THE KANSAS-NEBRASKA BILL, speech at Chicago, October 30, 1854
Frederick Douglass' Paper, November 24, 1854
Friends and Fellow Citizens:
A great national question, a question of transcendent importance—one upon which the public mind is deeply moved, and not my humble name—has assembled this multitude of eager listeners in Metropolitan Hall this evening. You have come up here in obedience to a humane and patriotic impulse, to consider of the requirements of patriotism and humanity, at an important crisis in the affairs of this nation.
In this patriotic and holy purpose, I hail your presence here with grateful, sincere, and heart-felt pleasure. I am anxious to address you on the great subject which has called you together—and will do so—but circumstances will justify me in saying a few words first of a personal nature.
I have the misfortune of being deemed an intruder by some of your fellow citizens.—My visit among you is thought to be untimely, and to savor of impudence, and the like. Upon this matter I have a word to say in my own defence. A man that will not defend himself is not fit to defend a good cause.
And first, ladies and gentlemen, I am not sure that a visit on my part to Chicago would at any time afford those who are now complaining of me any special pleasure. But, gentlemen, I am not ashamed of being called an intruder. I have met it a thousand times in a thousand different places, and I am quite prepared to meet it now—and here, as I have met it, at other times and in other places.
Every inch of ground occupied by the colored man in this country is sternly disputed. At the ballot box and at the altar—in the church and in the State—he is deemed an intruder. He is, in fact, seldom a welcome visitor anywhere. Marvel not, therefore, if I seem somewhat used to the charge of intrusiveness, and am not more embarrassed in meeting it. Men have been known to get used to conditions and objects which, at the first, seemed utterly repulsive and insufferable. And so may I.
One reason why I am not ashamed to be here is this: I have a right to be here and a duty to perform here. That right is a constitutional right, as well as a natural right. It belongs to every citizen of the United States. It belongs not less to the humblest than to the most exalted citizens. The genius of American institutions knows no privileged class or classes. The plebian and the (would be) patrician stand here upon a common level of equality, and the last man in the world who should complain of this is the earnest advocate of popular sovereignty.
I have a right to come into this State to prosecute any lawful business in a lawful manner. This is a natural right, and is a part of the supreme law of the land. By that law the citizens of each state are the citizens of the United States, with rights alike and equal in all the States. The only question of right connected with my case here respects my citizenship. If I am a citizen, I am clothed all over with the star spangled banner and defended by the American Constitution, in every State of the American Union. That constitution knows no man by the color of his skin. The men who made it were too noble for any such limitation of humanity and human rights. The word white is a modern term in the legislation of this country. It was never used in the better days of the Republic, but has sprung up within the period of our national degeneracy.
I claim to be an American citizen. The constitution knows but two classes: Firstly, citizens, and secondly, aliens. I am not an alien; and I am, therefore, a citizen. I am moreover a free citizen. Free, thank God, not only by the law of the State in which I was born and brought up but free by the laws of nature.
In the State of New York where I live, I am a citizen and a legal voter, and may therefore be presumed to be a citizen of the United States. I am here simply as an American citizen, having a stake in the weal or woe of the nation, in common with other citizens. I am not even here as an agent of any sect or party. Parties are too politic and sects are too sectarian, to select one of my odious class, and of my radical opinions, at this important time and place, to represent them. Nevertheless, I do not stand alone here. There are noble minded men in Illinois who are neither ashamed of their cause nor their company. Some of them are here tonight, and I expect to meet with them in every part of the State where I may travel. But, I pray, hold no man or party responsible for my words, for I am no man's agent; and I am no parties' agent; and I beg that my respected friends— the reporters—will be good enough to make a note of that. I have a very good reason for making this request—a reason which I may some day give to the world, but which I need not give now.
One other remark; and it shall be in regard to a matter about which you wish to hear at once. It touches the matter involved on my mission here. I wish not only to stand within my rights as a man, but to stand approved at the bar of propriety as a gentleman, when, as in this case, I can do so without the sacrifice of principle. It has been given out, I believe, by some friends and also by some of the enemies of the principles I am here to sustain that I have come into this State to confront in public debate, my distinguished namesake, the Hon. Stephen A. Douglas.
