Fragment on Sectionalism

[c. July 23, 1856]


It is constantly objected to Fremont & Dayton, that they are supported by a sectional party, who, by their sectionalism, endanger the National Union. This objection, more than all others, causes men, really opposed to slavery extension, to hesitate. Practically, it is the most difficult objection we have to meet.

For this reason, I now propose to examine it, a little more carefully than I have heretofore done, or seen it done by others.

First, then, what is the question between the parties, respectively represented by Buchanan and Fremomont?

Simply this: “Shall slavery be allowed to extend into U.S. teritories, now legally free?” Buchanan says it shall; and Fremont says it shall not.

That is the naked issue, and the whole of it. Lay the respective platforms side by side; and the difference between them, will be found to amount to precisely that.

True, each party charges upon the other, designs much beyond what is involved in the issue, as stated; but as these charges can not be fully proved either way, it is probably better to reject them on both sides, and stick to the naked issue, as it is clearly made up on the record.

And now, to restate the question “Shall slavery be allowed to extend into U.S. teritories, now legally free?” I beg to know how one side of that question is more sectional than the other? Of course I expect to effect nothing with the man who makes this charge of sectionalism, without caring whether it is just or not. But of the candid, fair, man who has been puzzled with this charge, I do ask how is one side of this question, more sectional, than the other? I beg of him to consider well, and answer calmly.

If one side be as sectional as the other, nothing is gained, as to sectionalism, by changing sides; so that each must choose sides of the question on some other ground—as I should think, according, as the one side or the other, shall appear nearest right.

If he shall really think slavery ought to be extended, let him go to Buchanan; if he think it ought not let [him] go to Fremont.

But, Fremont and Dayton, are both residents of the free-states; and this fact has been vaunted, in high places, as excessive sectionalism.

While interested individuals become indignant and excited, against this manifestation of sectionalism, I am very happy to know, that the Constitution remains calm—keeps cool—upon the subject. It does say that President and Vice President shall be resident of different states; but it does not say one must live in a slave, and the other in a free state.

It has been a custom to take one from a slave, and the other from a free state; but the custom has not, at all been uniform. In 1828 Gen. Jackson and Mr. Calhoun, both from slave-states, were placed on the same ticket; and Mr. Adams and Dr. Rush both from the free-states, were pitted against them. Gen: Jackson and Mr. Calhoun were elected; and qualified and served under the election; yet the whole thing never suggested the idea of sectionalism.

In 1841, the president, Gen. Harrison, died, by which Mr. Tyler, the Vice-President, & a slave state man, became president. Mr. Mangum, another slave-state man, was placed in the Vice Presidential chair, served out the term, and no fuss about it—no sectionalism thought of.

In 1853 the present president came into office. He is a free-state man. Mr. King, the new Vice President elect, was a slave state man; but he died without entering on the duties of his office. At first, his vacancy was filled by Atchison, another slave-state man; but he soon resigned, and the place was supplied by Bright, a free-state man. So that right now, and for the year and a half last past, our president and vice-president are both actually free-state men.

But, it is said, the friends of Fremont, avow the purpose of electing him exclusively by free-state votes, and that this is unendurable sectionalism.

This statement of fact, is not exactly true. With the friends of Fremont, it is an expected necessity, but it is not an “avowed purpose,” to elect him, if at all, principally, by free state votes; but it is, with equal intensity, true that Buchanan’s friends expect to elect him, if at all, chiefly by slave-state votes.

Here, again, the sectionalism, is just as much on one side as the other.

The thing which gives most color to the charge of Sectionalism, made against those who oppose the spread of slavery into free teritory, is the fact that they can get no votes in the slave-states, while their opponents get all, or nearly so, in the slave-states, and also, a large number in the free States. To state it in another way, the Extensionists, can get votes all over the Nation, while the Restrictionists can get them only in the free states.

This being the fact, why is it so? It is not because one side of the question dividing them, is more sectional than the other; nor because of any difference in the mental or moral structure of the people North and South. It is because, in that question, the people of the South have an immediate palpable and immensely great pecuniary interest; while, with the people of the North, it is merely an abstract question of moral right, with only slight, and remote pecuniary interest added.

The slaves of the South, at a moderate estimate, are worth a thousand millions of dollars. Let it be permanently settled that this property may extend to new teritory, without restraint, and it greatly enhances, perhaps quite doubles, its value at once. This immense, palpable pecuniary interest, on the question of extending slavery, unites the Southern people, as one man. But it can not be demonstrated that the North will gain a dollar by restricting it.

