Galesburg, Knox College, October 7 1858

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Debate at Knox College

Debate at Knox College

Stephen A. Douglas

Stephen A. Douglas

“On October 7, in the itinerary, came Galesburg, in Knox County. Twenty thousand people and more sat and stood hearing Lincoln and Douglas speak while a raw northwest wind tore flags and banners to rags. The damp air chilled the bones of those who forgot their overcoats. For three hours the two debaters spoke to people who buttoned their coats tighter and listened. They had come from the banks of the Cedar Fork Creek, the Spoon River, the Illinois, Rock and Mississippi Rivers, many with hands toughened on the plow handles, legs with hard, bunched muscles from tramping the clods behind a plow team. With ruddy and wind-bitten faces they were of the earth; they could stand the raw winds when there was something worth hearing and remembering,” wrote Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg, who himself grew up in Galesburg.1

A local Galesburg editor, Jason Sherman, wrote: “The expectations of all parties were far surpassed in the results of Thursday. The crowd was immense notwithstanding the remarkable heavy rains of the day previous, and the sudden change during the night to a fierce blowing, cutting wind, which lasted during the whole day, ripping and tearing banners and sending signs pell mell all over the town.”2

After arrival on the morning of the debate, “Mr. Douglas was escorted to the Bancroft house when a portion of the students from Lombard [College] presented him with a beautiful banner,” wrote Sherman. “Mr. Douglas responded with great felicity and his friends were well satisfied with their part in the performance.”3 Republicans escorted Mr. Lincoln into town early in the afternoon – as nearby residents streamed into town. Among the banners which greeted him at the Knox College location of the debate was a banner: “Knox College goes for Lincoln and “Abe Lincoln, the Champion of Freedom.”4

“Settled by immigrants between 1840 and the early 1840s, it was a solid bastion of Republicanism. It also produced the highest attendance, between fifteen and twenty thousand. Douglas opened the debate, and, although he brought up Lincoln’s Charleston proclamations against racial equality as a way to embarrass his challenger, he and Lincoln both addressed issues of principle rather than personality,” wrote David Zarefsky in Lincoln Douglas and Slavery: In the Crucible of Public Debate.5 Historian William Lee Miller noted that Douglas’s “standard passage affirming white supremacy now extended racial domination forever: This government was made ‘by white men for the benefit of white men and their posterity forever, and was intended to be administered by white men in all time to come.'”6

“The Galesburg meeting was the high-water mark of the debates,” wrote Lincoln biographer William E. Barton. “Both men had thoroughly learned each other’s method and material, and each was certain of his own resources.”7 Lincoln biographer Benjamin Thomas wrote: “Uncertain and forced to the defensive at the beginning, he appeared at his best toward the end. In the fifth debate, at Galesburg, he began to stress the moral issue. The Republicans regarded slavery as a wrong and were charting their course accordingly, whereas Democratic policies took no account of the rightfulness or wrongfulness of slavery.”8



October 7, 1858

Mr. Lincoln was received as he came forward with three enthusiastic cheers, cheering from every part of the vast assembly. After silence was restored, Mr. Lincoln said:

MY FELLOW CITIZENS – A very large portion of the speech which Judge Douglas has addressed to you has previously been delivered and put in print. [Laughter.] I do not mean that for a hit upon the Judge at all. [Renewed laughter.] If I had not been interrupted, I was going to say that such an answer as I was able to make to a very large portion of it, had already been more than once made and published. There has been an opportunity afforded to the public to see our respective views upon the topics discussed in a large portion of the speech which he has just delivered. I make these remarks for the purpose of excusing myself for not passing over the entire ground that the Judge has traversed. I however desire to take up some of the points that he has attended to, and ask your attention to them, and I shall follow him backwards upon some notes which I have taken, reversing the order by beginning where he concluded.

The Judge has alluded to the Declaration of Independence, and insisted that negroes are not included in that Declaration; and that is a slander upon the framers of that instrument, to suppose that negroes were meant therein; and he asks you: Is it possible believe that Mr. Jefferson, who penned the immortal paper, could have supposed himself applying the language of that instrument to the negro race, yet held a portion of that race in slavery? Would he not at once have freed them? I only have to remark upon this part of the Judge’s speech, (and that, too, very briefly, for I shall not detain myself, or you, upon that point for any great length of time,) that I believe the entire records of the world, from the date of the Declaration of Independent up to within three years ago, may be searched in vain for on single affirmation, from one single man, that the negro was not included in the Declaration of Independence. I think I may defy Judge Douglas to show that he ever said so, that Washington ever said so, that any President ever said so, that any member of Congress ever said so, or that any living man upon the whole earth ever said so, until the necessities of the present policy of the Democratic party, in regard to slavery, had to invent that affirmation. [Tremendous applause.] And I will remind Judge Douglas and this audience, that while Mr. Jefferson was the owner of slaves, as undoubtedly he was, in speaking upon this very subject, he used the strong language that ‘he trembled for his country when he remembered that God was just;’ and I will offer the highest premium in my power to Judge Douglas if he will show that he, in all his life, ever uttered a sentiment at all akin to that of Jefferson. [Great applause and cries of ‘Hit him again,’ ‘good,’ ‘good.’]

