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

Fragment on Free Labor [1]

[September 17, 1859?]

change conditions with either Canada or South Carolina? Equality, in society, alike beats inequality, whether the lat[t]er be of the British aristocratic sort, or of the domestic slavery sort.

We know, Southern men declare that their slaves are better off than hired laborers amongst us. How little they know, whereof they speak! There is no permanent class of hired laborers amongst us. Twentyfive years ago, I was a hired laborer. The hired laborer of yesterday, labors on his own account to-day; and will hire others to labor for him to-morrow. Advancement---improvement in condition---is the order of things in a society of equals. As Labor is the common burthen of our race, so the effort of some to shift their share of the burthen on to the shoulders of others, is the great, durable, curse of the race. Originally a curse for transgression upon the whole race, when, as by slavery, it is concentrated on a part only, it becomes the double-refined curse of God upon his creatures.

Free labor has the inspiration of hope; pure slavery has no hope. The power of hope upon human exertion, and happiness, is wonderful. The slave-master himself has a conception of it; and hence the system of tasks among slaves. The slave whom you can not drive with the lash to break seventy-five pounds of hemp in a day, if you will task him to break a hundred, and promise him pay for all he does over, he will break you a hundred and fifty. You havePage  463 substituted hope, for the rod. And yet perhaps it does not occur to you, that to the extent of your gain in the case, you have given up the slave system, and adopted the free system of labor.


[1]   AD-P, ISLA. In all probability this fragment represents part of the missing passage on free labor in the speech at Cincinnati (q.v., note 9, supra). Nicolay and Hay print this fragment under title of ``Fragment. On Slavery [July 1, 1854?]'' (Complete Works, II, 184), but there is no evidence to support this supplied date. The fact that both the Dayton and Cincinnati speeches contained a discussion of free labor and that Lincoln prepared his most extensive discussion of labor and capital for his address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society on September 30 point to the probability that this fragment is contemporary with these speeches.