In 1858 Lincoln ran against Senator Stephen A. Douglas for a Senate seat from Illinois. Lincoln challenged Douglas to a series of debates across the state. Douglas was a national leader of the Democratic party, Lincoln was a little known member of the upstart Republicans. Douglas, an avid expansionist and champion of popular sovereignty had helped secure passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 which in part repealed the Missouri Compromise. Lincoln lost the election. (Senators at the time were chosen by state legislatures.) Despite his loss, the debates made Lincoln a national figure and an immediate contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 1860. The following is from a debate in Alton, Illinois on October 15, 1858.
As you read, think about how Lincoln depicts his fledgling Republican
party and its stance on slavery. What exactly was the partyís stance on
slavery according to Lincoln? What factors might have led Lincoln
and the Republican party to embrace such a policy?
Stephen Douglasí Opening
It is now nearly four months since the canvass between Mr. Lincoln and
myself commenced.... [Mr. Lincolnís principal platform is]: First, that
this government could not endure permanently divided into free and slave
States, as our fathers made it; that they must all become free or all become
slave... otherwise this Union could not continue to exist....His second
proposition was a crusade against the Supreme Court of the United States
because of the Dred Scott decision, urging as an especial reason for his
opposition to that decision that it deprived the Negro of rights and benefits
of that clause in the Constitution of the United States which guarantees
to the citizens of each state all the privileges and immunities of the
citizens of the several states.
On the tenth of July I returned home, and delivered a speech to the people of Chicago, in which I announced it to be my purpose to appeal to the people of Illinois to sustain the course I pursued in Congress... On the next day, the eleventh of July, Mr. Lincoln replied to me at Chicago, explaining at some length and reaffirming the positions which he had taken... he even went further than he had before, and uttered sentiments in regard to the Negro being on an equality with the white man. He adopted in support of this position the argument... [of] abolition lecturers... to wit, that the Declaration of Independence having declared all men free and equal, by divine law, also that Negro equality was an inalienable right, of which they could not be deprived. He insisted, in that speech, that the Declaration included the Negro in the clause asserting that all men were created equal, and went so far as to say that if one may were allowed to take the position that it did not include the Negro, others might take the position that it did not include other men. He said that all these distinctions between this man and that man, this race and the other race, must be discarded, and we must all stand by the Declaration of Independence, declaring all men were created equal.....
I took up Mr. Lincolnís three propositions in my several speeches, analyzed them and pointed out what I believe to be the radical errors contained in them. First, in regard to his doctrine that the government was in violation of the law of God, which says that a house divided against itself cannot stand, I repudiate it as slander upon the immortal framers of our Constitution. I then said, I have often repeated, and now again assert, that in my opinion our government can endure forever, divided into free and slave States as our fathers made it each State having the right to prohibit, abolish or sustain slavery, just as it pleases. This government was made upon the great basis of the sovereignty of the States, the right to each state to regulate its own domestic institutions to suit itself; and that right was conferred with the understanding and expectation that, inasmuch as each locality had separate interests, each locality must have different and distinct local and domestic institutions, corresponding to its wants and interests. Our fathers knew when they made the government that the laws and institutions which were well adapted to the Green Mountains of Vermont were unsuited to the rice plantations of South Carolina. They knew then, as well as we know now, that the laws and institutions which would be well adapted to the beautiful prairies of Illinois would not be suited to the mining regions of California. They knew in a republic as broad as this, having such a variety of soil, climate and interest, there must necessarily be a corresponding variety of local laws, the policy and institutions of each State adapted to its condition and wants. For this reason this Union was established on the right of each State to do as it pleased on the question of slavery, and every other question; and the various states were not allowed to complain of, much less interfere with, the policy of their neighbors.