The next thing to which I will ask your attention is the Judge’s comments upon the fact, as he assumes it to be, that we cannot call our public meetings as Republican meetings; and he instances Tazewell county as one of the places where the friends of Lincoln have called a public meeting and have not dared to name it a Republican meeting. He instances Monroe county as another where Judge Trumbull and Jehu Baker addressed the persons whom the Judge assumes to be the friend of Lincoln, calling them the ‘Free Democracy.’ I have the honor to inform Judge Douglas that he spoke in that very county of Tazewell last Saturday, and I was there on Tuesday last, and when he spoke there he spoke under a call not venturing to use the word ‘Democrat.’ [Cheers and laughter.] (Turning to Judge Douglas.) What do you think of this? [Immense to applause and roars of laughter.]

So again, there is another thing to which I would ask the Judge’s attention upon this subject. In the contest of 1856 his party delighted to call themselves together as the ‘National Democracy,’ but now, if there should be a notice put up anywhere for a meeting of the ‘National Democracy,’ Judge Douglas and his friends would not come. [Laughter.] They would not suppose themselves invited. [Renewed laughter and cheers.] They would understand that it was a call for those hateful Postmasters whom he talks about. [Uproarious laughter.]

Now a few words in regard to these extracts from speeches of mine, which Judge Douglas has read to you, and which he supposes are in very great contrast in each other. Those speeches have been before the public for a considerable time, and if they have any inconsistency in them, if there is any conflict in them the public have been able to detect it. When the Judge says, in speaking on this subject, that I make speeches of one sort for the people of the Northern end of the State, and of a different sort for the Southern people, he assumes that I do not understand that my speeches will he put in print and read North and South. I knew all the while that the speech that I made at Chicago and the one I made at Jonesboro and the one at Charleston, would all be put in print and all the reading and intelligent men in the community would see them and know all about my opinions. And I have not supposed, and do not now suppose, that there is an conflict whatever between them. [‘They are all good speeches!’ ‘Hurrah for Lincoln!’] But the Judge will have it that if we do not confess that there is a sort of inequality between the whites and black races, which justifies us in making them slaves, we must, then, insist that there is a degree of equality that requires us to make them our wives. [Loud applause, and Cries, ‘Give it to him;’ ‘Hit him again.’] Now, I have all the while taken a broad distinction in regard to that matter; and that is all there is in these different speeches which he arrays here, and the entire reading of either of the speeches will show that that distinction was made. Perhaps by taking two parts of the same speech, he could have got up as much of a conflict as the one he has found. I have all the while maintained , that in so far as it should be insisted that there was an equality between the white and black races that should produce a perfect social and political equality, it was an impossibility. This you have seen in my printed speeches, and with it I have said, that in their right to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’ as proclaimed in that old Declaration, the inferior races are our equals. [Long-continued cheering.] And these declarations I have constantly made in reference to the abstract moral question, to contemplate and consider when we are legislating about any new country which is not already cursed with the actual presence of evil – slavery. I have never manifested any impatience with the necessities that spring from the actual presence of black people amongst us, and the actual existence of slavery amongst us where it does already exist; but I have insisted that, in legislating for new countries, where it does not exist, there is not just rule other than that of moral and abstract right! With reference to those new countries, those maxims as to the right of a people to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, ‘were just rules to be constantly referred to. There is no misunderstanding this, except by men interested to misunderstand it. [Applause.] I take it that I have an intelligent and reading community, who will peruse what I say, weigh it, and then judge whether I advance improper or unsound views, or whether I advance hypocritical, and deceptive, and contrary views in different portions of the country. I believe myself to be guilty of no such thing as the latter, though, of course, I cannot claim that I am entirely free from all error in the opinions I advance.

The Judge has also detained us a while in regard to the distinction between his party and our party. His he assumes to be a national party – ours, a sectional one. He does this in asking the question whether this country has any interest in the maintenance of the Republican party? He assumes that our party is altogether sectional – that the party to which he adheres is national, and the argument is, that no party can be a rightful party – can be based upon rightful principles – unless it can announce its principles everywhere. I presume that Judge Douglas could not go into Russia and announce the doctrine of our national democracy; he could not denounce the doctrine of kings, and emperors, and monarchies, in Russia; and it may be true of this country, that in some places we may not able to proclaim a doctrine as clearly true as the truth of democracy, because there is a section so directly opposed to it that they will not tolerate us in doing so. Is it the true test of the soundness of a doctrine, that in some places people won’t let you proclaim it? [No, no, no.] Is that the way to test the truth of any doctrine? [No, no, no.] Why, I understood that at one time the people of Chicago would not let Judge Douglas preach a certain favorite doctrine of his. [Laughter and cheers.] I commend to his consideration the question, whether he takes that as a test of the unsoundness of what he wanted to preach. [Loud cheers.]

