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Fragment on Slavery
July 1, 1854
[From early manhood Lincoln's sympathies had been strongly enlisted on behalf of the slaves. The contrast between slave labor and free labor has never been stated more tersely and vividly than here. The sentence, "Twentyfive years ago I was a hired laborer," should be noted.]
EQUALITY in society alike beats inequality, whether the latter be of the British aristocratic sort or of the domestic slavery sort. We know Southern men declare that their slaves are better off than hired laborers amongst us. How little they know whereof they speak! There is no permanent class of hired laborers amongst us. Twenty-five years ago I was a hired laborer. The hired laborer of yesterday labors on his own account to-day, and will hire others to labor for him to-morrow. Advancementimprovement in condition-is the order of things in a society of equals. As labor is the common burden of our race, so the effort of some to shift their share of the burden onto the shoulders of others is the great durable curse of the race.
Originally a curse for transgression upon the whole race, when, as by slavery, it is concentrated on a part only, it becomes the doublerefined curse of God upon his creatures.
Free labor has the inspiration of hope; pure slavery has no hope. The power of hope upon human exertion and happiness is wonderful. The slave-master himself has a conception of it, and hence the system of tasks among slaves. The slave whom you cannot drive with the lash to break seventy-five pounds of hemp in a day, if you will task him to break a hundred, and promise him pay for all he does over, he will break you a hundred and fifty. You have substituted hope for the rod. And yet perhaps it does not occur to you that to the extent of your gain in the case, you have given up the slave system and adopted the free system of labor.
The Dred Scott Decision and the Declaration of Independence
June 26, 1857
[This is an extract from a speech delivered in Springfield, Ill. It was intended as a reply to a speech of Stephen A. Douglas two weeks earlier upon the subject of slavery in the Territories. Douglas was the author of the KansasNebraska bill, passed in 1854, which gave the Territories the right to decide whether they would have slavery. The Dred Scott decision was published by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1857, and was > the effect that a slave or the descendant of slave could not be a citizen of the United States or have any standing in the Federal courts. Lincoln contrasts the spirit of this decision with that of the Declaration of Independence, with a skill and force that will be apparent to every reader. He repeated the substance of the argument over and over again in his joint debates with Douglas in the following year.]
I HAVE said, in substance, that the Dred Scott decision was in part based on assumed historical facts which were not really true, and I ought not to leave the subject without giving some reasons for saying this; I therefore give an instance or two, which I think fully sustain me. Chief Justice Taney, in delivering the opinion
of the majority of the court, insists at great length that negroes were no part of the people who made, or for whom was made, the Declaration of Independence, or the Constitution of the United States.
On the contrary, Judge Curtis, in his dissenting opinion, shows that in five of the then thirteen States-to wit, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and North Carolina-free negroes were voters, and in proportion to their numbers had the same part in making the Constitution that the white people had. He shows this with so much particularity as to leave no doubt of its truth; and as a sort of conlusion on that point, holds the following language:
The Constitution was ordained and established by the people of the United States, through the action, in each State, of those persons who were qualified by its laws to act thereon in behalf of themselves and all other citizens of the State. In some of the States, as we have seen, colored persons were among those qualified by law to act on the subject. These colored persons were not only included in the body of the people of the United States' by whom the Constitution was ordained and established but in at least five of the States they had the power to act, and doubtless did act, by their suffrages, upon the question of its adoption."
Again, Chief Justice Taney says:
"It is difficult at this day to realize the state of public opinion, in relation to that unfortunate race, which prevailed in the civilized and en
lightened portions of the world at the time of the Declaration of Independence, and when the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted."
And again, after quoting from the Declaration, he says:
"The general words above quoted would seem to include the whole human family, and if they were used in a similar instrument at this day, would be so understood."
In these the Chief Justice does not directly assert but plainly assumes, as a fact, that the public estimate of the black man is more favorable now than it was in the days of the Revolution. This assumption is a mistake. In some trifling particulars the condition of that race has been ameliorated; but as a whole, in this country, the change between then and now is decidedly the other way; and their ultimate destiny has never appeared so hopeless as in the last three or four years. In two of the five States-New Jersey and North Carolina-that then gave the free negro the right of voting, the right has since been taken away, and in a third-New York-it has been greatly abridged; while it has not been extended, so far as I know, to a single additional State, though the number of the States has more than doubled. In those days, as I understand, masters could, at their own pleasure, emancipate their slaves; but since then such legal restraints have been made upon emancipation as to amount almost to pro