Abraham Lincoln, Lyman Trumbull, and the New Birth of Freedom
By Nathaniel Bates
In “The Consistency of Lyman Trumbull and Its Meaning to American Constitutional Heritage”, I discussed the consistency of Lyman Trumbull in his defense of civil rights. Lyman Trumbull was a primary influence behind the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Yet, he gradually retreated from his alliance with the Radicals over the question of extensive Federal protection for the right of suffrage. I argued against the common thesis that Trumbull became a conservative later in life, attempting to demonstrate that Lyman Trumbull had an underlying consistency to his thinking in spite of his many changes. Lyman Trumbull remained consistent with States Rights Jacksonian Democracy in his belief that political rights were a purview of the States, whereas he could embrace an expanded view of civil rights as long as “civil rights” was understood to exclude suffrage. Lyman Trumbull was a Constitutionalist first and foremost. His reasons for temporarily embracing political rights and then stepping back, as disturbing as his decisions were, had more to do with his belief in decentralized government than simple racism. Lyman Trumbull remained heroic in spite of his moral compromises with reactionary politics.
In the course of my readings I uncovered a work praising Lyman Trumbull from an unexpected corner. In Forced Into Glory; Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream, Lerone Bennett, Jr., an African-American popular writer lambasted Abraham Lincoln as a racist whose vision of equality was a vision of white equality and not one of multi-racial democracy.1 Bennett compared Lincoln unfavorably to a host of other historical actors of his time who were presumably more progressive, among them Lyman Trumbull. Bennett made a compelling case from one standpoint. Lyman Trumbull was consistent advocate for civil rights. Additionally, Bennett was accurate in demonstrating that Lincoln was not above the racism of his time, that Lincoln dreamed of an America free of racial diversity. However, I did not have the chance to respond to Bennett’s broader argument that Lincoln does not deserve the favorable judgment of historians that he has received, since it lay beyond the scope of my previous paper. I intend to address it in this paper.
Lyman Trumbull remained a Jacksonian throughout his life, believing, as Jackson did, in equal rights for all citizens under a government of limited powers. By contrast, Abraham Lincoln began his political career as a Whig who believed in a more expansive role for government than did the Jacksonians. Lincoln came to have an ever expanded view of equal rights throughout his life that eventually began to include what Trumbull never brought himself to include, political rights as a necessary corollary to civil rights. Yet, I also wish to demonstrate that both men paralleled one another’s development in that both transcended their respective political factions when faced with the pressures of the Civil War. They both embraced a view of freedom that was broad in scope after witnessing the courage of black soldiers and the treason of political leaders whom they had previously counted on to maintain the Union through compromise.
Lincoln and Trumbull each embraced a broader view on black freedom as the Civil War raged on. Indeed, Lyman Trumbull was a Jacksonian who aligned with the Radicals on the question of civil rights, transcending Jacksonian federalism to embrace national civil rights while he remained skeptical of Radicalism on questions of political rights. Abraham Lincoln, following a similar course of evolution, was a Whig who rejected the traditional Whig Party vision of limited suffrage and envisioned a democratic form of capitalism that was embraced by the emerging Republican Party. Both men became Republicans when their respective Parties had failed to oppose the expansion of slavery in to the Territories. Eventually, both men became champions of black freedom during the Civil War, taking positions that they would have previously denounced as abolitionist and radical when it was clear that the Civil War had changed America forever.
In a very profound respect, the political evolution of Lincoln and Trumbull paralleled one another throughout their lives. Lyman Trumbull shifted radically between progressive and conservative extremes while remaining a Jacksonian skeptical of both big business and big government. Abraham Lincoln, who ran against Lyman Trumbull for Senate in Illinois, and who clashed with Trumbull during his conflicts with Congress as the Civil War raged, remained a progressive Northern Whig who was skeptical of any societal obstruction to the right of a man to rise on the basis of his own merits. Lincoln’s vision unified Hamiltonianism and Jeffersonianism in a vision of equal rights and class mobility within the hierarchies of the industrial capitalist system that Trumbull remained skeptical of throughout his life. Lincoln’s vision has captivated Americans ever since it triumphed over the Southern vision of an alternative America (and over Trumbull’s Jacksonian vision as well).
Lincoln and Trumbull formulated many of their views prior to the Civil War. Yet, prior to the Civil War Lyman Trumbull would never have favored national civil rights, nor would Lincoln have embraced broad suffrage. It was the heat of the Civil War that forced both men to decide how best to mould the new America that would emerge after the war was over. Lincoln, the conservative Whig, became synonymous with the American Creed among American progressives ever since his untimely death. While Trumbull came in to prominence after the Civil War, Lincoln came in to glory because of the Civil War. Lincoln was the ideal bridge between antebellum and post-Civil War America. He eventually became the image of the ideal America in various struggles of progressives against perceived enemies of democracy. In many respects, this praise of Lincoln is deserved. While we cannot know whether or not Lincoln would embrace Radical Reconstruction if he had lived, or even social reform in the face of Gilded Age injustices, Lincoln probably would have frowned on the immoral pursuit of wealth without honor so prevalent after the Civil War. He would undoubtedly have continued to favor self-made men over those whose wealth could buy them influence, or who would attempt to preserve the slavery he detested under a different name.
Historians have reconsidered Abraham Lincoln over and over again since his tragic death. In saving the Union, Abraham Lincoln accomplished more than just the salvation of a political entity. In his own mind, Lincoln was saving the system that allowed the humble individual to better his fortune and to participate fully in a political system in which he was enfranchised beyond anything possible in aristocratic Europe. For Lincoln, this project was of paramount importance. It was the last best hope for humanity.
This is an edited form of my original Bachelor’s Degree thesis for my History Degree from San Francisco State University, May of 2004. It is a follow-up to a previous thesis project on Lyman Trumbull, and all references to Lyman Trumbull must be understood in that context. Let me express my appreciation to San Francisco State University for all that it has afforded me in the way of opportunities.
Abraham Lincoln, Lyman Trumbull, and Civil War Citizenship
Abraham Lincoln has long occupied a dual place in the American imagination that few other Presidents have held. President Lincoln has been seen as a wartime President, and at the same time as the Great Emancipator.1 Among whites, Abraham Lincoln has been seen as the savior of the Union of 1787, a preserver of democratic institutions against a rebellion fomented by those whose primary allegiance was to an aristocratic worldview.2 Among black Americans, Abraham Lincoln has been seen as more of a Founding Father of true democracy in his own right than as a preserver of the ante-bellum Union that excluded the slave.3 Yet, the wartime Abraham Lincoln, the Lincoln of heroism, was very different from the Abraham Lincoln who spent most of his early life in obscurity.4 The early Abraham Lincoln was a conservative National Republican, and subsequently a Whig pragmatist, who was not friendly to universal suffrage among free people, much less active efforts to free slaves in the South.5 Abraham Lincoln opposed slavery as an immoral institution, campaigning against the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott decision. However, he did not champion social equality between blacks and whites. Although influenced by the Transcendentalists and their humane vision of freedom, Abraham Lincoln maintained his tame view of universal democracy and abolition until the very eve of the Civil War. It was then that the horrors of the Civil War, and the pressures of Congressional Radicals along with their Jacksonian ally Lyman Trumbull, helped push Lincoln to alter the course of the Civil War from a crusade to save the Union to a moral crusade for freedom. 6 It was owing to their pressure that Abraham Lincoln began to embrace the freeing of slaves and the granting of limited suffrage to free blacks, both being measures he formerly opposed.7 The necessities of the Civil War changed the thinking of Abraham Lincoln, forcing him to embrace a more expanded view of democracy than he held to before the War, a change in thinking that strongly paralleled that of a number of his contemporaries, including Lyman Trumbull.