Abraham Lincolnís Reply
It is not true that our fathers, as Judge Douglas assumes, made this government part slave and part free. Understand the sense in which he puts it. He assumes that slavery is a rightful thing within itself, was introduced by the framers of the Constitution. The exact truth is, that they found the institution existing among us, and they left it as they found it. But in making the government they left this institution with many clear marks of disapprobation upon it. They found slavery among them, and they left it among them because of the difficulty the absolute impossibility of its immediate removal.... [I ask Douglas] when the policy that the fathers of the government had adopted... was the best policy in the world, the only wise policy, the only policy we can ever safely continue upon, that will give us peace, unless this dangerous element becomes a national institution I turn upon him and ask him why he could not leave it alone. I turn and ask him why he was driven to the necessity of introducing a new policy.... I ask him why he could not let it remain where our fathers placed it.... I ask you, when he infers that I am in favor of setting the free and slaves states at war, when the institution was placed in the attitude by those who made the Constitution, did they make any war?... Wherein is the ground of belief that we shall have war out of it if we return to that policy? I have proposed nothing more than a return to the policy of the fathers.
Now, irrespective of the moral aspect of this question as to whether there is a right or wrong in enslaving a Negro, I am still in favor of the new Territories being in such a condition that white men may find a home, may find some spot where they can better their condition; where they can settle upon new soil and better their condition in life. I am in favor of this, not merely... for our own people who are born amongst us, but as an outlet for free white people everywhere the world over....
I have stated upon former occasions, and I may as well state again, what I understand to be the real issue in the controversy between Justice Douglas and myself.... There has been no issue between us... when he assumes that I am in favor of introducing a perfect social and political equality between the white and black races. These are false issues, upon which Judge Douglas has tried to force the controversy. There is no foundation in truth for the charge that I maintain either of these propositions. The real issue in this controversy the one pressing upon every mind is the sentiment on the part of one class that looks upon the institution of slavery as a wrong, and of another class that does not look upon it as a wrong. The sentiment that contemplates the institution of slavery in this country as a wrong is the sentiment of the Republican party. It is the sentiment around which all their actions, all their arguments, circle, from which all their propositions radiate. They look upon it as being a moral social and political wrong; and while they contemplate it as such, the nevertheless have due regard for its actual existence among us....[The Republicans] insist that it should, as far as may be, be treated as a wrong; and one of the methods of treating it as a wrong is to make provision that it shall grow no larger. They also desire a policy that looks to a peaceful end of slavery at sometime.... If there be a man amongst us who does not think that the institution of slavery is wrong in any one of the aspects of which I have spoken, he is misplaced and ought not be with us. And if there be a man amongst us who is so impatient of it as a wrong as to disregard its actual presence among us and the difficulty of getting rid of it suddenly in a satisfactory way, and to disregard the constitutional obligations thrown about it, that man is displaced if he is on our platform. We disclaim sympathy with him in practical action. He is not properly placed with us.
On the subject of treating it as a wrong, and limiting its spread, let me say a word. Has anything ever threatened the existence of this Union save and except this very institution of slavery? What is it that we hold most dear? Our own liberty and prosperity. What has ever threatened our liberty and prosperity, save and except this institution of slavery? If this is true, how do you propose to improve the condition of things by enlarging slavery?... That is no proper way of treating what you regard a wrong. You see this peaceful way of dealing with it as a wrong restricting the spread of it, and not allowing it to go into new countries where it has not already existed. That is the peaceful way... the way in which the fathers themselves set us the example.
On the other hand, I have said that there is a sentiment which treats it as not being wrong. The is the Democratic sentiment of this day. I do not mean to say that every man who stands within that range positively asserts that it is right. That class will include all who positively assert that it is right, and all who, like Justice Douglas, treat it as indifferent and do not say it is right or wrong. These two classes of men fall within the general class of those who do not look upon it as wrong....
The Democratic policy in regard to that institution will not tolerate... the slightest hint, the least degree of wrong about it.... [Douglas] says he ëdonít care whether it is voted up or voted downí in the Territories.... Any man can say that who does not see anything wrong in slavery; but no man can logically say it who does see a wrong in it, because no man can logically say he does not care whether a wrong is voted up or down.... [The Democratic maxim] carefully excludes the idea that there is anything wrong in [slavery]....
That is the real issue. That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles right and wrong throughout the world. These are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity, the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, "You work and toil and earn bread, and I eat it." No matter what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle....
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