Lincoln Speaks Out

Abraham Lincoln in Chicago, Alexander Hesler, February 28, 1857

In August 1854, Lincoln decided to run for the Illinois state legislature.

A few months earlier, Congress had passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act sponsored by Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. The act created a national furor by permitting slavery in the western territories where it had been previously banned by the Missouri Compromise of 1820.

Lincoln had been silent on the slavery issue but now he spoke out, delivering powerful speeches in Bloomington, Springfield and Peoria that expressed his views. Lincoln abhorred slavery, declaring that “there can be no moral right in connection with one man’s making a slave of another.” He believed that blacks were entitled to the natural rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as enumerated in the Declaration of Independence and to the fruits of their own labor. Lincoln, however, was no abolitionist demanding an immediate end to slavery.  Rather, he feared abolitionism’s revolutionary consequences, particularly its disruptive effect on the Union. Instead, Lincoln called for containing slavery in the South, where the Founding Fathers had placed it and where, he believed, it would eventually die out on its own. Lincoln also endorsed the colonization of freed blacks to other lands in the belief that blacks and whites could not live together as equals.

Lincoln won the election but quickly resigned his seat to run for the U.S. Senate. Lincoln lost that bid and also his party as the Whigs collapsed over the slavery issue. In 1856, Lincoln joined the Republicans, a new party that opposed the extension of slavery while promoting the free labor system of northern farmers and businessmen. Lincoln worked hard to establish the party in Illinois and actively campaigned for its first presidential candidate, John C. Fremont.