Fellow citizens, I wish to disclaim so much of this report as can possibly imply the slightest disrespect for the talents of your honorable Senator. His fame as an orator, and as a man of energy and perseverence, has not risen higher anywhere than in my own judgment. He is a man of the people. He came up from among them, and that by the native energy of his character and his manly industry. I am ever pleased to see a man rise from among the people. Every such man is prophetic of the good time corning. I have watched him during the past winter, when apparently overwhelmed with learning and eloquence, rise again, and with more than the tact and skill of a veteran, drive all before him. There is perhaps something in a name, and that may possibly explain the peculiar interest with which I have watched and contemplated the fortune of Mr. S. A. Douglas.
This feeling, I think, you will admit, is quite natural. No man likes to read in a newspaper of the hanging of a man bearing his own name.
On the other hand, no man bearing the name of Douglas, would think less of his name, if this great nation should, in the abundance of goodness be pleased to place that name in the scroll of its Presidents; and this, notwithstanding the trite saying, that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
But the times, the times bid us to have done with names. Names have lost their significance, in more ways than one—deeds, not words, are the order of the day; names are valued so long as they are associated with honor, justice and liberty; and become execrable when associated with falsehood, treachery and tyranny?
It is alleged that I am come to this State to insult Senator Douglas. Among gentlemen, that is only an insult which is intended to be such, and I disavow all such intention. I am not even here with the desire to meet in public debate, that gentleman. I am here precisely as I was in this State one year ago—with no other change in my relations to you, or to the great question of human freedom, than time and circumstances have brought about. I shall deal with the subject in the same spirit now as then; approving such men and such measures as I look to the security of liberty in the land and with my whole heart condemning all men and measures as serve to subvert or endanger it.
If Hon. S. A. Douglas, your beloved and highly gifted Senator, has designedly, or through mistaken notions of public policy ranged himself, on the side of oppressors and the deadliest enemies of liberty, I know of no reason, either in this world or any other world, which should prevent me, or prevent any one else, from thinking so, or from saying so.
The people in whose cause I come here to-night, are not among those whose right to regulate their own domestic concerns, is so feelingly and eloquently contended for in certain quarters. They have no Stephen Arnold Douglas—no Gen. Cass, to contend at North Market Hall for their Popular Sovereignty. They have no national purse—no offices, no reputation, with which to corrupt Congress, or to tempt men, mighty in eloquence and influence into their service. Oh, no! They have nothing to commend them but their unadorned humanity. They are human—that's all—only human. Nature owns them as human—God owns them as human; but men own them as property!—Every right of human nature, as such, is denied them—they are dumb in their chains! To utter one groan, or scream, for freedom in the presence of the Southern advocate of Popular Sovereignty, is to bring down the frightful lash upon their quivering flesh. I knew this suffering people; I am acquainted with their sorrows; I am one with them in experience; I have felt the lash of the slave driver, and stand up here with all the bitter recollections of its horrors vividly upon me.
There are special reasons, therefore, why I should speak and speak freely. The right of speech is a very precious one, especially to the oppressed.
I understand that Mr. Douglas regards himself as the most abused man in the United States and that the greatest outrage ever committed upon him, was in the case in which your indignation raised your voices so high that his could not be heard. No personal violence, as I understand, was offered him. It seems to have been a trial of vocal powers between the individual and the multitude; as might have been expected, the voice of one man was not equal in volume to the voice of five hundred.
I do not mention this circumstance to approve it; I do not approve it; I am for free speech as well as for freemen and free soil; but how ineffably insignificant is this wrong done in a single instance, and to a single individual, compared with the stupendous iniquity perpetrated against more than three millions of the American people, who are struck dumb by the very men in whose cause Mr. Senator Douglas was here to plead. While I would not approve the silencing of Mr. Douglas, may we not hope that this slight abridgment of his rights may lead him to respect in some degree the rights of other men, as good in the eyes of Heaven, as himself.
Let us now consider the great question of the age; the only great national question which seriously agitates the public mind at this hour. It is called the vexed question; and excites alarm in every quarter of the country.
