The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7


iSpeech

We have, this very afternoon, heard bitter denunciations of
Brooks in Washington, and Titus, Stringfellow, Atchison, Jones,
and Shannon in Kansas--the battle-ground of slavery. I certainly
am not going to advocate or shield them; but they and their acts
are but the necessary outcome of the Nebraska law. We should
reserve our highest censure for the authors of the mischief, and
not for the catspaws which they use. I believe it was
Shakespeare who said, "Where the offence lies, there let the axe
fall"; and, in my opinion, this man Douglas and the Northern men
in Congress who advocate "Nebraska" are more guilty than a
thousand Joneses and Stringfellows, with all their murderous
practices, can be. [Applause.]

We have made a good beginning here to-day. As our Methodist
friends would say, "I feel it is good to be here." While
extremists may find some fault with the moderation of our
platform, they should recollect that "the battle is not always to
the strong, nor the race to the swift." In grave emergencies,
moderation is generally safer than radicalism; and as this
struggle is likely to be long and earnest, we must not, by our
action, repel any who are in sympathy with us in the main, but
rather win all that we can to our standard. We must not belittle
nor overlook the facts of our condition--that we are new and
comparatively weak, while our enemies are entrenched and
relatively strong. They have the administration and the
political power; and, right or wrong, at present they have the
numbers. Our friends who urge an appeal to arms with so much
force and eloquence should recollect that the government is
arrayed against us, and that the numbers are now arrayed against
us as well; or, to state it nearer to the truth, they are not yet
expressly and affirmatively for us; and we should repel friends
rather than gain them by anything savoring of revolutionary
methods. As it now stands, we must appeal to the sober sense and
patriotism of the people. We will make converts day by day; we
will grow strong by calmness and moderation; we will grow strong
by the violence and injustice of our adversaries. And, unless
truth be a mockery and justice a hollow lie, we will be in the
majority after a while, and then the revolution which we will
accomplish will be none the less radical from being the result of
pacific measures. The battle of freedom is to be fought out on
principle. Slavery is a violation of the eternal right. We have
temporized with it from the necessities of our condition; but as
sure as God reigns and school children read, THAT BLACK FOUL LIE
CAN NEVER BE CONSECRATED INTO GOD'S HALLOWED TRUTH! [Immense
applause lasting some time.]

One of our greatest difficulties is, that men who know that
slavery is a detestable crime and ruinous to the nation are
compelled, by our peculiar condition and other circumstances, to
advocate it concretely, though damning it in the raw. Henry Clay
was a brilliant example of this tendency; others of our purest
statesmen are compelled to do so; and thus slavery secures actual
support from those who detest it at heart. Yet Henry Clay
perfected and forced through the compromise which secured to
slavery a great State as well as a political advantage. Not that
he hated slavery less, but that he loved the whole Union more.
As long as slavery profited by his great compromise, the hosts of
proslavery could not sufficiently cover him with praise; but now
that this compromise stands in their way-

"....they never mention him,
His name is never heard:
Their lips are now forbid to speak
That once familiar word."

They have slaughtered one of his most cherished measures, and his
ghost would arise to rebuke them. [Great applause.]

Now, let us harmonize, my friends, and appeal to the moderation
and patriotism of the people: to the sober second thought; to the
awakened public conscience. The repeal of the sacred Missouri
Compromise has installed the weapons of violence: the bludgeon,
the incendiary torch, the death-dealing rifle, the bristling
cannon--the weapons of kingcraft, of the inquisition, of
ignorance, of barbarism, of oppression. We see its fruits in the
dying bed of the heroic Sumner; in the ruins of the "Free State"
hotel; in the smoking embers of the Herald of Freedom; in the
free-State Governor of Kansas chained to a stake on freedom's
soil like a horse-thief, for the crime of freedom. [Applause.] We see it in Christian statesmen, and Christian newspapers, and
Christian pulpits applauding the cowardly act of a low bully, WHO
CRAWLED UPON HIS VICTIM BEHIND HIS BACK AND DEALT THE DEADLY
BLOW. [Sensation and applause.] We note our political
demoralization in the catch-words that are coming into such
common use; on the one hand, "freedom-shriekers," and sometimes
"freedom-screechers" [Laughter], and, on the other hand, "border-
ruffians," and that fully deserved. And the significance of
catch-words cannot pass unheeded, for they constitute a sign of
the times. Everything in this world "jibes" in with everything
else, and all the fruits of this Nebraska Bill are like the
poisoned source from which they come. I will not say that we may
not sooner or later be compelled to meet force by force; but the
time has not yet come, and, if we are true to ourselves, may
never come. Do not mistake that the ballot is stronger than the
bullet. Therefore let the legions of slavery use bullets; but
let us wait patiently till November and fire ballots at them in
return; and by that peaceful policy I believe we shall ultimately
win. [Applause.]

