Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; online

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M. Brayman, Esq.

Bear Sir : Neither the county of McLean nor any one on its be-
half has yet made any engagement with me in relation to its suit
with the Illinois Central Railroad on the subject of taxation. I am
now free to make an engagement for the road, and if you think of
it you may " count me in." Please write me on receipt of this. I
shall be here at least ten days. Yours truly,

A. Lincoln.

April 1, 1854. — Letter to Jesse Lincoln.

Springfield, Illinois, April 1, 1854.
My dear Sir: On yesterday I had the pleasure of receiving your
letter of the 16th of March. From what you say there can be no
doubt that you and I are of the same family. The history of your
family, as you give it, is precisely what I have always heard, and
partly know, of my own. As you have supposed, I am the grand-
son of your uncle Abraham ; and the story of his death by the In-
dians, and of Uncle Mordecai, then fourteen years old, killing one
of the Indians, is the legend more strongly than all others im-
printed upon my mind and memory. I am the son of grandfathei-'s
youngest son, Thomas. I have often heard my father speak of his
uncle Isaac residing at Watauga (I think), near where the then States
of Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee join, — j'ou seem now to
be some hundred miles or so west of that. I often saw Uncle Mor-
decai, and Uncle Josiah but once in my life ; but I never resided
near either of them. Uncle Mordecai died in 1831 or 2, in Hancock
County, HUnois, where he had then recently removed from Ken-
tucky, and where his children had also removed, and stUl reside, as
I understand. Whether Uncle Josiah is dead or living, I cannot tell,
not having heard from him for more than twenty years. When I
last heard of him he was living on Big Blue Eiver, in Indiana
(Harrison Co., I think), and where he had resided ever since before
the beginning of my recollection. My father (Thomas) died the 17th
of January, 1851, in Coles County, Illinois, where he had resided
twenty years. I am his only child. I have resided here, and here-
abouts, twenty-three years. I am forty-five years of age, and have
a wife and three children, the oldest eleven years. My wife was
born and raised at Lexington, Kentucky ; and my connection with
her has sometimes taken me there, where I have heard the older
people of her relations speak of your uncle Thomas and his family.
He is dead long ago, and his descendants have gone to some part of
Missouri, as I recollect what I was told. When I was at Washing-
ton in 1848, 1 got up a correspondence with David Lincoln, residing
at Sparta, Rockingham County, Virginia, who, like yourself, was a
first cousin of my father ; but I forget, if he informed me, which of my
grandfather's brothers was his father. With Col, Crozier, of whom
Vol. L— 12.


you speak, I formed quite an intimate acquaintance, for a short
one, while at Washington ; and when you meet him again I will
thank you to present him my respects. Your present governor,
Andrew Johnson, was also at Washington while I was ; and he told
me of there being people of the name of Lincoln in Carter County,
I think. I can no longer claim to be a young man myself ; but I
infer that, as you are of the same generation as my father, you are
some older. I shall be very glad to hear from you again.

Very truly your relative, A. Lincoln.

[July 1, 1854'?].— Fragment. On Government.

Government is a combination of the people of a country to effect
certain objects by joint effort. The best framed and best adminis-
tered governments are necessarily expensive; while by errors in
frame and maladministration most of them are more onerous than
they need be, and some of them very oppressive. Why, then, should
we have government? Why not each individual take to himself
the whole fruit of his labor, without having any of it taxed away, in
services, corn, or money ? Why not take just so much land as he
can cultivate with his own hands, without buying it of any one ?

The legitimate object of government is " to do for the people what
needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort^ do at
all, or do so well, for themselves." There are many such thmgs —
some of them exist independently^ of the injustice in the world.
Making and maintaining roads, bridges, and the like ; providing for
the helpless young and afflicted; common schools; and disposing of
deceased men's property, are instances.

But a far larger class of objects springs from the injustice of
men. If one people wQl make war upon another, it is a necessity
with that other to unite and cooperate for defense. Hence the
military department. If some men wUl kill, or beat, or constrain
others, or despoil them of property, by force, fraud, or noncom-
pliance with contracts, it is a common object with peaceful and just
men to prevent it. Hence the criminal and civil departments.

