The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7


iSpeech

Now I pass on to consider one or two more of these little
follies. The Judge is woefully at fault about his early friend
Lincoln being a "grocery-keeper." I don't know as it would be a
great sin, if I had been; but he is mistaken. Lincoln never kept
a grocery anywhere in the world. It is true that Lincoln did
work the latter part of one winter in a little stillhouse, up at
the head of a hollow. And so I think my friend the Judge is
equally at fault when he charges me at the time when I was in
Congress of having opposed our soldiers who were fighting in the
Mexican war. The Judge did not make his charge very distinctly,
but I can tell you what he can prove, by referring to the record.
You remember I was an old Whig, and whenever the Democratic party
tried to get me to vote that the war had been righteously begun
by the President, I would not do it. But whenever they asked for
any money, or landwarrants, or anything to pay the soldiers
there, during all that time, I gave the same vote that Judge
Douglas did. You can think as you please as to whether that was
consistent. Such is the truth, and the Judge has the right to
make all he can out of it. But when he, by a general charge,
conveys the idea that I withheld supplies from the soldiers who
were fighting in the Mexican war, or did anything else to hinder
the soldiers, he is, to say the least, grossly and altogether
mistaken, as a consultation of the records will prove to him.

As I have not used up so much of my time as I had supposed, I
will dwell a little longer upon one or two of these minor topics
upon which the Judge has spoken. He has read from my speech in
Springfield, in which I say that "a house divided against itself
cannot stand" Does the Judge say it can stand? I don't know
whether he does or not. The Judge does not seem to be attending
to me just now, but I would like to know if it is his opinion
that a house divided against itself can stand. If he does, then
there is a question of veracity, not between him and me, but
between the Judge and an Authority of a somewhat higher
character.

Now, my friends, I ask your attention to this matter for the
purpose of saying something seriously. I know that the Judge may
readily enough agree with me that the maxim which was put forth
by the Savior is true, but he may allege that I misapply it; and
the Judge has a right to urge that, in my application, I do
misapply it, and then I have a right to show that I do not
misapply it, When he undertakes to say that because I think this
nation, so far as the question of slavery is concerned, will all
become one thing or all the other, I am in favor of bringing
about a dead uniformity in the various States, in all their
institutions, he argues erroneously. The great variety of the
local institutions in the States, springing from differences in
the soil, differences in the face of the country, and in the
climate, are bonds of Union. They do not make "a house divided
against itself," but they make a house united. If they produce
in one section of the country what is called for, by the wants of
another section, and this other section can supply the wants of
the first, they are not matters of discord, but bonds of union,
true bonds of union. But can this question of slavery be
considered as among these varieties in the institutions of the
country? I leave it to you to say whether, in the history of our
government, this institution of slavery has not always failed to
be a bond of union, and, on the contrary, been an apple of
discord and an element of division in the house. I ask you to
consider whether, so long as the moral constitution of men's
minds shall continue to be the same, after this generation and
assemblage shall sink into the grave, and another race shall
arise, with the same moral and intellectual development we have,
whether, if that institution is standing in the same irritating
position in which it now is, it will not continue an element of
division? If so, then I have a right to say that, in regard to
this question, the Union is a house divided against itself; and
when the Judge reminds me that I have often said to him that the
institution of slavery has existed for eighty years in some
States, and yet it does not exist in some others, I agree to the
fact, and I account for it by looking at the position in which
our fathers originally placed it--restricting it from the new
Territories where it had not gone, and legislating to cut off its
source by the abrogation of the slave trade, thus putting the
seal of legislation against its spread. The public mind did rest
in the belief that it was in the course of ultimate extinction.
But lately, I think--and in this I charge nothing on the Judge's
motives--lately, I think that he, and those acting with him, have
placed that institution on a new basis, which looks to the
perpetuity and nationalization of slavery. And while it is
placed upon this new basis, I say, and I have said, that I
believe we shall not have peace upon the question until the
opponents of slavery arrest the further spread of it, and place
it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in
the course of ultimate extinction; or, on the other hand, that
its advocates will push it forward until it shall become alike
lawful in all the States, old as well as new, North as well as
South. Now, I believe if we could arrest the spread, and place
it where Washington and Jefferson and Madison placed it, it would
be in the course of ultimate extinction, and the public mind
would, as for eighty years past, believe that it was in the
course of ultimate extinction. The crisis would be past, and the
institution might be let alone for a hundred years, if it should
live so long, in the States where it exists; yet it would be
going out of existence in the way best for both the black and the
white races.

