“In making a speech, Mr. Lincoln was the plainest man I ever heard. He was not a speaker but a talker. He talked to jurors and to political gatherings plain, sensible, candid talk, almost as in conversation, no effort whatever in oratory. But his talking had wonderful effects. Honesty, candor, fairness, everything that was convincing, were in his manner and expressions.”
John Hill, quoted by Ida M. Tarbell in The Life of Abraham Lincoln
“What thrilled the people who stood before Abraham Lincoln … was the sight of a being who, in all his actions and habits, resembled themselves, gentle as he was strong, fearless as he was honest, who towered above them all in that psychic radiance that penetrates in some mysterious way every fiber of the hearer’s consciousness.”
Francis Grierson, The Valley of Shadows
(recalling Lincoln at the Alton debate)
In 1853, real estate speculators John D. Gillett, Virgil Hickox, and Robert B. Latham planned to develop a town about thirty miles north of the state capital on the alignment of the Chicago & Mississippi Railroad (soon to be the Chicago & Alton) as it extended toward Bloomington. The speculators hired Abraham Lincoln as their attorney, and they obtained his permission to name the new town after him. On August 27 of that year, Abraham Lincoln, according to local legend, christened the town in his name with watermelon juice. This town thus became the first Lincoln namesake town several years before he gained national fame. Here, Mr. Lincoln practiced law, owned a lot on the Logan County Courthouse square (from 1858 till his death in 1865), and engaged in politics. His most noteworthy namesake town political experience was a speech he gave during a county-wide rally on October 16, 1858, the day after the last Lincoln-Douglas debate in Alton, Illinois.
In January of 2008, the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission of Lincoln, Illinois, decided to erect an historical marker for this 1858 political rally and speech on the Logan County Courthouse lawn and to re-enact this event on its sesquicentennial anniversary (October 16, 2008). Honoring Abraham Lincoln in these ways would exemplify the mission of the Illinois Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, which “encourages every community and citizen to become involved. Communities are encouraged to learn about their Lincoln stories and explore ways to relate their Lincoln heritage in public events and commemorative activities.” A central problem in re-enacting this event, however, is that no copy of this speech has ever been found, and newspaper accounts of the event do not report anything he said. As a native Lincolnite and honorary member of this Commission with an academic background in English studies and history, I offered to research and compose a complete play script for this re-enactment, and the Commission accepted this offer.
This historical play titled “Mr. Lincoln Rallies Logan County, Illinois, 1858” has multiple purposes. First, it attempts to educate: the speakers make ample references to local, state, and national history; and the figure of Mr. Lincoln expresses the key ideas he used to oppose slavery and his rival for the U.S. Senate, Stephen A. Douglas. Second, the play attempts to entertain by including a generous amount of the kind of humor that was characteristic of nineteenth-century political rallies in general and Lincoln’s stump speeches in particular. Third, the ultimate purpose of this play, whether it is experienced as a production or read, is to inspire more interest in the life, times, and legacy of Abraham Lincoln—especially as relating to Illinois—and the American political tradition.
A key precedent for this article is Robert E. Sherwood’s Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1937). Sherwood’s book first presents his Pulitzer-Prizewinning play and then provides a substantial discussion to identify its sources and explain how the playwright adapted them to create his characters, plot, and theme. Similarly, this article describes the research process for finding sources used to create “Mr. Lincoln Rallies Logan County.” This article also explains the dramatic structure of the play and the content of Lincoln’s speech. A version of this research report accompanies the text of the play submitted to the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission of Lincoln, Illinois, providing reference material for the directors and actors who produce it.
The Political Context of Mr. Lincoln’s 1858 Namesake Town Speech
Two men were largely responsible for convincing Abraham Lincoln to deliver a political speech in his first namesake town during the 1858 Senate race: Samuel C. Parks (1820—1917) and David Davis (1815—1886). Parks had first met Lincoln at Springfield in 1840 when Parks was studying law in the office of Lincoln’s first law partner, John T. Stuart. In 1846, Parks moved to Logan County and “followed the county seat from Postville to Mt. Pulaski and finally to the town of Lincoln….” While practicing law in Lincoln, Parks had his office on the square, and Abraham Lincoln and he sometimes collaborated on cases. During the Senate race of 1854—55, Parks wrote a letter of support to Lincoln. In the Senate race of 1858, Parks wrote another letter to Lincoln, dated August 9, in which Parks said his Republican friends and he wanted him to come to speak in the namesake town: “Our boys want you to speak here before Douglas does [probably referring to Douglas’s speech there of September 4] & they say they are going to give you a big time—have a barbaque [sic] & beat all the demonstrations that have been in the State…. Big words! But I think we can get up a big crowd for you.” Parks suggested Lincoln speak at Lincoln on August 29, two days after the second Lincoln-Douglas debate at Freeport in the far northern part of the state. Parks asked Lincoln to have Herndon give a written response, but there is no record of such a reply. Thus, it is unclear why Lincoln did not appear in his namesake town before Douglas did on September 4. Distance and speeches in other towns probably complicated arrangements.
David Davis had better luck in getting Abraham Lincoln to speak at Lincoln, Illinois, in the fall of 1858, when they had been friends for many years. They first became acquainted as they practiced law on the Eighth Judicial Circuit, often traveling together. In the 1840s, Davis and Lincoln were fellow Whigs. As lawyers, they were sometimes rivals, sometimes partners. In 1848 Davis became a judge on the circuit, and on several occasions Lincoln substituted for Davis on the bench. Their friendship grew in the mid 1850s as both contributed to the formation of the Republican party in Illinois. During the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Davis wrote Lincoln on September 25, 1858, and suggested Lincoln speak in Lincoln on October 16, the day after the last Lincoln-Douglas debate in Alton. As Davis’s biographer, Willard L. King, writes, “Davis, suddenly anxious, demanded that Lincoln come to Logan County where he himself was then holding court. Douglas had been there twice, he said, and Lincoln not at all, and the Democrats were making desperate efforts.” Davis wrote, “‘You must come … [;] Parks [Samuel C. Parks] fears this district may be a little doubtful.’ Lincoln came and Parks introduced him for a two-hour speech.” Then in 1860, it was Davis who during the Republican National Convention in Chicago successfully managed Lincoln’s effort to gain their party’s Presidential nomination.
One of Douglas’s 1858 political speeches in Lincoln, Illinois, was known to Abraham Lincoln because he witnessed it. On September 4, 1858, during the Lincoln-Douglas debates, as Douglas traveled by train from Chicago to Springfield, he stopped in Lincoln to deliver a speech. According to Lawrence B. Stringer, “Lincoln was also on the train, desiring to hear what Douglas would say and ready to take advantage of any indiscretions in the way of expressions, which Douglas might make, born in the heat of excitement and the adulation of and plaudits of his friends.” Douglas spoke under a circus tent between morning and evening performances, apparently hoping to swell his audience with circus attendees.
In describing Abraham Lincoln on the day of Douglas’s speech, Stringer relies on the eyewitness account of S. Linn Beidler of Mt. Pulaski, as reported in the Lincoln Herald on February 17, 1885. Stringer quotes from the Herald.
