Speeches in Kansas
December 1-5, 1859
PURPOSE of the Republican organization.--The Republican party believe there is danger that slavery will be further extended, and ultimately made national in the United States; and to prevent this incidental and final consummation, is the purpose of this organization.
Chief danger to that purpose.--A congressional slave code for the Territories, and the revival of the African trade, and a second Dred Scott decision, are not just now the chief danger to our purpose. These will press us in due time, but they are not quite ready yet--they know that, as yet, we are too strong for them. The insidious Douglas popular sovereignty,
261which prepares the way for this ultimate danger, it is which just now constitutes our chief danger.
Popular Sovereignty.--I say Douglas popular sovereignty; for there is a broad distinction between real popular sovereignty and Douglas popular sovereignty. That the nation shall control what concerns it; that a State, or any minor political community, shall control what exclusively concerns it; and that an individual shall control what exclusively concerns him,-- is a real popular sovereignty, which no Republican opposes.
But this is not Douglas popular sovereignty. Douglas popular sovereignty, as a matter of principle, simply is: "If one man would enslave another, neither that other nor any third man has a right to object."
Douglas popular sovereignty, as he practically applies it, is: "If any organized political community, however new and small, would enslave men or forbid their being enslaved within its own territorial limits; however the doing the one or the other may affect the men sought to be enslaved, or the vastly superior number of men who are afterward to come within those limits, or the family of communities of which it is but a member, or the head of that family, as the present and common guardian of the
262whole--however any or all these are to be affected, neither any nor all may interfere."
This is Douglas popular sovereignty. He has great difficulty with it. His speeches and letters and essays and explanations explanatory of explanations explained upon it, are legion. The most lengthy, and as I suppose the most maturely considered, is that recently published in "Harper's Magazine." It has two leading objects: the first, to appropriate the authority and reverence due the great and good men of the Revolution to his popular sovereignty; and, secondly, to show that the Dred Scott decision has not entirely squelched his popular sovereignty.
Before considering these mains objects, I wish to consider a few minor points of the copyright essay.
Last year Governor Seward and myself, at different times and occasions, expressed the opinion that slavery is a durable element of discord, and that we shall not have peace with it until it either masters or is mastered by the free principle. This gave great offense to Judge Douglas, and his denunciations of it, and absurd inferences from it, have never ceased. Almost at the very beginning of the copyright essay he quotes the language respectively of Seward and myself--not quite accurately, but
263substantially, in my case--upon this point, and repeats his absurd and extravagant inference. For lack of time I omit much which I might say here with propriety, and content myself with two remarks only upon this point. The first is, that inasmuch as Douglas in this very essay tells us slavery agitation began in this country in 1699, and has not yet ceased; has lasted through a hundred and sixty years, through ten entire generations of men,--it might have occurred to even him that slavery in its tendency to agitation and discord has something slightly durable about it. The second remark is that Judge Douglas might have noted, if he would, while he was diving so deeply into history, the historical fact that the only comparative peace we have had with slavery during that hundred and sixty years was in the period from the Revolution to 1820, precisely the period through which we were closing out the African slave-trade, abolishing slavery in several of the States, and restraining the spread of it into new ones by the ordinance of '87, precisely the period in which the public mind had reason to rest, and did rest, in the belief that slavery was in course of ultimate extinction.
Another point, which for the present I shall touch only hastily, is Judge Douglas's assumption that the States and Territories differ only
264in the fact that the States are in the Union, and the Territories are not in it. But if this be the only difference, why not instantly bring the Territories in? Why keep them out? Do you say they are unfitted for it? What unfits them? Especially what unfits them for any duty in the Union, after they are fit, if they choose, to plant the soil they sparsely inhabit with slavery, beyond the power of their millions of successors to eradicate it, and to the durable discord of the Union? What function of sovereignty, out of the Union or in it, is so portentous as this? What function of government requires such perfect maturity, in numbers and everything else, among those who exercise it? It is a concealed assumption of Douglas's popular sovereignty that slavery is a little, harmless, indifferent thing, having no wrong in it, and no power for mischief about it. If all men looked upon it as he does, his policy in regard to it might do. But neither all, nor half the world, so look upon it.
