Act was the cause of the troubles, Lincoln thought: "I think the true magnitude of the slavery element in this nation is scarcely appreciated by any one. Four years ago the Nebraska policy was adopted, professedly, to drive the agitation of the subject into the Territories, and out of every other place, and especially out of Congress." In this undelivered draft, Lincoln then introduced a concept that he would activate six months later. He wrote that in the four years since Kansas-Nebraska Act was introduced in January 1854, "there has really been more angry agitation of this subject, both in and out of Congress, than ever before. And just now it is perplexing the mighty ones as no subject ever did before. Nor is it confined to politics alone. Presbyterian assemblies, Methodist conferences, Unitarian gatherings, and single churches to an indefinite extent, are wrangling, and cracking, and going to pieces on the same question. Why, Kansas is neither the whole nor a tithe of the real question." He added: "A house divided against itself cannot stand."646
By the spring of 1858, many eastern Republicans thought that as a consequence of Douglas's opposition to Lecompton, their own opposition to Douglas should cease and the senator should be supported for reelection in Illinois. Robert W. Johannsen wrote that Douglas "had placed Republicans in a difficult situation. His defiance of the administration had been applauded by many influential Republicans, some of whom even nurtured hopes that Douglas might be induced to switch parties."647 While Illinois Democrats split into pro-Douglas and pro-Buchanan factions, Douglas was wooed by Republicans in Washington. Abraham Lincoln was appalled by their courting of Douglas and encouraged a Democratic split in Illinois might fuel his own chances.648
By undermining Douglas with Democrats, Calhoun had effectively pushed some Republicans to support Douglas for reelection to the Senate. Illinois Lieutenant Governor Gustave Koerner remembered that New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley "moved heaven and earth to induce the Republicans of Illinois to elect Douglas men to the next Legislature, in order to secure Douglas's reelection to the Senate and to fight under his banner to defeat the Pro-Slavery Democracy."649 Greeley complained to a Republican editor in Chicago: "You have repelled Douglas, who might have been conciliated, and attached to our side, whatever he may now find it necessary to say, or do, and, instead of helping us in other states, you have thrown a load upon us that may probably break us down."650
Lincoln saw things differently. As Lincoln law partner William H. Herndon remembered, Lincoln 'could not help the feeling that he was now the leading Republican in his State, and he was therefore more or less jealous of his prerogative. Formidable in debate, plain in speech, without pretence of literary acquirements, he was none the less self-reliant. He already envied the ascendancy and domination Douglas exercised over his followers, and felt keenly the slight given him by others of his own faith whom he conceived were disposed to prevent his attaining the leadership of his party. I remember early in 1858 of his coming into the office one morning and speaking in very dejected terms of the treatment he was receiving at the hands of Horace Greeley. 'I think Greeley,' he complained, 'is not doing me right. His conduct, I believe, savors a little of injustice. I am a true Republican and have been tried already in the hottest part of the anti-slavery fight, and yet I find him taking up Douglas, a veritable dodger, - once a tool of the South, now its enemy, - and pushing him to the front. He forgets that when he does that he pulls me down at the same time."651 Lincoln wrote Trumbull at the end of December 1857: "What does the New York Tribune mean by it's constant eulogising, and admiring and magnifying [of] Douglas. Does it, in this, speak the sentiments of the republicans at Washington. Have they concluded that the republican cause, generally, can be best promoted by sacraficing [sic] us here in Illinois?"652
In March 1858, Herndon had traveled east to quiet the Douglas movement while Lincoln did his best to squelch it in Illinois.653
He went first to Washington where he met with Senator Lyman Trumbull, who would said it was "useless to speculate upon the further course of Douglas or the effect it is to have in Illinois or other States. He himself does not know where he is going or where he will come out."654 Herndon also saw Senator Douglas, who "was confined to his house by illness, but on receiving my card he directed me to be shown up to his room. We had a pleasant and interesting interview. Of course the conversation soon turned on Lincoln. In answer to an inquiry regarding the latter I remarked that Lincoln was pursuing the even tenor of his way. 'He is not in anybody's way,' I contended, 'not even in yours, Judge Douglas.' He was sitting up in a chair smoking a cigar. Between puffs he responded that neither was he in the way of Lincoln or any one else, and did not intend to invite conflict. He conceived that he had achieved what he had set out to do, and hence did not feel that his course need put him in opposition to Mr. Lincoln or his party. 'Give Mr. Lincoln my regards,' he said, rather warmly, 'when you return, and tell him I have crossed the river and burned my boat.'"655
Douglas sent out his own emissaries. Historian Allen C. Guelzo wrote: "In March 1858 Douglas dispatched James W. Sheahan, who managed Douglas's organ, the Chicago Times, to the Republican state committee with an offer to back out of the Senate race 'and take his chances by and by' if the Republicans would refrain from opposing the election of Douglas's candidates for the House of Representatives."656 Illinois Republicans, however, would not be moved by Republicans who hoped they would back Douglas, who was renominated by Illinois Democrats on April 21 - after which Lincoln reported: "The democracy parted in not a very encouraged state of mind."657 About six weeks later, a counter convention of Buchanan Democrats was held in Springfield but no specific opponent to Douglas was endorsed. Lincoln was probably well versed on what these anti-Douglas Democrats were planning - since Billy Herndon was keyed into the movement through his father.658
On June 16, 1858, at their convention in Springfield Illinois Republicans endorsed Lincoln as their candidate for the Douglas Senate seat after most county conventions had already taken similar actions.659 Lincoln, in turn, delivered his "House Divided" speech which suggested a proslavery conspiracy under Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney and Douglas. Lincoln would not allow the slavery issues to be redefined. And he certainly did not trust Douglas - of whose principles and ambition he had long been wary - to do the definition. (A year later, Lincoln would privately describe Douglas as "the most dangerous enemy of liberty, because the most insidious one."660) For Lincoln it was still a battle between those who opposed extension and those who did not. Lincoln was convinced that slavery was in danger of nationalization: "Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new - North as well as South."661
Lincoln went on to detail the history of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott decision - and the way that they opened the door to the nationalization of slavery through Douglas's expressed indifference to whether or not it should spread. Lincoln then spoke of the recent dispute between Douglas and Buchanan: "At length a squabble springs up between the President and the author of the Nebraska bill, on the mere question of fact, whether the Lecompton constitution was or was not, in any just sense, made by the people of Kansas; and in that squabble the latter declares that all he wants is a fair vote for the people, and that he cares not whether slavery be voted down or voted up. I do not understand his declaration that he cares not whether slavery be voted down or voted up, to be intended by him other than as an apt definition of the policy he would impress upon the public mind - the principle for which he declares he has suffered much, and is ready to suffer to the end."
To combat the slave power, noted Lincoln, "[t]here are those who denounce us openly to their own friends, and yet whisper us softly, that Senator Douglas is the aptest instrument there is, with which to effect that object. They do not tell us, nor has he told us, that he wishes any such object to be effected. They wish us to infer all, from the facts, that he now has a little quarrel with the present head of the dynasty; and that he has regularly voted with us, on a single point, upon which, he and we, have never differed." Lincoln was concerned with the outcome of the process; he saw Douglas concerned only with the process itself. Lincoln graphically exposed the danger of this approach: "They remind us that he is a very great man, and that the largest of us are very small ones. Let his be granted. But a living dog is better than a dead lion." Judge Douglas, if not a dead lion for this work, is at least a caged and toothless one. How can he oppose the advances of slavery? He don't care anything about it. His avowed mission is impressing the "public heart" to care nothing about it." Said Lincoln of Douglas: "But clearly, he is not now with us - he does not pretend to be - he does not promise to ever be."662
Lincoln's attitude toward Douglas was reflected in letters he wrote to Washington friends and in drafts and fragments of an undated speeches that survive. Lincoln outlined his attitude toward Douglas's position on slavery and fears of the slide toward nationalization in a draft speech he wrote probably in late August - using Douglas's own past history to illustrate the future dangers: "When Douglas ascribes such to me, he does so, not by argument, but by mere burlesque on the art and name of argument - by such fantastic arrangements of words as prove 'horse-chestnuts to be chestnut horses.' In the main I shall trust an intelligent community to learn my objects and aims from what I say and do myself, rather than from what Judge Douglas may say of me. But I must not leave the judge just yet. When he has burlesqued me into a position which I never thought of assuming myself, he will, in the most benevolent and patronizing manner imaginable, complement me by saying 'he has no doubt I am perfectly conscientious in it.' I thank him for that word 'conscientious.' I turns my attention to the wonderful evidences of conscience he manifests. When he assumes to be the first discoverer and sole advocate of the right of people to govern themselves, he is conscientious. When he affects to understand that a man, putting a hundred slaves through under the lash, is simply governing himself, he is more conscientious. When he affects not to know that the Dred Scott decision forbids a territorial legislature to exclude slavery, he is most conscientious. When, as in his last Springfield speech, he declares that I say, unless I shall play my batteries successfully, as to abolish slavery in every one of the States, the Union shall be dissolved, he is absolutely bursting with conscience. It is nothing that I have never said any such thing. With some men it might make a difference; but consciences differ in different individuals. Judge Douglas has a greater conscience than most men. It corresponds with his other points of greatness. Judge Douglas amuses himself by saying I wish to go into the Senate on my qualifications as a prophet. He says he has known some other prophets, and does not think very well of them. Well, others of us have also known some prophets. We know one who is nearly five years ago prophesied that the 'Nebraska bill' would put an end to slavery agitation in next to no time - one who has renewed that prophecy at least as often as quarterly-yearly ever since; and still the prophecy has not been fulfilled. That one might very well go out of the Senate on his qualifications as a false prophet."
Allow me now, in my own way, to state with what aims and objects I did enter upon this campaign. I claim no extraordinary exemption from personal ambition. That I like preferment as well as the average of men may be admitted. But I protect I have not entered upon this hard contest solely, or even chiefly, for a mere personal object. I clearly see, as I think, a powerful plot to make slavery universal and perpetual in this nation. The effort to carry that plot through will be persistent and long continued, extending far beyond the senatorial term for which Judge Douglas and I are just now struggling. I enter upon the contest to contribute my humble and temporary mite in opposition to that effort.
