OTD in History June 17–19, 1856, the first Republican Convention nominates John C Frémont for president

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HISTORY & POLITICAL HEADLINES

OTD in History June 17–19, 1856, the first Republican Convention nominates John C Frémont for president

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history June 17–19, 1856, the first Republican Party convention convenes at the Musical Fund Hall, Philadelphia nominating John C. Frémont (California) for president and William L. Dayton (New Jersey) for vice-president on the second ballot. The Republican Party emerged after the Whig Party crumbled over the issue of expanding slavery in the new territories in 1854 creating an anti-slavery platform. At the 1856 convention, Abraham Lincoln unsuccessfully sought the vice-presidential nomination only to lose the ballot.

The 1856 campaign had a backdrop of the violence not seen in a peacetime, with Bleeding Kansas and Bleeding Sumner, the canning of Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner after his “harlot slavery” speech by Congressman Preston S. Brooks on the Senate floor. Frémont would go to battle in the election against Democrats and eventual victors James Buchanan and John Breckenridge, and former President Millard Fillmore with Andrew Donelson on the Whig- American Party tickets. Four years, later Lincoln would be the Republican Party’s nominee for presidency succeeding to take them to the White House, however, keeping their promise the Southern states seceded from the Union, leading to the Civil War.

In 1854, Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois and President Franklin Pierce devised the Kansas-Nebraska Act to open up the territories for settlement. The act, however, repealed the Missouri compromise of 1820, which created boundaries for the entry of slave and free states from the Louisiana Purchase Territory along the Mason Dixon line, keeping a balance of one slave and one free entering the union at a time. The Compromise of 1850 moved closer opening New Mexico and Utah territories to slavery.

With the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the territories would decide if they want to enter the union as free or slave states advocating the right of popular sovereignty. The act said, “When admitted as a state or states, the said territory, or any portion of the same, shall be received into the Union, with or without slavery, as their constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission.” The Whig Party could not coalesce on the issue, with the Southern Whigs supporting the act and the Northern Whigs opposing the act.

In response, anti-slavery Whigs had a number of meetings in the mid-western states to protest the Kansas-Nebraska Act. On February 28, 1854, they decided to organize a new political party, which would unite in opposing the expansion of slavery. On March 20, 1854, the alliance of Conscience Whigs, Free-Soilers, and Anti-Slavery Democrats met in Ripon, Wisconsin, met and formed the Republican Party. On July 6, at a meeting Jackson, Michigan, the Republican Party formally launched. In February 1855, the Baltimore Republicans met resolving, “There should be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except for the punishment of crime, in any of the Territories of the United States.”

The chairmen opened the first Republican nominating convention telling the delegates, “You are here today to give a direction to a movement which is to decide whether the people of the United States are to be hereafter and forever chained to the present national policy of the extension of slavery.” The first Republican convention featured 600 delegates primarily representing the Northern and Border States (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, and District of Columbia). The convention treated the Kansas territory as a full state with full voting privileges.

When Salmon P. Chase of Ohio and William H. Seward of New York withdrew their names prior to the vote, explorer and former California Senator John C. Frémont became the front-runner for the presidential nomination, securing it on the second ballot. Lincoln tried for the Vice Presidential candidacy against William L. Dayton, a former senator from New Jersey, who opposed the Compromise of 1850, who ended up capturing the nomination; Lincoln was second place in the voting.

Bleeding Kansas, the violence between free soil and slave supporting settlers in Kansas was a major campaign issue. The Republican’s first party platform advocated “Congress to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism — Polygamy and Slavery.” They wanted to repeal of Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Fugitive Slave Act, and abolish slavery in the District of Columbia

The party demanded the immediate admission of Kansas into the Union as a free state, opposed the extension of slavery into the territories. The Republicans used the campaign slogans, “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Speech, Free Men, and Frémont,” and “Fremont and Freedom, Principles NOT Party.”

Republicans faced a disadvantage with donations and only appearing on the ballot of four border-states and not at all in the deep Southern slave states. Democrats charged them as “Black Republicans,” and threatened to secede from the Union if they are elected. Robert Toombs expressed, “The election of Fremont would be the end of the Union, and ought to be.” Governor Henry Wise of Virginia declared privately, “If Frémont is elected there will be a revolution,” and publicly prepared the militia. (McPherson, 159)

Historian James M. McPherson in his epic on the Civil War “Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era” wrote, “The campaign generated a fervor unprecedented in American politics…. The turnout of eligible voters in the North was an extraordinary 83 percent… While this passion mobilized a large Republican vote, it deepened the foreboding that drove many ex-Whigs to vote for Buchanan or Fillmore.” (McPherson, 159–161) Fremont would win 11 out of the 16 Northern states in the November election.

Fremont’s trailblazing campaign in the middle of an increasingly divided nation would set the stage for Lincoln’s successful Republican run in 1860. As John Bicknell in his book “Lincoln’s Pathfinder: John C. Frémont and the Violent Election of 1856” argues, “But in 1856, the Pathfinder who had made his fame following in the footsteps of others would, after all, blaze a trail. His campaign unique in the annals of politics to that time showed the way to victory for another candidate, a man less reticent personally and more prepared temperamentally for the rigorous challenge of a national crisis. Where John C. Frémont led, Abraham Lincoln would follow.” In 1860, however, all the Democrats threats about secession with a Republican president would come to fruition. In no time, Southern state by state seceded, forming the Confederate States of America and launching the country to a Civil War that for once and for all solved the slavery question.

SOURCES & READ MORE

Bicknell, John. Lincoln’s Pathfinder: John C. Fremont and the Violent Election of 1856. Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, 2017.

Boller, Paul F. Presidential Campaigns: From George Washington to George W. Bush. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2004.

