Lincoln on Race and Slavery

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

34

Seventh and Last Debate With
Stephen A. Douglas At Alton, Illinois
& AL to James N. Brown:
CW, 3:298–305, 327–328

In 1837, Alton, Illinois, located across the Missouri River from St. Louis, witnessed the murder of the abolitionist editor Elijah P. Lovejoy. Proslavery feelings remained strong in the city, and Lincoln took care to assure whites in the region that he did not seek emancipation for Missouri slaves. He did, however, wish to make clear once again how profoundly he differed from Senator Douglas and the Democratic Party. By citing the revered statesman Henry Clay so frequently in his public addresses and private letters, Lincoln sought to place his party's limited antislavery principles on the incontestably safe ground of a Southerner, not on that of “radical” abolitionists. These words of Clay could have been spoken by Lincoln on the day before this address: “I desire no concealment of my opinions in regard to the institution of slavery. I look upon it as a great evil; and deeply lament that we have derived it from the parental government.” Lincoln also countered Douglas's relentless attempt to paint him as an advocate of racial equality. “Judge Douglas,” Lincoln declared, had twisted portions of several speeches and wove a “beautiful fabrication—of my purpose to introduce a perfect, social, and political equality between the white and black races.” He assured his audience that nothing could be further from the truth. Lincoln repeated his guiding principle that the Founding Fathers had included African Americans in the Declaration of Independence's assertion of the equality of all men. Not that all men “were equal in color, size, intellect, moral development or social capacity,” but equal before God and deserving of the right to govern their own fate—and do so away from whites. While at home in Springfield

-163-

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