Lincoln on Race and Slavery

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

24

Speech At Chicago, Illinois:
CW, 2:491–494, 497–502

Lincoln delivered the following speech in response to Senator Stephen A. Douglas's much-anticipated oration of the previous evening. On that occasion, Douglas repudiated Lincoln's famed “House Divided” speech. The result of this exchange would define the major issues of the campaign. Later in the month, he challenged Douglas to the first of seven debates that would continue into October. They would make Lincoln the subject of national attention and put him at center stage for the Republican candidacy for president in 1860. At Chicago, Lincoln reiterated the well-known phrases of that Springfield speech, words which Douglas had subjected to caustic review, and focused national attention on the defining question of his generation: should slavery be allowed into the territories acquired as a result of the Mexican War? In his full address, Lincoln lampooned Douglas's principle of “popular sovereignty,” denounced the proslavery coup in Kansas and the bogus Lecompton Constitution it devised, and outlined the fatal ramifications of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1857 Dred Scott decision. He deflected Douglas's charge that his views were indistinguishable from those of radical abolitionists who schemed to force emancipation upon the South. He fought off the senator's attempt to stigmatize him as out of touch with his constituents and a threat to national peace. Douglas had asserted that no reason existed why the country could not continue to exist half slave and half free as it had been for eighty-two years. But Lincoln would not be disarmed and went directly after his opponent. The nation could no longer endure as it had been because of Douglas and the fundamental changes wrought by his KansasNebraska Act and the nationalization of slavery in Dred Scott. While Douglas reiterated his stand that he didn't care whether slavery was voted up or down by those in the territories, Lincoln asserted that the Supreme Court had rendered the “don't care”

-111-

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