But if the current of public opinion in the North suddenly turned, and for a long time ran with overwhelming force in favor of slavery, it changed about almost as suddenly and ran with equal force in the opposite direction. The county in which I lived when a boy, that furnished only one vote for the first Abolitionist presidential ticket, became a Republican stronghold. It was in what had been a Whig district, and when the Whig party went to pieces, the most of its debris drifted into the Republican lines.
On the occasion of one of the pro-slavery mobs I elsewhere tell about, when a supply of eggs with which to garnish the Abolitionists, was wanted, and the money for their purchase was called for, the town constable—the peace officer of the community—put his hand in his pocket and supplied the funds.
A few years thereafter, on my return to the village after a considerable absence, I found that I had come just in time to attend a Republican rally which was that day to be held in a near-by grove. When I reached the scene of operations a procession to march to the grove was being formed. There was considerable enthusiasm and noise, but by far the most excited individual was the Grand Marshal and Master of Ceremonies. Seated on a high horse, he was riding up and down the line shouting out his orders with tremendous unction. He was the constable of the egg-buying episode.
THE POLITICAL SITUATION
In several of his addresses before his election to the Presidency, Mr. Lincoln gave utterance to the following language: “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this Government cannot permanently remain half slave and half free. 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 thing.”
The same opinion had been enunciated several years before by John Quincy Adams on the floor of Congress, when, with his accustomed pungency, he declared, “The Union will fall before slavery or slavery will fall before the Union.”
But before either Adams or Lincoln spoke on the subject—away back in 1838—the same idea they expressed had a more elaborate and forcible presentation in the following words:
“The conflict is becoming—has become—not alone of freedom for the blacks, but of freedom for the whites. It has now become absolutely necessary that slavery shall cease in order that freedom may be preserved in any portion of our land. The antagonistic principles of liberty and slavery have been roused into action, and one or the other must be victorious. There will be no cessation of the strife until slavery shall be exterminated or liberty destroyed.”
The author of the words last above quoted was James Gillespie Birney, who was the first Abolitionist, or “Liberty party,” candidate for the Presidency, and of whose career a brief sketch is elsewhere given.