The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7

Mr. Brooks, of South Carolina, in one of his speeches, when they
were presenting him canes, silver plate, gold pitchers, and the
like, for assaulting Senator Sumner, distinctly affirmed his
opinion that when this Constitution was formed it was the belief
of no man that slavery would last to the present day. He said,
what I think, that the framers of our Constitution placed the
institution of slavery where the public mind rested in the hope
that it was in the course of ultimate extinction. But he went on
to say that the men of the present age, by their experience, have
become wiser than the framers of the Constitution, and the
invention of the cotton gin had made the perpetuity of slavery a
necessity in this country.

As another piece of evidence tending to this same point: Quite
recently in Virginia, a man–the owner of slaves–made a will
providing that after his death certain of his slaves should have
their freedom if they should so choose, and go to Liberia, rather
than remain in slavery. They chose to be liberated. But the
persons to whom they would descend as property claimed them as
slaves. A suit was instituted, which finally came to the Supreme
Court of Virginia, and was therein decided against the slaves
upon the ground that a negro cannot make a choice; that they had
no legal power to choose, could not perform the condition upon
which their freedom depended.

I do not mention this with any purpose of criticizing it, but to
connect it with the arguments as affording additional evidence of
the change of sentiment upon this question of slavery in the
direction of making it perpetual and national. I argue now as I
did before, that there is such a tendency; and I am backed, not
merely by the facts, but by the open confession in the slave

And now as to the Judge’s inference that because I wish to see
slavery placed in the course of ultimate extinction,–placed
where our fathers originally placed it,–I wish to annihilate the
State Legislatures, to force cotton to grow upon the tops of the
Green Mountains, to freeze ice in Florida, to cut lumber on the
broad Illinois prairie,–that I am in favor of all these
ridiculous and impossible things.

It seems to me it is a complete answer to all this to ask if,
when Congress did have the fashion of restricting slavery from
free territory; when courts did have the fashion of deciding that
taking a slave into a free country made him free,–I say it is a
sufficient answer to ask if any of this ridiculous nonsense about
consolidation and uniformity did actually follow. Who heard of
any such thing because of the Ordinance of ’87? because of the
Missouri restriction? because of the numerous court decisions of
that character?

Now, as to the Dred Scott decision; for upon that he makes his
last point at me. He boldly takes ground in favor of that

This is one half the onslaught, and one third of the entire plan
of the campaign. I am opposed to that decision in a certain
sense, but not in the sense which he puts it. I say that in so
far as it decided in favor of Dred Scott’s master, and against
Dred Scott and his family, I do not propose to disturb or resist
the decision.

I never have proposed to do any such thing. I think that in
respect for judicial authority my humble history would not suffer
in comparison with that of Judge Douglas. He would have the
citizen conform his vote to that decision; the member of
Congress, his; the President, his use of the veto power. He
would make it a rule of political action for the people and all
the departments of the government. I would not. By resisting it
as a political rule, I disturb no right of property, create no
disorder, excite no mobs.

When he spoke at Chicago, on Friday evening of last week, he made
this same point upon me. On Saturday evening I replied, and
reminded him of a Supreme Court decision which he opposed for at
least several years. Last night, at Bloomington, he took some
notice of that reply, but entirely forgot to remember that part
of it.

He renews his onslaught upon me, forgetting to remember that I
have turned the tables against himself on that very point. I
renew the effort to draw his attention to it. I wish to stand
erect before the country, as well as Judge Douglas, on this
question of judicial authority; and therefore I add something to
the authority in favor of my own position. I wish to show that I
am sustained by authority, in addition to that heretofore
presented. I do not expect to convince the Judge. It is part of
the plan of his campaign, and he will cling to it with a
desperate grip. Even turn it upon him,–the sharp point against
him, and gaff him through,–he will still cling to it till he can
invent some new dodge to take the place of it.

