Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library
  PREVIOUSNEXT  

CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · QUICK INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHIES
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · PORTRAITS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Stephen Brice Hears the Speech at Freeport
By Winston Churchill (1871–1947)
 
From ‘The Crisis’

THE QUESTION

MANY times since Abraham Lincoln has been called to that mansion which God has reserved for the patriots who have served Him also, Stephen Brice has thought of that steaming night in the low-ceiled room of the country tavern, reeking with the smell of coarse food and hot humanity. He remembers vividly how at first his gorge rose, and recalls how gradually there crept over him a forgetfulness of the squalidity and discomfort. Then came a space gray with puzzling wonder. Then the dawning of a worship for a very ugly man in a rumpled and ill-made coat.
  1
  You will perceive that there was hope for Stephen. On his shake-down that night, oblivious to the snores of his companions and the droning of the insects, he lay awake. And before his eyes was that strange, marked face, with its deep lines that blended both humor and sadness there. It was homely, and yet Stephen found himself reflecting that honesty was just as homely, and plain truth. And yet both were beautiful to those who had learned to love them. Just so this Mr. Lincoln.  2
  He fell asleep wondering why Judge Whipple had sent him.  3
  It was in accord with nature that reaction came with the morning. Such a morning, and such a place!  4
  He was awakened, shivering, by the beat of rain on the roof and stumbling over the prostrate forms of the four Beaver brothers, reached the window. Clouds filled the sky, and Joshway, whose pallet was under the sill, was in a blessed state of moisture.  5
  No wonder some of his enthusiasm had trickled away! He made his toilet in the wet under the pump outside where he had to wait his turn. And he rather wished he were going back to St. Louis. He had an early breakfast of fried eggs and underdone bacon, and coffee which made him pine for Hester’s. The dishes were neither too clean nor too plentiful, being doused in water as soon as ever they were out of use.  6
  But after breakfast the sun came out, and a crowd collected around the tavern, although the air was chill and the muck deep in the street. Stephen caught glimpses of Mr. Lincoln towering above the knots of country politicians who surrounded him, and every once in a while a knot would double up with laughter. There was no sign that the senatorial aspirant took the situation seriously; that the coming struggle with his skillful antagonist was weighing him down in the least. Stephen held aloof from the groups, thinking that Mr. Lincoln had forgotten him. He decided to leave for St. Louis on the morning train, and was even pushing toward the tavern entrance with his bag in his hand, when he was met by Mr. Hill.  7
  “I had about given you up, Mr. Brice,” he said. “Mr. Lincoln asked me to get hold of you, and bring you to him alive or dead.”  8
  Accordingly Stephen was led to the station, where a long train of twelve cars was pulled up, covered with flags and bunting. On entering one of these, he perceived Mr. Lincoln sprawled (he could think of no other word to fit the attitude) on a seat next the window, and next him was Mr. Medill of the Press and Tribune. The seat just in front was reserved for Mr. Hill, who was to make any notes necessary. Mr. Lincoln looked up. His appearance was even less attractive than the night before, as he had on a dirty gray linen duster.  9
  “I thought you’d got loose, Steve,” he said, holding out his hand. “Glad to see you. Just you sit down there next to Bob, where I can talk to you.”  10
  Stephen sat down, diffident, for he knew that there were others in that train who would give ten years of their lives for that seat.  11
  “I’ve taken a shine to this Bostonian, Joe,” said Mr. Lincoln to Mr. Medill. “We’ve got to catch ’em young to do anything with ’em, you know. Now, Steve, just give me a notion how politics are over in St. Louis. What do they think of our new Republican party? Too bran new for old St. Louis, eh?”  12
  Stephen saw expostulation in Mr. Medill’s eyes, and hesitated. And Mr. Lincoln seemed to feel Medill’s objections, as by mental telepathy. But he said:—  13
  “We’ll come to that little matter later, Joe, when the cars start.”  14
