Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 3.

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Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 3.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.
New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press

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Speech at Indianapolis, Indiana1Jump to section

September 19, 1859

Mr. Lincoln addressed the people as ``Fellow citizens of the State of Indiana,'' and said:

He now, for the first time in his life, appeared before a large audience in Indiana. Appearing at the capital of this now great State, and traveling through a good portion of it in coming from Cincinnati, had combined to revive his recollection of the earlier years of his life. Away back in the fall of 1816, when he was in his eighth year, his father brought him over from the neighboring State of Kentucky, and settled in the State of Indiana, and he grew up to his present enormous height on our own good soil of Indiana. [Laughter.] The scenes he passed through to-day are wonderfully different from the first scenes he witnessed in the State of Indiana, where he was raised, in Spencer county, on the Ohio river. There was an unbroken wilderness there then, and an axe was put in his hand; and with the trees and logs and grubs he fought until he reached his twentieth year.

He expected the people came to hear something about politics. It was almost impossible for him to speak of politics without associating Judge Douglas with it. He hoped he would be permitted to take, among the range of political topics, the same that Judge Douglas took, if he spoke here while stopping on his way to Chicago, or the one he would have chosen. He knew his Democratic friends thought a Republican speaker could not speak of anything but the negro. He would ask if they ever heard their leader talk of anything else in the past few years of his political career. He did not hesitate to enter upon this subject. There were so many points arising out of

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that single topic, in the range that it has taken, that he could give but a very small portion of it.

Some time during the last canvass, he had expressed the opinion that this government of ours cannot ``endure permanently, half slave and half free; that a house divided against itself cannot stand;'' that some time after, Governor Seward, of New York, in a speech of his, expressed the same opinion in different language. These expressions of opinion had given very great offense to Judge Douglas. He had denounced them as heresy, a fatal heresy. How it is fatal, or in what way fatality is to come out of it, the Judge had not said. Still he had denounced it as a heresy, and rung a great many changes on it. Among other things, he asked, ``why cannot this government endure forever, part free, part slave, as the original framers of the constitution made it?'' He would take this as one of the topics on which to speak to his audience.

There was no falsehood absolutely in that question. Perhaps it was hardly to be said that a man can very well utter a falsehood in putting an interrogatory. But he insisted in the first place, that there was couched in that interrogatory the assumption of a falsehood. It was true that our fathers made this government, and that when it was made it was part slave and part free. But the assumption of the interrogatory is, that our fathers made the government part free and part slave from choice---that they had chosen to make it so because they thought a government thus made, was the best that could be made. Of choice they made it part free and part slave. That was the assumption of the interrogatory, and he would try to prove it untrue. It was not the judgment of the framers of the Constitution, that it was best that the States should be part free and part slave. There was no provision made for peopling one portion of the States with slaves. There was no place spoken of where slaves could be got. There was no provision made in the Constitution, that the African slave trade should ever be suppressed---that it should be repealed. There was a total silence on that question. There is a misunderstanding with some people on this subject.

It was his opinion that our fathers did expect Congress to prohibit the slave trade in 20 years. They made a provision in the constitution by which they prohibited them from doing so prior to the expiration of twenty years. The language is the migration or importation of such persons as the States shall see fit to admit shall not be prohibited, but a certain tax might be levied on such importation. None of the States then existing should be prohibited for twenty years. But what was to be done after that time? The Constitution is silent about that. There is absolutely nothing said about

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it---the framers of the Constitution expected that the slave trade would be abolished before that time, owing to public sentiment---nothing was said about new States---it had reference to the then existing States. All the States had slavery, with one exception---some, so small an amount as not to feel it, and others quite a large amount. All the States of the South had a considerable amount of slavery in them. The trade of importing slaves was carried on by the commerce of those States where the small amount of slavery existed. It was so carried on that the whole government had an interest invested in some way or other. The Southern people were cultivating their soil with slaves, and it was in deference to that state of things that the framers of the Constitution put in the provision, that Congress should not prohibit that trade until after the expiration of twenty years.

