Abraham Lincoln.

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

. (page 24 of 91)
Online LibraryAbraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; → online text (page 24 of 91)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

west, the new country would be divided by such extended line, leav-
ing some north and some south of it. On Judge Douglas's motion,
a bill, or provision of a bill, passed the Senate to so extend the Mis-
souri line. The proviso men in the House, including myself, voted
it down, because, by implication, it gave up the southern part to
slavery, while we were bent on having it aU free.


In tlie fall of 1848 the gold-mines were discovered in California.
This attracted people to it with unprecedented rapidity, so that on,
or soon after, the meeting of the new Congress in December, 18i9,
she already had a population of nearly a hundred thousand, had
called a convention, formed a State Constitution excluding slavery,
and was knocking for admission into the Union. The proviso men,
of course, were for letting her in, but the Senate, always true to the
other side, would not consent to her admission, and there California
stood, kept out of the Union because she would not let slavery into
her borders. Under all the circumstances, perhaps, this was not
wrong. There were other points of dispute connected with the gen-
eral question of slavery, which equally needed adjustment. The
^outh clamored for a more efficient fugitive-slave law. The North
clamored for the abolition of a peculiar species of slave-trade in the
District of Columbia, in connection with which, in view from the
windows of the Capitol, a sort of negro hvery-stable, where droves
of negroes were collected, temporarily kept, and finally taken to
Southern markets, precisely like droves of horses, had been openly
maintained for fifty years. Utah and New Mexico needed territorial
governments; and whether slavery should or should not be pro-
hibited within them was another question. The indefinite western
boundary of Texas was to be settled. She was a slave State, and
consequently the farther west the slavery men could push her boun-
dary, the more slave country they secured ; and the farther east the
slavery opponents could thrust the boundary back, the less slave
ground was secured. Thus this was just as clearly a slavery ques-
tion as any of the others.

These points all needed adjustment, and they were held up, per-
haps wisely, to make them help adjust one another. The Union
now, as in 1820, was thought to be in danger, and devotion to the
Union rightfully inclined men to yield somewhat in points, where
nothing else could have so inclined them. A compromise was
finally effected. The South got their new fugitive-slave law^ and the
North got California (by far the best part of our acquisition from
Mexico) as a free State. The South got a provision that New Mexico
and Utah, when admitted as States, may come in with or without
slavery as they may then choose ; and the North got the slave-trade
abolished in the District of Columbia. The North got the western
boundary of Texas thrown farther back eastward than the South
desired ; but, in turn, they gave Texas ten millions of dollars with
which to pay her old debts. This is the compromise of 1850.

Preceding the presidential election of 1852, each of the great
political parties, Democrats and "Whigs, met in convention and
adopted resolutions indorsing the compromise of '50, as a "final-
ity," a final settlement, so far as these parties could make it so, of all
slavery agitation. Previous to this, in 1851, the Illinois legislature
had indorsed it.

During this long period of time, Nebraska had remained substan-
tially an uninhabited country, but now emigration to and settle-
ment within it began to take place. It is about one third as large
as the present United States, and its importance, so long overlooked.


begins to come into view. The restriction of slavery by the Mis-
souri Compromise directly applies to it — in fact was first made, and
has since been maintained, expressly for it. In 1853, a bUl to give
it a territorial government passed the House of Kepresentatives,
and, in the hands of Judge Douglas, failed of passing only for want
of time. This bill contained no repeal of the Missouri Compromise.
Indeed, when it was assailed because it did not contain such repeal,
Judge Douglas defended it in its existing form. On January 4,
1854, Judge Douglas introduces a new bill to give Nebraska terri-
torial government. He accompanies this bill with a report, in which
last he expressly recommends that the Missouri Compromise shall
neither be aflrmed nor repealed. Before long the bill is so modified
as to make two territories instead of one, calling the southern one

Also, about a month after the introduction of the bill, on the
judge's own motion it is so amended as to declare the Missouri
Compromise inoperative and void ; and, substantially, that the peo-
ple who go and settle there may establish slavery, or exclude it, as
they may see fit. In this shape the bill passed both branches of
Congress and became a law.

This is the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. The foregoing
history may not be precisely accurate in every particular, but I am
sure it is sufficiently so for all the use I shall attempt to make of it,
and in it we have before us the chief material enabling us to judge
correctly whether the repeal of the Missouri Compromise is right
or wrong. I think, and shall try to show, that it is wrong — wrong in
its direct effect, letting slavery into Kansas and Nebraska, and
wrong in its prospective principle, allowing it to spread to every
other part of the wide world where men can be found inclined to
take it.

