Lincoln’s Peoria Speech, Part Eighteen

Lincoln 1860

Abraham Lincoln

(Introduction, Parts 12, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17. Full text.)

Stephen Douglas could not relocate the Ohio; Lincoln knew it too well. But he had still another story. Whatever status the Missouri Compromise had back in the day, the Compromise of 1850 did not extend the old line and therefore the nation had embraced a new settlement on slavery in the territories. Thus the Missouri Compromise had fallen, even if no one noticed. When both parties endorsed the compromise’s finality two years later, they endorsed the new reality. The wheel of ages turned and now they lived in a popular sovereignty universe, not a geographic partition universe.

Lincoln would not have it:

This again I deny. I deny it, and demand the proof. I have already stated fully what the compromises of ’50 are. The particular part of those measures, for which the virtual repeal of the Missouri compromise is sought to be inferred (for it is admitted they contain nothing about it, in express terms) is the provision in the Utah and New Mexico laws, which permits them when they seek admission into the Union as States, to come in with or without slavery as they shall then see fit. Now I insist this provision was made for Utah and New Mexico, and for no other place whatever. It had no more direct reference to Nebraska than it had to the territories of the moon.

It did say, right in those territorial laws, that they applied to the territories named. What strange alchemy would extend the provisions of, say, the Utah territorial bill to the plains of Nebraska? Nothing in the words of the law did so, as Douglas would admit. Furthermore, neither the New Mexico nor the Utah bills included even clear popular sovereignty language. At the time, Douglas admitted that no agreement existed on whether or not they put popular sovereignty into operation, or if so under what circumstances. Both territories, late in the decade, did take the latitude given them to pass slave codes, but silence does not explicitly institute policy.

Stephen Douglas

Stephen Douglas

However, say Douglas had it all right about New Mexico and Utah. They had popular sovereignty authorized.

But, say they, it had reference to Nebraska, in principle. Let us see. The North consented to this provision, not because they considered it right in itself; but because they were compensated—paid for it. They, at the same time, got California into the Union as a free State. This was far the best part of all they had struggled for by the Wilmot Proviso. They also got the area of slavery somewhat narrowed in the settlement of the boundary of Texas. Also, they got the slave trade abolished in the District of Columbia. For all these desirable objects the North could afford to yield something; and they did yield to the South the Utah and New Mexico provision.

Even if Douglas had some of the facts on his side, Utah and New Mexico amounted to concessions that the North tolerated in exchange for getting a free California, an end to the public slave trade in Washington, and a reduced Texas.

Now can it be pretended that the principle of this arrangement requires us to permit the same provision to be applied to Nebraska, without any equivalent at all? Give us another free State; press the boundary of Texas still further back, give us another step toward the destruction of slavery in the District, and you present us a similar case. But ask us not to repeat, for nothing, what you paid for in the first instance. If you wish the thing again, pay again. That is the principle of the compromises of ’50, if indeed they had any principles beyond their specific terms—it was the system of equivalents.

Lincoln found there perhaps the one consistent piece of the Compromise of 1850: paying up. If Douglas wanted to wrap himself in its principles, then he offer the North some kind of compensation for the Missouri Compromise repeal. Yet none had come. In fact, the Kansas-Nebraska act that went through the Congress contained almost the most absolutely extreme territorial settlement that it could. Phillip Phillips and Archibald Dixon ensured that. Douglas wanted one hell of a freebie. He got his one hell of a storm.


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