The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7

It is precisely upon that part of the history of the country that one
important omission is made by Judge Douglas. He selects parts of the
history of the United States upon the subject of slavery, and treats
it as the whole, omitting from his historical sketch the legislation
of Congress in regard to the admission of Missouri, by which the
Missouri Compromise was established and slavery excluded from a
country half as large as the present United States. All this is left
out of his history, and in nowise alluded to by him, so far as I can
remember, save once, when he makes a remark, that upon his principle
the Supreme Court were authorized to pronounce a decision that the
act called the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional. All that
history has been left out. But this part of the history of the
country was not made by the men of the Revolution.

There was another part of our political history, made by the very men
who were the actors in the Revolution, which has taken the name of
the Ordinance of ’87. Let me bring that history to your attention.
In 1784, I believe, this same Mr. Jefferson drew up an ordinance for
the government of the country upon which we now stand, or, rather, a
frame or draft of an ordinance for the government of this country,
here in Ohio, our neighbors in Indiana, us who live in Illinois, our
neighbors in Wisconsin and Michigan. In that ordinance, drawn up not
only for the government of that Territory, but for the Territories
south of the Ohio River, Mr. Jefferson expressly provided for the
prohibition of slavery. Judge Douglas says, and perhaps is right,
that that provision was lost from that ordinance. I believe that is
true. When the vote was taken upon it, a majority of all present in
the Congress of the Confederation voted for it; but there were so
many absentees that those voting for it did not make the clear
majority necessary, and it was lost. But three years after that, the
Congress of the Confederation were together again, and they adopted a
new ordinance for the government of this Northwest Territory, not
contemplating territory south of the river, for the States owning
that territory had hitherto refrained from giving it to the General
Government; hence they made the ordinance to apply only to what the
Government owned. In fact, the provision excluding slavery was
inserted aside, passed unanimously, or at any rate it passed and
became a part of the law of the land. Under that ordinance we live.
First here in Ohio you were a Territory; then an enabling act was
passed, authorizing you to form a constitution and State Government,
provided it was republican and not in conflict with the Ordinance of
’87. When you framed your constitution and presented it for
admission, I think you will find the legislation upon the subject
will show that, whereas you had formed a constitution that was
republican, and not in conflict with the Ordinance of ’87, therefore
you were admitted upon equal footing with the original States. The
same process in a few years was gone through with in Indiana, and so
with Illinois, and the same substantially with Michigan and

Not only did that Ordinance prevail, but it was constantly looked to
whenever a step was taken by a new Territory to become a State.
Congress always turned their attention to it, and in all their
movements upon this subject they traced their course by that
Ordinance of ’87. When they admitted new States, they advertised
them of this Ordinance, as a part of the legislation of the country.
They did so because they had traced the Ordinance of ’87 throughout
the history of this country. Begin with the men of the Revolution,
and go down for sixty entire years, and until the last scrap of that
Territory comes into the Union in the form of the State of Wisconsin,
everything was made to conform with the Ordinance of ’87, excluding
slavery from that vast extent of country.

I omitted to mention in the right place that the Constitution of the
United States was in process of being framed when that Ordinance was
made by the Congress of the Confederation; and one of the first Acts
of Congress itself, under the new Constitution itself, was to give
force to that Ordinance by putting power to carry it out in the hands
of the new officers under the Constitution, in the place of the old
ones, who had been legislated out of existence by the change in the
Government from the Confederation to the Constitution. Not only so,
but I believe Indiana once or twice, if not Ohio, petitioned the
General Government for the privilege of suspending that provision and
allowing them to have slaves. A report made by Mr. Randolph, of
Virginia, himself a slaveholder, was directly against it, and the
action was to refuse them the privilege of violating the Ordinance of

This period of history, which I have run over briefly, is, I presume,
as familiar to most of this assembly as any other part of the history
of our country. I suppose that few of my hearers are not as familiar
with that part of history as I am, and I only mention it to recall
your attention to it at this time. And hence I ask how extraordinary
a thing it is that a man who has occupied a position upon the floor
of the Senate of the United States, who is now in his third term, and
who looks to see the government of this whole country fall into his
own hands, pretending to give a truthful and accurate history o the
slavery question in this country, should so entirely ignore the whole
of that portion of our history–the most important of all. Is it not
a most extraordinary spectacle that a man should stand up and ask for
any confidence in his statements who sets out as he does with
portions of history, calling upon the people to believe that it is a
true and fair representation, when the leading part and controlling
feature of the whole history is carefully suppressed?

But the mere leaving out is not the most remarkable feature of this
most remarkable essay. His proposition is to establish that the
leading men of the Revolution were for his great principle of
nonintervention by the government in the question of slavery in the
Territories, while history shows that they decided, in the cases
actually brought before them, in exactly the contrary way, and he
knows it. Not only did they so decide at that time, but they stuck
to it during sixty years, through thick and thin, as long as there
was one of the Revolutionary heroes upon the stage of political
action. Through their whole course, from first to last, they clung
to freedom. And now he asks the community to believe that the men of
the Revolution were in favor of his great principle, when we have the
naked history that they themselves dealt with this very subject
matter of his principle, and utterly repudiated his principle, acting
upon a precisely contrary ground. It is as impudent and absurd as if
a prosecuting attorney should stand up before a jury and ask them
to convict A as the murderer of B, while B was walking alive before

