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

Speech at Janesville, Wisconsin [1]

October 1, 1859

He enquired why slavery existed on one side of the Ohio river and not on the other? Why did we find that institution in Kentucky, and not in Ohio? There was very little difference in the soil or the climate, and the people on one side of the line loved liberty as well as on the other. The northern portion of Kentucky was opposite free territory, while the southern portions of Ohio,

Page  485Indiana and Illinois, had for neighbors states in which slavery existed. Indiana while a territory had petitioned congress three times to allow them to introduce slavery; while slavery actually existed in Illinois when she was admitted as a free state. It was apparent that some of the people wanted slavery. Mr. Lincoln said that there could be no other reason than that it was prohibited by congress. If it had been left to the people, as proposed by Mr. Douglas, a few slaves would have found a place there---if ten thousand had been admitted into Ohio while she was a territory, many questions would have been presented that would have been embarrassing, which would not have perplexed the people if slavery had been prohibited by congress---the question would have come up, what shall we do with these ten thousand slaves? Shall we make them free and destroy property which people supposed they possessed? If they abolished slavery what would they do with the negroes? &c. These questions would be troublesome and difficult to decide. The power of this amount of property in the hands of wealthy and educated men, who would most likely own the slaves, would in the end prevail and slavery would be established; whereas if congress had prohibited it until the state constitution was about to be formed, slavery and freedom would start upon an equal platform, and without the embarrassing questions named---freedom in this case would prevail and slavery would be prohibited. Slavery comes gradually into territory where it is not prohibited without notice, and without alarming the people, until having obtained a foothold, it cannot be driven out.

Thus we see that in all the new states where slavery was not prohibited, it was established. In Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri, the principle of popular sovereignty prevailed---congress permitted the people to establish the institution of slavery if they pleased. In all these instances, where they had their choice, slavery had been introduced; but, on the contrary, in all the new states, where slavery had been prohibited, and where popular sovereignty had no choice until state constitutions were formed, the states have prohibited slavery in their constitutions; such was the case in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, California and Minnesota. In California it had been prohibited by the old Mexican law, which was not abrogated before California became a state. Minnesota was a territory five years after the Missouri compromise was repealed, but commenced its settlement with a congressional restriction against slavery.

It is therefore, evident, if the principle of popular sovereigntyPage  486 becomes the settled policy of the country, that slavery will have a great advantage over freedom, and the history of the country proves this to be true.

Mr. Lincoln said that he had failed to find a man who five years ago had expressed it his belief that the declaration of independence did not embrace the colored man. But the public mind had become debauched by the popular sovereignty dogma of Judge Douglas. The first step down the hill is the denial of the negro's rights as a human being. The rest comes easy. Classing the colored race with brutes frees from all embarrassment the idea that slavery is right if it only has the endorsement of the popular will. Douglas has said that in a conflict between the white and the negro, he is for the white man; but in a conflict between the negro and the crocodile, he is for the negro. Or the matter might be put in this shape: As the white man is to the negro, so is the negro to the crocodile! (Applause and laughter.) But the idea that there was a conflict between the two races, or that the freedom of the white man was insecure unless the negro was reduced to a state of abject slavery, was false and that as long as his tongue could utter a word he would combat that infamous idea. There was room for all races and as there was no conflict so there was no necessity of getting up an excitement in relation to it.


[1]   Janesville Morning Gazette, October 4, 1859. Lincoln spoke in Janesville at night, traveling by carriage from Beloit after his speech in the afternoon. In reporting the speech the Gazette explained that ``Of the several points made we select only one, and this we cannot give in the author's own words, as we took no notes.''