Abraham Lincoln.

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

. (page 31 of 91)
Online LibraryAbraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; → online text (page 31 of 91)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of corruption or falsehood. He denies that he directly is taking part
in favor of Douglas, and I believe him. Still his feeling constantly
manifests itself in his paper, which, being so extensively read in
niinois, is, and will continue to be, a drag upon us. I have also


thought that Governor Seward, too, feels about as Greeley does, but
not being a newspaper editor, his feeling in this respect is not much
manifested. I have no idea that he is, by conversation or by letter,
urging Illinois Republicans to vote for Douglas.

As to myself, let me pledge you my word that neither I, nor any
friend so far as I know, has been setting stake against Governor
Seward. No combination has been made with me, or proposed to
me, in relation to the next presidential candidate. The saine thing
is true in regard to the next governor of our State. I am not
directly or indirectly committed to any one, nor has any one made
any advance to me upon the subject. I have had many free con-
versations with John Wentworth; but he never dropped a remark
that led me to suspect that he wishes to be governor. Indeed, it is
due to truth to say that whUe he has uniformly expressed himself
for me, he has never hinted at any condition.

The signs are that we shall have a good convention on the 16th
and I think our prospects generally are improving some every
day. I believe we need nothing so much as to get rid of unjust
suspicions of one another. Yours very truly,

A. Lincoln,

June 15, 1858. — Notes of Argument in Law Case.

Legislation and adjudication must follow and conform to the
progress of society. The progress of society now begins to produce
cases of the transfer for debts of the entire property of railroad cor-
porations ; and to enable transferees to use and enjoy the trans-
ferred property, legislation and adjudication begin to be necessary.
Shall this class of legislation just now beginning with us be general
or special ? Section ten of our Constitution requires that it should
be general, if possible. [Read the section.] Special legislation al-
ways trenches upon the judicial department, and in so far violates
section two of the Constitution. [Read it.]

Just reasoning — policy — is in favor of general legislation, else
the legislature will be loaded down with the investigation of smaller
cases — a work which the courts ought to perform, and can perform
much more perfectly. How can the legislature rightly decide the
facts between P. and B. and S. C. and Co.

It is said that under a general law, whenever a railroad company
gets tired of its debts it may transfer fraudulently to get rid of
them. So they may — so may individuals; and which, the legis-
lature or the courts, is best suited to try the question of fraud in
either case ?

It is said, if a purchaser have acquired legal rights, let him not be
robbed of them; but if he needs legislation, let him submit to just
terms to obtain it.

Let him, say we, have general law in advance (guarded in every
possible way against fraud), so that when he acquires a legal right
he will have no occasion to wait for additional legislation ; and if
he has practised fraud, let the courts so decide.


June [15?], 1858. — Brief Autobiogeaphy.

The compiler of the " Dictionary of Congress " states that while
preparing that work for publication, in 1858, he sent to Mr. Lincoln
■ the usual request for a sketch of his life, and received the following

Bom, February 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky.
Education defective.
Profession, a lawyer.

Have been a captaiu of volunteers in Black Hawk war.
'Postmaster at a very small office.

Pour times a member of the Illinois legislature, and was a member of the
lower house of Congress. Yours, etc.,

A. Lincoln.

June 16, 1858. — Speech delivered at Springfield, Illinois, at
THE Close of the Republican State Convention by which
Mb. Lincoln had been named as their Candidate for United
States Senator.

Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention : If we could first
know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could better
judge what to do, and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth
year since a policy was initiated with the avowed object and con-
fident promise of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the
operation of that policy, that agitation has not only not ceased, but
has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease until
a crisis shall have been reached and passed. "A house divided
against itself cannot stand." I believe this government cannot en-
dure permanently half slave and half free. . I do not expect the
Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do
expect it will cease to be divided. It will become aU one thing, or
all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further
spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the be-
lief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction ;. or its advocates
will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the States,
old as well as new. North as well as South.

