Wrestling with His Angel: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1849–1856


>>Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you. I would like to welcome you to the McGowan
located in the National Archives and Records Administration Building here in Washington,
D.C. My name is Doug Swanson, I am the Visitor Services Manager for the National Archives and Records Administration museum as well as the producer for the noon-time lecture series. Before we begin the program, I would like
to remind you of other events taking place in this location in the near future. Tuesday, July 18th, noon journalist and historian
Garrett Graff will present author talk and author signing on his book “Raven Rock: The
Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself while the Rest of Us Die.” And on the following Tuesday, July 25th 4 time international whistling champion Christopher Ullman will present a talk on his book, Find Your Whistle and also perform few musical selections to highlight his talent. To find out about this and other exhibits
you can take one of our monthly event calendars you’ll find in the racks in the theater lobby
or visit our website at www.archives.gov/calendar. The topic today is “Wrestling With His Angel”
by Sidney Blumenthal. Mr. Blumenthal is acclaimed author of A Self-Made Man which is volume one of a four volume biography The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln “Wrestling With His Angel” is the second volume
in this four-volume series. He is the former assistant and senior adviser
to President Bill Clinton and senior adviser to Hillary Clinton, a national staff reporter
for The Washington Post, Washington editor and staff writer for The New Yorker and senior
writer for The New Republic. He has contributed to numerous additional publications. His books include the best-selling the Clinton
Wars, Rise of the Counter Establishment, and the Permanent Campaign. Blumenthal was a political consultant for
the Emmy award-winning HBO series Tanner 88. His film credits included associate producer
for the 2002 film “Max” and executive producer of Academy Award and Emmy-award winning documentary “Taxi to the Dark Side.” Please join me in welcoming Sidney Blumenthal
to the National Archives. [Applause]>>Sidney Blumenthal: Thank you so much. I would like to thank Mr. Swanson for his
kind introduction and for the invitation to speak here at the National Archives, which is one
of the jewels of our government. It preserves what Lincoln called the mystic
chords of memory, and I’m pleased to speak here. I like to read a little and I hope you’ll
bear with me. I apologize for not being able to whistle
like the author who is going to be here soon, and I look forward to that. I have written — just published the second
volume of what will be a four-volume political biography of Abraham Lincoln. This book is called “Wrestling With His Angel.” It is taken from the story of Jacob in the
Bible, who wrestled through a long night with an angel. Possibly himself. And in the morning, he emerged realizing who
he was, and he adopted a new identity, even a new name. He took the name “Israel.” Something like that happened with Abraham
Lincoln, but not over one night, but over years. And he began as one man, who was still Abraham
Lincoln, but then some years later he became a Lincoln that we know in history, the recognizable
Lincoln. The more time I have spent with Abraham Lincoln,
the more I have come to understand that his words and actions were the careful result
of his intense self-discipline. The silences that his law partner, William
Henry Herndon and his friends describe as his melancholy were also a mask for his concentration,
intellectual absorption and focus. His depression and his other feelings deepened
his self-awareness, and spurred his self-education, which informed his acute understanding of
human nature, which was the basis of his understanding of politics. Even when Lincoln’s life seemed to be reduced
to insignificance, he was scanning the horizons and interpreting its signs. The young Lincoln, in his first formal speech
at the Springfield Lyceum in 1838 could see portents of a crisis to come. He did not know what that crisis was, but
he said “at what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring
up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad if destruction
be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.” Now, “Wrestling With His Angel,” this book
that I’ve written, describes Lincoln’s dark night of the soul. Lincoln coming to his revelation of a house
divided, from which he emerged as the recognizable Lincoln of history. He would be that man until his assassination. After Abraham Lincoln’s one term in the Congress
and his return to his spare law office in Springfield, he stared into the distance for
long periods of time. His partner, Herndon, recalled him breaking
one of his prolonged silences with a cry of anguish. The political world was dead, Herndon wrote. Things were stagnant. And all hope for progress in the line of freedom
seemed to be crushed out. Lincoln was speculating with me about the
deadness of things and the despair which arose out of it, and deeply regretting that his
human strength and power were limited by his nature to rouse and stir up the world. He said, gloomily, despairingly, sadly, how
hard, O how hard it is to die and leave one’s country no better than if one had never lived
for it. The world is dead to hope. Death to its own death struggle, made known
by universal cry. What is to be done? Is anything to be done? Who can do anything? And how is it to be done? Did you ever think of these things? Almost as soon as Lincoln came back to Springfield,
his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, turned him right around and sent him on a mission to her hometown
of Lexington, Kentucky, to serve as co-counsel to recover the Todd family fortune, which
was considerable. Lincoln found himself thrust into the vortex
of his native state’s politics, turned into mortal combat between antislavery and pro-slavery
forces. The lawsuit and the politics were intertwined. So if you will, bear with me, follow these
threads and see where they lead. For nearly a decade, Mary’s father, John S.