The ordinance of 1787 was passed simultaneously with the making of the Constitution of the United States. It prohibited the taking of slavery into the North-western Territory, consisting of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. There was nothing said in the Constitution relative to the spread of slavery in the Territories, but the same generation of men said something about it in this ordinance of '87, through the influence of which you of Indiana, and your neighbors in Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan, are prosperous, free men. That generation of men, though not to the full extent members of the Convention that framed the Constitution, were to some extent members of that Convention, holding seats, at the same time in one body and the other, so that if there was any compromise in either of these subjects, the strong evidence is, that that compromise was in favor of the restriction of slavery from the new Territories. Our fathers who made the government, made the ordinance of 1787.

Under the control of this same generation of men, in 1802, the first portion of this North-Western Territory sought admission into the Union. An enabling act was passed by Congress to enable Ohio to make a Constitution and come into the Union in accordance with the ordinance of 1787. Congress composed of the same generation of men that framed the Constitution, enabled Ohio to make a State Constitution, provided it was not repugnant to this ordinance. The same process was gone through when Indiana applied for admission. Then followed Illinois and Wisconsin. In the case of Michigan there was no enabling act. Indiana, in her territorial condition, more than once petitioned Congress to abrogate the ordinance entirely, or at least to so far suspend its operation for a time, in order that they should exercise the ``popular sovereignty''

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of having slaves if they wanted them. The men then controlling the government refused Indiana that privilege---so, had it not been for the ordinance of '87, Indiana would have been a slave State, and all the other States included in the North-Western Territory. Thus, down through a period of sixty years, until the last inch of that Territory came into the Union, the prohibition of slavery was religiously adhered to.

That the fathers of this government did not make it part slave and part free to remain permanently so, he would bring forward a few facts tending to show a reasonable and unbiassed mind, that it was expected at that time that the institution of slavery would gradually come to an end. If they intended it to endure forever, why did they hedge it into its then existent limits. There is nothing said about it in the Constitution. The word slave or slavery is not mentioned in it. This was very singular if it was the intention that slavery should become a permanent institution. It was his opinion that the whole subject was left out by design---it was not done by accident but by design---as every one could see the framers of the Constitution expected that the institution would die. Some of them declared it as their desire that it should. Nothing should be left on the face of the Constitution to tell that there had ever been slavery in the land. If this were so, then we had the fact established, that our fathers made the government contrary to the manner in which Judge Douglas said it was done. The assumption of his interrogatory was false in truth and in fact.

No one of Judge Douglas's propositions was with the ordinance of '87. He had repeatedly asserted that Congressional interference never did make any State a free State, and that if Ohio was a free State, it was made free on his great principle of ``Popular Sovereignty.'' While a Territory, a portion of the people of Indiana asked Congress to suspend the ordinance of 1787, but Congress refused to do so. The people wanted to exercise the principle of popular sovereignty, and chafed at the barrier of the ordinance of '87, but that ordinance kept slavery out of their limits and made Indiana a free State. There was no difficulty in introducing slaves into Kentucky if the people wished, but it is a hard job to get them out of it. When the Kentuckians came to form the Constitution, they had the embarrassing circumstances of slavery among them---they were not a free people to make their Constitution. The people of Indiana had no such embarrassment, but would have had, had not slavery been kept away by the ordinance of '87.

The general course of the river Ohio, from the eastern boundary of the State of Ohio, was very nearly south-west---perhaps a little

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more west than south. The north-eastern part of Kentucky, and the western part of Virginia, are considered north of that portion of Ohio where Cincinnati is, and still farther north of the southern portions of this State and Illinois. Now, it so happens that the country south of the Ohio is slave, and the country north, free. What caused this? Judge Douglas says that the ordinance of '87 did not do it. If not, what did? There is no difference in soil nor in climate. He never heard that the left bank of the Ohio was more favorable to slavery than the right. It could not be because the people had worse hearts. They were as good as we of the North---the same people. There was some other reason. You could light upon nothing in the whole range of conjecture, save and except that the ordinance of '87, in the incipient stages, kept it out of the country north of the Ohio, and no law kept it out of Kentucky and the South. It was not the great principle of popular sovereignty.

