Abraham Lincoln.

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

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organization, which often make a man's course seem crooked, his
conduct a riddle.

Some men would make it a question of indifference, neither right
nor wrong, merely a question of dollars and cents; — the Almighty


has drawn a line across tlie land, below which it must be cultivated
by slave labor, above which by free labor. They would say: "If
the question is between the white man and the negro, I am for the
white man; if between the negro and the crocodile, I am for the
negro." There is a strong effort to make this policy of indifference
prevail, but it cannot be a durable one. A "don't care" policy won't
prevaO, for everybody does care.

Is there a Democrat, especially one of the Douglas wing, but wiU
declare that the Declaration of Independence has no application to
the negro? It would be safe to offer a moderate premium for such
a man. I have asked this question in large audiences where they
were in the habit of answering right out, but no one would say
otherwise. Not one of them said it five years ago. I never heard
it till I heard it from the lips of Judge Douglas. True, some men
boldly took the bull by the horns and said the Declaration of Inde-
pendence was not true ! They did n't sneak around the question.
I say I heard first from Douglas that the Declaration did not apply
to the black man. Not a man of them said it till then — they all say
it now. This is a long stride toward establishing the policy of
indifference — one more such stride, I think, would do it.

The proposition that there is a struggle between the white man
and the negro contains a falsehood. There is no struggle. If there
was, I should be for the white man. If two men are adrift at sea
on a plank which will bear up but one, the law justifies either in
pushing the other off. I never had to struggle to keep a negro from
enslaving me, nor did a negro ever have to fight to keep me from
enslaving ■ him. They say, between the crocodile and the negi'O,
they go for the negro. The logical proportion is, therefore, as a
white man is to a negro, so is a negro to a crocodile, or as a negro
may treat the crocodile, so the white man may treat the negro. The
"don't care" policy leads just as surely to nationalizing slavery as
Jeff Davis himself, but the doctrine is more dangerous because
more insidious.

If the Republicans, who think slavery is wrong, get possession of
the General Government, we may not root out the evil at once, but
may at least prevent its extension. If I find a venomous snake lying
on the open prairie, I seize the first stick and kiU him at once; but
if that snake is in bed with my children, I must be more cautious; —
I shall, in striking the snake, also strike the children, or arouse the
reptile to bite the children. Slavery is the venomous snake in bed
with the children. But if the question is whether to kill it on the
prairie or put it in bed with other children, I am inclined to think
we 'd kill it.

Another illustration. When for the first time I met Mr. Clay, the
other day in the cars, in front of us sat an old gentleman with an
enormous wen upon his neck. Everybody would say the wen was
a great evil, and would cause the man's death after a while ; but you
could n't cut it out, for he 'd bleed to death in a minute. But would
you ingraft the seeds of that wen on the necks of sound and healthy
men? He must endure and be patient, hoping for possible relief.
The wen represents slavery on the neck of this country. This only


applies to those who think slavery is wrong. Those who think it
right would consider the snake a jewel and the wen an ornament.

We want those Democrats who think slavery wrong, to quit
voting with those who think it right. They don't treat it as they
do other wrongs — they won't oppose it in the free States, for it
is n't there ; nor in the slave States, for it is there ; — don't want it in
polities, for it makes agitation ; not in the pulpit, for it is n't reli-
gion; not in a tract society, for it makes a fuss — there is no place
for its discussion. Are they quite consistent in this ?

