The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7

Let me here drop the main argument, to notice what I consider
rather an inferior matter. It is argued that slavery will not go
to Kansas and Nebraska, in any event. This is a palliation, a
lullaby. I have some hope that it will not; but let us not be
too confident. As to climate, a glance at the map shows that
there are five slave States–Delaware, Maryland, Virginia,
Kentucky, and Missouri, and also the District of Columbia, all
north of the Missouri Compromise line. The census returns of
1850 show that within these there are eight hundred and sixty-
seven thousand two hundred and seventy-six slaves, being more
than one fourth of all the slaves in the nation.

It is not climate, then, that will keep slavery out of these
Territories. Is there anything in the peculiar nature of the
country? Missouri adjoins these Territories by her entire
western boundary, and slavery is already within every one of her
western counties. I have even heard it said that there are more
slaves in proportion to whites in the northwestern county of
Missouri than within any other county in the State. Slavery
pressed entirely up to the old western boundary of the State, and
when rather recently a part of that boundary at the northwest was
moved out a little farther west, slavery followed on quite up to
the new line. Now, when the restriction is removed, what is to
prevent it from going still farther? Climate will not, no
peculiarity of the country will, nothing in nature will. Will
the disposition of the people prevent it? Those nearest the
scene are all in favor of the extension. The Yankees who are
opposed to it may be most flumerous; but, in military phrase, the
battlefield is too far from their base of operations.

But it is said there now is no law in Nebraska on the subject of
slavery, and that, in such case, taking a slave there operates
his freedom. That is good book-law, but it is not the rule of
actual practice. Wherever slavery is it has been first
introduced without law. The oldest laws we find concerning it
are not laws introducing it, but regulating it as an already
existing thing. A white man takes his slave to Nebraska now.
Who will inform the negro that he is free? Who will take him
before court to test the question of his freedom? In ignorance
of his legal emancipation he is kept chopping, splitting, and
plowing. Others are brought, and move on in the same track. At
last, if ever the time for voting comes on the question of
slavery the institution already, in fact, exists in the country,
and cannot well be removed. The fact of its presence, and the
difficulty of its removal, will carry the vote in its favor.
Keep it out until a vote is taken, and a vote in favor of it
cannot be got in any population of forty thousand on earth, who
have been drawn together by the ordinary motives of emigration
and settlement. To get slaves into the Territory simultaneously
with the whites in the incipient stages of settlement is the
precise stake played for and won in this Nebraska measure.

The question is asked us: “If slaves will go in notwithstanding
the general principle of law liberates them, why would they not
equally go in against positive statute law–go in, even if the
Missouri restriction were maintained!” I answer, because it takes
a much bolder man to venture in with his property in the latter
case than in the former; because the positive Congressional
enactment is known to and respected by all, or nearly all,
whereas the negative principle that no law is free law is not
much known except among lawyers. We have some experience of this
practical difference. In spite of the Ordinance of ’87, a few
negroes were brought into Illinois, and held in a state of quasi-
slavery, not enough, however, to carry a vote of the people in
favor of the institution when they came to form a constitution.
But into the adjoining Missouri country, where there was no
Ordinance of ’87,–was no restriction,–they were carried ten
times, nay, a hundred times, as fast, and actually made a slave
State. This is fact-naked fact.

Another lullaby argument is that taking slaves to new countries
does not increase their number, does not make any one slave who
would otherwise be free. There is some truth in this, and I am
glad of it; but it is not wholly true. The African slave trade
is not yet effectually suppressed; and, if we make a reasonable
deduction for the white people among us who are foreigners and
the descendants of foreigners arriving here since 1808, we shall
find the increase of the black population outrunning that of the
white to an extent unaccountable, except by supposing that some
of them, too, have been coming from Africa. If this be so, the
opening of new countries to the institution increases the demand
for and augments the price of slaves, and so does, in fact, make
slaves of freemen, by causing them to be brought from Africa and
sold into bondage.

But however this may be, we know the opening of new countries to
slavery tends to the perpetuation of the institution, and so does
keep men in slavery who would otherwise be free. This result we
do not feel like favoring, and we are under no legal obligation
to suppress our feelings in this respect.

Equal justice to the South, it is said, requires us to consent to
the extension of slavery to new countries. That is to say,
inasmuch as you do not object to my taking my hog to Nebraska,
therefore I must not object to your taking your slave. Now, I
admit that this is perfectly logical if there is no difference
between hogs and negroes. But while you thus require me to deny
the humanity of the negro, I wish to ask whether you of the
South, yourselves, have ever been willing to do as much? It is
kindly provided that of all those who come into the world only a
small percentage are natural tyrants. That percentage is no
larger in the slave States than in the free. The great majority
South, as well as North, have human sympathies, of which they can
no more divest themselves than they can of their sensibility to
physical pain. These sympathies in the bosoms of the Southern
people manifest, in many ways, their sense of the wrong of
slavery, and their consciousness that, after all, there is
humanity in the negro. If they deny this, let me address them a
few plain questions. In 1820 you (the South) joined the North,
almost unanimously, in declaring the African slave trade piracy,
and in annexing to it the punishment of death. Why did you do
this? If you did not feel that it was wrong, why did you join in
providing that men should be hung for it? The practice was no
more than bringing wild negroes from Africa to such as would buy
them. But you never thought of hanging men for catching and
selling wild horses, wild buffaloes, or wild bears.

