Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 2.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.
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Speech at Springfield, Illinois [1]

October 4, 1854

Taking up the anti-slavery ordinance of 1787, that had been applied to all the North-west Territory, Mr. Lincoln presented that act of the fathers of our republic, the vindicators of our liberty, and the framers of our government, as the best exposition of their views of slavery as an institution. It was also a most striking commentary of their political faith, and showed how the views of those political sages, to whom we owe liberty, government, and all, comported with the new-fangled doctrines of popular rights, invented in these degenerate latter days to cloak the spread of slavery.

Did not the ordinance of '87 declare that slavery or involuntary servitude, (except as a punishment for crime,) should never exist in the territory north and west of the Ohio river---the territory out of which have been successively carved the States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin? Were not the people who were to settle that territory and form those States, capable of managingPage  241 their own affairs---of deciding all questions of domestic concern---slavery included---for themselves? Why, then, did the founders of liberty and republicanism on this continent tie their hands---rob them of popular sovereignty---deny them the right of self-government in all things? Mr. Lincoln clearly showed that the ordinance was recognized, lived up to, and obeyed. And observe its fruits, said the orator---tyrannical and oppressive as its principle, in these evil days, has come to be considered. No States in the world have ever advanced as rapidly in population, wealth, the arts and appliances of life, and now have such promise of prospective greatness, as the very States that were born under the ordinance of '87, and were deprived of the blessings of ``popular sovereignty,'' as contained in the Nebraska bill, and without which the people of Kansas and Nebraska cannot get along at all! I fear, said the speaker, that we of the north western States, never knew the depth of our political misfortunes imposed by the ordinance of '87---we never knew how miserable we were!

Mr. Lincoln next took up the Missouri Compromise, and showed that it was a real Compromise between two parties---the north and south---in which each had yielded something it had contended for, and obtained something it desired, and with which both became satisfied and grew to reverence and uphold. Under the Missouri Compromise the South had got Missouri and Arkansas, slave States; the north got Iowa and would have had Nebraska. But at this time one party having exhausted its share of the bargain, demands an abrogation of the Compromise and a re-division of the property.

Coming along down with history Mr. Lincoln recited the question that sprung up when we obtained territory from Mexico after the late war. Mr. Wilmot, a political friend of Judge Douglas, had proposed to make all that territory free. Judge Douglas had proposed to extend the Missouri Compromise line westward and make the northern half of it free. Mr. Lincoln said that he had favored the former and opposed the latter proposition. But because he and others had done this, it had been falsely inferred that he and they had abandoned the Missouri Compromise line and authorised its destruction. If a man comes to me, said Mr. Lincoln, and advises me to build an addition to my house and I decline to do so, shall that man burn my house down, and say I have decided against any house at all, because I am unwilling to spread it out and extend it? Not more absurd is such a case then to suppose that those who fought against the extension of slavery into any territory at the time free, were really manifesting hostility to the Missouri

Page  242Compromise line---a barrier which preserved a large territory to freedom. In connexion with the history of the Missouri Compromise and its pacification of the agitation that brought it forth, Mr. Lincoln took occasion to read from Judge Douglas' speech delivered in 1849 from the same stand from which Mr. Lincoln was speaking, in which Judge Douglas had declared that Compromise was ``sacred;'' having an ``origin a [kin] [2] to that of the constitution'' and [that] no ``ruthless hand'' would ever be found to disturb it. The reading of this extract brought down repeated and enthusiastic applause; which Judge Douglas didn't enjoy.

Mr. Lincoln put it home, direct to Judge Douglas, that after such extravagant encomiums on the Missouri Compromise---declaring it ``akin'' to the Constitution in its origin---it illy became him or others to apply unseemly names and epithets to himself (Lincoln) or other American citizens, who still retained a reverence and respect for the honored measure.

