The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7

That saying “In the struggle between white men and the negro,” etc.,
which I know came from the same source as this policy–that saying
marks another step. There is a falsehood wrapped up in that
statement. “In the struggle between the white man and the negro”
assumes that there is a struggle, in which either the white man must
enslave the negro or the negro must enslave the white. There is no
such struggle! It is merely the ingenious falsehood to degrade and
brutalize the negro. Let each let the other alone, and there is no
struggle about it. If it was like two wrecked seamen on a narrow
plank, when each must push the other off or drown himself, I would
push the negro off or a white man either, but it is not; the plank is
large enough for both. This good earth is plenty broad enough for
white man and negro both, and there is no need of either pushing the
other off.

So that saying, “In the struggle between the negro and the
crocodile,” etc., is made up from the idea that down where the
crocodile inhabits, a white man can’t labor; it must be nothing else
but crocodile or negro; if the negro does not the crocodile must
possess the earth; in that case he declares for the negro. The
meaning of the whole is just this: As a white man is to a negro, so
is a negro to a crocodile; and as the negro may rightfully treat the
crocodile, so may the white man rightfully treat the negro. This
very dear phrase coined by its author, and so dear that he
deliberately repeats it in many speeches, has a tendency to still
further brutalize the negro, and to bring public opinion to the point
of utter indifference whether men so brutalized are enslaved or not.
When that time shall come, if ever, I think that policy to which I
refer may prevail. But I hope the good freemen of this country will
never allow it to come, and until then the policy can never be

Now consider the effect of this policy. We in the States are not to
care whether freedom or slavery gets the better, but the people in
the Territories may care. They are to decide, and they may think
what they please; it is a matter of dollars and cents! But are not
the people of the Territories detailed from the States? If this
feeling of indifference this absence of moral sense about the
question prevails in the States, will it not be carried into the
Territories? Will not every man say, “I don’t care, it is nothing to
me”? If any one comes that wants slavery, must they not say, “I don’t
care whether freedom or slavery be voted up or voted down”? It
results at last in nationalizing the institution of slavery. Even if
fairly carried out, that policy is just as certain to nationalize
slavery as the doctrine of Jeff Davis himself. These are only two
roads to the same goal, and “popular sovereignty” is just as sure and
almost as short as the other.

What we want, and all we want, is to have with us the men who think
slavery wrong. But those who say they hate slavery, and are opposed
to it, but yet act with the Democratic party–where are they? Let us
apply a few tests. You say that you think slavery is wrong, but you
denounce all attempts to restrain it. Is there anything else that
you think wrong that you are not willing to deal with as wrong? Why
are you so careful, so tender, of this one wrong and no other? You
will not let us do a single thing as if it was wrong; there is no
place where you will even allow it to be called wrong! We must not
call it wrong in the free States, because it is not there, and we
must not call it wrong in the slave States, because it is there; we
must not call it wrong in politics because that is bringing morality
into politics, and we must not call it wrong in the pulpit because
that is bringing politics into religion; we must not bring it into
the Tract Society or the other societies, because those are such
unsuitable places–and there is no single place, according to you,
where this wrong thing can properly be called wrong!

Perhaps you will plead that if the people of the slave States should
themselves set on foot an effort for emancipation, you would wish
them success, and bid them God-speed. Let us test that: In 1858 the
emancipation party of Missouri, with Frank Blair at their head, tried
to get up a movement for that purpose, and having started a party
contested the State. Blair was beaten, apparently if not truly, and
when the news came to Connecticut, you, who knew that Frank Blair was
taking hold of this thing by the right end, and doing the only thing
that you say can properly be done to remove this wrong–did you bow
your heads in sorrow because of that defeat? Do you, any of you, know
one single Democrat that showed sorrow over that result? Not one! On
the contrary every man threw up his hat, and hallooed at the top of
his lungs, “Hooray for Democracy!”

Now, gentlemen, the Republicans desire to place this great question
of slavery on the very basis on which our fathers placed it, and no
other. It is easy to demonstrate that “our fathers, who framed this
Government under which we live,” looked on slavery as wrong, and so
framed it and everything about it as to square with the idea that it
was wrong, so far as the necessities arising from its existence
permitted. In forming the Constitution they found the slave trade
existing, capital invested in it, fields depending upon it for labor,
and the whole system resting upon the importation of slave labor.
They therefore did not prohibit the slave trade at once, but they
gave the power to prohibit it after twenty years. Why was this? What
other foreign trade did they treat in that way? Would they have done
this if they had not thought slavery wrong?

Another thing was done by some of the same men who framed the
Constitution, and afterwards adopted as their own the act by the
first Congress held under that Constitution, of which many of the
framers were members, that prohibited the spread of slavery into
Territories. Thus the same men, the framers of the Constitution, cut
off the supply and prohibited the spread of slavery, and both acts
show conclusively that they considered that the thing was wrong.

If additional proof is wanted it can be found in the phraseology of
the Constitution. When men are framing a supreme law and chart of
government, to secure blessings and prosperity to untold generations
yet to come, they use language as short and direct and plain as can
be found, to express their meaning In all matters but this of
slavery the framers of the Constitution used the very clearest,
shortest, and most direct language. But the Constitution alludes to
slavery three times without mentioning it once The language used
becomes ambiguous, roundabout, and mystical. They speak of the
“immigration of persons,” and mean the importation of slaves, but do
not say so. In establishing a basis of representation they say “all
other persons,” when they mean to say slaves–why did they not use
the shortest phrase? In providing for the return of fugitives they
say “persons held to service or labor.” If they had said slaves it
would have been plainer, and less liable to misconstruction. Why did
n’t they do it? We cannot doubt that it was done on purpose. Only
one reason is possible, and that is supplied us by one of the framers
of the Constitution–and it is not possible for man to conceive of
any other–they expected and desired that the system would come to an
end, and meant that when it did, the Constitution should not show
that there ever had been a slave in this good free country of ours.