Gienapp, William E. The Origins of the Republican Party, 1852–1856. New York [etc.: Oxford University Press, 1987.

McPherson, James M, and David M. Kennedy. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2003.

Schlesinger, Arthur M., Fred L. Israel, and Gil Troy. History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008, 3-Volume Set. New York: Infobase Pub, 2011.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

Advertisements

OTD in History… June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln delivered his House Divided Speech on slavery

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HISTORY & POLITICAL HEADLINES

OTD in History… June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln delivered his House Divided Speech on slavery

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln accepted the Illinois state Republican nomination for Senator, where he delivered his “House Divided” speech, about the future of slavery in which he declared, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Lincoln would be facing off against Democrat Stephen A. Douglas in the election. Lincoln worked on the speech for weeks, memorized it, and delivered his half-hour message to the Republican State Convention in Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln used the gospels “a house divided” theme to emphasize the breaking point that slavery was sending the country.

Lincoln believed that Douglas’ 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, allowing the territories to decide whether they would be slave or free and the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision protecting Southern slave owners bringing their slaves in Free states, as pushing that slavery would be accepted throughout the nation. Lincoln would lose against Douglas in round one but would go on to win the presidency in 1860. His House Divided speech’s doomsday view did not foreshadow, however, that in two years slavery would not expand but the slave states succeed pushing the nation to Civil War, with the Union on the line.

Lincoln faced a tough battle to win, at that point the state legislature voted for Senators, and the public only voted for their legislators. Republicans were also grateful to Douglas, while Republican journalist Horace Greeley advocated in his New York Tribune that Republicans vote for Douglas rather than Lincoln. The Republican platform at their convention “rebuffed” Douglas as historian Eric Foner noted in his book The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery; instead, “It called for barring slavery from all the territories and denounced the Dred Scott decision and the entire idea of the ‘extra-territorial operation’ of slave law.” (Foner, 99)

The “House Divided” speech is considered one of Lincoln’s best and most historically memorable along with the Gettysburg and his second inaugural addresses. He was warning the Republicans against compliance regarding the expansion of slavery, arguing the status quo could not “stand,” and that the government had the power to end slavery. Lincoln’s most notable part of his speech quoted the biblical “house divided,” notably in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. Lincoln, however, was not the first American politician to use the line to describe the danger slavery posed to the Union, Texas Senator Sam Houston used a similar line “A nation divided against itself cannot stand,” when debating the Compromise of 1850 regarding slavery in the newly acquired territories during the Mexican-American War.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the states, old as well as new — North as well as South. Have we no tendency to the latter condition? Let any one who doubts, carefully contemplate that now almost complete legal combination — piece of machinery so to speak — compounded of the Nebraska doctrine, and the Dred Scott decision.”

Lincoln divided his speech into three parts. The first was the “House Divided” introduction on the meaning of Republicanism in opposition to slavery and its expansion. The second section was the proslavery conspiracy facilitated by the courts and government but mostly his opponent Douglas. The third and last section was the “living dog” one, where Lincoln refuted that Douglas was an antislavery leader because he opposed and voted with Republicans against the Lecompton Constitution that would have made Kansas a slave state.

Lincoln argued that all three branches of government were pushing back the divisions between slave and free states that have been instituted since the American Revolution and that the compromises that have kept the country balanced were destroyed by Douglas’ act. While the Supreme Court was invading in the Free State’s laws outlawing slavery, Lincoln believed that popular sovereignty and the Dred Scott decision would allow slavery to expand. As historian Don E. Fehrenbacher indicated in his book, Prelude to Greatness: Lincoln in the 1850’s, Lincoln regarded the territorial problem as just the point of contact in a larger and more fundamental mental struggle.” (Fehrenbacher, 78) The larger picture was not just how slavery was dealt with in new territories and states, but as Lincoln later said in a March 1, 1859 speech, “this whole matter of right or wrong of slavery in the Union.” (Fehrenbacher, 78)

In the second section, Lincoln looked at the two events, the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott decision as a conspiracy to expand slavery; although they did not come to fruition in the spring of 1858, they seemed a possibility. Lincoln blamed Douglas, Presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, and Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney as conspiring together. While historian David H. Donald indicates in his book Lincoln, the second section was “designed to show that Douglas was part of a dangerous plot to nationalize slavery.” (Donald, 207)

As Fehrenbacher analyzes Lincoln was “exercising the politician’s privilege of overstating his case.” Fehrenbacher believes that Lincoln agreed his assertion could not be proved; however, “popular sovereignty” made the “nationalization of slavery” a possibility. Donald, however, argues, “Lincoln probably genuinely believed in this alleged proslavery conspiracy among Northern Democratic leaders because he so totally distrusted Douglas…. But his charge of conspiracy was not based on fact.” (Donald, 208) Foner indicated that the conspiracy “had become standard fare among Republican circles.” (Foner, 101) To Fehrenbacher there is a distinct connection between the house divided passage and the conspiracy in Lincoln’s address, “Just as the first step towards the ultimate extinction of slavery was the thwarting of efforts to extend it, so the first step towards nationalization of slavery was the blunting the moral opposition to it.” (81)

Lincoln argued that the country could go either way, but a vote for Douglas because of his advocacy of popular sovereignty would push the country towards morally accepting slavery. As Lincoln pointed out, “Auxiliary to all this, and working hand in hand with it, the Nebraska doctrine, or what is left of it, is to educate and mould public opinion, at least Northern public opinion, to not care whether slavery is voted down or voted up.” Lincoln would continue to use the image as Douglas complicit in the “proslavery conspiracy” as he ran for president against him in 1859 and 1860.

