Abraham Lincoln.

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

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actuated by the perfect impartiality which has ever been considered
most favorable to correct decisions ?

[October 1, 1858?] — Fragment. Notes for Speeches.

At Freeport I propounded four distinct interrogations to Judge
Douglas, all which he assumed to answer. I say he assumed to an-
swer them ; for he did not very distinctly answer any of them.

To the first, which is in these words, " If the people of Kansas
shall, by means entirely unobjectionable in all other respects, adopt
a State constitution, and ask admission into the Union under it, be-
fore they have the requisite number of inhabitants according to the
English bill, — some ninety -three thousand, — will you vote to admit
them?" the judge did not answer "Yes" or "No," "I would" or
"I would not," nor did he answer in any other such distinct way.
But he did so answer that I infer he would vote for the admission of
Kansas in the supposed case stated in the interrogatory — that, other
objections out of the way, he would vote to admit Kansas before she
had the requisite population according to the English bill. I men-
tion this now to elicit an assurance that I correctly understood the
judge on this point.

To my second interrogatory, which is in these words, "Can the
people of a United States Territory, in any lawful way, against the
wish of any citizen of the United States, exclude slavery from their
limits, prio'r to the formation of a State constitution?" the judge
answers that they can, and he proceeds to show how they can exclude
it. The how, as he gives it, is by withholding friendly legislation
and adopting unfriendly legislation. As he thinks, the people stiU
can, by doing nothing to help slavery and by a little unfriendly lean-
ing against it, exclude it from their limits. This is his position" This
position and the Dred Scott decision are absolutely inconsistent.
The judge furiously indorses the Dred Scott decision; and that de-
cision holds that the United States Constitution guarantees to the
citizens of the United States the right to hold slaves in the Terri-
tories, and that neither Congress nor a territorial legislature can de-
stroy or abridge that right. In the teeth of this, where can the judge
find room for his unfriendly legislation against their right? The
members of a territorial legislature are sworn to support the Con-
stitution of the United States. How dare they legislate unfriendlily
to a right guaranteed by that Constitution? And if they should,
how quickly would the courts hold their work to be unconstitu-
tional and void! But doubtless the judge's chief reliance to sustain
his proposition that the people can exclude slavery, is based upon
non-action — upon withholding friendly legislation. But can mem-


'S of a territorial legislature, having sworu to support the United
ites Constitution, conscientioiisly withhold noci'ssiuy legislative
(tection to a right guaranteed by that Constitution f
^gain, will not the courts, without territorial legislation, iSnd a
ledy for the evasion of a right guaranteed by the United States
astitution'? It is a maxim of the courts that "there is no right
hout a remedy." But, as a matter of fact, non-action, both legis-
Lve and judicial, will not exclude slavery from any place. It is
record that Dred Scott and his family were held in actual slavery
Kansas without any friendly legislation or judicial assistance. It
veil known that other negroes were held in actual slavery at the
Litary post in Kansas under precisely the same circumstances,
is was not only done without any friendly legislation, but in
ect disregard of the congressional prohibition, — the Missouri Com-
)mise, — then supposed to be valid, thus showing that it requires
iitive law to be both made and executed to keep actual slavery
; of any Territory where any owner chooses to take it. Slavery
idng actually gone into a TeiTitory to some extent, without local
islation in its favor, and against congressional prohibition, how
leh more will it go there now that by a judicial derision that
igressional prohibition is swept away, and the constitutional guar-
;y of property declared to apply to slavery in the Territories.
3ut this is not all. Slavery was originally planted on this conti-
it without the aid of friendly legislation. History provis this,
ter it was actually in existence to a sufBcient extent to become,
some sort, a public interest, it began to receive legislative atteu-
n, but not before. How futile, then, is the proposition that the
Dple of a Territory can exclude slavery by simply not legislating
its favor. Learned disputants use what they call the unjumentum
hominem — a course of argument which does not intrinsically reach
! issue, but merely turns the adversary against himself. There
! at least two arguments of this sort which may easily be turned
linst Judge Douglas's proposition that the people of a Territory
1 lawfully exclude slavery from their limits prior to forming "a
ite constitution. In his report of the 12th of March, IS.'jfi, on
?e 28, Judge Douglas says : " The sovereignty of a Territory
aains in abeyance, suspended in the United States, in trust for
! people, until they shall be admitted into the Union as a State.''
so, — if they have no active living sovereignty, — how can they
dily enact the judge's unfriendly legislation to slavery ?
But in 1856, on the floor of the Senate, Judge Trumbull asked
Jge Douglas the direct question, " Can the people of a Territory
ilude slavery prior to forming a State constitution i " — and Judge
uglas answered, " That is a question for the Supreme Court." I
uk he made the same answer to the same question more than
!e. But now, when the Supreme Court has decided that the peo-
of a Territory cannot so exclude slavery, Judge Douglas shifts
ground, saying the people can exclude it, and thus virtually
Ing it is not a question for the Supreme Court,
am aware Judge Douglas avoids admitting in direct terms that
Supreme Court have decided against the power of the people of