Moral principle is all, or nearly all, that unites us of the North. Pity ’tis, it is so, but this is a looser bond, than pecuniary interest. Right here is the plain cause of their perfect union and our want of it. And see how it works. If a Southern man aspires to be president, they choke him down instantly, in order that the glittering prize of the presidency, may be held up, on Southern terms, to the greedy eyes of Northern ambition. With this they tempt us, and break in upon us.

The democratic party, in 1844, elected a Southern president. Since then, they have neither had a Southern candidate for election, or nomination. Their Conventions of 1848—1852 and 1856, have been struggles exclusively among Northern men, each vieing to outbid the other for the Southern vote—the South standing calmly by to finally cry going, going, gone, to the highest bidder; and, at the same time, to make its power more distinctly seen, and thereby to secure a still higher bid at the next succeeding struggle.

“Actions speak louder than words” is the maxim; and, if true, the South now distinctly says to the North “Give us the measures, and you take the men

The total withdrawal of Southern aspirants, for the presidency, multiplies the number of Northern ones. These last, in competing with each other, commit themselves to the utmost verge that, through their own greediness, they have the least hope their Northern supporters will bear. Having got committed, in a race of competetion, necessity drives them into union to sustain themselves. Each, at first secures all he can, on personal attachments to him, and through hopes resting on him personally. Next, they unite with one another, and with the perfectly banded South, to make the offensive position they have got into, “a party measure.” This done, large additional numbers are secured.

When the repeal of the Missouri compromise was first proposed, at the North there was litterally “nobody” in favor of it. In February 1854 our Legislature met in call, or extra, session. From them Douglas sought an indorsement of his then pending measure of Repeal. In our Legislature were about 70 democrats to 30 whigs. The former held a caucus, in which it was resolved to give Douglas the desired indorsement. Some of the members of that caucus bolted—would not stand it—and they now divulge the secrets. They say that the caucus fairly confessed that the Repeal was wrong; and they placed their determination to indorse it, solely on the ground that it was necessary to sustain Douglas. Here we have the direct evidence of how the Nebraska-bill obtained it’s strength in Illinois. It was given, not in a sense of right, but in the teeth of a sense of wrong, to sustain Douglas. So Illinois was divided. So New England, for Pierce; Michigan for Cass, Pensylvania for Buchan[an], and all for the Democratic party.

And when, by such means, they have got a large portion of the Northern people into a position contrary to their own honest impulses, and sense of right; they have the impudence to turn upon those who do stand firm, and call them sectional.

Were it not too serious a matter, this cool impudence would be laughable, to say the least.

Recurring to the question “Shall slavery be allowed to extend into U.S. teritory now legally free?[”]

This is a sectional question—that is to say, it is a question, in its nature calculated to divide the American people geographically. Who is to blame for that? who can help it? Either side can help it; but how? Simply by yielding to the other side. There is no other way. In the whole range of possibility, there is no other way. Then, which side shall yield? To this again, there can be but one answer—the side which is in the wrong. True, we differ, as to which side is wrong; and we boldly say, let all who really think slavery ought to spread into free teritory, openly go over against us. There is where they rightfully belong.

But why should any go, who really think slavery ought not to spread? Do they really think the right ought to yield to the wrong? Are they afraid to stand by the right? Do they fear that the constitution is too weak to sustain them in the right? Do they really think that by right surrendering to wrong, the hopes of our constitution, our Union, and our liberties, can possibly be bettered?

To Joseph Gillespie


Dear Gillespie:                        Springfield, July 13. 1849.

Mr. Edwards is unquestionably offended with me, in connection with the matter of the General Land-Office. He wrote a letter against me, which was filed at the Department. The better part of one’s life consists of his friendships; and, of these, mine with Mr. Edwards was one of the most cherished. I have not been false to it. At a word, I could I [sic] have had the office any time before the Department was committed to Mr. Butterfield—at least Mr. Ewing & the President say as much. That word I forebore to speak, partly for other reasons, but chiefly for Mr. Edwards’ sake. Losing the office that he might gain it, I was always for; but to lose his friendship by the effort for him, would oppress me very much, were I not sustained by the utmost consciousness of rectitude. I first determined to be an applicant, unconditionally, on the 2nd. of June; and I did so then upon being informed by a Telegraphic despach, that the question was narrowed down to Mr. B. and myself, and that the Cabinet had postponed the appointment three weeks for my benefit. Not doubting, that Mr. Edwards was wholly out of the question, I nevertheless would not then have become an applicant, had I supposed he would thereby be brought to suspect me of treachery to him. Two or three days afterwards a conversation with Levi Davis convinced me Mr. E. was dissatisfied; but I was then too far in to get out. His own letter, written on the 25th. of April, after I had fully informed him of all that had passed up to within a few days of that time, gave assurance I had that entire confidence from him, which I felt my uniform and strong friendship for him entitled me to. Among other things it says “whatever course your judgment may dictate as proper to be pursued, shall never be excepted to by me.” I also had had a letter from Washington, saying Chambers of the Republican had brought a rumor then that, Mr. E. had declined in my favor, which rumor I judged came from Mr. E. himself, as I had not then breathed of his letter, to any living creature.

