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Declaration of Independence', and insisting that there is no
right principle of action but self-interest.

Before proceeding let me say that I think I have no preju-
dice against the Southern people. They are just what we 5
would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist among
them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist among
us, we should not instantly give it up. This I believe of the
masses North and South. Doubtless there are individuals on
both sides who would not hold slaves under any circumstances, 10
and others who would gladly introduce slavery anew if it were
out of existence. We know that some Southern men do free
their slaves, go North and become tiptop abolitionists, while some
Northern ones go South and become most cruel slave masters.

When Southern people tell us they are no more responsible 15
for the origin of slavery than we are, I acknowledge the fact.
When it is said that the institution exists, and that it is very
difficult to get rid of it in any satisfactory way, I can under-
stand and appreciate the saying. I surely will not blame them
for not doing what I should not know how to do myself. If all 20
earthly power w^ere given me, I should not know what to do
as to the existing institution. My first impulse would be to
free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia, to their own
native land. But a moment's reflection would convince me
that whatever of high hope (as I think there is) there may be 25
in this in the long run, its sudden execution is impossible. If
they were all landed there in a day, they would all perish in
the next ten days ; and there are not surplus shipping and sur-
plus money enough to carry them there in many times ten days.
What then ? Free them all, and keep them among us as under- 30
lings ? Is it quite certain that this betters their condition ? I
think I would not hold one in slavery at any rate, yet the point
is not clear enough for me to denounce people upon. What
next ? Free them, and make them politically and socially our


equals. My own feelings will not admit of this, and if mine
would, we well know that those of the great mass of whites
will not. Whether this feeling accords with justice and sound
judgment is not the sole question, if indeed it is any part of it.
5 A universal feeling, whether well or ill founded, cannot be
safely disregarded. We cannot then make them equals. It
does seem to me that systems of gradual emancipation might
be adopted, but for their tardiness in this I will not undertake
to judge our brethren of the South.

3o When they remind us of their constitutional rights, I acknowl-
edge them — not grudgingly, but fully and fairly ; and I would
give them any legislation for the reclaiming of their fugitives
which should not in its stringency be more likely to carry a free
man into slavery than our ordinary criminal laws are to hang an

15 innocent one.

But all this, to my judgment, furnishes no more excuse for
permitting slavery to go into our own free territory than it
would for reviving the African slave trade by law. The law
which forbids the bringing of slaves from Africa, and that which

20 has so long forbidden the taking of them into Nebraska, can
hardly be distinguished on any moral principle, and the repeal
of the former could find quite as plausible excuses as that of
the latter. . . .

But one great argument in support of the repeal of the

25 Missouri Compromise is still to come. That argument is '' the
sacred right of self-government." It seems our distinguished
senator has found great difficulty in getting his antagonists,
even in the Senate, to meet him fairly on this argument. Some
poet * has said :

30 Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

At the hazard of being thought one of the fools of this quota-
tion, I meet that argument — I rush in — I take that bull by

* Alexander Pope, in " Essay on Criticism."


the horns. I trust I understand and truly estimate the right of
self-government. My faith in the proposition that each man
should do precisely as he pleases with all which is exclusively
his own lies at the foundation of the sense of justice there is in
me. I extend the principle to communities of men as well as to 5
individuals. I so extend it because it is politically wise, as well
as naturally just : politically wise in saving us from broils about
matters which do not concern us. Here, or at Washington, I
would not trouble myself with the oyster laws of Virginia, or
the cranberry laws of Indiana. The doctrine of self-government 10
is right, — absolutely and eternally right, — but it has no just
application as here attempted. Or perhaps I should rather say
that whether it has such application depends upon whether a
negro is not or is a man. If he is not a man, in that case he
who is a man may as a matter of self-government do just what 15
he pleases with him. But if the negro is a man, is it not to that
extent a total destruction of self-government to say that he too
shall not govern himself .'' When the white man governs himself,
that is self-government ; but when he governs himself and also
governs another man, that is more than self-government — that 20
is despotism. If the negro is a man, why then my ancient faith
teaches me that '' all men are created equal," and that there can
be no moral right in connection with one man's making a slave
of another.

Judge Douglas frequently, with bitter irony and sarcasm, 25
paraphrases our argument by saying : '' The white people of
Nebraska are good enough to govern themselves, but they are
not good enough to govern a few miserable negroes ! "

Well ! I doubt not that the people of Nebraska are and will
continue to be as good as the average of people elsewhere. I 30
do not say the contrary. What I do say is that no man is good
enough to govern another man without that other's consent. I
say this is the leading principle, the sheet anchor of American
republicanism. Our Declaration of Independence says :


We hold these truths to be self-evident : That all men are created
equal ; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalien-
able rights ; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted
5 among men, deriving their just powers from the consent

OF THE governed.

