The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7

While I am here upon this subject, I cannot but express gratitude
that this true view of this element of discord among us–as I believe
it is–is attracting more and more attention. I do not believe that
Governor Seward uttered that sentiment because I had done so before,
but because he reflected upon this subject and saw the truth of it.
Nor do I believe because Governor Seward or I uttered it that Mr.
Hickman of Pennsylvania, in, different language, since that time, has
declared his belief in the utter antagonism which exists between the
principles of liberty and slavery. You see we are multiplying. Now,
while I am speaking of Hickman, let me say, I know but little about
him. I have never seen him, and know scarcely anything about the
man; but I will say this much of him: Of all the anti-Lecompton
Democracy that have been brought to my notice, he alone has the true,
genuine ring of the metal. And now, without indorsing anything else
he has said, I will ask this audience to give three cheers for
Hickman. [The audience responded with three rousing cheers for

Another point in the copyright essay to which I would ask your
attention is rather a feature to be extracted from the whole thing,
than from any express declaration of it at any point. It is a
general feature of that document, and, indeed, of all of Judge
Douglas’s discussions of this question, that the Territories of the
United States and the States of this Union are exactly alike; that
there is no difference between them at all; that the Constitution
applies to the Territories precisely as it does to the States; and
that the United States Government, under the Constitution, may not do
in a State what it may not do in a Territory, and what it must do in
a State it must do in a Territory. Gentlemen, is that a true view of
the case? It is necessary for this squatter sovereignty, but is it

Let us consider. What does it depend upon? It depends altogether
upon the proposition that the States must, without the interference
of the General Government, do all those things that pertain
exclusively to themselves,–that are local in their nature, that have
no connection with the General Government. After Judge Douglas has
established this proposition, which nobody disputes or ever has
disputed, he proceeds to assume, without proving it, that slavery is
one of those little, unimportant, trivial matters which are of just
about as much consequence as the question would be to me whether my
neighbor should raise horned cattle or plant tobacco; that there is
no moral question about it, but that it is altogether a matter of
dollars and cents; that when a new Territory is opened for
settlement, the first man who goes into it may plant there a thing
which, like the Canada thistle or some other of those pests of the
soil, cannot be dug out by the millions of men who will come
thereafter; that it is one of those little things that is so trivial
in its nature that it has nor effect upon anybody save the few men
who first plant upon the soil; that it is not a thing which in any
way affects the family of communities composing these States, nor any
way endangers the General Government. Judge Douglas ignores
altogether the very well known fact that we have never had a serious
menace to our political existence, except it sprang from this thing,
which he chooses to regard as only upon a par with onions and

Turn it, and contemplate it in another view. He says that, according
to his popular sovereignty, the General Government may give to the
Territories governors, judges, marshals, secretaries, and all the
other chief men to govern them, but they, must not touch upon this
other question. Why? The question of who shall be governor of a
Territory for a year or two, and pass away, without his track being
left upon the soil, or an act which he did for good or for evil being
left behind, is a question of vast national magnitude; it is so much
opposed in its nature to locality that the nation itself must decide
it: while this other matter of planting slavery upon a soil,–a thing
which, once planted, cannot be eradicated by the succeeding millions
who have as much right there as the first comers, or, if eradicated,
not without infinite difficulty and a long struggle, he considers the
power to prohibit it as one of these little local, trivial things
that the nation ought not to say a word about; that it affects nobody
save the few men who are there.

Take these two things and consider them together, present the
question of planting a State with the institution of slavery by the
side of a question who shall be Governor of Kansas for a year or two,
and is there a man here, is there a man on earth, who would not say
the governor question is the little one, and the slavery question is
the great one? I ask any honest Democrat if the small, the local,
and the trivial and temporary question is not, Who shall be governor?
while the durable, the important, and the mischievous one is, Shall
this soil be planted with slavery?