  Naturally, Stephen began uneasily. But under the influence of that kindly eye he thawed, and forgot himself. He felt that this man was not one to feign an interest. The shouts of the people on the little platform interrupted the account, and the engine staggered off with its load.  15
  “I reckon St. Louis is a nest of Southern Democrats,” Mr. Lincoln remarked, “and not much opposition.”  16
  “There are quite a few Old Line Whigs, sir,” ventured Stephen, smiling.  17
  “Joe,” said Mr. Lincoln, “did you ever hear Warfield’s definition of an Old Line Whig?”  18
  Mr. Medill had not.  19
  “A man who takes his toddy regularly, and votes the Democratic ticket occasionally, and who wears ruffled shirts.”  20
  Both of these gentlemen laughed, and two more in the seat behind, who had an ear to the conversation.  21
  “But, sir,” said Stephen, seeing that he was expected to go on, “I think that the Republican party will gather a considerable strength there in another year or two. We have the material for powerful leaders in Mr. Blair and others” (Mr. Lincoln nodded at the name). “We are getting an ever increasing population from New England, mostly of young men who will take kindly to the new party.” And then he added, thinking of his pilgrimage the Sunday before: “South St. Louis is a solid mass of Germans, who are all anti-slavery. But they are very foreign still, and have all their German institutions.”  22
  “The Turner Halls?” Mr. Lincoln surprised him by inquiring.  23
  “Yes. And I believe that they drill there.”  24
  “Then they will the more easily be turned into soldiers, if the time should come,” said Mr. Lincoln. And he added quickly, “I pray that it may not.”  25
  Stephen had cause to remember that observation, and the acumen it showed, long afterward.  26
  The train made several stops, and at each of them shoals of country people filled the aisles, and paused for a most familiar chat with the senatorial candidate. Many called him Abe. His appearance was the equal in roughness to theirs, his manner if anything was more democratic,—yet in spite of all this Stephen in them detected a deference which might almost be termed a homage. There were many women among them. Had our friend been older, he might have known that the presence of good women in a political crowd portends something. As it was, he was surprised. He was destined to be still more surprised that day.  27
  When they had left behind them the shouts of the little town of Dixon, Mr. Lincoln took off his hat, and produced a crumpled and not too immaculate scrap of paper from the multitude therein.  28
  “Now, Joe,” said he, “here are the four questions I intend to ask Judge Douglas. I am ready for you. Fire away.”  29
  “We don’t care anything about the others,” answered Mr. Medill. “But I tell you this. If you ask that second one, you’ll never see the United States Senate.”  30
  “And the Republican party in this state will have had a blow from which it can scarcely recover,” added Mr. Judd, chairman of the committee.  31
  Mr. Lincoln did not appear to hear them. His eyes were far away over the wet prairie.  32
  Stephen held his breath. But neither he, nor Medill, nor Judd, nor Hill guessed at the pregnancy of that moment. How were they to know that the fate of the United States of America was concealed in that Question,—was to be decided on a rough wooden platform that day in the town of Freeport, Illinois?  33
  But Abraham Lincoln, the uncouth man in the linen duster with the tousled hair, knew it. And the stone that was rejected of the builders was to become the corner-stone of the temple.  34
  Suddenly Mr. Lincoln recalled himself, glanced at the paper, and cleared his throat. In measured tones, plainly heard above the rush and roar of the train, he read the Question:—  35
  “Can the people of a United States Territory, in any lawful way, against the wish of any citizen of the United States, exclude slavery from its limits prior to the formation of a State Constitution?”  36
  Mr. Medill listened intently.  37
  “Abe,” said he, solemnly, “Douglas will answer yes, or equivocate, and that is all the assurance these Northern Democrats want to put Steve Douglas in the Senate. They’ll snow you under.”  38
  “All right,” answered Mr. Lincoln, quietly.  39
  “‘All right’?” asked Mr. Medill, reflecting the sheer astonishment of the others; “then why the devil are you wearing yourself out? And why are we spending our time and money on you?”  40
  Mr. Lincoln laid his hand on Medill’s sleeve.  41
