Abraham Lincoln on Slavery


(A compilation of material copied from this web site - National historic Site - National Park service         http://www.nps.gov/liho/slavery/al01.htm  Note: the recent editing and emphasis were inserted here by V. M.)

Abraham Lincoln's actual position on slavery has been attacked. It is obvious that he was a politician and that he did espouse things while in office that appeared to be contradictory of his basic beliefs. However, there is a lot of straw being tossed in the air for it is also obvious that he did detest slavery. Would we be better off today with this nation having been divided up into several smaller nations? Would this nation still be a oneness if Abraham Lincoln had not have been our president? Many people do not understand that in some dire situations dictatorial power has to be.

Abraham Lincoln is often referred to as "The Great Emancipator" and yet, he did had not publicly called for emancipation until late in throughout his entire life. Lincoln began his public career by claiming that he was "antislavery" -- and was obstinately against slavery's expansion but he did not calling for immediate emancipation. However, the man who began simply as  "antislavery" would, for conscious sake, eventually issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in those states that were in rebellion. He vigorously supported the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery throughout the United States, and, in the last speech of his life, he recommended extending the vote to African Americans.

This brief study of Lincoln's writings on slavery contains examples of Lincoln's views on slavery. It also shows one of his greatest strengths: his ability to change as it relates to his public stance on
the immorality and illegality of slavery.

We are deeply indebted to the work of the Abraham Lincoln Association in collecting Lincoln's writings and publishing them as the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. It was from this monumental work that these selections were taken. The roman numerals and numbers at the end of each section refer to the volume and page of the Collected Works.

At the age of 28, while serving in the Illinois General Assembly, Lincoln made one of his first public declarations against slavery.

March 3, 1837

The following protest was presented to the House, which was read and ordered to be spread on the journals, to wit:

"Resolutions upon the subject of domestic slavery having passed both branches of the General Assembly at its present session, the undersigned hereby protest against the passage of the same.

They believe that the institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy; but that the promulgation of abolition doctrines tends rather to increase than to abate its evils.

They believe that the Congress of the United States has no power, under the constitution, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the different States.

They believe that the Congress of the United States has the power, under the constitution, to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia; but that that power ought not to be exercised unless at the request of the people of said District.

The difference between these opinions and those contained in the said resolutions, is their reason for entering this protest."

Dan Stone,
A. Lincoln,
Representatives from the county of Sangamon

(I, 75)

In a letter to his friend Joshua Speed, Lincoln freely expressed his hatred of slavery but he did not recommend immediate emancipation.

August 24, 1855

You know I dislike slavery; and you fully admit the abstract wrong of it. So far there is no cause of difference. But you say that sooner than yield your legal right to the slave -- especially at the bidding of those who are not themselves interested, you would see the Union dissolved. I am not aware that any one is bidding you to yield that right; very certainly I am not. I leave that matter entirely to yourself. I also acknowledge your rights and my obligations, under the constitution, in regard to your slaves. I confess I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down, and caught, and carried back to their stripes, and unrewarded toils; but I bite my lip and keep quiet. In 1841 you and I had together a tedious low-water trip, on a Steam Boat from Louisville to St. Louis. You may remember, as I well do, that from Louisville to the mouth of the Ohio there were, on board, ten or a dozen slaves, shackled together with irons. That sight was a continual torment to me; and I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio, or any other slave-border. It is hardly fair to you to assume, that I have no interest in a thing which has, and continually exercises, the power of making me miserable. You ought rather to appreciate how much the great body of the Northern people do crucify their feelings, in order to maintain their loyalty to the constitution and the Union.

I do oppose the extension of slavery, because my judgment and feelings so prompt me; and I am under no obligation to the contrary.

(II, 320)

Lincoln often encountered views supporting slavery. In this fragment, he countered the arguments that slavery was justified based on color and intellect.

