R03bc_The Lincoln – Douglas Debates: Abraham Lincoln’s Stance on Slavery
Where necessary, take targeted notes and keep the notes organized in your notebook. Sources are listed separately at the end of this document.
In the famous 1858 debates that were a prelude to the Senate elections, Illinois Republican Abraham Lincoln faced-off seven times with Illinois Democrat Stephen Douglas. Many issues were debated, but it always returned to Slavery at one point or another.
Lacking time to dedicate appropriate attention to the temporal elements of the debates: setting, the topics, oratorical ‘swordsmanship’, etc., I’ve decided to focus on one HUGH recurring issue => Abraham Lincoln’s stance on Slavery.
The opponents of Abraham Lincoln’s political rise on the State and National stage gravitated to an ostensible contradiction in his ‘stance on slavery’. Some, who believed Lincoln was Pro-Abolition, would say:
– “He claims to have never had a positive thought about the Slave Institution in the US.”
– “He wishes to restrict the expansion of Slavery into the territories.”
Some, who believed Lincoln was Pro-Slavery, would say:
– “He has expressed in one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates that he does not see the Negro race on a equal social setting with the White race. Not intellectually equal, politically equal, or desirable as neighbors.”
– “He states that he does not want to impinge on any State’s right to maintain it’s Slave Institution where it now (1858) exists.”
NOTE: All these statements are true. They are ‘paraphrased’ from letters and speeches written in Lincoln’s own hand. The key is NOT whether they be lies or truths. It’s determining whether Mr. Lincoln has found a logical and non-contradictory connection between these statements which many of his contemporaries could not, or did not want to, see.
I. Prelude to the Lincoln-Douglas Debates.
A. Please read a contextual summary of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates at http://www.ushistory.org/us/32b.asp
B. To aid your analysis of the excerpt below, you should review a contextual summary of the “House Divided” speech here http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h2934.html
II. Excerpt: Lincoln’s “A House Divided” speech.
The excerpt below comes from the opening section of Abraham Lincoln’s “A House Divided” speech. That transcript can be accessed from the source link below.
One issue of contention in the seven debates (which were held throughout Illinois) was the stance of Abraham Lincoln on the constitutionally protected institution of Slavery.
“If we could first know where we are and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated with the avowed object and confident promise of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only not ceased but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction, or its advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the states, old as well as new, North as well as South.”
A. Analyze the excerpt to uncover Lincoln’s position on Slavery.
B. Offer an explanation, as if writing to Senator Douglas himself, what Lincoln’s stance on the institution of Slavery is. If some would accept this speech as Lincoln’s pro-slavery OR pro-abolition stance, then you must clarify for them which of the two it endorses. This speech, of which this excerpt is its most famous part, can only support one of these two positions; unless, of course, you see something that Mr. Douglas did not.
- Lincoln-Douglas Debates (Contextual Summary): http://www.ushistory.org/us/32b.asp
- Lincoln-Douglas Debates (Transcript of Speeches and Graphics): http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/lincolndouglas/
- Abraham Lincoln’s “A House Divided” Speech (Transcript of speech): http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h2934t.html