Lincoln on Race and Slavery

By Henry Louis Gates Jr.; Donald Yacovone et al. | Go to book overview
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40

Speech at Hartford, Connecticut:
CW, 4:2–13

In early March, Lincoln spoke almost daily to crowds in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Connecticut, avoiding Massachusetts because of Seward's popularity there. Away from the party's elite in New York and among the rougher-hewn folk of Connecticut, Lincoln delivered speeches more like those he had given in the Midwest but adapted to local circumstances. At the time of Lincoln's appearance in Hartford, city shoemakers had gone out on strike. “Now whether this is so or not, I know one thing—there is a strike! And I am glad to know that there is a system of labor where the laborer can strike if he wants to! I would to God that such a system prevailed all over the world.” Connecting the white working class to the Republican Party's opposition to the expansion of slavery, Lincoln warned, “Why slavery comes in upon you! Public opinion against it gives way. The barriers which protected you from it are down; slavery comes in, and white free labor that can strike will give way to slave labor that cannot!” In the following excerpt, Lincoln inserted the metaphor of the rattlesnake to explain his policy of halting the extension of slavery but not eradicating it in the Southern states. Present in his speech is his oft-repeated response to Senator Stephen A. Douglas's statement about being for “the negro over the crocodile.” Although Lincoln had addressed this statement many times before, using the term “negro” as Douglas had, here we see Lincoln repeatedly using the word “nigger.” Conversely, the Cooper Institute speech did not contain “nigger” or “negro,” and “black” appeared only in “Black Republicanism.” For the circumstances in Hartford, see: Benjamin Thomas, Abraham Lincoln: A Biography (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1952), 204–205.

-202-

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