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Lincoln, Abraham.

Charleston Debate
In the 4th debate in the Illinois senate race of 1858, Lincoln begins his speech by stating that he is in
not in favor of extending social and political equality to blacks. He also claims that he is not in favor of
granting suffrage or basic civil liberties to blacks and goes on to emphasize the superiority of the white
race by emphasizing physical differences. He also claims that neither he or his friends believed in
interracial marriage despite Stephen A. Douglasss fears. He finishes his introduction by emphasizing
that it is the states right on how to handle the social and political affairs of Negroes, not the federal
government. Lincoln then discusses the main purpose of his speech, the content of the Enabling Act for
the Kansas constitution. Lincoln backs judge Trumbulls claim that Douglass had stricken the clause that
it was best not to have a provision for submitting the Constitution to a vote of the people after it
should be formed. Lincoln defends the veracity of Judge Trumbull Claims against Douglasss denials that
he had the clause stricken, that the clause existed, that the document may have been fabricated along
with the excuse that if he did have it stricken the content regarding voting was implied.
Interpretation
Lincolns speech was and is typical political fashion, to get the most voters on your side by offending
the fewest. He plays to the audience and the nations whims, by appealing to white racists and the
border states friendly to the Union with his introduction. Lincoln as John Green states in his video,
hated slavery but would leave it alone where it existed John Green, The Election of 1860 & the Road
to Disunion: (US #18). The text goes on to describe Lincolns desire to keep the Union together despite
his opposition to slavery in the statement A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe
government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. (324) American Stories. Douglass on
the other hand was the ultimate political opportunist. He used the Kansas-Nebraska Act and popular
sovereignty to speed up statehood for the territory for his political gain. The sooner statehood was
established; the sooner rail lines could be potentially established through his home state. He used
popular sovereignty because the concept did not explicitly reveal position on slavery at that time. Our
Chapter 14: Lecture -3 notes that Congress, however made a colossal error in 1854 by applying popular
sovereignty to territories that would be ready for statehood very quickly. The Kansas-Nebraska Act
repealed the Missouri Compromise which limited slavery and the expansion of slavery. Douglass
unwittingly destroyed sectional harmony of democratic party, doomed what was left of the two partysystem and led to the rise and creation of the Republican party. (319-320) American Stories.
1. How would you summarize Lincolns attitudes toward race and slavery as expressed in this
excerpt?
Lincoln may have been a racists, but he was most definitely a politician first. His claims of white
superiority appealed to the racist north and justified slavery within the border states. My guess
is that William Lloyd Garrison wasnt among Lincolns friends. Lincolns debates on the morality
of slavery with Douglass does give a glimpse into Lincolns mindset. Lincolns opposition to the
expansion and nationalizing of slavery when he tried to link Douglass to this pro slavery
conspiracy by pointing out his rivals unwillingness to take a stand on the morality of slavery
(324) American Stories. Lincoln uses his rivals silence and indifference on slavery to implicitly
express his moral objections to slavery. Although Douglass equated Lincolns moral objection to
slavery to a belief of racial equality (325) American Stories Lincoln counters by affirming his
commitment to white supremacy. He would grant blacks the right to the fruits of their labor

while denying them the privilege of full citizenship. (326) American Stories. Lincoln attitude to
emancipation also signals his attitude towards blacks. He favored gradual emancipation with a
plea for government subsidies to support voluntary colonization of freed blacks outside of the
US (343) American Stories. This supports Lincolns desire for the new territories to be a haven
for white families. John Green The Election of 1860 & The Road to Disunion (US 18). Lincoln
also proposed compensating slave owners in Union states for their slaves. It should also be
noted that Lincoln only freed the slaves in Confederate states. Lincolns attitude towards blacks
and slavery is at best ambivalent
2. The excerpt is the height of the art of debate for its time. How does it compare to the political
rhetoric in todays elections?
The Charleston Debate was tame, cordial and a lot more focused then todays debates. Although
Douglass appeared to avoid taking a stance on slavery, you had a good idea what was. It seemed
that no question was out of bounds, unlike todays debates. Also the answers seem more direct
back then. Politicians today never answer the questions posed to them. They wander off onto
tangents familiar only to them, leaving the viewer confused and dazed and I am tired of catch
phrases and the word or scapegoat of the day. Whos Afraid of a good question. Politicians.
3. Whats Lincolns main point within this introductory speech? What does he devote the most
time to?
The main point in his introduction to the speech was to express the white mans superiority to
blacks and his belief that blacks dont deserve equality. The main point of his speech was to
attack Douglasss Action in regards to the Kansas constitution and his support for Judge
Trumbull accusation the Douglass had stricken the clause best not to have a provision for
submitting the Constitution to a vote of the people after it should be formed. Lincoln spends
the majority of his speech refuting Douglasss claims that he didnt have the clause stricken.