Lincoln was tall and ungainly, but his homely face was so strong and kind that every one trusted him. He was for several years a member of the Illinois legislature, and was once a member of Congress. Later on, when it came time to elect a senator for his state, some of his friends named him, while others named Stephen A. Douglas.
Both men were fine orators, and although Douglas was small, he was so strong in argument that he was called the “little giant.” Douglas’s speeches were very eloquent; but Lincoln’s were so simple, so full of common sense and human sympathy, that they went straight to people’s hearts.
These two men had many a debate during this campaign, and although Lincoln failed to be elected, he won many good friends.
Lincoln never pretended to be either wise or clever, but his life motto was “to do his level best,” and he manfully put it into practice. He did not like to hear all the quarreling that was going on, and always did all he could to stop it. But when he thought a thing right, he could be very firm; and once, after some ministers tried to convince him, by quoting Bible texts, that slavery was not wrong, he cried:
“I know there is a God, and that He hates injustice and slavery. I see the storm coming, and I know His hand is in it. If He has a place and work for me,—and I think He has,—I believe I am ready. I am nothing, but truth is everything. . . . Douglas don’t care whether slavery is voted up or down; but God cares, and humanity cares, and I care, and with God’s help I shall not fail. I may not see the end, but it will come, and I shall be vindicated [proved right], and these men will find that they have not read their Bibles aright.”
When called upon to make his first speech as senatorial candidate, Lincoln said: “—A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the house to fall, but I expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.” This speech is so plain, yet so clever, that it has always been greatly admired. As we have seen, Lincoln had won many friends, so when the time came to elect a new President he was one of the candidates proposed.
During this campaign some of the opposite party tried to spoil Lincoln’s chances by calling him a “rail splitter.” But his friends promptly said that was nothing to be ashamed of, and even carried rails in their processions. When asked whether he had really split the rails they thus paraded, Lincoln once smilingly said that he could not swear to the rails, although he had certainly split a great many just like them. A few gentlemen from the East, seeing Lincoln’s awkward figure, felt sure he would never do for President, but they changed their minds after hearing a speech he made in New York. All listened to it spellbound until he closed it with the noble words: “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it.—.
The campaign was an unusually exciting one, for the Southern states had vowed that if Lincoln was elected they would leave the Union. Every one, therefore, anxiously awaited the result of the election; and when it finally became known that Lincoln was chosen, the long–gathering storm burst. The time was now rapidly drawing near when our country was to be a prey to the saddest and bloodiest conflict in our history. War is a very sad thing, even when it has to be waged on outsiders; but a civil war, where friends, fellow–citizens, and even families are often divided, is the saddest thing in the world.
Without even waiting to see what Lincoln would do, the senators from South Carolina left their seats in Congress and went home. Next, a meeting was called in Secession Hall, in Charleston, South Carolina, where it was decided that South Carolina, the “Palmetto State,” should separate, or secede, from the Union (December 20, 1860). The Southern people, you know, firmly believed that they had a perfect right to leave the Union whenever laws were made which they thought unfair.
They were so sure they were doing right that in less than two months six other states joined South Carolina in seceding from the Union. Then the seven states, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, united to form a new republic, which was called the “Confederate States of America.” Southerners said that this new republic was to have “slavery for its corner stone,” and chose a well–known man, Jefferson Davis, for its President. At first Montgomery was the capital of the Confederacy, which adopted a flag with three bars and seven stars instead of the stars and stripes. When this became known in the North, and the people there realized that the new banner would be raised instead of the stars and stripes, they became so excited that Secretary Dix telegraphed to New Orleans: “If any person attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot!”