The Slave's Friend, 1837

“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 abate its evils.”Lincoln legislative protest on slavery, 1837

During the early nineteenth century, citizens of Illinois were divided about whether slavery should be legal in their state and across the nation. In March 1837, Lincoln and fellow state congressman Dan Stone filed a protest with the Illinois House of Representatives arguing that 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.”

When abolitionist newspaper editor Elijah Lovejoy was murdered by a mob in Alton, Illinois, later that year, Lincoln spoke out against the violation of law, but he stopped well short of supporting Lovejoy’s position on slavery. Lincoln instead contended that both mob violence and abolitionist agitation were fueled by overzealous passions.

Nevertheless, Lincoln based his consistent opposition to slavery on a concern for human rights as well as a moral imperative. If slaves’ rights could be denied, Lincoln declared, the nation could also deprive the rights of others, including immigrants and other minorities.

Prior to the Civil War, Republicans sought to arrest the spread of slavery to the West and to let it eventually die a “natural death.”