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Abraham Lincoln
Cooper Union Address
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Mr. President and fellow citizens of New York: -

The facts with which I shall deal this evening are mainly old and
familiar; nor is there anything new in the general use I shall make
of them. If there shall be any novelty, it will be in the mode of
presenting the facts, and the inferences and observations following
that presentation.

In his speech last autumn, at Columbus, Ohio, as reported in
"The New-York Times," Senator Douglas said:

"Our fathers, when they framed the Government under which we
live, understood this question just as well, and even better, than
we do now."

I fully indorse this, and I adopt it as a text for this discourse. I so
adopt it because it furnishes a precise and an agreed starting
point for a discussion between Republicans and that wing of the
Democracy headed by Senator Douglas. It simply leaves the inquiry:
"What was the understanding those fathers had of the question
mentioned?"

What is the frame of government under which we live?

The answer must be: "The Constitution of the United States."
That Constitution consists of the original, framed in 1787, (and
under which the present government first went into operation,)
and twelve subsequently framed amendments, the first ten of
which were framed in 1789.

Who were our fathers that framed the Constitution? I suppose
the "thirty-nine" who signed the original instrument may be fairly
called our fathers who framed that part of the present Government.
It is almost exactly true to say they framed it, and it is altogether
true to say they fairly represented the opinion and sentiment of
the whole nation at that time. Their names, being familiar to nearly
all, and accessible to quite all, need not now be repeated.

I take these "thirty-nine," for the present, as being "our fathers
who framed the Government under which we live."

What is the question which, according to the text, those fathers
understood "just as well, and even better than we do now?"

It is this: Does the proper division of local from federal authority,
or anything in the Constitution, forbid our Federal Government to
control as to slavery in our Federal Territories?

Upon this, Senator Douglas holds the affirmative, and Republicans
the negative. This affirmation and denial form an issue; and this
issue -- this question -- is precisely what the text declares our
fathers understood "better than we."

Let us now inquire whether the "thirty-nine," or any of them,
ever acted upon this question; and if they did, how they acted
upon it -- how they expressed that better understanding.

In 1784, three years before the Constitution -- the United States
then owning the Northwestern Territory, and no other, the
Congress of the Confederation had before them the question
of prohibiting slavery in that Territory; and four of the "thirty-nine"
who afterward framed the Constitution, were in that Congress,
and voted on that question. Of these, Roger Sherman, Thomas
Mifflin, and Hugh Williamson voted for the prohibition, thus
showing that, in their understanding, no line dividing local from
federal authority, nor anything else, properly forbade the
Federal Government to control as to slavery in federal territory.
The other of the four -- James M'Henry -- voted against the
prohibition, showing that, for some cause, he thought it improper
to vote for it.

In 1787, still before the Constitution, but while the Convention
was in session framing it, and while the Northwestern Territory
still was the only territory owned by the United States, the
same question of prohibiting slavery in the territory again came
before the Congress of the Confederation; and two more of the
"thirty-nine" who afterward signed the Constitution, were in
that Congress, and voted on the question. They were William
Blount and William Few; and they both voted for the prohibition
-- thus showing that, in their understanding, no line dividing
local from federal authority, nor anything else, properly forbids
the Federal Government to control as to slavery in Federal
territory. This time the prohibition became a law, being part
of what is now well known as the Ordinance of '87.

The question of federal control of slavery in the territories, seems
not to have been directly before the Convention which framed
the original Constitution; and hence it is not recorded that the
"thirty-nine," or any of them, while engaged on that instrument,
expressed any opinion on that precise question.

In 1789, by the first Congress which sat under the Constitution,
an act was passed to enforce the Ordinance of '87, including the
prohibition of slavery in the Northwestern Territory. The bill for this
act was reported by one of the "thirty-nine," Thomas Fitzsimmons,
then a member of the House of Representatives from Pennsylvania.
It went through all its stages without a word of opposition, and
finally passed both branches without yeas and nays, which is
equivalent to a unanimous passage. In this Congress there were
sixteen of the thirty-nine fathers who framed the original Constitution.
They were John Langdon, Nicholas Gilman, Wm. S. Johnson, Roger
Sherman, Robert Morris, Thos. Fitzsimmons, William Few, Abraham
Baldwin, Rufus King, William Paterson, George Clymer, Richard
Bassett, George Read, Pierce Butler, Daniel Carroll, James
Madison.

