Jonesboro, Union County, September 15, 1858

Stephen A. Douglas

Stephen A. Douglas

“Then debaters and shorthand reporters dropped south 300 miles, to a point south of Richmond, Virginia. The Jonesboro crowd numbered about 1,400 – most of them rather cool about the great debate. The place was on land wedged between the Slaves States of Kentucky and Missouri; several carloads of passengers had come from those states to listen,” wrote historian Carl Sandburg.1

Lincoln chronicler George W. Smith wrote: “On the eve of the Jonesboro debate, September 14, 1858, David L. Phillips of Anna met Lincoln at Centralia to escort him to Anna. Phillips, the Republican candidate for Congress in the Ninth District, was Lincoln’s host for the evening preceding his third debate with Senator Douglas. Lincoln was accompanied by Horace White, acting as both secretary for the state Republican committee and reporter for the Chicago Press and Tribune, and Robert R. Hitt, the stenographer who took down the debates. After dinner at the Phillips home, Lincoln and Phillips went to the Union House, one mile away in Jonesboro, where White and Hitt were staying, and spent an hour sitting on the front porch gazing heavenward at Donati’s Comet. Fortunately for Lincoln, he returned to the Phillips home to spend the night. Nearly half a century later one reporter reminisced about ‘the day of semi-starvation and the night with half a dozen roommates’ at Jonesboro; everywhere in southern Illinois, he said, accommodations were ‘simply abominable.'”2

George W. Smith wrote: “Judson Phillips said while in Jonesboro Lincoln spent some time about the old courthouse and with the politicians at the Union Hotel. Mr. Phillips and Lincoln returned to the Phillips home in Anna for an early noon meal as the Douglas train was expected from Cairo before the noon hour. Horace White said he was at the Anna station when the Douglas train with its cannon arrived. There was not a large number on the train nor a very large crowd at the station. Senator Douglas and some friends found carriages waiting to convey them to the county seat at Jonesboro, one mile west, while the band, the cannon, and the citizens were expedited to form a procession and march to Jonesboro. There was some trouble in getting the band to lead the way. Professor Terpinitz, the director, told the author that the band boys were tired, hungry, and sleepy and it was not an easy task to get them to march in an orderly manner over to Jonesboro. Finally the band got in position and led the way followed by the cannon and a goodly number of citizens carrying flags and banners brought up from Cairo on the Douglas special.”3

Smith wrote: “Douglas profited more than Lincoln from the Jonesboro debate. In the Ninth Congressional District, the chief danger to Douglas came from Danites rather than Republicans. By appearing publicly with most of the leading local Democrats in John Dougherty’s hometown, Douglas demonstrated that his Democracy was orthodox. He reassured Negrophobes that his break with Buchanan over support of the proslavery Lecompton Constitution did not represent any alteration to his attitude toward slavery. By placing Lincoln in a town in Illinois where he had almost no support, he reemphasized the sectional character of the Republican party. “4

David Zarefsky wrote in Lincoln Douglas and Slavery: In the Crucible of Public Debate: “Although Lincoln had little to gain from the local townspeople, the Jonesboro debate was important for the larger audience now following the series. Douglas had charged that Lincoln trimmed his views to fit his audience; he had pledged to ‘trot him down to Egypt’ to see if he would disavow the strong antislavery sentiments expressed in northern Illinois. Not only did Lincoln not do that, but he began to reclaim momentum. He analyzed Douglas’s responses to the four Freeport interrogatories, focusing especially on the doctrine of ‘friendly local legislation, the means by which the Little Giant thought territories could exclude slavery despite Dred Scott.”5

Historian Don E. Fehrenbacher wrote: “At Jonesboro, on September 15, Lincoln cleared the air when he propounded what might be called the second half of the Freeport question:

If the slaveholding citizens of a United States Territory should need and demand Congressional legislation for the protection of their slave property in such territory, would you, as a member of Congress, vote for or against such legislation?6

Fehrenbacher noted: “Douglas responded rather vaguely by reaffirming the principle of nonintervention, but in a subsequent debate he explicitly declared his opposition to a congressional slave code for the territories.”7

September 15, 1858


Mr. Lincoln was then introduced to the audience by D. L. Phillips, Esq. and was greeted with three cheers, and then ‘three more;’ after which he said:

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: There is very much in the principles that Judge Douglas has here enunciated that I most cordially approve, and over which I shall have no controversy with him. In so far as he has insisted that all the States have the right to do exactly as they please about their domestic relations, including that of slavery, I agree entirely with him. He places me wrong in spite of all I can tell him, though I repeat it again and again, insisting that I have no difference with him upon this subject. I have made a great many speeches, some of which have been printed, and it will be utterly impossible for him to find anything that I have ever put in print contrary to what I now say upon this subject. I hold myself under constitutional obligations to allow the people in all the States without interference, direct or indirect, to do exactly as they please, and I deny that I have any inclination to interfere with them, even if there were no such obligation. I can only say again that I am placed improperly – altogether improperly in spite of all I can say – when it is insisted that I entertain any other view or purposes in regard to that matter.

