Lincoln on Race and Slavery

By Abraham Lincoln; Henry Louis Gates Jr. et al. | Go to book overview

5

AL to Williamson Durley:
CW, 1:347–348

In this letter to a Putnam County, Illinois, supporter and his brother, Lincoln vented his frustration over the consequences of abolitionists entering the political process. He clearly saw antislavery politicians (even Whigs) as a separate political breed, one that brought mayhem to the political process, ruined the prospects for the national Whig Party, and strengthened, rather than weakened, the institution of slavery. Lincoln explained to Durley that the high moralism of political abolitionists, which led them to create the Liberty Party, had proven lethal to Whigs in the 1844 election, which sent the proslavery expansionist James K. Polk to the White House. If New York Whigs had not split their vote over James G. Birney of the Liberty Party, Henry Clay would be president, and the annexation of Texas—which abolitionists vehemently opposed—would have been halted. The moral stance of Liberty Party members repelled Lincoln since the results of their actions betrayed their intentions. “By the fruit the tree is to be known. An evil tree can not bring forth good fruit. If the fruit of electing Mr. Clay would have been to pre vent the extension of slavery,” Lincoln explained in frustration, “could the act of electing have been evil?” Lincoln also admitted that the great question of Texas annexation that had so riled abolitionists in the North did not mean much to him. Slavery already existed in the republic, he explained, and annexing that country to the United States would not have changed the status of slavery. He went on to advise Durley—who admitted to being an abolitionist—that Americans could safeguard their liberty only by letting “the slavery of the other states alone.” As Lincoln stated here and would repeat throughout his career, he thought the only workable national policy was to allow the peculiar institution to die “a natural death.” However, he also implied that if slaves took matters into their own hands to gain their freedom, he would support crushing them.

-16-

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