The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7


iSpeech

If any personal description of me is thought desirable, it may be
said I am, in height, six feet four inches, nearly; lean in flesh,
weighing on an average one hundred and eighty pounds; dark
complexion, with coarse black hair and gray eyes. No other marks or
brands recollected.

Yours truly,

A. LINCOLN.

ON NOMINATION TO THE NATIONAL TICKET

To N. B. JUDD.

SPRINGFIELD, FEBRUARY 9, 1859

HON. N. B. JUDD.

DEAR Sir:--I am not in a position where it would hurt much for me to
not be nominated on the national ticket; but I am where it would hurt
some for me to not get the Illinois delegates. What I expected when
I wrote the letter to Messrs. Dole and others is now happening.
Your discomfited assailants are most bitter against me; and they
will, for revenge upon me, lay to the Bates egg in the South, and to
the Seward egg in the North, and go far toward squeezing me out in
the middle with nothing. Can you help me a little in this matter in
your end of the vineyard. I mean this to be private.

Yours as ever,

A. LINCOLN

1860

SPEECH AT THE COOPER INSTITUTE, NEW YORK
FEBRUARY 27, 1860

MR. PRESIDENT AND FELLOW-CITIZENS OF NEW YORK:--The facts with which
I shall deal this evening are mainly old and familiar; nor is there
anything new in the general use I shall make of them. If there shall
be any novelty, it will be in the mode of presenting the facts, and
the inferences and observations following that presentation.

In his speech last autumn at Columbus, Ohio, as reported in the New
York Times, Senator Douglas said:

"Our fathers, when they framed the Government under which we live,
understood this question just as well, and even better than we do
now."

I fully indorse this, and I adopt it as a text for this discourse.
I so adopt it because it furnishes a precise and an agreed starting-
point for a discussion between Republicans and that wing of the
Democracy headed by Senator Douglas. It simply leaves the inquiry:
What was the understanding those fathers had of the question
mentioned?

What is the frame of Government under which we live?

The answer must be--the Constitution of the United States. That
Constitution consists of the original, framed in 1787 (and under
which the present Government first went into operation), and twelve
subsequently framed amendments, the first ten of which were framed in
1789.

Who were our fathers that framed the Constitution? I suppose the
"thirty-nine" who signed the original instrument may be fairly called
our fathers who framed that part of the present Government. It is
almost exactly true to say they framed it, and it is altogether true
to say they fairly represented the opinion and sentiment of the whole
nation at that time.

Their names, being familiar to nearly all, and accessible to quite
all, need not now be repeated.

I take these "thirty-nine," for the present, as being our "fathers
who framed the Government under which we live."

What is the question which, according to the text, those fathers
understood "just as well, and even better than we do now"?

It is this: Does the proper division of local from Federal authority,
or anything in the Constitution, forbid our Federal Government to
control as to slavery in our Federal Territories?

Upon this Senator Douglas holds the affirmative, and Republicans the
negative. This affirmation and denial form an issue, and this issue-
-this question is precisely what the text declares our fathers
understood "better than we."

Let us now inquire whether the "thirty-nine," or any of them, acted
upon this question; and if they did, how they acted upon it -how they
expressed that better understanding.

In 1784, three years before the Constitution--the United States then
owning the Northwestern Territory, and no other--the Congress of the
Confederation had before them the question of prohibiting slavery in
that Territory; and four of the "thirty nine" who afterward framed
the Constitution were in that Congress and voted on that question.
Of these, Roger Sherman, Thomas Mifflin, and Hugh Williamson voted
for the prohibition, thus showing that, in their understanding, no
line dividing local from Federal authority, nor anything else,
properly forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in
Federal territory. The other of the four--James McHenry voted
against the prohibition, showing that, for some cause, he thought it
improper to vote for it.

In 1787, still before the Constitution, but while the convention was
in session framing it, and while the Northwestern Territory still was
the only Territory owned by the United States, the same question of
prohibiting slavery in the Territory again came before the Congress
of the Confederation; and two more of the "thirty-nine" who afterward
signed the Constitution were in that Congress, and voted on the
question. They were William Blount and William Few; and they both
voted for the prohibition thus showing that, in their understanding,
no line dividing local from Federal authority, nor anything else,
properly forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in
Federal territory. This time the prohibition became a law, being part
of what is now well known as the Ordinance of '87.

The question of Federal control of slavery in the Territories seems
not to have been directly before the convention which framed the
original Constitution; and hence it is not recorded that the
"thirty-nine," or any of them, while engaged on that instrument,
expressed any opinion on that precise question.

