The Great Conspiracy

But at this juncture occurred something, which for a long time held the
result in doubt, and drew the excited attention of the whole Nation to
Illinois as the great battle-ground. In 1858 a Republican State
Convention was held at Springfield, Ill., which nominated Abraham
Lincoln as the Republican candidate for United States Senator to succeed
Senator Douglas in the National Legislature. On June 16th–after such
nomination–Mr. Lincoln made to the Convention a speech–in which, with
great and incisive power, he assailed Mr. Douglas’s position as well as
that of the whole Democratic Pro-Slavery Party, and announced in compact
and cogent phrase, from his own point of view, the attitude, upon the
Slavery question, of the Republican Party.

In that remarkable speech–which at once attracted the attention of the
Country–Mr. Lincoln said: “We are now far into the fifth year, since a
policy was initiated with the avowed object, and confident promise, of
putting an end to Slavery agitation. Under the operation of that
policy, that agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly
augmented. In my opinion it will not cease, until a crisis shall have
been reached and passed. ‘A House divided against itself cannot stand.’
I believe this Government cannot endure permanently half Slave and half
Free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved–I do not expect the
House to fall–but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will
become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of Slavery
will 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 its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become
alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new, North as well as

[Governor Seward’s announcement of an “irrepressible conflict” was
made four months later.]

He then proceeded to lay bare and closely analyze the history of all
that had been done, during the four years preceding, to produce the
prevailing condition of things touching human Slavery; describing it as
resulting from that, “now almost complete legal combination-piece of
machinery, so to speak–compounded of the Nebraska doctrine and the Dred
Scott decision.” After stating the several points of that decision, and
that the doctrine of the “Sacred right of self-government” had been
perverted by the Nebraska “Squatter Sovereignty,” argument to mean that,
“if any one man chose to enslave another, no third man shall be allowed
to object,” he proceeded to show the grounds upon which he charged “pre-
concert” among the builders of that machinery. Said he: “The people
were to be left perfectly free, ‘subject only to the Constitution.’
What the Constitution had to do with it, outsiders could not see.
Plainly enough now, it was an exactly fitted niche for the Dred Scott
decision to afterward come in and declare the perfect freedom of the
people to be just no freedom at all. Why was the amendment, expressly
declaring the right of the people, voted down? Plainly enough now, the
adoption of it would have spoiled the niche for the Dred Scott decision.
Why was the Court decision held up? Why even a Senator’s individual
opinion withheld, till after the Presidential election? Plainly enough
now: the speaking out then would have damaged the ‘perfectly free’
argument upon which the election was to be carried. Why the outgoing
President’s felicitation on the indorsement? Why the delay of a re-
argument? Why the incoming President’s advance exhortation in favor of
the decision? These things look like the cautious patting and petting
of a spirited horse, preparatory to mounting him, when it is dreaded
that he may give the rider a fall. And why the hasty after-indorsement
of the decision, by the President and others? We cannot absolutely know
that all these exact adaptations are the result of pre-concert. 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–[Douglas, Pierce, Taney
and Buchanan.]–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 mortices 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 find 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 up before the first blow was

He drew attention also to the fact that by the Nebraska Bill the people
of a State, as well as a Territory, were to be left “perfectly free,”
“subject only to the Constitution,” and that the object of lugging a
“State” into this merely Territorial law was to enable the United States
Supreme Court in some subsequent decision to declare, when the public
mind had been sufficiently imbued with Judge Douglas’s notion of not
caring “whether Slavery be voted up or voted down,” that “the
Constitution of the United States does not permit a State to exclude
Slavery from its limits”–which would make Slavery “alike lawful in all
the States.” That, he declared to be Judge Douglas’s present mission:–
“His avowed mission is impressing the ‘public heart’ to care nothing
about it.” Hence Mr. Lincoln urged Republicans to stand by their cause,
which must be placed in the hands of its friends, “Whose hands are free,
whose hearts are in the work–who do care for the result;” for he held
that “a living dog is better than a dead lion.”