July 1, 1854
Fragment on Slavery

If A. can prove, however conclusively, that he may, of right, enslave B. -- why may not B. snatch the same argument, and prove equally, that he may enslave A?--

You say A. is white, and B. is black. It is color, then; the lighter, having the right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with a fairer skin than your own.

You do not mean color exactly?--You mean the whites are intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and, therefore have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with an intellect superior to your own.

But, say you, it is a question of interest; and, if you can make it your interest, you have the right to enslave another. Very well. And if he can make it his interest, he has the right to enslave you.

(II, 222)

Lincoln, in a speech at Peoria, attacked slavery on the grounds that its existence within the United States made American democracy appear hyprocritical in the eyes of the world. However, he also confessed his uncertainty as how to end slavery where it then existed, because he believed that neither colonolization nor racial equality were practical.

Speech at Peoria, Illinois
October 16, 1854

I can not but hate [the declared indifference for slavery's spread]. 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 -- enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites -- causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty -- criticising [sic] the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.

Before proceeding, let me say I think I have no prejudice against the Southern people. They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist amongst them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist amongst us, we should not instantly give it up. This I believe of the masses north and south. Doubtless there are individuals, on both sides, who would not hold slaves under any circumstances; and others who would gladly introduce slavery anew, if it were out of existence. We know that some southern men do free their slaves, go north, and become tip-top abolitionists; while some northern ones go south, and become most cruel slave-masters.

When southern people tell us they are no more responsible for the origin of slavery, than we; I acknowledge the fact. When it is said that the institution exists; and that it is very difficult to get rid of it, in any satisfactory way, I can understand and appreciate the saying. I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself. If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia, -- to their own native land. But a moment's reflection would convince me, that whatever of high hope, (as I think there is) there may be in this, in the long run, its sudden execution is impossible. If they were all landed there in a day, they would all perish in the next ten days; and there are not surplus shipping and surplus money enough in the world to carry them there in many times ten days. What then? Free them all, and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite certain that this betters their condition? I think I would not hold one in slavery, at any rate; yet the point is not clear enough for me to denounce people upon. What next? Free them, and make them politically and socially, our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not.

(II, 255-256)

This is perhaps Lincoln's most succinct description of his beliefs on democracy and slavery.

Definition of Democracy
August 1, 1858?

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.
(II, 532)

In 1858, the Republican Party sought to unseat one of the nation's most powerful United States Senators, Stephen Douglas. To oppose him, they nominated Abraham Lincoln. The resulting Lincoln-Douglas debates gave each candidate ample opportunity to publicly express his opinions on slavery. During the fifth debate, Lincoln claimed that slavery ran counter to American democratic principles because the Declaration of Independence's phrase - "all men are created equal" applied to African-Americans.

Fifth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas
Galesburg, Illinois
October 7, 1858

Judge Douglas, and whoever like him teaches that the negro has no share, humble though it may be, in the Declaration of Independence, is going back to the era of our liberty and independence, and so far as in him lies, muzzling the cannon that thunders its annual joyous return; that he is blowing out the moral lights around us; when he contends that whoever wants slaves has a right to hold them; that he is penetrating, so far as lies in his power, the human soul, and eradicating the light of reason and the love of liberty, when he is in every possible way preparing the public mind, by his vast influence, for making the institution of slavery perpetual and national.

(III, 234)

To some Americans, the phrase "all men are created equal" applied only to some. To Lincoln, it applied to all.

Seventh and Last Debate with Stephen A. Douglas
Alton, Illinois
October 15, 1858

And when this new principle [that African Americans were not covered by the phrase "all men are created equal"] -- this new proposition that no human being ever thought of three years ago, -- is brought forward, I combat it as having an evil tendency, if not an evil design; I combat it as having a tendency to dehumanize the negro -- to take away from him the right of ever striving to be a man. I combat it as being one of the thousand things constantly done in these days to prepare the public mind to make property, and nothing but property of the negro in all the States of the Union.

