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the greater prominence of the question. Would you have that
question reduced to its former proportions ? Go back to that old
policy. What has been will be again, under the same conditions. 5
If you would have the peace of the old times, readopt the pre-
cepts and policy of the old times.

You charge that we stir up insurrections among your slaves.
We deny it ; and what is your proof .'' Harpers Ferry ! John
Brown ! 1 John Brown was no Republican ; and you have failed 10
to implicate a single Republican in his Harpers Ferry enter-
prise. If any member of our party is guilty in that matter, you
know it, or you do not know it. If you do know it, you are
inexcusable for not designating the man and proving the fact.
If you do not know it, you are inexcusable for asserting it, and 1 5
especially for persisting in the assertion after you have tried and
failed to make the proof. You need not be told that persisting
in a charge which one does not know to be true, is simply mali-
cious slander.

Some of you admit that no Republican designedly aided or 20
encouraged the Harpers Ferry affair, but still insist that our
doctrines and declarations necessarily lead to such results. We
do not believe it. We know we hold no doctrine, and make no
declaration, which were not held to and made by " our fathers
who framed the government under which we live." You never 25
dealt fairly by us in relation to this affair. When it occurred,
some important state elections were near at hand, and you were
in evident glee with the belief that, by charging the blame upon
us, you could get an advantage of us in those elections. The
elections came, and your expectations were not quite fulfilled. 30
Every Republican man knew that, as to himself at least, your
charge was a slander, and he was not much inclined by it to
cast his vote in your favor. Republican doctrines and declara-
tions are accompanied with a continual protest against any


interference whatever with your slaves, or with you about your
slaves. Surely, this does not encourage them to revolt. True,
we do, in common with ''our fathers who framed the government
under which we live," declare our belief that slavery is wrong ;
5 but the slaves do not hear us declare even this. For anything we
say or do, the slaves would scarcely know there is a Republican
party. I believe they would not, in fact, generally know it but
for your misrepresentations of us in their hearing. In your
political contests among yourselves, each faction charges the

lo other with sympathy with Black Republicanism ; and then, to
give point to the charge, defines Black Republicanism to simply
be insurrection, blood, and thunder among the slaves.

Slave insurrections are no more common now than they were
before the Republican party was organized. What induced the

15 Southampton insurrection, twenty-eight years ago, in which at
least three times as many lives were lost as at Harpers Ferry ? *
You can scarcely stretch your very elastic fancy to the conclusion
that Southampton was '' got up by Black Republicanism." In
the present state of things in the United States, I do not think

20 a general, or even a very extensive, slave insurrection is possible.
The indispensable concert of action cannot be attained. The
slaves have no means of rapid communication ; nor can incen-
diary freemen, black or white, supply it. The explosive mate-
rials are everywhere in parcels ; but there neither are, nor can

25 be supplied, the indispensable connecting trains.

Much is said by Southern people about the affection of slaves
for their masters and mistresses ; and a part of it, at least,
is true. A plot for an uprising could scarcely be devised and

* In August, 183 1, at Southampton, Va., Nat Turner, a negro, led an
insurrection of his fellow slaves in the course of which more than sixty
white people, most of them women and children, were massacred. The
abolitionists were charged with instigating the rising, but their histor-
ians deny the allegation, and no proof has come to light of their con-
nection with the crime.


communicated to twenty individuals before some one of them,
to save the life of a favorite master or mistress, would divulge
it. This is the rule ; and the slave revolution in Haiti was not
an exception to it, but a case occurring under peculiar circum-
stances. The gunpowder plot of British history, though not 5
connected with slaves, was more in point. In that case, only
about twenty were admitted to the secret ; and yet one of them,
in his anxiety to save a friend, betrayed the plot to that friend,
and, by consequence, averted the calamity. Occasional poison-
ings from the kitchen, and open or stealthy assassinations in 10
the field, and local revolts extending to a score or so, will con-
tinue to occur as the natural results of slavery ; but no general
insurrection of slaves, as I think, can happen in this country for
a long time. Whoever much fears, or much hopes, for such an ■
event, will be alike disappointed. 15

In the language of Mr. Jefferson, uttered many years ago,
" It is still in our powder to direct the process of emancipation
and deportation peaceably, and in such slow degrees, as that the
evil will wear off insensibly ; and their places be, pcwi passu,
filled up by free white laborers. If, on the contrary, it is left to 20
force itself on, human nature must shudder at the prospect
held up."

Mr. Jefferson did not mean to say, nor do I, that the power
of emancipation is in the federal government. He spoke of
Virginia; and, as to the power of emancipation, I speak of the 25
slaveholding states only. The federal government, however, as
we insist, has the power of restraining the extension of the
institution — the power to insure that a slave insurrection shall
never occur on any American soil which is now free from slavery.

