Abraham Lincoln.

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

. (page 63 of 91)
Online LibraryAbraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; → online text (page 63 of 91)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

these. What one question has he discussed that comes within the
power or calls for the action or interference of a United States
senator ? He is going to discuss the rightfulness of slavery when
Congress cannot act upon it either way. He wishes to discuss the
merits of the Dred Scott decision when, under the Constitution, a
senator has no right to interfere with the decision of judicial tribu-
nals. He wants your exclusive attention to two questions that he
has no power to act upon ; to two questions that he could not vote
upon if he was in Congress ; to two questions that are not practical,
in order to conceal from your attention other questions which he
might be required to vote upon should he ever become a member of
Congress. He tells you that he does not like the Dred Scott decision.
Suppose he does not, how is he going to help himself 1 He says that
he will reverse it. How wiU he reverse it ? I know of but one mode
of reversing judicial decisions, and that is by appealing from the in-
ferior to the superior court. But I have never yet learned how or
where an appeal could be taken from the Supreme Court of the
United States. The Dred Scott decision was pronounced by the
highest tribunal on earth. Prom that decision there is no appeal
this side of heaven. Yet Mr. Lincoln says he is going to reverse
that decision. By what tribunal will he reverse it? Will he appeal
to a mob? Does he intend to appeal to violence, to lynch-law?
Will he stir up strife and rebellion in the land, and overthrow the
court by violence? He does not deign to tell you how he wiU
reverse the Dred Scott decision, but keeps appealing each day from
the Supreme Court of the United States to political meetings in the


country. He wants me to argue with you the merits of each point
of that decision before this political meeting. I say to you, with all
due respect, that I choose to abide by the decisions of the Supreme
Court as they are pronounced. It is not for me to inquire, after a
decision is made, whether I like it in all the points or not. When I
used to practise law with Lincoln, I never knew him to be beat in a
case that he did not get mad at the judge and talk about appealing;
and when I got beat I generally thought the court was wrong, but I
never dreamed of going out of the court-house and making a stump
speech to the people against the judge, merely because I had found
out that I did not know the law as well as he did. If the decision
did not suit me, I appealed until I got to the Supreme Court, and
then if that court, the highest tribunal in the world, decided against
me, I was satisfied, because it is the duty of every law-abiding man
to obey the Constitution, the laws, and the constituted authorities.
He who attempts to stir up odium and rebellion in the country
against the constituted authorities, is stimulating the passions of
men to resort to violence and to mobs instead of to the law. Hence
I tell you that I take the decisions of the Supreme Court as the law
of the land, and I intend to obey them as such.

But Mr. Lincoln says that I will not answer his question as to what
I would do in the event of the court making so ridiculous a decision
as he imagines they would by deciding that the free State of Illinois
could not prohibit slavery within her own limits. I told him at
Freeport why I would not answer such a question. I told him that
there was not a man possessing any brains in America, lawyer or
not, who ever dreamed that siich a thing could be done. I told him
then, as I do now, that by all the principles set forth in the Dred Scott
decision, it is impossible. I told him then, as I do now, that it is an
insult to men's understanding, and a gross calumny on the court, to
presume in advance that it was going to degrade itself so low as to
make a decision known to be in direct violation of the Constitution.
[A voice : " The same thing was said about the Dred Scott decision
before it passed."] Perhaps you think that the court did the same
thing in reference to the Dred Scott decision. I have heard a man
talk that way before. The principles contained in the Dred Scott
decision had been affirmed previously in various other decisions.
What court or judge ever held that a negro was a citizen f The State
courts had decided that question over and over again, and the Dred
Scott decision on that point only affirmed what every court in the
land knew to be the law.