This shows that, in their understanding, no line dividing local
from federal authority, nor anything in the Constitution, properly
forbade Congress to prohibit slavery in the federal territory; else
both their fidelity to correct principle, and their oath to support
the Constitution, would have constrained them to oppose the
prohibition.

Again, George Washington, another of the "thirty-nine," was
then President of the United States, and, as such approved
and signed the bill; thus completing its validity as a law, and
thus showing that, in his understanding, no line dividing local
from federal authority, nor anything in the Constitution, forbade
the Federal Government, to control as to slavery in federal
territory.

No great while after the adoption of the original Constitution,
North Carolina ceded to the Federal Government the country
now constituting the State of Tennessee; and a few years
later Georgia ceded that which now constitutes the States of
Mississippi and Alabama. In both deeds of cession it was made
a condition by the ceding States that the Federal Government
should not prohibit slavery in the ceded territory. Besides this,
slavery was then actually in the ceded country. Under these
circumstances, Congress, on taking charge of these countries,
did not absolutely prohibit slavery within them. But they did
interfere with it -- take control of it -- even there, to a certain
extent. In 1798, Congress organized the Territory of Mississippi.
In the act of organization, they prohibited the bringing of slaves
into the Territory, from any place without the United States, by
fine, and giving freedom to slaves so bought. This act passed
both branches of Congress without yeas and nays. In that
Congress were three of the "thirty-nine" who framed the original
Constitution. They were John Langdon, George Read and Abraham
Baldwin. They all, probably, voted for it. Certainly they would
have placed their opposition to it upon record, if, in their
understanding, any line dividing local from federal authority,
or anything in the Constitution, properly forbade the Federal
Government to control as to slavery in federal territory.

In 1803, the Federal Government purchased the Louisiana
country. Our former territorial acquisitions came from certain
of our own States; but this Louisiana country was acquired
from a foreign nation. In 1804, Congress gave a territorial
organization to that part of it which now constitutes the State
of Louisiana. New Orleans, lying within that part, was an old
and comparatively large city. There were other considerable
towns and settlements, and slavery was extensively and
thoroughly intermingled with the people. Congress did not,
in the Territorial Act, prohibit slavery; but they did interfere
with it -- take control of it -- in a more marked and extensive
way than they did in the case of Mississippi. The substance
of the provision therein made, in relation to slaves, was:

First. That no slave should be imported into the territory
from foreign parts.

Second. That no slave should be carried into it who had been
imported into the United States since the first day of May, 1798.

Third. That no slave should be carried into it, except by the
owner, and for his own use as a settler; the penalty in all the
cases being a fine upon the violator of the law, and freedom to
the slave.

This act also was passed without yeas and nays. In the Congress
which passed it, there were two of the "thirty-nine." They were
Abraham Baldwin and Jonathan Dayton. As stated in the case of
Mississippi, it is probable they both voted for it. They would not
have allowed it to pass without recording their opposition to it,
if, in their understanding, it violated either the line properly
dividing local from federal authority, or any provision of the
Constitution.

In 1819-20, came and passed the Missouri question. Many votes
were taken, by yeas and nays, in both branches of Congress,
upon the various phases of the general question. Two of the
"thirty-nine" -- Rufus King and Charles Pinckney -- were members
of that Congress. Mr. King steadily voted for slavery prohibition
and against all compromises, while Mr. Pinckney as steadily
voted against slavery prohibition and against all compromises.
By this, Mr. King showed that, in his understanding, no line
dividing local from federal authority, nor anything in the
Constitution, was violated by Congress prohibiting slavery
in federal territory; while Mr. Pinckney, by his votes, showed
that, in his understanding, there was some sufficient reason
for opposing such prohibition in that case.

The cases I have mentioned are the only acts of the "thirty-nine,"
or of any of them, upon the direct issue, which I have been
able to discover.

To enumerate the persons who thus acted, as being four in
1784, two in 1787, seventeen in 1789, three in 1798, two in
1804, and two in 1819-20 - there would be thirty of them.
But this would be counting John Langdon, Roger Sherman,
William Few, Rufus King, and George Read each twice, and
Abraham Baldwin, three times. The true number of those of
the "thirty-nine" whom I have shown to have acted upon the
question, which, by the text, they understood better than we,
is twenty-three, leaving sixteen not shown to have acted upon
it in any way.