While I am upon this subject, I will make some answers briefly to certain propositions that Judge Douglas has put. He says, ‘Why can’t this Union endure permanently, half slave and half free?’ I have said that I supposed it could not, and I will try, before this new audience, to give briefly some of the reasons for entertaining that opinion. Another form of his question is, ‘Why can’t we let it stand as our fathers placed it?’ That is the exact difficulty between us, I say that Judge Douglas and his friends have changed them from the position in which our father originally placed it. I say in the way our father originally left the slavery question, the institution was in the course of ultimate extinction, and the public mind rested in the belief that it was in the course of ultimate extinction. I say when this government was first established it was the policy of its founders to prohibit the spread of slavery into new Territories of the United States, where it had not existed. But Judge Douglas and his friends have broken up that policy and perpetual. All I have asked or desired anywhere is that it should be placed back again upon this basis that the fathers of our government originally placed it upon. I have no doubt that it would become extinct, for all time to come, if we but re-adopted, the policy of the fathers by restricting it to the limits it has already covered – restricting it from the new Territories.

I do not wish to dwell at great length on this branch of the subject at this time, but allow me to repeat one thing that I have state before. [Preston] Brooks, the man who assaulted Senator Sumner on the floor of the Senate, and who was complimented with dinner and silver pitchers, and gold-headed canes, and a good many things for that feat, in one of his speeches declared that when this Government was originally established nobody expected that the institution of slavery would last until this day. That was but the opinion of one man, but it was such an opinion as we can never get from Judge Douglas or anybody in favor of slavery in North at all. You can sometimes get from a Southern man. He said at the same time that the framers of our Government did not have the knowledge that experience has taught us – that experience and the invention of the cotton-gin have taught us that the perpetuation of slavery is a necessity. He insisted, therefore, upon it being from the basis upon which the Fathers of the Government left it to the basis of its perpetuation and nationalization.

I insist that this is the difference between Judge Douglas and myself – that Judge Douglas is helping that change along. I insist this Government being placed where our fathers originally placed it.

I remember Judge Douglas once said that he saw the evidences on the statute books of Congress, of a policy in the origin of government to divide slavery and freedom by a geographical line – that he saw an indisposition to maintain that policy, and therefore he set about studying upon a way to settle the institution on the right basis – the basis which he thought it ought to have been placed upon at first, and in that speech he confesses that he seeks to place it not upon the basis that the fathers placed it upon, but upon one gotten up on ‘original principles.’ When he asks me why we cannot get along with it in the attitude where our fathers placed it he had better clear up the evidences that he has himself changed it from that basis; that he has himself been chiefly instrumental in changing the policy of the fathers. [Applause.] Any one who will read his speech of the 22d of last March, will see that he there makes an open confession, showing that he set about fixing the institution upon an altogether different set of principles. I think I have fully answered him when he asks me why we cannot let it alone upon the basis where our fathers left it, by showing that he has himself changed the whole policy of the Government in that regard.

Now, fellow citizens, in regard to this matter about a contract that was made between Judge [Lyman] Trumbull and myself, and all that long portion of Judge Douglas’ speech on this subject – I wish simply to say what I have said to him before, that he cannot know whether it is true or not, and I do knowthat there is not a word of truth in it. [Applause.] And I have told him so before. [Continued applause. ‘That’s right.’ ‘Hit him again.’] I don’t want any harsh language indulged in, but I do not know how to deal with this persistent insisting on a story that I know to be utterly without truth. It used to be a fashion amongst men that when a charge was made some sort of proof was brought forward to establish it, and if no proof was found to exist, the charge was dropped. I don’t know how to meet this kind of an argument. I don’t want to have a right with Judge Douglas, and I have no way of making an argument up into the consistency of corn-cob and stopping his mouth with it. [Laughter and applause.] All I can do is, good-humoredly to say that from beginning to the end of all that story about a bargain between Judge Trumbull and myself, there is not a word of truth in it. [Applause.] I can only ask him to show sort of evidence of the truth of his story. He brings forward here and reads from what he contends is a speech by James H. Matheny charging such a bargain between Trumbull and myself. My own opinion in that Matheny did do some such immoral thing as to tell a story that he knew nothing about. I believe he did. I contradicted it instantly and it has been contradicted by Judge Trumbull, while nobody has produced any proof, because there is none. Now whether the speech which the Judge brings forward here is really the one Matheny made I do not know, and I hope the Judge will pardon me for doubting the genuineness of this document, since his production of those Springfield Resolutions at Ottawa. [Laughter and cheers.] I do not wish to dwell at any great length upon this matter. I can say nothing when a long story like this is told except it is not true, and demand that he who insists upon it shall produce some proof. That is all any man can do, and I leave it that way for I know of no other way of dealing with it.

The Judge has gone over a long account of the old Whig and Democratic parties, and it connects itself with this charge against Trumbull and myself. He says that they agreed upon a compromise in regard to the slavery question in 1850; that in a National Democratic Convention resolutions were passed to abide by that compromise as a finality upon the slavery question. He also says that the Whig party in National Convention agreed to abide by and regard as a finality, the compromise of 1850. I understand the Judge to be altogether right about that; I understand that part of the history of the country as stated by him to be correct. I recollect in the Presidential election which followed, when we had General Scott up for the Presidency, Judge Douglas was around berating us Whigs as Abolitionists, precisely as he does to-day – not a bit of difference. I have often heard him. We could do nothing when the old Whig party was alive that was not Abolitionism, but it has got an extremely good name since it has passed away. [Laughter.]

