Lake County History Chapter 77: The Great Slavery Debate, Part 6

THE QUESTION

 “What shall we do next?” Lincoln asked his peers quietly, searching their faces with studied seriousness and concern.

 “Shall we free the slaves and make them socially and politically our equals?”

Here, Lincoln paused, shaking his head ever so slightly, as if searching for his own feelings on the enigma.

“My own feelings will not admit of this. If mine would, we know the great mass of whites will have no better reply to this question.”

Now he smiled. Abraham Lincoln was, once more, the storyteller and cracker-barrel philosopher. It was a quality that had endeared the young Abe Lincoln to the hearts of his fellow villagers in Salem.

“Inasmuch as you do not object to my taking my hog to Nebraska to sell, therefore I must not object to taking your slave.”

He waited until his analogy had soaked in, watching faces.

“Now, I admit, that is perfectly logical…”

Here, Lincoln paused a full three seconds and then finished his point.

 “…If there is no difference between a hog and a Negro.”

The audience woke as suddenly as though he had thrown a firecracker into a church. He had struck home.

“There are laws that provide for hanging slave traders as pirates. Is this not true?”

“If you feel slavery is not wrong…” Here again, a long pause to let the idea percolate in their heads. “Why did you join in providing that men should be hung for being a pirate in the slave trade?”

The question was one not intended for a response. Lincoln intended to probe their deeper feelings on the troubling subject.

“You never thought of hanging a man for catching and selling wild horses?”

It was stated as a question, and it hit home. Even the die-hard slave sympathizers were forced to struggle with the raw logic of his question.

“You despise a man whose business it is to operate a sort of Negro livery stable buying and selling slaves.  But, if financial necessity requires it, you will sell him your slave.”

Lincoln looked fixedly at the Georgia man and the man from Virginia, both of whom had spoken earlier.

“If you can help it, and you do not need to sell your slave, why then, do you drive the slave trader from your door? You despise the slave trader utterly. You do not recognize him as a friend or even an honest man. Your children do not play with him. They may rollick with little Negroes… but they do not play with the slave dealer’s children. You ban intercourse with the slave trader and his family. You do not treat him as a man who deals in corn, cotton, or tobacco.”

“Why is this?”

The two clerks watched the faces in the chamber. Everyone had turned to listen better to Lincoln’s words. It took no special skill or a skilled understanding of human emotions to know the feeling that was reflected on the faces of Lincoln’s listeners. They pondered his simple question. Many nodded agreements. There was a nervous shuffling of feet. Even the most dedicated Slave men were forced at the moment to face an unpleasant truth.

Sometimes Abe devoted as much time to a word or two as he would to a half-dozen less important words that followed. He spoke slowly at times, making a distinct pause at the end of each word, but giving that simple word or phrase as much force and accent as possible. Other times, in the heat of his passion, he spoke so fast that the half dozen newspaper writers nearest to the stage had difficulty taking shorthand quickly enough to keep up with his words.

Next Episode: Lincoln’s powerful conclusion.

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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