[July 1, 1854?]. — Fragment. On Slavery.

The ant who has toiled and dragged a crumb to his nest will
furiously defend the fruit of his labor against whatever robber
assails him. So plain that the most dumb and stupid slave that ever
toiled for a master does constantly know that he is wronged. So
plain that no one, high or low, ever does mistake it, except in a
plainly selfish way ; for although volume upon volume is written to
prove slavery a very good thing, we never hear of the man who
wishes to take the good of it by being a slave himself.

Most governments have been based, practically, on the denial of
the equal rights of men, as I have, in part, stated them ; ours began
by affirming those rights. They said, some men are too ignorant
and vicious to share in government. Possibly so, said we ; and, by


your system, you would always keep them ignorant and vicious.
We proposed to give all a chance; and we expected the weak to
grow stronger, the ignorant wiser, and all better and happier

We made the experiment, and the fruit is before us. Look at it,
think of it. Look at it in its aggregate grandeur, of extent of
country, and numbers of population — of ship, and steamboat, and

[July 1, 18541].— Fragment. On Slavery.

■ Equality in society alike beats inequality, whether the latter be of . ;
the British aristocratic sort or of the domestic slavery sort. We//^
know Southern men declare that their slaves are better off than
hired laborers amongst us. How little they know whereof they
speak ! There is no permanent class of hired laborers amongst us.
Twenty-five years ago I was a hired laborer. The hired laborer of
yesterday labors on his own account to-day, and will hire others to
labor for him to-morrow. Advancement — improvement in condi-
tion — is the order of things in a society of equals. As labor is the
common burden of our race, so the effort of some to shift their share
of the burden onto the shoulders of others is the great durable
curse of the race. Originally a curse for transgression upon the
whole race, when, as by slavery, it is concentrated on a part only, it
becomes the double-refined curse of God upon his creatures.

Free labor has the inspiration of hope ; pure slavery has no hope.
The power of hope upon human exertion and happiness is wonderful.
The slave-master himself has a conception of it, and hence the sys-
tem of tasks among slaves. The slave whom you cannot drive with
the lash to break seventy-five pounds of hemp in a day, if you wiU
task him to break a hundred, and promise him pay for aU he does
over, he will break you a hundred and fifty. You have substituted
hope for the rod. And yet perhaps it does not occur to you that to
the extent of your gain in the case, you have given up the slave sys-
tem and adopted the free system of labor. •

[July 1, 1854?]. — Fragment. On SiiAVBRY.

If A can prove, however conclusively, that he may of right en-
slave B, why may not B snatch the same argument and prove equally
that he may enslave A? You say A is white and B is black. It is
color, then ; the lighter having the right to enslave the darker ? Take
care. By this rule you are to be slave to the first man you meet with
a fairer skin than your own. You do not mean color exactly? You
mean the whites are intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and ll
therefore have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By '^
this rule you are to be slave to the first man you meet with an in-
tellect superior to your own. But, say you, it is a question of inter-
est, and if you make it your interest you have the right to enslave
another. Very well. And if he can make it his interest he has the
right to enslave you.


[July 1, 1854?].— Fragment. On Goyernment.

■ The legitimate object of government is to do for a community
of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all,
or cannot so well do, for themselves, in their separate and individ-
ual capacities. In all that the people can individually do as well
for themselves, government ought not to interfere. The desirable
things which the individuals of a people cannot do, or cannot well
do, for themselves, fall into two classes : those which have relation
to wrongs, and those which have not. Each of th'ese branch off
into an infinite variety of subdivisions.

The first — that in relation to wrongs — embraces all crimes, mis-
demeanors, and non-performance of contracts. The other embraces
all which, in its nature, and without wrong, requires combined ac-
tion,, as public roads and highways, public schools, charities, pau-
perism, orphanage, estates of the deceased, and the machinery of
government itself.