In 1810 there was a little slavery in Illinois and a little in Missouri. The two States ran along together, getting ready to form a State Constitution until 1820. Each one of them had a few slaves. When they were ready to come into the Union, they had not kept parallel on the subject of slavery. In Illinois it had decreased, while in Missouri the number of slaves had increased to 10,000. Missouri came in as a slave State and Illinois as a free State. The two States are to a certain extent in the same parallel of latitude, at least the northern half of Missouri and the southern half of Illinois are in the same latitude, so that the climate would have the same effect on one as the other, and in the soil there is no material difference as far as bears upon the question of slavery being settled upon one or the other. There were no natural causes to make a difference in the filling up of the two States, yet there was---what was the cause of that difference?

It is most natural to say, that in Missouri there was no law to keep that country from filling up with slaves, while in Illinois there was the ordinance of 1787. The ordinance being there, slavery decreased during that ten years---not being in the other, it increased from a few to ten thousand. The proposition of Judge Douglas, that the ordinance of '87, or the national restriction of slavery never had a tendency to make a Free State, was not true---it had not the semblance of truth about it. Douglas had sometimes said, that all the States that have become free, have become so on his great principle. There was not a single free State in the Union but what had a national prohibition of slavery in it when it came into the Union. He wanted to know where the ``great principle of popular sovereignty'' had made a free State? Several free States

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had come into the Union since the original thirteen---and they had all come in with the national prohibition of slavery over them during their existence as Territories. All the States south of the Ohio and the Missouri compromise had come into the Union as slave States. The ordinance of '87 did not apply to them. They could make use of the ``great principle of popular sovereignty.'' Kansas will come in as a free State, not because of popular sovereignty, but because the people of the North are making a strong effort in here behalf. But Kansas is not in yet. Popular sovereignty has not made a single free State in a run of seventy or eighty years.

He said it was agreed, on every hand, that labor was the great source from whence all our comforts and necessaries were derived. There is a difference of opinion among political economists, about the elements of labor in society. Some men say that there is a necessary connection between labor and capital, and this connection draws within it the whole of the labor of the community. They assume that nobody works unless capital excites them to work. They say there are but two ways: the one is to hire men, and to allow them to labor by their own consent; the other is to buy the men and drive them to it, and that is slavery. Assuming that, they proceed to discuss the question of whether the laborers themselves are better off in the condition of slaves or of hired laborers. They generally decide that they are better off as slaves. They have no responsibility on them then, and when they get old, they are taken care of. In the State of Indiana, of all that is produced, seven-eighths of it is produced by the hands of men who work upon their own ground; and no more than one-eighth is produced by hired men. The condition of the hired man was not worse than that of the slave.

The speaker himself had been a hired man twenty-eight years ago. He didn't think he was worse off than a slave. He might not be doing as much good as he could, but he was now working for himself. He thought the whole thing was a mistake. There was a certain relation between capital and labor, and it was proper that it existed. Men who were industrious and sober, and honest in the pursuit of their own interests, should after a while accumulate capital, and after that should be allowed to enjoy it in peace, and if they chose, when they had accumulated capital, to use it to save themselves from actual labor and hire other people to labor for them, it was right. They did not wrong the man they employed, for they found men who have not their own land to work upon or shops to work in, and who were benefitted by working for them as hired laborers, receiving their capital for it.

