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The Fourth Joint Debate between Lincoln and Douglas


Thursday October 7, 1858

Correspondence of the Chicago Journal.
CHARLESTON, Coles Co., Sept. 30.

Saturday was a great day in Charleston. There were no less than twelve thousand people present, from the adjacent towns and counties, to hear the fourth joint debate between Lincoln and Douglas. The streets of the village were filled with a perfect tide of humanity, surging to and fro, and immediately after dinner the tide flowed out to the County Fair Grounds, where the debate took place.

The reception that was given to Mr. Lincoln on his arrival, by the Republicans of Charleston, was most cordial and enthusiastic. Mr. Bromwell, on behalf of the Republicans of Charleston, made an eloquent speech of welcome, to which Mr. Lincoln responded briefly, but in befitting terms, after which our noble leader was perfectly overwhelmed with the warm greetings of the thousands of good friends who had came to see and hear him.

The debate, in the afternoon, was opened by Mr. Lincoln, who on taking the stand, was vociferously cheered.

Lincoln's Speech

Mr. Lincoln commenced by saying that an elderly man had called on him at his hotel this morning to ask whether he really was in favor of producing a perfect equality between negroes and white men! He assured his audience that he was not in favor of negro equality, socially or politically. But he suggested that inasmuch as Judge Douglas appears to be apprehensive that somebody will attempt to make the negroes equal to the white men, he had better be kept at home, in Illinois, and placed in the legislature, to fight the terrible thing there, the Legislature being the only place where a legal equality between the blacks and the whites can be established.

Mr. Lincoln took up the charge of Senator Trumbull against Douglas, that the latter, as the Chairman of the Committee on Territories in the Senate, struck out of the Toombs Kansas bill a clause requiring the submission of the Constitution to a vote of the people. Mr. Lincoln repeated Trumbull's argument on this point, and then answered Senator Douglas' attempted denial of the truth of the charge. He held the original copy of the Toombs bill in his hand, and fastened the charge upon Douglas beyond the possibility of evasion.

Why, asked Mr. Lincoln, did Judge Douglas take that submission clause out of the Toombs bill, and substitute another clause, not submitting the Constitution to a vote of the people? His answer to this charge, to Trumbull, was evasive, and didn't meet the case at all. Mr. L. also showed very conclusively that Douglas uttered a falsehood when he charges that Trumbull "forged" the evidence with which he supports his charge. He showed that Trumbull's documents, upon which the "evidence" is based, are genuine documents, and whose genuineness even Douglas cannot question.

Mr. Lincoln's hour expired, his entire speech being devoted to the exposure of Douglas' "popular sovereignty" duplicity.

Douglas Reply

Senator Douglas then followed in reply, and opened by complaining that Lincoln had taken up no question of public policy touching the welfare of the States or the Union, but expressed himself gratified that he had at last got an answer from Lincoln in regard to the Negro Equality question. Regarding Mr. Trumbull's charge, he wished to know why it had not been made before -- "why did he not make it in '56?" He thought these charges were got up "to occupy my time in defending myself, so that I could not show up the enormity of the Abolition Black Republican party's principles."

He declared that it has not been the rule to require a clause to be inserted for the submission of a constitution to vote of the people of a Territory asking for admission as a State, and flatly denied all of Trumbull's charges in regard to the Toombs' bill!

He then proceeded to repeat, to soft-soap old Whigs with his nonsense about the Whigs and the Democrats having occupied the same platform on the Slavery question, in 1850, when the Compromise measures were accepted by both parties as a "finality" and the Slavery agitation subsided; but he neglected to tell his auditors that he was the first man to violate that "finality" platform and reopen the Slavery agitation, by his nefarious and mischievous Nebraska-Kansas bill. After hypocritically eulogizing the old dead Whig party and its venerable leaders, he once again, for the hundredth time, repeated his falsehoods about Lincoln and Trumbull having entered into a combination with the Abolitionists in 1854, to break up the old Whig and the old Democratic parties. He repeated this nonsense about Trumbull having cheated Lincoln out of the U. S. Senatorship. He repeated his "stale joke" about the Republicans differing in name and in principles in different parts of the State. He repeated his "negro equality" charge against Lincoln. He repeated his bosh about "uniformity of institutions." He repeated his question, "why can't we leave the Government as our fathers framed it?" In fact he repeated everything he has said in his past speeches, and said nothing new -- not one thing.

