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 Lincoln's Peoria Speech, 1854

Lincoln's Peoria Speech, 1854

Lincoln laid out his objections to the Kansas-Nebraska Act and resurrected his political career in a brilliant speech at Peoria, Illinois on October 16, 1854. In it he criticized popular sovereignty, questioning how it was that this doctrine could supersede the famed Northwest Ordinance and the sacred Missouri Compromise. Congress had purchased the territory, yet under Douglas' reasoning, it had no control over the disposition of slavery there. The entire nation was interested in the slavery issue, and properly so. Lincoln dismissed arguments that climate and geography rendered slavery impossible in Kansas and Nebraska. Only an explicit statutory prohibition was a true guarantee. Most importantly, Lincoln attacked the morality of slavery's extension and of slavery itself, while tempering this assault on the "peculiar institution" with moderate rhetoric toward the South. Douglas's contentions were perfectly acceptable if the black man (Lincoln used the archaic term "Negro") were no different than a hog. But Lincoln argued for the humanity of the slaves. They were people, not animals, and consequently possessed certain natural rights. "If the negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that `all men are created equal;' and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man's making a slave of another." Still, Lincoln attached no blame to the South for slavery, and confessed that he was not ready to accept black social and political equality. Though he strongly condemned any extension of slavery, he was still willing to tolerate even that to preserve the Union. Despite the radical nature of some of his statements, Lincoln was still a Whig, not an abolitionist.

Permission: Northern Illinois University.
©Copyright 2002 Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project