In the third section of his speech, where he claimed, “a living dog is better than a dead lion.” Lincoln warned Republicans against viewing Douglas as an anti-Slavery leader, telling them, “Clearly, he is not now with us — he does not pretend to be — he does not promise to ever be. Our cause, then, must be intrusted to, and conducted by its own undoubted friends — those whose hands are free, whose hearts are in the work — who do care for the result.”

Fehrenbacher argues the “immediate purpose” of the “House Divided” Speech was “A matter of practical politics it was an attempt to minimize the significance and impact of Douglas’s anti-Lecompton heroics and to demonstrate the folly of diluting Republican convictions with the watery futility of popular sovereignty-in short to vindicate the nomination of the Republican candidate for the Senate in Illinois.” (Fehrenbacher, 83) Donald seemed to have concurred that Douglas was the enemy, concluding, “Thus the three sections of Lincoln’s house-divided speech had the inevitability of a syllogism: the tendency to nationalize slavery had to be defeated, Stephen A. Douglas powerfully contributed to that tendency. Therefore, Stephen A. Douglas had to be defeated.” (Donald, 209) Foner agreed but focuses just on slavery, writing, “Lincoln’s point in the House Divided Speech was not the imminence of civil war but that Illinois voters, and all Americans, must choose between supporting and opposing slavery.” (Foner, 100)

The speech made Lincoln appear as a “radical,” to both his party and to Douglas, who used it against Lincoln, accusing him of being a fanatic that would advocate racial equality. The two candidates would go on to debate three times during the campaign known as Lincoln-Douglas Debates. In the end, the Democratic majority in the state legislature worked in Douglas’s favor garnering him 54 to 46 votes, however, Lincoln would use his speech and campaign to launch himself on the national stage. In 1860, he would beat Douglas this time in the presidential campaign. Lincoln’s foreshadowing would come to fruition, just not as he argued it would. The nation, the “house divided against itself cannot stand,” and did not as the Southern slave states seceded from the Union upon Lincoln’s election, launching the country into a civil war that finally put an end to the slavery question, with the country entirely free of slavery.

SOURCES

Donald, David H. Lincoln. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Fehrenbacher, Don E. Prelude to Greatness: Lincoln in the 1850’s. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1962.

Foner, Eric. The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012.

Lincoln, Abraham, Henry L. Gates, and Donald Yacovone. Lincoln on Race & Slavery. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

House Divided Speech

Springfield, Illinois, June 16, 1858


Even Lincoln’s friends regarded the speech as too radical for the occasion. His law partner, William H. Herndon, considered Lincoln as morally courageous but politically incorrect. Lincoln read the speech to him before delivering it, referring to the “house divided” language this way: “The proposition is indisputably true … and I will deliver it as written. I want to use some universally known figure, expressed in simple language as universally known, that it may strike home to the minds of men in order to rouse them to the peril of the times.”
On June 16, 1858 more than 1,000 delegates met in the Springfield, Illinois, statehouse for the Republican State Convention. At 5:00 p.m. they chose Abraham Lincoln as their candidate for the U.S. Senate, running against Democrat Stephen A. Douglas. At 8:00 p.m. Lincoln delivered this address to his Republican colleagues in the Hall of Representatives. The title reflects part of the speech’s introduction, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” a concept familiar to Lincoln’s audience as a statement by Jesus recorded in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke).

The speech created many repercussions, giving Lincoln’s political opponent fresh ammunition. Herndon remarked, “when I saw Senator Douglas making such headway against Mr. Lincoln’s house divided speech I was nettled & irritable, and said to Mr. Lincoln one day this — ‘Mr. Lincoln — why in the world do you not say to Mr. Douglas, when he is making capitol out of your speech, — ‘Douglas why whine and complain to me because of that speech. I am not the author of it. God is. Go and whine and complain to Him for its revelation, and utterance.’ Mr. Lincoln looked at me one short quizzical moment, and replied ‘I can’t.'”

Reflecting on it several years later, Herndon said the speech did awaken the people, and despite Lincoln’s defeat, he thought the speech made him President. “Through logic inductively seen,” he said, “Lincoln as a statesman, and political philosopher, announced an eternal truth — not only as broad as America, but covers the world.”

Another colleague, Leonard Swett, said the speech defeated Lincoln in the Senate campaign. In 1866 he wrote to Herndon complaining, “Nothing could have been more unfortunate or inappropriate; it was saying first the wrong thing, yet he saw it was an abstract truth, but standing by the speech would ultimately find him in the right place.”

Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention.

If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and howto do it.

We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation.

Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented.

In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

It will become all one thing or all the other.

Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.

Have we no tendency to the latter condition?

Let any one who doubts, carefully contemplate that now almost complete legal combination — piece of machineryso to speak — compounded of the Nebraska doctrine, and the Dred Scott decision. Let him consider not only whatwork the machinery is adapted to do, and how well adapted; but also, let him study the history of its construction, and trace, if he can, or rather fail, if he can, to trace the evidence of design and concert of action, among its chief architects, from the beginning.

But, so far, Congress only, had acted; and an indorsement by the people, real or apparent, was indispensable, to save the point already gained, and give chance for more.

The new year of 1854 found slavery excluded from more than half the States by State Constitutions, and from most of the national territory by congressional prohibition.

Four days later, commenced the struggle, which ended in repealing that congressional prohibition.

This opened all the national territory to slavery, and was the first point gained.

This necessity had not been overlooked; but had been provided for, as well as might be, in the notable argument of “squatter sovereignty,” otherwise called “sacred right of self government,” which latter phrase, though expressive of the only rightful basis of any government, was so perverted in this attempted use of it as to amount to just this: That if any one man, choose to enslave another, no third man shall be allowed to object.

That argument was incorporated into the Nebraska bill itself, in the language which follows: “It being the true intent and meaning of this act not to legislate slavery into any Territory or state, not to exclude it therefrom; but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States.”

