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tv   Abraham Lincoln and Slavery  CSPAN  February 4, 2017 11:45am-12:51pm EST

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spoke in gettysburg pennsylvania about the political forces that shaped the 16th presidents view on slavery. he is also the author of "self-made man, the political life of abraham lincoln." we will here in this hour-long talk about how lincoln crafted and refined his public opposition to slavery and how his -- two end it fueled his political aspirations. [applause] sidney blumenthal: well, thank you very much for those kind and generous words. i have been delighted to spend a number of years in the 19th century and i'm looking forward to spending more of them there. [laughter] [applause] i am deeply honored for this invitation to address the lincoln forum and i thank chief
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williams, the chairman, and carol hauser, the vice-chairman, who have both devoted themselves for decades to writing and education on abraham lincoln. i am particularly pleased to be here on the 21st lincoln forum. as frank noted, this year i published the first of a multivolume political biography of lincoln entitled "the self-made man." it describes a poor, stunted and oppressed boy who hammers together, on his own, the elements of the man who will be lincoln. the second volume, to be published next year, entitled "wrestling with his angel: places -- with his angel," places lincoln entering the political wilderness after leaving the congress and emerging as the man who was
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lincoln. i am speaking here tonight about this crucible, the period in which lincoln committed himself to putting slavery on the course of ultimate extinction as he declared in his cooper union address. and as he grappled to create the means to his ends. lincoln had always been, as he put it, naturally anti-slavery. he was only one of two state legislators in illinois early in his career to propose emancipation in the district of columbia. as a congressman, he crafted a pragmatic plan to achieve that inpose though the atmosphere washington at the time was so forbidding at the time that he never managed to introduce it. lincoln was then a stalwart member of the whig party, whose existence depended upon its
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incoherence on the question of slavery. once slavery became the unavoidable central issue in american politics, the whigs disintegrated. in that chaos, lincoln committed himself to a struggle that did not culminate until his assassination. lincoln understood that, in taking on slavery, he was taking on the most entrenched power in the country. it was a moral test and we are here at gettysburg where lincoln talked of tests and it was a supreme political test. slavery was the greatest form of concentrated wealth. the organizing force for southern political control over all branches of the federal government and was allied with influential northern men of southern sympathy.
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two years before lincoln's election as president, in july 1858, even as he was running for the senate against his perpetual rival, stephen a douglas, lincoln wondered whether he would ever witness slavery's fall. "i have never professed and indifference to the honors of official station, and were i to do so now, i should only make myself ridiculous." he wrote this as he was formulating his thoughts during that senate campaign. yet, he said, i have never failed. do not now fail to remember that in the republican cause, there is a higher aim than that of mere office. i have not allowed myself to forget that the abolition of the
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slave trade by great britain was agitated 100 years before it was of final success, that the measure had its open fire eating opponents, its stealthy don't care opponents, is dollar-incent opponents, its inferior race opponents, its negro-equality opponents, and its religion and good order opponents, that all of these opponents got offices their adversaries got none, but i have also remembered that though they blazed like hallowed candles for a century at last, socketflickered and the died out in the dark for a brief season and were remembered no more, even by the smell.
