Taking Political Risks
After four terms in the state legislature, Lincoln left office in 1841 but returned to public life in 1846 to win the Whig nomination for a seat from the Illinois seventh congressional district to the U.S. House of Representatives. Ten days after the nomination, America went to war with Mexico. During the months of the campaign, Lincoln said nothing about the Mexican American War, which allowed him to win the district by a large majority. Once in office, however, Lincoln voiced his opinion on the conflict. Congressman Lincoln boldly challenged President James Polks assertion that the Mexicans had started the war by attacking American soldiers on American soil. In a speech on the House floor, Lincoln scathingly denounced the Polk administration for taking the country to war by misrepresenting the situation to the nation, claiming (correctly) that the conflict had begun on territory contested by the two sides. It was a blatant and public attack on a popular President by a young unknown congressman from a state that was solidly behind the war.Some of his friends were shocked at Lincolns bold position, but his stand was common among congressional Whigs. Lincoln earlier had promised not to run for a second term in order to win the partys nomination over two other aspiring candidates. He also had little chance as a Whig for election as a U.S. senator or governor of Illinois. No Whig had ever obtained either position from Illinois.
In 1848, intent on keeping his name before the national audience, Lincoln campaigned in Maryland and Massachusetts for Whig presidential candidate Zachary Taylor. Then he retired to Springfield, where he practiced law from 1849 to 1854, becoming one of the more successful lawyers in the state, representing all kinds of clients, including railroad interests. Although elected in 1854 again to the state legislature, he promptly resigned to run for the U.S. Senate, losing on the ninth ballot in the state legislature (which in those days chose U.S. senators).After his defeat, Lincoln abandoned the defunct Whig Party and joined the new Republican Party in 1856. This new national party was comprised of many former Whigs who opposed slaveryreferred to as Conscience WhigsFree Soilers, and antislavery Democrats. The Republicans took a firm stand against slavery. They were dedicated to the repeal of the Kansas Nebraska Act and the prevention of the further extension of slavery westward. The new party also demanded the immediate admission of Kansas into the Union as a free state, denounced the Ostend Manifesto, which called for the annexation of Cuba (where slavery was legal), and called for federal support of internal improvements especially the construction of a railroad to the Pacific.As a favorite son candidate from Illinois, Lincoln was placed in nomination for vice president but failed to win at the convention in Philadelphia. He thereafter aggressively stumped the state in support of John C. Fr?mont for President. Although the Democratic candidate James Buchanan won the election and carried Illinois, Lincolns Republican Party did surprisingly well, winning most of the northern counties and 30 percent of the popular vote.