a Territory to exclude slavery. He also avoids saying directly that
they have not so decided ; but he labors to leave the impression that
he thinks they have not so decided. For instance, in his Springfield
speech of July 17, 1858, Judge Douglas, speaking of me, says: "He
infers that it [the court] would decide that the territorial legislatures
could not prohibit slavery. I will not stop to inquire whether the
courts will carry the decision that far or not." The court has already
carried the decision exactly that far, and I must say I think Judge
Douglas very well knows it has. After stating that Con gress cannot
prohibit slavery in the Territories, the court adds : "And if Congress
itself cannot do this, if it be beyond the powers conferred on the
Federal Governmentj it wiU be admitted, we presume, that it could
not authorize a territorial government to exercise them, it could
confer no power on any local government, established by its author-
ity, to violate the provisions of the Constitution."

Can any mortal man misunderstand this language? Does not
Judge Douglas equivocate when he pretends not to know that the
Supreme Court has decided that the people of a Territory cannot
exclude slavery prior to forming a State constitution ?

My third interrogatory to the judge is in these words : "If the Su-
preme Court of the United States shall decide that States cannot
exclude slavery from their limits, are you in favor of acquiescing in,
adopting, and following such decision as a rule of political action?"
To this . question the judge gives no answer whatever. He dis-
poses of it by an attempt to ridicule the idea that the Supreme
Court will ever make such a decision. When Judge Douglas is drawn
up to a distinct point, there is significance in all he says, and in all
he omits to say. In this case he will not, on the one hand, face the
people and declare he will support such decision when made, nor on
the other will he trammel himself by saying he will not support it.

Now I propose to show, in the teeth of Judge Douglas's ridicule,
that such a decision does logically and necessarily follow the Dred
Scott decision. In that ease the court holds that Congress can legis-
late for the Territories in 'some respects, and in others it cannot ;
that it cannot prohibit slavery in the Territories, because to do so
would infringe the "right of property" guaranteed to the citizen by
the fifth amendment to the Constitution, which provides that "no
person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property Avithout due pro-
cess of law." Unquestionably there is such a guaranty in the Con-
stitution, whether or not the court rightfully apply it in this case.
I propose to show, beyond the power of quibble, that that guaranty
applies with all the force, if not more, to States that it does to Ter-
ritories. The answers to two questions fix the whole thing: to
whom is this gfuaranty given? and against whom does it protect
those to whom it is given ? The guaranty makes no distinction be-
tween persons in the States and those in the Territories ; it is given
to persons in the States certainly as much as, if not more than, to
those in the Territories. " No person," under the shadow of the Con-
stitution, "shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due
process of law."