Todd, Senator Henry Clay’s business partner and political ally, had tried to wrest the
Todd family estate from Robert Wickliffe. He was a wealthy slave owner known as “the
old duke.” He had married Polly Todd, a cousin, who held
the estate when passed away. Wickliffe was the leader of the virulent pro-slavery
movement. John Todd, running for the state senate against
that movement, though a slave holder himself, was demonized as an abolitionist, and there
was no worse label, no worse curse than to be called an abolitionist. In the middle of the campaign, in July, 1849,
he died of cholera. Lincoln arrived to pursue the family’s case
in October. Just in time to observe the pro-slavery movement
triumphantly re-write the Kentucky state constitution to eliminate the law prohibiting the slave
trade within its borders. Lincoln lost the case and the Todd family
lost the estate to Wickliffe at the same moment that the political legacy of Henry Clay, Lincoln’s
early ideal of a statesman and the legacy of Mary’s beloved father were destroyed. If these events were not sufficiently embittering,
there was another factor. A profound but concealed factor, from memoirs, journals
and pamphlets at the time, a mystery underlying the Todd heirs v. Wickliffe case emerges. It was the Todd family secret. It was a secret that Abraham Lincoln knew. There was, in fact, a living heir to the family
fortune. He was Polly Todd’s grandson, the only child
of her son that had died at a relatively young age. But this heir was not legally a person. He was a slave. And he had been emancipated and shipped to
Liberia. In 1878, this former slave, the invisible
man of the story — and he had a name — Alfred Francis Russell — was elected vice president
of Liberia. And in 1883 he became its president, and that
meant that he was Mary Todd’s second relation to become a president. Back in Illinois From Kentucky, Lincoln spoke with John Todd
Stewart, his first law partner, an early political mentor, a conservative old Whig. The time would soon come in which we must
be either Democrats or abolitionists, said Stewart, and Stewart would eventually join
the Democrats. When that time comes, my mind is made up,
Lincoln replied. The slavery question cannot be compromised. Lincoln expressed to many of his friends his
anger at the rising slave power he had observed in Kentucky. He was livid that an anti-slavery Whig lawyer
he knew there, Samuel F. Miller, had been driven out of the state for his views. Lincoln would appoint him to the Supreme Court. Lincoln described young thoughtless giddy-headed
Kentucky slave holders with slaves trudging behind them, the most glittering ostentatious
displaying property in the world, because human beings were property. Lincoln would get excited on the question
said one of his friends, and believe that the tendency of the times was to make slavery
universal. He told another friend, In a few years, we
will be ready to accept the institution in Illinois, and the whole country will adopt
it. The Todd heirs case with its hidden history
left Lincoln smoldering in private until he emerged years later. The time for Lincoln to step forward had not
come, not yet. A great revolution was required to bring Abraham
Lincoln out of the wilderness. Lincoln’s orbit in these years revolved around
the 8th judicial district of central Illinois. Time spent with Judge David Davis and his
coterie of fellow lawyers. I shall never forget the first time I met
Mr. Lincoln, recalled Leonard Swift, a criminal attorney who became one of Lincoln’s closest
colleagues and friends, and would be instrumental in his campaigns. Swift came to the town of Danville, where
Lincoln was trying cases. When I called at the hotel, it was after dark
and I was told that he was upstairs in Judge Davis’ room, in the region where I had been
brought up, the judge of the court was usually a man of more or less gravity, so he could
not be approached save with some degree of deference. I was not only abashed, therefore, after I
climbed the unbannisterred staircase to find myself so near the presence and dignity of
Judge Davis, in whose room I was told I could find Mr. Lincoln. In response to my timid knock, two voices
responded almost simultaneously, “come in.” Imagine my surprise when the door opened to
find two men undressed, or rather dressed for bed, engaged in a lively battle with pillows,
tossing them at each other’s heads. One a low, heavy-set man who leaned against
the foot of the bed and puffed like a lizard answered to the description of “Judge Davis.” The other was a man of tremendous stature. Compared to Davis he looked as if he were
eight feet tall. He was encased in a long indescribable garment,