Lincoln squared off against Lyman Trumbull and his Radical Republican allies repeatedly throughout the Civil War. Trumbull was an ex-Democratic Republican who originally allied with the Radicals as a protest against what he considered the failure to prosecute the war effectively.8 Trumbull came to believe that returning runaway slaves to the Rebels was not only bad military strategy in dealing with a rebellion against the white American Union, but an immoral act in its own right.9 In 1864, Trumbull complained that the two confiscation bills he introduced were not being used to free slaves during wartime, long a right of victors under the law of nations extending back to ancient times.10 This was a step beyond his antebellum States Rights position that was in favor of restraining the spread of slavery while leaving it alone where it already existed.11
The beginning of the Civil War had seen a timid Lyman Trumbull who was unwilling to challenge the powers of the States over those of the Federal Government. His Jacksonian concept of democracy was originally one in which the individual found his or her civil rights guaranteed by the States, not by the Federal Union. Trumbull believed Congress had limited powers, hence his belief that a constitutional amendment was necessary for Congress to free the slaves. Yet, the end of the war saw a changed Lyman Trumbull. After the Civil War, he embraced a full battery of civil rights for blacks, one guaranteed on the Federal level. For Trumbull, the end of slavery also meant the beginning of full citizenship for all born on American soil, a citizenship that stopped short of full political rights.12
Trumbull held the role of the adversarial legislator, never popular with presidents who often feel that the legislators do not have to make the terrible decisions, and lack the right to judge Presidents who do. This was true with President Andrew Johnson when he vetoed the Civil Rights Act, yet it has also been true with President Lincoln. While working on the Civil Rights Act in an attempt to ensure that the Civil War would have meaning, one can imagine Trumbull meditating on the meaning of the life of his friend and adversary Abraham Lincoln who had just met his death. They had both changed their political thinking as the war changed them. Both of them had believed in the separation of the races during antebellum times, positions upheld by their respective parties. Yet, both experienced the full evils of a war that changed the thinking of America over race, civil rights, and the limits of Federal power, and both chose a bold new path to face the new day.
Abraham Lincoln was strongly capable of bold changes in his thinking even during his youth. The Lincoln family was a Democratic family, as most Southern emigrant whites were staunch Jacksonians. Yet, Lincoln underwent a conversion that would bring him in to the National Republican fold during his young adulthood.13 The National Republicans merged with the Anti-Masons to become the Whig Party. Lincoln joined the new Whig Party, believing, as all loyal Whigs believed, that industrial development aided by the Federal Government was necessary to build a strong America. In spite of his Party change, a change that for his time could be as divisive to families and communities as a conversion from Catholicism to Protestantism in seventeenth century France, Lincoln remained an extremely trusted man even among Democrats. He was elected Postmaster of New Salem in 1833. He eventually entered politics, and was elected to the Illinois Legislature as a Whig in 1834, to serve four terms.
During his tenure in the Illinois Legislature, Lincoln upheld conservative Whig positions restricting the suffrage to propertied whites.14 Lincoln was not in favor of universal white male suffrage much less black suffrage, preferring to focus on economic issues that were important to Whig voters, such as internal improvements.15 Lincoln advanced the pragmatic program of economic development that Whig voters desired, including improvements that would facilitate industrial modernization.
The Whigs began as a coalition of factional parties opposed to the perceived autocratic tendencies of Andrew Jackson. “King Andrew” Jackson was opposed as a demagogue among the elite National Republicans, as well as the vestigial remnants of the Federalist Party. By contrast, the populist Anti-Masons held an opposing yet still negative view of Jackson as a selfish elitist, believing that Jackson was part and parcel of the ruling secret society of the Freemasons who did so much to form the Republic yet whose secrecy did not endear them to the republican masses they purported to lead. The elitist National Republicans and the anti-elitist Anti-Masons were not natural allies. However, they came together to oppose Andrew Jackson in a shaky coalition known as the Whig Party, named after the original Whigs of England who challenged the authority of the Stuart kings.16
The coalition was a strange one, considering that the National Republicans feared the populist Anti-Masons as much as they feared the democratic Jacksonians.17 The fear of Jackson as a potential dictator became palpable after his controversial use of the veto against the Bank of the United States, one that even shocked some opponents of the Bank. Lincoln entered politics as part of this new coalition party, the Whigs. He used the Whigs as a launching pad to enter Congress during the time that the Mexican-American War, which Lincoln opposed mightily, began to push the boundaries of America westward. When Lincoln eventually helped to found the Republican Party and successfully ran for President on its ticket, he brought with him a sense of pragmatism profoundly shaped by Whig ideology.
The elitist National Republican influence within the Whig Party that affected the thinking of Lincoln in his early years must be grappled with if we are to understand the political evolution of Abraham Lincoln. The Whigs were not simply a continuation of either the old elite National Republicans or the Federalists. At the same time, the Whigs were not a party congenial to mass democracy either. Whig democracy was a democracy that was middle class in nature, one that saw democracy as defined by meritocracy more than by mass suffrage. The Whigs were the party of a middle class on the make, one that embraced a progressive society and not an aristocracy, yet which at the same time retained a fear of mob rule common to both the National Republicans and the Federalists.
Indeed, Whig conservatives retained many of the same social fears of both democracy and subversive social influences that the Northern Republicans and Federalists held to. Even the fear of Southern domination of the Union among certain Northern Whigs paralleled fears among Northern Federalists of conspiracies involving Southern Jeffersonians and foreign influences plotting to undermine the Republic with mob rule.18 Fisher Ames and other High Federalists had feared an unmitigated democracy ending in “despotism.”19 Hamilton rarely invoked this theme in his struggles with Jefferson. It was the Adams wing of the Federalists that tended to follow more of a conspiratorial tone than the Hamiltonian business wing of the Party, the wing that arguably influenced middle class Whiggism more than the High Federalism of Adams. Yet, the theme of a conspiracy of Southern slave owners conspiring with Jacobin terrorists, seemingly contradictory on the surface, made sense in a Yankee Puritan world in which the Devil appeared everywhere, in a multitude of guises, often seemingly contradictory on the surface.
Paradoxically, Northern conservatives were not only anti-democratic, but also often anti-slavery. Conservative opposition to the influence of the Slave Power began with the Federalists. This has led some, particularly defenders of the Southern position, to associate Lincoln and the Northern Republicans with the Federalists of the early Republic. Yet, in understanding the maturation of Lincoln’s growing embrace of middle class democracy over early Whig elitism, one must remember that the Federalists did not have a monopoly on anti-slavery sentiments. Jefferson made anti-slavery statements, even though his record as a slave owner was far from exemplary.20 Edmund Randolph, the son in law of Thomas Jefferson, was representative of those Jeffersonians who did oppose slavery, namely those in line with moderate French Radicalism.
The mature Lincoln quoted Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence considerably, seeing in Jeffersonian Democracy an implicitly anti-slavery doctrine. The primary debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas would eventually be over the meaning of what constituted “democracy.”21 The debate between Lincoln and Douglas would be a debate between two men who claimed the mantle of “Jeffersonian Democrat”, not a debate between Hamiltonianism and Jeffersonianism. The mature Lincoln would not be a descendent of the elitist National Republicans as much as he would become a progressive Whig party man, a part of that faction of the Whig party that shed aristocratic ideologies of conservative Whigs and became pragmatic believers in equality under law. Lincoln and the progressive Whigs eventually saw the value in Jefferson as the upholder of equal rights and inherent freedom.
