The Tragic Conflict: The Civil War and Reconstruction

By William B. Hesseltine | Go to book overview

3
Lincoln Campaigns Against Douglas

Horace White

It was my good fortune to accompany Mr. Lincoln during his political campaign against Senator Douglas in 1858, not only at the joint debates but also at most of the smaller meetings where his competitor was not present. We travelled together many thousands of miles. I was in the employ of the ChicagoTribune, then called the Press and Tribune.... My acquaintance with Mr. Lincoln began four years before the campaign of which I am writing, in October, 1854. I was then in the employ of the Chicago Evening Journal. I had been sent to Springfield to report the political doings of State Fair week for that newspaper. Thus it came about that I occupied a front seat in the Representatives' Hall, in the old State House, when Mr. Lincoln delivered a speech.... The impression made upon me by the orator was quite overpowering. I had not heard much political speaking up to that time. I have heard a great deal since. I have never heard anything since, either by Mr. Lincoln or by anybody, that I would put on a higher plane of oratory. All the strings that play upon the human heart and understanding were touched with masterly skill and force, while beyond and above all skill was the overwhelming conviction pressed upon the audience that the speaker himself was charged with an irresistible and inspiring duty to his fellow-men. This conscientious impulse drove his arguments through the hearers down into their bosoms, where they made everlasting lodgment. I had been nurtured in the Abolitionist faith, and was much more radical than Mr. Lincoln himself on any point where slavery was concerned, yet it seemed to me, when this speech was finished, as though I had had a very feeble conception of the wickedness of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill. I was filled, as never before, with a sense of my own duty and responsibility as a citizen toward the aggressions of the slave power.

Having, since then, heard all the great public speakers of this country subsequent to the period of Clay and Webster, I award the palm to Mr. Lincoln as the one who, although not first in all respects, would bring more

WILLIAM H. HERNDON and JESSE W. WEIK, eds., Abraham Lincoln: The True Story of a
Great Life
, 2 vols. ( New York, 1888), Vol. II, Ch. 4.

-67-

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