There is another thing to which I wish to ask attention for a little while on this occasion. What has always been the evidence brought forward to prove that the Republican party is a sectional party? The main one was that in the southern portion of the Union the people did not let the Republicans proclaim their doctrine amongst them. That has been the main evidence brought forward – that they had no supporters, or substantially none, in the Slave States. The South have not taken hold of our principles as we announce them; nor does Judge Douglas now grapple with those principles. We have a Republican State Platform, laid down in Springfield in June last, stating our position all the way through the questions before the country. We are now far advanced in this canvass. Judge Douglas and I have made perhaps forty speeches apiece, and we have now for the fifth time met face to face in debate, and up to this day I have not found either Judge Douglas or any friend of his taking hold of the Republican platform or laying his finger upon anything in it that is wrong. [Cheers.] I ask you all to recollect that. Judge Douglas turns away from the platform of principles to the fact that he find people somewhere who will not allow us to announce those principles. [Applause.] If he had great confidence that our principles were wrong, he would take hold of them and demonstrate them to be wrong. But he does not do so. The only evidence he has of their being wrong is in the fact that there are people who won’t allow us to preach them. I ask again, is that the way to test the soundness of a doctrine? [Cries of ‘No,’ ‘No.’]

I ask his attention also to the fact that by the rule of nationality he is himself fast becoming sectional [Great cheers and laughter.] I ask his attention to the fact that his speeches would not go as current now south of the Ohio River as they have formerly gone there. [Loud cheers.] I ask his attention to the fact that he felicitates himself to-day that all the Democrats of the Free States are agreeing with him, [applause,] while he omits to tell us that the Democrats of any Slave State agree with him. If he has not thought of this, I commend to his consideration the evidence in his own declaration, on this day, of his becoming sectional too. [Immense cheering.] I see it rapidly approaching. Whatever may be the result of this ephemeral contest between Judge Douglas and myself, I see the day rapidly approaching when his pill of sectionalism, which he has been thrusting down the throats of Republicans for years past, will be crowded his own throat. [Tremendous applause.]

Now, in regard to what Judge Douglas said (in the beginning of his speech) about the Compromise of 1850, containing the principle of the Nebraska bill, although I have not done so in this canvass, I will, if you please, detain you a little with them. I have always maintained, so far as I was able, that there was nothing of the principle of the Nebraska bill in the compromise of 1850 at all – nothing whatever. Where can you find the principle of the Nebraska bill in that compromise? If anywhere, in the two pieces of the compromise organizing the Territories of New Mexico and Utah. It was expressly provided into these two acts, that, when they came to be admitted into the union, they should be admitted with or without slavery during the territorial existence of those territories, while Henry Clay constantly made the declaration, (Judge Douglas recognizing him as a leader) that, in his opinion, the old Mexican laws would control that question during the territorial existence as well as at the time of framing the constitution, the people, if you please, might have slaves if they wanted them? I am not discussing the question whether it is right or wrong; but how are the New Mexican and Utah laws patterns for the Nebraska bill? I maintain that the organization of Utah and New Mexico did not establish a general principle. The acts to which I have referred were a part of a general system of Compromises. They did not lay down what was proposed as a regular policy for the Territories; only an agreement in this particular case to do in that way, because other things were done that were to be a compensation for it. They were allowed to come in that shape, because in another way it was paid for – considering that as apart of that system of measures called the Compromise of 1850, which finally included half a dozen acts. It included the admission of California as a free State, which was kept out of the Union for half a year because it had formed a free Constitution. It included the settlement of the boundary of Texas, which had been undefined before, which was in itself a slavery question; for, if you pushed the line farther west, you made Texas larger, and made more slave territory; while, if you drew the line towards the east, you narrowed the boundary and diminished the domain of slavery, and by so much increased free territory. It included the passage of a new Fugitive Slave Law. All these things were put together, and though passed in separate acts, were nevertheless in legislation, (as the speeches at the time will show,) made to depend upon each other. Each got votes, with the understanding that the other measures were to pass, and by this system of compromise, in that series of measures, those two bills – the New Mexico and Utah bills – were passed; and I saw for that reason they could not be taken as models, framed upon their own intrinsic principle, for all future Territories. And I have the evidence of this in the fact that Judge Douglas, a year afterwards, or more than a year afterwards, perhaps, when he first introduced bills for the purpose of framing new Territories, did not attempt to follow these bills of New Mexico and Utah; and even when he introduced this Nebraska bill, I think you will discover that he did not exactly follow them. But I do not wish to dwell at great length upon this branch of the discussion. My own opinion is, that thorough investigation will show most plainly that the New Mexico and Utah bills were part of a system of compromise, and not designed as patterns for future territorial legislation; and that this Nebraska bill did not follow them as a pattern at all.