I [Beidler] was among the thousands who attended the great meeting in Lincoln to hear Douglas…. Lincoln [Illinois] was found to be in a holiday attire. From appearances, some effort had been made at decorating. An evergreen arch spanned the street, north of the Lincoln House [hotel]. On the arrival of the train, everybody was on the qui vive, to get first glimpse of the famous orator, and ‘ere the train came to a stop a surging crowd had surrounded it, giving vent to their feelings, by cheer after cheer, at sight of the Little Giant….
While thus taking a survey of the surroundings, I noticed, among a few others, a tall, lean gentleman, get off the rear end of the train, whom I recognized as Mr. Lincoln, having seen him before. My attention was attracted to him, from the fact, that while Douglas was received and cheered to the echo, not a human shake of the hand was then and there tendered Mr. Lincoln. In a wandering and gawking manner, he slowly wended his way around the outskirts of the crowd, with a collapsed old fashioned valise doubled up under his arm, toward the Lincoln House. I have wondered, but never made inquiry, why he was thus neglected, but presume his friends failed to meet him, or did not know he was coming. That he had friends is not a question, but just then none appeared.
The September 8th edition of the Bloomington Daily Pantagraph reprinted a satirical report of Douglas’s circus-tent speech in Lincoln, Illinois, that had been published in the Chicago Press & Tribune. The re-enactment play script uses information from that account to particularize Lincoln’s namesake town speech and to give it some humor.
On the stump, since the encounters with Douglas in 1854, Abraham Lincoln sometimes spoke after him to ensure a sizable audience, but not on this occasion (Lincoln had spoken earlier that day in Bloomington). Yet, Douglas’s campaigning in Lincoln’s namesake town may have helped motivate him to speak there as Davis suggested he needed to do, and Lincoln would have had to make a special effort to travel there the day after the debate in Alton, many miles away.
The Process of Researching and Writing “Mr. Lincoln Rallies Logan County”
A challenge in writing this play arose with the complex nature of its audience: how to address both the imagined, historic audience and the real, present-day audience. The characters’ speeches and dialogue contain information that provides the present-day audience with background necessary to understand historic events, but this information is concise enough to be appropriate for the original audience. The crowd behavior featured in the play attempts to entertain the present-day audience and yet maintain faithfulness to the accounts of crowd behavior during the Lincoln-Douglas debates and Abraham Lincoln’s stump speeches just before, during, and after those debates. Of course, the greatest challenge in writing this script was creating Mr. Lincoln’s speech and placing it in a dramatic context. The main tasks here were first finding and then adapting appropriate primary and secondary source information.
When this research began, the only source that The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln cited for his first namesake town political rally-speech of October 16, 1858, was a report in the Illinois State Journal of October 18, 1858. Additional research at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library led to the discovery of three more related items. The first was a notice for the rally and speech in the Bloomington Daily Pantagraph on the day the event was scheduled (October 16, 1858). The second and third items were accounts of that event in the Pantagraph of October 18, 1858, and in the Chicago Press & Tribune of October 21, 1858. The re-enactment play script uses information from all of the newspaper accounts.
The newspaper accounts of the rally-speech are the essential, primary sources that reveal the details of the setting and action, for example, the arrival of Lincoln at the train depot at midday and the procession of the participants to the front lawn of the Logan County Courthouse. Unfortunately, these newspaper accounts say nothing significant about what Abraham Lincoln said on this occasion. In addition to the preceding information, further research was conducted to identify the names of the other communities where Lincoln spoke during his senate campaign of 1858. Knowing those locations, in turn, would lead to other sources providing insight into the nature of these rallies and speeches, including what Lincoln said and how the audiences behaved.
The ever-developing Lincoln Log accessed on July 18, 2008, listed two hundred sixty entries for 1858 (from January 2 to December 31), and an analysis of these entries shows that Mr. Lincoln delivered fifty political speeches, not including the seven Lincoln-Douglas debates. Professor David H. Donald writes that Douglas gave one hundred thirty.The Lincoln Log shows that many of Lincoln’s 1858 speeches were given in central Illinois communities ranging from Oquawka west (on the Mississippi River) to Danville on the eastern side of the state. The central Illinois communities were most important for Lincoln to speak in because they included former Whigs, whose votes were most in contention, as explained later.
After the towns were identified where Abraham Lincoln spoke in 1858, the online version of The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, offered by the Abraham Lincoln Association, was searched for more information about his speeches in those settings.
In 1953, the Abraham Lincoln Association published The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, a multi-volume set of Lincoln’s correspondence, speeches, and other writings. Roy P. Basler and his editorial staff, with the continued support of the association, spent five years transcribing and annotating Lincoln’s papers. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln represented the first major scholarly effort to collect and publish the complete writings of Abraham Lincoln, and the edition has remained an invaluable resource to Lincoln scholars. Through the efforts of the Abraham Lincoln Association, the edition is now available in electronic form.
A Boolean search conducted of The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln combined “speeches” + “1858” + the name of a particular community, and of those fifty place names there were twenty-three records, typically based on newspaper accounts. In other words, The Collected Works has records for forty-six percent of the communities where Mr. Lincoln allegedly gave non-debate speeches in 1858. As expected, no record in The Collected Works was found for Mr. Lincoln’s namesake town speech of October 16, 1858; and no records were found for his speeches in such other communities as El Paso (August 28), Mattoon (September 7), Mt. Sterling (October 19), Dallas City (October 23), and Decatur (November 1).
Next, an analysis of these twenty-three records revealed that only two of them feature allegedly full texts of speeches: those at Springfield on June 16 (House Divided speech) and at Chicago on July 10. A few other records present alleged quotations from some of the other speeches, for example, those at Clinton on July 27, Beardstown on August 12, Lewistown on August 17, and Edwardsville on September 11; but most of these records merely summarize what Lincoln said, and some are quite brief. These twenty-three accounts occasionally describe such audience behavior as applause and laughter.
As expected, the records in The Collected Works indicate that the most common subject that Lincoln discussed in his stump speeches of 1858 was slavery, just as it was in the Lincoln-Douglas debates. In several speeches, for example, those at Macomb and Augusta (both on August 25), Tremont (August 30), and Monmouth (October 11), Lincoln specifically addresses the “old line Whigs” in the audience, asserting that he, not Stephen A. Douglas, is the true disciple of Henry Clay, the moderate, anti-slavery statesman. Lincoln’s focus on slavery in his 1858 political speeches typically led him to discuss popular sovereignty and the Dred Scott decision. Lincoln explained the implications of these subjects for the spread of slavery as the principal threat to the Union. His speeches also emphasized the differences between his views on slavery and those of his rival, Stephen A. Douglas.
The research for this project cast a wide net for information about Lincoln’s thinking that pertained to the subjects of the 1858 debates and stump speeches. Several biographies of Abraham Lincoln were examined, for example, those of Benjamin Thomas, David H. Donald, and Stephen B. Oates, as well as articles and other books on Lincoln that specifically discuss the Lincoln-Douglas debates, for example, Allen C. Guelzo’s Lincoln and Douglas. An examination was made of Lincoln’s speeches in the Lincoln-Douglas debates as seen in Harold Holzer’s The Lincoln-Douglas Debates. Holzer claims his edition offers the most accurate versions of the speeches and audience behavior. For the first time in American political history, reporters with special skill in shorthand were assigned to the debates in an attempt to record every word. Reporters from the pro-Democratic Chicago Times and the pro-Republican Chicago Press & Tribune covered all of the debates.