In 1789, by the first Congress which sat under the Constitution, an
act was passed to enforce the Ordinance of '87, including the
prohibition of slavery in the Northwestern Territory. The bill for
this act was reported by one of the "thirty-nine," Thomas
Fitzsimmons, then a member of the House of Representatives from
Pennsylvania. It went through all its stages without a word of
opposition, and finally passed both branches without yeas and nays,
which is equivalent to a unanimous passage. In this Congress there
were sixteen of the thirty-nine fathers who framed the original
Constitution. They were John Langdon, Nicholas Gilman, Wm. S.
Johnnson, Roger Sherman, Robert Morris, Thos. Fitzsimmons, William
Few, Abraham Baldwin, Rufus King, William Paterson, George Claimer,
Richard Bassett, George Read, Pierce Butler, Daniel Carroll, James
Madison.

This shows that, in their understanding, no line dividing local from
Federal authority, nor anything in the Constitution, properly forbade
Congress to prohibit slavery in the Federal territory; else both
their fidelity to correct principles and their oath to support the
Constitution would have constrained them to oppose the prohibition.

Again: George Washington, another of the "thirty nine," was then
President of the United States, and, as such, approved and signed the
bill; thus completing its validity as a law, and thus showing that,
in his understanding, no line dividing local from Federal authority,
nor anything in the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government to
control as to slavery in Federal territory.

No great while after the adoption of the original Constitution, North
Carolina ceded to the Federal Government the country now constituting
the State of Tennessee; and, a few years later, Georgia ceded that
which now constitutes the States of Mississippi and Alabama. In both
deeds of cession it was made a condition by the ceding States that
the Federal Government should not prohibit slavery in the ceded
country. Besides this, slavery was then actually in the ceded
country. Under these circumstances, Congress, on taking charge of
these countries, did not absolutely prohibit slavery within them.
But they did interfere with it--take control of it--even there, to a
certain extent. In 1798, Congress organized the Territory of
Mississippi: In the act of organization they prohibited the bringing
of slaves into the Territory from any place without the United
States, by fine and giving freedom to slaves so brought. This act
passed both branches of Congress without yeas and nays. In that
Congress were three of the "thirty-nine" who framed the original
Constitution. They were John Langdon, George Read, and Abraham
Baldwin. They all, probably, voted for it. Certainly they would have
placed their opposition to it upon record, if, in their
understanding, any line dividing local from Federal authority, or
anything in the Constitution, properly forbade the Federal Government
to control as to slavery in Federal territory.

In 1803, the Federal Government purchased the Louisiana country. Our
former territorial acquisitions came from certain of our own States;
but this Louisiana country was acquired from a foreign nation. In
1804, Congress gave a territorial organization to that part of it
which now constitutes the State of Lousiana. New Orleans, lying
within that part, was an old and comparatively large city. There
were other considerable towns and settlements, and slavery was
extensively and thoroughly intermingled with the people. Congress
did not, in the Territorial Act, prohibit slavery; but they did
interfere with it take control of it--in a more marked and extensive
way than they did in the case of Mississippi. The substance of the
provision therein made in relation to slaves was:

First. That no slave should be imported into the Territory from
foreign parts.

Second. That no slave should be carried into it who had been imported
into the United States since the first day of May, 1798.

Third. That no slave should be carried into it except by the owner,
and for his own use as a settler; the penalty in all the cases being
a fine upon the violator of the law, and freedom to the slave.

This act also was passed without yeas and nays. In the Congress which
passed it there were two of the "thirty-nine." They were Abraham
Baldwin and Jonathan Dayton. As stated in the case of Mississippi,
it is probable they both voted for it. They would not have allowed it
to pass without recording their opposition to it, if, in their
understanding, it violated either the line properly dividing local
from Federal authority, or any provision of the Constitution.

In 1819-20 came and passed the Missouri question. Many votes were
taken, by yeas and nays, in both branches of Congress, upon the
various phases of the general question. Two of the "thirty-nine"-
-Rufus King and Charles Pinckney were members of that Congress. Mr.
King steadily voted for slavery prohibition and against all
compromises, while Mr. Pinckney as steadily voted against slavery
prohibition, and against all compromises. By this, Mr. King showed
that, in his understanding, no line dividing local from Federal
authority, nor anything in the Constitution, was violated by Congress
prohibiting slavery in Federal territory; while Mr. Pinckney, by his
vote, showed that in his understanding there was some sufficient
reason for opposing such prohibition in that case.