The Judge tells, in proceeding, that he is opposed to making any odious distinctions between Free and Slave States. I am altogether unaware that the Republicans are in favor of making any odious distinctions between the Free and Slave States. But there still is a difference, I think, between Judge Douglas and the Republicans in this. I suppose that the real difference between Judge Douglas and his friends, and the Republicans on the contrary, is that the Judge is not in favor of making any difference between Slavery and Liberty – that he is in favor of eradicating, of pressing out of view, the questions of preference in this country for Free over Slave institutions; and consequently every sentiment he utters discards the idea that there is any wrong in Slavery. Everything that emanates from him or his coadjutors in their course of policy, carefully excludes the thought that there is anything wrong in Slavery. All their arguments, if you will consider them, will be seen to exclude the thought that there is anything whatever wrong in Slavery. If you will take the Judge’s speeches, and select the short and pointed sentences expressed by him – as his declaration that he ‘don’t care whether Slavery is voted up or down’ – you will see at once that this perfectly logical, if you do not admit that Slavery is wrong. If you do admit that it is wrong, Judge Douglas cannot logically say that he don’t care whether a wrong is voted up or voted down. Judge Douglas declares that if any community want Slavery they have a right to have it. He can say that logically, if he says that there is no wrong in Slavery; but if you admit that there is a wrong in it, he cannot logically say that anybody has a right to do wrong. He insists that, upon the score of equality, the owners of slaves and owners of property – of horses and every other sort of property – should be alike and hold them alike in a new Territory. That is perfectly logical, if the two species of property are alike and are equally founded in right. But if you admit that one of them is wrong, you cannot institute any equality between right and wrong. And from this difference of sentiment – the belief on the part of one that the institution is wrong, and a policy springing from that belief which looks to the arrest of the enlargement of that wrong, and this other sentiment, that it is no wrong, and a policy sprung from that sentiment which will tolerate no idea of preventing that wrong from growing larger, and looks to there never being an end of it though all the existence of things, arise the real difference between Judge Douglas and his friends, on the one hand, and the Republicans on the other. Now, I confess myself as belonging to that class in the country who contemplate slavery as a moral, social and political evil, having due regard for its actual existence amongst us and the difficulties of getting rid of it in any satisfactory way, and to all the constitutional obligations which have been thrown about it; but, nevertheless, desire a policy that looks to the prevention of it as a wrong it may come to an end. [Great applause.]

Judge Douglas has again, for, I believe, the fifth time, if not the seventh, in my presence, reiterated his charge of a conspiracy or combination between the National Democrats and Republicans. What evidence Judge Douglas has upon this subject I know not, I have said upon a former occasion, and I do not choose to suppress it now, that I have no objection to the division in the Judge’s party. [Cheers.] He got it up himself. It was all his and their work. He had, I think, a great deal more to do with the steps that led to the Lecompton Constitution than Mr. Buchanan had [applause]; though at last, when they reached it, they quarrelled over it, and their friends divided upon it. [Applause.] I am very free to confess to Judge Douglas that I have no objection to the division, [loud applause and laughter]; but I defy the Judge to show any evidence that I have in any way promoted that division, unless he insists on being a witness himself in merely saying so. [Laughter.] I can give all fair friends of Judge Douglas here to understand exactly the view that Republicans take in regard to that division. Don’t you remember how two years ago the opponents of the Democratic party were divided between Fremont and Fillmore? I guess you do. [‘Yes, sir, we remember it mighty well.’] Any Democrat who remembers that division, will remember also that he was at the time very glad of it, [laughter,] and then he will be able to see all there is between the National Democrats and the Republicans. What we now think of the two divisions of Democrats, you then thought of the Fremont and Fillmore divisions. [Great cheers.] That is all there is of it.

But, if the Judge continues to put forward the declaration that there is an unholy and unnatural alliance between the Republicans and the National Democrats, I now want to enter my protest against receiving him as an entirely competent witness upon that subject. [Loud cheers.] I wan to call to the Judge’s attention an attack he made upon me in the first one of these debates, at Ottawa, on the 21st of August. In order to fix extreme Abolitionism upon me, Judge Douglas read a set of resolutions which he declared had been passed by a Republican State Convention, in Oct., 1854, at Springfield, Illinois, and he declared I had taken part in that Convention. It turned out that although a few men calling themselves an Anti-Nebraska State Convention had sat at Springfield about that time, yet neither did I take any part in it, nor did it pass the resolutions or any such resolutions as Judge Douglas read. [Great applause.] So apparent had it become that the resolutions which he read had not been passed at Springfield at all, nor by a State Convention in which I had taken part, that seven days afterwards, at Freeport, Judge Douglas declared that he had been misled by Charles H. Lanphier, editor of the State Register, and Thomas L. Harris, member of Congress in that District, and he promised in that speech that when he went to Springfield he would investigate the matter. Since then Judge Douglas has been to Springfield, and I presume has made the investigation; but a month has passed since he has been there, and so far as I know, he had made no report of the result of his investigation. [Great applause.] I have waited as I think sufficient time for the report of that investigation, and I have some curiosity to see and hear it. [Applause.] A fraud – an absolute forgery was committed, and that perpetration of it was traced to the three – Lanphier, Harris and Douglas. [Applause and laughter.] Whether it can be narrowed in any way so as to exonerate any one of them, is what Judge Douglas’ report would probably show. [Applause and laughter.]