yellow with saffron, that reached to his heels and beneath protruded two of the largest feet
I had up to that time been in the habit of seeing. This immense shirt, for sure it must have
been, looked as if it had been literally carved out of the original flannel of which it was
made, and the pieces joined together without reference to measurement or capacity. The only thing that kept it from slipping
off the tall angular frame it covered was the single button at the throat. And I confess to succession of shudders when
I thought what might happen should that button by any mischance lose its hold. I cannot describe my sensations as this apparition
with modest announcement said, my name is Lincoln. And he strolled across the room to shake my
trembling hand. I will not say he reminded me of Satan, but
he was certainly the ungodliest figure I had ever seen. Who was this Lincoln? This Lincoln was not an abolitionist, but
he was, as he insisted, naturally anti-slavery. His deepening understanding of slavery in
its full complexity is a moral, political and constitutional dilemma began in his childhood
among the primitive Baptist anti-slavery dissidents in backwoods Kentucky and Indiana whose churches
his parents attended. As a boy he rode down the Mississippi River
to New Orleans, something like Huck Finn, where the open air emporium of slaves on gaudy
display sold on auction blocks on street corners, shocked him. As a congressman, he lived in a boarding house
not far from this site. It was on the site of the present Library
of Congress. That was a row of boarding houses where Lincoln
lived. And the one he lived in was known as Abolition
House. He experienced the invasion of slave catchers
coming to seize one of the waiters as a fugitive slave. Undoubtedly he knew the secret of the house
where he lived, that it was a station in the underground railroad. He denounced the Mexican war as fraudulently
started and voted numerous times against the expansion of slavery in the new western territories
that had been gained through the war. With the quiet assistance of the leading abolitionists
in the Congress, he drafted a bill for emancipation in the District of Columbia, which never received
even a single hearing in the House of Representatives. And then he came home to an obscurity that
seemed as though it would never end. At the lowest moment of political despair
and retreat in American politics marked by widespread loss of faith, in democracy itself,
Lincoln emerged with his cause. Suddenly, in 1854, the once and future rivals
of Lincoln combined to blow to smithereens the cornerstone of civil and political peace. Senator Steven A. Douglas of Illinois, seeking
a transforming gesture that would carry him to the Democratic presidential nomination
in the White House, and Secretary of War Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, heir to a slave-holding
fortune, and the de facto acting president of the United States operating behind the
weakling Franklin Pierce, converged in their collaboration on the Kansas-Nebraska Act. That act repealed the Missouri Compromise. That had forbidden slavery north of the line
of middle latitude and now made possible the expansion of slavery to the west. In a stroke, the old political order cracked
apart. We were thunderstruck and stunned, said Lincoln,
and we reeled in utter confusion, but we rose fighting, grasping whatever he could first
reach, a scythe, a pitchfork or butcher’s Cleaver, we struck in the direction of the sound. And two brief autobiographies, Lincoln depicted
himself in his wilderness period as strangely content in a kind of internal exile, becoming
nearly indifferent to politics, immersed in his legal practice as he was contemplating
his race for the presidency, he told the Chicago Tribune, in 1854 his profession had almost
superseded the thought of politics in his mind when the repeal of the Missouri Compromise
aroused him as he had never been before. It was about this decisive juncture in Lincoln’s
career that Herndon wrote of his partner’s ambition. That man who thinks Lincoln calmly sat down
and gathered his robes about him waiting for the people to call him has a very erroneous
knowledge of Lincoln. He was always calculating and always planning
ahead. His ambition was a little engine that knew
no rest. Now, Lincoln clung to the hull of the sinking
Whig party longer than some. The Whig party was the party of Lincoln. But he also knew that a new coalition against
the extension of slavery had to be organized. And in this period of party chaos, Lincoln
cast himself into the whirlwind. Sequestering himself in the law library of
the Illinois State capital, surrounded by books and articles, he drafted a speech against
the Kansas-Nebraska Act. stepping under the podium to speak in the
