Lincoln on Race and Slavery

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

13

Speech at Peoria, Illinois:
CW, 2:255–256, 262–269, 270–272, 274–276

In the congressional election of 1854 Democrats suffered a staggering blow, losing seventy-three seats. Party leaders attributed their loss to hatred of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, signed into law on May 22, 1854. Senator Stephen A. Douglas, chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories, intended the act to quell the increasingly violent national debate over slavery and establish a government for an area rapidly filling with settlers. Asserting that the 1850 Compromise had ended the 1820 Compromise's prohibition against slavery in the Louisiana Territory, he maintained that the settlers themselves should determine whether or not slavery should exist in the West. The legislation, however, annihilated the political party system, sparked creation of the Republican Party, incited more opposition to slavery in the North than ever had existed in the nation's history, and moved slaveowners to insist on their “right” to take their “property” anywhere in the country. Particularly disheartened by congressional losses in Iowa and Maine, formerly Democratic strongholds, Douglas launched a campaign to explain his Kansas-Nebraska Act to the voters of Illinois. On October 3, after Douglas gave a speech at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, Lincoln announced that either he or Lyman Trumbull (who eventually edged out Lincoln to become U.S. senator the following year) would answer Douglas the next day. On October 4, Lincoln delivered a threehour rebuttal, reviewing the legislative history of slavery, the necessity for compromise between the sections, Douglas's views on African Americans, and the immorality of slavery in all its forms. Lincoln then followed Douglas to Peoria, where on October 16 he elaborated on his Springfield address. His speech offered the fullest accounting to date of his views on the political and social equality of African Americans, which he opposed, and the moral equality of all humanity, which he asserted underpinned

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