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Speech of Governor Yates

At the Great War Meeting at Chicago,
AUGUST 1ST, 1862.

Last evening witnessed another patriotic uprising of the people of Chicago, not at all inferior to its predecessors either in numbers or enthusiasm. The visit of Governor Yates in this city on matters connected with the raising of the new regiments required from Illinois under the call of the President, was made the occasion on the part of the Board of Trade for a call for a public meeting, at which the citizens of Chicago could have an opportunity to meet the Governor and listen to his views upon the present crisis. The meeting was first called for Bryan Hall; but it soon became evident that that hall would not hold a tithe of the numbers who would seek admittance, and it was adjourned to the Court House Square. The result of this shows that the Board of Trade Committee did not misunderstand the temper of our citizens in the present emergency. By eight o'clock, as the shades of evening began to gather, the men, the bone and sinew of Chicago, came around the southern entrance of the Court House, and by half past eight the entire enclosure between the Court House and Washington and Clark streets was densely packed with people. At least ten thousand persons were present, all animated with one common sentiment, a patriotic zeal for the salvation of our country. A notable feature of the meeting was the hearty approval of every sentiment endorsing or advocating the freedom of the slaves. Each speaker favored the employment of negroes in the suppression of this rebellion, and each was enthusiastically applauded. Hereafter, in Chicago, the advocate of human freedom, of right against might, is sure of an enthusiastic welcome at the hands of our citizens.

The meeting was called to order by his honor, Mayer Sherman, who introduced his Excellency, Governor Yates. After the applause, which succeeded his introduction, had subsided, the Governor came forward and addressed the audience as follows:


Fellow-citizens of the City of Chicago: — I thank you heartily for this cordial welcome. I receive, however, your loud and generous cheering, not as designed for me, but given in compliment to the great cause in which we are all engaged. I have not been in your midst for a year past, but we have known each other well as co-operators with all loyal men in the great work of saving our country from the perils which beset her.

I came here, to-night, fellow-citizens of Chicago, for a double purpose: First, as the Governor of the State of Illinois, to return you my sincere thanks of the efficient aid which you have rendered me in carrying but the requisitions of the War Department; and, without which aid I am free to confess that the administration of State affairs must have been very difficult if not almost unsuccessful. In you I have always found faithful laborers and coworkers. When the storms of calumny have magnanimously sustained my feeble arm, and enabled me to carry on my efforts in common with those of other loyal men to save our bleeding country. [Applause.] My heart goes out to you to-night that you have assisted me and sustained me in this trying time.

It has been my lot to be placed at the head of State affairs in the very midst of times to try men's souls. Instead of the office of Governor being a tame, quiet, dignified sort of position, in which he exercises the powers of appointing Notories Public and pardoning criminals out of the penitentiary, I have found fellow-citizens, that I truly bought the elephant. [Laughter and applause.] It has been no slow train, but 2:40 all the time, and sometimes a mile a minute; and during all this hurry and struggle and tumult, you have given your united support, without distinction of party to the vigorous measure which have been instituted in this State for the successful prosecution of the war.

Fellow-citizens, I am proud of the city of Chicago for these things — proud of her as the beautiful Queen City of the Lakes — at the centre of commerce and trade, with such magnificent grain and lumber markets, so superior in all the elements of prosperity, in the elegance of the architecture of her private residences and public edifices, in her schools and colleges, in her vast system of railroads concentrating here thousands upon thousands of miles of railway, which day by day and night by night send forth their myriads of wheels to being in and carry away the immense cargoes of your commerce. But transcending those, towering above them, I admire most your magnificent munificence, your liberality so boundless, and your organized and exhaustless energy in supporting your country in this her hour of trial. You have sent your numerous regiments into the field, composed of men as brave as ever drew the sword of shouldered the musket — men, fellow-citizens, who have gone out and breasted the storm of battle and borne your flag triumphant upon every field upon when they have engaged. The bones of thousands of those brave and gallant spirits now repose upon the banks of the Cumberland and Tennessee and in the wilds of Arkansas.

"They sleep their last sleep, they have fought their last battle;
No sound shall awake them to glory again."

But, fellow-citizens, as long as the human heart is swayed by the impulses of gratitude, you will cherish their memories, and their names shall be preserved in the archives of the State, to be transmitted to posterity as immortal heroes, who first went forth with life in hand to stand between their country and the traitors who would destroy it. [Applause.]

And then, fellow-citizens, you have responded nobly in money as well as men. Immortal honor to your Sanitary Commission — to your public authorities — to your Board of Trade — to your railroad companies! Immortal honor to them all! For I stand before you a living witness, to-night, to testify that I have seen the supplies that they have furnished upon the banks of the Cumberland, the Tennessee, and the Mississippi. In the hour of need, I have found them ready to my hand, upon our State boats and upon the boats of the United States. Lasting honor to your surgeons, among them your Brainards, your McVickers, your Boones, your Johnsons, and a host of others — your agents and nurses, whom I have seen standing day by day and night by night over the cots of your dying soldiers. And immortal honor also to the ladies of Chicago. I have seen in the tent of the soldier the bright evidences of tender woman's handiwork, the shining traces of her benevolence; and prayers have gone up to God and blessings been invoked upon the noble, fearless women of Illinois for their invaluable and unceasing contributions to relieve our sick and dying soldiers.

