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Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865). Political Debates Between Lincoln and Douglas. 1897.

Fourth Joint Debate at Charleston

Extract from Mr. Douglas’s Speech Made at Jacksonville, and Referred to by Mr. Lincoln in His Opening at Charleston

September 18, 1858

I HAVE been reminded by a friend behind me that there is another topic upon which there has been a desire expressed that I should speak. I am told that Mr. Lyman Trumbull, who has the good fortune to hold a seat in the United States Senate, in violation of the bargain between him and Lincoln, was here the other day and occupied his time in making certain charges against me, involving, if they be true, moral turpitude. I am also informed that the charges he made here were substantially the same as those made by him in the city of Chicago, which were printed in the newspapers of that city. I now propose to answer those charges and to annihilate every pretext that an honest man has ever had for repeating them.

In order that I may meet these charges fairly, I will read them, as made by Mr. Trumbull, in his Chicago speech, in his own language. He says:—

  • Now, fellow-citizens, I make the distinct charge that there was a preconcerted arrangement and plot entered into by the very men who now claim credit for opposing a constitution not submitted to the people, to have a constitution formed and put in force without giving the people an opportunity to pass upon it. This, my friends, is a serious charge, but I charge it to-night, that the very men who traverse the country under banners proclaiming popular sovereignty, by design concocted a bill on purpose to force a constitution upon that people.
  • Again, speaking to someone in the crowd, he says:—

  • And you want to satisfy yourself that he was in the plot to force a constitution upon that people? I will satisfy you, I will cram the truth down any honest man’s throat, until he cannot deny it, and to the man who does deny it I will cram the lie down his throat till he shall cry ‘Enough!’ It is preposterous; it is the most damnable effrontery that man ever put on to conceal a scheme to defraud and cheat the people out of their rights, and then claim credit for it.
  • That is polite and decent language for a senator of the United States. Remember that that language was used without any provocation whatever from me. I had not alluded to him in any manner in any speech that I had made, hence without provocation. As soon as he sets his foot within the State, he makes the direct charge that I was a party to a plot to force a constitution upòn the people of Kansas against their will, and knowing that it would be denied, he talks about cramming the lie down the throat of any man who shall deny it, until he cries, “Enough.”

    Why did he take it for granted that it would be denied, unless he knew it to be false? Why did he deem it necessary to make a threat in advance that he would “cram the lie” down the throat of any man that should deny it? I have no doubt that the entire Abolition party considers it very polite for Mr. Trumbull to go round uttering calumnies of that kind, bullying, and talking of cramming lies down men’s throats; but if I deny any of his lies by calling him a liar, they are shocked at the indecency of the language; hence, to-day, instead of calling him a liar I intend to prove that he is one.

    I wish, in the first place, to refer to the evidence adduced by Trumbull, at Chicago, to sustain his charge. He there declared that Mr. Toombs, of Georgia, introduced a bill into Congress authorizing the people of Kansas to form a constitution and come into the Union, that when introduced it contained a clause requiring the constitution to be submitted to the people, and that I struck out the words of that clause.

    Suppose it were true that there was such a clause in the bill, and that I struck it out, is that proof of a plot to force a constitution upon a people against their will? Bear in mind that from the days of George Washington to the Administration of Franklin Pierce, there had never been passed by Congress a bill requiring the submission of a constitution to the people. If Trumbull’s charge, that I struck out that clause, were true, it would only prove that I had reported the bill in the exact shape of every bill of like character that passed under Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, or any other President, to the time of the then present Administration. I ask you, would that be evidence of a design to force a constitution on a people against their will? If it were so, it would be evidence against Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Jackson, Van Buren, and every other President.

    But, upon examination, it turns out that the Toombs bill never did contain a clause requiring the constitution to be submitted. Hence no such clause was ever stricken out, by me or anybody else. It is true, however, that the Toombs bill and its authors all took it for granted that the constitution would be submitted. There had never been, in the history of this Government, any attempt made to force a constitution upon an unwilling people, and nobody dreamed that any such attempt would be made, or deemed it necessary to provide for such a contingency. If such a clause was necessary in Mr. Trumbull’s opinion, why did he not offer an amendment to that effect?

    In order to give more pertinency to that question, I will read an extract from Trumbull’s speech in the Senate, on the Toombs bill, made on the 2nd of July, 1856. He said:—

  • We are asked to amend this bill and make it perfect, and a liberal spirit seems to be manifested on the part of some senators to have a fair bill. It is difficult, I admit, to frame a bill that will give satisfaction to all, but to approach it, or come near it, I think two things must be done.
  • The first, then, he goes on to say, was the application of the Wilmot Proviso to the Territories, and the second the repeal of all the laws passed by the Territorial Legislature. He did not then say that it was necessary to put in a clause requiring the submission of the constitution. Why, if he thought such a provision necessary, did he not introduce it? He says in his speech that he was invited to offer amendments. Why did he not do so? He cannot pretend that he had no chance to do this, for he did offer some amendments, but none requiring submission.