This declared indifference, but, as I must think, covert real zeal,
for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate. I hate it because of the
monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives
our republican example of its just influence in the world ; enables
the enemies of free institutions with plausibility to taunt us as hypo-
crites ; causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity ;
and especially because it forces so many good men among ourselves
into an open war with the very fundamental priuciples of civil lib-
erty, criticizing the 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 prejudice
against the Southern people. They are just what we 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, and others who would gladly intro-
duce slavery anew if it were out of existence. We know that some
Southern men do free their slaves, go North and become tip-top
Abolitionists, while some Northern ones go South and become most
cruel slave-masters.


When Southern people teU us they are no more responsible 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 difflcult to get rid
of it in any satisfactory way, I can iinderstand and appreciate the
saying. I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should
not know how to do myself. If all earthly power were 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 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 surplus money enough to
carry them there in many times ten days. What then ? Free them
all, and keep them among us as underlings? 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 jnot clear enough for me to denounce
people upon. What next ? ^ree 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 judg-
ment is not the sole question, if indeed it is any part of it. A
universal feeling, whether weU or ill founded, cannot be safely disre-
garded. 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

When they remind us of their constitutional rights, I acknowledge
them— not grudgingly, but fuUy and fairly; anal 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 innocent one.

But all this, to my judgment, furnishes no more excuse for per-
mitting 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 has so long forbidden
the taking of them into Nebraska, can hardty be distinguished on
any moral principle, and the repeal of the former could find quite as
plausible excuses as that of the latter.

The arguments by which the repeal of the Missouri Compromise is
sought to be justified are these: First. That the Nebraska country
needed a territorial government. Second. That in various ways the
public had repudiated that compromise and demanded the repeal,
and therefore! should not now complain of it. And, lastly, That the
repeal establishes a principle which is intrinsically right.

I will attempt an answer to each of them in its turn. First, then.
If that country was in need of a territorial organization, could it
not have had it as well without as with a repeal? Iowa and Min-
nesota, to both of which the Missouri restriction applied, had, with-
out its repeal, each in succession, territorial organizations. And
even the year before, a biU for Nebraska itself was within an ace of


passing without the repealing clause, and this in the hands of the
same men who are now the champions of repeal. Why no necessity
then for rei)eal ? But still later, when this very bill was first brought
in, it contained no repeal. But, say they, because the people had
demanded, or rather commanded, the repeal, the repeal was to ac-
company the organization whenever that should occur.

Now, I deny that the public ever demanded any such thing — ever
repudiated the Missouri Compromise, ever commanded its repeal. I
deny it, and call for the proof. It is not contended, I believe, that
any such command has ever been given in express terms. It is only
said that it was done in principle. The support of the WUmot
proviso is the first fact mentioned to prove that the Missouri restric-
tion was repudiated in principle, and the second is the refusal to extend
the Missouri line over the country acquired from Mexico. These
are near enough alike to be treated together. The one was to exclude
the chances of slavery from the whole new acquisition by the lump,
and the other was to reject a division of it, by which one half was
to be given up to those chances. Now, whether this was a repudia-
tion of the Missouri line in principle depends upon whether the
Missouri law contained any principle requiring the line to be ex-
tended over the country acquired from Mexico. I contend it did
not. I insist that it contained no general principle, but that it was,
in every sense, specific. That its terms limit it to the country pur-
chased from France is undenied and undeniable. It could have no
principle beyond the intention of those who made it. They did not
intend to extend the line to country which they did not own. If
they intended to extend it in the event of acquiring additional terri-
tory, why did they not say so ? It was just as easy to say that " in
all the country west of the Mississippi which we now own, or may
hereafter acquire, there shall never be slavery," as to say what they
did say ; and they would have said it if they had meant it. An in-
tention to extend the law is not only not mentioned in the law, but
is not mentioned in any contemporaneous history. Both the law
itself, and the history of the times, are a blank as to any principle of
extension ; and by neither the known rules of construing statutes
and contracts, nor by common sense, can any such principle be

Another fact showing the specific character of the Missouri law —
showing that it intended no more than it expressed, showing that
the line was not intended as a universal dividing line between free
and slave territory, present and prospective, north of which slavery
could never go — is the fact that by that very law Missouri came in
as a slave State, north of the line. If that law contained any pro-
spective principle, the whole law must be looked to in order to ascer-
tain what the principle was. And by this rule the South could fairly
contend that inasmuch as they got one slave State north of the line
at the inception of the law, they have the right to have another
given them north of it occasion^y, now and then, in the indefinite
westward extension of the line. This demonstrates the absurdity
of attempting to deduce a prospective principle from the Missouri
Compromise line.


