The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7


I confess, when I propose a certain measure of policy, it is not
enough for me that I do not intend anything evil in the result, but
it is incumbent on me to show that it has not a tendency to that
result. I have met Judge Douglas in that point of view. I have not
only made the declaration that I do not mean to produce a conflict
between the States, but I have tried to show by fair reasoning, and I
think I have shown to the minds of fair men, that I propose nothing
but what has a most peaceful tendency. The quotation that I happened
to make in that Springfield Speech, that "a house divided against
itself cannot stand," and which has proved so offensive to the judge,
was part and parcel of the same thing. He tries to show that variety
in the democratic institutions of the different States is necessary
and indispensable. I do not dispute it. I have no controversy with
Judge Douglas about that. I shall very readily agree with him that
it would be foolish for us to insist upon having a cranberry law here
in Illinois, where we have no cranberries, because they have a
cranberry law in Indiana, where they have cranberries. I should
insist that it would be exceedingly wrong in us to deny to Virginia
the right to enact oyster laws, where they have oysters, because we
want no such laws here. I understand, I hope, quite as well as Judge
Douglas or anybody else, that the variety in the soil and climate and
face of the country, and consequent variety in the industrial
pursuits and productions of a country, require systems of law
conforming to this variety in the natural features of the country. I
understand quite as well as Judge Douglas that if we here raise a
barrel of flour more than we want, and the Louisianians raise a
barrel of sugar more than they want, it is of mutual advantage to
exchange. That produces commerce, brings us together, and makes us
better friends. We like one another the more for it. And I
understand as well as Judge Douglas, or anybody else, that these
mutual accommodations are the cements which bind together the
different parts of this Union; that instead of being a thing to
"divide the house,"--figuratively expressing the Union,--they tend to
sustain it; they are the props of the house, tending always to hold
it up.

But when I have admitted all this, I ask if there is any parallel
between these things and this institution of slavery? I do not see
that there is any parallel at all between them. Consider it. When
have we had any difficulty or quarrel amongst ourselves about the
cranberry laws of Indiana, or the oyster laws of Virginia, or the
pine-lumber laws of Maine, or the fact that Louisiana produces sugar,
and Illinois flour? When have we had any quarrels over these things?
When have we had perfect peace in regard to this thing which I say is
an element of discord in this Union? We have sometimes had peace,
but when was it? It was when the institution of slavery remained
quiet where it was. We have had difficulty and turmoil whenever it
has made a struggle to spread itself where it was not. I ask, then,
if experience does not speak in thunder-tones telling us that the
policy which has given peace to the country heretofore, being
returned to, gives the greatest promise of peace again. You may say,
and Judge Douglas has intimated the same thing, that all this
difficulty in regard to the institution of slavery is the mere
agitation of office-seekers and ambitious Northern politicians. He
thinks we want to get "his place," I suppose. I agree that there are
office-seekers amongst us. The Bible says somewhere that we are
desperately selfish. I think we would have discovered that fact
without the Bible. I do not claim that I am any less so than the
average of men, but I do claim that I am not more selfish than Judge

But is it true that all the difficulty and agitation we have in
regard to this institution of slavery spring from office-seeking,
from the mere ambition of politicians? Is that the truth? How many
times have we had danger from this question? Go back to the day of
the Missouri Compromise. Go back to the nullification question, at
the bottom of which lay this same slavery question. Go back to the
time of the annexation of Texas. Go back to the troubles that led to
the Compromise of 1850. You will find that every time, with the
single exception of the Nullification question, they sprung from an
endeavor to spread this institution. There never was a party in the
history of this country, and there probably never will be, of
sufficient strength to disturb the general peace of the country.
Parties themselves may be divided and quarrel on minor questions, yet
it extends not beyond the parties themselves. But
does not this question make a disturbance outside of political
circles? Does it not enter into the churches and rend them asunder?
What divided the great Methodist Church into two parts, North and
South? What has raised this constant disturbance in every
Presbyterian General Assembly that meets? What disturbed the
Unitarian Church in this very city two years ago? What has jarred
and shaken the great American Tract Society recently, not yet
splitting it, but sure to divide it in the end? Is it not this same
mighty, deep-seated power that somehow operates on the minds of men,
exciting and stirring them up in every avenue of society,--in
politics, in religion, in literature, in morals, in all the manifold
relations of life? Is this the work of politicians? Is that
irresistible power, which for fifty years has shaken the government
and agitated the people, to be stifled and subdued by pretending that
it is an exceedingly simple thing, and we ought not to talk about it?
If you will get everybody else to stop talking about it, I assure you
I will quit before they have half done so. But where is the
philosophy or statesmanship which assumes that you can quiet that
disturbing element in our society which has disturbed us for more
than half a century, which has been the only serious danger that has
threatened our institutions,--I say, where is the philosophy or the
statesmanship based on the assumption that we are to quit talking
about it, and that the public mind is all at once to cease being
agitated by it? Yet this is the policy here in the North that
Douglas is advocating, that we are to care nothing about it! I ask
you if it is not a false philosophy. Is it not a false statesmanship
that undertakes to build up a system of policy upon the basis of
caring nothing about the very thing that everybody does care the most
about--a thing which all experience has shown we care a very great
deal about?

