Abraham Lincoln's Speech at Beloit, Wisconsin, October 1, 1859

    Source citation
    Speech at Beloit, Wisconsin, October 1, 1859, in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (8 vols., New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 3: 482-484, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/.
    Original source
    Beloit (WI) Journal
    Date Certainty
    Transcription adapted from The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (1953), edited by Roy P. Basler
    Adapted by Don Sailer, Dickinson College
    The following transcript has been adapted from The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (1953).

    Speech at Beloit, Wisconsin

    October 1, 1859

    He opened with a statement of the different positions taken by the different political parties of the country. He named 4 existing dem. parties, or, rather, sub-divisions of the great Democratic party. These were united on one point, viz: their opposition to the Republican organization and to Republican principles. At the South, the hostility to organization proceeded, in a great measure, from ignorance and misapprehension of the principles and aims of that organization. The Democratic leaders there sedulously strive, by misrepresentation and falsehood, to produce the impression that the Republicans desire to meddle with their existing institutions.

    Mr. Lincoln then went on to state the real position of the Republican party. Its underlying principle is hatred to the institution of Slavery; hatred to it in all its aspects, moral, social, and political. This is the foundation of the Republican party---its active, life-giving principle. The expression, by words and deeds, of this hatred to Slavery, is the policy of the party; and this expression, is, and should be, made in every legitimate, Constitutional way. With Slavery in the States they had nothing to do; but when it attempts to overleap its present limits, and fasten itself upon free territory, they would resist and force it back. This, he said, was what the Republican party was now trying to do. On this point he clashed with the popular sovereignty doctrine, and accordingly, he proceeded to pay his respects to the author of that stupendous humbug. This he did in a way that must have convinced every candid man in the audience of the emptiness of his arguments, and of the baneful results of the adoption of Douglas' policy by the National government. First, as to the working of the popular sovereignty principle. In no single case had it, when left free to work out its own legitimate results, brought into the Union a Free State. Every Free State which has been carved out of territory belonging to the United States, and has been received into the Union since the compact was formed between the original thirteen, had been, at some time during its territorial existence, subject to a prohibition of slavery. In the states formed out of the Northwestern territory, it was prohibited by the Ordinance of '87; in the Free states formed out of the Louisiana purchase by the Missouri compromise, and in California, by the Missouri compromise, and by Mexican laws. In every territory where slavery had, in accordance with popular sovereignty, obtained a foothold, it had maintained its position after the state organization. Kansas would probably be the first instance of a free state's being formed under the auspices of popular sovereignty. In this case, freedom was secured at the expense of a civil war.

    The cause of this uniform result is this: Suppose that one-fifth of the inhabitants of a territory are slaves, and it is proposed to form a State Constitution. The question of course arises of Slavery or no Slavery? Before a prohibition is decided upon, several other questions are to be settled relative to the disposition of the slaves already in the territory. One man thinks that it is unjust to deprive a man of his lawful property at all, and all differ as to the means by which the difficulty shall be removed. The result of their disagreement will be, that the institution is permitted to remain undisturbed.

    Slavery may thus be introduced into and retained upon territory where a large majority of the population are decidedly opposed to it. The practical difficulty in the way of removing the curse overbalances their aversion to it in principle, and in its practical effects upon the prosperity of the country. Mr. Lincoln proceeded to speak of the demoralizing tendency of a general prevalence of Douglas' doctrines in the country. Mr. Douglas takes it for granted that slavery is not a moral wrong. To him it is a matter of indifference whether it is "voted up or voted down.'' Of course, then, if he makes any pretence to morality, he considers that no moral question is involved. It is right and necessary at the south, he says, and he sneers at the idea of an "irrepressible conflict'' between negro bondage and human freedom. "They are an inferior race.'' "Between the white man and the negro, he goes for the white man; but between the negro and the crocodile, he goes for the negro.'' These are Douglas' sentiments. The man who expresses such sentiments as these can see no moral wrong in slavery. But if it is morally right below the line of 36 30, it must be above. Questions of abstract right and wrong cannot be questions of locality. But slavery is unprofitable at the north, Mr. Douglas says; but this is no reason for its prohibition. Cotton cannot be profitably grown at the north; but who ever thought of State enactments forbidding the raising of Cotton for such a reason?

    The natural result of a general belief in such doctrines would be the ultimate establishment of slavery in every State of the Union.

    The orator then went on to prove the identity of the Republican principles with those of the Fathers of the Republic. This he did most satisfactorily, citing in proof the passage of the Ordinance of '87, and the refusal three several [separate?] times of the Federal Legislature to grant the petition of a majority of the inhabitants of the territory of Indiana for liberty to hold slaves in that territory. Innumerable other cases might be cited to prove the same point. If twelve good sound democrats could be found in the county of Rock, he would put them on oath as a jury. He would bring his evidence in form of depositions in a court, and wring from them the verdict that the Republicans hold to the same principles which Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison and their compeers held.

    Mr. Lincoln closed with an eloquent passage from Mr. Clay, pointing out, with prophetic voice, the ruin which the adoption by the people of such principles as Douglas advocates would bring upon the country, and denouncing, in terrible language, the authors of such a change of public policy.

    How to Cite This Page: "Abraham Lincoln's Speech at Beloit, Wisconsin, October 1, 1859," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, https://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/index.php/node/25571.