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Letter to Williamson Durley (October 3, 1845)


#23 on the list of 150 Most Teachable Lincoln Documents

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“But I will not argue farther….”

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Williamson Durely
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Liberator, “The Following Extract from Certain (Falsely So Called),” November 22, 1844.

How Historians Interpret

“Along with many of his party colleagues, Lincoln blamed the outcome on New York antislavery Whigs who had voted for the Liberty Party candidate, James G. Birney, thus ensuring that Polk would carry the Empire State and, with it, the nation. (In New York, Birney received 15,814 votes, constituting 1.05% of the total; had one third of Birney’s votes gone to Clay, the Kentuckian would have won.) … Lincoln’s analysis, accurate as far as it went, was somewhat misleading. The antislavery Whigs of New York objected to Clay’s wavering on the annexation of Texas, which he had opposed in April; four months later he seemed to recant.”

Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (2 volumes, originally published by Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) Unedited Manuscript By Chapters, Lincoln Studies Center, Volume 1, Chapter 7 (PDF),  pp. 679-980

“Next, he hoped, he could bring the [Whig] party to adopt new principles.  As soon as he returned to Washington in December . . . he saw that the central issues facing the new session of Congress were those relating to slavery and its expansion.  These were not issues to which he had hitherto given much thought. He had little firsthand knowledge of slavery before he went to Washington . . . Yet he was, he said many times, ‘naturally anti-slavery,’ as his father had been . . . But he did not support any active measures to end slavery because, as the protest said, ‘the Congress of the United States has no power, under the constitution, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the different States.’ The extension of slavery was another matter.  Like many of his contemporaries, Lincoln viewed slavery as an institution that would die out if it was confined to the areas where it already existed.  Unless slavery could expand, he was convinced, it would become so unprofitable that it would be abandoned . . . Even on this issue he tried not to be doctrinaire. He did not share the fears of abolitionists that the annexation of Texas would lead to the spread, and hence the perpetuation, of slavery.”

—David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), pp. 133-134

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Springfield, October 3. 1845
Friend Durley: 
When I saw you at home, it was agreed that I should write to you and your brother Madison. Until I then saw you, I was not aware of your being what is generally called an abolitionist, or, as you call yourself, a Liberty-man; though I well knew there were many such in your county. I was glad to hear you say that you intend to attempt to bring about, at the next election in Putnam, a union of the whigs proper, and such of the liberty men, as are whigs in principle on all questions save only that of slavery. So far as I can perceive, by such union, neither party need yield any thing, on the point in difference between them. If the whig abolitionists of New York had voted with us last fall, Mr. Clay would now be president, whig principles in the ascendent, and Texas not annexed; whereas by the division, all that either had at stake in the contest, was lost. And, indeed, it was extremely probable, beforehand, that such would be the result. As I always understood, the Liberty-men deprecated the annexation of Texas extremely; and, this being so, why they should refuse to so cast their votes as to prevent it, even to me, seemed wonderful. What was their process of reasoning, I can only judge from what a single one of them told me. It was this: “We are not to do evil that good may come.” This general, proposition is doubtless correct; but did it apply? If by your votes you could have prevented the extention, &c. of slavery, would it not have been good and not evil so to have used your votes, even though it involved the casting of them for a slaveholder? By the fruit the tree is to be known. An evil tree can not bring forth good fruit. If the fruit of electing Mr. Clay would have been to prevent the extension of slavery, could the act of electing have been evil?
But I will not argue farther. I perhaps ought to say that individually I never was much interested in the Texas question. I never could see much good to come of annexation; inasmuch, as they were already a free republican people on our own model; on the other hand, I never could very clearly see how the annexation would augment the evil of slavery. It always seemed to me that slaves would be taken there in about equal numbers, with or without annexation. And if more were taken because of annexation, still there would be just so many the fewer left, where they were taken from. It is possibly true, to some extent, that with annexation, some slaves may be sent to Texas and continued in slavery, that otherwise might have been liberated. To whatever extent this may be true, I think annexation an evil. I hold it to be a paramount duty of us in the free states, due to the Union of the states, and perhaps to liberty itself (paradox though it may seem) to let the slavery of the other states alone; while, on the other hand, I hold it to be equally clear, that we should never knowingly lend ourselves directly or indirectly, to prevent that slavery from dying a natural death—to find new places for it to live in, when it can no longer exist in the old. Of course I am not now considering what would be our duty, in cases of insurrection among the slaves.
To recur to the Texas question, I understand the Liberty men to have viewed annexation as a much greater evil than I ever did; and I, would like to convince you if I could, that they could have prevented it, without violation of principle, if they had chosen.
I intend this letter for you and Madison together; and if you and he or either shall think fit to drop me a line, I shall be pleased.
Yours with respect 

Second Debate with Douglas (August 27, 1858)


#27 on the list of 150 Most Teachable Lincoln Documents

Annotated Transcript

“I now propose that I will answer any of the interrogatories, upon condition that he will answer questions from me not exceeding the same number.”

