Lincoln on Race and Slavery

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

25

Speech At Springfield, Illinois:
CW, 2:514–516, 518–521

A week after his response to Douglas in Chicago, Lincoln and his opponent traveled south to Springfield. The “Little Giant” rode in an elaborate railcar festooned with banners and ribbons, accompanied by his wife, secretaries, and a host of minions and cronies. Lincoln went as an ordinary passenger. After arriving in the capital, Douglas spoke in the afternoon, Lincoln in the evening, sparking the Douglas press corps to claim that following their leader was the only way Lincoln could get up a crowd. Just before the start of the famed debates across the state, Lincoln reiterated his warning against the “nationalization of slavery.” Restricting its growth, as intended by the Founding Fathers, he held, would hasten the institution toward its “ultimate extinction.” Lincoln concluded his address reminding his audience about his stand on the equality of blacks and whites. He ridiculed Douglas's attempt to stigmatize him as an “amalgamator” and pointed up his contradictions regarding race and nationality. Douglas appeared to believe that the Declaration of Independence meant only that white Americans were the equal of white Englishmen. But what about “the Germans, the Irish, the Portuguese, and all the other people who have come amongst us since the Revolution… [?] I press him a little further, and ask if it meant to include the Russians in Asia?” In the end, Lincoln asserted, the Declaration's statement of equality must include all men, or it could not protect any men. But the fact that all men are entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he held, did not imply social and political equality. “What I would most desire,” he reasserted, “would be the separation of the white and black races.” He confessed that his views were often misrepresented, but they should not be misunderstood. “I have said that I do not understand the Declaration to mean that all men were created equal in all respects. They are not our equal in color.

-119-

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