Freeport, August 27, 1858

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Stephen A. Douglas

Stephen A. Douglas

Historian Stephen B. Oates wrote: “At Freeport, on the damp and chilly day of August 27, Lincoln stood in boots that glistened from the dampness and addressed a pro-Republican assembly of some fifteen thousand people.”1 German-American journalist Henry Villard wrote: “The first joint debate between Douglas and Lincoln which I attended (the second in the series of seven) took place on the afternoon of August 27, 1858, at Freeport, Illinois. It was the great event of the day, and attracted an immense concourse of people from all parts of the state. Douglas spoke first for an hour, followed by Lincoln for an hour and a half; upon which the former closed in another half hour. The Democratic spokesman commanded a strong, sonorous voice, a rapid, vigorous utterance, a telling play of countenance, impressive gestures, and all the other arts of the practiced speaker. As far as all external conditions were concerned, there was nothing in favor of Lincoln. He had a lean, lank, indescribably gawky figure, an odd featured, wrinkled, inexpressive, and altogether uncomely face. He used singularly awkward, almost absurd up and down and sidewise movements of his body to give emphasis to his arguments. His voice was naturally good, but he frequently raised it to an unnatural pitch. Yet the unprejudiced mind felt at once that, while there was on the one side a skillful dialectician and debater arguing a wrong and weak cause, there was on the other a thoroughly earnest and truthful man, inspired by sound convictions in consonance with the true spirit of American institutions. There was nothing in all Douglas’s powerful effort that appealed to the higher instincts of human nature, while Lincoln always touched sympathetic chords. Lincoln’s speech excited and sustained the enthusiasm of his audience to the end. When he had finished, two stalwart young farmers rushed on the platform, and, in spite of his remonstrances, seized and put him on their shoulders and carried him in that uncomfortable posture for a considerable distance. It was really a ludicrous sight to see the grotesque figure holding frantically to the heads of his supporters, with his legs dangling from their shoulders, and his pantaloons pulled up so as to expose his underwear almost to his knees. Douglas made dexterous use of this incident in his next speech, expressing sincere regret that, against his wish, he had used up his old friend Lincoln so completely that he had to be carried off the stage. Lincoln retaliated by saying at the first opportunity that he had known Judge Douglas long and well, but there was nevertheless one thing he could not say of him, and that was that the Judge always told the truth.”2

Lincoln biographer and aide John G. Nicolay wrote: “Northern Illinois, people mostly from free States, and southern Illinois, peopled mostly from slave States, were radically opposed in sentiment on the slavery question; even the old Whigs of central Illinois had to a large extent joined the Democratic party, because of their ineradicable prejudice against what they stigmatized as ‘abolitionism.’ To take advantage of this prejudice, Douglas, in his opening speech in the first debate at Ottawa in northern Illinois, propounded to Lincoln a series of questions designed to commit him to strong antislavery doctrines. He wanted to know whether Mr. Lincoln stood pledged to the repeal of the fugitive slave law; against the admission of any more slave States; to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia; to the prohibition of the slave trade between different States; to prohibit slavery in all the Territories; to oppose the acquisition of any new territory unless slavery were first prohibited therein.”3

Between the Ottawa and Freeport debates, Mr. Lincoln met with friends like Norman Judd, Ebenezer Peck, and Charles Ray in Dixon, Illinois to discuss strategy. His statements in rebutting the opinions of his friends have come to be interpreted as an admission that he would lose the 1858 Senate race but win the 1860 presidential race. According to William H. Herndon: “All of them, after Lincoln had read the four questions to be put to Douglas at Freeport, objected to them and said in substance that Douglas would not positively answer the question directly and that, if he did, it would be in the affirmative and that would elect him to the Senate again. ‘It is none of your business, Mr. Lincoln, particularly to put the question because you are the candidate for the United States Senate, and that is your particular business,’ said Lincoln’s friends. Lincoln replied: ‘Douglas will answer the question as soon as asked and, if he does not, I will push him to the wall at every joint debate or wherever I shall speak, otherwise than in joint debate, and the sooner Douglas answers the better for him. The people demand a direct answer.’ ‘Douglas will answer is some glittering generalities and evade the question,’ said Peck, Ray et al. ‘Yes, he will answer directly,’ said Lincoln; and to which Lincoln’s friends said: ‘To put the question is none of your business, Mr. Lincoln,’ and to which Mr. Lincoln said: ‘Yes, it is my business, and if Douglas answers the question, which he will, either way he is a dead cock in the pit.’ Mr. Lincoln here went into a kind of argument to convince his friends that he was right and concluded by saying: ‘I am after larger game. The battle of 1860 is worth a hundred of this.’….Lincoln evidently wanted to kill Douglas politically and did it effectively. I say that Judd told me what Lincoln said in the meeting of friends at Dixon or Chicago, I think Chicago, though White says that the meeting was at Dixon. Probably he is correct. Though Peck, Ray, Judd et al, say that Lincoln uttered the above words, still I doubt the exact words. Because, as you well know, Mr. Lincoln was one of the most secretive men that ever lived. The expression means that ‘I am a candidate for the Presidency of the United States of America. That is what I am fighting for.’ I do not think that Mr. Lincoln ever uttered the words as stated, though he looked at the time for the office. I think at most that the words, as above are inferences, legitimate ones. Lincoln never told mortal man his purposes and plans – never. Evidently L. Beat around the Bush.”4

