The Great Conspiracy

Having given some pieces of evidence in proof of the “tendency,” he had
discovered, to the Nationalization of Slavery in these States, Mr.
Lincoln continued: “And now, as to the Judge’s inference, that because I
wish to see Slavery placed in the course of ultimate extinction–placed
where our fathers originally placed it–I wish to annihilate the State
Legislatures–to force cotton to grow upon the tops of the Green
Mountains–to freeze ice in Florida–to cut lumber on the broad Illinois
prairies–that I am in favor of all these ridiculous and impossible
things! It seems to me it is a complete answer to all this, to ask if,
when Congress did have the fashion of restricting Slavery from Free
Territory; when Courts did have the fashion of deciding that taking a
Slave into a Free, Country made him Free–I say it is a sufficient
answer to ask, if any of this ridiculous nonsense, about consolidation
and uniformity, did actually follow? Who heard of any such thing,
because of the Ordinance of ’87? because of the Missouri Restriction
because of the numerous Court decisions of that character?

“Now, as to the Dred Scott decision; for upon that he makes his last
point at me. He boldly takes ground in favor of that decision. This is
one-half the onslaught and one-third of the entire plan of the campaign.
I am opposed to that decision in a certain sense, but not in the sense
which he puts on it. I say that in so far as it decided in favor of
Dred Scott’s master, and against Dred Scott and his family, I do not
propose to disturb or resist the decision. I never have proposed to do
any such thing. I think, that in respect for judicial authority, my
humble history would not suffer in comparison with that of Judge
Douglas. He would have the citizen conform his vote to that decision;
the member of Congress, his; the President, his use of the veto power.
He would make it a rule of political action for the People and all the
departments of the Government. I would not. By resisting it as a
political rule, I disturb no right of property, create no disorder,
excite no mobs.”

After quoting from a letter of Mr. Jefferson (vol. vii., p. 177, of his
Correspondence,) in which he held that “to consider the judges as the
ultimate arbiters of all Constitutional questions,” is “a very dangerous
doctrine indeed; and one which would place us under the despotism of an
Oligarchy,” Mr. Lincoln continued: “Let us go a little further. You
remember we once had a National Bank. Some one owed the Bank a debt; he
was sued, and sought to avoid payment on the ground that the Bank was
unconstitutional. The case went to the Supreme Court, and therein it
was decided that the Bank was Constitutional. The whole Democratic
party revolted against that decision. General Jackson himself asserted
that he, as President, would not be bound to hold a National Bank to be
Constitutional, even though the Court had decided it to be so. He fell
in, precisely, with the view of Mr. Jefferson, and acted upon it under
his official oath, in vetoing a charter for a National Bank.

“The declaration that Congress does not possess this Constitutional
power to charter a Bank, has gone into the Democratic platform, at their
National Conventions, and was brought forward and reaffirmed in their
last Convention at Cincinnati. They have contended for that
declaration, in the very teeth of the Supreme Court, for more than a
quarter of a century. In fact, they have reduced the decision to an
absolute nullity. That decision, I repeat, is repudiated in the
Cincinnati platform; and still, as if to show that effrontery can go no
further, Judge Douglas vaunts in the very speeches in which he denounces
me for opposing the Dred Scott decision, that he stands on the
Cincinnati platform.

“Now, I wish to know what the Judge can charge upon me, with respect to
decisions of the Supreme Court, which does not lie in all its length,
breadth, and proportions, at his own door? The plain truth is simply
this: Judge Douglas is for Supreme Court decisions when he likes, and
against them when he does not like them. He is for the Dred Scott
decision because it tends to Nationalize Slavery–because it is a part
of the original combination for that object. It so happens, singularly
enough, that I never stood opposed to a decision of the Supreme Court
till this. On the contrary, I have no recollection that he was ever
particularly in favor of one till this. He never was in favor of any,
nor (I) opposed to any, till the present one, which helps to Nationalize
Slavery. Free men of Sangamon–Free men of Illinois, Free men
everywhere–judge ye between him and me, upon this issue!

“He says this Dred Scott case is a very small matter at
most–that it has no practical effect; that at best, or rather I suppose
at worst, it is but an abstraction. * * * How has the planting of
Slavery in new countries always been effected? It has now been decided
that Slavery cannot be kept out of our new Territories by any legal
means. In what do our new Territories now differ in this respect from
the old Colonies when Slavery was first planted within them?