By contrast, southern partisans of the middle nineteenth century, supposedly the disciples of Thomas Jefferson and his Agrarian vision, openly wrote of their disdain for Jefferson. They based their embrace of agrarianism on the Cavalier traditions of the Middle Ages and the seventeenth century Stuart kings, rejecting the Declaration of Independence. Many disparaged the “rights of man” philosophy as a remnant of the Puritan fanatics who opposed the Stuart kings.22 Pro-slavery partisans such as Albert Taylor Bledsoe and George Fitzhugh, who challenged the entire philosophical basis of the Declaration of Independence, would horrify Lincoln.23 In the 1850’s, as Abraham Lincoln began to embrace the anti-slavery cause with an increasing moral vigor, he began to see the denigration of labor represented by the Southern Partisans as his primary enemy, a denigration that stood opposed to the Northern Whig glorification of free labor economics. The mature Lincoln who opposed slavery as a violation of the sacred principles of freedom considered the “mud sill” theory of George Fitzhugh to be the greatest hurtle that free labor ideology would have to overcome.24
Southern Partisans may have been descendents of Jeffersonians in a filial manner, yet they demonstrated a complete disdain for Jefferson’s democratic aspirations. A number of these conservative Southern Congressmen began their careers as part of the same political Party as the young Lincoln, the Whig Party. Yet, their branch of the Whig Party increasingly worked in opposition to the Northern progressive Whigs on the issue of slavery. The Southern Whig Party was originally more prone to jump to the defense of slavery than the Southern Democrats who still retained a residual Jeffersonian distrust of the peculiar institution. Only when Southern Democrats convinced Andrew Jackson, who was beholden to both the progressive Northern Democrats and the conservative Southern Democrats, to censor the mail and destroy abolitionist literature did the Democrats swing solidly over to the pro-slavery camp.25
The Whigs and the Democrats were a complex mixture of influences, some conservative and some progressive, often differing in what they stood for by region. What can be determined is that the progressive Northern Whigs eventually dropped the vestiges of aristocratic ideology adhered to by most conservative Whigs in both the North and South, embracing a vision of equality under law that appealed to middle class small property owners. The Whigs became thoroughly “American”, dismissing as foreign imports Federalism and class radicalism alike.26 Eventually, the Whigs came to deny the view that property ownership was vital to citizenship, refuting the linkage between property and citizenship previously held by virtually everyone, egalitarians and defenders of class hierarchy alike. This radical shift in Whig thinking, one that made its peace with democracy and allowed the Whig Party to be a loyal opposition within a system of universal white male suffrage, defined Whig democracy as it emerged in the nineteenth century. Abraham Lincoln changed along with his Party, particularly when he realized that alliances with wealthy conservatives did not win elections.
The original Party of Lincoln, the Whigs, was the party of central banking, internal improvements, and tariffs. Although generally unified on economics, it was continually split on other issues, among them slavery, prohibition, and religious tolerance. The only unifying factor among Whigs was a tendency to favor the market economy, while the Democrats polled best among those classes outside of the market economy.27 Abraham Lincoln thoroughly embraced the ideology of the market and with it the program of the Whig Party, even while his Northern progressive faction clashed with Whig conservatives who wanted to silence anti-slavery Whigs. It was only when slavery superceded issues of internal development and tariffs that both progressive and conservative Whigs questioned their loyalties to the Party and one another.
Divisions over slavery helped to split the Whig Party. The Northern progressive Whigs sided with the progressive “Barnburner” Democrats in the various struggles over whether slavery would expand in to the Territories, while the Southern Cotton Whigs sided with Conservative Hunker Democrats. This split within the Whig Party was fatal for the Whigs. The rise of the anti-Catholic “Know Nothings” and their attempt to infiltrate the Whig Party alienated conservative Whigs, along with the old Anti-Masons who were as suspicious of secret societies as they were of Roman Catholics. The Northern Whigs were gradually brought in to the new Republican Party that Abraham Lincoln helped to found when it was clear that the Whig Party had become subservient to its Southern wing.28
Lincoln had begun his political career in Illinois with solid conservative backing, yet in 1859 he would be solidly associated with the egalitarian leanings of the Republican Party. Human rights, and not property rights, would become paramount in the thinking of Abraham Lincoln, as he was about to enter the greatest conflict for the preservation and extension of human rights in American history.29 However, it is important to remember that Lincoln never entirely shed his earlier racial views, even as he grew to oppose the spread of slavery more and more. He did not favor interfering with slavery where it already existed before the Civil War. Furthermore, he was a supporter of colonization for freed blacks, a skeptical position on integration taken by many Northern Whigs. Yet, as the controversy over slavery expansion in to the western Territories became a clash of philosophies, Lincoln began to develop a view of human rights that was increasingly broad that he had always embraced, even in his youth. While the young Lincoln was pragmatic in his racial views, the seeds of the Transcendentalist idealism had been planted early in Lincoln’s thinking, in particular the thoughts of Theodore Parker who influenced Abraham Lincoln through his law partner William Herndon.30 By the time of the Civil War, Lincoln’s pragmatism remained, yet the seeds of youthful transcendentalist idealism had finally germinated in Lincoln’s role as Great Emancipator.
The wartime Lincoln embraced the “transcendental” view of the Declaration of Independence that was increasingly popular with abolitionists. He posited that the Declaration was a “Higher Law,” a position that abolitionists took to an extreme that sometimes bordered on anarchistic.31 Yet, Lincoln did not go as far as some abolitionists who embraced a liminal equality between all human beings that would negate the differences inherent in capitalism, notions that American radicals were beginning to imbibe from European radicals. Lincoln believed in an equality of opportunity and not an equality of outcome.32 He entered the new Republican Party in concert with the Northern Whig defectors, and he still retained their views on race as well as their acceptance the inherent inequalities of capitalism. Still, Lincoln changed, and he did not change his views on slavery alone. He changed in concert with a number of other Whigs who aided his political career and who cheered him on as he challenged the Slave Power and who came to embrace abolition.
Looking back to his early career, we notice the roots of Lincoln’s wartime choices in his early life, even if they were not so apparent then. Lincoln held congressional office under the Whig Party banner only once. During that time, he aligned with the Northern progressive Whigs by opposing the War against Mexico.33 By the time that Lincoln seriously re-entered politics in the 1850’s, the rising forces of the Free Soil movement had torn apart the Whig Party and redefined the Democratic Party, uniting radical Democrats and progressive Whigs within the Republican Party under the renewed banner of stopping slavery. The Free Soil movement had begun at the very time that the Mexican War was being waged in order to extend slavery in to Texas and the Territories.34
Soon the mantle of opposition to slavery fell to the Republican Party, whose membership was galvanized over the Kansas-Nebraska Act that allowed slavery north of the line established by the Missouri Compromise. The Republican movement had broad appeal to whites hungry for land in the west, who sometimes wanted to exclude all blacks from the west, not merely the slave but the free black also.35 Lincoln moved toward the new Republican party in concert with others in his State of Illinois who were disaffected with the Slave Power and its attempts to expand slavery in to the Territories, among them Lyman Trumbull, an anti-slavery lawyer who was distinguished in his own right. After Lincoln was elected to the Illinois legislature in 1854, he resigned to run for the Senate only to lose to Lyman Trumbull who would eventually clash with Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.