Having given thus the history of Slavery prohibition, in this government, showing that it was originated by the founders of the government, applied in '87, enforced ever since, ingrafted in all the great North West States, recognized in the Missouri Compromise, endorsed and approved by all Statesmen up to the present day, and so rapturously lauded by Judge Douglas himself in 1849, in the extract read from his speech, Mr. Lincoln bewailed it as a descending from the high republican faith of our ancestors, to repudiate that principle and to declare by the highest act of our government that we have no longer a choice between freedom and slavery---that both are equal with us---that we yield our territories as readily to one as the other! This was ignoble teaching. We were proclaiming ourselves political hypocrites before the world, by thus fostering Human Slavery and proclaiming ourselves, at the same time, the sole friends of Human Freedom.

It is vain, said Mr. Lincoln, for any advocate of the repeal of the Missouri Compromise to contend that it gives no sanction or encouragement to slavery. If I have a field, said the speaker, around which the cattle or the hogs linger and crave to pass the fence, and I go and tear down the fence, will it be supposed that I do not by that act encourage them to enter? Even the hogs would know better---Much more men, who are a higher order of the animal world.

The Missouri Compromise forbade Slavery to go north of 36.30. Our government breaks down that restriction and opens the door for slavery to enter where before it could not go. This is practicallyPage  243 legislating for slavery, recognising it, endorsing it, propagating it, extending it. And this, said the speaker, is a woful coming down from the early faith of the republic.

Mr. Lincoln next proceeded to consider some of the excuses---or, lest that term should be offensive---some of the arguments of those who justify the destruction of the Missouri Compromise line. Beginning with Mr. Douglas, he remarked that that gentleman's defence of the repeal rested on two points: first, the popular will in favor of the repeal as manifested in previous legislation of Congress, and the instructions of the Illinois legislature to himself; and secondly, the soundness of the principle of the repeal---which make it right in itself. Mr. Lincoln took these up in order.

It was contended by Mr. Douglas that the Compromise of 1850 sanctioned principles that annulled the Missouri Compromise and required its formal repeal. This Mr. Lincoln denied---and denying, appealed to all the rules of legal interpretation. It was not intended by the legislators who adopted the Compromises of 1850, to repeal the Mo. Compromise, and the intention of the lawmaker, if it could be got at, was fully conclusive on that point. Mr. Lincoln recited and examined the Compromise-Measures of 1850. They consisted of five acts. 1. The admission of California as a free State. 2. The organization of Utah and New Mexico Territories, without a slavery prohibition. 3. The payment of $10,000,000 to Texas and provision for new States to be formed from her territory. 4. The Fugitive Slave Law. 5. The prohibition of the Slave trade in the district of Columbia.

Mr. Lincoln maintained that a law could only be construed to operate on the subject matter of it; and that it was a sufficient reply to the argument he was answering, to say that not one of the Compromises of 1850 alluded to, or could, by indirection even, be understood to apply to Kansas and Nebraska. Those territories had already been legislated for---that legislation had become ``canonized in the hearts of the people''---it was supposed that ``no ruthless hand'' would ever be reckless enough to disturb it---and it could not therefore, in any reasonable mind, be understood that the Compromises of 1850 were meant and intended to disturb it. Those Compromises were good for what they covered---no more.

Mr. Lincoln might have made his argument on this point doubly strong, (if indeed it had needed strength,) by calling attention to the fact that the Compromises of 1850, (in the bill relating to Texas) in direct and explicit terms recognised and re-reaffirmed [sic] the validity of the Missouri Compromise. This branch of Mr. Douglas's justification fails.

Page  244With regard to the instructions by the Illinois legislature, which Mr. Douglas quoted as his further justification in going for the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, Mr. Lincoln said he had looked in vain to find those instructions, where they should be. He did not say that no such resolutions had passed---he only avered that he had not been able to find them. Mr. Douglas here rose and proffered Mr. L. the reading of a copy of the resolutions. Mr. L. declined. ``I know,'' said he ``what resolutions Mr. Douglas is in the habit of reading, but they only passed one branch of the legislature.'' Mr. Douglas was greatly annoyed by this exposure, and interrupted Mr. Lincoln again; but Mr. L. left the subject by kindly requesting Mr. Douglas, if it was all the same to him, to read hereafter, in his public speeches, those resolutions which did pass the legislature, and not those that didn't.

