Abraham Lincoln.

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

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Online LibraryAbraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; → online text (page 73 of 91)
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when it was organized into a Territory, in Judge Douglas's view"?
Can any of you tell any reason why it should not have come into
the Union at once? They are fit, as he thinks, to decide upon the
slavery question — the largest and most important with which they
could possibly deal; what could they do by coming into the Union
that they are not fit to do, according to his view, by staying out of
it 1 Oh, they are not fit to sit in Congress and decide upon the rates
of postage, or questions of ad valorem or specific duties on foreign
goods, or live-oak timber contracts ; they are not fit to decide these
vastly important matters, which are national in their import, but
they are fit, "from the jump," to decide this little negro question.
But, gentlemen, the case is too plain; I occupy too much time on
this head, and I pass on.

Near the close of the copyright essay, the judge, I think, comes
very near kicking his own fat into the fire. I did not think when I
commenced these remarks that I would read from that article, but
I now believe I will :

This exposition of the Hstory of these measures shows conclusively that
the authors of the compromise measures of 1850, and of the Kansas-Nebraska
act of 1854, as well as the members of the Continental Congress in 1774, and
the founders of our system of government subsequent to the Revolution, re-
garded the people of the Territories and Colonies as political communities
which were entitled to a free and exclusive power of legislation in their pro-
vincial legislatures, where their representation could alone be preserved, in
all cases of taxation and internal pohty.

When the judge saw that putting in the word "slavery" would
contradict his own history, he put in what he knew would pass as
synonymous with it — "internal polity." Whenever we find that in
one of his speeches, the substitute is used in this manner ; and I can
tell you the reason. It would be too bald a contradiction to say
slavery, but "internal polity" is a general phrase which would pass
in some quarters, and which he hopes wiU pass with the reading com-
munity, for the same thing.

This right pertains to the people collectively, as a law-abiding and peace-
ful community, and not to the isolated individuals who may wander upon


the public domain in violation of law. It can only be exercised wbere
there are inhabitants sufficient to constitute a government, and capable of
performing its various functions and duties, a fact to be ascertained and de-
termined by —

Who do you think? Judge Douglas says, " By Congress."

"Whether the number shall be fixed at ten, fifteen, or twenty thousand in-
habitants does not affect the principle.

Now I have only a few comments to make. Popular sovereignty, •
by his own words, does not pertain to the few persons who wander
upon the public domain in violation of law. We have his words for
that. When it does pertain to them is when they are sufficient to
be formed into an organized political community, and he fixes the
minimum for that at 10,000, and the maximum at 20,000. Now I
would like to know what is to be done with the 9,000 ? Are they all
to be treated, until they are large enough to be organized into a
political community, as wanderers upon the public land in violation
of law? And if so treated and driven out, at what point of time
would there ever be ten thousand ? If they were not driven out, but
remained there as trespassers upon the public land in violation of the
law, can they establish slavery there? No ; the judge says popular
sovereignty don't pertain to them then. Can they exclude it then ?
No; popular sovereignty don't pertain to them then. I would like
to know, in the case covered by the essay, what condition the
people of the Territory are in before they reach the number of ten

But the main point I wish to ask attention to is that the question
as to when they shall have reached a sufficient number to be formed
into a regular organized community is to be decided "by Congress."
Judge Douglas says so. Well, gentlemen, that is about all we want.
No; that is all the Southerners want. That is what all those who
are for slavery want. They do not want Congress to prohibit slav-
ery from coming into the new Territories, and they do not want
popular sovereignty to hinder it ; and as Congress is to say when
they are ready to be organized, all that the South has to do is to get
Congress to hold off. Let Congress hold off until they are ready to
be admitted as a State, and the South has all it wants in taking slav-
ery into and planting it in all the Territories that we now have, or
hereafter may have. In a word, the whole thing, at a dash of the
pen, is at last put in the power of Congress ; for if they do not have
this popular sovereignty until Congress organizes them, I ask if it
at last does not come from Congress ? If, at last, it amounts to any-
thing at all. Congress gives it to them. I submit this rather for your
reflection than for comment. After all that is said, at last, by a dash
of the pen, everything that has gone before is undone, and he puts
the whole question under the control of Congress. After fighting
through more than three hours, if you will undertake to read it, he
at last places the whole matter under the control of that power which
he had been contending against, and arrives at a result directly con-
trary to what he had been laboring to do. He at last leaves the
whole matter to the control of Congress.


