Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 3.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.

Speech at Bloomington, Illinois [1]

September 4, 1858

After briefly expressing his acknowledgements to the speaker and the audience for the highly complimentary reception with which they had honored him, and remarking that he well knew that this great crowd had not assembled to do honor to him personally, but to the great cause of which he was an humble advocate,---Mr. L. took up Mr. Douglas' Bloomington speech of July 16th, and remarked that he was now here to fulfill his promise then made, of replying to that speech.

There were probably many of his (L's) friends in this audience, who did not need arguments addressed to them. There were also some friends of Douglas who could not be convinced by any argument that could be made. There was probably still a third class, whose minds were not fully made up, and who were yet open to conviction. To that class he wished chiefly to address himself. If such a class there was, it probably consisted for the most part of old line Whigs. He (Mr. L.) was also an old line Whig, and had stood by the party as long as it had a being. He had first appeared in this town twenty years ago, when John T. Stewart [2] was the Whig candidate for Congress, and Stephen A. Douglas the Democratic candidate,---and he had done such service as he was able, in behalf of Stewart. Again in 1840 he had spoken for Harrison, with Douglas contending on the other side. In 1844 he had canvassed with his best ability for Clay, both here and in Indiana, while Douglas was doing his utmost for the Democratic nominee. In 1848 he was again in the field for Taylor, while Douglas was leading on the Democracy to the support of Cass. And in 1852 he (L.) was supporting Scott, while Douglas was the leader of the supporters of Pierce. That was the last Whig battle, for in 1856 Fillmore did not run as a Whig, and was not supported as such. He (Mr. L.) thought therefore that he was fairly entitled to askPage  86 of old Whigs at least a fair and impartial hearing. That he did ask, and he asked nothing more on account of his former position as an old Whig.

Douglas, in his Bloomington speech, after complimenting himself pretty highly for his services to popular sovereignty, devotes a large portion of his time to an attack upon me. He charges that I am trying to produce uniformity of local institutions throughout the States, to produce an entire equality of the white and black races, and to make war between the north and the south. He finds the evidence for these charges in my Springfield speech of June 16th. Not that I have ever said any such things, but he infers them from what I did say. I admit that if my course tends to such results, it makes no difference whether I intended them or not, I am equally responsible. But I think the Judge's inferences far-fetched and unwarranted.

Mr. L. then quoted the paragraphs of his Springfield speech of June 16th to which Douglas chiefly takes exception, as follows:

If we could know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated with the avowed object and confident promise of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy that agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed.

``A house divided against itself cannot stand.'' I believe this government cannot endure permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved---I do not expect the house to fall---but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new---North as well as South.

He proceeded to show that it is now, the fifth year since the Kansas-Nebraska bill was introduced; that it was introduced ``with the avowed object and confident promise of putting an end to slavery agitation;'' and he asked whether the agitation had not augmented instead of ceasing. A dozen times had the slavery question been declared to be settled forever. It was so when the Missouri Compromise was passed, when the Nullification Compromise was adopted, when Texas was admitted, when the Compromises of 1850 were adopted. Yet the agitation was always soon renewed. All these were merely settlements of small phases of the question, not of the question itself. The Lecompton question was another phase,Page  87 and it was claimed that the English bill had settled that. Douglas says it is settled. What is settled? The Lecompton Constitution undoubtedly is settled, [loud applause and laughter,] but is the Kansas question settled? Has Kansas a constitution? Is it settled how she is to come in? No: the whole thing is to be done over again. We are just where we were when we started. We have only been settling one settlement of the question, and we have only got back to where we were four years ago. Certainly, if the question is ever to be settled, we are four or five years nearer the time of the settlement of it than we were when the Nebraska bill was introduced, ---but that is all. The bill was to give the people of Kansas the right of self-government. Now was there ever in the world a territory whose people have had so little control of their own affairs, and have been so much interfered with by outsiders of all kinds, as this same Kansas? The whole thing has been a lie.

This agitation springs from the same old cause which has agitated the nation all through our history. It is not merely an agitation got up to help men into office. No such agitation could call together such crowds as this, year after year, and generation after generation. The same cause has rent asunder the great Methodist and Presbyterian churches, and is now disturbing the Tract Society. It is not a temporary or trifling cause. It will not cease until a crisis has been reached and passed. When the public mind rests in the belief that the evil is in a course of ultimate extinction, it will become quiet. We have no right to interfere with slavery in the States. We only want to restrict it to where it is. We have never had an agitation except when it was endeavored to spread it. Will war follow from adopting the policy which was originally adopted by the Government, and from which war never did follow, ---from which no trouble came? The framers of the Constitution prohibited slavery (not in the Constitution, but the same men did it) north of the Ohio river, where it did not exist, and did not prohibit it south of that river, where it did exist. By the Kansas-Nebraska bill it is placed in a position to become alike lawful in all the States. Brooks of South Carolina said in one of his speeches that at the formation of the Constitution nobody expected slavery to last till now, but we have more experience of it, and the invention of the cotton gin has taught us that slavery must be permanent and spreading. I, (said Mr. L.) fight it in its advancing phase, and wish to place it in the same attitude that the framers of the government did.