Again, you have among you a sneaking individual of the class of
native tyrants known as the “slavedealer.” He watches your
necessities, and crawls up to buy your slave, at a speculating
price. If you cannot help it, you sell to him; but if you can
help it, you drive him from your door. You despise him utterly.
You do not recognize him as a friend, or even as an honest man.
Your children must not play with his; they may rollick freely
with the little negroes, but not with the slave-dealer’s
children. If you are obliged to deal with him, you try to get
through the job without so much as touching him. It is common
with you to join hands with the men you meet, but with the slave-
dealer you avoid the ceremony–instinctively shrinking from the
snaky contact. If he grows rich and retires from business, you
still remember him, and still keep up the ban of non-intercourse
upon him and his family. Now, why is this? You do not so treat
the man who deals in corn, cotton, or tobacco.

And yet again: There are in the United States and Territories,
including the District of Columbia, 433,643 free blacks. At five
hundred dollars per head they are worth over two hundred millions
of dollars. How comes this vast amount of property to be running
about without owners? We do not see free horses or free cattle
running at large. How is this? All these free blacks are the
descendants of slaves, or have been slaves themselves; and they
would be slaves now but for something which has operated on their
white owners, inducing them at vast pecuniary sacrifice to
liberate them. What is that something? Is there any mistaking
it? In all these cases it is your sense of justice and human
sympathy continually telling you that the poor negro has some
natural right to himself–that those who deny it and make mere
merchandise of him deserve kickings, contempt, and death.

And now why will you ask us to deny the humanity of the slave,
and estimate him as only the equal of the hog? Why ask us to do
what you will not do yourselves? Why ask us to do for nothing
what two hundred millions of dollars could not induce you to do?

But one great argument in support of the repeal of the Missouri
Compromise is still to come. That argument is “the sacred right
of self-government.” It seems our distinguished Senator has found
great difficulty in getting his antagonists, even in the Senate,
to meet him fairly on this argument. Some poet has said:

“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

At the hazard of being thought one of the fools of this
quotation, I meet that argument–I rush in–I take that bull by
the horns. I trust I understand and truly estimate the right of
self-government. My faith in the proposition that each man
should do precisely as he pleases with all which is exclusively
his own lies at the foundation of the sense of justice there is
in me. I extend the principle to communities of men as well as
to individuals. I so extend it because it is politically wise,
as well as naturally just; politically wise in saving us from
broils about matters which do not concern us. Here, or at
Washington, I would not trouble myself with the oyster laws of
Virginia, or the cranberry laws of Indiana. The doctrine of
self-government is right,–absolutely and eternally right,–but
it has no just application as here attempted. Or perhaps I
should rather say that whether it has such application depends
upon whether a negro is or is not a man. If he is not a man, in
that case he who is a man may as a matter of self-government do
just what he pleases with him. But if the negro is a man, is it
not to that extent a total destruction of self-government to say
that he too shall not govern himself? When the white man governs
himself, that is self-government; but when he governs himself and
also governs another man, that is more than self-government–that
is despotism. If the negro is a man, why, then, my ancient faith
teaches me that “all men are created equal,” and that there can
be no moral right in connection with one man’s making a slave of

Judge Douglas frequently, with bitter irony and sarcasm,
paraphrases our argument by saying: “The white people of Nebraska
are good enough to govern themselves, but they are not good
enough to govern a few miserable negroes!”

Well, I doubt not that the people of Nebraska are and will
continue to be as good as the average of people elsewhere. I do
not say the contrary. What I do say is that no man is good
enough to govern another man without that other’s consent. I say
this is the leading principle, the sheet-anchor of American
republicanism. Our Declaration of Independence says:

“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

I have quoted so much at this time merely to show that, according
to our ancient faith, the just powers of government are derived
from the consent of the governed. Now the relation of master and
slave is pro tanto a total violation of this principle. The
master not only governs the slave without his consent, but he
governs him by a set of rules altogether different from those
which he prescribes for himself. Allow all the governed an equal
voice in the government, and that, and that only, is self-

Let it not be said that I am contending for the establishment of
political and social equality between the whites and blacks. I
have already said the contrary. I am not combating the argument
of necessity, arising from the fact that the blacks are already
among us; but I am combating what is set up as moral argument for
allowing them to be taken where they have never yet been–arguing
against the extension of a bad thing, which, where it already
exists, we must of necessity manage as we best can.

In support of his application of the doctrine of self-government,
Senator Douglas has sought to bring to his aid the opinions and
examples of our Revolutionary fathers. I am glad he has done
this. I love the sentiments of those old-time men, and shall be
most happy to abide by their opinions. He shows us that when it
was in contemplation for the colonies to break off from Great
Britain, and set up a new government for themselves, several of
the States instructed their delegates to go for the measure,
provided each State should be allowed to regulate its domestic
concerns in its own way. I do not quote; but this in substance.
This was right; I see nothing objectionable in it. I also think
it probable that it had some reference to the existence of
slavery among them. I will not deny that it had. But had it any
reference to the carrying of slavery into new countries? That is
the question, and we will let the fathers themselves answer it.

This same generation of men, and mostly the same individuals of
the generation who declared this principle, who declared
independence, who fought the war of the Revolution through, who
afterward made the Constitution under which we still live–these
same men passed the Ordinance of ’87, declaring that slavery
should never go to the Northwest Territory.

I have no doubt Judge Douglas thinks they were very inconsistent
in this. It is a question of discrimination between them and
him. But there is not an inch of ground left for his claiming
that their opinions, their example, their authority, are on his
side in the controversy.

Again, is not Nebraska, while a Territory, a part of us? Do we
not own the country? And if we surrender the control of it, do
we not surrender the right of self-government? It is part of
ourselves. If you say we shall not control it, because it is
only part, the same is true of every other part; and when all the
parts are gone, what has become of the whole? What is then left
of us? What use for the General Government, when there is
nothing left for it to govern?

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