But I will not be drawn off into an argument upon the merits of
the Dred Scott decision. It is enough for me to know that the Con-
stitution of the United States created the Supreme Court for the pur-
pose of deciding all disputed questions touching the true construction
of that instrument, and when such decisions are pronounced, they are
the law of the land, binding on every good citizen. Mr. Lincoln has
a very convenient mode of arguing upon the subject. He holds that
because he is a Republican he is not bound by the decisions of
the court, but that I, being a Democrat, am so bound. It may be that
Republicans do not hold themselves bound by the laws of the land


and the Constitution of the country as expounded by the courts ; it
may be an article in the Republican creed that men who do not like
a decision have a right to rebel against it; but when Mr. Lincoln
preaches that doctrine, I think he will find some honest Republican
— some law-abiding man in that party — who will repudiate such a
monstrous doctrine. The decision in the Dred Scott case is binding
on every American citizen alike ; and yet Mr. Lincoln argues that
the Republicans are not bound by it because they are opposed to it,
whUst Democrats are bound by it because we wiU not resist it. A
Democrat cannot resist the constituted authorities of this country ;
a Democrat is a law-abiding man; a Democrat stands by the Consti-
tution and the laws, and relies upon liberty as protected by law, and
not upon mob or political violence.

I have never yet been able to make Mr. Lincoln understand, nor can
I make any man who is determined to support him, right or wrong,
understand, how it is that under the Dred bcott decision the people of
a Territory, as well as a State, can have slavery or not, just as they
please. I believe that I can explain that proposition to all constitu-
tion-loving, law-abiding men in a way that they cannot fail to under-
stand. Chief Justice Taney, in his opinion in the Dred Scott case,
said that slaves being property, the owner of them has a right to take
them into a Territory the same as he would any other property ; in
other words, that slave property, so far as the right to enter into a
Territory is concerned, stands on the same footing with other prop-
erty. Suppose we grant that proposition. Then any man has a right
to go to Kansas and take his property with him, but when he gets
there he must rely upon the local law to protect his property, what-
ever it may be. In order to illustrate this, imagine that three of
you conclude to go to Kansas. One takes $10,000 worth of slaves,
another $10,000 worth of liquors, and the third $10,000 worth of dry-
goods. When the man who owns the dry-goods arrives out there
and commences selling them, he finds that he is stopped and pro-
hibited from selling until he gets a license, which will destroy all
the profits be can make on his goods to pay for. When the man
with the liquors gets there and tries to sell, he finds a Maine liquor-
law in force which prevents him. Now of what use is his right to
go there with his property unless he is protected in the enjoyment
of that right after he gets there? The man who goes there with his
slaves finds that there is no law to protect him when he arrives there.
He has no remedy if his slaves run away to another country: there
is no slave code or police regulations, and the absence of them ex-
eludes his slaves from the Territory just as effectually and as posi-
tively as a constitutional prohibition could.

Such was the understanding when the Kansas and Nebraska bill
was pending in Congress. Read the speech of Speaker Orr, of South
Carolina, in the House of Representatives, in 1856, on the Kansas
question, and you will find that he takes the ground that while the
owner of a slave has a right to go into a Territory and carry his
slaves with him, that he cannot hold them one day or hour unless
there is a slave code to protect him. He tells you that slavery would
not exist a day in South Carolina, or any other State, unless there


was a friendly people aud friendly legislation. Read the speeches of
that giant in intellect, Alexander H. Stephens, of Georgia, and you
wUl find them to the same effect. Read the speeches of Sam Smith,
of Tennessee, and of all Southern men, and you will find that they
all understood this doctrine then as we understand it now. Mr.
Lincoln cannot be made to understand it, however. Down at Jones-
boro, he went on to argue that if it be the law that a man has a right
to take his slaves into territory of the United States under the Con-
stitution, that then a member of Congress was perjured if he did
not vote for a slave code. I ask him whether the decision of the
Supreme Court is not binding upon him as well as on me? If so,
and he holds that he would be perjured if he did not vote for a slave
code under it, I ask him whether, if elected to Congress, he will so
vote '? I have a right to his answer, and I will tell you why. He
put that question to me down in Egypt, and did it with an air of
triumph. This was about the form of it: "In the event a slave-
holding citizen of one of the Territories should need and demand a
slave code to protect his slaves, would you vote for it V I answered
him that a fundamental article in the Democratic creed, as put forth
in the Nebraska biU and the Cincinnati platform, was non-interven-
tion by Congress with slavery in the States and Territories, and
hence that I would not vote in Congress for any code of laws either
for or against slavery in any Territory. I will leave the people per-
fectly free to decide that question for themselves.

