Just south and east from lincoln s hometown of

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Just south and east from Lincolns hometown of Springfield sits the town ofCharleston, Illinois. On 18 September 1858 in this bustling prairie community58P.S. Field
Senator Stephen Douglas and his Kentucky-born rival met for their fourth greatdebate. On a hot, clear afternoon under a Democratic banner declaring‘‘Thisgovernment was made for white men±Douglas for life,’’Lincoln chose to offer hispersonal views on race.55He portentously opened the debate by eschewing hishabitual first-person plural, instead using‘‘I’’ten times in his initial remarks.While I was at the hotel to-day an elderly gentleman called upon me to know whetherI was really in favor of producing a perfect equality between the negroes and whitepeople. While I had not proposed to myself on this occasion to say much on thatsubject, yet as the question was asked me I thought I would occupy perhaps five minutesin saying something in regard to it. I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been infavor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white andblack races, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors ofnegroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; andI will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white andblack races which I believe will for ever forbid the two races living together on terms ofsocial and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remaintogether there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any otherman am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.56Precisely why here in Charleston he refrained from speaking of‘‘we’’begs forexplanation, as the first-person plural is ideally suited to tying together in rhetoricboth speaker and audience. Lincoln readily identified with this assembly, many ofwhom were southern-born and like him spoke with southern or Hoosier accents.These were his friends and he addressed them colloquially. Yet attacking blacks hadlong been the initiative of the Democrats who, Lincoln remarked in an earlierSpringfield speech,‘‘deny his manhood; deny, or dwarf to insignificance, the wrong ofhis bondage; so far as possible, crush all sympathy for him, and cultivate and excitehatred and disgust against him.’’57Democratic candidates pandered to popular tastesby race-baiting, Senator Douglas being their champion, as the banner above thespeakers attested. By‘‘a law of humanity, a law of civilization,’’Douglas famouslyasserted,‘‘the negro race, under all circumstances, at all times and in all countries, hasshown itself incapable of self-government.’’58That blacks were few on the Illinoisprairie mattered little; their metaphorical sacrifice at the altar of white supremacy wasa staple of central and southern Illinois politics. Lincoln needed to distinguish himselffrom the Douglas Democrats while identifying with the Charleston audience.

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