The newspapers tended to provide favorable editing for the speeches of the men they supported and perhaps less tampering with the text for the opposing speaker. The favorable editing involved polishing language to make it more fluent and grammatically correct. Editions of the speeches prior to Holzer’s book published the edited, somewhat embellished versions. Holzer’s edition has the pro-Democratic Times’ version of Lincoln’s speeches and the pro-Republican Press & Tribune’s version of Douglas’s speeches. Further, Holzer’s edition includes descriptions of audience behavior that previous editions omitted.
The main difference between these Senate candidates was that Lincoln believed slavery was a moral problem, while Douglas did not. Lincoln said the founding fathers did not intend for slavery to spread. Lincoln believed the founding fathers expected that individual states would eventually decide to eliminate slavery: what Lincoln repeatedly called “ultimate extinction.” According to historian Donald E. Fehrenbacker, Lincoln expected that the elimination of slavery in the South might take a hundred years, “but the Northern conscience would be satisfied without invading Southern constitutional rights, and the Union would be safe.”
Lincoln argued that the promises of the Declaration of Independence applied to all people in the United States, including Negroes. He contended that Negroes as human beings were entitled to the “natural rights” of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In other ways, Negroes were not the equal of whites. Lincoln pointed out that Stephen Douglas refused to consider slavery as a moral problem, did not view Negroes as human as whites, and thus believed the promises of the Declaration of Independence applied only to whites.
Just as Lincoln and Douglas differed on their views of the slavery problem, they differed in their speaking styles. Lincoln’s manner of public speaking is described by eyewitnesses, and this information would be of use to the actor portraying him in a dramatic re-enactment of the October 16 speech. Eyewitness accounts of Lincoln’s speaking style, gestures, and dialect are interesting and informative. The play script has minimal stage directions for Lincoln’s gestures, giving room for the actor to improvise as he wishes, based on the following as reference material.
One of the most detailed, revealing descriptions of Lincoln speaking was written by his Springfield junior law partner, William H. Herndon.
When he [Lincoln] began speaking, his voice was shrill, piping, and unpleasant. His manner, his attitude, his dark, yellow face, wrinkled and dry, his oddity of pose, his diffident movements—everything seemed to be against him, but only for a short time. After having arisen, he generally placed his hands behind him, the back of his left hand in the palm of his right, the thumb and fingers of his right hand clasped around the left arm at the wrist. For a few moments he played the combination of awkwardness, sensitiveness, and diffidence.
As he proceeded he became somewhat animated, and to keep in harmony with his growing warmth, his hands relaxed their grasp and fell to his side. Presently he clasped them in front of him, interlocking his fingers, one thumb meanwhile chasing another. His speech now requiring more emphatic utterance, his fingers unlocked and his hands fell apart. His left arm was thrown behind, the back of his hand resting against his body, his right hand seeking his side. By this time he had gained sufficient composure, and his real speech began. He did not gesticulate as much with his hands as with his head. He used the latter frequently, throwing it with vim this way and that. This movement was a significant one when he sought to enforce his statement. It sometimes came with a quick jerk, as if throwing off electric sparks into combustible material. He never sawed the air nor rent space into tatters and rags as some orators do. He never acted for stage effect…. There was a world of meaning and emphasis in the long, bony finger of his right hand as he dotted the ideas on the minds of his hearers.
Sometimes, to express joy or pleasure, he would raise both hands at an angle of about fifty degrees, the palms upward, as if desirous of embracing the spirit of that which he loved. If the sentiment was one of detestation—denunciation of slavery, for example—both arms, thrown upward and fists clenched, swept through the air, and he expressed an execration that was truly sublime. This was one of his most effective gestures, and signified most vividly a fixed determination to drag down the object of his hatred and trample it in the dust. He always stood squarely on his feet, toe even with toe; that is, he never put one foot before the other. He neither touched nor leaned on anything for support. He made but few changes in his positions and attitudes. He never ranted, never walked backward and forward on the platform. To ease his arms he frequently caught hold, with his left hand, of the lapel of his coat, keeping his thumb upright and leaving his right hand free to gesticulate … The designer of the monument recently erected in Chicago has happily caught him in just this attitude….
Other eyewitness accounts of Lincoln’s behavior while speaking were located. In Lincoln and Douglas, Allen C. Guelzo quotes George Beatty, who attended the Ottawa debate.
He [Lincoln] elongated himself to his full height and delivered himself awkwardly, it is true, but with the greatest animation and with one single gesture delivered with his right forefinger…. in fact that forefinger seemed to be continually scratching away out in front of the speaker. If I recall rightly, he wore one of those old-fashioned satin stocks or chokers, and it was warm and evidently impeded full use of his organs of speech, for he pulled it off and threw it down. A few moments later, with nervous impatience he pulled off his shirt collar, tearing loose the buttons and throwing it to the winds, and continued his speech minus both necktie and collar; and the old farmers cheered and howled.
Guelzo also quotes William Pitt Kellogg: “As he [Lincoln] reached some climax in his arguments, [he moved] to the front of the platform … and with a peculiar gesture hurl[ed] the point, so to speak, at his audience … [and then] walk[ed] slowly backward and resume[d] his speech.” Holzer quotes Carl Schurz’s description of Lincoln speaking: “His voice was exceedingly penetrating…. Its tone was not positively disagreeable…. He would, to give particular emphasis to a point, bend his knees and body with a sudden downward jerk, and then shoot up again with a vehemence … [; it made] him seem even taller than he really was.”
Lincoln’s pronunciation reflected the dialect he acquired during his formative years in Kentucky and southern Indiana. Thus, to educated listeners, Lincoln’s spoken English had a “frontier twang.” For example, Lincoln pronounced “Mr. Chairman” as “Meester Cheerman.” Professor Borit speculates that some of Lincoln’s pronunciation may have been for calculated effect: “He [Lincoln] deliberately adapted his style to the homespun oratory his people expected.” The play script often quotes Abraham Lincoln, but does not specify much about his dialect, allowing the actor who portrays Mr. Lincoln the freedom to improvise and adapt pronunciation (or not) based on the version of this article’s information that accompanies the script.
As noted above, Herndon refers to a public statue in Chicago that captured Lincoln’s stance as an orator.Herndon’s Lincoln was published in 1889, and the statue he refers to is The Standing Lincoln, a work by the famous sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. This statue is located in Lincoln
Park and was dedicated October 22, 1887. Carl Volkman notes that Saint-Gaudens “was the first sculptor to use the life mask of Lincoln and the casts of his hands made by Leonard Volk before Lincoln became president.”
The use of Leonard Volk’s casts has special significance for Lincoln, Illinois, because Volk said he first met Abraham Lincoln in July of 1858 outside the Lincoln House [hotel] in Lincoln, Illinois, and obtained Lincoln’s agreement for the casts to be made at a later time. These facts are even more interesting because the Saint-Gaudens statue of Abraham Lincoln served as the model for the body of a seven-foot, white-plaster Lincoln statue (now painted) in the present-day (1905) Logan County Courthouse on the first floor of the rotunda. The head of this statue was the work of Max Bachman(n). Bachman(n) (1862—1921), a German immigrant, was a distinguished sculptor, and his bronze version of this Lincoln statue is located in theVictory Neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Douglas’s speaking style greatly contrasted to that of Lincoln’s. Guelzo provides an incisive description.