  “Joe,” said he, “a rat in the larder is easier to catch than a rat that has the run of the cellar. You know where to set your trap in the larder. I’ll tell you why I’m in this campaign: to catch Douglas now, and keep him out of the White House in 1860. To save this country of ours, Joe. She’s sick.”  42
  There was a silence, broken by two exclamations.  43
  “But see here, Abe,” said Mr. Medill, as soon as ever he got his breath, “what have we got to show for it? Where do you come in?”  44
  Mr. Lincoln smiled wearily.  45
  “Nowhere, I reckon,” he answered simply.  46
  “Good Lord!” said Mr. Judd.  47
  Mr. Medill gulped.  48
  “You mean to say, as the candidate of the Republican party, you don’t care whether you get to the Senate?”  49
  “Not if I can send Steve Douglas there with his wings broken,” was the calm reply.  50
  “Suppose he does answer yes, that slavery can be excluded?” said Mr. Judd.  51
  “Then,” said Mr. Lincoln, “then Douglas loses the vote of the great slaveholders, the vote of the solid South, that he has been fostering ever since he has had the itch to be President. Without the solid South the Little Giant will never live in the White House. And unless I’m mightily mistaken, Steve Douglas has had his eye as far ahead as 1860 for some time.”  52
  Another silence followed these words. There was a stout man standing in the aisle, and he spat deftly out of the open window.  53
  “You may wing Steve Douglas, Abe,” said he, gloomily, “but the gun will kick you over the bluff.”  54
  “Don’t worry about me, Ed,” said Mr. Lincoln. “I’m not worth it.”  55
  In a wave of comprehension the significance of all this was revealed to Stephen Brice. The grim humor, the sagacious statesmanship, and (best of all) the superb self-sacrifice of it, struck him suddenly. I think it was in that hour that he realized the full extent of the wisdom he was near, which was like unto Solomon’s.  56
  Shame surged in Stephen’s face that he should have misjudged him. He had come to patronize. He had remained to worship. And in after years, when he thought of this new vital force which became part of him that day, it was in the terms of Emerson: “Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”  57
  How many have conversed with Lincoln before and since, and knew him not!  58
  If an outward and visible sign of Mr. Lincoln’s greatness were needed,—he had chosen to speak to them in homely parables. The story of Farmer Bell was plain as day. Jim Rickets, who had life all his own way, was none other than Stephen A. Douglas, the easily successful. The ugly galoot, who dared to raise his eyes only to the pear, was Mr. Lincoln himself. And the pear was the Senatorship, which the galoot had denied himself to save Susan from being Mr. Rickets’s bride.  59
  Stephen could understand likewise the vehemence of the Republican leaders who crowded around their candidate and tried to get him to retract that Question. He listened quietly, he answered with a patient smile. Now and then he threw a story into the midst of this discussion which made them laugh in spite of themselves. The hopelessness of the case was quite plain to Mr. Hill, who smiled, and whispered in Stephen’s ear:—  60
  “He has made up his mind. They will not budge him an inch, and they know it.”  61
  Finally Mr. Lincoln took the scrap of paper, which was even more dirty and finger-marked by this time, and handed it to Mr. Hill. The train was slowing down for Freeport. In the distance, bands could be heard playing, and along the track, line upon line of men and women were cheering and waving. It was ten o’clock, raw and cold for that time of the year, and the sun was trying to come out.  62
  “Bob,” said Mr. Lincoln, “be sure you get that right in your notes. And, Steve, you stick close to me, and you’ll see the show. Why, boys,” he added, smiling, “there’s the great man’s private car, cannon and all.”  63
  All that Stephen saw was a regular day-car on a side-track. A brass cannon was on the tender hitched behind it.  64
 
THE CRISIS

  Stephen A. Douglas, called the Little Giant on account of his intellect, was a type of man of which our race has had some notable examples, although they are not characteristic. Capable of sacrifice to their country, personal ambition is, nevertheless, the mainspring of their actions. They must either be before the public, or else unhappy. This trait gives them a large theatrical strain, and sometimes brands them as adventurers. Their ability saves them from being demagogues.