    I now proceed to show that Mr. Trumbull knew at the time that the bill was silent as to the subject of submission, and also that he, and everybody else, took it for granted that the constitution would be submitted. Now for the evidence. In his second speech he says: “The bill in many of its features meets my approbation.” So he did not think it so very bad.

    Further on he says:—

  • In regard to the measure introduced by the senator from Georgia [Mr. Toombs], and recommended by the Committee, I regard it, in many respects, as a most excellent bill; but we must look at it in the light of surrounding circumstances. In the condition of things now existing in the country, I do not consider it as a safe measure, nor one which will give peace; and I will give my reasons. First, it affords no immediate relief. It provides for taking a census of the voters in the Territory for an election in November, and the assembling of a Convention in December, to form, if it thinks proper, a constitution for Kansas, preparatory to its admission into the Union as a State. It is not until December that the Convention is to meet. It would take some time to form a constitution. I suppose that constitution would have to be ratified by the people before it becomes valid.
  • He there expressly declared that he supposed, under the bill, the constitution would have to be submitted to the people before it became valid. He went on to say:—

  • No provision is made in this bill for such a ratification. This is objectionable to my mind. I do not think the people should be bound by a constitution, without passing upon it directly, themselves.
  • Why did he not offer an amendment providing for such a submission, if he thought it necessary? Notwithstanding the absence of such a clause, he took it for granted that the constitution would have to be ratified by the people, under the bill.

    In another part of the same speech, he says:—

  • There is nothing in this bill, so far as I have discovered, about submitting the constitution which is to be framed, to the people, for their sanction or rejection. Perhaps the Convention would have the right to submit it, if it should think proper; but it is certainly not compelled to do so, according to the provisions of the bill. If it is to be submitted to the people, it will take time, and it will not be until some time next year that this new constitution, affirmed and ratified by the people, would be submitted here to Congress for its acceptance; and what is to be the condition of that people in the mean time?
  • You see that his argument then was that the Toombs bill would not get Kansas into the Union quick enough, and was objectionable on that account. He had no fears about this submission, or why did he not introduce an amendment to meet the case?

    A VOICE: Why didn’t you? You were Chairman of the Committee.

    Mr. DOUGLAS: I will answer that question for you.

    In the first place, no such provision had ever before been put in any similar Act passed by Congress. I did not suppose that there was an honest man who would pretend that the omission of such a clause furnished evidence of a conspiracy or attempt to impose on the people. It could not be expected that such of us as did not think that omission was evidence of such a scheme would offer such an amendment; but if Trumbull then believed what he now says, why did he not offer the amendment, and try to prevent it, when he was, as he says, invited to do so?

    In this connection I will tell you what the main point of discussion was: There was a bill pending to admit Kansas whenever she should have a population of 93,420, that being the ratio required for a member of Congress. Under that bill Kansas could not have become a State for some years, because she could not have had the requisite population. Mr. Toombs took it into his head to bring in a bill to admit Kansas then, with only twenty-five or thirty thousand people, and the question was whether we would allow Kansas to come in under this bill, or keep her out under mine until she had 93,420 people. The Committee considered that question, and overruled me, by deciding in favor of the immediate admission of Kansas, and I reported accordingly. I hold in my hand a copy of the report which I made at that time. I will read from it:—

  • The point upon which your Committee have entertained the most serious and grave doubts in regard to the propriety of indorsing the proposition, relates to the fact that, in the absence of any census of the inhabitants, there is reason to apprehend that the Territory does not contain sufficient population to entitle them to demand admission under the treaty with France, if we take the ratio of representation for a member of Congress as the rule.
  • Thus you see that in the written report accompanying the bill, I said that the great difficulty with the Committee was the question of population. In the same report I happened to refer to the question of submission. Now, listen to what I said about that:—

  • In the opinion of your Committee, whenever a constitution shall be formed in any Territory, preparatory to its admission into the Union as a State, justice, the genius of our institutions, the whole theory of our republican system, imperatively demands that the voice of the people shall be fairly expressed, and their will embodied in that fundamental law, without fraud, or violence, or intimidation, or any other improper or unlawful influence, and subject to no other restrictions than those imposed by the Constitution of the United States.
  • I read this from the report I made at the time, on the Toombs bill. I will read yet another passage from the same report; after setting out the features of the Toombs bill, I contrast it with the proposition of Senator Seward, saying:—

  • The revised proposition of the Senator from Georgia refers all matters in dispute to the decision of the present population, with guarantees of fairness and safeguards against frauds and violence to which no reasonable man can find just grounds of exception; while the Senator from New York, if his proposition is designed to recognize and impart vitality to the Topeka constitution, proposes to disfranchise, not only all the emigrants who have arrived in the Territory this year, but all the law-abiding men who refused to join in the act of open rebellion against the constituted authorities of the Territory last year, by making the unauthorized and unlawful action of a political party the fundamental law of the whole people.
  • Then, again, I repeat that under that bill the question is to be referred to the present population to decide for or against coming into the Union under the constitution they may adopt.

