Lincoln on Race and Slavery

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

31

Speech at Edwardsville, Illinois:
CW, 3:92–95

Edwardsville, where Lincoln had previously spoken on May 18, lay near the Missouri border in the southern portion of Illinois. He began this address as an impromptu response to a question from a man in the crowd who had asked him to distinguish between Republicans and Democrats on key issues of the campaign. Fundamentally, Lincoln explained, Republicans felt that slavery was “a moral, social and political wrong,” while Democrats did not; all other positions taken by the two contending parties derived from those positions. He rehearsed his positions on Kansas-Nebraska, Dred Scott, popular sovereignty, and the wisdom of Henry Clay. Primarily, however, he wished to establish the fact that Republicans considered slavery to be “an unqualified evil to the negro, to the white man, to the soil, and to the State.” Given his rural audience, which would have included Missourians familiar with the institution of slavery, Lincoln felt free to use the language of denigration to impress those who might otherwise find Senator Douglas appealing. He cited his usual defense of the Declaration of Independence but failed to link it to the basic humanity of African Americans as he had done as a matter of course in the past. Instead, he ridiculed the corrupt version of “Popular Sovereignty” that Douglas sought to pedal. “He [Douglas] had not the impudence to say that the right of people to govern niggers was the right of people to govern themselves. His notions of the fitness of things were not moulded to the brazen degree of calling the right to put a hundred niggers through under the lash in Nebraska, a 'sacred right of self-government.' ” Perhaps having gained a measure of trust with his audience, Lincoln warned against following Douglas and the Democrats into the complete dehumanization of African Americans: “when you have extinguished his soul, and placed him where the ray of hope is blown out in darkness like that which broods over the spirits of the damned;

-152-

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