CWRT flagge


Volume 23, No. 12 – December 2010


Volume 23, No. 12
Editor: Stephen L. Seftenberg
Wednesday, December 8, 2010 Assembly

MacomberThe December meeting is the annual holiday party. Our speaker will be noted author Robert Macomber. Each member is asked to bring an appetizer, salad, cheese and crackers, fruit plate or dessert. Guest are most welcome. Any raffle donations will be accepted and do not need to be Civil War related.

President's Message

Long time Round Table member James McLelland passed away on November 20, 2010. Our deepest condolences to his wife, Ruby, and his family.

The election of officers will be held at the January meeting. If you would like to serve as an officer, be on the Board, or head a committee, please submit your name in writing at the December or January meeting. The Round Table is in need of a program chairperson.

The Board has suggested that a Speaker's Fund be established in order to cover some of the expenses of outside speakers. Round Table members are encouraged to make a voluntary donation. Any amount given will be greatly appreciated so we can continue to obtain outstanding programs in the coming year. The first contribution was made immediately after the announcement at the November meeting. The Round Table thanks you for your generous support.

If you would like to present a program, please speak to me at the meeting.
Gerridine LaRovere, President

November 10, 2010 Program

LincolnSteve Seftenberg prefaced his talk, “LINCOLN’S SPEECH AT PEORIA, OCTOBER 16, 1854” by asking, “what was Abraham Lincoln’s situation in mid-1854? Lincoln had served a single term in the House of Representatives (1847-49) and had helped elect a Whig, Zachary Taylor, President, but because of his unpopular opposition to the Mexican War, had no chance to be nominated, let alone elected, to a second term. He had been denied appointment as Commissioner of the General Land Office. As Lewis E. Lehrman, author of Lincoln At Peoria – The Turning Point (2007) and the principal resource for this talk, commented, “Lincoln had been disappointed by politics, by his party, and perhaps by his own performance in Washington. He again embraced the practice of law.” Alan Nevins concluded: for the next five years Lincoln “devoted himself to self-improvement in general culture, the law, and thought by sustained study and hard desk work.”

By 1854, when he rose to the challenge of opposing the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the fruits of that discipline appeared. At this time, Lincoln paled in conventional public comparisons to Senator Stephen A. Douglas, the sponsor of the Act, with whom he had jousted for twenty years: he held no public office; his Whig Party was disintegrating; it seemed an inauspicious time to renew political activities against a national Democratic leader in a state dominated by the Democratic Party.

1854 bears some eerie resemblances to 2010: the old two-party system (Whig vs. Democrat) was being challenged by new, single cause parties: The nativist “Know-Nothing” movement opposed unchecked immigration (!) and undermined Democratic control of Illinois. Free-soil Democrats broke with the party over the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed the bipartisan Compromise of 1820, which had prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Purchase north of 36o 31'. Democrats and Whigs who opposed slavery in principal supported efforts to disband the old parties and create a combined opposition under the name of “Republicans.”

The Kansas-Nebraska Act became law on May 30, 1854. The Whig party had no national leader since Henry Clay’s death in 1852. Some Southern and conservative Northern Whigs supported Douglas’ “Popular Sovereignty,” which served to pass the poison cup of slavery from Congress to the residents of the territories on the eve of statehood. Some Whigs acknowledged that the “Peculiar Institution” of slavery was enshrined in the Constitution but opposed its spread to the entire territory.

During the summer of 1854, Lincoln worked hard for the reelection of Richard Yates, an antislavery Whig U. S. representative. Lincoln, somewhat unwillingly, also ran for the state legislature. It appears his ambivalence about running was due to the fact that he was looking ahead to the election (in the state legislature) of U. S. Senate in 1855, for which he would be ineligible if he won, but party loyalty overcame personal ambition. On August 26, 1854, Lincoln spoke for Yates in Winchester. The text of this speech, if there was one, is lost, but newspaper reports make it clear that it foreshadowed the arguments he would make against the Act in Peoria on October 16. On September 9, in Springfield, he debated John Calhoun, an Illinois Democrat who favored the Act and was a skilled debater. Lincoln also spoke in Bloomington on September 12 and in Springfield on October 3, in each instance refining his arguments.