Near the close of the essay in "Harper's Magazine" Douglas tells us that his popular sovereignty pertains to a people only after they are regularly organized into a political community; and that Congress in its discretion must decide when they are fit in point of numbers to be so organized. Now I should like for him to point out
265in the Constitution any clause conferring that discretion upon Congress, which, when pointed out, will not be equally a power in Congress to govern them, in its discretion, till they are admitted as a State. Will he try? He intimates that before the exercise of that discretion, their number must be ten, fifteen, or twenty thousand. Well, what is to be done for them, or with them, or by them, before they number ten thousand? If any one of them desires to have slaves, is any other one bound to help him or at liberty to hinder him? Is it his plan that any time before they reach the required numbers, those who are on hand shall be driven out as trespassers? If so, it will probably be a good while before a sufficient number to organize will get in.
But plainly enough this conceding to Congress the discretion as to when a community shall be organized, is a total surrender of his popular sovereignty. He says himself it does not pertain to a people until they are organized; and that when they shall be organized is in the discretion of Congress. Suppose Congress shall choose to not organize them until they are numerous enough to come into the Union as a State. By his own rule, his popular sovereignty is derived from Congress, and cannot be exercised by the people till Congress chooses
266to confer it. After toiling through nineteen mortal pages of "Harper," to show that Congress cannot keep the people of a new country from excluding slavery, in a single closing paragraph he makes the whole thing depend on Congress at last. And should Congress refuse to organize, how will that affect the question of planting slavery in a new country? If individuals choose to plant it, the people cannot prevent them, for they are not yet clothed with popular sovereignty. If it be said that it cannot be planted, in fact, without protective law, that assertion is already falsified by history; for it was originally planted on this continent without protective law.
And, by the way, it is probable that no act of territorial organization could be passed by the present Senate; and almost certainly not by both the Senate and House of Representatives. If an act declared the right of Congress to exclude slavery, the Republicans would vote for it, and both wings of the Democracy against it. If it denied the power to either exclude or protect it, the Douglasites would vote for it, and both the Republicans and slave-coders against it. If it denied the power to exclude, and asserted the power to protect, the slave-coders would vote for it, and the Republicans and Douglasites against it.
You are now a part of a people of a Territory, but that Territory is soon to be a State of the Union. Both in your individual and collective capacities, you have the same interest in the past, the present, and the future of the United States as any other portion of the people. Most of you came from the States, and all of you soon will be citizens of the common Union. What I shall now address to you will have neither greater nor less application to you than to any other people of the Union.
You are gathered to-day as a Republican convention--Republican in the party sense, and, as we hope, in the true, original sense of the word republican.
I assume that Republicans throughout the nation believe they are right, and are earnest and determined in their cause.
Let them then keep constantly in view that the chief object of their organization is to prevent the spread and nationalization of slavery. With this ever distinctly before us, we can always better see at what point our cause is most in danger.
We are, as I think, in the present temper or state of public sentiment, in no danger from the open advocates of a congressional slave code for the Territories, and of the revival of the African slave-trade. As yet we are strong enough
268to meet and master any combination openly formed on those grounds. It is only the insidious position of Douglas that endangers our cause. That position is simply an ambuscade. By entering into contest with our open enemies, we are to be lured into his train; and then, having lost our own organization and arms, we are to be turned over to those same open enemies.
Douglas's position leads to the nationalization of slavery as surely as does that of Jeff Davis and Mason of Virginia. The two positions are but slightly different roads to the same place--with this difference, that the nationalization of slavery can be reached by Douglas's route, and never can be by the other.