I have quoted so much at this time merely to show that, ac-
cording to our ancient faith, the just powers of governments are
derived from the consent of the governed. Now the relation of

lo master and slave is pro tanto a total violation of this principle.
The master not only governs the slave without his consent, but
he governs him by a set of rules altogether different from those
which he prescribes for himself. Allow all the governed an
equal voice in the government, and that, and that only, is self-

15 government.

Let it not be said I am contending for the establishment of
pohtical and social equality between the whites and blacks. I
have already said the contrary. I am not combating the argu-
ment of necessity, arising from the fact that the blacks are

20 already among us ; but I am combating what is set up as moral
argument for allowing them to be taken where they have never
yet been — arguing against the extension of a bad thing, which,
where it already exists, we must of necessity manage as we
best can.

25 In support of his application of the doctrine of self-govern-
ment. Senator Douglas has sought to bring to his aid the opin-
ions and examples of our Revolutionary fathers. I am glad he
has done this. I love the sentiments of those old-time men, and
shall be most happy to abide by their opinions. He shows us

30 that when it was in contemplation for the colonies to break off
from Great Britain, and set up a new government for themselves,
several of the states instructed their delegates to go for the
measure, provided each state should be allowed to regulate its
domestic concerns in its own way. I do not quote ; but this in


substance. This was right ; I see nothing objectionable in it.
I also think it probable that it had some reference to the exist-
ence of slavery among them. I will not deny that it had. But
had it any reference to the carrying of slavery into new coun-
tries ? That is the question, and we will let the fathers themselves 5
answer it.

This same generation of men, and mostly the same individ-
uals of the generation who declared this principle, w^ho declared
independence, who fought the War of the Revolution through,
who afterward made the Constitution under which we still live 10
— these same men passed the Ordinance of '87, declaring that
slavery should never go to the Northw^est Territory. I have no
doubt Judge Douglas thinks they were very inconsistent in this.
It is a question of discrimination between them and him. But
there is not an inch of ground left for his claiming that their 15
opinions, their example, their authority, are on his side in the

Again, is not Nebraska, while a territory, a part of us ? Do
we not own the country ? And if we surrender the control of it,
do we not surrender the right of self-government ? It is part 20
of ourselves. If you say we shall not control it, because it is
only part, the same is true of every other part ; and w^hen all
the parts are gone, what has become of the whole ? ^^'hat is
then left of us ? What use for the general government, when
there is nothing left for it to govern? 25

But you say this question should be left to the people of
Nebraska, because they are more particularly interested. If this
be the rule, you must leave it to each individual to say for him-
self whether he will have slaves. What better moral right have
thirty-one citizens of Nebraska to say that the thirty-second shall 30
not hold slaves than the people of the thirty-one states have to
say that slavery shall not go into the thirty-second state at all ?

But if it is a sacred right for the people of Nebraska to take
and hold slaves there, it is equally their sacred right to buy them


where they can buy them cheapest ; and that, undoubtedly, will
be on the coast of Africa, provided you will consent not to hang
them for going there to buy them. You must remove this re-
striction, too, from the sacred right of self-government. I am
5 aware, you say, that taking slaves from the states to Nebraska
does not make slaves of freemen ; but the African slave trader
can say just as much. He does not catch free negroes and
bring them here. He finds them already slaves in the hands of
their black captors, and he honestly buys them at the rate of a

lo red cotton handkerchief a head. This is very cheap, and it is a
great abridgment of the sacred right of self-government to hang
men for engaging in this profitable trade.

Another important objection to this application of the right
of self-government is that it enables the first few to deprive the

15 succeeding many of a free exercise of the right of self-govern-
ment. The first few may get slavery in, and the subsequent
many cannot easily get it out. How common is the remark now
in the slave states, " If we were only clear of our slaves, how
much better it would be for us." They are actually deprived of

20 the privilege of governing themselves as they would, by the ac-
tion of a very few in the beginning. The same thing was true
of the whole nation at the time our Constitution was formed.

Whether slavery shall go into Nebraska, or other new terri-
tories, is not a matter of exclusive concern to the people who

25 may go there. The whole nation is interested that the best use
shall be made of these territories. We want them for homes
of free white people. This they cannot be, to any considerable
extent, if slavery shall be planted within them. Slave states are
places for poor white people to remove from, not to remove to.