Lehrman writes: “In these appearances, something new in Lincoln had emerged. Familiar with Lincoln the story teller, his listeners may have expected entertainment and conventional politics. Instead they got a rigorous education in American history and political philosophy.” His speeches “contained a new cogency, directness, shrewd analysis, which differed conspicuously from the broad humor and oratorical flourishes which formerly had characterized them.” [Lehrman 25]

Let’s stop for a moment and discuss Lincoln as a stump speaker. It is conventional wisdom that few heard his Gettysburg Address and that his voice at that time and place did not carry a great distance. Lincoln was sick, which weakened his voice, and the Gettysburg Address was so short that by the time people started to listen, it was over. The conventional wisdom is not true. Remember, there were no microphones or loud speakers in those days. A speaker who could not be heard would be ignored. Witnesses to Lincoln’s 1854 speeches recalled, he “had a thin high-pitched falsetto voice of much carrying power that could be heard a long distance in spite of the bustle and tumult of a crowd.” “As he proceeded with his speech, the exercise of his vocal organs altered somewhat the tone of his voice. It lost in measure its former acute and shrilling pitch and mellowed into a more harmonious and pleasant sound.” “His style was clear, terse and compact. In argument he was logical, demonstrative and fair... He spoke to move the judgment as well as the emotions of men.” [Lehrman 41-43]

DouglasOn October 3, 1854, Lincoln and Douglas both spoke at Springfield. Lincoln went first, with Douglas in the audience. Lincoln invited Douglas to correct any errors by Lincoln on the spot. Noah Brooks, a friend of Lincoln, recounts that “Douglas availed himself of this invitation to interrupt Lincoln frequently, to ask him impertinent questions, and endeavor[ed] to break him down by distracting his thought from the matter in hand. Finally, Lincoln lost patience, severely tried by these unfair tactics,” saying he would not put up with any more interruptions. A contemporary of Lincoln recalled, “Douglas himself felt he was crushed. At the close of Lincoln’s speech, he attempted a reply but he was excited, angry, loud and furious, and after a short time closed by saying he would continue his reply in the evening, but he . . . left the city without resuming his discourse.” The bottom line: “The occasion greatly equalized the relative standing of the champions... Already wary of Lincoln, Douglas worried anew.”

Lincoln’s anti-Nebraska friends had signed a written request to Lincoln “to follow Douglas until he run him into his hole or made him holler Enough.��� Note, however, that Lincoln declined to speak before abolitionist audiences. This illustrates “how difficult it was to navigate antislavery politics amid the racism of Illinois.” In the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates, Lincoln recalled that he had declined to participate in the formation of a Republican party after his Springfield speech. Lehrman writes: “Thus did Lincoln discreetly deflect the charge that he was an abolitionist.” [Lehrman 50] When he discovered that he had been appointed to the new Republican State Central Committee, he declined to attend any of its meetings. This did not stop the Douglas side from labeling him a “black republican.”

In fact, during the two weeks between the Springfield and Peoria speeches, Lincoln abandoned politicking to attend to his law practice. After all, he had a wife and children to support!

BronzeDouglas was scheduled to speak in Peoria on October 16. On September 28, 1854, 20 Peoria residents sent Lincoln a letter inviting him to make a reply. Douglas was greeted in Peoria on October 15 with a parade, cannon fire and the cheers of at least 500 people. In contrast, Lincoln “slipped into town about 2 A. M., unbeknown to anyone.”

Douglas was scheduled to speak first, around noon, and spoke for three hours. Lincoln was then to respond as long as he might wish. Douglas would then have 40 minutes to reply. They agreed to speak outdoors in front of the Greek Revival court house on Adams Street. The crowd filled the large square facing the court house. There is a magnificent statute of Lincoln on this spot.

Douglas began by complaining that he was a “martyr” expected to face anti-Nebraska speakers with inconsistent positions tailored to the regions in which they spoke. In abolitionist territory, an abolitionist speaker spoke; in areas up for grabs, a “half Whig” spoke; in Democratic areas, a disaffected Democrat spoke. At the end of three hours, the crowd cheered and called for Lincoln. “Lincoln shrewdly suggested that the tired and hungry crowd--having listened to Senator Douglas for three hours--get something to eat and return at 7 P. M. to hear his reply. Dr. Robert Boal, an anti-Nebraska activist and friend of Lincoln, recalled: “The delay gave Mr. Lincoln the advantage of a much larger night audience and an opportunity of arranging his thoughts beforehand.”