At the debate itself, “Lincoln answered all without evasion,” wrote biographer Isaac Arnold. Indeed, Mr. Lincoln all the questions in the negative; then Mr. Lincoln moved from the defense to the offense. “It was in the second debate, at Freeport, that Lincoln made the boldest stroke of the contest,” argued biographer Ida Tarbell.5 Lincoln biographer Benjamin Thomas, wrote: “At Freeport, Lincoln asked Douglas if, in view of the Dred Scott decision, the people of a territory could, in any lawful manner, exclude slavery from that territory prior to the formation of a state constitution. This has often been represented as a master stroke of strategy, designed to force Douglas to alienate the South and to render impossible his nomination for the Presidency in 1860. But Douglas had already given his answer several times. The South knew his position, and so did Lincoln. It is doubtful if Lincoln was looking ahead to 1860. Probably his purpose in forcing Douglas to restate his position was to widen the breach between Douglas and the Buchanan forces that were working to defeat him.”6

“This was no new question to Douglas, for Lyman Trumbull had propounded it to him more than two years earlier on June 9, 1856,” noted Lincoln biographer William E. Barton. “At that time, however, the Dred Scott decision had not been rendered, and Douglas was able to say that this was a judicial question and that a good Democrat would stand by the decision of the court. Now that decision had been rendered, and Douglas made the best of a painful necessity, and declared that the people of a state could attain that result by virtue of the police power, which they might exercise through unfriendly legislation. Lincoln knew that this answer would gain Douglas some immediate support, but ultimately would lose him many votes in the South, and very possibly would defeat his hopes for the presidency.”7 The most important of the four Freeport questions that Mr. Lincoln posed was: “Can the people of a United States Territory, in a lawful way, against the wish of any citizen of the United States, exclude slavery from its limits prior to the formation of a State Constitution?”

In fact, Mr. Lincoln himself had earlier pressed Senator Douglas on this question. “It has escaped general notice that Lincoln actually posed the Freeport question when he spoke in reply to Douglas at Chicago on July 10, six weeks before the debates began,” wrote historian Don E. Fehrenbacher. “At Freeport, then, Douglas merely followed the course that he had already marked out for himself in adjusting to political circumstances which Lincoln exploited but in no way produced.8

Historian Harry V. Jaffa wrote: “Douglas’s Freeport Doctrine was nothing less than a calculated indoctrination in incontinence. In so far as it was not sheer hypocrisy, it sanctioned the refusal to perform the most solemn of recognized constitutional obligations. As such, it was subversive of the entire process of moral education in the principles of free republican government. Douglas’s own Kansas-Nebraska Act had said that the people of the territories were subject to the Constitution in the exercise of their legislative powers. And fidelity to the Constitution is the key to the only rational defense of his entire career that is possible: that Constitution by virtue of which, alone, he held, we existed as a nation. And yet, while acknowledging the binding force of Taney’s declaration that the right of property in slaves had been expressly affirmed in the Constitution, he advised the people of Kansas to ignore such a right if they did not wish to admit slaveholders into their midst.”9

“In asking a series of formal questions, Lincoln was adopting a tactic Douglas had introduced earlier at Ottawa. But at the same time it was a typically Lincolnian move in its attempt to put an opponent on the defensive and place him in a position where any move he might make would mean the loss of votes, ” wrote Douglas biographer Damon Wells. “Historians nonetheless often exaggerate the shrewdness and foresight of Lincoln in asking what has come to be known as the Freeport Question.”10 But Lincoln biographer Ida Tarbell maintained: “The question was put, and Douglas answered it with rare artfulness. ‘It matters not,’ he cried, ‘what way the Supreme Court may hereafter decide as to the abstract question whether slavery may or may not go into a territory under the Constitution; the people have the lawful means to introduce it or exclude it as they please, for the reason that slavery cannot exist a day or an hour anywhere unless it is supported by local police regulations. Those police regulations can only be established by the local legislature, and if the people are opposed to slavery, they will elect representatives to that body who will, by unfriendly legislation, effectually prevent the introduction of it into their midst. If, on the contrary, they are for it, their legislation will favor its extension.'”11

The correspondent for the Illinois State Journal, a pro-Lincoln paper reported: “What shall I say of the speaking? Lincoln made a most powerful speech, and charged home upon Douglas with a vengeance which was perfectly overwhelming. There was no escape from the coils which Lincoln wound around him, and his speech in reply was without spirit, without power and labored throughout.” The reporter added that “Lincoln’s half hour rejoinder was admirable, and clinched the argument of the first speech so that Douglas fairly squirmed under the infliction. At the close, cheer after cheer for Lincoln rent the air in prolonged shouts. The whole crowd seemed, with one voice, to join in the enthusiasm for ‘Old Abe,’ while Douglas crawled off to his quarters like a whipped spaniel.”12



August 27, 1858

Second Joint debate, August 27, 1858 at Freeport, Illinois. Lincoln, as reported in the Press & Tribune. Douglas, as reported in the Chicago Times.


Mr. Lincoln was introduced by Hon. Thomas J. Turner, and was greeted with loud cheers. When the applause had subsided, he said:

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN – On Saturday last, Judge Douglas and myself first met in public discussion. He spoke one hour, I an hour-and-a-half, and he replied for half an hour. The order is now reversed. I am to speak an hour, he an hour-and-a-half, and then am to reply for half an hour. I propose to devote myself during the first hour to the scope of what was brought within the range of his half hour speech at Ottawa. Of course there was brought within the scope of that half hour’s speech something of his own opening speech. In the course of that opening argument Judge Douglas proposed to me seven distinct interrogatories. In my speech of an hour and a half, I attended to some other parts of his speech, and incidentally, as I thought, answered one of the interrogatories then. I then distinctly intimated to him that I would answer the rest of his interrogatories on condition only that he should agree to answer as many for me. He made no intimation at the time of the proposition, nor did he in his reply allude at all to that suggestion of mine. I do him no injustice in saying that he occupied at least half of his reply in dealing with me as though I had refused to answer his interrogatories, upon condition that he will answer questions from me not exceeding the same number. I give him an opportunity to respond. The Judge remains silent. I now say to you that I answer his interrogatories, whether he answers mine or not; [applause] and that after I have done so, I shall propound mine to him. [Applause.]

