The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7

Pray what was it that made you free? What kept you free? Did you
not find your country free when you came to decide that Ohio should
be a free State? It is important to inquire by what reason you found
it so. Let us take an illustration between the States of Ohio and
Kentucky. Kentucky is separated by this River Ohio, not a mile wide.
A portion of Kentucky, by reason of the course of the Ohio, is
farther north than this portion of Ohio, in which we now stand.
Kentucky is entirely covered with slavery; Ohio is entirely free from
it: What made that difference? Was it climate? No. A portion of
Kentucky was farther north than this portion of Ohio. Was it soil?
No. There is nothing in the soil of the one more favorable to slave
than the other. It was not climate or soil that mused one side of the
line to be entirely covered with slavery, and the other side free of
it. What was it? Study over it. Tell us, if you can, in all the
range of conjecture, if there be anything you can conceive of that
made that difference, other than that there was no law of any sort
keeping it out of Kentucky, while the Ordinance of ’87 kept it out of
Ohio. If there is any other reason than this, I confess that it is
wholly beyond my power to conceive of it. This, then, I offer to
combat the idea that that Ordinance has never made any State free.

I don’t stop at this illustration. I come to the State of Indiana;
and what I have said as between Kentucky and Ohio, I repeat as
between Indiana and Kentucky: it is equally applicable. One
additional argument is applicable also to Indiana. In her
Territorial condition she more than once petitioned Congress to
abrogate the Ordinance entirely, or at least so far as to suspend its
operation for a, time, in order that they should exercise the
“popular sovereignty” of having slaves if they wanted them. The men
then controlling the General Government, imitating the men of the
Revolution, refused Indiana that privilege. And so we have the
evidence that Indiana supposed she could have slaves, if it were not
for that Ordinance; that she besought Congress to put that barrier
out of the way; that Congress refused to do so; and it all ended at
last in Indiana being a free State. Tell me not then that the
Ordinance of ’87 had nothing to do with making Indiana a free State,
when we find some men chafing against, and only restrained by, that

Come down again to our State of Illinois. The great Northwest
Territory, including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and
Wisconsin, was acquired first, I believe, by the British Government,
in part at least, from the French. Before the establishment of our
independence it became a part of Virginia, enabling Virginia
afterward to transfer it to the General Government. There were
French settlements in what is now Illinois, and at the same time
there were French settlements in what is now Missouri, in the tract
of country that was not purchased till about 1803. In these French
settlements negro slavery had existed for many years, perhaps more
than a hundred; if not as much as two hundred years,–at Kaskaskia,
in Illinois, and at St. Genevieve, or Cape Girardeau, perhaps, in
Missouri. The number of slaves was not very great, but there was
about the same number in each place. They were there when we
acquired the Territory. There was no effort made to break up the
relation of master and slave, and even the Ordinance of 1787 was not
so enforced as to destroy that slavery in Illinois; nor did the
Ordinance apply to Missouri at all.

What I want to ask your attention to; at this point, is that Illinois
and Missouri came into the Union about the same time, Illinois in the
latter part of 1818, and Missouri, after a struggle, I believe
sometime in 1820. They had been filling up with American people
about the same period of time; their progress enabling them to come
into the Union about the same time. At the end of that ten years, in
which they had been so preparing (for it was about that period of
time), the number of slaves in Illinois had actually decreased; while
in Missouri, beginning with very few, at the end of that ten years
there were about ten thousand. This being so, and it being
remembered that Missouri and Illinois are, to a certain extent, in
the same parallel of latitude, that the northern half of Missouri and
the southern half of Illinois are in the same parallel of latitude,
so that climate would have the same effect upon one as upon the
other, and that in the soil there is no material difference so far as
bears upon the question of slavery being settled upon one or the
other,–there being none of those natural causes to produce a
difference in filling them, and yet there being a broad difference to
their filling up, we are led again to inquire what was the cause of
that difference.

It is most natural to say that in Missouri there was no law to keep
that country from filling up with slaves, while in Illinois there was
the Ordinance of The Ordinance being there, slavery decreased during
that ten years; the Ordinance not being in the other, it increased
from a few to ten thousand. Can anybody doubt the reason of the

I think all these facts most abundantly prove that my friend Judge
Douglas’s proposition, that the Ordinance of ’87, or the national
restriction of slavery, never had a tendency to make a free State, is
a fallacy,–a proposition without the shadow or substance of truth
about it.

Douglas sometimes says that all the States (and it is part of this
same proposition I have been discussing) that have become free have
become so upon his “great principle”; that the State of Illinois
itself came into the Union as a slave State, and that the people,
upon the “great principle” of popular sovereignty, have since made it
a free State. Allow me but a little while to state to you what facts
there are to justify him in saying that Illinois came into the Union
as a slave State.

I have mentioned to you that there were a few old French slaves
there. They numbered, I think, one or two hundred. Besides that,
there had been a Territorial law for indenturing black persons.
Under that law, in violation of the Ordinance of ’87, but without any
enforcement of the Ordinance to overthrow the system, there had been
a small number of slaves introduced as indentured persons. Owing to
this, the clause for the prohibition of slavery was slightly
modified. Instead of running like yours, that neither slavery nor
involuntary servitude, except for crime, of which the party shall
have been duly convicted, should exist in the State, they said that
neither slavery nor involuntary servitude should thereafter be
introduced; and that the children of indentured servants should be
born free; and nothing was said about the few old French slaves. Out
of this fact, that the clause for prohibiting slavery was modified
because of the actual presence of it, Douglas asserts again and again
that Illinois came into the Union as a slave State. How far the
facts sustain the conclusion that he draws, it is for intelligent and
impartial men to decide. I leave it with you, with these remarks,
worthy of being remembered, that that little thing, those few
indentured servants being there, was of itself sufficient to modify a
constitution made by a people ardently desiring to have a free
constitution; showing the power of the actual presence of the
institution of slavery to prevent any people, however anxious to make
a free State, from making it perfectly so.