Efforts have been made to set it at rest.—Statesmen, and political parties, and churches have exerted themselves to settle it forever. They sought to bind it with cords; to resist it with revolutions, and bury it under platforms; but all to no purpose. The waves of the ocean still roll, and the earthquakes still shake the earth, and men's hearts still fail them for fear of those judgments which threaten to come upon the land.
Fellow Citizens: some things are settled, and settled forever—not by the laws of man, but by the laws of God; by the constitution of mankind; by the relations of things and by the facts of human experience.
It is, I think, pretty well settled, that liberty and slavery cannot dwell in the United States in peaceful relations; the history of the last five and twenty years settles that.
It is pretty well settled, too, that one or the other of these must go to the wall. The South must either give up slavery, or the North must give up liberty. The two interests are hostile, and are irreconcilable.—The just demands of liberty are inconsistent with the overgrown exactions of the slave power.
There is not a single tendency of slavery but is adverse to freedom. The one is adapted to progress, to industry, and to dignify industry. Slavery is anti-progressive—sets a premium on idleness, and degrades both labor and laborers. The fetters on the limbs of the slave, to be secure, must be accompanied with fetters on society as well. A free press and a free gospel, are as hostile as fire and gunpowder—separation or explosion, are the only alternatives.
No people in this country better understand this peculiarity than the slave-holders themselves. Hence the repeated violations of your Post Office laws in Southern towns and cities; hence the expurgations of Northern literature, and the barbarous outrages committed upon the persons of Northern travellers in the Southern States. Light and love, justice and mercy, must be guarded against in a community where the cruel lash is the law, and human lust is religion.
For a long time, it has been seen that the ideas and institutions of liberty, if allowed their natural course, would finally overthrow slavery. That slaveholders themselves would after a while come to loathe it.
Selfishness combined with this knowledge has at length ultimated into the formation of a party, ranged under the very taking appellation of National—the greatest business of which is to hold at bay, and restrain, and if possible to extinguish in the heart of this great nation every sentiment supposed to be at variance with the safety of slavery.
This party has arisen out of the teachings of that great man of perverted faculties, the late John C. Calhoun. No man of the nation has left a broader or a blacker mark on the politics of the nation, than he. In the eye of Mr. Calhoun every right guaranteed by the American constitution, must be held in subordination to slavery. It was he who first boldly declared the self-evident truths of the declaration of independence, self-evident falsehoods. He has been followed in this by Mr. Benton's D.D. from Indiana.
The very spirit of Mr. Calhoun animates the slavery party of to-day. His principles are its principles, and his philosophy its philosophy. He looked upon slavery as the great American interest. The slavery party of to-day so esteem it. To preserve it, shield it, and support it, is its constant duty, and the object and aim of all its exertions. With this party the right of free men, free labor, and a free north are nothing. Daniel Webster never said a truer word than at Marshfield, in '48—"Why the North? There is no North!" But there is a South and ever has been a South controlling both parties, at every period of their existence.
The grand inauguration of this slavery party took place in the Summer of 1852.—That party was represented in both the great parties; and demanded as a condition of their very existence, that they should give their solemn endorsement, as a finality to the compromise measures of 1850. Abhorrent as were its demands, and arrogant and repulsive as was its manner of pressing them—that party was obeyed. Both conventions took upon them the mark of the beast; and called upon the whole North to do the same.—The Democratic party consented to be branded thus:
"That Congress has no power, under the constitution, to interfere with, or control the domestic institutions of the several States; and that such States are the sole and proper judges of everything appertaining to their own affairs, not prohibited by the constitution—that all efforts of the Abolitionists or others to induce Congress to interfere with the question of slavery, or to take incipient steps in relation thereto, are calculated to lead to the most alarming and dangerous consequences; and that all such efforts have an inevitable tendency to diminish the happiness of the people, and endanger the stability and permanency of the Union; and ought not to be countenanced by any friend of our political institution.
"Resolved, That the foregoing proposition covers and was intended to embrace the whole subject of the slavery agitation in Congress; and, therefore, the Democratic party of this Union, standing on this National platform, will abide by, and adhere to a faithful execution of the acts known as the compromise measures, settled by the last Congress—the act for reclaiming fugitives from service or labor included, which act being decided to carry out an express provision of the constitution, cannot, with fidelity, be repealed or be changed as to destroy or impair its efficacy.
