Imágenes de páginas

ous character of his client, who, though somewhat rowdyish, had never been known to commit a vicious act; and to show that a greater degree of ill-feeling existed between the accuser and the accused, than the accused and the deceased.

“The prosecutor felt that the case was a clear one, and his opening speech was brief and formal. Lincoln arose, while a deathly silence pervaded the vast audience, and in a clear and moderate tone began his argument. Slowly and carefully he reviewed the testimony, pointing out the hitherto unobserved discrepancies in the statements of the principal witness. That which had seemed plain and plausible ho made to appear crooked as a serpent's path. The witness had stated that the affair took place at a certain hour in the evening, and that, by the aid of the brightly shining moon, he saw the prisoner inflict the death-blow with a slung-shot. Mr. Lincoln showed that at the hour referred to the moon had not yet appeared above the horizon, and consequently the whole tale was a fabrication.

"An almost instantaneous change seemed to have been wrought in the minds of his auditors, and the verdict of 'not guilty' was at the end of every tongue. But the advocate was not content with this intellectual achievement. His whole boing had for months been bound up in this work of gratitude and mercy, and as the lava of the overcharged crater bursts from its imprisonment, so great thoughts and burning words leaped forth from the soul of the eloquent Lincoln. Ho drow a picture of the perjurer so horrid and ghastly, that the accuser could sit under it no longer, but reeled and staggered from the courtroom, whilst the audience fancied they could see the brand upon his brow. Then in words of thrilling pathos Lincoln appealed to the jurors as fathers of some who might become fatherless, and as husbands of wives who might be widowed, to yield to no previous impressions, no ill-founded prejudice, but to do his client justice; and as he alluded to the debt of gratitude which he owed the boy's sire, tears were seen to fall from many eyes unused to weep.

" It was near night when he concluded, by saying that if justice was done-as he believed it would be-before the sun should set, it would shine upon his client a free mạn. The jury retired, and the court adjourned for the day. Half an hour had not elapsed, when, as the officers of the court and the volunteer attorney sat at the tea-table of their hotel, a messenger announced that the jury had returned to their seats. All repaired immediately to the court-house, and whilst the prisoner was being brought from the jail, the court-room was filled to overflow

[ocr errors]

ing with citizens from the town. When the prisoner and his mother entered, silence reigned as completely as though the house were empty. The foreman of the jury, in answer to the usual inquiry from the court, delivered the verdict of "Not Guilty )' The widow dropped into the arms of her son, who lifted her up and told ber to look upon him as before, free and innocent. Then, with the words, Where is Mr. Lincoln ?' he rushed across the room and grasped the hand of his deliverer, whilst his heart was too full for utterance. Lincoln turned his eyes towards the West, where the sun still lingered in view, and then, turning to the youth, said, “It is not yet sundown and you are free. I confess that my cheeks were not wholly unwet by tears, and I turned from the affecting seene. As I cast a glanco behind, I saw Abraham Lincoln obeying the Divine injunction by comforting the widowed and fatherless."

Mr. Lincoln was three times elected to the Legislature; and here commenced his political acquaintance with Stephen A. Douglas. He then remained six years in private life, devoting himself to the practice of the law, displaying remarkable ability, and gaining an enviable reputation. His interest in politics never subsided, and in 1844 he stumped the entire State of Illinois during the Presidential campaign. We have before mentioned that one of his earliest books was the “Life of Henry Clay," and his enthusiastic admiration for that Statesman, aroused in his boyhood, continued in full force during his life. In 1847 Mr. Lincoln took his seat in Congress, and was the only Whig representative from Illinois, which had then seven members in Congress.

The Congress of which Mr. Lincoln was a member, had before it questions of great importance and interest to the country. The Mexican War was then in progress, and Congress had to deal with grave questions arising out of it, besides the many which were to be passed upon as to the means by which it was to be carried on. The irrepressible Slavery Question was there, also, in many of its Protean forms, in questions on the right of petition, in questions as to the District of Columbia, in many questions as to the Territories.

Mr. Lincoln was charged by his enemies in later years, when political enmity was hunting sharply for material out of which to make political capital against him, with lack of patriotism, in that he voted against the war. The charge was sharply and clearly made by Judge Douglas, at the first of their joint discussions in the Senatorial contest of 1858. In his speech at Ottawa, he says of Mr. Lincoln, that “while in Congress he distinguished himself by his opposition to the Mexican war, taking the side of the common enemy against his own country, and when he returned home he found that the indignation of the people followed him every. where."

No better answer can be given to this slander than that which Mr. Lincoln himself made in his reply to this speech. He says: "I was an old Whig, and whenever the Democratic party tried to get me to vote that the war had been righteously begun by the President, I would not do it. But whenever they asked for any money or land-warrants or any thing to pay the soldiers there, during all that time I gave the same vote that Judge Douglas did. You can think as you please as to whether that was consistent. Such is the truth, and the Judge has a right to make all he can out of it. But when he, by a general charge conveys the idea that I withheld supplies from the soldiers who were fighting in the Mexican war, or did any thing else to binder the soldiers, he is, to say the least, grossly and altogether mistaken, as a consultation of the records will prove to him.”

We should need no better proof of the falsity of this charge than this explicit denial. And it is a noticeable fact, that during all the remaining joint debates between Lincoln and Douglas, the latter never repeated the slander until the last half hour of the last debate, to which Mr. Lincoln had no opportunity of replying. Douglas's supporters, however, made vigorous use of the charge everywhere. The whole foundation of it, doubtless, was the fact which Mr. Lincoln states, that, whenever the Democrats tried to get him “to vote that the war had been righteously begun," he would not do it. He might have said more than this. He might have said, as was the fact, that he had been a thorn in their sides on this very point; that he had not only refused to vote that the war was “righteously begun," but bad made their efforts to falsify and conceal the facts, and deceive the people into the belief that it was “righteously begun,” far more difficult. He showed, in fact, on this point the same clearness and directness, the same keen eye for the important point in a controversy, and the same tenacity in holding it fast and thwarting his opponent's utmost efforts to obscure it and cover it up, to draw attention to other points and raise false issues, which were the marked characteristics of his great controversy with Judge Douglas at a subsequent period of their political history.

He saw that the strength of the position of the administration before the people in reference to the beginning of the war, was in the point, which they lost no opportunity of reiterating, viz., that Mexico 'had shed the blood of our citizens on our own soil. This position he believed to be false, and he accordingly attacked it in a resolution requesting the President to give the House information on that point; which President Polk would have found as difficult to dodge as Douglas found it to dodge the questions which Mr. Lincoln proposed to him.

On the right of petition Mr. Lincoln, of course, held the right side, voting repeatedly against laying on the table without consideration petitions in favor of the abolition of Slavery in the District of Columbia, and against the slave-trade.

On the question of abolishing Slavery in the District, he took rather a prominent part. A Mr. Gott had introduced a resolution directing the committee for the District to introduce a bill abolishing the slave-trade in the District. To this Mr. Lincoln moved an amendment instructing them to introduce a bill for the abolition, not of the slave-trade, but of Slavery within the District. The bill which he proposed prevented any slave from ever being brought into the District, except in the case of officers of the Government of the United States, who might bring the necessary servants for themselves and their families while in the District on public business. It prevented any one then resident within the District, or thereafter born within it, from being held in Slavery without the District. It declared that all children of slave mothers born in the District after January 1, 1850, should be free, but should be reasonably supported and educated by the owners of their mothers, and that any owner of slaves in the Dis



« AnteriorContinuar »