Mr. Lincoln and the Washington " Union " both think this a mon-
strous bad doctrine. Neither Mr. Lincoln nor the Washington
"Union" likes my Freeport speech on that subject. The "Union,"
in a late number, has been reading me out of the Democratic party
because I hold that the people of a Territory, like those of a State,
have the right to have slavery or not, as they please. It has devoted
three and a half columns to prove certain propositions, one of which
I wUl read. It says :

We propose to show that Judge Douglas's action in 1850 and 1854 was
taken with especial reference to the announcement of doctrine and pro-
gramme which was made at Freeport. The declaration at Freeport was
that " in his opinion the people can, by lawful means, exclude slavery from a
Territory before it comes in as a State " ; and he declared that his competitor
had "heard him argue the Nebraska bill on that principle aU over Illinois
in 1854, 1855, and 1856, and had no excuse to pretend to have any doubt upon
that subject.

The Washington " Union " there charges me with the monstrous
crime of now proclaiming on the stump the same doctrine tliat I car-
ried out in 1850, by supporting Clay's compromise measures. The
" Union " also charges that I am now proclaiming the same doctrine
that I did in 1854 in support of the Kansas and Nebraska bill. It is
shocked that I shotdd now stand where I stood in 1850, when I was
supported by Clay, Webster, Cass, and the great men of that day, and
where I stood in 1854, and in 1856, when Mr. Buchanan was elected
President. It goes on to prove, and succeeds in proving, from my
speeches in Congress on Clay's compromise measures, that I held the
same doctrines at that time that I do noWj and then proves that by


the Kansas and Nebraska bill I advanced the same doctrine that I
now advance. It remarks :

So much for the course taken by Judge Douglas on the compromises of
1850. The record shows, beyond the possibihty of cavil or dispute, that he
expressly intended in those bills to give the territorial legislatures power to
exclude slavery. How stands his record in the memorable session of 1854,
with reference to the Kansas-Nebraska biU itself? We shall not overhaul
the votes that were given on that notable measure. Our space will not af-
ford it. We have his own words, however, dehvered in his speech closing
the great debate on that biU on the night of March 3, 1854, to show that he
meant to do in 1854 precisely what he had meant to do in 1858. The Kansas-
Nebraska bill being upon its passage, he said:

It then quotes my remarks upon the passage of the bill as follows :

The principle which we propose to carry into effect by this biU is this :
That Congress shall neither legislate slavery into any Territory or State,
nor out of the same ; but the people shaU be left free to regulate their do-
mestic concerns in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the
United States. In order to carry this principle into practical operation, it
becomes necessary to remove whatever legal obstacles might be found in the
way of its free exercise. It is only for the purpose of carrying out this
great fundamental principle of self-government that the bUl renders the
eighth section of the Missouri act inoperative and void.

Now, let me ask, will those senators who have arraigned me, or any one
of them, have the assurance to rise in his place and declare that this great
principle was never thought of or advocated as applicable to territorial bUls
in 1850 ; that from that session until the present, nobody ever thought of
incorporating this principle in aU new territorial organizations, etc., etc.? I
will begin with the compromises of 1850. Any senator who will take the
trouble to examine our journals wiU find that on the 25th of March of that
year I reported from the Committee on Territories two bills, including the
following measures : the admission of California, a territorial government
for Utah, a territorial government for New Mexico, and the adjustment of
the Texas boundary. These bUls proposed to leave the people of Utah and
New Mexico free to decide the slavery question for themselves, in the
precise language of the Nebraska bill now under discussion. A few weeks
afterward the committee of thirteen took those bills and put a wafer be-
tween them and reported them back to the Senate as one bUl, with some
shght amendments. One of these amendments was that the territorial
legislatures should not legislate upon the subject of African slavery. I
objected to this proAasion, upon the ground that it subverted the great
principle of self-government, upon which the biU had been originally
framed by the territorial committee. On the first trial the Senate refused
to strike it out, but subsequently did so, upon full debate, in order to
establish that principle as the rule of action in territorial organizations.