Have we no tendency to the latter condition ?

Let any one who doubts carefully contemplate that now almost
complete legal combination — piece of machinerj', so to speak —
compounded of the Nebraska doctrine and the Dred Scott decision.
Let him consider not only what work the machinery is adapted to
do, and how well adapted ; but also let him study the history of its
construction, and trace, if he can, or rather fail, if he can, to trace
the evidences of design and concert of action among its chief archi-
tects, from the beginning.

The new year of 1854 found slavery excluded from more than half
the States by State constitutions, and from most of the national
territory by congressional prohibition. Four days later commenced


the struggle which ended in repealing that congressioual prohibi-
tion. This opened all the national territory to slavery, and was the
flret point gained.

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

This necessity had not been overlooked, but had been provided
for, as well as might be^ in the notable argument of " squatter sov-
ereignty," otherwise called " sacred right of self-government," which
latter phrase, though expressive of the only rightful basis of any
government, was so perverted in this attempted use of it as to amount
to just this: That if any one man choose to enslave another, no
third man shall be allowed to object. That argument was incor-
porated into the Nebraska bill itself, in the language which follows :
" It being the true intent and meaning of this act not to legislate
slavery into any Territory or State, nor to exclude it therefrom ; but
to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their
domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Consti-
tution of the United States." Then opened the roar of loose decla-
mation iu favor of " squatter sovereignty " and " sacred right of
self-government." " But," said opposition members, " let us amend
the bill so as to expressly declare that the people of the Territory
may exclude slavery." " Not we," said the friends of the measure ;
and down they voted the amendment.

While the Nebraska bill was passing through Congress, a law
ease involving the question of a negro's freedom, by reason of his
owner ha\ing voluntarily taken him first into a free State and then
into a Territory covered by the congressional prohibition, and held
him as a slave for a long time in each, was passing through the
United States Circuit Court for the District of Missouri ; and both
Nebraska biU and lawsuit were brought to a decision in the same
month of May, 1854:. The negro's name was Dred Scott, which
name now designates the decision finally made in the case. Before
the then next presidential election, the law ease came to and was
argued in the Supreme Court of the United States ; but the decision
of it was deferred until after the election. Still, before the election,
Senator Trumbull, on the floor of the Senate, reqiiested the leading
advocate of the Nebraska bill to state his opinion whether the peo-
ple of a Territory can constitutionally exclude slavery from their
limits ; and the latter answered : " That is a question for the Supreme

The election came. Mr. Buchanan was elected, and the indorse-
ment, such as it was, secured. That was the second point gained.
The indorsement, however, fell short of a clear popular majority by
nearly four hundred thousand votes, and so, perhaps, was not over-
whelmingly reliable and satisfactory. The outgoing President, in his
last annual message, as impressively as possible echoed back upon
the people the weight and authority of the indorsement. The Su-
preme Court met again ; did not announce their decision, but ordered
a reargument. The presidential inauguration came, and still no
decision of the court ; but the incoming President in his inaugural
Vol. L— 16.


address fervently exhorted the people to abide by the forthcoming
decision, whatever it might be. Then, in a few days, came the

The reputed author of the Nebraska bill finds an early occasion
to make a speech at this capital indorsing the Dred Scott decision,
and vehemently denouncing all opposition to it. The new Presi-
dent, too, seizes the early occasion of the Silhman letter to indorse
and strongly construe that decision, and to express his astonishment
that any different view had ever been entertained !