When the compromise was made it did not repeal the old Missouri Compromise. It left a region of United States territory half as large as the present territory of the United States, North of the line of 36 30 in which slavery was prohibited by act of Congress. This compromise did not repeal that one. It did not affect or propose to repeal it. But at last it became Judge Douglas’s duty, as he thought (and I find no fault with him) as Chairman of the Committee on Territories, to bring in a bill for the organization of a territory government – first of one, then of two territories north of that line. When he did so it ended in his inserting a provision substantially repealing the Missouri Compromise. That was because the compromise of 1850 had not repealed it. And now I ask why he could not have let that compromise alone? We were quiet from the agitation of the slavery question. We were making no fuss about it. All had acquiesced in the compromise measures of 1850. We never had been seriously disturbed by any abolition agitation before that period. When he came to form governments for the territories North of the line of 36 30 , why could he not have let that matter stand as it was standing? [Applause.] Was it necessary to the organization of a territory? Not at all. Iowa lay North of the line and had been organized as a territory and had come into the Union as a State without disturbing that Compromise. There was no sort of necessity for destroying it to organize these territories. But gentlemen, it would take up all my time to meet all the little quibbling arguments of Judge Douglas to show that the Missouri Compromise was repealed by the Compromise of 1850. My own opinion is that a careful investigation of all the arguments to sustain the position that that Compromise was virtually repealed by the Compromise of 1850 would show that they are the merest fallacies. I have the report that Judge Douglas first brought into Congress at the time of the introduction of the Nebraska bill, which in its original form did not repeal the Missouri Compromise, and he there expressly stated that he had forborne to do so because it had not been done by the Compromise of 1850. I close this part of the discussion on my part by asking him the question again ‘Why when we had peace under the Missouri Compromise could you not have let it alone?’

In complaining of what I said in my speech at Springfield in which he says I accepted my nomination for the Senatorship, (where by the way he is at fault, for if he will examine it he will find no acceptance in it:) he again quotes that portion in which I said that ‘a house divided against itself cannot stand.’ Let me say a word in regard to that matter.

He tries to persuade us that there must be a variety in the different institutions of the States of the Union; that the variety necessarily proceeds from the variety of soil, climate, of the face of the country and the difference in the natural features of the States. I agree to all that. Have these very matters ever produced any difficulty amongst us? Not at all. Have we ever had any quarrel over the fact that they have laws in Louisiana designed to regulate the commerce that springs from the production of sugar? Or because we have a different class relative to the production of flour in this State? Have they produced any differences? Not at all. They are the very cements of this Union. They don’t make the house a house divided against itself. They are the props that hold up the house and sustain the Union.

But has it been so with this element of slavery? Have we not always had quarrels and difficulties over it? And when will we cease to have quarrels over it? Like causes produce like effects. It is worth while to observe that we have generally had comparative peace upon the slavery question and that there has been no cause for alarm until it was excited by the effort to spread it into new territory. Whenever it has been limited to its present bounds and there has been no effort to spread it, there has been peace. All the trouble and convulsion has proceeded from efforts to spread it over more territory. It was thus at the date of the Missouri Compromise. It was so again with the annexation of Texas; so with the territory acquired by the Mexican war, and it is so now. Whenever there has been an appeal to this audience, (very few of whom are my political friends,) as national men, whether we have reason to expect that the agitation in regard to this subject will cease while the causes that tend to reproduce agitation are actively at work? Will not the same cause that produced agitation in 1820 when the Missouri Compromise was formed – that which produced the agitation upon the annexation of Texas and at other times – work out the same results always? Do you think that the nature of man will be changed – that the same causes that produced agitation at one time will not have the same effect at another?

This has been the result so far as my observation of the Slavery question and my reading in history extends. What right have we then to hope that the trouble will cease – that the agitation will come to an end – until it shall either be placed back where it originally stood and where the fathers originally placed it, or on the other hand until it shall entirely master all opposition. This is the view I entertain, and this is the reason I entertained it, as Judge has read from my Springfield speech.

Now, my friends, there is one thing that I feel myself under some sort of obligation to mention. Judge Douglas has here to-day – in a very rambling way, I was about saying – spoken of the platforms for which he seeks to hold me responsible. He says, ‘Why can’t you come out and make an open avowal of principles in all places?’ and he reads from an advertisement that he says was used to notify the people of a speech to be made by Judge Trumbull at Waterloo. In commenting on it he desires to know whether we cannot speak frankly and manfully as he and his friends do! How, I ask, do his friends speak out their own sentiments? A Convention of his party in this State met on the 21st of April, at Springfield, and passed a set of resolutions which they proclaim to the country as their platform. This does constitute their platform, and it is because Judge Douglas claims it is his platform – that these are his principles and purposes – that he has a right to declare he speaks his sentiments ‘frankly and manfully.’ On the 9th of June, Col. John Dougherty, Gov. Reynolds and others, calling themselves National Democrats, met in Springfield and adopted a set of resolutions which are as easily understood, as plain and as definite in stating to the country and to the world what they believed in and would stand upon, as Judge Douglas’ platform. Now, what is the reason, that Judge Douglas is not willing that Col. Dougherty and Gov. Reynolds should stand upon their own written and printed platform as well as he upon his? Why must he look farther than their platform when he claims himself to stand by his platform?

Again, in reference to our platform; On the 16th of June the Republicans had their Convention and published their platform, which is as clear and distinct as Judge Douglas’. In it they spoke their principles as clear and distinct as Judge Douglas’. In it they spoke their principles as plainly and as definitely to the world. What is the reason that Judge Douglas is not willing I should stand upon that platform? Why must he go around hunting for some one who is supporting me, or has supported me at some time in his life, and who has said something at some time contrary to that platform? Does the Judge regard that rule as a good one? If it turn out that the rule is a good one for me – that I am responsible for any and every opinion that any man has expressed who is my friend – then it is a good rule for him. I ask, is it not as good a rule for him as it is for me? In my opinion, it is not a good rule for him as it is for me? In my opinion, it is not a good rule for either of us. Do you think differently, Judge?