Lyman Trumbull was a former Jacksonian Democrat who underwent a transformation similar to that of Abraham Lincoln. Like Lincoln, Trumbull had always been opposed to slavery as an institution, even taking legal cases on behalf of blacks suing for their freedom. The young Lyman Trumbull premised his cases against slavery in the Northwest on the language of the North-west Ordinance of 1787 that banned slavery in the territories before they had become States. His argument was similar to that of the mature Abraham Lincoln.36 Trumbull was racially conservative, even as late as 1859, believing in the segregation of the races even while opposing slavery,37 just as Lincoln retained a belief that the white race and the black race could never mix on equal terms. His opposition to slavery put Trumbull outside of the mainstream of the Jacksonians, in the same manner that the stand taken by Lincoln put him outside of the mainstream of the Whig Party. Conservatives read Trumbull out of his Party, while Lincoln saw the Whig Party collapse under him. It was not long before these two adversaries, who were on opposite sides of economic issues, came together to help form the embryonic Republican Party in 1856.
The Republican Party was the logical successor to the Free Soil Party, except that it incorporated within it a great many more disaffected Whigs and Democrats than the Free Soilers had. The Free Soil Party had initially viewed the Whigs and Democrats as “innocuous” in their bowing of the knee before the Slave Power.38 Yet, it was the Free Soil movement that was innocuous until the split within the Whig Party. The Republican Party was the party of the middle class fearful of a Slave power intent on nationalizing slavery through the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Unlike the abolitionist Liberty Party, which was considered a fringe Party, the Republicans could successfully capitalize on the fact that respectable Whigs and Democrats such as Lincoln and Trumbull had joined their ranks.39 By the 1850’s, most upstate New England areas were Republican.40 Positions once restricted to abolitionists and Free Soil adherents had gone mainstream by the turbulent 1850’s.
The Republicans contained a heterogeneous mixture of racists, abolitionists, farmers, industrialists, intellectuals and frontiersmen. Like the Free Soil movement, it was not an “abolitionist” party. Lincoln, Trumbull and the Republicans continued to oppose social equality for blacks well in to the 1850’s, just as the Whig and Democratic Parties had always done.41 Yet, during his debates with Douglas, Lincoln expressed a moral belief in the evil of slavery that was increasingly bold. Lincoln could not compromise his belief in the Declaration of Independence for the sake of political expediency.42 The Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court decision that decided that slavery could not be excluded from the Territories and that blacks had never been part of the social compact in America, shocked the North and galvanized the Republican Party. This decision helped to push Lincoln in to a moral crusade to oppose slavery expansion as a moral evil that needed a forceful response.
When the Dred Scott decision denied that blacks were included within the original social compact of the United States, Lincoln and Stephen Douglas both argued their points from opposite philosophical vantage points. Douglas argued that the Supreme Court must be obeyed, and also, in a seeming contradiction, wanted each Territory to vote on whether to eventually become a slave State or a free State. When enough individuals in a territory voted either to become slave or free, Congress would then ratify that state as slave or free. The pro-slavery partisans of the South despised this doctrine of “popular sovereignty”,43 believing that the Constitution did not leave slavery to the whims of local majorities, some even maintaining that popular democracy itself was incompatible with slavery. In the North, by contrast, Popular Sovereignty was denounced as pro-slavery. Yet, among the pro-slavery partisans of the border States, popular sovereignty fit well with their belief that democracy and slavery were in fact compatible, a position in opposition to the Northern Free Soil position on the one hand, and the Southern aristocratic disdain for popular democracy on the other.44
For Lincoln and for most Republicans, neither the Supreme Court nor the majority within any given Territory held the ultimate sway over whether slavery could enter the Territory or not. Sovereignty lay in Congress, elected by all of the people in the Union and not one faction merely.45 Lincoln did not favor emancipation within the Southern States, yet he held to the view that Congress could bar slavery from the new Territories just as Congress had barred slavery from the North-west Territories. As a Whig partisan, Lincoln had always placed sovereignty in the hands of Congress more than in the States. Lincoln the Republican would do no less. Madison, revered by Lincoln as the architect of a Union transcending the States, held to the view that a nationalist “We the People” constructed the Constitution, not the States. Lincoln took this position even further by attempting allow the Northern majority a dominant position in determining a question that would affect whether the nation was slave or free, regardless of any majority within the Southern States.
For Lincoln, the issue of what defined popular sovereignty was far more profoundly philosophical than one of any mere political controversy. Douglas was twisting the meaning of democracy against freedom itself, a distortion that had no place in a moral Republic. For Abraham Lincoln, slavery could not simply be voted “up or down”; any more than moral truth could be voted up or voted down.46 The belief among Douglas Democrats was that the Declaration of Independence was merely a legal document, one without any deep moral import on questions of human rights except to allow popular majorities to define for themselves whether slavery was right or wrong. This notion struck Lincoln as downrightly heretical.47 Slavery was not simply another species of property for Lincoln. It was a profoundly moral issue, one that could only grate on the conscience of a moral people who believed in freedom.48
The debate between Lincoln and Douglas was a debate over the meaning of what defined democracy in America. For Lincoln, democracy was primarily moral.49 For Douglas, the definition of democracy was simply rule by numbers. Lincoln also believed very strongly in the right of the people to rule themselves under Constitutional principles.50 Yet, he did not believe that any government, even a government run by majority rule, could define right and wrong. This was a view that had roots in the “higher law” doctrine held both by antebellum Northern conservatives and the radical Transcendentalist philosophers. For Lincoln, higher law was a set of eternal moral principles that could not be challenged if free government were to continue. Failure to uphold them would doom free government. Only if republican government stayed true to morality could it truly flourish and be an example to the nations.
Lincoln believed that he was defending the republican vision of the Founding Fathers, not social radicalism or abolitionism. Indeed, in their minds neither Lincoln nor Douglas pushed their visions of democracy far beyond the definitions believed in by the Whig and Democratic Parties. Douglas upheld federalism, and viewed the local community as the truest expression of “the people”, not Congress. Just the same, Lincoln continued to believe in Whig democracy, the democracy in which the people voted, and yet the best rose to power on the basis of merit. Neither would embrace radical egalitarianism during the debates. Like the Democrats, Whigs believed that suffrage was a matter best left with the States.51 This distinction between personal liberty and political power was key to nineteenth century republican thought, defended by Whigs and Democrats alike, even if incomprehensible in a later century. Lincoln’s growing “higher law” idealism had not yet overcome his reticence to shed such views.
Whig democracy had always been defined by the view that property and social standing did not have to be equal for the individual to enjoy equal civil rights, a position at odds with aristocratic Federalists and egalitarian democrats alike. Initially an anti-democratic doctrine among the National Republicans and the conservative Whigs, the belief in a government of merit dressed itself in populist garb and transferred itself to Lincoln and the Republicans. Once restricted to an elite in the early Republic, the notion of government by merit and talent became for Lincoln a doctrine maintaining that any person could rise in society. Just as Douglas represented a conservative swing within the Democratic Party away from its Jeffersonian and Jacksonian roots, so did Lincoln represent a gradual moral swing away from accommodation to slavery to belief in equal opportunity during the crucial period before the 1860 election. His view still rejected political rights for free blacks or the forcible abolition of slavery within the Southern States.52
Lincoln brought his vision of liberty under Union to Presidential politics in 1860 when he ran for the highest office in the land. In spite of his assurances to the slave owners that he was not an abolitionist, he was elected to the Presidency without a single electoral vote in the South. In many respects, Lincoln was the first President entirely outside of the control of the Slave Power to arise in the United States. He was also the first sectional President, since even the Federalists had some Southern support. Indeed, even Jefferson had Northern support. Lincoln, by contrast, had no Southern support. For Southerners, this was a sign that they were increasingly isolated in a Union that was seemingly succumbing more and more to abolitionist propaganda. The only logical answer for increasingly isolated Southerners was secession. South Carolina seceded first, and then a number of States joined them before Lincoln was even inaugurated. Lincoln would face the greatest challenge of his life when he took office on March 4, 1861.