In passing to the other excuses of the Douglas men for the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, Mr. Lincoln adverted to their usual assertion, that slavery will not go into Kansas and Nebraska, and that therefore there is no need of any bother about it. Mr. Lincoln pointed out on a small map he had before him, the old north-western boundary of Missouri. Slavery, said Mr. L., lost no time going up to the last limits of that boundary: In the course of time a ``considerable scope of country adjoining north-west Missouri, but still lying east of the Missouri river'' called the Platte country, was desired by Missouri, and to give the State a natural boundary'' it was determined to extend the Missouri boundary line over that Platte country. It was done. And slavery lost no time in marching right in and going to the utmost verge of that boundary. Now, said Mr. Lincoln, it is said that there are more slaves in that extreme north-west portion of Missouri, jutting broadside against Kansas and Nebraska than in any other equal area in Missouri! Will it not go, then, into Kansas and Nebraska, if permitted? Why not? What will hinder? Do cattle nibble a pasture right up to a division fence, crop all close under the fence, and even put their necks through and gather what they can reach, over the line, and still refuse to pass over into that next green pasture, even if the fence shall be thrown down?

Mr. Lincoln now came to the arguments in favor of the Missouri Compromise repeal, or on the ground that the repeal is just and right in itself. He demanded what kind of ``right'' was meant in the proposition. He denied that there was any ``constitutional'' right to the repeal. He had already shown that the Mo. Compromise had received every sanction that any law could have to establish its constitutionality. It has been originated in principle,Page  245 in the ordinance of '87, concurrently almost with our Constitution, and by the founders of it, who certainly understood its principles. It has been sustained by all courts and almost every great Statesman down to this day. What constitutional right existed for its repeal? Or what legal right? Can any one point to a law, in any of the past legislation of the country that creates the right named? The Compromises of 1850 are the only measures relied on, and it is already shown that they re-affirm instead of annual the right of Freedom under the Compromise.

What natural right requires Kansas and Nebraska to be opened to Slavery? Is not slavery universally granted to be, in the abstract, a gross outrage on the law of nature? Have not all civilized nations, our own among them, made the Slave trade capital, and classed it with piracy and murder? Is it not held to be the great wrong of the world? Do not the Southern people, the Slaveholders themselves, spurn the domestic slave dealer, refuse to associate with him, or let their families associate with his family, as long as the taint of his infamous calling is known?

Shall that institution, which carries a rot and a murrain in it, claim any right, by the law of nature, to stand by the side of Freedom, on a Soil that is free?

What social or political right, had slavery to demand the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, and claim entrance into States where it has never before existed? The theory of our government is Universal Freedom. ``All men are created free and equal,'' says the Declaration of Independence. The word ``Slavery'' is not found in the Constitution. The clause that covers the institution is one that sends it back where it exists, not abroad where it does not. All legislation that has recognized or tolerated its extension, has been associated with a compensation---a Compromise---showing that it was something that moved forward, not by its own right, but by its own wrong.

It is said that the slaveholder has the same [political] [3] right to take his negroes to Kansas that a freeman has to take his hogs or his horses. This would be true if negroes were property in the same sense that hogs and horses are. But is this the case? It is notoriously not so. Southern men do not treat their negroes as they do their horses. There are 400,000 free negroes in the United States. All the race came to this country as slaves. How came these negroes free? At $500 each, their value is $2,000,000. Can you find two million dollars worth of any other kind of property running about without an owner? These negroes are free, becausePage  246 their owners, in some way and at some time, felt satisfied that the creatures had mind, feeling, souls, family affections, hopes, joys, sorrows---something that made them more than hogs or horses. Shall the Slaveholders require us to be more heartless and mean than they, and treat those beings as property which they themselves have never been able to treat so?