If those Democrats really think slavery wrong, they will be much
pleased when earnest men in the slave States take up a plan of
gradual emancipation, and go to work energetically and very kindly
to get rid of the evil. Now let us test them. Frank Blair tried it;
and he ran for Congress in '58, and got beaten. Did the Democracy
feel bad about it ? I reckon not. I guess you all flung up your hats
and shouted, " Hurrah for the Democracy ! "

He went on to speak of the manner in which slavery was treated
by the Constitution. The word " slave " is nowhere used ; the supply
of slaves was to be prohibited after 1808 ; they stopped the spread
of it in the Territories ; seven of the States abolished it. He argued
very conclusively that it was then regarded as an evil which would
eventually be got rid of, and that they desired, once rid of it, to have
nothing in the Constitution to remind them of it. The Republicans
go back to first principles, and deal with it as a wrong. Mason, of
Virginia, said openly that the framers of our government were anti-
slavery. Hammond, of South Carolina, said, " Washington set this
evil example." Bully Brooks said, "At the time the Constitution
was formed, no one supposed slavery would last till now." We stick
to the policy of our fathers.

The Democracy are given to bushwhacking. After having their
errors and misstatements continually thrust in their faces, they pay
no heed, but go on howling about Seward and the " irrepressible con-
flict." That is bushwhacking. So with John Brown and Harper's
Ferry. They charge it upon the Republican party, and ignomini-
ously fail in all attempts to substantiate the charge. Yet they go
on with their bushwhacking, the pack in full cry after John Brown.
The Democrats had just been whipped in Ohio and Pennsylvania,
and seized npon the unfortunate Harper's Ferry affair to influence
other elections then pending. They said to each other, " Jump in ;
now 's your chance"; and were sorry there were not more killed.
But they did n't succeed well. Let them go on with their howling.
They will succeed when by slandering women you get them to love
you, and by slandering men you get them to vote for you.
. Mr. Lincoln then took up the Massachusetts shoeinakers' strike,
treating it in a humorous and philosophical manner, and exposing to
ridicule the foolish pretense of Senator Douglas — that the strike
arose from " this unfortunate sectional warfare." Mr. Lincoln thanked
God that we have a system of labor where there can be a strike.
Whatever the pressure, there is a point where the workman may
stop. He did n't pretend to be familiar with the subject of the shoe



strike — probably knew as little about it as Senator Douglas him-
self. . Shall we stop making war upon the South ? We never have
made war upon them. If any one has, he had better go and hang
himself and save Virginia the trouble. If you give up your convic-
tions and call slavery right, as they do, you let slavery in upon you
— instead of white laborers who can strike, you '11 soon have black
laborers who can't strike.

I have heard that in consequence of this " sectional warfare," as
Douglas calls it, Senator Mason, of Virginia, had appeared ia a suit
of homespun. Now, up in New Hampshire, the woolen and cotton
mills are all busy, and there is no strike — they are busy making the
very goods Senator Mason has quit buying! To carry out his idea,
he ought to go barefoot ! If that 's the plan, they should begin at
the foundation, and adopt the well-known " Georgia costume" of a
shirt-collar and pair of spurs.

It reminded him of the man who had a poor, old, lean, bony,
spavined horse, with swelled legs. He was asked what he was going
to do with such a miserable beast — the poor creature would die.
"Do?" said he. "I 'm going to fat him up ; don't you see thatlhave
got him seal fat as high as the knees ? " Well, they have got the
Union dissolved up to the ankle, but no further!

All portions of this Confederacy should act in harmony and with
careful deliberation. The Democrats cry " John Brown invasion."
We are guiltless of it, but our denial does not satisfy them. Nothing
wlU satisfy them but disinfecting the atmosphere entirely of all op-
position to slavery. They have not demanded of us to yield the
guards of liberty in our State constitutions, but it will naturally come
to that after a whUe. If we give up to them, we cannot refuse even
their utmost request. If slavery is right, it ought to be extended;
if not, it ought to be restricted — there is no middle ground. Wrong
as we think it, we can afford to let it alone where it of necessity now
exists ; but we cannot afford to extend it into free territory and
around onr own homes. Let us stand against it !

The " Union" arrangements are all a humbug — they reverse the
scriptural order, calhng the righteous, and not sinners, to repentance.
Let us not be slandered or intimidated to turn from our duty. Eter-
nal right makes might ; as we understand our duty, let us do it 1

March 6, 1860. — Speech at New Haven, Conn.