When we voted for the Wilmot proviso we were voting to keep
slavery out of the whole Mexican acquisition, and little did we think
we were thereby voting to let it into Nebraska, lying several hun-
dred miles distant. When we voted against extending the Missouri
line, little did we think we were voting to destroy the old line, then
of near thirty years' standing.

To argue that we thus repudiated the Missouri Compromise is no
less absurd than it would be to argue that because we have so far
forborne to acquire Cuba, we have thereby, in principle, repudiated
our former acquisitions and determined to throw them out of the
Union. No less absurd than it would be to say that because I may
have refused to buUd an addition to my house, I thereby have decided
to destroy the existing house ! And & I catch you setting fire to my
house, you will turn upon me and say I instructed you to do it!

The most conclusive argument, however, that while for the Wil-
mot proviso, and while voting against the extension of the Missouri
line, we never thought of disturbing the original Missouri Compro-
mise, is found in the fact that there was then, and still is, an unor-
ganized tract of fine country, nearly as large as the State of Missouri,
lying immediately wesl of Arkansas and south of the Missouri
Compromise Hue, and that we never attempted to prohibit slavery as
to it. I wish particular attention to this. It adjoins the original Mis-
souri Compromise line by its northern boundary, and consequently
is part of the country into which by implication slavery was per-
mitted to go by that compromise. There it has lain open ever
since, and there it stiU lies, and yet no effort has been made at any
time to wrest it from the South. In aU. our struggles to prohibit
slavery within our Mexican acquisitions, we never so much as lifted
a finger to prohibit it as to this tract. Is not this entirely conclusive
that at all times we have held the Missouri Compromise as a sacred
thing, even when against ourselves as well as when for us?

Senator Douglas sometimes says the Missouri line itself was in
principle only an extension of the line of the ordinance of '87 —
that is to say, an extension of the Ohio River. I think this is weak
enough on its face. I will remark, however, that, as a glance at the
map will show, the Missouri line is a long way farther south than the
Ohio, and that if our senator in proposing his extension had stuck
to the principle of jogging southward, perhaps it might not have
been voted down so readily.

But next it is said that the compromises of '50, and the ratification
of them by both political parties in '52, established a new principle
which required the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. This again
I deny. I deny it, and demand the proof. I have already stated
fuUy what the compromises of '50 are. That particular part of
those measures from which the virtual repeal of the Missouri Com-
promise is sought to be inferred (for it is admitted they contain
nothing about it in express terms) is the provision in the Utah and
New Mexico laws which permits them when they seek admission
into the Union as States to come in with or without slavery, as they
shall then see fit. Now I insist this provision was made for Utah
and New Mexico, and for no other place whatever. It had no more


direct reference to Nebraska than it had to the territories of the
moon. But, say they, it had reference to Nebraska in principle.
Let us see. The North consented to this provision, not because they
considered it right in itself, but because they were compensated —
paid for it.

They at the same time got California into the Union as a free State.
This was far the best part of aJl they had struggled for by the Wil-
mot proviso. They also got the area of slavery somewhat narrowed
in the settlement of the boundary of Texas. Also they got the slave-
trade abolished in the District of Columbia.

For all these desirable objects the North could afford to yield
something; and they did yield to the South the Utah and New
Mexico provision. I do not mean that the whole North, or even a
majority, yielded, when the law passed ; but enough yielded, when
added to the vote of the South, to can-y the measure. Nor can it
be pretended that the principle of this arrangement requires us to
permit the same provision to be applied to Nebraska, without any
equivalent at all. Give us another free State ; press the boundary of
Texas still further back ; give us another step toward the destruction
of slavery in the District, and you present us a similar case. But
ask us not to repeat, for nothing, what you paid for in the first in-
stance. If you wish the thing again, pay again. That is the prin-
ciple of the compromises of '50, if, indeed, they had any principles
beyond their specific terms — it was the system of equivalents.

Again, if Congress, at that time, intended that all future Territor-
ies should, when admitted as States, come in with or without slavei-y,
at their own option, why did it not say so? With such a univer-
sal provision, all know the bills could not have passed. Did they,
then — could they — establish a principle contrary to their own inten-
tion ? Still further, if they intended to establish the principle that,
whenever Congress had control, it shoiild be left to the people to do
as they thought fit with slavery, why did they not authorize the
people of the District of Columbia, at their option, to abolish slavery
within their limits ?