"Resolved, That the Democratic party will resist all attempts at renewing, in Congress or out of it, the agitation of the slavery question, under whatever shape or color the attempt may be made."
Gentlemen: Such was the Democratic mark, and such was the Democratic pledge. It was taken in sight of all the nation, and in the sight of God, only two years ago. Has it kept that pledge? Does it stand acquitted to-day at the bar of public honor? or does it stand forth black with perfidy towards the North, while it wallows in the mire of deeper servility to the South? Has the Democratic party a single claim on your confidence, more than any notorious liar would have upon your credulity? Can you believe in a party that keeps its word, only as it has no temptation to break it? Is there a single man that can pretend to say that the Democrats—the Baltimore platform Democrats, have been true to their solemn declarations? Have they not renewed, and, in a manner to peril the cause of liberty—the agitation of slavery, which they solemnly promised to resist? Do you say they have not? Then there is no longer an intelligible proposition in the English language—nor is it possible to frame one.
But let me read to you the resolution imposed on the Whig National Convention, as the vital condition of its existence; and which was given to the world as the faith of that great organization, touching the matter of slavery. Here it is:
"That the series of acts, of the 31st Congress, known as the compromise, including the fugitive slave act, are received and acquiesced in by the Whig party of the United States, as a final settlement, in principle and substance, of the dangerous and exciting subjects which they embrace; and so far as the fugitive slave law is concerned, we will maintain the same, and insist upon its strict enforcement, until time and experience shall demonstrate the necessity of further legislation to guard against the evasion of the laws on the one hand, and the abuse of their powers on the other—not impairing their present efficacy—and deprecate all further agitation of the questions thus settled, as dangerous to our peace; and we will discountenance a continuance or renewal of such agitation, whenever, wherever, or however, the attempt may be made; and we will maintain this system as essential to the nationality of the Whig party, and the integrity of the Union."
Now, fellow-citizens: In those platforms, and in the events which have since transpired, it is easy to read the designs of the slave power. Something is gained when the plans and purposes of an enemy are discovered.
I understand the first purpose of the slave power to be the suppression of all anti-slavery discussion. Next, the extension of slavery over all the territories. Next, the nationalizing of slavery, and to make slavery respected in every State in the Union.
First, the right of speech is assailed, and both parties pledge themselves to put it down. When parties make platforms, they are presumed to put nothing into them, which, if need be, they may not organize into law. These parties on this presumption, are pledged to put down free discussion by law—to make it an offence against the law to speak, write, and publish against slavery, here in the free States, just as it now is an offence against the law to do so in the slave States. One end of the slave's chain must be fastened to a padlock in the lips of Northern freemen, else the slave will himself become free.
Now, gentlemen, are you ready for this?—Are you ready to give up the right of speech, and suppress every human and Christ-inspired sentiment, lest the conscience of the guilty be disturbed?
Our parties have attempted to give peace to slaveholders. They have attempted to do what God has made impossible to be done; and that is to give peace to slaveholders.—"There is no peace to the wicked, saith my God." In the breast of every slaveholder, God has placed, or stationed an anti-slavery lecturer, whose cry is guilty, guilty, guilty; "thou art verily guilty concerning thy brother."
But now let me come to the points of this great question which touch us most nearly to-night.
I take the case to be this: The citizens of this State are now appealed to, to give their sanction to the repeal of the law, by which slavery has been, during a period of thirty four years, restricted to the south Of 36 deg. 30 min. of north latitude, in the territory acquired by the purchase of Louisiana.
This is but a simple and truthful statement of the real question.
The question is not, whether "popular sovereignty" is the true doctrine for the territories—it is not whether the chief agents in the repeal of that line, acted from good or bad motives; nor is it whether they are able or feeble men.
These are points of very little consequence in determining the path of duty in this case.
When principles are at stake, persons are of small account; and the safety of a Republic is found in a rigid adherence to principles. Once give up these, and you are a ship in a storm, without anchor or rudder.