It is true that the set of resolutions read by Judge Douglas were published in the Illinois State Register on the 16th Oct., 1854, as being the resolutions of an Anti-Nebraska Convention, which had sat in that same month of October, at Springfield. But it is also true that the publication in the Register was a forgery then, [cheers], and the question is still behind, which of the three, if not all of them, committed that forgery? [Great applause.] The idea that it was done by mistake, is absurd. The article in the Illinois State Register contains part of the real proceedings of that Springfield Convention, showing that the writer of the article had the real proceedings before him, and purposely threw out the genuine resolutions passed by the Convention, and fraudulently substituted the others. Lanphier then as now, was the editor of the Register, so that there seems to be but little room for his escape. But then it is to be borne in mind that Lanphier has less interest in the object of that forgery than either of the other two. [Cheers.] The main object of that time was to beat Yates and elect Harris to Congress, and that object was known to be exceedingly dear to Judge Douglas at that time. [Laughter.] Harris and Douglas were both in Springfield when the Convention was in session, and although they both left before the fraud appeared in the Register, subsequent events show that they have both had their eyes fixed upon that Convention.

The fraud having been apparently successful upon the occasion, both Harris and Douglas have more than once since then been attempting to put it to new uses. As the fisherman’s wife, whose drowned husband was brought home with his body full of eels, said when she was asked, ‘What was to be done with him?’ ‘Take the eels out and set him again.’ [great laughter;] so Harris and Douglas have shown a disposition to take the eeles out of that stale fraud by which they gained Harris’ election, and set the fraud again more than once. [Tremendous cheering and laughter.] On the 9th of July, 1856, Douglas attempted a repetition of it upon Trumbull on the floor of the Senate of the United States, as will appear from the appendix of the Congressional Globe of that date.

On the 9th of August Harris attempted it again upon Norton in the House of Representatives, as will appear by the same documents – the appendix to theCongressional Globe of that debate. On the 21st of August last all three – Lanphier, Douglas and Harris – re-attempted it upon me at Ottawa. [Tremendous applause.] It has been clung to and played out again and again as an exceedingly high trump by this blessed trio. [Roars of laughter and tumultuous applause, ‘Give it to him,’ &c.] And now that it has been discovered publicly to be a fraud, we find that Judge Douglas manifests no surprise at it at all. [Laughter, [‘That’s it,’ ‘Hit him again.’] He makes no complaint of Lanphier who must have known it to be a fraud from the beginning. He, Lanphier and Harris are just as cozy now, and just as active in the concoction of new schemes as they were before the general discovery of this fraud. Now all this is very natural if they are all alike guilty in that fraud, [laughter and cheers,] and it is very unnatural if any one of them is innocent. [Great laughter, ‘Hit him again,’ ‘Hurrah for Lincoln.’] Lanphier perhaps insists that the rule of honor among thieves does not quite require him to take all upon himself, [laughter,] and consequently my friend Judge Douglas finds it difficult to make a satisfactory report upon his investigation. [Laughter and applause.] But meanwhile the three are agreed that each is ‘a most honorable man.’ [Cheers and explosions of laughter.]

Judge Douglas requires an indorsement of his truth and honor by a re-election to the United States Senate, and he makes and reports against me and against Judge Trumbull day after day charges which we know to be utterly untrue, without for a moment seeming to think that this one unexplained fraud, which he promised to investigate, will be the least drawback to his claim to belief. Harris ditto. He asks a re-election to the lower House of Congress without seeming to remember at all that he is involved in this dishonorable fraud! The Illinois State Register, edited by Lanphier, then, as now, the central organ of both Harris and Douglas, continues to din the public ear with this assertion without seeming to suspect that these assertions are at all lacking in title to belief.

After all, the question still recurs upon us, how did that fraud originally get into the State Register? Lanphier then as now was the editor of that paper. Lanphier knows. Lanphier cannot be ignorant of how and by whom it was originally concocted. Can he induced to tell, or if he has told, can Judge Douglas be induced to tell how it originally was concocted? It may be true that Lanphier insists that the two men for whose benefit it was originally devised, shall at least bear their share of it! How that is, I do not know, and while it remains unexplained I hope to be pardoned if I insist that the mere fact of Judge Douglas making charges against Trumbull and myself is not quite sufficient evidence to establish them! [Great cheering. ‘Hit him again.’ ‘Give it to him again.’ ‘Give it to him,’ &c.]

