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The United States of America: A History
Book 3: Chapter XI - Eighteen Hundred and Sixty


In this year America made her decennial enumeration of her people and their possessions. The industrial greatness which the census revealed was an astonishment not only to the rest of the world, but even to herself. The slow growth of the old European countries seemed absolute stagnation beside this swift multiplication of men and of beasts, and of wealth in every form.

The three millions of colonists who had thrown off the British yoke had now increased to thirty-one and a half millions Of these, four millions were slaves, owned by three hundred and fifty thousand persons. This great population was assisted in its toils by six millions of horses and two millions of working oxen. It owned eight millions of cows, fifteen millions of other cattle, twenty-two millions of sheep, and thirty-three millions of hogs. The products of the soil were enormous. The cotton crop of that year was close upon one million tons. It had more than doubled within the last ten years. The grain crop was twelve hundred millions of bushels—figures so large as to pass beyond our comprehension. Tobacco had more than doubled since 1850—until now America actually yielded a supply of five hundred millions of pounds. There were five thousand miles of canals, and thirty thousand miles of railroad—twenty-two thousand of which were the creation of the preceding ten years. The textile manufactures of the country had reached the annual value of forty millions sterling. America had provided for the education of her children by erecting one hundred and thirteen thousand schools and colleges, and employing one hundred and fifty thousand teachers. Her educational institutions enjoyed revenues amounting to nearly seven millions sterling, and were attended by five millions and a half of pupils. Religious instruction was given in fifty-four thousand churches, in which there was accommodation for nineteen millions of hearers. The daily history of the world was supplied by four thousand newspapers, which circulated annually one thousand millions of copies.

There belonged to the American people nearly two thousand millions of acres of land. They had not been able to make any use of the greater part of this enormous heritage. Only four hundred millions of acres had as yet become in any measure available for the benefit of man. The huge remainder lay unpossessed—its power to give wealth to man growing always greater during the long ages of solitude and neglect. The ownership of this prodigious expanse of fertile land opened to the American people a future of unexampled prosperity. They needed only peace and the exercise of their own vigorous industry. But a sterner task was in store for them.

During the last few years the divisions between North and South had become exceedingly bitter. The North was becoming ever more intolerant of slavery. The unreasoning and passionate South resented with growing fierceness the Northern abhorrence of her favoured institution. In the Senate house one day a member was bending over his desk busied in writing. His name was Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts. He was well known for the hatred which he bore to slavery, and his power as an orator gave him rank as a leader among those who desired the overthrow of the system. While this senator was occupied with his writing, there walked up to him two men whom South Carolina deemed not unworthy to frame laws for a great people. One of them—a ruffian, although a senator— whose name was Brooks, carried a heavy cane. With this formidable weapon he discharged many blows upon the head of the unsuspecting Sumner, till his victim fell bleeding and senseless to the floor. For this outrage a trifling fine was imposed on Brooks. His admiring constituents eagerly paid the amount. Brooks resigned his seat. He was immediately re, elected. Handsome canes flowed in upon him from all parts of the slave country. The South, in a most deliberate and emphatic manner, recorded its approval of the crime which he had committed.

To such a pass had North and South now come. Sumner vehemently attacking slavery; Brooks vehemently smiting Sumner upon his defenceless head—these men represent with perfect truthfulness the feeling of the two great sections. This cannot last.

A new President fell to be elected in 1860. Never had an election taken place under circumstances so exciting. The North was thoroughly aroused on the slave question. The time for compromises was felt to have passed. It was a death- grapple between the two powers. Peaceful arrangement was hopeless. Each party had to put forth its strength and conquer or be crushed.

The enemies of slavery announced it as their design to prevent slavery from extending to the Territories. They had no power to interfere in States where the system already exists. But the Territories belong to the Union. The proper condition of the Union is freedom. The Slave States are merely exceptional. It is contrary to the Constitution to carry this irregularity where it does not already exist.

