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How We Elected Lincoln

A.J. Dittenhoefer


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CIRCUMSTANCES brought to me personal knowledge of Mr. Lincoln for nearly four years. I had frequent interviews with him, and so was able to form a well-considered estimate of the great Emancipator's character and personality.

Born in Charleston, South Carolina, of Democratic pro-slavery parents, I was brought in early youth to New York; and although imbued with the sentiments and antipathies of my Southern environment, I soon became known as a Southerner with Northern principles. At that time there were many Northern men with Southern principles. The city of New York, as I discovered upon reaching the age of observation, was virtually an

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annex of the South, the New York merchants having extensive and very profitable business relations with the merchants south of the Mason and Dixon line.

The South was the best customer of New York. I often said in those days, "Our merchants have for sale on their shelves their principles, together with their merchandise."

An amusing incident occurred to my knowledge which aptly illustrates the condition of things in this pro-slavery city. A Southerner came to a New York merchant, who was a dealer in brushes and toilet articles, and offered him a large order for combs. The New York merchant, as it happened, was a Quaker, but this was not known to the Southerner. The latter made it a condition, in giving this large order, that the Quaker merchant should exert all his influence in favor of the South. The Southerner wished to do something to offset the great agitation headed by the abolitionists which had been going on for years in the North for the extinction of slavery in the South. The Quaker merchant coolly replied that the South would have to go lousy for a long time before he would sell his combs to them under any such conditions.

Another occurrence that took place at an earlier period still further illumines this intense proslavery feeling. When Wendell Phillips, to my

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mind one of the greatest orators of America, delivered a radical and brilliant anti-slavery speech at the old Tabernacle, situated in Broadway below Canal Street, the hall was filled with pro-slavery shouters; they rotten-egged Phillips in the course of his address. With some friends I was present and witnessed this performance.

At nineteen I was wavering in my fidelity to the principles of the Democratic party, which, in the city of New York, was largely in favor of slavery. I had just graduated from Columbia College, which was then situated in what is now known as College Place, between Chambers and Murray streets. At that time many of our prominent and wealthy families lived in Chambers, Murray, and Warren streets, and I frequently attended festivities held by the parents of the college boys in the old-fashioned mansions which lined those thoroughfares.

Soon after leaving college I became a student in the law office of Benedict & Boardman, occupying offices in Dey Street, near Broadway. At that time the late John E. Parsons, a distinguished member of the New York bar, was the managing clerk; and Charles O'Conor, the head of the New York bar in that generation, and who, in later years, ran as an Independent candidate for the Presidency, was connected with that firm as counsel.

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Sitting one day at my desk, I took up a newspaper, and the debate between Judah P. Benjamin, the rabid but eloquent pro-slavery Senator from Louisiana, and Benjamin F. Wade, the free-soil Senator from Ohio, attracted my attention.

Benjamin had made a strong address in defense of slavery when Wade arose and replied. He began his reply with some bitter and memorable words, words which completely changed my political views.

"I have listened with intense interest," said he, "as I always do to the eloquent speech of my friend, the Senator from Louisiana—an Israelite with Egyptian principles."

My father, who was a prominent merchant of New York in those days, and very influential with the German population, had urged me to become a Democrat, warning me that a public career, if I joined the Republican party, would be impossible in the city of New York. I felt that he was right in that view, as the party was in a hopeless minority, without apparent prospect of ever being able to elect its candidates.

This was absolutely plain from the fact that Tammany Hall controlled the entire election machinery in this city, there being no law at that time which required the registration of voters before Election Day. Moreover, the inspectors of election were Tammany heelers, without any Re-

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publican representation on the election boards. In consequence, fraudulent voting prevailed to a large extent.

And yet my convictions were irrevocably changed by the reading of Fade's speech in answer to Benjamin. It struck me with great force that the Israelite Benjamin, whose ancestors were enslaved in Egypt, ought not to uphold slavery in free America, and could not do so without bringing disgrace upon himself.

Having convinced my father that slavery should no longer be tolerated, he abandoned his old political associations, cast his vote for Lincoln and Hamlin, and remained a Republican until his death.

Several years later, if I may anticipate, William M. Tweed, who had not yet become "Boss," but who had great and powerful influence in Tammany Hall, besought me to join Tammany, calling my attention to the fact that the power of the Democratic party was supreme in the city of New York, and that the organization needed some one to influence the German element.