I have been detaining you longer, perhaps, than I ought to do.

I am in some doubt whether to introduce another topic upon which I
could talk a while. [Cries of “Go on,” and “Give us it.”] It is this,
then: Douglas’s Popular sovereignty, as a principle, is simply this:
If one man chooses to make a slave of another man, neither that man
nor anybody else has a right to object. Apply it to government, as
he seeks to apply it, and it is this: If, in a new Territory into
which a few people are beginning to enter for the purpose of making
their homes, they choose to either exclude slavery from their limits,
or to establish it there, however one or the other may affect the
persons to be enslaved, or the infinitely greater number of persons
who are afterward to inhabit that Territory, or the other members of
the family of communities of which they are but an incipient member,
or the general head of the family of States as parent of all, however
their action may affect one or the other of these, there is no power
or right to interfere. That is Douglas’s popular sovereignty
applied. Now, I think that there is a real popular sovereignty in
the world. I think the definition of popular sovereignty, in the
abstract, would be about this: that each man shall do precisely as he
pleases with himself, and with all those things which exclusively
concern him. Applied in government, this principle would be that a
general government shall do all those things which pertain to it, and
all the local governments shall do precisely as they please in
respect to those matters which exclusively concern them.

Douglas looks upon slavery as so insignificant that the people must
decide that question for themselves; and yet they are not fit to
decide who shall be their governor, judge, or secretary, or who shall
be any of their officers. These are vast national matters in his
estimation; but the little matter in his estimation is that of
planting slavery there. That is purely of local interest, which
nobody should be allowed to say a word about.

Labor is the great source from which nearly all, if not all, human
comforts and necessities are drawn. There is a difference in opinion
about the elements of labor in society. Some men assume that there
is necessary connection between capital and labor, and that
connection draws within it the whole of the labor of the community.
They assume that nobody works unless capital excites them to work.
They begin next to consider what is the best way. They say there are
but two ways: one is to hire men, and to allure them to labor by
their consent; the other is to buy the men, and drive them, to it,
and that is slavery. Having assumed that, they proceed to discuss
the question of whether the laborers themselves are better off in the
condition of slaves or of hired laborers, and they usually decide
that they are better off in the condition of slaves.

In the first place, I say that the whole thing is a mistake. That
there is a certain relation between capital and labor, I admit. That
it does exist, and rightfully exists, I think is true. That men who
are industrious, and sober, and honest in the pursuit of their own
interests should after a while accumulate capital, and after that
should be allowed to enjoy it in peace, and also, if they should
choose, when they have accumulated it, to use it to save themselves
from actual labor, and hire other people to labor for them, is right.
In doing so they do not wrong the man they employ, for they find men
who have not of their own land to work upon, or shops to work in, and
who are benefited by working for others, hired laborers, receiving
their capital for it. Thus a few men, that own capital, hire a few
others, and these establish the relation of capital and labor
rightfully, a relation of which I make no complaint. But I insist
that that relation, after all, does not embrace more than one eighth
of the labor of the country.

[The speaker proceeded to argue that the hired laborer, with his
ability to become an employer, must have every precedence over him
who labors under the inducement of force. He continued:]

I have taken upon myself in the name of some of you to say that we
expect upon these principles to ultimately beat them. In order to do
so, I think we want and must have a national policy in regard to the
institution of slavery that acknowledges and deals with that
institution as being wrong. Whoever desires the prevention of the
spread of slavery and the nationalization of that institution yields
all when he yields to any policy that either recognizes slavery as
being right or as being an indifferent thing. Nothing will make you
successful but setting up a policy which shall treat the thing as
being wrong: When I say this, I do not mean to say that this General
Government is charged with the duty of redressing or preventing all
the wrongs in the world, but I do think that it is charged with
preventing and redressing all wrongs which are wrongs to itself.
This Government is expressly charged with the duty of providing for
the general welfare. We believe that the spreading out and
perpetuity of the institution of slavery impairs the general welfare.
We believe–nay, we know–that that is the only thing that has ever
threatened the perpetuity of the Union itself. The only thing which
has ever menaced the destruction of the government under which we
live is this very thing. To repress this thing, we think, is,
Providing for the general welfare. Our friends in Kentucky differ
from us. We need not make our argument for them, but we who think it
is wrong in all its relations, or in some of them at least, must
decide as to our own actions and our own course, upon our own

I say that we must not interfere with the institution of slavery in
the States where it exists, because the Constitution forbids it, and
the general welfare does not require us to do so. We must not
withhold an efficient Fugitive Slave law, because the Constitution
requires us, as I understand it, not to withhold such a law. But we
must prevent the outspreading of the institution, because neither the
Constitution nor general welfare requires us to extend it. We must
prevent the revival of the African slave trade, and the enacting by
Congress of a Territorial slave code. We must prevent each of these
things being done by either Congresses or courts. The people of
these United States are the rightful masters of both Congresses and
courts, not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men
who pervert the Constitution.

To do these things we must employ instrumentalities. We must hold
conventions; we must adopt platforms, if we conform to ordinary
custom; we must nominate candidates; and we must carry elections. In
all these things, I think that we ought to keep in view our real
purpose, and in none do anything that stands adverse to our purpose.
If we shall adopt a platform that fails to recognize or express our
purpose, or elect a man that declares himself inimical to our
purpose, we not only take nothing by our success, but we tacitly
admit that we act upon no other principle than a desire to have “the
loaves and fishes,” by which, in the end, our apparent success is
really an injury to us.

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