Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 2.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.
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Speech at Worcester, Massachusetts [1]

September 12, 1848

Mr. Kellogg [2] then introduced to the meeting the Hon. Abram Lincoln, whig member of Congress from Illinois, a representative of free soil.

Mr. Lincoln has a very tall and thin figure, with an intellectual face, showing a searching mind, and a cool judgment. He spoke in a clear and cool, and very eloquent manner, for an hour and a half,Page  2 carrying the audience with him in his able arguments and brilliant illustrations---only interrupted by warm and frequent applause. He began by expressing a real feeling of modesty in addressing an audience ``this side of the mountains,'' a part of the country where, in the opinion of the people of his section, everybody was supposed to be instructed and wise. But he had devoted his attention to the question of the coming Presidential election, and was not unwilling to exchange with all whom he might meet the ideas to which he had arrived.

He then began to show the fallacy of some of the arguments against Gen. Taylor, making his chief theme the fashionable statement of all those who oppose him, (``the old Locofocos as well as the new'') that he has no principles, and that the whig party have abandoned their principles by adopting him as their candidate. He maintained that Gen. Taylor occupied a high and unexceptionable whig ground, and took for his first instance and proof of this his statement in the Allison letter [3]---with regard to the Bank, Tariff, Rivers and Harbors, &c.---that the will of the people should produce its own results, without Executive influence. The principle that the people should do what---under the constitution---they please, is a whig principle. All that Gen. Taylor does is not only to consent, but to appeal to the people to judge and act for themselves. And this was no new doctrine for Whigs. It was the ``platform'' on which they had fought all their battles, the resistance of Executive influence, and the principle of enabling the people to frame the government according to their will. Gen. Taylor consents to be the candidate, and to assist the people to do what they think to be their duty, and think to be best in their natural affairs, but because he don't want to tell what we ought to do, he is accused of having no principles. The Whigs here [have?] maintained for years that neither the influence, the duress, or the prohibition of the Executive should control the legitimately expressed will of the people; and now that on that very ground, Gen. Taylor says that he should use the power given him by the people to do, to the best of his judgment, the will of the people, he is accused of want of principle, and of inconsistency in position.

Mr. Lincoln proceeded to examine the absurdity of an attempt to make a platform or creed for a national party, to all parts of which all must consent and agree, when it was clearly the intentionPage  3 and the true philosophy of our government, that in Congress all opinions and principles should be represented, and that when the wisdom of all had been compared and united, the will of the majority should be carried out. On this ground he conceived (and the audience seemed to go with him) that General Taylor held correct, sound republican principles.

Mr. Lincoln then passed to the subject of slavery in the States, saying that the people of Illinois agreed entirely with the people of Massachusetts on this subject, except perhaps that they did not keep so constantly thinking about it. All agreed that slavery was an evil, but that we were not responsible for it and cannot affect it in States of this Union where we do not live. But, the question of the extension of slavery to new territories of this country, is a part of our responsibility and care, and is under our control. In opposition to this Mr. L. believed that the self named ``Free Soil'' party, was far behind the Whigs. Both parties opposed the extension. As he understood it the new party had no principle except this opposition. If their platform held any other, it was in such a general way that it was like the pair of pantaloons the Yankee pedler offered for sale, ``large enough for any man, small enough for any boy.'' They therefore had taken a position calculated to break down their single important declared object. They were working for the election of either Gen. Cass or Gen. Taylor.

The Speaker then went on to show, clearly and eloquently, the danger of extension of slavery, likely to result from the election of General Cass. To unite with those who annexed the new territory to prevent the extension of slavery in that territory seemed to him to be in the highest degree absurd and ridiculous. Suppose these gentlemen succeed in electing Mr. Van Buren, they had no specific means to prevent the extension of slavery to New Mexico and California, and Gen. Taylor, he confidently believed, would not encourage it, and would not prohibit its restriction. But if Gen. Cass was elected, he felt certain that the plans of farther extension of territory would be encouraged, and those of the extension of slavery would meet no check.