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How Historians Interpret

“An analysis of Lincoln as master politician, by political scientist William H. Riker, similarly rests on rational-philosophical explanation. Riker focuses on the Freeport question, wherein Lincoln forced Douglas to reassert the doctrine of popular sovereignty against the Dred Scott decision, as the capstone of the Republican strategy of splitting the Democratic majority, thus preparing the way for the electoral triumph of 1860. Lincoln’s strategy is the most important illustration in American history of the ‘heresthetical art,’ a term invented by Riker to describe the ability of a politician, through language, reasoning and argument, to alter the dimensions of a political situation and manipulate the outcome to achieve a desired end.  Lincoln’s question, which was recognized at the time as ‘a work of genius,’ trapped Douglas intellectually so that no matter how he answered, the response would give Lincoln and his party a future victory. According to Riker, ‘there is no more elegant example of the heresthetical device of splitting the majority, and it displays Lincoln the politician at his grandest.'”

—Herman Belz, “The ‘Philosophical Cause’ Of ‘Our Free Government and Consequent Prosperity’: The Problem of Lincoln’s Political ThoughtJournal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 10, 1988.

“Lincoln began by answering the seven interrogatories Douglas had posed at Ottawa. He did not, he said, ‘stand pledged’ to the unconditional repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act, nor to the admission of more slave states into the Union, nor to admitting new states into the Union with a constitution approved by the people, nor to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, nor to the abolition of the domestic slave trade. He did believe that Congress had a right and duty to prohibit slavery in all the territories and would oppose the admission of a new territory if it would ‘aggravate the slavery question among ourselves.’  These remarks evidently did not sit well with some antislavery auditors, who, according to Henry Villard’s report, ‘thought that by his seven answers Lincoln had repudiated the whole Republican creed.’ They ‘began to be restive, to grumble and otherwise express their displeasure in undertones.’ Villard observed that ‘these seven answers may still give Mr. Lincoln much trouble and we should not be surprised if the Republicans in Northern Illinois might label them ‘Lincoln’s seven deadly sins.’’ (Villard’s account is not entirely unbiased, for he told Douglas that he was ‘as enthusiastic & faithful a supporter of your political claims as any can be found anywhere in the State of Illinois.’ The senator hired him as a campaigner, in which capacity he delivered speeches at thirteen localities and organized Douglas clubs.)”

Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (2 volumes, originally published by Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) Unedited Manuscript By Chapters, Lincoln Studies Center, Volume 1, Chapter 13 (PDF), pp. 1390-1391 


This page is under construction and will be developed further by students in the new “Understanding Lincoln” online course sponsored by the House Divided Project at Dickinson College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. To find out more about the course and to see some of our videotaped class sessions, including virtual field trips to Ford’s Theatre and Gettysburg, please visit our Livestream page at

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Mr. Lincoln was introduced by Hon. Thomas J. Turner, and was greeted with loud cheers. When the applause had subsided, he said:


LADIES AND GENTLEMEN – On Saturday last, Judge Douglas and myself first met in public discussion. He spoke one hour, I an hour and a half, and he replied for half an hour. The order is now reversed. I am to speak an hour, he an hour and a half, and then I am to reply for half an hour. I propose to devote myself during the first hour to the scope of what was brought within the range of his half-hour speech at Ottawa. Of course there was brought within the scope in that half-hour’s speech something of his own opening speech. In the course of that opening argument Judge Douglas proposed to me seven distinct interrogatories. In my speech of an hour and a half, I attended to some other parts of his speech, and incidentally, as I thought, answered one of the interrogatories then. I then distinctly intimated to him that I would answer the rest of his interrogatories on condition only that he should agree to answer as many for me. He made no intimation at the time of the proposition, nor did he in his reply allude at all to that suggestion of mine. I do him no injustice in saying that he occupied at least half of his reply in dealing with me as though I had refused to answer his interrogatories. I now propose that I will answer any of the interrogatories, upon condition that he will answer questions from me not exceeding the same number. I give him an opportunity to respond. The Judge remains silent. I now say that I will answer his interrogatories, whether he answers mine or not; [applause] and that after I have done so, I shall propound mine to him. [Applause.]


[Owing to the press of people against the platform, our reporter did not reach the stand until Mr. Lincoln had spoken to this point. The previous remakrs were taken by a gentleman in Freeport, who has politely furnished them to us.]


I have supposed myself, since the organization of the Republican party at Bloomington, in May, 1856, bound as a party man by the platforms of the party, then and since. If in any interrogatories which I shall answer I go beyond the scope of what is within these platforms, it will be perceived that no one is responsible but myself.


Having said thus much, I will take up the Judge’s interrogatories as I find them printed in the Chicago Times, and answer them seriatim. In order that there may be no mistake about it, I have copied the interrogatories in writing, and also my answers to them. The first one of these interrogatories is in these words:


Question 1. “I desire to know whether Lincoln to-day stands, as he did in 1854, in favor of the unconditional repeal of the Fugitive Slave law?”


Answer. I do not now, nor ever did, stand in favor of the unconditional repeal of the Fugitive Slave law. [Cries of “Good,” “Good.”]


Q. 2. “I desire him to answer whether he stands pledged to-day, as he did in 1854, against the admission of any more slave States into the Union, even if the people want them?”


A. I do not now, or ever did, stand pledged against the admission of any more slave States into the Union.


Q. 3. “1 want to know whether he stands pledged against the admission of a new State into the Union with such a Constitution as the people of that State may see fit to make?”