Illinois hall of representatives on October 4th, 1854, he never again left the stage of
history. Lincoln, the defender of the Declaration of
Independence, whose copy is located upstairs, and its precept that all men are created equal
invoked the blood of the Revolution, the American Revolution. Lincoln is Shakespearean, quoted to the moral
wrong of slavery, like the bloody hand, you may wash it and wash it, the red witness of
guilt still sticks and stares horribly at you. Lincoln’s favorite play was MacBeth, where
the image came from. Now, in this chaotic period, many movements
swirled across the landscape, for and against slavery, against immigrants, and against liquor. But the nativists and the temperance movement
confounded the development of the anti-slavery one. Meanwhile, anti-slavery Democrats and anti-slavery
Whigs with long grudges still regarded each other with mutual suspicion. Some people in the abolitionist movement in
Illinois understood that a more effective political figure was required to draw these
elements together. And so after Lincoln finished his speech in
the Illinois hall of representatives against Kansas-Nebraska Act, a group of them came
up to the podium and asked him if he would join them that evening in a meeting they were
holding. They were forming a new group. They gave it a name. They called it the republic Party. Lincoln said he could not attend. He dodged them. He disappeared out into the prairie to another
county courthouse to press cases. He did not want to be associated with these
radicals. For years Lincoln turned over in his mind
slavery to democracy until in 1855 he envisioned the prospect of what was to come. I think that there is no peaceful extinction
of slavery in prospect for us. He wrote his co-counsel in the Todd heirs
case, George Robertson, a Kentucky judge. The single failure of Henry Clay and other
good and great men in 1849 to affect anything in favor of gradual emancipation in Kentucky,
together with a thousand other signs extinguishes that hope utterly. Yet another complicating factor entered into
the equation between 1845 and 1854. Three million immigrants entered into the
United States. It was the first great wave of immigration. About 40% were poor Irish Catholics fleeing
the ravages of the potato famine. About another 40% were Germans escaping from
the failed liberal revolution of 1848. Conservative Protestants viewed the Irish
especially as a source of crime corruption and poverty. Both the Irish and Germans were beer drinkers,
a habit that aroused Temperance crusaders who condemned them as drunken, lazy and above
all, sinful. A new party emerged. A large new political party. This party was an anti-immigrant party. It was called the Know-Nothings Party. It took its name from the injunction to its
members, that when they were asked if they belonged, to reply “I know nothing.” It sprang from a small nativist sect in New
York City called The order Of the Star Spangled Banner. Within months of the 1852 election it attracted
etc. mated membership of more than a million and kept growing. Its program held that only Protestant born
citizens could hold public office in the United States. And they had a slogan. “Americans only shall govern America.” As the crisis deepened, Lincoln wondered how
he could be effective fighting slavery while maintaining his identity in the crumbling
Whig party. On August 24th, 1855 he wrote his intimate
friend, Joshua Speed, with whom he had shared a room in Springfield, who was now presiding
over his family’s Kentucky plantation. Lincoln and Speed were very close. They disagreed on some issues, including on
slavery, and now in the forefront of Lincoln’s thinking was the threat of the Know-Nothings. I am not a Know-Nothing, that is certain,
he wrote Speed. How could I be? How can anyone who abhors the oppression of
negroes be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress and degeneracy seems to be rapid. Declaring all men are created equal, we now
practically read it “all men are created equal except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control it will
read all men are created equal except negroes and foreigners and Catholics. When it comes to this I would prefer to emigrating
to a country where they have the pretense of loving. To Russia, where despotism can be taken pure
and without the base alloy of hypocrisy. Lincoln had a way with words. State by state, the new Republican Party was
being organized. In Illinois, a group of anti-slavery newspaper
editors invited Lincoln to join them as their leader at a meeting to organize a convention
of the new party. Lincoln was absent at the time recalled Herndon,
his law partner, and believing I knew what his feelings on the questions of the hour
