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Is hanging breathless on thy fate!
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW
THE QUESTION OF HUMAN SLAVERY
THREE years before the war between the North and the South, there were no slaves in the North. In all the southern states there were slaves. When a new state was admitted to the Union, the question at once came up: Shall it be a free state or a slave state? When a slave escaped from a slave state into a free state, the question at once arose: Must the slave be captured in the free state and sent back into slavery?
The country could not agree on these things. In Massachusetts and in other places of the North, abolitionists, as people were called who wanted to do away with the holding of slaves, were helping slaves to escape and were stirring up hatred of slavery. The South was bitter over such actions.
Just as Patrick Henry of Virginia, three quarters of a century before, had called upon his friends and neighbors to make up their minds upon the great question of Independence, so Abraham Lincoln, in speaking of slavery, in 1858, told his fellow Americans that the country must be all one thing or all the other. In this speech he did not ask to have the slaves freed, but he said that the Union must be preserved and that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” He said that the question of slavery could never be settled until the country became all a slave country or all a free country.
This was just what most Americans did not want to believe. They hated to have anyone say it. At the time he made this speech, Lincoln was nominated for the Senate, but because of his slavery views, Illinois defeated him.
Two years after, he was elected President of the United States, and hardly had his term begun when Fort Sumter was fired upon and the Civil War began.
A HOUSE DIVIDED AGAINST ITSELF
Convention Speech, June 17, 1858 MR. PRESIDENT, AND GENTLEMEN OF THE CONVENTION:
If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do, and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated with the avowed object and confident promise of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed.
“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. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.
DURING THE CIVIL WAR
THE great Civil War went on. One commander after another was placed in charge of the armies that were fighting for the union of the states and the freedom of the slaves. One after another failed to prove himself the military leader that was needed. The armies of the South invaded Maryland and were driven back. Then, on the heels of this victory, came Lincoln's declaration that on January 1, 1863, all slaves in the seceding states should be forever free.
A few more months went by and again the southern armies invaded the North and fought the great decisive battle of the war at Gettysburg. Here again the northern army was victorious. Then Vicksburg was taken the same summer by Ulysses S. Grant.
But in the fall of 1863, the end still seemed very far off. In New York City there were riots against the draft. Robert E. Lee, that great soldier and noble southerner, beloved by his men as few leaders in war have ever been beloved, was still at the head of the forces in the South.
Lincoln was terribly worried. But even in those trying days, he was free from hard and bitter feeling towards the South, and at the dedication of the new cemetery at Gettysburg, where many thousands of the brave boys of the North and South had fallen, he made a speech which showed his greatness of spirit.
There are about two hundred words in that speech. Lincoln read it from a little piece of paper. Edward Everett, a great orator, made a speech that would cover one whole page of a newspaper. But Lincoln's speech is the greater of the two. It is one of the great orations of the English language.