[Owing to the press of people against the platform, our report did not reach the stand until Mr. Lincoln had spoken to this point. The previous remarks were taken by a gentleman in Freeport, who has politely furnished them to us.]

I have supposed myself since the organization of the Republican party at Bloomington, in May, 1856, bound as a part man by the platforms of the party, then and since. If in any interrogatories which I shall answer I go beyond the scope of what is within these platforms it will be perceived that no one is responsible but myself.

Having said thus much, I will take up the Judge’s interrogatories as I find them printed in the Chicago Times, and answer them seriatim. In order that there may be no mistake about it, I have copied the interrogatories in writing, and also my answers to them. The first one of these interrogatories is in these words:

Question 1. ‘I desire to know whether Lincoln to-day stands, as he did in 1854, in favor of the unconditional repeal of the fugitive slave law?’

Answer. I do not know, or ever did, stand in favor of the unconditional repeal of the fugitive slave law. [Cries of ‘Good,’ ‘Good.’]

Q. 2. ‘I desire him to answer whether he stands pledged to-day as he did in 1854, against the admission of any more slave States into the Union, even if the people want them?’

A. I do not now, nor ever did, stand pledged against the admission of any more slave States into the Union.

Q. 3. ‘I want to know whether he stands pledged against the admission of a new State into the Union with such a Constitution as the people of that State may see fit to make.’

A. I do not stand pledged against the admission of a new State into the Union, with such a Constitution as the people of that State may see fit to make. [Cries of ‘good,’ ‘good.’]

Q. 4. ‘I am want to know whether he stands to-day pledged to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia?’

A. I do not stand to-day pledged to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia.

Q. 5. ‘I desire him to answer whether he stand pledged to the prohibition of the slave trade between the different States?’

A. I do not stand pledged to the prohibition of the slave trade between the different States.

Q. 6. ‘I desire to know whether he stand pledged to prohibit slavery in all the Territories of the United States, North as well as South of the Missouri Compromise line.’

A. I am impliedly, if not expressly, pledged to a belief in the right and duty of Congress to prohibit slavery in all the United States Territories. [Great applause.]

Q. 7. ‘I desire him to answer whether he is opposed to the acquisition of any new territory unless slavery is first prohibited therein.’

A. I am not generally opposed to honest acquisition of territory; and, in any given case, I would or would not oppose such acquisition, accordingly as I might think such acquisition would or would not agravate [sic] the slavery question among ourselves. [Cries of good, good.]

Now, my friends, it will be perceived upon an examination of these questions and answers, that so far I have only answered that I was not pledged to this, that or the other. The Judge has not framed his interrogatories to ask me anything more than this, and I have answered in strict accordance with the interrogatories, and have answered truly that I am not pledged at all upon any of the points to which I have answered. But I am not disposed to hang upon the exact form of his interrogatory. I am rather disposed to take up at least some of these questions, and state what I really think upon them.

As to the first one, in regard to the Fugitive Slave Law, I have never hesitated to say, and I do not now hesitate to say, that I think, under the Constitution of the United States, the people of the Southern States are entitled to a congressional Fugitive Slave Law. Having said that, I have had nothing to say in regard to the existing Fugitive Slave Law further than that I think it should have been framed so as to be free from some of the objections that pertain to it, without lessening its efficiency. And inasmuch as we are not now in an agitation in regard to an alteration or modification of that law, I would not be the man to introduce it as a new subject of agitation upon the general questions of slavery.

In regard to the other questions of whether I am pledged to admission of any more slave States into the Union, I state to you very frankly that I would be exceedingly sorry ever to be put in a position of having to pass upon that question. I should be exceedingly glad to know that there would never be another slave State admitted into the Union; [applause]; but I must add, that if slavery shall be kept out of the Territories during the territorial existence of any one given Territory, and then the people shall, having a fair chance and a clear field, when they come to adopt the Constitution, do such an extraordinary thing as to adopt a Slave Constitution, uninfluenced by the actual presence of the institution among them, I see no alternative, if we own the country, but to admit them into the Union. [Applause.]

The third interrogatory is answered by the answer to the second, it being, as I conceive, the same as the second.

The fourth one is in regard to abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. In relation to that, I have my mind very distinctly made up. I should be exceedingly glad to see slavery abolished in the District of Columbia. [Cries of ‘good, good.’] I believe that Congress possesses the constitutional power to abolish it. Yet as a member of Congress, I should not with my present views, be in favor of endeavoring to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, unless it would be upon these conditions. First, that the abolition should be gradual. Second, that it should be on a vote of the majority of qualified votes in the District, and third, that compensation should be made to unwilling owners. With these three conditions, I confess I would be exceedingly glad to see Congress abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, and, in the language of Henry Clay, ‘sweep from our Capital that foul blot upon our nation.’ [Loud applause.]

In regard to the fifth interrogatory, I must say here, that as to the question of the abolition of the Slave Trade between the different States, I can truly answer, as I have, that I am pledged to nothing about it. It is a subject to which I have not given that mature consideration that would make me feel authorized to state a position so as to hold myself entirely bound by it. In other words, that question has ever been prominently enough before me to induce me to investigate whether we really have the Constitutional power to do it. I could investigate it if I had sufficient time, to bring myself to a conclusion upon that subject, but I have not done so, and I say so frankly to you here, and to Judge Douglas. I must say, however, that if I should be of opinion that Congress does possess the Constitutional power to abolish the slave trade among the different States, I should still not be in favor of the exercise of that power unless upon some conservative principle as I conceive it, asking to what I have said in relation to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia.