A. I do not stand pledged against the admission of a new State into the Union, with such a Constitution as the people of that State may see fit to make. [Cries of “good,” “good.”]


Q. 4. “I want to know whether he stands to-day pledged to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia?”


A. I do not stand to-day pledged to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia.


Q. 5. “I desire him to answer whether he stands pledged to the prohibition of the slave-trade between the different States?”


A. I do not stand pledged to the prohibition of the slave-trade between the different States.


Q. 6. “I desire to know whether he stands pledged to prohibit slavery in all the Territories of the United States, North as well as South of the Missouri Compromise line?”


A. I am impliedly, if not expressly, pledged to a belief in the right and duty of Congress to prohibit slavery in all the United States Territories.


Q. 7. “I desire him to answer whether he is opposed to the acquisition of any new territory unless slavery is first prohibited therein?”


A. I am not generally opposed to honest acquisition of territory; and, in any given case, I would or would not oppose such acquisition, accordingly as I might think such acquisition would or would not agravate [sic] the slavery question among ourselves. [Cries of good, good.]


Now, my friends, it will be perceived upon an examination of these questions and answers, that so far I have only answered that I was notpledged to this, that or the other. The Judge has not framed his interrogatories to ask me anything more than this, and I have answered in strict accordance with the interrogatories, and have answered truly that I am not pledged at all upon any of the points to which I have answered. But I am not disposed to hang upon the exact form of his interrogatory. I am rather disposed to take up at least some of these questions, and state what I really think upon them.


As to the first one, in regard to the Fugitive Slave law, I have never hesitated to say, and I do not now hesitate to say, that I think, under the Constitution of the United States, the people of the Southern States are entitled to a Congressional Fugitive Slave law. Having said that, I have had nothing to say in regard to the existing Fugitive Slave law, further than that I think it should have been framed so as to be free from some of the objections that pertain to it, without lessening its efficiency. And inasmuch as we are not now in an agitation in regard to an alteration or modification of that law, I would not be the man to introduce it as a new subject of agitation upon the general question of slavery.


In regard to the other question, of whether I am pledged to the admission of any more slave States into the Union, I state to you very frankly that I would be exceedingly sorry ever to be put in a position of having to pass upon that question. I should be exceedingly glad to know that there would never be another slave State admitted into the Union; but I must add, that if slavery shall be kept out of the Territories during the territorial existence of any one given Territory, and then the people shall, having a fair chance and a clear field, when they come to adopt the Constitution, do such an extraordinary thing as to adopt a slave Constitution, uninfluenced by the actual presence of the institution among them, I see no alternative, if we own the country, but to admit them into the Union. [Applause.]


The third interrogatory is answered by the answer to the second, it being, as I conceive, the same as the second.


The fourth one is in regard to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. In relation to that, I have my mind very distinctly made up. I should be exceedingly glad to see slavery abolished in the District of Columbia. [Cries of “good, good.”] I believe that Congress possesses the constitutional power to abolish it. Yet as a member of Congress, I should not with my present views, be in favor of endeavoring to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, unless it would be upon these conditions: First, that the abolition should be gradual. Second, that it should be on a vote of the majority of qualified voters in the District; and third, that compensation should be made to unwilling owners. With these three conditions, I confess I would be exceedingly glad to see Congress abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, and, in the language of Henry Clay, “sweep from our Capital that foul blot upon our nation.” [Loud applause.]


In regard to the fifth interrogatory, I must say here, that as to the question of the abolition of the slave-trade between the different States, I can truly answer, as I have, that I am pledged to nothing about it. It is a subject to which I have not given that mature consideration that would make me feel authorized to state a position so as to hold myself entirely bound by it. In other words, that question has never been prominently enough before me to induce me to investigate whether we really have the constitutional power to do it. I could investigate it if I had sufficient time, to bring myself to a conclusion upon that subject; but I have not done so, and I say so frankly to you here, and to Judge Douglas. I must say, however, that if I should be of opinion that Congress does possess the constitutional power to abolish the slave-trade among the different States, I should still not be in favor of the exercise of that power unless upon some conservative principle as I conceive it, akin to what I have said in relation to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia.


My answer as to whether I desire that slavery should be prohibited in all the Territories of the United States, is full and explicit within itself, and cannot be made clearer by any comments of mine. So I suppose in regard to the question whether I am opposed to the acquisition of any more territory unless slavery is first prohibited therein, my answer is such that I could add nothing by way of illustration, or making myself better understood, than the answer which I have placed in writing.


Now in all this, the Judge has me, and he has me on the record. I suppose he had flattered himself that I was really entertaining one set of opinions for one place and another set for another place -that I was afraid to say at one place what I uttered at another. What I am saying here I suppose I say to a vast audience as strongly tending to Abolitionism as any audience in the State of Illinois, and I believe I am saying that which, if it would be offensive to any persons and render them enemies to myself, would be offensive to persons in this audience.


I now proceed to propound to the Judge the interrogatories, so far as I have framed them. I will bring forward a new installment when I get them ready. [Laughter.] I will bring them forward now, only reaching to number four.


The first one is:


Question 1. If the people of Kansas shall, by means entirely unobjectionable in all other respects, adopt a State Constitution, and ask admission into the Union under it, before they have the requisite number of inhabitants according to the English bill-some ninety-three thousand-will you vote to admit them? [Applause.]