Douglas, by contrast, was a hurricane of passion. One observer at the Alton debate in 1858 thought he spoke “in a very blustering manner, and so to speak, ‘frothed at the mouth’ when he became excited.” When Douglas first arrived in Congress, John Quincy Adams irritably described him as “ranting out his hour in abusive invective, his face convoluted, his gesticulation frantic,” and Harriet Beecher Stowe, watching Douglas in action in the Senate in 1856, described him as charging into floor debate “horse and foot.” He had a “quick, jerky, fiery way” and would emphasize his points “by shaking his head and seeming to dart forward … like the spring of a panther” and … paced “the platform to and fro….”
“Mr. Lincoln Rallies Logan County” refers to Douglas’s speaking style as the basis for the Republican Spectator’s joke about it.
During the 1858 debates and stump speeches, Lincoln and Douglas encountered a variety of audience behaviors from hostility to friendly hospitality. Sometimes the main speakers faced questions, sarcasm, and heckling: “Once the speeches began, partisans interrupted continually with outbursts of applause and cheering, occasional heckling, and frequent shouts of ‘Hit him again,’ ‘That’s the Doctrine,’ and ‘Give it to Him.’ At one encounter, a heckler shouted out his opinion that Lincoln was a fool, to which he quickly retorted, to gales of laughter: ‘I guess there are two of us.'” Interruptions from spectators were perhaps even more likely during stump speeches because they were less formal than the debates.
While speaking in Rushville just four days after his namesake town speech, Lincoln may have faced one of the most trying of distractions and disruptions during his stump speech experiences of that year.
Lincoln begins speaking at two in the afternoon to an audience of between 2,000 and 3,000, “among whom was a large number of ladies.” Lincoln states his views on slavery, and he defends his House Divided Speech against Stephen A. Douglas’s criticism. A couple of “disturbances” slightly mar Lincoln’s speech. Some suspect that the Democratic party is behind the appearance of “a black flag … found fluttering from the top of the Court house steeple!” A newspaper reports that the incident is “a public insult offered to the Republicans of Schuyler County.” During his speech, some “foolish boys” as well as “several females” heckle Lincoln to the point that he is “compelled to stop in the midst of his speech and request them to be still.” In spite of the problems, however, the paper adds that “the day passed off very pleasantly and successfully.
“Mr. Lincoln Rallies Logan County” includes considerable interaction between speakers and members of the audience, but it does not include extreme heckling because that misbehavior apparently was not typical of these audiences and would not be appropriate for the realistic drama, good humor, and celebratory atmosphere that the play attempts to capture. According to the historical record of Abraham Lincoln’s 1858 debate speeches and stump speeches, he responded to members of the audience on many occasions. The informality of stump speeches probably invited more interaction with spectators than the debates did, and Lincoln certainly performed well in such an arena. As Professor Ronald C. White, Jr., explains, Lincoln “built his reputation as a superb stump speaker because of his remarkable ability to enter into a give-and-take with the audience. Stephen A. Douglas, on the eve of his debates with Lincoln in the summer of 1858, acknowledged that Lincoln was ‘the strong man of his party—full of wit, facts, dates, and the best stump-speaker with droll-ways and dry jokes in the west.'”
The newspaper accounts of Lincoln’s stump speeches of 1858 sometimes describe those speeches as “conversational,” suggesting audience reaction and speaker-audience interaction. For example, in his speech at Tremont on August 30, Lincoln is described as “talking familiarly and often eloquently to his old Whig friends.” At Lincoln’s speech at Edwardsville on September 11, a spectator requested that Lincoln explain the difference between the Republican and Democratic positions on “the leading issues of this campaign.” In the play, that question is posed by The Whig Spectator because it would have been an especially appropriate question for a Whig to ask and because it usefully leads Mr. Lincoln to make some key points.
A Whig spectator is a logical person to ask Lincoln to distinguish between Republicans and Democrats. Whigs were an important demographic in the audiences of 1858. Many of the stump speeches that Lincoln and Douglas made before, during, and after the debates were held in central Illinois—the Whig Belt—because “old line” Whigs were numerous, and their votes were sought by both candidates for the Senate. The Whig party had been formed to fight the policies of President Andrew Jackson, for example, Jackson’s opposition to a national bank. Lincoln had been a loyal Whig for many years, but the controversy over the Kansas-Nebraska Bill and the problem of what to do about slavery had fragmented the Whigs, contributing to the formation of the Republican party at the state and national levels.
Between the end of the debates and election day, both Douglas and Lincoln especially targeted the Whigs: “In this last phase of their campaigns, both candidates would concentrate entirely on the [Whig] Belt’s seventeen house districts—and the twenty-four representatives those districts would send to the state house—and the Belt’s two state senate districts where the seats were up for grabs in 1858. Concentrated in those districts were the votes which would swing the election, and they were votes which would be cast by politically homeless Whigs….”
Donald E. Fehrenbacker cites the importance of central Illinois to its 1858 Senate race and in turn the significance of Illinois to politics at the national level through the 1860 election.
The region that had previously been the heartland of Illinois Whiggery now became the battleground where each contest was decided. It was here, for instance, that Lincoln and Douglas concentrated most of their efforts in 1858, making only token expeditions into the north and south…. The striking thing about the political pattern in Illinois was its resemblance to the situation on the national scene, where a belt of border free states held the balance of power in the electoral college and in Congress … [e.g., Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana]. Here, then, was a zone of decision like the middle counties of Illinois, whose Republican leaders were certain to exercise an enormous influence upon their party’s choice of candidates and declaration of principles.
Fehrenbacher asserts that Abraham Lincoln’s presence in central Illinois “not only endowed him with geographical ‘availability,’ but made his ear keenly sensitive to the crosscurrents of public opinion and conditioned his fortunate assumption of a position somewhere near the emotional and doctrinal center of Republicanism.”
Summary of “Mr. Lincoln Rallies Logan County” with Excerpts
“Mr. Lincoln Rallies Logan County” is a one-act, historical play consisting of three scenes. The only two individuals at Abraham Lincoln’s October 16, 1858, rally and speech specifically identified in the newspaper reports were Lincoln and his namesake-town law associate and fellow Republican, Samuel C. Parks, who introduced Lincoln on this occasion; but others named in the play could have participated or attended also, as explained below. This play was written specifically for pageant-like street theater but could be adapted for the stage.
Scene 1: Parading and Mr. Lincoln’s Arrival
Scene 1 takes place at the present-day Amtrak depot in Lincoln, Illinois; and this location is just east of the railroad tracks, “kitty corner” from the actual train depot where Mr. Lincoln would have arrived in 1858. The original depot was located near the intersection of Broadway and Sangamon Streets, just west of the railroad tracks. The original depot is also where Lincoln’s train paused when he traveled to Chicago on November 21, 1860, to meet his Vice President-elect, Hannibal Hamlin, for the first time. During this brief pause, Lincoln spoke only a paragraph in which he explained why he would not make a substantive speech at that time. On May 3, 1865, the funeral train of President Lincoln briefly stopped near the depot on its way to Springfield.