Against whom does this guaranty protect the rights of prop-


erty? Not against Congress alone, but against the world — against
State constitutions and laws, as well as against acts of Congress.
The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the land ; this
guaranty of property is expressly given in that Constitution, in that
supreme law ; and no State constitution or law can override it. It
is not a case where power over the subject is reserved to the States,
because it is not expressly given to the General Government; it is a
case where the guaranty is expressly given to the individual citizen,
in and by the organic law of the General Government; and the duty
of maintaining that guaranty is imposed upon that General Govern-
ment, overriding all obstacles.

The following is the article of the Constitution containing the
guaranty of pi-operty upon which the Dred Scott decision is based:

Aeticle V. No person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise
infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment by a grand jui-y,
except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the mUitia when m
actual service, in time of war or pubHc danger ; nor shall any person bo
subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of hfe or limb ; nor
shall be compelled, in any criminal ease, to be a witness against himself, nor
be deprived of life, Uberty, or property without due process of law ; nor
shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.

Suppose, now, a provision in a State constitution should negative
all the above propositions, declaring directly or substantially that
" any person may be deprived of life, liberty, or property without
due process of law," a direct contradiction — collision — would be
pronounced between the United States Constitution and such State
constitution. And can there be any doubt but that which is declared
to be the supreme law would prevail over the other to the extent of
the collision ? Such State constitution would be unconstitutional.

There is no escape from this conclusion but in one way, and that
is to deny that the Supreme Court, in the Dred Scott ease, properly
applies this constitutional guaranty of property. The Constitution
itself impliedly admits that a person may be deprived of property by
"due process of law," and the Republicans hold that if there be a law
of Congress or territorial legislature telling the slaveholder in ad-
vance that he shall not bring his slave into the Territory upon pain
of forfeiture, and he still will bring him, he wiU be deprived of his
property in such slave by "due process of law." And the same
would be true in the case of taking a slave into a State against a
State constitution or law prohibiting slavery.

[October 1, 1858 ?] — Fragment. Notes fob Speeches.

. . , "When Douglas ascribes such to me, he does so, not by
argument, but by mere burlesques on the art and name of argument—
by such fantastic arrangements of words as prove "horse-chestnuts
to be chestnut horses." In the main I shall trust an intelligent com-
munity to learn my objects and aims from what I say and do myself,
rather than from what Judge Douglas may say of me. But I must not
leave the judge just yet. When he has burlesqued me into a position
Vol. I.— 27.


which I never thought of assuming myself, he will, in the most
benevolent and patronizing manner imaginable, compliment me by
saying "he has no doubt I am perfectly conscientious in it." I
thank him for that word "conscientious." It turns my attention
to the wonderful evidences of conscience he manifests. When he
assumes to be the first discoverer and sole advocate of the right
of a people to govern themselves, he is conscientious. When he
affects to understand that a man, putting a hundred slaves through
under the lash, is simply governing himself, he is more conscien-
tious. When he affects not to know that the Dred Scott decision
forbids a territorial legislature to exclude slavery, he is most con-
scientious. When, as in his la,st Springfield speech, he declares that
I say, unless I shall play my batteries successfully, so as to abolish
slavery in every one of the States, the Union shall be dissolved, he
is absolutely bursting with conscience. It is nothing that I have
never said any such thing. With some men it might make a differ-
ence; but consciences differ in different individuals. Judge Douglas
has a greater conscience than most men. It corresponds with his
other points of greatness. Judge Douglas amuses himself by saying
I wish to go into the Senate on my qualifications as a prophet. He
says he has known some other prophets, and does not think very well
of them. Well, others of us have also known some prophets. We
know one who nearly five years ago prophesied that the 'Nebraska
bill' would put an end to slavery agitation in next to no time —
one who has renewed that prophecy at least as often as quarter-
yearly ever since ; and still the prophecy has not been fulfilled. That
one might very well go out of the Senate on his qualifications as a
false prophet.