There are two main objects, as I understand it, of this "Harper's
Magazine" essay. One was to show, if possible, that the men of our
Revolutionary times were in favor of his popular sovereignty ; and
the other was to show that the Dred Scott decision had not entirely
squelched out this popular sovereignty. I do not propose, in regard
to this argument drawn from the history of former times, to enter
into a detailed examination of the historical statements he has made.
I have the impression that they are inaccurate in a great many in-
stances; sometimes in positive statement, but very much more in-
accurate by the suppression of statements that rea'Uy belong to the
history. But I do not propose to aiHrm that this is so to any very
great extent, or to enter into a very minute examination of his his-
torical statements. I avoid doing so upon this principle — that if it
were important for me to pass out of this lot in the least period of
time possible, and I came to that fence and saw by a calculation of
my own strength and agility that Icould clear it at a bound, it would
be folly for me to stop and consider whether I could or could not
crawl through a crack. So I say of the whole history contained in
his essay, where he endeavored to link the men of the Revolution to
popular sovereignty. It only requires an effort to leap out of it — a
single bound to be entirely successful. If you read it over you will
find that he quotes here and there from documents of the Revolu-
tionary times, tending to show that the people of the colonies were
desirous of regulating their own concerns in their own way, that the
British Government should not interfere; that at one time they
struggled with the British Government to be permitted to exclude
the African slave-trade; if not directly, to be permitted to exclude it
indirectly by taxation si^fScient to discourage and destroy ii/±^rom
these and many things of this sort, Judge Douglas argues that they
were in favor of the people of our own Territories excluding slavery
if they wanted to, or planting it there if they wanted to, doing just as
they pleased from the time they settled upon the Territory. Now,
however his history may apply, and whatever of his argument there
may be that is sound and accurate or unsound and inaccurate, if we
can find out what these men did themselves do upon this very ques-
tion of slavery in the Territories, does it not end the whole thing? If,
after all this labor and effort to show that the men of the Revolution
were in favor of his popular sovereignty and his mode of dealing
with slavery in the Territories, we can show that these very men took
hold of that subject, and dealt with it, we can see for ourselves how
they dealt with it. It is not a matter of argument or inference, but
we know what they thought about it.

It is precisely upon that part of the history of the country that
one important omission is made by Judge Douglas. He selects parts
of the history of the United States upon the subject of slavery, and
treats it as the whole, omitting from his historical sketch the legisla-
tion of Congress in regard to the admission of Missouri, by which the
Missouri Compromise was established, and slavery excluded from a
country half as large as the present United States. All this is left out
of his history, and in no wise alluded to by him, so far as I can re-
member, save once, when he makes a remark, that upon his principle


the Supreme Court was authorized to pronounce a decision that the
act called the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional. All that
history has been left out. Biit this part of the history of the coun-
try was not made by the men of the Revolution.

There was another part of our political history made by the very
men who were the actors in the Revolution, which has taken the
name of the ordinance of '87. Let me bring that history to your
attention. In 1784, I believe, this same Mr. Jefferson drew up an
ordinance for the government of the country upon wliich we now
stand ; or rather a frame or draft of an ordinance for the government
of this country, here in Ohio, our neighbors in Indiana, us who live
in Illinois, and our neighbors in "Wisconsin and Michigan. In that
ordinance, drawn up not only for the government of that Territory,
but for the Territories south of the Ohio River, Mr. Jefferson ex-
pressly provided for the prohibition of slavery. Judge Douglas
says, and perhaps he is right, that that provision was lost from that
ordinance. I believe that is true. When the vote was taken upon
it, a majority of all present in the Congress of the Confederation
voted for it; but there were so many absentees that those voting for
it did not make the clear majority necessary, and it was lost. But
three years after that the Congress of the Confederation were to-
gether again, and they adopted a new ordinance for the government
of this Northwest Territory, not contemplating territory south of the
river, for the States owning that territory had hitherto refrained
from giving it to the General Government; hence they made the
ordinance to apply only to what the government owned. In that,
the provision excluding slavery was inserted and passed unan-
imously, or at any rate it passed and became a part of the law of
the land. Under that ordinance we live. First, here, in Ohio, you
were a Territory, then an enabling act was passed, authorizing you
to form a constitution and State government, provided it was Repub-
lican, and not iu conflict with the ordinance of '87. When you framed
your constitution and presented it for admission, I think you will
find the legislation upon the subject will show that, "whereas you
had formed a constitution that was Republican, and not in conflict
with the ordinance of '87," therefore you were admitted upon equal
footing with the original States. The same process in a few years
was gone through with Indiana, and so with Illinois, and the same
substantially with Michigan and Wisconsin.

Not only did that ordinance prevail, but it was constantly looked
to whenever a step was taken by a new Territory to become a State.
Congress always turned their attention to it, and in all their move-
ments upon this subject they traced their course by that ordinance
of '87. When they admitted new States they advertised them of
this ordinance as a part of the legislation of the country. They did
so because they had traced the ordinance of '87 throughout the his-
tory of this country. Begin with the men of the Revolution, and
go down for sixty entire years, and until the last scrap of that Terri-
tory comes mto the Union in the form of the State of Wisconsin,
everything was made to conform to the ordinance of '87, excluding
slavery from that vast extent of country. .