Parade participants in period costume include various individuals in wagons and carriages and on foot. Some participants are in groups representing Republican delegations from communities throughout Logan County. Newspaper accounts of Mr. Lincoln’s first namesake town rally and speech in 1858 identify various towns that sent delegations. The one from Atlanta was estimated at three hundred to four hundred, had its own band, and led the other delegations (Chicago Press & Tribune). Other delegations were from the Lake Fork and Salt Creek areas, Delavan Prairie, Middletown, Mt. Pulaski (Press & Tribune). The Illinois Journal Register says groups also attended from Williamsville, Elk Hart [sic], and “nearly every [other] town in the county, bearing music and banners.”
The delegations in the re-enactment carry banners and signs with slogans indicated by the newspaper accounts. A group of Germans carried a banner proclaiming “Abe Lincoln, the choice of the Germans” (Illinois Journal Register). According to the Pantagraph, the other delegations’ banners displayed the following slogans: “Lincoln and Clay—one in principle: firm friends and true Republicans,” “Lincoln and Trumbull—the champions of Freedom,” “Hon. Abram [sic] Lincoln—the Pride of Illinois,” “Our Next Senator,” the latter sign being ” accompanied by a capital likeness of Mr. Lincoln, which was painted by R.D. Neal.” Two carriages held thirty-two young ladies, representing the thirty-two states in the Union in 1858, and “their dresses were as white as snow flakes in January” (Pantagraph).
Several black men, women, and children are among the spectators. The Underground Railroad ran near or through Lincoln, Illinois, so blacks may have been living in Logan County in 1858. The 1860 Census of Logan County, Illinois, documents the presence of blacks at that place and time: eight males between the ages of fifteen and forty-nine. Also, there were seven females between the ages of fifteen and forty-nine as well as ten children aged fourteen and under (two males and eight females).
In addition to the various community delegations, “Mr. Lincoln Rallies Logan County” features a Republican Spectator, a Democrat Spectator, and a Whig Spectator; and they are essential to the plot, interacting with Mr. Lincoln by asking questions and making comments. The Democratic and republican spectators are members of small groups of their respective political parties, and all members of these small groups are part of the action, applauding and cheering or booing and hissing at appropriate times. Most likely, the historic audience included curious Democrats who strongly opposed Abraham Lincoln. In fact, on October 10, 1863, there was violence at a meeting of Copperheads (Democratic Southern sympathizers) in Lincoln, Illinois, and a man was killed when a fight broke out.
A brass band is part of the action because these groups were a key component of nineteenth-century political rallies. Popular antebellum tunes were “America,” “Hail, Columbia,” “The Star-Spangled Banner”(even before it became The National Anthem in 1931), and “Yankee Doodle.” During the Lincoln-Douglas debates, brass bands sometimes played “Hail, Columbia,” and that tune was played after the Ottawa debate when Lincoln’s supporters hoisted him onto their shoulders. Before the Quincy debate, a local choir sang “Columbia, Gem of the Ocean.”
As the time for Mr. Lincoln’s arrival approaches, many of the parade participants converge at the present-day Lincoln Amtrak depot, located at the intersection of Broadway and Chicago Streets. The brass band entertains while the crowd waits. Mr. Lincoln (age 49) might arrive by train from Springfield at noon as he actually did (Pantagraph and Illinois State Journal), or he could emerge from the depot at the appointed time. The train he was on consisted of thirteen cars (Pantagraph). The cars were completely filled, and some people were even on the tops of the cars. Lincoln “was greeted with hearty cheers from the assembled multitude” (Illinois State Journal). In the play, as in history, Mr. Lincoln is met with a cannon blast (Press & Tribune). The brass band plays, and Mr. Lincoln is also met by a greeting committee of local dignitaries.
The brass band leads the way as Mr. Lincoln, the Greeting committee, and spectators begin their way east on Broadway Street one block to the courthouse square. Mr. Lincoln rides in a horse-drawn wagon, so the crowd has a good view of him. A black male drives the wagon.
Scene 2: Welcome and Samuel C. Parks’s Introduction of Mr. Lincoln
Scenes 2 and 3, in which Mr. Lincoln is introduced and delivers his speech, take place on the west side of the 1905, present-day Logan County Courthouse, facing Kickapoo Street. That site was the front area of the 1858 Logan County Courthouse, where Abraham Lincoln delivered his speech on October 16, 1858. The Illinois State Journal claimed five thousand people from throughout central Illinois attended.
A stage platform with speaker’s stand is located in front of the steps on the west side of the Logan County Courthouse. This platform has plenty of room for the members of the Greeting Committee to be seated on either side of the podium in full view of the audience. Plenty of space is roped off in front of the platform so that the Democratic Spectator, the whig Spectator, and the republican Spectator can step forth from the front of the crowd to make their comments and ask their questions of the speakers. Room has also been made on one side or the other of the platform near the area of the crowd for a soloist or choir. The brass band occupies the corresponding other side of the platform. Room front and center of the spectator area has been reserved for The Republican and the democratic groups, whose applause-cheering, hissing-booing throughout the play are important to the effectiveness of its drama and entertainment.
A contemporary Narrator (male or female) welcomes the audience, identifies the guest speaker, and introduces The Greeting Committee. It consists of Samuel C. Parks (age 38) and several others who might have attended. One of them is Robert B. Latham (age 40), a founding father of the first Lincoln namesake town. One good indication that Robert B. Latham was a Republican and would thus have attended the 1858 rally-speech is that Latham, along with S.C. Parks, delivered a celebratory speech in Lincoln when Abraham Lincoln received the Republican party’s nomination for President in May of 1860. With Latham on the 1858 Greeting Committee is his wife, Mrs. Sevillah (or, Savilla) Latham (age 22), whom he married in 1856. His first wife, Georgianna, had died a few years earlier. Mrs. Latham told historian Lawrence B. Stringer that her husband was the person whose idea it was to ask Abraham Lincoln’s permission to name the town after him.
John Dean Gillett (age 39), another founding father of Lincoln, Illinois, and a Republican, is a member of the Greeting Committee. He is accompanied by his daughter, Emma Susan (age 13). Emma Susan was the oldest of seven surviving daughters of John D. Gillett and Louisa Lemira Parke Gillett (b. 1821). In 1873, Emma married Richard J. Oglesby, veteran of the Mexican War, Civil War general, and three-term governor of Illinois. The Gillett sisters led privileged lives, becoming highly educated and accomplished. Several of them managed the large farms they inherited, long before women undertook such responsibility or were given the opportunity to do so. Other members of the Greeting Committee are E. Bowman, president of the town board (1858—59), and William Walker, the Republican candidate for the state legislature from that district and a supporter of Mr. Lincoln.
After introducing the Greeting Committee, the contemporary Narrator introduces a choir (or soloist), which (who) sings “The Star-Spangled Banner.” During the nineteenth century, “The Star-Spangled Banner” became one of the nation’s best-loved patriotic songs. Then, the contemporary narrator summarizes Mr. Lincoln’s role in the founding of the first namesake town and calls on Samuel C. Parks to introduce Mr. Lincoln. Parks’s introduction explains why Mr. Lincoln resumed his political career in 1854 and provides key background that both the historic and contemporary audiences would need to understand Mr. Lincoln’s speech. The Democratic Spectator adds drama and humor in the introduction and throughout the play. Everything Parks says is based on fact: the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act and its effect of motivating Lincoln to re-enter mainstream politics are discussed extensively in the Lincoln literature.
