Abraham Lincoln.

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

. (page 80 of 91)
Online LibraryAbraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; → online text (page 80 of 91)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


We are all much gratified here to see you are elected. We con-
sider you our peculiar friend at court.

I shall be glad to receive a letter from you at any time you can
find leisure to write one. Yours very truly, . j mmr



ADDKESSES AJSfD LETTERS OP ABEAHAM LINCOLN 599



February 27, 1860. — Address at Cooper Institute, New York.

Mr. President and Fellow-citizens of Wew YorJc: The facts with
which I shall deal this evening are mainly old and familiar ;i nor is
there anything new in the general use I shall make of them. If
there shall be any novelty, it will be in the mode of presenting the
facts, and the inferences and observations following that presenta-
tion. In his speech last autumn at Columbus, Ohio, as reported in
the " New- York Times," Senator Douglas said :

Our fathers, when they framed the government under which we live, un-
derstood this question just as well, and even better, than we do now.

I fully indorse this, and I adopt it as a text for this discourse. I
so adopt it because it furnishes a precise and an agreed starting-point
for a discussion between Republicans and that wing of the Democ-
racy headed by Senator Douglas. It simply leaves the inquiry:
What was the understanding those fathers had of the question men-
tioned f

What is the frame of government under which we live? The
answer must be, " The Constitution of the United States." That Con-
stitution consists of the original, framed in 1787, and under which
the present government first went into operation, and twelve subse-
quently framed amendments, the first ten of which were framed
in 1789.

Who were our fathers that framed the Constitution ? I suppose
the " thirty-nine " who signed the original instrument may be fairly
called our fathers who framed that part of the present government.
It is almost exactly true to say they framed it, and it is altogether
true to say they fairly represented the opinion and sentiment of the
whole nation at that time. Their names, being familiar to nearly aU,
and accessible to quite all, need not now be repeated.

I take these " thirty-nine," for the present, as being " our fathers
who framed the government under which we live." What is the
question which, according to the text, those fathers understood " just
as well, and even better, than we do now"?

It is this : Does the proper division of local from Federal authority,
or anything in the Constitution, forbid our Federal Grovernment to
control as to slavery in our Federal Territories ?

Upon this. Senator Douglas holds the affirmative, and Republicans
the negative. This af&rmation and denial form an issue ; and this
issue — this question — is precisely what the text declares our fathers
understood "better than we." Let us now inquire whether the
" thirty-nine," or any of them, ever acted upon this question ; and i£
they did, how they acted upon it — how they expressed that better
understanding. In 1784, three years before the Constitution, the
United States then owning the Northwestern Territory, and no other,
the Congress of the Confederation had before them the question of
prohibiting slavery in that Territory ; and four of the " thirty-nine "
who afterward framed the Constitution were in that Congress, and
voted on that question. Of these, Roger Sherman, Thomas Mifflin,



600 ADDBESSES AND LETTERS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN

and Hugh Williamson voted for the prohibition, thus showing that,
in their understanding, no line dividing local from Federal authority,
nor anything else, properly forbade the Federal Government to con-
trol as to slavery in Federal territory. The other of the four, James
McHenrv, voted against the prohibition, showing that for some cause
he thought it improper to vote for it.

In 1787, still before the Constitution, but while the convention was
in session framing it, and while the Northwestern Territory stni was
the only Territory owned by the United States, the same question of
prohibiting slavery in the Territory again came before the Congress
of the Confederation; and two more of the "thirty-nine" who after-
ward signed the Constitution were in that Congress, and voted on
the question. They were William Blount and William Few; and
they both voted for the prohibition — thus showing that in their
understanding no line dividing local from Federal authority, nor
anything else, properly forbade the Federal Government to control
as to slavery in Federal territory. This time the prohibition be-
came a law, being part of what is now well known as the ordinance
of '87.

The question of Federal control of slavery in the Territories seems
not to have been directly before the convention which framed the
original Constitution; and hence it is not recorded that the "thirty-
rune," or any of them, whUe engaged on that instrument, expressed
any opinion on that precise question.

