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The Dred Scott decision infuriated Republicans by rendering their goal—to prevent slavery’s spread into the territories—unconstitutional. To Republicans, the decision offered further proof of the reach of the South’s Slave Power, which now apparently extended even to the Supreme Court. The decision also complicated life for northern Democrats, especially Stephen Douglas, who could no longer sell popular sovereignty as a symbolic concession to southerners from northern voters. Few northerners favored slavery’s expansion westward.

The lincoln-douglas debates

The turmoil in Kansas, combined with the furor over the Dred Scott decision, provided the background for the 1858 senatorial contest in Illinois between Democratic senator Stephen Douglas and Republican hopeful Abraham Lincoln ( [link] ). Lincoln and Douglas engaged in seven debates before huge crowds that met to hear the two men argue the central issue of slavery and its expansion. Newspapers throughout the United States published their speeches. Whereas Douglas already enjoyed national recognition, Lincoln remained largely unknown before the debates. These appearances provided an opportunity for him to raise his profile with both northerners and southerners.

Photograph (a) is a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Photograph (b) is a portrait of Stephen Douglas.
In 1858, Abraham Lincoln (a) debated Stephen Douglas (b) seven times in the Illinois race for the U.S. Senate. Although Douglas won the seat, the debates propelled Lincoln into the national political spotlight.

Douglas portrayed the Republican Party as an abolitionist effort—one that aimed to bring about miscegenation    , or race-mixing through sexual relations or marriage. The “black Republicans,” Douglas declared, posed a dangerous threat to the Constitution. Indeed, because Lincoln declared the nation could not survive if the slave state–free state division continued, Douglas claimed the Republicans aimed to destroy what the founders had created.

For his part, Lincoln said: “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half Slave and half Free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction: or its advocates will push it forward till it shall became alike lawful in all the States—old as well as new, North as well as South.” Lincoln interpreted the Dred Scott decision and the Kansas-Nebraska Act as efforts to nationalize slavery: that is, to make it legal everywhere from New England to the Midwest and beyond.

The lincoln-douglas debates

On August 21, 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas met in Ottawa, Illinois, for the first of seven debates. People streamed into Ottawa from neighboring counties and from as far away as Chicago. Reporting on the event was strictly partisan, with each of the candidates’ supporters claiming victory for their candidate. In this excerpt, Lincoln addresses the issues of equality between blacks and whites.

[A]nything that argues me into his idea of perfect social and political equality with the negro, is but a specious and fantastic arrangement of words, . . . 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 judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, . . . I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position. . . . [N]otwithstanding 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. I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. . . . [I]n the right to eat the bread, without the 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.
—Lincoln’s speech on August 21, 1858, in Ottawa, Illinois

How would you characterize Lincoln’s position on equality between blacks and whites? What types of equality exist, according to Lincoln?

Go to the Lincoln Home National Historic Site on the National Park Service’s website to read excerpts from and full texts of the debates. Then, visit The Lincoln/Douglas Debates of 1858 on the Northern Illinois University website to read different newspaper accounts of the debates. Do you see any major differences in the way the newspapers reported the debates? How does the commentary vary, and why?

During the debates, Lincoln demanded that Douglas explain whether or not he believed that the 1857 Supreme Court decision in the Dred Scott case trumped the right of a majority to prevent the expansion of slavery under the principle of popular sovereignty. Douglas responded to Lincoln during the second debate at Freeport, Illinois. In what became known as the Freeport Doctrine    , Douglas adamantly upheld popular sovereignty, declaring: “It matters not what way the Supreme Court may hereafter decide as to the abstract question whether slavery may or may not go into a territory under the Constitution, the people have the lawful means to introduce it or exclude it as they please.” The Freeport Doctrine antagonized southerners and caused a major rift in the Democratic Party. The doctrine did help Douglas in Illinois, however, where most voters opposed the further expansion of slavery. The Illinois legislature selected Douglas over Lincoln for the senate, but the debates had the effect of launching Lincoln into the national spotlight. Lincoln had argued that slavery was morally wrong, even as he accepted the racism inherent in slavery. He warned that Douglas and the Democrats would nationalize slavery through the policy of popular sovereignty. Though Douglas had survived the election challenge from Lincoln, his Freeport Doctrine undermined the Democratic Party as a national force.

Section summary

The Dred Scott decision of 1857 went well beyond the question of whether or not Dred Scott gained his freedom. Instead, the Supreme Court delivered a far-reaching pronouncement about African Americans in the United States, finding they could never be citizens and that Congress could not interfere with the expansion of slavery into the territories. Republicans erupted in anger at this decision, which rendered their party’s central platform unconstitutional. Abraham Lincoln fully articulated the Republican position on the issue of slavery in his 1858 debates with Senator Stephen Douglas. By the end of that year, Lincoln had become a nationally known Republican icon. For the Democrats’ part, unity within their party frayed over both the Dred Scott case and the Freeport Doctrine, undermining the Democrats’ future ability to retain control of the presidency.

Questions & Answers

Which of the following protests was directly related to federal policies, and thus had the biggest impact in creating a negative public perception of Hoover presidency
Steven Reply
the Bonus Army
Victor
what mistakes did Britain mak the lost them the colonies
Victor Reply
tax without representation
JOE'S
they did not give the colinies any representation
Victor
the american revolution
Angelica Reply
what started the American revolution
Futuremfan
immediate cause: British tried to seize weapons stored by local militia which led to a confrontation
Victor
hi...can you state benefit of U.S constitution
Chimi Reply
bill of rights
Tom
it provided a political framework which provifed stability while at the same time permitting freedoms which allowed the American people to flourish
Victor
Among the major cause of American civil war, can I have a brief account on social cause?
Rinchen Reply
The issue of slavery between South America and North America that lead to the American Civil War
Sanusi
not sure what you mean by "social" causes. Do you mean things like differences between Northern ers & southerners?
Victor
what was the purpose of Operation Valkyrie?
Matthew Reply
I have no idea
Sanusi
that was the WWII attempt by German officers to overthrow Hitler.
Victor
which culture developed the writting system in the western hemisphere?
cierra Reply
the phoenicians
Victor
Treaty of Greenville
The Reply
By this treaty Indians gave up some land in exchange for am annuity of money & supplies. It followed Battle of Fallen Timbers, a decisive victory of US troops over Indian tribes organized into the Western Confederacy. It marks the beginning of modern state of Ohio.
Victor
Please keep in mind that it is not allowed to promote any social groups (whatsapp, facebook, etc...) or exchange phone numbers or email addresses on our platform.
QuizOver Reply
Columbus didn't discover ish. He stole America from the Natives
LovingN Reply
Who was Nat Turner? What was the cause and impact of the Nat Turner Rebellion?
LovingN
which culture developed the only writing systems in the western hemisphere
rose Reply
economic causes of American civil war
Samten Reply
do you mean the major causes of American civil war
CHEGWE
yes
Samten
idealistic birth of industries in great britain
Rinchen Reply
how doent show that Martin king jr dies where say that on google.com
Jessica Reply
MLK died April 4, 1968 at Memphis, TN
Victor
what year was America found
Adaregba Reply
i think America was discovered by Christopher Columbus in the year 1492
Samten
yes samten ,it was discovered by Christopher Columbus in August 3rd 1492
CHEGWE
but, we're was the name (America gotten from
CHEGWE
i could't understand what are you asking about
Samten
sorry i don't have this answer
Samten
ok
CHEGWE

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Source:  OpenStax, U.s. history. OpenStax CNX. Jan 12, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11740/1.3
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