During his inaugural speech, Lincoln emphasized the insolubility of the Union. In the mind of Lincoln, the Union was already an existing reality before the Declaration of Independence itself was even written. For Lincoln, the Constitutional Union of the colonies predated American independence from the Crown.53 Calhoun and the States Rights conservatives had used the compact theory of the Constitution, maintaining that States could leave the Union at any time, to challenge the consolidated view of the Union held by Jacksonians and Whigs alike. Along with the doctrine of concurrent majority, in which minorities could nullify laws passed by majorities, the States Rights doctrine was crucial to the intellectual arsenal of Calhoun and the secessionists. Yet, the inaugural speech of Lincoln made it clear to the South that the government of the United States did not consider the emerging Confederacy a sovereign nation among nations. The South understood him clearly. One month after the inaugural, the South fired on Fort Sumter. The Civil War had begun.
The Civil War was not unusual in that nations had fought civil wars for millennia, and would continue to do so well in to modern times. As such, it should not have pushed Lincoln to embrace abolition or suffrage. Yet, the Civil War was more than simply a struggle over a political Union. Several forces would push the question of slavery to the foreground. One factor pushing slavery to the foreground was the fact that the war was a test for republican government itself. The entire question of whether self-government could survive and not fractionalize would be settled on the battlefield.54 The arguments of foreign aristocrats that democratic government must collapse in to anarchy had to be addressed by defending a strong Constitutional Union with force. Additionally, the arguments of the Southern aristocrats, that they were descendents of the Stuart aristocrats against Yankee “mud-sills” would also be settled once and for all on the battlefield, and in the hearts and minds of Americans who would be doing the fighting for one side or the other. As a war over the meaning of self-government, the Civil War would have a bearing on the question of slavery and whether slavery and self-government could co-exist under the same Constitution.
Additionally, the Southern aristocrats understood the challenge that democratic notions posed to slavery. They seceded, in part, because they had begun a train of thought developed decades before the Civil War and subsequently developed it to its logical conclusion. The notion promoted by Southern partisans that the Southern gentleman was an aristocrat,55 a descendent of the medieval Chivalry who contrasted his life and mores with that of the “mud-sill” democrats of the North, led very naturally to the belief that the South could successfully secede. One Southerner could beat ten Yankees, so the boast went. The view that the Civil War was a war between Cavaliers and Roundheads was not restricted to Southern partisans. Northern partisans rejoiced in being descendents of the Puritans on a bold crusade to challenge the Slave Power just as the Puritans challenged Charles I. For these Northerners, secession was not only a dagger in the heart of Northern Unionism. It was a threat to republican self-rule itself.
Lincoln clearly saw the lack of explicit support for democratic self-rule in the Confederate Constitution when he noted that the Confederate Provisional Constitution, for all of the claims of the secessionists that they stood in solid American libertarian tradition, did not invoke “We the People” as its foundation of sovereignty.56 Salmon Chase strongly hinted that the Confederate leaders would favor a Monarchical government that would oppress whites as well as blacks. The South did practice democracy at the local level, militia companies often electing their own officers, yet the ideology of its rulers demonstrated a strong disdain for lower class whites as well as blacks. Lincoln understood that winning the Civil War was a strike for democracy within the Confederate States. A decisive win would address the taunts of reactionary critics of self-government.
Thirdly, foreign liberals were as likely as Confederates to view the Civil War as a war over slavery, and not merely a civil war like any other. Northerners attracted European democrats to their banner, while the South also attracted Europeans to the banner of national independence. Lincoln or Jefferson Davis both sought legitimacy abroad and Lincoln often faced a skeptical audience.57 The situation was made complex by the fact that, initially, the North did not have a policy of emancipation. Failure of the North to emancipate slaves alienated progressive European opinion. In addition, the policy of suspending the Writ of Habeas Corpus that Lincoln undertook to suppress dissent, a power that the Constitution only allows to Congress,58 struck an unsympathetic nerve with European liberals. As much as Lincoln stressed to European workers that the war was a worker’s war, pointing out that their decadent aristocracies sided with the South, the fact that he not only refused to free the slaves but also suspended Constitutional rights so dear in Anglo-American jurisprudence seemed to make his words hollow.
Finally, most pressing of all, in addition to having to face challenges from dissidents at home and skeptical foreigners, Lincoln also faced Radical opposition from within Congress that would not be satisfied unless slaves were freed. Lyman Trumbull sat in the Senate while Lincoln was struggling to gain recognition from European liberals. Trumbull demonstrated a liberal commitment to civil liberties when he successfully passed a bill that rhetorically recognized that Congress alone had the power to suspend Habeas Corpus, “granting” the power to the President instead of allowing Lincoln to claim it himself.59 In addition, Trumbull also pushed through Confiscation Acts that would become the basis for freeing a number of slaves during wartime, an act that could only have curried favor with a liberal foreign audience that had remained skeptical of Northern intentions.
Trumbull expected Lincoln to act on his powers of Confiscation in order to free slaves. When Lincoln demurred, believing that property rights were not superseded by war powers, Trumbull was furious. Trumbull then joined the faction of Radical Republicans who wanted Lincoln to prosecute the war more effectively, using emancipation as a means to win the war. Their pressure, and the continued threat of foreign intervention on the side of the South, helped to push Lincoln to emancipate the slaves of all masters disloyal to the Union. The pressure of Congressional Radicals, coupled with military defeat, allowed the evolving Lincoln, whose passion about the high ideals of the Declaration of Independence could only have been frustrated by his sad recognition of the reality of slavery, to overcome his reservations about freeing slaves and pass the Emancipation Proclamation. The Radicals forced Lincoln to act on his conscience, and together they made the war what in the minds of a growing number of Northerners it had been already, a war for freedom that finally attracted European liberal support. Lincoln initially sat on the sidelines during the debates over the Thirteenth Amendment. Yet, once Trumbull had pushed the Amendment through the Senate, Lincoln began to endorse changing the Constitution itself to abolish slavery. 60
The Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment redefined the War. It also seemed to the minds of Northerners to represent a shift in Lincoln himself.61 Emancipation certainly represented a change in how Lincoln was perceived in the North. Lincoln began to genuinely accept his new image as the liberator of slaves. When Lyman Trumbull pushed the Thirteenth Amendment through the Senate, the bill that he favored having beaten the more expansive one favored by the Radicals,62 Lincoln initially stood on the sidelines. Yet, in the end, he backed the Thirteenth Amendment, a far cry from his earlier reticence about emancipation of Southern slaves.63 Lincoln then became the leader associated with freeing the slaves in the minds of the world due to the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment that was being ratified by the States. He began to change with his own image. Lincoln even began to change his position on black suffrage, quietly writing to Governor Michael Hahn of the Reconstruction government of Louisiana that certain blacks be admitted to the suffrage.64 By the time that the Civil War was over, Lincoln gave a speech in Washington D.C. recommending the franchise for some blacks.65 It would be his last speech. John Wilkes Booth heard the speech and determined that Lincoln was enough of a dangerous social radical to merit assassination.
