'Weak, puerile and feeble': Abraham Lincoln was panned in Belleville

News-DemocratJanuary 18, 2014 

Since Belleville celebrates its 200th anniversary this year, I went back to newspaper files to check out some of the more memorable events from those years.

I started with the first issue of The Belleville Advocate. April 18, 1840. At least that is the first issue I could find.

The new and firmly declared Democratic newspaper was a supporter of President Martin Van Buren for re-election in 1840.

It was a caustic critic of Whig party candidate William Henry Harrison, who would win in November but only last a month in office before dying and giving way to Vice-president John Tyler.

Newspapers were much different in the day. Often they were simply mouthpieces for a specific political persuasion.

The newspaper's front page was entirely dedicated to a speech by U.S. Sen. James Buchanan, later to become president, generally rated one of the worst ever.

Actually, the front pages of the next three issues also were dedicated to this speech which concerned the national bank.

On the inside pages, the newspaper railed against an area gathering of the Whig political party in Belleville.

"As we anticipated, a more perfect farce has rarely been exhibited in this or any other country, than the Whig celebration on Saturday last," the newspaper wrote.

The paper reported that fewer than 300 actual Whigs attended the rally although it was vague about how that number was obtained.

The gathering would turn out to be most notable in history for the fact that a young lawyer, Abraham Lincoln, was a speaker, stumping for presidential candidate William Henry Harrison.

The newspaper, without any attempt at balance, blasted the gathering, Lincoln in particular.

"Mr. Lincoln next followed, a federal candidate for elector. His speech was weak, puerile and feeble. 'How different,' remarked many of the Whigs, 'to what we expected.' Poor Lincoln! He should have rested his fame upon his printed speech, going the rounds in the federal papers, as purported to have been delivered by him at Springfield. He predicated his whole speech upon the sale of a one-eyed horse, for twenty-seven dollars, that happened to be sold by a constable during the day. To what slight accidents are we frequently indebted for our great things! How very fortunate for the Whigs that Mr. Lincoln saw the sale of the one-eyed horse that day! He was thus enabled to prove, that Mr. Van Buren caused it, together with all the other ills of life that we poor mortals 'are heir to.'"

The same speech was lauded, apparently, in the Missouri Republican published in St. Louis.

Lincoln would return to Belleville later and make a more favorable impression on almost everyone.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

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