Then opened the roar of loose declamation in favor of “Squatter Sovereignty,” and “Sacred right of self-government.”

“But,” said opposition members, “let us be more specific — let us amend the bill so as to expressly declare that the people of the territory may exclude slavery.” “Not we,” said the friends of the measure; and down they voted the amendment.

While the Nebraska Bill was passing through congress, a law case involving the question of a negroe’s freedom, by reason of his owner having voluntarily taken him first into a free state and then a territory covered by the congressional prohibition, and held him as a slave, for a long time in each, was passing through the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Missouri; and both Nebraska bill and law suit were brought to a decision in the same month of May, 1854. The negroe’s name was “Dred Scott,” which name now designates the decision finally made in the case.

Before the then next Presidential election, the law case came to, and was argued in, the Supreme Court of the United States; but the decision of it was deferred until after the election. Still, before the election, Senator Trumbull, on the floor of the Senate, requests the leading advocate of the Nebraska bill to state his opinionwhether the people of a territory can constitutionally exclude slavery from their limits; and the latter answers: “That is a question for the Supreme Court.”

The election came. Mr. Buchanan was elected, and the indorsement, such as it was, secured. That was the second point gained. The indorsement, however, fell short of a clear popular majority by nearly four hundred thousand votes, and so, perhaps, was not overwhelmingly reliable and satisfactory.

The outgoing President, in his last annual message, as impressively as possible, echoed back upon the people the weight and authority of the indorsement.

The Supreme Court met again; did not announce their decision, but ordered a re-argument.

The Presidential inauguration came, and still no decision of the court; but the incoming President, in his inaugural address, fervently exhorted the people to abide by the forthcoming decision, whatever might be.

Then, in a few days, came the decision.

The reputed author of the Nebraska Bill finds an early occasion to make a speech at this capital indorsing the Dred Scott Decision, and vehemently denouncing all opposition to it.

The new President, too, seizes the early occasion of the Silliman letter to indorse and strongly construe that decision, and to express his astonishment that any different view had ever been entertained.

At length a squabble springs up between the President and the author of the Nebraska Bill, on the mere question of fact, whether the Lecompton constitution was or was not, in any just sense, made by the people of Kansas; and in that squabble the latter declares that all he wants is a fair vote for the people, and that he cares not whether slavery be voted down or voted up. I do not understand his declaration that he cares not whether slavery be voted down or voted up, to be intended by him other than as an apt definition of the policy he would impress upon the public mind — the principle for which he declares he has suffered much, and is ready to suffer to the end.

And well may he cling to that principle. If he has any parental feeling, well may he cling to it. That principle, is the only shred left of his original Nebraska doctrine. Under the Dred Scott decision, “squatter sovereignty” squatted out of existence, tumbled down like temporary scaffolding — like the mould at the foundry served through one blast and fell back into loose sand — helped to carry an election, and then was kicked to the winds. His late jointstruggle with the Republicans, against the Lecompton Constitution, involves nothing of the original Nebraska doctrine. That struggle was made on a point, the right of a people to make their own constitution, upon which he and the Republicans have never differed.

The several points of the Dred Scott decision, in connection with Senator Douglas’ “care-not” policy, constitute the piece of machinery, in its present state of advancement. This was the third point gained.

\ The working points of that machinery are:

First, that no negro slave, imported as such from Africa, and no descendant of such slave can ever be a citizen of any State, in the sense of that term as used in the Constitution of the United States.

This point is made in order to deprive the negro, in every possible event, of the benefit of this provision of the United States Constitution, which declares that–

“The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States.”

Secondly, that “subject to the Constitution of the United States,” neither Congress nor a Territorial Legislaturecan exclude slavery from any United States Territory.

This point is made in order that individual men may fill up the territories with slaves, without danger of losing them as property, and thus to enhance the chances of permanency to the institution through all the future.

Thirdly, that whether the holding a negro in actual slavery in a free State, makes him free, as against the holder, the United States courts will not decide, but will leave to be decided by the courts of any slave State the negro may be forced into by the master.

This point is made, not to be pressed immediately; but, if acquiesced in for a while, and apparently indorsed by the people at an election, then to sustain the logical conclusion that what Dred Scott’s master might lawfully do with Dred Scott, in the free State of Illinois, every other master may lawfully do with any other one, or one thousand slaves, in Illinois, or in any other free State.

Auxiliary to all this, and working hand in hand with it, the Nebraska doctrine, or what is left of it, is to educate and mould public opinion, at least Northern public opinion, to not care whether slavery is voted down or voted up.

This shows exactly where we now are; and partially, also, whither we are tending.

It will throw additional light on the latter, to go back, and run the mind over the string of historical facts already stated. Several things will now appear less dark and mysterious than they did when they were transpiring. The people were to be left “perfectly free” “subject only to the Constitution.” What the Constitution had to do with it, outsiders could not then see. Plainly enough now, it was an exactly fitted niche, for the Dred Scott decision to afterward come in, and declare the perfect freedom of the people, to be just no freedom at all.

Why was the amendment, expressly declaring the right of the people to exclude slavery, voted down? Plainly enough now, the adoption of it would have spoiled the niche for the Dred Scott decision.

Why was the court decision held up? Why even a Senator’s individual opinion withheld, till after the presidential election? Plainly enough now, the speaking out then would have damaged the “perfectly free” argument upon which the election was to be carried.

Why the outgoing President’s felicitation on the indorsement? Why the delay of a reargument? Why the incoming President’s advance exhortation in favor of the decision?

These things look like the cautious patting and petting of a spirited horse, preparatory to mounting him, when it is dreaded that he may give the rider a fall.

And why the hasty after indorsements of the decision by the President and others?

