Abraham Lincoln.

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

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Springfield, Illinois, August 15, 1855.
Hon. George Robertson, Lexington, Kentucky.

My dear Sir : The volume you left for me has been received. I
am really grateful for the honor of your kind remembrance, as well
as for the book. The partial reading I have already given it has
afforded me much of both pleasure and instruction. It was new to
me that the exact question which led to the Missouri Compromise
had arisen before it arose in regard to Missouri, and that you had
taken so prominent a part in it. Your short but able and patriotic
speech upon that occasion has not been improved upon since by
those holding the same views, and, with all the lights you then had,
the views you took appear to me as very reasonable.

You are not a friend to slavery in the abstract. In that speech
you spoke of "the peaceful extinction of slavery," and used other
expressions indicating your belief that the thing was at some time
to have an end. Since then we have had thirty-six years of expe-
rience ; and this experience has demonstrated, I think, that there is
no peaceful extinction of slavery in prospect for us. The signal
failure of Henry Clay and other good and great men, in 1849, to
effect an^hing in favor of gradual emancipation in Kentucky, to-
gether with a thousand other signs, extinguished that hope utterly.
On the question of liberty as a principle, we are not what we have
been. When we were the political slaves of King George, and
wanted to be free, we called the maxim that " all men are created
equal " a self-evident truth, but now when we have grown fat, and
have lost all dread of being slaves ourselves, we have become so


greedy to be masters that we eall the same maxim "a self-evident
lie." The Fourth of July has not quite dwindled away ; it is still a
great day — for burning flre-eraekers ! ! !

That spirit which desired the peaceful extinction of slavery has
itself become extinct with the occasion and the men of the Revolu-
tion. Under the impulse of that occasion, nearly half the States
adopted systems of emancipation at once, and it is a significant
fact that not a single State has done the like since. So far as
peaceful voluntary emancipation is concerned, the condition of the
negro slave in America, scarcely less terrible to the contemplation
of a free mind, is now as fixed and hopeless of change for the
better, as that of the lost souls of the finally impenitent. The
Autocrat of all the Russias will resign his crown and proclaim his
subjects free republicans sooner than will our American masters
voluntarily give up their slaves.

Our political problem now is, " Can we as a nation continue to-
gether permanently — forever — half slave and half free?" The
problem is too mighty for me — may God, in his mercy, superin-
tend the solution. Tour much obliged friend and humble servant,

A. Lincoln.

August 24, 1855. — ^Letter to Joshua F. Speed.

Spbingpield, August 24, 1855.
Dear Speed : You know what a poor correspondent I am. Ever
since I received your very agreeable letter of the 22d of May I have
been intending to write you an answer to it. You suggest that in .
political action, now, you and I would differ. I suppose we would ;
not quite as much, however, as you may think. You know I dis-
like slavery, and you fully admit the abstract wrong of it. So far
there is no cause of difference. But you say that sooner than yield
your legal right to the slave, especially at the bidding of those who
are not themselves interested, you would see the Union dissolved.
I am not aware that any one is bidding you yield that right ; very
certainly I am not. I leave that matter entirely to yourself. I also
acknowledge your rights and my obligations under the Constitu-
tion in regard to your slaves. I confess I hate to see the poor crea-
tures hunted down and caught and carried back to their stripes and
unrequited toil; but I bite my lips and keep quiet. In 1841 you
and I had together a tedious low-water trip on a steamboat from
Louisville to St. Louis. You may remember, as I well do, that from
LouisvUle to the mouth of the Ohio there were on board ten or a
dozen slaves shackled together with irons. That sight was a con-
tinued torment to me, and I see something like it every time I
touch the Ohio or any other slave border. It is not fair for you to
assume that I have no interest in a thing which has, and continually
exercises, the power of making me miserable. You ought rather to
appreciate how much the great body of the Northern people do cru-
cify their feelings, in order to maintain their loyalty to the Consti-
tution and the Union. I do oppose the extension of slavery because


