The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7

But to return to history. In 1803 we purchased what was then
called Louisiana, of France. It included the present States of
Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, and Iowa; also the Territory of
Minnesota, and the present bone of contention, Kansas and
Nebraska. Slavery already existed among the French at New
Orleans, and to some extent at St. Louis. In 1812 Louisiana
came into the Union as a slave State, without controversy. In
1818 or ’19, Missouri showed signs of a wish to come in with
slavery. This was resisted by Northern members of Congress; and
thus began the first great slavery agitation in the nation. This
controversy lasted several months, and became very angry and
exciting–the House of Representatives voting steadily for the
prohibition of slavery in Missouri, and the Senate voting as
steadily against it. Threats of the breaking up of the Union
were freely made, and the ablest public men of the day became
seriously alarmed. At length a compromise was made, in which, as
in all compromises, both sides yielded something. It was a law,
passed on the 6th of March, 1820, providing that Missouri might
come into the Union with slavery, but that in all the remaining
part of the territory purchased of France which lies north of
thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes north latitude, slavery
should never be permitted. This provision of law is the
“Missouri Compromise.” In excluding slavery north of the line,
the same language is employed as in the Ordinance of 1787. It
directly applied to Iowa, Minnesota, and to the present bone of
contention, Kansas and Nebraska. Whether there should or should
not be slavery south of that line, nothing was said in the law.
But Arkansas constituted the principal remaining part south of
the line; and it has since been admitted as a slave State,
without serious controversy. More recently, Iowa, north of the
line, came in as a free State without controversy. Still later,
Minnesota, north of the line, had a territorial organization
without controversy. Texas, principally south of the line, and
west of Arkansas, though originally within the purchase from
France, had, in 1819, been traded off to Spain in our treaty for
the acquisition of Florida. It had thus become a part of Mexico.
Mexico revolutionized and became independent of Spain. American
citizens began settling rapidly with their slaves in the southern
part of Texas. Soon they revolutionized against Mexico, and
established an independent government of their own, adopting a
constitution with slavery, strongly resembling the constitutions
of our slave States. By still another rapid move, Texas,
claiming a boundary much farther west than when we parted with
her in 1819, was brought back to the United States, and admitted
into the Union as a slave State. Then there was little or no
settlement in the northern part of Texas, a considerable portion
of which lay north of the Missouri line; and in the resolutions
admitting her into the Union, the Missouri restriction was
expressly extended westward across her territory. This was in
1845, only nine years ago.

Thus originated the Missouri Compromise; and thus has it been
respected down to 1845. And even four years later, in 1849, our
distinguished Senator, in a public address, held the following
language in relation to it:

“The Missouri Compromise has been in practical operation for
about a quarter of a century, and has received the sanction and
approbation of men of all parties in every section of the Union.
It has allayed all sectional jealousies and irritations growing
out of this vexed question, and harmonized and tranquillized the
whole country. It has given to Henry Clay, as its prominent
champion, the proud sobriquet of the “Great Pacificator,” and by
that title, and for that service, his political friends had
repeatedly appealed to the people to rally under his standard as
a Presidential candidate, as the man who had exhibited the
patriotism and power to suppress an unholy and treasonable
agitation, and preserve the Union. He was not aware that any man
or any party, from any section of the Union, had ever urged as an
objection to Mr. Clay that he was the great champion of the
Missouri Compromise. On the contrary, the effort was made by the
opponents of Mr. Clay to prove that he was not entitled to the
exclusive merit of that great patriotic measure, and that the
honor was equally due to others, as well as to him, for securing
its adoption; that it had its origin in the hearts of all
patriotic men, who desired to preserve and perpetuate the
blessings of our glorious Union–an origin akin to that of the
Constitution of the United States, conceived in the same spirit
of fraternal affection, and calculated to remove forever the only
danger which seemed to threaten, at some distant day, to sever
the social bond of union. All the evidences of public opinion at
that day seemed to indicate that this compromise had been
canonized in the hearts of the American people, as a sacred thing
which no ruthless hand would ever be reckless enough to disturb.”

I do not read this extract to involve Judge Douglas in an
inconsistency. If he afterward thought he had been wrong, it was
right for him to change. I bring this forward merely to show the
high estimate placed on the Missouri Compromise by all parties up
to so late as the year 1849.

