Abraham Lincoln Analyzes Stephen Douglas's Position, and Maneuvering, on the Temperance Issue in Illinois

c. 1858

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Abraham Lincoln Analyzes Stephen Douglas's Position, and Maneuvering, on the Temperance Issue in Illinois
Autograph Letter Signed
2 pages | SMC 213

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      Background

      "Douglas’s commitment to popular sovereignty came into conflict in 1857 with his even older commitment to party loyalty when President Buchanan, whom he helped elect, submitted the proslavery Lecompton constitution to accompany the admission of Kansas to statehood. The process by which the Lecompton document was produced was notoriously unrepresentative of the antislavery majority in the territory... Lecompton, however, made a mockery of popular sovereignty, and Douglas never hesitated. His opposition to it cost him more politically than he gained..."  - Stephen A. Douglas and Antebellum Democracy by Martin H. Quitt (Cambridge University Press: 2012)

      Lincoln, who would famously face off against sitting Senator Stephen A. Douglas in Illinois' 1858 Senatorial race, here takes canny stock of Douglas' re-election campaign - and predicts what he ought to do to win. Douglas' campaign, Lincoln says, is in trouble. It would be just like Douglas, having split his own Democratic party by bucking President Buchanan, to now rack his brain thinking of how he might divide the Republican party too, in order to save himself. The issue he will choose – has chosen – will be temperance, Lincoln predicts, and then puts these words into Douglas’ mouth:

      "Three years ago, fifty thousand men in Illinois, voted for a prohibitory liquor law. They were defeated then, and have since been quiet.  But they are still in the country, and are mostly republican.  If they can now be stirred up again, it will divide the republican party, and save me.  Therefore let them be stirred up. Let emissaries go forth, and do the work. Let republicans be induced to pledge themselves, to vote for nobody but temperance men.  Then, if republican candidates are not temperance men, they will lose these pledged votes; and if they are temperance men, they will lose the German votes, so that, either way, I shall gain some members of the Legislature...”

      And this, apparently, is exactly what Douglas is doing. "Strangely enough," Lincoln observes, “when the whole world is quiet about temperance, we find here in Illinois certain unknown personages, moving round, trying to get up a new temperance agitation, and especially trying to get pledges as to members of the Legislature - those very officers who, next winter, have to pass on the question of Judge Douglas' re-election.” Republicans should think of this, Lincoln declares, and having thought, do what they think right.
       The Temperance issue, to judge from the Illinois press in 1858, was not a major concern when, say, compared with the issue of slavery. But Lincoln was spot-on in realizing that Douglas, a consummate politician, was playing an inside game - which ultimately, despite Lincoln winning the popular vote, would see Douglas elected to the Senate by the State Legislature.



      Autograph Letter Signed (with initials, “A.L.”), 2 pages, recto and verso, quarto, no place or date [c.1858]; to “Dear Sir.”
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      Dear Sir:

      Judge Douglas is in trouble about a re-election to the U. S. Senate; and he is racking his brain for a way to save himself. Suppose he should say "Three years ago, fifty thousand men in Illinois, voted for a prohibitory liquor law. They were defeated then, and have since been quiet.  But they are still in the country, and are mostly republicans.  If they can now be stirred up again, it will divide the republican party, and save me.  Therefore, let them be stirred up. Let emissaries go forth, and do the work. Let republicans be induced to pledge themselves, to vote for nobody but temperance men.  Then, if republican candidates are not temperance men, they will lose these pledged votes; and if they are temperance men, they will lose the German votes, so that, either way, I shall gain some members of the Legislature in the ... doubtful districts."

      Now, we do not know that Judge Douglas has actually said this; but it would be perfectly natural in him - just like him; and, strangely enough, just now, when the whole world is quiet about temperance, we find here in Illinois certain unknown personages, moving round, trying

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      to get up a new temperance agitation, and especially trying to get pledges as to members of the Legislature - those very officers who, next winter, have to pass on the question of Judge Douglas' re-election.

      Let republicans think of this; and having thought of it, act as they think right.

      A.L.