At length a squabble springs up between the President and the
author of the Nebraska bill, on the mere question of fact, whether
the Lecompton constitution was or was not, in any just sense, made
by the people of Kansas ; and in that quarrel the latter declares that
all he wants is a fair vote for the people, and that he cares not
whether slavery be voted down or voted up. I do not understand
his declaration that he cares not whether slavery be voted down or
voted up to be intended by him other than as an apt definition of the
policy he would impress upon the public mind — the principle for
which he declares he has suffered so much, and is ready to suffer to
the end. And well may he cling to that principle. If he has any
parental feeling, weU may he cling to it. That principle is the only
shred left of his original Nebraska doctrine. Under the Dred Scott
decision "squatter sovereignty" squatted out of existence, tumbled
down like temporary scaffolding, — like the mold at the foundry,
served through one blast and fell back into loose sand, — helped to
carry an election, and then was kicked to the winds. His late joint
struggle with the Repubhcans against the Lecompton constitution
involves nothing of the original Nebraska doctrine. That struggle
was made on a point — the right of a people to make their own con-
stitution — upon which he and the Republicans have never differed.

The several points of the Dred Scott decision, in connection with
Senator Douglas's "care not" policy, constitute the piece of ma-
chinery in its present state of advancement. This was the third
point gained. The working points of that machinery are :

(1) That no negro slave, imported as such from Africa, and no
descendant of such slave, can ever be a citizen of any State, in the
sense of that term as used in the Constitution of the United States.
This point is made in order to deprive the negro in every possible
event of the benefit of that provision of the United States Consti-
tution which declares that "the citizens of each State shall be en-
titled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several

(2) That, "subject to the Constitution of the United States,"
neither Congress nor a territorial legislature can exclude slavery
from any United States Territory. This point is made in order that
individual men may fill up the Territories with slaves, without
danger of losing them as property, and thus enhance the chances of
permanency to the institution through all the future.

(3) That whether the holding a negro in actual slavery in a
free State makes him free as against the holder, the United States
courts wiU not decide, but will leave to be decided by the courts of


any slave State the negro may be forced into by the master. This
point is made not to be pressed immediately, but, if acquiesced in
for a while, and apparently indorsed by the people at an election,
then to sustain the logical conclusion that what Dred Scott's master
might lawfully do with Dred Scott in the free State of Illinois, every
other master may lawfully do with any other one or one thousand
slaves in Illinois or in any other free State.

Auxiliary to aU this, and working hand in hand with it, the Ne-
braska doctrine, or what is left of it, is to educate and mold public
opinion, at least Northern public opinion, not to care whether
slavery is voted down or voted up. This shows exactly where we
now are, and partially, also, whither we are tending.

It will throw additional light on the latter, to go back and run
the mind over the string of historical facts already stated. Several
things will now appear less dark and mysterious than they did when
they were transpiring. The people were to be left " perfectly free,"
" subject only to the Constitution." What the Constitution had to do
with it outsiders could not then see. Plainly enough now, it was an
exactly fitted niche for the Dred Scott decision to afterward come
in, and declare the perfect freedom of the people to be just no free-
dom at all. Why was the amendment expressly declaiing the right
of the people voted down? Plainly enough now, the adoption of it
would have spoiled the niche for the Dred Scott decision. Why was
the court decision held up ? Why even a senator's individual opin-
ion withheld till after the presidential election ? Plainly enough now,
the speaking out then would have damaged the "perfectly free"
argument upon which the election was to be carried. Why the out-
going President's felicitation on the indorsement ? Why the delay
of a reargument? Why the incoming President's advance exhor-
tation in favor of the decision ? These things look like the cautious
patting and petting of a spirited horse preparatory to mounting
him, when it is dreaded that he may give the rider a fall. And why
the hasty after-indorsement of the decision by the President and
others ?

We cannot absolutely know that all these exact adaptations are
the result of preconcert. But when we see a lot of framed timbers,
different portions of which we know have been gotten out at dif-
ferent times and places and by dififerent workmen, — Stephen, Frank-
lin, Roger, and James, for instance, — and we see these timbers
joined together, and see they exactly make the frame of a house or
a mill, aU the tenons and mortises exactly fitting, and all the lengths
and proportions of the different pieces exactly adapted to their re-
spective places, and not a piece too many or too few, not omitting
even scaffolding — or, if a single piece be lacking, we see the place
in the frame exactly fitted and prepared yet to bring such piece in —
in such a case we find it impossible not to believe that Stephen and
Franklin and Roger and James all understood one another from the
beginning, and all worked upon a common plan or draft drawn up
before the first blow was struck.