Mr. President and Fellow-citizens of New Haven: If the Republi-
can party of this nation shall ever have the national house in-
trusted to its keeping, it will be the duty of that party to attend
to aU the affairs of national housekeeping. Whatever matters of
importance may come up, whatever dif&culties may arise, in the
way of its administration of the government, that party will then
have to attend to: it will then be compelled to attend to other ques-
tions besides this question which now assumes an overwhelming
importance — the question of slavery. It is true that in the organi-
zation of the Republican party this question of slavery was more


impoi-tant than any other; indeed, so much more important has it
become that no other national question can even get a hearing just
at present. The old question of tariff— a matter that will remain
one of the chief affairs of national housekeeping to all time; the
question of the management of financial affairs; the question of
the disposition of the public domain: how shall it be managed for
the purpose of getting it well settled, and of making there the homes
of a free and happy people — these will remain open and require
attention for a great while yet, and these questions will have to
be attended to by whatever party has the control of the govern-
ment. Yet just now they cannot even obtain a hearing, and I do
not purpose to detain you upon these topics, or what sort of hear-
ing they should have when opportunity shall come. For whether
we will or not, the question of slavery is the question, the all-
absorbing topic, of the day. It is true that all of us — and by that
I mean not the Republican party alone, but the whole American
people here and elsewhere — all of us wish this question settled;
wish it out of the way. It stands in the way and prevents the
adjustment and the giving of necessary attention to other questions
of national housekeeping. The people of the whole nation agree
that this question ought to be settled, and yet it is not settled ; and
the reason is that they are not yet agreed how it shall be settled.
All wish it done, but some wish one way and some another, and
some a third, or fourth, or fifth ; different bodies are pulling in
different directions, and none of them having a decided majority
are able to accomplish the common object.

In the beginning of the year 1854, a new policy was inaugurated
with the avowed object and confident promise that it would entirely
and forever put an end to the slavery agitation. It was again and
again declared that under this policy, when once successfully estab-
lished, the country would be forever rid of this whole question. Yet
under the operation of that policy this agitation has not only not
ceased, but it has been constantly augmented. And this, too, although
from the day of its introduction its friends, who promised that it
would wholly end all agitation, constantly insisted, down to the time
that the Lecompton bill was introduced, that it was working admira-
bly, and that its inevitable tendency was to remove the question for-
ever from the politics of the country. Can you call to mind any
Democratic speech, made after the repeal of the Missouri Compromise
down to the time of the Lecompton bill, in which it was not predicted
that the slavery agitation was just at an end; that "the Abolition
excitement was played out," " the Kansas question was dead," "they
have made the most they can out of this question and it is now for-
ever settled"? But since the Lecompton bill, no Democrat within
my experience has ever pretended that he could see the end. That
crj^ has been dropped. They themselves do not pretend now that
the agitation of this subject has come to an end yet. The truth is
that this question is one of national importance, and we cannot help
dealing with it; we must do something about it, whether we wUl or
not. We cannot avoid it; the subject is one we cannot avoid con.
sidering; we can no more avoid it than a man can live without eat-


ing. It is upon us; it attaches to the body politic as much and as
closely as the natural wants attach to our natural bodies. Now I
think it important that this matter should be taken up in earnest
and really settled. And one way to bring about a true settlement of
the question is to understand its true magnitude.

There have been many efforts to settle it. Agaia and again it has
been fondly hoped that it was settled, but every time it breaks out
afresh, and more violently than ever. It was settled, our fathers
hoped, by the Missouri Compromise, but it did not stay settled.
Then the compromises of 1850 were declared to be a full and final
settlement of the question. The two great parties, each in national
convention, adopted resolutions declaring that the settlement made
by the compromise of 1850 was a finality — that it would last for-
ever. Yet how long before it was unsettled again ? It broke out
again in 1854, and blazed higher and raged more furiously than ever
before, and the agitation has not rested since.

