The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7

But it is said we cannot restore it; that though we elect every
member of the lower House, the Senate is still against us. It is
quite true that of the senators who passed the Nebraska Bill a
majority of the whole Senate will retain their seats in spite of
the elections of this and the next year. But if at these
elections their several constituencies shall clearly express
their will against Nebraska, will these senators disregard their
will? Will they neither obey nor make room for those who will?

But even if we fail to technically restore the compromise, it is
still a great point to carry a popular vote in favor of the
restoration. The moral weight of such a vote cannot be estimated
too highly. The authors of Nebraska are not at all satisfied
with the destruction of the compromise–an indorsement of this
principle they proclaim to be the great object. With them,
Nebraska alone is a small matter–to establish a principle for
future use is what they particularly desire.

The future use is to be the planting of slavery wherever in the
wide world local and unorganized opposition cannot prevent it.
Now, if you wish to give them this indorsement, if you wish to
establish this principle, do so. I shall regret it, but it is
your right. On the contrary, if you are opposed to the
principle,–intend to give it no such indorsement, let no
wheedling, no sophistry, divert you from throwing a direct vote
against it.

Some men, mostly Whigs, who condemn the repeal of the Missouri
Compromise, nevertheless hesitate to go for its restoration, lest
they be thrown in company with the abolitionists. Will they
allow me, as an old Whig, to tell them, good-humoredly, that I
think this is very silly? Stand with anybody that stands right.
Stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes
wrong. Stand with the abolitionist in restoring the Missouri
Compromise, and stand against him when he attempts to repeal the
Fugitive Slave law. In the latter case you stand with the
Southern disunionist. What of that? You are still right. In
both cases you are right. In both cases you oppose the dangerous
extremes. In both you stand on middle ground, and hold the
ship level and steady. In both you are national, and nothing
less than national. This is the good old Whig ground. To desert
such ground because of any company is to be less than a Whig–
less than a man–less than an American.

I particularly object to the new position which the avowed
principle of this Nebraska law gives to slavery in the body
politic. I object to it because it assumes that there can be
moral right in the enslaving of one man by another. I object to
it as a dangerous dalliance for a free people–a sad evidence
that, feeling prosperity, we forget right; that liberty, as a
principle, we have ceased to revere. I object to it because the
fathers of the republic eschewed and rejected it. The argument
of “necessity” was the only argument they ever admitted in favor
of slavery; and so far, and so far only, as it carried them did
they ever go. They found the institution existing among us,
which they could not help, and they cast blame upon the British
king for having permitted its introduction.

The royally appointed Governor of Georgia in the early 1700’s was
threatened by the King with removal if he continued to oppose
slavery in his colony–at that time the King of England made a
small profit on every slave imported to the colonies. The later
British criticism of the United States for not eradicating
slavery in the early 1800’s, combined with their tacit support of
the ‘Confederacy’ during the Civil War is a prime example of the
irony and hypocracy of politics: that self-interest will ever
overpower right.

Before the Constitution they prohibited its introduction into the
Northwestern Territory, the only country we owned then free from
it. At the framing and adoption of the Constitution, they
forbore to so much as mention the word “slave” or “slavery” in
the whole instrument. In the provision for the recovery of
fugitives, the slave is spoken of as a “person held to service or
labor.” In that prohibiting the abolition of the African slave
trade for twenty years, that trade is spoken of as “the migration
or importation of such persons as any of the States now existing
shall think proper to admit,” etc. These are the only provisions
alluding to slavery. Thus the thing is hid away in the
Constitution, just as an afflicted man hides away a wen or cancer
which he dares not cut out at once, lest he bleed to death,–with
the promise, nevertheless, that the cutting may begin at a
certain time. Less than this our fathers could not do, and more
they would not do. Necessity drove them so far, and farther they
would not go. But this is not all. The earliest Congress under
the Constitution took the same view of slavery. They hedged and
hemmed it in to the narrowest limits of necessity.

