Lincoln’s Peoria Speech, Part Seven

Lincoln 1860

Abraham Lincoln

(Introduction, Parts 12, 3, 4, 5, 6. Full text.)

Lincoln took his history lesson up to the Wilmot Proviso, gathering up Stephen Douglas’ endorsement of the Missouri Compromise along the way. Slavery agitation did not end with the defeat of Wilmot, of course. With the Mexican Cession in American hands, soon the news of gold for the taking reached the East Coast and what must have seemed like half the continent arrived the next day. California had more than enough people to warrant statehood. They got up a free state convention that produced a free state constitution and sent to Washington for admittance as a free state.

The Proviso men, of course were for letting her in, but the Senate, always true to the other side would not consent to her admission. And there California stood, kept out of the Union, because she would not let slavery into  her borders.

And the California issue soon merged with the other issues of the day: the border South demanded a new fugitive slave act. Aside from preferring that California join the Union free, the North

clamored for the abolition of a peculiar species of slave trade in the District of Columbia, in connection with which, in view from the windows of the capitol, a sort of negro-livery stable, where droves of negroes were collected, temporarily kept, and finally taken to Southern markets, precisely like droves of horses, had been openly maintained for fifty years.

Utah and New Mexico needed territorial government too, and that required deciding if they would go slave or free. The issue of Texas’ unsettled boundary also came in:

She was received a slave state; and consequently the farther West the slavery men could push her boundary, the more slave country they secured. And the farther East the slavery opponents could thrust the boundary back, the less slave ground was secured. Thus this was just as clearly a slavery question as any others.

Lincoln owns up here as latter-day neo-confederates never would: the issue in every case comes down to slavery, slavery, and an extra helping of slavery. But since all the issues came together and had the benefit of some ambiguity as to who did or did not break from precedent, why not throw them together in a compromise? Both sides gave a bit and got a bit.

The North, per Lincoln, received:

  • A free California
  • abolition of the open slave trade in the District of Columbia
  • and a Texas border quite far to the east.

The South, in turn, received:

  • a new and restrictive fugitive slave law
  • provision that New Mexico and Utah, when admitted to the Union, could come with or without slavery
  • and Texas got millions to satisfy its debts, which it could call payment for land ceded
Stephen Douglas

Stephen Douglas

Everyone went home a little happy and a little disappointed, but so goes compromise and after living with it for a while the nation settled down:

Preceding the presidential election of 1852, each of the great political parties, democrats and whigs, met in convention, and adopted resolutions endorsing the compromise of ’50; as a “finality,” a final settlement, so far as these parties could make it so, of all slavery agitation.

So that did it. The nation finished with slavery. Why did it find itself here again? One law or another covered all the land in its bounds. Both parties agreed on the fact. Both sections got something and gave something. What kind of, in Douglas’ words, “reckless” or “ruthless” villain would reopen the subject? And Lincoln, as before, could point across the stage at the man who spoke before him.

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