.....I have never sought to apply these principles to the old States for the purpose of abolishing slavery in those States. It is nothing but a miserable perversion of what I have said, to assume that I have declared Missouri, or any other slave State shall emancipate her slaves. I have proposed no such thing.
(III, 304-305)

In the final Lincoln-Douglas debate, Lincoln claimed that the issues over which the two candidates had sparred, were not just issues of his time, rather, Lincoln believed that these debates were small battles in the larger war between individual rights and the divine right of kings.

Seventh and Last Debate with Stephen A. Douglas
Alton, Illinois
October 15, 1858

That is the real issue. That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles -- right and wrong -- throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, "You work and toil and earn bread, and I'll eat it." No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.
(III, 315)

Some feared that Lincoln was recommending social and political equality between the races. Writing to James N. Brown, Lincoln discounted this belief although seven years later, he would embrace this hope in the last speech of his life.

To James N. Brown
October 18, 1858

I do not perceive how I can express myself, more plainly, than I have done in the foregoing extracts. In four of them I have expressly disclaimed all intention to bring about social and political equality between the white and black races, and, in all the rest, I have done the same thing by clear implication.

I have made it equally plain that I think the negro is included in the word "men" used in the Declaration of Independence.

I believe the declara[tion] that "all men are created equal" is the great fundamental principle upon which our free institutions rest; that negro slavery is violative of that principle; but that, by our frame of government, that principle has not been made one of legal obligation; that by our frame of government, the States which have slavery are to retain it, or surrender it at their own pleasure; and that all others -- individuals, free-states and national government -- are constitutionally bound to leave them alone about it.

I believe our government was thus framed because of the necessity springing from the actual presence of slavery, when it was framed.

That such necessity does not exist in the teritories[sic], where slavery is not present.

...It does not follow that social and political equality between whites and blacks, must be incorporated, because slavery must not.
(III, 328)

Speech at Chicago, Illinois
March 1, 1859

I do not wish to be misunderstood upon this subject of slavery in this country. I suppose it may long exist, and perhaps the best way for it to come to an end peaceably is for it to exist for a length of time. But I say that the spread and strengthening and perpetuation of it is an entirely different proposition. There we should in every way resist it as a wrong, treating it as a wrong, with the fixed idea that it must and will come to an end.
(III, 370)

To Henry L. Pierce
April 6, 1859

This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.
(III, 376)

Speech at Cincinnati, Ohio
September 17, 1859

I think Slavery is wrong, morally, and politically.
I desire that it should be no further spread in these United States, and I should not object if it should gradually terminate in the whole Union.

(III, 440)

I say that we must not interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists, because the constitution forbids it, and the general welfare does not require us to do so.

We must prevent the revival of the African slave trade and the enacting by Congress of a territorial slave code.
(III, 460)

Fragment on Free Labor
September 17, 1859

We know, Southern men declare that their slaves are better off than hired laborers amongst us. How little they know, whereof they speak! There is no permanent class of hired laborers amongst us.

Free labor has the inspiration of hope; pure slavery has no hope. The power of hope upon human exertion, and happiness, is wonderful. The slave-master himself has a conception of it; and hence the system of tasks among slaves. The slave whom you can not drive with the lash to break seventy-five pounds of hemp in a day, if you will task him to break a hundred, and promise him pay for all he does over, he will break you a hundred and fifty. You have substituted hope, for the rod.
(III, 462-3)

To William H. Seward
February 1, 1861

I say now, however, as I have all the while said, that on the territorial question -- that is, the question of extending slavery under the national auspices, -- I am inflexible. I am for no compromise which assists or permits the extension of the institution on soil owned by the nation. And any trick by which the nation is to acquire territory, and then allow some local authority to spread slavery over it, is as obnoxious as any other.
(IV, 183)

In Lincoln's last public address, he recommended extending the right to vote to the African Americans who had fought for the Union. This expressed his belief that African Americans should be granted full political equality.

Last Public Address
April 11, 1865

It is also unsatisfactory to some that the elective franchise is not given to the colored man. I would myself prefer that it were now conferred on the very intelligent, and on those who serve our cause as soldiers.