In 1789, by the first Congress which sat under the Constitution,
an act was passed to enforce the ordinance of '87, including the pro-
hibition of slavery in the Northwestern Territory. The biU for this
act was reported by one of the "thirty-nine" — Thomas Fitzsinunons,
then a member of the House of Representatives from Pennsylvania.
It went through all its stages without a word of opposition, and
finally passed both branches without ayes and nays, which is equiv-
alent to a unanimous passage. In this Congress there were sixteen
of the thirty-nine fathers who framed the original Constitution.
They were John Langdon, Nicholas Gilman, Wm. S. Johnson, Roger
Sherman, Robert Morris, Thos. Fitzsimmons, William Few, Abra-
ham Baldwin, Rufus King, William Paterson, George Clymer,
Richard Bassett, George Read, Pierce Butler, Daniel Carroll, and
James Madison.

This shows that, in their understanding, no line dividing local
from Federal authority, nor anything in the Constitution, properly
forbade Congress to prohibit slavery in the Federal territory; else
both their fidelity to correct principle, and their oath to support the
Constitution, would have constrained them to oppose the prohibition.

Again, George Washington, another of the "thirty-nine," was
then President of the United States, and as such approved and
signed the bill, thus completing its validity as a law, and thus show-
ing that, iii his understanding, no line dividing local from Federal
authority, nor an3'tliing in tlie Constitution, forbade the Federal
Go\'ernment to control as to slavery in Federal territory.

No great while after the adoption of the original Constitution,
North Carolina ceded to the Federal Government the country now



ADDRESSES AND LETTERS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN 601

constituting the State of Tennessee ; and a few years later Georgia
ceded that which now constitutes the States of Mississippi and
Alabama. In both deeds of cession it was made a condition by
the ceding States that the Federal Government should not pro-
hibit slavery in the ceded country. Besides this, slavery was
then actually in the ceded country. Under these circumstances,
Congress, on taking charge of these countries, did not absolutely
prohibit slavery within them. But they did interfere with it — take
control of it — even there, to a certain extent. In 1798 Congi-ess
organized the Territory of Mississippi. In the act of organization
they prohibited the bnnging of slaves into the Territory from any
place without the United States, by fine, and giving freedom to
slaves so brought. This act passed both branches of Congress
without yeas and nays. In that Congi-ess were three of the
"thirty-nine" who framed the original Constitution. They were
John Langdon. George Read, and Abraham Baldwin. They all prob-
ably voted for it. Certainly they would have placed their opposition
to it upon record if, in their understanding, any line dividing local
from Federal authority, or anything in the Constitution, properly
forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in Federal
territory.

In 1803 the Federal Government purchased the Louisiana countrj'.
Our former territorial acquisitions came from certain of our own
States ; but this Louisiana country was acquired from a foreign na-
tion. In 1804 Congress gave a territorial organization to that part
of it which now constitutes the State of Louisiana. New Orleans,
lying within that part, was an old and comparatively large city.
There were other considerable towns and settlements, and slavery
was extensively and thoroughly intermingled with the people. Con-
gress did not, in the Territorial Act, prohibit slavery ; but they did
interfere with it — take control of it — in a more marked and exten-
sive way than they did in the case of Mississippi. The substance of
the provision therein made in relation to slaves was :

1st. That no slave should be imported into the Territory from
foreign parts.

2d. That no slave should be carried into it who had been im-
ported into the United States since the first day of May, 1798.

3d. That no slave should be carried into it, except by the owner,
and for his own use as a settler; the penalty in all the cases being a
fine upon the violator of the law, and freedom to the slave.

This act also was passed without ayes or nays. In the Congress
which passed it there were two of the " thirty Tuine." They were
Abraham Baldwin and Jonathan Dayton. As stated in the case of
Mississippi, it is probable they both voted for it. They would not
have allowed it to pass without recording their opposition to it if,
in their understanding, it violated either the line properly dividing
local from Federal authority, or any provision of the Constitution.