Q. 2. Can the people of a United States Territory, in any lawful way, against the wish of any citizen of the United States, exclude slavery from its limits prior to the formation of a State Constitution? [Renewed applause.]


Q. 3. If the Supreme Court of the United States shall decide that States cannot exclude slavery from their limits, are you in favor of acquiescing in, adopting and following such decision as a rule of political action? [Loud applause.]


Q. 4. Are you in favor of acquiring additional territory, in disregard of how such acquisition may affect the nation on the slavery question? [Cries of “good,” “good.”]


Autobiography Written for John Scripps (June 1, 1860)

Contributing editors for this page include Lisa Staup


#48 on the list of 150 Most Teachable Lincoln Documents

Annotated Transcript

“Abraham Lincoln was born Feb. 12, 1809, then in Hardin, now in the more recently formed county of Larue, Kentucky.”

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[Editorial Note: This undated sketch has traditionally been identified as a document created sometime in early June 1860]

HD Daily Report, June 1, 1860

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How Historians Interpret

“John Locke Scripps, a senior editor of the Chicago Press and Tribune, managed to convince Lincoln to write an autobiographical account that would serve as the basis for a campaign biography. This essay of just over three thousand words would prove to be Lincoln’s longest work of autobiography. His description of his early education is typical of the essay’s unusual third-person style: ‘A. now thinks that the aggregate of all his schooling did not amount to one year. He was never in a college or Academy as a student; and never inside of a college or academy building till since he had a law-license. What he has in the way of education, he has picked up.’ Lincoln began his autobiography referring to himself as ‘A’ and progressed to ‘Mr. L.’ Remarkably brief about certain periods of his life, the essay stops in 1856 and does not include the 1858 debates with Stephen A. Douglas that first brought him to national attention. Lincoln’s sparse account tells us as much as he wanted the public to know. Scripps would recall the difficulty he encountered ‘to induce [Lincoln] to communicate the homely facts and incidents of his early life.’ Plainly uncomfortable talking about his childhood in Kentucky and Indiana, Lincoln told Scripps, ‘It is a great piece of folly to attempt to make anything out of my early life.’”

—Ronald C. White, A Lincoln: A Biography(New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2009), 7-8.

“Lincoln was ashamed not only of his family background but also of the poverty in which he grew up. When John Locke Scripps interviewed him in 1860, Lincoln expressed reluctance ‘to communicate the homely facts and incidents of his early life. He seemed to be painfully impressed with the extreme poverty of his early surroundings—the utter absence of all romantic and heroic elements,’ and even questioned the proposal to have a biography written. ‘Why Scripps,’ said Lincoln, ‘it is a great piece of folly to attempt to make anything out of my early life. It can all be condensed into a single sentence and that sentence you will find in Gray’s Elegy; ‘The short and simple annals of the poor.’ That’s my life, and that’s all you or anyone else can make of it.’”

—Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), 15-16.



This page is under construction and will be developed further by students in the new “Understanding Lincoln” online course sponsored by the House Divided Project at Dickinson College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. To find out more about the course and to see some of our videotaped class sessions, including virtual field trips to Ford’s Theatre and Gettysburg, please visit our Livestream page at


