The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7


iSpeech

We live in the midst of alarms; anxiety beclouds the future; we
expect some new disaster with each newspaper we read. Are we in
a healthful political state? Are not the tendencies plain? Do
not the signs of the times point plainly the way in which we are
going? [Sensation.]

In the early days of the Constitution slavery was recognized, by
South and North alike, as an evil, and the division of sentiment
about it was not controlled by geographical lines or
considerations of climate, but by moral and philanthropic views.
Petitions for the abolition of slavery were presented to the very
first Congress by Virginia and Massachusetts alike. To show the
harmony which prevailed, I will state that a fugitive slave law
was passed in 1793, with no dissenting voice in the Senate, and
but seven dissenting votes in the House. It was, however, a wise
law, moderate, and, under the Constitution, a just one. Twenty-
five years later, a more stringent law was proposed and defeated;
and thirty-five years after that, the present law, drafted by
Mason of Virginia, was passed by Northern votes. I am not, just
now, complaining of this law, but I am trying to show how the
current sets; for the proposed law of 1817 was far less offensive
than the present one. In 1774 the Continental Congress pledged
itself, without a dissenting vote, to wholly discontinue the
slave trade, and to neither purchase nor import any slave; and
less than three months before the passage of the Declaration of
Independence, the same Congress which adopted that declaration
unanimously resolved "that no slave be imported into any of the
thirteen United Colonies." [Great applause.]

On the second day of July, 1776, the draft of a Declaration of
Independence was reported to Congress by the committee, and in it
the slave trade was characterized as "an execrable commerce," as
"a piratical warfare," as the "opprobrium of infidel powers," and
as "a cruel war against human nature. [Applause.] All agreed on
this except South Carolina and Georgia, and in order to preserve
harmony, and from the necessity of the case, these expressions
were omitted. Indeed, abolition societies existed as far south
as Virginia; and it is a well-known fact that Washington,
Jefferson, Madison, Lee, Henry, Mason, and Pendleton were
qualified abolitionists, and much more radical on that subject
than we of the Whig and Democratic parties claim to be to-day.
On March 1, 1784, Virginia ceded to the confederation all its
lands lying northwest of the Ohio River. Jefferson, Chase of
Maryland, and Howell of Rhode Island, as a committee on that and
territory thereafter to be ceded, reported that no slavery should
exist after the year 1800. Had this report been adopted, not
only the Northwest, but Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and
Mississippi also would have been free; but it required the assent
of nine States to ratify it. North Carolina was divided, and
thus its vote was lost; and Delaware, Georgia, and New Jersey
refused to vote. In point of fact, as it was, it was assented to
by six States. Three years later on a square vote to exclude
slavery from the Northwest, only one vote, and that from New
York, was against it. And yet, thirty-seven years later, five
thousand citizens of Illinois, out of a voting mass of less than
twelve thousand, deliberately, after a long and heated contest,
voted to introduce slavery in Illinois; and, to-day, a large
party in the free State of Illinois are willing to vote to fasten
the shackles of slavery on the fair domain of Kansas,
notwithstanding it received the dowry of freedom long before its
birth as a political community. I repeat, therefore, the
question: Is it not plain in what direction we are tending?
[Sensation.] In the colonial time, Mason, Pendleton, and
Jefferson were as hostile to slavery in Virginia as Otis, Ames,
and the Adamses were in Massachusetts; and Virginia made as
earnest an effort to get rid of it as old Massachusetts did. But
circumstances were against them and they failed; but not that the
good will of its leading men was lacking. Yet within less than
fifty years Virginia changed its tune, and made negro-breeding
for the cotton and sugar States one of its leading industries.
[Laughter and applause.]

In the Constitutional Convention, George Mason of Virginia made a
more violent abolition speech than my friends Lovejoy or Codding
would desire to make here to-day--a speech which could not be
safely repeated anywhere on Southern soil in this enlightened
year. But, while there were some differences of opinion on this
subject even then, discussion was allowed; but as you see by the
Kansas slave code, which, as you know, is the Missouri slave
code, merely ferried across the river, it is a felony to even
express an opinion hostile to that foul blot in the land of
Washington and the Declaration of Independence. [Sensation.]

