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The Rights of the People

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    Another leading point in defense of the decision, was the necessity of maintaining the correctness of the use that the court had made of the Declaration of Independence. The court had argued as follows:-ROP 168.1

    “The language of the Declaration of Independence is equally conclusive. It begins by declaring.... It then proceeds to say: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.’ROP 168.2

    “The general words above used would seem to embrace the whole human family, and if they were used in a similar instrument at this day, would be so understood. But it is too clear for dispute that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this Declaration, for if the language as understood in that day would embrace then, then the conduct of the distinguished men who framed the Declaration of Independence would have been utterly and fragrantly inconsistent with the principles they asserted; and instead of the sympathy of mankind, to which they confidently appealed, they would have deserved and received universal rebuke and reprobation.ROP 168.3

    “Yet the men who framed this Declaration were great men-high in literary acquirements-high in their sense of honor, and incapable of asserting principles inconsistent with those on which they were acting. They perfectly understood the meaning of the language they used, and how it would be understood by others; and they knew that it would not in any part of the civilized world be supposed to embrace the negro race, which by common consent had been excluded from civilized governments and the family of nations, and doomed to slavery.”ROP 169.1

    In support of this view of the Supreme Court that “all men” did not include the negro, Senator Douglas argued thus:-ROP 169.2

    “No man can vindicate the character, motives, and conduct of the signers of the Declaration of Independence except upon the hypothesis that they referred to the white race alone, and not to the African, when they declared all men to have been created equal.”-Quoted by Lincoln, Springfield, Ill., speech, June 26, 1857; Id., p. 48.ROP 169.3

    “I believe the Declaration of Independence, in the words ‘all men are created equal,’ was intended to allude only to the people of the United States, to men of European birth or descent, being white men; that they were created equal, and hence that Great Britain had no right to deprive them of their political and religious privileges; but the signers of that paper did not intend to include the Indian or the negro in the Declaration, for if they had, would they not have been bound to abolish slavery in every State and Colony from that day?”-Springfield, III, speech, July 77, 1858; Id., p. 139.ROP 169.4

    The answer to this division will be clearer, and its pertinency to the Christian nation decision more readily discerned, by separating it according to the two points made. For both these points-the perversion of the plain words of the Declaration, and the drawing of those who made it, into this perversion-are equally the mode of the Christian nation decision and its defenders.ROP 169.5

    First, to the idea that the men of the Revolution actually meant the words “all men” to exclude the negro, or else laid themselves open to “universal rebuke and reprobation,” Lincoln replied:-ROP 170.1

    “Chief Justice Taney, in his opinion in the Dred Scott case, admits that the language of the Declaration is broad enough to include the whole human family; but he and Judge Douglas argue that the authors of that instrument did not intend to include negroes, by the fact that they did not at once actually place them on an equality with the whites. Now this grave argument comes to just nothing at all by the other fact that they did not at once, or ever afterward, actually place all white people on an equality with one another. And this is the staple argument of both the chief justice and the senator for doing this obvious violence to the plain, unmistakable language of the Declaration.ROP 170.2

    “I think the authors of that notable instrument intended to include all men, but they did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral development, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness in what respects they did consider all men created equal-equal ‘with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ This they said, and this they meant. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth that all were actually enjoying that equality, nor yet that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact, they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit”-Springfield, Ill., Speech, June 26, 1857; Id., pp. 47, 48.ROP 170.3

    “I do not propose, in regard to this argument drawn from the history of former times, to enter into a detailed examination of the historical statements he has made. I have the impression that they are inaccurate in a great many instances-sometimes in positive statement-but very much more inaccurate by the suppression of statements that really belong to the history. But I do not propose to affirm that this is so to any very great extent, or to enter into any very minute examination of his historical statements. I avoid doing so upon this principle-that if it were important for me to pass out of this lot in the least period of time possible, and I came to that fence, and saw by a calculation of my known strength and agility that I could clear it at a bound, it would be folly for me to stop and consider whether I could or not crawl through a crack. So I say of the whole history contained in his essay, 33Senator Douglas had published and essay in Harper’s Magazine, which is immediately referred to here. where he endeavored to link the men of the Revolution to popular sovereignty. It only requires an effort to leap out of it, a single bound to be entirely successful. If you read it over you will find that he quotes here and there from documents of the revolutionary times, tending to show that the people of the Colonies were desirous of regulating their own concerns in their own way....ROP 170.4