Here, then, we have twenty-three out of our thirty-nine fathers
"who framed the government under which we live," who have,
upon their official responsibility and their corporal oaths, acted
upon the very question which the text affirms they "understood
just as well, and even better than we do now;" and twenty-one
of them -- a clear majority of the whole "thirty-nine" -- so acting
upon it as to make them guilty of gross political impropriety and
willful perjury, if, in their understanding, any proper division
between local and federal authority, or anything in the Constitution
they had made themselves, and sworn to support, forbade the
Federal Government to control as to slavery in the federal territories.
Thus the twenty-one acted; and, as actions speak louder than
words, so actions, under such responsibility, speak still louder.

Two of the twenty-three voted against Congressional prohibition
of slavery in the federal territories, in the instances in which they
acted upon the question. But for what reasons they so voted is
not known. They may have done so because they thought a
proper division of local from federal authority, or some provision
or principle of the Constitution, stood in the way; or they may,
without any such question, have voted against the prohibition,
on what appeared to them to be sufficient grounds of expediency.
No one who has sworn to support the Constitution can
conscientiously vote for what he understands to be an unconstitutional
measure, however expedient he may think it; but one may and ought
to vote against a measure which he deems constitutional, if, at the
same time, he deems it inexpedient. It, therefore, would be unsafe
to set down even the two who voted against the prohibition, as
having done so because, in their understanding, any proper division
of local from federal authority, or anything in the Constitution,
forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in federal
territory.

The remaining sixteen of the "thirty-nine," so far as I have
discovered, have left no record of their understanding upon the
direct question of federal control of slavery in the federal territories.
But there is much reason to believe that their understanding upon
that question would not have appeared different from that of their
twenty-three compeers, had it been manifested at all.

For the purpose of adhering rigidly to the text, I have purposely
omitted whatever understanding may have been manifested by
any person, however distinguished, other than the thirty-nine
fathers who framed the original Constitution; and, for the same
reason, I have also omitted whatever understanding may have
been manifested by any of the "thirty-nine" even, on any other
phase of the general question of slavery. If we should look into
their acts and declarations on those other phases, as the foreign
slave trade, and the morality and policy of slavery generally, it
would appear to us that on the direct question of federal control
of slavery in federal territories, the sixteen, if they had acted at all,
would probably have acted just as the twenty-three did. Among
that sixteen were several of the most noted anti-slavery men of
those times -- as Dr. Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and Gouverneur
Morris -- while there was not one now known to have been
otherwise, unless it may be John Rutledge, of South Carolina.

The sum of the whole is, that of our thirty-nine fathers who framed
the original Constitution, twenty-one -- a clear majority of the whole
-- certainly understood that no proper division of local from federal
authority, nor any part of the Constitution, forbade the Federal
Government to control slavery in the federal territories; while all
the rest probably had the same understanding. Such,
unquestionably, was the understanding of our fathers who
framed the original Constitution; and the text affirms that they
understood the question "better than we."

But, so far, I have been considering the understanding of the
question manifested by the framers of the original Constitution.
In and by the original instrument, a mode was provided for
amending it; and, as I have already stated, the present frame
of "the Government under which we live" consists of that original,
and twelve amendatory articles framed and adopted since. Those
who now insist that federal control of slavery in federal territories
violates the Constitution, point us to the provisions which they
suppose it thus violates; and, as I understand, that all fix upon
provisions in these amendatory articles, and not in the original
instrument. The Supreme Court, in the Dred Scott case, plant
themselves upon the fifth amendment, which provides that no
person shall be deprived of "life, liberty or property without due
process of law;" while Senator Douglas and his peculiar adherents
plant themselves upon the tenth amendment, providing that
"the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution"
"are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Now, it so happens that these amendments were framed by the
first Congress which sat under the Constitution -- the identical
Congress which passed the act already mentioned, enforcing the
prohibition of slavery in the Northwestern Territory. Not only was
it the same Congress, but they were the identical, same individual
men who, at the same session, and at the same time within the
session, had under consideration, and in progress toward
maturity, these Constitutional amendments, and this act
prohibiting slavery in all the territory the nation then owned.
The Constitutional amendments were introduced before, and
passed after the act enforcing the Ordinance of '87; so that,
during the whole pendency of the act to enforce the Ordinance,
the Constitutional amendments were also pending.