Fellow-Citizens: The proposition to repeal the Missouri Compromise, was a stunning one. It fell upon the nation like a bolt from a cloudless sky. The thing was too startling for belief. You believed in the South, and you believed in the North; and you knew that the repeal of the Missouri Compromise was a breach of honor; and, therefore, you said the thing could not be done. Besides, both parties had pledged themselves directly, positively and solemnly against re-opening in Congress the agitation on the subject of slavery; and the President himself had declared his intention to maintain the national quiet. Upon those assurances you rested, and rested fatally.
But you should have learned long ago that "men do not gather grapes of thorns, nor figs of thistles." It is folly to put faith in men who have broken faith with God. When a man has brought himself to enslave a child of God, to put fetters on his brother, he has qualified himself to to disregard the most sacred of compacts—beneath the sky there is nothing more sacred than man, and nothing can be properly respected when manhood is despised and trampled upon. Now let us attend to the defence made before the people by the advocates of the Kansas-Nebraska bill.
They tell us that the bill does not open the Territories to slavery, and complain that they are misrepresented and slandered by those charging them with flinging open the Territories to slavery. I wish to slander no man. I wish to misrepresent no man. They point us to the bill itself as proof that no such opening of the Territories to slavery is contemplated, or intended by it. I will read to you from the bill itself, to see what is relied upon at this point:
"It being the true intent and meaning of this act not to legislate slavery into any Territory or State; nor to exclude it therefrom, but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way; subject only to the constitution of the United States."
One part of this declaration is true and carries the evidence of its truth on its face. It is true that it is no part of the true intent and meaning of the act to exclude slavery from any Territory or State. If its true intent and meaning had been otherwise, it would not have repealed the law, the only law, which had excluded slavery from those territories, and from those States which may be formed out of them. I repeat, this part of the bill needs no explanation. It is plain enough already. There is not a slaveholder in the land, however ardent an advocate of slavery extension he may be, who has ever complained that the true intent and meaning of the Kansas-Nebraska bill was to exclude slavery from the territories in question, or from any States which might be formed out of them. Slaveholders do not so ,understand the bill. Had they so understood it, they would never have gone in a body to sustain the bill. It is very significant that on this part of this "stump speech" in the declaration, the country is agreed, everybody understanding it alike, while on the other hand, the words in the bill, directly preceding it, are the subject of controversy. Why is this so? You are told that it is owing to the perversity of man's understanding. But this is not the answer. I will tell you why it is. The people, like the old rat, do not deny that the white dust they see here is meal—real and genuine meal—but under the meal they detect the treacherous form of the cat. Under that smooth exterior there are the sharp teeth and destructive claws, and hence they avoid, shun and detest it.
But again: it is claimed that the Nebraska bill does not open the territories to Slavery for another reason. It is said that Slavery is the creature of positive law, and that it can only exist where it is sustained by positive law—that neither in Kansas nor in Nebraska is there any law establishing Slavery, and that, therefore, the moment a slaveholder carries his slaves into those Territories they are free, and restored to the rights of human nature. This is the ground taken by General Cass. He contended for it in the North Market Hall, with much eloquence and skill. I thought, while I was hearing him on this point, that slaveholders would not be likely to thank him for the argument. Theoretically the argument is good, practically the argument is bad. It is not true that slavery cannot exist without being established by positive law. On the contrary, the instance cannot be shown where a law was ever made establishing slavery, where the relation of master and slave did not previously exist. The law is always an aftercoming consideration. Wicked men first overpower, and subdue their fellow-men to slavery, and then call in the law to sanction the deed.
Even in the slave States of America, slavery has never been established by positive law. It was not so established under the colonial charters of the original States, nor the constitution of the States. It is now, and always has been, a system of lawless violence.
On this proposition, I hold myself ready and willing to meet any defender of the Nebraska bill. I would not even hesitate to meet the author of that bill himself. I insist upon it that the very basis upon which this bill is defended, is utterly and entirely false as applied to the practice of slavery in this country. The South itself scouts the theory of Messrs. Douglas and Cass at this point, and esteem it simply as a gull-trap in which to catch the simple. They look upon it simply as a piece of plausible stump oratory, and censure it as such. But that slavery is not the tame creature of law, as alleged, I will not rely solely on my own declaration.