The Territories, said the South, belong to the Union. All citizens of the Union are free to go there with their property. Slaves are property. Slavery may therefore be established in the Territories if slave-owners choose to settle there.

On this issue battle was joined. The Northern party nominated Abraham Lincoln as their candidate. The Southerners, with their friends in the North—of whom there were many— divided their votes among three candidates. They were defeated, and Abraham Lincoln became President.

Mr. Lincoln was the son of a small and not very prosperous farmer. He was born in 1809 in the State of Kentucky; but his youth was passed mainly in Indiana. His father had chosen to settle on the furthest verge of civilization. Around him was a dense illimitable forest, still wandered over by the Indians. here and there in the wilderness occurred a rude wooden hut like his own, the abode of some rough settler—regardless of comfort and greedy of the excitements of pioneering. The next neighbour was two miles away. There were no roads, no bridges, no inns. The traveller swain the rivers he had to cross, and trusted, not in vain, to the hospitality of the settlers for food and shelter. Now and then a clergyman passed that way, and from a hasty platform beneath a tree the gospel was preached to an eagerly-listening audience of rugged woodsmen. Many years after, when he had grown wise and famous, Mr. Lincoln spoke, with tears in his eyes, of a well-remembered sermon which he had heard from a wayfaring preacher in the great Indiana wilderness. Justice was administered under the shade of forest trees. The jury sat upon a log. The same tree which sheltered the court, occasionally served as a gibbet for the criminal.

In this society—rugged, but honest and kindly—the youth of the future President was passed. He had little schooling. Indeed there was scarcely a school within reach, and if all the days of his school-time were added together they would scarcely make up one year. His father was poor, and Abraham was needed on the farm. There was timber to fell, there were fences to build, fields to plough, sowing and reaping to be done. Abraham led a busy life, and knew well, while yet a boy, what hard work meant. Like all boys who come to anything great, he had a devouring thirst for knowledge. He borrowed all the books in his neighbourhood, and read them by the blaze of the logs which his own axe had split.

This was his upbringing. When lie entered life for himself it was as clerk in a small store. He served nearly a year there, conducting faithfully and cheerfully the lowly commerce by which the wants of the settlers were supplied. Then he comes before us as a soldier, fighting a not very bloody campaign against the Indians, who had undertaken, rather imprudently, to drive the white men out of that region. having settled in Illinois, he commenced the study of law, supporting himself by land- surveying during the unprofitable stages of that pursuit. Finally he applied himself to politics, and in 1834 was elected a member of the Legislature of Illinois.

He was now in his twenty-fifth year; of vast stature, somewhat awkwardly fashioned, slender for his height, but uncommonly muscular and enduring. He was of pleasant humour, ready and true insight. After such a boyhood as his, difficulty had no terrors for him, and he was incapable of defeat. His manners were very homely. his lank, ungainly figure, dressed in the native manufacture of the backwoods, would have spread dismay in a European drawing-room. lie was smiled at even in the uncourtly Legislature of Illinois. But here, as elsewhere, whoever came into contact with Abraham Lincoln felt that he was a man framed to lead other men. Sagacious, penetrating, full of resource, and withal honest, kindly, conciliatory, his hands might be roughened by toil, his dress and ways might be those of the wilderness, yet was lie quickly recognized as a born King of men.

During the next twenty-six years Mr. Lincoln applied himself to the profession of the law. During the greater portion of those years he was in public life. He had part in all the political controversies of his time. Chief among these were the troubles arising out of slavery. From his boyhood Mr. Lincoln was a steady enemy to slavery, as at once foolish and wrong. He would not interfere with it in the old States, for there the Constitution gave him no power; but he would in no ways allow its establishment in the Territories. He desired a policy which "looked forward hopefully to the time when slavery, as a wrong, might come to an end." He gained in a very unusual degree the confidence of his party, who raised him to the presidential chair, as a true and capable representative of their principles in regard to the great slavery question.


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