The seventy-six members of that Congress, including sixteen
of the framers of the original Constitution, as before stated,
were pre- eminently our fathers who framed that part of "the
Government under which we live," which is now claimed as
forbidding the Federal Government to control slavery in the
federal territories.

Is it not a little presumptuous in any one at this day to affirm
that the two things which that Congress deliberately framed,
and carried to maturity at the same time, are absolutely
inconsistent with each other? And does not such affirmation
become impudently absurd when coupled with the other
affirmation from the same mouth, that those who did the
two things, alleged to be inconsistent, understood whether
they really were inconsistent better than we -- better than he
who affirms that they are inconsistent?

It is surely safe to assume that the thirty-nine framers of the
original Constitution, and the seventy-six members of the
Congress which framed the amendments thereto, taken
together, do certainly include those who may be fairly called
"our fathers who framed the Government under which we live."
And so assuming, I defy any man to show that any one of them
ever, in his whole life, declared that, in his understanding, any
proper division of local from federal authority, or any part of the
Constitution, forbade the Federal Government to control as to
slavery in the federal territories. I go a step further. I defy any
one to show that any living man in the whole world ever did,
prior to the beginning of the present century, (and I might
almost say prior to the beginning of the last half of the present
century,) declare that, in his understanding, any proper division
of local from federal authority, or any part of the Constitution,
forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the
federal territories. To those who now so declare, I give, not
only "our fathers who framed the Government under which we
live," but with them all other living men within the century in
which it was framed, among whom to search, and they shall
not be able to find the evidence of a single man agreeing with
them.

Now, and here, let me guard a little against being misunderstood.
I do not mean to say we are bound to follow implicitly in whatever
our fathers did. To do so, would be to discard all the lights of
current experience - to reject all progress - all improvement.
What I do say is, that if we would supplant the opinions and
policy of our fathers in any case, we should do so upon evidence
so conclusive, and argument so clear, that even their great
authority, fairly considered and weighed, cannot stand; and
most surely not in a case whereof we ourselves declare they
understood the question better than we.

If any man at this day sincerely believes that a proper division
of local from federal authority, or any part of the Constitution,
forbids the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the
federal territories, he is right to say so, and to enforce his
position by all truthful evidence and fair argument which he can.
But he has no right to mislead others, who have less access to
history, and less leisure to study it, into the false belief that "our
fathers who framed the Government under which we live" were
of the same opinion -- thus substituting falsehood and deception
for truthful evidence and fair argument. If any man at this day
sincerely believes "our fathers who framed the Government under
which we live," used and applied principles, in other cases, which
ought to have led them to understand that a proper division of
local from federal authority or some part of the Constitution,
forbids the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the
federal territories, he is right to say so. But he should, at the
same time, brave the responsibility of declaring that, in his
opinion, he understands their principles better than they did
themselves; and especially should he not shirk that responsibility
by asserting that they "understood the question just as well, and
even better, than we do now."

But enough! Let all who believe that "our fathers, who framed
the Government under which we live, understood this question
just as well, and even better, than we do now," speak as they
spoke, and act as they acted upon it. This is all Republicans ask
-- all Republicans desire -- in relation to slavery. As those fathers
marked it, so let it be again marked, as an evil not to be
extended, but to be tolerated and protected only because of
and so far as its actual presence among us makes that toleration
and protection a necessity. Let all the guarantees those fathers
gave it, be, not grudgingly, but fully and fairly, maintained. For
this Republicans contend, and with this, so far as I know or
believe, they will be content.

And now, if they would listen -- as I suppose they will not -- I
would address a few words to the Southern people.

I would say to them: -- You consider yourselves a reasonable
and a just people; and I consider that in the general qualities
of reason and justice you are not inferior to any other people.
Still, when you speak of us Republicans, you do so only to
denounce us as reptiles, or, at the best, as no better than
outlaws. You will grant a hearing to pirates or murderers, but
nothing like it to "Black Republicans." In all your contentions
with one another, each of you deems an unconditional
condemnation of "Black Republicanism" as the first thing to
be attended to. Indeed, such condemnation of us seems to
be an indispensable prerequisite -- license, so to speak --
among you to be admitted or permitted to speak at all. Now,
can you, or not, be prevailed upon to pause and to consider
whether this is quite just to us, or even to yourselves? Bring
forward your charges and specifications, and then be patient
long enough to hear us deny or justify.