1 personally know that this has not been left undone because it
was unthought of. It was frequently spoken of by members of
Congress, and by citizens of Washington, six years ago; and I heard
no one express a doubt that a system of gradual emancipation, with
compensation to owners, would meet the approbation of a large ma-
jority of the white people of the District. But without the action of
Congress they could say nothing; and Congress said "No." In the
measures of 1850, Congress had the subject of slavery in the District
expressly on hand. If they were then establishing the principle of
allowing the people to do as they please with slavery, why did they
not apply the principle to that people ?

Again, it is claimed that by the resolutions of the Blinois legis-
lature, passed in 1851, the repeal of the Missouri Compromise was
demanded. This I deny also. Whatever may be worked out by a
criticism of the language of those resolutions, the people have never
understood them as being any more than an indorsement of the
compromises of 1850, and a release of our senators from voting for


the Wilmot proviso. The whole people are living witnesses that
this only was their view. Finally, it is asked, " If we did not mean
to apply the Utah and New Mexico provision to aU future territories,
what did we mean when we, in 1852, indorsed the compromises of

For mj^self I can answer this question most easily. I meant not
to ask a repeal or modification of the fugitive-slave law. I meant
not to ask for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia.
I meant not to resist the admission of Utah and New Mexico, even
should they ask to come in as slave States. 1 meant nothing about
additional Territories, because, as I understood, we then had no Ter-
ritory whose character as to slavery was not already settled. As to
Nebraska, I regarded its character as being fixed by the Missouri
Compromise for thirty years — as unalterably fixed as that of my
own home in Illinois. As to new acquisitions, I said, " Sufi&cient
unto the day is the evil thereof." When we make new acquisitions,
we will, as heretofore, try to manage them somehow. That is my
answer ; that is what I meant and said ; and I appeal to the people
to say each for himself, whether that is not also the universal mean-
ing of the free States.

And now, in turn, let me ask a few questions. If, by any or all
these matters, the repeal of the Missouri Compromise was com-
manded, why was not the command sooner obeyed ? Why was the
repeal omitted in the Nebraska bill of 1853 1 Why was it omitted
in the original biU of 1854 ? Why in the accompanying report was
such a repeal characterized as a departure from the course pursued
in 1850 ? and its continued omission recommended ?

I am aware Judge Douglas now argues that the subsequent ex-
press repeal is no substantial alteration of the bOl. This argument
seems wonderful to me. It is as if one should argue that white and
black are not different. He admits, however, that there is a literal
change in the bDl, and that he made the change in deference to other
senators who would not support the bUl without. This proves that
those other senators thought the change a substantial one, and that
the judge thought their opinions worth deferring to. His own opin-
ions, therefore, seem not to rest on a very firm basis, even in his own
mind ; and I suppose the world believes, and will continue to believe,
that precisely on the substance of that change this whole agitation
has arisen.

I conclude, then, that the public never demanded the repeal of the
Missouri Compromise.

I now come to consider whether the appeal, with its avowed prin-
ciples, is intrinsically right. I insist that it is not. Take the par-
ticular case. A controversy had arisen between the advocates and
opponents of slavery, in relation to its establishment within the
country we had purchased of France. The southern, and then best,
part of the purchase was already in as a slave State. The contro-
versy was settled by also letting Missouri in as a slave State ; but
with the agreement that within all the remaining part of the pur-
chase, north of a certain line, there should never be slavery. As to
what was to be done with the remaining part south of the line,


nothing was said ; but perhaps the fair implication was, it should
come in with slavery if it should so choose. The southern part, ex-
cept a portion heretofore mentioned, afterward did come in with
slavery, as the State of Arkansas. All these many years, since 1820,
the northern part had remained a wilderness. At length settle-
ments began in it also. In due course Iowa came in as a free State,
and Minnesota was given a territorial government, without remov-
ing the slavery restriction. Finally, the sole remaining part north
of the line — Kansas and Nebraska — was to be organized: and it is
proposed, and carried, to blot out the old dividing line of tliirty-four
years' standing, and to open the whole of that country to the intro-
duction of slavery. Now this, to my mind, is manifestly unjust.
After an angry and dangerous controversy, the parties made friends
by dividing the bone of contention. The one party first appropri-

Online LibraryAbraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; → online text (page 24 of 91)