While we were at Freeport, in one of these joint discussions, I answered certain interrogatories which Judge Douglas had propounded to me, and there in turn propounded some to him which he in a sort of way answered. The third one of these interrogatories I have with me and wish now to make some comments upon it. It was in these words: ‘If the Supreme Court of the United States shall decide that the States cannot exclude slavery from their limits, are you in favor of acquiescing in, adhering to and following such decision, as a rule of political action?’

To this interrogatory Judge Douglas made no answer in any just sense of the word. He contented himself with sneering at the thought that it was possible for the Supreme Court ever to make such a decision. He sneered at me for propounding the interrogatory. I had not propounded it without some reflection, and I wish now to address to this audience some remarks upon it.

In the second clause of the sixth article, I believe it is of the Constitution of the United States, we find the following language: ‘This Constitution and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made or which shall be made under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every States shall be bound thereby anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.’

The essence of the Dred Scott case is compressed into the sentence which I will now read: ‘Now, as we have already said in an earlier part of this opinion, upon a different point, the right property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution.’ I repeat it, ‘The right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution!’ What is to be ‘affirmed’ in the Constitution? Made firm in the Constitution – so made that it cannot be separated from the Constitution without breaking the Constitution – durable as the Constitution, and part of the Constitution. Now, remembering the provision of the Constitution which I have read, affirming that instrument is the supreme law of the land; that the Judges of every States shall be bound by it, any law or Constitution of any State to the contrary notwithstanding; that the right of property in a slave is affirmed in that Constitution, is made, formed into and cannot be separated from it without breaking it; durable as the instrument; part of the instrument; – what follows as a short and even syllogistic argument from it? I think it follows, and I submit to the consideration of men capable of arguing, whether as I state it in syllogistic form the argument has any fault in it:

Nothing in the Constitution or laws of any State can destroy a right distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution of the Untied States.

The right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution of the United States;

Therefore, nothing in the Constitution or laws of any State can destroy the right of property in a slave.

I believe that no fault can be pointed out in that argument; assuming the truth of the premises, the conclusion, so far as I have capacity at all to understand it, follows inevitably. There is a fault in it as I think, but the fault is not in the reasoning; but the falsehood in fact is a fault of the premises. I believe that the right of property in a slave is not distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution, and Judge Douglas thinks it is. I believe that the Supreme Court and the advocates of that decision may search in vain for the place in the Constitution where the right of property is, a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed. I say, therefore, that I think one of the premises is not true in fact. But it is true with Judge Douglas. It is true with the Supreme Court who pronounced it. They are stopped from denying it, and being stopped from denying it, the conclusion follows that the Constitution or law can interfere with it. It being affirmed in the decision that the right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution, the conclusion inevitably follows that no State law or constitution can destroy that right. I then say to Judge Douglas and to all others, that I think it will take a better answer than a sneer to show that those who have said that the right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution, are not prepared to show that no constitution or law can destroy that right. I saw I believe it will take a far better argument than a mere sneer to show to the minds of intelligent men that whoever has so said, is not prepared, whenever public sentiment is so far advanced as to justify it, to say the other. [‘That’s so.’] This is but an opinion, and the opinion of one very humble man; but it is my opinion that the Dred Scot decision, as it is, never would have been made in its present form if the party that made it had not been sustained previously by the elections. My own opinion is, that the new Dred Scott decision, deciding against the right of the people of the States to exclude slavery, will never be made, if that party is not sustained by the elections. [Cries of ‘Yes, yes.’] I believe, further, that it is just as sure to be made as to-morrow is to come, if that party shall be sustained. [‘We won’t sustain it, never, never.’] I have said, upon a former occasion, and I repeat it now, that the course of argument that Judge Douglas makes use of upon this subject, [I charge not his motives in this), is preparing the public mind for that new Dred Scott decision. I have asked him again to point out to me the reasons for his firm adherence to the Dred Scott decision as it is. I have turned his attention to the fact that Jefferson differed with him in regard to the political obligation of a Supreme Court decision. Jefferson said, that ‘Judges are as honest as other men, and not more so.’ And he said, substantially, that ‘whenever a free people should give up in absolute submission to any department of government, retaining for themselves no appeal from it, their liberties were gone.’ I have asked his attention to the fact that the Cincinnati platform, upon which he says he stands, disregards a time-honored decision of the Supreme Court, in denying the power of Congress to establish a National Bank. I have asked his attention to the fact that he himself was one of the most active instruments at one time in breaking down the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois, because it had made a decision distasteful to him – a struggle ending in the remarkable circumstance of his sitting down as one of the new Judges who were to overslaugh that decision – [loud applause] – getting his title of Judge in that very way. [Tremendous applause and laughter.]