These repeated settlements must have some fault about them.
There must be some inadequacy in their very nature to the purpose
for which they were designed. "We can only speculate as to where
that fault — that inadequacy is, but we may perhaps profit by past

I think that one of the causes of these repeated failures is that our
best and greatest men have greatly underestimated the size of this
question. They have constantly brought forward small cures for
great sores — plasters too small to cover the wound. That is one
reason that all settlements have proved so temporary, so evanescent.

Look at the magnitude of this subject. One sixth of our popula-
tion, in round numbers — not quite one sixth, and yet more than a
seventh — about one sixth of the whole population of the United
States, are slaves. The owners of these slaves consider them prop-
erty. The effect upon the minds of the owners is that of property, and
nothing else ; it induces them to insist upon aU that wiU favorably
affect its value as property, to demand laws and institutions and a
public policy that shall increase and secure its value, and make it
durable, lasting, and universal. The effect on the minds of the
owners is to persuade them that there is no wrong in it. The slave-
holder does not like to be considered a mean fellow for holding that
species of property, and hence he has to struggle within himself, and
sets about arguing himself into the belief that slavery is right. The
property influences his mind. The dissenting minister who argued
some theological point with one of the established church was always
met by the reply, "I can't see it so." He opened the Bible and
pointed him to a passage, but the orthodox minister replied, " I can't
see it so." Then he showed him a single word — " Can you see that?"
"Yes, I see it," was the reply. The dissenter laid a guinea over the
word, and asked, "Do you see it now?" So here. Whether the
owners of this species of property do really see it as it is, it is not
for me to say ; but if they do, they see it as it is through two billions
of dollars, and that is a pretty thick coating. Certain it is that they
do not see it as we see it. Certain it is that this two thousand mil-
lion of dollars invested in this species of property is all so concen-


trated that the mind can grasp it at once. This immense pecuniary-
interest has its influence upon their minds.

But here in Connecticut and at the North slavery does not exist,
and we see it through no such medium. To us it appears natural to
think that slaves are human beings; men, not property; that some
of the things, at least, stated about men in the Declaration of Inde-
pendence apply to them as well as to us. I say we think, most of
us, that this charter of freedom applies to the slave as well as to
ourselves ; that the class of arguments put forward to batter down
that idea are also calculated to break down the very idea of free
government, even for white men, and to undermine the very founda-
tions of free society. We think slavery a great moral wrong, and
while we do not claim the right to touch it where it exists, we wish
to treat it as a wrong in the Territories, where our votes will reach it.
We think that a respect for ourselves, a regard for future generations
and for the God that made us, require that we put down this wrong
where our votes will properly reach it. We think that species of
labor an injury to free white men — in short, we think slavery a
great moral, social, and political evil, tolerable only because, and so
far as, its actual existence makes it necessary to tolerate it, and that
beyond that it ought to be treated as a wrong.

Now these two ideas — the property idea that slavery is right and
the idea that it is wrong — come into collision, and do actually pro-
duce that irrepressible conflict which Mr. Seward has been so roundly
abused for mentioning. The two ideas conflict, and must forever

■Again, in its political aspect does anything in any way endanger
the perpetuity of this Union but that single thing — slavery? Many
of our adversaries are anxious to claim that they are specially de-
voted to the Union, and take pains to charge upon us hostility to
the Union. Now we claim that we are the only true Union men,
and we put to them this one proposition : What ever endangered
this Union save and except slavery 1 Did any other thing ever
cause a moment's fear ? All men must agree that this thing alone
has ever endangered the perpetiiity of the Union. ■ But if it was
threatened by any other influence, would not all men say that the
best thing that could be done, if we could not or ought not to destroy
it, would be at least to keep it from growing any larger? Can any
man believe that the way to save the Union is to extend and in-
crease the only thing that threatens the Union, and to suffer it to
grow bigger and bigger ?

