Contemporary biographer Isaac Arnold wrote: “Just before the first joint discussion, which was to take place at Ottawa, there was a large gathering at the Chenery House, then the leading hotel in Springfield. The house was filled with politicians, and so great was the crowd, that large numbers were out of doors, in the street, and on the sidewalk. Lincoln was there, surrounded by his friends, but it was said that he looked careworn and weary. He had become conscious that some of his party friends distrusted his ability to meet successfully a man whom as the democrats declared and believed, had never had his equal on the stump. Seeing an old friend from Vermillion County, Lincoln came up, and shaking hands, inquired the news. His friend replied: ‘All looks well, our friends are wide awake, but -,’ he continued, ‘they are looking forward with some anxiety to these approaching joint discussions with Douglas.'”1
Sixteen-year-old William W. Cauklins later recalled in preparation for the first Lincoln-Douglas debate that “the whole population of La Salle County – not alone in the cities and villages, but in every township – and on every farm, were occupied mostly in political discussion at home, or, of evenings, in the little district schoolhouse. In the latter the farmers and the ambitious boy orators had their inning and settled all political questions to their own satisfaction at least. Fired with enthusiasm, they awaited impatiently the 21st of August, which dawned upon them bright and beautiful. During all the preceding night and early on the 21st, delegations from every town and hamlet began to arrive in Ottawa. The next counties also contributed their quotas of patriotic people, until an attendance of 30,000 was estimated. Having never been over twenty miles from home, I looked upon the animated scene as unequalled except by the triumphal processions of imperial Rome…The great features of the day was a wagon or float, profusely decorated with flags and bunting – and filled with young girls – in a number representing every State in the Union. Party enthusiasm reached high water mark when, in the afternoon, Douglas and Lincoln, their approach heralded by martial music and the shouts of thousands, appeared and occupied the soft side of one of the pine board seats on the platform, which had been erected in Washington Park.”2
Douglas was showing that his confidence was less than perfect. He wrote to Illinois Journal editor Charles H. Lanphier on August 15: “I find in the State Register of August 28th, 1856, a speech delivered by Major Harris in the House of Reps. on the 9th of August, 1856, in which is copied a resolution described as adopted at the first convention of the Black Republican party as a part of their platform. I desire to know the time and place at which that convention was held, whether it was a mass meeting or a delegate convention, whether Lincoln was present and made a speech and such other facts concerning the matter as you may be able to give. This information is very important and I want it immediately. Please consult Major Harris, hunt up the facts and write to me instantly directly to Ottawa. I must have it before next Saturday.”3
Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg wrote: “In the Ottawa public square, 12,000 listeners sat or stood in a broiling summer sun August 21 for the first debate. For three hours they listened. A train of 17 cars had come from Chicago. By train, boat, wagon, buggy and afoot people had arrived, waved flags, paraded and escorted their heroes.”4
Lincoln chronicler Harold Holzer wrote: “As the Democratic press saw it, Douglas had ‘electrified the crowd’ at Ottawa, while Lincoln ‘dodged’ and looked ’embarrassed.’ Republican journals, on the other hand, thought Lincoln appeared high toned’ and ‘powerful,’ and Douglas ‘boorish’ and cowardly.’ From faraway New York, Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune cheered that Lincoln had turned the race into nothing less than ‘a contest for the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of Satan – a contest for advance or retrograde in civilization.”5
The pro-Douglas Chicago Times reported: “When Douglas had concluded the shouts were tremendous: his excoriation of Lincoln was so severe, that the Republicans hung their heads in shame. The Democrats, however, were loud in their vociferation. About two-thirds of the meeting at once surrounded Douglas, and with music, cheers, and every demonstration of enthusiastic admiration they escorted him to his quarters at the hotel, where for several minutes they made the welkin ring with their cheers, and applause.”6
By contrast, reported the Chicago Times, “Lincoln in the meantime seemed to have been paralyzed. He stood upon the stage looking wildly at the people as they surrounded the triumphant Douglas, and, with mouth wide open, he could not find a friend to say one word to him in his distress. It was a delicate point for Republicans who had witnessed his utter defeat, and who knew how severely he felt it, to offer him condolence, or bid him hope for better success again. The only thing they could say was that Lincoln ought not to travel round with Douglas, and had better not meet him any more. When Douglas and the Democrats had left the square, Lincoln essayed to descend from the stage, but his limbs refused to do their office. During Douglas’ last speech Lincoln had suffered severely; alternately burning with fever, and then suddenly chilled with shame, his respiratory organs had become obstructed, his limbs got cold, and he was unable to walk.”7
The New York Tribune reported: “Of the two, all partiality being left out of the question, we think Mr. Lincoln has decidedly the advantage. Not only are his doctrines better and truer than those of his antagonist, but he states them with more propriety and cogency, and with an infinitely better temper. More than this, in this discussion Mr. Douglas was betrayed into what was perhaps a fault as well as a blunder; at any rate, it was a blunder of a very gross character. He cited certain resolutions, which he alleged were adopted as the platform of the Illinois State Convention of 1854, and these alleged resolutions he made the text of a large portion of his speech. But it appears that no such resolutions were ever offered at any Republican State Convention in Illinois, or adopted by any such Convention. The Press and Tribune of Chicago charges that Mr. Douglas was aware of this, and that he committed an intentional fraud in producing the resolutions as he did. They were, it seems, really adopted at a small local meeting, in Kane County; and yet the Senator brought them forward as the platform of a State Convention. Our Chicago contemporary [sic] will have it that Mr. Douglas did this for effect at the moment, well knowing that the imposition must be exposed in due time. This is hardly credible; but there is no doubt that such a misrepresentation is, at least, a blunder, which must ultimately prove injurious to the party by which it is committed.”8