And now that another call is made for troops, I find that Chicago responds with renewed cheerfulness and liberality. I am gratified by the announcement that your Board of Trade and your private citizens, with a munificence and liberality worthy of all imitation, have contributed some two hundred and fifty thousand dollars to the support of this war in giving bounty to the soldiers who will enlist to go forth to defend our flag. I say, I came here for the purpose of thanking you for these things, my fellow-citizens.

The other subject which induced me to visit you upon the present occasion, was to talk to you upon the subject of the crisis which is now before the nation, and to encourage you, as it is my design to encourage other parts of the State, to do all you can, to make every effort at this time in crushing out the infernal rebellion which, with red hands and demoniac intent, is aiming a fatal blow at the life-blood of our nation.

The history of this controversy is full of interest. In 1820 the nation was excited to its profoundest depths upon this subject of secession. The debate between Mr. Hayne and Mr. Webster upon Mr. Foote's resolution in the year 1820 is one of the most memorable in the history of forensic controversy. It required at that time all the powers of the giant mind, the ponderous logic and the godlike eloquence of Daniel Webster to give a quietus to the spirit of secession. In the year 1832 it thrust its hydra head again into the halls of our National Council, and it then required the iron will and stern energy and determination of Gen. Jackson to quell it. Then it was that he uttered those memorable words: "By the Eternal! This Union must and shall be preserved." [Loud applause.]

Ever since then for a period of thirty years, the doctrine has been perseveringly promulgated on several of the Southern State — stalking at times like a ghostly demon through the halls of our National Capital. It grew stronger and stronger until the meeting of the Charleston Convention in 1860, when our illustration Senator, Stephen A. Douglas, [cheers] was unceremoniously kicked out of the Charleston Convention because his great heart and mind knew no other policy than the preservation of these United States "now and forever, one and inseparable." [Applause.] Fellow-citizens, it then became evident to every statesman and to every close observer, that South Carolina and her adherents, meant what they had so long threatened, disunion. One of your Chicago papers, I observe, has published at a very timely period the last two speeches of Senator Douglas; one delivered in the capitol at Springfield, and one at Chicago, immediately preceeding his death. I remember that he said in one of those speeches substantially as follows: "I might appeal to the sentiment of the whole North, and to the people of Illinois in their impartial judgment to sustain me when I say that they regard it as the greatest error of my life that I lean more towards the Southern section of our country than towards my own." But, fellow citizens, his life long friendship was of no avail unless he would surrender his nationality — unless he would turn traitor to his country — unless he would unfurl the banner of a Southern Confederacy, defend the right of secession, the perpetual servitude of the African race, and the establishment of a slave aristocracy. [That's so, and loud applause.]

This spirit of secession grew stronger and stronger until it became evident from this act of black ingratitude to their life long friend, Stephen A. Douglas, that secession was a deliberate and settled purpose. I know that thousands of our countrymen could not believe for a moment that the people of the South could be driven to such madness as to destroy this Government. But to those who knew them well, it was evident that this was a fixed and long cherished purpose — that they had been educated into the doctrine of secession and slavery from 1820 down to the present time, and that they would not rest satisfied until a separate Confederacy was established.

It was in view of this fact and before these difficulties commenced, that in my inaugural address to the Legislature of the State of Illinois, I proposed the most stupendous preparations for war. I proposed the arming, drilling and equipping of the militia of the State. I was assisted in that effort by many of your valuable citizens — by the lamented Ellsworth, Col. Tucker, and others, who assisted me in drafting the bills; and if these bills had been adopted by the Legislature at that period, Illinois alone by this time would have sent an army into the field sufficiently strong to have crushed out every uprising of rebellion in the Mississippi Valley. [Applause.]

Fellow-citizens, what were the pretexts of this rebellion? It was, as Senator Douglas, in one of his speeches declares, on the pretense that under the Constitution of the United States the people of the South could not secure their rights; when it was a known fact that at that very period the Fugitive Slave Law was more faithfully enforced than it had ever been during the existence of the Government, and it had always been enforced, as well as other public laws. In the Constitution of the United States there is a stipulation that slaves escaping from their masters should be returned. The Constitution protects the South in this right, and they themselves are the first to lay their unhallowed hands upon that Constitution and tear in pieces the very instrument which secured to them the return of their fugitive slaves. The Missouri Compromise had also been repealed, and there stood upon the statute book no law to prohibit the extension of slavery into any Territory of the United States.

Another pretext was the election of a Republican President, and yet they knew — in all their public meetings their leaders show they knew — that it was not the mere election of a Republican President, but they intended simply to make that the signal for rebellion and for the establishment of a Southern Confederacy. If anybody doubts this, subsequent events and well authenticated facts proved that the South for fifteen months previous had been making the most gigantic preparations for war, and this is conclusive evidence that these and all other pretexts which they had advanced were but the hollow pretenses of conspirators.

[To be continued.]