Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln by Stephen B. Oates

Book: Abraham Lincoln by Stephen B. Oates Read Free Book Online
Authors: Stephen B. Oates
that it was all “a sacred right of self-government.” On the stump in Illinois, Lincoln engaged in a rhetorical dialogue with the southern people, speaking as though they were in his audiences. He did not fault them for the origin of slavery; he bore them no ill-will of any kind. He still believed in their intrinsic decency and sense of justice, still believed that they too regarded slavery as wrong—that they too felt there was humanity in the Negro. Do you deny this? he asked them at Peoria in 1854. Then why thirty-four years ago did you join the North in branding the African slave trade as an act of piracy punishable by death? “Again,” Lincoln went on, “you have amongst you, a sneaking individual, of the class of native tyrants, known as the ‘ SLAVEDEALER .’ He watches your necessities, and crawls up to buy your slave, at a speculating price. If you cannot help it, you sell to him; but if you can help it, you drive him from your door. You despise him utterly. You do not recognize him as a friend, or even as an honest man. Yourchildren must not play with his; they may rollick freely with the little negroes, but not with the ‘slave-dealers’ children. If you are obliged to deal with him, you try to get through the job without so much as touching him. It is common with you to join hands with the men you meet; but with the slave dealer you avoid the ceremony—instinctively shrinking from the snaky contact.”
    Now why is this? Lincoln asked southern whites. Is it not because your human sympathy tells you “that the poor negro has some natural right to himself—that those who deny it, and make mere merchandise of him, deserve kickings, contempt and death?” He beseeched southerners not to deny their true feelings about slavery. He beseeched them to regard bondage strictly as a necessity, as the Fathers had so regarded it, and to contain its spread as those “old-time men” had done.
    â€œFellow countrymen—Americans south, as well as north,” Lincoln cried, let us prevent the spirit of Kansas-Nebraska from displacing the spirit of the Revolution. “Let us turn slavery from its claims of ‘moral right,’ back upon its existing legal rights…and there let it rest in peace. Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it. Let north and south—let all Americans—let all lovers of liberty everywhere—join the great and good work. If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union; but we shall have so saved it, as to make, and to keep it, forever worthy of the saving.”
    But Lincoln’s entreaties fell on deaf ears in Dixie. Across the region, in an age of revolutionary agitation, proslavery apologists disparaged the Declaration of Independence and the idea of human equality as “a self-evident lie.” They trumpeted Negro bondage as a great and glorious good, sanctioned by the Bible and ordained by God throughout eternity. They contended that Negroes were subhuman and belonged in chains as naturally as cattle in pens. Cranky George Fitzhugh even exhorted southerners to destroy free society (or capitalism), revive the halcyon days of feudalism, and enslave all workers—white as well as black. Andhe ranted at abolitionists for allying themselves with the “uncouth, dirty, naked little cannibals of Africa.” Because “free society” was “unnatural, immoral, unchristian,” the proslavery argument went, “it must fall and give way to a slave society—a system as old as the world.” For “two opposite and conflicting forms of society cannot, among civilized men, co-exist and endure. The one must give way and cease to exist—the other become universal.” “Free society!” shrieked one Alabama paper. “We sicken of the name! What is it but a conglomeration of greasy mechanics, filthy

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