Lincoln's Defense of Politics: The Public Man and His Opponents in the Crisis over Slavery

By Thomas E. Schneider | Go to book overview

Epilogue

Political Temperament

In an 1851 essay, “The Fugitive-Slave Law,” Orestes Brownson noted that “the feeling on the subject is deepest in those very states “in the Lower South” from which the fewest slaves escape, or are likely to escape.” He explained this odd fact as follows: the southern people “insist on the law,” not in consideration of the value of the slaves otherwise lost, but “because it is constitutional, because in executing it we give them assurance that we are willing and able to abide by our constitutional engagements, and are not disposed to abuse the power of the federal government, now passing, once for all, into our hands.”1 The Fugitive Slave Law kept slavery before the eyes of the nation at a time when the actual institution was confined below the Mason-Dixon Line. Brownson evidently wanted to impress on his northern readers a sense of the reasonableness of such an obligation from a national point of view. In doing so, however, he wrote as if the deep feeling of slaveholders concerning the subject was a reflection of their sagacity. More likely, they saw northern defiance of the Fugitive Slave Law as an expression of disdain toward themselves—and they fully returned the sentiment.

Although he was inflexibly opposed to any further extension of the Souths characteristic institution, Abraham Lincoln bore no feelings of ill will toward the southern people. Lincoln did not expect southerners

-179-

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