[A voice: "Then do you repudiate popular sovereignty?"]

Well, then, let us talk about popular sovereignty! what is
popular sovereignty? Is it the right of the people to have
slavery or not have it, as they see fit, in the Territories? I
will state--and I have an able man to watch me--my understanding
is that popular sovereignty, as now applied to the question of
slavery, does allow the people of a Territory to have slavery if
they want to, but does not allow them not to have it if they do
not want it. I do not mean that if this vast concourse of people
were in a Territory of the United States, any one of them would
be obliged to have a slave if he did not want one; but I do say
that, as I understand the Dred Scott decision, if any one man
wants slaves, all the rest have no way of keeping that one man
from holding them.

When I made my speech at Springfield, of which the Judge
complains, and from which he quotes, I really was not thinking of
the things which he ascribes to me at all. I had no thought in
the world that I was doing anything to bring about a war between
the free and slave states. I had no thought in the world that I
was doing anything to bring about a political and social equality
of the black and white races. It never occurred to me that I was
doing anything or favoring anything to reduce to a dead
uniformity all the local institutions of the various States. But
I must say, in all fairness to him, if he thinks I am doing
something which leads to these bad results, it is none the better
that I did not mean it. It is just as fatal to the country, if I
have any influence in producing it, whether I intend it or not.
But can it be true that placing this institution upon the
original basis--the basis upon which our fathers placed it--can
have any tendency to set the Northern and the Southern States at
war with one another, or that it can have any tendency to make
the people of Vermont raise sugar-cane, because they raise it in
Louisiana, or that it can compel the people of Illinois to cut
pine logs on the Grand Prairie, where they will not grow, because
they cut pine logs in Maine, where they do grow? The Judge says
this is a new principle started in regard to this question. Does
the Judge claim that he is working on the plan of the founders of
government? I think he says in some of his speeches indeed, I
have one here now--that he saw evidence of a policy to allow
slavery to be south of a certain line, while north of it it
should be excluded, and he saw an indisposition on the part of
the country to stand upon that policy, and therefore he set about
studying the subject upon original principles, and upon original
principles he got up the Nebraska Bill! I am fighting it upon
these "original principles, fighting it in the Jeffersonian,
Washingtonian, and Madisonian fashion.

Now, my friends, I wish you to attend for a little while to one
or two other things in that Springfield speech. My main object
was to show, so far as my humble ability was capable of showing,
to the people of this country what I believed was the truth,--
that there was a tendency, if not a conspiracy, among those who
have engineered this slavery question for the last four or five
years, to make slavery perpetual and universal in this nation.
Having made that speech principally for that object, after
arranging the evidences that I thought tended to prove my
proposition, I concluded with this bit of comment:

"We cannot absolutely know that these exact adaptations are the
result of preconcert; but when we see a lot of framed timbers,
different portions of which we know have been gotten out at
different times and places, and by different workmen--Stephen,
Franklin, Roger, and James, for instance,--and when we see these
timbers joined together, and see they exactly make the frame of a
house or a mill, all the tenons and mortises exactly fitting, and
all the lengths and proportions of the different pieces exactly
adapted to their respective places, and not a piece too many or
too few,--not omitting even the scaffolding,--or if a single
piece be lacking, we see the place in the frame exactly fitted
and prepared yet to bring such piece in,--in such a case we feel
it impossible not to believe that Stephen and Franklin and Roger
and James all understood one another from the beginning, and all
worked upon a common plan or draft drawn before the first blow
was struck."