On the evening of July 9, 1858, at Chicago, Mr. Douglas (Mr. Lincoln
being present) spoke to an enthusiastic assemblage, which he fitly
described as a “vast sea of human faces,” and, after stating that he
regarded “the Lecompton battle as having been fought and the victory
won, because the arrogant demand for the admission of Kansas under the
Lecompton Constitution unconditionally, whether her people wanted it or
not, has been abandoned, and the principle which recognizes the right of
the people to decide for themselves has been submitted in its place,” he
proceeded to vindicate his position throughout; declared that he opposed
“the Lecompton monstrosity solely on the ground than it was a violation
of the fundamental principles of free government; on the ground that it
was not the act and deed of the people of Kansas; that it did not embody
their will; that they were averse to it;” and hence he “denied the right
of Congress to force it upon them, either as a Free State or a Slave

Said he: “I deny the right of Congress to force a Slaveholding State
upon an unwilling people. I deny their right to force a Free State upon
an unwilling people. I deny their right to force a good thing upon a
people who are unwilling to receive it. The great principle is the
right of every community to judge and decide for itself, whether a thing
is right or wrong, whether it would be good or evil for them to adopt
it; and the right of free action, the right of free thought, the right
of free judgment upon the question is dearer to every true American than
any other under a free Government. * * * It is no answer to this
argument to say that Slavery is an evil, and hence should not be
tolerated. You must allow the people to decide for themselves whether
it is good or evil.” He then adverted to the arraignment of himself by
Mr. Lincoln, and took direct issue with that gentleman on his
proposition that, as to Freedom and Slavery, “the Union will become all
one thing or all the other;” and maintained on the contrary, that “it is
neither desirable nor possible that there should be uniformity in the
local institutions and domestic regulations of the different States of
this Union.”

Upon the further proposition of Mr. Lincoln, which Mr. Douglas described
as “a crusade against the Supreme Court of the United States on account
of the Dred Scott decision,” and as “an appeal from the decision” of
that Court “upon this high Constitutional question to a Republican
caucus sitting in the country,” he also took “direct and distinct issue
with him.” To “the reason assigned by Mr. Lincoln for resisting the
decision of the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case * * * because it
deprives the Negro of the privileges, immunities and rights of
citizenship which pertain, according to that decision, only to the White
man,” Mr. Douglas also took exception thus: “I am free to say to you
that in my opinion this Government of ours is founded on the White
basis. It was made by the White man for the benefit of the White man,
to be administered by White men, in such manner as they should
determine. It is also true that a Negro, an Indian, or any other man of
inferior race to a White man, should be permitted to enjoy, and humanity
requires that he should have, all the rights, privileges, and immunities
which he is capable of exercising consistent with the safety of society.
* * * But you may ask me what are these rights and these privileges?
My answer is, that each State must decide for itself the nature and
extent of these rights. * * * Without indorsing the wisdom of that
decision, I assert that Virginia has the same power by virtue of her
sovereignty to protect Slavery within her limits, as Illinois has to
banish it forever from our own borders. I assert the right of each
State to decide for itself on all these questions, and I do not
subscribe to the doctrine of my friend, Mr. Lincoln, that uniformity is
either desirable or possible. I do not acknowledge that the States must
all be Free or must all be Slave. I do not acknowledge that the Negro
must have civil and political rights everywhere or nowhere. * * * I do
not acknowledge any of these doctrines of uniformity in the local and
domestic regulations in the different States. * * * Mr. Lincoln goes
for a warfare upon the Supreme Court of the United States because of
their judicial decision in the Dred Scott case. I yield obedience to
the decisions in that Court–to the final determination of the highest
judicial tribunal known to our Constitution. He objects to the Dred
Scott decision because it does not put the Negro in the possession of
the rights of citizenship on an equality with the White man. I am
opposed to Negro equality. * * * I would extend to the Negro, and the
Indian, and to all dependent races every right, every privilege, and
every immunity consistent with the safety and welfare of the White
races; but equality they never should have, either political or social,
or in any other respect whatever. * * * My friends, you see that the
issues are distinctly drawn.”