The cases I have mentioned are the only acts of the "thirty-nine," or
of any of them, upon the direct issue, which I have been able to
discover.

To enumerate the persons who thus acted, as being four in 1784, two
in 1787, seventeen in 1789, three in 1798, two in 1804, and two in
1819-20--there would be thirty of them. But this would be counting,
John Langdon, Roger Sherman, William Few, Rufus King, and George
Read, each twice, and Abraham Baldwin three times. The true number
of those of the "thirty-nine" whom I have shown to have acted upon
the question which, by the text, they understood better than we, is
twenty-three, leaving sixteen not shown to have acted upon it in any
way.

Here, then, we have twenty-three out of our thirty-nine fathers "who
framed the Government under which we live," who have, upon their
official responsibility and their corporal oaths, acted upon the very
question which the text affirms they "understood just as well, and
even better than we do now"; and twenty-one of them--a clear majority
of the whole "thirty-nine"--so acting upon it as to make them guilty
of gross political impropriety and wilful perjury, if, in their
understanding, any proper division between local and Federal.
authority, or anything in the Constitution they had made themselves,
and sworn to support, forbade the Federal Government to control as to
slavery in the Federal Territories. Thus the twenty-one acted; and,
as actions speak louder than words, so actions under such
responsibilities speak still louder.

Two of the twenty-three voted against Congressional prohibition of
slavery in the Federal Territories, in the instances in which they
acted upon the question. But for what reasons they so voted is not
known. They may have done so because they thought a proper division
of local from Federal authority, or some provision or principle of
the Constitution, stood in the way; or they may, without any such
question, have voted against the prohibition on what appeared to them
to be sufficient grounds of expediency. No one who has sworn to
support the Constitution can conscientiously vote for what he
understands to be an unconstitutional measure, however expedient he
may think it; but one may and ought to vote against a measure which
he deems constitutional, if, at the same time, he deems it
inexpedient. It therefore would be unsafe to set down even the two
who voted against the prohibition as having done so because, in their
understanding, any proper division of local from Federal authority,
or anything in the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government to
control as to slavery in Federal territory.

The remaining sixteen of the "thirty-nine," so far as I have
discovered, have left no record of their understanding upon the
direct question of Federal control on slavery in the Federal
Territories. But there is much reason to believe that their
understanding upon that question would not have appeared different
from that of their twenty-three compeers, had it been manifested at
all.

For the purpose of adhering rigidly to the text, I have purposely
omitted whatever understanding may have been manifested by any
person, however distinguished, other than the thirty-nine fathers who
framed the original Constitution; and, for the same reason, I have
also omitted whatever understanding may have been manifested by any
of the "thirty tine" even on any other phase of the general question
of slavery. If we should look into their acts and declarations on
those other phases, as the foreign slave trade, and the morality and
policy of slavery generally, it would appear to us that on the direct
question of Federal control of slavery in Federal Territories, the
sixteen, if they had acted at all, would probably have acted just as
the twenty-three did. Among that sixteen were several of the most
noted anti-slavery men of those times--as Dr. Franklin, Alexander
Hamilton, and Gouverneur Morris while there was not one now known to
have been otherwise, unless it may be John Rutledge, of South
Carolina.

The sum of the whole is, that of our thirty-nine fathers who framed
the original Constitution, twenty-one--a clear majority of the
whole--certainly understood that no proper division of local from
Federal authority, nor any part of the Constitution, forbade the
Federal Government to control slavery in the Federal Territories;
whilst all the rest probably had the same understanding. Such,
unquestionably, was the understanding of our fathers who framed the
original Constitution; and the text affirms that they understood the
question "better than we."

But, so far, I have been considering the understanding of the
question manifested by the framers of the original Constitution. In
and by the original instrument, a mode was provided for amending it;
and, as I have already stated, the present frame of "the Government
under which we live" consists of that original, and twelve amendatory
articles framed and adopted since. Those who now insist that Federal
control of slavery in Federal Territories violates the Constitution,
point us to the provisions which they suppose it thus violates; and,
as I understand, they all fix upon provisions in these amendatory
articles, and not in the original instrument. The Supreme Court, in
the Dred Scott case, plant themselves upon the fifth amendment, which
provides that no person shall be deprived of "life, liberty, or
property without due process of law"; while Senator Douglas and his
peculiar adherents plant themselves upon the tenth amendment,
providing that "the powers not delegated to the United States by the
Constitution" "are reserved to the States respectively, or to the
people."

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