There was concern by Mr. Lincoln’s supporters, evidently shared by Mr. Lincoln, that he need not only respond to Douglas’s question, but also to corner him as well. Douglas had tried to set a trap for his Republican candidate. Lincoln legal colleague Henry C. Whitney wrote Mr. Lincoln from Chicago of the reaction in the Douglas camp: “Gus Herrington who is one of Douglas’ intimate friends told me that Dug had made elaborate preparations to meet you in debate at Ottawa and that he Dug was highly pleased with the result: – that Dug had now got you where he wanted you: – that you had dodged on the platform: – that even if you replied to the platform query at Freeport &c it would be too late: – you had dodged and he had got you: – this & other things indicates to me that they are much chagrined at the mode in which you disposed of the platform query: – Gus has repeated to me frequently since that you could have vanquished ‘Dug’ by dissenting from and disapproving of all that platform that D. Read and taking bold ground against its propositions: – he thinks you should have done so & then have said to the Abolitionists that you was the leader & they must obey: – it is evident to me that D.’s object (and that it was a matter of grave deliberation in which Dickey was consulted) to drive you from a conservative position to one or the other extremes: – my view is that it was devised with care & caution & that they will try it every where: – I also think that they were much disappointed at not trapping you at Ottawa: – at the risk of being presumptious [sic] I will suggest that in opening at Freeport you should not allude to Douglas’ catechism of the platform but if he alludes to it as he will probably shut him up on it as you did at Ottawa and by adding that at the State Convention which nominated you a platform was laid down which asserted your principles fully [& beyond that it was no one’s business to inquire: -] you ought also in the opinion of your friends to ring in the [Lyman] Trumbull argument on to him as to striking out the submission clause: – your friends also think that you ought not to treat him tenderly: – he is going to try to intimidate you: you have got to treat him severely and the sooner you commence the better & easier: – I don’t of course mean that you ought to call him a liar or anything of that sort but that you ought to let him know that you are ‘terribly in earnest'[.]”9
AT OTTAWA, ILLINOIS
August 21, 1858
Mr. Lincoln’s Speech from the Press & Tribune
Mr. Lincoln then came forward and was greeted with loud and protracted cheers from fully two-thirds of the audience. This was admitted by the Douglas men on the platform. It was some minutes before he could make himself heard, even by those on the stand. At last he said:
MY FELLOW-CITIZENS: When a man hears himself somewhat misrepresented, it provokes him – at least, I find it so with myself; it is more apt to amuse him. [Laughter.] The first thing I see fit to notice, is the fact that Judge Douglas alleges, after running through the history of the old Democratic and old Whig parties, that Judge Trumbull and myself made an arrangement in 1854, by which I was to have the place of Gen. Shields in the United States Senate, and Judge Trumbull was to have the place of Judge Douglas. Now all I have to say upon that subject is, that I think no man – not even Judge Douglas – can prove it, because it is not true.. [Cheers.] I have no doubt he is ‘conscientious’ in saying it. [Laughter.] As to those resolutions that he took such a length of time to read, as being the platform of the Republican party in 1854, I say I never had anything to do with them, and I think Trumbull never had. [Renewed laughter.] Judge Douglas cannot show that either one of us ever did have nay thing to do with them. I believe this is true about those resolutions. There was a call for a Convention to form a Republican party in Springfield, and I think that my friend Mr. Lovejoy, who is here upon this stand, had a hand in it. I think this is true, and I think if he will remember accurately, he will be able to recollect that he tried to get me into it, and I would not go in. [Cheers and laughter.] I believe it is also true, that I went away from Springfield when the Convention was in session, to attend court in Tazewell County. It is true they did place my name, though without authority, upon the Committee, and afterwards wrote me to attend the meeting of the Committee, but I refused to do so, and I never had anything to do with that organization. This is the plain truth about that matter of the resolutions.
Now, about this story that Judge Douglas tells of Trumbull bargaining to sell out the old Democratic party, and Lincoln agreeing to sell out the old Whig party, I have the means of knowing about that; [laughter] Judge Douglas cannot have; and I know there is no substance to it whatever. [Applause.] Yet I have no doubt he is ‘conscientious‘ about it. [Laughter.] I know that after Mr. Lovejoy got into the Legislature that winter, he complained of me that I had told all the old Whigs in his district that the old Whig party was good enough for them, and some of them voted against him because I told them so. Now I have no means of totally disproving such charges as this which the Judge makes. A man cannot prove a negative, but he has a right to claim that when a man makes an affirmative charge, he must offer some proof to show the truth of what he says. I certainly cannot introduce testimony to show the negative about things, but I have a right to claim that if a man says he knows a thing, then he must show how he knows it. I always have a right to claim this, and it is not satisfactory to me that he may be ‘conscientious’ on the subject. [Cheers and Laughter.]