In 1794 they prohibited an outgoing slave trade–that is, the
taking of slaves from the United States to sell. In 1798 they
prohibited the bringing of slaves from Africa into the
Mississippi Territory, this Territory then comprising what are
now the States of Mississippi and Alabama. This was ten years
before they had the authority to do the same thing as to the
States existing at the adoption of the Constitution. In 1800
they prohibited American citizens from trading in slaves between
foreign countries, as, for instance, from Africa to Brazil. In
1803 they passed a law in aid of one or two slave-State laws in
restraint of the internal slave trade. In 1807, in apparent hot
haste, they passed the law, nearly a year in advance,–to take
effect the first day of 1808, the very first day the Constitution
would permit, prohibiting the African slave trade by heavy
pecuniary and corporal penalties. In 1820, finding these
provisions ineffectual, they declared the slave trade piracy, and
annexed to it the extreme penalty of death. While all this was
passing in the General Government, five or six of the original
slave States had adopted systems of gradual emancipation, by
which the institution was rapidly becoming extinct within their
limits. Thus we see that the plain, unmistakable spirit of that
age toward slavery was hostility to the principle and toleration
only by necessity.

But now it is to be transformed into a “sacred right.” Nebraska
brings it forth, places it on the highroad to extension and
perpetuity, and with a pat on its back says to it, “Go, and God
speed you.” Henceforth it is to be the chief jewel of the nation
the very figure-head of the ship of state. Little by little, but
steadily as man’s march to the grave, we have been giving up the
old for the new faith. Near eighty years ago we began by
declaring that all men are created equal; but now from that
beginning we have run down to the other declaration, that for
some men to enslave others is a “sacred right of self-
government.” These principles cannot stand together. They are as
opposite as God and Mammon; and who ever holds to the one must
despise the other. When Pettit, in connection with his support
of the Nebraska Bill, called the Declaration of Independence “a
self-evident lie,” he only did what consistency and candor
require all other Nebraska men to do. Of the forty-odd Nebraska
senators who sat present and heard him, no one rebuked him. Nor
am I apprised that any Nebraska newspaper, or any Nebraska
orator, in the whole nation has ever yet rebuked him. If this
had been said among Marion’s men, Southerners though they were,
what would have become of the man who said it? If this had been
said to the men who captured Andre, the man who said it would
probably have been hung sooner than Andre was. If it had been
said in old Independence Hall seventy-eight years ago, the very
doorkeeper would have throttled the man and thrust him into the
street. Let no one be deceived. The spirit of seventy-six and
the spirit of Nebraska are utter antagonisms; and the former is
being rapidly displaced by the latter.

Fellow-countrymen, Americans, South as well as North, shall we
make no effort to arrest this? Already the liberal party
throughout the world express the apprehension that “the one
retrograde institution in America is undermining the principles
of progress, and fatally violating the noblest political system
the world ever saw.” This is not the taunt of enemies, but the
warning of friends. Is it quite safe to disregard it–to despise
it? Is there no danger to liberty itself in discarding the
earliest practice and first precept of our ancient faith? In our
greedy chase to make profit of the negro, let us beware lest we
“cancel and tear in pieces” even the white man’s charter of

Our republican robe is soiled and trailed in the dust. Let us
repurify it. Let us turn and wash it white in the spirit, if not
the blood, of the Revolution. Let us turn slavery from its
claims of “moral right,, back upon its existing legal rights and
its arguments of “necessity.” Let us return it to the position
our fathers gave it, and there let it rest in peace. Let us
readopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it the
practices and policy which harmonize with it. Let North and
South, let all Americans–let all lovers of liberty everywhere
join in the great and good work. If we do this, we shall not
only have saved the Union, but we shall have so saved it as to
make and to keep it forever worthy of the saving. We shall have
so saved it that the succeeding millions of free happy people the
world over shall rise up and call us blessed to the latest

At Springfield, twelve days ago, where I had spoken substantially
as I have here, Judge Douglas replied to me; and as he is to
reply to me here, I shall attempt to anticipate him by noticing
some of the points he made there. He commenced by stating I had
assumed all the way through that the principle of the Nebraska
Bill would have the effect of extending slavery. He denied that
this was intended or that this effect would follow.

I will not reopen the argument upon this point. That such was
the intention the world believed at the start, and will continue
to believe. This was the countenance of the thing, and both
friends and enemies instantly recognized it as such. That
countenance cannot now be changed by argument. You can as easily
argue the color out of the negro’s skin. Like the bloody hand,”
you may wash it and wash it, the red witness of guilt still
sticks and stares horribly at you.