As the Republican State convention at Springfield I made a speech. That speech has been considered in the opening of the canvass on my part. In it I arrange a string of incontestable facts which, I think, prove the existence of a conspiracy to nationalize slavery. The evidence was circumstantial only; but nevertheless it seemed inconsistent with every hypothesis, save that of the existence of such conspiracy. I believe the facts can be explained to-day on no other hypothesis. Judge Douglas can so explain them if any one can. From warp to woof his handiwork is everywhere woven in.
Judge Douglas's present course by no means lessens my belief in the existence of a purpose to make slavery alike lawful in all the States. This can be done by a Supreme Court decision holding that the United States Constitution forbids a State to exclude slavery; and probably it can be done in no other way. The idea of forcing slavery into a free State, or out of a slave State, at the point of the bayonet, is alike nonsensical. Slavery can only become extinct by being restricted to its present limits, and dwindling out. It can only become national by a Supreme Court decision. To such a decision, when it comes, Judge Douglas is fully committed. Such a decision acquiesced in by the people effects the whole object. Bearing this in mind, look at what Judge Douglas is doing every day. For the first sixty-five years under the United States Constitution, the practice of government had been to exclude slavery from the new free Territories. About the end of that period Congress, by the Nebraska bill, resolved to abandon this practice; and this was rapidly succeeded by a Supreme Court decision holding the practice to have always been unconstitutional. Some of us refuse to obey this decision as a political rule. Forthwith Judge Douglas espouses the decision, and denounces all opposition to it in no measured terms. He adheres to it with extraordinary tenacity; and under rather extraordinary circumstances. He espouses it not on any opinion of his that it is right within itself. On this he forbears to commit himself. He espouses it exclusively on the ground of its binding authority on all citizens a ground which commits him as fully to the next decision as to this. I point out to him that Mr. Jefferson and General Jackson were both against him on the binding political authority of Supreme Court decisions. NO response. I might as well preach Christianity to a grizzly bear as to preach Jefferson and Jackson to him.
I tell him I have often heard him denounce the Supreme Court decision in favor of a national bank. He denies the accuracy of my recollection - which seems strange to me, but I let it pass.
I remind him that he, even now, indorses the Cincinnati platform, which declares that Congress has no constitutional power to charter a bank; and that in the teeth of a Supreme Court decision that Congress has such power. This he cannot deny; and so he remembers to forget it.
I remind him of a piece of Illinois history about Supreme Court decisions - of a time when the Supreme Court of Illinois, consisting of four judges, because of decision made, and one expected to be made, were overwhelmed by the adding of five new judges to their number; that he, Judge Douglas, took a leading part in that onslaught, ending in his sitting down on the bench as one of the five added judges. I suggest to him that as to his questions how far judges have to be catechized in advance, when appointed under such circumstances, and how far a court, so constituted, is prostituted beneath the contempt of all men, no man is better posted to answer than he, having once been entirely through the mill himself.
Still no response, except 'Hurrah for the Dred Scott decision!' These things warrant me in saying that Judge Douglas adheres to the Dred Scott decision under rather extraordinary circumstances - circumstances suggesting the question, 'Why does he adhere to it so pertinanciously? Why does he thus belie his whole past life? Why, with a long record more marked for hostility to judicial decisions than almost any living man, does he cling to this with a devotion that nothing can baffle?' In this age, and this country, public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed. Whoever moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statues, or pronounces judicial decisions. He makes possible the inforcement of these else, impossible.
Judge Douglas is a man of large influence. His bare opinion goes far to fix the opinion of others. Besides this, thousands hang their hopes upon forcing their opinions to agree with his. It is a party necessity with them to say they agree with him; and there is danger they will repeat the saying till they really come to believe it. Others dread, and shrink from his denunciations, his sarcasms, and his ingenious misrepresentations. The susceptable young hear lessons from him, such as their fathers never heared [sic] when they were young.
If, by all these means, he shall succeed in moulding public sentiment to a perfect accordance with his own - in bringing all men to indorse all court decisions, without caring to know whether they are right or wrong - in bringing all tongues to as perfect a silence as his own, as to there being any wrong in slavery - in bringing all to declare, with him, that they care not whether slavery be voted down or voted up - that if any people want slaves they have a right to have them - that negroes are not men - have no part in the declaration of Independence - that there is no moral question about slavery - that liberty and slavery are perfectly consistent - indeed, necessary accompaniaments - that for a strong man to declare himself the superior of a weak one, and thereupon enslave the weak one, is the very essence of liberty - the most sacred right of self-government - when, I say, public sentiment shall be brought to all this, in the name of heaven, what barrier will be left against slavery being made lawful every where? Can you find one word of his, opposed to it? Can you not find many strongly favoring it? If for his life - for his eternal salvation - he was solely striving for that end, could he find any means so well adapted to reach the end?
If our Presidential election, by a mere plurality, and of doubtful significance, brought one Supreme Court decision, that no power can exclude slavery from a Territory; how much much [sic] more shall a public sentiment, in exact accordance with the sentiments of Judge Douglas bring another that no power can exclude it from a State?
And then, the negro being doomed, and damned, and forgotten, to everlasting bondage, is the white man quite certain that the tyrant demon will not turn upon him too?663
Douglas returned to Chicago in early July where he "was treated like a hero by Chicagoans, who greeted his arrival with resounding cheers and an informal parade. The chairman of the Illinois Democratic state committee, Virgil Hickox, was less impressed. Citing Douglas's public conversion to Unionism, if not Lincolnism, Hickox urged the senator 'to make a full explanation' of his views, adding that party members were beginning to 'distrust him on account of the great love that the Republicans profess now to have for him.' In an answering letter, Douglas protested, 'I am neither the supporter of the partisan policy nor the apologist for the errors of the administration.' But, he added, 'If we hope to regain and perpetuate the ascendancy of our party we should never forget that a man cannot be a true Democrat unless he is a loyal patriot.' Hickox, a personal friend of Douglas's father-in-law, was not entirely persuaded by the Little Giant's logic. Still, he released the letter to the public - against Douglas's wishes - in an attempt to reassure restive Democrats."664
On July 9, Douglas opened the Senate campaign with a major speech in Chicago. The next night, John Calhoun's name came up during a Lincoln campaign appearance at Chicago. The occasion was one Lincoln's first campaign speeches, delivered on July 10 in reply to a speech by Senator Douglas the previous night. The setting was very different from September 1854 when Douglas was very badly received in Chicago after he led the fight for passage the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Although on the losing side of the battle over the Lecompton Constitution, Douglas had returned to Chicago in early July as a hero. Lincoln in response needed to redefine the contest on his terms. Douglas defined the issue as one of popular sovereignty and local control. Lincoln took the political and moral position that Congress could and should control the spread of slavery.
Douglas biographer Gerald Mortimer Capers noted that "the Senator had sought to avoid a showdown on the question of slavery, and for good reasons. He had not pressed the question of how early a territory could act on the matter, not even when the Cincinnati platform had endorsed the southern interpretation. Any stand that he could have taken on slavery would have brought on a fatal fight with the South, but whatever his stand it would also have divided the North, where the subject was equally ticklish."665 Lincoln, with no southern constituency to appease, would not back away from the hard questions. The Lincoln-Douglas debates forced Douglas to reaffirm positions that alienated the South as well as any potential Republican supporters.
As had on several prior occasions in their local political conflict, Lincoln not very subtly referred to the egotism and boastfulness of Douglas. For Lincoln, however, the critical issue was whether the equality principle of the Declaration of Independence would be extended or rejected. At Chicago, Lincoln said:
Again, when we get to the question of the right of the people to form a State Constitution as they please, to form it with Slavery or without Slavery - if that is anything new, I confess I don't know it. Has there ever been a time when anybody said that any other than the people of a Territory itself should form a Constitution? What is now in it, that Judge Douglas should have fought several years of his life, and pledged himself to fight all the remaining years of his life for? Can Judge Douglas find anybody on earth that said that anybody else should form a constitution for a people? (A voice, 'Yes.') Well, I should like you to name him; I should like to know who he was. (Same voice - 'John Calhoun.')
Mr. Lincoln - No, sir, I never heard of even John Calhoun saying such a thing. He insisted on the same principle as Judge Douglas; but his mode of applying it in fact, was wrong. It is enough for my purpose to ask this crowd, when ever a Republican said anything against it? They never said anything against it, but they have constantly spoken for it; and whosoever will undertake to examine the platform, and the speeches of responsible men of the party, and of irresponsible men, too, if you please, will be unable to find one word from anybody in the Republican ranks, opposed to that Popular Sovereignty which Judge Douglas thinks that he has invented. [Applause.] I suppose that Judge Douglas will claim in a little while, that he is the inventor of the idea that the people should govern themselves. [cheers and laughter]; that nobody ever thought of such a thing until he brought it forward. We do remember, that in the old Declaration of Independence, it is said that 'We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.' There is the origin of Popular Sovereignty. [Loud applause].
The Lecompton Constitution connects itself with this question, for it is in this matter of the Lecompton Constitution that our friend Judge Douglas claims such vast credit. I agree that in opposing the Lecompton Constitution so far as I can perceive, he was right. ['Good,' 'good.'] I do not deny that at all; and gentlemen, you will readily see why I could not deny that at all; and gentlemen, you will readily see why I could not deny it, even if I wanted to. But I do not wish to; for all the Republicans in the nation opposed it, and they would have opposed it just as much without Judge Douglas' aid, as with it. They had all taken ground against it long before he did. Why, the reason that urges against that Constitution, I urged against him a year before. I have the printed speech in my hand. The argument that he makes, why that Constitution should not be adopted, that the people were not fairly represented nor allowed to vote, I pointed out in a speech a year ago, which I hold in my hand now, that no fair chance was to be given to the people. ['Read it,' 'read it.'] I shall not waste your time by trying to read it. ['Read it,' 'read it.'] [Laughter.]
A little more, now, as to this matter of popular sovereignty and the Lecompton Constitution. The Lecompton Constitution, as the Judge tells us, was defeated. The defeat of it was a good thing or it was not. He thinks the defeat of it was a good thing, and so do I, and we agree in that. Who defeated it?
A voice - Judge Douglas.