“It was planted, as Mr. Clay once declared, and as history proves true,
by individual men in spite of the wishes of the people; the Mother-
Government refusing to prohibit it, and withholding from the People of
the Colonies the authority to prohibit it for themselves. Mr. Clay says
this was one of the great and just causes of complaint against Great
Britain by the Colonies, and the best apology we can now make for having
the institution amongst us. In that precise condition our Nebraska
politicians have at last succeeded in placing our own new Territories;
the Government will not prohibit Slavery within them, nor allow the
People to prohibit it.”

Alluding to that part of Mr. Douglas’s speech the previous night
touching the death-bed scene of Mr. Clay, with Mr. Douglas’s promise to
devote the remainder of his life to “Popular Sovereignty”–and to his
relations with Mr. Webster–Mr. Lincoln said: “It would be amusing, if
it were not disgusting, to see how quick these Compromise breakers
administer on the political effects of their dead adversaries. If I
should be found dead to-morrow morning, nothing but my insignificance
could prevent a speech being made on my authority, before the end of
next week. It so happens that in that ‘Popular Sovereignty’ with which
Mr. Clay was identified, the Missouri Compromise was expressly reserved;
and it was a little singular if Mr. Clay cast his mantle upon Judge
Douglas on purpose to have that Compromise repealed. Again, the Judge
did not keep faith with Mr. Clay when he first brought in the Nebraska
Bill. He left the Missouri Compromise unrepealed, and in his report
accompanying the Bill, he told the World he did it on purpose. The
manes of Mr. Clay must have been in great agony, till thirty days later,
when ‘Popular Sovereignty’ stood forth in all its glory.”

Touching Mr. Douglas’s allegations of Mr. Lincoln’s disposition to make
Negroes equal with the Whites, socially and politically, the latter
said: “My declarations upon this subject of Negro Slavery may be
misrepresented, but cannot be misunderstood. I have said that I do not
understand the Declaration (of Independence) to mean that all men were
created equal in all respects. They are not equal in color; but I
suppose that it does mean to declare that all men are equal in some
respects; they are equal in their right to ‘Life, Liberty, and the
pursuit of Happiness.’ Certainly the Negro is not our equal in color–
perhaps not in many other respects; still, in the right to put into his
mouth the bread that his own hands have earned, he is the equal of every
other man, White or Black. In pointing out that more has been given
you, you cannot be justified in taking away the little which has been
given him. All I ask for the Negro is that if you do not like him, let
him alone. If God gave him but little, that little let him enjoy.

“The framers of the Constitution,” continued Mr. Lincoln, “found the
institution of Slavery amongst their other institutions at the time.
They found that by an effort to eradicate it, they might lose much of
what they had already gained. They were obliged to bow to the
necessity. They gave Congress power to abolish the Slave Trade at the
end of twenty years. They also prohibited it in the Territories where
it did not exist. They did what they could, and yielded to the
necessity for the rest. I also yield to all which follows from that
necessity. What I would most desire would be the separation of the
White and Black races.”

Mr. Lincoln closed his speech by referring to the “New Departure” of
the Democracy–to the charge he had made, in his 16th of June speech,
touching “the existence of a Conspiracy to Perpetuate and Nationalize
Slavery”–which Mr. Douglas had not contradicted–and, said he, “on his
own tacit admission I renew that charge. I charge him with having been
a party to that Conspiracy, and to that deception, for the sole purpose
of Nationalizing Slavery.”

This closed the series of preliminary speeches in the canvass. But they
only served to whet the moral and intellectual and political appetite of
the public for more. It was generally conceded that, at last, in the
person of Mr. Lincoln, the “Little Giant” had met his match.

On July 24, Mr. Lincoln opened a correspondence with Mr. Douglas, which
eventuated in an agreement between them, July 31st, for joint-
discussions, to take place at Ottawa, Freeport, Jonesboro, Charleston,
Galesburgh, Quincy, and Alton, on fixed dates in August, September and
October–at Ottawa, Mr. Douglas to open and speak one hour, Mr. Lincoln
to have an hour and a half in reply, and Mr. Douglas to close in a half
hour’s speech; at Freeport, Mr. Lincoln to open and speak for one hour,
Mr. Douglas to take the next hour and a half in reply, and Mr. Lincoln
to have the next half hour to close; and so on, alternating at each
successive place, making twenty-one hours of joint political debate.

To these absorbingly interesting discussions, vast assemblages listened
with breathless attention; and to the credit of all parties be it said,
with unparalleled decorum. The People evidently felt that the greatest
of all political principles–that of Human Liberty–was hanging on the
issue of this great political contest between intellectual giants, thus
openly waged before the World–and they accordingly rose to the dignity
and solemnity of the occasion, vindicating by their very example the
sacredness with which the Right of Free Speech should be regarded at all
times and everywhere.


