The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7

All of us who did not vote for Mr. Buchanan, taken together, are
a majority of four hundred thousand. But in the late contest we
were divided between Fremont and Fillmore. Can we not come
together for the future? Let every one who really believes and
is resolved that free society is not and shall not be a failure,
and who can conscientiously declare that in the last contest he
has done only what he thought best–let every such one have
charity to believe that every other one can say as much. Thus
let bygones be bygones; let past differences as nothing be; and
with steady eye on the real issue let us reinaugurate the good
old “central idea” of the republic. We can do it. The human
heart is with us; God is with us. We shall again be able, not to
declare that “all States as States are equal,” nor yet that “all
citizens as citizens are equal,” but to renew the broader, better
declaration, including both these and much more, that “all men
are created equal.


SPRINGFIELD, Dec. 25, 1856.

DEAR SIR:-When I was at Chicago two weeks ago I saw Mr. Arnold,
and from a remark of his I inferred he was thinking of the
speakership, though I think he was not anxious about it. He
seemed most anxious for harmony generally, and particularly that
the contested seats from Peoria and McDonough might be rightly
determined. Since I came home I had a talk with Cullom, one of
our American representatives here, and he says he is for you for
Speaker and also that he thinks all the Americans will be for
you, unless it be Gorin, of Macon, of whom he cannot speak. If
you would like to be Speaker go right up and see Arnold. He is
talented, a practised debater, and, I think, would do himself
more credit on the floor than in the Speaker’s seat. Go and see
him; and if you think fit, show him this letter.

Your friend as ever,




SPRINGFIELD, ILL., February 10, 1857.

DEAR SIR:–Your note about the little paragraph in the Republican
was received yesterday, since which time I have been too unwell
to notice it. I had not supposed you wrote or approved it. The
whole originated in mistake. You know by the conversation with
me that I thought the establishment of the paper unfortunate, but
I always expected to throw no obstacle in its way, and to
patronize it to the extent of taking and paying for one copy.
When the paper was brought to my house, my wife said to me, “Now
are you going to take another worthless little paper?”, I said to
her evasively, “I have not directed the paper to be left.” From
this, in my absence, she sent the message to the carrier. This
is the whole story.

Yours truly,



JUNE 26, 1857.

FELLOW-CITIZENS:–I am here to-night partly by the invitation of
some of you, and partly by my own inclination. Two weeks ago
Judge Douglas spoke here on the several subjects of Kansas, the
Dred Scott decision, and Utah. I listened to the speech at the
time, and have the report of it since. It was intended to
controvert opinions which I think just, and to assail
(politically, not personally) those men who, in common with me,
entertain those opinions. For this reason I wished then, and
still wish, to make some answer to it, which I now take the
opportunity of doing.

I begin with Utah. If it prove to be true, as is probable, that
the people of Utah are in open rebellion to the United States,
then Judge Douglas is in favor of repealing their territorial
organization, and attaching them to the adjoining States for
judicial purposes. I say, too, if they are in rebellion, they
ought to be somehow coerced to obedience; and I am not now
prepared to admit or deny that the Judge’s mode of coercing them
is not as good as any. The Republicans can fall in with it
without taking back anything they have ever said. To be sure, it
would be a considerable backing down by Judge Douglas from his
much-vaunted doctrine of self-government for the Territories; but
this is only additional proof of what was very plain from the
beginning, that that doctrine was a mere deceitful pretense for
the benefit of slavery. Those who could not see that much in the
Nebraska act itself, which forced governors, and secretaries, and
judges on the people of the Territories without their choice or
consent, could not be made to see, though one should rise from
the dead.

But in all this it is very plain the Judge evades the only
question the Republicans have ever pressed upon the Democracy in
regard to Utah. That question the Judge well knew to be this:
“If the people of Utah peacefully form a State constitution
tolerating polygamy, will the Democracy admit them into the
Union?” There is nothing in the United States Constitution or law
against polygamy; and why is it not a part of the Judge’s “sacred
right of self-government” for the people to have it, or rather to
keep it, if they choose? These questions, so far as I know, the
Judge never answers. It might involve the Democracy to answer
them either way, and they go unanswered.