In 1819-20 came and passed the Missouri question. Many votes
were taken, by yeas and nays, in both branches of Congress, upon
the various phases of the general question. Two of the "thirty-
nine" — Kufus King and Charles Pinckney — were members of that



602 ADDRESSES AND LETTERS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Congress. Mr. King steadily voted for slavery prohibition and
against all compromises, while Mr. Pinckney as steadily voted
against slavery prohibition and against aU compromises. By this,
Mr. King showed that, in his understanding, no line dividing local
from Federal authority, nor anything in the Constitution, was vio-
lated bj' Congress prohibiting slavery in Federal territory ; while
Mr. Pinckney, by his votes, showed that, in his understanding, there
was some sufficient reason for opposing such prohibition in that case.

The cases I have mentioned are the only acts of the " thirty-nine,"
or of any of them, upon the direct issue, which I have been able to
discover.

To enumerate the persons who thus acted as being four in 1784,
two in 1787, seventeen in 1789, three in 1798, two in 1804, and two
in 1819-20, there would be thirty of them. But this would be
counting John Langdon, Roger Sherman, William Few, Rufus King,
and George Read each twice, and Abraham Baldwin three times.
The true number of those of the " thirty-nine " whom I have shown
to have acted upon the question which, by the text, they understood
better than we, is twenty-three, leaving sixteen not shown to have
acted upon it in any way.

Here, then, we have twenty-three out of our thirty-nine fathers
" who framed the government under which we live," who have, upon
their official responsibility and their corporal oaths, acted upon the
very question which the text affirms they "understood just as well,
and even better, than we do now " ; and twenty-one of them — a clear
majority of the whole "thirty-nine" — so acting upon it as to make
them guilty of gross political impropriety and wilful perjury if, in
their understanding, any proper division between local and Federal
authority, or anything in the Constitution they had made themselves,
and sworn to support, forbade the Federal Government to control as
to slavery in the Federal Territories. Thus the twenty-one acted ;
and, as actions speak louder than words, so actions under such re-
sponsibility speak still louder.

Two of the twenty-three voted against congressional prohibition
of slavery in the Federal Territories, in the instances in which they
acted upon the question. But for what reasons they so voted is not
known. They may have done so because they thought a proper di-
vision of local from Federal authority, or some provision or principle
of the Constitution, stood in the way; or they may, without any
such question, have voted against the prohibition on what appeared
to them to be sufficient grounds of expediency. No one who has
sworn to support the Constitution can conscientiously vote for what'
he understands to be an unconstitutional measure, however expedi-
ent he may think it; but one may and ought to vote against a mea-
sure which he deems constitutional if, at the same time, he deems it
inexpedient. It, therefore, would be unsafe to set down even the
two who voted against the prohibition as having done so because,
in their understanding, any proper division of local from Federal
authority, or anything in the Constitution, forbade the Federal Gov-
ernment to control as to slavery in Federal territory.

The remaining sixteen of the " thirty-nine," so far as I have dis-



ADDEESSES AND LETTERS OP ABEAHAM LINCOLN 603

covered, have left no record of their understanding upon the direct
question of Federal control of slavery in the Federal Territories.
But there is much reason to believe that their understanding upon
that question would not have appeared different from that of their
twenty-three compeers, had it been manifested at all.

For the purpose of adhering rigidly to the text, I have purposely
omitted whatever understanding may have been manifested by any
person, however distinguished, other than the thirty-nine fathers
who framed the original Constitution ; and, for the same reason, I
have also omitted whatever understanding may have been manifested
by any of the "thirty-nine" even on any other phase of the general
question of slavery. If we should look into their acts and declara-
tions on those other phases, as the foreign slave-trade, and the
morality and policy of slavery generally, it would appear to us that
on the direct question of Federal control of slavery in Federal Terri-
tories, the sixteen, if they had acted at all, would probably have acted
just as the twenty-three did. Among that sixteen were several of
the most noted antislaverv men of those times, — as Dr. Franklin,
Alexander Hamilton, and 6ouverneur Morris, — while there was not
one now known to have been otherwise, unless it may be John Rut-
ledge, of South Carolina.