It was by that policy that here in Illinois the early fathers
fought the good fight and gained the victory. In 1824 the free
men of our State, led by Governor Coles (who was a native of
Maryland and President Madison's private secretary), determined
that those beautiful groves should never re-echo the dirge of one
who has no title to himself. By their resolute determination,
the winds that sweep across our broad prairies shall never cool
the parched brow, nor shall the unfettered streams that bring joy
and gladness to our free soil water the tired feet, of a slave;
but so long as those heavenly breezes and sparkling streams bless
the land, or the groves and their fragrance or memory remain, the
humanity to which they minister SHALL BE FOREVER FREE! [Great
applause] Palmer, Yates, Williams, Browning, and some more in
this convention came from Kentucky to Illinois (instead of going
to Missouri), not only to better their conditions, but also to
get away from slavery. They have said so to me, and it is
understood among us Kentuckians that we don't like it one bit.
Now, can we, mindful of the blessings of liberty which the early
men of Illinois left to us, refuse a like privilege to the free
men who seek to plant Freedom's banner on our Western outposts?
["No!" "No!"] Should we not stand by our neighbors who seek to
better their conditions in Kansas and Nebraska? ["Yes!" "Yes!"] Can we as Christian men, and strong and free ourselves, wield the
sledge or hold the iron which is to manacle anew an already
oppressed race? ["No!" "No!"] "Woe unto them," it is written,
"that decree unrighteous decrees and that write grievousness
which they have prescribed." Can we afford to sin any more deeply
against human liberty? ["No!" "No!"]

One great trouble in the matter is, that slavery is an insidious
and crafty power, and gains equally by open violence of the
brutal as well as by sly management of the peaceful. Even after
the Ordinance of 1787, the settlers in Indiana and Illinois (it
was all one government then) tried to get Congress to allow
slavery temporarily, and petitions to that end were sent from
Kaskaskia, and General Harrison, the Governor, urged it from
Vincennes, the capital. If that had succeeded, good-bye to
liberty here. But John Randolph of Virginia made a vigorous
report against it; and although they persevered so well as to get
three favorable reports for it, yet the United States Senate,
with the aid of some slave States, finally squelched if for good.
[Applause.] And that is why this hall is to-day a temple for free
men instead of a negro livery-stable. [Great applause and
laughter.] Once let slavery get planted in a locality, by ever so
weak or doubtful a title, and in ever so small numbers, and it is
like the Canada thistle or Bermuda grass--you can't root it out.
You yourself may detest slavery; but your neighbor has five or
six slaves, and he is an excellent neighbor, or your son has
married his daughter, and they beg you to help save their
property, and you vote against your interests and principle to
accommodate a neighbor, hoping that your vote will be on the
losing side. And others do the same; and in those ways slavery
gets a sure foothold. And when that is done the whole mighty
Union--the force of the nation--is committed to its support. And
that very process is working in Kansas to-day. And you must
recollect that the slave property is worth a billion of dollars;
while free-State men must work for sentiment alone. Then there
are "blue lodges"--as they call them--everywhere doing their
secret and deadly work.

It is a very strange thing, and not solvable by any moral law
that I know of, that if a man loses his horse, the whole country
will turn out to help hang the thief; but if a man but a shade or
two darker than I am is himself stolen, the same crowd will hang
one who aids in restoring him to liberty. Such are the
inconsistencies of slavery, where a horse is more sacred than a
man; and the essence of squatter or popular sovereignty--I don't
care how you call it--is that if one man chooses to make a slave
of another, no third man shall be allowed to object. And if you
can do this in free Kansas, and it is allowed to stand, the next
thing you will see is shiploads of negroes from Africa at the
wharf at Charleston, for one thing is as truly lawful as the
other; and these are the bastard notions we have got to stamp
out, else they will stamp us out. [Sensation and applause.]