Mr. Lincoln - Yes, he furnished himself, and if you suppose he controlled the other Democrats that went with him, he furnished three votes, while the Republicans furnished twenty. [Applause.]
That is what he did to defeat it. In the House of Representatives he and his friends furnished some twenty votes, and the Republicans furnished ninety odd. [Loud applause.] Now who was it that did the work?
A voice - Douglas.
Mr. Lincoln - Why, yes, Douglas did it! To be sure he did.
Let us, however, put that proposition another way. The Republicans could not have done it without Judge Douglas. Could he have done it without them? [Applause.]
Which could have come the nearest to doing it without the other? [Renewed applause. 'That's it,' 'that's it,' 'good,' 'good.']
A voice - Who killed the bill?
Another voice - Douglas.
Mr. Lincoln - Ground was taken against it by the Republicans before Douglas did it. The proportion of opposition to that measure is about five to one.
A Voice - 'Why don't they come out on it?'
Mr. Lincoln - You don't know what you are talking about my friend. I am quite willing to answer any gentleman in the crowd who asks an intelligent question. [Great applause.]666
Nothing in this interchange suggests that Lincoln had turned on Calhoun to denounce him, as most of the North had done in the wake of the Lecompton Constitution. The worst Lincoln said was at Chicago when he said that Calhoun's "method of applying [popular sovereignty] was wrong."667 Ward Hill Lamon wrote in his biography of his friend Lincoln: "To the day of Calhoun's death they were warmly attached to each other. In the times when it was most fashionable and profitable to denounce Calhoun and the Lecompton Constitution, when even Douglas turned to revile his old friend and coadjutor, Mr. Lincoln was never known to breathe a word of censure on his personal character."668
Calhoun's actions had shifted the political ground in Illinois - temporarily undercutting Lincoln - but providing new grounds for him to discuss the principles against slavery's extension which he had first enunciated at Springfield and Peoria in October 1854. Lincoln would be challenged to unite the disparate parts of the anti-Nebraska coalition - Whigs, Democrats, Know-Nothings, abolitionists - behind his candidacy and in opposition to Douglas. Lincoln did so by pressing the case that slavery was wrong, that the popular sovereignty program advocated by Douglas was flawed, and that the extension of slavery must be stopped by national law, not local legislation or custom. Historian Nicole Etcheson wrote: "Both men owed much of their political circumstances to Bleeding Kansas....Then, in 1857 and 1858, Douglas lost southern support by opposing a proslavery constitution for Kansas. The very events in Kansas that hurt Douglas's career helped Lincoln's." Etcheson argued that the "Kansas-Nebraska Act and the consequent turmoil in Kansas provided the political setting for Lincoln's return to political prominence." Etcheson contended that "Republicans in Congress and in Kansas implicitly conceded popular sovereignty's legitimacy as political doctrine. By striking at popular sovereignty's meaning, Lincoln denied Douglas's great principle that legitimacy."669
But Lincoln was concerned not with theory, but with practice. Historian Phillip Shriver Klein, observed that popular sovereignty was a chimera, a shiny but fraudulent concept that sounded plausible but as Kansas events made clear, was impractical to put into practice: "The popular sovereignty bills were drawn so loosely that they did not provide any legal mechanism for the express of the public will. They left undefined the rules for voter qualification, registration, control of polls, official count, election officers, jurisdiction over disputed ballots, and the limits of matters to be voted on."670
Douglas returned to Illinois to campaign in early July - after Lincoln had already been nominated. Chicago, where he had been unable to finish his speech after passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, gave Douglas a hero's welcome in 1858. But there was a new split in the Democratic ranks. Douglas would be challenged to unite the Democratic Party in Illinois behind him - in a way that did not alienate the South and make impossible his election as president. Although the Lecompton controversy temporarily aligned Douglas with Republicans, Lincoln worked to realign Douglas with Buchanan. Historian Elbert Smith noted that "the Lecompton Constitution played a great role in causing a lot of Democrats to become Republicans, a lot of former Know-Nothings to become Republicans. If the Lecompton Constitution had passed that would have been even greater."671 Lecompton split Douglas's base and allowed Lincoln to unite his.
Although Lincoln and Douglas energetically debated through the late summer and fall of 1858, they did so with a certain civility. A young friend of Lincoln conversed with Douglas after the senator gave a speech in Bloomington early in the campaign. A Douglas supporter came up and denigrated Lincoln intelligence. "Mr. Lincoln is one among the ablest lawyers and public men in this country," said Douglas in Lincoln's defense. "He is fit and competent in every way to be a leader, and, in my opinion, as much so as any man in his party, in which he has the same right to act and contend for what he believes as we have.672 Historian Michael Burlingame wrote that at Bloomington, Douglas "once again praised Lincoln as 'a kind-hearted, amiable gentleman, a right good fellow, a worthy citizen, of eminent ability as a lawyer, and, I have no doubt, sufficient ability to make a good Senator."673
But all was not sweetness between Douglas and Lincoln despite the occasional exchange of respect and praise. Burlingame noted that "Lincoln eschewed personal attacks. In late September a correspondent of the Missouri Democrat accurately noted that Lincoln 'treats his opponent with a deference which the latter is incapable of reciprocating.' More 'than any other public man of the present time,' Lincoln 'infuses the milk of human kindness, and the frankness and courtesy of a gentleman of the old school into his discussions.' Where he 'says nothing calculated to wound the feelings of Douglas,' the Little Giant 'deals in exaggerated statements, glaring sophistries, and coarse, fierce declamation. Douglas has cast his fortunes on a sentiment - the antipathy of the white to the black race....Whatever incidental tropics he may treat, it will be found that the substance of his speeches in this canvass is an invocation of prejudice.' Lincoln avoided 'exaggeration or vindictiveness' and 'acerbity of temper,' while his opponent 'has fallen into an impotent passion several times.'"674 The 1858 campaign was an endurance trial that tested both candidates' stamina and good humor.
There was a chink in the armor of Douglas's popular sovereignty. In June 1856, George Senator Robert Toombs had introduced legislation for Kansas statehood. "Toombs bill provided that a census of the population of Kansas be taken under the supervision of five commissioners appointed by the President; that all white male inhabitants over twenty-one who were bona fide residents be registered as voters; that delegates to a constitutional convention be chosen by these voters in November; and that Congress admit Kansas into the Union immediately under the constitution, free or slave, drawn up by that body," wrote Toombs biographer William Y. Thompson.675 Arthur Charles Cole wrote that "Douglas, as chairman of the senate committee on territories, had, after consultation with Senator Toombs, struck out from Toombs' bill for the future admission of Kansas a clause providing for the submission of the constitution to the people for their ratification or rejection, and had substituted certain other clauses to prevent a popular vote. Corroborative evidence that such was formerly the devotion of Stephen A. Douglas to popular sovereignty was found in his speech at Springfield in June, 1857, and in the declaration of Douglas' personal organ, the Chicago Times, that there would be about as much propriety in submitting the Lecompton constitution to a vote of the inhabitants of the Fiji Islands as to the 'free-state men' of Kansas. Eventually these facts were acknowledged by democratic organs but they were never satisfactorily explained by Douglas."676 The 1856 legislation passed the Senate, but was defeated in the House.
When Douglas had spoken against the Buchanan policy on Lecompton on December 9, 1857, Pennsylvania Senator William Bigler, a close Buchanan ally, and Douglas got into a clash that resulted in the inadvertent revelation of an 1856 meeting regarding Kansas at Douglas's Washington home. According to Douglas biographer William Gardner, "Bigler of Pennsylvania, rising to defend the President, reminded the Senate that only a short year ago Douglas had voted for the Toombs bill, which provided for the holding of a Constitutional Convention without submitting its work to the people. Douglas protested that he did not so understand the bill and challenged Bigler for evidence that a single Senator so understood it. A remarkable dialogue followed."677 It was a dialogue that threatened to undermine Douglas's narrative as a courageous and consistent champion of popular sovereignty.
Four weeks after Lincoln's Chicago speech, Douglas's credibility on Lecompton was directly challenged by Senator Lyman Trumbull at a Republican rally in Chicago on August 7, 1858. Although Trumbull had stood firm on the issue of Republicans not supporting Douglas, he was not particularly anxious to campaign for Lincoln. Like another old Lincoln colleague, Orville H. Browning, Trumbull seemed to nurture an aristocratic sense of superiority over Lincoln and a sense of jealousy for Lincoln's ability to connect with Illinois voters. Still, he could not ignore the entreaties of Illinois Republicans can he return home and campaign for Lincoln. He brought with him a powerful weapon - the charge that Douglas had removed from the Kansas Enabling Act of 1856, sponsored by Georgia Senator Toombs, language that declared that a Kansas constitution "if accepted by the Convention and ratified by the people at the election for the adoption of the constitution, shall be obligatory upon the United States and the said State of Kansas."678 Historian Matthew Norman wrote: "Trumbull's speech was most noted at the time for his claim that as chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories Douglas had defeated a proposal in 1856 that would have enabled the people of Kansas to hold a referendum on the state constitution. If Trumbull's characterization of the episode was accurate, then Douglas's opposition to the Lecompton Constitution and championing of popular sovereignty were hypocritical acts bereft of genuine principle."679 As Trumbull said: "I will cram the truth [of his charge] down his throat, till he shall cry enough."680
Douglas seldom cried when he could bellow. According to Trumbull biographer Mark M. Krug, "Trumbull's attack hit Douglas hard. The usually calm Douglas, who could and often did destroy the arguments of his opponents with studied contempt, lost his composure. In answering Trumbull at Beardstown on August 11 he called his colleague a liar and a coward. He said, 'The miserable, craven-hearted wretch, he would rather have both ears cut off than to use that language in my presence where I could call him to account.' In counterattacking, Douglas resurrected the old charge that Trumbull broke faith with Lincoln in 1855."681 This was standard Douglas tactics: when under attack, develop a diversionary counter-attack that impugned the credibility of all attackers - in this case both Trumbull and Lincoln. Whether the attack had a basis in fact did not concern Douglas. It was the smoke and confusion that mattered.