Scene 3: Mr. Lincoln’s Speech
According to the Illinois State Journal, “after the usual procession, which was a very long one, and partaking of some refreshments, Lincoln took the stand [the Chicago Press & Tribune puts the time at 2:00 p.m.], erected near the west front of the Court House, and beautifully decorated with wreaths of flowers, etc., and was introduced by S.C. Parks…. Mr. Lincoln then began his speech [the play has Mr. Lincoln taking his speech text from his hat], and for over two hours held the vast multitude enchained by the power of his eloquence. His speech was one of the best he ever made and the enthusiasm of his hearers was unbounded. They were wild with excitement, and betrayed a spirit that augurs well for success in Logan County.”
Of course, this newspaper account expresses high praise because its publisher was pro-Republican (most newspapers of that time were strongly partisan). Yet, the date and location of Lincoln’s namesake town speech suggest it could very well have demonstrated him at his best on the stump. He had just completed the Lincoln-Douglas debates and had thus fully developed his positions and arguments on the slavery issue, including his strategies for refuting Douglas’s views. Lincoln has been praised for his adaptability and increasing effectiveness. David H. Donald describes Lincoln “gaining in fluency and flexibility as the campaign [of 1858] progressed.” Harold Holzer writes “beyond the sometimes disjointed phrasing, [Lincoln’s 1858 debate speeches present] logic as riveting and moral suasion as soaring as that in his most carefully written speeches as president. And more than a hint of greatness yet to come.” When Lincoln spoke at Lincoln, he had completed most of his stump speeches in that campaign and had thus experienced most of the questions and the positive and negative reactions he was likely to encounter from the audience. Lincoln—a man with a sizable ego—would have been strongly motivated by this opportunity in his very own namesake town to answer Douglas’s speech there of September 4. What an opportunity for Lincoln to thrust his rhetorical rapier to puncture and deflate his pompous political rival!
Mr. Lincoln’s speech in this play distills the essence of his antislavery and anti-Douglas arguments as well as presents the humor that characterized Lincoln’s stump speeches. Thus, Mr. Lincoln’s speech is both informative and entertaining. This speech addresses the common interests of three kinds of political groups present at that speech: Republicans, “old line” Whigs, and Democrats. The rhetorical purpose of the speech is to persuade the audience to vote for the Republican ticket in the 1858 fall election in order to elect state legislators who would in turn choose Lincoln to succeed Stephen A. Douglas in the U.S. Senate. Once there, Lincoln could take the action necessary to prevent the spread of slavery to new territories and to existing free states. Such action would be in the common interest of all political groups present in the audience.
In his introduction Parks testifies to Abraham Lincoln’s good character and then explains the 1854 political context that led Lincoln to reenter politics. Parks quotes Lincoln’s 1854 speech at Peoria expressing how he reacted upon hearing of the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill. Parks’s introduction provokes an angry response from the democratic spectator.
Samuel C. Parks: Let me tell you why I support Mr. Lincoln for the Senate. I have known him for 18 years, so I truly understand his good character. We first met in Springfield in 1840 when I was studying law in the office of Mr. Lincoln’s first partner, Mr. John T. Stuart. In 1846, I moved to Logan County and lived and practiced law in all of its county seats: Postville, Mt. Pulaski, and now Lincoln. I have observed Mr. Lincoln in the courts at all of these places. In 1854 the county seat was moved to this town from Mt. Pulaski (loud boos from the Mt. Pulaski Republican delegation). All right, you Mt. Pulaski Hilltoppers, we hear you. But anyway—since then, Mr. Lincoln has often visited my office in the very building just behind you there (points to the building directly across the street, behind the audience), where he and I have worked together on many legal cases. Mr. Lincoln has also established himself as a public servant. Between 1834 and 1842, he served four terms in the Illinois state legislature, where he helped to write the law that created Logan County. He served as a U.S. congressman from 1847 to 1849. He then mostly withdrew from politics. Now for some more recent facts … (interrupted by The Democratic Spectator, who is highly agitated and steps forward from near the front of the crowd, yelling so that all can hear. Note: Throughout this play, the interruptions of the Democratic spectator, the republican spectator, and the whig spectator should be staged to afford them as much visibility and audibility as possible. For example, these figures should have an area in front of the platform to move into as they speak to help the audience see them, and they should have microphones.)
The Democratic Spectator: Wait a minute, wait a minute, Parks! We don’t want no long-winded introduction. Some of us came to hear Abe, not you! (applause and loud laughter from the Democratic Group)
Parks: Well, yes, but some folks here want to have a little more background to help them understand what Mr. Lincoln might talk to us about, so let me continue for just a couple more minutes. Mr. Lincoln had almost quit his career in politics until Senator Douglas and his Democratic party pushed the Kansas-Nebraska Bill through Congress in 1854 and got it signed by President Pierce. That law re-opened the possibility of slavery being extended into new territories. Before 1854, the extension of slavery had been limited by the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Most citizens, including Abraham Lincoln, had thought that slavery had been contained, and it would eventually just die out. The Kansas-Nebraska Bill shocked people in the North. As Lincoln said in his speech at Peoria exactly four years ago to this day, he was “astounded, thunderstruck, and stunned” (Each of these words is spoken emphatically and followed by a brief pause.) Mr. Lincoln knew he then had to get back into politics to fight the spread of slavery, and that’s why he has been debating the Little Giant and has come here today to speak to us (applause from the Republican group).
The Republican Spectator: (calling out loudly) Yes, that’s right. Good! Good! (bass drum beating and applause from the Republican Group)
Mr. Lincoln begins his speech by demonstrating his familiarity with the local audience and warming it up with the legendary anecdote about his advice to the town’s founding fathers when they asked him if they could name the town after him. Mr. Lincoln also refers to the lot he had acquired on the south side of the courthouse square just a few months earlier in 1858. The true story of Lincoln’s acquisition of the lot and the questionable anecdote of Lincoln’s tale about the unauthorized horse shed on the lot are described by James T. Hickey.
Mr. Lincoln: I have had many pleasant dealings in this town and other towns here in Logan County. You are kind to gather today to hear my remarks. When Mr. Latham and his partners asked me if they could name this town after me, I warned them that nothing named Lincoln ever amounted to anything, but I told them I had no objection if they were determined to do so. Now, every time I visit here I am pleased to see more and more new people and new businesses. I am happy to see this town is growing.
Let me give you an example of a new business. Last March I came into possession of a lot just over on the south side of the square (raises his left arm and points to the location—toward the present-day Arcade Building). I acquired this lot as payment for a loan debt owed to me. At the time I took possession of this property, I noticed a shed on my lot that I had not seen there before, and the shed had some horses in it. So I guess I was in a business that I didn’t even know about (laughter from the Republican and democratic groups). When I went into the courthouse to pay taxes on this lot, I met deputy sheriff Lewis Rosenthal, who is also the county tax collector, and I asked him whose shed and horses were on my lot. Mr. Rosenthal said a man here in town who is a good friend of mine was going into the horse trading business and needed a temporary place to stable some extra horses. I said, “Well, then I reckon that friend is getting all the benefit from the lot, and I am getting none, so that friend can pay the taxes.” I asked Rosenthall who that friend is, and he confessed he is the one. I paused and smiled at him as I said, “Oh, all right, I’ll be an equally good friend to you and pay the taxes after all” (applause and laughter from the Republican group).
