Lincoln on Race and Slavery

By Henry Louis Gates Jr.; Donald Yacovone et al. | Go to book overview

2

Address Before the Young Men's
Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois:
CW, 1:108, 109–112

Beginning in the 1820s, rioting became an all-too-common occurrence in America's cities and towns. Sparked by the market economic revolution and cyclical depressions, immigration, rapid urbanization, and racism, the blight of increasing violence spared few of the nation's growing population centers. This turmoil was compounded by the escalating debate over the morality of slavery, and by Nat Turner's 1831 slave insurrection; a young man like Lincoln might well express apprehension for the future. As a state legislator, Lincoln helped orchestrate the relocation of the state capital to Springfield in 1837, where he moved in April. In January of the next year, in one of his first speeches in the new capital, Lincoln addressed the growing unrest he saw. He had only to allude to Elijah P. Lovejoy, murdered the previous year in Alton, Illinois, for publishing an antislavery newspaper, to illustrate his warning that a new level of chaos endangered the entire nation. He even condemned the lynching of a black murderer as a wanton violation of the legal order and pointed to the killing of a recently freed slave for the crime of “attending to his own business, and at peace with the world.” Lincoln feared for the future, presciently admonishing his audience that the greatest threat to national security would come from within. The only effective protection he could imagine lay in devotion to the principles of liberty established by the Founding Fathers with the “blood of the revolution.” In this remarkable speech, one can see the principles that would in the years ahead lead a rising lawyer and politician to challenge Stephen A. Douglas, whom Lincoln saw as the greatest threat to the liberty won in the American Revolution.

-3-

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