The "Union" comments thus on my speech on that occasion :

Thus it is seen that, in framing the Nebraska-Kansas biU, Judge Doug-
las framed it in the terms and upon the model of those of Utah and New
Mexico, and that in the debate he took pains expressly to revive the recol-
lection of the voting which had taken place upon amendments affecting the
powers of the territorial legislatures over the subject of slavery iu the bills
of 1850, in order to give the same meaning, force, and effect to the Ne-
braska-Kansas bill on this subject as had been given to those of Utah and
New Mexico.


The " Union " proves the following propositions : First, that I
sustained Clay's compromise measures on the ground that they
established the principle of self-government in the Territories. Sec-
ondly, that I brought in the Kansas and Nebraska bill, founded upon
the same principles as Clay's compromise measures of 1850 ; and
thirdly, that my Freeport speech is in exact accordance with those
principles. And what do you think is the imputation that the
"Union" casts upon me for aU this? It says that my Freeport
speech is not Democratic, and that I was not a Democrat in 1854 or
in 1850 ! Now, is not that funny ? Think that the author of the
Kansas and Nebraska bill was not a Democrat when he intro-
duced it ! The " Union " says I was not a sound Democrat in 1850,
nor in 1854, nor in 1856, nor am I in 1858, because I have always
taken and now occupy the ground that the people of a Territory, like
those of a State, have the right to decide for themselves whether sla-
very shaU or shall not exist in a Territory. I wish to cite, for the
benefit of the Washington " Union " and the followers of that sheet,
one authority on that point, and I hope the authority will be deemed
satisfactory to that class of politicians. I will read from Mr. Bu-
chanan's letter accepting the nomination of the Democratic conven-
tion for the presidency. You know that Mr. Buchanan, after he was
nominated, declared to the Keystone Club, in a public speech, that
he was no longer James Buchanan, but the embodiment of the Dem-
ocratic platform. In his letter to the committee which informed him
of his nomination, accepting it, he defined the meaning of the Kan-
sas and Nebraska bill and the Cincinnati platform in these words :

The recent legislation of Congress respecting domestic slavery, derived
as it has been from the original and pure fountain of legitimate political
power, the will of the majority, promises ere long to allay the dangerous
excitement. This legislation is founded upon principles as ancient as free
government itself, and in accordance with them has simply declared that
the people of a Territory, hke those of a State, shall decide for themselves
whether slavery shall or shaU not exist within their limits.

Thus you see that James Buchanan accepted the nomination at
Cincinnati on the condition that the people of a Territory, like
those of a State, should be left to decide for themselves whether
slavery should or should not exist within their limits. I sustained
James Buchanan for the presidency on that platform as adopted
at Cincinnati and expounded by himself. He was elected presi-
dent on that platform, and now we are told by the Washington
"Union" that no man is a true Democrat who stands on the platform
on which Mr. Buchanan was nominated, and which he has explained
and expounded himself. We are told that a man is not a Democrat
who stands by Clay, Webster, and Cass, and the compromise mea-
sures of 1850, and the Kansas and Nebraska bill of 1854. Whether
a man be a Democrat or not on that platform, I intend to stand
there as long as I have life. I intend to cling firmly to that great
principle which declares the right of each State and each Terri-
tory to settle the question of slavery, and every other domestic ques-
tion, for themselves. I hold that if they want a slave State, they