“Decades later, William H. Pierce wrote that “There was no cheering while [Lincoln] was speaking. Perfect silence prevailed. His articulation was good and his voice loud so I heard every word he said. ... His speech was full of facts and argument. He was not the humorous, story telling Lincoln sometimes pictured in the newspapers.”

Lehrman writes: “That the Springfield-Peoria speech was the turning point in Lincoln’s political life was grasped by many of Lincoln’s contemporaries.” Chicago journalist Horace White “believed that Lincoln had set forth most of the arguments at Peoria that would carry him through every contest before and after his elevation to the presidency.” A contemporary biographer, wrote: “As an argument against the spread of slavery it has no equal in the anti-slavery literature of the country.” The Peoria speech was not as fiery as the Springfield speech, but was “a model of brevity, directness, terse diction, exact and lucid historical statement, and full of logical propositions so short and so strong as to resemble mathematical axioms.”

Josiah G. Holland wrote in 1866: “Owing very materially to Mr. Lincoln’s efforts, a political revolution swept the state.” John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Lincoln’s youthful secretaries in the White House, in their biography, 40 years later, concluded, “Lincoln had hitherto been the foremost man in his congressional district. That single effort made him the leader on the new question in his State.” Nathaniel Wright Stephenson wrote: The Peoria speech was “a landmark in his career. It sums up all his long, slow development in political science [and] lays the abiding foundation of everything he thought thereafter.”

Harvard Professor David Herbert Donald wrote in 1995: “Though Lincoln’s argument was terse and powerful, his audience found little that was new. What listeners did find different and significant in Lincoln’s speech was his tone of moral outrage when he discussed the ‘monstrous injustice’ of slavery. ... With this speech Lincoln reached the bedrock of his political faith, with his assurance that all men are created equal.” Allan Nevins wrote that Lincoln struck “with deadly aim at the central point: the assumption in the Nebraska Act that no moral issue was involved in the spread of slavery.”

Some historians criticize Lincoln’s ambition and his refusal at this time to go all the way and promote abolition of slavery. Note, however, that the Constitution actually legalized slavery, something Lincoln the lawyer took note of, and that opposition to slavery where it existed in 1854 was not a very likely victory strategy in Illinois, much of whose population came from the South and shared southern attitudes toward race and slavery. “Indeed much of antislavery Illinois was anti-black. The hindsight of some historians “should not diminish Lincoln’s achievement in forging an improbably antislavery coalition in Illinois. Knowing only what Americans knew in 1854, victory of the antislavery coalition in Illinois appeared unlikely. Senator Douglas surely believed this.” [Lehrman 269-276]

We do not have texts of Lincoln’s earlier speeches, only newspaper accounts, but Lincoln spent the time after the Peoria speech to write it out. Lincoln intended the earlier speeches to be heard but he “intended the Peoria speech to be heard and to be read widely. “Lincoln submitted his text, carefully edited, for serial publication in the Illinois State Journal.” Other newspapers reprinted the text, in part or in whole, so his speech gained both state-wide and national attention.

Now to the speech itself: Lincoln begins with a history lesson: At the behest of Thomas Jefferson, Virginia made it a condition of ceding the land north of the Ohio River to the United States in 1787 that slavery would be prohibited. “Thus with the author of the Declaration of Independence, the policy of prohibiting slavery in new territory originated.” [Lehrman 291] “Now congress declares this ought never to have been [because] the sacred right of self government is grossly violated by it! ... [that is,] the “sacred right” of taking slaves to Nebraska.” In 1803, we purchased the Louisiana territory from France. Slavery already existed in what became the state of Louisiana and it joined the Union in 1812 as a slave state, “without controversy.” In 1818 or 1819 Missouri wanted to come in as a slave state, leading to controversy that threatened to break up the Union. “At length a compromise was made, in which like all compromises, both sides yielded something.” Pursuant to the Missouri Compromise of 1820, Missouri came into the Union as a slave state, but “in all the remaining part of the territory purchased [from] France, which lies north of 36 degrees and 30 minutes north latitude, slavery should never be permitted,” employing the same language as in the Ordinance of 1787. A decade later, faced with the task of creating new states as the population grew in the Louisiana Purchase, the Compromise of 1830 was silent on the subject of slavery in land south the line, but Arkansas came in as a slave state and Iowa as a free state “without controversy.” When Texas was admitted in 1845, the 36 30 line was extended through the northern part of Texas.