I have said that in our present moral tone and temper we are strong enough for our open enemies, and so we are. But the chief effect of Douglasism is to change that tone and temper. Men who support the measures of a political leader do, almost of necessity, adopt the reasoning and sentiments the leader advances in support of them. The reasoning and sentiments advanced by Douglas in support of his policy as to slavery all spring from the view that slavery is not wrong. In the first place, he never says it is wrong. He says he does not care whether it shall be voted down or voted up. He says whoever wants slavery
269has a right to have it. He says the question whether people will have it or not is simply a question of dollars and cents. He says the Almighty has drawn a line across the continent, on one side of which the soil must be cultivated by slave labor.
Now let the people of the free States adopt these sentiments, and they will be unable to see a single reason for maintaining their prohibitions of slavery in their own States. "What! do you mean to say that anything in these sentiments requires us to believe it will be the interest of Northern States to have slavery?" No. But I do mean to say that although it is not the interest of Northern States to grow cotton, none of them have, or need, any law against it; and it would be tyranny to deprive any one man of the privilege to grow cotton in Illinois. There are many individual men in all the free States who desire to have slaves; and if you admit that slavery is not wrong, it is also but tyranny to deny them the privilege. It is no just function of government to prohibit what is not wrong.
Again, if slavery is right--ordained by the Almighty--on one side of a line dividing sister States of a common Union, then it is positively wrong to harass and bedevil the owners of it with constitutions and laws and prohibitions of
270it on the other side of the line. In short, there is no justification for prohibiting slavery anywhere, save only in the assumption that slavery is wrong; and whenever the sentiment that slavery is wrong shall give way in the North, all legal prohibitions of it will also give way.
If it be insisted that men may support Douglas's measures without adopting his sentiments, let it be tested by what is actually passing before us. You can even now find no Douglas man who will disavow any one of these sentiments ; and none but will actually indorse them if pressed to the point.
Five years ago no living man had placed on record, nor, as I believe, verbally expressed, a denial that negroes have a share in the Declaration of Independence. Two or three years since, Douglas began to deny it; and now every Douglas man in the nation denies it.
To the same effect is the absurdity compounded of support to the Dred Scott decision, and legislation unfriendly to slavery by the Territories--the absurdity which asserts that a thing may be lawfully driven from a place, at which place it has a lawful right to remain. That absurd position will not be long maintained by any one. The Dred Scott half of it will soon master the other half. The process will probably be about this: some territorial
271legislature will adopt unfriendly legislation; the Supreme Court will decide that legislation to be unconstitutional, and then the advocates of the present compound absurdity will acquiesce in the decision. The only effect of that position now is to prepare its advocates for such acquiescence when the time comes. Like wood for ox-bows, they are merely being soaked in it preparatory to the bending. The advocates of a slave code are not now strong enough to master us; and they never will be, unless recruits enough to make them so be tolled in through the gap of Douglasism. Douglas, on the sly, is affecting more for them than all their open advocates. He has reason to be provoked that they will not understand him, and recognize him as their best friend. He cannot be more plain, without being so plain as to lure no one into their trap--so plain as to lose his power to serve them profitably. Take other instances. Last year both Governor Seward and myself expressed the belief that this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. This gave great offense to Douglas, and after the fall election in Illinois he became quite rampant upon it. At Chicago, St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans, he denounced it as a "fatal heresy." With great pride he claimed that he had crushed it in Illinois, and modestly
272regretted that he could not have been in New York to crush it there too. How the heresy is fatal to anything, or what the thing is to which it is fatal, he has never paused to tell us. At all events, it is a fatal heresy in his view when expressed by a Northern man. Not so when expressed by men of the South. In 1856, Roger A. Pryor, editor of the Richmond "Enquirer," expressed the same belief in that paper, quite two years before it was expressed by either Seward or me. But Douglas perceived no " heresy " in him--talked not of going to Virginia to crush it out; nay, more, he now has that same Mr. Pryor at Washington, editing the "States" newspaper as his especial organ.
This brings us to see that in Douglas's view this opinion is a "fatal heresy" when expressed by men wishing to have the nation all free, and it is no heresy at all when expressed by men wishing to have it all slave. Douglas has cause to complain that the South will not note this and give him credit for it.