  65
  In the case of Douglas, he had deliberately renewed some years before the agitation on the spread of slavery, by setting forth a doctrine of extreme cleverness. This doctrine, like many others of its kind, seemed at first sight to be the balm it pretended, instead of an irritant, as it really was. It was calculated to deceive all except thinking men, and to silence all save a merciless logician. And this merciless logician, who was heaven-sent in time of need, was Abraham Lincoln.  66
  Mr. Douglas was a juggler, a political prestidigitateur. He did things before the eyes of the Senate and the nation. His balm for the healing of the nation’s wounds was a patent medicine so cleverly concocted that experts alone could show what was in it. So abstruse and twisted were some of Mr. Douglas’s doctrines that a genius alone might put them into simple words, for the common people.  67
  The great panacea for the slavery trouble put forth by Mr. Douglas at that time was briefly this: that the people of the new territories should decide for themselves, subject to the Constitution, whether they should have slavery or not, and also decide for themselves all other questions under the Constitution. Unhappily for Mr. Douglas, there was the famous Dred Scott decision, which had set the South wild with joy the year before, and had cast a gloom over the North. The Chief Justice of the United States had declared that under the Constitution slaves were property,—and as such every American citizen owning slaves could carry them about with him wherever he went. Therefore the territorial legislatures might pass laws until they were dumb, and yet their settlers might bring with them all the slaves they pleased.  68
  And yet we must love the Judge. He was a gentleman, a strong man, and a patriot. He was magnanimous, and to his immortal honor be it said that he, in the end, won the greatest of all struggles. He conquered himself. He put down that mightiest thing that was in him,—his ambition for himself. And he set up, instead, his ambition for his country. He bore no ill-will toward the man whose fate was so strangely linked to his, and who finally came to that high seat of honor and of martyrdom which he coveted. We shall love the Judge, and speak of him with reverence, for that sublime act of kindness before the Capitol in 1861.  69
  Abraham Lincoln might have prayed on that day of the Freeport debate: “Forgive him, Lord. He knows not what he does.” Lincoln descried the danger afar, and threw his body into the breach.  70
 
  That which passed before Stephen’s eyes and to which his ears listened at Freeport, was the Great Republic pressing westward to the Pacific. He wondered whether some of his Eastern friends who pursed their lips when the West was mentioned would have sneered or prayed. A young English nobleman who was there that day did not sneer. He was filled instead with something like awe at the vigor of this nation which was sprung from the loins of his own. Crudeness he saw, vulgarity he heard, but Force he felt, and marveled.  71
  America was in Freeport that day, the rush of her people and the surprise of her climate. The rain had ceased, and quickly was come out of the northwest a boisterous wind, chilled by the lakes and scented by the hemlocks of the Minnesota forests. The sun smiled and frowned. Clouds hurried in the sky, mocking the human hubbub below. Cheering thousands pressed about the station as Mr. Lincoln’s train arrived. They hemmed him in his triumphal passage under the great arching trees to the new Brewster House. The Chief Marshal and his aides, great men before, were suddenly immortal. The county delegations fell into their proper precedence like ministers at a state dinner. “We have faith in Abraham, Yet another County for the Rail-splitter, Abe the Giant-killer,”—so the banners read. Here, much bedecked, was the Galena Lincoln Club, part of Joe Davies’s shipment. Fifes skirled, and drums throbbed, and the stars and stripes snapped in the breeze. And here was a delegation headed by fifty sturdy ladies on horseback, at whom Stephen gaped like a countryman. Then came carryalls of all ages and degrees, wagons from this county and that county giddily draped, drawn by horses from one to six, or by mules, their inscriptions addressing their senatorial candidate in all degrees of familiarity, but not contempt. What they seemed proudest of was that he had been a rail-splitter, for nearly all bore a fence-rail.  72
  But stay, what is this wagon with the high sapling flagstaff in the middle, and the leaves still on it?
  “Westward the Star of Empire takes its way.
The girls link on to Lincoln; their mothers were for Clay.”