We can not absolutely know that all these exact adaptations are the result of preconcert. But when we see a lot of framed timbers, different portions of which we know have been gotten out at different times and places and by different workmen — Stephen, Franklin, Roger, and James, for instance — and when we see these timbers joined together, and see they exactly make the frame of a house or a mill, all the tenons and mortices exactly fitting, and all the lengths and proportions of the different pieces exactly adapted to their respective places, and not a piece too many or too few — not omitting even scaffolding — or, if a single piece be lacking, we can see the place in the frame exactly fitted and prepared to yet bring such piece in — in such a case, we find it impossible not to believe that Stephen and Franklin and Roger and James all understood one another from the beginning, and all worked upon a common plan or draft drawn up before the first lick was struck.

It should not be overlooked that, by the Nebraska Bill, the people of a State, as well as Territory, were to be left “perfectly free” “subject only to the Constitution.

Why mention a State? They were legislating for territories, and not for or about States. Certainly the people of a State are and ought to be subject to the Constitution of the United States; but why is mention of this lugged into this merely territorial law? Why are the people of a territory and the people of a state therein lumped together, and their relation to the Constitution therein treated as being precisely the same?

While the opinion of the Court, by Chief Justice Taney, in the Dred Scott case, and the separate opinions of all the concurring Judges, expressly declare that the Constitution of the United States neither permits Congress nor a Territorial legislature to exclude slavery from any United States territory, they all omit to declare whether or not the same Constitution permits a state, or the people of a State, to exclude it.

Possibly, this is a mere omission; but who can be quite sure, if McLean or Curtis had sought to get into the opinion a declaration of unlimited power in the people of a state to exclude slavery from their limits, just as Chase and Macy sought to get such declaration, in behalf of the people of a territory, into the Nebraska bill — I ask, who can be quite sure that it would not have been voted down, in the one case, as it had been in the other.

The nearest approach to the point of declaring the power of a State over slavery, is made by Judge Nelson. He approaches it more than once, using the precise idea, and almost the language too, of the Nebraska act. On one occasion his exact language is, “except in cases where the power is restrained by the Constitution of the United States, the law of the State is supreme over the subject of slavery within its jurisdiction.”

In what cases the power of the states is so restrained by the U.S. Constitution, is left an open question, precisely as the same question, as to the restraint on the power of the territories was left open in the Nebraska act. Put thatand that together, and we have another nice little niche, which we may, ere long, see filled with another Supreme Court decision, declaring that the Constitution of the United States does not permit a state to exclude slavery from its limits.

And this may especially be expected if the doctrine of “care not whether slavery be voted down or voted up, shall gain upon the public mind sufficiently to give promise that such a decision an be maintained when made.

Such a decision is all that slavery now lacks of being alike lawful in all the States.

Welcome, or unwelcome, such decision is probably coming, and will soon be upon us, unless the power of the present political dynasty shall be met and overthrown.

We shall lie down pleasantly dreaming that the people of Missouri are on the verge of making their State free; and we shall awake to the reality, instead, that the Supreme Court has made Illinois a slave State.

To meet and overthrow the power of that dynasty, is the work now before all those who would prevent that consummation.

This is what we have to do.

But how can we best do it?

There are those who denounce us openly to their own friends, and yet whisper us softly, that Senator Douglas is the aptest instrument there is, with which to effect that object. They wish us to infer all, from the facts, that he now has a little quarrel with the present head of the dynasty; and that he has regularly voted with us, on a single point, upon which, he and we, have never differed.

They remind us that he is a great man, and that the largest of us are very small ones. Let this be granted. But “a living dog is better than a dead lion.” Judge Douglas, if not a dead lion for this work, is at least a caged and toothless one. How can he oppose the advances of slavery? He don’t care anything about it. His avowed mission is impressing the “public heart” to care nothing about it.

A leading Douglas Democratic newspaper thinks Douglas’ superior talent will be needed to resist the revival of the African slave trade.

Does Douglas believe an effort to revive that trade is approaching? He has not said so. Does he really think so? But if it is, how can he resist it? For years he has labored to prove it a sacred right of white men to take negro slaves into the new territories. Can he possibly show that it is less a sacred right to buy them where they can be bought cheapest? And, unquestionably they can be bought cheaper in Africa than in Virginia.

He has done all in his power to reduce the whole question of slavery to one of a mere right of property; and as such, how can he oppose the foreign slave trade — how can he refuse that trade in that “property” shall be “perfectly free” — unless he does it as a protection to the home production? And as the home producers will probably not ask the protection, he will be wholly without a ground of opposition.

Senator Douglas holds, we know, that a man may rightfully be wiser to-day than he was yesterday — that he may rightfully change when he finds himself wrong.

But can we, for that reason, run ahead, and infer that he will make any particular change, of which he, himself, has given no intimation? Can we safely base our action upon any such vague inference?

Now, as ever, I wish not to misrepresent Judge Douglas’ position, question his motives, or do ought that can be personally offensive to him.

Whenever, if ever, he and we can come together on principle so that our great cause may have assistance from his great ability, I hope to have interposed no adventitious obstacle.

But clearly, he is not now with us — he does not pretend to be — he does not promise to ever be.

Our cause, then, must be intrusted to, and conducted by its own undoubted friends — those whose hands are free, whose hearts are in the work — who do care for the result.

Two years ago the Republicans of the nation mustered over thirteen hundred thousand strong.

We did this under the single impulse of resistance to a common danger, with every external circumstance against us.

Of strange, discordant, and even, hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds, and formed and fought the battle through, under the constant hot fire of a disciplined, proud, and pampered enemy.

Did we brave all then to falter now? — now — when that same enemy is wavering, dissevered and belligerent?

The result is not doubtful. We shall not fail — if we stand firm, we shall not fail.

Wise councils may accelerate or mistakes delay it, but, sooner or later the victory is sure to come.