At Memphis Douglas told his audience that he was for the negro against the crocodile, but for the white man against the negro. This was not a sudden thought hastily thrown off at Memphis. He said the same thing many times in Illinois last summer and autumn, though I am not sure it was reported then.
It is a carefully formed illustration of the estimate he places upon the negro and the manner he would have him dealt with. It is a sort of proposition in proportion. "As the negro is to the crocodile, so the white man is to the negro." As the negro ought to treat the crocodile as a beast, so the white man ought to treat the negro as a beast. Gentlemen of the South, is not that satisfactory? Will you give Douglas no credit for impressing that sentiment on the Northern mind for your benefit? Why, you should magnify him to the utmost, in order that he may impress it the more deeply, broadly, and surely.
A hope is often expressed that all the elements of opposition to the so-called Democracy may unite in the next presidential election; and to favor this it is suggested that at least one candidate on the opposition national ticket must be resident in the slave States. I strongly sympathize with this hope; and the particular suggestion presents no difficulty to me. There are very many men in the slave States who as men and statesmen and patriots are quite acceptable to me for either President or Vice-President. But there is a difficulty of another sort; and I think it most prudent for us to face that difficulty at once. Will those good men of the South occupy any ground upon which we of
274the free States can vote for them? There is the rub. They seem to labor under a huge mistake in regard to us. They say they are tired of slavery agitation. We think the slaves, and free white laboring-men too, have more reason to be tired of slavery than masters have to be tired of agitation about it. In Kentucky a Democratic candidate for Congress takes ground against a congressional slave-code for the Territories, whereupon his opponent, in full hope to unite with Republicans in 1860, takes ground in favor of such slave-code. Such hope, under such circumstances, is delusion gross as insanity itself. Rational men can only entertain it in the strange belief that Republicans are not in earnest for their principles; that they are really devoted to no principle of their own, but are ready for, and anxious to jump to, any position not occupied by the Democracy. This mistake must be dispelled. For the sake of their principles, in forming their party, they broke and sacrificed the strongest mere party ties and advantages which can exist. Republicans believe that slavery is wrong; and they insist, and will continue to insist, upon a national policy which recognizes it and deals with it as a wrong. There can be no letting down about this. Simultaneously with such letting down the Republican organization would go to pieces, and half its elements would go in a
275different direction, leaving an easy victory to the common enemy. No ingenuity of political trading could possibly hold it together. About this there is no joke, and can be no trifling. Understanding this, that Republicanism can never mix with territorial slave-codes becomes self-evident.
In this contest mere men are nothing. We could come down to Douglas quite as well as to any other man standing with him, and better than to any other standing below or beyond him. The simple problem is: will any good and capable man of the South allow the Republicans to elect him on their own platform? If such man can be found, I believe the thing can be done. It can be done in no other way.
What do we gain, say some, by such a union? Certainly not everything; but still something, and quite all that we for our lives can possibly give. In yielding a share of the high honors and offices to you, you gain the assurance that ours is not a mere struggle to secure those honors and offices for one section. You gain the assurance that we mean no more than we say in our platforms, else we would not intrust you to execute them. Yor. gain the assurance that we intend no invasion of your rights or your honor, else we would not make one of you the executor of the laws and commander of the army and navy.
As a matter of mere partizan policy, there is
276no reason for and much against any letting down of the Republican party in order to form a union with the Southern opposition. By no possibility can a union ticket secure a simple electoral vote in the South, unless the Republican platform be so far let down as to lose every electoral vote in the North; and even at that, not a single vote would be secured in the South, unless by bare possibility those of Maryland. There is no successful basis of union but for some good Southern man to allow us of the North to elect him square on our platform. Plainly it is that or nothing.
The St. Louis "Intelligencer" is out in favor of a good man for President, to be run without a platform. Well, I am not wedded to the formal written platform system; but a thousand to one the editor is not himself in favor of his plan, except with the qualification that he and his sort are to select and name the "good man." To bring him to the test, is he willing to take Seward without a platform? Oh, no; Seward's antecedents exclude him, say you. Well, is your good man without antecedents? If he is, how shall the nation know that he is a good man? The sum of the matter is that, in the absence of formal written platforms, the antecedents of candidates become their platforms. On just such platforms all our earlier and better Presidents
277were elected, but this by no means facilitates a union of men who differ in principles.