The ``Free Soil'' men in claiming that name indirectly attempted a deception, by implying the Whigs were not Free Soil men. In declaring that they would ``do their duty and leave the consequences to God,'' merely gave an excuse for taking a course that they were not able to maintain by a fair and full argument. To make this declaration did not show what their duty was. If it did we should have no use for judgment, we might as well be made without intellect, and when divine or human law does not clearly point out whatPage  4is our duty, we have no means of finding out what it is by using our most intelligent judgment of the consequences. If there were divine law, or human law for voting for Martin Van Buren, or if a fair examination of the consequences and first reasoning would show that voting for him would bring about the ends they pretended to wish---then he would give up the argument. But since there was no fixed law on the subject, and since the whole probable result of their action would be an assistance in electing Gen. CASS, he must say that they were behind the Whigs in their advocacy of the freedom of the soil.

Mr. Lincoln proceeded to rally the Buffalo Convention [4] for forbearing to say anything---after all the previous declarations of those members who were formerly Whigs---on the subject of the Mexican war, because the Van Burens had been known to have supported it. He declared that of all the parties asking the confidence of the country, this new one had less of principle than any other.

He wondered whether it was still the opinion of these Free Soil gentlemen, as declared in the ``whereas'' at Buffalo, that the whig and democratic parties were both entirely dissolved and absorbed into their own body. Had the Vermont election given them any light? They had calculated on making as great an impression in that State as in any part of the Union, and there their attempts had been wholly ineffectual. Their failure there was a greater success than they would find in any other part of the Union.

Mr. Lincoln went on to say that he honestly believed that all those who wished to keep up the character of the Union; who did not believe in enlarging our field, but in keeping our fences where they are and cultivating our present possession, making it a garden, improving the morals and education of the people; devoting the administration to this purpose; all real Whigs, friends of good honest government;---the race was ours. He had opportunities of hearing from almost every part of the Union from reliable sources, and had not heard of a country [county?] in which he had not received accessions from other parties. If the true Whigs come forward and join these new friends, they need not have a doubt. We had a candidate whose personal character and principles he had already described, whom he could not eulogize if he would. Gen. Taylor had been constantly, perseveringly, quietly standing up, doing his duty, and asking no praise or reward for it. He was and must be just the man to whom the interests, principles and prosperityPage  5 of the country might be safely intrusted. He had never failed in anything he had undertaken, although many of his duties had been considered almost impossible.

Mr. Lincoln then went into a terse though rapid review of the origin of the Mexican war and the connection of the administration and of General Taylor with it, from which he deduced a strong appeal to the Whigs present to do their duty in the support of General Taylor, and closed with the warmest aspirations for and confidence in a deserved success.

At the close of this truly masterly and convincing speech, the audience gave three enthusiastic cheers for Illinois, and three more for the eloquent Whig member from that State. [5]

Annotation

[1]   Boston Daily Advertiser, September 14, 1848. The Whig state convention was to meet in Worcester on September 13, and Lincoln spoke on the preceding evening to an assembly of delegates and other Whigs.

[2]   Ensign H. Kellogg of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, chairman of the meeting.

[3]   General Taylor's letter of April 22, 1848, ostensibly addressed to his brother-in-law, Captain J. S. Allison of Louisville, Kentucky, was in fact a political letter originally drafted in Washington by John J. Crittenden, Alexander Stephens, and Robert Toombs, and carried to Taylor's headquarters by Major William W. S. Bliss. It was widely printed by the Whig press as a campaign document.

[4]   The Free Soil Party was organized at Buffalo, New York, on August 9, 1848.

[5]   On the next morning Lincoln was one of several impromptu speakers at ``an enthusiastic meeting near the Rail Road station, where the different delegations had assembled'' to meet incoming delegations. Lincoln was ``interrupted by the arrival of the train from Boston, and a procession was then formed and moved to the Town Hall.'' (Boston Daily Advertiser, September 14, 1848.)

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