The sum of the whole is that of our thirty -nine fathers who framed
the original Constitution, twenty-one — a clear majority of the whole
— certainly understood that no proper division of local from Federal
authority, nor any part of the Constitution, forbade the Federal
Government to control slavery in the Federal Territories; while all ;
the rest had probably the same understanding. Such, unquestiona-
bly, was the understanding of our fathers who framed the original
Constitution; and the text affirms that they understood the question
" better than we."

But, so far, I have been considering the understanding of the
question manifested by the framers of the original Constitution. In
and by the original instrument, a mode was provided for amending
it; and, as I have already stated, the present frame of "the govern-
ment under which we live" consists of that original, and twelve
amendatory articles framed and adopted since. Those who now in-
sist that Federal control of slavery in Federal Territories violates the
Constitution, point us to the provisions which they suppose it thus
violates ; and, as I understand, they all fix upon provisions in these
amendatory articles, and not in the original instrument. The Su-
preme Court, in the Dred Scott case, plant themselves upon the fifth
amendment, which provides that no person shall be deprived of "life,
liberty, or property without due process of law"; while Senator
Douglas and his peculiar adherents plant themselves upon the tenth
amendment, providing that "the powers not delegated to the United
States by the Constitution " "are reserved to the States respectively,
or to the people."

Now, it so happens that these amendments were framed by the first
Congress which sat under the Constitution — the identical Congress
which passed the act, already mentioned, enforcing the prohibition of
slavery in the Northwestern Territory. Not onfy was it the same



604 ADDRESSES AND LETTEES OP ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Congress, but they were the identical, same individual men who, at
the same session, and at the same time within the session, had under
consideration, and in progress toward maturity, these constitutional
amendments, and this act prohibiting slavery in all the territory the
nation then owned. The constitutional amendments were intro-
duced before, and passed after, the act enforcing the ordinance of
'87; so that, during the whole pendency of the act to enforce the
ordinance, the constitutional amendments were also pending.

The seventy-six members of that Congress, including sixteen of
the framers of the original Constitution, as before stated, were pre-
eminently our fathers who framed that part of "the government
under which we live " which is now claimed as forbidding the Federal
Government to control slavery in the Federal Territories.

Is it not a little presumptuous in any one at this day to affirm that
the two things which that Congress deliberately framed, and carried
to maturity at the same time, are absolutely inconsistent with each
other? And does not such affirmation become impudently absurd
when coupled with the other affirmation, from the same mouth, that
those who did the two things alleged to be inconsistent, understood
whether they really were inconsistent better than we — better than
he who affirms that they are inconsistent?

It is surely safe to assume that the thirty-nine framers of the origi-
nal Constitution, and the seventy-six members of the Congress which
framed the amendments thereto, taken together, do certainly include
those who may be fairly called "our fathers who framed the gov-
ernment under which we live." And so assuming, I defy any man
to show that any one of them ever, in his whole life, declared that, in
his understanding, any proper division of local from Federal au-
thority, or any part of the Constitution, forbade the Federal G-overn-
ment to control as to slavery in the Federal Territories. I go a step
further. I defy any one to show that any living man in the whole
world ever did, prior to the 'beginning of the present century (and
I might almost say prior to the beginning of the last half of the
present century), declare that, in his understanding, any proper di-
vision of local from Federal authority, or any part of the Constitu-
tion, forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the
Federal Territories. To those who now so declare I give not only
" our fathers who framed the government under which we live," but
with them all other living men within the century in which it was
framed, among whom to search, and they shall not be able to find
the evidence of a single man agreeing with them.

Now, and here, let me guard a little against being misunderstood.
I do not mean to say we are bound to follow implicitly in whatever
our fathers did. To do so would be to discard all the lights of cur-
rent experience — to reject all progress, all improvement. What I
do say is that if we would supplant the opinions and policy of our
fathers in any case, we should do so upon evidence so conclusive,
and argument so clear, that even their great authority, fairly con-
sidered and weighed, cannot stand ; and most surely not in a case
whereof we ourselves declare they understood the question better
than we.