MR. DOUGLAS – I do not.

MR. LINCOLN – Judge Douglas says he does not think differently. I am glad of it. Then can he tell me why he is looking up resolutions of five or six years ago, and insisting that they were my platform, notwithstanding my protest that they are not, and never were my platform, and my pointing out the platform of the State Convention which he delights to say nominated me for the Senate? I cannot see what he means by parading these resolutions, if it not to hold me responsible for them in some way. If he says to me here, that he does not hold the rule to be good, on way or the other, I do not comprehend how he could answer me more fully if he answered me at greater length. I will therefore put in as my answer to the resolutions that he has hunted up against me, what I, as a lawyer, would call a good plea to a bad declaration. [Laughter.] I understand that it is a maxim of law, that a poor plea may be a good plea to a bad declaration. I think that the opinions the Judge brings from those who support me, yet differ from me, is a bad declaration against me; but if I can bring the same things against him, I am putting in a good plea to that kind of declaration, and now I propose to try it.

At Freeport Judge Douglas occupied a large part of his time in producing resolutions and documents of various sorts, as I understood to make me somehow responsible for them; and I propose now doing a little of the same sort of things for him. In 1850 a very clever gentleman by the name of Thompson Campbell, a personal friend of Judge Douglas and myself, a political friend of Judge Douglas and opponent of mine, was a candidate for Congress in the Galena District. He was interrogated as to his views on this same slavery question. I have here before me the interrogatories and Campbell’s answer to them. I will read them:


1st. Will you, if elected, vote for and cordially support a bill prohibiting slavery in the Territories of the United States?

2d. Will you vote for and support a bill abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia?

3d. Will you oppose the admission of any Slave States which may be formed out of Texas or the Territories?

4th. Will you vote for and advocate the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law passed at the recent session of Congress?

5th. Will you advocate and vote for the election of a Speaker of the House of Representatives who shall be willing to organize the Committees of that House, so as to give the Free States their just influence in the business of legislation?

6th. What are your views not only as to the constitutional right of Congress to prohibit the slave trade between the States, but also as to the expediency of exercising that right immediately?


To the first and second interrogatories, I answer unequivocally in the affirmative.

To the third interrogatory I reply, that I am opposed to the admission of any more slave States into the Union, that may be formed out of Texas or any other Territory.

To the fourth and fifth interrogatories I unhesitatingly answer in the affirmative.

To the sixth interrogatory I reply, that so long as the slave States continue to treat slaves as articles of commerce, the Constitution confers power on Congress to pass laws regulating that peculiar COMMERCE, and that the protection of Human Rights imperatively demands the interposition of every constitutional means to prevent this most inhuman and iniquitous traffic.

I want to say here that Thompson Campbell was elected to Congress on that platform as the Democratic candidate in the Galena District, against Martin P. Sweet.

JUDGE DOUGLAS. – Give me the date of the letter.

MR. LINCOLN. – The time Campbell ran was in 1850. I have not the exact date here. It was some time in 1850 that these interrogatories were put and the answer given. Campbell was elected to Congress, and served out his term. I think a second election came up before he served out his term and he was not re-elected. Whether defeated or not nominated, I do not know. [Mr. Campbell was nominated for re-election by the Democratic party, by acclamation.] At the end of his term his very good friend, Judge Douglas, got him a high office from President Pierce, and sent him off to California. Is not that the fact? Just at the end of his term in Congress it appears that our mutual friend Judge Douglas got our mutual friend Campbell a good office, and sent him to California upon it. And not only so, but on the 27th of last month when Judge Douglas and myself spoke at Freeport in joint discussion, there was his same friend Campbell, come all the way from California, to help the Judge beat me; and there was poor Martin P. Sweet standing on the platform, trying to help poor me to be elected. [Laughter.] That is true of one of Judge Douglas’ friends.

So again, in that same race of 1850, there was a Congressional Convention assembled at Joliet, and it nominated R. S. Molony, for Congress, and unanimously adopted the following resolutions:

Resolved, That we are uncompromisingly opposed to the extension of slavery; and while we would not make such opposition a ground of interference with the interests of the States where it exists, yet we moderately but firmly insist that it is the duty of Congress to oppose its extension into Territory now free, by all means compatible with the obligations of the Constitution, and with good faith to our sister States; that these principles were recognized by the Ordinance of 1787, which received the sanction of Thomas Jefferson, who is acknowledged by all to be the great oracle and expounder of our faith.

Subsequently the same interrogatories were propounded to Dr. Molony which had been addressed to Campbell, as above, with the exception of the 6th respecting the Inter-State slave trade, to which Dr. Molony, the Democratic nominee for Congress, replied as follows:

I received the written interrogatories this day, and as you will see by the LaSalle Democrat and Ottawa Free Trade, I took at Peru on the 5th and at Ottawa on the 7th the affirmative side of interrogatories 1st and 2d, and in relation to the admission of any more Slave States from Free Territory, my position taken at these meetings as correctly reported in said papers was emphatically and distinctly opposed to it. In relation to the admission of any more Slave States from Texas whether I shall go against it or not will depend upon the opinion that I may hereafter form of the true meaning and nature of the Resolutions of Annexation. If, by said resolutions, the honor and good faith of the nation is pledged to admit more Slave States from Texas when she (Texas) may apply for the admission of such State then I should, if in Congress, vote for their admission of such State then I should, if in Congress, vote for their admission. But if not so PLEDGED and bound by sacred contract, then a bill for the admission of more Slave States from Texas would never receive my vote.