I omitted to mention in the right place that the Constitution of
the United States was in process of being framed when that ordi-
nance was made by the Congress of the Confederation ; and one of
the first acts of Congress itself, under the new Constitution itself,
was to give force to that ordinance by putting power to carry it out
into the hands of new officers under the Constitution, in the place of
the old ones, who had been legislated out of existence by the change
in the government from the Confederation to the Constitution. TNot
only so, but I believe Indiana once or twice, if not Ohio, petitioned
the Geueral Government for the privilege of suspending that provi-
sion and allowing them to have slaves, A report made by Mr. Ran-
dolph, of Virginia, himself a slaveholder, was directly against it, and
the action was to refuse them the privilege of violating the ordi-
nance of '87.

This period of history, which I have run over briefly, is, I presume,
as familiar to most of this assembly as any other part of the his-
tory of our country. I suppose that few of my hearers are not as
familiar with that part of history as I am, and I only mention it to
recall your attention to it at this time. And hence I ask how extra-
ordinary a thing it is that a man who has occupied a position upon the
floor of the Senate of the United States, who is now in his third term,
and who looks to see the government of this whole country fall into
his own hands, pretending to give a truthful and accurate history of
the slavery question in this country, should so entirely ignore the
whole of that portion of our history — the most important of all. Is
it not a most extraordinary spectacle, that a man should stand up
and ask for any confidence in his statements, who sets out as he does
with portions of history, calling upon the people to believe that it is
a true and fair representation, when the leading part and control-
ling feature of the whole history is carefully suppressed?

But the mere leaving out is not the most remarkable feature of
this most remarkable essay. His proposition is to establish that
the leading men of the Revolution were for his great principle of
non-intervention by the government in the question of slavery in
the Territories ; while history shows that they decided in the cases
actually brought before them in exactly the contrary way, and he'
knows it. Not only did they so decide at that time, but they stuck
to it during sixty years, through thick and thin, as long as there was
one of the Revolutionary heroes upon the stage of political action.
Through their whole course, from first to last, they clung to free-
dom. And now he asks the community to believe that the men of
the Revolution were in favor of his great principle, when we have
the naked history that they themselves dealt with this very subject-
matter of his principle, and utterly repudiated his principle, acting
upon a precisely contrary ground. It is as impudent and absurd as
if a prosecuting attorney should stand up before a jury, and ask
them to convict A as the murderer of B, while B was walking alive
before them.

I say again, if Judge Douglas asserts that the men of the Revolu-
tion acted upon principles by which, to be consistent with themselves,
they ought to have adopted his popular sovereignty, then, upon a


consideration of his own argument, he had a right to make you
believe that thej' understood the principles of government, but mis-
applied them — that he has arisen to enlighten the world as to the
just application of this principle. He has a right to try to per-
suade you that he understands their principles better than they did,
and therefore he will apply them now, not as thej' did, but as they
ought to have done. He has a right to go before the community, and
try to convince them of this; but he has no right to attempt to im-
pose upon any one the belief that these men themselves approved of
his great principle. There are two ways of establishing a proposi-
tion. One is by trying to demonstrate it upon reason, and the other
is, to show that great men in former times have thought so and so,
and thus to pass it by the weight of pure authority. Now, if Judge
Douglas will demonstrate somehow that this is popular sovereignty
— the right of one man to make a slave of another, without any light
in that other, or any one else, to object, — demonstrate it as Euclid
demonstrated propositions, — there is no objection. But when he
comes forward, seeking to carry a principle by bringing to it the
authority of men who themselves utterly repudiate that principle, I
ask that he shall not be permitted to do it^

I see, in the judge's speech here, a short sentence in these words:
'■ Our fathers, when they formed this government under which we
live, understood this question jiist as well and even better than we
do now." That is true ; I stick to that. I will stand by Judge Doug-
las in that to the bitter end. And now, Judge Douglas, come and
stand by me, and truthfully show how they acted, understanding it
better than we do. All I ask of you. Judge Douglas, is to stick to
the proposition that the men of the Revolution understood this sub-
ject better than we do now, and with that better understanding they
acted better than you are trying to act now.