My answer as to whether I desire that slavery should be prohibited in all the Territories of the United States if full and explicit within itself, and cannot be made clearer by any comments of mine. So I suppose in regard to the question whether I am opposed to the acquisition of any more territory unless slavery is first prohibited therein, my answer is such that I could add nothing by way of illustration, or making myself better understood, than the answer which I have placed in writing.

Now in all this, the Judge has me and he has me on the record. I suppose he had flattered himself that I was really entertaining one set of opinions for one place and another set for another place – that I was afraid to say at one place what I uttered at another. What I am saying here I suppose I say to a vast audience as strongly tending to Abolitionism as any audience in the State of Illinois, and I believe I am saying that which, if it would be offensive to any persons and render them enemies to myself, would be offensive to persons in this audience.

I now proceed to propound to the Judge the interrogatories, so far as I have framed them. I will bring forward a new installment when I get them ready. [Laughter.] I will bring them forward now, only reaching to number four.

The first one is –

Question 1. If the people of Kansas shall, by means entirely unobjectionable in all other respects, adopt a State Constitution, and ask admission into the Union under it, before they have the requisite number of inhabitants according to the English Bill – some ninety-three thousand – will you vote to admit them? [Applause.]

Q. 2 Can the people of a United States Territory, in a lawful way, against the wish of any citizen of the United States, exclude slavery from its limits prior to the formation of a State Constitution? [Renewed applause.]

Q. 3. If the Supreme Court of the United States shall decide that States can not exclude slavery from their limits, are you in favor of acquiescing in, adopting and following such decision as rule of political action? [Loud applause.]

Q. 4. Are you in favor of acquiring additional territory, in disregard of how such acquisition may affect the nation on the slavery question? [Cries of] good, ‘good.’]

As introductory to these interrogatories, which Judge Douglas propounded to me at Ottawa, he read a set of resolutions, which he said Judge Trumbull and myself had participated in adopting, in the first Republican State Convention held at Springfield, in October, 184. He insisted that I and Judge Trumbull, and perhaps, the entire Republican Party were responsible for the doctrines contained in the set of resolutions which he read, and I understand that it was from that set of resolutions that he deduced the interrogatories which he propounded to me, using these resolutions as a sort of authority for propounding those questions to me. Now I say here to-day that I do not answer his interrogatories because of their springing at all from that set of resolutions which he read. I answered them because Judge Douglas thought fit to ask them. [Applause.] I do not now, nor never did recognize any responsibility upon myself in that set of resolutions. When I replied to him on that occasion, I assured him that I never had anything to do with them. I repeat here to-day, that I never in any possible form had anything to do with that set of resolutions. It turns out, I believe, that those resolutions were never passed in any Convention held in Springfield. [Cheers and laughter.] It turns out that they were never passed at any Convention or any public meeting that I had any part in. I believe it turns out in addition to all this, that there was not, in the fall of 1854, any Convention holding a session in Springfield, calling itself a Republican State Convention; yet it is true there was a Convention, or assemblage of men calling themselves a Convention, at Springfield, that did pass some resolutions. But so little did I really know of the proceedings of that Convention, or what set of resolutions they had passed, though having a general knowledge that there had been such an assemblage of men there, that when Judge Douglas read the resolutions, I really did not known but they had been the resolutions passed then and there. I did not question that they were the resolutions adopted. For I could not bring myself to suppose that Judge Douglas could say what he did upon this subject without knowing that it was true. [Cheers and laughter.] I contented myself, on that occasion, with denying or affirming whether they were passed at Springfield. Now it turns out that he had got hold of some resolutions passed at some Convention or public meeting in Kane County. [Renewed laughter.] I wish to say here that I don’t conceive that in any fair and just mind this discovery relieves me at all. I had just as much to do with the Convention in Kane County as that in Springfield. I am just as much responsible for the resolutions at Kane County as those at Springfield, the amount of the responsibility being exactly nothing in either case; no more than there would be in regard to a set of resolutions passed in the moon. [Laughter and loud cheers.]

I allude to this extraordinary matter in this canvass for some further propose than anything yet advanced. Judge Douglas did not make his statement upon that occasion as matter that he believed to be true, but he stated them roundly as being true, in such form as to pledge his veracity for their truth. When the whole matters turns out as it does, and when we consider who Judge Douglas is – that he is a distinguished Senator of the United States – that he has served nearly twelve years as such – that his character is not at all limited as an ordinary Senator of the United States, but that his name has become of world-wide renown – it is most extraordinary that he should so far forget all the suggestions of justice to an adversary, or of prudence to himself, as to venture upon the assertion of that which the slightest investigation would have shown him to be wholly false. [Cheers.] I can only account for his having done so upon the supposition that evil genius which has attended him through his life, giving to him an apparent astonishing prosperity, such as to lead very many good men to doubt there being any advantage in virtue over vice – [Cheers and laughter] I say I can only account for it on the supposition that evil genius has at last made up its mind to forsake him. [Continued cheers and laughter.]

AND I MAY ADD THAT ANOTHER extraordinary feature of the Judge’s conduct in this canvass – made more extraordinary by this incident – is that he is in the habit, in almost all the speeches he makes, of charging falsehood upon his adversaries – myself and others. I now ask whether he is able to find in anything that Judge Trumbull, for instance, has said, or in anything that I have said, a justification at all compared with what we have, in this instance, for that sort of vulgarity. [Cries of ‘good,’ ‘good, ‘good.’]

I have been in the habit of charging as a matter of belief on my part, that, in the introduction of the Nebraska bill into Congress, there was a conspiracy to make slavery perpetual and national. I have arranged from time to time the evidence, which establishes and proves the truth of this charge. I recurred to this charge at Ottawa. I shall not now have time to dwell upon it at very great length, but inasmuch as Judge Douglas in his reply of half an hour, made some points upon me in relation to it, I propose a noticing a few of them.

