A House Divided

Today in History, June 16, 1858:

Illinois “circuit” lawyer Abraham Lincoln, running to be the Senator from that state, gives a speech at the capitol of Springfield and gains the Republican nomination.

One of his most famous speeches, the “House Divided” speech did not gain him the job of US Senator from Illinois, that would go to his opponent, Stephen A. Douglas.

However, published nationally, it did launch him onto the national stage, along with his series of debates against Douglas, which would gain him the Presidency two years later.

The speech was prophetic, as Lincoln told his listeners that after recent events, the nation could no longer expect to be half free and half slave, but must be all one or the other.

“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 lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.

The Lincoln – Douglas Debates & Abolition

Today in History, August 21, 1858:

The first of seven debates between two candidates for an Illinois Senate seat begins.

Now famous as the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, former Congressman Lincoln, a former Whig and member of the infant Republican Party, tried for incumbent Democrat Stephen A. Douglas’ Senate seat.

The primary focus of the debates was Lincoln’s desire to curtail the spread of slavery to midwest and western states, and Douglas’ belief that each state should be able to decide for itself.

It is “debatable” who won the debates, but Lincoln lost the election.

Yet the debates launched this little known lawyer onto the national stage. Two years later he would face Douglas and others for the Presidency and would win.

It is important to note that while Lincoln was an abolitionist at heart, he was not yet arguing for complete abolition, only restrictions on slavery. Each of the debates lasted for hours. Here is one telling quote from Lincoln,

“This declared indifference, but, as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world—enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites—causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty—criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.”

Lincoln did not have all of the answers. He had little choice but to play politics and compromise to achieve his goals. I personally do not see how an analysis of his speeches, writings, and actions can lead to any conclusion other than he was an abolitionist.