In saying I had never before the 2nd. of June determined to be an applicant, unconditionally, I mean to admit that before then, I had said substantially I would take the office rather than it should be lost to the state, or given to one in the state whom the whigs did not want; but I aver that in every instance in which I spoke of myself, I intended to keep, and now believe I did keep, Mr. E. ahead of myself. Mr. Edwards’ first suspicion was that I had allowed Baker to over-reach me, as his friend, in behalf of Don: Morrison. I knew this was a mistake; and the result has proved it. I understand his view now is, that if I had gone to open war with Baker I could have ridden him down, and had the thing all my own way. I believe no such thing. With Baker & some strong men from the Military tract, & elsewhere for Morrison; and we and some strong men from the Wabash & elsewhere for Mr. E, it was not possible for either to succeed. I believed this in March, and I know it now. The only thing which gave either any chance was the very thing Baker & I proposed—an adjustment with themselves.

You may wish to know how Butterfield finally beat me. I can not tell you particulars now, but will, when I see you. In the mean time let it be understood I am not greatly dissatisfied. I wish the office had been so bestowed as to encourage our friends in future contests, and I regret exceedingly Mr. Edwards’ feelings towards me. These two things away, I should have no regrets—at least I think I would not.

Write me soon.

Your friend, as ever


To Joseph Gillespie


Dear Gillespie:                    Springfield, Ills, July 13th. 1849

Your letter of the 9th. of June in which you manifest some apprehension that your writing directly to Gen: Taylor had been regarded as improper, was received by me at Washington. I feel I owe you an apology for not answering it sooner. You committed no error in writing directly to the President; half the letters, or nearly so, on the subject of appointments, are so addressed. The President assorts them, and sends them to the Departments to which they belong respectively. Whether he reads them first, or only so far as to ascertain what subject they are on, I have not learned.

Mr. Edwards is angry with me; and, in which, he is wronging me very much. He wrote a letter against me & in favor of Butterfield, which was filed in the Department. Ever since I discovered this, I have had a conflict of feeling, whether to write him or not; and, so far, I have remained silent. If he knew of your letters to me of the 9th. of May, and to the President of the 23rd. I suspect he would be angry with you too. Both those letters would help defend me with him; but I will not hazzard your interest by letting him know of them. To avoid that, I write you a separate letter which I wish you would show him when it may be convenient.

You will please accept my sincere thanks for the very flattering terms in which you speak of me in your letter to the President. I withdrew the papers on file in my behalf, by which means your letter is now in my possession.

Yours as ever


To James W. Grimes


Hon. J. W. Grimes                        Springfield, Ills.
My dear Sir:                            July 12, 1856

Yours of the 29th. of June was duly received. I did not answer it, because it plagued me. This morning I received another, from Judd and Peck, written by consultation with you.

Now let me tell you why I am plagued.

First I can hardly spare the time.

Secondly, I am superstitious. I have scarcely known a party, preceding an election, to call in help from the neighboring states, but they lost the state. Last fall our friends had Wade of Ohio, & others in Maine; and they lost the state. Last Spring, our adversaries had New-Hampshire full of South Carolinians, and they lost the State. And so generally. It seems to stir up more enemies than friends.

Have the enemy called in any foreign help. If they have a foreign champion there, I should have no objection to drive a nail in his track. I shall reach Chicago on the night of the 15th. to attend a little business in court. Consider the things I have suggested, and write me at Chicago. Especially write me whether Browning consents to visit you.

Your Obt. Servt.


To William H. Herndon


Dear William:                        Washington, July 10, 1848

Your letter covering the newspaper slips, was received last night. The subject of that letter is exceedingly painful to me; and I can not but think there is some mistake in your impression of the motives of the old men. I suppose I am now one of the old men—and I declare on my veracity, which I think is good with you, that nothing could afford me more satisfaction than to learn that you and others of my young friends at home, were doing battle in the contest, and endearing themselves to the people, and taking a stand far above any I have ever been able to reach, in their admiration. I can not conceive that other old men feel differently. Of course I can not demonstrate what I say; but I was young once, and I am sure I was never ungenerously thrust back. I hardly know what to say. The way for a young man to rise, is to improve himself every way he can, never suspecting that any body wishes to hinder him. Allow me to assure you, that suspicion and jealousy never did help any man in any situation. There may sometimes be ungenerous attempts to keep a young man down; and they will succeed too, if he allows his mind to be diverted from its true channel to brood over the attempted injury. Cast about, and see if this feeling has not injured every person you have ever known to fall into it.

