The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7

Upon a subsequent occasion, when the reason for making a statement
like this occurred, I said:

“While I was at the hotel to-day an elderly gentleman called upon me
to know whether I was really in favor of producing perfect equality
between the negroes and white people. While I had not proposed to
myself on this occasion to say much on that subject, yet, as the
question was asked me, I thought I would occupy perhaps five minutes
in saying something in regard to it. I will say, then, that I am
not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the
social and political equality of the white and black races; that I am
not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of
negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, or intermarry with
the white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a
physical difference between the white and black races which I believe
will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social
and political equality. And inasmuch as they can not so live, while
they do remain together there must be the position of superior and
inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the
superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this
occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the
superior position, the negro should be denied everything. I do not
understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave, I
must necessarily want her for a wife. My understanding is that I can
just let her alone. I am now in my fiftieth year, and I certainly
never have had a black woman for either a slave or a wife. So it
seems to me quite possible for us to get along without making either
slaves or wives of negroes. I will add to this that I have never
seen, to my knowledge, a man, woman, or child, who was in favor of
producing perfect equality, social and political, between negroes and
white men. I recollect of but one distinguished instance that I ever
heard of so frequently as to be satisfied of its correctness, and
that is the case of Judge Douglas’s old friend Colonel Richard M.
Johnson. I will also add to the remarks I have made (for I am not
going to enter at large upon this subject, that I have never had the
least apprehension that I or my friends would marry negroes, if there
was no law to keep them from it; but as judge Douglas and his friends
seem to be in great apprehension that they might, if there were no
law to keep them from it, I give him the most solemn pledge that I
will to the very last stand by the law of the State which forbids the
marrying of white people with negroes.”

There, my friends, you have briefly what I have, upon former
occasions, said upon this subject to which this newspaper, to the
extent of its ability, has drawn the public attention. In it you not
only perceive, as a probability, that in that contest I did not at
any time say I was in favor of negro suffrage, but the absolute proof
that twice–once substantially, and once expressly–I declared
against it. Having shown you this, there remains but a word of
comment upon that newspaper article. It is this, that I presume the
editor of that paper is an honest and truth-loving man, and that he
will be greatly obliged to me for furnishing him thus early an
opportunity to correct the misrepresentation he has made, before it
has run so long that malicious people can call him a liar.

The Giant himself has been here recently. I have seen a brief report
of his speech. If it were otherwise unpleasant to me to introduce
the subject of the negro as a topic for discussion, I might be
somewhat relieved by the fact that he dealt exclusively in that
subject while he was here. I shall, therefore, without much
hesitation or diffidence, enter upon this subject.

The American people, on the first day of January, 1854, found the
African slave trade prohibited by a law of Congress. In a majority
of the States of this Union, they found African slavery, or any other
sort of slavery, prohibited by State constitutions. They also found
a law existing, supposed to be valid, by which slavery was excluded
from almost all the territory the United States then owned. This was
the condition of the country, with reference to the institution of
slavery, on the first of January, 1854. A few days after that, a
bill was introduced into Congress, which ran through its regular
course in the two branches of the national legislature, and finally
passed into a law in the month of May, by which the Act of Congress
prohibiting slavery from going into the Territories of the United
States was repealed. In connection with the law itself, and, in
fact, in the terms of the law, the then existing prohibition was not
only repealed, but there was a declaration of a purpose on the part
of Congress never thereafter to exercise any power that they might
have, real or supposed, to prohibit the extension or spread of
slavery. This was a very great change; for the law thus repealed was
of more than thirty years’ standing. Following rapidly upon the
heels of this action of Congress, a decision of the Supreme Court is
made, by which it is declared that Congress, if it desires to
prohibit the spread of slavery into the Territories, has no
constitutional power to do so. Not only so, but that decision lays
down principles which, if pushed to their logical conclusion,–I say
pushed to their logical conclusion,–would decide that the
constitutions of free States, forbidding slavery, are themselves
unconstitutional. Mark me, I do not say the judges said this, and
let no man say I affirm the judges used these words; but I only say
it is my opinion that what they did say, if pressed to its logical
conclusion, will inevitably result thus.

Looking at these things, the Republican party, as I understand its
principles and policy, believes that there is great danger of the
institution of slavery being spread out and extended until it is
ultimately made alike lawful in all the States of this Union; so
believing, to prevent that incidental and ultimate consummation is
the original and chief purpose of the Republican organization. I say
“chief purpose” of the Republican organization; for it is certainly
true that if the National House shall fall into the hands of the
Republicans, they will have to attend to all the other matters of
national house-keeping, as well as this. The chief and real purpose
of the Republican party is eminently conservative. It proposes
nothing save and except to restore this government to its original
tone in regard to this element of slavery, and there to maintain it,
looking for no further change in reference to it than that which the
original framers of the Government themselves expected and looked
forward to.

The chief danger to this purpose of the Republican party is not just
now the revival of the African slave trade, or the passage of a
Congressional slave code, or the declaring of a second Dred Scott
decision, making slavery lawful in all the States. These are not
pressing us just now. They are not quite ready yet. The authors of
these measures know that we are too strong for them; but they will be
upon us in due time, and we will be grappling with them hand to hand,
if they are not now headed off. They are not now the chief danger to
the purpose of the Republican organization; but the most imminent
danger that now threatens that purpose is that insidious Douglas
popular sovereignty. This is the miner and sapper. While it does
not propose to revive the African slave trade, nor to pass a slave
code, nor to make a second Dred Scott decision, it is preparing us
for the onslaught and charge of these ultimate enemies when they
shall be ready to come on, and the word of command for them to
advance shall be given. I say this “Douglas popular sovereignty”;
for there is a broad distinction, as I now understand it, between
that article and a genuine popular sovereignty.