  73
  Here was glory to blind you,—two and thirty maids in red sashes and blue liberty caps with white stars. Each was a state of the Union, and every one of them was for Abraham, who called them his “Basket of Flowers.” Behind them, most touching of all, sat a thirty-third shackled in chains. That was Kansas. Alas, the mien of Kansas was far from being as sorrowful as the part demanded,—in spite of her instructions she would smile at the boys. But the appealing inscription she bore, “Set me free!” was greeted with storms of laughter, the boldest of the young men shouting that she was too beautiful to be free, and some of the old men, to their shame be it said, likewise shouted. No false embarrassment troubled Kansas. She was openly pleased. But the young men who had brought their sweethearts to town, and were standing hand in hand with them, for obvious reasons saw nothing. They scarcely dared to look at Kansas, and those who did were so loudly rebuked that they turned down the side streets.  74
  During this part of the day these loving couples, whose devotion was so patent to the whole world, were by far the most absorbing to Stephen. He watched them having their fortunes told, the young women blushing and crying, “Say!” and “Ain’t he wicked?” and the young men getting their ears boxed for certain remarks. He watched them standing open-mouthed at the booths and side shows, with hands still locked, or again they were chewing cream candy in unison. Or he glanced sidewise at them, seated in the open places with the world so far below them that even the insistent sound of the fifes and drums rose but faintly to their ears.  75
  And perhaps,—we shall not say positively,—perhaps Mr. Brice’s thoughts went something like this, “O that love were so simple a matter to all!” But graven on his face was what is called the “Boston scorn.” And no scorn has been known like unto it since the days of Athens.  76
  So Stephen made the best of his way to the Brewster House, the elegance and newness of which the citizens of Freeport openly boasted. Mr. Lincoln had preceded him, and was even then listening to a few remarks of burning praise by an honorable gentleman. Mr. Lincoln himself made a few remarks, which seemed so simple and rang so true, and were so free from political rococo and decoration generally, that even the young men forgot their sweethearts to listen. Then Mr. Lincoln went into the hotel, and the sun slipped under a black cloud.  77
  The lobby was full, and rather dirty, since the supply of spittoons was so far behind the demand. Like the firmament, it was divided into little bodies which revolved about larger bodies. But there lacked not here supporters of the Little Giant, and discreet farmers of influence in their own counties who waited to hear the afternoon’s debate before deciding. These and others did not hesitate to tell of the magnificence of the Little Giant’s torchlight procession the previous evening. Every Dred-Scottite had carried a torch, and many transparencies, so that the very glory of it had turned night into day. The Chief Lictor had distributed these torches with an unheard-of liberality. But there lacked not detractors who swore that John Dibble and other Lincolnites had applied for torches for the mere pleasure of carrying them. Since dawn the delegations had been heralded from the house-tops, and wagered on while they were yet as worms far out on the prairie. All the morning these continued to come in, and form in line to march past their particular candidate. The second great event of the day was the event of the special over the Galena road, of sixteen cars and more than a thousand pairs of sovereign lungs. With military precision they repaired to the Brewster House, and ahead of them a banner was flung: “Winnebago County for the Tall Sucker.” And the Tall Sucker was on the steps to receive them.  78
  But Mr. Douglas, who had arrived the evening before to the booming of two and thirty guns, had his banners and his bunting, too. The neighborhood of Freeport was a stronghold of Northern Democrats, ardent supporters of the Little Giant if once they could believe that he did not intend to betray them.  79
  Stephen felt in his bones the coming of a struggle, and was thrilled. Once he smiled at the thought that he had become an active partisan—nay, a worshiper—of the uncouth Lincoln. Terrible suspicion for a Bostonian,—had he been carried away? Was his hero, after all, a homespun demagogue? Had he been wise in deciding before he had caught a glimpse of the accomplished Douglas, whose name and fame filled the land? Stephen did not waver in his allegiance. But in his heart there lurked a fear of the sophisticated Judge and Senator and man of the world whom he had not yet seen. In his note-book he had made a copy of the Question, and young Mr. Hill discovered him pondering in a corner of the lobby at dinner-time. After dinner they went together to their candidate’s room. They found the doors open and the place packed, and there was Mr. Lincoln’s very tall hat towering above those of the other politicians pressed around him. Mr. Lincoln took three strides in Stephen’s direction and seized him by the shoulder.  80
