Lincoln on Race and Slavery

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

36

Speech at Columbus, Ohio:
CW, 3:401–410, 417–425

In the September 1859 issue of Harper's Magazine, Senator Douglas published “The Dividing Line between Federal and Local Authority,” his most complete argument in favor of popular sovereignty. To help spread the theme of his essay, Douglas accepted the invitation of Ohio Democrats to speak at Columbus on September 7, at Cincinnati on September 9, and then at Wooster on the 16th. Threatened by Douglas's appearance, state Republicans asked Lincoln to assist their campaign and counter the influence of the “Little Giant,” thus extending the Lincoln-Douglas debates, which had formally ended eleven months earlier. At Columbus, Lincoln focused on Douglas's solution for avoiding the problem of slavery in the territories. He repeated his warnings that “popular sovereignty” masked the Democratic Party's secret attempt to expand slavery and, ultimately, legitimize it throughout the country. Lincoln distinguished genuine popular sovereignty— “a general government shall do all those things which pertain to it, and all the local governments shall do precisely as they please in respect to those matters which exclusively concern them”—from “Douglas Popular Sovereignty,” which he defined as a principle that “if one man chooses to make a slave of another man, neither that other man or anybody else has a right to object.” Lincoln began his remarks by addressing an editorial appearing that morning in the Ohio Statesman, claiming that Lincoln favored “negro suffrage.” He rejected the accusation, and left no doubt in the minds of Ohio voters that he would never favor “the social and political equality of the white and black races.” There remained, Lincoln reasserted, “a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.… I do not understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave, I must necessarily want her for a wife.” Having estab-

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