Lincoln's Personal Life HTML version

The Literary Statesman
Lincoln had found at last a mode and an opportunity for concentrating all his powers in a
way that could have results. He had discovered himself as a man of letters. The great
speeches of 1854 were not different in a way from the previous speeches that were
without results. And yet they were wholly different. Just as Lincoln's version of an old
tale made of that tale a new thing, so Lincoln's version of an argument made of it a
different thing from other men's versions. The oratory of 1854 was not state-craft in any
ordinary sense. It was art Lincoln the artist, who had slowly developed a great literary
faculty, had chanced after so many rebuffs on good fortune. His cause stood in urgent
need of just what he could give. It was one of those moments when a new political force,
having not as yet any opening for action, finds salvation in the phrase-maker, in the
literary artist who can embody it in words.
During the next five years and more, Lincoln was the recognized offset to Douglas. His
fame spread from Illinois in both directions. He was called to Iowa and to Ohio as the
advocate of all advocates who could undo the effect of Douglas. His fame traveled
eastward. The culmination of the period of literary leadership was his famous speech at
Cooper Union in February, 1860.
It was inevitable that he should go along with the antislavery coalition which adopted the
name of the Republican party. But his natural deliberation kept him from being one of its
founders. An attempt of its founders to appropriate him after the triumph at Springfield,
in October, 1854, met with a rebuff.[1] Nearly a year and a half went by before he
affiliated himself with the new party. But once having made up his mind, he went
forward wholeheartedly. At the State Convention of Illinois Republicans in 1856 he made
a speech that has not been recorded but which is a tradition for moving oratory. That
same year a considerable number of votes were cast for Lincoln for Vice-President in the
Republican National Convention.
But all these were mere details. The great event of the years between 1854 and 1860 was
his contest with Douglas. It was a battle of wits, a great literary duel. Fortunately for
Lincoln, his part was played altogether on his own soil, under conditions in which he was
entirely at his ease, where nothing conspired with his enemy to embarrass him.
Douglas had a far more difficult task. Unforeseen complications rapidly forced him to
change his policy, to meet desertion and betrayal in his own ranks. These were terrible
years when fierce events followed one another in quick succession--the rush of both
slave-holders and abolitionists into Kansas; the cruel war along the Wakarusa River; the
sack of Lawrence by the pro-slavery party; the massacre by John Brown at Pottawatomie;
the diatribes of Sumner in the Senate; the assault on Sumner by Brooks. In the midst of
this carnival of ferocity came the Dred Scott decision, cutting under the Kansas-Nebraska
Bill, denying to the people of a Territory the right to legislate on slavery, and giving to all
slave-holders the right to settle with their slaves anywhere they pleased outside a Free
State. This famous decision repudiated Douglas's policy of leaving all such questions to
local autonomy and to private enterprise. For a time Douglas made no move to save his
policy. But when President Buchanan decided to throw the influence of the
Administration on the side of the pro-slavery party in Kansas, Douglas was up in arms.