In 1849, Senator Douglas, speaking of the Compromise of 1820, said, “this Compromise had been canonized in the hearts of the American people, as a sacred thing which no ruthless hand would ever be reckless enough to disturb.”

In 1848, faced with the accession of territory as an outcome of the Mexican War, Senator Douglas moved the Senate to extend the 1830 line to the Pacific Ocean. Lincoln, then in the House, voted against it and blocked its passage since it would have allowed slavery south of the line. California was ready to join the Union in 1849 as a free state, but the Senate blocked its admission. A new compromise, the Compromise of 1850, was reached: the North accepted an efficient fugitive slave law and got the prohibition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia. California was admitted as a free state and New Mexico and Utah could choose to be free or slave states. The western boundary of Texas was fixed and Texas got $10 million with which to pay its old debts. Not until January 4, 1854, did Douglas retreat from his former defense of the Missouri Compromise. The Nebraska territory was split into two territories: Nebraska and Kansas. A month later the bill was “amended to declare the Missouri compromise inoperative and void.” The following map of the United States shows the results of the Act insofar as the allowable spread of slavery is concerned:


Here Lincoln speaks from the heart: “I think, and I shall try to show, that is wrong: wrong in its direct effect, letting slavery into Kansas and Missouri--and wrong in its prospective principle, allowing it to spread to every other part of the wide world, where men can be found inclined to take it.” This... covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I can not but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world--enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites--cause the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men [into] criticizing the Declaration of Independence and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.” [Lehrman, 296-297]

Lincoln then admits that he has no immediate answer to slavery. Freeing them and shipping them off to Liberia is impracticable and cruel. Freeing them and making them “politically and socially, our equal? My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not.” He favored gradual emancipation with payments to the former owners. [Lehrman, 304-306]

He then turns to the arguments supporting repeal and in logical order shoots them down. First, he shows that “the public never demanded the repeal of the Missouri Compromise.” Second, the repeal is not “intrinsically right.” Lincoln caps his argument by saying, “...there are in the United States and territories... 433,643 free blacks. At $500 per head, they are worth over two hundred millions of dollars. How comes this vast amount of property to be running about without owners? We do not see free horses or free cattle running at large. And now, why will you ask us to deny the humanity of the slave? and estimate him only as the equal of the hog?” [Lehrman 308]

Next, he rebuts Douglas’ argument raising “the sacred right of [self-] government.” “The doctrine of self-government is right--absolutely and eternally right--but it has no just application, as here attempted... When the white man governs himself and also governs another man, that is more than self-government--that is despotism... No man is good enough to govern another man, without that other’s consent. I say this is the leading principle--the sheet anchor of American republicanism. Our Declaration of Independence says: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Lincoln concludes this portion of his speech: “...the relation of masters and slaves is, pro tanto, a total violation of this principle. . . .I am not now combating the argument of necessity, arising from the fact that the blacks are already among us; but I am combating what is set up as a moral argument for allowing them to be taken where they have never yet been--arguing against the extension of a bad thing, which where it already exists, we must of necessity manage as we best can.” [Lehrman 315-16]

Lincoln then segues into the unfairness of counting a free black man living in the South as 3/5 of a white man but denying him any vote, resulting in the fact that South Carolina (274,567 white men and 384,984 slaves) and Maine (581,812 white men) are allotted the same number (6) of representatives in Congress. Since this unfairness is expressly found in the Constitution, Lincoln does not advocate “destroying, altering or disregarding the Constitution.” [Lehrman 308-13]

Finally, he denies that the Act is a “great Union-saving measure.” Here Lincoln utters his famous: “Much as I hate slavery, I would consent to the extension of it rather than see the Union dissolved, just as I would consent to any great evil to avoid a greater one. But when I go to Union saving, I must believe at least that the means I employ has some adaptation to the end. To my mind, Nebraska has no such adaptation... It is an aggravation, rather, of the only one thing which ever endangers the Union. When it came upon us, all was peace and quiet.” The only thing “out of which the slavery agitation could have been revived, except the very project of repealing the Missouri Compromise... Who is responsible for this? Is it those who resist the measure; or those who, causelessly, brought it forward and pressed it through... knowing it must and would be resisted?... its author [must know] that it would be looked upon as measure for the extension of slavery, aggravated by a gross breach of faith.” [Lehrman 314]

The balance of his speech deals with procedural issues: when and how are the inhabitants of a territory to decide whether to come into the Union free or slave? He predicts, accurately, that this ambiguity can only lead to bloodshed.