were, I took the liberty to sign his name to the call. John Todd Stewart, Lincoln’s first law partner,
tried to remove Lincoln’s endorsement. He rushed into the law office and excitedly
asked Herndon if Lincoln had signed the abolition call. I answered in the negative, adding that I
had signed his name myself to the question “did Lincoln authorize you to sign it,” I
returned an emphatic, no. Then ex claimed the startled and indignant
Stewart, you have ruined him. I thought I understood Lincoln thoroughly
Herndon wrote, but in order to vindicate myself, I immediately sat down after Stewart rushed
out of the office. A brief account of what I had done, how much
scare it was creating in the ranks of his conservative friends, if he approved or disapproved,
my course I asked him to write or telegraph me at once. In a brief time came his answer. All right, go ahead, we’ll meet you. Radicals and all. At that meeting, on February 22nd, 1856, Washington’s
birthday, George Schneider, editor of the largest German language newspaper in Illinois
proposed a plan denouncing the Know-Nothings. The nativists present strongly opposed it. The conference threatened to collapse. Schneider announced he would submit his resolution
to Lincoln and abide by his decision. Gentlemen, declared Lincoln, the resolution
introduced by Mr. Schneider is nothing new. It is already contained in the Declaration
of Independence. And you cannot form a new party on other principles. This declaration of Mr. Lincoln, Schneider
recalled, saved the resolution. And, in fact, helped to establish the new
party on the most liberal Democratic basis. Lincoln’s judgment made possible the creation
of the Illinois Republican Party, which became the instrument that would in four years carry
him to the Republican nomination for president. But he could not foresee that distant future,
nor could he predict the shocking ten days that shook the world that would soon polarize
and clarify the conflict. On May 19th, 1856, Senator Charles Sumner
of Massachusetts delivered a speech on the attack on democracy called “the crime against
Kansas.” On May 21st an army of nearly 1,000 pro-slavery
Missourians under a red banner inscribed “southern rights” rampaged into the free state town
of Lawrence, Kansas, to ransack it. The next day in the senate, while Sumner sat
writing at his desk, congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina came up to him without any
advance notice and battered him relentlessly on his head with a gold-handled cane, nearly
killing him. Blood streamed across the floor of the senate. Two days later on May 24th along a creek in
Kansas, a radical abolitionist named John Brown and his followers hacked five pro-slavery
men to death. Five days later, on May 29th, Lincoln gave
the keynote address at the Convention of the new party he founded in Illinois. Present were journalists, lawyers, editors,
publicly concerned people. Not one account exists of this speech by Abraham
Lincoln. All of them were people who took notes. And yet none of them took notes of his speech. They simply stopped and were mesmerized by
his speech. This is known as Lincoln’s lost speech. Herndon said at the end Lincoln appeared seven
feet tall. It was among one of the most significant events
to come. Ralph Waldo Emerson declared Lincoln’s mind
mastered the problem of the day. Rarely was a man so fitted to the event. Within two years, he sounded his own note
of destiny. Lincoln’s language was drenched not only in
Shakespeare but also drawn from two passages of the King James Bible. From the gospel of Mark, if a kingdom is divided
against itself, that kingdom cannot stand, and if a house is divided against itself,
that house will not be able to stand. From the Gospel of Luke, “every kingdom divided
against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls.” On June 16th, 1858, declaring his candidacy
for the Senate against Steven A. Douglas, Lincoln explained, if we could first know
where we are and wither we are tending, we could better judge what to do and how to do. Remember, just a few years earlier he had
despairingly said, what is to be done and who can do it? And now he was ready to speak. And this is what he 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 union to be dissolved. I do not expect the house to fall. But I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. By now Lincoln’s sense of historical time
and political timing had become acute. Two weeks after his defeat to Douglas he wrote
to a friend “the fight must go on. The cause of civil liberty must not be surrendered
at the end of one or even 100 defeats.” In 1860, beginning his campaign for the Republican