You say we are sectional. We deny it. That makes an issue;
and the burden of proof is upon you. You produce your proof;
and what is it? Why, that our party has no existence in your
section -- gets no votes in your section. The fact is substantially
true; but does it prove the issue? If it does, then in case we
should, without change of principle, begin to get votes in your
section, we should thereby cease to be sectional. You cannot
escape this conclusion; and yet, are you willing to abide by it?
If you are, you will probably soon find that we have ceased to
be sectional, for we shall get votes in your section this very year.
You will then begin to discover, as the truth plainly is, that your
proof does not touch the issue. The fact that we get no votes in
your section, is a fact of your making, and not of ours. And if
there be fault in that fact, that fault is primarily yours, and
remains until you show that we repel you by some wrong
principle or practice. If we do repel you by any wrong principle
or practice, the fault is ours; but this brings you to where you
ought to have started -- to a discussion of the right or wrong
of our principle. If our principle, put in practice, would wrong
your section for the benefit of ours, or for any other object,
then our principle, and we with it, are sectional, and are justly
opposed and denounced as such. Meet us, then, on the question
of whether our principle, put in practice, would wrong your section;
and so meet it as if it were possible that something may be said
on our side. Do you accept the challenge? No! Then you really
believe that the principle which "our fathers who framed the
Government under which we live" thought so clearly right as
to adopt it, and indorse it again and again, upon their official
oaths, is in fact so clearly wrong as to demand your condemnation
without a moment's consideration.

Some of you delight to flaunt in our faces the warning against
sectional parties given by Washington in his Farewell Address.
Less than eight years before Washington gave that warning,
he had, as President of the United States, approved and signed
an act of Congress, enforcing the prohibition of slavery in the
Northwestern Territory, which act embodied the policy of the
Government upon that subject up to and at the very moment
he penned that warning; and about one year after he penned it,
he wrote LaFayette that he considered that prohibition a wise
measure, expressing in the same connection his hope that we
should at some time have a confederacy of free States.

Bearing this in mind, and seeing that sectionalism has since
arisen upon this same subject, is that warning a weapon in
your hands against us, or in our hands against you? Could
Washington himself speak, would he cast the blame of that
sectionalism upon us, who sustain his policy, or upon you
who repudiate it? We respect that warning of Washington,
and we commend it to you, together with his example pointing
to the right application of it.

But you say you are conservative -- eminently conservative --
while we are revolutionary, destructive, or something of the
sort. What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and
tried, against the new and untried? We stick to, contend for,
the identical old policy on the point in controversy which was
adopted by "our fathers who framed the Government under
which we live;" while you with one accord reject, and scout,
and spit upon that old policy, and insist upon substituting
something new. True, you disagree among yourselves as to
what that substitute shall be. You are divided on new
propositions and plans, but you are unanimous in rejecting
and denouncing the old policy of the fathers. Some of you are
for reviving the foreign slave trade; some for a Congressional
Slave-Code for the Territories; some for Congress forbidding
the Territories to prohibit Slavery within their limits; some for
maintaining Slavery in the Territories through the judiciary;
some for the "gur-reat pur-rinciple" that "if one man would
enslave another, no third man should object," fantastically
called "Popular Sovereignty;" but never a man among you is
in favor of federal prohibition of slavery in federal territories,
according to the practice of "our fathers who framed the
Government under which we live." Not one of all your
various plans can show a precedent or an advocate in the
century within which our Government originated. Consider,
then, whether your claim of conservatism for yourselves, and
your charge or destructiveness against us, are based on the
most clear and stable foundations.

Again, you say we have made the slavery question more
prominent than it formerly was. We deny it. We admit that it is
more prominent, but we deny that we made it so. It was not
we, but you, who discarded the old policy of the fathers. We
resisted, and still resist, your innovation; and thence comes
the greater prominence of the question. Would you have
that question reduced to its former proportions? Go back to
that old policy. What has been will be again, under the same
conditions. If you would have the peace of the old times,
readopt the precepts and policy of the old times.