But going back a little in point of time. Our war with Mexico
broke out in 1846. When Congress was about adjourning that
session, President Polk asked them to place two millions of
dollars under his control, to be used by him in the recess, if
found practicable and expedient, in negotiating a treaty of peace
with Mexico, and acquiring some part of her territory. A bill
was duly gotten up for the purpose, and was progressing
swimmingly in the House of Representatives, when a member by the
name of David Wilmot, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, moved as an
amendment, “Provided, that in any territory thus acquired there
never shall be slavery.”

This is the origin of the far-famed Wilmot Proviso. It created a
great flutter; but it stuck like wax, was voted into the bill,
and the bill passed with it through the House. The Senate,
however, adjourned without final action on it, and so both
appropriation and proviso were lost for the time. The war
continued, and at the next session the President renewed his
request for the appropriation, enlarging the amount, I think, to
three millions. Again came the proviso, and defeated the
measure. Congress adjourned again, and the war went on. In
December, 1847, the new Congress assembled. I was in the lower
House that term. The Wilmot Proviso, or the principle of it, was
constantly coming up in some shape or other, and I think I may
venture to say I voted for it at least forty times during the
short time I was there. The Senate, however, held it in check,
and it never became a law. In the spring of 1848 a treaty of
peace was made with Mexico, by which we obtained that portion of
her country which now constitutes the Territories of New Mexico
and Utah and the present State of California. By this treaty the
Wilmot Proviso was defeated, in so far as it was intended to be a
condition of the acquisition of territory. Its friends, however,
were still determined to find some way to restrain slavery from
getting into the new country. This new acquisition lay directly
west of our old purchase from France, and extended west to the
Pacific Ocean, and was so situated that if the Missouri line
should be extended straight west, the new country would be
divided by such extended line, leaving some north and some south
of it. On Judge Douglas’s motion, a bill, or provision of a
bill, passed the Senate to so extend the Missouri line. The
proviso men in the House, including myself, voted it down,
because, by implication, it gave up the southern part to slavery,
while we were bent on having it all free.

In the fall of 1848 the gold-mines were discovered in California.
This attracted people to it with unprecedented rapidity, so that
on, or soon after, the meeting of the new Congress in December,
1849, she already had a population of nearly a hundred thousand,
had called a convention, formed a State constitution excluding
slavery, and was knocking for admission into the Union. The
proviso men, of course, were for letting her in, but the Senate,
always true to the other side, would not consent to her
admission, and there California stood, kept out of the Union
because she would not let slavery into her borders. Under all
the circumstances, perhaps, this was not wrong. There were other
points of dispute connected with the general question of Slavery,
which equally needed adjustment. The South clamored for a more
efficient fugitive slave law. The North clamored for the
abolition of a peculiar species of slave trade in the District of
Columbia, in connection with which, in view from the windows of
the Capitol, a sort of negro livery-stable, where droves of
negroes were collected, temporarily kept, and finally taken to
Southern markets, precisely like droves of horses, had been
openly maintained for fifty years. Utah and New Mexico needed
territorial governments; and whether slavery should or should not
be prohibited within them was another question. The indefinite
western boundary of Texas was to be settled. She was a slave
State, and consequently the farther west the slavery men could
push her boundary, the more slave country they secured; and the
farther east the slavery opponents could thrust the boundary
back, the less slave ground was secured. Thus this was just as
clearly a slavery question as any of the others.

These points all needed adjustment, and they were held up,
perhaps wisely, to make them help adjust one another. The Union
now, as in 1820, was thought to be in danger, and devotion to the
Union rightfully inclined men to yield somewhat in points where
nothing else could have so inclined them. A compromise was
finally effected. The South got their new fugitive slave law,
and the North got California, (by far the best part of our
acquisition from Mexico) as a free State. The South got a
provision that New Mexico and Utah, when admitted as States, may
come in with or without slavery as they may then choose; and the
North got the slave trade abolished in the District of Columbia..
The North got the western boundary of Texas thrown farther back
eastward than the South desired; but, in turn, they gave Texas
ten millions of dollars with which to pay her old debts. This is
the Compromise of 1850.