He gave me his assurance that if I came into Tammany Hall I should receive prompt recognition, and in a few years undoubtedly would become judge of the Supreme Court; later on I might go still higher up. I thanked Mr. Tweed for his friendly interest in me, but told him that no polit-

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ical preferment could induce me to abandon my convictions and lead me to support slavery.

When Tweed became the absolute "Boss" of Tammany, some years later, lie renewed his request that I should join Tammany Hall. Recurring to his previous promise, he again urged me to become a member of his organization; again I refused.

One can hardly appreciate to-day what it meant to me, a young man beginning his career in New York, to ally myself with the Republican party. By doing so, not only did I cast aside all apparent hope of public preferment, but I also subjected myself to obloquy from and ostracism by my acquaintances, my clients, and even members of my own family.

I was about twenty years of age when the first Republican convention met at Pittsburg. It succeeded the disruption of the old Whig party, the latter losing in public esteem on account of its indifference toward the slavery question.

Gen. John C. Fremont, known as the Pathfinder, was nominated for President, and William L. Dayton, of New Jersey, was nominated for Vice President. The appellation of Pathfinder was given to Fremont because in earlier years he had explored the then hardly known Western territory, with the aid of scouts and pioneers, and had indicated passes and routes through the mountains.

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Though not yet of age, I stumped for Fremont and Dayton, making many speeches during that memorable campaign, and participating in several barbecues, which were then the usual accompaniment of a political campaign. I was well received in the towns where I was scheduled to speak. A military band and a citizens' committee generally met me at the station, and escorted me through the streets to the hotel or private house in which it was arranged that I should stay.

The thrilling battle-cry of that campaign was, "Free Speech, Free Soil, Free Men, and Fremont !" These words were shouted at all public meetings and in all public processions, and were received with the wildest enthusiasm. Indeed, the cry was a stump speech in itself; it still thrills me as I write. Like the "Marseillaise," it was a shout for freedom set to music.

Fremont had served by appointment for a brief period as Senator from the State of California. His popularity as a candidate was aided by the fact that his wife, Jessie Benton Fremont, was the brilliant daughter of Thomas H. Benton, who for thirty years was a Senator from Missouri ; and who, in later years, published his well-known book, Thirty Years in the United States Senate. In the later part of his career, Benton, who had been a strong supporter of the "peculiar institution" in the South, became an opponent of the extension

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of slavery in new territory. Mrs. Fremont was an important figure in that campaign; her name was always mentioned with great respect by the opposition speakers.

Early in the Civil War, President Lincoln, in appreciation of Fremont 's splendid services in the exploration of the West and because he had been the first Republican candidate for President, appointed him commander of a portion of the Federal forces. On August 31, 1861, Fremont issued a military order emancipating the slaves of all persons in arms against the United States. This action did not meet with Mr. Lincoln's approval; he considered it premature, and perhaps he was right in that view; accordingly he directed that the proclamation should be withdrawn.

I was afterward reconciled to Fremont 's defeat in 1856, for the reason that, had he been elected, the probability is that Abraham Lincoln, the greatest figure in American history, never would have attained the Presidency.

Here it may be of interest to record that in the convention of 1856, which nominated Fremont, Lincoln received one hundred and ten votes for the Vice-presidency, while Mr. Dayton, the successful candidate, had only a few more votes. Nevertheless, Lincoln did not achieve a national reputation until he engaged in the memorable Lincoln and Douglas debates in Illinois.

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During the Fremont campaign I sometimes spoke in German, especially in towns in which there was a large Teutonic population, and I was hoping that I might influence the German population of New York, two-thirds of which had allied itself with the Democratic party.

The most memorable event in Air. Lincoln 's career, after the Fremont campaign, was his appearance in joint debate with Stephen A. Douglas, then known as the "Little Giant," during the months of August, September, and October, 1858. The challenge came from Lincoln, in a letter of July 24th, proposing the joint meetings. Seven debates were subsequently agreed upon to take place in Ottawa, Freeport, Jonesboro, Charleston, Galesburg, Quincy, and Alton. These debates attracted great attention in all parts of the country, and were fully reported by the New York and Chicago newspapers. Robert R. Hitt, who afterward became charge d'afaires at Paris, and in later years chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, reported stenographically all the speeches, and gave me a vivid impression of them.