presidential nomination, in his speech at Cooper Union in New York City, Lincoln concluded,
“Neither let us be slandered by duty by false accusations against us, frightened by menaces
of destruction to the government, nor of dungeons to ourselves. 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.” Now, John W. Bunn, who was a Springfield merchant
and Whig partisan and funded Lincoln’s campaigns — and, yes, there was campaign funding then
— judged Lincoln unique among the politicians he knew. Lincoln’s entire career proves that it is
quite possible for a man to be adroit and skillful and effective in politics without
in any degree sacrificing moral principles. Little men tried to do the same things he
did and made very bad work of it. They lack the high moral inspiration that
animated Lincoln. Lincoln presents the most remarkable case
in American history of a man who could be a practical politician and at the same time
be a statesman in highest sense of both terms. Lincoln’s political education was long, but
many of the moments of Lincoln’s awakening from this period of his political slumber,
his wilderness, were not publicly known until years or even decades after his death. Here are two incidents. At about early 1855, traveling the county
court circuit, staying overnight in a boarding house, his discussion with a former judge
and fellow lawyer, T. Lyle Dickey, a conservative old Whig went on deep into the night. Judge Dickey contended slavery was an institution
with the constitution recognized and which could not be disturbed. Lincoln argued that ultimately slavery must
become extinct recalled another lawyer who was present at the time. After a while, said Dickey, we went upstairs
to bed. There were two beds in our room, and I remember
that Lincoln sat up in his nightshirt on the edge of the bed arguing the point with me. At last, we went to sleep. In the morning I woke up and there was Lincoln
half sitting up in the bed. Dickey, said, Lincoln, I tell you, this nation
cannot exist half-slave and half-free. Lincoln, replied, Dickey, “go to sleep.” In 1857 a free black woman in Springfield
known as Polly, appeared at the office of Lincoln and Herndon with a tale of woe. Her young son hired himself on a steamboat
in Mississippi, something like Lincoln had done years earlier, but when he reached New
Orleans without free papers, proving he was not a slave, he was imprisoned and to be sold
into slavery. Lincoln appealed to the governor and informed
Lincoln he could do nothing. Lincoln appealed to the governor of Louisiana
who similarly rejected his request. Lincoln drew up a subscription list and Herndon
raised the money. He raised $29. Lincoln supplied $40 and 30 cents, which he
withdrew from his account with the Springfield Marine and Life Insurance company. Soon they found an agent in New Orleans to
purchase the young man. His prison door swung open and he was returned
to Springfield. Lincoln had bought a slave in order to free
him. It was Lincoln’s first act of emancipation. Thank you. [Applause] And I would be happy to take any questions
you might have.>>As someone who grew up in Tazewell County,
and Illinois, and now president of the Lincoln group of D.C., I appreciate the opportunity
to ask you to talk about something central to this period you didn’t mention, and this
was Lincoln’s effort to become a senator after the 1854 election and in the state legislature
in early 1855. What do you think that experience contributed
to Lincoln’s political education?>>Sidney Blumenthal: Well, thank you for
that question. I am a native of Illinois myself, I confess,
of Chicago. Lincoln very much wanted to be, again, in
the state legislature. He had been for years as a young man a state
legislator and been the Whig foreleader by age 27. After he served in Congress and was a lawyer,
and it was 1854 and he had given his great speech and got himself on the slate to be
in the state legislature. He thought he would be a power again. And Mary Todd Lincoln regarded Lincoln going
back to the state legislature as a step down, and she would not tolerate it. And she said, you are not going to do that. Lincoln was still on the slate. He got himself elected and she made him withdraw
even after his election. She said, you need — you are the senator. You are a United States senator, because you
have to run for this senate seat now. Senate seats were chosen by state legislatures. So early 1855, a big battle took place within
the Illinois state legislature. And there were three candidates in this election. One was the pro-Douglas candidate named Joel
Manson. The other was Abraham Lincoln, the Whig candidate. Then there was an anti-slavery Democrat running,
Lionel Trumble. The Democrats split over the Kansas-Nebraska
