Abstract of Speech at Hartford, Connecticut
SLAVERY is the great political question of the nation. Though all desire its settlement, it still remains the all-pervading question of the day. It has been so especially for the past six years. It is indeed older than the Revolution--rising, subsiding, then rising again, till '54, since which time it has been constantly augmenting. Those who occasioned the Lecompton imbroglio now admit that they see no end to it. It had been their cry that the vexed question was just about to be settled-- "the tail of this hideous creature is just going out of sight." That cry is played out, and has ceased.
Why, when all desire to have this controversy settled, can we not settle it satisfactorily? One reason is, we want it settled in different ways. Each faction has a different plan--they pull different ways, and neither has a decided majority. In my humble opinion, the importance and magnitude of the question is underrated, even by our wisest men. If I be right, the first
330thing is to get a just estimate of the evil; then we can provide a cure.
One sixth, and a little more, of the population of the United States are slaves, looked upon as property, as nothing but property. The cash value of these slaves, at a moderate estimate, is $2,000,000,000. This amount of property value has a vast influence on the minds of its owners, very naturally. The same amount of property would have an equal influence upon us if owned in the North. Human nature is the same-- people at the South are the same as those at the North, barring the difference in circumstances. Public opinion is founded, to a great extent, on a property basis. What lessens the value of property is opposed; what enhances its value is favored. Public opinion at the South regards slaves as property, and insists upon treating them like other property.
On the other hand, the free States carry on their government on the principle of the equality of men. We think slavery is morally wrong, and a direct violation of that principle. We all think it wrong. It is clearly proved, I think, by natural theology, apart from revelation. Every man, black, white, or yellow, has a mouth to be fed, and two hands with which to feed it--and bread should be allowed to go to that mouth without controversy.
Slavery is wrong in its effect upon white people and free labor. It is the only thing that threatens the Union. It makes what Senator Seward has been much abused for calling an "irrepressible conflict." When they get ready to settle it, we hope they will let us know. Public opinion settles every question here; any policy to be permanent must have public opinion at the bottom--something in accordance with the philosophy of the human mind as it is. The property basis will have its weight. The love of property and a consciousness of right or wrong have conflicting places in our organization, which often make a man's course seem crooked, his conduct a riddle.
Some men would make it a question of indifference, neither right nor wrong, merely a question of dollars and cents;--the Almighty has drawn a line across the land, below which it must be cultivated by slave labor, above which by free labor. They would say: "If the question is between the white man and the negro, I am for the white man; if between the negro and the crocodile, I am for the negro." There is a strong effort to make this policy of indifference prevail, but it cannot be a durable one. A "don't care" policy won't prevail, for everybody does care.
Is there a Democrat, especially one of the
332Douglas wing, but will declare that the Declaration of Independence has no application to the negro? It would be safe to offer a moderate premium for such a man. I have asked this question in large audiences where they were in the habit of answering right out, but no one would say otherwise. Not one of them said it five years ago. I never heard it till I heard it from the lips of Judge Douglas. True, some men boldly took the bull by the horns and said the Declaration of Independence was not true! The didn't sneak around the question. I say I heard first from Douglas that the Declaration did not apply to the black man. Not a man of them said it till then--they all say it now. This is a long stride toward establishing the policy of indifference--one more such stride, I think, would do it.
The proposition that there is a struggle between the white man and the negro contains a falsehood. There is no struggle. If there was, I should be for the white man. If two men are adrift at sea on a plank which will bear up but one, the law justifies either in pushing the other off. I never had to struggle to keep a negro from enslaving me, nor did a negro ever have to fight to keep me from enslaving him. They say, between the crocodile and the negro, they go for the negro.
333The logical proportion is, therefore, as a white man is to a negro, so is a negro to a crocodile, or as a negro may treat the crocodile, so the white man may treat the negro. The "don't care" policy leads just as surely to nationalizing slavery as Jeff Davis himself, but the doctrine is more dangerous because more insidious.
If the Republicans, who think slavery is wrong, get possession of the General Government, we may not root out the evil at once, but may at least prevent its extension. If I find a venomous snake lying on the open prairie, I seize the first stick and kill him at once; but if that snake is in bed with my children, I must be more cautious;--I shall, in striking the snake, also strike the children, or arouse the reptile to bite the children. Slavery is the venomous snake in bed with the children. But if the question is whether to kill it on the prairie or put it in bed with other children, I am inclined to think we'd kill it.
Another illustration. When for the first time I met Mr. Clay, the other day in the cars, in front of us sat an old gentleman with an enormous wen upon his neck. Everybody would say the wen was a great evil, and would cause the man's death after a while; but you couldn't cut it out, for he'd bleed to death in a minute. But would you ingraft the seeds of that wen on
334the necks of sound and healthy men? He must endure and be patient, hoping for possible relief. The wen represents slavery on the neck of this country. This only applies to those who think slavery is wrong. Those who think it right would consider the snake a jewel and the wen an ornament.