John Brown's effort was peculiar. It was not a slave insur- 30
rection. It was an attempt by white men to get up a revolt
among slaves, in which the slaves refused to participate. In
fact, it was so absurd that the slaves, with all their ignorance,
saw plainly enough it could not succeed. That affair, in its


philosophy, corresponds with the many attempts, related in
history, at the assassination of kings and emperors. An en-
thusiast broods over the oppression of a people till he fancies
himself commissioned by Heaven to liberate them. He ventures
5 the attempt, which ends in little else than his own execution.
Orsini's attempt on Louis Napoleon,* and John Brown's attempt
at Harpers Ferry, were, in their philosophy, precisely the same.
The eagerness to cast blame on old England in the one case,
and on New England in the other, does not disprove the same-
lo ness of the two things.

And how much would it avail you, if you could, by the use
of John Brown, Helper's book,t and the like, break up the

* Felice Orsiniwas chief of a band of desperadoes that attempted the
life of Napoleon III on January 14, 1858. The plot had been hatched
in London and many Frenchmen bitterly charged the British with
complicity in the crime.

t Hinton R. Helper, a North Carolinian, wrote, in 1857, " The Im-
pending Crisis of the South : How to Meet It," a book intended to
show that slavery was inimical to the interests of the nonslavehold-
ing Southern whites. Of this work, J. F. Rhodes says, in his " History
of the United States from 1S50 " :

" Although the writer's manner was highly emotional, sincerity flowed
from his unpracticed pen. The facts were in the main correct ; the
arguments based on them, in spite of being disfigured by abuse of the
slaveholders, and weakened by threats, of violent action in a certain
contingency, were unanswerable. . . . The burden of Helper's argu-
ment was that the abolition of slavery would improve the material in-
terests of the South by fostering manufactures and commerce, thus
greatly increasing the value of land, the only property of the poor whites,
and giving them a larger market for their products. The country and
the cities would grow ; there would be schools, as at the North, for the
education of their children, and their rise in the social scale would be
marked. . . . Had the poor whites been able to read and comprehend
such an argument, slavery would have been doomed to destruction, for
certainly seven voters out of ten in the slave states were nonslave-
holding whites. It was this consideration that made Southern congress-
men so furious, for to retain their power they must continue to hoodwink
their poorer neighbors.


f Republican organization ? Human action can be modified to
some extent, but human nature cannot be changed. There is a
judgment and a feeling against slavery in this nation, which cast
at least a million and a half of votes. You cannot destroy that
judgment and feeling — that sentiment — by breaking up the 5
political organization which rallies around it. Y^ou can scarcely
scatter and disperse an army which has been formed into order
in the face of your heaviest fire ; but if you could, how much
would you gain by forcing the sentiment which created it out
of the peaceful channel of the ballot box into some other 10
channel ? What would that other channel probably be ? Would
the number of John Browns be lessened or enlarged by the
operation ?

But you will break up the Union rather than submit to a
denial of your constitutional rights. 15

That has a somewhat reckless sound ; but it would be palli-
ated, if not fully justified, were we proposing, by the mere force
of numbers, to deprive you of some right plainly written down
in the Constitution. But we are proposing no such thing.

When you make these declarations you have a specific and 20
well-understood allusion to an assumed constitutional right of
yours to take slaves into the federal territories, and to hold
them there as property. But no such right is specifically written
in the Constitution. That instrument is literally silent about any

The book grew in favor in the North, and in 1859, it was pubHshed
for propagandist purposes in a cheap edition, which received the writ-
ten approval of a number of Republican congressmen, including John
Sherman, the candidate of his party for Speaker. Although Sherman
explained that he had signed the indorsement by proxy in a moment of
thoughtlessness, he could not dissipate the distrust of moderate Re-
publicans whose votes were necessary for his election. A long contest
ensued, which Sherman ended by retiring in favor of William Penning-
ton of New Jersey, who was thought to be more conservative. Mr.
Pennington was promptly elected.

In 1861 Lincoln appointed Helper consul to Buenos Aires.


such right. We, on the contrary, deny that such a right has any
existence in the Constitution, even by implication.

Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy
the government, unless you be allowed to construe and force
5 the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between
you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events.