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Abraham Lincoln was born Feb. 12, 1809, then in Hardin, now in the more recently formed county of Larue, Kentucky. His father, Thomas, & grand-father, Abraham, were born in Rockingham county Virginia, whither their ancestors had come from Berks county Pennsylvania. His lineage has been traced no farther back than this. The family were originally quakers, though in later times they have fallen away from the peculiar habits of that
people. The grand-father Abraham, had four brothers—Isaac, Jacob, John & Thomas. So far as known, the descendants of Jacob and John are still in Virginia. Isaac went to a place near where Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, join; and his decendants are in that region. Thomas came to Kentucky, and after many years, died there, whence his decendants went to Missouri. Abraham, grandfather of the subject of this sketch, came to Kentucky, and was killed by indians about the year 1784. He left a widow, three sons and two daughters. The eldest son, Mordecai, remained in Kentucky till late in life, when he removed to Hancock county, Illinois, where soon after he died, and where several of his descendants still reside. The second son, Josiah, removed at an early day to a place on Blue River, now within Harrison [Hancock] county, Indiana; but no recent information of him, or his family, has been obtained. The eldest sister, Mary, married Ralph Crume and some of her descendants are now known to be in Breckenridge county Kentucky. The second sister, Nancy, married William Brumfield, and her family are not known to have left Kentucky, but there is no recent information from them. Thomas, the youngest son, and father of the present subject, by the early death of his father, and very narrow circumstances of his mother, even in childhood was a wandering laboring boy, and grew up litterally without education. He never did more in the way of writing than to bunglingly sign his own name. Before he was grown, he passed one year as a hired hand with his uncle Isaac on Wata[u]ga, a branch of the Holsteen [Holston] River. Getting back into Kentucky, and having reached his 28th. year, he married Nancy Hanks—mother of the present subject—in the year 1806. She also was born in Virginia; and relatives of hers of the name of Hanks, and of other names, now reside in Coles, in Macon, and in Adams counties, Illinois, and also in Iowa. The present subject has no brother or sister of the whole or half blood. He had a sister, older than himself, who was grown and married, but died many years ago, leaving no child. Also a brother, younger than himself, who died in infancy. Before leaving Kentucky he and his sister were sent for short periods, to A.B.C. schools, the first kept by Zachariah Riney, and the second by Caleb Hazel.
At this time his father resided on Knob-creek, on the road from Bardstown Ky. to Nashville Tenn. at a point three, or three and a half miles South or South-West of Atherton’s ferry on the Rolling Fork. From this place he removed to what is now Spencer county Indiana, in the autumn of 1816, A. then being in his eigth year. This removal was partly on account of slavery; but chiefly on account of the difficulty in land titles in Ky. He settled in an unbroken forest; and the clearing away of surplus wood was the great task a head. A. though very young, was large of his age, and had an axe put into his hands at once; and from that till within his twentythird year, he was almost constantly handling that most useful instrument—less, of course, in plowing and harvesting seasons. At this place A. took an early start as a hunter, which was never much improved afterwards. (A few days before the completion of his eigth year, in the absence of his father, a flock of wild turkeys approached the new log-cabin, and A. with a rifle gun, standing inside, shot through a crack, and killed one of them. He has never since pulled a trigger on any larger game.) In the autumn of 1818 his mother died; and a year afterwards his father married Mrs. Sally Johnston, at Elizabeth-Town, Ky—a widow, with three children of her first marriage. She proved a good and kind mother to A. and is still living in Coles Co. Illinois. There were no children of this second marriage. His father’s residence continued at the same place in Indiana, till 1830. While here A. went to A.B.C. schools by littles, kept successively by Andrew Crawford, — Sweeney, and Azel W. Dorsey. He does not remember any other. The family of Mr. Dorsey now reside in Schuyler Co. Illinois. A. now thinks that the agregate of all his schooling did not amount to one year. He was never in a college or Academy as a student; and never inside of a college or accademy building till since he had a law-license. What he has in the way of education, he has picked up. After he was twentythree, and had separated from his father, he studied English grammar, imperfectly of course, but so as to speak and write as well as he now does. He studied and nearly mastered the Six-books of Euclid, since he was a member of Congress. He regrets his want of education, and does what he can to supply the want. In his tenth year he was kicked by a horse, and apparently killed for a time. When he was nineteen, still residing in Indiana, he made his first trip upon a flat-boat to New-Orleans. He was a hired hand merely; and he and a son of the owner, without other assistance, made the trip. The nature of part of the cargo-load, as it was called—made it necessary for them to linger and trade along the Sugar coast—and one night they were attacked by seven negroes with intent to kill and rob them. They were hurt some in the melee, but succeeded in driving the negroes from the boat, and then “cut cable” “weighed anchor” and left.
March 1st. 1830—A. having just completed his 21st. year, his father and family, with the families of the two daughters and sons-in-law, of his step-mother, left the old homestead in Indiana, and came to Illinois. Their mode of conveyance was waggons drawn by ox-teams, or A. drove one of the teams. They reached the county of Macon, and stopped there some time within the same month of March. His father and family settled a new place on the North side of the Sangamon river, at the junction of the timber-land and prairie, about ten miles Westerly from Decatur. Here they built a log-cabin, into which they removed, and made sufficient of rails to fence ten acres of ground, fenced and broke the ground, and raised a crop of sow[n] corn upon it the same year. These are, or are supposed to be, the rails about which so much is being said just now, though they are far from being the first, or only rails ever made by A.
The sons-in-law, were temporarily settled at other places in the county. In the autumn all hands were greatly afflicted with augue and fever, to which they had not been used, and by which they were greatly discouraged—so much so that they determined on leaving the county. They remained however, through the succeeding winter, which was the winter of the very celebrated “deep snow” of Illinois. During that winter, A. together with his step-mother’s son, John D. Johnston, and John Hanks, yet residing in Macon county, hired themselves to one Denton Offutt, to take a flat boat from Beardstown Illinois to New-Orleans; and for that purpose, were to join him—Offut—at Springfield, Ills so soon as the snow should go off. When it did go off which was about the 1st. of March 1831—the county was so flooded, as to make traveling by land impracticable; to obviate which difficulty the[y] purchased a large canoe and came down the Sangamon river in it. This is the time and the manner of A’s first entrance into Sangamon County. They found Offutt at Springfield, but learned from him that he had failed in getting a boat at Beardstown. This lead to their hiring themselves to him at $12 per month, each; and getting the timber out of the trees and building a boat at old Sangamon Town on the Sangamon river, seven miles N.W. of Springfield, which boat they took to New-Orleans, substantially upon the old contract. It [6] was in connection with this boat that occurred the ludicrous incident of sewing up the hogs eyes. Offutt bought thirty odd large fat live hogs, but found difficulty in driving them from where [he] purchased them to the boat, and thereupon conceived the whim that he could sew up their eyes and drive them where he pleased. No sooner thought of than decided, he put his hands, including A. at the job, which they completed—all but the driving. In their blind condition they could not be driven out of the lot or field they were in. This expedient failing, they were tied and hauled on carts to the boat. It was near the Sangamon River, within what is now Menard county.