In public speaking it is tedious reading from documents; but I
must beg to indulge the practice to a limited extent. I shall
read from a letter written by Mr. Jefferson in 1820, and now to
be found in the seventh volume of his correspondence, at page
177. It seems he had been presented by a gentleman of the name
of Jarvis with a book, or essay, or periodical, called the
Republican, and he was writing in acknowledgment of the present,
and noting some of its contents. After expressing the hope that
the work will produce a favorable effect upon the minds of the
young, he proceeds to say:

“That it will have this tendency may be expected, and for that
reason I feel an urgency to note what I deem an error in it, the
more requiring notice as your opinion is strengthened by that of
many others. You seem, in pages 84 and 148, to consider the
judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions,-
-a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us
under the despotism of an oligarchy. Our judges are as honest as
other men, and not more so. They have, with others, the same
passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps.
Their maxim is, ‘Boni judicis est ampliare jurisdictionem’; and
their power is the more dangerous as they are in office for life,
and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the
elective control. The Constitution has erected no such single
tribunal, knowing that, to whatever hands confided, with the
corruptions of time and party, its members would become despots.
It has more wisely made all the departments co-equal and
co-sovereign with themselves.”

Thus we see the power claimed for the Supreme Court by Judge
Douglas, Mr. Jefferson holds, would reduce us to the despotism of
an oligarchy.

Now, I have said no more than this,–in fact, never quite so much
as this; at least I am sustained by Mr. Jefferson.

Let us go a little further. You remember we once had a National
Bank. Some one owed the bank a debt; he was sued, and sought to
avoid payment on the ground that the bank was unconstitutional.
The case went to the Supreme Court, and therein it was decided
that the bank was constitutional. The whole Democratic party
revolted against that decision. General Jackson himself asserted
that he, as President, would not be bound to hold a National Bank
to be constitutional, even though the court had decided it to be
so. He fell in precisely with the view of Mr. Jefferson, and
acted upon it under his official oath, in vetoing a charter for a
National Bank. The declaration that Congress does not possess
this constitutional power to charter a bank has gone into the
Democratic platform, at their National Conventions, and was
brought forward and reaffirmed in their last Convention at
Cincinnati. They have contended for that declaration, in the
very teeth of the Supreme Court, for more than a quarter of a
century. In fact, they have reduced the decision to an absolute
nullity. That decision, I repeat, is repudiated in the
Cincinnati platform; and still, as if to show that effrontery can
go no further, Judge Douglas vaunts in the very speeches in which
he denounces me for opposing the Dred Scott decision that he
stands on the Cincinnati platform.

Now, I wish to know what the Judge can charge upon me, with
respect to decisions of the Supreme Court, which does not lie in
all its length, breadth, and proportions at his own door. The
plain truth is simply this: Judge Douglas is for Supreme Court
decisions when he likes and against them when he does not like
them. He is for the Dred Scott decision because it tends to
nationalize slavery; because it is part of the original
combination for that object. It so happens, singularly enough,
that I never stood opposed to a decision of the Supreme Court
till this, on the contrary, I have no recollection that he was
ever particularly in favor of one till this. He never was in
favor of any nor opposed to any, till the present one, which
helps to nationalize slavery.

Free men of Sangamon, free men of Illinois, free men everywhere,
judge ye between him and me upon this issue.

He says this Dred Scott case is a very small matter at most,–
that it has no practical effect; that at best, or rather, I
suppose, at worst, it is but an abstraction. I submit that the
proposition that the thing which determines whether a man is free
or a slave is rather concrete than abstract. I think you would
conclude that it was, if your liberty depended upon it, and so
would Judge Douglas, if his liberty depended upon it. But
suppose it was on the question of spreading slavery over the new
Territories that he considers it as being merely an abstract
matter, and one of no practical importance. How has the planting
of slavery in new countries always been effected? It has now
been decided that slavery cannot be kept out of our new
Territories by any legal means. In what do our new Territories
now differ in this respect from the old Colonies when slavery was
first planted within them? It was planted, as Mr. Clay once
declared, and as history proves true, by individual men, in spite
of the wishes of the people; the Mother Government refusing to
prohibit it, and withholding from the people of the Colonies the
authority to prohibit it for themselves. Mr. Clay says this was
one of the great and just causes of complaint against Great
Britain by the Colonies, and the best apology we can now make for
having the institution amongst us. In that precise condition our
Nebraska politicians have at last succeeded in placing our own
new Territories; the government will not prohibit slavery within
them, nor allow the people to prohibit it.