Allow me now, in my own way, to state with what aims and objects
I did enter upon this campaign. I claim no extraordinary exemption
from personal ambition. That I like preferment as well as the av-
erage of men may be admitted. But I protest I have not entered
upon this hard contest solely, or even chiefly, for a merely personal
object. I clearly see, as I think, a powerful plot to make slavery
universal and perpetual in this nation. The effort to carry that
plot through will be persistent and long continued, extending far
beyond the senatorial term for which Judge Douglas and I are just
now struggling. I enter upon the contest to contribute my humble
and temporary mite in opposition to that effort.

At the Republican State convention at Springfield I made a speech.
That speech has been considered the opening of the canvass on my
part. In it I arranged a string of incontestable facts which, I think,
prove the existence of a conspiracy to nationalize slavery. The
evidence was circumstantial only ; but nevertheless it seemed incon-
sistent with every hypothesis, save that of the existence of such con-
spiracy. I believe the facts can be explained to-day on no other
hypothesis. Judge Douglas can so explain them if any one can.
From warp to woof his handiwork is everywhere woven in.

At New York he finds this speech of mine, and devises his plan of
assault upon it. At Chicago he develops that plan. Passing over,
unnoticed, the obvious purport of the whole speech, he cooks up two


or three issues upon points not discussed bj- me at all, and then au-
thoritatively announces that these are to be the issues of the cam-
paign. Next evening I answer, assuring him that ho misunderstands
me — that he takes issues which I have not tendered. In good faith
I try to set him right. If he really has misunderstood my meaning
I give him language that can no longer be misunderstood. He will
have none of it. At Bloomington, six days later, he speaks again, and
perverts me even worse than before. He seems to have ^rown con-
fident and jubilant, in the belief that he has entirely diverted me
from my purpose of fixing a conspiracy upon him and his co-workers.
Next day he speaks again at Springfield, pursuing the same course,
with increased confidence and recklessness of assertion. At night
of that day I speak again. I teU him that as he has carefully read
my speech making the charge of conspiracy, and has twice spoken
of the speech without noticing the charge, upon his own tacit admis-
sion I renew the charge against him. I call him, and take a default
upon him. At Clinton, ten days after, he comes in with a plea. The
substance of that plea is that he never passed a word with Chief
Justice Taney as to what his decision was to be in the Dred Scott
ease; that I ought to know that he who afiirms what he does not
know to be true falsifies as much as he who affirms what he does
know to be false; and that he would pronounce the wholi" charge of
conspiracy a falsehood, were it not for his own self-respect !

Now I demur to this plea. Waiving objection that it was not filed
till after default, I demur to it on the merits. I say it does not meet
the case. What if he did not pass a word with Chief Justice Taney ?
Could he not have as distinct an understanding, and play his part
just as well, without directly passing a word with Taney, as with it?
But suppose we construe this part of the plea more broadh' than he
puts it himself — suppose we construe it, as in an answer in chancery,
to be a denial of all knowledge, information, or belief of such coii-
spiracy. Still I have the right to prove the conspiracy, even against
his answer; and there is much more than the evidence of two wit-
nesses to prove it by. Grant that he has no knowledge, information,
or belief of such conspiracy, and what of it"? That does not disturb
the facts in evidence. It only makes him the dupe, instead of a
principal, of conspirators.

What if a man may not affirm a proposition without knowing it
to be true ? I have not affirmed that a conspiracy does exist. I have
only stated the evidence, and affirmed my belief in its existence. If
Judge Douglas shall assert that I do not believe what I say, then
he affirms what he cannot know to be true, and falls within the con-
demnation of his own rule.

Would it not be much better for him to meet the evidence, and
show, if he can, that I have no good reason to believe the charge ?
Would not this be far more satisfactory than merely vociferating an
intimation that he may be provoked to call somebody a liar?

So far as I know, he denies no fact which I have alleged. With-
out now repeating all those facts, I recall attention to onlv a few of
them. A provision of the Nebraska bill, penned by Judge Douglas
is in these words : '


It being the true intent and meaning of this act not to legislate slavery
into any Territory or State, nor exclude it therefrom, but to leave the peo-
ple thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions
ia their own way, sibject only to the Constitution of the United States.