During this boat enterprize acquaintance with Offutt, who was previously an entire stranger, he conceved a liking for A. and believing he could turn him to account, he contracted with him to act as clerk for him, on his return from New-Orleans, in charge of a store and Mill at New-Salem, then in Sangamon, now in Menard county. Hanks had not gone to New-Orleans, but having a family, and being likely to be detained from home longer than at first expected, had turned back from St. Louis. He is the same John Hanks who now engineers the “rail enterprize” at Decatur; and is a first cousin to A’s mother. A’s father, with his own family & others mentioned, had, in pursuance of their intention, removed from Macon to Coles county. John D. Johnston, the step-mother’s son, went to them; and A. stopped indefinitely, and, for the first time, as it were, by himself at New-Salem, before mentioned. This was in July 1831. Here he rapidly made acquaintances and friends. In less than a year Offutt’s business was failing—had almost failed,—when the Black-Hawk war of 1832—broke out. A joined a volunteer company, and to his own surprize, was elected captain of it. He says he has not since had any success in life which gave him so much satisfaction. He went the campaign, served near three months, met the ordinary hardships of such an expedition, but was in no battle. He now owns in Iowa, the land upon which his own warrants for this service, were located. Returning from the campaign, and encouraged by his great popularity among his immediate neighbors, he, the same year, ran for the Legislature and was beaten—his own precinct, however, casting its votes 277 for and 7, against him. And this too while he was an avowed Clay man, and the precinct the autumn afterwards, giving a majority of 115 to Genl. Jackson over Mr. Clay. This was the only time A was ever beaten on a direct vote of the people. He was now without means and out of business, but was anxious to remain with his friends who had treated him with so much generosity, especially as he had nothing elsewhere to go to. He studied what he should do—thought of learning the black-smith trade—thought of trying to study law—rather thought he could not succeed at that without a better education. Before long, strangely enough, a man offered to sell and did sell, to A. and another as poor as himself, an old stock of goods, upon credit. They opened as merchants; and he says that was thestore. Of course they did nothing but get deeper and deeper in debt. He was appointed Post-master at New-Salem—the office being too insignificant, to make his politics an objection. The store winked out. The Surveyor of Sangamon, offered to depute to A that portion of his work which was within his part of the county. He accepted, procured a compass and chain, studied Flint, and Gibson a little, and went at it. This procured bread, and kept soul and body together. The election of 1834 came, and he was then elected to the Legislature by the highest vote cast for any candidate. Major John T. Stuart, then in full practice of the law, was also elected. During the canvass, in a private conversation he encouraged A. [to] study law. After the election he borrowed books of Stuart, took them home with him, and went at it in good earnest. He studied with nobody. He still mixed in the surveying to pay board and clothing bills. When the Legislature met, the law books were dropped, but were taken up again at the end of the session. He was re-elected in 1836, 1838, and 1840. In the autumn of 1836 he obtained a law licence, and on April 15, 1837 removed to Springfield, and commenced the practice, his old friend, Stuart taking him into partnership. March 3rd. 1837, by a protest entered upon the Ills. House Journal of that date, at pages 817, 818, A. with Dan Stone, another representative of Sangamon, briefly defined his position on the slavery question; and so far as it goes, it was then the same that it is now. The protest is as follows—(Here insert it)  In 1838, & 1840 Mr. L’s party in the Legislature voted for him as Speaker; but being in the minority, he was not elected. After 1840 he declined a re-election to the Legislature. He was on the Harrison electoral ticket in 1840, and on that of Clay in 1844, and spent much time and labor in both those canvasses. In Nov. 1842 he was married to Mary, daughter of Robert S. Todd, of Lexington, Kentucky. They have three living children, all sons—one born in 1843, one in 1850, and one in 1853. They lost one, who was born in 1846. In 1846, he was elected to the lower House of Congress, and served one term only, commencing in Dec. 1847 and ending with the inaugeration of Gen. Taylor, in March 1849. All the battles of the Mexican war had been fought before Mr. L. took his seat in congress, but the American army was still in Mexico, and the treaty of peace was not fully and formally ratified till the June afterwards. Much has been said of his course in Congress in regard to this war. A careful examination of the Journals and Congressional Globe shows, that he voted for all the supply measures which came up, and for all the measures in any way favorable to the officers, soldiers, and their families, who conducted the war through; with this exception that some of these measures passed without years and nays, leaving no record as to how particular men voted. The Journals and Globe also show him voting that the war was unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President of the United States. This is the language of Mr. Ashmun’s amendment, for which Mr. L. and nearly or quite all, other whigs of the H. R. voted.
Mr. L’s reasons for the opinion expressed by this vote were briefly that the President had sent Genl. Taylor into an inhabited part of the country belonging to Mexico, and not to the U.S. and thereby had provoked the first act of hostility—in fact the commencement of the war; that the place, being the country bordering on the East bank of the Rio Grande, was inhabited by native Mexicans, born there under the Mexican government; and had never submitted to, nor been conquered by Texas, or the U.S. nor transferred to either by treaty—that although Texas claimed the Rio Grande as her boundary, Mexico had never recognized it, the people on the ground had never recognized it, and neither Texas nor the U.S. had ever enforced it—that there was a broad desert between that, and the country over which Texas had actual control—that the country where hostilities commenced, having once belonged to Mexico, must remain so, until it was somehow legally transferred, which had never been done.
Mr. L. thought the act of sending an armed force among the Mexicans, was unnecessary, inasmuch as Mexico was in no way molesting, or menacing the U.S. or the people thereof; and that it was unconstitutional, because the power of levying war is vested in Congress, and not in the President. He thought the principal motive for the act, was to divert public attention from the surrender of “Fifty-four, forty, or fight” to Great Brittain, on the Oregon boundary question.
Mr. L. was not a candidate for re-election. This was determined upon, and delcared before he went to Washington, in accordance with an understanding among whig friends, by which Col. Hardin, and Col. Baker had each previously served a single term in the same District.
In 1848, during his term in congress, he advocated Gen. Taylor’s nomination for the Presidency, in opposition to all others, and also took an active part for his election, after his nomination—speaking a few times in Maryland, near Washington, several times in Massachusetts, and canvassing quite fully his own district in Illinois, which was followed by a majority in the district of over 1500 for Gen. Taylor.
Upon his return from Congress he went to the practice of the law with greater earnestness than ever before. In 1852 he was upon the Scott electroal ticket, and did something in the way of canvassing, but owning to the hopelessness of the cause in Illinois, he did less than in previous presidential canvasses.
In 1854, his profession had almost superseded the thought of politics in his mind, when the repeal of the Missouri compromise aroused him as he had never been before.
In the autumn of that year he took the stump with no broader practical aim or object that [than?] to secure, if possible, the re-election of Hon Richard Yates to congress. His speeches at once attracted a more marked attention than they had ever before done. As the canvass proceeded, he was drawn to different parts of the state, outside of Mr. Yates’ district. He did not abandon the law, but gave his attention, by turns, to that and politics. The State agricultural fair was at Springfield that year, and Douglas was announced to speak there.
In the canvass of 1856, Mr. L. made over fifty speeches, no one of which, so far as he remembers, was put in print. One of them was made at Galena, but Mr. L. has no recollection of any part of it being printed; nor does he remember whether in that speech he said anything about a Supreme court decision. He may have spoken upon that subject; and some of the newspapers may have reported him as saying what is now ascribed to him; but he thinks he could not have expressed himself as represented. 