To your 4th interrogatory I answer most decidedly in the affirmative, and for reasons set forth in my reported remarks at Ottawa last Monday.

To you 5th interrogatory I also reply in the affirmative most cordially, and that I will use my utmost exertions to secure the nomination and election of a man who will accomplish the objects of said interrogatories. I most cordially approve of the resolutions adopted at the union meeting held at Princeton on the 27th September ult. Yours, &c., R. S. MOLONY.

All I have to say in regard to Dr. Molony, is that he was the regularly nominated Democratic candidate for Congress in his District – was elected at that time, at the end of his term was appointed to a Land Office at Danville. (I never heard anything of Judge Douglas’ instrumentality in this.) He held this office a considerable time, and when we were at Freeport the other day, there were hand bills scattered about notifying the public that after our debate was over, R. S. Molony would make a Democratic speech in favor of Judge Douglas. That is all I know of my own personal knowledge. It is added here to this resolution, and truly I believe that –

‘Among those who participated in the Joliet Convention, and who supported its nominee, with his platform as laid down in the resolution of the Convention and in his reply as above given, we cal at random the following names, all of which are recognized at this day as leading Democrats:’

‘COOK COUNTY – E.B. Williams, Charles McDonnell, Arno Voss, Thomas Hoyne, Isaac Cook.’

I reckon we ought to except Cook. [Laughter.]

‘F.C. Sherman.’

‘Will – Joel A. Matterson, S.W.Bowen.’

‘Kane – B.F. Hall, G. W. Renwick, A.M. Herrington, Elijah Wilcox.’

‘McHenry – W.M. Jackson, Enos W. Smith, Neil Donnelly.’

‘LaSalle – John Hise, William Reddick.’

William Reddick! another one of Judge Douglas’ friends that stood on the stand with him at Ottawa, at the time the Judge says my knees trembled so that I had to be carried away. [Laughter.] The names are all here.

‘DUPAGE – Nathan Allen.’

‘DEKALB – Z.B. Mayo.’

Here is another set of resolutions which I think are apposite to the matter in hand.

On the 28th of February of the same year, a Democratic District Convention was held at Naperville, to nominate a candidate for Circuit Judge. Among the delegates were Bowen and Kelly, of Will; Captain Naper, H.W. Cody, Nathan Allen, of DuPage; W.M. Jackson, J.M. Strode, P.W. Platt and Enos W. Smith, of McHenry; J. Horsman and others, of Winnebago. Col. Strode presided over the Convention. The following resolutions were unanimously adopted – the first on motion of P.W. Platt, the second on motion of William M. Jackson.

Resolved, That this Convention is in favor of the Wilmot Proviso, both in Principle and Practice, and that we know of no good reason why anyperson should opposed the largest latitude in Free Soil, Free Territory and Free Speech.

Resolved, That in the opinion of this Convention the time has arrived when all men should be free, whites as well as others.

JUDGE DOUGLAS – What is the date of those resolutions?

MR. LINCOLN – I understand it was in 1850, but I do not know it. I do not state a thing and say I know it, when I do not. But I have the highest belief that this is so. I know of no way to arrive at the conclusion that there is an error in it. I mean to put a case no stronger that the truth will allow. But what I wasgoing to comment upon is an extract from a newspaper in DeKalb County, and it strikes me as being rather singular, I confess, under the circumstances. There is a Judge May in that county, who is a candidate for the Legislature, for the purpose, if he secures his election, of helping to re-elect Judge Douglas. He is the editor of a newspaper [DeKalb County Sentinel], and that paper I find the extract I am going to read. It is part of an editorial article in which he was electioneering as fiercely as he could for Judge Douglas and against me. It was a curious thing, I think, to be in such a paper. I will agree to that, and the Judge may make the most of it:

Our education has been such, that we have ever been rather in favor of the equality of the blacks; that is, that they should enjoy all the privileges of the whites where they reside. We are aware that this is not a very popular doctrine. We have had many a confab with some who are now strong ‘Republicans,’ we taking the broad ground of equality and they the opposite around.

We were brought up in a State where blacks were voters, and we do not know of any inconvenience resulting from it, though perhaps it would not work as well where the blacks are more numerous. We have no doubt of the right of the whites to guard against such an evil, if it is one. Our opinion is that it would be best for all concerned to have the colored population in a State by themselves [In this I agree with him]; but if within the jurisdiction of the United States, we say by all means they should have the right to have their Senators and Representatives in Congress, and to vote for President. With us ‘worth make the man, and want of it the fellow.’ We have seen many a ‘n_____’ that we thought more of than some white men.

That is one of Judge Douglas’ friends. Now I do not want to leave myself in an attitude where I can be misrepresented, so I will say I do not think the Judge is responsible for this article, but he is quite as responsible for it, as I would be if one of my friends had said it. I think that is fair enough. [Cheers.]

I have here a set of resolutions placed by a Democratic State Convention in Judge Douglas’ own good old State of Vermont, that I think ought to be good for him too:

Resolved, That liberty is a right inherent and inalienable in man, and that herein all men are equal.

Resolved, That we claim no authority in the Federal Government to abolish slavery in the several States, but we do claim for it constitutional power perpetually to prohibit the introduction of slavery into territory now free, and abolish it wherever, under the jurisdiction of Congress it exists.

Resolved, That this power ought immediately to be exercised in prohibiting the introduction and existence of slavery in New Mexico and California, in abolishing slavery and the slave trade in the District of Columbia, on the high seas, and wherever else, under the Constitution, it can be reached.