Lincoln's Rejoinder.

Mr. Lincoln then concluded in a half-hour speech. He answered Douglas's charge of his (Lincoln) being in favor of negro citizenship and denied it. He also again answered Douglas' objections to his (Lincoln's) opinion that "the Union cannot exist always half slave and half free," and said that this question of Slavery extension must be decided either one way or the other, or there never will be peace. The efforts to extend slavery have re-opened, and will continue to re-open, the agitation. He proposes to put an end to this agitation by placing the subject back upon the basis where our fathers left it, that is, the slavery shall be restricted to states where it now exists, and be thus placed in the course of ultimate extinction. We must either do this or allow ourselves to be vanquished and ruled by the Slave Power.

We publish the conclusion of his reply -- Judge Douglas has reiterated his charge in nearly every speech he has made, that Lincoln and Trumbull made a bargain to sell out the old Whig and Democratic parties, that Trumbull cheated Lincoln -- etc. The Judge had also declared that the evidence of Trumbull's as to the Toombs bill charge, was "forged from beginning to end." Mr. Lincoln said:
Now, in regard to this matter about Trumbull and myself having made a bargain to sell out the entire Whig and Democratic parties in 1854 -- Judge Douglas brings forward no evidence to sustain his charges, except the speech Matheny is said to have made in 1856, in which he told a cock-and-bull story of that sort, upon the same moral principles that Judge Douglas tells it here to-day. [Loud applause.] This is the simple truth. I do not care greatly for the story, but this is the truth of it, and I have twice told Judge Douglas to face that from beginning to end there is not one word of truth in it. [Thunders of applause.] I have called upon him for the proof, and he does not at all meet me as Trumbull met him upon that of which we were just talking, by producing the record. He didn't bring the record because there was no record for him to bring. [Cheers and laughter.] When he asks if I am ready to endorse Trumbull's veracity after he has broken a bargain with me, I reply that if Trumbull had broken a bargain with me, I would not be likely to endorse his veracity; [laughter and applause]; but I am ready to endorse his veracity because neither in that thing, nor in any other, in all the years that I have known Lyman Trumbull, have I known him to fail of his word or tell a falsehood large or small. [Great cheering.] It is for that reason that I endorse Trumbull.

Mr. James Brown, (Douglas postmaster.) -- What does Ford's History say about him?

Mr. Lincoln some gentlemen asks me what Ford's History say about him. My own recollection is, that Ford speaks of Trumbull in very disrespectful terms in several portions of his book, and that he talks a great deal worse about Judge Douglas. [Roars of laughter and applause.] I refer you, sir, to the history for examination. [Cheers.]

Judge Douglas complains, at considerable length, about a disposition on the part of Trumbull and myself to attack him personally. I want to attend to that suggestion a moment. I don't want to be unjustly accused of dealing illiberally or unfairly with an adversary, either in court, or in a political canvass, or anywhere else. I would despise myself if I supposed myself ready to deal less liberally with an adversary that I was disposed to be treated myself. Judge Douglas, in a general way, revives the old charge against me, without putting it in a direct shape, in reference to the Mexican war. He does not take the responsibility of putting it in a very definite form, but makes a general reference to it. That charge is more than ten years old. He complains of Trumbull and myself, because he says we bring charges against him one or two years old. He knows, too, that in regard to the Mexican war story, the most respectable papers of his own party throughout the state have been compelled to take it back and acknowledge that it was a lie. [Continued and vociferous applause.]

Here Mr. Lincoln turned to the crowd on the platform, and selecting Hon. Orlando B. Ficklin, led him forward and said:
I do not mean to do anything with Mr. Ficklin except to present his face, and tell you that he personally knows that is a lie. He was a member of Congress at the only time I was in Congress, and he (Ficklin) knows that whenever there was an attempt to procure a vote of mine which would endorse the origin and justice of the war, I refused to give such endorsement, and voted against it; but I never voted against the supplies for the army, and he knows as well as Judge Douglas, that whenever a dollar was asked as compensation or otherwise, for the benefit of the soldiers, I gave all the votes that Ficklin or Douglas gave, and perhaps more. [Loud applause.]