It should not be overlooked that, by the Nebraska bill, the people
of a State as well as Territory were to be left " perfectly free," " sub-


ject only to the Constitution." "Why mention a State 1 They were
legislating for Territories, and not for or about States. Certainly
the people of a State are and ought to be subject to the Constitu-
tion of the United States ; but why is mention of this lugged into
this merely territorial law ? Why are the people of a Territory and
the people of a State therein lumped together, and their relation to
the Constitution therein treated as being precisely the same ? WhUe
the opinion of the court, by Chief Justice Taney, in the Dred Scott
case, and the separate opinions of all the concurring judges, ex-
pressly declare that the Constitution of the United States neither
permits Congress nor a territorial legislature to exclude slavery
from any United States Territory, they aU omit to declare whether
or not the same Constitution permits a State, or the people of a
State, to exclude it. Possibly, this is a mere omission ; but who can
be quite sure, if McLean or Curtis had sought to get into the
opinion a declaration of unlimited power in the people of a State to
exclude slavery from their limits, just as Chase and Mace sought to
get such declaration, in behalf of the people of a Territory, into the
Nebraska bill — I ask, who can be quite sure that it would not have
been voted down in the one case as it had been in the other ? The
nearest approach to the point of declaring the power of a State over
slavery is made by Judge Nelson. He approaches it more than
once, using the precise idea, and almost the language too, of the
Nebraska act. On one occasion his exact language is: "Except in
cases where the power is restrained by the Constitution of the
United States, the law of the State is supreme over the subject of
slavery within its jurisdiction." In what eases the power of the
States is so restrained by the United States Constitution is left an
open question, precisely as the same question as to the restraint on
the power of the Territories was left open in the Nebraska act.
Put this and that together, and we have another nice little niche,
which we may, ere long, see fiUed with another Supreme Court de-
cision declaring that the Constitution of the United States does not
permit a State to exclude slavery from its limits. And this may es-
pecially be expected if the doctrine of "care not whether slavery be
voted down or voted up" shall gain upon the public mind sufil-
ciently to give promise that such a decision can be maintained when

Such a decision is all that slavery now lacks of being alike law-
ful in all the States. Welcome, or unwelcome, such decision is
probably coming, and will soon be upon us, unless the power of
the present political dynasty shall be met and overthrown. We
shall lie down pleasantly dreaming that the people of Missouri are
on the verge of making their State free, and we shall awake to the
reality instead that the Supreme Court has made Illinois a slave
State. To meet and overthrow the power of that dynasty is the
work now before all those who would prevent that consummation.
That is what we have to do. How can we best do it f

There are those who denounce us openly to their own friends, and
yet whisper us softly that Senator Douglas is the aptest instrument
there is with which to effect that object. They wish us to infer all


from tte fact that he now has a little quarrel with the present head
of the dynasty ; and that he has regularly voted with us on a single
point upon which he and we have never' differed. Tliey remind us
that he is a great man, and that the largest of us are very small
ones. Let this be granted. But " a living dog is better than a dead
lion." Judge Douglas, if not a dead lion for this work, is at least
a caged and toothless one. How can he oppose the advances of
slavery ? He don't care anything about it. His avowed mission is
impressing the " public heart " to care nothing about it. A leading
Douglas Democratic newspaper thinks Douglas's superior talent
will be needed to resist the re\'ival of the African slave-trade. Does
Douglas believe an effort to revive that trade is approaching? He
has not said so. Does he really think so ? But if it is, how can he
resist it? For years he has labored to prove it a sacred right of
white men to take negro slaves into the new Territories. Can he
possibly show that it is less a sacred right to buy them where they
can be bought cheapest? And unquestionably they can be bought
cheaper in Africa than in Virginia. He has done all in his power to
reduce the whole question of slavery to one of a mere right of prop-
erty ; and as such, how can he oppose the foreign slave-trade. How
can he refuse that trade in that "i)roperty" shall be "perfectly
free," unless he does it as a protection to the home production ?
And as the home producers wiU probably not ask the protection, he
will be wholly without a ground of opposition.

