Frederick Douglass Project Writings: The Chicago Nominations

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Douglass' Monthly, June, 1860

The nomination of Mr. Lincoln has taken the people of this part of the Country by surprise. The popular feeling in favor of Mr. Seward was nowhere stronger, or more earnest, than in this part of the State. The people felt that he had a stronger claim upon his party than any other man, having done more to give that party shape, and to systematise the elements composing it, and to furnish it with ideas, than any other man in the nation.

The Republican party is justly proud of Mr. Seward, proud of his history, proud of his talents, and proud of his attainments as a statesman, and it is not without strong feeling that it sees him shoved aside to make room for a man whose abilities are untried, and whose political history is too meagre to form a basis on which to judge of his future.

Still there does not appear to be the slightest disposition, on the part of Mr. Seward's friends to be factional under their disappointment, but they acquiesce in the decision of the Convention, with a grace which speaks much in praise of the party discipline in the Republican ranks.

There are a few of the more radical men, who regard Mr. Seward's defeat as a sort of political "judgment" upon him for his late speech in the Senate. To them, that speech was so full of concession to the slave power, so clear a bid for the nomination at Chicago, and so nearly sunk the progressive statesman in the political trimmer, that they are well content with his defeat.

The road to the Presidency does not lead through the swamps of compromise and concession any longer, and Mr. Seward ought to have made that discovery, before John Brown frightened him into making his last great speech. In that speech he stooped quite too low for his future fame, and lost the prize that tempted the stoop after all. He had far better have lost it while standing erect.

Mr. Lincoln is a man of unblemished private character; a lawyer, standing near the front rank at the bar of his own State, has a cool, well balanced head; great firmness of will; is perseveringly industrious; and one of the most frank, honest men in political life. He cannot lay claim to any literary culture beyond the circle of his practical duties, or to any of the graces found at courts, or in diplomatic circles, but must rely upon his "good hard sense" and honesty of purpose, as capital for the campaign, and the qualities to give character to his administration. His friends cannot as yet claim for him a place in the front rank of statesmanship, whatever may be their faith in his latent capacities. His political life is thus far to his credit, but it is a political life of fair promise rather than one of rich fruitage.

It was, perhaps, this fact that obtained for him the nomination. Our political history has often illustrated the truth that a man may be too great a statesman to become President. The failure of Webster, Clay and Silas Wright in the Presidential race, is in point here, and the success of Harrison, Polk, Taylor and Pierce, tends to prove the same proposition.

If, therefore, Mr. Lincoln possesses great capacities, and is yet to be proved a great statesman, it is lucky for him that a political exigency moved his party to take him on trust and before his greatness was ripe, or he would have lost the chance. But when once elected it will be no longer dangerous for him to develop great qualities, and we hope that in taking him on a "profession of his faith," rather than on the recommendations of his political life, his party will witness his continual "growth in grace," and his administration will redound to the glory of his country, and his own fame.

As to his principles, there is no reason why the friends of Mr. Seward should not heartily support him. He is a radical Republican, and is fully committed to the doctrine of the "irrepressible conflict." In his debates with Douglas, he came fully up to the highest mark of Republicanism, and he is a man of will and nerve, and will not back down from his own assertions. He is not a compromise candidate by any means. Mr. Bates was to have played that part, with Horace Greeley for prompter. But the Chicago Convention did not fall into the melting mood. Greeley "piped unto them but they would not dance;" he mourned unto them, but they did not "lament," and his "betweenity" candidate fell flat between the two stools of Somewhere and Nowhere. Mr. Greeley has the greatest passion for making political nominations from the ranks of his enemies of any man in America. His candidates are like the frogs bred along the Nile; the head begins to croak and show signs of life while the body is yet plain mud. So Mr. Greeley is forever digging up some man for a candidate, whose head just begins to appear, while his whole body is yet enveloped in pro-slavery mud, and we are glad he was defeated.

The Presidential contest, this fall, is likely to be rather sharply defined. If Mr. Douglas is put on the course, the old personal rivalry between him and Mr. Lincoln will render the campaign especially spicy.

Illinois will form a sort of pivot, around which the waves of the political sea will sweep and dash with great force.

The nomination of Bell and Everett will tend to divert strength from the Democracy, and give advantage to Lincoln, but will have no great influence on the general result. Slavery propagandism, whether led by the vigorous and impulsive "little giant," or by the more staid and conservative Bell, will be the great enemy which the Republican party must meet.

For ourselves, we are sorry that the hosts of freedom could not have been led forth upon a higher platform, and have had inscribed upon their banners, "Death to Slavery," instead of "No more Slave States." But the people will not have it so, and we are compelled to work and wait for a brighter day, when the masses shall be educated up to a higher standard of human rights and political morality.

But as between the hosts of Slavery propagandism and the Republican party— incomplete as is its platform of principles—our preferences cannot hesitate.

While we should be glad to co-operate with a party fully committed to the doctrine of "All rights to all men," in the absence of all hope of rearing up the standard of such a party for the coming campaign, we can but desire the success of the Republican candidates.

It will be a great work accomplished when this Government is divorced from the active support of the inhuman slave system. To pluck executive patronage out of the hands of the pliant tools of the whip and the chain; to turn the tide of the National Administration against the man-stealers of this country and in favor of even a partial application of the principles of justice, is a glorious achievement, and we hope for its success.

To save a prospective empire, yet to be planted in the Great West, from the desecrating foot prints of inhuman oppression, and open these mountain slopes and river bottoms, to a hardy, industrious, and enlightened population of freemen, who are sure to follow the "Star of Empire" toward the Pacific, marching to the inspiring songs of "Free labor and free men," is a consummation devoutly to be wished—a vision of prospective good, inspiring to the patriot.

It is a sad fact that the people of this country are, as yet, on a plane of morality and philanthropy far below what the exigencies of the cause of human progress demands. It is to be regretted that they will not come up to the glorious work of striking the shackles from four million slaves at a single blow—but even though they persist in approaching the blood-cemented Bastille of oppression, by the slow processes of a cautious siege, rather than by the more brave and inspiring march of a storming party, we are compelled to submit for the present, and take with gratitude the little good thus proffered.