Lincoln reacted in his usual understated and ironic way in a speech on August 14. At Havana, he first tried humor saying: "I am informed, that my distinguished friend yesterday became a little excited, nervous, perhaps, [laughter] and he said something about fighting, as though referring to a pugilistic encounter between him and myself. Did anybody in this audience hear him use such language? [Cries of yes.] I am informed, further, that somebody in his audience, rather more excited, or nervous, than himself, took off his coat, and offered to take the job off Judge Douglas' hands, and fight Lincoln himself." Lincoln declined to fight saying, "In the first place, a fight would prove nothing which is in issue in this contest. It might establish that Judge Douglas is a more muscular man than myself, or it might demonstrate that I am a more muscular man than Judge Douglas. But this question is not referred to in the Cincinnati platform, nor in either of the Springfield platforms."682
As was his habit, Douglas had acted as if he was the victim of a assault by a motley gang of Republicans. He pretended not to be sure if he should be campaigning against Trumbull or Lincoln, but he knew he had to refute Trumbull's charges if his own credibility regarding popular sovereignty were to have any credibility. In his response, Lincoln got a bit more serious about Douglas's complaints: "I understand that Judge Douglas yesterday referred to the fact that both Judge Trumbull and myself are making speeches throughout the State to beat him for the Senate, and that he tried to create a sympathy by the suggestion that this was playing two upon one against him. It is true that Judge Trumbull has made a speech in Chicago, and I believe he intends to co-operate with the Republican Central Committee in their arrangements for the campaign to the extent of making other speeches in different parts of the State. Judge Trumbull is a Republican, like myself, and he naturally feels a lively interest in the success of his party. Is there anything wrong about that?"683
Trumbull's charges became an integral part of the Lincoln-Douglas debates - especially the one at Charleston on September 18 - because Trumbull's allegations undermined Douglas's credibility as an advocate for popular sovereignty. There were limits to how much Lincoln wanted to discuss Trumbull's charges, however, because Lincoln needed to make the contest between Douglas and himself and Douglas wanted to make the contest about two "black Republicans" ganging up on him. Historian Arthur Charles Cole wrote that Trumbull's "analysis of Douglas' motives in opposing the Lecompton constitution was one of the most important features of the campaign. In speeches at Chicago, at Alton, at Jacksonville, and at other points in Illinois he charged Douglas with having changed from ground which would have required him to support the Lecompton document to a position of opposition out of purely selfish political considerations."684 Trumbull's change that Douglas had changed his position on popular sovereignty was similar to the change Lincoln had made in 1854 that Douglas had changed his position on the Missouri Compromise.
In his opening statement at Charleston, Lincoln got quickly to the questions raised by Trumbull and spent most of his opening 45 minutes on this question: "When Judge Trumbull, our other Senator in Congress, returned to Illinois in the month of August, he made a speech at Chicago in which he made what may be called a charge against Judge Douglas, which I understand proved to be very offensive to him." Lincoln continued:
The Judge was at that time out upon one of his speaking tours through the country, and when the news of it reached him, as I am informed, he denounced Judge Trumbull in rather harsh terms for having said what he did in regard to that matter. I was traveling at that time and speaking at the same places with Judge Douglas on subsequent days, and when I heard of what Judge Trumbull had said of Douglas and what Douglas had said back again, I felt that I was in a position where I could not remain entirely silent in regard to the matter. Consequently upon two or three occasions I alluded to it, and alluded to it in no other wise than to say that in regard to the charge brought by Trumbull against Douglas, I personally knew nothing and sought to say nothing about it - that I did personally know Judge Trumbull - that I believed him to be a man of veracity - that I believed him to be a man of capacity sufficient to know very well whether an assertion he was making as a conclusion drawn from a set of facts, was true or false; and as a conclusion of my own from that, I stated it as my belief, if Trumbull should ever be called upon he would prove everything he had said. I said this upon two or three occasions. Upon a subsequent occasion, Judge Trumbull spoke again before an audience at Alton, and upon that occasion not only repeated his charge against Douglas, but arrayed the evidence he relied upon to substantiate it. This speech was published at length; and subsequently at Jacksonville Judge Douglas alluded to the matter. In the course of his speech, and near the close of it, he stated in regard to myself what I will now read: "Judge Douglas proceeded to remark that he should not hereafter occupy his time in refuting such charges made by Trumbull, but that Lincoln having indorsed the character of Trumbull for veracity, he should hold him (Lincoln) responsible for the slanders." I have done simply what I have told you, to subject me to this invitation to notice the charge. I now wish to say that it had not originally been my purpose to discuss that matter at all. But inasmuch as it seems to be the wish of Judge Douglas to hold me responsible for it, then for once in my life I will play General Jackson and to the just extent I take the responsibility.685
Lincoln then went into the specifics of Trumbull's evidence - especially the damning testimony of Pennsylvania Senator Bigler, which Lincoln quoted verbatim. Before his allotted time ran out, Lincoln pinned Douglas on the prongs of popular sovereignty and whether or not he had agreed to expunge such language from the 1856 bill: "The bill that went into his hands had the provision in it for a submission of the constitution to the people; and I say its language amounts to an express provision for a submission, and that he took the provision out. He says it was known that the bill was silent in this particular; but I say, Judge Douglas, it was not silent when you got it. [Great applause.] It was vocal with the declaration when you got it, for a submission of the constitution to the people. And now, my direct question to Judge Douglas is, to answer why, if he deemed the bill silent on this point, he found it necessary to strike out those particular harmless words. If he had found the bill silent and without this provision, he might say what he does now. If he supposed it was implied that the constitution would be submitted to a vote of the people, how could these two lines so encumber the statute as to make it necessary to strike them out? How could he infer that a submission was still implied, after its express provision had been stricken from the bill? I find the bill vocal with the provision, while he silenced it. He took it out, and although he took out the other provision preventing a submission to a vote of the people, I ask, why did you first put it in? I ask him whether he took the original provision out, which Trumbull alleges was in the bill? If he admits that he did take it, I ask him what he did it for? It looks to us as if he had altered the bill. If it looks differently to him - if he has a different reason for his action from the one we assign him - he can tell it. I insist upon knowing why he made the bill silent upon that point when it was vocal before he put his hands upon it."686 Historian Allen Guelzo noted the discussion of "the Toombs bill took Lincoln so long that, when he stopped to ask the moderator...how much time he had left, Chambers imperturbably replied that he had three minutes, only enough room to leave this question hanging in midair: if the Kansas-Nebraska bill was a perfect expression of popular sovereignty, why had Douglas spiked Robert Toombs's requirement that any Kansas state constitution 'be submitted to a vote of the people.'?"687
In response to Lincoln, Douglas threw another diversionary smoke bomb: "I will now call your attention to the question which Mr. Lincoln has occupied his entire time in discussing. He spent his whole hour in retailing a charge made by Senator Trumbull against me. The circumstances out of which that charge was manufactured, occurred prior to the last Presidential election, over two years ago. If the charge was true, why did not Trumbull make it in 1856, when I was discussing the questions of that day all over this State with Lincoln and him, and when it was pertinent to the then issue. He was then as silent as the grave on the subject. If that charge was true, the time to have brought it forward was the canvass of 1856, the year when the Toombs bill passed the Senate. When the facts were fresh in the public mind, when the Kansas question was the paramount question of the day, and when such a charge would have had a material bearing on the election. Why did he and Lincoln remain silent then, knowing that such a charge could be made and proven if true? Were they not false to you and false to the country in going through that entire campaign, concealing their knowledge of this enormous conspiracy which, Mr. Trumbull says, he then knew and would not tell?"688
Of course, the issue in the campaign was not Trumbull's credibility, but Douglas's credibility - which the senator had sought to shore up after the Lecompton crisis when he was concerned about his credibility in the North rather than potential support in the South. Calhoun had placed Douglas squarely on the horns of a dilemma regarding popular sovereignty. Trumbull and Lincoln were determined to assure that Douglas remained so impaled. Douglas responded at the Charleston debate by asking: "Are you going to elect Mr. Trumbull's colleague upon an issue between Mr. Trumbull and me? I thought I was running against Abraham Lincoln, that he claimed to be my opponent, had challenged me to a discussion of the public questions of the day with him, and was discussing these questions with me; but it turns out that his only hope is to ride into office on Trumbull's back, who will carry him by falsehood."689 Then Douglas changed the subject and sought to identify himself with Henry Clay and his Whig admirers - as he had in 1854.690 Douglas understood that it was former Whigs in central Illinois that would decide the election - and that one of his trump cards was the support of Clay's fellow former Whig, John Crittenden, who as a Kentucky senator had lined up with Douglas against Lecompton. Crittenden's endorsement of Douglas later in the campaign hurt Lincoln badly with the old-line Whigs votes he needed in central Illinois.691 Lincoln was determined to keep the focus on blocking the extension of slavery and to keep the Republican Party coalition together. Krug wrote: "Lincoln made it clear to Douglas that efforts to split him from Trumbull and to divide northern and southern Illinois Republicans would not succeed. 'He is afraid,' said Lincoln, 'we'll all pull together.'"692
Douglas could fend off Trumbull and Lincoln temporarily. What he could not fend off the slaveholders in the South. Whereas Trumbull and Lincoln were sowing doubt about the Little's Giant's credibility in opposing Lecompton, southerners were only too willing to believe that Douglas had turned his back on the rights of slaveholders. Historian Don E. Fehrenbacher wrote: "By his anti-Lecompton heroics, Douglas had projected a new and attractive image of himself upon the public consciousness in the free states."693 At the same time, however, Douglas effectively destroyed his image in the slave states. The straddle between southern interests and northern acquiescence that Douglas had carefully constructed in 1854 had been destroyed by Lecompton.