30 New free states are the places for poor people to go to, and
better their condition. For this use the nation needs these

Still further : there are constitutional relations between the
slave and free states which are degrading to the latter. We


are under legal obligations to catch and return their runaway
slaves to them : a sort of dirty, disagreeable job, which, I be-
lieve, as a general rule, the slaveholders will not perform for
one another. Then again, in the control of the government —
the management of the partnership affairs — they have greatly 5
the advantage of us. By the Constitution each state has two
senators, each has a number of representatives in proportion to
the number of its people, and each has a number of presidential
electors equal to the whole number of its senators and repre-
sentatives together. But in ascertaining the number of the 10
people for this purpose, five slaves are counted as being equal
to three whites. The slaves do not vote ; they are only counted
and so used as to swell the influence of the white people's
votes. The practical effect of this is more aptly shown by a
comparison of the states of South Carolina and Maine. South 15
Carolina has six representatives, and so has Maine ; South
Carolina has eight presidential electors, and so has Maine. This
is precise equality so far ; and of course they are equal in sena-
tors, each having tw^o. Thus in the control of the government
the two states are equals precisely. But how are they in the 20
number of their white people? Maine has 581,813, while South
Carolina has 274,567 ; Maine has twice as many as South Caro-
lina, and 32,679 over. Thus, each w^hite man in South Carolina
is more than the double of any man in Maine. This is all be-
cause South Carolina, besides her free people, has 384,984 25
slaves. The South Carolinian has precisely the same advantage
over the white man in every other free state as well as in Maine.
He is more than the double of any one of us in this crowed.
The same advantage, but not to the same extent, is held by
all the citizens of the slave states over those of the free ; and 30
it is an absolute truth, without an exception, that there is no
voter in any slave state, but who has more legal power in the
government than any voter in any free state. There is no in-
stance of exact equality ; and the disadvantage is against us


the whole chapter through. This principle, in the aggregate,
gives the slave states in the present Congress twenty additional
representatives, being seven more than the whole majority by
which they passed the Nebraska Bill.
5 Now all this is manifestly unfair ; yet I do not mention it to
complain of it, in so far as it is already settled. It is in the
Constitution, and I do not for that cause, or any other cause,

' propose to destroy, or alter, or disregard the Constitution. I
stand to it, fairly, fully, and firmly,

lo But when I am told I must leave it altogether to other
people to say whether new partners are to be bred up and
brought into the firm, on the same degrading terms against me,
I respectfully demur. I insist that whether I shall be a whole
man, or only the half of one, in comparison with others, is a

1 5 question in which I am somewhat concerned, and one which no
other man can have a sacred right of deciding for me. If I am
wrong in this — if it really be a sacred right of self-government
in the man who shall go to Nebraska to decide whether he will
be the equal of me or the double of me, then, after he shall

20 have exercised that right, and thereby shall have reduced me to
a still smaller fraction of a man than I already am, I should
like for some gentleman, deeply skilled in the mysteries of sacred
rights, to provide himself with a microscope, and peep about,
and find out, if he can, what has become of my sacred rights.

25 They will surely be too small for detection with the naked eye.
Finally, I insist that if there is anything which it is the duty
of the whole people to never intrust to any hands but their own,
that thing is the preservation and perpetuity of their own liber-
ties and institutions. And if they shall think, as I do, that the

30 extension of slavery endangers them more than any or all other
causes, how recreant to themselves if they submit the question,
and with it the fate of their country, to a mere handful of men
bent only on self-interest. If this question of slavery extension
were an insignificant one — one having no power to do harm —


it might be shuffled aside in this way ; but being, as it is, the
great behemoth of danger, shall the strong grip of the nation
be loosened upon him, to intrust him to the hands of such feeble
keepers ?

I have done with this mighty argument of self-government. 5
Go, sacred thing ! Go in peace. . . .


(Close of address at a Republican banquet in Chicago,
December 10, 1856)

. . . Let every one who really believes, and is resolved, that
free society is not and shall not be a failure, and who can con-
scientiously declare that in the past contest he has done only
what he thought best — let every such one have charity to 10
believe that every other one can say as much. Thus let by-
gones be bygones ; let past differences as nothing be ; and
with steady eye on the real issue, let us reinaugurate the good
old " central ideas " of the republic. We can do it. The human
heart is with us ; God is with us. We shall again be able not 1 5
to declare that '' all states as states are equal," nor yet that
'' all citizens as citizens are equal," but to renew the broader,
better declaration, including both these and much more, that
" all men are created equal."


(Extracts from speech made in Springfield, Illinois,

June 16, 1858)

Afr. President and Gentlei7ien of the Convention: If we could 20
first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could
better judge what to do, and how to do it. We are now far
into the fifth year since a policy was initiated with the avowed


object and confident promise of putting an end to slavery agita-
tion. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not
only not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion,
it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed.
5 '' A house divided against itself cannot stand." I believe this
government cannot endure permanently half slave and half
free. I do not expect the Llnion to be dissolved — I do not
expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be
divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either

lo the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it,
and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that
it is in the course of ultimate extinction ; or its advocates will
push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the states,
old as well as new. North as well as South.