It is difficult to imagine Lyman Trumbull, Lincoln’s long time friend and political adversary, predicting that his old political adversary Lincoln, seemingly so timid during the beginning of the Civil War over issues involving the prosecution of the war, would become a martyr for the cause of human freedom. Trumbull held to roughly the same positions as Lincoln on matters of race before the Civil War. While the war was being prosecuted, both men moved to more expansive positions, Trumbull moving faster than Lincoln, yet both began to embrace a broader conception of civil rights under law than they had held to before the war. Trumbull and Lincoln responded to the pressures of the War by broadening their notions of who was a citizen. For Lincoln, this meant an embrace of partial black suffrage. For Trumbull, it would mean an embrace of the rights of citizenship ensured at the Federal level, and a radicalism that stopped just short of embracing suffrage guarantees at the federal level.66
Lincoln would never see the career of his old friend during Congressional Reconstruction, and he might have been extremely surprised as to how radical Trumbull would become after the experiences of the Civil War. Trumbull held to a view of his own Thirteenth Amendment that allowed for Congress to confer citizenship on blacks against the wishes of State governments. The abolition of slavery meant that blacks were to become full citizens by way of Congressional statute.67 Trumbull put this idea in to practice by pushing the Civil Rights Act of 1866 through the Senate. It was vetoed by President Johnson, and then passed when Congress overrode a Presidential veto for the first time in American history. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution would be based on the Civil Rights Act passed by Lyman Trumbull, the Senator who had pushed for separation of the races less than a decade earlier.
For Lincoln, Trumbull, and much of the Civil War generation the fact that blacks had heroically shed blood on the battlefield vindicated their manhood. In response to this display of courage, Civil War Unionists formerly skeptical of black equality took the best of their political traditions and shed the worst. Their story was the story of American liberalism in its evolution from its origins in the undemocratic aristocratic Republicanism of the antebellum years to the modern view of itself as democratic and inclusive. It was a story of a movement to greater freedom that avoided the traps of ideology and party purity. Both men simply committed themselves to the extension of the guarantees of liberalism to a broader group of people. The infrastructure of Constitutional government was already in place. The Whig and the Democratic Parties were both committed to the preservation of such Constitutional government. Yet, it was left to the generation of the Civil War and Reconstruction to extend the guarantees to those who had previously been disenfranchised. Few of them would have been happy with accolades and honors. Suffice to say, however, that Lincoln, Trumbull, and with them Chase and Seward, indeed the entire generation of the Civil War and Reconstruction, would have wanted an acknowledgement of the fact that they did the job, and did it well. They responded to the Civil War by rising above their previously restricted sense of who was a citizen, extending the guarantees of liberalism to all born in America, and that the honors accorded them are the honors of lives in evolution given from a nation in evolution.
Paul M. Angle, Abraham Lincoln’s Speeches and Letters 1832-1865, (New York, NY: E.P. Dutton & Co, Inc. 1957)
Roy P. Basler, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1953)
Lerone Bennett, Jr. Forced Into Glory, (Chicago: Johnson Publishing Company. 1999)
Courtlandt Canby, Lincoln and the Civil War (New York, George Braziller, Inc. 1960)
Lawanda Cox, Lincoln and Black Freedom; A Study in Presidential Leadership (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1981)
David Herbert Donald, We Are Lincoln Men; Abraham Lincoln and His Friends (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2003)
Don E. Fehrenbacher, Abraham Lincoln Speeches and Writings 1832-1858; Speeches, Letters, and Miscellaneous Writings The Lincoln-Douglas Debates (New York, MY: The Library of America. 1989)
George Fitzhugh, Cannibals All (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1990)
Walter Fleming, Documentary History of Reconstruction, Volume I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1966)
George P. Fletcher, Our Secret Constitution; How Lincoln Redefined American Democracy (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)
Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men; The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995)
Eric Foner, Reconstruction; America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York: Harper and Row, 1988)
Michael F. Holt, Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999)
Mark M. Krug, Lyman Trumbull; Conservative Radical (New York: A.S. Barnes and Company, Inc, 1965)
Henry F. May, Enlightenment in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976)
William Lee Miller, Arguing About Slavery (New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1998)
Stephen Oates, With Malice Toward None (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1977)
Phillip Shaw Paludan, A People’s Contest (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1988)
Lewis Perry, Boats Against the Current; American Culture Between Revolution and Modernity 1820-1860 (Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press. 1993)
Ralph J. Roske His Own Counsel; The Life and Times of Lyman Trumbull (Reno, Nevada: University of Nevada Press, 1979)
Dean Sprague, Freedom under Lincoln (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965)
Charles Strozier, Lincoln’s Quest For Union (New York: Basic Books, 1963)
William R. Taylor, Cavalier and Yankee (New York, NY: George Braziller. 1961)
Thomas West, Vindicating the Founders (Ashland, Ohio: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997)
Garry Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg, (New York: Simon & Schuster. 1992)
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PARENT PAGE: History
1 Lerone Bennett, Jr. Forced Into Glory, (Chicago: Johnson Publishing Company. 1999)
1 Stephen Oates, With Malice Toward None (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1977) Abraham Lincoln symbolized reconciliation and national Unity, often a conservative image in the minds of whites, one contrasting with the supposedly vicious Radical Republicans.
2 George P. Fletcher, Our Secret Constitution; How Lincoln Redefined American Democracy (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2001) Fletcher contrasted the ante-bellum Constitution that was libertarian, individualist, and counter-majoritarian with the post-Civil War “secret Constitution” that was egalitarian, democratic, and Statist. The Civil War was the decisive break with the “aristocratic” Constitution of 1787. Lincoln was assassinated before the “secret Constitution” could be written, hence the problematic nature of the comparison between Lincoln and the Radicals who mainly operated after Lincoln was shot.
Thomas West, Vindicating the Founders (Ashland, Ohio: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997) West defended the antebellum Constitution and its Founding Fathers as enlightened men who really did desire freedom for the slaves, and a progressive society. In his mind, Lincoln and the Radicals were firmly grounded in the American tradition.
3 Lawanda Cox, Lincoln and Black Freedom; A Study in Presidential Leadership (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1981) Cox painted a very favorable view of Lincoln as a genuine believer in the freedom of all who were born on American soil. In many respects, this view overlooked the very human complexity of Lincoln, and how it is that Lincoln became heroic in the end by rising above his own racial prejudices.
4 David Herbert Donald, We Are Lincoln Men; Abraham Lincoln and His Friends (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2003) Donald shed light on the fact that much of what is “known” about Abraham Lincoln comes from questionable sources. The real Abraham Lincoln is shrouded in myth and politics.
5 Michael F. Holt, Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) Whig pragmatism was profoundly complex. However, what can be determined is that the Whig Party was reluctant to embrace any kind of radicalism, abolitionist or otherwise. This reticence split the Whig Party once slavery became an issue that could not be ignored.
6 Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men; The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995) Foner gave an excellent background to the staunchest of Radicals in antebellum Jacksonian and Whig politics. His view that Radicalism was not an imposition of Northern capitalism in the South, rather an authentic expression of American radicalism, was a welcome breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, Foner did not address the extent to which the Civil War itself shaped Republican Radicalism, moving it beyond its previous commitment to States Rights that distinguished it from most schools of abolitionism.
7 Eric Foner, Reconstruction; America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York: Harper and Row, 1988) Foner did not focus on Trumbull as much as the radical Republicans, yet he pointed out the fact that it was radical pressure that paved the way for Reconstruction.
8 Ralph J. Roske, His Own Counsel; The Life and Times of Lyman Trumbull (Reno, Nevada: University of Nevada Press, 1979), 73.