I believe there is a genuine popular sovereignty. I think a
definition of “genuine popular sovereignty,” in the abstract, would
be about this: That each man shall do precisely as he pleases with
himself, and with all those things which exclusively concern him.
Applied to government, this principle would be, that a general
government shall do all those things which pertain to it, and all the
local governments shall do precisely as they please in respect to
those matters which exclusively concern them. I understand that this
government of the United States, under which we live, is based upon
this principle; and I am misunderstood if it is supposed that I have
any war to make upon that principle.

Now, what is judge Douglas’s popular sovereignty? It is, as a
principle, no other than that if one man chooses to make a slave of
another man neither that other man nor anybody else has a right to
object. Applied in government, as he seeks to apply it, it is this:
If, in a new Territory into which a few people are beginning to enter
for the purpose of making their homes, they choose to either exclude
slavery from their limits or to establish it there, however one or
the other may affect the persons to be enslaved, or the infinitely
greater number of persons who are afterwards to inhabit that
Territory, or the other members of the families of communities, of
which they are but an incipient member, or the general head of the
family of States as parent of all, however their action may affect
one or the other of these, there is no power or right to interfere.
That is Douglas’s popular sovereignty applied.

He has a good deal of trouble with popular sovereignty. His
explanations explanatory of explanations explained are interminable.
The most lengthy, and, as I suppose, the most maturely considered of
this long series of explanations is his great essay in Harper’s
Magazine. I will not attempt to enter on any very thorough
investigation of his argument as there made and presented. I will
nevertheless occupy a good portion of your time here in drawing your
attention to certain points in it. Such of you as may have read this
document will have perceived that the judge early in the document
quotes from two persons as belonging to the Republican party, without
naming them, but who can readily be recognized as being Governor
Seward of New York and myself. It is true that exactly fifteen
months ago this day, I believe, I for the first time expressed a
sentiment upon this subject, and in such a manner that it should get
into print, that the public might see it beyond the circle of my
hearers; and my expression of it at that time is the quotation that
Judge Douglas makes. He has not made the quotation with accuracy, but
justice to him requires me to say that it is sufficiently accurate
not to change the sense.

The sense of that quotation condensed is this: that this slavery
element is a durable element of discord among us, and that we shall
probably not have perfect peace in this country with it until it
either masters the free principle in our government, or is so far
mastered by the free principle as for the public mind to rest in the
belief that it is going to its end. This sentiment, which I now
express in this way, was, at no great distance of time, perhaps in
different language, and in connection with some collateral ideas,
expressed by Governor Seward. Judge Douglas has been so much annoyed
by the expression of that sentiment that he has constantly, I
believe, in almost all his speeches since it was uttered, been
referring to it. I find he alluded to it in his speech here, as well
as in the copyright essay. I do not now enter upon this for the
purpose of making an elaborate argument to show that we were right in
the expression of that sentiment. In other words, I shall not stop
to say all that might properly be said upon this point, but I only
ask your attention to it for the purpose of making one or two points
upon it.

If you will read the copyright essay, you will discover that judge
Douglas himself says a controversy between the American Colonies and
the Government of Great Britain began on the slavery question in
1699, and continued from that time until the Revolution; and, while
he did not say so, we all know that it has continued with more or
less violence ever since the Revolution.

Then we need not appeal to history, to the declarations of the
framers of the government, but we know from judge Douglas himself
that slavery began to be an element of discord among the white people
of this country as far back as 1699, or one hundred and sixty years
ago, or five generations of men,–counting thirty years to a
generation. Now, it would seem to me that it might have occurred to
Judge Douglas, or anybody who had turned his attention to these
facts, that there was something in the nature of that thing, slavery,
somewhat durable for mischief and discord.

There is another point I desire to make in regard to this matter,
before I leave it. From the adoption of the Constitution down to 1820
is the precise period of our history when we had comparative peace
upon this question,–the precise period of time when we came nearer
to having peace about it than any other time of that entire one
hundred and sixty years in which he says it began, or of the eighty
years of our own Constitution. Then it would be worth our while to
stop and examine into the probable reason of our coming nearer to
having peace then than at any other time. This was the precise
period of time in which our fathers adopted, and during which they
followed, a policy restricting the spread of slavery, and the whole
Union was acquiescing in it. The whole country looked forward to the
ultimate extinction of the institution. It was when a policy had
been adopted, and was prevailing, which led all just and right-minded
men to suppose that slavery was gradually coming to an end, and that
they might be quiet about it, watching it as it expired. I think
Judge Douglas might have perceived that too; and whether he did or
not, it is worth the attention of fair-minded men, here and
elsewhere, to consider whether that is not the truth of the case. If
he had looked at these two facts,–that this matter has been an
element of discord for one hundred and sixty years among this people,
and that the only comparative peace we have had about it was when
that policy prevailed in this government which he now wars upon, he
might then, perhaps, have been brought to a more just appreciation of
what I said fifteen months ago,–that “a house divided against itself
cannot stand. I believe that this government cannot endure
permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the house to
fall, I do not expect the Union to dissolve; but I do expect it will
cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.
Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it,
and place it where the public mind will rest in the belief that it is
in the course of ultimate extinction, or its advocates will push it
forward until it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as
well as new, North as well as South.” That was my sentiment at that
time. In connection with it, I said: “We are now far into the fifth
year since a policy was inaugurated with the avowed object and
confident promise of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the
operation of the policy that agitation has not only not ceased, but
has constantly augmented.” I now say to you here that we are
advanced still farther into the sixth year since that policy of Judge
Douglas–that popular sovereignty of his–for quieting the slavery
question was made the national policy. Fifteen months more have been
added since I uttered that sentiment; and I call upon you and all
other right-minded men to say whether that fifteen months have belied
or corroborated my words.

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