Mr. Ficklin. -- My friends I wish to say this in reference to the matter. Mr. Lincoln and myself are just as good personal friends as Mr. Douglas and myself. In reference to the Mexican war, my recollection is that when the Ashmun resolution (amendment) was offered by Mr. Ashmun of Massachusetts, in which he declared that the Mexican war was unnecessarily commenced by the president -- my recollection is that Mr. Lincoln voted for the resolution.

Mr. Lincoln -- That is the truth. Now you all remember that was a resolution censuring the President for the manner in which the war begun. You know they have charged that I voted against the supplies, by which I starved the soldiers who were out fighting the battles of their country. I say that Ficklin knows it is false. When that charge was brought forward by the Chicago Times the Springfield Register [Douglas Organ] reminded the Times that the charge really applied to John Henry; and I do know that John Henry is now making speeches and fiercely battling for Judge Douglas. [Loud applause.] If the Judge now says that he offers this as a sort of set-off to what I said today in reference to Trumbull's charge, then I remind him that he made this charge before I said a word about Trumbull's. He brought this forward at Ottawa, the first time we met face to face; and in the opening speech that Judge Douglas made, he attacked me in regard to a matter ten years old. Isn't he a pretty man to be whining about people making charges against him only two years old. [Cheers.]

The Judge thinks it all together wrong that I should have dwelt upon this charge of Trumbull's at all. I gave the apology for doing so in my opening speech. Perhaps it didn't fix your attention. I said that when Judge Douglas was speaking at places where I spoke on the succeeding day, he used very harsh language about this charge. Two or three times afterwards I said I had confidence in Judge Trumbull's veracity and intelligence; and my opinion was, from what I knew from the character of Mr. Trumbull, that he would vindicate his position, and prove whatever he had stated, to be true. This I repeated two or three times; and then I dropped it, without saying anything more on the subject for weeks -- perhaps a month. I passed it by without noticing it at all, till I found at Jacksonville, Judge Douglas, in the plentitude of his power, was not willing to answer Trumbull and let me alone; but he comes out there and uses this language. "He should not hereafter occupy his time in refuting such charges made by Trumbull, but that Lincoln, having indorsed the character of Trumbull for veracity, he should hold him (Lincoln) responsible for the slanders." What was Lincoln to do? Did he not do right when he had the fit opportunity of meeting Mr. Douglas here, to tell him he was ready for the responsibility? [Enthusiastic cheering, good, good. Hurrah for Lincoln!] I ask a candid audience whether in doing thus Judge Douglas was not the assailant rather than I? (Yes, Yes. Hit him again!) Here I meet him face to face and say I am ready to take the responsibility so far as it rests upon me.

Having done so, I ask the attention of this audience to the question whether I have succeeded in sustaining the charge [yes, yes]; and whether Judge Douglas has at all succeeded in rebutting it. [Loud cries of no, no.] You all heard me call upon him to say which of these pieces of evidence was a forgery? Does he say what I present here as a copy of the original Toombs bill is a forgery? [No, no.] Does he say that what I present as a copy of the bill reported by himself is a forgery? [No, no, no.] Or what is presented as a transcript from the Globe, of the quotations from Bigler's speech is a forgery? [No, no, no.] Does he say that the quotations of his own speech are forgeries? [No, no, no.] Does he say this transcript from Trumbull's speech is a forgery? [Loud cries of ‘no, no; he didn't deny one of them.’] I would then like to know how it comes about, that when each piece of a story is true, the whole story turns out false? [Great cheers and laughter.] I take it these people have some sense; they see plainly that Judge Douglas is playing cuttlefish (laughter), a small species of fish that has no mode of defending itself when pursued except by throwing out a black fluid, which makes the water so dark the enemy cannot see it, and thus it escapes. (Roars of laughter.) Ain't the Judge playing the cuttlefish? [Yes, yes, and cheers.]

Now I would ask very special attention to the consideration of Judge Douglas' speech at Jacksonville; and when you shall read his speech of to-day, I ask you to watch closely and see which of these pieces of testimony, every one of which he says a forgery, he has shown to be such. Not one of them has he shown to be a forgery. Then I ask the original question, if each of the pieces of testimony is true, how is it possible that the whole is a falsehood? [Loud and continued cheers.]