Act and the pro- and anti-slavery factions. Lincoln was way ahead, but he couldn’t get
a majority. And Matson had a fund and started bribing
legislatures. I know this is a shock to people that this
would go on in Illinois, but… [chuckles]
Lincoln decided that the only way to stop this was to throw all of his votes to Trumble,
which he did, and Trumble was elected senator, not Lincoln. So there was no Senator Lincoln. Mary Todd was so infuriated that she never
again spoke to Trumble’s wife, who had previously been her best friend. Lincoln, however, learned a lot from this
experience. He gained the trust of Democrats who had previously
been his partisan foes. And they then were willing to deal with him
in building this new coalition that became the new party, the Republican Party. Lincoln also learned that the Whig party had
had its day, and it was time for something else. And so this event was a sentinel event in
the creation of Abraham Lincoln.>>In your book you present the compromise
of 1850 as being a major victory for the south, mainly because they got the fugitive slave
act, but isn’t the succession expanding the land for slavery a major set-off against that?>>Sidney Blumenthal: Well, that’s an interesting
question and complicated one. About the compromise of 1850. A lot of things emerged out of it and set
the stage for what was to follow. It’s a little known history, particularly
the role of President Zachary Taylor, who had been the commanding general in the Mexican
War, and elected as a Whig. The Whigs always ran generals. And they needed national heroes. Taylor turned out to be a big surprise. He was a Louisiana slave owner, owned sugar
plantations, but he was completely opposed to the extension of slavery in the west in
what is called the Mexican session, the territory gained from the Mexican War, and he was willing
to go to war against the south over that, and would have precipitated a kind of early
Civil War, except that he died of cholera after appearing at an event at the Washington
monument in the hot sun. So I advise nobody today to… [ Laughter ]
… to walk over there. He was against the compromise of 1850, as
it was advocated by Henry Clay and Daniel Webster and others. The hardcore southern rightists, as they were
called, led by John C. Calhoun, a senator opposed to compromise as well. They believed that slavery — that Congress
should make no law to prohibit the transportation of slaves anywhere in the country. And they were — so they thought slavery should
exist everywhere. Eventually what happened was that the short
course is Henry Clay had a — who was the great figure of decades in Washington and
from Kentucky, and the founder of the Whig party, had a political and physical collapse,
and failed to pass an omnibus law, an omnibus compromise. It reminds me of what is going on with healthcare
now. Into this vacuum stepped a man in his 30s,
just an unbelievable dynamo, Steven A. Douglas, incredibly skillful, who had his fingers on
networks of money and all the lobbyists in Washington. And he used all those resources to pass this
compromise, which admitted California as a free state, which it was going to be anyway,
because it was free and they weren’t going to resist it. It admitted Texas as a slave state, and kick
to –>>1845.>>Sidney Blumenthal: Yeah, and to the future,
what would happen with what was called New Mexico, which was a vast territory and encompasses
many states today, and adopted a federal Fugitive Slave Act, and it seemed to resolve the issue,
since it accepted the Missouri Compromise and what Douglas got out of it, if you saw
in the book, that was merely a theme setter for him to pass the Illinois Central Railroad
Act in which he built the first federally charted railroad and helped create Chicago
by which he, among other things, sold the right-of-way land on the lake shore to the
railroad, which he owned. So it was — it created a tremendous movement
in the country. It ended the division over slavery nationally
except in New England over the Fugitive Slave Act and was a prelude to the disintegration
of the Whigs, which had no reason to exist, landslide for Franklin Pierce, 1852, the Democrat,
until the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which then blew everything up and everything
blew up into the air. So this is Lincoln’s wilderness period. He’s wandering around on a horse in central
Illinois going from county courthouse to courthouse as these events are taking place here in Washington,
and these Titans of the Congress are creating this compromise. Thank you.>>I read all of your first volume and a good
part of your second. When is the third one coming out?>>Sidney Blumenthal: Next year, I hope. Thank you.>>[ off microphone ]