I wish to say something now in regard to the Dred Scott decision,
as dealt with by Judge Douglas., ^^ In that " memorable debate" be-
tween Judge Douglas and myself, last year, the judge thought fit to
commence a process of catechizing me, and at Freeport I answered
his questions, and propounded some to him. Among others pro-
pounded to him was one that I have here now. The substance, as I
remember it, is: "Can the people of a United States Territory, under
the Dred Scott decision, in any lawful way, against the wish of any
citizen of the United States, exclude slavery from its limits, prior to
the formation of a State constitution?" He answered that they
could lawfully exclude slavery from the United States Territories,
notwithstanding the Dred Scott decision. There was something
about that answer that has probably been a trouble to the judge ever

The Dred Scott decision expressly gives every citizen of the United
States a right to carry his slaves into the United States Territories.
And now there was some inconsistency in saying that the decision
was right, and saying, too, that the people of the Territory could
lawfully drive slavery out again. When all the trash, the words,
the collateral matter, was cleared away from it, — all the chaff was
fanned out of it, — it was a bare absurdity : no less than that a thing


may be lawfully driven away from where it lias a lawful right to he.
Clear it of all the verbiage, and that is the naked truth of his proposi-
tion — that a thing may be lawfully driven from the place where it has
a lawful right to stay. Well, it was because the judge could n't help
seeing this that he has had so much trouble with it ; and what I want
to ask your especial attention to, just now, is to remind you, if you
have not noticed the fact, that the judge does not any longer say that
the people can exclude slavery. He does not say so in the copyright
essay ; he did not say so in the speech that he made here ; and, so far
as I know, since his reelection to the Senate, he has never said, as
he did at Preeport, that the people of the Territories can exclude
slavery. He desires that you, who wish the Territories to remain
free, should believe that he stands by that position, but he does not
say it himself. He escapes, to some extent, the absurd position I have
stated by changing his language entirely. What he .says now is
something different in language, and we" will consider whether it
is not different in sense too. It is now that the Dred Scott de-
cision, or rather the Constitution under that decision, does not carry
slavery into the Territories beyond the power of the people of the
Territories to control it as other property. He does not say the peo-
ple can drive it out, but they can control it as other property. The
language is different ; we should consider whether the sense is dif-
ferent. Driving a horse out of this lot is too plain a proposition to
be mistaken about ; it is putting him on the other side of the fence.
Or it might be a sort of exclusion of him from the lot if you were to
kUl him and let the worms devour him ; but neither of these things
is the same as " controlling him as other property." That would be
to feed him, to pamper him, to ride him, to use and abuse him, to
make the most money out of him, "as other property"; but, please
you, what do the men who are in favor of slavery want more than
this ? What do they really want, other than that slavery, being in
the Territories, shall be controlled as other property ?

If they want anything else, I do not comprehend it. I ask your
attention to this,first, for the purpose of pointing out the change of
ground the judge has made : and, in the second place, the importance
of the change — that that change is not such as to give you gentle-
men who want his popular sovereignty the power to exclude the in-
stitution or drive it out at all. I know the judge sometimes squints
at the argument that in controlling it as other property by unfriendly
legislation they may control it to death, as you might in the case of
a horse, perhaps, feed him so lightly and ride him so much that he
would die. But when you come to legislative control, there is some-
thing more to be attended to. I have no doubt, myself, that if the
Territories should undertake to control slave property as other prop-
erty — that is, control it in such a way that it would be the most
valuable as property, and make it bear its just proportion in the way
of burdens as propertj^, — really deal with it as property, — the Su-
preme Court of the United States will say, " God speed you, and
amen." But I undertake to give the opinion, at least, that if the
Territories attempt by any direct legislation to drive the man with
his slave out of the Territory, or to decide that his slave is free be-


cause of his being taken in there, or to tax him to such an extent
that he cannot keep him there, the Supreme Court will unhesitatingly
decide all such legislation unconstitutional, as long as that Supreme
Court is constructed as the Dred Scott Supreme Court is. The first
two things they have already decided, except that there is a little
quibble among lawyers between the words dicta and decision. They
have already decided that a negro cannot be made free by territorial

What is that Dred Scott decision? Judge Douglas labors to show
that it is one thing, while I think it is altogether different. It is a
long opinion, but it is all embodied in this short statement: " The
Constitution of the United States forbids Congress to deprive a man
of his property without due process of law ; the right of property
in slaves is distinctly and expressly affirmed in that Constitution ;
therefore if Congress shall undertake to say that a man's slave is no
longer his slave when he crosses a certain line into a Territory, that
is depriving him of his property without due process of law, and is
unconstitutional." There is the whole Dred Scott decision. They
add that if Congress cannot do so itself, Congress cannot confer any
power to do so, and hence any effort by the territorial legislature to
do either of these things is absolutely decided against. It is a fore-
gone conclusion by that court.

Now, as to this indirect mode by " unfriendly legislation," all law-
yers here wiU readily understand that such a proposition cannot be
tolerated for a moment, because a legislature cannot indirectly do
that which it cannot accomplish directly. Then I say any legislation
to control this property, as property, for its benefit as property, would
be hailed by this Dred Scott Supreme Court, and fully sustained ;
but any legislation driving slave property out, or destroying it as

Online LibraryAbraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; → online text (page 73 of 91)