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

Speech at Carlinville, Illinois [1]

August 31, 1858

He [Lincoln] said the question is often asked, why this fuss about niggers? It is dictated that their position is a small matter, but let us inquire whether it is or not. His speech at the June convention had been much commented upon, and he read an extract from it, and showed wherein it had been misrepresented as to the ultimate triumph or extinction of slavery; that, although the agitation of the question was commenced in '54 with the avowed object of putting a stop to it, yet, the agitation was still increasing. The policy then adopted professed to leave the subject to the people of the territories and save politicians further trouble. Buchanan and Douglas have often promised us that this agitation would cease, but it is still going on, and only last winter was the hottest of any time yet.

The measures of '50 settled it for a time, only to be reopened in '54 in a worse and more malignant form in a territory where it had been previously at rest. Clay, Webster, Calhoun and Benton have gone but we still have the slavery agitation, and will have it till a more conservative and less aggressive party gains power. The north is not alone to blame---for churches and families divided upon this question---is it then a little thing?

In view of its importance and aggressive nature, I think it must come to a crisis---that it will become national by court verdicts or local by the popular voice. We have no idea of interfering with it in any manner. I am standing up to our bargain for its maintenancePage  78 where it lawfully exists. Our fathers restricted its spread and stopped the importation of negroes, with the hope that it would remain in a dormant condition till the people saw fit to emancipate the negroes. There is no allusion to slavery in the constitution---and Madison says it was omitted that future generations might not know such a thing ever existed---and that the constitution might yet be a ``national charter of freedom.'' And Keitt [2] of S.C., once admitted that nobody ever thought it would exist to this day.

If placed in the former attitude we should have peace. But it is now advancing to become lawful everywhere. The Nebraska bill introduced this era---and it was gotten up by a man who twice voted for the Wilmot Proviso and the extension of the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific. This change in our national policy is decided to be constitutional---although the court would not decide the only question before them---whether Dred Scott was a slave or not---and did decide, too, that a territorial legislature cannot exclude slavery in behalf of the people, and if their premises be correct a state cannot exclude it---for they tell us that the negro is property anywhere in the light that horses are property, and if the constitution gives the master a right of property in negroes above the jurisdiction of the territorial laws, enacted in the sovereignty of the people---it only requires another case and another favorable decision from the same court to make the rights of property alike in states as well as territories, and that by virtue of the constitution and in disregard of local laws to the contrary---Buchanan takes this position now. Sustain these men and negro equality will be abundant, as every white laborer will have occasion to regret when he is elbowed from his plow or his anvil by slave niggers.

Douglas insists that I am in favor of perfect uniformity in the institutions of all the states. I believe in their right to do just as they please in this matter. But he is not quite so vain as to say that the good man uttered a falsehood when he said, ``A house divided against itself cannot stand.'' Does he believe this thing will always stand as it now is---neither expand or diminish?

In '32, I voted for Henry Clay, in '36 for the Hugh L. White ticket, in '40 for ``Tip and Tyler.'' In '44 I made the last great effort for ``Old Harry of the West'' with my friend there, Dr. Heaton. [3] But we got gloriously whipped. Taylor was elected in '48, and we fought nobly for Scott in '52. But now Douglas snatchesPage  79 the robes of Clay and dubs me an abolitionist! How do the principles of the two men agree? Clay always opposed the rightfulness of slavery---Douglas always took the opposite, or kept mum. I can express all my views on the slavery question by quotations from Henry Clay. Doesn't this look like we are akin?

Douglas tries to make capital by charges of negro equality against me. My speeches have been printed and before the country for some time on this question, and Douglas knows the utter falsity of such a charge. To prove it Mr. L. read from a speech of his at Peoria in '54 in reply to Douglas as follows:

``Shall we free them and make them politically and socially our equals? MY OWN FEELINGS WILL NOT ADMIT OF THIS, and if they would the feelings of the great mass of white people would not. Whether this accords with strict justice or not is not the sole question. A universal feeling, whether well or ill-founded, cannot safely be disregarded. We cannot then make them our equals.. . . When they remind us of their constitutional rights I acknowledge them fully and freely, and I would give them any legislation for the recovery of their fugitives, which would not be more likely, in the stringency of its provisions, to take a man into slavery than our ordinary criminal laws are to hang an innocent man.''