(VIII, 403)

Battles and His Responses

2nd Manassas

August 28-30, 1862
In order to draw Pope's army into battle, Jackson ordered an attack on a Federal column that was passing across his front on the Warrenton Turnpike on August 28. The fighting at Brawner Farm lasted several hours and resulted in a stalemate. Pope became convinced that he had trapped Jackson and concentrated the bulk of his army against him. On August 29, Pope launched a series of assaults against Jackson's position along an unfinished railroad grade. The attacks were repulsed with heavy casualties on both sides. At noon, Longstreet arrived on the field from Thoroughfare Gap and took position on Jackson's right flank. On August 30, Pope renewed his attacks, seemingly unaware that Longstreet was on the field. When massed Confederate artillery devastated a Union assault by Fitz John Porter's command, Longstreet's wing of 28,000 men counterattacked in the largest, simultaneous mass assault of the war. The Union left flank was crushed and the army driven back to Bull Run. Only an effective Union rearguard action prevented a replay of the First Manassas disaster. Pope's retreat to Centreville was precipitous, nonetheless. The next day, Lee ordered his army in pursuit. This was the decisive battle of the Northern Virginia Campaign.

Source: American Battlefield Protection Program

Lincoln's Response: Meditation on the Divine Will
September 2, 1862

The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God can not be for, and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party - and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose. I am almost ready to say this is probably true - that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall end yet. By his mere quiet power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.

Source: The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VI, pp. 327-368.


September 16-18, 1862 On September 16, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan confronted Lee's Army of Northern Virginia at Sharpsburg, Maryland. At dawn September 17, Hooker's corps mounted a powerful assault on Lee's left flank that began the single bloodiest day in American military history. Attacks and counterattacks swept across Miller's cornfield and fighting swirled around the Dunker Church. Union assaults against the Sunken Road eventually pierced the Confederate center, but the Federal advantage was not followed up. Late in the day, Burnside's corps finally got into action, crossing the stone bridge over Antietam Creek and rolling up the Confederate right. At a crucial moment, A.P. Hill's division arrived from Harpers Ferry and counterattacked, driving back Burnside and saving the day. Although outnumbered two-to-one, Lee committed his entire force, while McClellan sent in less than three-quarters of his army, enabling Lee to fight the Federals to a standstill. During the night, both armies consolidated their lines. In spite of crippling casualties, Lee continued to skirmish with McClellan throughout the 18th, while removing his wounded south of the river. McClellan did not renew the assaults. After dark, Lee ordered the battered Army of Northern Virginia to withdraw across the Potomac into the Shenandoah Valley.

Source: American Battlefield Protection Program

Lincoln's Response: Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.


July 1-3, 1863
Gen. Robert E. Lee concentrated his full strength against Maj. Gen. George G. Meade's Army of the Potomac at the crossroads county seat of Gettysburg. On July 1, Confederate forces converged on the town from west and north, driving Union defenders back through the streets to Cemetery Hill. During the night, reinforcements arrived for both sides. On July 2, Lee attempted to envelop the Federals, first striking the Union left flank at the Peach Orchard, Wheatfield, Devil's Den, and the Round Tops with Longstreet's and Hill's divisions, and then attacking the Union right at Culp's and East Cemetery Hills with Ewell's divisions. By evening, the Federals retained Little Round Top and had repulsed most of Ewell's men. During the morning of July 3, the Confederate infantry were driven from their last toe-hold on Culp's Hill. In the afternoon, after a preliminary artillery bombardment, Lee attacked the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. The Pickett-Pettigrew assault (more popularly, Pickett's Charge) momentarily pierced the Union line but was driven back with severe casualties. Stuart's cavalry attempted to gain the Union rear but was repulsed. On July 4, Lee began withdrawing his army toward Williamsport on the Potomac River. His train of wounded stretched more than fourteen miles.