  “Why, Steve,” said he, “I thought you had got away again.” Turning to a big burly man with a good-natured face, who was standing by, he added: “Jim, I want you to look out for this young man. Get him a seat on the stand, where he can hear.”  81
  Stephen stuck close to Jim. He never knew what the gentleman’s last name was, or whether he had any. It was but a few minutes’ walk to the grove where the speaking was to be. And as they made their way thither Mr. Lincoln passed them in a Conestoga wagon drawn by six milk-white horses. Jim informed Stephen that the Little Giant had had a six-horse coach. The grove was black with people. Hovering about the hem of the crowd were the sun-burned young men in their Sunday best, still clinging fast to the hands of the young women. Bands blared ‘Columbia, Gem of the Ocean.’ Fakirs planted their stands in the way, selling pain-killers and ague cures, watermelons and lemonade. Jugglers juggled and beggars begged. Jim said that there were sixteen thousand people in that grove. And he told the truth.  82
  Stephen now trembled for his champion. He tried to think of himself as fifty years old, with the courage to address sixteen thousand people on such a day, and quailed. What a man of affairs it must take to do that! Sixteen thousand people, into each of whose breasts God had put different emotions and convictions! He had never even imagined such a crowd as this assembled merely to listen to a political debate. But then he remembered, as they dodged from in front of the horses, that it was not merely a political debate. The pulse of a nation was here, a great nation stricken with approaching fever. It was not now a case of excise, but of existence.  83
  This son of toil who had driven his family thirty miles across the prairie, blanketed his tired horses and slept on the ground the night before, who was willing to stand all through the afternoon and listen with pathetic eagerness to this debate, must be moved by a patriotism divine. In the breast of that farmer, in the breast of his tired wife who held her child by the hand, had been instilled from birth that sublime fervor which is part of their life who inherit the Declaration of Independence. Instinctively these men who had fought and won the West had scented the danger. With the spirit of their ancestors who had left their farms to die on the bridge at Concord or follow Ethan Allen into Ticonderoga, these had come to Freeport. What were three days of bodily discomfort! What even the loss of part of a cherished crop, if the nation’s existence were at stake and their votes might save it!  84
  In the midst of that heaving human sea rose the bulwarks of a wooden stand. But how to reach it? Jim was evidently a personage. The rough farmers commonly squeezed a way for him. And when they did not, he made it with his big body. As they drew near their haven, a great surging as of a tidal wave swept them off their feet. There was a deafening shout, and the stand rocked on its foundations. Before Stephen could collect his wits, a fierce battle was raging about him. Abolitionist and Democrat, Free Soiler and Squatter Sov, defaced one another in a rush for the platform. The committeemen and reporters on top of it rose to its defense. Well for Stephen that his companion was along. Jim was recognized and hauled bodily into the fort, and Stephen after him. The populace were driven off, and when the excitement died down again, he found himself in the row behind the reporters. Young Mr. Hill paused while sharpening his pencil to wave him a friendly greeting.  85
  Stephen, craning in his seat, caught sight of Mr. Lincoln slouched into one of his favorite attitudes, his chin resting in his hand.  86
  But who is this, erect, compact, aggressive, searching with a confident eye the wilderness of upturned faces? A personage, truly, to be questioned timidly, to be approached advisedly. Here indeed was a lion, by the very look of him, master of himself and of others. By reason of its regularity and masculine strength, a handsome face. A man of the world to the cut of the coat across the broad shoulders. Here was one to lift a youngster into the realm of emulation, like a character in a play, to arouse dreams of Washington and its senators and great men. For this was one to be consulted by the great alone. A figure of dignity and power, with magnetism to compel moods. Since, when he smiled, you warmed in spite of yourself, and when he frowned the world looked grave.  87
  The inevitable comparison was come, and Stephen’s hero was shrunk once more. He drew a deep breath, searched for the word, and gulped. There was but the one word. How country Abraham Lincoln looked beside Stephen Arnold Douglas!  88
  Had the Lord ever before made and set over against each other two such different men? Yes, for such are the ways of the Lord.
