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The first meeting of the series agreed upon was held at Ottawa according to appointment. A concourse of citizens estimated at twelve thousand had assembled. Mr. Douglas had the opening speech, and in this speech he resorted to an expedient for placing Mr. Lincoln on the defensive which was either very weak, or very wicked. He made a charge against Mr. Lincoln which, if he knew it to be false, was foul, and which, if he did not know to be true, was most impolitic. He charged that Mr. Lincoln, on the part of the whigs, and Mr. Trumbull, on the part of the democrats, entered into an arrangement in 1854, for the dissolution of the two parties, and the fusing of both in the republican party, for the purpose of giving Lincoln Shields' place in the Senate, and Trumbull, his (Douglas) own. Furthermore, that the parties met at Springfield in October of that year, and, in convention of their friends, laid down a platform of the principles upon which the new party was constructed. He then proceeded to read what he called “the most important and material resolutions of the abolition platform.” What these resolutions were, will appear in Mr. Lincoln's replies to the questions which Mr. Douglas based upon them. His object in asking these questions was, as he said, in order that when he should “trot him (Lincoln) down” to lower Egypt (southern Illinois) he might put the same questions to him there.
The hearty reception which the audience gave to the principles of this platform as he pronounced them, did not please Mr. Douglas. He wished to see whether they would "bear transplanting from Ottawa to Jonesboro." "I have a right," said Mr. Douglas, “to an answer, for I quote from the platform of the republican party, made by himself (Lincoln) and others at the time that party was formed, and the bargain made by Mr. Lincoln to dissolve and kill the old whig party, and transfer its members, bound hand and foot, to the abolition party, under the direction of Giddings and Fred Douglass.'
Mr. Douglas went on then to comment on Mr. Lincoln's Springfield speech, which had come to be known as “the house-divided-against-itself speech," and slid, as usual, into
his talk about the inferiority of the negro. Speaking of Mr. Lincoln and the “ abolition orators,” he said, “he and they maintain that negro equality is guarantied by the laws of God, and that it is asserted in the Declaration of Independence. If they think so, of course they have a right to say so, and so vote. I do not question Mr. Lincoln's conscientious belief that the negro was made his equal, and, hence, his brother; but for my own part, I do not regard the negro as my equal, and positively deny that he is my brother, or any kin to me whatever.”
And here it may be said, because it will be impossible to describe with particularity all the speeches of the campaign, that the staple of the speeches of Mr. Douglas, as well as those of Mr. Lincoln, related to a very few points, which may be summed up in a brace of paragraphs.
Mr. Douglas did not believe in natural negro equality, and did believe that every state had the right to say just what rights she would confer upon the negro; that the people of every territory had a right to decide as to what their institutions should be, while he bowed, at the same time, to the Dred Scott decision, which declared that they had no right to abolish slavery; and that the country could endure half slave and half free as well for all coming time as it had for the previous eighty years, while slavery itself, to him, was a matter of indifference--an institution which might be “voted up or voted down,” without any appeal to his preferences.
On the other hand, Mr. Lincoln placed himself on the broad ground of the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal, and are by heaven endowed with certain inalienable rights, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He recognized the negro as a man, coming within the broad sweep of this Declaration. He believed thoroughly in Mr. Douglas' doctrine of popular sovereignty, without the Dred Scott qualification, which was a direct denial of the sovereignty; but he believed the abrogation of the Missouri compromise, which Mr. Douglas himself had effected, an unspeakable wrong, a foul breach of faith, by which it was ren
dered possible for the people of a territory to choose slavery, and by which the forcing of slavery upon them was rendered practicable. Furthermore, he saw in that “piece of machinery,” made up of congressional legislation, Supreme Court decisions and executive and party connivance, an attempt to nationalize and perpetuate slavery, which he felt must logically ultimate in that result, or end in universal emancipation. Slavery, he believed, had lived by the side of freedom, and in partnership with it, simply because freedom had regarded itself as eternal, while it had regarded slavery as ephemeral. Thus the fathers regarded and treated slavery. They had curtailed its territory. They had forbidden the importation of slaves. All their arrangements looked to an early end of slavery; and Mr. Lincoln quoted the champions of slavery to sustain his views on this point. When the policy of the government changed, and it was proposed to nationalize slavery and make it perpetual—to confer upon it the same rights with freedom-nay, to make it impossible for freedom to abolish it—then he foresaw a conflict which could only end by its utter overthrow, or its universal prevalence. He did not believe the house would fall; he did believe that it would cease to be divided.