Source: American Battlefield Protection Program

Lincoln's Response: To George G. Meade
July 14, 1863

Major General Meade:
I have just seen your despatch to Gen. Halleck, asking to be relieved of your command, because of a supposed censure of mine. I am very - very - grateful to you for the magnificent success you gave the cause of the country at Gettysburg; and I am sorry now to be the author of the slightest pain to you. But I was in such deep distress myself that I could not restrain some expression of it. I had been oppressed nearly ever since the battles of Gettysburg, by what appeared to be evidence that yourself, and Gen. Couch, and Gen. Smith, were not seeking a collision with the enemy, but were trying to get him across the river without another battle. What these evidences were, if you please, I hope to tell you at some time, when we shall both feel better. The case, summarily stated is this. You fought and beat the enemy at Gettysburg; and, of course, to say the least, his loss was as great as yours. He retreated; and you did not, as it seemed to me, pressingly pursue him; but a flood in the river detained him, till, by slow degress, you were again upon him. You had at least twenty thousand veteran troops directly with you, and as many more raw ones within supporting distance, all in addition to those who fought with you at Gettysburg; while it was not possible that he had received a single recruit; and yet you stood and let the flood run down, bridges be built, and the enemy move away at his leisure, without attacking him. And Couch and Smith! The latter left Carlisle in time, upon ordinary calculation, to have aided you in the last battle at Gettysburg; but he did not arrive. At the end of more than ten days, I believe twelve, under constant urging, he reached Hagerstown from Carlisle, which is not an inch over fiftyfive miles, if so much. And Couch's movement was very little different.

Again, my dear general, I do not believe you appreciate that magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee's escape. He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely. If you could not safely attack Lee last Monday, how can oyu possibly do so South of the river, when you can take with you very few more than two thirds of the force you then had in hand? It would be unreasonable to expect, and I do not expect you can now effect much. Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasureably because of it.

I beg you will not consider this a prossecution, or persecution of yourself. As you had learned that I was dissatisfied, I have thought it best to kindly tell you why.

Lincoln never sent the letter.

Source: The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VI, pp. 327-368.


Siege: May 18-July 4, 1863
In May and June of 1863, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's armies converged on Vicksburg, investing the city and entrapping a Confederate army under Lt. Gen. John Pemberton. On July 4, Vicksburg surrendered after prolonged siege operations. This was the culmination of one of the most brilliant military campaigns of the war. With the loss of Pemberton's army and this vital stronghold on the Mississippi, the Confederacy was effectively split in half. Grant's successes in the West boosted his reputation, leading ultimately to his appointment as General-in-Chief of the Union armies.

Source: American Battlefield Protection Program

Lincoln's Response: To Ulysses S. Grant
July 13, 1863

do not remember that you and I ever met personally. I write this now as a grateful acknowledgement for the almost inestimable service you have done the country. I wish to say a word further. When you first reached the vicinity of Vicksburg, I thought you should do, what you finally did - march the troops across the neck, run the batteries with the transports, and thus go below; and I never had any faith, except a general hope that you knew better than I, that the Yazoo Pass expedition, and the like, could succeed. When you got below, and took Port-Gibson, Grand Gulf, and vicinity, I thought you should go down the river and join Gen. Banks; and when you turned Northward East of the Big Black, I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right, and I was wrong.

Source: The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VI, pp. 327-368.

Lincoln on Secession

Soon after Abraham Lincoln was elected to the presidency in November 1860, seven southern states seceded from the Union. In March 1861, after he was inaugurated as the 16th President of the United States, four more followed.

The secessionists claimed that according to the Constitution every state had the right to leave the Union. Lincoln claimed that they did not have that right. He opposed secession for these reasons:

1. Physically the states cannot separate.

2. Secession is unlawful.

3. A government that allows secession will disintegrate into anarchy.

4. That Americans are not enemies, but friends.

5. Secession would destroy the world's only existing democracy, and prove for all time, to future Americans and to the world, that a government of the people cannot survive.

