Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates

By Harry V. Jaffa | Go to book overview

Chapter XII
The Political Tendency toward Slavery Expansion

THAT there was legal "tendency" toward the spread of slavery to all the states we may take as demonstrated. Let us ask further in what sense this legal tendency constituted a practical or political tendency? Let us observe that in the house divided speech Lincoln spoke only of slavery becoming "lawful" in all the states. His careful phraseology indicates, first of all, his rejection of Douglas's thesis that the extension or non-extension of slavery in America had never been materially affected by general prohibitions or permissions of slavery. According to Lincoln, the legalization of slavery was decisively important for its extension. He repeatedly cited Henry Clay to the effect that "one of the great and just causes of complaint against Great Britain by the Colonies, and the best apology we can now make for having the institution amongst us,"1 was that the mother country had refused to prohibit it and had withheld from the people of the colonies the authority to prohibit it for themselves. In addition, Lincoln pointed to the circumstantial evidence connected with the old Northwest Ordinance. Douglas, we have seen, ridiculed the notion that this ordinance had decided the freedom of the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan. The settlers who had gone there had decided against slavery because they had decided it was not in their interest to have it. But why had they so decided? Douglas was driven back on his isothermic theory -- soil and climate made it unprofitable. But, Lincoln pointed out, a large part of Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware are as far north as parts of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. There was no great difference in soil or climate between the

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