Lincoln on Race and Slavery

By Abraham Lincoln; Donald Yacovone et al. | Go to book overview

37

Speech At Cincinnati, Ohio:
CW, 3:445–446

In this excerpt from his speech at Cincinnati, Lincoln addressed members of the audience who may have crossed the Ohio River from his native Kentucky, a slave state. He argued against the idea that slavery could be justified by the Bible, a fallacy that would at best support only the enslavement of white people. Although proslavery authors such as George Fitzhugh endorsed nonracial servitude, Lincoln understood that Northern voters would be horrified by the idea. He also referred to Senator Douglas's frequently cited remark that “in all contests between the negro and the white man, he was for the white man, but that in all questions between the negro and the crocodile he was for the negro.” In finding the sum (“rule of three”) of white men, African Americans, and the crocodile, Douglas equated black people with beasts or reptiles, stripping them of their humanity. In this way they would be easily excluded from the elementary idea of equality embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln repeatedly asserted that if one group could be removed from the embrace of the Declaration, then any group could be similarly stripped of their humanity and basic rights. Finally, on the subject of free labor, which he increasingly focused upon in the days leading to his address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society on September 30, Lincoln maintained that slaves, not free blacks, inflicted economic distress upon the white working class. In words that he believed would resonate with Cincinnatians who lived so close to slavery, Lincoln contended that whites suffered “by the effect of slave labor in the vicinity of the fields of their own labor.”

-187-

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