The seven joint debates rang their changes on these points, as they were held and maintained by the debaters. Mr. Douglas did not seem to be as fertile in thought and expression as his antagonist. He was more given to diversions, to the ordinary clap-trap of campaign speaking, to appeals to prejudices, to the springing of false issues, to quibbles and tricks. Mr. Lincoln, on the contrary, was in thorough earnest, and stuck with manly tenacity to the great questions he had in hand. He stripped every objectionable proposition and erery specious argument of the disguises in which the ingenious language of Mr. Douglas had clothed them, and refused to be led away, by a hair's breadth, from the real, naked issues of the campaign.
In replying to Judge Douglas at Ottawa, he simply said that the story of his bargain with Mr. Trumbull was not true, and that he was so far from having had anything to do with the convention to which the Senator had alluded that he was attending court, off in Tazewell County, when it was held. That was all there was of Mr. Douglas' charges. They had not an inch of truth to stand upon; and it was discovered immediately after the debate that the resolutions which Mr. Douglas had quoted had not been passed in Springfield at all, by any convention, and that, although they had been uttered by a local convention in the town of Aurora, they were, for the purposes used, and under the circumstances, essentially a forgery, for which Mr. Douglas or his friends were guiltily responsible. The charge that Mr. Lincoln was in the convention, that he made a bargain with Mr. Trumbull, that he was responsible for a certain set of anti-slavery resolutions, and that the resolutions which he read were passed by the convention that was held at Springfield, was false in every particular. Did Mr. Douglas know it to be so? Perhaps the only reply that it is proper to make to this question is that he ought to have known it to be so.
In Mr. Lincoln's reply, he quoted from his Peoria speech made in 1854, to which allusion has been made in this history, to show his exact position on the subject of slavery in the states where it existed. He said in that speech that he had no prejudice against the southern people. They were just what we should be under their circumstances.
“If slavery did not now exist among them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist among us, we should not instantly give it up." He understood how difficult it was to get rid of slavery, and he did not blame them for not doing what he should not know how to do himself. He acknowledged his constitutional obligations, and went so far as to say that he would be willing to give them a law for reclaiming fugitives, provided a law could be made which would not be more likely to carry a free man into slavery than our ordinary criminal laws are to hang an innocent one. This, notwithstanding he hated slavery for the monstrous injustice of slavery itself, and for its disgrace to democratic institutions. But all these facts had no effect
his mind when he came to consider the question of extending slavery over territory now free.
There was no more excuse, in his opinion, for permitting slavery to go into free territory, than for reviving the African slave-trade by law. 66 The law which forbids the bringing a slave from Africa,” said Mr. Lincoln, “and that which has so long forbidden the taking of them to Nebraska, can hardly be distinguished, on any moral principle.” The priñcipal point urged against Judge Douglas in this speech touched his devotion to Supreme Court decisions. A decision of this Court was to him a “Thus saith the
. Lord.” There was no appeal from it; and the next decision of this same Court, whatever it might be, was indorsed in advance. It is simply for the Supreme Court to say that no state under the Constitution can exclude slavery, and he must bow to the decision, just as when it says no territory can thus exclude it. Mr. Lincoln closed his remarks on this point by an argumentum ad hominem, equally characteristic and clever:
“ The next decision, as much as this, will be a Thus saith the Lord. There is nothing that can divert or turn him away from this decision. It is nothing that I point out to him that his great prototype, General Jackson, did not believe in the binding force of decisions. It is nothing to him that Jefferson did not so believe. I have said that I have often heard him approve of Jackson's course in disregarding the decision of the Supreme Court pronouncing a national bank constitutional. He says I did not hear him say so; He denies the accuracy of my recollection. I say he ought to know better than I, but I will make no question about this thing, though it still seems to me that I heard him say it twenty timesI will tell him though, that he now claims to stand on the Cincinnati platform, which affirms that Congress cannot charter a national bank, in the teeth of that old standing decision that Congress can charter a bank. And I remind him of another piece of history on the question of respect for judicial decisions, and it is a piece of Illinois history, belonging to a time when the large party to which Judge Douglas belonged were displeased with a decision of the Supreme Court of Illinois, because they had decided that a Governor coulů not remove a Secretary of State. You will find the whole story in Ford's History of Illinois; and I know that Judge Douglas will not deny that he was then in favor of overslaughing that decision by the mode of adding five new Judges, so as to vote down the four old ones. Not only so, but it ended in the Judge's sitting down on that very bench as one of the five new Judges to break