Now gentlemen, I hate to waste my time on such things, but in regard to that general abolition tilt that Judge Douglas makes, when he says that I was engaged at that time in selling out and abolitionizing the old Whig party – I hope you will permit me to read a part of a printed speech that I made then at Peoria, which will show altogether a different view of the position I took in that contest of 1854.
VOICE – Put on your specs.
MR. LINCOLN – Yes, sir, I am obliged to do so. I am no longer a young man. [Laughter.]
This is the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. The foregoing history may not be precisely accurate in every particular; but I am sure it is sufficiently so, for all the uses I shall attempt to make of it, and in it, we have before us, the chief materials enabling us to correctly judge whether the repeal of the Missouri Compromise is right or wrong.
I think, and shall try to show, that is wrong, wrong in its direct effect, letting slavery into Kansas, and Nebraska – and wrong in its prospective principle, allowing it to spread to every other part of the wide world, where men can be found inclined to take it.
This declared difference, but as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I can not but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world – enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites – causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty – criticising the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.
Before proceeding, let me say I think I have no prejudice against the Southern people. They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist amongst us, we should not instantly give it up. This I believe of the masses north and south. Doubtless there are individuals on both sides, who would not hold slaves under any circumstances; and others who would gladly introduce slavery anew, if it were out of existence. We know that some southern men do free their slaves, go north, and become tip-top abolitionists; while some northern ones go south, and become most cruel slave-masters.
When southern people tell us they are no more responsible for the origin of slavery, than we; I acknowledge the fact. When it is said that the institution exists, and that is very difficult to get rid of it, in any satisfactory way, I can understand and appreciate the saying. I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself. If all earthly power were given to me, I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia, – to their own native land. But a moment’s reflection would convince me, that whatever of high hope, (as I think there is) there may be in this, in the long run, its sudden execution is impossible. If they were all landed there in a day, the would all perish in the next ten days; and there are not surplus shipping and surplus money enough in the world to carry them there in many times ten days. What then? Free them all, and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite certain that this betters their condition? I think I would not hold one in slavery, at any rate; yet the point is not clear enough to me to denounce people upon. What next? Free them, and make them politically and socially, our equals? My own feeling accords with justice and sound judgment, is not the sole question, if indeed, it is any part of it. A universal feeling, whether well or ill-founded, can not be safely disregarded. We can not, then, make them equals. It does seem to me that systems of gradual emancipation might be adopted; but for their tardiness in this, I will not undertake to judge our brethern of the south.
When they remind us of their constitutional rights, I acknowledge them, not grudgingly, but fully, and fairly; and I would give them any legislation for the reclaiming of their fugitives, which should not, in its stringency, be more likely to carry a free man into slavery, than our ordinary criminal laws are to hand an innocent one.
But all this; to my judgement, furnishes no more excuse for permitting slavery to go into our own free territory, than it would for reviving the African slave trade by law. The law which forbids the bringing of slaves from Africa; and that which has so long forbid the taking them toNebraska, can hardly be distinguished on any moral principle; and the repeal of the former could find quite as plausible excuses as that of the latter.
I have reason to know that Judge Douglas knows that I said this. I think he has the answer here to one of the questions he put to me. I do not mean to allow him to catechise me unless he pays back for it in kind. I will not answer questions one after another unless he reciprocates, but as he made this inquiry and I have answered it before, he has got it without my getting anything in return. He has got my answer on the Fugitive Slave Law.
Now gentlemen, I don’t want to read at any greater length, but this is the true complexion of all I have ever said in regard to the institution of slavery and the black race. This is the whole of it, and anything that argues me into his idea of perfect social and political equality with the negro, is but a specious and fantastic arrangement of words, by which a man can prove a horse chestnut to be a chestnut horse. [Laughter.] I will say here, while upon this subject, that I have no purpose directly indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so. I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which in my judgement will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong, having the superior position. I have never said anything to contrary, but I hold that notwithstanding all this, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to these as the white man. I agree with judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects – certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man. [Great applause.]
Now I pass on to consider one or two more of these little follies. The Judge is woefully at fault about his early friend Lincoln being a ‘grocery keeper.’ [Laughter.] I don’t know as it would be a great sin, if I had been, but he is mistaken. Lincoln never kept a grocery anywhere in the world. [Laughter.] It is true that Lincoln did work the latter part of one winter in a small still house, up at the head of a hollow. [Roars of laughter.] And so I think my friend, the Judge, is equally at fault when he charges me at the time when I was in Congress of having opposed our soldiers who were fighting in the Mexican war. The Judge did not make his charge very distinctly but I can tell you what he can prove by referring to the record. You remember I was an old Whig, and whenever the Democratic party tried to get me to vote that the war had been righteously begun by the President, I would not do it. But whoever they asked for any money, or land warrants, or anything to pay the soldiers there, during all that time, I gave the same votes that Judge Douglas did. [Loud applause.] You can think as you please as to whether that was consistent. Such is the truth; and the Judge has the right to make all he can out of it. But when he, by a general charge, conveys the idea that I withheld supplies from the soldiers who were fighting in the Mexican war, or did anything else to hinder the soldiers, he is, to say the least, grossly and altogether mistaken, as the consultation of the records will prove to him.