You charge that we stir up insurrections among your slaves. We
deny it; and what is your proof? Harper's Ferry! John Brown!!
John Brown was no Republican; and you have failed to implicate
a single Republican in his Harper's Ferry enterprise. If any
member of our party is guilty in that matter, you know it or you
do not know it. If you do know it, you are inexcusable for not
designating the man and proving the fact. If you do not know it,
you are inexcusable for asserting it, and especially for persisting
in the assertion after you have tried and failed to make the proof.
You need to be told that persisting in a charge which one does
not know to be true, is simply malicious slander.

Some of you admit that no Republican designedly aided or
encouraged the Harper's Ferry affair, but still insist that our
doctrines and declarations necessarily lead to such results.
We do not believe it. We know we hold to no doctrine, and
make no declaration, which were not held to and made by
"our fathers who framed the Government under which we live."
You never dealt fairly by us in relation to this affair. When it
occurred, some important State elections were near at hand,
and you were in evident glee with the belief that, by charging
the blame upon us, you could get an advantage of us in those
elections. The elections came, and your expectations were not
quite fulfilled. Every Republican man knew that, as to himself at
least, your charge was a slander, and he was not much inclined
by it to cast his vote in your favor. Republican doctrines and
declarations are accompanied with a continual protest against
any interference whatever with your slaves, or with you about
your slaves. Surely, this does not encourage them to revolt.
True, we do, in common with "our fathers, who framed the
Government under which we live," declare our belief that
slavery is wrong; but the slaves do not hear us declare even this.
For anything we say or do, the slaves would scarcely know
there is a Republican party. I believe they would not, in fact,
generally know it but for your misrepresentations of us, in their
hearing. In your political contests among yourselves, each faction
charges the other with sympathy with Black Republicanism; and
then, to give point to the charge, defines Black Republicanism to
simply be insurrection, blood and thunder among the slaves.

Slave insurrections are no more common now than they were
before the Republican party was organized. What induced the
Southampton insurrection, twenty-eight years ago, in which,
at least three times as many lives were lost as at Harper's Ferry?
You can scarcely stretch your very elastic fancy to the conclusion
that Southampton was "got up by Black Republicanism." In the
present state of things in the United States, I do not think a
general, or even a very extensive slave insurrection is possible.
The indispensable concert of action cannot be attained. The
slaves have no means of rapid communication; nor can
incendiary freemen, black or white, supply it. The explosive
materials are everywhere in parcels; but there neither are,
nor can be supplied, the indispensable connecting trains.

Much is said by Southern people about the affection of slaves
for their masters and mistresses; and a part of it, at least, is
true. A plot for an uprising could scarcely be devised and
communicated to twenty individuals before some one of them,
to save the life of a favorite master or mistress, would divulge it.
This is the rule; and the slave revolution in Hayti was not an
exception to it, but a case occurring under peculiar circumstances.
The gunpowder plot of British history, though not connected with
slaves, was more in point. In that case, only about twenty were
admitted to the secret; and yet one of them, in his anxiety to
save a friend, betrayed the plot to that friend, and, by consequence,
averted the calamity. Occasional poisonings from the kitchen, and
open or stealthy assassinations in the field, and local revolts
extending to a score or so, will continue to occur as the natural
results of slavery; but no general insurrection of slaves, as I
think, can happen in this country for a long time. Whoever much
fears, or much hopes for such an event, will be alike disappointed.

In the language of Mr. Jefferson, uttered many years ago, "It is
still in our power to direct the process of emancipation, and
deportation, peaceably, and in such slow degrees, as that the
evil will wear off insensibly; and their places be, pari passu,
filled up by free white laborers. If, on the contrary, it is left to
force itself on, human nature must shudder at the prospect
held up."

Mr. Jefferson did not mean to say, nor do I, that the power
of emancipation is in the Federal Government. He spoke of
Virginia; and, as to the power of emancipation, I speak of the
slaveholding States only. The Federal Government, however,
as we insist, has the power of restraining the extension of the
institution -- the power to insure that a slave insurrection shall
never occur on any American soil which is now free from slavery.