^J judgment and feeling so prompt me, and I am under no obliga-
tions to the contrary. If for this you and I must differ, differ we
must. You say, if you were President, you would send an army
and hang the leaders of the Missouri outrages upon the Kansas
elections ; still, if Kansas fairly votes herself a slave State she must
be admitted, or the Union must be dissolved. But how if she votes
herself a slave State unfairly, that is, by the very means for which you
say you would hang men ? Must she still be admitted, or the Union
dissolved? That will be the phase of the question when it first be-
comes a practical one. In your assumption that there may be
a fail' decision of the slavery question in Kansas, I plainly see
you and I would differ about the Nebraska law. I look upon that
enactment not as a law, but as a violence from the beginning. It
was conceived in violence, is maintained in violence, and is being
executed in violence. I say it was conceived in violence, because the
destruction of the Missouri Compromise, under the circumstances,
was nothing less than violence. It was passed in violence, because
it could not have passed at all but for the votes of many members,
in violence of the known will of their constituents. It is maintained
in violence, because the elections since clearly demand its repeal;
and the demand is openly disregarded.

You say men ought to be hung for the way they are executing
the law ; I say the way it is being executed is quite as good as any
of its antecedents. It is being executed in the precise way which
was intended from the first, else why does no Nebraska man express
astonishment or condemnation? Poor Reeder is the only public
man who has been silly enough to believe that anything like fair-
ness was ever intended, and he has been bravely undeceived.

That Kansas will form a slave constitution, and with it will ask to
be admitted into the Union, I take to be already a settled question,
and so settled by the very means you so pointedly condemn. By
every principle of law ever held by any court North or South,
every negro taken to Kansas is free ; yet, in utter disregard of
this, — in the spirit of violence merely, — that beautiful legislature
gravely passes a law to hang any man who shall venture to inform
a negro of his legal rights. This is the subject and real object of
the law. If, like Haman, they should hang upon the gallows of
their own building, I shall not be among the mourners for their
fate. In my humble sphere, I shall advocate the restoration of the
Missouri Compromise so long as Kansas remains a Territory, and
when, by all these foul means, it seeks to come into the Union as a
slave State, I shall oppose it. I am very loath in any case to with-
hold my assent to the enjoyment of property acquired or located
in good faith ; but I do not admit that good faith in taking a negro
to Kansas to be held in slavery is a probability with any man.
Any man who has sense enough to be the controller of his own
property has too much sense to misunderstand the outrageous char-
acter of the whole Nebraska business. But I digress. In my
opposition to the admission of Kansas I shall have some company,
but we may be beaten. If we are, I shall not on that account
attempt to dissolve the Union. I think it probable, however, we


shall be beaten. Standing as a unit among yourselves, you can,
directly and indirectly, bribe enough of our men to carry the day,
as you could on the open proposition to establish a monarchy. Get
hold of some man in the North whose position and ability is such
that he can make the support of your measure, whatever it may be,
a Democratic party necessity, and the thing is done. Apropos of
this, let me tell you an anecdote. Douglas introduced the Nebraska
biU in January. In February afterward there was a called session
of the Illinois legislature. Of the one hundred members compos-
ing the two branches of that body, about seventy were Democrats.
These latter held a caucus, in which the Nebraska bill was talked
of, if not formally discussed. It was thereby discovered that just
three, and no more, were in favor of the measure. In a day or two
Douglas's orders came on to have resolutions passed approving the
bUl ; and they were passed by large majorities ! ! ! The truth of this
is vouched for by a bolting Democratic member. The masses, too.
Democratic as well as "Whig, were even nearer unanimous against
it; but, as soon as the party necessity of supporting it became appa-
rent, the way the Democrats began to see the wisdom and justice
of it was perfectly astonishing.