Senator Douglas holds, we know, that a man may rightfully be
wiser to-day than he was yesterday — that he may rightfully change
when he finds himself wrong. But can we, for that reason, run
ahead, and infer that he will make any particular change of which
he, himself, has given no intimation ? Can we safely base our action
upon any such vague inference "? Now, as ever, I wish not to mis-
represent Judge Douglas's position, question his motives, or do
aught that can be personally offensive to him. Whenever, if ever, he
and we can come together on principle so that our great cause may
have assistance from his great ability, I hope to have interposed no
adventitious obstacle. But clearly, he is not now with us — he does
not pretend to be — he does not promise ever to be.

Our cause, then, must be intrusted to, and conducted by, its own
undoubted friends — those whose hands are free, whose hearts are
in the work, who do care for the result. Two years ago the Re-
publicans of the nation mustered over thirteen hundred thousand
strong. We did this under the single impulse of resistance to a
common danger, with every external circumstance against us. Of
strange, discordant, and even hostile elements, we gathered from
the four winds, and formed and fought the battle through, under
the constant hot fire of a disciplined, proud, and pampered enemy.
Did we brave all then to falter now? — now, when that same enemy
is wavering, dissevered, and belligerent? The result is not doubtful.
We shall not fail — if we stand firm, we shall not fail. Wise coun-
sels may accelerate or mistakes delay it, but, sooner or later, the
victory is sure to come.


June 25, 1858. — Letter to J. W. Someks.

Springfield, June 25, 1858.
James W. Somers, Esq.

My dear Sir : Yours of the 22d, inclosing a draft of two hundred
dollars, was duly received. I have paid it on the judgment, and here-
with you have the receipt. I do not wish to say anything as to who
shall be the Republican candidate for the legislature in your district,
further than that I have full confidence in Dr. Hull. Have you ever
got in the way of consulting with McKinley in political matters?
He is true as steel, and his judgment is very good. The last I heard
from him, he rather thought "Weldon, of De Witt, was our best timber
for representative, all things considered. But you there must settle
it among yourselves. It may well puzzle older heads than yours to
understand how, as the Dred Scott decision holds, Congress can
authorize a territorial legislature to do everything else, and cannot
authorize them to prohibit slavery. That is one of the things the
court can decide, but can never give an intelligible reason for.

Tours very truly, A. Lincoln.

June 25, 1858. — Letter to A. Campbell.

SPRiNaPiELD, June 25, 1858.
A. Campbell, Esq.

My dear Sir : In 1856 you gave me authority to draw on you for
any sum not exceeding five hundred dollars. I see clearly that such
a privilege would be more available now than it was then. I am
aware that times are tighter now than they were then. Please write
me, at aU events; and whether you can now do anything or not, I
shall continue grateful for the past. Tours very truly,

A. Lincoln.

July 7, 1858. — Letter to J. J. Crittenden.

SPRmcpiELD, July 7, 1858.
To THE Honorable J. J. Crittenden.

Dear Sir : I beg you will pardon me for the liberty in addressing
you upon only so limited an acquaintance, and that acquaintance
so long past. I am prompted to do so by a story being whispered
about here that you are anxious for the reelection of Mr. Douglas
to the United States Senate, and also of Harris, of our district, to the
House of Representatives, and that you are pledged to write letters

Online LibraryAbraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; → online text (page 31 of 91)