Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 2.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.
Page  377

Speech at Vandalia, Illinois [1]

September 23, 1856

Hon. Ab. Lincoln, the veteran Whig orator of Illinois, having now arrived, was next called out. He began by saying that a few days previously, passing through Vandalia to an appointment of his own, he learned that a Democratic meeting was in progress in the square and came up. The speaker on the stand was one of his earliest political and personal friends, Mr. Davis, known in these parts as ``Long Jim Davis.'' [2] Long Jim at the meeting referred to paid him (Mr. L.) particular attention, and Mr. L., a gentleman of the old school, now proceeded to pay his respects to his long friend. Mr. D. had abused him because he voted while in Congress in favor of the Wilmot Proviso. But after that wicked vote, this same gentleman, believing that he (Mr. L.) the only Whig from Illinois, had some influence with Gen. Taylor, requested his influence to procure for him (Davis) a certain Land Office, and he got it! [3] [laughter.]

One of Mr. D.'s arguments to prove the Republican a disunion party was, that they made their flag with only thirteen stars on it! At the close of Mr. D.'s speech, Mr. L. took him to the corner of the State House and pointing to the Democratic flag (still flying there), requested him to count the stars. He did so, and in there were just thirteen! [Old liner in the crowd---``That's for the thirteen original States.''] Lincoln---``Then you don't care anything about the new States. That leaves Illinois out of the Union!['']

Mr. Davis admitted in his speech (in order to hedge against it) that he made the first Anti-Nebraska speech printed in Illinois---and added, ``if any of these little men (Republicans) want a speech on the subject I will send them one of mine.'' Mr. L. thought it must be a very little man who could learn anything from that speech. [Laughter.] Having thus disposed of his friend ``Long Jim,'' in a manner so genial and mirthful that the victim himself, had he been present, could not have taken umbrage at it, Mr. L. addressed himself to the general topics of the day. He adverted to the attempt to stigmatize the Republican party as fanatical and disunion on account of the sentiments of particular supporters of that party, and showed, by quoting from the disunion speeches of Toombs, Slidell, Wise and Brooks, [4] that this argument was a two-edged sword.

A medical gentleman launched another democratic argument at the speaker by saying, as he shrugged his shoulders, ``I must be a woolly head!'' L.---``Very well, shave off the wool then.'' ThisPage  378 repartee told with the more effect, as there was an unlucky twist in the doctor's hair and whiskers, and was evidently enjoyed by the audience more than by himself.

He demonstrated that the Republicans are walking in the ``old paths''---read the recorded sentiments of Washington, Jefferson and others, and dwelt at length upon the position of Henry Clay, (now quoted against him,) the Nestor of the old Whig party. After quoting the declarations of these canonized leaders of both the great parties, he pointed to the doctor who had before interrupted him, and inquired, ``What more than this has Fremont said, that you call him a woolly head? I ask you, sir?''

The Doctor seemed suddenly to have lost the organs of speech. L.---``You can make this charge, and yet, when called upon to justify it, your lips are sealed.'' One or two lawyers put their heads together with the Doctor's. Mr. L. (smiling)---``That's right, gentlemen, take counsel together, and give me your answer.'' Doctor (trying to look cheerful)---``He found the woolly horse and ate dogs.'' L.---That aint true---but if it was, how does it prove that Fremont is a woolly head---how?'' The Doctor, wearing the expression of a man standing on a bed of live coals, did not get off any answer. Mr. L. (after a long pause)---You're treed, my friend.'' [Loud laughter.]

Both the speakers were frequently interrupted by certain Buchanan men, whose zeal was without knowledge, and we are confident that all who adventured upon this undertaking went away with a lively recollection of the adage about handling edged tools. Although much of the speaking was a hand-to-hand fight, owing to the discourtesy of certain opposers, yet the self-possession, wit, and unflagging good nature of the speakers, made the discussion tell on the sober, honest men who listened.. . .


[1]   Chicago Democratic Press, September 27, 1856. Brackets are in the source.

[2]   James M. Davis.

[3]   See Lincoln to Josiah B. Herrick, January 19, 1849, supra.

[4]   Senator Robert Toombs of Georgia, Senator John Slidell of Louisiana, Governor Henry A. Wise of Virginia, and Representative Preston S. Brooks of South Carolina.