Resolved, That no more slave States should be admitted into the Federal Union.

Resolved, That the Government ought to return to its ancient policy, not to extend, nationalize or encourage, but to limit, localize and discourage slavery.

At Freeport I answered several interrogatories that had been propounded to me by Judge Douglas at the Ottawa meeting. The Judge has yet not seen fit to find any fault with the position that I took in regard to those seven interrogatories, which were certainly broad enough, in all conscience, to cover the entire ground. In my answers, which have been printed, and all have had the opportunity of seeing, I take the ground that those who elect me must expect that I will do nothing which is not in accordance with those answers. I have some right to assert that Judge Douglas has no fault to find with them. But he chooses to still try to thrust me upon different ground without paying any attention to my answers, the obtaining of which from me cost him so much trouble and concern. At the same time, I propounded four interrogatories to him, claiming it as a right that he should answer as many interrogatories for me as I did for him, and I would reserve myself for a future installment when I got them ready. The Judge in answering me upon that occasion, put in what I suppose he intends as answers to all four of my interrogatories. The first one of these interrogatories I have before me, and it is in these words:

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?

As I read the Judge’s answer in the newspaper, and as I remember it as pronounced at the time, he does not give any answer which is equivalent to yes or no – I will or I won’t. He answers at very considerable length, rather quarreling with me for asking the question, and insisting that Judge Trumbull had done something that I ought to say something about; and finally getting out such statements as induce me to infer that he means to be understood he will, in that supposed case, vote for the admission of Kansas. I only bring this forward now for the purpose of saying that if he chooses to put a different construction upon his answer he may do it. But if he does not, I shall from this time forward assume that he will vote for the admission of Kansas in disregard of the English bill. He has the right to remove any misunderstanding I may have. I only mention it now that I may hereafter assume this to be the true construction of his answer, if he does not now choose to correct me.

The second interrogatory that I propounded to him, was this:

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

To this Judge Douglas answered that they can lawfully exclude slavery from the Territory prior to the formation of a constitution. He goes on to tell us how it can be done. As I understand him, he holds that it can be done by the Territorial Legislature refusing to make any enactments for the protection of slavery in the Territory, and especially by adopting unfriendly legislation to it. For the sake of clearness I state it again; that they can exclude slavery from the Territory, 1st, by withholding what he assumes to be an indispensable assistance to it in the way of legislation; and 2d, by unfriendly legislation. If I rightly understand him, I wish to ask your attention for a while to his position.

In the first place, the Supreme Court of the United States has decided that any Congressional prohibition of slavery in the Territories is unconstitutional – that they have reached this proposition as a conclusion from their former proposition that the Constitution of the United States expressly recognizes property in slaves, and from that other constitutional provision that no person shall be deprived of property without due process of law. Hence they reach the conclusion that as the Constitution of the United States expressly recognizes property in slaves, and prohibits any person from being deprived of property without due process of law, to pass an act of Congress by which a man who owned a slave on one side of a line would be deprived of him if he took him on other side, is depriving him of that property without due process of law. That I understand to be the decision of the Supreme Court. I understand also that Judge Douglas adheres most firmly to that decision; and the difficulty is, how is it possible for any power to exclude slavery from the Territory unless in violation of that decision? That is the difficulty.

In the Senate of the United States, in 1856, Judge Trumbull in a speech, substantially if not directly, put the same interrogatory to Judge Douglas, as to whether the people of a Territory had the lawful power to exclude slavery prior to the formation of a constitution? Judge Douglas then answered at considerable length, and his answer will be found in the Congressional Globe, under date of June 9th, 1856. The Judge said that whether the people could exclude slavery prior to the formation of a constitution or not was a question to be decided by the Supreme Court. He put that proposition, as will be seen by the Congressional Globe, in a variety of forms, all running to the same thing in substance – that it was a question for the Supreme Court. [Applause.] He shifts his ground. I appeal to you whether he did say not say it was a question for the Supreme Court. Has not the Supreme Court decided that question? When he now says the people may exclude slavery, does he not make it a question for the people? Does he not virtually shift his ground and say that it is not for the Court, but for the people? This is a very simple proposition – a very plain and naked one. It seems to me that there is no difficulty in deciding it. In a variety of ways he said it was a question for the Supreme Court. He did not stop then to tell us that whatever the Supreme Court decides the people can by withholding necessary ‘police regulations’ keep slavery out. He did not make any such answer. I submit to you now, whether the new state of the case has not induced the Judge to sheer away from his original ground. [Applause.] Would not this be the impression of every fair-minded man?

I hold that the proposition that slavery cannot enter a new country without police regulations is historically false. It is not true at all. I hold that the history of this country shows that the institution of slavery was originally planted upon this continent without these ‘police regulations’ which the Judge now thinks necessary for the actual establishment of it. Not only so, but is there not another fact – how came this Dred Scott decision to be made? It was made upon the case of a negro being taken and actually held in slavery in Minnesota Territory, claiming his freedom because the act of Congress prohibited this being so held there. Will the Judge pretend that Dred Scott was not held there without police regulations? There is at least one matter of record as to his having been held in slavery in the Territory, not only without police regulations, but in the teeth of Congressional legislation supposed to be valid at the time. This shows that there is vigor enough in Slavery to plant itself in a new country even against unfriendly legislation. It takes not only law but enforcement of law to keep it out. That is the history of this country upon the subject.

I wish to ask one other question. It being understood that the Constitution of the United States guarantees property in slaves in the Territories, if there is any infringement of the right of that property, would not the United States Courts, organized for the government of the Territory, apply such remedy as might be necessary in that case? It is a maxim held by the Courts, that there is no wrong without its remedy; and the Courts have a remedy for whatever is acknowledged and treated as a wrong.

