Hon. A. Lincoln's Speech at Ottawa.


Wednesday August 25, 1858.

August 21, 1858.

My FELLOW CITIZENS: When a man hears himself somewhat misrepresented, it provokes him – at least I find it so with myself; but when the misrepresentation becomes very gross and palpable, it is more apt to amuse him. [Laughter.] The first thing I see fit to notice, is the fact that Judge Douglas alleges, after running through the history of the old Democratic and the old Whig parties, that Judge Trumbull and myself made an arrangement in 1854 by which I was to have the place of Gen. Shields in the United States Senate, and Judge Trumbull was to have the place of Judge Douglas. Now all I have to say upon that subject is, that I think no man – not even Judge Douglas – can prove it, because it is not true [Cheers.] – I have no doubt he is " conscientious" in saying it. [Laughter.] As to those resolutions that he took such a length of time to read, as being the platform of the Republican party in 1854, I say I never had anything to do with them, and I think Trumbull never had. [Renewed laughter.] Judge Douglas cannot show that either one of us ever did have anything to do with them. I believe this is true about those resolutions. There was a call for a Convention to form a Republican party at Springfield, and I think that my friend Mr. Lovejoy, who is here upon this stand had a hand in it. I think this is true, and I think he will be able to recollect that he tried to get me into it, and I would not go in [Cheers and laughter.] I believe it is also true, that I went away from Springfield when the Convention was in session, to attend the meeting of the Committee, but I refused to do so, and I never had anything to do with that organization. This is the plain truth about that matter of the resolutions.

Now, about this story that Judge Douglas tells of Trumbull bargaining to sell out the old Democratic party, and Lincoln agreeing to sell out the old Whig party, I have the means of knowing about that; [laughter.] Judge Douglas cannot have; and I know there is no substance to it whatever. [Applause.] Yet I have no doubt he is "conscientious" about it [Laughter.] I know that after Mr. Lovejoy got into the Legislature that winter, he complained of me that I had told all the old Whigs in his district that the old Whig party was good enough for them, and some of them voted against him because I told them so. Now I have no means of totally disproving such charges as this which the Judge makes. A man cannot prove a negative, but he has a right to claim that when a man makes an affirmative charge, he must offer some proof to show the truth of what he says. I certainly cannot introduce testimony to show the negative about things, but I have a right to claim that if a man says he knows a thing, then he must show how he knows it. I always have a right to claim this, and it is not satisfactory to me that he may be "conscientious" on the subject. [Cheers and laughter.]

Now gentleman, I have to waste my time on such things but in regard to that general abolition tilt that Judge Douglas makes, when he says that I was engaged at that time in selling out and abolitionizing the old Whig party – I hope you will permit me to read a part of a printed speech that I made then at Peoria which will show altogether a different view of the position I took in that contest of 1854.

Voice — Put on your specs.

Mr. Lincoln — Yes sir, I am obliged to do so. I am no longer a young man. [Laughter.]

"When southern people tell us they are no more responsible for slavery than we are, I acknowledge the fact. When they say that it is an existing institution, and there is no way to get rid of it, I assure them I shall not blame them for not knowing what to do. If all earthly power were given me, I would not know what to do with it. My first impulse would be to free them all and send them to Liberia, their own native land, but a moment's reflection would convince me that whatever of high hope there might be in this, its execution would be impossible. I reflect that if they were all landed there in a day, they would all perish in the next ten days, and that there is not surplus money and surplus shipping enough in the world to accomplish it in many times ten days. Shall we fire them and keep them as underlings? Are we quite sure this would better their condition? I think I would not hold one in slavery at any rate, but my opinion is not clear enough to denounce people upon. Shall we free them, and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit this, and if they would the feelings of the great mass of white people would not. Whether this accords with strict justice or not is not the sole question. A universal feeling, whether well or ill founded, cannot safely be disregarded. We cannot then make them our equals.

When they remind us of their constitutional rights I acknowledge them fully and freely, and I would give them any legislation for the recovery of their fugitives, which would not be more likely in the stringency of its provisions to take a free man into slavery than our ordinary criminal laws are to hang an innocent one." [Loud applause.]

I have reason to know that Judge Douglas knows that I said this. I think he has the answer here to one of the questions he put to me. I do not mean to allow him to catechise me unless he pays back for it in kind. I will not answer questions one after another unless he reciprocates, but as he has made this inquiry and I have answered it before, he has got it without getting anything in return. He has got my answer on the Fugitive Slave Law.

Now, gentlemen, I don't want to read at any greater length, but this is the true complexion of all I have ever said in regard to the institution of slavery and the black race. This is the whole of it, and anything that argues me into his idea of perfect social and political equality with the negro, is but a specious and fantastic arrangement of words, by which a man can prove a horse chestnut to be a chestnut horse. [Laughter.] I will say here, while upon this subject, that I have no purpose directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so. I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which in my judgement will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and in as much as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position. I have never said anything contrary, but I hold that notwithstanding all this there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. – [Loud cheers.] I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects – certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal, and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man. [Great applause.]

Now I pass on to consider one or two more of these little follies. The Judge is wofully at fault about his early friend Lincoln being a "grocery keeper." [Laughter.] I don't know as it would be a great sin, if I had been, but he is mistaken. Lincoln never kept a grocery anywhere in the world. [Laughter.] It is true that Lincoln did work the latter part of one winter in a little still house, up at the head of a hollow. [Roars of laughter.] And I think my friend, the Judge, is equally at fault when he charges me at the time when I was in Congress of having opposed our soldiers who were fighting in the Mexican war. The Judge did not make his charge very distinctly, but I can tell you what he can prove by referring to the record. You remember I was an old Whig, and whenever the Democratic party tried to get me to vote that the war has been righteously begun by the President, I would not do it. But whenever they asked for any money, or land warrants, or anything to pay the soldiers there, during all that time, I gave the same votes that Judge did. [Loud applause.] You can think as you please as to whether that was consistent. Such is the truth; and the Judge has the right to make all he can out of it. But when he, by a general charge, conveys the idea that I withheld supplies from the soldiers, he is, to say the least, grossly and altogether mistaken, as a consultation of the records will prove to him.

[To be continued.]



1. These resolutions are a deliberate forgery by Mr. Douglas. None such were passed by the Springfield Convention; nor anything like them. – [ED. PRESS AND TRIBUNE.]