This is an idea, I suppose, which has arisen in Judge Douglas’s mind
from his peculiar structure. I suppose the institution of slavery
really looks small to him. He is so put up by nature that a lash
upon his back would hurt him, but a lash upon anybody else’s back
does not hurt him. That is the build of the man, and consequently he
looks upon the matter of slavery in this unimportant light.

Judge Douglas ought to remember, when he is endeavoring to force this
policy upon the American people, that while he is put up in that way,
a good many are not. He ought to remember that there was once in
this country a man by the name of Thomas Jefferson, supposed to be a
Democrat,–a man whose principles and policy are not very prevalent
amongst Democrats to-day, it is true; but that man did not take
exactly this view of the insignificance of the element of slavery
which our friend judge Douglas does. In contemplation of this thing,
we all know he was led to exclaim, “I tremble for my country when I
remember that God is just!” We know how he looked upon it when he
thus expressed himself. There was danger to this country,–danger of
the avenging justice of God, in that little unimportant popular
sovereignty question of judge Douglas. He supposed there was a
question of God’s eternal justice wrapped up in the enslaving of any
race of men, or any man, and that those who did so braved the arm of
Jehovah; that when a nation thus dared the Almighty, every friend of
that nation had cause to dread his wrath. Choose ye between
Jefferson and Douglas as to what is the true view of this element
among us.

There is another little difficulty about this matter of treating the
Territories and States alike in all things, to which I ask your
attention, and I shall leave this branch of the case. If there is no
difference between them, why not make the Territories States at once?
What is the reason that Kansas was not fit to come into the Union
when it was organized into a Territory, in Judge Douglas’s view? Can
any of you tell any reason why it should not have come into the Union
at once? They are fit, as he thinks, to decide upon the slavery
question,–the largest and most important with which they could
possibly deal: what could they do by coming into the Union that they
are not fit to do, according to his view, by staying out of it? Oh,
they are not fit to sit in Congress and decide upon the rates of
postage, or questions of ad valorem or specific duties on foreign
goods, or live-oak timber contracts, they are not fit to decide these
vastly important matters, which are national in their import, but
they are fit, “from the jump,” to decide this little negro question.
But, gentlemen, the case is too plain; I occupy too much time on this
head, and I pass on.

Near the close of the copyright essay, the judge, I think, comes very
near kicking his own fat into the fire. I did not think, when I
commenced these remarks, that I would read that article, but I now
believe I will:

“This exposition of the history of these measures shows conclusively
that the authors of the Compromise measures of 1850 and of the
Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, as well as the members of the
Continental Congress of 1774., and the founders of our system of
government subsequent to the Revolution, regarded the people of the
Territories and Colonies as political communities which were entitled
to a free and exclusive power of legislation in their provisional
legislatures, where their representation could alone be preserved, in
all cases of taxation and internal polity.”

When the judge saw that putting in the word “slavery” would
contradict his own history, he put in what he knew would pass
synonymous with it,”internal polity.” Whenever we find that in one
of his speeches, the substitute is used in this manner; and I can
tell you the reason. It would be too bald a contradiction to say
slavery; but “internal polity” is a general phrase, which would pass
in some quarters, and which he hopes will pass with the reading
community for the same thing.

“This right pertains to the people collectively, as a law-abiding and
peaceful community, and not in the isolated individuals who may
wander upon the public domain in violation of the law. It can only be
exercised where there are inhabitants sufficient to constitute a
government, and capable of performing its various functions and
duties,–a fact to be ascertained and determined by “who do you
think? Judge Douglas says “by Congress!” “Whether the number shall
be fixed at ten, fifteen or twenty thousand inhabitants, does not
affect the principle.”

