Lincoln: Granting negro equality as fantastical as proving ‘horse-chesnut to be a chesnut horse’

Quincy, Illinois,Oct. 13

The Lincoln Douglas debate moves to downtown Quincy. It could be assumed that this city is a fan of Lincoln. Quincy is a city of Whigs, Mr. Lincoln’s former political party. Today is a clear sky and without any of the cold and bracing wind of Galesburg. The Quincy Whig published a programme for the speech.

Judge Douglas arrived the prior night in a parade or torches and tapestry. He was escorted to the Quincy house by a group of 3,000 Democrats. Mr. Lincoln arrived at half-past nine and he was met by a large crowd of Republicans and the Steig’s brass band.

There are 12,000 people in attendance, and many of them are part of the former Whig party. The debate begins early afternoon. Mr. Lincoln begins his speech by explaining he never attended a Republican Party meeting that passed abolitionist positions that Douglas has blamed on him. 

As in previous debates, Lincoln counters Douglas’ claim that he says one thing in Egypt in southern Illinois and another when he comes north. He points out he had said four years earlier exactly what he said at recent debate at Charleston – that his “own feelings would not admit a social and political equality between the white and black races, and that even if my own feelings would admit of it, I still knew that the public sentiment of the country would not, and that such a thing was an utter impossibility…”

Lincoln adds:

“Now, gentlemen, I don’t want to read at any great length, but this is the true complexion of all I have ever said in regard to the institution of slavery or the black race, and this is the whole of it; any thing that argues me into his idea of perfect social and political equality with the negro, is but a specious and fantastical arrangement of words by which a man can prove a horse-chestnut to be a chestnut horse. I will say here, while upon this subject, that I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution in the States where it exists. I believe I have no right to do so. I have no inclination to do so. I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together on the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position.” [Cheers, “That’s the doctrine.”] “I have never said any thing to the contrary, but I hold that notwithstanding all this, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence-the right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas that he is not my equal in many respects, certainly not in color-perhaps not in intellectual and moral endowments; but in the right to eat the bread without the leave of any body else which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every other man.” [Loud cheers.]

Lincoln  pushes the question of the Dred Scott decision again and whether or not Judge Douglas would stand by such a choice.

From the beginning of the debates, Lincoln has said that applying the Dred Scott decision to the whole nation would mean free states could not ban slavery because the court said the Constitution protects the slaveholder’s property right in slave ownership. Lincoln says Douglas has dodged the question:

At Galesburg, I tried to show that by the Dred Scott decision, pushed to its legitimate consequences, slavery would be established in all the States as well as in the Territories. I did this because, upon a former occasion, I had asked Judge Douglas whether, if the Supreme Court should make a decision declaring that the States had not the power to exclude slavery from their limits, he would adopt and follow that decision as a rule of political action; and because he had not directly answered that question, but had merely contented himself with sneering at it, I again introduced it, and tried to show that the conclusion that I stated followed inevitably and logically from the proposition already decided by the court…. I give him this third chance to say yes or no. He is not obliged to do either-probably he will not do either- [laughter] but I give him the third chance. 

Mr. Lincoln concludes his speech by arguing the difference with Judge Douglas is a matter of right or wrong. 

I suggest that the difference of opinion, reduced to its lowest terms, is no other than the difference between the men who think slavery a wrong and those who do not think it wrong. The Republican party think it wrong-we think it is a moral, a social and a political wrong. We think it as a wrong not confining itself merely to the persons or the States where it exists, but that it is a wrong in its tendency, to say the least, that extends itself to the existence of the whole nation. Because we think it wrong, we propose a course of policy that shall deal with it as a wrong. We deal with it as with any other wrong, in so far as we can prevent its growing any larger, and so deal with it that in the run of time there may be some promise of an end to it. We have a due regard to the actual presence of it amongst us and the difficulties of getting rid of it in any satisfactory way, and all the Constitutional obligations thrown about it. I suppose that in reference both to its actual existence in the nation, and to our Constitutional obligations, we have no right at all to disturb it in the States where it exists, and we profess that we have no more inclination to disturb it than we have the right to do it.

Judge Douglas then takes his stand to a roar of applause. Again he calls for silence for his presentation. He begins established what he calls the facts of the Republican party:

That platform declared that the Republican party was pledged never to admit another slave State into the Union, and also that it pledged to prohibit slavery in all the Territories of the United States, not only all that we then had, but all that we should thereafter acquire, and to repeal unconditionally the Fugitive Slave law, abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, and prohibit the slave-trade between the different States. These and other articles against slavery were contained in this platform and unanimously adopted by the Republican Congressional Convention in that District. 

He continues to follow up on Mr. Lincoln’s rhetoric hitting hard upon the question that he asked in Freeport and again in Ottawa about adding more slave states into the union.

