On July 27, 1848 Abraham Lincoln (R.Ill), got up to speak in the House of Representatives. 1848 was an election year, and the candidate of Lincoln’s party, the Whigs, for president was General Zachary Taylor, “Old Rough and Ready”, who was a national hero after his victory at Buena Vista the year before in which he had defeated a Mexican Army under Mexican dictator Santa Ana that had outnumbered his force more than three to one. The standard-bearer for the Democrats was the grand old man of Michigan politics, Lewis Cass. Cass had served as a brigadier general in the War of 1812, competently if not with any distinction. The Democrats were attempting to build up that long ago service and claim that Cass was a military hero also. In his speech Lincoln attempted to deflate this attempt to claim the status of hero for Cass by mockingly comparing the service of Cass in the War of 1812 to Lincoln’s service in the Black Hawk War. (At the time of the Black Hawk War, Lewis Cass was Secretary of War and participated in the direction of that conflict.) The relevant portion of Lincoln’s speech:
There is one entire article of the sort I have not discussed yet; I mean the military tail you democrats are now engaged in dovetailing onto the great Michigander. Yes sir, all his biographers (and they are legion) have him in hand, tying him to a military tail, like so many mischievous boys tying a dog to a bladder of beans. True, the material they have is very limited; but they drive at it, might and main. He invaded Canada without resistance, and he outvaded it without pursuit. As he did both under orders, I suppose there was, to him, neither credit or discredit in them; but they [are made to] constitute a large part of the tail. He was not at Hull’s surrender, but he was close by; he was volunteer aid to Gen: Harrison on the day of the battle of the Thames; and, as you said in 1840, Harrison was picking huckleberries [whortleberries] two miles off while the battle was fought, I suppose it is a just conclusion with you, to say Cass was aiding Harrison to pick huckleberries [picking whortleberries]. This is about all, except the mooted question of the broken sword. Some authors say he broke it, some say he threw it away, and some others, who ought to know, say nothing about it. Perhaps it would be a fair historical compromise to say, if he did not break it, he did n’t do any thing else with it.
By the way, Mr. Speaker, did you know I am a military hero? Yes sir; in the days of the Black Hawk war, I fought, bled, and came away. Speaking of Gen: Cass’ career, reminds me of my own. I was not at Stillman’s defeat, but I was about as near it, as Cass was to Hulls surrender; and, like him, I saw the place very soon afterwards. It is quite certain I did not break my sword, for I had none to break; but I bent a musket pretty badly on one occasion. If Cass broke his sword, the idea is, he broke it in desperation; I bent the musket by accident. If Gen: Cass went in advance of me in picking huckleberries [whortleberries], I guess I surpassed him in charges upon the wild onions. If he saw any live, fighting indians, it was more than I did; but I had a good many bloody struggles with the musquetoes; and, although I never fainted from loss of blood, I can truly say I was often very hungry. Mr. Speaker, if I should ever conclude to doff whatever our democratic friends may suppose there is of black cockade federalism about me, and thereupon, they shall take me up as their candidate for the Presidency, I protest they shall not make fun of me, as they have of Gen: Cass, by attempting to write me into a military hero. (more…)