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were not ready for war, probably not even for secession, as shown later by the manner in which the Southern states withdrew; but a few influential men were able to make the conflict inevitable. As Blaine explains, slavery as an economic institution and slavery as a political force were distinct, and the war was brought on by those who wished to use the question as a political engine for the consolidation of power.
Lincoln characteristically remained quiet on all subordinate issues, and, having as yet no power to act on the main question, did nothing to inflame it, but none the less told his spokesmen where he stood. Not for a moment did he encourage the talk about peaceable secession which was so widespread throughout the North. Buchanan's cabinet was partly composed of Southern conspirators, Washington was full of them, they were in every Northern city, and the President, although loyal, was so weak that he took in a confused and frightened way the position that if the South wished to go he saw no way to prevent it. That was bad enough, but when Lincoln beheld the abolitionists themselves arguing for the right of secession, he required all of his own convictions to maintain the stand which he never lost. Not only did Greeley argue in his influential
paper that the Southern right to
secede was as good as that of the Colonists in 1776, a statement put in more exaggerated form by the New York Herald and many other papers, both Democratic and Republican, but the mass of the Northern people seemed as weak-kneed as their leaders.
true not only in the Middle States, but even in New England, for in Boston itself, Wendell Phillips needed the protection of the police, and so sudden was the change in sentiment that George William Curtis had to abandon a lecture in Philadelphia, for fear of a riot, five weeks after that city had given Lincoln an immense majority. To vote for a conviction was one thing; to fight for it was another.
Lincoln, living quietly in his Springfield home, watched the sentiment at the North, knowing that when the lapse of a few months called him to action, he should stand for the straight course, however raging the storm. A fortnight after the election, when Springfield was holding a jubilee, he spoke a few simple words, among them these: “I rejoice with you in the success which has thus far attended that cause.
Yet in all our rejoicings, let us neither express nor cherish any hard feelings toward any citizen, who by his vote has differed with us. Let us at all times remember that all American citizens are brothers of a
common country, and should dwell together in the bonds of fraternal feeling." But kindness was no clearer in his attitude than determination. While he was for conciliation he was opposed to the only possible compromise, which was concession either of more territory for slavery or of the right to secede. He granted the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law and nothing more. My opinion," he wrote to Thurlow Weed, December 17, 1860, "is, that no state can in any way lawfully get out of the Union without the consent of the others; and that it is the duty of the President and other government functionaries to run the machine as it is.” To W. Kellogg, representative from Illinois on December 11, he wrote: " Entertain no proposition for a compromise in regard to the extension of slavery. The tug has got to come, and better now than later.” Two days later he wrote to Mr. Washburne: “ Your long letter received: Prevent as far as possible any of our friends from demoralizing themselves and their cause
cause by entertaining propositions for compromise of any sort on slavery extension. There is no possible compromise upon it but what puts us under again, and all our work to do over again. Whether it be a Missouri line or Eli Thayer's popular sovereignty, it is all the same. Let either be
done, and immediately filibustering and extending slavery recommences. On that point hold firm as a chain of steel.”
This stand he held with calmness in the face of those who clamored for aggressive talk and of those who were for conciliation.
Some even went so far as to propose that, now that the principle of freedom had been vindicated at the polls, the way to peace should be prepared by Lincoln's retirement and the choice of some one more acceptable to the South. To the wild suggestions with which he was so plentifully supplied he said nothing. “In this country,” says Lowell, “where the rough-and-ready understanding of the people is sure at last to be the controlling power, a profound common sense is the best genius for statesmanship.” It was part of Lincoln's common sense, when, as Emerson puts it, “the new pilot was hurried to the helm in a tornado," to say as little as was necessary, and to speak only on the points which were at once crucial and certain. Salmon P. Chase, so soon to be a member of the cabinet, wrote on January 9, 1861, to Thaddeus Stevens, “He is a man to be depended on. He may, as all men may, make mistakes; but the cause will be want of sufficient information, not of soundness of judgment or of devotedness to principle.” This confidence was not, however, so widespread but that the President-elect needed
his power of thinking calmly in the midst of timidity, distrust, and considerable hysteria. Against his will he invited Thurlow Weed to Springfield, to talk over the situation, but this was for party harmony, and was almost an only instance.
While the South was rapidly being forced into secession by her leaders, and part of the North believed war inevitable, while the rest thought the idea inconceivable, nobody will ever know what Lincoln's opinion was. The signs as we look back on them seem indubitable enough. South Carolina sent circulars to the governors of other states in October and got mainly replies unfavorable to secession, but the little hotbed of rebellion framed a government for herself in November, modelled on our national form, her United States senators resigned, and Governor Pickens appointed a cabinet. Before the newly organized government sent commissioners to Washington, however, Buchanan's cabinet, thinned by various quarrels, had been filled with stronger men, and the President's own weakness was thus diminished. Driven by Judge Black, Secretary of State, and Edwin M. Stanton, Attorney-General, he gave the commissioners such a response to their demand for recognition as the representative of a foreign power that on January 2, a few days after they reached Washington, they went