When my friend Judge Douglas came to Chicago on the 9th of July,
this speech having been delivered on the 16th of June, he made an
harangue there, in which he took hold of this speech of mine,
showing that he had carefully read it; and while he paid no
attention to this matter at all, but complimented me as being a
"kind, amiable, and intelligent gentleman," notwithstanding I had
said this, he goes on and eliminates, or draws out, from my
speech this tendency of mine to set the States at war with one
another, to make all the institutions uniform, and set the
niggers and white people to marrying together. Then, as the
Judge had complimented me with these pleasant titles (I must
confess to my weakness), I was a little "taken," for it came from
a great man. I was not very much accustomed to flattery, and it
came the sweeter to me. I was rather like the Hoosier, with the
gingerbread, when he said he reckoned he loved it better than any
other man, and got less of it. As the Judge had so flattered me,
I could not make up my mind that he meant to deal unfairly with
me; so I went to work to show him that he misunderstood the whole
scope of my speech, and that I really never intended to set the
people at war with one another. As an illustration, the next
time I met him, which was at Springfield, I used this expression,
that I claimed no right under the Constitution, nor had I any
inclination, to enter into the slave States and interfere with
the institutions of slavery. He says upon that: Lincoln will not
enter into the slave States, but will go to the banks of the
Ohio, on this side, and shoot over! He runs on, step by step, in
the horse-chestnut style of argument, until in the Springfield
speech he says: "Unless he shall be successful in firing his
batteries until he shall have extinguished slavery in all the
States the Union shall be dissolved." Now, I don't think that
was exactly the way to treat "a kind, amiable, intelligent
gentleman." I know if I had asked the Judge to show when or
where it was I had said that, if I didn't succeed in firing into
the slave States until slavery should be extinguished, the Union
should be dissolved, he could not have shown it. I understand
what he would do. He would say: I don't mean to quote from you,
but this was the result of what you say. But I have the right to
ask, and I do ask now, Did you not put it in such a form that an
ordinary reader or listener would take it as an expression from
me?

In a speech at Springfield, on the night of the 17th, I thought I
might as well attend to my own business a little, and I recalled
his attention as well as I could to this charge of conspiracy to
nationalize slavery. I called his attention to the fact that he
had acknowledged in my hearing twice that he had carefully read
the speech, and, in the language of the lawyers, as he had twice
read the speech, and still had put in no plea or answer, I took a
default on him. I insisted that I had a right then to renew that
charge of conspiracy. Ten days afterward I met the Judge at
Clinton,--that is to say, I was on the ground, but not in the
discussion,--and heard him make a speech. Then he comes in with
his plea to this charge, for the first time; and his plea when
put in, as well as I can recollect it, amounted to this: that he
never had any talk with Judge Taney or the President of the
United States with regard to the Dred Scott decision before it
was made. I (Lincoln) ought to know that the man who makes a
charge without knowing it to be true falsifies as much as he who
knowingly tells a falsehood; and, lastly, that he would pronounce
the whole thing a falsehood; but, he would make no personal
application of the charge of falsehood, not because of any regard
for the "kind, amiable, intelligent gentleman," but because of
his own personal self-respect! I have understood since then (but
[turning to Judge Douglas] will not hold the Judge to it if he is
not willing) that he has broken through the "self-respect," and
has got to saying the thing out. The Judge nods to me that it is
so. It is fortunate for me that I can keep as good-humored as I
do, when the Judge acknowledges that he has been trying to make a
question of veracity with me. I know the Judge is a great man,
while I am only a small man, but I feel that I have got him. I
demur to that plea. I waive all objections that it was not filed
till after default was taken, and demur to it upon the merits.
What if Judge Douglas never did talk with Chief Justice Taney and
the President before the Dred Scott decision was made, does it
follow that he could not have had as perfect an understanding
without talking as with it? I am not disposed to stand upon my
legal advantage. I am disposed to take his denial as being like
an answer in chancery, that he neither had any knowledge,
information, or belief in the existence of such a conspiracy. I
am disposed to take his answer as being as broad as though he had
put it in these words. And now, I ask, even if he had done so,
have not I a right to prove it on him, and to offer the evidence
of more than two witnesses, by whom to prove it; and if the
evidence proves the existence of the conspiracy, does his broader
answer denying all knowledge, information, or belief, disturb the
fact? It can only show that he was used by conspirators, and was
not a leader of them.

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