• Whenever this question shall be settled, it must be settled on some
philosophical basis. No policy that does not rest upon philosophical
public opinion can be permanently maintained. And hence there are
but two policies in regard to slavery that can be at all maintained.
The first, based on the property view that slavery is right, con-
forms to that idea throughout, and demands that we shall do every-
thing for it that we ought to do if it were right. We must sweep
away all opposition, for opposition to the right is wrong ; we must
agree that slavery is right, and we must adopt the idea that prop-
erty has persuaded the owner to believe, that slavery is morally right


aiid socially elevating. This gives a philosophical basis for a per-
manent policy of encouragement.

The other policy is one that squares with the idea that slavery is
wrong, and it consists in doing everything that we ought to do if it
is wrong. ■ Now I don't wish to be misunderstood, nor to leave a gap
down to be misrepresented, even. I don't mean that we ought to
attack it where it exists. To me it seems that if we were to form
a government anew, in view of the actual presence of slavery we
should find it necessary to frame just such a government as our
fathers did: giving to the slaveholder the entire control where the
system was established, while we possess the power to restrain it
from going outside those limits. Prom the necessities of the case
we should be compelled to form just such a government as our
blessed fathers gave us; and surely if they have so made it, that
adds another reason why we should let slavery alone where it exists.

If I saw a venomoiis snake crawling in the road, any man would
say I might seize the nearest stick and kill it ; but if I found that
snake in bed with my childi'en, that would be another question. I
might hurt the children more than the snake, and it might bite them.
Much more, if I found it in bed with my neighbor's children, and I
had bound myself by a solemn compact not to meddle with his
children under any circumstances, it would become me to let that
particular mode of getting rid of the gentleman alone. But if there
was a bed newly made up, to which the children were to be taken,
and it was proposed to take a batch of young snakes and put
them there with them, I take it no man would say there was any
question how I ought to decide !

That is just the case. The new Territories are the newly made
bed to which our children are to go, and it lies with the nation to
say whether they shall have snakes mixed up with them or not. It
does not seem as if there could be much hesitation whatour policy
should be.

• Now I have spoken of a policy based on the idea that slavery is
wrong, and a policy based upon the idea that it is right. But an
effort has been made for a policy that shall treat it as neither
right nor wrong. It is based upon utter indifference. • Its lead-
ing advocate has said : " I don't care whether it be voted up or down."
" It is merely a matter of dollars and cents." " The Almighty has
drawn a line across this continent, on one side of which all soU must
forever be cultivated by slave labor, and on the other by free."
" When the struggle is between the white man and the negro, I am
for the white man; when it is between the negro and the crocodile,
I am for the negro." Its central idea is indifference. It holds that
it makes no more difference to us whether the Territories become
free or slave States, than whether my neighbor stocks his farm with
horned cattle or puts it into tobacco. All recognize this policy, the
plausible sugar-coated name of which is " popular sovereignty."

This policy chiefly stands in the way of a permanent settlement of
the question. I believe there is no danger of its becoming the per-
manent policy of the country, for it is based on a public indifference.
There is nobody that "don't care." All the people do care, one way


or the other. I do not charge that its author, when he says he
"don't care," states his individual opinion; he only expresses his
policy for the government. I understand that he has never said, as
an individual, whether he thought slavery right or wrong — and he is
the only man in the nation that has not. Now such a policy may
have a temporary run; it may spring up as necessary to the political
prospects of some gentleman — but it is utterly baseless ; the people
are not indifferent, and it can therefore have no durability or per-
manence. •

But suppose it could ! Then it can be maintained only by a pub-
lie opinion that shall say, " We don't care." There must be a change
in public opinion ; the public mind must be so far debauched as to
square with this policy of caring not at all. The people must come
to consider this as " merely a question of dollars and cents," and to
believe that in some places the Almighty has made slavery necessarily
eternal. This policy can be brought to prevail if the people can be
brought round to say honestly, " We don't care " ; if not, it can never
be maintained. It is for you to say whether that can be done.

Online LibraryAbraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; → online text (page 82 of 91)