The Writings of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 5 by Abraham Lincoln
Speech at Clinton, Illinois, September 8, 1858.
The questions are sometimes asked "What is all this fuss that is being made about negroes? What does it amount to? And where will it end?" These questions imply that those who ask them consider the slavery question a very insignificant matter they think that it amounts to little or nothing and that those who agitate it are extremely foolish. Now it must be admitted that if the great question which has caused so much trouble is insignificant, we are very foolish to have anything to do with it--if it is of no importance we had better throw it aside and busy ourselves with something else. But let us inquire a little into this insignificant matter, as it is called by some, and see if it is not important enough to demand the close attention of every well-wisher of the Union. In one of Douglas's recent speeches, I find a reference to one which was made by me in Springfield some time ago. The judge makes one quotation from that speech that requires some little notice from me at this time. I regret that I have not my Springfield speech before me, but the judge has quoted one particular part of it so often that I think I can recollect it. It runs I think as follows:
"We are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated with the avowed object and confident promise of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy that agitation has not only not ceased but has constantly augmented. In my opinion it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed.
"A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved. I do not expect the house to fall, but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will 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 its advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new, North as well as South."
Judge Douglas makes use of the above quotation, and finds a great deal of fault with it. He deals unfairly with me, and tries to make the people of this State believe that I advocated dangerous doctrines in my Springfield speech. Let us see if that portion of my Springfield speech of which Judge Douglas complains so bitterly, is as objectionable to others as it is to him. We are, certainly, far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated with the avowed object and confident promise of putting an end to slavery agitation. On the fourth day of January, 1854, Judge Douglas introduced the Kansas-Nebraska bill. He initiated a new policy, and that policy, so he says, was to put an end to the agitation of the slavery question. Whether that was his object or not I will not stop to discuss, but at all events some kind of a policy was initiated; and what has been the result? Instead of the quiet and good feeling which were promised us by the self-styled author of Popular Sovereignty, we have had nothing but ill-feeling and agitation. According to Judge Douglas, the passage of the Nebraska bill would tranquilize the whole country--there would be no more slavery agitation in or out of Congress, and the vexed question would be left entirely to the people of the Territories. Such was the opinion of Judge Douglas, and such were the opinions of the leading men of the Democratic Party. Even as late as the spring of 1856 Mr. Buchanan said, a short time subsequent to his nomination by the Cincinnati convention, that the territory of Kansas would be tranquil in less than six weeks. Perhaps he thought so, but Kansas has not been and is not tranquil, and it may be a long time before she may be so.
We all know how fierce the agitation was in Congress last winter, and what a narrow escape Kansas had from being admitted into the Union with a constitution that was detested by ninety-nine hundredths of her citizens. Did the angry debates which took place at Washington during the last season of Congress lead you to suppose that the slavery agitation was settled?
An election was held in Kansas in the month of August, and the constitution which was submitted to the people was voted down by a large majority. So Kansas is still out of the Union, and there is a probability that she will remain out for some time. But Judge Douglas says the slavery question is settled. He says the bill he introduced into the Senate of the United States on the 4th day of January, 1854, settled the slavery question forever! Perhaps he can tell us how that bill settled the slavery question, for if he is able to settle a question of such great magnitude he ought to be able to explain the manner in which he does it. He knows and you know that the question is not settled, and that his ill-timed experiment to settle it has made it worse than it ever was before.
And now let me say a few words in regard to Douglas's great hobby of negro equality. He thinks--he says at least--that the Republican party is in favor of allowing whites and blacks to intermarry, and that a man can't be a good Republican unless he is willing to elevate black men to office and to associate with them on terms of perfect equality. He knows that we advocate no such doctrines as these, but he cares not how much he misrepresents us if he can gain a few votes by so doing. To show you what my opinion of negro equality was in times past, and to prove to you that I stand on that question where I always stood, I will read you a few extracts from a speech that was made by me in Peoria in 1854. It was made in reply to one of Judge Douglas's speeches.
(Mr. Lincoln then read a number of extracts which had the ring of the true metal. We have rarely heard anything with which we have been more pleased. And the audience after hearing the extracts read, and comparing their conservative sentiments with those now advocated by Mr. Lincoln, testified their approval by loud applause. How any reasonable man can hear one of Mr. Lincoln's speeches without being converted to Republicanism is something that we can't account for. Ed.)
Slavery, continued Mr. Lincoln, is not a matter of little importance, it overshadows every other question in which we are interested. It has divided the Methodist and Presbyterian churches, and has sown discord in the American Tract Society. The churches have split and the society will follow their example before long. So it will be seen that slavery is agitated in the religious as well as in the political world. Judge Douglas is very much afraid in the triumph that the Republican party will lead to a general mixture of the white and black races. Perhaps I am wrong in saying that he is afraid, so I will correct myself by saying that he pretends to fear that the success of our party will result in the amalgamation of the blacks and whites. I think I can show plainly, from documents now before me, that Judge Douglas's fears are groundless. The census of 1800 tells us that in that year there were over four hundred thousand mulattoes in the United States. Now let us take what is called an Abolition State--the Republican, slavery-hating State of New Hampshire--and see how many mulattoes we can find within her borders. The number amounts to just one hundred and eighty-four. In the Old Dominion--in the Democratic and aristocratic State of Virginia--there were a few more mulattoes than the Census-takers found in New Hampshire. How many do you suppose there were? Seventy-nine thousand, seven hundred and seventy-five--twenty-three thousand more than there were in all the free States! In the slave States there were in 1800, three hundred and forty-eight thousand mulattoes all of home production; and in the free States there were less than sixty thousand mulattoes--and a large number of them were imported from the South.