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Home > Document Library > Slavery > Lincoln-Douglas Debates


Lincoln-Douglas Debates
excerpt on the meaning of the Declaration of Independence

1858

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[Stephen Douglas defended the Dred Scott decision in his famous debates with Lincoln in the 1858 Senate campaign in Illinois:]

I tell you that this Chicago doctrine of Lincolnís—declaring that the negro and the white man are made equal by the Declaration of Independence and by Divine Providence—is a monstrous heresy. The signers of the Declaration of Independence never dreamed of the negro when they were writing that document. They referred to white men, to men of European birth and European descent, when they declared the equality of all men…. When that Declaration was put forth every one of the thirteen colonies were slaveholding colonies, and every man who signed that instrument represented a slaveholding constituency. Recollect, also, that no one of them emancipated his slaves, much less put them on an equality with himself, after he signed the Declaration. On the contrary, they all continued to hold their negroes as slaves during the revolutionary war…. When you say that the Declaration of Independence includes the negro, you charge the signers of it with hypocrisy.

I say to you, frankly, that in my opinion this government was made by our fathers on the white basis. It was made by white men for the benefit of white men and their posterity forever, and was intended to be administered by white men in all time to come.…

[Lincoln responded:]

I believe the entire records of the world, from the date of the Declaration of Independence up to within three years ago, may be searched in vain for one single affirmation, from one single man, that the negro was not included in the Declaration of Independence. I think I may defy Judge Douglas to show that he ever said so, that Washington ever said so, that any President ever said so, that any member of Congress ever said so…. And I will remind Judge Douglas and this audience, that while Mr. Jefferson was the owner of slaves, as undoubtedly he was, in speaking upon this very subject, he used the strong language that "he trembled for his country when he remembered that God was just."…

[From the Debate at Galesburg, October 7, 1858, in Lincoln, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol. III, ed. Roy P. Basler (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 216, 220.]





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