In Kentucky--my State--in 1849, on a test vote, the mighty
influence of Henry Clay and many other good then there could not
get a symptom of expression in favor of gradual emancipation on a
plain issue of marching toward the light of civilization with
Ohio and Illinois; but the State of Boone and Hardin and Henry
Clay, with a nigger under each arm, took the black trail toward
the deadly swamps of barbarism. Is there--can there be--any
doubt about this thing? And is there any doubt that we must all
lay aside our prejudices and march, shoulder to shoulder, in the
great army of Freedom? [Applause.]

Every Fourth of July our young orators all proclaim this to be
"the land of the free and the home of the brave!" Well, now, when
you orators get that off next year, and, may be, this very year,
how would you like some old grizzled farmer to get up in the
grove and deny it? [Laughter.] How would you like that? But
suppose Kansas comes in as a slave State, and all the "border
ruffians" have barbecues about it, and free-State men come
trailing back to the dishonored North, like whipped dogs with
their tails between their legs, it is--ain't it ?--evident that
this is no more the "land of the free"; and if we let it go so,
we won't dare to say "home of the brave" out loud. [Sensation
and confusion.]

Can any man doubt that, even in spite of the people's will,
slavery will triumph through violence, unless that will be made
manifest and enforced? Even Governor Reeder claimed at the
outset that the contest in Kansas was to be fair, but he got his
eyes open at last; and I believe that, as a result of this moral
and physical violence, Kansas will soon apply for admission as a
slave State. And yet we can't mistake that the people don't want
it so, and that it is a land which is free both by natural and
political law. No law, is free law! Such is the understanding of
all Christendom. In the Somerset case, decided nearly a century
ago, the great Lord Mansfield held that slavery was of such a
nature that it must take its rise in positive (as distinguished
from natural) law; and that in no country or age could it be
traced back to any other source. Will some one please tell me
where is the positive law that establishes slavery in Kansas? [A
voice: "The bogus laws."] Aye, the bogus laws! And, on the same
principle, a gang of Missouri horse-thieves could come into
Illinois and declare horse-stealing to be legal [Laughter], and
it would be just as legal as slavery is in Kansas. But by
express statute, in the land of Washington and Jefferson, we may
soon be brought face to face with the discreditable fact of
showing to the world by our acts that we prefer slavery to
freedom--darkness to light! [Sensation.]

It is, I believe, a principle in law that when one party to a
contract violates it so grossly as to chiefly destroy the object
for which it is made, the other party may rescind it. I will ask
Browning if that ain't good law. [Voices: Yes!"] Well, now if
that be right, I go for rescinding the whole, entire Missouri
Compromise and thus turning Missouri into a free State; and I
should like to know the difference--should like for any one to
point out the difference--between our making a free State of
Missouri and their making a slave State of Kansas. [Great
applause.] There ain't one bit of difference, except that our way
would be a great mercy to humanity. But I have never said, and
the Whig party has never said, and those who oppose the Nebraska
Bill do not as a body say, that they have any intention of
interfering with slavery in the slave States. Our platform says
just the contrary. We allow slavery to exist in the slave
States, not because slavery is right or good, but from the
necessities of our Union. We grant a fugitive slave law because
it is so "nominated in the bond"; because our fathers so
stipu1ated--had to--and we are bound to carry out this agreement.
But they did not agree to introduce slavery in regions where it
did not previously exist. On the contrary, they said by their
example and teachings that they did not deem it expedient--did
n't consider it right--to do so; and it is wise and
right to do just as they did about it. [Voices: "Good!"] And
that it what we propose--not to interfere with slavery where it
exists (we have never tried to do it), and to give them a
reasonable and efficient fugitive slave law. [A voice: "No!"] I
say YES! [Applause.] It was part of the bargain, and I 'm for
living up to it; but I go no further; I'm not bound to do more,
and I won't agree any further. [Great applause.]