John Brown's effort was peculiar. It was not a slave insurrection.
It was an attempt by white men to get up a revolt among slaves,
in which the slaves refused to participate. In fact, it was so
absurd that the slaves, with all their ignorance, saw plainly
enough it could not succeed. That affair, in its philosophy,
corresponds with the many attempts, related in history, at
the assassination of kings and emperors. An enthusiast broods
over the oppression of a people till he fancies himself commissioned
by Heaven to liberate them. He ventures the attempt, which ends
in little else than his own execution. Orsini's attempt on Louis
Napoleon, and John Brown's attempt at Harper's Ferry were, in
their philosophy, precisely the same. The eagerness to cast blame
on old England in the one case, and on New England in the other,
does not disprove the sameness of the two things.

And how much would it avail you, if you could, by the use of John
Brown, Helper's Book, and the like, break up the Republican
organization? Human action can be modified to some extent,
but human nature cannot be changed. There is a judgment and
a feeling against slavery in this nation, which cast at least a million
and a half of votes. You cannot destroy that judgment and feeling --
that sentiment -- by breaking up the political organization which
rallies around it. You can scarcely scatter and disperse an army
which has been formed into order in the face of your heaviest
fire; but if you could, how much would you gain by forcing the
sentiment which created it out of the peaceful channel of the
ballot-box, into some other channel? What would that other
channel probably be? Would the number of John Browns be
lessened or enlarged by the operation?

But you will break up the Union rather than submit to a
denial of your Constitutional rights.

That has a somewhat reckless sound; but it would be palliated,
if not fully justified, were we proposing, by the mere force of
numbers, to deprive you of some right, plainly written down
in the Constitution. But we are proposing no such thing.

When you make these declarations, you have a specific and
well-understood allusion to an assumed Constitutional right
of yours, to take slaves into the federal territories, and to hold
them there as property. But no such right is specifically written
in the Constitution. That instrument is literally silent about any
such right. We, on the contrary, deny that such a right has any
existence in the Constitution, even by implication.

Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the
Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the
Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you
and us. You will rule or ruin in all events.

This, plainly stated, is your language. Perhaps you will say the
Supreme Court has decided the disputed Constitutional question
in your favor. Not quite so. But waiving the lawyer's distinction
between dictum and decision, the Court have decided the
question for you in a sort of way. The Court have substantially
said, it is your Constitutional right to take slaves into the
federal territories, and to hold them there as property. When
I say the decision was made in a sort of way, I mean it was
made in a divided Court, by a bare majority of the Judges, and
they not quite agreeing with one another in the reasons for
making it; that it is so made as that its avowed supporters
disagree with one another about its meaning, and that it was
mainly based upon a mistaken statement of fact -- the
statement in the opinion that "the right of property in a slave
is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution."

An inspection of the Constitution will show that the right of
property in a slave is not "distinctly and expressly affirmed"
in it. Bear in mind, the Judges do not pledge their judicial
opinion that such right is impliedly affirmed in the Constitution;
but they pledge their veracity that it is "distinctly and expressly"
affirmed there -- "distinctly," that is, not mingled with anything
else -- "expressly," that is, in words meaning just that, without
the aid of any inference, and susceptible of no other meaning.

If they had only pledged their judicial opinion that such right is
affirmed in the instrument by implication, it would be open to
others to show that neither the word "slave" nor "slavery" is
to be found in the Constitution, nor the word "property" even,
in any connection with language alluding to the things slave,
or slavery; and that wherever in that instrument the slave is
alluded to, he is called a "person;" -- and wherever his master's
legal right in relation to him is alluded to, it is spoken of as
"service or labor which may be due," -- as a debt payable in
service or labor. Also, it would be open to show, by
contemporaneous history, that this mode of alluding to slaves
and slavery, instead of speaking of them, was employed on
purpose to exclude from the Constitution the idea that there
could be property in man.

To show all this, is easy and certain.

When this obvious mistake of the Judges shall be brought to
their notice, is it not reasonable to expect that they will
withdraw the mistaken statement, and reconsider the conclusion
based upon it?

And then it is to be remembered that "our fathers, who framed
the Government under which we live" -- the men who made the
Constitution -- decided this same Constitutional question in our
favor, long ago -- decided it without division among themselves,
when making the decision; without division among themselves
about the meaning of it after it was made, and, so far as any
evidence is left, without basing it upon any mistaken statement
of facts.

Under all these circumstances, do you really feel yourselves
justified to break up this Government unless such a court
decision as yours is, shall be at once submitted to as a
conclusive and final rule of political action? But you will not
abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed
event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say,
the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is
cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through
his teeth, "Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will
be a murderer!"