In regard to Trumbull's charge that he (Douglas) inserted a provision into the bill to prevent the Constitution being submitted to the people, what is his answer? He comes here and reads from the Congressional Globe to show that on his motion that provision was struck out of the bill. Why Trumbull has not said it was not stricken out, but Trumbull says he (Douglas) put it in, and it in no answer to the charge to say he afterwards took it out. Both are perhaps true. It was in regard to that thing precisely that I told him he had dropped the cub. (Roars of laughter.) Trumbull shows you that by his introducing the bill, it was his cub. (Laughter) It is no answer to that assertion to call Trumbull a liar, merely because he did not specially say Douglas struck it out. Suppose that were the case, does it answer Trumbull? [No, no.] I assert that you (pointing to an individual) are here to-day, and you undertake to prove me a liar by showing that you were in Mattoon yesterday. (Laughter.) I say that you took your hat off your head, and you prove me a liar by putting it on your head. (Roars of laughter). That is the whole force of Douglas' argument.

Now, I want to come back to my original question. Trumbull says that Judge Douglas had a bill with provision in it for submitting a Constitution to be made to a vote of the people of Kansas. Does Judge Douglas deny that fact? [Cries of No, no.] Does he deny that the provision which Trumbull read was put in the bill? [No, no.] Then Trumbull says he struck it out. Does he dare to deny that? [No, no.] He does not and I have a right to repeat the question -- why Judge Douglas took it out? Bigler has said there was a combination of certain Senators, among whom he did not include Judge Douglas, by which it was agreed that the Kansas bill should have a clause in it not to have the Constitution formed under it submitted to a vote of the people. He did not say that Douglas was among them, but we prove by another Source that about the same time Douglas comes into the Senate with that provision stricken out of the bill. Altho' Bigler cannot say they were all working in concert, yet it looks very much as if the thing was done with a mutual understanding after the conference; and while we do not know that it Was absolutely so, yet it looks so probable that we have a right to call upon the man who knows the true reason why it was done, to tell what the true reason was. When he will not tell what that true reason was he stands in the attitude of an accused thief who has stolen goods in his possession, and when called to account refuses to tell where he got the same. Not only in this the evidence, but when he comes in with the bill having the provision stricken out, he tells us in a speech, not then but since, that these alterations and modifications in the bill had been made by him, in a consultation with Toombs, the originator of the bill. He tells us the same today. He says there were certain modifications made in the bill in committee that he did vote for. I ask you to remember while certain amendments were made which he disproved of, but with a majority of the committee voted in, he has himself told us that in this particular the alterations and modifications were made by him upon consultation with Toombs. We have his own word that the alterations were made by him, and not by the committee. Now I ask what is the reason that Judge Douglas is so chary about coming to the exact question? What is the reason he will not tell you anything about howit was made, by whom it was made, or that he remembers it being made at all? Why does he stand playing upon the meaning of words, and quibbling around the edges of evidence? If he can explain all this, but leaves it unexplained, I have a right to infer that Judge Douglas understood it was the purpose of his party, in engineering that bill through, to make a Constitution and have Kansas came into the Union with that Constitution, without its being submitted to a vote of the people. If he will explain his action on this question, by giving a better reason for the facts that happened, than he has done, it will be more satisfactory. But until he does that -- until he gives a better or more plausible reason than he has offered against the evidence in the case -- I suggest to him it will not avail at all that he swells himself up, takes on dignity, and calls peoples liars. Why sir there is not a word in Trumbull's speech that depends on Trumbull's veracity at all. He has only arrayed the evidence, and told you what follows as a matter of reasoning.

There is not a statement in the whole speech that depends on Trumbull's word. If you have ever studied geometry, you remember that by a course of reasoning Euclid proves that all the angles in a triangle are equal to two right angles. Euclid had shown you how to work it out. Now, if you undertake to disprove that proposition, and to show that it is erroneous, would you prove it to be false by calling Euclid a liar? (Roars of laughter and enthusiastic cheering.) They tell me that my time is out, and therefore I close.