Senator Mason, of Virginia, the author of the Fugitive Slave bill, and one of the most influential members of the American Senate, during the debate on the Fugitive Slave bill in 1850, scouted such a basis for slavery, and confessed that no such existed. He said, and I quote his own words:
"Then again, it is proposed (by one of the opponents of the bill) as a part of the proof to be adduced at the hearing after the fugitive has been recaptured, that evidence shall be brought by the claimant to show that slavery is established in the State from whence the fugitive has absconded. Now, this very thing, in a recent case in the city of New York, was required by one of the judges of that State, which case attracted the attention of the authorities of Maryland, and against which they protested, because of the indignities heaped upon their citizens, and the losses which they sustained in that city. In that case, the Judge of the State Court required proof that slavery was established in Maryland, and went so far as to say that the only mode of proving it was by reference to the statute book. Such proof is required in the Senator's amendment; and if he means by this that proof shall be brought that slavery is established by existing laws, it is impossible to comply with the requisition, for no such proof can be produced, I apprehend, in any of the slave States. I am not aware that there is a single State in which the institution is established by positive law. On a former occasion, and on a different topic, it was my duty to endeavor to show to the Senate that no such law was necessary for its establishment; certainly none could be found, and none was required in any of the States of the Union."
There you have it. It cannot be shown that slavery is established by law even in the slaveholding States. But slavery exists there—and so may it exist in Nebraska and in Kansas—and I had almost said that this is well known to the very men who are now trying to persuade the people of the north that it cannot.
But there is another defence set up for the repeal of the Missouri restriction. It is said to be a patriotic defence, supported by patriotic reasons. It is the defence which Senator Douglas uses with much effect wherever he goes.
He says he wants no broad black line across this continent. Such a line is odious and begets unkind feelings between the citizens of a common country.
Now, fellow-citizens, why is the line of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes, a broad black line? What is it that entitles it to be called a black line? It is the fashion to call whatever is odious in this country, black.—You call the Devil black— and he may be, but what is there in the line of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes, which makes it blacker than the line which separates Illinois from Missouri, or Michigan from Indiana? I can see nothing in the line itself which should make it black or odious. It is a line, that's all.
If it is black, black and odious, it must be so not because it is a line, but because of the things it separates.
If it keeps asunder what God has joined together—or separates what God intended should be fused—then it may be called an odious line, a black line; but if on the other hand, it marks only a distinction—natural and eternal—a distinction, fixed in the nature of things by the Eternal God, then I say, withered be the arm and blasted be the hand that would blot it out.
But we are told that the people of the North were originally opposed to that line, that they burnt in effigy the men from the North who voted for it, and that it comes with a bad grace from the North now to oppose its repeal.
Fellow-citizens, this may do in the Barroom. It may answer somewhere outside of where the moon rises, but it won't do among men of intelligence.
Why did the North condemn the Missouri line? This it was: they believed that it gave slavery an advantage to which slavery had no right. By establishing the Missouri Compromise line, slavery got all south of it. By repealing that line it may get all north of it. Now are any so blind as not to see that the same reasons for opposing the original line, are good against repeal.
Allow me to illustrate. Thirty-four years ago, a man succeeds in getting a decision unjustly, by which he comes in possession of one half of your farm. You protest against that decision, and say it is corrupt. But the man does not heed your protests. He builds his house upon it, and fences in his lands and warns you to keep off his premises. You cannot help yourself. You live by his side thirty- four years. You have lost the means of regaining your lost property. But just at this time there comes a new judge, a Daniel, a very Daniel, and he reverses so much of the judgment by which you lost the first half of your farm, and makes another decision by which you may lose the other half.
You meekly protest against this new swindle. When the judge in question, with great affectation of impartiality, denounces you as very difficult to please, and as flagrantly inconsistent.
Such, gentlemen, is the plain and simple truth in the matter.