The Judge alludes very often in the course of his remarks to the
exclusive right which the States have to decide the whole thing for
themselves. I agree with him very readily that the different States
have that right. He is but fighting a man of straw when he assumes
that I am contending against the right of the States to do as they
please about it. Our controversy with him is in regard to the new
Territories. We agree that when the States come in as States they
have the right and the power to do as they please. We have no power
as citizens of the free-States, or in our Federal capacity as members
of the Federal Union through the General Government, to disturb
slavery in the States where it exists. We profess constantly that we
have no more inclination than belief in the power of the government
to disturb it; yet we are driven constantly to defend ourselves from
the assumption that we are warring upon the rights of the Sates.
What I insist upon is, that the new Territories shall be kept free
from it while in the Territorial condition. Judge Douglas assumes
that we have no interest in them,--that we have no right whatever to
interfere. I think we have some interest. I think that as white men
we have. Do we not wish for an outlet for our surplus population, if
I may so express myself? Do we not feel an interest in getting to
that outlet with such institutions as we would like to have prevail
there? If you go to the Territory opposed to slavery, and another
man comes upon the same ground with his slave, upon the assumption
that the things are equal, it turns out that he has the equal right
all his way, and you have no part of it your way. If he goes in and
makes it a slave Territory, and by consequence a slave State, is it
not time that those who desire to have it a free State were on equal
ground? Let me suggest it in a different way. How many Democrats
are there about here ["A thousand"] who have left slave States and
come into the free State of Illinois to get rid of the institution of
slavery? [Another voice: 'A thousand and one."] I reckon there are a
thousand and one. I will ask you, if the policy you are now
advocating had prevailed when this country was in a Territorial
condition, where would you have gone to get rid of it? Where would
you have found your free State or Territory to go to? And when
hereafter, for any cause, the people in this place shall desire to
find new homes, if they wish to be rid of the institution, where will
they find the place to go to?

Now, irrespective of the moral aspect of this question as to whether
there is a right or wrong in enslaving a negro, I am still in favor
of our new Territories being in such a condition that white men may
find a home,--may find some spot where they can better their
condition; where they can settle upon new soil and better their
condition in life. I am in favor of this, not merely (I must say it
here as I have elsewhere) for our own people who are born amongst us,
but as an outlet for free white people everywhere the world over--in
which Hans, and Baptiste, and Patrick, and all other men from all the
world, may find new homes and better their conditions in life.

I have stated upon former occasions, and I may as well state again,
what I understand to be the real issue in this controversy between
Judge Douglas and myself. On the point of my wanting to make war
between the free and the slave States, there has been no issue
between us. So, too, when he assumes that I am in favor of producing
a perfect social and political equality between the white and black
races. These are false issues, upon which Judge Douglas has tried to
force the controversy. There is no foundation in truth for the
charge that I maintain either of these propositions. The real issue
in this controversy--the one pressing upon every mind--is the
sentiment on the part of one class that looks upon the institution of
slavery as a wrong, and of another class that does not look upon it
as a wrong. The sentiment that contemplates the institution of
slavery in this country as a wrong is the sentiment of the Republican
party. It is the sentiment around which all their actions, all their
arguments, circle, from which all their propositions radiate. They
look upon it as being a moral, social, and political wrong; and while
they contemplate it a, such, they nevertheless have due regard for
its actual existence among us, and the difficulties of getting rid of
it in any satisfactory way, and to all the constitutional obligations
thrown about it. Yet, having a due regard for these, they desire a
policy in regard to it that looks to its not creating any more
danger. They insist that it should, as far as may be, be treated as
a wrong; and one of the methods of treating it as a wrong is to make
provision that it shall grow no larger. They also desire a policy
that looks to a peaceful end of slavery at some time. These are the
views they entertain in regard to it as I understand them; and all
their sentiments, all their arguments and propositions, are brought
within this range. I have said, and I repeat it here, that if there
be a man amongst us who does not think that the institution of
slavery is wrong in any one of the aspects of which I have spoken, he
is misplaced, and ought not to be with us. And if there be a man
amongst us who is so impatient of it as a wrong as to disregard its
actual presence among us and the difficulty of getting rid of it
suddenly in a satisfactory way, and to disregard the constitutional
obligations thrown about it, that man is misplaced if he is on our
platform. We disclaim sympathy with him in practical action. He is
not placed properly with us.

