“That sight was a continual torment to me,” he later wrote.
This President’s Day, in his honor, we are publishing some of his most compelling attacks on the institution that triggered the Civil War:
• 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. – Writing, July 1, 1854
• On the question of liberty, as a principle, we are not what we have been. When we were the political slaves of King George, and wanted to be free, we called the maxim that “all men are created equal” a self evident truth; but now when we have grown fat, and have lost all dread of being slaves ourselves, we have become so greedy to be masters that we call the same maxim “a self evident lie.” The fourth of July has not quite dwindled away; it is still a great day – for burning fire-crackers!!! – Letter to George Robertson, 1855
• I insist that our fathers did not make this nation half slave and half free, or part slave and part free. I insist they found the institution of slavery existing here. They did not make it so, but they left it so because they knew of no way to get rid of it at that time. – Debate with Stephen A. Douglas, Oct. 13, 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. – Lincoln-Douglas debate, Oct. 15, 1858
• Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it. – Letter, April 6, 1859
• Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally. – Speech, March 17, 1865
• Fondly do we hope – fervently do we pray – that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.
Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.” – Second Inaugural Address, excerpt, March 4, 1865
• As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.
This expresses my idea of democracy. – Writing, undated