As I have not used up so much of my time as I had supposed, I will dwell a little longer upon one or two of these minor topics upon with the Judge had spoken. He has read from my speech in Springfield, in which I say that ‘a house divided against itself cannot stand.’ Does the Judge say it can stand? [Laughter.] I don’t know whether he does or not. The Judge does not seem to be attending to me just now, but I would like to know if it is his opinion that a house divided against itself can stand. If he does, then there is a question of veracity, not between him and me, but between the Judge and an authority of a somewhat higher character. [Laughter and applause.]
Now, my friends, I ask your attention to this matter for the purpose of saying something seriously. I know that the Judge may readily enough agree with me that the maxim which was put forth by the Saviour is true, but he may allege that misapply it; and the Judge has a right to urge that, in my application, I do misapply it, and then I have a right to show that, in my application, I do misapply it, and then I have a right to show that do not misapply it. When he undertakes to say that because I think this nation, so far as the question of Slavery is concerned, will all become one thing or all the other, I am in favor of bringing about a dead uniformity in the various States, in all their institutions, he argues erroneously. The great variety of the local institutions in the States, springing from differences in the soil, differences in the face of the country, and in the climate, are bonds of Union. They do not make ‘a house divided against itself,’ but they make a house united. If they produce in one section of the country what is called for by the wants of another section, and this other section can supply the wants of the first, they are not matters of discord but bonds of union, true bonds of union. But can this question of slavery be considered as among these varieties in the institutions of the country? I leave it to you to say whether, in the history of our government, this institution of slavery has not always failed to be bond of union, and, on the contrary, been an apple of discord and an element of division in the house. [Cries of ‘Yes,’ ‘yes,’ and applause.] I ask you to consider whether, so long as the moral constitution of men’s minds shall continue to be the same, after this generation and assemblage shall sink into the grave, and another race shall arise, with the same moral and intellectual development we have – whether, if that institution is standing in the same irritating position in which it now is, it will not continue an element of division? [Cries of ‘Yes, yes.’] If so, then I have a right to say that in regard to this question, the Union is a house divided against itself, and when the Judge reminds me that I have often said to him that the institution of slavery has existed for eighty years in some States, and yet it does not exist in some others, I agree to the fact, and I account for it by looking at the position in which our father originally placed it – restricting it from the new Territories where it had not gone, and legislating to cut off its source by the abrogation of the slave trade, thus putting the seal of legislation against its spread. The public mind did rest in the belief that it was in the course of ultimate extinction. [Cries of ‘Yes, yes.’] But lately, I think – and in this I charge nothing on the Judge’s motives – lately, I think, that he, and those acting with him, have placed that institution on a new basis, which looks to the perpetuity and nationalization of slavery. [Loud cheers.] And while it is placed upon this new basis, I say, and I have said, that I believe we shall not have peace upon the question until the opponents of slavery arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or, on the other hand, that its advocates will push it forward until it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new. North as well as South. Now, I believe if we could arrest the spread, and place it where Washington, and Jefferson, and Madison placed it, it would be in the course of ultimate extinction, and the public mind would, as for eighty years past, believe that it was in the course of ultimate extinction. The crisis would be past and the institution might be let alone for a hundred years, if it should live so long, in the States where it exists, yet it would be going out of existence in the way best for both he black and the white races. [Great cheering.]
A VOICE – Then do you repudiate Popular Sovereignty?
MR. LINCOLN – Well, then, let us talk about Popular Sovereignty![Laughter.] What is Popular Sovereignty? [Cries of ‘A humbug,’ ‘a humbug.’] Is it the right of the people to have Slavery or not have it, as they see fit, in the territories? I will state – and I have an able man to watch me – my understanding is that Popular Sovereignty, as now applied to the question of Slavery, does allow the people of a Territory to have Slavery if they want to, but does not allow them not to have it if they do not want it. [Applause and laughter.] I do not mean that if this vast concourse of people were in a Territory of the United States, any one of them would be obliged to have a slave if he did not want one; but I do say that, as I understand the Dred Scott decision, if any one man wants slaves, all the rest have no way of keeping that one man from holding them.
When I made my speech at Springfield, of which the Judge complains, and from which he quotes, I really was not thinking of the things which he ascribes to me at all. I had no thought in the world that I was doing anything to bring about a war between the free and slave States. I had no thought in the world that I was doing anything to bring about a political and social equality of the black and white races. I never occurred to me that I was doing anything or favoring anything to reduce to a dead uniformity all the local institutions of the various States. But I must say, in all fairness to him, if he thinks I am doing something which leads to these bad results, it is none the better that I did not mean it. It is just as fatal to the country, if I have any influence in producing, whether I intend it or not. But can it be true, that placing this institution upon the original basis – the basis upon which our fathers placed it – can have any tendency to set the Northern and the Southern States at war with one another, or that it can have tendency to make the people of Vermont raise sugar cane, because they raise it in Louisiana, or that it can compel the people of Illinois, to cut pine logs on the Grand PRAIRIE, where they will not grow, because they cut pine logs in Maine, where they do grow? [Laughter.] The Judge says this is a new principle started in regard to this question. Does the Judge claim that he is working on the plan of the founders of government? I think he says in some of his speeches – indeed I have one here now – that he saw evidence of a policy to allow slavery to be south of a certain line, while north of it should be excluded, and he saw an indisposition on the part of the country to stand upon that policy, and therefore he set about studying the subject upon original principles, and upon original principles he got up the Nebraska bill! I am fighting it upon thee ‘original principles’ – fighting it in the Jeffersonian, Washingtonian, and Madisonian fashion. [Laughter and applause.]