On this subject of treating it as a wrong, and limiting its spread,
let me say a word. Has anything ever threatened the existence of
this Union save and except this very institution of slavery? What is
it that we hold most dear amongst us? Our own liberty and
prosperity. What has ever threatened our liberty and prosperity,
save and except this institution of slavery? If this is true, how do
you propose to improve the condition of things by enlarging slavery,
by spreading it out and making it bigger? You may have a wen or
cancer upon your person, and not be able to cut it out, lest you
bleed to death; but surely it is no way to cure it, to engraft it and
spread it over your whole body. That is no proper way of treating
what you regard a wrong. You see this peaceful way of dealing with
it as a wrong, restricting the spread of it, and not allowing it to
go into new countries where it has not already existed. That is the
peaceful way, the old-fashioned way, the way in which the fathers
themselves set us the example.

On the other hand, I have said there is a sentiment which treats it
as not being wrong. That is the Democratic sentiment of this day. I
do not mean to say that every man who stands within that range
positively asserts that it is right. That class will include all who
positively assert that it is right, and all who, like Judge Douglas,
treat it as indifferent and do not say it is either right or wrong.
These two classes of men fall within the general class of those who
do not look upon it as a wrong. And if there be among you anybody
who supposes that he, as a Democrat, can consider himself "as much
opposed to slavery as anybody," I would like to reason with him. You
never treat it as a wrong. What other thing that you consider as a
wrong do you deal with as you deal with that? Perhaps you say it is
wrong--but your leader never does, and you quarrel with anybody who
says it is wrong. Although you pretend to say so yourself, you can
find no fit place to deal with it as a wrong. You must not say
anything about it in the free States, because it is not here. You
must not say anything about it in the slave States, because it is
there. You must not say anything about it in the pulpit, because
that is religion, and has nothing to do with it. You must not say
anything about it in politics, because that will disturb the security
of "my place." There is no place to talk about it as being a wrong,
although you say yourself it is a wrong. But, finally, you will
screw yourself up to the belief that if the people of the slave
States should adopt a system of gradual emancipation on the slavery
question, you would be in favor of it. You would be in favor of it.
You say that is getting it in the right place, and you would be glad
to see it succeed. But you are deceiving yourself. You all know
that Frank Blair and Gratz Brown, down there in St. Louis, undertook
to introduce that system in Missouri. They fought as valiantly as
they could for the system of gradual emancipation which you pretend
you would be glad to see succeed. Now, I will bring you to the test.
After a hard fight they were beaten, and when the news came over
here, you threw up your hats and hurrahed for Democracy. More than
that, take all the argument made in favor of the system you have
proposed, and it carefully excludes the idea that there is anything
wrong in the institution of slavery. The arguments to sustain that
policy carefully exclude it. Even here to-day you heard Judge
Douglas quarrel with me because I uttered a wish that it might
sometime come to an end. Although Henry Clay could say he wished
every slave in the United States was in the country of his ancestors,
I am denounced by those pretending to respect Henry Clay for uttering
a wish that it might sometime, in some peaceful way, come to an end.
The Democratic policy in regard to that institution will not tolerate
the merest breath, the slightest hint, of the least degree of wrong
about it. Try it by some of Judge Douglas's arguments. He says he
"don't care whether it is voted up or voted down" in the Territories.
I do not care myself, in dealing with that expression, whether it is
intended to be expressive of his individual sentiments on the
subject, or only of the national policy he desires to have
established. It is alike valuable for my purpose. Any man can say
that who does not see anything wrong in slavery; but no man can
logically say it who does see a wrong in it, because no man can
logically say he don't care whether a wrong is voted up or voted
down. He may say he don't care whether an indifferent thing is voted
up or down, but he must logically have a choice between a right thing
and a wrong thing. He contends that whatever community wants slaves
has a right to have them. So they have, if it is not a wrong. But
if it is a wrong, he cannot say people have a right to do wrong. He
says that upon the score of equality slaves should be allowed to go
in a new Territory, like other property. This is strictly logical if
there is no difference between it and other property. If it and
other property are equal, this argument is entirely logical. But if
you insist that one is wrong and the other right, there is no use to
institute a comparison between right and wrong. You may turn over
everything in the Democratic policy from beginning to end, whether in
the shape it takes on the statute book, in the shape it takes in the
Dred Scott decision, in the shape it takes in conversation, or the
shape it takes in short maxim-like arguments,--it everywhere
carefully excludes the idea that there is anything wrong in it.

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