Wednesday, December 19, 1860
As the South Carolina Secession Convention rolled into its third day with committees, resolutions and the failed attempt to make it a private meeting, in Springfield, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln was surprisingly visited by a “regular genuine secessionist.”
Springfield had never seen one of these before. But here he was, D.E. Ray from Yazoo, Mississippi, dawning a blue cockade1
He found his way into Lincoln’s parlor and sat down upon the sofa. Lincoln was also in the room, but rather than approach him, Ray sat there, giving him dirty looks and adjusting his cockade so that the President-Elect might see it.
Lincoln tried to ignore him, but Ray soon began talking to other visitors – supporters of Lincoln. A man from Missouri was seated near Ray and asked him a few questions about Mississippi’s secession (it was generally known that Mississippi also wished to leave the Union – a representative was right now sitting in on South Carolina’s Convention in Charleston).
The Missourian teased Ray a bit, rhetorically asking about his state’s disunion tendencies, “Isn’t that all gas?” Ray took exception to it and said that the people of Mississippi were “not afraid down South of Mr. Lincoln himself, but of those who followed him.”
Others in the room were now involved in what may have soon turned into a fist-fight. One asked the Mississippian if he had ever read Lincoln’s debates against Douglas. Ray said that he had not and this gave Lincoln a chance to take a break from almost ignoring the guest of honor and meet him on ground of his own choosing.
Lincoln, who seemed to always have a copy of the debates nearby, handed Ray the hastily-bound collection, even inscribing it for him.
“You will find that the only difference between you and me is that I think Slavery wrong, and you think it right; that I am opposed to its extension, while you advocate it; and as to the security of the institution and to the protection of slave property in the states where it has a lawful existence, you will find it as great under my Administration as it ever was under Mr. Buchanan’s.”
The Southerner now had not much to say and maybe even felt a little embarrassed in finding his way so far north to Springfield.
Here Lincoln stated that if the Southern states were waiting for him to draw the first blood and give them reason to secede, “they would never leave the Union.”
Ray stood up and made his way to the door. Lincoln walked with him, shook his hand and told him that he hoped the Southern people were not afraid of getting hurt by him.
To this the visitor coldly replied, “No we ain’t.”2
- Secessionists had taken to wearing this blue knotted ribbon in their hats to show where they stood – it’s similar to the many different colored ribbons of today – yellow for supporting “the troops,” pink for against breast cancer, etc etc. [↩]
- Quotes and information from Lincoln; President-Elect by Harold Holzer, Simon & Shuster, 2008 as well as Conversations with Lincoln by Charles Segal, Transaction Publishers, 2002. Both books seem to rely upon a New York Times article from December 27, 1860 and Lincoln on the Eve of ’61 by Henry Villard, 1941. [↩]