History March 9, 2017: Lincoln may be on top but presidential rankings remain controversial

HEADLINE NEWS

Headline_News

POLITICS

Lincoln may be on top but presidential rankings remain controversial

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Lincoln remains nation’s best president according to new historians poll

Credit: Whitehouse.gov

The greatest American presidents in history cemented their positions in the latest ranking of presidents by historians. On Friday, February 17, 2017, C-SPAN released their third survey ranking of American presidents entitled “Historians Survey of Presidential Leadership,” where Civil War President Abraham Lincoln again tops the poll conducted by 91 historians. C-SPAN has done the ranking three times each time after the latest president left office in 2000, 2009 and now 2017. This time Barack Obama has his first ranking in the pantheon of presidential greats, and he comes in a respectably high 12th place. Presidential rankings are often controversial whether conducted by presidential scholars or public opinion polls, with both often-generating conflicting results and not indicative of presidential history or greatness.

According to C-SPAN’s survey, the top four presidents after Lincoln are George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt. Lincoln (1861–1865), has topped the C-SPAN survey all three times. Lincoln served as president during the Civil War, was able to save the Union, put an end to slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation, but whose time was tragically cut short by an assassin’s bullet before he could implement his Reconstruction plan. Washington’s (1789–1797) high status is attributed to his being the nation’s first president and the model all presidents have strived to since.

Franklin Roosevelt (1933–45) had the longest time in office, he was the only president elected to four terms but died in months into his fourth term. Roosevelt created the modern welfare state and expanded presidential powers that no previous president had done, creating the first imperial presidency. Roosevelt’s New Deal program helped the nation recover from the great economic depression and later presided over the country and its involvement in World War II. Theodore Roosevelt (1901–1909), was the first president of the 20th century and the first modern president. Roosevelt instituted some progressive reforms while bringing the country as a major world power. Roosevelt was also the first president to win a Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for his foreign policy, brokering peace that ended the Russo-Japanese War.

The majority of the top ten presidents are from the 20th century, with only three from 18th and 19th century, with the addition of Thomas Jefferson, (1801–1809) the nation’s third president at number seven. Half of the top ten are presidents from the middle of the 20th century, serving between 1933 and 1969. Dwight Eisenhower (1953–1961) in fifth, Harry Truman (1945–1953) in sixth place, John F. Kennedy (1961–63) in eighth and Lyndon Johnson (1963–1969) in tenth. There was only one president ranked in the top ten from the later part of the century, Ronald Reagan (1981–1989). While three died in office, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Kennedy, with Lincoln and Kennedy being assassinated.

Historian Richard Norton Smith, an academic advisor for the survey, commented on this mid-twentieth century golden era in presidential history, “Five presidents from this era each rank in the top ten which tells you something about the criteria that historians tend to use. It reinforces Franklin Roosevelt’s claim to be not only the first modern president but the man who, in reinventing the office, also established the criteria by which we judge our leaders.”

On the other bottom of the ranking is the presidents usually considered the worst in history and the worst of the worst remains the same. James Buchanan (1857–1861) is again at the bottom of the list, as the president right before the Civil War, historians blame him the most for the dissolution of the Union as sectional divisions eroded and the fragile balance collapsed.

Buchanan was president while slaveholders and anti-slavery fought in bleeding Kansas over slavery in the state, where he supported the proslavery and rigged Lecompton Constitution in 1857 to resolve the issue and allow Kansas to enter as a slave state. During Buchanan’s tenure was the 1857 Supreme Court decision on Missouri slave Dred Scott that determined that slaveholders could maintain their ownership of slaves anywhere in the country invalidating Congress’ attempt since 1820 to contain the expansion of slavery. John Brown’s Harpers Ferry Raid in 1859 was the last straw; the anti-slavery Brown had previously killed “five pro-slavery Kansas settlers” now wanted to raid the “federal arsenal” at Harper’s Ferry and lead a “slave uprising.” After two days of fighting, he was captured, and later that year hung for treason.

In the second to last spot is Buchanan’s predecessor, Franklin Pierce, who signed the ill-fated Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 that led to the disintegration under Buchanan’s tenure. The act allowed for popular sovereignty, allowing the state decides whether they would have slavery or be free soil. Historian Steven E. Siry writing in John E. Findling and Frank W. Thackeray’s “Events That Changed America in the Nineteenth Century” indicated, “No other piece of legislation in American history has produced such immediate and far-reaching changes.” (p. 10)

Andrew Johnson is perpetually in the third to last spot. Johnson, a Southern Democrat from Tennessee, was Lincoln’s Vice President as part of their 1864 Union ticket; he oversaw Reconstruction after the war and subsequently was the first president ever impeached by the House of Representatives. Johnson hoped to continued Lincoln’s more lenient plan of Reconstruction, allowing the Southern rebels states back into the Union after taking a loyalty oath, a plan most Republicans in Congress opposed leading them implementing a more radical plan after the midterm election in 1866 filled with military occupations of the Southern states.

Johnson was not one to compromise and has been called “the living incarnation of stubbornness” by historians Findling and Thackeray. (p. 123) Johnson’s constant vetoes that the Republican Congress eventually overrode led them to impeach him. Congress used as grounds that Johnson violated the Tenure of Office Act for removing his Secretary of War, who supported the radical reconstruction plan. Johnson was acquitted by just one vote in the Senate, affirming the right of a president to disagree with Congress.

Despite the constants in the top and bottom of the list, the greatest interest seems to be the ranking of the latest presidents including the three that successively joined the ranking since CSPAN began their survey in 2000, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and now the most recent addition to the former presidents club Barack Obama. Clinton, who presided over the biggest economic boom of the post-war era, but he was also the second president to impeached is seeing his ranking improve since he joined the list in 2000. Clinton began in 2000 at 21st place, but has moved and remained at the 15th position in the last two editions.