So far in this controversy I can get no answer at all from Judge Douglas upon these subjects. Not one can I get from him, except that he swells himself up and says, ‘All of us who stand by the decision of the Supreme Court are the friends of the Constitution; all you fellows that dare question it in any way, are the enemies of the Constitution.’ [Continued laughter and cheers.] Now, in this very devoted adherence to this decision, in opposition to all the great political leaders whom he has recognized as leaders – in opposition to his former self and history, there is something very marked. And the manner in which he adheres to it – not as being right upon the merits, as he conceives (because he did not discuss that at all), but as being absolutely obligatory upon every one simply because of the source from whence it comes – as that which no man can gainsay, whatever it may be, – this is another marked feature of his adherence to that decision. It marks it in this respect, that it commits him to the next decision, whenever it comes, as being as obligatory as this one, since he does not investigate it, and won’t inquire whether this opinion is right or wrong. So he takes the next one without inquiring whether it is right or wrong. [Applause.] He teaches men this doctrine, and in so doing prepares the public mind to take the next decision when it comes, without any inquiry. In this I think I argue fairly (without questioning motives at all) that Judge Douglas is most ingeniously and powerfully preparing the public mind to take that decision when it comes; and not only so, but he is doing it in various other ways. In these general maxims about liberty – in his assertions that he ‘don’t care whether Slavery is voted up or voted down; ‘that’ whoever wants Slavery has a right to have it;’ that ‘upon principles of equality it should be allowed to go everywhere;’ that ‘there is no inconsistency between free and slave institutions.’ In this he is also preparing (whether purposely or not), the way for making the institution of Slavery national! [Cries of ‘Yes,’ ‘Yes,’ ‘That’s so.’] I repeat again, for I wish no misunderstanding, that I do not charge that he means it so; but I call upon your minds to inquire, if you were going to get the best instrument you could, and then set it to work in the most ingenious way, to prepare the public mind for this movement, operating in the free States, where there is now an abhorrence of the institution of Slavery, could you find an instrument so capable of doing it as Judge Douglas? or one employed in so apt a way to do it? [Great cheering. Cries of ‘Hit him again,’ ‘That’s the doctrine.’]

I have said once before, and I will repeat it now, that Mr. Clay, when he was once answering an objection to the Colonization Society, that it had a tendency to the ultimate emancipation of the slaves, said that ‘those who would repress all tendency to liberty and ultimate emancipation must do more than put down the benevolent efforts of the Colonization Society – they must go back to the era of our liberty and independence, and muzzle the cannon that thunders it annual joyous return – they must blot out the moral lights around us – they must penetrate the human soul, and eradicate the light of reason and the lover of liberty!’ And I do think – I repeat, though I said it on a former occasion – that Judge Douglas, and whoever like him teaches that the negro has no share, humble though it may be, in the Declaration of Independence, is going back to the era of our liberty and independence, and, so far as in him lies, muzzling the cannon that whoever wants slaves has a right to hold them; that he is penetrating, so far as lies in his power, the human soul, and eradicating the light of reason and the love of liberty, when he is in every possible way preparing the public mind, by his vast influence way preparing the public mind, by his vast influence, for making the institution of slavery perpetual and national. [Great applause, and cries of ‘Hurrah for Lincoln,’ ‘That’s the true doctrine.’]

There is, my friends, only one other point to which I will call your attention for the remaining time that I have left me, and perhaps I shall not occupy the entire time that I have, as that one point may not take me clear through it.

Among the interrogatories that Judge Douglas propounded to me at Freeport, there was one in about this language: ‘Are you opposed to the acquisition of any further territory to the United States, unless slavery shall first be prohibited therein?’ I answered as I thought, in this way, that I am not generally opposed to the acquisition of additional territory, according as my supporting it was or was not calculated to aggravate this slavery question amongst us. I then proposed to Judge Douglas another interrogatory, which was correlative to that: ‘Are you in favor of acquiring additional territory in disregard of how it may affect upon the slavery question?’ Judge Douglas answered, that is, in his own way he answered it. [Laughter.] I believe that, although he took a good many words to answer it, it was a little more fully answered than any other. The substance of his answer was, that this country would continue to expand – that it would need additional territory – that it was as absurd to suppose that we could continue upon our present territory, enlarging in population as we are, as it would be to hoop a boy twelve years of age, and expect him to grow to man’s size without bursting the hoops. [Laughter.] I believe it was something like that. Consequently he was in favor of the acquisition of further territory, as fast as we might need it, in disregard of how it might affect the slavery question. I do not say this as giving his exact language, but he said so substantially, and he would leave the question of slavery where the territory was acquired, to be settled by the people of the acquired territory. [‘That’s the doctrine.’] May be it is; let us consider that for a while. This will probably, in the run of things, become one of the concrete manifestations of this slavery question. If Judge Douglas’ policy upon this question succeeds, and gets fairly settled down, until all opposition is crushed out, the next thing will be a grab for the territory of poor Mexico, an invasion of the rich lands of South America, then the adjoining islands will follow, each one of which promises additional slave fields. And this question is to be left to the people of those countries for settlement. When we shall get Mexico, I don’t know whether the Judge will be in favor of the Mexican people that we get with it settling that question for themselves and all others; because we know the Judge has a great horror for mongrels, [laughter,] and I understand that the people of Mexico are most decidedly a race of mongrels. [Renewed laughter.] I understand that there is not more than one person there out of eight who is pure white, and I suppose from the Judge’s previous declaration that when we get Mexico or any considerable portion of it, that he will be in favor of these mongrels settling the question, which would bring him somewhat into collision with his horror of an inferior race.

