Sunday, March 29, 2009

'He Saw Victory Escape His Grasp'

13th of 45 excerpts from Lincoln by David Herbert Donald:
When the Repubican state convention assemled in the statehouse at Springfield on June 16 [1858], the outcome was prearranged. Without dissent, the delegates adopted a noncontroversial platform [Orville Hickman] Browning had drafted and nominated candidates for state treasurer and superintendent of eduction. Then they turned to the real business of the meeting. When [Norman] Judd and the Chicago delegation brought in a banner inscribed Cook County For Abrham Lincoln the delegates exploded in applause. A member from Peoria moved to change the motto to "Illinois is for Abraham Lincoln," and the convention went wild. Unanimously the delegates voted that Abraham Lincoln was "the first and only choice of the Republicans of Illinois for the United States Senate, as the successor of Stephen A. Douglas. It was a [William] Herndon reported, "a grand affair," and the Republicans "all felt like exploding -- not with gass [sic], but with electric bolts, shivering what we struck."

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The seven formal debates between Lincoln and Douglas were only a small part of the 1858 campaign, though they naturally attracted the greatest interest. . . .

On the day after the Quincy debate, both Lincoln and Douglas got aboard the City of Louisiana and sailed down the Mississippi River to Alton, for the final encounter of the campaign. Looking haggard with fatigue, Douglas opened the debate on October 15 in a voice so hoarse that in the early part of his speech he could scarcely be heard. . . . He concluded with a rabble-rousing attack on the racial views he attributed to Republicans and an announcement "that the signers of the Declaration of Independence . . . did not mean negro, nor the savage Indians, nor the Fejee Islanders, nor any other barbarous race," when they issued that document.

In his reply . . . Lincoln again went through his standard answers to Douglas's charges against him and the Republican party . . . that brought him again to what he perceived as "the real issue in this controversy," which once more he defined as a conflict "on the part of one class that looks upon the institution of slavery as a wrong, and of another class that does not look upon it as a wrong." Rising to the oratorical high point in the entire series of debates, he told the Alton audience: "That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles -- right and wrong -- throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings."

* * * * *
Though Lincoln was not surprised by the outcome of the election, he was bitterly disappointed. Once again, he saw victory escape his grasp. With one more defeat added to his record, he had received yet another lesson in how little his fate was determined by personal exertions.

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