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Lincoln, Abraham; Nicolay, John G., ed; Hay, John, ed. 'Letter to James N. Brown, October 18, 1858' in 'The Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, v. 5' . New York: Francis D. Tandy Company, 1894, 1858. [format: book], [genre: letter]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=NH558c.html


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Letter to James N. Brown [1]

SPRINGFIELD, October 18, 1858.

My dear Sir: I do not perceive how I can express myself, more plainly, than I have done in the foregoing extracts. In four of them I have expressly disclaimed all intentions to bring about social and political equality between the white and black races, and, in all the rest, I have done the same thing by clear implication.

I have made it equally plain that I think the negro is included in the word "men" used in the Declaration of Independence.

I believe the declaration that "all

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men are created equal" is the great fundamental principle upon which our free institutions rest; that negro slavery is violative of that principle; but that, by our form of government, that principle has not been made one of legal obligation; that by our form of government, the States which have slavery are to retain it, or surrender it at their own pleasure; and that all others--;individuals, free-states and national government--;are constitutionally bound to leave them alone about it.

I believe our government was thus framed because of the necessity springing from the actual presence of slavery, when it was framed.

That such necessity does not exist in the territories, where slavery is not present.

In his Mendenhall speech Mr. Clay says:

" Now, as an abstract principle, there is no doubt of the truth of that declaration (all men are created equal) and it is desirable, in the original construction of society, and in organized societies, to keep it in view as a great fundamental principle."

Again, in the same speech Mr. Clay says:

" If a state of nature existed, and we were about to lay the foundations of society, no man would be more strongly opposed than I would to incorporate the institutions of slavery among its elements."

Exactly so. In our new free territories, a state of nature does exist. In them Congress

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lays the foundations of society; and, in laying those foundations, I say, with Mr. Clay, it is desirable that the declaration of the equality of all men shall be kept in view, as a great fundamental principle; and that Congress, which lays the foundations of society, should, like Mr. Clay, be strongly opposed to the incorporation of slavery among its elements.

But it does not follow that social and political equality between white and black, must be incorporated, because slavery must not. The declaration does not so require.

Yours as ever,
A. LINCOLN.

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Lincoln, Abraham; Nicolay, John G., ed; Hay, John, ed. 'Letter to James N. Brown, October 18, 1858' in 'The Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, v. 5' . New York: Francis D. Tandy Company, 1894, 1858. [format: book], [genre: letter]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=NH558c.html
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