Lincoln on Race and Slavery

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

32

Fourth Debate With Stephen A. Douglas:
CW, 3:145–146, 179, 181

central Illinois town of Charleston, his supporters had hung an eighty-foot banner featuring a young Abraham Lincoln driving a team of oxen into the county back in 1828. They plastered posters of their hero throughout the town, one showing “Old Abe” clubbing Douglas into the ground. Democrats, on the other hand, waited until just before the start of the debate to raise their own banner, one emblazoned with the image of a white man, a black woman, and their mixed-race child. The slogan read, “Negro equality.” Nearly fifteen thousand spectators choked the fairgrounds just outside of town to hear the two men repeat their stands on race and the impact of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Lincoln reiterated his belief that the Declaration of Independence recognized the basic humanity of blacks, and his opposition to black citizenship. “Now my opinion is that the different States have the power to make a negro a citizen under the Constitution of the United States if they choose,” he explained. “The Dred Scott decision,” however, “decides that they have not that power. If the State of Illinois had that power I should be opposed to the exercise of it. [Cries of “good,” “good,” and applause.] That is all I have to say about it.” To underscore his stand against racial integration and social and political equality, Lincoln tarred his opponent with the inflammatory case of Kentuckian Richard M. Johnson, whom he referred to as “Judge Douglas' old friend.” Johnson had served as the ninth vice president of the United States and had run for a seat in Congress. During the 1820s, he had entered into a common-law relationship with his octoroon slave, Julie Chinn. Kentucky law would not recognize such a relationship, but the couple defied racial practices and lived openly as man and wife. Lincoln, defending his honor as an opponent of amalgamation, explained that the only case of miscegenation

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