Lincoln- Douglas Debates


Second Debate at Freeport, Douglas’ reply to Lincoln


The next question propounded to me by Mr Lincoln is, can the people of a Territory in any lawful way, against the wishes of any citizen of the United States, exclude slavery from their limits prior to the formation of a State constitution? I

answer emphatically as Mr. Lincoln has heard me answer a hundred times from every stump in Illinois, that in my opinion  the people of a Territory can, by lawful means, exclude slavery from their limits prior to the formation of a State

constitution. Mr. Lincoln knew that I had answered the question over and over again. He heard me argue the Nebraska Bill on the principle all over the State in 1854, in 1855, and in 1856, and he has no excuse for pretending to be in doubt

as to my position on that question.


It matters not what way the Supreme Court may hereafter decide as to the abstract question whether slavery may or may not go into a Territory under the Constitution, the people have the lawful means to introduce it or exclude it as they please, for the reason that slavery cannot exist a day or an hour anywhere unless it is supported by local police regulations. Those police regulations can only be established by the local legislature; and if the people are opposed to slavery, they will elect representatives to that body who will by unfriendly legislation effect a change. If, on the contrary, they are for it, their legislation will favor its extension. Hence, no matter what the decision of the Supreme Court may be on that abstract question, still the right of the people to make a slave Territory or a free Territory is perfect and complete under the Nebraska Bill. I hope Mr Lincoln deems my answer satisfactory on that point…


The Black Republican creed lays it down expressly that under no circumstances shall we acquire any more territory, unless slavery is first prohibited in the country….I answer that whenever it becomes necessary in our growth and progress, to acquire more territory, that I am in favor of it, without reference to the question of slavery; and when we have acquired it, I will leave the people free to do as the y please, either to make it slave or free territory, as they prefer.



Third Debate at Jonesborough, Lincoln’s reply to Douglas


“Question 2. Can the people of a United States Territory, in any lawful way, against the wish of any citizen in the United States, exclude slavery from its limits prior to the formation f a State Constitution?”


To this Judge Douglas answered that they can lawfully exclude slavery from the territory prior to the formation of a constitution. He goes on to tell us how it can be done. As I understand him, he holds that it can be done by the Territorial Legislature refusing to make any enactments for the protection of slavery in the Territory, and especially by adopting unfriendly legislation to it. For the sake of clearness, I state it again: that they can exclude slavery from the Territory, 1st, by withholding what he assumes to be an indispensable assistance to it in the way of legislation; and 2nd, by unfriendly legislation. If I rightly understand him, I wish t ask your attention for a while on his position


The Supreme Court of the United States has decided that any Congressional prohibition of slavery in the Territories is unconstitutional; that they have reached this proposition as a conclusion from their last proposition, that the Constitution of the United States expressly recognizes property in slaves, and from that other Constitutional provision, that no person shall be deprived of property without due process of law. Hence they reach the conclusion that as the Constitution of the United States expressly recognizes property in slaves, and prevents any person from being deprived of property without due process of law, to ass an Act of Congress by which a man who owned a slave on one side of a line would be deprived of him if he took him on the other side, is depriving him of that property without due process of law. That I understand to be the decision of the Supreme Court. I understand also that Judge Douglas adheres most firmly to that decision; and the difficulty is, how is it possible for any power to exclude slavery from the Territory, unless in violation of that decision? That is the difficulty …


I hold that the proposition that slavery cannot enter a new country without police regulations is historically false. It is not true at all. I hold that the history of this country shows that the institution of slavery was originally planted on this continent without these “police regulations” which the Judge now thinks necessary.



Seventh Debate at Alton, Illinois


(a)        Douglas’ speech:


I have often repeated, and now again assert, that in my opinion our government can endure forever, divided into free and slave States as our fathers made it, - each State having the right to prohibit, abolish, or sustain slavery, just as it pleases. This government was made upon the great basis of the sovereignty of the States, the right of each state to regulate its own domestic institutions to suit itself; and the right was conferred with the understanding and expectation that, inasmuch as each locality must have different distinct local and domestic institutions, corresponding to its wants and interests. These measures [Compromise of 1850] passed on the joint action of the two parties. They rested on the great principle that the people of each State an each Territory should be eft perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions t suit themselves.


(b)        Lincoln’s Reply to Douglas


I have stated upon former occasions, and I may as well state again, what I understand to be the real issue in this controversy between Judge Douglas and myself …The real issue in this controversy is te sentiment on the part of one calss that looks upon the institution of slavery as a wrong, and of another class that does not look upon it as a wrong. The sentiment that contemplates the institution of slavery in this country as a wrong is the sentiment of the Republican party. It is the sentiment around which all their actions, all their arguments, circle, from which all their propositions radiate. They look upon it as being a moral, social , and political wrong; they nevertheless have due regard for its existence among us and the difficulties of getting rid of it in any satisfactory way, and to all the constitutional obligations thrown about it. Yet, having a due regard for these, they desire a policy in regard to it that looks to its not creating any more danger. They insist that it should, as far as may be, be treated as a wrong; and one of the methods for treating it as a wrong is to make provision that it shall grow no larger. They also desire a policy that looks to a peaceful end of slavery at some time, as being wrong.


I understand I have ten minutes yet. I will employ it in saying something about this argument Judge Douglas uses, while he sustains the Dred Scott decision, that the people of the Territories can still somehow exclude slavery. The first thing I ask attention to is the fact that Judge Douglas constantly said, before the decision, that whether they could or not, was a question for the Supreme Court. But after the court had made the decision he virtually says it is not a question for the Supreme Court, but for the people. And how is it he tells us they can exclude it? He says it needs “police regulations”. And that admits of “unfriendly legislation”. Although it is a right established by the Constitution of the United States and to hold him as property, yet unless the Territorial Legislature will give friendly legislation, and more especially if they adopt unfriendly legislation, they can practically exclude him.


I do not believe it is a constitutional right to own slaves in a Territory of the United States. I believe the decision was improperly made and I go for reversing it. Judge Douglas is furious against those who go for reversing a decision. But he is for legislating it out of all force while the law itself stands. I repeat that there has never been so monstrous a doctrine uttered from the mouth of a respectable man…


I say that no man can deny his obligation to give the necessary legislation to support slavery in a Territory, who believes it is a constitutional right to have it there.


(c) Douglas’ Rejoinder


I assert that this government can exist as they made it, divided into free and slave States, if any one State chooses to retain slavery. He says that he looks forward to a time when slavery shall be abolished everywhere. I look forward to a time when each State shall be allowed to do as it pleases. If it chooses to keep slavery forever it is not my business, but its own; if it chooses to abolish slavery, it is its own business,-not mine. I care more for the great principle of self-government, the right of the people to rule, that I do for all the negroes in Christendom. I would not endanger the perpetuity of this Union, I would not blot out the great inalienable rights of the white man, for all the negroes that ever existed. Hence, I say, let us maintain this government on the principles that our fathers made it, recognizing the right of each State to keep slavery as long as its people determine, or to abolish it when they please.