To be sure, what the robber demanded of me -- my money --
was my own; and I had a clear right to keep it; but it was no
more my own than my vote is my own; and the threat of death
to me, to extort my money, and the threat of destruction to the
Union, to extort my vote, can scarcely be distinguished in principle.

A few words now to Republicans. It is exceedingly desirable that
all parts of this great Confederacy shall be at peace, and in
harmony, one with another. Let us Republicans do our part to
have it so. Even though much provoked, let us do nothing
through passion and ill temper. Even though the southern
people will not so much as listen to us, let us calmly consider
their demands, and yield to them if, in our deliberate view of
our duty, we possibly can. Judging by all they say and do, and
by the subject and nature of their controversy with us, let us
determine, if we can, what will satisfy them.

Will they be satisfied if the Territories be unconditionally
surrendered to them? We know they will not. In all their
present complaints against us, the Territories are scarcely
mentioned. Invasions and insurrections are the rage now.
Will it satisfy them, if, in the future, we have nothing to do
with invasions and insurrections? We know it will not. We so
know, because we know we never had anything to do with
invasions and insurrections; and yet this total abstaining does
not exempt us from the charge and the denunciation.

The question recurs, what will satisfy them? Simply this: We must
not only let them alone, but we must somehow, convince them
that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy
task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very
beginning of our organization, but with no success. In all our
platforms and speeches we have constantly protested our purpose
to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them.
Alike unavailing to convince them, is the fact that they have never
detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.

These natural, and apparently adequate means all failing, what
will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong,
and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly --
done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated --
we must place ourselves avowedly with them. Senator Douglas'
new sedition law must be enacted and enforced, suppressing all
declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in
presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest and return their
fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our Free
State constitutions. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected
from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to
believe that all their troubles proceed from us.

I am quite aware they do not state their case precisely in this way.
Most of them would probably say to us, "Let us alone, do nothing
to us, and say what you please about slavery." But we do let them
alone -- have never disturbed them -- so that, after all, it is what
we say, which dissatisfies them. They will continue to accuse us
of doing, until we cease saying.

I am also aware they have not, as yet, in terms, demanded the
overthrow of our Free-State Constitutions. Yet those Constitutions
declare the wrong of slavery, with more solemn emphasis, than
do all other sayings against it; and when all these other sayings
shall have been silenced, the overthrow of these Constitutions
will be demanded, and nothing be left to resist the demand. It is
nothing to the contrary, that they do not demand the whole of
this just now. Demanding what they do, and for the reason they
do, they can voluntarily stop nowhere short of this consummation.
Holding, as they do, that slavery is morally right, and socially
elevating, they cannot cease to demand a full national recognition
of it, as a legal right, and a social blessing.

Nor can we justifiably withhold this, on any ground save our
conviction that slavery is wrong. If slavery is right, all words,
acts, laws, and constitutions against it, are themselves wrong,
and should be silenced, and swept away. If it is right, we cannot
justly object to its nationality - its universality; if it is wrong, they
cannot justly insist upon its extension - its enlargement. All they
ask, we could readily grant, if we thought slavery right; all we ask,
they could as readily grant, if they thought it wrong. Their thinking
it right, and our thinking it wrong, is the precise fact upon which
depends the whole controversy. Thinking it right, as they do, they
are not to blame for desiring its full recognition, as being right;
but, thinking it wrong, as we do, can we yield to them? Can we
cast our votes with their view, and against our own? In view of
our moral, social, and political responsibilities, can we do this?

Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone
where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising
from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our
votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the National Territories,
and to overrun us here in these Free States? If our sense of duty
forbids this, then let us stand by our duty, fearlessly and effectively.
Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances
wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored --
contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between
the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should
be neither a living man nor a dead man -- such as a policy of
"don't care" on a question about which all true men do care --
such as Union appeals beseeching true Union men to yield to
Disunionists, reversing the divine rule, and calling, not the
sinners, but the righteous to repentance -- such as invocations
to Washington, imploring men to unsay what Washington said,
and undo what Washington did.

Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations
against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to
the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. LET US HAVE
FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US,
TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.

(Address to the Young Men's Republican Union at the Cooper
Institute -- New York, New York, February 27, 1860.)
 

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