The Judge insists that, in the first speech I made, in which I very distinctly made that charge, he thought for a good while I was in fun! that I was playful – that I was not sincere about it – and that he only grew angry and somewhat excited when he found that I insisted upon it as a matter of earnestness. He says he characterized it as a falsehood as far as I implicated his moral character in that transaction. Well, I did not know, till he presented that view that I had implicated his moral character. He is very much in the habit, when he argues me up into a position I never thought of occupying, of very cosily saying he has no doubt Lincoln is ‘conscientious’ in saying so. He should remember that I did not know but what he was ALTOGETHER ‘CONSCIENTIOUS’ in that matter. [Great Laughter.] I can conceive it possible for men to conspire to do a good thing, and I really found nothing in Judge Douglas’ course or argument that is contrary to or inconsistent with his belief of a conspiracy to nationalize and spread slavery as being a good and blessed thing, [Continued Laughter,] and so I hope he will understand that I do not at all question but that in all this matter he is entirely ‘conscientious.’ [More laughter and cheers.]

But to draw your attention to one of the points I made in this case, beginning at the beginning. When the Nebraska bill was introduced, or a short time afterwards by an amendment I believe, it was provided that it must be considered ‘the true intent and meaning of this act not to legislate slavery into any State or Territory, or to exclude it therefrom, but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their own domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States.’ I have called his attention to the fact that when he and some others began arguing that they were giving an increased degree of liberty to the people in the Territories over and above what they formerly had on the question of slavery, a question was raised whether the law was enacted to give such unconditional liberty to the people, and to test the sincerity of this mode of argument, Mr. [Salmon P.] Chase, of Ohio, introduced an amendment, in which he made the law – if the amendment were adopted – expressly declare that the people of the Territory should have the power to exclude slavery if they saw fit. I have asked attention also to the fact that Judge Douglas and those who acted with him, voted that amendment down, notwithstanding it expressed exactly the thing they said was the true intent and meaning of the law. I have called attention to the fact that in subsequent times, a decision of the Supreme Court has been made in which it has been declared that a Territorial Legislature has no constitutional right to exclude slavery. And I have argued and said that for men who did intend that the people of the territory should have the right to exclude slavery absolutely and unconditionally, the voting down of Chase’s amendment is wholly inexplicable. It is a puzzle – a riddle. But I have said that with men who did look forward to such a decision, or who had it in contemplation, that such a decision of the Supreme Court would or might be made, the voting down of that amendment would be perfectly rational and intelligible. It would keep Congress from coming in collision with the decision when it was made. Anybody can conceive that if there was an intention or expectation that such a decision was to follow, it would not be a very desirable party attitude to get into for the Supreme Court – all or nearly all its members belonging to the same party – to decide one way, when the party in Congress had decided the other way. Hence it would be very rational for men expecting such a decision, to keep the niche in that law clear for it. After pointing this out, I tell Judge Douglas that it looks to me as though here was the reason why Chase’s amendment was voted down. I tell him that as he did, and knows why he did it, if it was done for a reason different from this, he knows what that reason was, and can tell us what it was. I tell him, also, it will be vastly more satisfactory to the country, for him to give some other plausible, intelligible reason why it was voted down than to stand upon his dignity and call people liars. [Loud cheers.] Well, on Saturday he did make his answer, and what do you think it was? He says if I had only taken upon myself to tell the whole truth about that amendment of Chase’s no explanation would have been necessary on his part – or words to that effect. Now, I say here, that I am quite unconscious of having suppressed anything material to the case, and I am very frank to admit if there is any sound reason other than that which appeared to me material, it is quite fair for him to present it. What reason does he propose? That when Chase came forward with his amendment expressly authorizing the people to exclude slavery from the limits of every Territory, Gen. [Lewis] Cass proposed to Chase, if he (Chase) would add to his amendment that the people should have the power to introduce or exclude, they would let it go. (This is substantially his reply.) And because Chase would not do that, they voted his amendment down. Well, it turns out, I believe, upon examination, that General Cass took some part in the little running debate upon that amendment, and then ran away and did not vote on it at all. [Laughter.] Is not that the fact? So confident, as I think, was Gen. Cass, that there was a snake somewhere about, he chose to run away from the whole thing. This is an inference I draw from the fact that though he took part in the debate, his name does not appear in the ayes and noes. But does Judge Douglas’ reply amount to a satisfactory answer? [Cries of ‘yes,’ ‘yes,’ ‘ and ‘no,’ ‘no.’] This is some little difference of opinion here. [Laughter.] But I ask attention to a few more views bearing on the question of whether it amounts to a satisfactory answer. The men, who were determined that that amendment should not get into the bill and spoil the place where the Dred Scott decision was to come in, sought an excuse to get rid of it somewhere. One of these ways – one of these excuses – was to ask Chase to add to his proposed amendment a provision that the people might introduce slavery if they wanted to. They very well knew Chase would do no such thing – that Mr. Chase was one of the men differing from them on the broad principle of his insisting that freedom was better than slavery – a man who would not consent to enact a law, penned wit his own hand, by which he was made to recognize slavery on the one hand and liberty on the other as precisely equal; and when the insisted on his doing this, they very well knew they insisted on that which he would not for a moment thing of doing; and that they were only bluffing him. I believe (I have not, since he made his answer, had a chance to examine the journals or Congressional Globe, and therefore speak from memory) – I believe the state of the bill at that time, according to parliamentary rules, was such that no member could propose an additional amendment to Chase’s amendment. I rather think this is the truth – the Judge shakes his head. Very well. I would like to know, then, if they wanted Chase’s amendment fixed over, why somebody else could have offered to do it? If they wanted it amended, why did they not offer the amendment? Why did they not put it in themselves? But to put it on the other ground, suppose there was such an amendment offered, and Chase’s was an amendment to an amendment; until one is disposed of by parliamentary law, you cannot pile another on. Then all these gentlemen had to do was to vote Chase’s on, and then in the amended form in which the whole stood, add their own amendment to if they wanted it put in that shape. This was all they were obliged to do, and the ayes and noes show that there were 36 who voted it down, against 10 who voted in favor of it. The 36 held entire sway and control. They could in some form or other have put that bill in the exact shape they wanted. If there was a rule preventing their amending it at the time, they could pass that, and then Chase’s amendment being merged, put it in the shape they wanted. They did not choose to do so, but they went into a quibble with Chase to get him to add what they knew he would not add, and because he would not, they stand upon that flimsy pretext for voting down what they argued was the meaning and intent of their own bill. They left room thereby for this Dred Scott decision, which goes very far to make slavery national throughout the United States.