Eulogy on Henry Clay (July 6, 1852)

Contributing Editors for this page include Jin Hong, Kory Loyola, Beatriz Martos and Greg O’Reilly


#62 on the list of 150 Most Teachable Lincoln Documents

Annotated Transcript

“Mr. Clay’s predominant sentiment, from first to last, was a deep devotion to the cause of human liberty—a strong sympathy with the oppressed every where, and an ardent wish for their elevation.”

On This Date

HD Daily Report, July 6, 1852

The Lincoln Log, July 6, 1852

Close Readings

Posted at YouTube by “Understanding Lincoln” participant Beatriz Martos, Summer 2016

Posted at YouTube by “Understanding Lincoln” course participant Greg O’Reilly, August 2014. You can read a transcript of this video here.

Jin Hong, “Understanding Lincoln” blog post (via Quora), October 24, 2013

Kory Loyola, “Understanding Lincoln” blog post (via Quora), September 29, 2013

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How Historians Interpret

“Lincoln identified himself with Clay, and in this description of Clay’s patriotism he had perfectly described his own. Lincoln, too, loved America mostly because it was a country dedicated to freedom. Lincoln’s eulogy praises Clay as a moderate statesman who avoided the extremes of abolitionism on the one hand and proslavery militancy on the other. A practical politician himself, Lincoln characteristically defined his own positions as centrist. Even some of the specific issues that Lincoln would have to deal with in the future are prefigured in this remarkable oration. The eulogy goes on to credit Clay with taking a constructive interest in resolving the problem of American slavery. The plan Clay favored was compensated emancipation followed by the emigration of the freed people to designated overseas colonies such as Liberia. In years to come Lincoln would have occasion to entertain this proposal before abandoning it. The eulogy praises Clay’s great Missouri Compromise of 1820, and before long Lincoln would be defending that very compromise against first the Kansas-Nebraska bill and then the Dred Scott decision.”

—Daniel Walker Howe, “Why Abraham Lincoln Was a Whig,” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Society 16 (1995).

“In 1852, he injected some political content into his eulogy on Henry Clay. After quoting the Great Compromiser’s eloquent defense of the American Colonization Society, Lincoln offered his own biting commentary on slavery: “Pharaoh’s country was cursed with plagues, and his hosts were drowned in the Red Sea for striving to retain a captive people who had already served them more than four hundred years.” (This concern for divine punishment for the sin of slavery was to reappear in one of his greatest state papers, the second inaugural address.)”

— Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (2 volumes, originally published by Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) Unedited Manuscript By Chapter, Lincoln Studies Center, Volume 1, Chapter 9 (PDF), pp. 1034.