In support of this the argument, evidently prepared in advance,
went forth : " Why not let the people of a Territory have or exclude
slavery, just as they choose? Have they any less sense or less pa-
triotism when they settle in the Territories than when they lived in
the States?"

Now the question occurs: Did Judge Douglas, even then, in-
tend that the people of a Territory should have the power to ex-
clude slavery? If he did, why did he vote against an amendment
expressly declaring they might exclude it? With men who then
knew and intended that a Supreme Court decision should soon
foUow, declaring that the people of a Territory could not exclude
slavery, voting down such an amendment was perfectly rational.
But with men not expecting or desiring such a decision, and really
wishing the people to have such power, voting down such an amend-
ment, to my mind, is wholly inexplicable.

That such an amendment was voted down by the friends of the
bill, including Judge Douglas, is a recorded fact of the case. There
was some real reason for so voting it down. What that reason was,
Judge Douglas can tell. I believe that reason was to keep the way
clear for a court decision, then expected to come, and which has
since come, in the case of Dred Scott. If there was any other reason
for voting down that amendment, Judge Douglas knows of it and
can tell it ? Again, in the before-quoted part of the Nebraska bill,
what means the provision that the people of the "State" shall be
left perfectly free, subject only to the Constitution ? Congress was
not therein legislating for, or about. States or the people of States.
In that bill the provision about the people of "States" is the odd
half of something, the other half of which was not yet quite ready
for exhibition. What is that other half to be? Another Supreme
Court decision, declaring that the people of a State cannot exclude
slavery, is exactly fitted to be that other half. As the power of the
people of the Territories and of the States is cozily set down in the
Nebraska bill as heing the same: so the constitutional limitations
on that power will then be judicially held to be precisely the same
in both Territories and States — that is, that the Constitution per-
mits neither a Territory nor a State to exclude slavery.

With persons looking forward to such additional decision, the in-
serting a provision about States in the Nebraska bill was perfectly
rational ; but to persons not looking for such decision it was a puzzle.
There was a real reason for inserting such provision. Judge Doug-
las inserted it, and therefore knows, and can tell, what that real
reason was.

Judge Douglas's present course by no means lessens my belief
in the existence of a purpose to make slavery alike lawful in all
the States. This can be done bj^ a Supreme Court decision hold-
ing that the United States Constitution forbids a State to exclude
slavery; and probably it can be done in no other way. The idea of


forcing slavery into a free State, or out of a slave State, at the point
of the bayonet, is alike nonsensical. Slavery can only become ex-
tinct by being restricted to its present limits, and dwindling out. It
can only become national by a Supreme Court decision. To such a
decision, when it comes. Judge Douglas is fully committed. Such a
decision acquiesced in by the people effects the whole object. Bearing
this in mind, look at what Judge Douglas is doing every day. For
the first sixty-five years under the United States Constitution, the
practice of government had been to exclude slavery from the new
free Territories. About the end of that period Congress, by the Ne-
braska bill, resolved to abandon this practice ; and this was rapidly
succeeded by a Supreme Court decision holding the practice to have
always been unconstitutional. Some of us refuse to obey this deci-
sion as a political rule. Forthwith Judge Douglas espouses the de-
cision, and denounces all opposition to it in no measured terms. He
adheres to it with extraordinary tenacity ; and under rather extra-
ordinary circumstances. He espouses it not on any opinion of his
that it is right within itself. On this he forbears to commit himself.
He espouses it exclusively on the ground of its binding authority on
all citizens — a ground which commits him as fully to the next deci-
sion as to this. I point out to him that Mr. Jefferson and General
Jackson were both against him on the binding political authority
of Supreme Court decisions. No response. I might as well preach
Christianity to a grizzly bear as to preach Jefferson and Jackson
to him.

I tell him I have often heard him denounce the Supreme Court
decision in favor of a national bank. He denies the accuracy of
my recollection — which seems strange to me, but I let it pass.

Online LibraryAbraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; → online text (page 55 of 91)