I say, again, if judge Douglas asserts that the men of the Revolution
acted upon principles by which, to be consistent with themselves,
they ought to have adopted his popular sovereignty, then, upon a
consideration of his own argument, he had a right to make ,you
believe that they understood the principles of government, but
misapplied them, that he has arisen to enlighten the world as to the
just application of this principle. He has a right to try to
persuade you that he understands their principles better than they
did, and, therefore, he will apply them now, not as they did, but as
they ought to have done. He has a right to go before the community
and try to convince them of this, but he has no right to attempt to
impose upon any one the belief that these men themselves approved of
his great principle. There are two ways of establishing a
proposition. One is by trying to demonstrate it upon reason, and the
other is, to show that great men in former times have thought so and
so, and thus to pass it by the weight of pure authority. Now, if
Judge Douglas will demonstrate somehow that this is popular
sovereignty,–the right of one man to make a slave of another,
without any right in that other or any one else to object,-
-demonstrate it as Euclid demonstrated propositions,–there is no
objection. But when he comes forward, seeking to carry a principle
by bringing to it the authority of men who themselves utterly
repudiate that principle, I ask that he shall not be permitted to do

I see, in the judge’s speech here, a short sentence in these words:
“Our fathers, when they formed this government under which we live,
understood this question just as well, and even better than, we do
now.” That is true; I stick to that. I will stand by Judge Douglas
in that to the bitter end. And now, Judge Douglas, come and stand by
me, and truthfully show how they acted, understanding it better than
we do. All I ask of you, Judge Douglas, is to stick to the
proposition that the men of the Revolution understood this subject
better than we do now, and with that better understanding they acted
better than you are trying to act now.

I wish to say something now in regard to the Dred Scott decision, as
dealt with by Judge Douglas. In that “memorable debate” between
Judge Douglas and myself, last year, the judge thought fit to
commence a process of catechising me, and at Freeport I answered his
questions, and propounded some to him. Among others propounded to
him was one that I have here now. The substance, as I remember it,
is, “Can the people of a United States Territory, under the Dred
Scott decision, in any lawful way, against the wish of any citizen of
the United States, exclude slavery from its limits, prior to the
formation of a State constitution?” He answered that they could
lawfully exclude slavery from the United States Territories,
notwithstanding the Dred Scot decision. There was something about
that answer that has probably been a trouble to the judge ever since.

The Dred Scott decision expressly gives every citizen of the United
States a right to carry his slaves into the United States
Territories. And now there was some inconsistency in saying that the
decision was right, and saying, too, that the people of the Territory
could lawfully drive slavery out again. When all the trash, the
words, the collateral matter, was cleared away from it, all the chaff
was fanned out of it, it was a bare absurdity,–no less than that a
thing may be lawfully driven away from where it has a lawful right to
be. Clear it of all the verbiage, and that is the naked truth of his
proposition,–that a thing may be lawfully driven from the place
where it has a lawful right to stay. Well, it was because the judge
could n’t help seeing this that he has had so much trouble with it;
and what I want to ask your especial attention to, just now, is to
remind you, if you have not noticed the fact, that the judge does not
any longer say that the people can exclude slavery. He does not say
so in the copyright essay; he did not say so in the speech that he
made here; and, so far as I know, since his re-election to the Senate
he has never said, as he did at Freeport, that the people of the
Territories can exclude slavery. He desires that you, who wish the
Territories to remain free, should believe that he stands by that
position; but he does not say it himself. He escapes to some extent
the absurd position I have stated, by changing his language entirely.
What he says now is something different in language, and we will
consider whether it is not different in sense too. It is now that
the Dred Scott decision, or rather the Constitution under that
decision, does not carry slavery into the Territories beyond the
power of the people of the Territories to control it as other
property. He does not say the people can drive it out, but they can
control it as other property. The language is different; we should
consider whether the sense is different. Driving a horse out of this
lot is too plain a proposition to be mistaken about; it is putting
him on the other side of the fence. Or it might be a sort of
exclusion of him from the lot if you were to kill him and let the
worms devour him; but neither of these things is the same as
“controlling him as other property.” That would be to feed him, to
pamper him, to ride him, to use and abuse him, to make the most money
out of him, “as other property”; but, please you, what do the men who
are in favor of slavery want more than this? What do they really
want, other than that slavery, being in the Territories, shall be
controlled as other property? If they want anything else, I do not
comprehend it. I ask your attention to this, first, for the purpose
of pointing out the change of ground the judge has made; and, in the
second place, the importance of the change,–that that change is not
such as to give you gentlemen who want his popular sovereignty the
power to exclude the institution or drive it out at all. I know the
judge sometimes squints at the argument that in controlling it as
other property by unfriendly legislation they may control it to
death; as you might, in the case of a horse, perhaps, feed him so
lightly and ride him so much that he would die. But when you come to
legislative control, there is something more to be attended to. I
have no doubt, myself, that if the Territories should undertake to
control slave property as other property that is, control it in such
a way that it would be the most valuable as property, and make it
bear its just proportion in the way of burdens as property, really
deal with it as property,–the Supreme Court of the United States
will say, “God speed you, and amen.” But I undertake to give the
opinion, at least, that if the Territories attempt by any direct
legislation to drive the man with his slave out of the Territory, or
to decide that his slave is free because of his being taken in there,
or to tax him to such an extent that he cannot keep him there, the
Supreme Court will unhesitatingly decide all such legislation
unconstitutional, as long as that Supreme Court is constructed as the
Dred Scott Supreme Court is. The first two things they have already
decided, except that there is a little quibble among lawyers between
the words “dicta” and “decision.” They have already decided a negro
cannot be made free by Territorial legislation.

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