I pass one or two points I have because my time will very soon expire, but I must be allowed to say that Judge Douglas recurs again, as he did upon one or two other occasions, [to] the enormity of Lincoln – an insignificant individual like Lincoln – upon his ipse dixit charging a conspiracy upon a large number of members of Congress, the Supreme Court and two Presidents, to nationalize slavery. I want to say that, in the first place, I have made no charge of this sort upon my ipse dixit. I have only arranged the evidence tending to prove it, and presented it to the understanding of others, saying what I think it proves, but giving you the means of judging whether it proves it or not. This is precisely what I have done. I have no placed it upon my ipse dixit at all. On this occasion, I wish to recall his attention to a piece of evidence which I brought forward at Ottawa on Saturday, showing that he had made substantially thesame charge against substantially the same persons, excluding his dear self from the category. I ask him to give some attention to the evidence which I brought forward, that he himself had discovered a ‘fatal blow being struck’ against the right of the people to exclude slavery from their limits, which fatal blow he assumed as in evidence in an article in the Washington Union, published ‘by authority.’ I ask by whose authority? He discovers a similar or identical provision in the Lecompton Constitution. Made by whom? The framers of that Constitution. Advocated by whom? By all the members of the party in the nation, who advocated the introduction of Kansas into the Union under the Lecompton Constitution.

I have asked his attention to the evidence that he arrayed to prove that such a fatal blow was being struck, and to the facts which he brought forward in support of that charge – being identical with one which he thinks so villainous in me. He pointed it not at a newspaper editor merely, but at the President and his Cabinet and the members of Congress advocating the Lecompton Constitution and those framing that instrument. I must again be permitted to remind him, that although my ipse dixit may not be as great as his, yet it somewhat reduces the force of his calling my attention to the enormity of my making a like charge against him. [Loud applause.]

Go on, Judge Douglas.13


As Mr. Lincoln arose he was greeted with vociferous cheers. He said:

My friends, it will readily occur to you that I cannot in half an hour notice all the things that so able a man as Judge Douglas can say in an hour and a half, and I hope, therefore, if there be anything that he has said upon which you would like to hear something from me, but which I omit to comment upon, you will bear in mind that it would be expecting an impossibility for me to go over his whole ground. I can but take up some of the points that he has dwelt upon, and employ my half-hour specially on them.

The first thing I have to say to you is a word in regard to Judge Douglas’ declaration about the ‘vulgarity and blackguardism’ in the audience – that no such thing, as he says, was shown by any Democrat while I was speaking. Now, I only wish, by way of reply on this subject, to say that while I was speaking I used no ‘vulgarity or blackguardism’ toward any Democrat. [Great laughter and applause.]

Now, my friends, I come to all this long portion of the Judge’s speech – perhaps half of it – which he has devoted to the various resolutions and platforms that have been adopted in the different counties in the different Congressional districts, and in the Illinois Legislature – which he supposes are at variance with the positions I have assumed before you to-day. It is true that many of these resolutions are at variance with the positions I have assumed. All I have to ask is that we talk reasonably and rationally about it. I happen to know, the Judge’s opinion to the contrary notwithstanding, that I have never tried to conceal my opinions, nor tried to deceive any one in reference to them. He may go and examine all the members who voted for me for United States Senator in 1855, after the election of 1854. They were pledged to certain things here at home, and were determined to have pledges from me, and if he will find any of these persons who will tell him anything inconsistent with what I say now, I will resign, or rather retire from the race, and give him no more trouble. [Applause.] The plain truth is this: At the introduction of the Nebraska policy, we believed there was a new era being introduced in the history of the Republic, which tended to the spread and perpetuation of slavery. But in our opposition to that measure we did not agree with one another in everything. The people in the north end of the State were for stronger measures of opposition than we of the central and southern portions of the State, but we were all opposed to the Nebraska doctrine. We had that one feeling and that one sentiment in common. You at the north end met in your Conventions and passed your resolutions. We in the middle of the State and further south did not hold such Conventions and pass the same resolutions, although we had in general a common view and a common sentiment. So that these meetings which the Judge has alluded to, and the resolutions he has read from were local and did not spread over the whole State. We at last met together in 1856 from all parts of the State, and we agreed upon a common platform. You, who held more extreme notions either yielded those notions, or if not wholly yielding them, agreed to yield them practically, for the sake of embodying the opposition to the measures which the opposite party were pushing forward at that time. We met you then, and if there was anything yielded, it was for practical purposes. We agreed then upon a platform for the party throughout the entire State of Illinois, and now we are all bound as a party, to that platform. And I say here to you, if any one expects of me – in the case of my election – that I will do anything not signified by our Republican platform and my answers here to-day, I tell you very frankly that person will be deceived. I do not ask for the vote of any one who supposes that I have secret purposes or pledges that I dare not speak out. Cannot the Judge be satisfied? If he fears, in the unfortunate case of my election, [Laughter] that my going to Washington will enable me to advocate sentiments contrary to those which I expressed when you voted for and elected me, I assure him that his fears are wholly needless and groundless. Is the Judge really afraid of any such thing? [Laughter.] I’ll tell you what he is afraid of. He is afraid we’ll all pull together. [Applause, and cries of ‘we will, we will.’] This is what alarms him more than anything else. [Laughter.] For my part, I do hope that all of us, entertaining a common sentiment in opposition to what appears to us a design to nationalize and perpetuate slavery, will waive minor differences on questions which either belong to the dead past or the distant future, and all pull together in this struggle. What are your sentiments? [‘We will, we will,’ and loud cheers.] If it be true, that on the ground which I occupy – ground which I occupy as frankly and boldly as Judge Douglas does his – my views, though partly coinciding with yours, are not as perfectly in accordance with your feelings as his are, I do say to you in all candor, Go for him and not for me. I hope to deal in all things fairly with Judge Douglas, and with the people of the State, in this contest. And if I should never be elected to any office, I trust I may go down with no stain of falsehood upon my reputation, – notwithstanding the hard opinions Judge Douglas chooses to entertain me. [Laughter.]