From this it appears that if all men were just, there stiU would
be some, though not so much, need of government. •

October 16, 1854. — Speech at Peoria, Illinois, est Reply to
Senator Douglas.

On Monday, October 16, Senator Douglas, by appointment, ad-
dressed a large audience at Peoria. . When he closed he was greeted
with six hearty cheers, and the band in attendance played a stirring
air. The crowd then began to call for Lincoln, who, as Judge
Douglas had announced, was by agreement to answer him. Mr.
Lincoln took the stand and said:

I do not rise to speak now, if I can stipulate with the audience to
meet me here at half-past six or at seven o'clock. It is now several
minutes past five, and Judge Douglas has spoken over three hours.
If you hear me at all, I wish you to hear me through. It wiU take
me as long as it has taken him. That wiU carry us beyond eight
o'clock at night. Now^ every one of you who can remain that long
can just as well get his supper, meet me at seven, and remain an
hour or two later. The judge has already informed you that he is
to have an hour to reply to me. I doubt not but you have been a
little surprised to learn that I have consented to give one of his high
reputation and known ability this advantage of me. Indeed, my
consenting to it, though reluctant, was not wholly unselfish, for I
suspected, if it were understood that the judge was entirely done,
you Democrats would leave and not hear me ; but by giving him
the close, I felt confident you would stay for the fun of hearing him
skin me.

The audience signified their assent to the arrangement, and ad-
journed to seven o'clock p. m., at which time they reassembled, and
Mr. Lincoln spoke substantially as follows :


- The repeal of the Missouri Compromise, and the propriety of its
restoration, constitute the subject of what I am about to say. As
I desire to present my own connected view of this subject, my re-
marks will not be specifically an answer to Judge Douglas ; yet, as
I proceed, the main points he has presented will arise, and will re-
ceive such respectful attention as I may be able to give them. I
wish further to say that I do not propose to question the patriotism
or to assail the motives of any man or class of men, but rather to
confine myself strictly to the naked merits of the question. I also
wish to be no less than national in all the positions I may take, and
whenever I take ground which others have thought, or may think,
narrow, sectional, and dangerous to the Union, I hope to give a
reason which will appear sufficient, at least to some, why I think

And as this subject is no other than part and parcel of the larger
general question of domestic slavery, I wish to make and to keep
the distinction between the existing institution and the extension
of it, so broad and so clear that no honest man can misunderstand
me, and no dishonest one successfully misrepresent me.

In order to a clear understanding of what the Missouri Com-
promise is, a short history of the preceding kindred subjects will
perhaps be proper.

"When we established our independence, we did not own or claim
the country to which this compromise applies. Indeed, strictly
speaking, the Confederacy then owned no country at all ; the States
respectively owned the country within their limits, and some of them
owned territory beyond their strict State limits. Virginia thus
owned the Northwestern Territory — the country out of which the
principal part of Ohio, aU Indiana, all Illinois, all Michigan, and all
Wisconsin have since been formed. She also owned (perhaps
within her then limits) what has since been formed into the State
of Kentucky. North Carolina thus owned what is now the State of
Tennessee; and South Carolina and Georgia owned, in separate
parts, what are now Mississippi and Alabama. Connecticut, I think,
owned the little remaining part of Ohio, being the same where they
now send Griddings to Congress, and beat all creation in making

These territories, together with the States themselves, constitute
all the country over which the Confederacy then claimed any soi't
of jurisdiction. We were then living under the Articles of Con-
federation, which were superseded by the Constitution several years,
afterward. The question of ceding the territories to the General
Government was set on foot. Mr. Jefferson, the author of the Dec-
laration of Independence, and otherwise a chief actor in the Revo-
lution; then a delegate in Congress; afterward, twice President;,
who was, is, and perhaps will continue to be, the most distinguished
politician of our history ; a Virginian by birth and continued resi-
dence^ and withal a slaveholder, — conceived the idea of taking that
occasion to prevent slavery ever going into the Northwestern Terri-
tory. He prevailed on the Virginia fegislature to adopt his views,,
and to cede the Territory, making the prohibition of slavery therein


a condition of the deed.^ Congress accepted the cession with the
condition; and the first ordinance (which the acts of Congress
were then called) for the government of the Territory provided that
slavery should never be permitted therein. This is the famed
" Ordinance of '87," so often spoken of.