    “Now, however this history may apply, and whatever of his argument there may be that is sound and accurate or unsound and inaccurate, if we can find out what these men did themselves do upon this very question of slavery in the Territories, does it not end the whole thing? If, after all this labor and effort to show that the men of the Revolution were in favor of his popular sovereignty, and his mode of dealing with slavery in the Territories, we can show that these very men took hold of that subject, and dealt with it, we can see for ourselves how they dealt with it. It is not a matter of argument or inference, but we know what they thought about it.ROP 171.1

    “It is precisely upon that part of the history of the country that one important omission is made by Judge Douglas. He selects parts of the history of the United States upon the subject of slavery, and treats it as the whole.... There was another part of our political history, made by the very men who were the actors in the Revolution, which has taken the name of the ‘Ordinance of ‘87.’ Let me bring that history to your attention. In 1784, I believe, this same Mr. Jefferson drew up an ordinance for the government of the country upon which we now stand, or, rather, a frame or draft of an ordinance for the government of this country, here in Ohio, our neighbors in Indiana, us who live in Illinois, our neighbors in Wisconsin and Michigan. In that ordinance, drawn up not only for the government of that Territory, but for the Territories south of the Ohio River, Mr. Jefferson expressly provided for the prohibition of slavery.ROP 171.2

    “Judge Douglas says, and perhaps is right, that that provision was lost from that ordinance. I believe that is true. When the vote was taken upon it, a majority of all present in the Congress of the confederation voted for it; but there were so many absentees that those voting for it did not make the clear majority necessary, and it was lost. But three years after that the Congress of the confederation were together again, and they adopted a new ordinance for the government of this Northwest Territory, not contemplating territory south of the river, for the States owning that territory had hitherto refrained from giving it to the general government; hence they made the ordinance to apply only to what the government owned. In that, the provision excluding slavery was inserted and passed unanimously, or, at any rate, it passed and became a part of the law of the land. Under that ordinance we live....ROP 171.3

    “Not only did that ordinance prevail, but it was constantly looked to whenever a step was taken by a new Territory to become a State. Congress always turned their attention to it, and in all their movements upon this subject, they traced their course by that Ordinance of ‘87. When they admitted new States they advised them of this ordinance as a part of the legislation of the country. They did so because they had traced the Ordinance of ‘87 throughout the history of the country. Begin with the men of the Revolution, and go down for sixty entire years, and until the last scrap of that Territory comes into the Union in the form of the State of Wisconsin, everything was made to conform with the Ordinance of ‘87, excluding slavery from that vast extent of country.ROP 172.1

    “I omitted to mention in the right place that the Constitution of the United States was in process of being framed when that ordinance was made by the Congress of the Confederation; and one of the first acts of Congress itself, under the new Constitution itself, 34Sec pages 104, 124 this book. was to give force to that ordinance by putting power to carry it out in the hands of the new officers under the Constitution, in place of the old ones, who had been legislated out of existence by the change in the government from the confederation to the Constitution. Not only so, but I believe Indiana once or twice, if not Ohio, petitioned the general government for the privilege of suspending that provision and allowing them to have slaves. A report made by Mr. Randolph, of Virginia, himself a slaveholder, was directly against it, and the action was to refuse them the privilege of violating the Ordinance of ‘87.ROP 172.2

    “This period of history, which I have run over briefly, is, presume, as familiar to most of this assembly as any other part of the history of our country. I suppose that few of my hearers are not as familiar with that part of history as I am, and I only mention it to recall your attention to it at this time and hence I ask how extraordinary a thing it is that a man who has occupied a position on the floor of the Senate of the United States, who is now in his third term, and who looks to see the government of this whole country fall into his own hands, pretending to give a truthful and accurate history of the every question in this country, should so entirely ignore the whole of that portion of our history, the most important of all. Is it not a most extraordinary spectacle that a man could stand up and ask for any confidence in his statements who sets out as he does with portions of history, calling upon the people to believe that it is a true and fair representation then the leading part and controlling feature of the whole history is carefully suppressed? 35See pages 130-132 this book.ROP 173.1