Two years ago, at Springfield, Judge Douglas avowed that Illinois
came into the Union as a slave State, and that slavery was weeded
out by the operation of his great, patent, everlasting principle
of "popular sovereignty." [Laughter.] Well, now, that argument
must be answered, for it has a little grain of truth at the
bottom. I do not mean that it is true in essence, as he would
have us believe. It could not be essentially true if the
Ordinance of '87 was valid. But, in point of fact, there were
some degraded beings called slaves in Kaskaskia and the other
French settlements when our first State constitution was adopted;
that is a fact, and I don't deny it. Slaves were brought here as
early as 1720, and were kept here in spite of the Ordinance of
1787 against it. But slavery did not thrive here. On the
contrary, under the influence of the ordinance the number
decreased fifty-one from 1810 to 1820; while under the influence
of squatter sovereignty, right across the river in Missouri, they
increased seven thousand two hundred and eleven in the same time;
and slavery finally faded out in Illinois, under the influence of
the law of freedom, while it grew stronger and stronger in
Missouri, under the law or practice of "popular sovereignty." In
point of fact there were but one hundred and seventeen slaves in
Illinois one year after its admission, or one to every four
hundred and seventy of its population; or, to state it in another
way, if Illinois was a slave State in 1820, so were New York and
New Jersey much greater slave States from having had greater
numbers, slavery having been established there in very early
times. But there is this vital difference between all these
States and the Judge's Kansas experiment: that they sought to
disestablish slavery which had been already established, while
the Judge seeks, so far as he can, to disestablish freedom, which
had been established there by the Missouri Compromise. [Voices:
"Good!"]

The Union is under-going a fearful strain; but it is a stout old
ship, and has weathered many a hard blow, and "the stars in their
courses," aye, an invisible Power, greater than the puny efforts
of men, will fight for us. But we ourselves must not decline the
burden of responsibility, nor take counsel of unworthy passions.
Whatever duty urges us to do or to omit must be done or omitted;
and the recklessness with which our adversaries break the laws,
or counsel their violation, should afford no example for us.
Therefore, let us revere the Declaration of Independence; let us
continue to obey the Constitution and the laws; let us keep step
to the music of the Union. Let us draw a cordon, so to speak,
around the slave States, and the hateful institution, like a
reptile poisoning itself, will perish by its own infamy.
[Applause.]

But we cannot be free men if this is, by our national choice, to
be a land of slavery. Those who deny freedom to others deserve
it not for themselves; and, under the rule of a just God, cannot
long retain
it.[Loud applause.]

Did you ever, my friends, seriously reflect upon the speed with
which we are tending downwards? Within the memory of men now
present the leading statesman of Virginia could make genuine,
red-hot abolitionist speeches in old Virginia! and, as I have
said, now even in "free Kansas" it is a crime to declare that it
is "free Kansas." The very sentiments that I and others have just
uttered would entitle us, and each of us, to the ignominy and
seclusion of a dungeon; and yet I suppose that, like Paul, we
were "free born." But if this thing is allowed to continue, it
will be but one step further to impress the same rule in
Illinois. [Sensation.]

The conclusion of all is, that we must restore the Missouri
Compromise. We must highly resolve that Kansas must be free!
[Great applause.] We must reinstate the birthday promise of the
Republic; we must reaffirm the Declaration of Independence; we
must make good in essence as well as in form Madison's avowal
that "the word slave ought not to appear in the Constitution";
and we must even go further, and decree that only local law, and
not that time-honored instrument, shall shelter a slaveholder.
We must make this a land of liberty in fact, as it is in name.
But in seeking to attain these results--so indispensable if the
liberty which is our pride and boast shall endure--we will be
loyal to the Constitution and to the "flag of our Union," and no
matter what our grievance--even though Kansas shall come in as a
slave State; and no matter what theirs--even if we shall restore
the compromise--WE WILL SAY TO THE SOUTHERN DISUNIONISTS, WE
WON'T GO OUT OF THE UNION, AND YOU SHAN'T!

[This was the climax; the audience rose to its feet en masse,
applauded, stamped, waved handkerchiefs, threw hats in the air,
and ran riot for several minutes. The arch-enchanter who wrought
this transformation looked, meanwhile, like the personification
of political justice.]

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