Thenceforward for sixty-one years, and until, in 1848, the last
scrap of this Territory came into the Union as the State of Wiscon-
sin, all parties acted in quiet obedience to this ordinance. It is now
what Jefferson foresaw and intended — the happy home of teeming
millions of free, white, prosperous people, and no slave among them.

Thus, with the author of the Declaration of Independence, the
policy of prohibiting slavery in new territory originated. Thus,
away back to the Constitution, in the pure, fresh, free breath of the
Revolution, the State of Virginia and the National Congress put
that policy into practice. Thus, through more than sixty of the best
years of the republic, did that policy steadily work to its great and
beneficent eni And thus, in those five States, and in five millions
of free, enterprising people, we have before us the rich fruits of this

But now new light breaks upon us. Now Congress declares this
ought never to have been, and the like of it must never be again.
The sacred right of self-government is grossly violated by it. We
even find some men who drew their first breath — and every other
breath of their lives — under this very restriction, now live in dread
-of absolute suffocation if thejr should be restricted in the " sacred
right" of taking slaves to Nebraska. That perfect liberty they sigh
for — the liberty of making slaves of other people — Jefferson never
thought of, their own fathers never thought of, they never thought
of themselves, a year ago. How fortunate for them they did not
sooner become sensible of their great misery ! Oh, how difficult it is
to treat with respect such assaults upon all we have ever really held
sacred !

But to return to history. In 1803 we purchased what was then
called Louisiana, of France. It included the present States of Loui-
siana, Arkansas, Missouri, and Iowa ; also the Territory of Minne-
sota, and the present bone of contention, Kansas and Nebraska.
Slavery already existed among the French at New Orleans, and to
some extent at St. Louis. In 1812 Louisiana came into the Union
as a slave State, without controversy. In 1818 or '19, Missouri
showed signs of a wish to come in with slavery. This was resisted
by Northern members of Congress; and thus began the first great
slavery agitation in the nation. This controversy lasted several
months, and became very angry and exciting, — the House of Repre-
sentatives voting steadily for the prohibition of slavery in Missouri,
and the Senate voting as steadily against it. Threats of the break-
ing up of the Union were freely made, and the ablest public men of
the day became seriously alarmed. At length a compromise was
made, in which, as in all compromises, both sides yielded something.

iMr. Lincoln afterward authorized the correction of the error into
which the report here falls, with regard to the prohibition being made a
condition of the deed. It was not a condition.


It was a law, passed on the 6th of March, 1820, providing that Mis-
souri might come into the Union with slavery, but that in all the
remaining part of the territory purchased of France, which lies
north of thirty-six decrees and thirty minutes north latitude, slavery
should never be permitted. This provision of law is the " Missouri
Compromise." In excluding slavery north of the line, the same lan-
guage is employed as in the ordinance of 1787. It directly applied to
Iowa, Minnesota, and to the present bone of contention, Kansas and
Nebraska. Whether there should or should not be slavery south of
that line, nothing was said in the law. But Arkansas constituted
the principal remaining part south of the line; and it has since been
admitted as a slave State, without serious controversy. More re-
cently, Iowa, north of the line, came in as a free State without con-
troversy. Still later, Minnesota, north of the line, had a territorial
organization without controversy. Texas, principally south of the
line, and west of Arkansas, though originally within the purchase
from France, had, in 1819, been traded off to Spain in our treaty for
the acquisition of Florida. It had thus become a part of Mexico.
Mexico revolutionized and became independent of Spain. American
citizens began settling rapidly with their slaves in the southern part
of Texas. Soon they revolutionized against Mexico, and established
an independent government of their own, adopting a constitution
with slavery, strongly resembling the constitutions of our slave
States. By still another rapid move, Texas, claiming a boundary
much further west than when we parted with her in 1819, was
brought back to the United States, and admitted into the Union as
a slave State. Then there was little or no settlement in the nor-
thern part of Texas, a considerable portion of which lay north of the
Missouri line ; and in the resolutions admitting her into the Union,
the Missouri restriction was expressly extended westward across her
territory. This was in 1845, only nine years ago.