Preceding the Presidential election of 1852, each of the great
political parties, Democrats and Whigs, met in convention and
adopted resolutions indorsing the Compromise of ’50, as a
“finality,” a final settlement, so far as these parties could
make it so, of all slavery agitation. Previous to this, in 1851,
the Illinois Legislature had indorsed it.

During this long period of time, Nebraska (the Nebraska
Territory, not the State of as we know it now) had remained
substantially an uninhabited country, but now emigration to and
settlement within it began to take place. It is about one third
as large as the present United States, and its importance, so
long overlooked, begins to come into view. The restriction of
slavery by the Missouri Compromise directly applies to it–in
fact was first made, and has since been maintained expressly for
it. In 1853, a bill to give it a territorial government passed
the House of Representatives, and, in the hands of Judge Douglas,
failed of passing only for want of time. This bill contained no
repeal of the Missouri Compromise. Indeed, when it was assailed
because it did not contain such repeal, Judge Douglas defended it
in its existing form. On January 4, 1854, Judge Douglas
introduces a new bill to give Nebraska territorial government.
He accompanies this bill with a report, in which last he
expressly recommends that the Missouri Compromise shall neither
be affirmed nor repealed. Before long the bill is so modified as
to make two territories instead of one, calling the southern one

Also, about a month after the introduction of the bill, on the
Judge’s own motion it is so amended as to declare the Missouri
Compromise inoperative and void; and, substantially, that the
people who go and settle there may establish slavery, or exclude
it, as they may see fit. In this shape the bill passed both
branches of Congress and became a law.

This is the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. The foregoing
history may not be precisely accurate in every particular, but I
am sure it is sufficiently so for all the use I shall attempt to
make of it, and in it we have before us the chief material
enabling us to judge correctly whether the repeal of the Missouri
Compromise is right or wrong. I think, and shall try to show,
that it is wrong–wrong in its direct effect, letting slavery
into Kansas and Nebraska, and wrong in its prospective principle,
allowing it to spread to every other part of the wide world where
men can be found inclined to take it.

This declared indifference, but, as I must think, covert real
zeal, for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate. I hate it
because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it
because it deprives our republican example of its just influence
in the world; enables the enemies of free institutions with
plausibility to taunt us as hypocrites; causes the real friends
of freedom to doubt our sincerity; and especially because it
forces so many good men among ourselves into an open war with the
very fundamental principles of civil liberty, criticizing the
Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right
principle of action but self-interest.

Before proceeding let me say that I think I have no prejudice
against the Southern people. They are just what we would be in
their situation. If slavery did not now exist among them, they
would not introduce it. If it did now exist among us, we should
not instantly give it up. This I believe of the masses North and
South. Doubtless there are individuals on both sides who would
not hold slaves under any circumstances, and others who would
gladly introduce slavery anew if it were out of existence. We
know that some Southern men do free their slaves, go North and
become tip-top abolitionists, while some Northern ones go South
and become most cruel slave masters.

When Southern people tell us that they are no more responsible
for the origin of slavery than we are, I acknowledge the fact.
When it is said that the institution exists, and that it is very
difficult to get rid of it in any satisfactory way, I can
understand and appreciate the saying. I surely will not blame
them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself. If
all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do as
to the existing institution. My first impulse would be to free
all the slaves, and send them to Liberia, to their own native
land. But a moment’s reflection would convince me that whatever
of high hope (as I think there is) there may be in this in the
long run, its sudden execution is impossible. If they were all
landed there in a day, they would all perish in the next ten
days; and there are not surplus shipping and surplus money enough
to carry them there in many times ten days. What then? Free
them all, and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite
certain that this betters their condition? I think I would not
hold one in slavery at any rate, yet the point is not clear
enough for me to denounce people upon. What next? Free them,
and make them politically and socially our equals? My own
feelings will not admit of this, and if mine would, we well know
that those of the great mass of whites will not. Whether this
feeling accords with justice and sound judgment is not the sole
question, if indeed it is any part of it. A universal feeling,
whether well or ill founded, cannot be safely disregarded. We
cannot then make them equals. It does seem to me that systems of
gradual emancipation might be adopted, but for their tardiness in
this I will not undertake to judge our brethren of the South.

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