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schoolboys know that wilberforce and granville sharp, the great english abolitionists, helped but who canorward, name a single man now that labor it? retard i cannot regard it as possible that the higher object of this contest may not be completely obtained in my natural life, but i cannot doubt either that it will come in due time, and even in this view, i am proud in my passing speck of time to contribute a humble mite to that glorious consummation which my own poor eyes may not last to see." after abraham lincoln's one term in the congress and his return to his spare law office in the tinsley building in springfield, illinois, he stared into the
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distance for long periods of time. his law partner, william henry herndon, recalled him breaking one of his melancholy silences with a cry of anguish. he said gloomily, despairingly, "oh how hard it is to die and leave one countries no better than if one had never lived for it. the world is dead to hope. death to its own death struggle. made known by a universal pride. -- universal cry. what is to be done? is anything to be done? who can do anything and how is it to be done? did you ever think of these things?" a great revolution was required to bring lincoln out of the wilderness. lincoln would be diminished,
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simplified, and flattened into a one-dimensional, one-dimensional character without the complexity he had to work through. presidents rose and fell. the party of lincoln, the whig party, flew apart. passionate movements raged across the landscape. the old party distinctions were erased, but there were no new and more compelling distinctions on the shelf. the nascent republican party, originally a sectarian, radical, outlying group, was not recognized as a credible alternative. an anti-immigrant movement, the know nothings, overnight attracted many many more , adherents. an older generation of political titans departed. the opposing triumvirate of henry clay, daniel webster and
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john c calhoun, none having reached the presidency that each desperately sought, all ultimately victims of their own curdled hopes. with their passing the conflicts of political ages, faded like yelling newspapers. no one could have foreseen the surprising spiral of events that when zachary taylor, the victorious general -- of the mexican war was elected president as the whig party candidate. he was the hero of politics, a southern slaveholder with no decipherable record on any issue standing on no platform , whatsoever. old, rough, and ready was assumed to be the ideal wooden figurehead for the ship of state
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as intellectually opaque as an inanimate object. [laughter] and articulate in making what was perceived only to be creaking noises, he was utterly lacking in experience with the cunning men of the congress who expected to run the show. it was a revelation that taylor turned out to have clear and emphatic views and a shock that he was strongly against the extension of slavery in the territory he had seized as the price of the mexican war. he threatened a declaration of war against these southern -- the southern rights movement if it treasonously opposed him. personallye would draw his sword as commander in chief to leave the -- lead the
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army to crush resistance. then as abruptly as taylor , stunned the south, he was struck down, probably by the cholera epidemic sweeping the country. if any presidency is due for a revisionist history after grant's, it may be taylor's short, tragic one. the civil war that seemed imminent turned into an armistice. millard successor, fillmore, a lifelong whig party -- elevated to the vice presidency from his rightful station as the new york state comptroller, had an unusual temperament, melding bland complacency and overheated resentment. determined to discard the wealth -- well-defined intentions of taylor, who had banished him as a nonentity from his councils,
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fillmore conciliated the south in the compromise of 1850, with he pronounced to the permanent settlement. its political effect was to stifle slavery as a national controversy, deliver a mortal blow to the whigs, splitting them into northern and southern wings, and empowering the democrats again as the natural governing party. the landslide election of franklin pierce in 1852 appeared to settle the political question far to the horizon, but this was an illusion. beneath the serene surface on which pierce skated to the presidency was a roiling sea. a well-mannered, northern man of southern sympathy, he was pious -- client -- under pressure.
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the grandiose ambitions and petty hatred of others easily overwhelmed him as he turned to brandy for solace, and an old friend, a mexican war comrade, for guidance, jefferson davis. the once and future rivals of lincoln combined to blow to smithereens the cornerstone of civil and political peace. senator stephen a douglas of illinois, seeking a transforming gesture that would bring him the presidency and secretary of war, jefferson davis of mississippi, the high-handed heir to slaveholding wealth and the de facto acting president of the united states, each had visions
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of an american imperial, prophecies that converged in their collaboration on the kansas-nebraska act, and act which repealed the missouri compromise that a forbidden slavery north of a faithful line the parallel lives of these two men would define lincoln's. the passage of the kansas-nebraska act on may 30, 1854, lincoln and his friends joined the battle. the lead editorial in the lincoln state journal in springfield, written possibly by herndon as always with lincoln's approval, express or tacit appeared under a mocking , headline. if there is the least evidence that the people of the free states are disposed to sit down
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quietly under the accumulated insult and wrongs sought to be inflicted on this slavery extension administration and its servile supporters, we do not see evidence of it. on the contrary, almost everywhere, we see a general uprising and condemnation by the people of the wanton, uncalled for, and grievous wrong, sought to be inflicted upon this country by pierce, douglas, and company. well, douglas' newspaper, the illinois state register, returned the fire, editorializing against the illinois state journal and lincoln and his friends. and i was somewhat hesitant about reading this, but i am going to quote it directly, because this is what lincoln had to contend with in his day.
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and this is what stephen a. douglas' newspaper under his direction, editorialized. it said that the journal opens its batteries upon senator flake douglas' nebraska bill, renewing the agitation of the nigger question by humorously charging douglas with opening that question. and it went on. niggerdom is preparing for a new onslaught, and as lincoln began to draw together the nebraska coalition, the register warned the people of this district will want pledges against all alliances with niggerism, and it praised old whigs who resisted the fusion with niggerism.