The immediate outcome of the remarkable joint-debate between the two
intellectual giants of Illinois was, that while the popular vote stood
124,698 for Lincoln, to 121,130 for Douglas–showing a victory for
Lincoln among the People–yet, enough Douglas-Democrats were elected to
the Legislature, when added to those of his friends in the Illinois
Senate, who had been elected two years before, and “held over,” to give
him, in all, 54 members of both branches of the Legislature on joint
ballot, against 46 for Mr. Lincoln. Lincoln had carried the people, but
Douglas had secured the Senatorial prize for which they had striven–and
by that Legislative vote was elected to succeed himself in the United
States Senate. This result was trumpeted throughout the Union as a
great Douglas victory.

During the canvass of Illinois, Douglas’s friends had seen to it that
nothing on their part should be wanting to secure success. What with
special car trains, and weighty deputations, and imposing processions,
and flag raisings, the inspiration of music, the booming of cannon, and
the eager shouts of an enthusiastic populace, his political journey
through Illinois had been more like a Royal Progress than anything the
Country had yet seen; and now that his reelection was accomplished, they
proposed to make the most of it–to extend, as it were, the sphere of
his triumph, or vindication, so that it would include not the State
alone, but the Nation–and thus so accentuate and enhance his
availability as a candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination
of 1860, as to make his nomination and election to the Presidency of the
United States an almost foregone conclusion.

The programme was to raise so great a popular tidal-wave in his
interest, as would bear him irresistibly upon its crest to the White
House. Accordingly, as the idol of the Democratic popular heart,
Douglas, upon his return to the National Capital, was triumphantly
received by the chief cities of the Mississippi and the Atlantic sea-
board. Hailed as victor in the great political contest in Illinois-upon
the extended newspaper reports of which, the absorbed eyes of the entire
nation, for months, had greedily fed–Douglas was received with much
ostentation and immense enthusiasm at St. Louis, Memphis, New Orleans,
New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. Like the “Triumphs”
decreed by Rome, in her grandest days, to the greatest of her victorious
heroes, Douglas’s return was a series of magnificent popular ovations,

In a speech made two years before this period, Mr. Lincoln, while
contrasting his own political career with that of Douglas, and modestly
describing his own as “a flat failure” had said: “With him it has been
one of splendid success. His name fills the Nation, and is not unknown
even in foreign lands. I affect no contempt for the high eminence he
has reached. So reached, that the oppressed of my species might have
shared with me in the elevation, I would rather stand on that eminence
than wear the richest crown that ever pressed a monarch’s brow.” And
now the star of Douglas had reached a higher altitude, nearing its
meridian splendor. He had become the popular idol of the day.

But Douglas’s partial victory–if such it was–so far from settling the
public mind and public conscience, had the contrary effect. It added to
the ferment which the Pro-Slavery Oligarchists of the South–and
especially those of South Carolina–were intent upon increasing, until
so grave and serious a crisis should arrive as would, in their opinion,
furnish a justifiable pretext in the eyes of the World for the
contemplated Secession of the Slave States from the Union.

Under the inspiration of the Slave Power, and in the direct line of the
Dred Scott decision, and of the “victorious” doctrine of Senator
Douglas, which he held not inconsistent therewith, that the people of
any Territory of the United States could do as they pleased as to the
institution of Slavery within their own limits, and if they desired the
institution, they had the right by local legislation to “protect and
encourage it,” the Legislature of the Territory of New Mexico at once
(1859) proceeded to enact a law “for the protection of property in
Slaves,” and other measures similar to the prevailing Slave Codes in the
Southern States.

The aggressive attitude of the South–as thus evidenced anew–naturally
stirred, to their very core, the Abolition elements of the North; on the
other hand, the publication of Hinton Rowan Helper’s “Impending Crisis,”
which handled the Slavery question without gloves, and supported its
views with statistics which startled the Northern mind, together with
its alleged indorsement by the leading Republicans of the North,
exasperated the fiery Southrons to an intense degree. Nor was the
capture, in October, 1859, of Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, by John Brown
and his handful of Northern Abolitionist followers, and his subsequent
execution in Virginia, calculated to allay the rapidly intensifying
feeling between the Freedom-loving North and the Slaveholding South.
When, therefore, the Congress met, in December, 1859, the sectional
wrath of the Country was reflected in the proceedings of both branches
of that body, and these again reacted upon the People of both the
Northern and Southern States, until the fires of Slavery Agitation were
stirred to a white heat.

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