On the following evening (July 10th) at Chicago, Mr. Lincoln addressed
another enthusiastic assemblage, in reply to Mr. Douglas; and, after
protesting against a charge that had been made the previous night by the
latter, of an “unnatural and unholy” alliance between Administration
Democrats and Republicans to defeat him, as being beyond his own
knowledge and belief, proceeded: “Popular Sovereignty! Everlasting
Popular Sovereignty! Let us for a moment inquire into this vast matter
of Popular Sovereignty. What is Popular Sovereignty? We recollect at
an early period in the history of this struggle there was another name
for the same thing–Squatter Sovereignty. It was not exactly Popular
Sovereignty, but Squatter Sovereignty. What do those terms mean? What
do those terms mean when used now? And vast credit is taken by our
friend, the Judge, in regard to his support of it, when he declares the
last years of his life have been, and all the future years of his life
shall be, devoted to this matter of Popular Sovereignty. What is it?
Why it is the Sovereignty of the People! What was Squatter Sovereignty?
I suppose if it had any significance at all, it was the right of the
people to govern themselves, to be sovereign in their own affairs while
they were squatted down in a country not their own–while they had
squatted on a territory that did not belong to them in the sense that a
State belongs to the people who inhabit it–when it belonged to the
Nation–such right to govern themselves was called ‘Squatter

“Now I wish you to mark. What has become of that Squatter Sovereignty?
What has become of it? Can you get anybody to tell you now that the
people of a Territory have any authority to govern themselves, in regard
to this mooted question of Slavery, before they form a State
Constitution? No such thing at all, although there is a general running
fire and although there has been a hurrah made in every speech on that
side, assuming that that policy had given the people of a Territory the
right to govern themselves upon this question; yet the point is dodged.
To-day it has been decided–no more than a year ago it was decided by
the Supreme Court of the United States, and is insisted upon to-day,
that the people of a Territory have no right to exclude Slavery from a
Territory, that if any one man chooses to take Slaves into a Territory,
all the rest of the people have no right to keep them out. This being
so, and this decision being made one of the points that the Judge
(Douglas) approved, * * * he says he is in favor of it, and sticks to
it, and expects to win his battle on that decision, which says there is
no such thing as Squatter Sovereignty; but that any man may take Slaves
into a Territory and all the other men in the Territory may be opposed
to it, and yet by reason of the Constitution they cannot prohibit it;
when that is so, how much is left of this vast matter of Squatter
Sovereignty, I should like to know? Again, when we get to the question
of the right of the people to form a State Constitution as they please,
to form it with Slavery or without Slavery–if that is anything new, I
confess I don’t know it * * *.

“We do not remember that, in that old Declaration of Independence, it is
said that ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are
created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit
of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted
among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.’
There, is the origin of Popular Sovereignty. Who, then, shall come in
at this day and claim that he invented it? The Lecompton Constitution
connects itself with this question, for it is in this matter of the
Lecompton Constitution that our friend, Judge Douglas, claims such vast
credit. I agree that in opposing the Lecompton Constitution, so far as
I can perceive, he was right. * * * All the Republicans in the Nation
opposed it, and they would have opposed it just as much without Judge
Douglas’s aid as with it. They had all taken ground against it long
before he did. Why, the reason that he urges against that Constitution,
I urged against him a year before. I have the printed speech in my hand
now. The argument that he makes, why that Constitution should not be
adopted, that the people were not fairly represented nor allowed to
vote, I pointed out in a speech a year ago which I hold in my hand now,
that no fair chance was to be given to the people. * * * The Lecompton
Constitution, as the Judge tells us, was defeated. The defeat of it was
a good thing or it was not. He thinks the defeat of it was a good
thing, and so do I, and we agree in that. Who defeated it? [A voice–
‘Judge Douglas.’] Yes, he furnished himself, and if you suppose he
controlled the other Democrats that went with him, he furnished three
votes, while the Republicans furnished twenty. That is what he did to
defeat it. In the House of Representatives he and his friends furnished
some twenty votes, and the Republicans furnished ninety odd. Now, who
was it that did the work? * * * Ground was taken against it by the
Republicans long before Douglas did it. The proportion of opposition to
that measure is about five to one.”

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