At the Freeport debate at the end of August, Lincoln had propounded a series of questions whose significance have been debated ever since. The questions were not new; nor were Douglas's answers. Lincoln himself would said: "In the Senate of the United States, in 1856, Judge Trumbull, in a speech, substantially if not directly put the same interrogatory to Judge Douglas, as to whether the people of a territory had the lawful power to exclude slavery prior to the formation of a constitution."694 At Freeport, Douglas said acerbically: "I answer emphatically, as Mr. Lincoln has heard me answer a hundred times from every stump in Illinois, that in my opinion the people of a territory can, by lawful means, exclude slavery from their limits prior to the formation of a State Constitution. (Enthusiastic Applause.) Mr. Lincoln knew that I had answered that question over and over again. He heard me argue the Nebraska bill on that principle all over the State in 1854, in 1855 and in 1856, and he has no excuse for pretending to be in doubt as to my position on that question. It matters not what way the Supreme Court may hereafter decide as to the abstract question whether slavery may or may not go into a territory under the constitution, the people have the lawful means to introduce it or exclude it as they please, for the reason that slavery cannot exist a day or an hour anywhere, unless it is supported by local police regulations. (Right, right.) Those police regulations can only be established by the local legislature, and if the people are opposed to slavery they will elect representatives to that body who will by unfriendly legislation effectually prevent the introduction of it into their midst. If, on the contrary, they are for it, their legislation will favor its extension. Hence, no matter what the decision of the Supreme Court may be on that abstract question, still the right of the people to make a slave territory or a free territory is perfect and complete under the Nebraska bill. I hope Mr. Lincoln deems my answer satisfactory on that point."695 The Freeport controversy would help Douglas win reelection in November, but it would also hurt him; as a consequence, Senate Democrats in December 1858 removed Douglas from his position as chairman of the Committee on Territories.
Historian Allen C. Guelzo emphasized that the Freeport questions may have been designed by Lincoln not to deny Douglas the Democratic presidential nomination, but to deny Douglas the Republican presidential nomination. Guelzo noted that Lincoln had written in late July that Douglas "cares nothing for the South he knows he is already dead there." Guelzo wrote: "It is impossible to imagine Lincoln's thinking that the Freeport questions would make him president, or even put him in nomination for the presidency, in 1860. But that he felt impelled to ask it suggests that he hoped to prevent Republicans from seeing Douglas as a potential 1850 Republican presidential nominee." So while Douglas's responses helped him win reelection in Illinois, they assured that neither the Democratic nor the Republican Party would unite behind him for president in 1860.696 Although Lincoln may well have been more ambitious and farsighted that Guelzo believes regarding his own future, it is nevertheless clear that Lincoln was willing to sacrifice his own immediate ambitions to block Douglas's future ambitions. Historical writer Gary Ecelbarger wrote: "Lincoln worried that if the Democratic leaders at that convention [in 1860] would 'push a Slave code upon him, as a test, he will bolt at once, turn upon us, as in the case of Lecompton, and claim that all Northern men shall make common cause in electing him President as the best means of breaking down the Slave power.' Lincoln feared that this would dupe the Republicans into electing him president."697
But there was another dispute at the Freeport debate which touched more closely on the actions of the Lecompton Convention and the precedent it set for the nationalization of slavery. Lincoln at the end of his rebuttal quoted from the March speech that Douglas had given against the Lecompton Constitution: "When I saw that article in the [Washington] Union of the 17th of November, followed by the glorification of the Lecompton Constitution on the 18th of November, and this clause in the Constitution asserting the doctrine that a State has no right to prohibit slavery within its limits, I saw that there was a fatal blow being struck at the sovereignty of the States of this Union." Lincoln scholar Harry V. Jaffa wrote: "Here is direct confirmation - from Douglas himself - of Lincoln's charge in the House Divided speech that slavery could become lawful in all the states, as well as in the territories....Lincoln's quoting Douglas on the threat of slavery becoming lawful in the states, no less than in the territories was a lightning bolt, an illumination of the entire political landscape."698
Lincoln then argued that Douglas made that statement for its potential impact on Republicans and was now retreating from it in search of southern support: "His hope rested on the idea of visiting the great 'Black Republican' party, and making it the tail of his new kite. [Great laughter.] He knows he was then expecting from day to day to turn Republican and place himself at the head [of] our organization. He has found that these despised 'Black Republicans' estimate him by a standard which he has taught them none too well. Hence he is crawling back into his old camp, and you will find him eventually installed in full fellowship among those whom he was then battling, and with whom he now pretends to be at such fearful variance."699 At that point, Lincoln ran out of time and abruptly ended his speech. He may have thought Douglas was seeking the Republican presidential nomination, but by the end of the speech, Lincoln certainly assured that Douglas could not.
Despite the vigor and occasional asperity of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, they were generally conducted with civility. Historian David H. Donald noted: "In the early debates Douglas made a point of complimenting Lincoln's intelligence and ability, even while strongly disagreeing with his policies. Lincoln professed to be rather taken by the flattery, 'especially coming from so great a man as Douglas,' and said he was not used to it. 'I was rather like the Hoosier, with the gingerbread, when he said he reckoned he loved it better than any other man, and got less of it.'"700 Closing the Senate campaign in Springfield on October 30, Lincoln said: "In resisting the spread of slavery to new territory, and with that, what appears to me to be a tendency to subvert the first principle of free government itself, my whole effort has consisted. To the best of my judgment I have labored for, and not against the Union." He concluded:
Ambition has been ascribed to me. God knows how sincerely I prayed from the first that this field of ambition might not be opened. I claim no insensibility to political honors; but today could the Missouri restriction be restored, and the whole slavery question replaced on the old ground of "toleration by necessity" where it exists, with unyielding hostility to the spread of it, on principle, I would, in consideration, gladly agree, that Judge Douglas should never be out, and I never in, an office, so long as we both or either, live."701
In January 1859 Douglas narrowly won reelection as senator by the Illinois legislature - although Republican candidates for the state legislature hadwon more votes than did the Democrats the previous November. For Douglas, it was a pyrrhic victory. Historian Don E. Fehrenbacher noted: "The results of this Illinois election in 1858, revealing that the most powerful northern Democrat, in spite of his praiseworthy stand against the Lecompton Constitution, could not command a majority of the popular vote in his own state, foreshadowed the political revolution of two years later."702 Lincoln was defeated but not discouraged. "Mr. Lincoln's confidence in the justness of the antislavery battle never faltered through the years I knew him," wrote Springfield attorney Charles S. Zane. "In January, 1859, while the Democrats were celebrating the election of Stephen A. Douglas to the United States Senate, Archibald Williams...came into Lincoln's office and finding him writing said: 'Well, the Democrats are making a great noise over their victory.' Looking up, Lincoln replied: 'Yes, Archie, Douglas has taken this trick, but the game is not played out.'"703
The impact of Calhoun's Lecompton Constitution was particularly important in Pennsylvania. There, Democratic dissension in Buchanan's home state allowed the "People's Party," which was the local variant of the Republican Party, to triumph in 1858 after the Democrats had been victorious in 1857. A number of issues were involved, but Lecompton played a important part, according to Bruce Collins.704 So too did Democratic opposition to stronger tariff. The victory of the People's Party (the state equivalent of the Republican Party) paved the way for Lincoln's victory in Pennsylvania in 1860 - in a swing state which was critical to his election as president. John W. Forney, the man who made Buchanan president before Forney switched to backing Douglas over Lecompton, would in the Civil War become one of Lincoln's strongest editorial supporters. In 1858, Douglas told Forney of Lincoln and the upcoming Senate race: "I shall have my hands full. He is the strong man of his party -full of wit, facts, dates-and the best stump-speaker, with his droll ways and dry jokes, in the West. He is as honest as he is shrewd; and if I beat him, my victory will be hardly won."705 Indeed, Douglas's Senate reelection was hardly won. He was aided in the 1858 race- as he had been in a congressional 20 years earlier, by Irish immigrants flooding into the state.706
The Death of Lecompton, Calhoun and Douglas
On August 2, 1858, Kansas voted on the Lecompton Constitution at it was required to do by the English bill. This time the antislavery forces triumphed by a margin of 9,512 votes. (In the meantime, another Constitutional Convention was held at Leavenworth in late March and early April. The "Leavenworth constitution" it adopted was approved in a vote on May 18, 1858.) The defeat of the Lecompton Constitution closed one chapter in Kansas history. By rejecting it, Kansas effectively postponed statehood until Congress authorized statehood in January 1861, five weeks before Lincoln became president. Even then, it would take another year for Kansas residents to organize themselves in a functioning state government.
By then, John Calhoun had left Kansas for the Nebraska territory. Still the surveyor-general for the Kansas-Nebraska territory until July 1858, Calhoun's office had been shifted by President Buchanan to Nebraska City, Nebraska - Kansas having become a dangerous place for Calhoun to reside. Calhoun remained in Nebraska for the next year. His arrival in Nebraska City had not pleased the residents, according to a correspondent for the Chicago Press and Tribune: "Candle Box Calhoun arrived in Nebraska City last week, where he found himself in shocking bad odor. A special session of Congress should be called to compel the citizens of Nebraska to lower their noses." The paper then printed another letter whose author made a snide reference to Calhoun's drinking, saying that after his arrival in Nebraska, "The price of whisky went up seventy per cent, and is still on the rise. Calhoun is regarded by our citizens as a convict, for whose safe keeping Nebraska has been made a Botany Bay. The dogs look askance at him in the street."707 In Ward Hill Lamon's Life of Abraham Lincoln, ghost-written by an anti-Douglas Democrat Chauncy Black, Black described Calhoun as "a perfect gentleman, - brave, courteous, able, and cultivated. He was a Democrat then, and a Democrat when he died. All the world knows how he was president of the Lecompton Convention; how he administered the trust in accordance with his well-known convictions; and how, after a life of devotion to Douglas, he was adroitly betrayed by that facile politician, and left to die in the midst of obloquy and disaster."708
On October 4, 1859, Kansas voters ratified a new, antislavery constitution by a margin of 10,421-530. On October 13, nine days after the referendum, Calhoun, then one day short of his 53rd birthday, died in St. Joseph, Missouri. The cause was strychnine that Calhoun had ingested, thinking it was medicine. Calhoun was returning to Nebraska from a trip to home to Springfield, Illinois, where he had gone "settle his affairs which, by the mismanagement [of] a dishonest agent, had become greatly deranged," wrote his brother Andrew more than a decade later.