Mr. L. briefly referred to Douglas' charge of wishing to bring about an entire uniformity in all the domestic regulations of the

Page  88States, and exposed its fallacy. That charge springs from the error of regarding slavery in the same light with the ordinary matters of police regulations in the different States. The differences of soil, productions and pursuits in the different States are but cements of union, not matters tending to disunion. Is not slavery, on the contrary, and has it not always been, an apple of discord, always tending to divide the house and overthrow it?

The charge of favoring the equality of the races was taken up, and replied to by reading an extract from a speech made by Mr. L. at Peoria, in 1854, in debate with Mr. Douglas himself. [The extract was the same which Mr. L. quoted in his Ottawa speech, and declares that his feelings and those of the great mass of the white race will not admit of making the negroes politically and socially our equals, &c. We have heretofore published it.]

There is no moral argument that can be made for carrying slaves into new territory, which will not also stand good in favor of the African slave trade. If a Kentuckian may take his slave into a new territory, any other citizen of the United States may. If he has no slaves, he may buy one for the purpose, and may buy him where he can buy him cheapest. Certainly he can buy him cheaper in Africa than in Kentucky. It may be said that the Kentucky slave is a slave already, and his condition is not altered by taking him to the territory. So is the African a slave already. The trader does not find him a free man when he goes to Africa for his cargo, but finds him already a slave in the custody of a master who has captured him in the interior and brought him to the coast. There is no argument justifying the taking of slaves to new territory which will not equally justify the African slave trade. That trade will be reopened if this thing continues to go on,---unless indeed the prohibition be continued as a measure of protection to home production.

Mr. L. then read at considerable length from another of his published speeches, on the subject of negro equality, and contrasting the Declaration of Independence with Douglas' version of it, which confines its meaning to an assertion of the equality of British subjects in America with British subjects in England. Referring to the ``amalgamation'' humbug, he inquired where the mulattoes came from, and quoted the census figures, showing that nearly the whole of them are from slave States; that New Hampshire, whose laws approach nearest to negro equality, contains scarcely any mulattoes, while Virginia has several thousand more than all the free States combined. And he inquired which party was practically in favor of amalgamation, we who wish to exclude negroes from thePage  89 territory, or those who wish to mix them in with the whites there.

Mr. L. said he held the same views on slavery as Henry Clay. Douglas had seized the dead statesman's mantle, wrapped it around him, and with its ends trailing fifty feet behind him, was claiming it as his own, and would allow no one else to share it. Yet Clay always denounced slavery as unjust; Douglas has never once said in public whether he thought slavery right or wrong. Henry Clay said of a class of men who would repress all tendencies to liberty and ultimate emancipation, that they must, if they would do this, go back to the era of our independence and muzzle the cannon which thunders its annual joyous return; they must blow out the moral lights around us; they must penetrate the human soul, and eradicate there the love of liberty; and then, and not till then, could they perpetuate slavery in this country. Henry Clay called slavery ``the greatest of human evils,'' and spoke of the slaves as ``that unhappy race in bondage.'' When has Douglas ever used such words in speaking of this institution? Mr. L. quoted numerous passages from Clay's speeches, showing him to be in favor of the ultimate extinction of slavery, and in favor of excluding it in the formation of new States where it did not exist. He then remarked that the body and soul of the Republican movement was to keep slavery away from where it does not exist, and asked what milder way there could be to place it in course of ultimate extinction.

Mr. L. reminded those Democrats who are now repeating Douglas' ideas about restricting the Declaration of Independence to white people, that until within five years past, nobody held or avowed such opinions. He then took up popular sovereignty, or the right of the people to govern themselves, and quoted the Declaration of Independence to show that the idea was clearly set forth there, long before Douglas was born. Douglas' invention was that popular sovereignty was the right to do what you please with yourself and so many slaves as you can buy. The people of the territories have gained the right to have slaves if they want them, but not the right not to have them if they don't want them.

Mr. L. then briefly examined the Dred Scott decision, and declared that nothing now was wanting to nationalize slavery but a decision of the Supreme Court that no State could exclude slavery, and acquiescence in it by the people. The tenacity with which Douglas clings to the Dred Scott decision, not because he argues it to be right, but because of the source from which it comes, commits him to the next decision also, and looks as if he anticipated that decision, legalizing slavery in the States, and wished to prepare the public mind for it. Could he more effectually mould the publicPage  90 mind for that decision than he is doing, if that were really his object? When the public mind is prepared for it, the decision will come. And when you have stricken down the principles of the Declaration of Independence, and thereby consigned the negro to hopeless and eternal bondage, are you quite sure that the demon will not turn and rend you? Will not the people then be ready to go down beneath the tread of any tyrant who may wish to rule them?

[This idea was most eloquently wrought out in Mr. L's peroration, and we regret much that we cannot give a verbatim report of it.

The speech was about two hours long, and was listened to with undivided attention throughout, by as many as could hear. We shall finish our account, by giving some account of the evening speeches, tomorrow.]

Annotation

[1]   Bloomington Pantagraph, September 6, 1858. Lincoln was introduced by Leonard Swett. Brackets are in the source.

[2]   John T. Stuart.