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North American History Essay

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In the words of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, two great rivals in American History, were not only their honor and image, but the principles and ideals that would lead the legislation of a country in the frustrated process of amalgamation and integration. As Abraham Lincoln proposed in his Republican State Convention of 1858 speech, there were two American clashing ideologies in debate, ideologies that could not coexist forever within a “House Divided”. Moreover, he emphasizes his beliefs when he states:

“Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction, or its advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new, North as well as South” (Lincoln)

By his immediate rhetorical question of “Have we no tendency to the latter condition?” (Lincoln) it is obvious that he, as a republican and abolitionist, is against the prevailing of the institution of slavery, something that is put into doubt by the accusations made to him by his opponent who adheres himself to prove the lack of congruence in Lincoln’s speeches.

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This accusation can be tangible to a point, for the speeches were more emphatic towards certain ideas in the north, than in the south and vice versa, but the main principles of Lincoln’s ideas tend to show his point of view as aligned with that of the Abolitionists, in quite a particular way.

Taking into account certain confusing ambivalence in Lincoln’s speech, although he proposed equality when he invited Americans to “…unite as one people throughout this land until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal.” (Douglas, quoting Lincoln), he also encouraged certain division and differentiated whites from blacks when he said “…I am not nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way, the social and political equality of the white and black races…” (Douglas, quoting Lincoln), referring to certain ways of life and the position to be held by African Americans in his opinion. A difference in these quotations is evident, but it is taken as a cautious step towards safekeeping his political career, and expressing a certain opinion that supported the abolition of slavery, but not intend to radically change the position of hegemony of the white men. A great conflict can come out of this ideology, but it was a great step forward in the emancipation of the black people.

Although Abraham Lincoln’s idea of the condition of humans as slaves is left idle for a moment, the fact that he takes it to be an evil that must be stopped is clear when “…we think it is a moral, a social and a political wrong.” (Lincoln) is stated, but the fact that it should be dealt with “…as with any other wrong, in so far as we can prevent its growing any larger, and so deal with it that in the run of time there may be some promise of an end to it.” (Lincoln) also makes clear that although intervention in the south is not within his policy, it is his intention to stop its growth and contain it within its boundaries until, as stated in another occasion, it would perish.

In our opinion, Lincoln’s plan is very difficult thing to attain, for how could one oppress an institution such as slavery, and promote openly pro north policies, supposedly leaving the south to their ideals until the times and abolitionist movement created such a situation where the institution would collapse by itself? This is what Judge Douglas questions the most, making Lincoln seem as incoherent. To a point he was, but the great tension created between both ideologies had separated the country to a point in which Lincoln had to have great care.

The Missouri compromise dividing free and slave states in the latitude parallel 36�30′ and the later Kansas Nebraska act only temporally detained the and smoothed the tension that existed in the fight for power and representation between North and South, abolitionists and slave supporters. The Dred Scott versus Stanford case only augmented the tension, making the questions of its constitutionality and rightfulness be debated across the nation.

While Douglas’s position tends to favor a patched agreement between south and north, one of “mutual non intervention” (Douglas) that could lead to further separation as we think, Lincoln’s policy, ambiguous as it might be in certain respects, was very clear in one thing: the separation that up to now had existed dividing the country in two could not continue much further. For him, apart of his abolitionist principles, above all was the union of the Federation, he could not permit each part of the nation to take its own course, something that would change the fate of the United States forever. A pivotal period would come out of his later governance that would lean the countries future northwards, until again unity would rise much later.

This intention would not be clear since the beginning of Lincoln’s political career, despite his clear ideals regarding slavery. This is obvious in the difference in his “House Divided” speech, and his Sixth Joint Debate with Douglas, at Quincy. Even in the different speeches mentioned in the second paper, where the words of this leader can be confusing, there is certain continuity in his thought. The Dred Scott case is very important in both of his situations. In the first one he addresses it as if the slave policies were “tending” (Lincoln) the nation towards them, in the second one he is reassuring the possibilities this interpretation of the constitution of the United States by the Supreme Court opens, such as “…slavery would be established in all the States as well as in the Territories.” (Lincoln)

Within these lines, the point of view of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas is made clear. While the first clearly wants to avoid the spreading of slavery, for the moment being, and eventually eradicate it, Douglas, claiming to have a “care-not” (Lincoln) policy as stated by Lincoln, endorsed the popular sovereignty doctrine. It is Douglas who previously had proposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, giving power of decision on the free or slave state issue to the inhabitants of the area, not based on the moral and ethical consequences of this, for he was not concerned with these but more so in “expansion of settlement and commerce” (Divine, Robert, et al. 271).

Both politicians have a diverging speech and line of thought, for Abraham Lincoln concentrates more on repudiating the idea of slavery itself, while Douglas is not focuses on this, but rather on another scheme: one which was more pleasing to draw support from both sides, one that was in the middle of supporting and fighting slavery, one which proved a failure as the book just cited comments, for the two currents of thought, the one supporting and the other rejecting slavery are very difficult to unite as a whole.

It can be said that all these ideological questions surge between attacks and allegations against each other. The first “House Divided” speech is more of a uplifting, but challenging and persuasive speech in which Lincoln confronts the problems of the nation, the second speech, or debate between Lincoln and Douglas is more of a defensive and offensive one in which one politician is going to enhance his reputation, beneficial for a further political career and the other is going to worsen it. This is obvious for most of the speech is consumed in correcting fallacies said by the other or accusations of perjuries. Between lines is when the true nature of the politicians though reveals itself with clarity.

“It is precisely no other than the putting of that most unphilosophical proposition, that two bodies can occupy the same space at the same time.” (Lincoln) is the quotation that convinces the readers of the Lincoln-Douglas debate of America’s strain, the point of view of slavery cannot coexist with abolitionism, not even Douglas’s view of giving the choice to the inhabitants of the place is viable. Of course Lincoln has to be careful with such a topic, and he is, sounding flexible when he states that “Judge Douglas understands the Constitution according to the Dred Scott decision, and he is bound to support it as he understands it. I understand it another way, and therefore I am bound to support it in the way in which I understand it.” (Lincoln), yet firm in his convictions.

In conclusion, it can be said that the rivalry of these men and ideals they stand for are representative of a nation, a nation that is divided by many issues, of which slavery is a crucial one in understanding the different semi spheres that were being created within what was supposed to be a federation. Although the role of it as such had not yet been clearly defined, it was up for Abraham Lincoln, after he was elected leader, to define with these speeches and hints were making more evident. The American Civil War was just a step away, and Lincoln, Douglas and the slave owners could not agree on the topic that could free a large proportion of the population, the African slaves. Based on what we see, it is clear that what was to come would shape America into what it is now, a united, slave free nation. Yet these are the roots of what is taken for granted today. This antagonism fueled some of the fiercest and defining battles fought in U.S. continental grounds.


* Divine, Robert A., Breen, T.H., Fredrickson, George M., Williams, R. Hal, Gross, Ariela J., Brands, H.W. and Roberts, Randy ” America: Past and Present” United States, Pearson Longman, 2005.

* Lincoln, Abraham “House Divided Address” Republican State Convention, Springfield, Illinois, June 17th, 1858.

* Lincoln, Abraham and Douglas, Stephen A. “Sixth Joint Debate” Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Quincy, Illinois, October 13th, 1858.

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