*        *        *        *        *
  89
  The preliminary speaking was in progress, but Stephen neither heard nor saw until he felt the heavy hand of his companion on his knee.  90
  “There’s something mighty strange, like fate, between them two,” he was saying. “I recklect twenty-five years ago when they was first in the Legislatur’ together. A man told me that they was both admitted to practise in the S’preme Court in ’39, on the same day, sir. Then you know they was nip an’ tuck after the same young lady. Abe got her. They’ve been in Congress together, the Little Giant in the Senate, and now, here they be in the greatest set of debates the people of this state ever heard. Young man, the hand of fate is in this here, mark my words——”  91
  There was a hush, and the waves of that vast human sea were stilled. A man,—lean, angular, with coat-tails flapping—unfolded like a grotesque figure at a side-show. No confidence was there. Stooping forward, Abraham Lincoln began to speak, and Stephen Brice hung his head, and shuddered. Could this shrill falsetto be the same voice to which he had listened only that morning? Could this awkward, yellow man with his hands behind his back be he whom he had worshiped? Ripples of derisive laughter rose here and there, on the stand and from the crowd. Thrice distilled was the agony of those moments!  92
  But what was this feeling that gradually crept over him? Surprise? Cautiously he raised his eyes. The hands were coming around to the front. Suddenly one of them was thrown sharply back, with a determined gesture, the head was raised,—and—and his shame was forgotten. In its stead wonder was come. But soon he lost even that, for his mind was gone on a journey. And when again he came to himself and looked upon Abraham Lincoln, this was a man transformed. The voice was no longer shrill. Nay, it was now a powerful instrument which played strangely on those who heard. Now it rose, and again it fell into tones so low as to start a stir which spread and spread, like a ripple in a pond, until it broke on the very edge of that vast audience.  93
  “Can the people of a United States Territory, in any lawful way, against the wish of any citizen of the United States, exclude slavery from its limits prior to the formation of a State Constitution?”  94
  It was out, at last, irrevocably writ in the recording book of History, for better, for worse. Beyond the reach of politician, committee, or caucus. But what man amongst those who heard and stirred might say that these minutes even now hasting into eternity held the Crisis of a nation that is the hope of the world? Not you, Judge Douglas, who sit there smiling. Consternation is a stranger in your heart,—but answer that Question if you can. Yes, your nimble wit has helped you out of many a tight corner. You do not feel the noose—as yet. You do not guess that your reply will make or mar the fortunes of your country. It is not you who can look ahead two short years and see the ship of Democracy splitting on the rocks at Charleston and at Baltimore, when the power of your name might have steered her safely.  95
  But see! what is this man about whom you despise? One by one he is taking the screws out of the engine which you have invented to run your ship. Look, he holds them in his hands without mixing them, and shows the false construction of its secret parts.  96
  For Abraham Lincoln dealt with abstruse questions in language so limpid that many a farmer, dulled by toil, heard and understood and marveled. The simplicity of the Bible dwells in those speeches, and they are now classics in our literature. And the wonder in Stephen’s mind was that this man who could be a buffoon, whose speech was coarse and whose person unkempt, could prove himself a tower of morality and truth. That has troubled many another, before and since the debate at Freeport.  97
  That short hour came all too quickly to an end. And as the Moderator gave the signal for Mr. Lincoln, it was Stephen’s big companion who snapped the strain, and voiced the sentiment of those about him.  98
  “By Gosh!” he cried, “he baffles Steve. I didn’t think Abe had it in him.”  99
  The Honorable Stephen A. Douglas, however, seemed anything but baffled as he rose to reply. As he waited for the cheers which greeted him to die out, his attitude was easy and indifferent, as a public man’s should be. The Question seemed not to trouble him in the least. But for Stephen Brice the Judge stood there stripped of the glamour that made him, even as Abraham Lincoln had stripped his doctrine of its paint and colors, and left it punily naked.  100
