Abraham Lincoln’s Long Lost Autobiography – Lawyer and Politician – 1849 - 1858
(An excerpt from Lincoln’s recently discovered autobiography…as disclosed by Wikileaks)
After my Congressional term ended in 1849, I left politics, dedicating myself to my law practice. In those days, lawyers and judges ‘rode the circuit’, traveling from town to town hearing and resolving cases. I covered a large territory, spending much time on the road away from my family.
I participated in a wide variety of legal cases from commercial and civil matters to criminal affairs. In one case, I defended a client accused of murder. The prosecution’s key witness testified that he saw the late evening murder by moonlight. However, I produced an almanac showing that the moon had set at the time of the murder, destroying the witness’s credibility. My client was acquitted.
The new railroad industry wanted to build bridges over the Mississippi River but were opposed by ferry operators. I defended the first railroad to build a bridge spanning the Mississippi River. A steamboat ferry crashed into the railroad bridge collapsing it. My client sued for damages. The case eventually went to the Supreme Court where the railroad won.
The country seemed stable until the 1854 Congress, led by Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, narrowly passed the Kansas-Nebraska act. The 1820 Missouri Compromise had prohibited slavery north of 36.5 degrees latitude, the southern border of Missouri. The Compromise of 1850 in essence extended the prohibition of slavery to the territories obtained from Mexico in 1848 after the Mexican-American War. But now the Kansas-Nebraska Act broke these compromises by allowing slavery, under the ‘popular sovereignty’ doctrine, in territories where it formerly had been prohibited.
I was outraged as was much of the country. I gave several speeches including one in Peoria opposing this act. The full speech has been published, but I would like to repeat portions here:
“Nearly eighty years ago we began by declaring that all men are created equal; but now from that beginning we have run down to the other declaration, that for some men to enslave others is a 'sacred right of self-government.' These principles cannot stand together. They are as opposite as God and Mammon; and whoever holds to the one must despise the other.”
Senator Douglas has stated he was indifferent to slavery. I disagree:
“This declared indifference…I cannot but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself.”
Equal justice to the South, it is said, requires us to consent to the extending of slavery to new countries. That is to say, inasmuch as you do not object to my taking my hog to Nebraska, therefore I must not object to you taking your slave. Now, I admit this is perfectly logical, if there is no difference between hogs and Negroes…And now, why will you ask us to deny the humanity of the slave? and estimate him only as the equal of the hog?”
I believe the Declaration of Independence is one of our strongest arguments against slavery. As I emphasized in my speech:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, DERIVING THEIR JUST POWERS FROM THE CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED.''
I have quoted so much at this time merely to show that according to our ancient faith, the just powers of governments are derived from the consent of the governed. Now the relation of masters and slaves is, PRO TANTO, a total violation of this principle. The master…governs the slave without his consent…”
In 1854 I decided to re-enter politics. I narrowly lost the Whig Party nomination as Senator from Illinois. In 1856, I spoke at the founding convention of the Illinois Republican party. I’ve heard that reporters were so enthralled by my speech, which was an impassioned condemnation of slavery, that they neglected to take notes. And I did not preserve a copy of what I said either, so I guess it is a ‘lost speech’.
In 1856 I was nominated for Vice President at the newly formed Republican Party convention and came in second. I gave many campaign speeches in support of the Republican Party candidate for President, John Fremont. Fremont lost in a close three-way election to Democrat James Buchanan. President Millard Fillmore received over 20% of the vote as a third party candidate for the ‘Know Nothing’ party, which opposed immigration and Catholics. My thoughts on that party:
“As a nation we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except Negroes.’ When the Know Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except Negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.”
In 1857 the Supreme Court issued its infamous Dred Scott decision, declaring African-Americans ineligible for citizenship. Stephen Douglas actually defended the Dred Scott decision, stating that “…the Signers of the Declaration of Independence…referred to the white race alone, and not to the African, when they declared men to have been created free and equal.” He says Republicans “…want to vote, and eat, and sleep, and marry with Negroes.”
I disagreed strongly with Douglas’s support of the Dred Scott decision:
“Now I protest against that counterfeit logic which concludes that, because I do not want a black women for a slave, I must necessarily want her for a wife. I need not have her for either, I can just leave her alone.”
In 1858, the Republican convention nominated me for the Senate to oppose Douglas. In my acceptance speech, in referring to the slavery crisis caused by the Kansas – Nebraska act and the Dred Scott decision, I stated:
“…In my opinion,[conflict] 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.”
I will be opposing Stephen Douglas, Democratic nominee for Senator. He has accepted my challenge to a series of debates on slavery and the future of the country.
(to be continued)