I will dwell on that no longer. I see the signs of approaching
triumph of the Republicans in the bearing of their political
adversaries. A great deal of their war with us nowadays is mere
bushwhacking. At the battle of Waterloo, when Napoleon’s cavalry had
charged again and again upon the unbroken squares of British
infantry, at last they were giving up the attempt, and going off in
disorder, when some of the officers in mere vexation and complete
despair fired their pistols at those solid squares. The Democrats
are in that sort of extreme desperation; it is nothing else. I will
take up a few of these arguments.

There is “the irrepressible conflict.” How they rail at Seward for
that saying! They repeat it constantly; and, although the proof has
been thrust under their noses again and again that almost every good
man since the formation of our Government has uttered that same
sentiment, from General Washington, who “trusted that we should yet
have a confederacy of free States,” with Jefferson, Jay, Monroe, down
to the latest days, yet they refuse to notice that at all, and
persist in railing at Seward for saying it. Even Roger A. Pryor,
editor of the Richmond Enquirer, uttered the same sentiment in almost
the same language, and yet so little offence did it give the
Democrats that he was sent for to Washington to edit the States–the
Douglas organ there–while Douglas goes into hydrophobia and spasms
of rage because Seward dared to repeat it. This is what I call
bushwhacking, a sort of argument that they must know any child can
see through.

Another is John Brown: “You stir up insurrections, you invade the
South; John Brown! Harper’s Ferry!” Why, John Brown was not a
Republican! You have never implicated a single Republican in that
Harper’s Ferry enterprise. We tell you that if any member of the
Republican party is guilty in that matter, you know it or you do not
know it. If you do know it, you are inexcusable not to designate the
man and prove the fact. If you do not know it, you are inexcusable
to assert it, and especially to persist in the assertion after you
have tried and failed to make the proof. You need not be told that
persisting in a charge which one does not know to be true is simply
malicious slander. Some of you admit that no Republican designedly
aided or encouraged the Harper’s Ferry affair, but still insist that
our doctrines and declarations necessarily lead to such results. We
do not believe it. We know we hold to no doctrines, and make no
declarations, which were not held to and made by our fathers who
framed the Government ‘under which we live, and we cannot see how
declarations that were patriotic when they made them are villainous
when we make them. You never dealt fairly by us in relation to that
affair–and I will say frankly that I know of nothing in your
character that should lead us to suppose that you would. You had
just been soundly thrashed in elections in several States, and others
were soon to come. You rejoiced at the occasion, and only were
troubled that there were not three times as many killed in the
affair. You were in evident glee; there was no sorrow for the killed
nor for the peace of Virginia disturbed; you were rejoicing that by
charging Republicans with this thing you might get an advantage of us
in New York, and the other States. You pulled that string as tightly
as you could, but your very generous and worthy expectations were not
quite fulfilled. Each Republican knew that the charge was a slander
as to himself at least, and was not inclined by it to cast his vote
in your favor. It was mere bushwhacking, because you had nothing
else to do. You are still on that track, and I say, go on! If you
think you can slander a woman into loving you or a man into voting
for you, try it till you are satisfied!

Another specimen of this bushwhacking, that “shoe strike.” Now be it
understood that I do not pretend to know all about the matter. I am
merely going to speculate a little about some of its phases. And at
the outset, I am glad to see that a system of labor prevails in New
England under which laborers can strike when they want to, where they
are not obliged to work under all circumstances, and are not tied
down and obliged to labor whether you pay them or not! I like the
system which lets a man quit when he wants to, and wish it might
prevail everywhere. One of the reasons why I am opposed to slavery
is just here. What is the true condition of the laborer? I take it
that it is best for all to leave each man free to acquire property as
fast as he can. Some will get wealthy. I don’t believe in a law to
prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good.
So, while we do not propose any war upon capital, we do wish to allow
the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else.
When one starts poor, as most do in the race of life, free society is
such that he knows he can better his condition; he knows that there
is no fixed condition of labor for his whole life. I am not ashamed
to confess that twenty-five years ago I was a hired laborer, mauling
rails, at work on a flatboat–just what might happen to any poor
man’s son! I want every man to have a chance–and I believe a Black
man is entitled to it–in which he can better his condition; when he
may look forward and hope to be a hired laborer this year and the
next, work for himself afterward, and finally to hire men to work for
him! That is the system. Up here in New England, you have a soil
that scarcely sprouts black-eyed beans, and yet where will you find
wealthy men so wealthy, and poverty so rarely in extremity? There is
not another such place on earth! I desire that if you get too thick
here, and find it hard to better your condition on this soil, you may
have a chance to strike and go somewhere else, where you may not be
degraded, nor have your families corrupted, by forced rivalry with
negro slaves. I want you to have a clean bed and no snakes in it!
Then you can better your condition, and so it may go on and on in one
endless round so long as man exists on the face of the earth!

Now, to come back to this shoe strike,–if, as the senator from
Illinois asserts, this is caused by withdrawal of Southern votes,
consider briefly how you will meet the difficulty. You have done
nothing, and have protested that you have done nothing, to injure the
South. And yet, to get back the shoe trade, you must leave off doing
something which you are now doing. What is it? You must stop
thinking slavery wrong! Let your institutions be wholly changed; let
your State constitutions be subverted; glorify slavery, and so you
will get back the shoe trade–for what? You have brought owned labor
with it, to compete with your own labor, to underwork you, and to
degrade you! Are you ready to get back the trade on those terms?

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