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from that moment through his 1858 debates with douglas to his reelection campaign of 1864, when he was called abraham africanus i, lincoln's political skill and personal endurance were required to prevail in the face of unending blasts of racially-charged demagoguery. in a stroke, at that moment in 1854, the old order cracked apart. all that had been proclaimed to be permanent shattered into pieces, everything settled came undone. the kansas nebraska act made possible the extension of slavery to the west, as only one element in the strategy to create a slave empire in the hemisphere, as lincoln would put it.
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now lincoln, the former surveyor, precisely measured the fissures of the conflict. lincoln the lawyer carefully constructed his arguments political and constitutional. lincoln the politician coolly calculated the force of his opponents and the potential coalition of his allies. lincoln the defender of the declaration of independence invoked the blood of the revolution. lincoln the shakespearean invoked blood and blood. stepping onto the stage of history to speak at the house of the illinois statehouse of representatives, he never left it. to prepare for the event, he sequestered himself at the library of the state capital as he drafted his speech. he constructed a coherent,
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intellectual argument, massing -- matching the arguments of the political coalition that would become the republican party. he drew on the doctrines of the anti-slavery movement, of the defunct liberty party and its chief theorist, senator salmon p. chase of ohio, incorporating the idea of the declaration of independence as integral to the constitution, which he argued was an anti-slavery doctrine. he co-opted the ambiguous figure of thomas jefferson, slaveholding father of the democratic party, as author not only of the declaration which declared all men are created equal, but also the inspiration for the northwest ordinance of 1787, which prohibited slavery in the territories. all honor to jefferson , proclaimed lincoln.
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in his speech at peoria, lincoln remarked on the sudden transformation of politics as a consequence of the clear and present danger. we were thunderstruck and reeled, he said, and we and fell in utter confusion, but we rose each fighting, grasping, whatever he could first reach, a sigh, a pitchfork, a chopping or ask -- axe pitchfork -- a butchers cleaver. we are rapidly closing in upon him. he and -- him and he for lincoln are stephen a douglas -- must not think to die for us from our purpose. howard drilled, our weapons are not entirely perfect in uniform. when the storm shall be passed,
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he shall find us still americans, no less devoted to the continued union and prosperity of the country then heretofore. in two brief autobiographies, lincoln depicted himself in this period as strangely contended in ofcontented in a kind imperturbable internal exile, becoming merely indifferent to politics, immersed in his legal practice. always a whig in politics, he said, and in the whig electoral ticket, i was losing interest in politics when the repeal of the missouri compromise aroused me again. what i have done since then is pretty well known. he wrote this to his friend, jesse phelan, in 1859 as he was
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contemplating his race for the presidency. in another short account, he journalist john scripps of the chicago tribune, in 1854, his profession had almost superseded the politics in his mind when the repeal of the missouri compromise aroused him as he had never been before. but the legend of cincinnatus, the roman aristocrat summoned from his farm to rescue the endangered republic, the story that had draped in washington with classical prestige, did not properly fit lincoln. he was not a hero above the fray who reluctantly felt duty-bound to descend into the political arena. while the whigs had a tradition of drawing upon a variation of the cincinnatus theme with
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generals for president, william henry harrison and others, pretenders to the washington mantle, the professional politician who was in truth consumed with anxiety about his own and the country's future was hardly part of that line. it was about this decisive juncture in lincoln's career in 1854 when he revealed himself as recognizably lincoln that herndon, his law partner, wrote the most famous description of his ambition. that man who thinks lincoln calmly sat down and gathered his robes about him, waiting for the people to call him, has a very erroneous knowledge of lincoln. he was always calculating and always planning ahead. his ambition was a little engine that knew no rest.