Next he says that Congressional intervention never prevented
slavery anywhere; that it did not prevent it in the Northwestern
Territory, nor in Illinois; that, in fact, Illinois came into the
Union as a slave State; that the principle of the Nebraska Bill
expelled it from Illinois, from several old States, from

Now this is mere quibbling all the way through. If the Ordinance
of ’87 did not keep slavery out of the Northwest Territory, how
happens it that the northwest shore of the Ohio River is entirely
free from it, while the southeast shore, less than a mile
distant, along nearly the whole length of the river, is entirely
covered with it?

If that ordinance did not keep it out of Illinois, what was it
that made the difference between Illinois and Missouri? They lie
side by side, the Mississippi River only dividing them, while
their early settlements were within the same latitude. Between
1810 and 1820 the number of slaves in Missouri increased 7211,
while in Illinois in the same ten years they decreased 51. This
appears by the census returns. During nearly all of that ten
years both were Territories, not States. During this time the
ordinance forbade slavery to go into Illinois, and nothing
forbade it to go into Missouri. It did go into Missouri, and did
not go into Illinois. That is the fact. Can any one doubt as to
the reason of it? But he says Illinois came into the Union as a
slave State. Silence, perhaps, would be the best answer to this
flat contradiction of the known history of the country. What are
the facts upon which this bold assertion is based? When we first
acquired the country, as far back as 1787, there were some slaves
within it held by the French inhabitants of Kaskaskia. The
territorial legislation admitted a few negroes from the slave
States as indentured servants. One year after the adoption of
the first State constitution, the whole number of them was–what
do you think? Just one hundred and seventeen, while the
aggregate free population was 55,094,–about four hundred and
seventy to one. Upon this state of facts the people framed their
constitution prohibiting the further introduction of slavery,
with a sort of guaranty to the owners of the few indentured
servants, giving freedom to their children to be born thereafter,
and making no mention whatever of any supposed slave for life.
Out of this small matter the Judge manufactures his argument that
Illinois came into the Union as a slave State. Let the facts be
the answer to the argument.

The principles of the Nebraska Bill, he says, expelled slavery
from Illinois. The principle of that bill first planted it here-
-that is, it first came because there was no law to prevent it,
first came before we owned the country; and finding it here, and
having the Ordinance of ’87 to prevent its increasing, our people
struggled along, and finally got rid of it as best they could.

But the principle of the Nebraska Bill abolished slavery in
several of the old States. Well, it is true that several of the
old States, in the last quarter of the last century, did adopt
systems of gradual emancipation by which the institution has
finally become extinct within their limits; but it may or may not
be true that the principle of the Nebraska Bill was the cause
that led to the adoption of these measures. It is now more than
fifty years since the last of these States adopted its system of

If the Nebraska Bill is the real author of the benevolent works,
it is rather deplorable that it has for so long a time ceased
working altogether. Is there not some reason to suspect that it
was the principle of the Revolution, and not the principle of the
Nebraska Bill, that led to emancipation in these old States?
Leave it to the people of these old emancipating States, and I am
quite certain they will decide that neither that nor any other
good thing ever did or ever will come of the Nebraska Bill.

In the course of my main argument, Judge Douglas interrupted me
to say that the principle of the Nebraska Bill was very old; that
it originated when God made man, and placed good and evil before
him, allowing him to choose for himself, being responsible for
the choice he should make. At the time I thought this was merely
playful, and I answered it accordingly. But in his reply to me
he renewed it as a serious argument. In seriousness, then, the
facts of this proposition are not true as stated. God did not
place good and evil before man, telling him to make his choice.
On the contrary, he did tell him there was one tree of the fruit
of which he should not eat, upon pain of certain death. I should
scarcely wish so strong a prohibition against slavery in

«- Previous | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 153 154 155 156 157 158 159 160 161 162 163 164 165 166 167 168 169 170 171 172 173 174 175 176 177 178 179 180 181 182 183 184 185 186 187 188 189 190 191 192 193 194 195 196 197 198 199 200 201 202 203 | View All | Next -»