    Mr. Trumbull, when at Chicago, rested his charge upon the allegation that the clause requiring submission was originally in the bill, and was stricken out by me. When that falsehood was exposed by a publication of the record, he went to Alton and made another speech, repeating the charge and referring to other and different evidence to sustain it. He saw that he was caught in his first falsehood, so he changed the issue, and instead of resting upon the allegation of striking out, he made it rest upon the declaration that I had introduced a clause into the bill prohibiting the people from voting upon the constitution. I am told that he made the same charge here that he made at Alton, that I had actually introduced and incorporated into the bill a clause which prohibited the people from voting upon their constitution. I hold his Alton speech in my hand, and will read the amendment which he alleges that I offered. It is in these words:—

  • And until the complete execution of this Act no other election shall be held in said Territory.
  • Trumbull says the object of that amendment was to prevent the Convention from submitting the constitution to a vote of the people. I will read what he said at Alton on that subject:—

  • This clause put it out of the power of the Convention, had it been so disposed, to submit the constitution to the people for adoption; for it absolutely prohibited the holding of any other election than that for the election of delegates, till that Act was completely executed, which would not have been till Kansas was admitted as a State, or, at all events, till her constitution was fully prepared and ready for submission to Congress for admission.
  • Now, do you suppose that Mr. Trumbull supposed that that clause prohibited the Convention from submitting the constitution to the people, when, in his speech in the Senate, he declared that the Convention had a right to submit it? In his Alton speech, as will be seen by the extract which I have read, he declared that the clause put it out of the power of the Convention to submit the constitution, and in his speech in the Senate he said:—

  • There is nothing said in this bill, so far as I have discovered, about submitting the constitution which is to be formed, to the people, for their sanction or rejection. Perhaps the Convention could have the right to submit it, if it should think proper, but it is certainly not compelled to do so according to the provisions of the bill.
  • Thus you see that, in Congress, he declared the bill to be silent on the subject, and a few days since, at Alton, he made a speech and said that there was a provision in the bill prohibiting submission.

    I have two answers to make to that. In the first place, the amendment which he quotes as depriving the people of an opportunity to vote upon the constitution was stricken out on my motion,—absolutely stricken out, and not voted on at all! In the second place, in lieu of it, a provision was voted in authorizing the Convention to order an election whenever it pleased. I will read. After Trumbull had made his speech in the Senate, declaring that the constitution would probably be submitted to the people, although the bill was silent upon that subject, I made a few remarks, and offered two amendments, which you may find in the Appendix to the Congressional Globe, volume thirty-three, first session of the thirty-fourth Congress, page 795.

    I quote:—

  • Mr. DOUGLAS: I have an amendment to offer from the Committee on Territories. On page 8, section 11, strike out the words ‘until the complete execution of this Act no other election shall be held in said Territory,’ and insert the amendment which I hold in my hand.
  • The amendment was as follows:—

  • That all persons who shall possess the other qualifications prescribed for voters under this Act, and who shall have been bona fide inhabitants of said Territory since its organization, and who shall have absented themselves therefrom in consequence of the disturbances therein, and who shall return before the first day of October next, and become bona fide inhabitants of the Territory, with the intent of making it their permanent home, and shall present satisfactory evidence of these facts to the Board of Commissioners, shall be entitled to vote at said election, and shall have their names placed on said corrected list of voters for that purpose.
  • That amendment was adopted unanimously. After its adoption, the record shows the following:—

  • Mr. DOUGLAS: I have another amendment to offer from the Committee, to follow the amendment which has been adopted. The bill reads now, ‘And until the complete execution of this Act, no other election shall be held in said Territory.’ It has been suggested that it should be modified in this way, ‘And to avoid all conflict in the complete execution of this Act, all other elections in said Territory are hereby postponed until such time as said Convention shall appoint,’ so that they can appoint the day in the event that there should be a failure to come into the Union.
  • This amendment was also agreed to, without dissent.

    Thus you see that the amendment quoted by Trumbull, at Alton, as evidence against me, instead of being put into the bill by me, was stricken out on my motion, and never became a part thereof at all. You also see that the substituted clause expressly authorized the Convention to appoint such day of election as it should deem proper.

    Mr. Trumbull when he made that speech knew these facts. He forged his evidence from beginning to end, and by falsifying the record he endeavors to bolster up his false charge. I ask you what you think of Trumbull thus going around the country, falsifying and garbling the public records. I ask you whether you will sustain a man who will descend to the infamy of such conduct.

    [Mr. Douglas proceeded to remark that he should not hereafter occupy his time in refuting such charges made by Trumbull, but that, Lincoln having indorsed the character of Trumbull for veracity, he should hold him (Lincoln) responsible for the slanders.]