His conclusion is an effort to rouse his audience to vote in the coming election for U. S. Representatives and for the state legislators who will elect Senators in 1855: The coming election may lead the House to restore the Missouri Compromise, but the Senate may continue to block it. Despite this, the spread of slavery across the whole nation and the restoration of the slave trade foreshadowed by the repeal may only be avoided by a great wave of popular opinion against it. Note: this did not stop the Supreme Court from saying exactly this in Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857)

In a July 2009 internet review of Lehrman’s book, Chandra Manning, of Georgetown University [H-CivWar], says: “On November 7, [1854], Lincoln won election to the state legislature, but so did a comfortable majority of candidates opposed to the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, so he declined the office in order to vie for the Senate seat that would be filled by the state legislature in early 1855. He lost [in the state legislature], but the campaign season and the sentiments and ideas recorded in the Peoria speech had launched new trajectories for his, and the nation’s, political futures.”

Lehrman argues that Peoria’s “spirit and even exact phrases can be found at the center of almost every subsequent major speech, public letter and state paper” that Lincoln delivered (xviii). The book compellingly illustrates echoes of Peoria in later, more famous works, such as the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, the “House Divided” speech of 1858, and the Cooper Union Address of 1860. Lehrman also shows that specific characteristics, such as Lincoln’s distinctive speaking style, his habit of editing speeches for newspaper publication, his regard for public opinion, and his recognition of the global ramifications of U.S. politics, were also in place by the October 1854 Peoria speech. In sum, Lehrman makes a compelling case that “President-elect Lincoln would go to Washington, but he would take with him the antislavery principles first defined at Peoria” (Lehrman 215).

Steve concluded his talk by saying, “In preparing for this talk, I was puzzled by one question: why in the world did Sen. Douglas raise this incendiary issue in 1854? I found the answer in a web article by Robert McNamara:” “The man who devised the Kansas-Nebraska Act in early 1854, Senator Stephen A. Douglas, actually had a fairly practical goal in mind: the expansion of railroads. Douglas, a New Englander who had transplanted himself to Illinois, had a grand vision of railroads crossing the continent, with their hub being in Chicago, in his adopted home state. The immediate problem was that the huge wilderness to the west of Iowa and Missouri would have to be organized and brought into the Union before a railroad to California could be built. And holding everything up was the country’s perennial debate over slavery. Douglas himself was opposed to slavery, but did not have any great conviction about the issue, perhaps because he had never actually lived in a state where slavery was legal. Southerners did not want to bring in a single large state that would be free. So Douglas came up with the idea of creating two new territories, Nebraska and Kansas. And he also proposed the principle of ‘popular sovereignty,’ under which the residents of the new territories would vote on whether slavery would be legal in the territories. One problem with this proposal is that it contradicted the Missouri Compromise, which had been holding the country together for more than 30 years. And a southern senator, Archibald Dixon of Kentucky, demanded that a provision specifically repealing the Missouri Compromise be inserted into the bill Douglas proposed. Douglas gave in to the demand, though he reportedly said it would ‘raise a hell of a storm.’ He was right. The repeal of the Missouri Compromise would be seen as inflammatory by a great many people, particularly in the north.” Robert McNamara, The Kansas-Nebraska Act--How Legislation Intended as a Compromise Backfired and Led to Civil War, -

E-mail from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Preservation Trust:

"I am heartily tired of hearing about what Lee is going to do..." With this powerful retort, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant sent a nervous subordinate back to the ranks with the command to find a way to wrest the initiative away from Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. Grant's iron resolve was exactly what the Union Army of the Potomac needed that day in the Wilderness of Virginia. Two days of stumbling, savage combat in the second growth thickets of Virginia had produced enormous casualties. But unlike previous Union commanders, Grant was not about to let one battle drive him back above the Rappahannock.

In October, CWPT announced a new $1,085,000 campaign to save 49 acres at the center of the Wilderness Battlefield some of the most historic battlefield ground that we've ever had the chance to save. We are already 57% of the way to our fund raising goal. Now we need your help to close the remaining gap. Please go to our website at for more detailed information on this transaction, one of the most important we have ever attempted.

Last changed: 12/08/10

Home  About  News  Newsletters  Calendar  Memories  Links  Join