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.


To Salmon P. Chase

A few days late again, I know.  This was written in 1859, after Lincoln’s defeat by Stephen Douglas for the Illinois senate seat.  The upcoming presidential election is clearly on Lincoln’s mind and this letter shows Lincoln’s growing involvement in national politics.  Salmon Chase was to become Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary.

Hon: S. P. Chase:            Springfield, Ills.
Dear Sir                            June 9. 1859

Please pardon the liberty I take in addressing you, as I now do. It appears by the papers that the late Republican State convention of Ohio adopted a Platform, of which the following is one plank, “A repeal of the atrocious Fugitive Slave Law.”

This is already damaging us here. I have no doubt that if that plank be even introduced into the next Republican National convention, it will explode it. Once introduced, its supporters and it’s opponents will quarrel irreconcilably. The latter believe the U.S. constitution declares that a fugitive slave “shall be delivered up”; and they look upon the above plank as dictated by the spirit which declares a fugitive slave “shall not be delivered up

I enter upon no argument one way or the other; but I assure you the cause of Republicanism is hopeless in Illinois, if it be in any way made responsible for that plank. I hope you can, and will, contribute something to relieve us from it.

Your Obt. Servt.