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If a hired laborer worked as a true man, he saved means to buy land of his own, a shop of his own, and to increase his property. For a new beginner, this was the true, genuine principle of free labor. A few men that own capital, hire others, and thus establish the relation of capital and labor rightfully. The hired laborer, with his ability to become an employer, must have every precedence over him who labors under the inducement of force.

Judge Douglas's popular sovereignty, as a principle, was simply this: If one man choose to make a slave of another man, neither that other man or anybody else has a right to object. Applied in government, as he seeks to apply it, and it was this---if, in a new Territory, into which a few people are beginning to enter, they choose to either exclude or to establish it there, however one or the other may affect the persons to be enslaved, or the greater number of persons who are to inhabit that Territory, there is no power or right to interfere. This is the application of Douglas's popular sovereignty. Douglas thinks slavery so insignificant that the people must decide that question for themselves, though they are not fit to decide who shall be their officers. Planting slavery is a small matter, in his estimation, and nobody ought to be allowed to say anything about it.

He thought that there was a feature in connection with Judge Douglas's Popular Sovereignty, that was more dangerous than anything else, that was not generally observed. That was the debauching of public sentiment. The maxims he taught in regard to the institution of slavery, and by relative operation upon the principle of liberty itself, were more pernicious than anything else. The Judge said he did not care whether slavery was voted up or voted down. That was as much as to say, that he does not believe it to be wrong. This was not the opinion held by the good men of the Revolution of it. It was not the expressed opinion of Mr. Jefferson. Douglas don't care whether slavery goes up or down. He tells us that the Declaration of Independence never meant negroes, and not only does he tell us so, but every follower joins in and says that the Declaration does not apply to negroes. The speaker asked any Democrat present, if he would have the boldness to say that the Declaration did not include negroes as well as whites? [Here Mr. Lincoln looked hard at Gov. Willard, who was sitting in front of him.] He never heard any one say so, and he had asked thousands. No President had ever said so---no head of any department, nor a member of Congress.

And yet you allow this man to debauch public sentiment among you. You have taken the negro out of the catalogue of man, when

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you had not thought of such a thing five years ago. Five years ago no living man expressed the opinion that the negro had no share in the Declaration of Independence. But within that space Douglas had got his entire party, almost without exception, to join in saying that the negro has no share in the Declaration. The tendency of that change, that debauchery in public sentiment is to bring the public mind to the conclusion that when white men are spoken of, the negro is not meant, and when negroes are spoken of, brutes alone are contemplated. That change had already depressed the black man in the estimation of Douglas himself, and the negro was thus being debased from the condition of a man of some sort to that of a brute.

Douglas had declared that in all contests between the negro and the white man, he was for the white man, but that in all contests between the negro and the crocodile, he was for the negro [laughter.] He (Douglas) had made the remark a great many times in the canvass in Illinois. It was a deliberate way of expressing himself on that subject. The first inference from this remark, seemed to the speaker to be that you are wronging the white man in some way or other, and that whoever is opposed to the negro being enslaved is in some way opposed to the white man. That was not true. If there were any conflict between the white man and negro, he [the speaker] would be for the white man as much as Douglas. There was no such conflict. The mass of white men were injured by the effect of slave labor in the neighborhood of their own labor.

The next inference is, that there is a conflict between the negro and the crocodile. The speaker did not think there was any such struggle. He supposed that if a crocodile (or alligator, as the broad horn men on the Ohio river used to term it), came across a white man, he would kill him if he could! And so he would a negro. The proposition amounted to something like this---as the negro is to the white man, so is the crocodile to the negro, and as the negro may treat the crocodile as a beast or reptile, so the white man may treat the negro as a beast or reptile. [Laughter and applause.] That was what it amounted to.


[1]   Indianapolis Atlas, September 19, 1859. According to the Illinois State Journal, September 22, 1859, Lincoln made two speeches in Indiana on his Ohio-Indiana trip. Efforts to find the other speech, or even a reference to the time and place of delivery, have been unsuccessful.

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