You say that if Kansas fairly votes herself a free State, as a
Christian you will rejoice at it. All decent slaveholders talk that
way, and I do not doubt their candor. But they never vote that
way. Although in a private letter or conversation you will express
your preference that Kansas shall be free, you would vote for no
man for Congress who would say the same thing publicly. No such
man could be elected from any district in a slave State. Tou think
Stringfellow and company ought to be hung ; and yet at the next
presidential election you will vote for the exact type and represen-
tative of Stringfellow. The slave-breeders and slave-traders are a
small, odious, and detested class among you; and yet in politics
they dictate the course of all of you, and are as completely your
masters as you are the master of your own negroes, lou inquire
where I now stand. That is a disputed point. I think I am a
Whig; but others say there are no Whigs, and that I am an
Abolitionist. When I was at Washington, I voted for the Wilmot
proviso as good as forty times ; and I never heard of any one
attempting to unwhig me for that. I now do no more than op-
pose the extension of slavery. I am not a Know-nothing; that
is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the
oppression of negroes be in favor of degrading classes of white
people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty
rapid. As a nation we began by declaring that " all men are created
equal." We now practically read it " all men are created equal,
except negroes." When the Know-nothings get control, it will read
" all men are created equal, except negroes and foreigners and Cath-
olics." When it comes to this, I shall prefer emigrating to some
country where they make no pretense of loving liberty, — to Russia,
for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the
base alloy of hypocrisy.

Mary will probably pass a day or two in Louisville in October.


My kindest regards to Mrs. Speed. On the leading subject of this
letter, I have more of her sympathy than I have of yours ; and yet
let me say I am Your friend forever,

A. Lincoln.

December [15?], 1855. — Bill fob Services Rendered the
Illinois Central Railboad Company.

The Illinois Central Railroad Company,

To A. Lincoln Br.
To professional services in the case of the Illinois Central
Railroad Company against the County of McLean, ar-
gued in the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois at

December term, 1855 $5000.00

We, the undersigned members of the Illinois Bar, understanding
that the above entitled cause was twice argued in the Supreme
Court, and that the judgment therein decided the question of the
claim of counties and other minor municipal corporations to tax
the property of said railroad company, and settled said question
against said claim and in favor of said railroad company, are of
opinion the sum above charged as a fee is not unreasonable.
Grant Goodrich, N. H. Purple,

N. B. JuDD, O. H. Browning,

Archibald Williams, R. S. Blackwell.

June 27, 1856. — Letter to John Van Dyke.

Springpield, Illinois, June 27, 1856.
Hon. John Van Dyke,.

My dear Sir : Allow me to thank you for your kind notice of me
in the Philadelphia Convention.

When you meet Judge Dayton present my respects, and tell him
I think him a far better man than I for the position he is in, and
that I shall support both him and Colonel Fremont most cordially.
Present my best respects to Mrs. Van Dyke, and believe me

Yours truly, A. Lincoln.

July 9, 1856. — Letter to Whitney.

Springfield, July 9, 1856.
Dear Whitney: I now expect to go to Chicago on the 15th, and I
probably shall remain there or thereabouts for about two weeks.

It turned me blind when I first heard Swett was beaten and Love-
joy nominated ; but, after much reflection, I really believe it is best
to let it stand. This, of course, I wish to be confidential.

Lamon did get your deeds. I went with him to the office, got
them, and put them in his hands myself. Yours very truly,

A. Lincoln.


August [i?J, 1856.— Fragment op Speech at Galena, Illinois,
IN THE Fremont Campaign.

You further charge us with being disunionists. If you mean that
it is our aim to dissolve the Union, I for myself answer that it is un-
true; for those who act with me I answer that it is untrue. Have
you heard us assert that as our aim ? Do you really believe that
such is our aim ? Do you find it in our platform, our speeches, our
conventions, or anywhere 1 If not, withdraw the charge.

But you may say that though it is not our aim, it will be the
result if we succeed, and that we are therefore disunionists in fact.
This is a grave charge you make against us, and we certainly have
a right to demand that you specify in what way we are to dissolve
the Union. How are we to effect this ?