As Andrew related the story, his brother's "severe labor through the summer completely prostrated him, and he left for Nebraska about the first of October in quite a feeble state. On his arrival at St. Josephs he was so ill that he was unable to proceed on his journey, and his family met him there. A physician was called who pronounced his illness a case of exhaustion - no particular disease having developed itself - and advised that he referred repose rather than active medicine. On the tenth day after his arrival at St. Joseph, he complained of being more unwell, and decided to see his physician. A messenger was dispatched for him, but he could not be found. Another physician was then called in, who examined him & left a prescription, to be taken at ten o'clock P.M. When that hour arrived, he was pacing the room, and his daughter reminded him that it was time to take his medicine. He told her to prepare it, which she did. Very soon after taking it, he was [seized] with excruciating pains, and became conscious of the fatal character of the medicine. He suffered nearly two hours the most intense agony and a little before 12 midnight, expired. That he died from the effect of strychnine is certain. My brother James investigated the matter, and ascertained the amount taken, and the kind. On submitting it to several physicians in Cincinnati, where he resided, he was informed that the quantity taken was sufficient to destroy six men. However surprising it may be that an educated physician could commit so fatal an error, yet such was the fact."709
"Naturally there were still many unanswered questions about the death - questions that were never answered. Some guessed he had been poisoned by adamant free-staters," observed historian Carol Dark Ayres.710 Andrew wrote that Calhoun's "friends have been disposed to take a charitable view of the terrible event, and to consider it as one of those inexplicable casualties that cannot be fathomed."711 Less than a week after Calhoun's death, the Douglas-friendly Chicago Times editorialized that "John Calhoun was a man of great natural ability; he possessed a fine mind, and had he been blessed with energy and industry in any degree proportioned to his capacity, would undoubtedly have been a leading man of the age. He was a man of the most amiable disposition - kind, generous and honorable in all the relations of life. How he ever became involved in the Lecompton fraud...has always been a mystery to thousands in this State who loved, honored and respected him."712
In Springfield, the State Register, to which Calhoun had been an early contributor, both praised and effectively damned him. "Mr. Calhoun was no ordinary man. With a thorough education, and a broad and solid intellect, in his early day he stood a 'head and shoulders' above the great majority of his aspiring associates. He was a most earnest thinker, a logical and energetic debater, and when thoroughly aroused, as a partisan disputant, probably had no superior in Illinois. Of a kind and genial disposition, his besetting infirmity was indolence. No man within the range of our experience has had better opportunities for advancement - for fame and position, than John Calhoun. No man with such opportunities, and with his ability to adorn eminent position has ever cared as little as he to guard the avenues of advancement." Of Calhoun's activities in Kansas, the State Register said that "we have nothing to say. They resulted in his dismissal from place by those for whom he acted."713
The Chicago Press and Tribune reprinted the short State Register article suggesting sarcastically that his "besetting infirmity" was "intemperance" rather than "indolence." It noted that the St. Joseph Journal reported that Calhoun died of "inflammation of the stomach." Three days earlier, the Lincoln-leaning Press and Tribune printed its own commentary on Calhoun's death: "His career in Kansas is too well known to need to be repeated here. His friends, however, always have, and probably always will, believe that his course in the Lecompton Convention, and his subsequent agency in the fraudulent effort to fasten that Constitution upon an unwilling people, were the result of his friendly relations with Mr. Douglas, and had, up to a certain period, that gentleman's warm approval. It will be remembered that Mr. Douglas' home organ, the Times, original opposed the submission of the Lecompton Constitution, claiming that the people of Kansas had no more right to vote upon it than the inhabitants of the Fejee [sic] Islands. This was undoubtedly the position of Douglas until frightened into another by the popular ground swell of indignation throughout the North, when he deserted the man who had sacrificed everything for him, ruthlessly leaving him to his fate. Had Mr. Calhoun been less the friend of Douglas and free from an indulgence too common among politicians, his career would have been widely different, and his fame would have been as enviable as it is now inglorious."714 The New York Times compared Calhoun to his more respectable brothers such as "the Rev. S. H. Calhoun, a missionary in Syria," noting that "none have achieved such an unenviable notoriety as he." Writing of Calhoun's role in the Lecompton Constitution and the subsequent elections, the Times stated: "The emphatic defect of his manoeuvres put an end to Calhoun's public life in Kansas, and for a year past he has been little heard of."715
On December 6, 1859, an election was held in Kansas for its territorial governor and the territorial legislature under the new constitution. Five days earlier, Abraham Lincoln had arrived in northeastern Kansas - to observe the elections and make campaign speeches for Republicans, who won 86 of the legislature's 100 posts. Kansas historian D. W. Wilder, then a Leavenworth editor and a supporter of New York Senator William H. Seward for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination, recalled meeting Lincoln when he came to Kansas on this trip. Wilder remembered sitting with Lincoln on the riverbank at St. Joseph, Missouri as they waited for a ferry across the Missouri River: "Mr Lincoln's talk, sitting on that bank, was of Douglas and Colonel Thomas L. Harris, the famous Illinois Congressman. Mr. Lincoln always spoke kindly, almost tenderly of his political opponents. On some occasion I asked him about John Calhoun, the first surveyor-general of Kansas and Nebraska, the president the Lecompton Constitutional Convention, and probably the ablest Democratic manager we have ever had in Kansas. Mr. Lincoln spoke of Calhoun in terms of the highest esteem, and with affection. Mr. Calhoun had given him a surveying job when he was poor, needy, unknown; and the great and good man had never forgotten it. Calhoun did his best - and that was much - to plant slavery in Kansas, but he was not the monster that our papers and speeches pictured him."716 One observer of Lincoln's speech in Leavenworth wrote in his diary: "His forte is (after stating his opponents views and arguments fairly & justly) to reduce those views & arguments a palpable absurdity & to Show them in a ridiculous Ludicrous light[.] The Points he touched on were as ably handled as I have ever heard or seen them handled. I think it as able a speech as I ever heard."717
The Kansas trip was only one of several out-of-state campaign appearances that Lincoln made in 1859. Douglas and Lincoln had continued their running debate on popular sovereignty and slavery in a series of separate speeches in Ohio that September. Lincoln extensively analyzed Douglas' defense of popular sovereignty in speeches and in a recent article in Harper's Magazine. In a speech at Columbus, Lincoln said: "Judge Douglas ought to remember when he is endeavoring to force this policy upon the American people that while he is put up in that way a good many are not. He ought to remember that there was once in this country a man by the name of Thomas Jefferson, supposed to be a Democrat - a man whose principles and policy are not very prevalent amongst Democrats to-day, it is true; but that man did not take exactly this view of the insignificance of the element of slavery which our friend Judge Douglas does. In contemplation of this thing, we all know he was led to exclaim, "I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just!'' We know how he looked upon it when he thus expressed himself. There was danger to this country - danger of the avenging justice of God in that little unimportant popular sovereignty question of Judge Douglas. He supposed there was a question of God's eternal justice wrapped up in the enslaving of any race of men, or any man, and that those who did so braved the arm of Jehovah - that when a nation thus dared the Almighty every friend of that nation had cause to dread His wrath. Choose ye between Jefferson and Douglas as to what is the true view of this element among us."718
By late 1859, Calhoun was dead, Republicans had triumphed in Ohio, and Douglas' presidential ambitions were on life support. Calhoun's actions continued to bedevil Douglas. Historian Robert W. Johannsen noted: "Under the headings, 'Astounding Development' or "Startling Disclosures,' Republican editors again charged Douglas with the authorship of the 'Lecompton Swindle.' John Calhoun was dead, but his widow was harassed for evidence that would tie Douglas with Kansas' proslavery party, and former members of the Lecompton convention were queried by a number of 'investigators.' The charge was taken up by the Breckinridge Democrats, who hoped to discredit Douglas' opposition to the Lecompton constitution and to transfer some of the odium attached to it from the Buchanan administration to Douglas."719
Philip Auchampaugh argued "Republicans in 1860 vainly tried to prove that he had received secret orders from the Administration to prevent a referendum. They failed to do so." But, noted Auchampaugh, Calhoun was "always a friend of Douglas. In attempt to get Walker to accept the work of the Convention, Calhoun was trying to do something acceptable to Douglas."720 Calhoun's widow reported to Douglas that attempts had been made by agents of Vice President John C. Breckinridge to buy copies of the correspondence between Douglas and Calhoun concerning Kansas.721 She refused - though she reportedly was offered $2,000 which she probably badly needed. "Calhoun's widow notified Douglas of these attempts and informed him that no letters to her husband concerning the Lecompton controversy existed."722
When Lincoln was nominated for president by the Republican National Convention meeting in Chicago on May 19, 1860, the Chicago Press and Tribune mentioned Calhoun prominently in its summary of Lincoln's life. Referring to the Lincoln-Calhoun debates in the 1844 election, the Tribune noted that they had established Lincoln's reputation as a leader and speaker: "The contest of that year in Illinois was mainly on the tariff question. Mr. Lincoln, on the Whig side, and John Calhoun, on the Democratic side, were the heads of the opposing electoral tickets. Calhoun, late of Nebraska, now dead, was then in the full vigor of his powers, and was accounted the ablest debater of his party. They stumped the State together, or nearly so, making speeches usually on alternate days at each place, and each addressing large audiences at great length, sometimes four hours together. Mr. Lincoln, in these elaborate speechs [sic] evinced a thorough mastery of the principles of political economy which underlie the tariff question, and presented arguments in favor of the protective policy with a power and conclusiveness rarely equaled, and at the same time in a manner so lucid and familiar and so well interspersed with happy illustration and apposite anecdotes as to establish a reputation which he has never since failed to maintain, as the ablest leader in the Whig and Republican ranks in the great West." The Tribune also referred to Calhoun's role in the Kansas-Nebraska debates in Springfield in October 1854: "Hundreds of politicians had met at Springfield expecting a tournament of an unusual character - Douglas, Breese, Koerner, Lincoln, Trumbull, Matteson, Yates, [Isaac] Codding, John Calhoun (of the order of the Candle Box,) John M. Palmer, the whole house of the McConnells, Singleton,... Thos. L. Harris, and a host of others. Several speeches were made before and several after, the passage between LINCOLN and DOUGLAS, but that was justly held to be the event of the season."723
An 1860 campaign biography of Lincoln written by Joseph H. Bartnett probably reflected the attitude of many Republican leaders concerning Douglas and his longtime ally: "John Calhoun, the chosen instrument of the Administration for carrying out its plot to defeat "Popular Sovereignty" in Kansas, was one of the special friends of Douglas, and understood to share his intimate confidence."724 Douglas would not be forgiven by southern Democrats and their northern sympathizers for opposing the Lecompton Constitution. Republican Congressman George W. Julian remembered that Douglas's "sin in the Lecompton matter was counted unpardonable, and they seemed to hate him even more intensely than they hated the Abolitionists."725 Douglas received the nomination of the northern branch of the Democratic Party while Vice President John Breckinridge, a Kentuckian who had freed his own slaves, was nominated by the southern branch.
