LAKE COUNTY HISTORY CHAPTER 72: THE GREAT SLAVERY DEBATE, PART 1

This speech was included because, of all of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches, this one may best typify the schism between the North and the South on the subject of slavery. It will need seven parts, because of its length. Even today, 160 years later, we continue to be a country divided on the subject of equal rights for all persons. For these reasons, and because with a Trump presidency we may be more divided as a nation than we have been for decades, I include a remarkable Senate Debate and Lincoln’s speech.

Lake County was not as deeply affected by attitudes before the Civil War but there were effects after the war. Many Southerners fled Lake County for Mexico and South America.

In 1854, eight years before the Civil War, slavery was already a white-hot subject in Lake County, much of it because of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches on the floor of Congress. Most of the citizens in California were against slavery. Yet some Democrats, with leanings toward the South, continued to press the Union Government to allow the South to keep their slaves.

Steven Douglas, the ‘Little Giant’, was running against Abraham Lincoln in the coming presidential election. To curry favor with the Southern Democrats, Douglas supported a state’s right to have slavery in any state, provided the majority in that state voted for slavery. ‘Copperheads’, a term first used by the Cincinnati Gazette, was the label applied to those people.

These Democrats, although they owned no slaves, and did not wish to own slaves, believed as Douglas did. Like Steven Douglas, they saw a civil war looming on the horizon and they wished ‘peace at any price’.

Lincoln’s speech in 1842, while he was yet a Congressman, was an accurate reflection of the opposing views on slavery in Lake County and the Nation. His speech would resound its echoes in the blood bath to follow, and in which no one was spared. Half a million men, many of them from Lake county, would be killed and maimed in battle.  For that reason, here is retold the drama of that day and Lincoln’s Slavery Speech.

On a hot August afternoon, while Lincoln was yet only a Senator, he was in the middle of a hot Congressional debate about stricter enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Laws. The speaker arguing the cause for the southern slave states was a prominent slave owner. This plantation owner had two hundred slaves to work his cotton plantation in Mississippi. His opening statement was a clear definition of the quandary that set limits on the Fugitive Slave Laws in the South. The Congressman, a well-respected church-going person, believed implicitly in what he was saying.

“Slavery is the natural order of things,” he declared. “That a superior man should be able to hold a lesser human as property is right and proper. The Holy Bible supports slavery. Without our slave labor, the South would fall into chaos. God has given the white man the heavy responsibility to care for and protect the black man. Shortsighted Northerners, whose economy does not depend on black labor, might criticize and condemn the South all they wish; they have no right to interfere with the institution of slavery. Slaves are property. Since that is so, as defined by the existing Fugitive Slave Laws, and the United States Constitution, it is the duty of our government to protect its property on land or on the seas.”

The Speaker’s face, a mask of piety, examined the faces of the men around him for support. Many, both among the Southern legislatures and among the Northern Democrats, nodded agreement.

“A runaway slave, who escapes to a Free State, must be held imprisoned and returned to his southern master. The voices of disagreement I have heard from my friends among those who favor abolition is unreasonable. Their objections run counter to our laws and to God’s law. Their opposition threatens to destroy the very fabric of our Union.”

Now it was in the open. The destruction of the Union meant only one thing: rebellion and disunion.

Next Episode: Southerners claim slaves were well off

For more on Civil War History, read Paleno’s ‘The Porter Conspiracy’

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Gene Paleno

Gene runs his life at a full sprint. In his ninety-three years he's dug ditches, painted signs, played semi-pro football, worked as a taxicab driver, an insurance agent, and a school teacher. He's been a technical artist, a marketing director, and a business owner. He served in World War II, raised four children, and was married to the love of his life for fifty years. He's an accomplished oil painter and skilled in ceramics. He's written fifteen books, including the definitive Lake County History, and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

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