No my friends I wish you to attend for a little while to one or two other things in that Springfield speech. My main object was to show, so far as my humble ability was capable of showing to the people of this country, what I believed was the truth – that there was a tendency, if not a conspiracy among those who have engineered this slavery question for the last four or five years, to make slavery perpetual and universal in this nation. Having made that speech principally for that object, after arranging the evidences that I thought tended to prove any proposition, I concluded with this bit of comment:
We cannot absolutely know that these exact adaptations are the result of pre-concert, but when we see a lot of framed timbers, different portions of which we know have been gotten out at different times and places, and by different workmen – Stephen, Franklin, Roger and James, for instance – and when we see these timbers joined together, one sees they exactly make the frame of a house or a mill, all the tenons and mortices exactly fitting and all the lengths and proportions of the different pieces exactly adapted to their respective places and not a piece too many or too few – not omitting even the scaffolding – or if a single piece be lacking we see the place in the frame exactly fitted and prepared yet to bring such piece in – in such a case we feel it impossible not to believe that Stephen and Franklin, and Roger and James, all understood one another from the beginning, and all worked upon a common plan or draft drawn before the first blow was struck [Great cheers.]
When my friend, Judge Douglas, came to Chicago, on the 9th of July, this speech having been delivered on the 16th of June, he made an harangue there, in which he took hold of this speech of mine, showing that he had carefully read it; and while he paid no attention to this matter at all, but complimented me as being a ‘kind, amiable, and intelligent gentleman,’ notwithstanding I had said this; he goes on and eliminates, or draws out, from my speech this tendency of mine to set the States at war with one another, to make all the institutions uniform, and set the niggers and white people to marrying together. [‘Laughter.] Then, as the Judge had complimented me with these pleasant titles. (I must confess to my weakness,) I was a little ‘taken,’ [laughter] for it came from a great man. I was not very much accustomed to flattery, and it came the sweeter to me. I was rather like the Hoosier, with the gingerbread, when he said he reckoned he loved it better than any other man, and got less of it. [Roars of laughter.] As the Judge had so flattered me, I could not make up my mind that he meant to deal unfairly with me; so I went to work to show him that he misunderstood the whole scope of my speech, and that I really never intended to set the people at war with one another. As an illustration, the next time I met him, which was at Springfield, I used this expression, that I claimed no right under the Constitution, nor had I any inclination, to enter into the Slave States and interfere with the institutions of slavery. He says upon that: Lincoln will not enter into the Slave States, but will go to the banks of the Ohio, on this side, and shoot over! [Laughter.] He runs on, step by step, in the horse-chestnut style of argument, until in the Springfield speech, he says, ‘Unless he shall be successful in firing his batteries until he shall have extinguished slavery in all the States, the Union shall be dissolved.’ Now I don’t think that was exactly the way to treat a kind, amiable, intelligent gentleman. [Roars of laughter.] I know if I had asked the Judge to show when or where it was I had said that, if I didn’t succeed in firing into the Slave States until slavery should be extinguished, the Union should be dissolved, he could not have shown it. I understand what he would do. He would say, ‘I don’t mean to quote from you, but this was the result of what you say.’ But I have the right to ask, and I do ask now, Did you not put in such a form that an ordinary reader or listener would take it as an expression from me? [Laughter.]
In a speech at Springfield, on the night of the 17th, I thought I might as well attend to my own business a little, and I recalled his attention as well as I could to this charge of conspiracy to nationalize Slavery. I called his attention to the fact that he had acknowledged, in my hearing twice, that he had carefully read the speech, and, in the language of the lawyers, as he had twice read the speech, and still had put in no plea or answer, I took a default on him. I insisted that I had a right then to renew that charge of conspiracy. Ten days afterwards, I met the Judge at Clinton – that is to say, I was on the ground, but not in the discussion – and heard him make a speech. Then he comes in with his plea to this charge, for the first time, and his plea when put in, as well as I can recollect it, amounted to this: that has never had any talk with Judge Taney or the President of the United States with regard to the Dred Scott decision before it was made. I (Lincoln) ought to know that the man who makes a charge without knowing it to be true, falsifies as much as he who knowingly tells a falsehood; and lastly, that he would pronounced the whole thing a falsehood; but he would make no personal application of the charge of falsehood, not because of any regard for the ‘kind, amiable, intelligent gentleman,’ but because of his own personal self-respect! [Roars of laughter.] I have understood since the, (but [turning to Judge Douglas] will not hold the Judge to it if he is not willing) that he has broken through the ‘self-respect,’ and has got to saying the thing out. The Judge nods to me that it is so. [Laughter.] It is fortunate for me that I can keep as good-humored as I do, when the Judge acknowledges that he has been trying to make a question of veracity with me. I know the Judge is a great man, while I am only a small man, but I feel that I have got him. [Tremendous cheering.] I demur to that plea. I waive all objections that it was not filed till after default was taken, and demur to it upon the merits. What if Judge Douglas never did talk with Chief Justice Taney and the President, before the Dred Scott decision was made, does it follow that he could not have had as perfect an understanding without talking, as with it? I am not disposed to take his denial as being like an answer in chancery, that he neither had any knowledge, information or belief in the existence of such a conspiracy. I am disposed to take his answer as being as broad as though he had put it in these words. And now, I ask, even if he has done so, have not I a right to prove it on him, and to offer the evidence of more than two witnesses, by whom to prove it; and if the evidence proves the existence of the conspiracy, does his broad answer denying all knowledge, information or belief, disturb the fact? It can only show that he was used by conspirators, and was not a leader of them. [Vociferous cheering.]
