Thoughts on Slavery

Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, was a native of a slave state. Hardin County, Kentucky, where he was born in 1809, contained 1007 slaves and 1627 white males over the age of 16 in 1811. His uncle, Mordecai Lincoln, owned a slave. His father's uncle, Isaac, may have owned more than 40 slaves. The Richard Berry family, with whom Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks, lived before her marriage to Thomas Lincoln, owned slaves. Thomas and Nancy Lincoln, however, were members of a Baptist congregation which had withdrawn from another church because of their opposition to slavery. Lincoln claimed that his father left Kentucky for Indiana "partly on account of slavery."

Lincoln's most important act concerning slavery was the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation that freed all slaves in those areas in rebellion against the United States. But the subject was a recurring one throughout his political career and he was obliged to address it on many occasions. The following are some of his other thoughts on the topic.

"There is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence - the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man."

Debate, Ottawa, IL, August 21, 1858

"This good earth is plenty broad enough for the white man and the negro both, and there is no need of either pushing the other off."

Speech, New Haven, CT, March 6, 1860

"We cannot be free if this is, by our own national choice, to be a land of slavery."

Speech, Bloomington, IL, May 29, 1856

"Slavery and oppression must cease, or American liberty must perish."

Speech, Cincinnati, OH, May 6, 1842

"The blacks must be free. Slavery is the bone we are fighting over. It must be got out of the way, to give us permanent peace."

Letter to James R. Gilmore, May 1863

"The one victory we can ever call complete will be that one which proclaims that there is not a slave on the face of God's green earth."

Letter to George Pickett, February 22, 1842

"I am a northern man, or rather a western free-states man, with a constituency I believe to be, and with personal feelings I know to be, against the extension of slavery."

Speech in Congress, July 27, 1848

"Although volume upon volume is written to prove slavery a very good thing, we never hear of a man who wishes to take good of it by being slave himself."

Fragment of letter, July 1, 1854

"Whenever I hear anyone arguing over slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally."

Speech to 14th Indiana regiment, March 17, 1865

"If the negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that 'all men are created equal' and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man's making a slave of another."

Speech, Peoria, IL, October 16, 1854

"I confess myself as belonging to that class in this country who contemplate slavery as a moral, social, and political evil."

Debate, Galesburg, IL, October 7, 1858

"Your race are suffering, in my judgement, the greatest wrong inflicted on any people."

Speech to free colored men, Washington, D.C.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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