  Standing up, the very person of the Little Giant was contradictory, as was the man himself. His height was insignificant. But he had the head and shoulders of a lion, and even the lion’s roar. What a contrast the ring of his deep bass to the tentative falsetto of Mr. Lincoln’s opening words! If Stephen expected the Judge to tremble, he was greatly disappointed. Mr. Douglas was far from dismay. As if to show the people how lightly he held his opponent’s warnings, he made them gape by putting things down Mr. Lincoln’s shirt-front and taking them out of his mouth. But it appeared to Stephen, listening with all his might, that the Judge was a trifle more on the defensive than his attitude might lead one to expect. Was he not among his own Northern Democrats at Freeport? And yet it seemed to give him a keen pleasure to call his hearers “Black Republicans.” “Not black,” came from the crowd again and again, and once a man shouted, “Couldn’t you modify it and call it brown?” “Not a whit!” cried the Judge, and dubbed them “Yankees,” although himself a Vermonter by birth. He implied that most of these Black Republicans desired negro wives.  101
  But quick,—to the Question. How was the Little Giant, artful in debate as he was, to get over that without offense to the great South? Very skillfully the Judge disposed of the first of the interrogations. And then, save for the gusts of wind rustling the trees, the grove might have been empty of its thousands, such was the silence that fell. But tighter and tighter they pressed against the stand, until it trembled.  102
  Oh, Judge, the time of all artful men will come at length! How were you to foresee a certain day under the White Dome of the Capitol? Had your sight been long, you would have paused before your answer. Had your sight been long, you would have seen this ugly Lincoln bareheaded before the Nation, and you are holding his hat. Judge Douglas, this act alone has redeemed your faults. It has given you a nobility of which we did not suspect you. At the end God gave you strength to be humble, and so you left the name of a patriot.  103
  Judge, you thought there was a passage between Scylla and Charybdis which your craftiness might overcome. “It matters not,” you cried when you answered the Question, “it matters not which way the Supreme Court may hereafter decide as to the abstract question whether slavery may or may not go into a territory under the Constitution. The people have the lawful means to introduce or to exclude it as they please, for the reason that slavery cannot exist a day or an hour anywhere unless it is supported by local police regulations.”  104
  Judge Douglas, uneasy will you lie to-night, for you have uttered the Freeport Heresy.  105
 
  It only remains to be told how Stephen Brice, coming to the Brewster House after the debate, found Mr. Lincoln. On his knee, in transports of delight, was a small boy, and Mr. Lincoln was serenely playing on the child’s Jew’s-harp. Standing beside him was a proud father who had dragged his son across two counties in a farm wagon, and who was to return on the morrow to enter this event in the family Bible. In a corner of the room were several impatient gentlemen of influence who wished to talk about the Question.  106
  But when he saw Stephen, Mr. Lincoln looked up with a smile of welcome that is still, and ever will be, remembered and cherished.  107
  “Tell Judge Whipple that I have attended to that little matter, Steve,” he said.  108
  “Why, Mr. Lincoln,” he exclaimed, “you have had no time.”  109
  “I have taken the time,” Mr. Lincoln replied, “and I think that I am well repaid. Steve,” said he, “unless I’m mightily mistaken, you know a little more than you did yesterday.”  110
  “Yes, sir; I do,” said Stephen.  111
  “Come, Steve,” said Mr. Lincoln, “be honest. Didn’t you feel sorry for me last night?”  112
  Stephen flushed scarlet.  113
  “I never shall again, sir,” he said.  114
  The wonderful smile, so ready to come and go, flickered and went out. In its stead on the strange face was ineffable sadness,—the sadness of the world’s tragedies. Of Stephen stoned, of Christ crucified.  115
  “Pray God that you may feel sorry for me again,” he said.  116
  Awed, the child on his lap was still. The politicians had left the room. Mr. Lincoln had kept Stephen’s hand in his own.  117
  “I have hopes of you, Stephen,” he said. “Do not forget me.”  118
  Stephen Brice never has. Why was it that he walked to the station with a heavy heart? It was a sense of the man he had left, who had been and was to be. This Lincoln of the black loam, who built his neighbor’s cabin and hoed his neighbor’s corn, who had been storekeeper and postmaster and flat-boatman. Who had followed a rough judge dealing a rough justice around a rough circuit; who had rolled a local bully in the dirt; rescued women from insult; tended the bedside of many a sick coward who feared the Judgment; told coarse stories on barrels by candle light (but these are pure beside the vice of great cities); who addressed political mobs in the raw, swooping down from the stump and flinging embroilers east and west. This physician who was one day to tend the sick-bed of the Nation in her agony; whose large hand was to be on her feeble pulse, and whose knowledge almost divine was to perform the miracle of her healing. So was it that the Physician Himself performed His cures, and when His work was done, died a Martyr.  119
  Abraham Lincoln died in His name.  120
 
 
CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
 

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.