Lincoln on Race and Slavery

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

29

Speech At Carlinville, Illinois:
CW, 3:77–81

The address at Carlinville, delivered at the invitation of John M. Palmer, a Sangamon County lawyer and Republican activist, occurred between the second and third debates with Senator Douglas. Lincoln opened with the sobering declaration that the crisis over slavery had been ignited in 1854, ironically, by Douglas's attempt to halt the agitation over slavery with the Kansas-Nebraska Act. As he would throughout his political career, Lincoln invoked the intention of the Founding Fathers to gradually eliminate slavery, and even cited the example of Laurence M. Keitt, a fire-eating, proslavery congressman from South Carolina, who once expressed the belief that slavery could not last. Lincoln emphasized his conservative Whig credentials and ridiculed his opponent's attempt to wrap himself in the legacy of Henry Clay. More pointedly, Lincoln took the opportunity to repudiate Douglas's characterizations of his racial views and stood irrevocably on the ground of racial segregation. He quoted from his own important speech at Peoria to guarantee that he would not be mistaken: “'Shall we free them and make them politically and socially our equals? MY OWN FEELINGS WILL NOT ADMIT OF THIS.' ” Douglas constantly taunted Lincoln's party with the label of “Black Republicans” and charged that it secretly promoted “amalgamation.” Lincoln, however, reminded his audience that racial mixing took place precisely where slavery was the strongest. Slavery, not freedom, promoted race mixing; thus, according to Lincoln, the best way to halt amalgamation was to stop the spread of slavery. Focusing on the racial implications of the Supreme Court's decision in Dred Scott, President James Buchanan's subservience to the South, and Douglas's views, Lincoln warned that slavery's expansion meant white men would lose jobs. “Sustain these men,” Lincoln warned, “and negro equality will be abundant, as every white laborer will have occasion to regret when he is elbowed from his plow or his anvil by slave niggers.”

-143-

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