Republicans wanted to scapegoat both Douglas and Calhoun. The presidential election in New York State was closely contested. In mid-October 1860, the New York Times, edited by Republican leader Henry J. Raymond, sought to tie Douglas directly to the actions taken by Calhoun:
The responsibility of denying to the people of Kansas the right to vote upon the Lecompton Constitution, has hitherto been thrown exclusively upon President BUCHANAN. In Kansas, however, it has been freely charged that Senator DOUGLAS was a party to the plot, and the Democratic Association of Leavenworth recently addressed a circular letter to all the members of the notorious Lecompton Convention, asking them the following questions on this subject:
1. Did you, or not, before or during the session of the Lecompton Constitutional Convention, or after the adjournment of the same, see a letter addressed to JOHN CALHOUN, President of said Convention, or to any one else, by Mr. DOUGLAS, in which he (Mr. DOUGLAS) suggested the plan of submission which was adopted by said Convention, or signify that such a plan of submission would meet his approval?
2. Did not JOHN CALHOUN, the President of the Lecompton Convention, inform you that a letter had been received from Mr. DOUGLAS, in which was foreshadowed a plan of submission, and was not the plan finally adopted the same that was understood to be the plan of Mr. DOUGLAS?
3. Did you, or not, in conversation with Mr. CALHOUN, or with any one, whose political and personal relations towards Mr. DOUGLAS and Mr. CALHOUN authorize a belief that such person spoke authoritatively, learn that a plan of submission had been indicated by Mr. DOUGLAS, and was it not understood that if the plan thus indicated was adopted, he (Mr. DOUGLAS) would support and sustain it in Congress?
To the second and third of these questions Messrs. J. Todd, O.C. Stewart, B.T. Franklin, C.R. Mobley, L.J. Eastin and G.B. Redman, now opponents of Mr. DOUGLAS, answer affirmatively, and Mr. JAMES DONIPHAN, one of his supporters, denies all knowledge of it. Mr. MOBLEY states that he heard the letter read, and Mr. WM.G. MATHIAS, a prominent citizen of Leavenworth, states that a son of Gen. CALHOUN informed him that the document is now in the possession of the General's widow, and that she has already been offered $2,000 for it, but has refused to surrender it for special reasons.
We should like to see that letter. It might clear up a point which was raised by the testimony before the Covode Committee, but was left somewhat in obscurity. Gov. WALKER, as will be recollected, testified that he went out to Kansas under the strongest assurances from the Administration, of their desire to have the Constitution to be formed by the Lecompton Convention submitted to the people for acceptance. He also testified that a few days before the question, whether the Convention would submit the Constitution to the popular vote, was voted upon, Gen. CALHOUN, who, as he says, "had been the distinguished and special leader of the Douglas Party in Kansas, and was supposed to have been appointed Surveyor-General upon Judge DOUGLAS' recommendation," came to him and "submitted, substantially, the programme as to Slavery, which was subsequently adopted by the Convention," and asked his concurrence in it, assuring him "that that was the programme of the Administration," and that the assurance that it was so "came to him in such a manner as to be entirely reliable."
Subsequent evidence seems to have led the Committee to suppose that this shape, in which the Lecompton Constitution was finally adopted, was got up by the Administration in Washington, and taken to Kansas by an agent named H.L. MARTIN, who was sent by the Department of the Interior, just at that time. They accordingly had Mr. MARTIN before them. His testimony, however, did not sustain the supposition of the Committee. While he stated that he took an active part in the proceedings of the Lecompton Convention, and even drew himself, as we understand his testimony, the provision for the submission of the Slavery schedule which was finally adopted by the Convention, he yet stated that so far as the Administration gave him any instructions about the matter, they were that he was to favor the submission of the whole Constitution to the people, and that he did so, and only favored the submission of the Slavery schedule after the submission of the whole Constitution had been voted down.
But Mr. MARTIN testifies that "The plan finally adopted was regarded by Mr. CALHOUN, and he so assured his friends, as the favorite plan of Mr. DOUGLAS; and he stated when we finally succeeded in getting the Slavery clause submitted, that he had rendered an important service to his friend DOUGLAS; and he at once wrote to him announcing the result, and inclosed a copy of the schedule," and that he himself "saw the letter, and carried it to the Post-office at Leavenworth City." Elsewhere he says: "He (CALHOUN) manifested much anxiety that the action of the Convention should be sustained by the people, because he believed that action met the peculiar views of Mr. DOUGLAS."
Now, do not the answers of these members of the Convention, given above, make it quite probable that the source from which CALHOUN got his idea as to the change of view on the part of the Administration, was that letter of Judge DOUGLAS'? Would it not be somewhat remarkable if it should turn out that the plan of submitting the Slavery schedule only, for accepting which Mr. BUCHANAN has received such objurgation and obloquy, was after all, an idea which sprung from the brain of the great Squatter Sovereign himself? That letter might throw light upon these interesting questions. Can it not be brought out, as a companion-piece to the letter of Mr. BUCHANAN, produced at last by Gov. WALKER before the Covode Committee? They would throw considerable light upon each other, and upon the Kansas policy of the Democracy.726
Douglas himself seemed willing to sanction scapegoating Calhoun. James W. Sheahan, editor of the Chicago Times and a close friend of Douglas, wrote in his 1860 campaign biography of the Democratic presidential candidate: "Calhoun had for many years been an active Democrat in the central part of the state, and he was believed to be a man who, whatever other failings and imperfections he might have, would never consent, under any circumstances, to embarrass or injure his party friends by rash or unjustifiable political action. In short, he was esteemed by all as a 'safe and reliable' man, who could not be seduced, under any state of things, to do political acts, the effect of which was to destroy, or, to say the least, embarrass and place his party in a most unenviable position before the country. For many days those who had a personal acquaintance with the 'Lord President,' as he was subsequently styled by the papers of the state, declined giving credit to the reports of the action of the convention, but these doubts were but of short duration; letters from a number of persons in the Territory, and from Calhoun himself, soon removed all question, not only as to the action of the convention, but also as to the full participation of Calhoun in the iniquitous proceedings." Sheahan went on to state that in Illinois "the Democratic newspaper press immediately and determinedly denounced the action of the convention, and of the daring attempt by Calhoun and his associates to defraud the people of Kansas of a sacred right; to violate the entire spirit of the Kansas-Nebraska Act; to repudiate the saving and most peculiar principle of the Cincinnati platform; to disregard and contemptuously set aside the peremptory and pointed instruction of Mr. Buchanan, and the earnest advice and appeals of Governor Walker."727 Sheahan's comments are ironic since Calhoun had used a Chicago Times editorial, possibly authored by Sheahan, to justify his actions in the fall of 1857.
Douglas would survive Calhoun by only 20 months. Since childhood, Douglas had often been in poor health because of throat and respiratory problems. He repeatedly overexerted himself in strenuous political campaigns and suffered dreadfully in their aftermath. Throughout his life, Diygkas had to go to bed for periods of prolonged convalescence. After the Confederates attacked Fort Sumter, Douglas visited President Lincoln at the White House, pledged his support, and returned home to gather support for the Union cause - speaking in Ohio and Indiana before he reached Illinois. Douglas told editor John W. Forney: "There can be but two parties, the party of patriots and the party of traitors. We belong to the first."728
One Republican observer thought Douglas was at the height of his oratorical powers when on April 25 he spoke in Springfield at the State Capitol - where he and Lincoln had sparred at length in October 1854 and where Lincoln had delivered his House Divided speech in 1858. "When hostile armies are munching under new and odious banners against the government of our country, the shortest way to peace is the most stupendous and unanimous preparation for war," Douglas told the crowd. "The greater the unanimity the less blood will be shed. The more prompt and energetic the movement, and the most important it is in number, the shorter will be the struggle."729 It was a masterful performance. "Men left the building with their blood on fire," wrote historian Allan Nevins.730 Douglas's efforts helped solidify Illinois's support for the Union. Chicago Tribune journalist Horace White, a strong partisan of Lincoln, heard the speech and commented that "I cannot conceive that Demosthenes, or Mirabeau, or Patrick Henry, or any orator of ancient or modern times could have surpassed it."731
Unlike Lincoln, Douglas took his reverses personally and passionately. After the Lecompton crisis developed, Douglas had told a Chicago journalist: "In making the fight against this [slave] power, I was enabled to stand off and view the men with whom I had been acting; I was ashamed I had ever been caught in such company; they were a set of unprincipled demagogues, bent upon perpetuating slavery, and by the exercise of that unequal and unfair power, to control the Government or break up the Union; and I intend to prevent their doing either."732 The reverses took a toll on the senator's body.
