To Horace Greeley

1848.  Lincoln is a representative to the US Congress.  The issue of where the border of Texas was at the time of the beginning of the Mexican War will be an issue Lincoln comes back to.

Washington, June 27, 1848.

Friend Greeley: In the “Tribune” of yesterday I discovered a little editorial paragraph in relation to Colonel Wentworth of Illinois, in which, in relation to the boundary of Texas, you say: “All Whigs and many Democrats having ever contended it stopped at the Nueces.” Now this is a mistake which I dislike to see go uncorrected in a leading Whig paper. Since I have been here, I know a large majority of such Whigs of the House of Representatives as have spoken on the question have not taken that position. Their position, and in my opinion the true position, is that the boundary of Texas extended just so far as American settlements taking part in her revolution extended; and that as a matter of fact those settlements did extend, at one or two points, beyond the Nueces, but not anywhere near the Rio Grande at any point. The “stupendous desert” between the valleys of those two rivers, and not either river, has been insisted on by the Whigs as the true boundary.

Will you look at this? By putting us in the position of insisting on the line of the Nueces, you put us in a position which, in my opinion, we cannot maintain, and which therefore gives the Democrats an advantage of us. If the degree of arrogance is not too great, may I ask you to examine what I said on this very point in the printed speech I send you.

Yours truly,



Speech on the Dred Scott Decision at Springfield, Illinois

1857.  This is a fascinating speech that touches upon some of the major issues of the years preceding the war.  I think it’s a brilliant speech.  There is certainly a flavor of some outmoded racial ideas, and yet Lincoln is clear, cogent, and logical in his arguments.  He decimates the idea of ‘popular sovereignty’, the idea that persons residing in a federal territory have the right to decide whether or not slavery should be allowed in that territory.  Also the idea that blacks were not meant to be included in the phrase “… all men are created equal.”  Despite his evident belief that blacks are not his personal equal, his belief that they none-the-less deserve the same basic rights as other Americans shines through his rhetoric.  And this is American rhetoric at its best.  (Note that his opinion about the abilities of black Americans would evolve with time and a major war.)

At this point in his life, Lincoln had re-entered politics after a long absence — though I don’t believe he actually held any office at this time — largely due to his outrage over the events he touches on in this speech.  Speeches like this one will make him the Illinois Republican senatorial candidate in 1858, when he will run against Democrat incumbent Stephen Douglas.

June 26, 1857

FELLOW CITIZENS:—I am here to-night, partly by the invitation of some of you, and partly by my own inclination. Two weeks ago Judge Douglas spoke here on the several subjects of Kansas, the Dred Scott decision, and Utah. I listened to the speech at the time, and have read the report of it since. It was intended to controvert opinions which I think just, and to assail (politically, not personally,) those men who, in common with me, entertain those opinions. For this reason I wished then, and still wish, to make some answer to it, which I now take the opportunity of doing.

I begin with Utah. If it prove to be true, as is probable, that the people of Utah are in open rebellion to the United States, then Judge Douglas is in favor of repealing their territorial organization, and attaching them to the adjoining States for judicial purposes. I say, too, if they are in rebellion, they ought to be somehow coerced to obedience; and I am not now prepared to admit or deny that the Judge’s mode of coercing them is not as good as any. The Republicans can fall in with it without taking back anything they have ever said. To be sure, it would be a considerable backing down by Judge Douglas from his much vaunted doctrine of self-government for the territories; but this is only additional proof of what was very plain from the beginning, that that doctrine was a mere deceitful pretense for the benefit of slavery. Those who could not see that much in the Nebraska act itself, which forced Governors, and Secretaries, and Judges on the people of the territories, without their choice or consent, could not be made to see, though one should rise from the dead to testify.

But in all this, it is very plain the Judge evades the only question the Republicans have ever pressed upon the Democracy in regard to Utah. That question the Judge well knows to be this: “If the people of Utah shall peacefully form a State Constitution tolerating polygamy, will the Democracy admit them into the Union?” There is nothing in the United States Constitution or law against polygamy; and why is it not a part of the Judge’s “sacred right of self-government” for that people to have it, or rather to keep it, if they choose? These questions, so far as I know, the Judge never answers. It might involve the Democracy to answer them either way, and they go unanswered.

As to Kansas. The substance of the Judge’s speech on Kansas is an effort to put the free State men in the wrong for not voting at the election of delegates to the Constitutional Convention. He says: “There is every reason to hope and believe that the law will be fairly interpreted and impartially executed, so as to insure to every bona fide inhabitant the free and quiet exercise of the elective franchise.