1 5 Have we no tendency to the latter condition ?

Let any one who doubts carefully contemplate that now
almost complete legal combination — piece of machinery, so to
speak — compounded of the Nebraska doctrine and the Dred
Scott decision. Let him consider not only what work the

20 machinery is adapted to do, and how well adapted ; but also let

him study the history of its construction, and trace, if he can,

or rather fail, if he can, to trace the evidences of design and

concert of action among its chief architects, from the beginning.

The new year of 1854 found slavery excluded from more

25 than half the states by state constitutions, and from most of
the national territory by congressional prohibition. Four days
later commenced the struggle which ended in repealing that
congressional prohibition. This opened all the national territory
to slavery, and was the first point gained.

30 But, so far. Congress only had acted ; and an indorsement
by the people, real or apparent, was indispensable to save the
point already gained and give chance for more.

This necessity had not been overlooked, but had been pro-
vided for, as well as might be, in the notable argument of


" squatter sovereignty," otherwise called " sacred right of self-
government," which latter phrase, though expressive of the
only rightful basis of any government, was so perverted in this
attempted use of it as to amount to just this : That if any one
man choose to enslave another, no third man shall be allowed 5
to object. That argument was incorporated into the Nebraska
Bill itself, in the language which follows : " It being the true
intent and meaning of this act not to legislate slavery into any
territory or state, nor to exclude it therefrom ; but to leave
the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their 10
domestic institutions in their own w^ay, subject only to the
Constitution of the United States." Then opened the roar
of loose declamation in favor of "" squatter sovereignty " and
" sacred right of self-government." " But," said opposition
members, "let us amend the bill so as to expressly declare 15
that the people of the territory may exclude slavery." " Not
we," said, the friends of the measure ; and down they voted
the amendment.

\Miile the Nebraska Bill was passing through Congress, a
law case involving the question of a negro's freedom, by reason 20
of his owner having voluntarily taken him first into a free
state and then into a territory covered by the congressional
prohibition, and held him as a slave for a long time in each,
was passing through the United States Circuit Court for the
district of Missouri; and both Nebraska Bill and lawsuit were 25
brought to a decision in the same month of May, 1854. The
negro's name was Dred Scott, which name now designates the
decision finally made in the case. Before the then next presi-
dential election, the law case came to and was argued in the
Supreme Court of the United States ; but the decision of it 30
was deferred until after the election. Still, before the election.
Senator Trumbull, on the floor of the Senate, requested the
leading advocate of the Nebraska Bill to state his opinion
whether the people of a territory can constitutionally exclude


slavery from their limits ; and the latter answered : " That is a
question for the Supreme Court."

The election came. Mr. Buchanan was elected, and the in-
dorsement, such as it was, secured. That was the second point
5 gained. The indorsement, however, fell short of a clear popu-
lar majority by nearly four hundred thousand votes, and so,
perhaps, was not overwhelmingly reliable and satisfactory. The
outgoing President, in his last annual message, as impressively
as possible echoed back upon the people the weight and author-

10 ity of the indorsement. The Supreme Court met again; did
not announce their decision, but ordered a reargument. The
presidential inauguration came, and still no decision of the
court ; but the incoming President in his inaugural address fer-
vently exhorted the people to abide by the forthcoming decision,

15 whatever it might be. Then, in a few days, came the decision.
The reputed author of the Nebraska Bill finds an early occa-
sion to make a speech at this capital indorsing the Dred Scott
decision, and vehemently denouncing all opposition to it. The
new President, too, seizes the early occasion of the Silliman

20 letter to indorse and strongly construe that decision, and to
express his astonishment that any different view had ever
been entertained !

At length a squabble springs up between the President and
the author of the Nebraska Bill, on the mere question of fact,

25 whether the Lecompton constitution was or was not, in any
just sense, made by the people of Kansas ; and in that quarrel
the latter declares that all he wants is a fair vote for the people,
and that he cares not whether slavery be voted down or voted
up. I do not understand his declaration that he cares not

30 whether slavery be voted down or voted up to be intended by
him other than as an apt definition of the policy he would
impress upon the public mind — the principle for which he
declares he has suffered so much, and is ready to suffer to the
end. And well may he cling to that principle. If he has any


parental feeling, well may he cling to it. That principle is the
only shred left of his original Nebraska doctrine. Under the

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Online LibraryA LincolnSelections from the letters, speeches (Volume 2) → online text (page 4 of 13)