Clinton’s good ranking mostly has to do with his economic record, the 1990s job boom, and balancing the budget ending his term with a surplus. Clinton failed primarily in foreign policy by not dealing with the growing terrorist threat that erupted early in his successor’s term and his personal scandals. It was Clinton’s lying to cover up his affair with a White House intern Monica Lewinsky, which started during the 1995 government shutdown that led to his impeachment mostly because of his perjury in a deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case against him. Clinton, like Johnson, was able to avoid conviction by being acquitted in the Senate’s trial.

Bush also sees his historical reputation rise, but only slightly, moving up three from 36th place to the 33rd position. Bush united the country in the aftermath of the worst terror attack on American soil in history when on September 11, 2001, radical terrorist group Al-Qaida used planes that hit the Pentagon in Washington, and the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York, killing over 3,000 Americans.

Bush’s counter attack, initiating over decade-long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, however, divided the country and mostly resulted in Bush falling out of favor with voters. The unpopular foreign wars coupled with domestic policy mistakes, including the handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the worst economic and housing collapse since the Great Depression led to Bush’s low ranking despite being a two-term president with the highest record approval rating from 2001 on record. Douglas Brinkley, a Rice University professor and C-SPAN historical advisory board member, commented, “The survey is surprisingly good news for George W. Bush, who shot up a few notches.”

After the divisiveness of Bush, Barack Obama came onto the scene, and he was elected in 2008 on a campaign pledge of hope and change. Obama success was most in domestic policy as he remained mired up for years in Bush’s wars in the Middle East before withdrawing all troops later in his presidency. Obama was able to turn the economy around with the help of his stimulus plan passed by a Democratic Congress, but it took six years for any actual recovery. Obama was the first president to succeed and provide health insurance coverage for practically all Americans with his Affordable Care Act, the program known as Obamacare.

Obama however, failed in pursuit of his other goal immigration reform, creating a legal pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants most of whom came from Latin American countries. Legislation in Congress stalled in the Senate, and Obama’s attempts at going it alone in a limited form through executive actions were struck down by the Supreme Court. Obama will be most remembered for his soaring rhetoric, advancement rights for LGBT Americans and being the first African-American president elected in American history.

Still, partisan divisions grew in the country under Obama, who despite promises to unite divided more during his tenure, where he was according to polls the polarizing president in history. His constant wars with the Republican House voted in 2010 and Senate voted in 2014 did nothing to help the partisan divide. Obama was the first black president, however, race relations deteriorated during his tenure, as police violence against Africans Americans rose.

Despite his shortcomings, in his first foray in the presidential ranking, Obama was placed in the generous position of 12th. Obama earned the third spot in the category “equal justice for all” and seventh place “moral authority,” eighth for “economic management” and tenth place for “public persuasion.” Obama’s stature among historians counters his ranking in the public opinion polls where he only ranked ninth out of the twelve postwar presidents based on his term average.

Edna Greene Medford, a Howard University professor and a member of C-SPAN’s historical advisory board thought Obama’s ranking was low, “Although 12th is a respectable overall ranking, one would have thought that former President Obama’s favorable rating when he left office would have translated into a higher ranking in this presidential survey.” Meanwhile, fellow board member Brinkley believes, “That Obama came in at number 12 his first time out is quite impressive.”

As for the survey’s methodology, the historians rated each president with a grade of “one (“not effective”) to ten (“very effective”) scale” on ten attributes, and the average represented their total overall ranking. The attributes consisted of “ten qualities of presidential leadership” which include, “Public Persuasion,” “Crisis Leadership,” “Economic Management,” “Moral Authority,” “International Relations,” “Administrative Skills,” “Relations with Congress,” “Vision/Setting An Agenda,” “Pursued Equal Justice for All,” and “Performance Within the Context of His Times.”

The CSPAN “Historians Survey of Presidential Leadership,” was overseen by an academic advisory team which included, Douglas G. Brinkley Professor of History Rice University, Edna Greene Medford, Professor of History Howard University and Richard Norton Smith, Presidential Historian, and Author. The advisory board chose the historians to participate based on those from “a database of C-SPAN’s programming.” In the end, 91 scholars, journalists or authors decided to participate. A problem with the ranking might be the caliber of historians who participated, most are liberal leaning, although there are some that participated are well known and respected, others are barely known, with some notable scholars glaringly absent.

Presidential rankings history dates back nearly 70 years and is a product of the postwar period, but has expanded greatly at the turn of the millennium. The eminent historian and professor at Harvard University Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr. conducted the first presidential ranking in 1948; Schlesinger conducted it again in 1962, with the help of 75 historians, while his son, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. did the third edition of their ranking years later in 1996. Along the way, both colleges and news media have tried their hand at conducting rankings of the presidents aided by presidential scholars.

Among them, include the Chicago Tribune in 1982, Siena College’s Research Institute made their ranking a tradition, publishing it each time after a president left office or ended a term starting in 1982, then 1990, 1994, 2002, and most recently 2010. Sienna College’s ranking often ranked the latest president although they were usually just starting or in their middle of their term, not giving a complete picture or fair ranking. The Wall Street Journal attempted for a fair and unbiased ranking in their two editions conducted in 2000 and 2005 by including an equal amount of liberal and conservative scholars.

Another attempt for balance was William J. Ridings, Jr., and Stuart B. McIver who conducted a poll with 719 scholars, politicians and celebrities between 1988 and 1996. They looked for representations from all states, female historians, and African American historians for their ranking that was published as “Rating the Presidents: A Ranking of U.S. leaders, from the Great and Honorable to the Dishonest and Incompetent.” Recent presidential rankings include, the Times of London conducted one in 2008, the United States Presidency Centre (USPC) at the University of London in 2011, while the American Political Science Association (APSA) produced one in 2015.

