Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Today is the 153rd anniversary of the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

The brainchild of Senator Stephen A. Douglas, the bill was controversial because it threatened to repeal the Missouri Compromise.

Abraham Lincoln’s reaction to the bill is interesting. He devoted the previous four years of his life to his law practice. He traveled the law circuit and, at least publicly, he stayed out of politics. But Kansas-Nebraska was too much.

When Lincoln heard the news, he said it:

...took us by surprise---astounded us… We were thunderstruck and stunned; and we reeled and fell in utter confusion. But we rose each fighting, grasping whatever he could first reach---a scythe---a pitchfork---a chopping axe, or a butcher's cleaver. We struck in the direction of the sound...

The Kansas-Nebraska Act encouraged Lincoln to re-enter political life. His speech at Peoria, Illinois on October 16, 1854 details Lincoln's opposition to the piece of legislation, but I've always thought it is an underrated speech.

After an extended absence, Lincoln has reemerged, but his rhetoric is different. No longer does he recite standard Whig doctrine; indeed, the Whig Party itself did not survive the slavery crisis. Lincoln seems more mature at Peoria--his argument relies less on emotion and more on logic--he seems more focused and, perhaps above all, he is extremely confident.

I see the "Peoria Speech" as the first major speech of the second half of Lincoln's political career.

CLICK HERE to read Lincoln’s “Peoria Speech.”

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