9 Roske, His Own Counsel, 78-81.
10 Mark M. Krug, Lyman Trumbull; Conservative Radical (New York: A.S. Barnes and Company, Inc, 1965), 192-200, 218-219.
Congressional Globe, March 29, 1864, (38 Congress, Section 1), 1313. The President had existing powers under the Confiscation Acts introduced by Trumbull in order to prosecute the war. “So far as I am advised…not a single slave has been set free under it.”
11 Lyman Trumbull and the Radicals were allies, yet there were key differences in their positions. Charles Sumner did not believe that an Amendment to the Constitution was necessary in order to free the slaves. For Sumner, Congress retained all legislative power over slavery, even to the point of emancipation. Congressional Globe (April 8, 1864) 38 Congress, Part 1, 1480.
Trumbull, still a conservative States Rights Jacksonian of a type, favored an Amendment. Roske, His Own Counsel, 104-108.
Trumbull won out, and the Constitution was altered abolishing slavery for all time, forever.
12 Roske, His Own Counsel, 124-125.
13 Courtlandt Canby, Lincoln and the Civil War (New York, George Braziller, Inc. 1960), 23.
14 “To the Editor of the Sangamo Journal”, New Salem. Illinois. June 13, 1836. Roy P. Basler, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1953) Volume I, 49. Running for re-election in 1836, Lincoln opined to a newspaper that those who own the country ought to run it, a conservative position extending back to the Federalists. “I go for all sharing the privileges of the government who assist in bearing its burdens. Consequently I go for admitting all whites to the right of suffrage who pay taxes or bear arms (by no means excluding females).” The only hint of any possible egalitarianism in such a statement is the notion that females ought to be enfranchised. Otherwise, Lincoln lined himself up with a position on suffrage that was actually far more conservative than anything recognizable in Jacksonian America outside of a few Eastern States.
15 Charles Strozier, Lincoln’s Quest For Union (New York: Basic Books, 1963), 34.
16 Michael F. Holt, Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 3-55.
17 Holt, Rise and Fall, 14. Similar coalitions between factions of the elite and populist movements toward the Right have been shaky in American history. They generally collapse after the defeat of the insurgent movement. The Whig Party, by contrast, lasted two full decades.
18 Henry F. May, Enlightenment in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), 254-258, 274. The Northern Federalist held a conspiratorial view of Jefferson and the French Revolution that, strangely, mirrored later fears of the Slave Power among Whigs and Republicans.
For similarities between Northern Federalism and the Whigs, see Holt, 7. Holt denies that the Whigs descended from the Federalists. However, he notes the parallel appeal of both to nationalists and those who desired national development.
19 May, Enlightenment, 313.
20 William Lee Miller, Arguing About Slavery (New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1998), 81. See also May, 249.
21 “On Slavery and Democracy”, Abraham Lincoln (Approximate Date 1858). “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.” Quoted from Don E. Fehrenbacher, Abraham Lincoln Speeches and Writings 1832-1858; Speeches, Letters, and Miscellaneous Writings The Lincoln-Douglas Debates (New York, MY: The Library of America. 1989), 484.
22 William R. Taylor, Cavalier and Yankee; The Old South and the American National Character (New York, NY: George Braziller. 1961), 278-281. Discussion of William Gilmore Simms.
George Fitzhugh, Cannibals All (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1990)
23 Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, XVI.
24 “From an Address Before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society”, Quoted from Paul M. Angle, Abraham Lincoln’s Speeches and Letters 1832-1865, (New York, NY: E.P. Dutton & Co, Inc. 1957) 122. “Again, as has already been said, the opponents of the ‘mud –still’ theory insist that there is not, of necessity, any such thing as the free hired labourer being fixed to that necessity, any such thing as the free hired labourer being fixed to that condition for life. There is no demonstration for saying this. Many independent men, in this assembly, doubtless a few years ago were hired labourers. And their case is almost if not quite the general rule.” Whig ideology emphasized middle class independence from its beginning, not aristocracy.
25 Holt, Rise and Fall, 44.
26 Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, XXI.
27 Holt, Rise and Fall, 115.
28 Holt, Rise and Fall, 800-878.
29 “Republicans are for both the man and the dollar, but in case of conflict the man before the dollar.” “Letter to Henry C. Pierce and Others”, Fehrenbacher, Speeches and Writings, Volume II, 18.
Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, Republicans distrusted large corporations, a vestige of Jacksonian as well as Whig distrust of centralized power.
30 Garry Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg, (New York: Simon & Schuster. 1992)105-107. Parker and the Transcendentalists influenced the structure of many of the greatest speeches of Abraham Lincoln.
Theodore Parker was so egalitarian in his thinking that he desired that blacks be accurately represented in accounts of the American Revolution, a view that was truly expansive for its time. See Lewis Perry, Boats Against the Current; American Culture Between Revolution and Modernity 1820-1860, (Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press. 1993), 246. By the time that Lincoln imbibed philosophy at the feet of Parker, he was beginning to transcend the narrow focus of Whiggism on economic matters. However, he remained loyal to pragmatism and did not escape from the notion that politics was about winning elections and not inner change.
31 Wills, Gettysburg, Chapter 2.
32 “I think that the authors of that notable instrument…did not mean to say that all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral development, or social capacity.” Lincoln, “Speech on Dred Scott Decision”, June 26, 1857. Fehrenbacher, Speeches and Writings, Volume I, 398. Wills notes that the mention of color as a bar to equality could not have been clearer in the context given. Wills, 100.
33 It was during this time that Lincoln put forward his famous “Spot Resolution” demanding to know the spot upon which Mexico first fired on American troops. Congressional Globe, 30th Congress. (December 22, 1847), 64.
34 Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men,113-124.
35 ibid. 120. Interestingly, Foner argued that the Jacksonians among the Free Soil movement were more radical than Seward, Weed, and other ex-Whigs. However, the radicalism of the Free Soilers largely failed to infiltrate the South.
36 Lincoln would also premise his later case against the Kansas-Nebraska Act on the precedent of the North-west Ordinance. “Speech on Kansas-Nebraska Act”, March 21, 1854. Fehrenbacher, Speeches and Writings, Volume I, 308.
37 Congressional Globe 36 Congress (December 8, 1859) Section 1, Page 60: “I agree with the sentiment of Mr. Jefferson, that two races which are marked by distinctive features cannot live peaceably together without one domineering over the other, especially when they differ in color. The free Negro population of this country is a great evil now.”
38 Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, 113.
39 The Dred Scott decision, making it impossible for States to free escaped slaves domiciled on their soil, drove Northerners further in to the anti-slavery camp. The Republicans were often racist, yet they favored “natural and civil rights” for blacks if not political rights. Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men. This was a distinction with resonance to nineteenth century thought, even though it is alien to modern “One Man, One Vote” jurisprudence.
40 Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, 106-107, 110.
41 Fourth Lincoln-Douglas Debates. Charleston, Illinois. September 18, 1858. Fehrenbach, Speeches and Writings , Volume I, 636. Lincoln: “…I am not, nor ever been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes nor in favor of qualifying them to hold office, not of intermarrying with white people…”
42 “Speech at Chicago, Illinois” July 10, 1858. Fehrenbacher, Speeches and Writings, Volume I, 456.
43 Holt, 808.
44 Andrew Johnson, the future President, made the claim that democracy and slavery were compatible, a position in line with the hopes of those outside of the Plantation class who hoped to gain entry in to it. “…our institutions, instead of being antagonistical to democracy is in perfect harmony with it.” Cox, Lincoln and Black Freedom, 148.