By the Missouri Compromise, slavery—an alien to the Republic, and enemy to every principle of free Institutions, and having no right to exist anywhere— got one half of a territory rightfully belonging to Freedom.—You complained of that. Now a law is repealed whereby you may lose the other half also, and you are forbidden to complain.
But hear again:
It is said with much adroitness by the advocates of the Nebraska bill, that we are unnecessarily solicitous for the rights of Negroes, that if the people of the territories can be trusted to make laws for white men, they may be safely left to make laws for black men.
Now, gentlemen, this is a favorite point of the author of the Nebraska bill. Under its fair seeming front, is an appeal to all that is mean, cowardly, and vindictive in the breast of the white public. It implies that the opponents of the Nebraska bill feel a deeper concern for the Negroes as such, than for white men, that we are unnaturally sensitive to rights of the blacks, and unnaturally indifferent to the rights of the whites.
With such an unworthy implication on its face, I brand it as a mean, wicked and bitter appeal to Popular Prejudice, against a people wholly defenceless, and at the mercy of the public.
The argument of Senator Douglas at this point, assumes the absurd position that a slaveholding people will be as careful of the rights of their black slaves as they are of their own. They might as well say that wolves may be trusted to legislate for themselves, and why not for lambs, as to say that slaveholders may do so for themselves, and why not for their slaves?
Shame on the miserable sophistry, and shame on the spirit that prompted its utterance! There is nothing manly or honorable in either. Take another specimen of senatorial logic; a piece of the same roll to which I have just referred.
Senator Douglas tells you, that the people may be as safely left to make laws respecting slavery, as to regulate theft, robbery, or murder. Very well—so they may. There is no doubt about that; but as usual, the Hon. Senator fails to bring out the whole truth.—To bring out the whole truth here, is to cover him with shame.
To put the matter in its true light, let us suppose that in the Southern States of this Union, the people are so benighted as to practice and support "theft," "robbery," and "murder," but that in the other States that practice is loathed and abhorred.
Suppose, also, that up to a certain line in a territory belonging alike and equally to all the States, these wicked practices were prohibited by law; and then, suppose a grave Senator from a State where theft, robbery and murder are looked upon with horror, rising in his place in the national legislature and moving to repeal the line excluding "theft," "robbery" and "murder," and demanding that "theft," "robbery" and "murder," be placed upon the same footing with honesty, uprightness and innocence.—I say, suppose this, and you have a parallel to the conduct of Senator Douglas, in repealing the line of 36 deg. 30 min.
But the grand argument, and the one which seems to be relied upon as unanswerable and overwhelming, is this: The people of the territories are American citizens, and carry with them the right of self-government; that this Nebraska bill is based upon this great American principle of Popular Sovereignty, and that to oppose this principle, is to act as did King George towards the American colonies.
Let me answer this argument. It may not need an answer here in Chicago, for it has been answered here, and answered well.—Nevertheless, let me answer it again, and prove by the bill itself, that it is a stupendous shame with every motive to deceive without the power.
What is meant by Popular Sovereignty?—It is the right of the people to establish a government for themselves, as against all others. Such was its meaning in the days of the revolution. It is the independent right of a people to make their own laws, without dictation or interference from any quarter. A sovereign subject is a contradiction in terms, and is an absurdity. When sovereignty becomes subject, it ceases to be sovereignty. When what was future becomes the present, it ceases to be the future and so with sovereignty and subjection, they cannot exist at the same time in the same place, any more than an event can be future and present at the same time. This much is clear.
Now the question is, does the Kansas-Nebraska bill give to the people of these territories the sovereign right to govern themselves? Is there a man here who will say that it does?
The author of the bill, in his stump speeches in the country, says that it does; and some men think the statement correct. But what say you, who have read the bill?
Nothing could be further from the truth, than to say that Popular Sovereignty is accorded to the people who may settle the territories of Kansas and Nebraska.
The three great cardinal powers of government are the Executive, Legislative and Judicial. Are these powers secured to the people of Kansas and Nebraska?
