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ducted to so triumphant a close. That issue was whether the Government of the Republic known as the United States of America had the right, and the power, and the will to prevent the extension of negro-slavery over the common territory and under the authority of the Union. That right was asserted, and the intention to exert it declared, by the party whose votes made Mr. Lincoln President. It was denied, and the purpose based upon it was denounced, not only by a large majority of the people of the Slave States but by a powerful minority in the Free States ; which majority and minority, working together, had for many years directed the councils and swayed the power of the Government. Upon this issue Mr. Lincoln delivered an address at the Cooper Institute in New York on the evening of February 27, 1860, at a time when he had no notion that he should ever be President. Senator Douglas, then the leader of the Free State minority above mentioned, had taken the position that the fathers of the Republic had denied the right of the Government to interfere with the question of slavery in the Territories or common landed possessions of the Union, adding, as a conclusive argument against such interference, that "our fathers when they framed the Government under which we live understood this question just as well and even better than we do now."
This doctrine of Mr. Douglas Mr. Lincoln took as the subject of his address, and by careful historical research he brought to light the remarkable and pregnant fact that, with one or two exceptions, the fathers of the Republic, meaning those who took part in framing the Constitution and in estab?ishing the Government, had, on every occasion of the consideration of the subject of
slavery in the Territories, shown by their votes that in their judgment Congress had the constitutional right to exclude slavery from or admit it to the Territories, or to modify the form under which it should be admitted, or declare the conditions under which it should exist. Mr. Lincoln brought forward contemporary record of such action by the fathers of the Republic in 1784 and in 1787, before the formation of the present constitution ; in 1789, in 1798, in 1804, and in 1820. Mr. Lincoln thus summed up the facts which he had brought to light.
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." thirtynine”-so acting upon it as to make them guilty of gross political impropriety, and wilful 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.
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.”
It is surely safe to assume that the thirty-nine framers of the original Constitution, and the seventy-six members of the Con
gress 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.
In this speech Mr. Lincoln set forth, in a very noteworthy manner, his appreciation of the relative positions of the Free and the Slave States upon the great question then agitating the country. After saying that the Republican party only asked that slavery should be marked as “the fathers” marked it, “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," he continued, “all the guaranties those fathers gave it, be, not grudgingly, but fully and fairly maintained.” Then, addressing himself to the propagandists of slavery, he said as follows :
And now, if they would listen-as I suppose they will notI 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
And if there be fault in that fact, that fault is primarily yours, and remains so 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 us 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 bad, 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 La Fayette 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.
Of emancipation and of such efforts as that of John Brown, Mr. Lincoln expressed these views :
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 [the negroes'] 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 slave-holding States only. The Federal Government, however,