Read more of this post

To Joseph Medill


J Medill, Esq                            Springfield,
My dear Sir                            June 25 1858

Your note of the 23rd. did not reach me till last evening. The Times article I saw yesterday morning. I will give you a brief history of facts, upon which you may rely with entire confidence, and from which you can frame such articles or paragraphs as you see fit.

I was in Congress but a single term. I was a candidate when the Mexican war broke out—and I then took the ground, which I never varied from, that the Administration had done wrong in getting us into the war, but that the Officers and soldiers who went to the field must be supplied and sustained at all events. I was elected the first Monday of August 1846, but, in regular course, only took my seat December 6, 1847. In the interval all the battles had been fought, and the war was substantially ended, though our army was still in Mexico, and the treaty of peace was not finally concluded till May 30. 1848. Col. E. D. Baker had been elected to congress from the same district, for the regular term next preceding mine; but having gone to Mexico himself, and having resigned his seat in Congress, a man by the name of John Henry, was elected to fill Baker’s vacancy, and so came into congress before I did. On the 23rd. day of February 1847 (the very day I believe, Col. John Hardin was killed at Buena Vista, and certainly more than nine months before I took a seat in congress) a bill corresponding with great accuracy to that mentioned by the Times, passed the House of Representatives, and John Henry voted against it, as may be seen in the Journal of that session at pages 406-7. The bill became a law; and is found in the U.S. Statutes at Large—Vol. 9. page 149.

This I suppose is the real origin of the Times’ attack upon me. In its’ blind rage to assail me, it has seized on a vague recollection of Henry’s vote, and appropriated it to me. I scarcely think any one is quite vile enough to make such a charge in such terms, without some slight belief in the truth of it.

Henry was my personal and political friend; and, as I thought, a very good man; and when I first learned of that vote, I well remember how astounded and mortified I was. This very bill, voted against by Henry, passed into a law, and made the appropriations for the year ending June 30. 1848—extending a full month beyond the actual and formal ending of the war. When I came into congress, money was needed to meet the appropriations made, and to be made; and accordingly on the 17th. day of Feb. 1848, a bill to borrow 18.500 000. passed the House of Representatives, for which I voted, as will appear by the Journal of that session page 426, 427. The act itself, reduced to 16.000 000 (I suppose in the Senate) is found in U.S. Statutes at Large Vol. 9- 217.

Again, on the 8th. of March 1848, a bill passed the House of Representatives, for which I voted, as may be seen by the Journal 520-521 [.] It passed into a law, and is found in U.S. Statutes at Large Page 215 and forward. The last section of the act, on page 217—contains an appropriation of 800 000. for clothing the volunteers.

It is impossible to refer to all the votes I gave but the above I think are sufficient as specimens; and you may safely deny that I ever gave any vote for withholding any supplies whatever, from officers or soldiers of the Mexican war. I have examined the Journals a good deal; and besides I can not be mistaken; for I had my eye always upon it. I must close to get this into the mail.

Yours very truly


To Lyman Trumbull


Hon. Lyman Trumbull                    Springfield,
My dear Sir:                     June 23, 1858

Your letter of the 16th. reached me only yesterday. We had already seen, by Telegraph, a report of Douglas’ general onslaught upon every body but himself.  I have this morning seen the Washington Union, in which I think the Judge is rather worsted in regard to that onslaught.

In relation to the charge of an alliance between the Republicans and Buchanan men in this state, if being rather pleased to see a division in the ranks of the democracy, and not doing anything to prevent it, be such alliance, then there is such alliance—at least that is true of me. But if it be intended to charge that there is any alliance by which there is to be any concession of principle on either side, or furnishing of the sinews, or partition of offices, or swopping of votes, to any extent; or the doing of anything, great or small, on the one side, for a consideration, express or implied, on the other, no such thing is true so far as I know or believe.

Before this reaches you, you will have seen the proceedings of our Republican State Convention. It was really a grand affair, and was, in all respects, all that our friends could desire.

The resolution in effect nominating me for Senator I suppose was passed more for the object of closing down upon this everlasting croaking about Wentworth, than anything else.

The signs look reasonably well. Our State ticket, I think, will be elected without much difficulty. But, with the advantages they have of us, we shall be very hard run to carry the Legislature.

We shall greet your return home with great pleasure.

Yours very truly


To John L. Scripps

1858. see June 16.