As to Kansas. The substance of the Judge’s speech on Kansas is
an effort to put the free-State men in the wrong for not voting
at the election of delegates to the constitutional convention.
He says:

“There is every reason to hope and believe that the law will be
fairly interpreted and impartially executed, so as to insure to
every bona fide inhabitant the free and quiet exercise of the
elective franchise.”

It appears extraordinary that Judge Douglas should make such a
statement. He knows that, by the law, no one can vote who has
not been registered; and he knows that the free-State men place
their refusal to vote on the ground that but few of them have
been registered. It is possible that this is not true, but Judge
Douglas knows it is asserted to be true in letters, newspapers,
and public speeches, and borne by every mail and blown by every
breeze to the eyes and ears of the world. He knows it is boldly
declared that the people of many whole counties, and many whole
neighborhoods in others, are left unregistered; yet he does not
venture to contradict the declaration, or to point out how they
can vote without being registered; but he just slips along, not
seeming to know there is any such question of fact, and
complacently declares:

“There is every reason to hope and believe that the law will be
fairly and impartially executed, so as to insure to every bona
fide inhabitant the free and quiet exercise of the elective

I readily agree that if all had a chance to vote they ought to
have voted. If, on the contrary, as they allege, and Judge
Douglas ventures not to particularly contradict, few only of the
free-State men had a chance to vote, they were perfectly right in
staying from the polls in a body.

By the way, since the Judge spoke, the Kansas election has come
off. The Judge expressed his confidence that all the Democrats
in Kansas would do their duty-including “free-State Democrats,”
of course. The returns received here as yet are very incomplete;
but so far as they go, they indicate that only about one sixth of
the registered voters have really voted; and this, too, when not
more, perhaps, than one half of the rightful voters have been
registered, thus showing the thing to have been altogether the
most exquisite farce ever enacted. I am watching with
considerable interest to ascertain what figure “the free-State
Democrats” cut in the concern. Of course they voted,–all
Democrats do their duty,–and of course they did not vote for
slave-State candidates. We soon shall know how many delegates
they elected, how many candidates they had pledged to a free
State, and how many votes were cast for them.

Allow me to barely whisper my suspicion that there were no such
things in Kansas as “free-State Democrats”–that they were
altogether mythical, good only to figure in newspapers and
speeches in the free States. If there should prove to be one
real living free-State Democrat in Kansas, I suggest that it
might be well to catch him, and stuff and preserve his skin as an
interesting specimen of that soon-to-be extinct variety of the
genus Democrat.

And now as to the Dred Scott decision. That decision declares
two propositions–first, that a negro cannot sue in the United
States courts; and secondly, that Congress cannot prohibit
slavery in the Territories. It was made by a divided court
dividing differently on the different points. Judge Douglas does
not discuss the merits of the decision, and in that respect I
shall follow his example, believing I could no more improve on
McLean and Curtis than he could on Taney.

He denounces all who question the correctness of that decision,
as offering violent resistance to it. But who resists it? Who
has, in spite of the decision, declared Dred Scott free, and
resisted the authority of his master over him?

Judicial decisions have two uses–first, to absolutely determine
the case decided, and secondly, to indicate to the public how
other similar cases will be decided when they arise. For the
latter use, they are called “precedents” and “authorities.”

We believe as much as Judge Douglas (perhaps more) in obedience
to, and respect for, the judicial department of government. We
think its decisions on constitutional questions, when fully
settled, should control not only the particular cases decided,
but the general policy of the country, subject to be disturbed
only by amendments of the Constitution as provided in that
instrument itself. More than this would be revolution. But we
think the Dred Scott decision is erroneous. We know the court
that made it has often overruled its own decisions, and we shall
do what we can to have it to overrule this. We offer no
resistance to it.