There is no reason in favor of sending slavery to Kansas that might not be adduced in support of the African slave trade. Each are demanded by the profitableness of the traffic thus made in opening a new slave mart, and not from the rightfulness of it. They are upon a common basis, and should be alike condemned. The compromises of the constitution we must all stand by, but where is the justness of extending the institution to compete with white labor and thus to degrade it? Is it not rather our duty to make labor more respectable by preventing all black competition, especially in the territories? Mr. L. then read from another speech of his in '54, showing that Douglas there attempted to gain the public favor by pandering to the prejudices of the masses, in disregard of truth. Negroes have natural rights however, as other men have, although they cannot enjoy them here, and even Taney once said that ``the Declaration of Independence was broad enough for all men.'' But though it does not declare that all men are equal in their attainments or social position, yet no sane man will attempt to deny that the African upon his own soil has all the natural rights that instrument vouchsafes to all mankind. It has proved a stumbling block to tyrants, and ever will, unless brought into contempt by its pretended friends. Douglas says no man can defend it except on the hypothesis that it only referred to BritishPage  80 white subjects, and that no other white men are included---that it does not speak alike to the down trodden of all nations---German, French, Spanish, etc., but simply meant that the English were born equal and endowed by their Creator with certain natural or equal rights among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that it meant nobody else. Are Jeffersonian Democrats willing to have the gem taken from the magna charta of human liberty in this shameful way? Or will they maintain that its declaration of equality of natural rights among all nations is correct?

Douglas pretends to be horrified at amalgamation, yet had he not opened the way for slavery in Kansas, could there have been any amalgamation there? If you keep the two races separate is there any danger of amalgamation? Is not slavery the great source of it? You know that Virginia has more mulattoes than all the northern states! Douglas says he does not care whether they vote slavery up or down in Kansas; then I submit it to this audience which is the most favorable to amalgamation, he who would not raise his finger to keep it out, or I who would give my vote and use my lawful means to prevent its extension. Clay and other great men were ever ready to express their abhorrence of slavery---but we of the north dare not use his noble language when he said, to force its perpetuation and extension you must muzzle the cannon that annually proclaims liberty, and repress all tendencies in the human heart to justice and mercy. We can no longer express our admiration for the Declaration of Independence without their petty sneers. And it is thus they are fast bringing that sacred instrument into contempt. These men desire that slavery should be perpetual and that we should not foster all lawful moves toward emancipation, and to gain their end they will endeavor to impress upon the public mind that the negro is not human, and even upon his own soil he has no rights which white men are bound to respect. Douglas demands that we shall bow to all decisions. If the courts are to decide upon political subjects, how long will it be till Jefferson's fears of a political despotism are realized? He denounces all opposed to the Dred Scott opinions, in disregard to his former opposition to real decisions and the fact that he got his title of Judge by breaking down a decision of our supreme court. He has an object in these denunciations, and is it not to prepare our minds for acquiescence in the next decision declaring slavery to exist in the states? If Douglas can make you believe that slavery is a sacred right---if we are to swallow Dred Scottism that the right of property in negroes is not confined to those states where it is established by local law---if by special sophisms he can make youPage  81 believe that no nation except the English are born equal and are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, upon their own soil, or when they are not constitutionally divested of the God-given rights to enjoy the fruits of their own labor, then may we truly despair of the universality of freedom, or the efficacy of those sacred principles enunciated by our fathers---and give in our adhesion to the perpetuation and unlimited extension of slavery.


[1]   Carlinville Democrat, September 2, 1858.

[2]   Congressman Laurence M. Keitt.

[3]   Probably Dr. O. B. Heaton, who practiced in Greene and Macoupin counties.