The only specification offered is volunteered by Mr. Fillmore in
his Albany speech. His charge is that if we elect a President and
Vice-President both from the free States, it will dissolve the Union.
This is open folly. The Constitution provides that the President
and Vice-President of the United States shall be of different States ;
but says nothing as to the latitude and longitude of those States.
In 1828 Andrew Jackson, of Tennessee, and John C. Calhoun, of
South Carolina, were elected President and Vice-President, both
from slave States; but no one thought of dissolving the Union then
on that account. In 1840 Harrison, of Ohio, and Tyler, of Virginia,
■were elected. In 1841 Harrison died and John Tyler succeeded to
the presidency, and William R. King, of Alabama, was elected acting
Vice-President by the Senate; but no one supposed that the Union
was in danger. In fact, at the very time Mr. Fillmore uttered this
idle charge, the state of things in the United States disproved it.
Mr. Pierce, of New Hampshire, and Mr. Bright, of Indiana, both
from free States, are President and Vice-President, and the Union
stands and wiU stand. You do not pretend that it ought to dis-
solve the Union, and the facts show that it won't; therefore the
charge may be dismissed without further consideration.

No other specification is made, and the only one that could be
made is that the restoration of the restriction of 1820, making the
United States territory free territory, would dissolve the Union.
Gentlemen, it will require a decided majority to pass such an act.
We, the majority, being able constitutionally to do all that we pur-
pose, would have no desire to dissolve the Union. Do you say that
such restriction of slavery would be unconstitutional, and that some
of the States would not submit to its enforcement? I grant you
that an unconstitutional act is not a law ; but I do not ask and will
not take your construction of the Constitution. The Supreme Court
of the United States is the tribunal to decide such a question, and
we will submit to its decisions : and if you do alsOj there will be an
end of the matter. Will you ? If not, who are the disunionists — you
or we ? We, the majority, would not strive tQ dissolve the Union ;
and if any attempt is made, it must be by you, who so loudly stig-
matize us as disunionists. But the Union, in any event, will not be
dissolved. We don't want to dissolve it, and if you attempt it we


won't let you. With tlie purse and sword, the army and navy and
treasury, in our hands and at our command, you could not do it.
This government would be very weak indeed if a majority with a
disciplined army and navy and a well-filled treasury could not pre-
serve itself when attacked by an unarmed, undisciplined, unorgan-
ized minority. All this talk about the dissolution of the Union is
humbug, nothing but folly. "We do not want to dissolve the Union ;
you shall not.

September 8, 1856. — Letter to Harrison Maltby.


Springfield, September 8, 1856.
Harrison Maltby, Esq.

Dear Sir: I understand you are a Fillmore man. Let me prove
to you that every vote withheld from Fremont and given to Fill-
more in this State actually lessens Fillmore's chance of being Presi-
dent. Suppose Buchanan gets all the slave States and Pennsylva-
nia, and any other one State besides ; then he is elected, no matter
who gets all the rest. But suppose FiUmore gets the two slave
States of Maryland and Kentucky; then Buchanan is not elected;
Fillmore goes into the House of Representatives, and may be made
President by a compromise. But suppose, again, Fillmore's friends
throw away a few thousand votes on him in Indiana and Illinois;
it will inevitably give these States to Buchanan, which wUl more
than compensate him for the loss of Maryland and Kentucky, will
elect him, and leave Fillmore no chance in the House of Represen-
tatives or out of it.

This is as plain as adding up the weight of three small hogs. As
Mr. FUlmore has no possible chance to carry Illinois for himself, it
is plainly to his interest to let Fremont take it, and thus keep it out
of the hands of Buchanan. Be not deceived. Buchanan is the hard
horse to beat in this race. Let him have Illinois, and nothing can
beat him ; and he wiU get Illinois if men persist m throwing away
votes upon Mr. Fillmore. Does some one persuade you that Mr.
Fillmore can carry Illinois? Nonsense! There are over seventy
newspapers in Illinois opposing Buchanan, only three or four of
which support Mr. Fillmore, all the rest going for Fremont. Are
not these newspapers a fair index of the proportion of the votes ?
If not, tell me why.

Again, of these three or four Fillmore newspapers, two, at least,
are supported in part by the Buchanan men, as I understand. Do
not they know where the shoe pinches? They know the Fillmore
movement helps them, and therefore they help it. Do think these
things over, and then act according to your judgment.

Yours very truly, A. Lincoln.

October 1, 1856. — Fragment on Sectionalism.