After the Springfield speech Douglas returned to Chicago and on May 1, 1861, gave a final speech in the Wigwam, where Lincoln had been nominated for president a year earlier. "The conspiracy is now known; armies have been raised; war is levied to accomplish it," Douglas declared. "There are only two sides to the question. Every man must be for the Untied States or against it. There can be no neutrals in this war -- only patriots or traitors."733 The Little Giant then went to bed for virtually all of May, but he would not recover as he had from past illnesses. "Telegraph to the President and let the column move on," said the fevered Douglas in one moment of his delirium.734 On June 3, 1861, Senator Douglas, only 48, died of a combination of rheumatism, typhoid fever and years of abuse of his body. He passed away at Tremont House, the Chicago hotel at which Lincoln had also often stayed. (It was from the balcony of Tremont House that Douglas and Lincoln had delivered competing speeches in mid-July 1858.) Before he passed away, Douglas passed on his last advice to his sons: "Tell them to obey the laws and support the Constitution of the United States."735
By then, Abraham Lincoln, defeated by Douglas for the Senate in 1858, was president of the United States.736 Richard Yates, who had defeated Calhoun for Congress in 1852 but had been defeated in the Kansas-Nebraska controversy of 1854, was governor of Illinois and one of the leaders who insisted that Douglas's widow allow his remains to be buried in Illinois rather than returned to Washington. Orville H. Browning, defeated for Congress by Douglas in 1843, would succeed Douglas in the U.S. Senate in July.737 In his eulogy for his predecessor, Browning said: "The distinguishing characteristics of Judge Douglas, which enabled him to cope successfully with the greatest intellects of the age, were fearlessness, quickness of apprehension, a strong will, and indomitable energy. He knew no such word as fail. He had full confidence in himself, and of his ability to accomplish whatever he undertook. In controversy he was unsurpassed; and without pretension either to accomplished scholarship or eloquence, there was a fullness in his voice, an earnestness in his manner, a directness in his argument, and a determination in his every look and action, which never failed to command attention; and, often electrifying the multitude, would elicit unbounded applause."738
Once quite rich from his real estate investments, Douglas died deeply in debt from mortgages he had taken on his properties. One cause was his heavy campaign expenditures - including the money he had spent to help elect James Buchanan president in 1856.739 Another was his charity - in 1856 he donated the land to build the first University of Chicago. "I am exceedingly oppressed for the want of money, and do not know where I can get enough to pay my little Bills and current expenses, unless it be got from our sales of cotton," wrote Douglas in April 1861. He was referring to the Mississippi plantation that his two sons had inherited from their grandfather. Douglas's death deprived Lincoln of key support in Congress. The new Democratic leaders, according to historian Michael Burlingame, "made Lincoln's job far more difficult than it would have been if Douglas had lived."740
Adele Cutts Douglas, widow of the senator, called at the White House on November 26, 1861. The next day Lincoln wrote that she was being urged to send her stepsons from Douglas's first marriage to the South to avoid confiscation of their inherited property in Mississippi and North Carolina. The president told her: "I expect the United States will overcome the attempt to confiscate property, because of loyalty to the government; but if not, I still do not expect the property of absent minor children will be confiscated....But it is especially dangerous for my name to be connected with the matter; for nothing would more certainly excite the secessionists to do the worst they can against the children."741 On her father's side, Adele was the grand-niece of First Lady Dolley Madison. On her mother's side, she was the niece of Rose Greenhow, a well-known spy for the Confederacy in Washington during the Civil War. After the war, Adele remarried - to a Union Army officer - and gave birth to six children of her own.742
John Calhoun had even more children and a widow who suffered even more financially.743 In May 1864, Calhoun's daughter Lizzie wrote President Lincoln a letter which was hand delivered to the White House by an army officer: "Although you are so immersed amid the cares and anxieties of a nation and the quick succession of momentous events as scarce to seize a moment even, to recall the friends of other days, yet, I flatter myself, that you have not quite forgotten the once little Lizzie of Springfield who now takes the liberty of trespassing upon your time in behalf of my brother Seth, who has been in the army (1st Missouri Lt. Artillery) for nearly three years. My mother visited Springfield on business last fall and while there was urged to apply to you for my brother whom your friends assured her, you would doubtless, serve with pleasure; nevertheless, Mr Lincoln, it is so unpleasant to intrude one's sorrows upon others, that we have declined doing so till now, there seems no alternative."
My mother has tried in vain, to collect something from my dear father's estate but from no source, has she received even a dollar, of that which was justly our due; even our relatives have withheld their assistance and we have struggled on upon almost nothing, till now that every thing has so greatly advanced as to cause my mother much anxiety, and to nerve me to the task of asking you to do something for my brother, by which he can support us. He is anxious to resign for this purpose as his pay is no more than sufficient for his expenses (being the only son of a widowed mother he was exempt and ought not to have entered the service but he seemed anxious to do so, and then, thought it for the best). Knowing but little of political or business matters, I have not much choice as to the favor you confer upon Seth, Mr Lincoln, but leave that, to your judgement.744
It is not known what action President Lincoln took regarding Seth Calhoun but Lincoln's attention was usually captured by this sort of case - the troubles of the family of an old Illinois friend would often touch his heart, regardless of the merits of the individual.745 Paul Simon, who himself as a U.S. senator from Illinois in the late 20th century, wrote: "Among Lincoln's fellow legislators who did not turn out well, Calhoun earned the blackest marks. Yet his frauds and inexcusable behavior led to the election of Lincoln."746 Historian Robert W. Johannsen wrote that Calhoun "had the ambition without the energy and insights that were essential to implement ambition. He committed political blunders, oftentimes acting on the impulse of the moment without considering the consequences of his actions."747
President Lincoln himself was not immune to the perils of Kansas patronage for old Illinois friends. In 1861, only days after his inauguration, he appointed longtime colleague Archibald Williams as the U.S. District judge for Kansas. The president acknowledged that "I've got a hat full of dispatches already from Kansas cheifly [sic] protesting against it, and asking if I was going to fill up all the offices from Illinois."748 President Lincoln also appointed another former Illinois lawyer, Mark W. Delahay, as surveyor general for Kansas and campaign there. In the late fall of 1859, Lincoln had accepted Delahay's invitation to visit Kansas. In 1863, the president named Delahay a judge. Delahay's inebriated behavior on the bench was widely condemned - just as Calhoun's had been. Quincy attorney Jackson Grimshaw, a longtime Lincoln friend, wanted the judicial appointment that Delahay received. Grimshaw wrote Senator Lyman Trumbull: "Will the Senate confirm that miserable man Delahay for Judge in Kansas. The appointment is disgraceful to the President who knew Delahay and all his faults, but the disgrace will be greater if the Senate confirms him. He is no lawyer, could not try a case properly even in a Justice's Court, and has no character."749 Lincoln biographer Jesse W. Weik wrote that "Delahay was both debased and corrupt. It is hard to believe that Lincoln was not aware of it." His behavior led to a congressional investigation and charges of impeachment. "The testimony showed that Delahay was a confirmed drunkard and frequently sat on the bench and presided at trials in a maudlin, befuddled condition."750
Delahay, however, was loyal, according to Jesse K. Dubois, an Illinois Republican friend whose patronage dreams were also dashed by Lincoln. Delahay, said Dubois, had Lincoln's "whole Confidence."751 Abraham Lincoln had a soft spot for friends and heavy drinkers such as Mark Delahay, John Calhoun, Stephen A. Douglas, Richard Yates, and his law partner William H. Herndon. Lincoln told the Washington Temperance Society in February 1842:
In my judgment, such of us as have never fallen victims, have been spared more from the absence of appetite, than from any mental or moral superiority over those who have. Indeed, I believe, if we take habitual drunkards as a class, their heads and their hearts will bear an advantageous comparison with those of any other class. There seems ever to have been a proneness in the brilliant, and the warm-blooded, to fall into this vice. The demon of intemperance ever seems to have delighted in sucking the blood of genius and of generosity. What one of us but can call to mind some dear relative, more promising in youth than all his fellows, who has fallen a sacrifice to his rapacity? He ever seems to have gone forth, like the Egyptian angel of death, commissioned to slay if not the first, the fairest born of every family. Shall he now be arrested in his desolating career? In that arrest, all can give aid that will; and who shall be excused that can, and will not? Far around as human breath has ever blown, he keeps our fathers, our brothers, our sons, and our friends, prostrate in the chains of moral death. To all the living every where, we cry, "come sound the moral resurrection trump, that these may rise and stand up, an exceeding great army" - "Come from the four winds, O breath! and breathe upon these slain, that they may live."752
Thomas had already served with Lincoln in the State House (1834-1835) a term as attorney general (1835-1836), and on the State Supreme Court (1837-1839). He was the nephew of one of the state's founding leaders and would return to the State Supreme Court in 1843 when Stephen A. Douglas resigned to run for Congress.
"I was present when that subject was discussed by Senators before the bill was introduced, and the question whether the Constitution when formed should be submitted to a vote of the people. It was held by those most intelligent on the subject that * * * it would be better that there should be no (such) provision in the Toombs bill; and it was my understanding * * * that the Convention would make a Constitution and send it here without submitting it to the popular vote."
Douglas inquired, angrily, whether he meant to insinuate that he had been present at any such conference. Bigler hesitated and sought to avoid the disclosure of the proceedings at their secret caucus, but Douglas impetuously released him from all secrecy and challenged him, if he knew, to declare that, directly or indirectly, publicly or privately, anywhere on the face of the earth, he was ever present at such a consultation when it was called to his attention and he agreed to approve a Constitution without submitting it to the people.
Bigler, who had an uneasy suspicion that he was improperly disclosing party secrets, could not decline the challenge, and replied that he remembered very well that that question was discussed at a conference held at Douglas' own house. "It was then urged," he said, "by Toombs, that there should be no provision for the submission of the Constitution to the people." He did not remember whether Douglas took part in the discussion, but his own understanding of the sense of the caucus was that the Convention should have the right to make a Constitution and send it directly to Congress for approval.
Douglas protested that he was innocent of any such conspiracy. He confessed that his attention was called to the fact that no provision was made in the Toombs bill for the submission of the Constitution, but his understanding was that, powers not delegated being reserved, it would, of course, be submitted. Bigler reminded him that, while he had taken this for granted in the case of Kansas, he had about the same time drafted a bill for the admission of Minnesota in which he took care to provide in express terms that the Constitution must be submitted. If he then thought general principles of law secured the submission of the Kansas Constitution without providing for it in the enabling act, why this care to expressly provide for it in the Minnesota act?" William Gardner, Life of Stephen A. Douglas, pp. 134-135.
CWAL, Volume VI, p. 538-539 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to James M. Cutts, Jr., October 26, 1863). Lincoln may also have been indebted to Douglas for a letter he wrote to the president of Harvard. Douglas reportedly had written in 1859 recommending the son of the man "with whom I have lately been canvassing the State of Illinois." Robert Todd Lincoln, however, was denied admission to Harvard in 1859 and was not admitted until 1860 after a stint at Exeter Academy. Edward Everett Hale, "James Russell Lowell and His Friends," p. 201.