Lincoln's speech on slavery in Norwich Ct. 1860

This is taken from an article in a local paper, the Norwich Bulletin. Lincoln campaigned on behalf of Connecticut incumbent governor William Buckingham, a Norwich resident. If you replace slavery with abortion and property with choice, the argument for human rights is as contemporary as anything written this week, but written better. I believe the US Civil War was God's judgment on our country. I am not at all hoping for God's judgment on us for abortion. I pray for mercy. But injustice will be met with justice. I hope it is done by repentance first.

An abstract of Lincoln’s speech in Norwich on March 9, 1860, from “Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VI” edited by John G. Nicolay and John Hay.

Whether we will or not the question of slavery is the question, the all absorbing topic, of the day. It is true that all of us — and by that I mean not the Republican party alone but the whole American people here and elsewhere — all of us wish the question settled — wish it out of the way.

It stands in the way and prevents the adjustment and the giving of necessary attention to other questions of national housekeeping. The people of the whole nation agree that this question ought to be settled and yet it is not settled. And the reason is that they are not yet agreed how it shall be settled.

Again and again it has been fondly hoped that it was settled, but every time it breaks out afresh and more violently than ever. It was settled, our fathers hoped by the Missouri Compromise, but it did not stay settled. Then the Compromise of 1850 was declared to be a full and final settlement of the question The two great parties, each in national convention, adopted resolutions declaring that the settlement made by the Compromises of 1850 was a finality — that it would last forever. Yet how long before it was unsettled again? It broke out again in 1854, and blazed higher and raged more furiously than ever before, and the agitation has not rested since.
These repeated settlements must have some fault about them. There must be some inadequacy in their very nature to the purpose for which they were designed. We can only speculate as to where that fault — that inadequacy is, but we may perhaps profit by past experience.

I think that one of the causes of these repeated failures is that our best and greatest men have greatly underestimated the size of this question. They have constantly brought forward small cures for great sores — plasters too small to cover the wound. This is one reason that all settlements have proved so temporary, so evanescent.

Look at the magnitude of this subject. About one sixth of the whole population of the United States are slaves. The owners of the slaves consider them property. The effect upon the minds of the owners is that of property and nothing else — it induces them to insist upon all that will favorably affect its value as property, to demand laws and institutions and a public policy that shall increase and secure its value, and make it durable, lasting and universal. The effect on the minds of the owners is to persuade them that there is no wrong in it.

But here in Connecticut and at the North slavery does not exist, and we see it through no such medium. To us it appears natural to think that slaves are human beings; men, not property; that some of the things, at least, stated about men in the Declaration of Independence apply to them as well as to us. We think slavery a great moral wrong; and while we do not claim the right to touch it when it exists, we wish to treat it as a wrong in the Territories where our votes will reach it. Now these two ideas, the property idea that slavery is right, and the idea that it is wrong, come into collision and do actually produce that irrepressible conflict which Mr. Seward has been so roundly abused for mentioning. The two ideas conflict, and must conflict.

There are but two policies in regard to slavery that can be at all maintained. The first, based upon the property view that slavery is right, conforms to the idea throughout and demands that we shall do everything for it that we ought to do if it were right. The other policy is one that squares with the idea that slavery is wrong, and it consists in doing everything that we ought to do if it is wrong. I don’t mean that we ought to attack it where it exists. To me it seems that if we were to form a government anew, in view of the actual presence of slavery we should find it necessary to frame just such a government as our fathers did — giving to the slaveholder the entire control where the system was established while we possessed the power to restrain it from going outside those limits.

Now I have spoken of a policy based upon the idea that slavery is wrong, and a policy based upon the idea that it is right. But an effort has been made for a policy that shall treat it as neither right nor wrong. Its central idea is indifference. It holds that it makes no more difference to me whether the Territories become free or slave states than whether my neighbor stocks his farm with horned cattle or puts it into tobacco. All recognize this policy, the plausible, sugar-coated name of which is “popular sovereignty.”


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