Abraham Lincoln


Abraham Lincoln : biography

February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865

Republican politics 1854–60

Slavery and a "House Divided"

By the 1850s, slavery was still legal in the southern United States, but had been generally outlawed in the northern states, such as Illinois. Lincoln disapproved of slavery, and the spread of slavery to new U.S. territory in the west. He returned to politics to oppose the pro-slavery Kansas–Nebraska Act (1854); this law repealed the slavery-restricting Missouri Compromise (1820). Senior Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois had incorporated popular sovereignty into the Act. Douglas’ provision, which Lincoln opposed, specified settlers had the right to determine locally whether to allow slavery in new U.S. territory, rather than have such a decision restricted by the national Congress.McGovern, pp. 36–37. Eric Foner (2010) contrasts the abolitionists and anti-slavery Radical Republicans of the Northeast who saw slavery as a sin, with the conservative Republicans who thought it was bad because it hurt white people and blocked progress. Foner argues that Lincoln was a moderate in the middle, opposing slavery primarily because it violated the republicanism principles of the Founding Fathers, especially the equality of all men and democratic self-government as expressed in the Declaration of Independence.Foner (2010), pp. 84–88. Portrait of [[Dred Scott. Lincoln denounced the Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford as part of a conspiracy to extend slavery.]]

On October 16, 1854, in his "Peoria Speech", Lincoln declared his opposition to slavery, which he repeated en route to the presidency.Thomas (2008), pp. 148–152. Speaking in his Kentucky accent, with a very powerful voice,White, p. 199. he said the Kansas Act had a "declared indifference, but as I must think, a covert real zeal for the spread of slavery. I cannot but hate it. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world …"Basler (1953), p. 255.

In late 1854, Lincoln ran as a Whig for the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois. At that time, senators were elected by the state legislature.Oates, p. 119. After leading in the first six rounds of voting in the Illinois assembly, his support began to dwindle, and Lincoln instructed his backers to vote for Lyman Trumbull, who defeated opponent Joel Aldrich Matteson.White, pp. 205–208. The Whigs had been irreparably split by the Kansas–Nebraska Act. Lincoln wrote, "I think I am a Whig, but others say there are no Whigs, and that I am an abolitionist, even though I do no more than oppose the extension of slavery." Drawing on remnants of the old Whig party, and on disenchanted Free Soil, Liberty, and Democratic Party members, he was instrumental in forging the shape of the new Republican Party.McGovern, pp. 38–39. At the 1856 Republican National Convention, Lincoln placed second in the contest to become the party’s candidate for vice president.Donald (1996), p. 193.

In 1857–1858, Douglas broke with President James Buchanan, leading to a fight for control of the Democratic Party. Some eastern Republicans even favored the reelection of Douglas for the Senate in 1858, since he had led the opposition to the Lecompton Constitution, which would have admitted Kansas as a slave state.Oates, pp. 138–139. In March 1857, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford; Chief Justice Roger B. Taney opined that blacks were not citizens, and derived no rights from the Constitution. Lincoln denounced the decision, alleging it was the product of a conspiracy of Democrats to support the Slave Power.Zarefsky, pp. 69–110. Lincoln argued, "The authors of the Declaration of Independence never intended ‘to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity’, but they ‘did consider all men created equal—equal in certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’."Jaffa, pp. 299–300.