Lincoln may have thought the fifth point was the most important.
If you traveled the earth in 1860, and visited every continent and every nation, you would have found many examples of monarchies, dictatorships, and other examples of authoritarian rule. But in the all the world, you would have found only one major democracy: The United States of America. Democracy had been attempted in one other nation in the eighteenth century - France. Unfortunately, that experiment in self-government deteriorated rapidly, as the citizens resorted more to the guillotine than to the ballot box. From the ashes of that experiment in self-government, rose a dictator who, after seizing control in France, attempted to conquer the continent of Europe.

Those who supported monarchies felt vindicated by the French disaster, but the United States experiment in self-government remained a thorn in their side.
Those wishing for democracy could always point across the ocean and say, "It works there. Why can't we try it here"? In 1860 however, it appeared that the thorn had been removed. The monarchists were thrilled with the dissolution of the United States, and many even held parties celebrating the end of democracy.

Lincoln understood this well, and when he described his nation as "the world's last best hope," these were not idle words. Lincoln truly believed that if the war were lost, it would not only have been the end of his political career, or that of his party, or even the end of his nation. He believed that if the war were lost, it would have forever ended the hope of people everywhere for a democratic form of government.

Listed below are some of the comments that Lincoln made against secession.

Secession Will Destroy Democracy

In all trying positions in which I shall be placed, and doubtless I shall be placed in many such, my reliance will be upon...the people of the United States; and I wish you to remember, now and forever, that it is your business, and not mine, that if the union of these States and the liberties of these people shall be lost, it is but little to any one man of fifty-two years of age, but a great deal to the thirty millions of people who inhabit these United States, and to their posterity in all coming time.

Indianapolis, Indiana
February 11, 1861 

We Are Friends

Friends. I am loth to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must no break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

First Inaugural Address
March 4, 1861

Physically We Cannot Separate

Physically speaking, we cannot separate. We cannot remove our respective sections from each other nor build an impassable wall between them. A husband and wife may be divorced and go out of the presence and beyond the reach of each other; but the different parts of our country cannot do this.

First Inaugural Address
March 4, 1861

Secession Is Unlawful

I hold that, in contemplation of universal law, and of the Constitution, the union of these States is perpetual....It follows....that no State, upon its own mere motion, can lawfully get out of the Union; that resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void; and that acts of violence, within any State or States, against the authority of the United States, are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances. I, therefore, consider that, in view of the Constitution and the laws, the Union is unbroken.

First Inaugural Address
March 4, 1861

Secession Is Unlawful

The States have their status in the Union, and they have no other legal status. If they break from this they can only do so against law and by revolution.

Message to Congress in Special Session
July 4, 1861

Secession Is Unlawful

We find the proposition that, in legal contemplation, the Union is perpetual confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured, and the faith of all the thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And, finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was "to form a more perfect Union."

First Inaugural Address
March 4, 1861

Secession Equals Anarchy

Plainly, the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy. A majority, held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinins and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people. Whoever rejects it does of necessity fly to anarchy or despotism. Unanimity is impossible; the rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy or despotism in some form is all that is left.

First Inaugural Address
March 4, 1861

The principle [secession] itself is one of disintegration, and upon which no government can possibly endure.

Message to Congress in Special Session
July 4, 1861

Secession Will Destroy Democracy

The distinct issue, "Immediate dissolution or blood"...embraces more than the fate of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man the question of whether a constitutional republic or democracy -- a government of the people, by the same people -- can or cannot maintain its territorial integrity against its own domestic foes. It presents the question whether the discontented individuals -- too few in numbers to control the administration, according to organic law, in any case -- can always, upon the pretenses made in this case or on any other pretenses, or arbitrarily without any pretense, break up the government and thus practically put an end to free government upon the earth. It forces us to ask: "Is there, in all republics, this inherent and fatal weakness? Must a government, of necessity, be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?"

Message to Congress in Special Session
July 4, 1861

Secession Will Destroy Democracy

Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We -- even we here -- hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free - honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.

Annual Message to Congress
December 1, 1862

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