Lincoln on Race and Slavery

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

12

Speech at Bloomington, Illinois:
CW, 2:230–233

The young Whig Richard Yates sought reelection in 1854 to the congressional seat once occupied by Lincoln. Campaigning vigorously for his friend Yates and against Stephen A. Douglas's Kansas-Nebraska Act, Lincoln also hoped that his efforts would convince the state legislature to select him as the state's new U.S. senator in the fall. Both campaigns failed. Douglas and Lincoln spoke in Bloomington, where Lincoln returned about two weeks later to give similar remarks, reflecting the contentious debate over the expansion of slavery. In this address, Lincoln avoided demonizing Southerners, asserting that anyone in their position would have become an advocate of slavery, “and we never ought to lose sight of this fact in discussing the subject.” Accepting the slaveholders' constitutional rights was one thing, Lincoln asserted, but spreading slavery over areas traditionally free of it was an entirely different matter. He then launched into a concise chronological history of the spread of slavery in the United States since the ratification of the Constitution to show that Douglas's party represented a radical break from the past. In this selection, Lincoln defended the compromises Congress had made to satisfy the competing interests of the North and South, but never, according to Lincoln, abandoning the Founding Fathers' goal of keeping the “peculiar institution” on the road to extinction. In comments not reported, Lincoln vigorously defended enforcement of the hated Fugitive Slave Law for the sake of national comity. The people of Illinois, he exclaimed, should demand restoration of the Missouri Compromise and not “oppose the Fugitive Slave Law, which would be repelling wrong with wrong. It was a compromise, and as citizens we were bound to stand up to it, and enforce it.”

-51-

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