Allen C. Guelzo, Gettysburg College, Presented at the 7th Circuit Bar Association symposium “Abraham Lincoln – His Legal Career and His Vision for America,” held at the Chicago Cultural Center, February 6, 2009.
Professor Guelzo is a member of the Board of Directors of The Abraham Lincoln Association.
“Sir,” said the honorable senator from Virginia, James M. Mason, before the assembled Senate chamber on March 3, 1854, “the Senate and the country will bear witness that there never came” an item of legislation “in any form, which bore the character of peace and tended to the establishment of peace,” so much as the great organizing bill for the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. “I believe that if this bill passes in the shape in which it is now before the Senate, it will give peace…. I believe agitation will cease.” The agitation Mason referred to was the national controversy over slavery, and this new bill, Mason prophesied, would resolve the controversy as no other measure had – a view not at all shared by his fellow-senator from Ohio, Benjamin Franklin Wade. Instead, declared the acid -tongued Wade, the Kansas-Nebraska bill was “a declaration of war on the institutions of the North, a deliberate sectional movement by the South for political power, without regard for justice or consequences.” And as the Senate cranked ponderously toward a vote, Wade pointed to a portent of gloom: “Tomorrow, I believe, there is to be an eclipse of the sun”; how appropriate that “the sun in the heavens and the glory of this republic should both go into obscurity and darkness together.”
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