It is constantly objected to Fr6mont and Dayton, that they are
supported by a sectional party, who by their sectionalism endanger


tlie national union. This objection, more tlian all others, causes
men really opposed to slavery extension to hesitate. Practically, it
is the most difficult objection we have to meet. .For this reason I
now propose to examine it a little more carefully than I have here-
tofore done, or seen it done by others. First, then, what is the
question between the parties respectively represented by Buchanan
and Fremont ? Simply this, " Shall slavery be allowed to extend
into United States territories now legally free!" Buchanan says
it shall, and Fremont says it shall not.

That is the naked issue, and the whole of it. Lay the respective
platforms side by side, and the difiference between them will be
found to amount to precisely that. True, each party charges upon
the other designs much beyond what is involved in the issue as
stated ; but as these charges cannot be fully proved either way, it is
probably better to reject them on both sides, and stick to the naked
issue as it is clearly made up on the record.

And now to restate the question, " Shall slavery be allowed to
extend into United States territories now legally free ? " I beg to
know how one side of that question is more sectional than the
other? Of course I expect to effect nothing with the man who
makes the charge of sectionalism without earing whether it is just
or not. But of the candid, fair man who has been puzzled with this
charge, I do ask how is one side of this question more sectional
than the other ? I beg of him to consider well, and answer calmly.

If one side be as sectional as the other, nothing is gained, as to
sectionalism, by changing sides ; so that each must choose sides of
the question on some other ground, as I should think, according as
the one side or the other shall appear nearest right. If he shall
reaUy think slavery ought to be extended, let him go to Buchanan ;
if he think it ought not, let him go to Fremont.

But Fremont and Dayton are both residents of the free States,
and this fact has been vaunted in high places as excessive sectional-
ism. While interested individuals become indignant and excited
against this manifestation of sectionalism, I am very happy to know
that the Constitution remains calm — keeps cool — upon the subject.
It does say that President and Vice-President shall be residents of
different States, but it does not say that one must live in a slave
and the other in a free State.

It has been a custom to take one from a slave and the other from
a free State ; but the custom has not at aH been uniform. In 1828
General Jackson and Mr. Calhoun, both from slave States, were
placed on the same ticket; and Mr. Adams and Dr. Rush, both from
free States, were pitted against them. General Jackson and Mr.
Calhoun were elected, and qualified and served under the election,
yet the whole thing never suggested the idea of sectionalism. In
1841 the President, General Harrison, died, by which Mr. Tyler,
the Vice-President and a slave-State man, became President. Mr.
Mangum, another slave-State man, was placed in the vice-presiden-
tial chair, served out the term, and no fuss about it, no sectionalism
thought of. In 1853 the present President came into office. He is
a free-State man. Mr. King, the new Vice-President elect, was a


slave-State man ; but he died without entering on the duties of his
office. At first his vacancy was filled by Atchison, another slave-
State man ; but he soon resigned, and the place was supplied by
Bright, a free-State man. So that right now, and for the half year
last past, onr President and Vice-President are both actually free-
State men. But it is said the friends of Fremont avow the purpose
of electing him exclusively by free-State votes, and that this is unen-
dm-able sectionalism.

This statement of fact is not exactly true. With the friends of
Fremont it is an expected necessity, but it is not an " avowed pur-
pose," to elect him, if at aU, principally by free-State votes ; but it
IS with equal intensity true that Buchanan's friends expect to elect
him, if at all, chiefly by slave-State votes. Here, again, the section-
alism is just as much on one side as the other.

The thing which gives most color to the charge of sectionalism,
made against those who oppose the spread of slavery into free terri-
tory, is the fact that they can get no votes in the slave States, while
their opponents get all, or nearly so, in the slave States, and also a
large number in the free States. To state it in another way, the
extensionists can get votes all over the nation, while the restric-
tionists can get them only in the free States.

This being the fact, why is it so ? It is not because one side of
the question dividing them is more sectional than the other, nor
because of any difference in the mental or moral structure of the
people North and South. It is because in that question the people
of the South have an immediate palpable and immensely great

Online LibraryAbraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; → online text (page 28 of 91)