Lincoln on Race and Slavery

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

38

Fragment on Free Labor:
CW, 3:462–463

The following fragment may have been intended for Lincoln's September 30, 1859, remarks at the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, and also appears related to speeches on labor given in preceding weeks at Dayton and Cincinnati, Ohio. But whatever their origin, the ideas it expressed lay at the heart of Lincoln's political, moral, and economic world. His views on labor and capital in particular display the influence of Francis Wayland's 1837 Elements of Political Economy, which became the principal economics text in American colleges; according to Lincoln's law partner and good friend William Henry Herndon, Wayland's book had been one of Lincoln's favorites. It successfully simplified intricate economic principles in a way that could appeal to students and average Americans, and often employed moral arguments to elucidate economic ideas, a technique that Lincoln used throughout his career. Although a lawyer for major businesses, Lincoln nonetheless believed that the nation's political, economic, and social systems must encourage individual attainment. He cited his own rise from hired laborer to hirer of labor to illustrate what he saw as a fundamental democratic principle. His disgust with the institution of slavery and with Russian serfdom rested on the permanent and arbitrary economic and social subservience they imposed by force on a class—or race—of people. By exchanging incentives for force—“hope, for the rod”—such systems violated the moral order and common sense.

[September 17, 1859?]

change conditions with either Canada or South Carolina?
Equality, in society, alike beats inequality, whether the
lat[t]er be of the British aristocratic sort, or of the do-
mestic slavery sort.

-191-

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