Again: I will ask you my friends, if you were elected members of the Legislature, what would be the first thing you would have to do before entering upon your duties? Swear to support the Constitution of the United States. Suppose you believe, as Judge Douglas does, that the Constitution of the United States guarantees to your neighbor the right to hold slaves in that Territory – that they are his property – how can you clear your oaths unless you give him such legislation as is necessary to enable him to enjoy that property? What do you understand by supporting the Constitution of a State or of the United States? Is it not to give such constitutional helps to the rights established by that Constitution as may be practically needed? Can you swear to support the Constitution, and believe that the Constitution establishes a right, clear your oath, without giving it support? Do you support the Constitution if, knowing or believing there is a right established under it which needs specific legislation, you withhold that legislation? Do you not violate and disregard your oath? I can conceive of nothing plainer in the world. There can be nothing in the words ‘support the constitution,’ if you may run counter to it by refusing support to any right established under the constitution. And what I say here will hold with still more force against the Judge’s doctrine of ‘unfriendly legislation.’ How could you, having sworn to support the Constitution, and believing it guaranteed the right to hold slaves in the Territories, assist in legislationintended to defeat that right? That would be violating your own view of the constitution. Not only so, but if you were to do so, how long would it take the courts to do so, how long would it take the courts to hold your votes unconstitutional and void? Not a moment.

Lastly I would ask – is not Congress, itself, under obligation to give legislative support to any right that is established under the United States Constitution? I repeat the question – is not Congress, itself, bound to give legislative support to any right that is established in the United States Constitution? A member of Congress swears to support the Constitution of the United States, and if he sees a right established by that Constitution which needs specific legislative protection, can he clear his oath without giving that protection? Let me ask you why many of us who are opposed to slavery upon principle give our acquiescence to a fugitive slave law? Why do we hold ourselves under obligations to pass such a law, and abide by it when it is passed? Because the Constitution makes provision that the owners of slaves shall have the right to reclaim them. It gives the right to reclaim slaves, and that right is, as Judge Douglas says, a barren right, unless there is legislation that will enforce it.

The mere declaration ‘No person held to service or labor in one State under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall in consequence of any law or regulation therein be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due is powerless without specific legislation to enforce it. Now on what ground would a member of Congress who is opposed to slavery in the abstract vote for a fugitive law, as I would deem it my duty to do? Because there is a Constitutional right which needs legislation to enforce it. And although it is distasteful to me, I have sworn to support the Constitution, and having so sworn I cannot conceive that I do support it if I withheld from that right any necessary legislation to make it practical. And if that is true in regard to a fugitive slave law, is the right to have fugitive slaves reclaimed any better fixed in the Constitution than the right to hold slaves in the Territories? For this decision is a just exposition of the Constitution as Judge Douglas thinks. Is the one right any better than the other? Is there any man who while a member of Congress would give support to one any more than the other? If I wished to refuse to give legislative support to slave property in the Territories, if a member of Congress, I could not do it holding the view that the Constitution establishes that right. If I did it at all, it would be because I deny that this decision property construes the Constitution, I cannot conceive that I would be less than a perjured man if I should refuse in Congress to give such protection to that property as in its nature it needed.

At the end of what I have said here I propose to give the Judge my fifth interrogatory which he may take and answer at his leisure. My fifth interrogatory is this: If the slaveholding citizens of a United States Territory should need and demand Congressional legislation for the protection of their slave property in such territory, would you, as a member of Congress, vote for or against such legislation?

JUDGE DOUGLAS – Will you repeat that? I want to answer that question.

MR. LINCOLN – If the slaveholding citizens of a United States Territory should need and demand Congressional legislation for the protection of their slave property in such Territory, would you as a member of Congress vote for or against such legislation?

I am aware that in some of the speeches Judge Douglas has made, he has spoken as if he did not know or think that the Supreme Court had decided that a territorial Legislature cannot exclude slavery. Precisely what the Judge would say upon the subject – whether he would say definitely that he does not understand they have so decided, or whether he would say he does understand that the Court have so decided, I do not know; but I know that in his speech at Springfield he spoke of it as a thing they had not decided yet; and in his answer to me at Freeport, he spoke of it so far again as I can comprehend it, as a thing that had not yet been decided. Now I hold that if the Judge does entertain that view I think he is not mistaken in so far as it can be said that the Court has not decided anything save the mere question of jurisdiction. I know the legal arguments that can be made – that after a court has decided that it cannot take jurisdiction of a case, it then has decided all that is before it, and that is the end of it. A plausible argument can be made in favor of that proposition, but I know that Judge Douglas has said in one of his speeches that the court went forward like honest men as they were and decided all the points in the case. If any points are really extrajudicially decided because not necessarily before them, then this one as to the power of the Territorial Legislature to exclude slavery is one of them, as also the one that the Missouri Compromise was null and void. They are both extra-judicial, or neither is according as the Court held that they had no jurisdiction in the case between the parties, because of want of capacity of one party to maintain a suit in that Court. I want, if I have sufficient time, to show that the Court did pass its opinion, but that is the only thing actually done in the case. If they did not decide, they showed what they were ready to decide whenever the matter was before them. What is that opinion? After having argued that Congress had no power to pass a law excluding slavery from a United States Territory, they used language to this effect: – that inasmuch as Congress itself could not exercise such a power, it followed as a matter of course that it could not authorize a territorial government to exercise it, for the Territorial Legislature can do no more than Congress could do. Thus it expressed its opinion emphatically against the power of a Territorial Legislature to exclude slavery, leaving us in just as little doubt on that point as upon any other point they really decided.