Thus originated the Missouri Compromise ; and thus has it been
respected down to 1845. And even four years later, in 1849, our
distinguished senator, in a public address, held the following lan-
guage in relation to it:

The Missouri Compromise has been in practical operation for about a
quarter of a century, and has received the sanction and approbation of men
of aU parties in every section of the Union. It has allayed all sectional
Jealousies and irritations growing out of this vexed question, and harmon-
ized and tranquilized the whole country. J It has given to Henry Clay, as
its prominent champion, the proud sobriquet of the " Great Pacificator."
and by that title, and for that service, his pohtical friends had repeatedly
appealed to the people to rally under his standard as a presidential candi-
date, as the man -who had exhibited the patriotism and power to suppress
an unholy and treasonable agitation, and preserve the Union. He was not
aware that anyman or any party, from any section of the Union, had ever
urged as an objection to Mr. Clay that he was the great champion of the
Missouri Compromise. On the contrary, the effort was made by the oppo-
nents of Mr. Clay to prove that he was not entitled to the exclusive merit
of that great patriotic measure ; and that the honor was equally due to
others, as well as to him, for securing its adoption —that it had its origin in
the hearts of all patriotic men, who desired to preserve and perpetuate the


blessings o£ our glorious Union — an origin aHn to that of the Constitution
of the United States, conceived in the same spirit of fraternal affection, and
calculated to remove forever the only danger which seemed to threaten, at
some distant day, to sever the social bond of union. All the evidences of
pubUc opinion at that day seemed to indicate that this Compromise had
been canonized in the hearts of the American people, as a sacred thing
which no rutMess hand would ever be reckless enough to disturb.

I do not read this extract to involve Judge Douglas in an incon-
sistency. If he afterward thought he had been wrong, it was right
for him to change. I bring this forward merely to show the high
estimate placed on the Missouri Compromise by all parties up to so
late as the year 1849.

But going back a little in point of time. Our war with Mexico
broke out in 1846. When Congress was about adjourning that ses-
sion. President Polk asked them to place two millions of dollars un-
der his control, to be used by him in the recess, if found practicable
and expedient, in negotiating a treaty of peace with Mexico, and ac-
quiring some part of her territory. A bill was duly gotten up for
the purpose, and was progressing swimmingly in the House of Rep-
resentatives, when a member by the name of David Wilmot, a Dem-
ocrat from Pennsylvania, moved as an amendment, " Provided, that
in any territory thus acquired there shall never be slavery."

This is the origin of the far-famed Wilmot proviso. It created a
great flutter; but it stuck like wax, was voted into the bOl, and
the bin passed with it through the House. The Senate, however,
adjourned without final action on it, and so both appropriation and
proviso were lost for the time. The war continued, and at the next
session the President renewed his request for the appropriation, en-
larging the amount, I think, to three millions. Again came the pro-
viso, and defeated the measure. Congress adjourned again, and the
war went on. In December, 1847, the new Congress assembled. I
was in the lower House that term. The Wilmot proviso, or the
principle of it, was constantly coming up in some shape or other,
and I think I may venture to say I voted for it at least forty times
during the short time I was there. The Senate, however, held it in
check, and it never became a law. In the spring of 1848 a treaty of
peace was made with Mexico, by which we obtained that portion of
her country which now constitutes the Territories of New Mexico
and Utah, and the present State of California. By this treaty the
Wilmot proviso was defeated, in so far as it was intended to be a con-
dition of the acquisition of territory. Its friends, however, were still
determined to find some way to restrain slavery from getting into
the new country. This new acquisition lay directly west of our old
purchase from Prance, and extended west to the Pacific Ocean, and
was so situated that if the Missouri line should be extended straight

Online LibraryAbraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; → online text (page 23 of 91)