45 “Now I think that there is real popular sovereignty in the world. I think a definition of popular sovereignty, in the abstract, would be about this-that each man shall do precisely as he pleases with himself, and with all those things which exclusively concern him. Applied in government, this principle would be, that a general government shall do all those things which pertain to it, and all the local government shall do precisely as they please in respect to those matters which exclusively concern them.”
Speech at Cincinnati, Ohio. September 17, 1859. Cited from Fehrenbacher, Speeches and Writings, Volume II, 82. Lincoln defended the classical Madisonian position on Federalism that had always appealed to Whigs more than to Democrats.
46 Douglas argued that he “don’t care if slavery is voted up or voted down”, a notion that Lincoln could not let rest. “I should like to know if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle and making exceptions to it where will it stop. If one man says it does not mean a Negro, why not another say it does not mean some other man? If that declaration is not the truth, let us get the statute book in which we find it and tear it out! Who is so bold as to do it! If it is not true let us tear it out!” Let us tick to it then, let us stand firmly by it then.” Lincoln in Chicago, 10th of July, 1858. Quoted from Angle, Speeches and Letters, 87.
47 “The Judge has alluded to the Declaration of Independence, and insisted that Negroes are not included in that Declaration; and that it is a slander upon the framers of that institution to suppose that Negroes were meant therein; and he asks you: Is it possible to believe that Mr. Jefferson, who penned that immortal paper, could have supposed himself applying the language of that instrument to the Negro race, and yet hold a portion of that race in slavery? Would he not at once have freed them?…I believe that the entire records of the world, from the date of the Declaration of Independence up to within three years ago, may be searched in vain for one single affirmation, from one single man, that the Negro was not included in the Declaration of Independence.” Lincoln at Galesburg, Illinois, 7 October, 1858. Cited from Angle, Speeches and Letters, 110.
48 Lincoln never went as far as the abolitionists, who declared slavery to be null and void. In their minds, “on the principles of the common law, slavery is everywhere null and void. Common law operates as an abolition act whenever it comes in contact with slavery. By it, each slave is free.” Henry B. Stanton before the Massachusetts Supreme Court. Miller, Arguing About Slavery, 448.
The notion that only positive statute could define slavery was not radical. Most Constitutionalists held to that position. What made the extreme abolitionist view radical in the minds of moderates such as Lincoln was the notion that common law made slavery null and void within the Southern States, a position that Lincoln believed was dangerous to the stability of the Union.
49 “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.” Basler, Collected Works, Volume 2, 533. “Definition of Democracy.”
It is significant in that it does not define democracy as pure rule by the numbers, but by the very concept of Higher Law deemed so subversive in political discourse among slavery defenders, along with more than a few Northerners, at that time. It had origins in Whig Party political thought, yet in its application it could only have been deemed radical by both Whigs and Democrats.
50 It should be noted that Douglas was hardly a populist. He made repeated remarks about Lincoln as “grocery-clerk”, hardly remarks that would have passed muster with the older Jacksonian Democracy. Lincoln-Douglas Debate, August 21, 1858 at Ottowa, Illinois.
cited on March 31, 2004.
51 Lincoln presented a very clear distinction between legal and political rights in an interview with the New York Times on November 8, 1860. Foner, Free Soil, 294.
52 “Never forget”, Lincoln intoned to a Chicago audience in 1859, “that we have before us this whole matter of the right or wrong of slavery in this Union, though the immediate question is as to its spreading out into the new Territories.” ibid, 301. Lincoln did hope for slavery to be extinguished; yet he did not desire immediate abolition, which he considered an overreach.
Merely a few years before, Lincoln could not have stressed the profoundly moral nature of the slavery question before a public audience. Times were changing, and a social revolution was brewing that the South could not contain.
53 Lincoln held to the view that the Articles of Association formed the Union in 1774. The Union matured and continued under the Declaration of Independence, yet neither the Constitution nor the Union were the defining documents forming the Union. Inauguration Speech, March, 4, 1861. Cited from Fehrenbacher, Speeches and Writings, Volume II, 217-218.
54 Fort Sumter “presents to the whole family of man, the question, whether a constitutional republic, or a democracy-a government of the people, by the same people-can, or cannot, maintain its territorial integrity, against its own domestic foes. It presents the question, whether disconnected individuals, too few in numbers to control administration, according to organic law, in any case, can always, upon the pretences made in this case, or on any other pretences, or arbitrarily, without any pretence, break up their Government, and thus practically put an end to free government upon the earth.” Message to Congress on Independence Day, 1861. Message to Congress in Special Session, July 4, 1861. Basler, Collected Works, Volume 4, 427.
55 William R. Taylor, Cavalier and Yankee; The Old South and the American National Character, (New York: George Braziller, 1954). This book promoted the traditional view of the war as a struggle between aristocrats and Puritan Roundheads. It was also a view popular among Northerners who saw the Roundheads as heroic.
56 Message to Congress in Special Session, July 4, 1861. Basler, Collected Works, Volume 4. 439. The Confederate Constitution would later include “We, the people of the Confederate States”, a reference to the people. However, it was a sovereignty dispersed among the states and not a unified reference to the whole nation.
57 Phillip Shaw Paludan, A People’s Contest (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1988) 36-37.
In spite of the support of Marx and the socialists for the North, British workers continued to side with the South during the early years of the War. Paludan, 268.
58 Dean Sprague, Freedom under Lincoln (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965) 116-118
59 Roske, His Own Counsel, 99.
60Roske, His Own Counsel, 106-108.
Unlike Roske, Courtlandt denies that Trumbull and the Radicals changed Lincoln’s thinking. He credited the pressures of war in overcoming the objections of Lincoln. Courtlandt, 310-311. However, those same pressures were at work in the thinking of Trumbull and many formerly tepid Radicals. Trumbull was himself under pressure from Charles Sumner and those Radicals who went further than he did in terms of advocating full political equality. The pressure on Lincoln from Trumbull and the Senate Radicals, coupled with challenges on Trumbull and the Senate Radicals from Sumner and the Congressional Radicals, made abolition a pressing issue. Roske, His Own Counsel, 107.
61 Frederick Douglas was initially skeptical of Lincoln, yet the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation changed his mind. Lincoln even proposed the arming of slaves, a once radical notion to the minds of white Americans. Ronald C. White, Jr. Lincoln’s Greatest Speech (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002), 160.
62 Roske, His Own Counsel, 106. Sumner wanted political rights for blacks, a version of the Thirteenth Amendment that Trumbull knew would doom the entire Amendment to extinction.
Trumbull had pointed to slavery as the source of the rebellion, and affirmed the right of the people to alter it through Constitutional amendment. Congressional Globe, 38th Congress, Session 1 (March 28, 1864), 1313-1314
63 Roske, His Own Counsel, 108.
64 This came from a letter to James S. Wadsworth, January 1864. Basler, Collected Works, Volume 7, 102-103. Lincoln privately began to endorse black suffrage, an endorsement that would have been out of place in the world of the pragmatic Whig politics of his youth.
65 Last Public Speech. Basler, Collected Works, Volume 8, 404. Lincoln publicly backed both the Thirteenth Amendment and the franchise, immediately before his death.
66 Even as late as the debates over the Fifteenth Amendment toward the end of his career in the Senate, Trumbull only supported the Amendment reluctantly. Unlike those Radicals who were former Whigs, Trumbull still believed in States Rights. He held to the view that suffrage was a State matter even against the obvious evidence that black rights could not be ensured at the State level. Roske, 154.