Now in regard to his reminding me of the moral rule that persons who tell what they do not know to be true falsify as much as those who knowingly tell falsehoods. I remember the rule, and it must be borne in mind that in what I have read to you, I do not say that I know such a conspiracy to exist. To that, I reply I believe it. If the Judge says that I do not believe it, then he says what he does not know, and falls within his own rule, that he who asserts a thing which he does not know to be true, falsifies as much as he who knowingly tells a falsehood. I want to call your attention to a little discussion on that branch of the case, and the evidence which brought my mind to the conclusion which I expressed as my belief. If, in arraying that evidence, I had stated anything which was false or erroneous, it needed but that Judge Douglas should point it out, and I would have taken it back with all the kindness in the world. I do not deal in that way. If I have brought forward anything not a fact, if he will point it out, it will not even ruffle me to take it back. But if he will not point out anything erroneously in the evidence, is it not rather for him to show, by a comparison of the evidence that I have reasoned falsely, than to call the ‘kind, amiable, intelligent gentlemen,’ a liar? [Cheers and laughter.] If I have reasoned to a false conclusion, it is the vocation of an able debater to show by argument that I have wandered to an erroneous conclusion. I want to ask your attention to a portion of the Nebraska Bill, which Judge Douglas, has quoted: ‘It being the true intent and meaning of this fact, not to legislate slavery into any Territory or State, nor to exclude it therefrom, but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States.’ Thereupon Judge Douglas and others began to argue in favor of ‘Popular Sovereignty’ – the right of the people to have slaves if they wanted them, and to exclude slavery if they did not want them. ‘But,’ said, in substance a Senator from Ohio, (Mr. Chase, I believe,) ‘we more than suspect that you did not mean to allow the people to exclude slavery if they wish to, and if you do mean it, accept an amendment which I propose expressly authorizing the people to exclude slavery.’ I believe I have the amendment here before me, which was offered, and under which the people of the Territory, through their proper representatives, might if they say fit, prohibit the existence of slavery therein. And now I state it as a fact, to be taken back if there is any mistake about it, that Judge Douglas and those acting with him, voted that amendment down. [Tremendous applause.] I now think that those men who voted it down, had areal reason for doing so. They know what that reason was. It looks to us, since we have seen the Dred Scott decision pronounced holding that ‘under the Constitution’ the people cannot exclude slavery – I say it looks to outsiders, poor, simple, ‘amiable, intelligent gentlemen,’ [great laughter,’] as though the niche was left as a place to put that Dred Scott decision in – [laughter and cheers] – a niche which would have been spoiled by adopting the amendment. And now, I say again, if this was not the reason, it will avail the Judge much more to calmly and good-humoredly point out to these people what that otherreason was for voting the amendment down, than, swelling himself up, to vociferate that he may be provoked to call somebody a liar. [Tremendous applause.]
Again, there is in that same quotation from the Nebraska bill this clause – ‘It being the true intent and meaning of this bill not to legislate slavery into any Territory or State.’ I have always been puzzled to know what business the word ‘State’ had in that connection. Judge Douglas knows. he put it there. He knows what he put it there for. We outsiders cannot say what he put it there for. The law they were passing was not about States, and was not making provisions for States. What was it placed there for? After seeing the Dred Scott decision, which holds that the people cannot exclude slavery from aTerritory, if another Dred Scott decision shall come, holding that they cannot exclude it from a State, we shall discover that when the word was originally put there, it was in view of something which was to come in due time, we shall see that it was the other half of something. [Applause.] I now say again, if there is any different reason for putting it there, Judge Douglas, in a good-humored way, without calling anybody a liar, can tell what the reason was. [Renewed cheers.]
When the Judge spoke at Clinton, he came very near making a charge of falsehood against me. He used, as I found it printed in a newspapers which I remember was very nearly like the real speech, the following language:
I did not answer the charge [of conspiracy] before, for the reason that I did not suppose there was a man in America with a heart so corrupt as to believe such a charge could be true. I have too much respect for Mr. Lincoln to suppose he is serious in making the charge.