Judicial decisions are of greater or less authority as precedents
according to circumstances. That this should be so accords both
with common sense and the customary understanding of the legal

If this important decision had been made by the unanimous
concurrence of the judges, and without any apparent partisan
bias, and in accordance with legal public expectation and with
the steady practice of the departments throughout our history,
and had been in no part based on assumed historical facts which
are not really true; or, if wanting in some of these, it had been
before the court more than once, and had there been affirmed and
reaffirmed through a course of years, it then might be, perhaps
would be, factious, nay, even revolutionary, not to acquiesce in
it as a precedent.

But when, as is true, we find it wanting in all these claims to
the public confidence, it is not resistance, it is not factious,
it is not even disrespectful, to treat it as not having yet quite
established a settled doctrine for the country. But Judge
Douglas considers this view awful. Hear him:

“The courts are the tribunals prescribed by the Constitution and
created by the authority of the people to determine, expound, and
enforce the law. Hence, whoever resists the final decision of
the highest judicial tribunal aims a deadly blow at our whole
republican system of government–a blow which, if successful,
would place all our rights and liberties at the mercy of passion,
anarchy, and violence. I repeat, therefore, that if resistance
to the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, in a
matter like the points decided in the Dred Scott case, clearly
within their jurisdiction as defined by the Constitution, shall
be forced upon the country as a political issue, it will become a
distinct and naked issue between the friends and enemies of the
Constitution–the friends and the enemies of the supremacy of the

Why, this same Supreme Court once decided a national bank to be
constitutional; but General Jackson, as President of the United
States, disregarded the decision, and vetoed a bill for a
recharter, partly on constitutional ground, declaring that each
public functionary must support the Constitution “as he
understands it.” But hear the General’s own words. Here they
are, taken from his veto message:

“It is maintained by the advocates of the bank that its
constitutionality, in all its features, ought to be considered as
settled by precedent, and by the decision of the Supreme Court.
To this conclusion I cannot assent. Mere precedent is a
dangerous source of authority, and should not be regarded as
deciding questions of constitutional power, except where the
acquiescence of the people and the States can be considered as
well settled. So far from this being the case on this subject,
an argument against the bank might be based on precedent. One
Congress, in 1791, decided in favor of a bank; another, in 1811,
decided against it. One Congress, in 1815, decided against a
bank; another, in 1816, decided in its favor. Prior to the
present Congress, therefore, the precedents drawn from that
course were equal. If we resort to the States, the expressions
of legislative, judicial, and executive opinions against the bank
have been probably to those in its favor as four to one. There
is nothing in precedent, therefore, which, if its authority were
admitted, ought to weigh in favor of the act before me.”

I drop the quotations merely to remark that all there ever was in
the way of precedent up to the Dred Scott decision, on the points
therein decided, had been against that decision. But hear
General Jackson further:

“If the opinion of the Supreme Court covered the whole ground of
this act, it ought not to control the coordinate authorities of
this government. The Congress, the executive, and the courts
must, each for itself, be guided by its own opinion of the
Constitution. Each public officer who takes an oath to support
the Constitution swears that he will support it as he understands
it, and not as it is understood by others.”

Again and again have I heard Judge Douglas denounce that bank
decision and applaud General Jackson for disregarding it. It
would be interesting for him to look over his recent speech, and
see how exactly his fierce philippics against us for resisting
Supreme Court decisions fall upon his own head. It will call to
mind a long and fierce political war in this country, upon an
issue which, in his own language, and, of course, in his own
changeless estimation, was a distinct issue between the friends
and the enemies of the Constitution,” and in which war he fought
in the ranks of the enemies of the Constitution.

I have said, in substance, that the Dred Scott decision was in
part based on assumed historical facts which were not really
true, and I ought not to leave the subject without giving some
reasons for saying this; I therefore give an instance or two,
which I think fully sustain me. Chief Justice Taney, in
delivering the opinion of the majority of the court, insists at
great length that negroes were no part of the people who made, or
for whom was made, the Declaration of Independence, or the
Constitution of the United States.

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