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time was not standing still waiting for lincoln to make his emergence. it was accelerating all along. time may have been in different ndifferent to him but he was ferent to the time. lincoln could not have entered as a cogent and capable political actor policy maintained a grasp of the nuances unfolding for years. during that interregnum between when he left the congress and spoke against the kansas-nebraska act, there was little he could do to advance the whig party which collapsed under the strains of both false peace and harsh conflict. lincoln only seemed to be offstage. he did not disappear, even if his name did not prominently appear. even while ambling on his
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course, old bob, from county house to county house in the judicial circuit of illinois, he was constantly attending to what was happening beyond it. his fixation on douglas never wavered. his attention on the larger events was neither inadvertent nor casual, nor was he present merely by implication or illusion. he was out of the limelight, but the rapidly spinning world was under his gaze. lincoln and herndon maintained the best private library in town, subscribed to newspapers and journals from across the country and from london, and both regularly wrote anonymous editorials for the illinois state journal. his legal circuit was also his political network. it would spring to life when his political career did too. he never ceased his travels
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around a changing illinois with a spectacular growth of chicago and the mass influx of german immigrants were radically reconfiguring the political calculus. the honing of his legal skills simultaneously sharpened his political ones. his nocturnal study of euclid's elements enabled him to master the geometry of both law and politics. he was also capable of cold realism about his own limitations. he quickly unhappily came to accept the formidable corporate attorney edwin stanton's ruthless dismissal of his talents in 1854. lincoln knew then he would never rise to stanton's level in the
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profession, and that his true ability and opportunity, his square root still lay in politics. partylincoln's disintegrated beneath him, the necessity of political parties never left him. he clung to the hull of the sinking whig party longer than some. in this party chaos, lincoln cast himself into the whirlwind. as his party splintered, he began building the framework of another one, even when he did not know he was doing so. many movements often overlapping, swirled in the vacuum. movements against slavery, movements against immigrants, movements against drink. but the nativist and temperance
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movements confounded the development of the anti-slavery one. antislavery democrats and anti-slavery whigs with long grudges, still regarded each other with mutual suspicion. third-party abolitionist politics were suffused with sectarianism and asserted itself as the core of a new alignment, though it could not itself attract or manage a varied or volatile coalition. some farseeing people in the abolitionist movement in illinois understood that more proficient and gifted political leaders were required to draw the elements together, which brought them to lincoln's doorstep. at first, he dodged them. but then he led them. making sense of the crisis from the background, lincoln moved with his own timing to the foreground.
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he absorbed the drama ruminated on a political mind, continually at work, wondering how he might move forward, how he would break through. for years, he wrestled. the decline and fall of the whigs did not mean there would be a new party of, by, and for lincoln. there was no imperative except that which was in lincoln himself. lincoln developed his sense of power and its meaning over decades. he had dreams that he interpreted as shadows of events to,. come -- events two,. he held to numerous superstitions. he had visions, the image in the mirror, believing an omen of his death foretold.
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his alignment with events was neither mystical divination nor passive adaptation. in retrospect, his closest contemporaries thought him prescient. lincoln's whole life was a calculation of the law of forces and ultimate results. the world to him was a question of cause and effect. recalled his friend, illinois lawyer and fellow whig leonard sweat. he thought causes would surely follow. he did not believe those results could be materially hastened or impeded. his whole political history, especially since the agitation of the slavery question, has been based upon this theory. he believed from the first, i think, that the agitation of slavery would produce its overthrow. and he acted upon the resolve,
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as though it was presence from -- present from the beginning. his tactics to get himself in the right place and remain there still until events would find him in that place. john w. bund, the springfield merchant and whig partisan who funded lincoln's campaigns -- and yes, lincoln did have campaign funders -- and followed lincoln's direction, showed lincoln unique among politicians. these things which i state as facts of my own knowledge, bund affirmed, certainly showed lincoln was a practical politician, but he was not altogether like many other practical politicians. he had his personal ambitions, but he never told any man his deeper plans, and few if any knew his inner thoughts. lincoln's entire career proves
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it is possible for someone to be adroit and skillful and effective in politics without in any degree sacrificing moral principles. little men try to do the same things he did and make very bad work of it. they lack the high, moral inspiration that animated lincoln. lincoln presents the most remarkable case in american history of a man who could be a practical politician and at the same time, be a statesman in the highest sense of both terms. all along, the self-made man educated himself in the politics of democracy.