The other new businesses I now see prove that this town is amounting (emphasized) to something. I am now involved in a political competition with Judge Douglas that I hope will prove that I, too, will amount to somethingwill amount to somethingI have had many pleasant dealings in this town and other towns here in Logan County. You are kind to gather today to hear my remarks. When Mr. Latham and his partners asked me if they could name this town after me, I warned them that nothing named Lincoln ever amounted to anything, but I told them I had no objection if they were determined to do so. Now, every time I visit here I am pleased to see more and more new people and new businesses. I am happy to see this town is growing.
The other new businesses I now see prove that this town is amounting (emphasized) to something. I am now involved in a political competition with Judge Douglas that I hope will prove that I, too, will amount to something (applause, laughter from the republican and democratic groups, and bass drum beating).
For additional local color and humor early in the speech, Mr. Lincoln refers to his sitting silently in the audience when Douglas spoke in that town under a circus tent on September 4 soon after the debates had begun. Mr. Lincoln quotes a humorous passage from a satirical account of that event first published in the Chicago Press & Tribune and re-published in the Bloomington Daily Pantagraph on September 8. The quoted passage pokes fun at Douglas by pointing out the difficulty of classifying the type of circus performer he was that day.
Mr. Lincoln: Just yesterday Judge Douglas and I finished our joint discussions with our debate in Alton. We had also appeared in debates at six other towns throughout the state, and each of us has spoken individually in dozens of other Illinois towns. You also know that just a little more than a month ago Judge Douglas had his own rally in this town. He took advantage of a circus being here to attract a crowd. I sat in the audience but did not speak because it was his special day. Now, my friends and I have our special day in this town—but there is no circus here to give me an artificial audience with inflated numbers, so I thank you again for coming to hear me (applause from the Republican group). A day or two after Douglas spoke under the circus tent here, the Chicago Press & Tribune published a humorous account of it. That account suggested that when Douglas was here, he was (emphasized) part of the circus, but the newspaper was not sure exactly what kind of performer he was. Let me read to you just a brief quotation from that article: “Where Judge Douglas is classed we are not informed. Whether he is among the riders, acrobats, gymnasts, or one of the clowns the circus bill leaves us in a blissful ignorance.” Well, my friends, do you think Judge Douglas could be any of these kinds of circus performers?
The republican spectator: (loudly) Yes, yes! When Douglas spoke here, some of us Republicans went to see him. He used his whole body for theatrical effects. He strutted and paced back and forth. He waved his arms wildly. He shook his head so that his long hair flew all around, and he contorted and twisted his face. In all of these things, Douglas acted just like a clown! (loud laughter from the republican group, applause, and drum beating)
Mr. Lincoln: (raises his arm slightly as a signal for the crowd to get quiet) Well, my friends, perhaps you have been amused (pauses), but now we must be serious. Many of you have read reports in the newspapers of the debates that the Judge and I have just concluded, so you know that the main subject has been the slavery problem. Today let me tell you how Judge Douglas and I disagree on the question of slavery.
The first substantive component of Lincoln’s speech is a refutation of popular sovereignty as the solution to the slavery problem. In many of his 1858 speeches, Lincoln discussed popular sovereignty, which was at the heart of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill controversy. In his namesake town speech, Lincoln argues that popular sovereignty was not invented by Douglas, as he leads people to think. Lincoln explains that popular sovereignty, the right of self-government, is a fundamental American principle but that in the Kansas territory situation it has not worked. The pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution was passed in Kansas because many free-soil (antislavery) settlers there were unable to register and those who had registered protested by boycotting the poles. Lincoln also explains that Douglas’s concept of popular sovereignty is false because when one man governs another without his consent, as slaves are controlled by their masters, the result is not self-government but despotism. Moreover, the Dred Scott decision prevents voters in any new territory from excluding slavery.
To express his views on popular sovereignty, Mr. Lincoln reads a passage from his famous 1854 speech in Peoria. Toward the end of his comments on popular sovereignty, Mr. Lincoln uses the pronunciation of “gur-r-r-reat pur-r-r-rinciple” to express sarcasm toward Douglas’s version of popular sovereignty. This pronunciation may or may not be anachronistic. Lincoln used this technique in his Cooper Union Address of 1860, and Lincoln, well known for his sarcasm, may have used this technique earlier.
At this point, the democratic spectator interrupts Lincoln to complain about having to listen to a lecture. Wanting more entertainment than information, the democratic spectator asks Lincoln what was the funniest story or joke that he told during the debates. Lincoln, trying to stay on message, explains that the seriousness of the debates caused him to tell fewer stories and jokes than he usually did in stump speeches.
Mr. Lincoln resumes his speech by answering the Whig spectator’s question about what is the difference between Republicans and Democrats. An anonymous citizen had asked this question during Lincoln’s stump speech at Edwardsville on September 11. In his answer, Mr. Lincoln combines the response given to this anonymous citizen with ideas expressed in some his other 1858 speeches. For example, in the first debate at Ottawa, Lincoln said the “ultimate extinction” of slavery may take a hundred years. While defending the Negro’s “natural rights” as promised by the Declaration of Independence, Mr. Lincoln denies he is an advocate for social and political equality between whites and blacks, as he did with controversy at the Charleston debate and with somewhat less emphasis at the Quincy debate. The response to the whig spectator also includes remarks Lincoln made during the Jonesboro debate of September 15, 1858, in which he comes as close as ever to calling Douglas a liar.
Mr. Lincoln: Yes, you are correct to ask that, and I was asked this very same question about a month ago when I spoke at Edwardsville, and basically I gave the following reply: the difference between the Republican and the Democratic parties on the leading issue of this contest, as I understand it, is, that we Republicans consider slavery a moral, social and political wrong, while the Democrats do not consider it either a moral, social or political wrong. Judge Douglas more than once has said he does not care whether slavery is voted down or voted up. Every measure of the Democratic party of late years, bearing directly or indirectly on the slavery question, has corresponded with this notion of utter indifference whether slavery or freedom shall outrun in the race of empire across the Pacific—every measure, I say, up to the Dred Scott decision, where the idea is boldly suggested that slavery is better than freedom. The Republican party, on the contrary, holds that this government was instituted to secure the blessings of freedom, and that slavery is an unqualified evil to the Negro, to the white man, to the soil, and to the State. Regarding slavery as an evil, the Republicans, however, will not molest it in the States where it exists, but they will use every constitutional method to prevent the evil from becoming larger. They will place slavery in a course of ultimate peaceable extinction, in God’s own good time.
The republican spectator: (loudly). Yes! Yes! Hurrah for Lincoln! That’s the right doctrine! (applause from the republican group and bass drum beating. Mr. Lincoln raises his arm slightly to signal the need for quiet.)