>>Sidney Blumenthal: In the third volume, it covers a large span of time from where
this one ends in 1856 all the way to Gettysburg. I have four volumes, I’ve got to fit it all
in. If it were up to me, you know, I would be
like, hey, Nikolai, and have ten volumes, but the publisher says four.>>I was hoping you could shed light on the
election process in Fremont’s nomination to presidency.>>Great questions. The Republican Party is a new party in 1856. Lincoln is virtually unknown. And the leading figure in the Whig party,
William Henry Seward, senator from New York, really created and dominated New York state
politics as a Whig, had become the leader of the Republican Party, but he decided he
would not run because it was likely the Republican would lose and he would run the next time. And then he would get the nomination. And so the Blair family basically controlled
the nomination, and we all know about Blair House here. And we also know about Silver Spring, Maryland,
which takes its name from the state of Franklin Preston Blair, who owned Blair House. He traveled back and forth from Blair House
to Silver Spring. And he had been in Andrew Jackson’s kitchen
cabinet, was the editor of the Washington Globe newspaper, and he was a power. And he had sons who were also very influential,
Montgomery Blair, and another son Frank, Jr., prominent in Missouri politics. Montgomery Blair was at that time the attorney
for a case making its way to the Supreme Court called the Dred Scott case. And Fremont was married to Jessie Benton Fremont,
his wife, who were the daughter of Thomas Hart Benton. Not the artist. Who was another member of the distinguished
family. But the senator, very powerful senator from
Missouri. And also another Jacksonian. And Benton was not enthusiastic about his
son-in-law, but Francis P. Blair was, because he and his family and Jessie, who was highly
political, maybe the most politically adroit woman of her age, ran the campaign. And we know the slogan of “free labor, free
men, free speech, free soil.” And it was a stunning campaign that did far
better than anyone thought. 1860 rolls around. Seward thinks he’s going to get the nomination. Now, 1856, Lincoln, who was unknown, was nominated
briefly as vice president. No one knew who he was. A member of the Illinois delegation got up
and nominated him, and someone said, will he fight? Yes, he’ll fight! And he’s described in the most notable newspaper
dispatched from the convention as Colonel Lincoln. No one knew who he was. Well, the whole story of the 1860 convention
is worth a volume in itself. The machinations of what Lincoln’s network
of supporters led by Judge Davis did, including getting the convention to locate in Chicago,
sending — it’s what I believe — no? Yes, right, Norman Judd. The Republican national committeeman, to say
that — to tell them that Illinois had no candidate. So it would be okay to have the convention
in Chicago. And these so-called provincials from Illinois
organized and out-maneuvers and out-dealt everybody else, especially Seward. It’s a long story and it was a great surprise
that this so-called unknown, Abraham Lincoln, won this nomination. And Seward did not. And I’ll leave it there. One last question.>>My question actually follows that right
up. In your research on the convention in 1860,
did the Lincoln supporters have a slush fund?>>Sidney Blumenthal: Good question. We know Seward always had a slush fund. He used it for all sorts of purposes. ultimately, if anyone has seen the movie “Lincoln,”
for the passage of the 13th amendment. He used it for good. I don’t know of evidence Lincoln had a slush
fund but promises were made. Lincoln sent is a message to Davis “make no
promises” and then at midnight Davis made a lot of promises. As it happened, those promises were kept,
if they were promises. Including to the Pennsylvania delegation. So for the — giving the secretary of war. There were cabinet appointments that were
promised. But I believe that Lincoln would have gotten
the nomination in any case. Seward cared many burdens from the past and
oddly enough was considered more radical than Lincoln. Lincoln was considered to be the unblemished
candidate, and one that would have more appeal in what was called the lower north states. That’s what they needed to carry to win. So he had a lot of very poignant political
arguments on his side, and the Republicans very much wanted to win that election. They understood that the Fremont campaign
was an experiment. But this was not. So thank you very much.>>Thank you. [Applause]
>>Folks, just a reminder, the book signing is one level up at the archives bookstore
and remember it’s 15, that’s 1-5, not 50, percent off on the book.




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