Now, my fellow citizens, I will detain you only a little while longer. My time is very nearly out. I find a report of a speech made by Judge Douglas at Joliet, since we last met at Freeport – published I believe in the Missouri Republican – on the 9th of this month, in which Judge Douglas says:

You know at Ottawa, I read this platform, and asked him if concurred in each and all of the principles set forth in it. He would not answer these questions. At last I said frankly, I wish you to answer them, because when I get them up here where the color of your principles is a little darker than in Egypt, I intend to trot you down to Jonesboro. The very notion that I was going to take him down to Egypt made him tremble in the knees so that he had to be carried from the platform. He laid up seven days, and in the meantime held a consultation with his political physicians, they had Lovejoy and Farnsworth and all the leaders of the Abolition party, they consulted it all over, and at last Lincoln came to the conclusion that he would answer, so he came up to Freeport last Friday.

Now that statement altogether furnishes a subject for philosophical contemplation. [Laughter.] I have been treating it in that way, and I have really come to the conclusion that I can explain it in no other way than by believing the Judge is crazy. [Renewed laughter.] If he was in his right mind, I cannot conceive how he would have risked disgusting the four or five thousand of his own friends who stood there, and knew, as to my having been carried from the platform, that there was not a word of truth in it.

JUDGE DOUGLAS – Didn’t they carry you off?

MR. LINCOLN – There; that question illustrates the character of this man Douglas, exactly. He smiles now and says, ‘Didn’t they carry you off?’ But he says then, ‘He had to be carried off;’ and he said it to convince the country that he had so completely broken me down by his speech that I had to be carried away. Now he seeks to dodge it, and asks, ‘didn’t they carry you off? Yes, they did. But, Judge Douglas, why didn’t you tell the truth? [Great laughter and cheers.] I would like to know why you didn’t tell the truth about it. [Continued laughter.] And then again, ‘He laid up seven days.’ He puts this in print for the people of the country to read as a serious document. I think if he had been in his sober senses he would not have risked that barefacedness in the presence of thousands of his own friends, who knew that I made speeches within six of the seven days at Henry, Marshall County; Augusta, Hancock County, and Macomb, McDonough County, including all the necessary travel to meet him again at Freeport at the end of the six days. Now, I say, there is no charitable way to look at that statement, except to conclude that he is actually crazy. [Laughter.] There is another thing in that statement that alarmed me very greatly as he states it, that he was going to ‘trot me down to Egypt.’ Thereby he would have you to infer that I would not come to Egypt unless he forced me – that I could not be got here, unless he, gnat-like, had hauled me down here. [Laughter.] That statement he makes too, in the teeth of knowledge that I had made the stipulation to come down here, and that he himself had been very reluctant to enter into the stipulation. [Cheers and laughter.] More than all this, Judge Douglas, when he made that statement must have been crazy, and wholly out of his sober senses, or else he would have known that when he got me down here – that promise – that windy promise – of his powers to annihilate me, wouldn’t amount to anything. Now, how little do I look like being carried away trembling? Let the Judge go on, and after he is done with his half hour, I want you all, if I can’t go home myself, to let me stay and rot here; and if anything happens to the Judge, if I cannot carry him to the hotel and put him to bed, let me stay here and rot. [Great laughter.] I say, then, there is something extraordinary in this statement? [Cries of ‘No,’ ‘no.’ ‘Yes,’ ‘yes.’] I will ask my friend Casey, over there, if he would do such a thing? [Casey dropped his head, and said nothing.] Would he send that out and have his men take it as the truth? Did the Judge talk of trotting me down to Egypt to scare me to death? Why, I know this people better than he does. I was raised just a little east of here. I am a part of this people. But the Judge was raised further north, and perhaps he has some horrid idea of what this people might be induced to do. [Roars of laughter and cheers.] But really I have talked about this matter perhaps longer than I ought, for it is no great thing, and yet the smallest are often the most difficult things to deal with. The Judge has set about seriously trying to make the impression that when we meet at different places I am literally in his clutches – that I am a poor, helpless, decrepit mouse, and that I can do nothing at all. This is one of the way he has taken to create that impression. I don’t know any other way to meet it, except this. I don’t want to quarrel with him – to call him a liar – but when I come square up to him I don’t know what else to call him, if I must tell the truth out. [Cheers and laughter.] I want to be at peace, and reserve all my fighting powers for necessary occasions. My time, now, is very nearly out, and I give up the trifle that is left to the Judge to let him set my knees trembling again, if he can.8


  1. Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years, p. 140.
  2. George W. Smith, When Lincoln Came to Egypt, (John Y. Simon, Abraham Lincoln in Southern Illinois, p. xxxii).
  3. George W. Smith, When Lincoln Came to Egypt, p. 122-23.
  4. George W. Smith, When Lincoln Came to Egypt, (John Y. Simon, Abraham Lincoln in Southern Illinois, p. xxxvii-xxxviii).
  5. David Zarefsky, Lincoln Douglas and Slavery: In the Crucible of Public Debate, p. 58.
  6. Don E. Fehrenbacher, Prelude to Greatness: Lincoln in the 1850’s, p. 139.
  7. Don E. Fehrenbacher, Prelude to Greatness: Lincoln in the 1850’s, p. 139.
  8. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume III, p. 116-135 (Jonesboro Debate, September 15, 1858).