Mr. Lincoln: (speaks passionately, lifts his arms and points with his right index finger to emphasize his main ideas). Let me emphasize that I believe in the gradual, ultimate extinction of slavery—it may take a hundred years—, so Judge Douglas is completely wrong when he accuses me of being an abolitionist. I have never been an abolitionist. He also falsely accuses me of trying to get rid of slavery by starting a civil war. I don’t want to call him a liar, but, yet, if I come square up to the truth, I do not know what else it is. The Judge is also wrong when he accuses me of being in favor of total equality between whites and blacks. I have repeatedly said that just because I do not want a Negro for a slave does not mean I want one for a wife. And just three days ago in Quincy, I explained there is no reason in the world why the Negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence—the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I hold that the Negro is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas, the Negro is not my equal in many respects …, but in the right to eat the bread which he earns with his own hands, he is my equal, and the equal of Judge Douglas, the equal of every living man.
The republican spectator: (loudly calls out) Yes, yes, you are right, Abe! We are with you! (applause from the Republican group and bass drum beating. Mr. Lincoln raises his arm to quiet the crowd.)
Clearly, Lincoln strongly disliked Douglas’s rhetorical exaggerations for calculated effect. Professor Guelzo writes that “Lincoln had not liked Douglas then —he referred to the five-foot-four-inch Douglas as ‘the least man I ever saw’—and the impression did not improve with time.”
At this point in the play, for comic relief, the Democratic spectator interrupts Lincoln to complain about being bored. The Democratic spectator asks Lincoln if he said anything funny during the debates. Lincoln in typical understatement says he is not sure if he did. Lincoln then says during the first debate at Ottawa, Douglas tried to be funny by making a snide reference to Lincoln as a saloon keeper in New Salem. Lincoln responds by denying he was a saloon keeper, but admits he did work in “the latter part of one winter at a little still house up the head of a hollow [valley].”
In the play script, Mr. Lincoln tells another liquor-related anecdote about how he turned the tables on Douglas. This second anecdote may be apocryphal: the research for this project found no reliable primary source for it. Whipple’s The Story Life of Lincoln quotes an alleged eyewitness named Thomas H. Tibbles, who claimed he saw and heard Lincoln tell this story at the Galesburg debate, but no such story appears in Lincoln’s Galesburg speech or anywhere else in the debate texts. In this second anecdote, Lincoln, admits the second version is legend, but says he will tell it anyway. The second version has Lincoln as a grocery store keeper who did sometimes sell whiskey, and one of his good customers was Douglas. The punch line is, “but the difference between us now is this: I have left my side of the counter, but Mr. Douglas still sticks to his as tenaciously as ever.” This second anecdote is used in this play because it is even funnier than the first.
Lincoln returns to his serious purpose by discussing the Dred Scott decision, another common subject of the debates and of the 1858 stump speeches. Lincoln explains that the Dred Scott decision of the Supreme Court meant that Negroes could not be citizens, that slaves were property, and that slave owners could take their property with them to the new territories. Lincoln explains how this ruling conflicted with popular sovereignty’s promise that citizens in a new territory could vote on whether they wanted slavery or not. Lincoln also explains that Douglas said the people of a new territory could still choose to exclude slavery by refusing to enact the laws necessary to ensure and enforce slavery (slave codes).
At this point, the Democratic spectator again becomes a tool for comic relief when he asks whether the rumor is true that Douglas and Lincoln were going to settle their differences with a fist fight. Lincoln denies the rumor, explaining that it was based on a misinterpretation of something Douglas had said during a speech in Havana, Illinois, on August 14.
Lincoln’s conclusion combines statements he made from three key speeches. First, he quotes from the Quincy debate to summarize the slavery problem concisely. Second, he draws upon his House Divided speech of June 16, 1858, to explain his fear of the Supreme Court issuing a follow-up decision that will be even more favorable to slavery than the Dred Scott decision. Lincoln says it is just a matter of time before the Supreme Court rules that slaves can be taken not only into new territories, but also into existing free states. Third, he quotes from the Ottawa debate to specify the reasons for his hatred of slavery. Lincoln’s strong conclusion is capped by his dramatic call for action.
Mr. Lincoln: Now, my friends, I am not going to detain you much longer. We have in our nation this element of domestic slavery. It is the opinion of all the great men who have expressed opinions upon it that it is a dangerous element. The Missouri Compromise had set forth limits on its future spreading, but Mr. Douglas’s Kansas-Nebraska Bill and the Dred Scott decision have removed those limits, so now we are faced with more national agitation. Why keep up a controversy in regard to it? If we do not restore the limits on slavery, we will not see its ultimate extinction. I reckon we will see it spreading. We can expect the next Dred Scott decision will declare that just as slavery cannot be kept out of the new territories, it cannot be kept out of those states that are now free. As I said in my House Divided Speech last June in Springfield—and this is a crucial point—, “we shall lie down pleasantly dreaming that the people of Missouri are on the verge of making their State free; and we shall awake to the reality, instead, that the Supreme Court has made Illinois a slave state.” Is that what you people of central Illinois want?
The republican and Democratic spectators: (loudly answering together) No, no, we do not want slavery in Illinois! Never! Never!
Mr. Lincoln (in this conclusion—called the peroration in classical rhetoric—, Lincoln becomes quite animated, as expressed through voice and gesture, emphasizing his main points by raising his arms and by jabbing with the index finger of his right hand.)
Let me say I think I have no prejudice against the Southern people. They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist amongst them, they would not introduce it. Yet, I cannot but hate slavery because of its monstrous injustice. I hate it because it deprives the Negro of his natural rights promised in the Declaration of Independence. I hate slavery because it deprives our nation of its just influence in the world—enables the enemies of free institutions to ridicule us as hypocrites—causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty—criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle but self-interest.
My fellow citizens, let me emphasize that we must take action to return slavery to its original status as established by the founding fathers. Your votes for the Republicans running for the state legislature will be votes that will send me to the Senate. There, I will work to restore the Missouri Compromise and to urge the Supreme Court to overturn its Dred Scott decision so we can once again put slavery on the course of ultimate extinction as the founding fathers intended. And now, I will close by asking you a simple question—will you help me in this necessary and noble cause?
The Republican Spectator: Yes, yes, we will do it! You speak the true doctrine! Yes, we are with you! Hurrah, hurrah for Honest Abe!
(The Republican Group ad libs with various, loud expressions of support. The Greeting committee rises and applauds. In the Republican group, the democratic group, and the entire audience, there is loud, growing applause and cheering. The bass drum beats fiercely, and the band begins to play. Mr. Lincoln walks to the side of the podium, taking several bows. He returns to stand in front of his chair, and Emma Susan Gillett walks over to hand him his hat. In gratitude, he kisser her head. He raises his hat above his head before he puts it on. As he leaves the platform, a group of enthusiastic supporters hoist Abraham Lincoln onto their shoulders, and they leave the courthouse lawn, following the blaring brass band.)
The election results brought Lincoln quite close to the Senate seat he had coveted so much. As Guelzo notes, “Some of the Whig Belt districts fell to Douglas by maddeningly narrow margins,” and an obsolete apportionment gave Democrats an unfair advantage. In Logan County, the Republicans won “by 141, but lost the representative district in losing Macon County by 216 votes….” Lincoln’s stump speech at Lincoln surely must have given him a measure of satisfaction and proof of his growing rhetorical powers that in the next two years would advance him to the Presidency.