Now, in what I have said, I am sure you will suspect nothing but sincere friendship. I would save you from a fatal error. You have been a laborious, studious young man. You are far better informed on almost all subjects than I have ever been. You can not fail in any laudable object, unless you allow your mind to be improperly directed. I have some the advantage of you in the world’s experience, merely by being older; and it is this that induces me to advise.

You still seem to be a little mistaken about the Congressional Globe and Appendix. They contain all of the speeches that are published in any way. My speech, and Dayton’s speech, which you say you got in pamphlet form, are both, word for word, in the Appendix. I repeat again all are there.

Your friend, as ever


Speech at Chicago, Illinois

1858.  Lincoln is on the campaign trail, running for the US Senate to replace Illinois incumbent senator Stephen Douglas. The speech below was transcribed live by a correspondent from the Chicago Democrat and published the next day (with Lincoln’s amendments as found in his scrapbook).  We’ll see a few more speeches like this one over the coming weeks, and starting in August: the Lincoln-Douglas debates!

See June 16.

July 10, 1858

The succeeding speech was delivered by Mr. Lincoln, on Saturday Evening, July 10, 1858, at Chicago, Illinois.

Senator Douglas was not present.

My Fellow Citizens:—On yesterday evening, upon the occasion of the reception given to Senator Douglas, I was furnished with a seat very convenient for hearing him, and was otherwise very courteously treated by him and his friends, and for which I thank him and them. During the course of his remarks my name was mentioned in such a way, as I suppose renders it at least not improper that I should make some sort of reply to him. I shall not attempt to follow him in the precise order in which he addressed the assembled multitude upon that occasion, though I shall perhaps do so in the main.


There was one question to which he asked the attention of the crowd, which I deem of somewhat less importance—at least of propriety for me to dwell upon—than the others, which he brought in near the close of his speech, and which I think it would not be entirely proper for me to omit attending to, and yet if I were not to give some attention to it now, I should probably forget it altogether. [Applause]. While I am upon this subject, allow me to say that I do not intend to indulge in that inconvenient mode sometimes adopted in public speaking, of reading from documents; but I shall depart from that rule so far as to read a little scrap from his speech, which notices this first topic of which I shall speak—that is, provided I can find it in the paper. (Examines the Press and Tribune of this morning). A voice—“Get out your specs.”

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To Schuyler Colfax


Hon: Schuyler Colfax:                    Springfield, Ills, July 6, 1859.

My dear Sir: I much regret not seeing you while you were here among us. Before learning that you were to be at Jacksonville on the 4th. I had given my word to be at another place. Besides a strong desire to make your personal acquaintance, I was anxious to speak with you on politics, a little more fully than I can well do in a letter. My main object in such conversation would be to hedge against divisions in the Republican ranks generally, and particularly for the contest of 1860. The point of danger is the temptation in different localities to “platform” for something which will be popular just there, but which, nevertheless, will be a firebrand elsewhere, and especially in a National convention. As instances, the movement against foreigners in Massachusetts; in New-Hampshire, to make obedience to the Fugitive Slave law, punishable as a crime; in Ohio, to repeal the Fugitive Slave law; and squatter sovereignty in Kansas. In these things there is explosive matter enough to blow up half a dozen national conventions, if it gets into them; and what gets very rife outside of conventions is very likely to find it’s way into them. What is desirable, if possible, is that in every local convocation of Republicans, a point should be made to avoid everything which will distract republicans elsewhere. Massachusetts republicans should have looked beyond their noses; and then they could not have failed to see that tilting against foreigners would ruin us in the whole North-West. New-Hampshire and Ohio should forbear tilting against the Fugitive Slave law in such way as [to] utterly overwhelm us in Illinois with the charge of enmity to the constitution itself. Kansas, in her confidence that she can be saved to freedom on “squatter sovereignty”—ought not to forget that to prevent the spread and nationalization of slavery is a national concern, and must be attended to by the nation. In a word, in every locality we should look beyond our noses; and at least say nothing on points where it is probable we shall disagree.

I write this for your eye only; hoping however that if you see danger as I think I do, you will do what you can to avert it. Could not suggestions be made to the leading men in the State and congressional conventions; and so avoid, to some extent at least, these apples of discord?

Yours very truly