Nor do I believe we can ever advance our principles by supporting men who oppose our principles. Last year, as you know, we Republicans in Illinois were advised by numerous and respectable outsiders to reelect Douglas to the Senate by our votes. I never questioned the motives of such advisers, nor the devotion to the Republican cause of such as professed to be Republicans. But I never for a moment thought of following the advice, and have never yet regretted that we did not follow it. True, Douglas is back in the Senate in spite of us; but we are clear of him and his principles, and we are uncrippled and ready to fight both him and them straight along till they shall be finally "closed out." Had we followed the advice, there would now be no Republican party in Illinois, and none to speak of anywhere else. The whole thing would now be floundering along after Douglas upon the Dred Scott and crocodile theory. It would have been the grandest "haul" for slavery ever yet made. Our principles would still live, and ere long would produce a party; but we should have lost all our past labor and twenty years of time by the folly.
Take an illustration. About a year ago all the Republicans in Congress voted for what was
278called the Crittenden-Montgomery bill; and forthwith Douglas claimed, and still claims, that they were all committed to his "gur-reat pur-rinciple." And Republicans have been so far embarrassed by the claim that they have ever since been protesting that they were not so committed, and trying to explain why. Some of the very newspapers which advised Douglas's return to the Senate by Republican votes have been largely and continuously engaged in these protests and explanations. For such let us state a question in the rule of three. If voting for the Crittenden-Montgomery bill entangle the Republicans with Douglas's dogmas for one year, how long would voting for Douglas himself so entangle them?
It is nothing to the contrary that Republicans gained something by electing Haskins, Hickman, and Davis. They were comparatively small men. I mean no disrespect; they may have large merit; but Republicans can dally with them, and absorb or expel them at pleasure. If they dally with Douglas, he absorbs them.
We want, and must have, a national policy as to slavery which deals with it as being a wrong. Whoever would prevent slavery becoming national and perpetual yields all when he yields to a policy which treats it either as being right, or as being a matter of indifference.
We admit that the United States General Government is not charged with the duty of redressing or preventing all the wrongs in the world. But the government rightfully may, and subject to the Constitution ought to, redress and prevent all wrongs which are wrongs to the nation itself.
It is expressly charged with the duty of providing for the general welfare. We think slavery impairs and endangers the general welfare. Those who do not think this are not of us, and we cannot agree with them. We must shape our own course by our own judgment.
We must not disturb slavery in the States where it exists, because the Constitution and the peace of the country both forbid us. We must not withhold an efficient fugitive-slave law, because the Constitution demands it.
But we must, by a national policy, prevent the spread of slavery into new Territories, or free States, because the Constitution does not forbid us, and the general welfare does demand such prevention. We must prevent the revival of the African slave-trade, because the Constitution does not forbid us, and the general welfare does require the prevention. We must prevent these things being done by either congresses or courts. The people--the people--are the rightful masters of both congresses and courts,--not to
280overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert it.
To effect our main object we have to employ auxiliary means. We must hold conventions, adopt platforms, select candidates, and carry elections. At every step we must be true to the main purpose.
If we adopt a platform falling short of our principle, or elect a man rejecting our principle, we not only take nothing affirmative by our success, but we draw upon us the positive embarrassment of seeming ourselves to have abandoned our principle.
That our principle, however baffled or delayed, will finally triumph, I do not permit myself to doubt. Men will pass away--die, die politically and naturally; but the principle will live, and live forever. Organizations rallied around that principle may, by their own dereliction, go to pieces, thereby losing all their time and labor; but the principle will remain, and will reproduce another, and another, till the final triumph will come.
But to bring it soon, we must save our labor already performed--our organization, which has cost us so much time and toil to create. We must keep our principle constantly in view, and never be false to it.
And as to men for leaders, we must remember