Jno. L. Scripps, Esq                        Springfield,
My dear Sir                                      June 23, 1858

Your kind note of yesterday is duly received. I am much flattered by the estimate you place on my late speech; and yet I am much mortified that any part of it should be construed so differently from any thing intended by me. The language, “place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in course of ultimate extinction,” I used deliberately, not dreaming then, nor believing now, that it asserts, or intimates, any power or purpose, to interfere with slavery in the States where it exists. But, to not cavil about language, I declare that whether the clause used by me, will bear such construction or not, I never so intended it. I have declared a thousand times, and now repeat that, in my opinion, neither the General Government, nor any other power outside of the slave states, can constitutionally or rightfully interfere with slaves or slavery where it already exists. I believe that whenever the effort to spread slavery into the new teritories, by whatever means, and into the free states themselves, by Supreme court decisions, shall be fairly headed off, the institution will then be in course of ultimate extinction; and by the language used I meant only this.

I do not intend this for publication; but still you may show it to any one you think fit. I think I shall, as you suggest, take some early occasion to publicly repeat the declaration I have already so often made as before stated.

Yours very truly


To Nathan Sargent


Hon. Nathan Sargent.                    Springfield, Ills.
My dear Sir                                   June 23, 1859

Your very acceptable letter of the 13th. was duly received. Of course I would be pleased to see all the elements of opposition united for the approaching contest of 1860; but I confess I have not much hope of seeing it. You state a platform for such union in these words “Opposition to the opening of the Slave-trade; & eternal hostility to the rotten democracy.” You add, by way of comment “I say, if the republicans would be content with this, there will be no obstacle to a union of the opposition. But this should be distinctly understood, before Southern men are asked to join them in a National convention” Well, I say such a platform, unanamously adopted by a National convention, with two of the best men living placed upon it as candidates, would probably carry Maryland, and would certainly not carry a single other state. It would gain nothing in the South, and lose every thing in the North. Mr. Goggin has just been beaten in Virginia on just such a platform. Last year the Republicans of Illinois cast 125-000 votes; on such a platform as yours they can not cast as many by 50.000. You could not help perceiving this, if you would but reflect that the republican party is utterly pow[er]less everywhere, if it will, by any means, drive from it all those who came to it from the democracy for the sole object of preventing the spread, and nationalization of slavery. Whenever this object is waived by the organization, they will drop the organization; and the organization itself will dissolve into thin air. Your platform proposes to allow the spread, and nationalization of slavery to proceed without let or hindrance, save only that it shall not receive supplies directly from Africa. Surely you do not seriously believe the Republicans can come to any such terms.

From the passage of the Nebraska-bill up to date, the Southern opposition have constantly sought to gain an advantage over the rotten democcracy, by running ahead of them in extreme opposition to, and vilifacation and misrepresentation of black republicans. It will be a good deal, if we fail to remember this in malice, (as I hope we shall fail to remember it;) but it is altogether too much to ask us to try to stand with them on the platform which has proved altogether insufficient to sustain them alone.

If the rotten democracy shall be beaten in 1860, it has to be done by the North; no human invention can deprive them of the South. I do not deny that there are as good men in the South as the North; and I guess we will elect one of them if he will allow us to do so on Republican ground. I think there can be no other ground of Union. For my single self I would be willing to risk some Southern men without a platform; but I am satisfied that is not the case with the Republican party generally.

Yours very truly


To Salmon P. Chase


Hon. S. P. Chase                        Springfield, Ills.
My dear Sir                            June 20. 1859

Yours of the 13th. Inst. is received. You say you would be glad to have my views. Although I think congress has constitutional authority to enact a Fugitive Slave law, I have never elaborated an opinion upon the subject. My view has been, and is, simply this: The U.S. constitution says the fugitive slave “shall be delivered up” but it does not expressly say who shall deliver him up. Whatever the constitution says “shall be done” and has omitted saying who shall do it, the government established by that constitution, ex vi termini, is vested with the power of doing; and congress is, by the constitution, expressly empowered to make all laws which shall be necesary and proper for carrying into execution all powers vested by the constitution in the government of the United States. This would be my view, on a simple reading of the constitution; and it is greatly strengthened by the historical fact that the constitution was adopted, in great part, in order to get a government which could execute it’s own behests, in contradistinction to that under the Articles of confederation, which depended, in many respects, upon the States, for its’ execution; and the other fact that one of the earliest congresses, under the constitution, did enact a Fugitive Slave law.

But I did not write you on this subject, with any view of discussing the constitutional question. My only object was to impress you with what I believe is true, that the introduction of a proposition for repeal of the Fugitive Slave law, into the next Republican National convention, will explode the convention and the party. Having turned your attention to the point, I wish to do no more.

Yours very truly


See June 9, 1859.