We want those Democrats who think slavery wrong, to quit voting with those who think it right. They don't treat it as they do other wrongs--they won't oppose it in the free States, for it isn't there; nor in the slave States, for it is there;--don't want it in politics, for it makes agitation; not in the pulpit, for it isn't religion; not in a tract society, for it makes a fuss--there is no place for its discussion. Are they quite consistent in this?
If those Democrats really think slavery wrong, they will be much pleased when earnest men in the slave States take up a plan of gradual emancipation, and go to work energetically and very kindly to get rid of the evil. Now let us test them. Frank Blair tried it; and he ran for Congress in '58, and got beaten. Did the Democracy feel bad about it? I reckon not. I guess you all flung up your hats and shouted, "Hurrah for the Democracy!" He went on to speak of the manner in which
335slavery was treated by the Constitution. The word "slave" is nowhere used; the supply of slaves was to be prohibited after 1808; they stopped the spread of it in the Territories; seven of the States abolished it. He argued very conclusively that it was then regarded as an evil which would eventually be got rid of, and that they desired, once rid of it, to have nothing in the Constitution to remind them of it. The Republicans go back to first principles, and deal with it as a wrong. Mason, of Virginia, said openly that the framers of our government were anti-slavery. Hammond, of South Carolina, said, "Washington set this evil example." Bully Brooks said, "At the time the Constitution was formed, no one supposed slavery would last till now." We stick to the policy of our fathers.
The Democracy are given to bushwhacking. After having their errors and misstatements continually thrust in their faces, they pay no heed, but go on howling about Seward and the "irrepressible conflict." That is bushwhacking. So with John Brown and Harper's Ferry. They charge it upon the Republican party, and ignominiously fail in all attempts to substantiate the charge. Yet they go on with their bushwhacking, the pack in full cry after John Brown. The Democrats had just been whipped in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and seized upon the unfortunate
336Harper's Ferry affair to influence other elections then pending. They said to each other, "Jump in; now's your chance"; and were sorry there were not more killed. But they didn't succeed well. Let them go on with their howling. They will succeed when by slandering women you get them to love you, and by slandering men you get them to vote for you.
Mr. Lincoln then took up the Massachusetts shoemakers' strike, treating it in a humorous and philosophical manner, and exposing to ridicule the foolish pretense of Senator Douglas --that the strike arose from "this unfortunate sectional warfare." Mr. Lincoln thanked God that we have a system of labor where there can be a strike. Whatever the pressure, there is a point where the workman may stop. He didn't pretend to be familiar with the subject of the shoe strike--probably knew as little about it as Senator Douglas himself. Shall we stop making war upon the South? We never have made war upon them. If any one has, he had better go and hang himself and save Virginia the trouble. If you give up your convictions and call slavery right, as they do, you let slavery in upon you--instead of white laborers who can strike, you'll soon have black laborers who can't strike.
I have heard that in consequence of this "sectional
336warfare," as Douglas calls it, Senator Mason, of Virginia, had appeared in a suit of homespun. Now, up in New Hampshire, the woolen and cotton mills are all busy, and there is no strike--they are busy making the very goods Senator Mason has quit buying! To carry out his idea, he ought to go barefoot! If that's the plan, they should begin at the foundation, and adopt the well-known "Georgia costume" of a shirt-collar and pair of spurs.
It reminded him of the man who had a poor, old, lean, bony, spavined horse, with swelled legs. He was asked what he was going to do with such a miserable beast--the poor creature would die. "Do?" said he. "I'm going to fat him up; don't you see that I have got him seal fat as high as the knees?" Well, they have got the Union dissolved up to the ankle, but no further!
All portions of this Confederacy should act in harmony and with careful deliberation. The Democrats cry "John Brown invasion." We are guiltless of it, but our denial does not satisfy them. Nothing will satisfy them but disinfecting the atmosphere entirely of all opposition to slavery. They have not demanded of us to yield the guards of liberty in our State constitutions, but it will naturally come to that after a while. If we give up to them, we cannot refuse even
338their utmost request. If slavery is right, it ought to be extended; if not, if ought to be restricted--there is no middle ground. Wrong as we think it, we can afford to let it alone where it of necessity now exists; but we cannot afford to extend it into free territory and around our own homes. Let us stand against it!
The "Union" arrangements are all a humbug --they reverse the scriptural order, calling the righteous, and not sinners, to repentance. Let us not be slandered or intimidated to turn from our duty. Eternal right makes might; as we understand our duty, let us do it!