It is be remembered, though, that this power of acquiring additional territory is a power confided to the President and Senate of the United States. It is a power not under the control of the Representatives of the people any further than they, the President and the Senate can be considered the representatives of the people. Let me illustrate that by a case we have in our history. When we acquired the territory from Mexico in the Mexican war, the House of Representatives, composed of the immediate representatives of the people all the time insisted that the territory thus to be acquired should be brought in upon condition that slavery should be forever prohibited therein, upon the terms and in the language that slavery had been prohibited from coming into this country. That was insisted upon constantly, and never failed to call forth an assurance that any territory thus acquired should have that prohibition in it, so far as the House of Representatives was concerned. But at last the President and Senate acquired the territory without asking the House of Representatives anything about it, and took it without that prohibition. They have the power of acquiring territory without the immediate representatives of the people being called upon to say anything about it, and thus furnishing a very apt and powerful means of bringing new territory into the Union, and when it is once brought into the country, involving us anew in this slavery agitation. It is, therefore, as I think, a very important question for the consideration of the American people, whether the policy of bringing in additional territory, without considering at all how it will operate upon the safety of the Union in reference to this one great disturbing element in our national politics, shall be adopted as the policy of the country. You will bear in mind that it is to be acquired, according to the Judge’s view, as fast as it is needed, and the indefinite part of this proposition is that we have only Judge Douglas and his class of men to decide how fast it is needed. We have no clear and certain way of determining or demonstrating how fast territory is needed by the necessities of the country. Whoever wants to go out filibustering, then, thinks that more territory is needed. Whoever wants wider slave fields, feels sure that some additional territory is needed as slave territory. Then it is as easy to show the necessity of additional slave territory as it is to assert anything that is incapable of absolute demonstration. Whatever motive a man or a set of men may have for making annexation of property or territory, it is very easy to assert, but much less easy to disprove, that is necessary for the wants of the country.

And now it only remains for me to say that I think it is a very grave question for the people of this Union to consider whether, in view of the fact that this Slavery question has been the only one that has ever endangered our republican institutions – the only one that has ever threatened or menaced a dissolution of the Union – that has ever disturbed us in such a way as to make us fear for the perpetuity of our liberty – in view of these facts, I think it is an exceedingly interesting and important question for this people to consider, whether we shall engage in the policy of acquiring additional territory, discarding altogether from our consideration, while obtaining new territory, the question how it may affect us in regard to this the only endangering element to our liberties and national greatness. The Judge’s view has been expressed. I, in my answer to his question, have expressed mine. I think it will become an important and practical question. Our views are before the public. I am willing and anxious that they should consider them fully-that they should turn it about and consider the importance of the question, and arrive at a just conclusion as to whether it is or is not wise in the people of this Union, in the acquisition of new territory, to consider whether it will add to the disturbance that is existing amongst us – whether it will add to the one only danger that has ever threatened the perpetuity of the Union or our own liberties. I think it is extremely important they shall decide, and rightly decide that question before entering upon that policy.

An now, my friends, having said the little I wish to say upon this head, whether I have occupied the whole of the remnant of my time or not, I believe I could not enter upon any new topic so as to treat it fully without transcending my time, which I would not for a moment think of doing. I give way to Judge Douglas.

Three tremendous cheers for Lincoln from the whole vast audience were given with great enthusiasm, as their favorite retired.9


  1. Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years, p. 140.
  2. Herbert Mitgang, editor, Lincoln as They Saw Him, p. 123 (Jason Sherman, Galesburg Free Democrat, October 8, 1858).
  3. Herbert Mitgang, editor, Lincoln as They Saw Him, p. 123 (Jason Sherman, Galesburg Free Democrat, October 8, 1858).
  4. Herbert Mitgang, editor, Lincoln as They Saw Him, p. 125 (Jason Sherman, Galesburg Free Democrat, October 8, 1858).
  5. David Zarefsky, Lincoln Douglas and Slavery: In the Crucible of Public Debate, p. 62.
  6. William Lee Miller, Lincoln’s Virtues: An Ethical Biography, .
  7. William E. Barton, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, Volume I, p. 396.
  8. Benjamin Thomas, Abraham Lincoln, p. 190.
  9. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume III, p. 219-237 (Galesburg, October 7, 1858).