We, here in Illinois, should feel especially proud of the
provision of the Missouri Compromise excluding slavery from what
is now Kansas; for an Illinois man, Jesse B. Thomas, was its
father. Henry Clay, who is credited with the authorship of the
Compromise in general terms, did not even vote for that
provision, but only advocated the ultimate admission by a second
compromise; and Thomas was, beyond all controversy, the real
author of the "slavery restriction" branch of the Compromise. To
show the generosity of the Northern members toward the Southern
side: on a test vote to exclude slavery from Missouri, ninety
voted not to exclude, and eighty-seven to exclude, every vote
from the slave States being ranged with the former and fourteen
votes from the free States, of whom seven were from New England
alone; while on a vote to exclude slavery from what is now
Kansas, the vote was one hundred and thirty-four for, to forty-
two against. The scheme, as a whole, was, of course, a Southern
triumph. It is idle to contend otherwise, as is now being done
by the Nebraskites; it was so shown by the votes and quite as
emphatically by the expressions of representative men. Mr.
Lowndes of South Carolina was never known to commit a political
mistake; his was the great judgment of that section; and he
declared that this measure "would restore tranquillity to the
country--a result demanded by every consideration of discretion,
of moderation, of wisdom, and of virtue." When the measure came
before President Monroe for his approval, he put to each member
of his cabinet this question: "Has Congress the constitutional
power to prohibit slavery in a Territory?" And John C. Calhoun
and William H. Crawford from the South, equally with John Quincy
Adams, Benjamin Rush, and Smith Thompson from the North, alike
answered, "Yes!" without qualification or equivocation; and this
measure, of so great consequence to the South, was passed; and
Missouri was, by means of it, finally enabled to knock at the
door of the Republic for an open passage to its brood of slaves.
And, in spite of this, Freedom's share is about to be taken by
violence--by the force of misrepresentative votes, not called for
by the popular will. What name can I, in common decency, give to
this wicked transaction? [Sensation.]

But even then the contest was not over; for when the Missouri
constitution came before Congress for its approval, it forbade
any free negro or mulatto from entering the State. In short, our
Illinois "black 1aws" were hidden away in their constitution
[Laughter], and the controversy was thus revived. Then it was
that Mr. Clay's talents shone out conspicuously, and the
controversy that shook the union to its foundation was finally
settled to the satisfaction of the conservative parties on both
sides of the line, though not to the extremists on either, and
Missouri was admitted by the small majority of six in the lower
House. How great a majority, do you think, would have been given
had Kansas also been secured for slavery? [A voice: "A majority
the other way."] "A majority the other way," is answered. Do you
think it would have been safe for a Northern man to have
confronted his constituents after having voted to consign both
Missouri and Kansas to hopeless slavery? And yet this man
Douglas, who misrepresents his constituents and who has exerted
his highest talents in that direction, will be carried in triumph
through the State and hailed with honor while applauding that
act. [Three groans for "Dug!"] And this shows whither we are
tending. This thing of slavery is more powerful than its
supporters--even than the high priests that minister at its
altar. It debauches even our greatest men. It gathers strength,
like a rolling snowball, by its own infamy. Monstrous crimes are
committed in its name by persons collectively which they would
not dare to commit as individuals. Its aggressions and
encroachments almost surpass belief. In a despotism, one might
not wonder to see slavery advance steadily and remorselessly into
new dominions; but is it not wonderful, is it not even alarming,
to see its steady advance in a land dedicated to the proposition
that "all men are created equal"? [Sensation.]

It yields nothing itself; it keeps all it has, and gets all it
can besides. It really came dangerously near securing Illinois
in 1824; it did get Missouri in 1821. The first proposition was
to admit what is now Arkansas and Missouri as one slave State.
But the territory was divided and Arkansas came in, without
serious question, as a slave State; and afterwards Missouri, not,
as a sort of equality, free, but also as a slave State. Then we
had Florida and Texas; and now Kansas is about to be forced into
the dismal procession. [Sensation.] And so it is wherever you
look. We have not forgotten--it is but six years since--how
dangerously near California came to being a slave State. Texas
is a slave State, and four other slave States may be carved from
its vast domain. And yet, in the year 1829, slavery was
abolished throughout that vast region by a royal decree of the
then sovereign of Mexico. Will you please tell me by what right
slavery exists in Texas to-day? By the same right as, and no
higher or greater than, slavery is seeking dominion in Kansas:
by political force--peaceful, if that will suffice; by the torch
(as in Kansas) and the bludgeon (as in the Senate chamber), if
required. And so history repeats itself; and even as slavery has
kept its course by craft, intimidation, and violence in the past,
so it will persist, in my judgment, until met and dominated by
the will of a people bent on its restriction.

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