The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7

On the contrary, Judge Curtis, in his dissenting opinion, shows
that in five of the then thirteen States–to wit, New Hampshire,
Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and North Carolina–free
negroes were voters, and in proportion to their numbers had the
same part in making the Constitution that the white people had.
He shows this with so much particularity as to leave no doubt of
its truth; and as a sort of conclusion on that point, holds the
following language:

“The Constitution was ordained and established by the people of
the United States, through the action, in each State, of those
persons who were qualified by its laws to act thereon in behalf
of themselves and all other citizens of the State. In some of
the States, as we have seen, colored persons were among those
qualified by law to act on the subject. These colored persons
were not only included in the body of ‘the people of the United
States’ by whom the Constitution was ordained and established;
but in at least five of the States they had the power to act, and
doubtless did act, by their suffrages, upon the question of its

Again, Chief Justice Taney says:

“It is difficult at this day to realize the state of public
opinion, in relation to that unfortunate race, which prevailed in
the civilized and enlightened portions of the world at the time
of the Declaration of Independence, and when the Constitution of
the United States was framed and adopted.”

And again, after quoting from the Declaration, he says:

“The general words above quoted would seem to include the whole
human family, and if they were used in a similar instrument at
this day, would be so understood.”

In these the Chief Justice does not directly assert, but plainly
assumes as a fact, that the public estimate of the black man is
more favorable now than it was in the days of the Revolution.
This assumption is a mistake. In some trifling particulars the
condition of that race has been ameliorated; but as a whole, in
this country, the change between then and now is decidedly the
other way, and their ultimate destiny has never appeared so
hopeless as in the last three or four years. In two of the five
States–New Jersey and North Carolina–that then gave the free
negro the right of voting, the right has since been taken away,
and in a third–New York–it has been greatly abridged; while it
has not been extended, so far as I know, to a single additional
State, though the number of the States has more than doubled. In
those days, as I understand, masters could, at their own
pleasure, emancipate their slaves; but since then such legal
restraints have been made upon emancipation as to amount almost
to prohibition. In those days Legislatures held the unquestioned
power to abolish slavery in their respective States, but now it
is becoming quite fashionable for State constitutions to withhold
that power from the Legislatures. In those days, by common
consent, the spread of the black man’s bondage to the new
countries was prohibited, but now Congress decides that it will
not continue the prohibition, and the Supreme Court decides that
it could not if it would. In those days our Declaration of
Independence was held sacred by all, and thought to include all;
but now, to aid in making the bondage of the negro universal and
eternal, it is assailed and sneered at and construed and hawked
at and torn, till, if its framers could rise from
their graves, they could not at all recognize it. All the powers
of earth seem rapidly combining against him. Mammon is after
him, ambition follows, philosophy follows, and the theology of
the day fast joining the cry. They have him in his prison house;
they have searched his person, and left no prying instrument with
him. One after another they have closed the heavy iron doors
upon him; and now they have him, as it were, bolted in with a
lock of hundred keys, which can never be unlocked without the
concurrence of every key–the keys in the hands of a hundred
different men, and they scattered to hundred different and
distant places; and they stand musing as to what invention, in
all the dominions of mind and matter, can be produced to make the
impossibility of his escape more complete than it is.

It is grossly incorrect to say or assume that the public estimate
of the negro is more favorable now than it was at the origin of
the government.

Three years and a half ago, Judge Douglas brought forward his
famous Nebraska Bill. The country was at once in a blaze. He
scorned all opposition, and carried it through Congress. Since
then he has seen himself superseded in a Presidential nomination
by one indorsing the general doctrine of his measure, but at the
same time standing clear of the odium of its untimely agitation
and its gross breach of national faith; and he has seen that
successful rival constitutionally elected, not by the strength of
friends, but by the division of adversaries, being in a popular
minority of nearly four hundred thousand votes. He has seen his
chief aids in his own State, Shields and Richardson, politically
speaking, successively tried, convicted, and executed for an
offence not their own but his. And now he sees his own case
standing next on the docket for trial.