“Lincoln applauds Clay for envisioning national glory as something altogether different from military might and the projection of power throughout the globe. Rather Clay and Lincoln both envision glory in terms of America’s moral worth at home and its moral influence abroad. The true glory of America is measured by the extent to which it advances the cause of liberty as a ‘city upon a hill’ and ‘a light unto other nations.’ Following the Founder, Lincoln’s reflective patriotism applies these Puritan symbols to the American experiment in self-government. The republican critics of democracy said that it was prone to the extremes of tyranny and anarchy. In reply to these critics, Lincoln would subsequently characterize the Civil War as an ordeal that tested the viability of democracy. The success of failure of the American experiment would reverberate throughout the globe, providing hope or despair for the friends of freedom everywhere. Because Clay’s legacy belonged to the world as much as America, Lincoln proclaims him as, ‘freedom’s champion.’ As we may recall, Clay’s American System promised moral support for the fledgling democracies in Latin America who were struggling against Spain’s colonial domination. Lincoln also followed Clay and the Whigs in opposing the Democratic policies of Manifest Destiny and imperial expansion. Further consistent with what we have seen, Lincoln associates patriotism with the qualities of wisdom and intelligence. He admires Clay’s ‘wisdom and patriotism.’ And he extols his undeniable legacy ‘amongst intelligent and Patriotic Americans.’ The implication being that those who place sectional interest above devotion to the Union, whether they are northerners or southerners, are both unreasonable and unpatriotic.”

—Joseph R. Fornieri, Abraham Lincoln, Philosopher Statesman(Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2014), 157.


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… Mr. Clay’s eloquence did not consist, as many fine specimens of eloquence does [do], of types and figures—of antithesis, and elegant arrangement of words and sentences; but rather of that deeply earnest and impassioned tone, and manner, which can proceed only from great sincerity and a thorough conviction, in the speaker of the justice and importance of his cause. This it is, that truly touches the chords of human sympathy; and those who heard Mr. Clay, never failed to be moved by it, or ever afterwards, forgot the impression. All his efforts were made for practical effect. He never spoke merely to be heard. He never delivered a Fourth of July Oration, or an eulogy on an occasion like this. As a politician or statesman, no one was so habitually careful to avoid all sectional ground. Whatever he did, he did for the whole country. In the construction of his measures he ever carefully surveyed every part of the field, and duly weighed every conflicting interest. Feeling, as he did, and as the truth surely is, that the world’s best hope depended on the continued Union of these States, he was ever jealous of, and watchful for, whatever might have the slightest tendency to separate them.
Mr. Clay’s predominant sentiment, from first to last, was a deep devotion to the cause of human liberty—a strong sympathy with the oppressed every where, and an ardent wish for their elevation. With him, this was a primary and all controlling passion. Subsidiary to this was the conduct of his whole life. He loved his country partly because it was his own country, but mostly because it was a free country; and he burned with a zeal for its advancement, prosperity and glory, because he saw in such, the advancement, prosperity and glory, of human liberty, human right and human nature. He desired the prosperity of his countrymen partly because they were his countrymen, but chiefly to show to the world that freemen could be prosperous.
That his views and measures were always the wisest, needs not to be affirmed; nor should it be, on this occasion, where so many, thinking differently, join in doing honor to his memory. A free people, in times of peace and quiet—when pressed by no common danger—naturally divide into parties. At such times, the man who is of neither party, is not—cannot be, of any consequence. Mr. Clay, therefore, was of a party. Taking a prominent part, as he did, in all the great political questions of his country for the last half century, the wisdom of his course on many, is doubted and denied by a large portion of his countrymen; and of such it is not now proper to speak particularly….
… Having been led to allude to domestic slavery so frequently already, I am unwilling to close without referring more particularly to Mr. Clay’s views and conduct in regard to it. He ever was, on principle and in feeling, opposed to slavery. The very earliest, and one of the latest public efforts of his life, separated by a period of more than fifty years, were both made in favor of gradual emancipation of the slaves in Kentucky. He did not perceive, that on a question of human right, the negroes were to be excepted from the human race. And yet Mr. Clay was the owner of slaves. Cast into life where slavery was already widely spread and deeply seated, he did not perceive, as I think no wise man has perceived, how it could be at once eradicated, without producing a greater evil, even to the cause of human liberty itself. His feeling and his judgment, therefore, ever led him to oppose both extremes of opinion on the subject. Those who would shiver into fragments the Union of these States; tear to tatters its now venerated constitution; and even burn the last copy of the Bible, rather than slavery should continue a single hour, together with all their more halting sympathisers, have received, and are receiving their just execration; and the name, and opinions, and influence of Mr. Clay, are fully, and, as I trust, effectually and enduringly, arrayed against them. But I would also, if I could, array his name, opinions, and influence against the opposite extreme—against a few, but an increasing number of men, who, for the sake of perpetuating slavery, are beginning to assail and to ridicule the white-man’s charter of freedom—the declaration that “all men are created free and equal.” So far as I have learned, the first American, of any note, to do or attempt this, was the late John C. Calhoun; and if I mistake not, it soon after found its way into some of the messages of the Governors of South Carolina. We, however, look for, and are not much shocked by, political eccentricities and heresies in South Carolina. … But Henry Clay is dead. His long and eventful life is closed. Our country is prosperous and powerful; but could it have been quite all it has been, and is, and is to be, without Henry Clay? Such a man the times have demanded, and such, in the providence of God was given us. But he is gone. Let us strive to deserve, as far as mortals may, the continued care of Divine Providence, trusting that, in future national emergencies, He will not fail to provide us the instruments of safety and security.

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