This, plainly stated, is your language. Perhaps you will say
the Supreme Court has decided the disputed constitutional
question in your favor. Not quite so. But waiving the lawyer's

10 distinction between dictum and decision, the court has decided
the question for you in a sort of way. The court has substan-
tially said, it is your constitutional right to take slaves into the
federal territories, and to hold them there as property. When
I say the decision was made in a sort of way, I mean it was

15 made in a divided court, by a bare majority of the judges, and
they not quite agreeing with one another in the reasons for
making it; that it is so made as that its avowed supporters
disagree with one another about its meaning, and that it was
mainly based upon a mistaken statement of fact — the state-

20 ment in the opinion that '' the right of property in a slave is
distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution."

An inspection of the Constitution will show that the right of
property in a slave is not " distinctly and expressly affirmed "
in it. Bear in mind, the judges do not pledge their judicial

25 opinion that such right is impliedly affirmed in the Constitution ;
but they pledge their veracity that it is " distinctly and ex-
pressly "• affirmed there — ''distinctly," that is, not mingled
with anything else — " expressly," that is, in words meaning
just that, without the aid of any inference, and susceptible of no

30 other meaning.

If they had only pledged their judicial opinion that such right
is affirmed in the instrument by implication, it would be open to
others to show that neither the word " slave " nor "■ slavery "
is to be found in the Constitution, nor the word '' property "


even, in any connection with language alluding to the things
slave, or slavery ; and that wherever in that instrument the slave
is alluded to, he is called a " person " ; and wherever his master's
legal right in relation to him is alluded to, it is spoken of as
''service or labor which may be due" — as a debt payable in 5
service or labor. Also it would be open to show, by contempo-
raneous history, that this mode of alluding to slaves and slavery,
instead of speaking of them, was employed on purpose to ex-
clude from the Constitution the idea that there could be prop-
erty in man. 10

To show all this is easy and certain.

When this obvious mistake of the judges shall be brought to
their notice, is it not reasonable to expect that they will withdraw
the mistaken statement, and reconsider the conclusion based
upon it ? 15

And then it is to be remembered that " our fathers who
framed the government under which we live " — the men who
made the Constitution — decided this same constitutional ques-
tion in our favor long ago : decided it without division among
themselves when making the decision ; without division among 20
themselves about the meaning of it after it was made, and, so
far as any evidence is left, without basing it upon any mistaken
statement of facts.

Under all these circumstances, do you really feel yourselves
justified to break up this government unless such a court decision 25
as yours is shall be at once submitted to as a conclusive and final
rule of political action ? But you will not abide the election of a
Republican President ! In that supposed event, you say, you will
destroy the Union ; and then, you say, the great crime of having
destroyed it will be upon us ! That is cool. A highwayman holds 30
a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, '' Stand and
deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer ! "

To be sure, what the robber demanded of me — my money
— was my own ; and I had a clear right to keep it ; but it was


no more my own than my vote is my own ; and the threat of death
to me, to extort my money, and the threat of destruction to the
Union, to extort my vote, can scarcely be distinguished in principle.
A few words now to Republicans. It is exceedingly desirable
5 that all parts of this great confederacy shall be at peace, and in
harmony one with another. Let us Republicans do our part to
have it so. Even though much provoked, let us do nothing
through passion and ill temper. Even though the Southern
people will not so much as listen to us, let us calmly consider

lo their demands, and yield to them if, in our deliberate view of
our duty, we possibly can. Judging by all they say and do, and
by the subject and nature of their controversy with us, let us
determine, if we can, what will satisfy them.

Will they be satisfied if the territories be unconditionally sur-

15 rendered to them ? We know they will not. In all their present
complaints against us, the territories are scarcely mentioned.
Invasions and insurrections are the rage now. Will it satisfy
them if, in the future, we have nothing to do with invasions and
insurrections ? We know it will not. We so know, because we

20 know we never had anything to do with invasions and insurrec-
tions ; and yet this total abstaining does not exempt us from
the charge and the denunciation.

The question recurs. What will satisfy them ? Simply this :
we must not only let them alone, but we must somehow con-

25 vince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by ex-
perience, is no easy task. We have been so trying to convince
them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no
success. In all our platforms and speeches we have constantly
protested our purpose to let them alone ; but this has had no

30 tendency to convince them. Alike unavailing to convince them
is the fact that they have never detected a man of us in any
attempt to disturb them.

These natural and apparently adequate means all failing, what
will convince them ? This, and this only : cease to call slavery


wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be
done thoroughly — done in acts as well as in words. Silence
will not be tolerated — we must place ourselves avowedly with
them. Senator Douglas's new sedition law must be enacted
and enforced, suppressing all declarations that slavery is wrong, 5
whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private.
We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy
pleasure. We must pull down our free-state constitutions. The
whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposi-
tion to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their 1
troubles proceed from us.