There is a natural disgust in the minds of nearly all white
people at the idea of an indiscriminate amalgamation of the white
and black races; and Judge Douglas evidently is basing his chief
hope upon the chances of his being able to appropriate the
benefit of this disgust to himself. If he can, by much drumming
and repeating, fasten the odium of that idea upon his
adversaries, he thinks he can struggle through the storm. He
therefore clings to this hope, as a drowning man to the last
plank. He makes an occasion for lugging it in from the
opposition to the Dred Scott decision. He finds the Republicans
insisting that the Declaration of Independence includes all men,
black as well as white, and forthwith he boldly denies that it
includes negroes at all, and proceeds to argue gravely that all
who contend it does, do so only because they want to vote, and
eat, and sleep, and marry with negoes. He will have it that they
cannot be consistent else. Now I protest against the counterfeit
logic which concludes that, because I do not want a black woman
for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. I need not
have her for either. I can just leave her alone. In some
respects she certainly is not my equal; but in her natural right
to eat the bread she earns with her own hands, without asking
leave of any one else, she is my equal and the equal of all

Chief Justice Taney, in his opinion in the Dred Scott case,
admits that the language of the Declaration is broad enough to
include the whole human family, but he and Judge Douglas argue
that the authors of that instrument did not intend to include
negroes, by the fact that they did not at once actually place
them on an equality with the whites. Now this grave argument
comes to just nothing at all, by the other fact that they did not
at once, or ever afterward, actually place all white people on an
equality with one another. And this is the staple argument of
both the Chief Justice and the Senator for doing this obvious
violence to the plain, unmistakable language of the Declaration.

I think the authors of that notable instrument intended to
include all men, but they did not intend to declare all men equal
in all respects. They did not mean to say all were equal in
color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity.
They defined with tolerable distinctness in what respects they
did consider all men created equal–equal with “certain
inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness.” This they said, and this they meant. They
did not mean to assert the obvious untruth that all were then
actually enjoying that equality, nor yet that they were about to
confer it immediately upon them. In fact, they had no power to
confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so
that enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances
should permit.

They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which
should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked
to, constantly labored for, and, even though never perfectly
attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly
spreading and deepening its influence and augmenting the
happiness and value of life to all people of all colors
everywhere. The assertion that “all men are created equal” was
of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great
Britain; and it was placed in the Declaration not for that, but
for future use. Its authors meant it to be–as thank God, it is
now proving itself–stumbling-block to all those who in after
times might seek to turn a free people back into the hateful
paths of despotism. They knew the proneness of prosperity to
breed tyrants, and they meant when such should reappear in this
fair land and commence their vocation, they should find left for
them at least one hard nut to crack.

I have now briefly expressed my view of the meaning and object of
that part of the Declaration of Independence which declares that
“all men are created equal.”

Now let us hear Judge Douglas’s view of the same subject, as I
find it in the printed report of his late speech. Here it is:

“No man can vindicate the character, motives, and conduct of the
signers of the Declaration of Independence, except upon the
hypothesis that they referred to the white race alone, and not to
the African, when they declared all men to have been created
equal; that they were speaking of British subjects on this
continent being equal to British subjects born and residing in
Great Britain; that they were entitled to the same inalienable
rights, and among them were enumerated life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness. The Declaration was adopted for the
purpose of justifying the colonists in the eyes of the civilized
world in withdrawing their allegiance from the British crown, and
dissolving their connection with the mother country.”

My good friends, read that carefully over some leisure hour, and
ponder well upon it; see what a mere wreck–mangled ruin–it
makes of our once glorious Declaration.

“They were speaking of British subjects on this continent being
equal to British subjects born and residing in Great Britain”!
Why, according to this, not only negroes but white people outside
of Great Britain and America were not spoken of in that
instrument. The English, Irish, and Scotch, along with white
Americans, were included, to be sure, but the French, Germans,
and other white people of the world are all gone to pot along
with the Judge’s inferior races!