liave a right, under the Constitution of the United States, to make
it so, and if they want a free State, it is their right to have it. But
the '' Union,'' in advocating the claims of Lincoln over me to the
Senate, lays down two unpardonable heresies which it says I ad-
vocate. The first is the right of the people of a Territory, the same
as a State, to decide for themselves the question whether slavery
shall exist within their limits, in the language of Mr. Buchanan ;
and the second is that a constitution shall be submitted to the peo-
ple of a Territory for its adoption or rejection before their admission
as a State under it. It so happens that Mr. Buchanan is pledged to
both these heresies, for supporting which the Washington "Union"
has read me out of the Democratic church. In his annual message
he said he trusted that the example of the Minnesota case would be
followed in all future cases requiring a submission of the constitu-
tion; and in his letter of acceptance he said that the people of a
Territory, the same as a State, had the right to decide for themselves
whether slavery should exist within their limits. Thus you find that
this little corrupt gang who control the "Union," and wish to elect
Lincoln in preference to me, — because, as they say, of these two
heresies which I support, — denounce President Buchanan when they
denounce me, if he stands now by the principles upon which he was
elected. Will they pretend that he does not now stand by the prin-
ciples on which he was elected? Do they hold that he has aban-
doned the Kansas-Nebraska bill, the Cincinnati platform, and his
own letter accepting his nomination, all of which declare the right
of the people of a Territory, the same as a State, to decide the sla-
very question for themselves? I will not believe that he has betrayed
or intends to betray the platform which elected him ; but if he does,
I will not follow him. I will stand by that great principle, no mat-
ter who may desert it. I intend to stand by it for the purpose of
preserving peace between the North and the South, the free and the
slave States.

If each State will only agree to mind its own business, and let its
neighbors alone, there will be peace forever between us. We in
Illinois tried slavery when a Territory, and found it was not good for
us in this climate, and with our surroundings, and hence we abol-
ished it. We then adopted a free-State constitution, as we had a
right to do. In this State we have declared that a negi'o shall not
be a citizen, and we have also declared that he shall not be a slave.
We had a right to adopt that policy. Missouri has just as good a
right to adopt the other policy. I am now speaking of rights under
the Constitution, and not of moral or religious rights. I do not dis-
cuss the morals of the people of Missouri, but let them settle that
matter for themselves. I hold that the people of the slaveholding
States are civilized men as well as ourselves; that they bear con-
sciences as well as we, and that they are accountable to God and
their posterity, and not to us. It is for them to decide, therefore,
the moral and religious right of the slavery question for themselves
within their own limits. I assert that they had as much right under
the Constitution to adopt the system of policy which they have as we
had to adopt ours. So it is with every other State in this Union. Let


each state stand firmly by that great constitutional right, let each
State mind its own business and let its neighbors alone, and there will
be no trouble on this question. If we will stand by that principle,
then Mr. Lincoln will find that this republic can exist forever
divided into free and slave States, as our fathers made it, and the
people of each State have decided. Stand by that great principle,
and we can go on as we have done, increasing in wealth, in popula-
tion, in power, and in all the elements of greatness, until we shall be
the admiration and terror of the world. We can go on and enlarge
as our population increases and requires more room, until we make
this continent one ocean-bound republic. Under that principle the
United States can perform that great mission, that destiny, which
Providence has marked out for us. Under that principle we can
receive with entire safety that stream of intelligence which is con-
stantly flowing from the Old World to the New, filling up our
prairies, clearing our wildernesses, and building cities, towns, rail-
roads, and other internal improvements, and thus make this the
asylum of the oppressed of the whole earth. We have this great
mission to perform^ and it can only be performed by adhering
faithfully to that principle of self-government on which our institu-
tions were all established. I repeat that the principle is the right
of each State, each Territory, to decide this slavery question for
itself, to have slavery or not, as it chooses, and it does not become
Mr. Lincoln, or anybody else, to tell the people of Kentucky that they
have no consciences, that they are living in a state of iniquity, and
that they are cherishing an institution to their bosoms in violation
of the law of God. Better for him to adopt the doctrine of "Judge
not, lest ye shall be judged." Let him perform his own duty at home,
and he will have a better fate in the future. I think there are objects
of charity enough in the free States to excite the sympathies and open

Online LibraryAbraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; → online text (page 63 of 91)