The Judge has again addressed himself to the abolition tendencies of a speech of mine, made at Springfield in June last. I have so often tried to answer what he is always saying on that melancholy theme, that I almost turn with disgust from the discussion – from the repetition of an answer to it. I trust that nearly all of this intelligent audience have read that speech. [‘We have; we have.’] If you have, I may venture to leave it to you to inspect it closely, and see whether it contains any of those ‘bugaboos’ which frighten Judge Douglas. [Laughter.]

The Judge complains that I did not fully answer his questions. If I have the sense to comprehend and answer those questions, I have done so fairly. If it can be pointed out to me how I can more fully and fairly answer him, I aver I have not the sense to see how it is to be done. He says I do not declare I would in any event vote for the admission of a slave State to the Union. If I have been fairly reported he will see that I do give an explicit answer to his interrogatories. I did not merely say that I would dislike to be put to the test; but I said clearly; if I were put to the test, and a Territory from which slavery had been excluded should present herself with a State Constitution sanctioning slavery – a most extraordinary thing and whole unlikely ever to happen – I did not see how I could avoid voting for her admission. But he refuses to understand that I did not say so. Yet it will be so reported in the printed speech that he cannot help seeing it.

He says if I should vote for the admission of a Slave State I would be voting for a dissolution of the Union, because I hold that the Union can not permanently exist half slave and half free. I repeat that I do not believe this Government can endure permanently half slave and half free, yet I do not admit, nor does it at all follow, that the admission of a single Slave State will permanently fix the character and establish this as a universal slave nation. The Judge is very happy indeed at working up these quibbles. [Laughter and cheers.] Before leaving the subject of answering questions I aver as my confident belief, when you come to see our speeches in print, that you will find every question which he has answered those which I put to him. Is not that so? [Cries of yes, yes.] The two speeches may be placed side by side; and I will venture to leave it to impartial judges whether his questions have not been more directly and circumstantially answered than mine.

Judge Douglas says he made a charge upon the editor of the Washington Union, alone, of entertaining a purpose to rob the States of their power to exclude slavery from their limits. I undertake to say, and I make the direct issue, that he did not make his charge against the editor of the Union alone. [Applause.] I will undertake to prove by the record here, that he made that charge against more and higher dignitaries than the editor of the Washington Union. I am quite aware that he was shirking and dodging around the form in which he put it, but I can make it manifest that he leveled his ‘fatal blow’ against more persons than this Washington editor. Will he dodge it now by alleging that I am trying to defend Mr. Buchanan against the charge? Not at all. Am I not making the same charge myself? [Laughter and applause.] I am trying to show that you, Judge Douglas, are a witness on my side. [Renewed Laughter.] I am not defending Buchanan, and I will tell Judge Douglas that in my opinion, when he made that charge, he had an eye farther North than he was to-day. He was then fighting against people who called him a Black Republican and an Abolitionist. It is mixed all through his speech, and it is tolerably manifest that his eye was a great deal farther North than it is to-day. [Cheers and laughter.] The Judge says that though he made this charge [Robert] Toombs got up and declared there was not a man in the United States, except the editor of the Union, who was in favor of the doctrines put forth in that article. And thereupon, I understand that the Judge withdrew the charge. Although he had taken extracts from the newspaper, and then from the Lecompton Constitution, to show the existence of a conspiracy to bring about a ‘fatal blow,’ by which the States were to be deprived of the right of excluding slavery, it all went to pot as soon as Toombs got up and told him it was not true. [Laughter.] It reminds me of the story that John Phoenix, the California railroad surveyor, tells. He says they started out from the Plaza to the Mission of Dolores. They had two ways of determining distances. One was by a chain and pins taken over the ground. The other was by a ‘go-it-ometer’ – an invention of his own – a three-legged instrument, with which he computed a series of triangles between the points. At night he turned to the chain-man to ascertain what distance they had come, and found that by some mistake he had merely dragged the chain over the ground without keeping any record. By the ‘go-it-ometer’ he found he had made ten miles. Being skeptical about this, he asked a drayman who was passing how far it was to the plaza. The drayman replied it was just half a mile, and the surveyor put it down in his book – just as Judge Douglas says, after he had made his calculation and computations, he took Toombs’ statement. [Great laughter.] I have no doubt that after Judge Douglas had made his charge, he was as easily satisfied about its truth as the survey was of the drayman’s statement of the distance to the plaza. [Renewed laughter.] Yet it is a fact that the man who put forth all that matter which Douglas deemed a ‘fatal blow’ at State sovereignty, was elected by the Democrats as public printer.