Now, I have only a few comments to make. Popular sovereignty, by his
own words, does not pertain to the few persons who wander upon the
public domain in violation of law. We have his words for that. When
it does pertain to them, is when they are sufficient to be formed
into an organized political community, and he fixes the minimum for
that at ten thousand, and the maximum at twenty thousand. Now, I
would like to know what is to be done with the nine thousand? Are
they all to be treated, until they are large enough to be organized
into a political community, as wanderers upon the public land, in
violation of law? And if so treated and driven out, at what point of
time would there ever be ten thousand? If they were not driven out,
but remained there as trespassers upon the public land in violation
of the law, can they establish slavery there? No; the judge says
popular sovereignty don’t pertain to them then. Can they exclude it
then? No; popular sovereignty don’t pertain to them then. I would
like to know, in the case covered by the essay, what condition the
people of the Territory are in before they reach the number of ten

But the main point I wish to ask attention to is, that the question
as to when they shall have reached a sufficient number to be formed
into a regular organized community is to be decided “by Congress.”
Judge Douglas says so. Well, gentlemen, that is about all we want.
No, that is all the Southerners want. That is what all those who are
for slavery want. They do not want Congress to prohibit slavery from
coming into the new Territories, and they do not want popular
sovereignty to hinder it; and as Congress is to say when they are
ready to be organized, all that the South has to do is to get
Congress to hold off. Let Congress hold off until they are ready to
be admitted as a State, and the South has all it wants in taking
slavery into and planting it in all the Territories that we now have
or hereafter may have. In a word, the whole thing, at a dash of the
pen, is at last put in the power of Congress; for if they do not have
this popular sovereignty until Congress organizes them, I ask if it
at last does not come from Congress? If, at last, it amounts to
anything at all, Congress gives it to them. I submit this rather for
your reflection than for comment. After all that is said, at last,
by a dash of the pen, everything that has gone before is undone, and
he puts the whole question under the control of Congress. After
fighting through more than three hours, if you undertake to read it,
he at last places the whole matter under the control of that power
which he has been contending against, and arrives at a result
directly contrary to what he had been laboring to do. He at last
leaves the whole matter to the control of Congress.

There are two main objects, as I understand it, of this Harper’s
Magazine essay. One was to show, if possible, that the men of our
Revolutionary times were in favor of his popular sovereignty, and the
other was to show that the Dred Scott decision had not entirely
squelched out this popular sovereignty. I do not propose, in regard
to this argument drawn from the history of former times, to enter
into a detailed examination of the historical statements he has made.
I have the impression that they are inaccurate in a great many
instances,–sometimes in positive statement, but very much more
inaccurate by the suppression of statements that really belong to the
history. But I do not propose to affirm that this is so to any very
great extent, or to enter into a very minute examination of his
historical statements. I avoid doing so upon this principle,–that
if it were important for me to pass out of this lot in the least
period of time possible, and I came to that fence, and saw by a
calculation of my known strength and agility that I could clear it at
a bound, it would be folly for me to stop and consider whether I
could or not crawl through a crack. So I say of the whole history
contained in his essay where he endeavored to link the men of the
Revolution to popular sovereignty. It only requires an effort to
leap out of it, a single bound to be entirely successful. If you
read it over, you will find that he quotes here and there from
documents of the Revolutionary times, tending to show that the people
of the colonies were desirous of regulating their own concerns in
their own way, that the British Government should not interfere; that
at one time they struggled with the British Government to be
permitted to exclude the African slave trade,–if not directly, to be
permitted to exclude it indirectly, by taxation sufficient to
discourage and destroy it. From these and many things of this sort,
judge Douglas argues that they were in favor of the people of our own
Territories excluding slavery if they wanted to, or planting it there
if they wanted to, doing just as they pleased from the time they
settled upon the Territory. Now, however his history may apply and
whatever of his argument there may be that is sound and accurate or
unsound and inaccurate, if we can find out what these men did
themselves do upon this very question of slavery in the Territories,
does it not end the whole thing? If, after all this labor and effort
to show that the men of the Revolution were in favor of his popular
sovereignty and his mode of dealing with slavery in the Territories,
we can show that these very men took hold of that subject, and dealt
with it, we can see for ourselves how they dealt with it. It is not
a matter of argument or inference, but we know what they thought
about it.

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