Teacher's Parlor

Mr. Pinckney's Speech.

[p. 205-207]

Mr. Pinckney's speech in response to Mr. Bond's resolution to prohibit free blacks from coming into Illinois and to prohibit slave owners from bringing slaves into Illinois in order to set them free.

Mr. PINCKNEY said: Mr. President, I hope the motion to lay upon the table will be withdrawn, that I may have an opportunity of explaining.

It was not my purpose to agitate this question unless it were forced upon me; and I should have said nothing upon these resolutions of the gentleman from Clinton, had not the ayes and nays been called.

But as the case now stands, and driven as I now am, and have before been into a kind of dilemma, I claim and shall take the privilege of explaining myself. I have been, by what I consider the indiscreet zeal of gentlemen from the North and South, called upon to place my vote upon the journal, on questions that it did not suit my views either to favor or oppose, in the shape in which they were presented to the convention, but nevertheless, I voted unflinchingly, and without any effort at an explanation.

I am willing, sir, to occupy this position in silence no longer; the position is one forced upon me. It is a very singular position. How does it happen that at the North I am termed a pro-slavery man; and here, by some, an Abolitionist? How does it occur that in passing from my home to this place, about 200 miles, I find my principles identically the same, viewed in so different a light? I know not, except it be that I occupy a middle ground between two parties contending with each other, and as all mediators are, I am obliged to receive the blows and balls of both.

An Abolitionist! Why, Mr. President, I would as soon be called almost anything else on earth as a political abolitionist; and yet, I suppose I must patiently bear it, as there is no remedy.

The gentleman from Clinton has again sprung this question upon me, and the ayes and noes are called. To let it pass as I have others touching the same points, I cannot; and yet, I will barely explain.

The gentleman says, the time for action upon this subject has come, and we must defend our State. My own opinion was that the time had not come, and therefore I wished to let the matter rest; but, if the gentleman is correct, and the proper time is here in which we should act, it would seem as though we should first wipe out the dark stain that now rests upon our State. It becomes us to remove the foul stigma, which some of our odious laws have brought upon us. I most unhesitatingly assert here before this body, and am willing to declare it before the world, that some of our late laws touching the treatment of negroes are a disgrace to our State; they would be a disgrace to any people claiming to be free, enlightened and humane.

The gentleman has an object in view in moving these resolutions — he would show by making them a part of our constitution — by keeping negroes out of our State under a heavy penalty, that we are determined to protect the rights of our sister States. Rights! What rights? The right to chase an oppressed and unfortunate fellow being through our territory; to drag him to prison; to beat him, and at the same time to prohibit me, or any man on this floor from giving him a morsel of bread or meat, though he be starving? A right to compel us to force a perishing woman from our door; and drive her forth into the pitiless peltings of the midnight storm! Are these their rights? I can not admit them; they conflict with higher authority. They fly in the face of Jehovah. His law calls upon me to feed the hungry and succor the distressed. This with me settles all; and I shall endeavor to obey it, notwithstanding these rights.

Do not misunderstand me; while I would feed the unfortunate hungry negro, I would take no part in stealing or secreting him. The gentleman would put a stop to the system of stealing negroes and running them off through our State. He cannot more strongly disapprobate the "under ground railroad" than do I. It is a disgrace to any man to be aiding or abetting that system. I look with supreme contempt upon that man who enters the premises of a master for the purpose of enticing away his slave; who teaches that slave to escape at all hazards; to cut his master's throat; to steal his best horse, to ride him to death, and then steal another. These things I cannot approve, nor can I commend; nay, I must censure those who countenance them.

The gentleman says, if among us, they are not to have a vote, nor to hold office. My vote stands recorded upon this subject, and it agrees with his views. I am not for passing laws to give them the right of suffrage, but for a different reason from the gentleman's. It is simply this: no class of men in our popular government can enjoy equal rights and privileges with us, until the mass are willing to grant the same, all legislation to the contrary notwithstanding. This alone is sufficient to determine my course with reference to the African suffrage. The people will not yield it. If any man propose to keep these unfortunate persons from our State by just and humane measures, I shall not object. I am in favor of removing them not only from this State, but from all the States, that they may in some other place enjoy human rights and privileges, in truth as well as in name; but I desire it not to be done by violence. I therefore concur with the gentlemen in giving the Colonization Society great praise; it deserves it; it has my best wishes and my warm support.

The gentleman from Brown expressed a view that I was sorry to hear on this floor. Is it possible that he would rather see this a slave State, than have it longer exposed to the ingress of negroes? Is it true that God has made so broad a mark of distinction between blacks and whites, that the latter cannot endure the proximity of the former? My observations here teach me that they are somewhat intimate; but I forbear to dwell on what is so apparent to all, and I leave the subject.

©Copyright 2002 Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project