In answer to my question whether he indorsed the Black Republican principle of “no more slave States,” he answered that he was not pledged against the admission of any more slave States, but that he would be very sorry if he should ever be placed in a position where he would have to vote on the question; that he would rejoice to know that no more slave States would be admitted into the Union…”

Judge Douglas doubles down that Mr. Lincoln will not answer about admitting slave states “as the people of the people of the territory wish.”

He would not answer my question directly, because up North, the abolition creed declares that there shall be no more slave States, while down south, in Adams county, in Coles, and in Sangamon, he and his friends are afraid to advance that doctrine. Therefore, he gives an evasive and equivocal answer, to be construed one way in the south and another way in the north, which, when analyzed, it is apparent is not an answer at all with reference to any territory now in existence…

Then Judge Douglas explains why he won’t say whether he thinks slavery is right or wrong.

“He (Lincoln) tells you that I will not argue the question whether slavery is right or wrong. I tell you why I will not do it. I hold that under the Constitution of the United States, each State of this Union has a right to do as it pleases on the subject of slavery. In Illinois we have exercised that sovereign right by prohibiting slavery within our own limits. I approve of that line of policy. … It is none of our business whether slavery exists in Missouri or not. Missouri is a sovereign State of this Union, and has the same right to decide the slavery question for herself that Illinois has to decide it for herself…. He is going to discuss the rightfulness of slavery when Congress cannot act upon it either way. 

He begins to discuss the Dred Scott decision bringing attention to how Mr. Lincoln would reverse the decision. Judge Douglas makes the statement that the territories should protect the slave owner’s “property.” 

I ask him whether the decision of the Supreme Court is not binding upon him as well as on me? If so, and he holds that he would be perjured if he did not vote for a slave code under it, I ask him whether, if elected to Congress, he will so vote? I have a right to his answer, and I will tell you why. He put that question to me down in Egypt, and did it with an air of triumph. This was about the form of it: “In the event of a slaveholding citizen of one of the Territories should need and demand a slave code to protect his slaves, will you vote for it? 

He (Lincoln) wishes to discuss the merits of the Dred Scott decision when, under  the Constitution, a Senator has no right to interfere with the decision of judicial tribunals.I have never yet learned how or where an appeal could be taken from the Supreme Court of the United States! The Dred Scott decision was pronounced by the highest tribunal on earth. From that decision there is no appeal this side of Heaven. Yet, Mr. Lincoln says he is going to reverse that decision. By what tribunal will he reverse it? Will he appeal to a mob? Does he intend to appeal to violence, to Lynch law? Will he stir up strife and rebellion in the land and overthrow the court by violence? …But, I will not be drawn off into an argument upon the merits of the Dred Scott decision. It is enough for me to know that the Constitution of the United States created the Supreme Court for the purpose of deciding all disputed questions touching the true construction of that instrument, and when such decisions are pronounced, they are the law of the land, binding on every good citizen.

Shortly before closing, Douglas foresees slavery existing forever.

Let each State stand firmly by that great Constitutional right, let each State mind its own business and let its neighbors alone, and there will be no trouble on this question. If we will stand by that principle, then Mr. Lincoln will find that this Republic can exist forever divided into free and slave States, as our fathers made it and the people of each State have decided. Stand by that great principle, and we can go on as we have done, increasing in wealth, in population, in power, and in all the elements of greatness, until we shall be the admiration and terror of the world.

Lincoln in his answer immediately jumps on Douglas’ remark.

I wish to return to Judge Douglas my profound thanks for his public annunciation here to-day, to be put on record, that his system of policy in regard to the institution of slavery contemplates that it shall last forever. [Great cheers, and cries of “Hit him again.”]We are getting a little nearer the true issue of this controversy, and I am profoundly grateful for this one sentence. Judge Douglas asks you, “Why cannot the institution of slavery, or rather, why cannot the nation, part slave and part free, continue as our fathers made it forever?” In the first place, I insist that our fathers did not make this nation half slave and half free, or part slave and part free. I insist that they found the institution of slavery existing here. They did not make it so, but they left it so because they knew of no way to get rid of it at that time. When Judge Douglas undertakes to say that, as a matter of choice, the fathers of the Government made this nation part slave and part free, he assumes what is historically a falsehood. More than that: when the fathers of the Government cut off the source of slavery by the abolition of the slave-trade, and adopted a system of restricting it from the new Territories where it had not existed, I maintain that they placed it where they understood, and all sensible men understood, it was in the course of ultimate extinction. As Mr. Lincoln closes out the rest of his time, the crowds melt away hurrahing for their chosen candidates until their voice cracked and went hoarse. 

Share our journalism