I defy any man to find any difference between the policy which
originally planted slavery in these Colonies and that policy
which now prevails in our new Territories. If it does not go
into them, it is only because no individual wishes it to go. The
Judge indulged himself doubtless to-day with the question as to
what I am going to do with or about the Dred Scott decision.
Well, Judge, will you please tell me what you did about the bank
decision? Will you not graciously allow us to do with the Dred
Scott decision precisely as you did with the bank decision? You
succeeded in breaking down the moral effect of that decision: did
you find it necessary to amend the Constitution, or to set up a
court of negroes in order to do it?

There is one other point. Judge Douglas has a very affectionate
leaning toward the Americans and Old Whigs. Last evening, in a
sort of weeping tone, he described to us a death-bed scene. He
had been called to the side of Mr. Clay, in his last moments, in
order that the genius of “popular sovereignty” might duly descend
from the dying man and settle upon him, the living and most
worthy successor. He could do no less than promise that he would
devote the remainder of his life to “popular sovereignty”; and
then the great statesman departs in peace. By this part of the
“plan of the campaign” the Judge has evidently promised himself
that tears shall be drawn down the cheeks of all Old Whigs, as
large as half-grown apples.

Mr. Webster, too, was mentioned; but it did not quite come to a
death-bed scene as to him. It would be amusing, if it were not
disgusting, to see how quick these compromise-breakers administer
on the political effects of their dead adversaries, trumping up
claims never before heard of, and dividing the assets among
themselves. If I should be found dead to-morrow morning, nothing
but my insignificance could prevent a speech being made on my
authority, before the end of next week. It so happens that in
that “popular sovereignty” with which Mr. Clay was identified,
the Missouri Compromise was expressly reversed; and it was a
little singular if Mr. Clay cast his mantle upon Judge Douglas on
purpose to have that compromise repealed.

Again, the Judge did not keep faith with Mr. Clay when he first
brought in his Nebraska Bill. He left the Missouri Compromise
unrepealed, and in his report accompanying the bill he told the
world he did it on purpose. The manes of Mr. Clay must have been
in great agony till thirty days later, when “popular sovereignty”
stood forth in all its glory.

One more thing. Last night Judge Douglas tormented himself with
horrors about my disposition to make negroes perfectly equal with
white men in social and political relations. He did not stop to
show that I have said any such thing, or that it legitimately
follows from anything I have said, but he rushes on with his
assertions. I adhere to the Declaration of Independence. If
Judge Douglas and his friends are not willing to stand by it, let
them come up and amend it. Let them make it read that all men
are created equal except negroes. Let us have it decided whether
the Declaration of Independence, in this blessed year of 1858,
shall be thus amended. In his construction of the Declaration
last year, he said it only meant that Americans in America were
equal to Englishmen in England. Then, when I pointed out to him
that by that rule he excludes the Germans, the Irish, the
Portuguese, and all the other people who have come among us since
the revolution, he reconstructs his construction. In his last
speech he tells us it meant Europeans.

I press him a little further, and ask if it meant to include the
Russians in Asia; or does he mean to exclude that vast population
from the principles of our Declaration of Independence? I expect
ere long he will introduce another amendment to his definition.
He is not at all particular. He is satisfied with anything which
does not endanger the nationalizing of negro slavery. It may
draw white men down, but it must not lift negroes up.

Who shall say, “I am the superior, and you are the inferior”?

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