    “But the mere leaving out is not the most remarkable feature of this most remarkable essay. His proposition is to establish that the leading men of the Revolution were for his great principle of nonintervention by the government in the question of slavery in the Territories, while history shows that they decided, in the cases actually brought before them, in exactly the contrary way, and he knows it. 36See pages 88-108 this book. Not only did they so decide at that time, but they stuck to it during sixty years, through thick and thin, as long as there was one of the revolutionary heroes upon the stage of political action. Through their whole course, from first to last, they clung to freedom.ROP 173.2

    “And now he asks the community to believe that the men of the Revolution were in favor of his great principle, when he have the naked history that they themselves dealt with this very subject matter of his principle, and utterly repudiated his principle, acting upon a precisely contrary ground. It is as impudent and absurd as if a prosecuting attorney should stand up before a jury and ask them to convict A as the murderer of B, while B was walking alive before them.”-Speech, Columbus, Ohio, September, 1859; Id., pp. 496-473.ROP 173.3

    In another speech touching the history here referred to, he closed his reference with these words:-ROP 174.1

    “Thus, with the author of the Declaration of Independence, the policy of prohibiting slavery in the new territory originated. Thus, away back of the Constitution, in the pure, fresh, free breath of the Revolution, the State of Virginia and the National Congress put that policy in practice.”-Peoria, Ill., October 16, 1854; Id., p. 3.ROP 174.2

    Secondly, to the idea that the Declaration could be used by such interpretation in the interests of despotism, Lincoln replied:-ROP 174.3

    “Now, I ask you in all soberness if all these things, if indulged in, if ratified, if confirmed and endorsed, if taught to our children, and repeated to them, do not tend to rub out the sentiment of liberty in the country, and to transform this government into a government of some other form? 37Another thing that makes this discussion on the Declaration pertinent to the Christian nation decision and to our times, is the fact that the partisans of that decision have attacked that other material principle of the Declaration-governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. On this, at Chautauqua Assembly, 1889, the president of the American Sabbath Union said:-
    “Governments do not derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
    And in the same year, in a religio-political convention in Sedalia, Missouri, another of the leaders of that company said:-
    “I do not belive that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed; and so the object of this movement is to change that feature of our fundamental law.”-See Two Republics, pp. 727, 728, edition of 1895.
    ROP 174.4

    “Those arguments that are made, that the inferior race are to be treated with as much allowance as they are capable of enjoying; that as much is to be done for them as their condition will allow-what are these arguments? They are the arguments that kings have made for enslaving the people in all ages of the world. You will find that all the arguments in favor of kingcraft were of this class; they also bestrode the necks of the people, not that they wanted to do it, but because the people were better off for being ridden. That is their argument, and this argument of the Judge is the same old serpent that says, You work, and I eat; you toil, and I will enjoy the fruits of it.ROP 174.5

    “Turn it whatever way you will, whether it come from the mouth of a king, as an excuse for enslaving the people of his country, or from the mouth of men of one race as a reason for enslaving the men of another race, it is all the same old serpent; and I hold, if that course of argumentation that is made for the purpose of convincing the public mind that we should not care about this, should be granted, it does not stop with the negro. I should like to know if, taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle, and making exceptions to it, where will it stop? If one man says it does not mean a negro, why not another say it does not mean some other man? If that Declaration is not the truth, let us get the statute book in which we find it and tear it out. Who is so bold as to do it? If it is not true let us tear it out. [Cries of No! no!] Let us stick to it, then let us stand firmly by it, then.”-Chicago, Speech, July 10, 1858; Id., p. 90.ROP 174.6

    “They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and referred to by all. constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and, even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence and augmenting the happiness and value of life of all people of all color everywhere. The assertion that ‘all men are created equal’ was of no practical use in affecting our separation from England; and it was placed in the Declaration, not for that but for future use. Its authors meant it to be, as, thank God, it is now proving itself, a stumbling block to all those who, in after time, might seek to turn a free people back into the hateful paths of despotism. They knew the proneness of prosperity to breed tyrants, and they meant when such should reappear in this fair land and commence their vocation, they should find left for them at least one hard nut to crack.”-Springfield, Ill, Speech, June 26, 1857; Id, p. 48.ROP 175.1

    “In those days our Declaration of Independence was held sacred by all, and thought to include all; but now, to aid in making the bondage of the negro [and now the consciences of all, a. t. j.] universal and eternal, it is assailed and sneered at, and construed, and hawked at, and torn, till, if its framers could rise from their graves, they could not at all recognize it.”-Id., p. 46.ROP 175.2

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