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power for lincoln was always a contest, but it became more than a matter of winning or losing or even claiming the spoils. in the past, with one party arrayed against another, predictable partisanship prevailed from election to election. but now, the gyroscope of politics was smashed, the parties broken. what he and others called the slave power suddenly transformed everything. grounded in the mundane skills of the democracy that had shaped him, he had to raise the powers of democracy to extraordinary height in its defense. lincoln and stephen a. douglas had been rivals for decades, but beginning in 1854, they were locked in mortal combat. douglas' pursuit of his own manifest destiny blazed the path for lincoln. lincoln saw his possibility in douglas' downfall, said herndon. he entered into the political
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field and by force of his character, mind, eloquence, he became our abolition leader. he was too conservative for some of us and i among them, and yet i stuck to lincoln in the hopes of his sense of justice and eternal right. for years, lincoln turned over in his mind the menace of slavery to democracy until in 1855 he began to envision the prospect of civil war. i think that there is no peaceful extinction of slavery in prospect for us, he wrote to george robertson, a kentucky judge who was a friend of his wife's family. the signal failure, of henry clay, wrote lincoln, and other good and great men in 1849 to affect anything in gradual emancipation in kentucky, together with 1000 other signs, extinguishes that hope utterly.
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lincoln would conclude in that letter, our political problem is can we as a nation continue together permanently forever, half slave and half free? between 1845 and 1854, 18 million immigrants arrived in the country. about 18% were poor irish catholics, fleeing the potato famine. another 40% or germans from the failed liberal revolution of 1848. conservative protestants viewed the irish especially as a source of crime, corruption, and poverty. both the irish and germans were beer drinkers, a habit that aroused temperance crusaders who condemned them as drunken, lazy, and sinful. the know nothing party sprang from a small nativist sect in new york called the order of the
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star-spangled banner. within months after the 1852 election, it attracted an estimated membership of more than a million. the program held only protestant-born citizens should hold public office under the slogan. americans only shall govern america. amid the deepening crisis, lincoln wondered in 1855 how he could be effective fighting slavery while maintaining his identity in the crumbling whig party. where did lincoln place himself? who did he think he was, and what was he? on august 24, 1855, he wrote his intimate friend joshua speed with whom he had shared a room in springfield and who was now presiding over his kentucky plantation as a slaveholder. you inquire where i now stand, wrote lincoln. that is a disputed point. i think i am a whig, but others say there are no whigs, and that
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i am a abolitionist. when i was in washington i voted for the wilmot proviso as good as 40 times, and i never heard of anyone trying to un-whig me for that. i now do no more than oppose the extension of slavery. when lincoln was a proviso man in the congress opposing the expansion of slavery in the territories gained in the mexican war before the great whig victory of 1848, he was living in another era. now his party was rapidly coming apart around him under the pressure of circumstances. how would he align himself with these events? that consumed his thoughts more than the disputed point for others, but also for himself. not least in the forefront of his thinking was the threat of the know nothings, attracting many of my old political and
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personal friends, as he told the illinois abolitionist and early republican party organizer owen lovejoy. in observing the whig party itself, i am not a know nothing. that is certain, he wrote joshua speed. how could i be? how can anyone who abhors the oppression of negroes be in favor of degrading classes of white people? our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. as a nation, we began by declaring all men are created equal. we now practically read it all men are created equal except negroes. when the know nothings get control, it will read, all men are created equal except negroes and foreigners and catholics. when it comes to this, i should
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prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty, to russia for instance. [laughter] sidney blumenthal: where despotism can be taken pure and without the base alloy of hypocrisy. [laughter] sidney blumenthal: lincoln had unfurled the declaration of independence as a shield against the extension of slavery. now he arrayed it against the know nothings. now you invoke the declaration not as a comparative tyranny to slavery but to nativism. state-by-state, the new republican party was organized. new york, senator william seward, who had been a leader who whigs there, called in october 1855 four whigs to
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become republicans, for familiar friends to leave behind dissolving parties. he talked about the spirit of the american revolution against the aristocracy, a privileged class of slaveholders, 1/100 part of the entire population, seized political control of the federal government. what then is wanted? organization, organization, nothing but organization. on february 22, 1856, a group of anti-slavery newspaper editors invited lincoln to join them as their political leader in a meeting to create the illinois republican party. lincoln was absent at the time, recalled herndon, and believing feelings andis judgments were on the work, i