I am quite aware they do not state their case precisely in
this way. Most of them would probably say to us, '' Let us
alone ; do nothing to us, and say what you please about slavery."
But we do let them alone, — have never disturbed them, — so i
that, after all, it is what we say which dissatisfies them. They
will continue to accuse us of doing, until we cease saying.

I am also aware they have not as yet in terms demanded
the overthrow of our free-state constitutions. Yet those consti-
tutions declare the wrong of slavery with more solemn emphasis 21
than do all other sayings against it ; and when all these other
sayings shall have been silenced, the overthrow of these consti-
tutions will be demanded, and nothing be left to resist the de-
mand. It is nothing to the contrary that they do not demand
the whole of this just now. Demanding what they do, and for 2
the reason they do, they can voluntarily stop nowhere short of
this consummation. Holding, as they do, that slavery is morally
right and socially elevating, ttiey cannot cease to demand a full
national recognition of it as a legal right and a social blessing.

Nor can we justifiably withhold this on any ground save our 3(
conviction that slavery is wrong. If slavery is right, all words,
acts, laws, and constitutions against it are themselves wrong,
and should be silenced and swept away. If it is right, we cannot
justly object to its nationality — its universality; if it is wropg,


they cannot justly insist upon its extension — its enlargement.
All they ask we could readily grant, if we thought slavery right ;
all we ask they could as readily grant, if they thought it wrong.
Their thinking it right and our thinking it wrong is the precise

5 fact upon which depends the whole controversy. Thinking it
right, as they do, they are not to blame for desiring its full
recognition as being right ; but thinking it wrong, as we do, can
we yield to them ? Can we cast our votes with their view, and
against our own ? In view of our moral, social, and political

o responsibilities, can we do this ?

Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone
where it is,- because that much is due to the necessity arising
from its actual presence in the nation ; but can we, while our
votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the national territo-

[ 5 ries, and to overrun us here in these free states ?

If our sense of duty forbids this, then let us stand by our
duty fearlessly and effectively. Let us be diverted by none of
those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously
plied and belabored — contrivances such as groping for some

JO middle ground between the right and the wrong; vain as the
search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a
dead man ; such as a policy of " don't care " on a question
about which all true men do care ; such as Union appeals be-
seeching true Union men to yield to Disunionists, reversing the

>5 divine rule, and calling, not the sinners, but the righteous to
repentance ; such as invocations to Washington, imploring men
to unsay what Washington said and undo what Washington did.
Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusa-
tions against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruc-

30 tion to the government, nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us
have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us to
the end dare to do our duty as we understand it.




(When he left them on February 1 1, 186 1, to go to Washington for

his first inauguration)

My Friends : No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my
feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kind-
ness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a
quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old
man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I 5
now leave, not knowing when or whether ever I may return,
with a task before me greater than that which rested upon
Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being who
ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance, I
cannot fail. Trusting in Him w^ho can go with me, and remain i
with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope
that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I
hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an
affectionate farewell.


(Extracts from first inaugural, March 4, 1861)

... I take the official oath to-day with no mental reservations, i
and with no purpose to construe the Constitution or laws by
any hypercritical rules. And while I do not choose now to
specify particular acts of Congress as proper to be enforced,
I do suggest that it will be much safer for all, both in official
and private stations, to conform to and abide by all those acts 2(
which stand unrepealed, than to violate any of them, trusting
to find impunity in having them held to be unconstitutional.

It is seventy-two years since the first inauguration of a Pres-
ident under our national Constitution. During that period


fifteen different and greatly distinguished citizens have, in suc-
cession, administered the executive branch of the government.
They have conducted it through many perils, and generally with
great success. Yet, with all this scope of precedent, I now

5 enter upon the same task for the brief constitutional term of
four years under great and peculiar difficulty. A disruption of
the federal Union, heretofore only menaced, is now formidably

I hold that, in contemplation of universal law and of the

o Constitution, the Union of these states is perpetual. Perpetuity
is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all na-
tional governments. It is safe to assert that no government
proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own ter-
mination. Continue to execute all the express provisions of our

5 national Constitution, and the Union will endure forever — it
being impossible to destroy it except by some action not pro-
vided for in the instrument itself.

Again, if the United States be not a government proper, but
an association of states in the nature of contract merely, can

!o it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade by less than all the
parties who made it ? One party to a contract may violate
it — break it, so to speak ; but does it not require all to law-
fully rescind it ?

Descending from these general principles, we find the prop-

!5 osition that, in legal contemplation the Union is perpetual
confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is
much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by
the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and con-
tinued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was

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Online LibraryA LincolnSelections from the letters, speeches (Volume 2) → online text (page 7 of 13)