Most of the rankings agree that Lincoln, Washington, and Franklin Roosevelt rank in the top three while the bottom consistently includes Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and the scandal-filled Warren G. Harding (1921–23). There have been some differences when conservative scholars are included in the decision-making process.

Wall Street Journal’s polls saw successive Democratic presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson ranked lower in 18th and 17th in 2000 and 15th and 18th in 2005, with both receiving their lowest ranking of all surveys, Kennedy in 2000 and Johnson in 2005. Meanwhile, Republican President Ronald Regan saw his status improve with Conservative historians involved; Reagan had his highest showing at eighth in 2000 and sixth in 2005.

The largest partisan divide is with the ranking of George W. Bush; most rankings have near the bottom of the list like C-SPAN despite his two-terms and high poll numbers dealing with the aftermath of 9/1. Liberal scholars view him negatively as WSJ’s 2005 survey indicated ranking him 37th out of 43, while Republicans considered him in the top 10 in sixth place, both suggest that Bush’s usual low ranking may show partisan bias a major flaw in the rankings. Meanwhile, Obama might be ranking higher than he should in his first outing, because liberals consider him a hero not based on his approval ratings, or any historical perspective because he just left office.

In addition to surveys compiled from expert opinions, there have been numerous polls asking the public their view of who was the greatest president, with even more conducting partial polls looking at the recent postwar presidents. CSPAN conducted a full survey in 2000, as did ABC News, Washington College conducted one in 2005, Rasmussen in 2007 and Gallup in 2011. The results differed greatly from those of scholars, usually more recent presidents fared better either entering the top ten or higher up making the top five. John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan consistently did better, as did Bill Clinton, even the public had a more favorable regard for George W. Bush than academics.

Quinnipiac University released a partial survey of “the best and worst presidents since World War II” in January. In the top five best presidents were Reagan, Obama, Kennedy, Clinton, Eisenhower, and George W. Bush in sixth out of the twelve presidents. Of the worst, the top five were Nixon, Obama, George W. Bush, Carter and Reagan with Clinton in sixth place.

Presidential rankings have long been controversial even when they are conducted and are the opinions professional scholars, historians and political scientists. One of the largest problems is rankings in the humanities is not a science, the bias of the historians is always problematic, whether it be political as much academics are liberals or even personal based on their area of research.

Presidents and historians alike find the rankings controversial. Lincoln biographer, Harvard professor, and doyen David Herbert Donald recalled Kennedy’s negative opinion of presidential rankings when they met in 1961. Donald recounted, “No one has a right to grade a President-even poor James Buchanan-who has not sat in his chair, examined the mail and information that came across his desk, and learned why he made his decisions.”

Historian James MacGregor Burns noted the problems with ranking some presidents with major successes and failures. An example is Richard Nixon, (1969–1974) the only president ever to resign because of the Watergate scandal cover up but made significant inroads in Cold War foreign policy with a détente with the Soviet Union, and opened the door to relations with China. Lyndon Johnson is another, his record with civil and voting rights legislation, his war on poverty with his Great Society program represented highs in his presidency marred by the deepening conflict the Vietnam War, which led him not to run for a second full term. As well as Clinton, who had a scandal-filled presidency, complete with impeachment, but had tremendous approval ratings and success with the economy.

Princeton professor and presidential scholar Julian E. Zelizer, considering his influence in the profession was not one of the participants of C-SPAN’s survey, because of his disapproval of the rankings. Zelizer commented in his 2011 op-ed for CNN “What’s wrong with presidential rankings” lamenting that “rankings don’t tell us much about presidential history. The rankings are weak mechanisms for evaluating what has taken place in the White House.” Zelizer claimed presidential reputations change over time with perspective and context. While there are also problems with the criteria evaluating the presidents, assessing presidents with conflicting records as MacGregor Burns noted, and political bias.

Professor Zelizer is right, presidential; rankings are superficial and do not truly indicate historical greatness, and the complicated decisions each president was faced with at the time, as Kennedy argued to Donald. Academics would do better to recommend thorough biographies of each president for students of history and the public for them to have a more nuanced comprehension of presidential history than participating and promote rankings that are almost always rifled with bias and as Zelizer indicated just make great headlines.

Full overall rankings from CSPAN’s 2017 survey:

1. Abraham Lincoln
2. George Washington
3. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
4. Teddy Roosevelt
5. Dwight Eisenhower
6. Harry Truman
7. Thomas Jefferson
8. John F. Kennedy
9. Ronald Reagan
10. Lyndon Johnson
11. Woodrow Wilson
12. Barack Obama
13. James Monroe
14. James Polk
15. Bill Clinton
16. William McKinley
17. James Madison
18. Andrew Jackson
19. John Adams
20. George H.W. Bush
21. John Q. Adams
22. Ulysses Grant
23. Grover Cleveland
24. William Taft
25. Gerald Ford
26. Jimmy Carter
27. Calvin Coolidge
28. Richard Nixon
29. James Garfield
30. Benjamin Harrison
31. Zachary Taylor
32. Rutherford Hayes
33. George W. Bush
34. Martin Van Buren
35. Chester Arthur
36. Herbert Hoover
37. Millard Fillmore
38. William Harrison
39. John Tyler
40. Warren Harding
41. Franklin Pierce
42. Andrew Johnson
43. James Buchanan

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

Headlines News January 25, 2015: Abraham Lincoln memorabilia brings in nearly a million at Texas auction

Abraham Lincoln memorabilia brings in nearly a million at Texas auction January 25, 2015

A Dallas, Texas auction of President Abraham Lincoln memorabilia held on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015 at Heritage Auction House in Dallas has brought in over $803,000 including $25,000 just for a lock of the assassinated president’s…