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George Haven Putnam
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 516 pages of information about Abraham Lincoln.
a sounder historian than Taney; but an amazing fact is to be added:  the Constitution, whose authors, according to Taney, could not conceive of a negro as a citizen, was actually the act of a number of States in several of which negroes were exercising the full rights of citizens at the time.  It would be easy to bring almost equally plain considerations to bear against the more elaborate argument of Taney that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional, but it is enough to say this much:  the first four Presidents—­that is, all the Presidents who were in public life when the Constitution was made—­had all acted unhesitatingly upon the belief that Congress had the power to allow or forbid slavery in the Territories.  The fifth, John Quincy Adams, when he set his hand to Acts involving this principle, had consulted before doing so the whole of his Cabinet on this constitutional point and had signed such legislation with the full concurrence of them all.  Even Polk had acted later upon the same view.  The Dred Scott judgment would thus appear to show the penetrating power at that time of an altogether fantastic opinion.

The hope, which Taney is known to have entertained, that his judgment would compose excited public opinion, was by no means fulfilled.  It raised fierce excitement.  What practical effect would hereafter be given to the opinion of six out of the nine judges in that Court might depend on many things.  But to the Republicans, who appealed much to antiquity, it was maddening to be thus assured that their whole “platform” was unconstitutional.  In the long run, there seems to be no doubt that Taney helped the cause of freedom.  He had tried to make evident the personal sense of compassion for “these unfortunate people” with which he contemplated the opinion that he ascribed to a past generation; but he failed to do this, and instead he succeeded in imparting to the supposed Constitutional view of the slave, as nothing but a chattel, a horror which went home to many thousands of the warm-hearted men and women of his country.

For the time, however, the Republicans were deeply depressed, and a further perplexity shortly befell them.  An attempt, to which we must shortly return, was made to impose the slave system on Kansas against the now unmistakable will of the majority there.  Against this attempt Douglas, in opposition to whom the Republican party had been formed, revolted to his lasting honour, and he now stood out for the occasion as the champion of freedom.  It was at this late period of bewilderment and confusion that the life-story of Abraham Lincoln became one with the life-story of the American people.

CHAPTER V

THE RISE OF LINCOLN

1. Lincoln’s Return to Public Life.

We possess a single familiar letter in which Lincoln opened his heart about politics.  It was written while old political ties were not yet quite broken and new ties not quite knit, and it was written to an old and a dear friend who was not his political associate.  We may fittingly place it here, as a record of the strong and conflicting feelings out of which his consistent purpose in this crisis was formed.

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