That bill places the people of that territory as completely under the powers of the federal government as Canada is under the British crown. By this Kansas-Nebraska bill the federal government has the substance of all governing power, while the people have the shadow. The judicial power of the territories is not from the people of the territories, who are so bathed in the sunlight of popular sovereignty by stump eloquence, but from the federal government.—The executive power of the territories derives its existence not from the overflowing fountain of popular sovereignty, but from the federal government. The Secretaries of the territories are not appointed by the sovereign people of the territories, but are appointed independently of popular sovereignty.
But is there nothing in this bill which justifies the supposition that it contains the principle of popular sovereignty? No, not one word. Even the territorial councils, elected, not by the people who may settle in the territories, but by only certain descriptions of people are subject to a double veto power, vested first in a governor, which they did not elect, and second in the President of the United States. The only shadow of popular sovereignty is the power given to the people of the territories by this bill to have, hold, buy and sell human beings. The sovereign right to make slaves of their fellowmen if they choose is the only sovereignty that the bill secures.
In all else, popular sovereignty means only what the boy meant when he said he was going to live with his uncle Robert. He said he was going there, and that he meant while there, to do just as he pleased, if his uncle Robert would let him!
I repeat, that the only seeming concession to the idea of popular sovereignty in this bill is authority to enslave men, and to concede that right or authority is a hell black denial of popular sovereignty itself.
Whence does popular sovereignty take rise? What and where is its basis? I should really like to hear from the author of the Nebraska bill, a philosophical theory, of the nature and origin of popular sovereignty. I wonder where he would begin, how he would proceed and where he would end.
The only intelligible principle on which popular sovereignty is founded, is found in the Declaration of American Independence, there and in these words: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The right of each man to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is the basis of all social and political right, and, therefore, how brass-fronted and shameless is that impudence, which while it aims to rob men of their liberty, and to deprive them of the right to the pursuit of happiness—screams itself hoarse to the words of popular sovereignty.
But again: This bill, this Nebraska bill, gives to the people of the territories the right to hold slaves. Where did this bill get this right, which it so generously gives away? Did it get it from Hon. Stephen A. Douglas? Then I demand where he got that right?—Who gave it to him? Was he born with it? Or has he acquired it by some noble action? I repeat, how came he by it, or with it, or to have it?
Did the people of this State, from whom he derived his political and legislative life, give him this right, the right to make slaves of men? Had he any such right?
The answer is, he had not. He is in the condition of a man who has given away that which is not his own.
But it may be said that Congress has the right to allow the people of the territories to hold slaves.
The answer is, that Congress is made up of men, and possesses only the rights of men, and unless it can be shown, that some men have a right to hold their fellow-men as property, Congress has no such right.
There is not a man within the sound of my voice, who has not as good a right to enslave a brother man, as Congress has. This will not be denied even by slave- holders.
Then I put the question to you, each of you, all of you, have you any such right?
To admit such a right is to charge God with folly, to substitute anarchy for order, and to turn earth into a hell. And you know it.
Now, friends and fellow-citizens, I am uttering no new sentiments at this point, and am making no new argument. In this respect there is nothing new under the sun.
Error may be new or it may be old, since it is founded in a misapprehension of what truth is. It has its beginnings and has its endings. But not so with truth. Truth is eternal. Like the great God from whose throne it emanates, it is from everlasting unto everlasting, and can never pass away.
Such a truth is man's right to freedom.—He was born with it. It was his before he comprehended it. The title deed to it is written by the Almighty on his heart, and the record of it is in the bosom of the eternal—and never can Stephen A. Douglas efface it unless he can tear from the great heart of God this truth. And this mighty government of ours will never be at peace with God until it shall, practically and universally, embrace this great truth as the foundation of all its institutions, and the rule of its entire administration.
Now, gentlemen, I have done. I have no fear for the ultimate triumph of free principles in this country. The signs of the times are propitious. Victories have been won by slavery, but they have never been won against the onward march of anti-slavery principles. The progress of these principles has been constant, steady, strong and certain. Every victory won by slavery has had the effect to fling our principles more widely and favorably among the people.—The annexation of Texas—the Florida war—the war with Mexico—the compromise measures and the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, have all signally vindicated the wisdom of that great God, who has promised to overrule the wickedness of men for His own glory—to confound the wisdom of the crafty and bring to naught the counsels of the ungodly.