But there is another view of this branch of the subject, more unanswerable still. The citizens of Slave States, have a political power in the general government beyond their single votes and this violates the equality between American Citizens. Mr. Lincoln instanced Maine & South Carolina. Both these states have the same number of members of Congress, of Presidential electors, the same control therefore in National affairs. But Maine has more than twice as many free white citizens as South Carolina. The citizen of South Carolina is therefore twice as good or influential [and a fraction over,] [4] as a free white citizen in a Free State. The State in which the number of negroes is the smallest, in proportion, still makes a voter in that State equal to one man and a tenth in a free State.

The basis of representation as fixed in the U.S. Constitution, making five negroes equal to three whites, had fixed this inequality. This Mr. Lincoln did not object to. It was ``in the bond'' and he would live faithfully by it. But certainly the Free States have the ``right'' to say whether or not more partners should be taken in on such terms. For himself he was unwilling that his neighbor, living on an equality by his side in Illinois, should by moving over into Kansas be elevated into a state of superiority over himself and become a man and a tenth, whereas before he was formerly only one man, like himself!

If this is ``equal rights'' for the Kansas settler, he would be glad to know what became of his own rights, and the rights of the people of the Free States; while they were thus made into only fractions of men, by the creation of new Slave States. It is said that the adoption or rejection of slavery in Kansas and Nebraska, concerns the people of those Territories alone---it is no business of ours. This is false, said Mr. Lincoln, it concerns our dearest rights, our equality with the citizens of those territories---which we are entitled to by every consideration of justice and constitutional guarantees.

The right of the people of Kansas and Nebraska to make themselves superior in political power and privilege to the individual citizens of the Free States, was thus effectually riddled, exposedPage  247 and exploded by Mr. Lincoln, and the hearty and long continued plaudits of his great audience of freemen, showed how truly he had touched chords of their hearts.

Thus perished every vestige of excuse, offered by Mr. Douglas for the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. The act remained before Mr. L., Judge Douglas, and the audience, a naked humbug, a foul wrong, perpetrated under false pretences, sustained by weak inventions and afterthoughts, justified by the most miserable sophistries, and under the cloak of the right of the people of the territories to decide the slavery question for themselves, seeking to degrade the citizens of the Free States into mere atoms or fractions of American citizens, whose ``rights'' in the premises are, to be lorded over by a population outvoting them (through their negroes,) and to kiss the hand that thus humiliated them.

We cannot follow Mr. Lincoln further to-day. His remarks about Union saving were sound and patriotic, and his appeal to the Southern States for moderation and forbearance, fraternal and eloquent. He did not set so much store on the restoration of the Missouri Compromise by act of legislation, as he did on the immediate and effectual restoration of it by popular sentiment. This last was possible. Let the decided demonstration of the Free States secure it. That being done, the Union would again be safe and the people happy.


[1]   Illinois Journal, October 5, 1854. This summary indicates that Lincoln made much the same speech which he delivered at Peoria → on October 15 (vide infra), and which has come to be associated primarily with that city rather than Springfield. The speech at Springfield according to the Journal ``commenced at 2 o'clock'' and continued ``above three hours,'' which is approximately the length of the Peoria speech. It may be noted also that Lincoln had covered some of the same ground in his speeches at Bloomington, September 12 and 26, and in preceding speeches. At Springfield, Stephen A. Douglas had spoken on the preceding day, remaining to hear Lincoln's reply and to give a rebuttal. According to the Journal, Douglas followed Lincoln with a speech of two hours, which ``was adroit and plausible, but had not the marble of logic in it.'' According to the Democratic Illinois State Register (October 6, 1854), however, Douglas ``pounded him to pumice with his terrible war club of retort and argument.''

[2]   The paper is torn. Restorations are the editors.'

[3]   Brackets in the source.

[4]   Brackets in the source.

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