Lincoln on Negro Equality.
October 29, 1858.
In his recent speech at Quincy, Mr. Lincoln attempted to evade the odium which attaches to his advocacy of negro equality and citizenship, in his Springfield and Chicago speeches by dragging in the authority of Henry Clay in support of the same doctrine, as an abstract principle. In 1842 Mr. Clay made a speech at Richmond, Indiana, and a noted abolitionist of that place, following the precise course since pursued by Mr. Lincoln, asked Mr. Clay how he could reconcile his (Mr. Clay's) right to hold slaves in Kentucky, in the face of the Declaration of Independence, which declared that all men are created equal?" Mr. Clay made the following conclusive and crushing reply:
"What is the foundation of this appeal to me in Indiana, to liberate the slaves under my care in Kentucky? It is a general declaration in the act announcing to the worlds the independence of the thirteen American colonies, that all ‘men are created equal.’ Now as an abstract principle, there is no doubt of the truth of that declaration, and it is desirable in the original construction of society, and in organized societies, to keep it in view as a great fundamental principle."
"But then I apprehend that in no society that ever did exist, or ever shall be formed, was or can the equality asserted among the members of the human race be practically enforced and carried out. There are portions of it, large portions, women, minors, insane, culprits, transient sojourners, that will always probably remain subject to the government of another portion of the community.
"That declaration, whatever may be the extent of its import, was made by the delegations of the thirteen states. In most of them slavery existed, and had long existed, and was established by law. It was introduced and forced upon the colonies by the paramount law of England. Do you believe that in making that declaration the States that concured in it intended that it should be tortured into a virtual emancipation of all the slaves within their respective units? Would Virginia, and other Southern States have ever united in a declaration which was to be interputed into an abolition of slavery among them? Did any one of the Thirteen States entertain such a design or expectation? — To impute such a secret and unavowed purpose, would be to charge a political fraud upon the noblest band of patriots that ever assembled in council; a fraud upon the confederacy of the revolution; a fraud upon the Union of these States, whose constitution not only recognized the lawfulness of Slavery, but permitted the importation of slaves from Africa until the year 1808. And I am bold to say that if the doctrines of ultra political Abolitionist (meaning of course, such doctrines as he was then discussion,) had been seriously promulgated at the epoch of our Revolution, our glorious Independence would never have been achieved — never, never!"
In his Quincy speech, Mr. Lincoln quoted only the first three sentences of Mr. Clay's reply endeavoring, by so garbling, to make it appear that Mr. Clay entertained the same views in regard to the application of the Declaration of Independence to the slavery question as entertained by himself.
The whole of the reply, however, places Mr. Clay in direct conflict with Mr. Lincoln in reference to the application of this abstract principle. If Mr. Lincoln believes with Mr. Clay, that the application of this abstract principle of the Declaration to the question of slavery, would necessarily compel the slave states "into a virtual emancipation of all the slaves within their respective limits;" that such a construction "would be to charge a political fraud upon the noblest band of patriots that ever assembled in council; a fraud upon the confederacy of the revolution; a fraud upon the Union of these states; we say that if Mr. Lincoln believes thus with Mr. Clay, why has he, in this political struggle, which he openly declares is a contest between freedom (abolitionism) and slavery, continually urged this abstract principle of the Declaration as an argument against the institutions of the southern states, to stir up sectional feeling in the north — as an argument against the decision of the supreme court declaring the a negro is not a citizen? If Mr. Lincoln regards the principle of the Declaration as a more general abstraction, as did Mr. Clay, why does he try to give it application to the present issues in his speeches before the people? His attempt to evade the just odium of his course, is like that of a combattant who plants vigorous blows on the face of his opponent; and at the same time assures his victim, in bland accents, that he merely entertains in his mind the conviction, that he has the abstract right to inflict such blows.