ADDKESSES AND LETTERS OP ABRAHAM LINCOLN 605

If any man at this day sincerely believes that a proper division of
local from Federal authority, or any part of the Constitution, forbids
the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the Federal Ter-
ritories, he is right to say so, and to enforce his position by all truth-
ful evidence and fair argument which he can. But he has no right
to mislead others, who have less access to history, and less leisure to
study it, into the false belief that " our fathers who framed the
government under which we live " were of the same opinion — thus
substituting falsehood and deception for truthful evidence and fair
argument. If any man at this day sincerely believes " our fathers
who framed the government under which we live " used and applied
principles, in other cases, which ought to have led them to under-
stand that a proper division of local from Federal authority, or some
part of the Constitution, forbids the Federal Government to control
as to slavery in the Federal Territories, he is right to say so. But he
should, at the same time, brave the responsibility of declaring that,
in his opinion, he understands their principles better than they did
themselves ; and especially should he not shirk that responsibility
by asserting that they "understood the question jiist as well, and
even better, than we do now."

But enough ! Let all who believe that " our fathers who framed
the government under which we live understood this question just
as well, and even better, than we do now," speak as they spoke, and
act as they acted upon it. This is all Republicans ask — all Repub-
licans desire — in relation to slavery. As those fathers marked it,
so let it be again marked, as an evil not to be extended, but to be
tolerated and protected only because of and so far as its actual pres-
ence among us makes that toleration and protection a necessity.
Let all the guaranties those fathers gave it be not grudgingly, but
fully and fairly, maintained. For this Republicans contend, and
with this, so far as I know or believe, they will be content.

And now, if they would listen, — as I suppose they wOl not, — I
would address a few words to the Southern people.

I would say to them : You consider yourselves a reasonable and a
just people ; and I consider that in the general qualities of reason
and justice yon are not inferior to any other people. Still, when you
speak of us Republicans, you do so only to denounce us as reptiles,
or, at the best, as no better than outlaws. Toti will grant a hearing
to pirates or murderers, but nothing like it to " Black Republicans."
In all your contentions with one another, each of you deems an un-
conditional condemnation of "Black Republicanism" as the first
thing to be attended to. Indeed, such condemnation of us seems to
be an indispensable prerequisite — license, so to speak — among you
to be admitted or permitted to speak at all. Now can you or not
be prevailed upon to pause and to consider whether this is quite just
to us, or even to yourselves? Bring forward your charges and
specifications, and then be patient long enough to hear us deny or
justify.

You say we are sectional. We deny it. That makes an issue;
and the burden of proof is upon you. You produce your proof; and
what is it ? Why, that our party has no existence in your section



606 ADDEESSES AND LETTEKS OF ABKAHAM LINCOLN

— gets no votes in your section. The fact is substantially true ; but
does it prove the issue? If it does, then in case we should, without
change of principle, begin to get votes in your section, we should
thereby cease to be sectional. You cannot escape this conclusion ;
and yet, are you willing to abide by it ? If you are, you wiU prob-
ably soon find that we have ceased to be sectional, for we shall get
votes in your section this very year. You will then begia to dis-
cover, as the truth plainly is, that your proof does not touch the
issue. The fact that we get no votes in your section is a fact of your
making, and not of ours. And if there be fault in that fact, that
fault is primarily yours, and remains so until you show that we re-
pel you by some wrong principle or practice. If we do repel you by
any wrong principle or practice, the fault is ours ; but this brings
you to where you ought to have started — to a discussion of the
right or wrong of our principle. If our principle, put in practice,
would wrong your section for the benefit of ours, or for any other
object, then our principle, and we with it, are sectional, and are justly
opposed and denounced as such. Meet us, then, on the question
of whether our principle, put in practice, would wrong your section ;
and so meet us as if it were possible that something may be said on



Online LibraryAbraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; → online text (page 80 of 91)