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took the liberty to sign his name to the call. [laughter] sidney blumenthal: john t. stewart, lincoln's first partner, trying to remove lincoln's endorsement. no sooner had it appeared that john t stewart, who was endeavoring to retard lincoln in his advanced movements, rushed into the office and see if lincoln had signed the abolition call in the journal. i answered in the negative , adding that i had signed his name myself. to the question did lincoln authorize you to sign it, i returned an emphatic no. then exclaimed the startled and indignant stewart, you have ruined him. i thought i understood lincoln thoroughly, herndon wrote, but in order to vindicate myself, if assailed, i immediately sat down after stewart rushed out of the office and wrote lincoln, who
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then in tazewell county attending court, a brief account of what i had done and how much start was creating in the ranks of his conservative friends. if he approved or disapproved, i asked him to write or telegraph me at once. in a brief time came his answer. all right, go ahead. we will meet you, radicals and all. at that meeting, george schneider, editor of the german language newspaper statszeitung proposed a plank denouncing know nothingism. the nativists present strongly rejected it. the congress threatened to collapse. schneider announced he would submit his resolution to lincoln and abide by his decision. gentlemen declared lincoln, the , resolution introduced by mr. schneider is nothing new. it is already contained in the
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declaration of independence. and you cannot form a party on prescriptive principles, for lincoln, opposing nativism was consistent with opposing slavery. lincoln,aration of mr. schneider recalled, saved the resolution and in fact helped establish the new party on the most liberal, democratic basis. thus lincoln's judgment made possible the creation of the illinois republican party, which became the instrument that would carry him to the republican nomination for president. when he hurtled on the train to bloomington, illinois for the founding convention of the illinois republican party on may 29, 1856, it was familiar trip to a place he had visited many times to practice the law at the home of his friends, david davis
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and jesse fell who would play , instruments in his rise. but at this time, the uproar of events heralded his entrance. on may 21, 1856, former senator david atchison, led an army of nearly 1000 proslavery missouri slaveholders into the state of lawrence, kansas to ransack it. the next day in the senate, while senator charles sumner of massachusetts sat writing at his desk, congressman preston brooks of south carolina battered him relentlessly on his head with a gold handled cane, nearly killing him. in retribution for sumner's mocking speech entitled, the crime against kansas or the blood streamed across the floor
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of the senate. two days later on may 24, along pottawatomie creek in kansas, of volunteers hacked five proslavery men to death. five days later, with lincoln proclaimed himself as a republican before the convention of the new party he founded, it was among the most significant events in the coming of the civil war. ultimately, ralph waldo emerson would declare his mind mastered the problem of the day, and so as the problem grew, so did his comprehension of it. rarely was a man so fitted to the event. the mystical emerson evoked was a serene providence which rules the state of nations, makes its own instruments, creates demand for the time, trains him in poverty, inspires his genius and arms him for the task.
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within two years of shutting the husk of the whig party and assuming the identity of a republican, lincoln founded his own emersonian note about destiny, but edge to it of resident biblical in town. if we could know where we are and whether we are attending, we would then better judge what to do and how to do it. he declared in his house divided speech of june 1858. his sense of time and time it had become acute. the fight must go on, he would write to a friend two weeks after his defeat to douglas in the 1858 senate race. the cause of civil liberty must not be surrendered at the end of one or even 100 defeats. douglas had the ingenuity, said lincoln, to be supportive in the late contest both as the best
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means to break down and to uphold the slave interest. no ingenuity can keep those antagonistic elements in harmony long. another explosion will soon come. by then, lincoln had already been carried along by explosion after explosion. lincoln's political education was long, but the moment of lincoln's awakening from his political slumber, emerging at last as the lincoln we know in history, was relatively sudden. in early 1855, travel in the county court circuits, staying overnight in a boarding house, his discussion with a former judge and fellow lawyer, jean lyle dickey, a conservative old whig, went on deep into the night. judge dickey confirmed that -- contended that slavery was a
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institution that the constitution recognized and could not be disturbed. lincoln argued that ultimately slavery must become extinct, recalled another illinois lawyer. william pitt kellogg. after a while, said dickey, we went upstairs to bed. there were two beds in our room, and i remember that lincoln set up in his nightshirt on the edge of the bed arguing the point with me. at last, we went to sleep. early in the morning, i woke up, and there was lincoln half sitting up in bed. [laughter] dickey, said lincoln, i tell you, this nation cannot exist half slave and half free. oh, lincoln, replied dickey.