Now, gentlemen, you may take Judge Douglas’ speech of March 22d, 1858, beginning about the middle of page 21, and reading to the bottom of page 24, and you will find the evidence on which I say that he did not make his charge against the editor of the Union alone. I cannot stop to read it, but I will give it to the reporters. Judge Douglas said:

Mr. President you here find several distinct propositions advanced boldly by the Washington Union editorially and apparently authoritatively, and every man who questions any of them is denounced as an abolitionist, a Free-Soiler, a fanatic. The propositions are, first, that the primary object of all government at its original institution is the protection of persons and property; second, that the Constitution of the United States declares that the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and that, therefore, thirdly, all State laws, whether organic or otherwise, which prohibit the citizens of one State from settling in another with their slave property, and especially declaring it forfeited, are direct violations of the original intention of the Government and Constitution of the United States; and fourth, that the emancipation of the slaves of the Northern States was a gross outrage on the rights of property, inasmuch as it was involuntarily done on the part of the owner.

Remember that this article was published in the Union on the 17th of November, and on the 18th appeared the first article giving the adhesion of the Union to the Lecompton Constitution. It was in these words:

‘KANSAS AND HER CONSTITUTION. – The vexed question is settled. The problem is solved. The dread point of danger is passed. All serious trouble to Kansas affairs is over and gone.’

And a column, nearly of the same sort. Then, when you come to look into the Lecompton Constitution, you find the same doctrine incorporated in it, which was put forth editorially in the Union. What is it?

‘ARTICLE 7;. Section 1. The right of property is before and higher than any constitutional sanction; and the right of the owner of a slave to such slave and its increase is the same and as inviolable as the right of the owner of any property whatever.’

Then in the schedule is a provision that the Constitution may be amended after 1864 by a two-thirds vote.

But no alteration shall be made to affect the right of property in the ownership of slaves.’

It will be seen by these clauses in the Lecompton Constitution that they are identical in spirit with this authoritative article in the WashingtonUnion of the day previous to its endorsement of this Constitution.

When I saw that article in the Union of the 17th of November, followed by the glorification of the Lecompton Constitution on the 18th of November, and this clause in the Constitution asserting the doctrine that a State has no right to prohibit slavery within its limits, I saw there was a fatal blow being struck at the sovereignty of the States of this Union.

Here he says, ‘Mr. President, you here find several distinct propositions advanced boldly, and apparently authoritatively.’ By whose authority, Judge Douglas? [Great cheers and laughter.] Again, he says in another place, ‘It will be seen by these clauses in the Lecompton Constitution, that they are identical in spirit with this authoritative article.’ By whose authority? [Renewed cheers.] Who do you mean to say authorized the publication of these articles? He knew that the Washington Union is considered the organ of the Administration. I demand of Judge Douglas by whose authority he meant to say those articles were published, if not by the authority of the President of the United States and his Cabinet? I defy him to show whom he referred to, if not to these high functionaries in the Federal Government. More than this, he says the articles in that paper and the provisions of the Lecompton Constitution are ‘identical,’ and being identical, he argues that the authors are co-operating and conspiring together. He does not use the word ‘conspiring,’ but what other construction can you put upon it? He winds up with this:

When I saw that articles in the Union of the 17th of November, followed by the glorification of the Lecompton Constitution on the 18th of November, and this clause in the Constitution asserting the doctrine a State has no right to prohibit slavery within its limits, I saw that there was a fatal blow being struck at the sovereignty of the States of this Union.

I ask him if all this fuss was made over the editor of this newspaper. [Laughter.] It would be a terribly ‘fatal blow’ indeed which a single man could strike, when no President, no Cabinet officer, no member of Congress, was giving strength and efficiency to the movement. Out of respect to Judge Douglas’ good sense I must believe he didn’t manufacture his idea of the ‘fatal’ character of that blow out of such a miserable scapegrace as he represents that editor to be. But the Judge’s eye is father south now. [Laughter and cheers.] Then, it was very peculiarly and decidedly North. His hope rested on the idea of visiting the great ‘Black Republican’ party, and making it the tail of his new kite. [Great laughter.] He knows he was then expecting from day to day to turn Republican and place himself at the head [of] our organization. He has found that these despised ‘Black Republicans’ estimate him by a standard which he has taught them none too well. Hence is crawling back into his owl camp, and you will find him eventually installed in full fellowship among those whom he was then battling, and with whom he now pretends to be at such fearful variance. [Loud applause and cries of ‘go on, go on.’] I cannot, gentlemen, my time has expired.14


  1. Stephen B. Oates, With Malice Toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 155-156.
  2. Henry Villard, “Recollections of Lincoln”, Atlantic Monthly, February 1904, p. 165-174.
  3. John G. Nicolay, A Short Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 121-122.
  4. Emanuel Hertz, The Hidden Lincoln from the Letters and Papers of William H. Herndon, p. 255-256 (Letter from William H. Herndon to Jesse W. Weik, October 2, 1890).
  5. Ida M. Tarbell, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, Volume II, p. 316.
  6. Benjamin Thomas, Abraham Lincoln, p. 189.
  7. William E. Barton, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 392.
  8. Don E. Fehrenbacher, Prelude to Greatness: Lincoln in the 1850’s, p. 136-137.
  9. Harry V. Jaffa, Crisis in the House Divided, p. 355.
  10. Damon Wells, Stephen Douglas: The Last Years, 1857-1861, p. 115.
  11. Ida M. Tarbell, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, Volume II, p. 316.
  12. Herbert Mitgang, editor, Lincoln as They Saw Him, p. 114-115 (Illinois State Journal, October 6, 1854).
  13. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume III, p. 38-49.
  14. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume II, p. 70-76.