I confess this is rather a curious view, that out of respect for me he should consider I was making what I deemed rather a grave charge in fun. [Laughter.] I confess it strikes me rather strangely. But I let it pass. As the Judge did not for a moment believe that there was a man in America whose heart was so ‘corrupt’ as to make such a charge, and as he places me among the ‘men in America’ who have hearts base enough to make such a charge, I hope he will excuse me if I hunt out another charge very like this; and if it should turn out that in hunting I should find that other, and it should turn out to be Judge Douglas himself who made it, I hope he will reconsider this question of the deep corruption of heart he has thought fit to ascribe to me. [Great applause and laughter.] In Judge Douglas’ speech of March 22d, 1858, which I hold in my hand, he says:
In this connection there is another topic to which I desire to allude. I seldom refer to the course of newspapers, or notice the articles which they publish in regard to myself; but the course of the Washington Union has been so extraordinary, for the last two or three months, that I think it well enough to make some allusion to it. I has read me out of the Democratic party every other day, at least for two or three months, and keeps reading me out, [laughter;) and, as if it had not succeeded, still continues to read me out, using such terms as ‘traitor,’ ‘renegade,’ ‘deserter,’ and other kind and polite epithets of that nature, Sir, I have no vindication to make of my democracy against the Washington Union, or any other newspapers. I am willing to allow my history and action for the last twenty years to speak for themselves as to my political principles, and my fidelity to political obligations. The Washington Union has a personal grievance. When its editor was nominated for Public Printer I declined to vote for him, and stated that at some time I might give my reasons for doing so. Since I declined to give that vote, this scurrilous abuse, these vindictive and constant attacks have been repeated almost daily on me. Will my friend from Michigan read the article to which I allude.
This a part of the speech. You must excuse me from reading the entire article of the Washington Union, as Mr. Stuart read it for Mr. Douglas. The Judge goes on and sums up, as I think correctly:
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 person 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 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 is the WashingtonUnion of the day previous to its indorsement of this Constitution.
I pass over some portions of the speech, and I hope that any one who feels interested in this matter will read the entire section of the speech, and see whether I do the Judge injustice. He proceeds:
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 that there was a fatal blow being struck at the sovereignty of the States of this Union.
I stop the quotation there, again requesting that it may all be read. I have read all of the portion I desire to comment upon. What is this charge that the Judge thinks I must have a very corrupt heart to make? It was a purpose on the part of certain high functionaries to make it impossible for the people of one State to prohibit the people of any other State from entering it with their ‘property,’ so called, and making it a slave State. In other words, it was a charge implying a design to make the institution of slavery national. And now I ask your attention to what Judge Douglas has himself done here. I know he made that part of the speech as a reason why he had refused to vote for a certain man for public printer, but when we get at it, the charge itself is the very one I made against him, that he thinks I am so corrupt for uttering. Now whom does he make that charge against? Does he make it against that newspaper editor merely? No; he says it is identical in spirit with the Lecompton Constitution, and so the framers of that Constitution are brought in with the editor of the newspaper in that ‘fatal blow being struck.’ He did not call it a ‘conspiracy.’ In his language it is a ‘fatal blow being struck.’ And if the words carry the meaning better when changed from a ‘conspiracy’ into a ‘fatal blow being struck,’ I will change my expression and call it ‘fatal blow being struck.’ [Cheers and laughter.] We see the charge made not merely against the editor of the Union but all the framers of the Lecompton Constitution; and not only so, but the article was an authoritative article. By whose authority? Is there any question but he means it was by the authority of the President, and his Cabinet – the Administration?
Is there any sort of question but he means to make that charge? Then there are the editors of the Union, the framers of the Lecompton Constitution, the President of the United States and his Cabinet, and all the supporters of the Lecompton Constitution in Congress and out of Congress, who are all involved in this ‘fatal blow being struck.’ I commend to Judge Douglas’ consideration the question of how corrupt a man’s heart must be to make such a charge![Vociferous cheering.]
Now my friends, I have but one branch of the subject, in the little time I have left, to which to call your attention, and as I shall come to a close at the end of that branch, it is probable that I shall not occupy quite all the time allotted to me. Although on these questions I would like to talk twice as long as I have, I could not enter upon another head and discuss it properly without running over my time. I ask the attention of the people here assembled and elsewhere, to the course that Judge Douglas is pursuing every day as bearing upon this question of making slavery national. Not going back to the records but taking the speeches he makes, the speeches he made yesterday and day before and makes constantly all over the country – I ask your attention to them. In the first place what is necessary to make the institution national? Not war. There is no danger that the people of Kentucky will shoulder their muskets and with a young nigger stuck on every bayonet march into Illinois and force them upon us. There is no danger of our going over there and making war upon them. Then what is necessary for the nationalization of slavery? It is simply the next Dred Scott decision. It is merely for the Supreme Court to decide that no State under the Constitution can exclude it, just as they have already decided that under the Constitution neither Congress nor the Territorial Legislature can do it. When that is decided and acquiesced in, the whole thing is done. This being true, and this being the way as I think that slavery is to be made national, let us consider what Judge Douglas is doing every day to that end. In the first place, let us see what influence he is exerting on public sentiment. In this and like communities, public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed. This must be borne in mind, as also the additional fact that Judge Douglas is a man of vast influence, so great that it is enough for many men to profess to believe anything, when they once find out that Judge Douglas professes to believe it. Consider also the attitude he occupies at the head of a large party – a party which he claims has a majority of all the voters in the country. This man sticks to a decision which forbids the people of a Territory from excluding slavery, and he does so not because he says it is right in itself – he does not give any opinion on that – but because it has beendecided by the court, and being decided by the court, he is, and you are bound to take it in your political action as law– not that he judges at all of its merits, but because a decision of the court is to him a ‘Thus said the Lord.’ [Applause.] He places it on that ground alone, and you will bear in mind that thus commiting himself unreservedly to this decision, commits him to the next one just as firmly as to this. He did not commit himself on account of the merit or demerit of the decision, but it is a Thus saith the Lord. The next decision, as much as this, will be a thus saith the Lord. There is nothing that can divert or turn him away from this decision. It is nothing that I point out to him that his great prototype, Gen. [Andrew] Jackson, did not believe in the binding force of decisions. It is nothing to him that [Thomas] Jefferson did not so believe. I have said that I have often heard him approve of Jackson’s course in disregarding the decision of the Supreme Court pronouncing a National Bank constitutional. He says, I did not hear him say so. He denies the accuracy of my recollection. I say he ought to know better than I, but I will make no question about this thing, though it still seems to me that I heard him say it twenty times. [Applause and laughter.] I will tell him though, that he now claims to stand on the Cincinnati platform, which affirms that Congresscannot charter a National Bank, in the teeth of that old standing decision that Congress can charter a bank. [Loud applause.] And I remind him of another piece of history on the question of respect for judicial decisions, and it is a piece of Illinois history, belonging to a time when the large party to which Judge Douglas belonged, were displeased with a decision of the Supreme Court of Illinois, because they had decided that a Governor could not remove a Secretary of State. You will find the whole story in Ford’s History of Illinois, and I know that Judge Douglas will not deny that he was then in favor of overslaughing that decision by the mode of adding five new Judges, so as to vote down the four old ones. Not only so, but it ended in the Judge’s sitting down on that very bench as one of the five new Judges to break down the four old ones.. [Cheers and laughter.] It was in this way precisely that he got his title of Judge. Now, when the Judge tells me that men appointed conditionally to sit as members of a court, will have to be catechised beforehand upon some subject, I say ‘You know Judge; you have tried it.’ [Laughter.] When he says a court of this kind will lose the confidence of all men, will be prostituted and disgraced by such a proceeding, I say, ‘You know best, Judge; you have been through the mill.’ [Great laughter.] But I cannot shake Judge Douglas’ teeth loose from the Dred Scott decision. Like some obstinate animal (I mean no disrespect,) that will hang on when he has once got his teeth fixed, you may cut off a leg, or you may tear away an arm, still he will not relax his hold. And so I may point out to the Judge, and say that he is bespattered all over, from the beginning of his political life to the present time, with attacks upon judicial decisions – I may cut off limb after limb of his public record, and strive to wench him from a single dictum of the Court – yet I cannot divert him from it. He hangs to the last, to the Dred Scott decision. [Loud cheers.] These things show there is a purpose strong as death and eternity for which he adheres to this decisions, and for which he will adhere to all other decisions of the same Court. [Vociferous applause.]
A HIBERNIAN. – Give us something besides Dred Scott.
MR. LINCOLN. – Yes; no doubt you want to hear something that don’t hurt. [Laughter and applause.] Now, having spoken of the Dred Scot decision, one more word and I am done. Henry Clay, my beau ideal of a statesman, the man for whom I fought all my humble life – Henry Clay once said of a class of men who would repress all tendencies to liberty and ultimate emancipation, that they must, if they would do this, go back to the era of our Independence, and muzzle the cannon which thunders its annual joyous return; they must blow out the moral lights around us; they must penetrate the human soul, and eradicate there the love of liberty; and then and not till then, could they perpetuate slavery in this country! [Loud cheers.] To my thinking, Judge Douglas is, by his example and vast influence, doing that very thing in this community, [cheers,] when he says that the negro has nothing in the Declaration of Independence. Henry Clay plainly understood the contrary. Judge Douglas is going back to the era of our Revolution, and to the extent of his ability, muzzling the cannon which thunders its annual joyous return. When he invites any people willing to have slavery, to establish it, he is blowing out the moral lights around us. [Cheers.] When he says he ‘cares not whether slavery is voted down or voted up,’ – that it is a sacred right of self government – he is in my judgment penetrating the human soul and eradicating the light of reason and the love of liberty in this American people. [Enthusiastic and continued applause.] And now I will only say that when, by all these means and appliances, Judge Douglas shall succeed in bringing public sentiment to an exact accordance with his own views – when these vast assemblages shall echo back all these sentiments – when they shall come to repeat his views and to avow his principles, and to say all that he says on these mighty questions – than it needs only the formality of the second Dred Scott decision, which he endorses in advance, to make Slavery alike lawful in all the States – old as well as new, North as well as South.
My friends, that ends the chapter. The Judge can take his half-hour.10
- Isaac N. Arnold, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 146-147.
- Rufus Rockwell Wilson, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, p. 168-169 (William W. Cauklins, Ottawa Free Trader, February 10, 1907).
- Robert W. Johannsen, editor, The Letters of Stephen A. Douglas, p. 426 (Letter from Stephen Douglas to Charles H. Lanphier, August 15, 1858).
- Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years, p. 139.
- Harold Holzer, editor, The Lincoln Douglas Debates, .
- Herbert Mitgang, editor, Lincoln as They Saw Him, p. 108 (Chicago Times, August 22, 1858).
- Herbert Mitgang, editor, Lincoln as They Saw Him, p. 108-109 (Chicago Times, August 22, 1858).
- Herbert Mitgang, editor, Lincoln as They Saw Him, p. 111-112 (New York Tribune, August 26, 1858).
- David C. Mearns, editor, The Lincoln Papers, Volume I, p. 221.
- Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume III, p. 12-30 (Debate at Ottawa, August 21, 1858).