Speech at Beardstown by Abraham Lincoln


In this speech, transcribed in two news outlets, Lincoln recounts his back-and-forth public communications with his opponent for Senator from Illinois, Judge Stephen Douglas. Lincoln then accuses Judge Douglas of not responding to his main charge of lying to the people about his pro-slavery stance.


[1] I made a speech in June last, in which I pointed out, briefly and consecutively, a series of public measures leading directly to the nationalization of slavery—the spreading of that institution over all the Territories and all the States, old as well as new, North as well as South. I enumerated the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, which every candid man must acknowledge conferred upon emigrants to Kansas and Nebraska the right to carry slaves there and hold them in bondage, whereas, formerly they had no such right. I alluded to the events which followed that repeal—events in which Judge Douglas’ name figures quite prominently. I referred to the Dred Scott decision [2], and the extraordinary means taken to prepare the public mind for that decision—the efforts put forth by President Pierce to make the people believe they had indorsed, in the election of James Buchanan, the doctrine that slavery may exist in the free Territories of the Union—the earnest exhortation put forth by President Buchanan to the people to stick to that decision whatever it might be, [laughter] the close fitting niche in the Nebraska bill [3] wherein the right of the people to govern themselves is made “subject to the Constitution of the United States”—the extraordinary haste displayed by Mr. Douglas [4] to give this decision an endorsement at the Capital of Illinois. I alluded to other occurring circumstances which I need not repeat now, and I said that though I could not open the bosoms of men and find out their secret motives, yet, when I found the framework for a barn or a bridge, or any other structure, built by a number of carpenters—Stephen and Franklin and Roger and James—and so built that each tenon had its proper mortice, and the whole forming a symmetrical piece of workmanship, I should say that these carpenters all worked on an intelligent plan, and understood each other from the beginning. This embraced the main argument in my speech before the Republican State convention in June. Judge Douglas received a copy of my speech some two weeks before his return to Illinois. He had ample time to examine and reply to it if he chose to do so. He did examine it, and he did reply to it, but he wholly overlooked the body of my argument, and said nothing about the “conspiracy charge,” as he terms it. He made up his speech of complaints against our tendencies to negro equality and amalgamation. [Laughter.] Well, seeing that Douglas had had the process served on him, that he had taken notice of such service, that he had come into court and pleaded to a part of the complaint, but had ignored the main issue, I took a default on him. I held that he had no plea to make to the general charge. So, when I was called on to reply to him twenty-four hours afterwards, I renewed the charge as explicitly as I could. My speech was reported and published on the following morning, and of course Judge Douglas saw it. He went from Chicago to Bloomington, and there made another and longer speech, and yet took no notice of the “conspiracy charge.” He then went to Springfield and made another elaborate argument, but was not prevailed upon to know anything about the outstanding indictment. I made another speech in Springfield—this time taking it for granted that Judge Douglas was satisfied to take his chances in the campaign with the imputation of the conspiracy hanging over him. It was not until he went into a small town (Clinton) in DeWitt county, where he delivered his fourth or fifth regular speech, that he found it convenient to notice this matter at all. At that place (I was standing in the crowd when he made his speech,) he bethought himself that he was charged with something; [laughter;] and his reply was that “his self-respect alone prevented his calling it a false-hood.” Well, my friends, perhaps he so far lost his self-respect in Beardstown as to actually call it a falsehood! [Great laughter—Douglas had called it “an infamous lie.”] But now I have this reply to make: That while the Nebraska bill was pending, Judge Douglas helped to vote down a clause giving the people of the Territories the right to exclude slavery if they chose; that neither while the bill was pending, nor at any other time, would he give his opinion whether the people had the right to exclude slavery—though respectfully asked; that he made a report, which I hold in my hand, from the Committee on Territories, in which he said the rights of the people of the Territories in this regard are “held in abeyance,” and can not be immediately exercised, [Mr. Lincoln here read the passage referred to, from an official document in the Senate;] that the Dred Scott decision expressly denies any such right, but declares that neither Congress nor the Territorial Legislature can keep slavery out of Kansas; and that Judge Douglas indorses that decision. All these “charges” are new; that is, I did not make them in my original speech—they are additional and cumulative testimony. I bring them forward now, and dare Judge Douglas to deny one of them. Let him do it, and I will prove it by such testimony as will confound him forever. [Loud applause.] I say to you, gentlemen, that it would be more to the purpose for Judge Douglas to say that he did not repeal the Missouri Compromise; that he did not make slavery possible where it was impossible before; that he did not leave a niche in the Nebraska bill for the Dred Scott decision to rest in; that he did not vote down a clause giving the people the right to exclude slavery if they wanted to; that he did not refuse to give his individual opinion whether a Territorial Legislature could exclude slavery; that he did not make a report to the Senate in which he said that the rights of the people in this regard were “held in abeyance” and could not be immediately exercised; that he did not make a hasty indorsement of the Dred Scott decision over at Springfield; that he does not now indorse that decision; that that decision does not take away from the Territorial Legislature the power to exclude slavery, and that he did not in the original Nebraska bill so couple the words State and Territory together, that what the Supreme Court has done in forcing open all the Territories for slavery, it may yet do in forcing open all the States—I say it would be vastly more to the point for Judge Douglas to say he did not do some of these things, did not forge some of these links of overwhelming testimony, than to go vociferating about the country that possibly he may hint that somebody is a liar! [Deafening applause.] I repeat and renew, and shall continue to repeat and renew this “charge” until he denies the evidence, and then I shall so fasten it upon him that it will cling to him as long as he lives.

[5] He showed that Douglas had no foundation for charging him with being favorable to negro equality; it was a false logic that assumed because a man did not want a negro woman for a slave, he must needs want her for a wife. From copious statistics he showed that where slavery existed, the white race was mixed with the black to an alarming degree, and thus proved that his policy of keeping them separate was decidedly more to be approved than that of Judge Douglas’ who would bring them in contact. 




Illinois State Journal


[1] Transcribed in Illinois State Journal, August 19, 1858; Rushville Schuyler Citizen, August 18, 1858. The occasional parentheticals courtesy of the Journal

[2] See Dred Scott Decision in this database. 

[3] See Kansas Nebraska Act and Missouri Compromise in this database. 

[4] Judge Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s opponent in the Senate race for the state of Illinois. 

[5] This last paragraph is from the Rushville Schuyler Citizen, August 18.

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