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go to sleep. [laughter] thank you. [applause] >> questions? right here, come up to the microphone. sidney blumenthal: dan. >> well, first of all, welcome to the 19th century. [laughter] sidney blumenthal: i may not leave. [laughter] >> and also, i hope that this speech will become the epilogue of your last volume. sidney blumenthal: this contains a lot of the story of the next volume which is coming out. >> now, my own feeling i have
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come to is that among the important things that lincoln has done in his life, it was nice that he ended slavery, great that he kept the union, but it seems the most important thing was, he, in the face of his own political party, he said no extension of slavery into the territory. to me, that was the most important thing that he did. even the war was to come, which it came. now i am going to go into your book for a moment though and say, you say, and here is something of catherine in mind here, you say mary lincoln was highly important to whom lincoln became, and maybe lincoln would not have been lincoln without her. i would like you to talk about that. sidney blumenthal: thank you, dan.
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in general, now mary lincoln has become somewhat of an easy figure for people to dismiss and to discredit and degrade and even defame, but there would have been no lincoln without mary. [applause] sidney blumenthal: mary lincoln was difficult. she was volatile. she had an upbringing that created all sorts of problems for her. she had -- her mother died. her stepmother was that of cinderella. [laughter] she loved her father, but he neglected her. and she set her cap on lincoln. they had a tumultuous, confused
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relationship in which lincoln often, they can did not understand how to handle the members of the opposite sex, and eventually he and mary came together and she referred it to their marriage as our lincoln party. and in the beginning, there were only two members at this party. and it was lincoln and mary. she was a highly unusual woman in that she was political. she grew up in a political household. her father was a business partner and political ally of henry clay. she knew clay, she talked to clay. i think at nine years old, she said she wanted to marry the next president and told him that. she had political opinions. she had political experience, and she pushed her husband when he faltered. as great as his ambition was, there were moments when even
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lincoln faltered, but he had someone behind him pushing him, and that was mary. she made sure that he would not settle for something easy and more comfortable when she felt that he was greater than even he thought he was himself. and she had views and opinions on everybody and everything, and she was also unusual among the women of the day who were not supposed to speak in company about politics in making sure that people knew her views. so mary lincoln is very much an indispensable part of the lincoln story. >> yes. >> yep, i haven't had a chance to read your book, but i am curious how much michael had as an influence
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on your research and your book? sidney blumenthal: i think his work is terrific, just the -- and i -- he has done more detailed work then many, many other people, and i find not only his book extraordinarily helpful in guidance, but also his scholarship. i love reading his footnotes. and i find that michael burlingame has also done some of the original work in discovering which editorials lincoln wrote in the illinois state journal anonymously. and i know that work goes on for him, and it is always interesting to discover how much lincoln wrote that we don't even know about. so thank you for that. >> i am very much looking forward to reading your second volume, particularly based on the way you pulled it together here.
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bringing your perspective takes me back to senator albert beveridge of indiana who brought his perspective to his second volume which covered the same period. i have always wrestled with the issue of the house divided speech when lincoln says so strongly, and he repeats it other times, that the movement in the country seems to be towards nationalizing slavery, that the slavery will somehow be on the north. what is your interpretation of what he is driving up when he uses this argument? did he believe it? was it an approach he thought would have a particular political effect? i would like your thoughts on this having written volume that tells that story. sidney blumenthal: the house
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divided speech was opposed by his more conservative friends who had been old whigs like lionel dickey. and lincoln was insistent on getting this speech. it was considered to be somewhat of a radical statement on his part. i think we have to remember that this speech was given a year after the dred scott decision, which was widely seen as opening not only the territories to slavery but potentially opening up the free states to slavery. as a political matter, it was explosive, and lincoln did not hesitate to seize upon it and was making a very driven argument. it was not an uncommon argument. some people got in trouble being a little too epigrammatic and eloquent and clever like seward
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talking about this irrepressible conflict. lincoln's version was more scriptural talking about the house divided. and a little more oblique. and illinois is a little more conservative than new york, where seward was talking. -- operating. but without that, lincoln could not have galvanized his party and held that coalition together and would never have moved forward beyond his senate defeat had he not given that speech. >> nobody is behind me. you said at the very beginning of your talk that he had a higher aim than office. do you think -- when do you
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think he started thinking about the presidency as something that he could bring to the country, because he had such a unique capability that he had confidence in? sidney blumenthal: that is an interesting question. even lincoln's own actions after his defeat in the 1858 senate race create contradictory evidence. where some of his friends want him to run, others do not, he seems to push them away. he is also drawn to it. meanwhile at the same time, he is very assiduously making sure that the correct transcript, as he understands it of the lincoln douglas debates, are being published and circulated nationally to what end?