I had thought the Declaration promised something better than the
condition of British subjects; but no, it only meant that we
should be equal to them in their own oppressed and unequal
condition. According to that, it gave no promise that, having
kicked off the king and lords of Great Britain, we should not at
once be saddled with a king and lords of our own.

I had thought the Declaration contemplated the progressive
improvement in the condition of all men everywhere; but no, it
merely “was adopted for the purpose of justifying the colonists
in the eyes of the civilized world in withdrawing their
allegiance from the British crown, and dissolving their
connection with the mother country.” Why, that object having been
effected some eighty years ago, the Declaration is of no
practical use now–mere rubbish–old wadding left to rot on the
battlefield after the victory is won.

I understand you are preparing to celebrate the “Fourth,” to-
morrow week. What for? The doings of that day had no reference
to the present; and quite half of you are not even descendants of
those who were referred to at that day. But I suppose you will
celebrate, and will even go so far as to read the Declaration.
Suppose, after you read it once in the old-fashioned way, you
read it once more with Judge Douglas’s version. It will then run

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all British
subjects who were on this continent eighty-one years ago were
created equal to all British subjects born and then residing in
Great Britain.”

And now I appeal to all–to Democrats as well as others–are you
really willing that the Declaration shall thus be frittered away
?–thus left no more, at most, than an interesting memorial of
the dead past?–thus shorn of its vitality and practical value,
and left without the germ or even the suggestion of the
individual rights of man in it?

But Judge Douglas is especially horrified at the thought of the
mixing of blood by the white and black races. Agreed for once–a
thousand times agreed. There are white men enough to marry all
the white women and black men enough to many all the black women;
and so let them be married. On this point we fully agree with
the Judge, and when he shall show that his policy is better
adapted to prevent amalgamation than ours, we shall drop ours and
adopt his. Let us see. In 1850 there were in the United States
405,751 mulattoes. Very few of these are the offspring of whites
and free blacks; nearly all have sprung from black slaves and
white masters. A separation of the races is the only perfect
preventive of amalgamation; but as an immediate separation is
impossible, the next best thing is to keep them apart where they
are not already together. If white and black people never get
together in Kansas, they will never mix blood in Kansas. That is
at least one self-evident truth. A few free colored persons may
get into the free States, in any event; but their number is too
insignificant to amount to much in the way of mixing blood. In
1850 there were in the free States 56,649 mulattoes; but for the
most part they were not born there–they came from the slave
States, ready made up. In the same year the slave States had
348,874 mulattoes, all of home production. The proportion of
free mulattoes to free blacks–the only colored classes in the
free States is much greater in the slave than in the free States.
It is worthy of note, too, that among the free States those which
make the colored man the nearest equal to the white have
proportionably the fewest mulattoes, the least of amalgamation.
In New Hampshire, the State which goes farthest toward equality
between the races, there are just 184 mulattoes, while there are
in Virginia–how many do you think?–79,775, being 23,126 more
than in all the free States together.

These statistics show that slavery is the greatest source of
amalgamation, and next to it, not the elevation, but the
degradation of the free blacks. Yet Judge Douglas dreads the
slightest restraints on the spread of slavery, and the slightest
human recognition of the negro, as tending horribly to

The very Dred Scott case affords a strong test as to which party
most favors amalgamation, the Republicans or the dear Union-
saving Democracy. Dred Scott, his wife, and two daughters were
all involved in the suit. We desired the court to have held that
they were citizens so far at least as to entitle them to a
hearing as to whether they were free or not; and then, also, that
they were in fact and in law really free. Could we have had our
way, the chances of these black girls ever mixing their blood
with that of white people would have been diminished at least to
the extent that it could not have been without their consent.
But Judge Douglas is delighted to have them decided to be slaves,
and not human enough to have a hearing, even if they were free,
and thus left subject to the forced concubinage of their masters,
and liable to become the mothers of mulattoes in spite of
themselves: the very state of case that produces nine tenths of
all the mulattoes all the mixing of blood in the nation.

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