In the opening address at Ottawa, the "Little Giant" explained clearly what he meant by the doctrine of popular sovereignty, which he had advocated in the United States Senate for many years, and which by the Free Soil people of the

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North was looked upon as merely a blind to cover the extension of slavery in free territory.

Douglas had introduced bills giving Statehood to the Territories of Kansas and Nebraska, and commenting upon these bills he said it was not intended to legislate slavery into any State or Territory or to exclude it therefrom, but "to leave the people thereof entirely free to form and regulate their domestic institutions as they thought best, subject only to the Federal Constitution."

Now in the North the agitation to prevent the extension of slavery in those States was intense; indeed, as the question involved the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, which prohibited the extension of slavery in newly acquired territory and which had been on the statute-book for many years, it became the great issue of the Republican party.

Mr. Lincoln's speeches were filled with quaint phrases and interpolated jests. The latter always were apt and calculated to keep his hearers, friendly or antagonistic, in a good humor. In his Ottawa answer to Douglas's opening speech Mr. Lincoln asserted that any attempt to show that he (Lincoln) advocated "perfect social and political equality between the negro and the white man is only a specious and fantastic arrangement of words, by which one might prove a horsechestnut was a chestnut horse."

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All Lincoln demanded for the negro was the right to eat the bread which his own hands had earned without leave of anybody.

Lincoln was fond of quoting from the Bible without mentioning the fact, whereas Douglas was often caught differing with the Scriptures. Naturally Lincoln took advantage of his political opponent's lack of Biblical knowledge.

Judge Douglas, in the debate of July 16, 1858, said: "Mr. Lincoln tells you in his speech made in Springfield, 'A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved. I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it to cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other."'

Judge Douglas then proceeded to use as his keynote of his speech Lincoln 's sentence: "A house divided against itself cannot stand," arguing eloquently and apparently quite unaware of its Biblical origin.

Referring to Judge Douglas's criticism of his expression, "A house divided against itself cannot stand," Lincoln asked: "Does the judge say it can stand? If lie does, then it is a question of veracity not between him and me, but between the judge and an authority of somewhat higher character."

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Lincoln's fondness for scriptural stories and incidents is further illustrated when, having appointed a man to a judgeship who had been suspected of having been connected with a certain secret organization which was opposed to Lincoln's renomination, he was remonstrated with and his magnanimity criticized. He replied: "I suppose Judge ----, having been disappointed, did behave badly, but I have scriptural reasons for appointing him. When Moses was on Mount Sinai, getting a commission for Aaron, that same Aaron was at the foot of the mountain making a false god for the people to worship. Yet Aaron got the commission."

As an answer to Douglas's doctrine of popular sovereignty Lincoln said that he could not understand why, in the Territories, any man should be "obliged to have a slave if he did not want one. And if any man wants slaves," argued Lincoln, "all other citizens in the Territory have no way of keeping that one man from holding them."

He denounced fiercely the scheme of the Southern slaveholders to annex Cuba as a plan to increase the slave territory. It may be recalled that the conference at Ostend during Buchanan's administration was held for that purpose. Horace White has published an admirable description of his tour with these debaters. In a parade at Charleston thirty-two young ladies,

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representing States of the Union, carried banners. This "float" was followed by a handsome young woman on horseback, holding aloft a burgee inscribed: " Kansas, I will be free!" Upon the side of the float was the legend:

Westward the star of empire takes its way; We girls link on to Lincoln, as our mothers did to Clay.

Senator Douglas charged that these debates had been instituted for the purpose of carrying Lincoln into the United States Senate. Although Lincoln denied this, the Democrats believed there was some foundation for the assumption.

The meeting at Dayton was a particularly boisterous one. Elijah Parish Lovejoy, a brother of the distinguished Owen Lovejoy, who was very prominent in the abolitionist agitation, had been assassinated there nineteen years before for his anti-slavery opinions, but neither of the speakers referred to the fact.

To show the pro-slavery sentiment that dominated the entire Government at that time, the famous dictum of Chief-Justice Taney in the Dred Scott decision that "a negro had no rights that a white man was bound to respect," may appropriately be recalled.


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