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>> catherine. >> hi, thank you, i so enjoyed your remarks. sidney blumenthal: thank you. >> especially the questions, but i wanted to raise something. i hope that you being an observer of contemporary politics and a lot of what you brought in, i was struck in terms of the no nothings, and you are addressing that. in terms of lincoln's thought, i am so impressed. i'm listening to a book on tape here. i have only gotten through 18 discs. [laughter] there is another 18 going back, but i was struck by the way in which lincoln very early on was so attuned to the issue of bringing immigrants into the process and especially during the war and appointments. maybe that is ahead of where you are now, but i was wondering if you could give us some more on lincoln's giving us insights into the way we must maintain an umbrella and go back to that original document and try and
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make america a country for all. sidney blumenthal: well, let me just discuss the immigrant question in the context of lincoln. i am a native of illinois. lincoln, for much of his life, lived in the most racist northern state with the most are laconia and black code. it was a very conservative state, populated by many people from kentucky, like his own family. fled slavery. his father did not want to compete for wages against slaves , among other things. it was a very different health
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stay for whigs, even they were too liberal. but then something happened, immigration. when the germans came, that changed the state. that changed the state at the same time the city of chicago took off with the building of the illinois central railroad, a stephen a douglas is great project, and the beginning of industrialization. and suddenly there was a north in illinois. ohio had always been a divided state. there was a north and south, but illinois had in sorted a central illinois and the southern illinois, not northern, but suddenly, there was a north and that tipped the balance of power so that in 1858, lincoln actually won the popular vote. he could -- he understood these
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dynamic factors involved in immigration. the liberalization that the immigrants brought as well. lincoln never made a public statement against the know nothings in this. these are private letters that i was reading from. those are deep held sentiments. in another letter which i did not cite, he says, we have to wait this out, they will play themselves out and lose, and then i can bring them in. lincoln is trying to get the know nothings, his old whig comrades in his party, into this new coalition without offending them. he does other things as well. in this next book, i found some
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new material where he engages in some chicanery in the city of chicago to his friends to undermine the know nothings and destroyed them as a statewide forest, while stephen a douglas is doing the same thing on the other side to try and upend the republican party. there are a lot of city politics going on. [laughter] lincoln and his friends are not away from it. so, this is really difficult politics dealing with nativism. it is central to being able to hold together a very combustible coalition. in our history, this has been a very difficult issue. >> one more.
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from [indiscernible] i apologize for that. anticipate in a fight ourselves. representinsisted we ourselves. be that as it may, based on the many things you have offered this evening in your presentation, especially about the time. of the 1850's, cannot some parallel be drawn comparing that to our most recent presidential election? [laughter] sidney blumenthal: well, if i could quote from the original british version of " house of cards," -- [laughter] you might say that, but i could not possibly comment. [laughter] [applause] thank you very much. author and historian talks
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about america's post-world war ii occupation of japan, discusses general macarthur's relationship with the emperor, and efforts to set up a food dissolution of a population on the brink of starvation. this is part of a multi-day conference at the national world 1946, resume entitled year zero, triumph and tragedy. >> we have a preview for the next session. many of you have read his books or heard him address using gatherings before. richard frank is an independent researcher and author and internationally renowned authority on the pacific war. in fact, i hope i will not embarrass him by saying the international renowned authority on the pacific war. he is the award winning author of


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