Like most Whigs, Lincoln was adamantly opposed to the Mexican War. He was hardly through the Capitol door as a freshman congressman, in fact, when he introduced his “Spot Resolutions," by which means Congress might ask President Polk to designate the exact spot where American blood had been shed on American soil to provoke the war with Mexico. A few weeks later, he rose to deliver a long speech arguing that the war was unconstitutional, unnecessary, and conceived in falsehood. Alexander H. Stephens - then a Whig congressman from Georgia who, ultimately, would become the Vice President of the Confederate States of America - also spoke out forcefully against “Mr. Polk’s War.” In language not unlike Lincoln’s own, Stephens labeled the war an aggression to “force and compel” the people of Mexico to sell their country. It was, he declaimed, a war of territorial conquest, a “wanton outrage upon the Constitution," and the sole, dark responsibility of James K. Polk. Lincoln was so moved by Stephen’s impassioned rhetoric that he immediately wrote to Herndon:
I just take up my pen to say, that Mr. Stephens of Georgia, a little slim pale faced consumptive man, with a voice like Logan's, has just concluded the very best speech, of an hour's length, I ever heard. My old, withered, dry eyes are full of tears yet. If he writes it out any thing like he delivered it, our people shall see a good many copies of it.
In 1848, Lincoln and Stephens were both against the war, and for Zachary Taylor. But Stephens was ardently proslavery, and their alliance could not last. By the end of the 1850s, Lincoln thought Stephens personified those Southern politicians eager to “sound the bugle for the revival of the slave trade, for the second Dred Scott decision, for the flood of slavery to be poured over the United States.” And Stephens returned the favor: writing after the Civil War, he portrayed Lincoln as a combination of Caesar, Danton and Robespierre. This letter documents a rare moment of amity between these historic foes.
Autograph Letter Signed ("A. Lincoln"), as Congressman, 1 page, oblong octavo, Washington, February 2, 1848. To his friend and law partner, William H. Herndon.
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