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it is not even disrespectful, to treat it as not having yet quite established a settled doctrine for the country. ...
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, towit: 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 did.
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 enlightened 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 words 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 the 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 been more
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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 prohibition. In those days Legislatures held the unquestioned power to abolish slavery in their respective States; but now it is becoming quite fashionable for State Constitutions to withhold that power from the Leg- . islatures. In those days, by common consent, the spread of the black man's bondage to the new countries was prohibited; but now Congress decides that it will not continue the prohibition and the Supreme Court decides that it could not if it would. In those days our Declaration of Independence was held sacred by all, and thought to include all; but now to aid in making the bondage of the negro universal and eternal, it is assailed, sneered at, construed, hawked at, and torn, till, if its framers could rise from their graves, they could not at all recognize it. All the powers of the earth seem rapidly combining against him. Mammon is after him; ambition follows, philosophy follows, and the theology of the day is fast joining the cry. ...
Three years and a half ago Judge Douglas brought forward his famous Nebraska bill. The country was at once in a blaze. He scorned all opposition, and carried it through Congress. Since then he has seen himself superseded in a Presidential nomination, ... and he has seen that successful rival constitutionally elected, not by the strength of friends, but by the division of his adversaries, being in a popular minority of nearly four hundred thousand votes. He has seen his chief aids in his own State, Shields and Richardson, politically speaking, successively tried, convicted and executed for an offense not their own, but his. And now he sees his own case standing next on the docket for trial.
There is a natural disgust in the minds of nearly all white people to the idea of an indiscriminate amalgamation of the white and black races, and Judge Douglas evidently is basing his chief hope upon the chances of his being able to appropriate the benefit of this disgust to himself. If he can, by much drumming and repeating, fasten the odium of that idea upon his adversaries, he thinks he can struggle through the storm. ... Chief Justice Taney, in his opinion in the Dred Scott case, admits that the language of the
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Declaration is broad enough to include the whole human family; but he and Judge Douglas argue that the authors of that instrument did not intend to include negroes, by the fact that they did not at once actually place them on an equality with the whites. ...
They did not means to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral development, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness in what respects they did consider all men created equal — equal with “certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This they said, and this meant. .., Its authors meant it to be as, thank God, it is now proving itself, a stumbling-block to all those who, in after times, might seek to turn a free people back into the hateful paths of despotism. ...
The plainest print can not be read through a gold eagle, and it will be ever hard to find many men who will send a slave to Liberia and pay his passage, while they can send him to a new country — Kansas, for instance — and sell him for fifteen hundred dollars, and the rise.
As yet Douglas had manifested no repugnance toward the policy pursued for making Kansas a slave State, marked as in this regard was the absence of any practical virtue in his fine theory of popular sovereignty. This device, he could see, was now in imminent danger of returning to plague its originator. There was a dilemma. To openly sustain the popular majority in Kansas was to forfeit Southern support; to abandon the majority there and help their enemies within and without was to stultify himself and to be ruined at home.
In the spring of 1858 Lincoln appeared at Beardstown as counsel in a case which recalled the Menard country, where the Sangamon Falls still roar as of old, their voice resounding through the valley and over the heights on which once stood the hamlet where he lived as clerk, surveyor, law student, postmaster, and, after a tour as captain of mounted volunters, received the votes of all about him for member of the Legislature. More than twenty-five years had passed since he met Jack Armstrong in a tough wrestling match, afterwards visiting occasionally at his house, and sometimes rocking the cradle in which lay baby William, his son. Jack was now dead, and the boy, grown into manhood, had come to be the chief support of his mother, with whom he lived on the old farm. Late in the summer of 1857 he and other young men of the neighborhood had gone to a camp-meeting in the adjoining county of Mason. Around what might be called a sutler's wagon of the enemy, stationed at a distance from the Methodist encampment, thirsty groups were gathered as the night came on. An affray occurred, in which one Metzgar was mortally wounded by blows on the head. Armstrong and another young man were charged with the homicide, lodged in the Mason County jail, and indicted. There was an intense feeling against the accused, and there was one swift witness ready to swear that he saw the fatal blows struck. Armstrong's counsel obtained for his client a change of venue to Cass County and a postponement of the trial until spring. Learning the heavy trouble which had befallen the family, Lincoln promised the prisoner's mother to aid in his defense. It was a gratuitous service. At the trial the witness before alluded to identified the accused as the one who struck the fatal blows with a slung-shot, and this, with the other evidence for the State, seemed to place his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. For the defense there was only testimony to his previous good reputation and peaceable disposition; but the chief accusing witness, on cross-examination, had been led to say that a full moon was shining clearly at the time, and was about where the sun would be at 10 o'clock in the forenoon. Lincoln produced an almanac to be given to the jury, and in the course of his argument — one of the most eloquent he ever made in court — pointed out that the lunar calendar proved the witness a perjurer. Armstrong was acquitted.
A verdict that seemed so impossible before Lincoln spoke, the disappointed ones accounted for by pretending that the almanac used was for the year previous to the homicide, and that the jurors were cheated. Of course such a charge against such a lawyer should need no disproof; yet it found some credence among dull people, who did not think or did not care to compare the almanac of 1856 with that of 1857, which would have settled the matter beyond cavil.
Another instance, less noted but no less notable than the Armstrong case, shows Lincoln's readiness, out of mere sympathy for a friend in distress, to undertake the defense of one accused of crime. At a meeting of the bar in 1865, Mr. Linder (mentioned in a previous chapter) told of his first meeting with Abraham Lincoln at Charleston, Coles County, in 1835, and of their continued friendship thenceforward, despite partisan disagreements. Not long ago the former had been in great trouble on account of the indictment of his son for a homicide “in a part of the State where Lincoln was a tower of strength,” and “where his arguments at law had more power than the instructions of the court.”