Economics Assignment | homework help websites
This assignment has several documents for you to read and view in order to answer the five
required questions. Please follow any formatting guidelines and minimum length requirements as
set by your professor. Please take your time to analyze these documents and submit thoughtful
arguments supported by the evidence these documents provide.
1. Excerpt of Daniel Webster’s “Liberty and Union” Speech (January 26, 1830)
2. South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification (November 24, 1832)
3. Political Cartoon “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander” (1851)
4. Political Cartoon “Forcing Slavery Down the Throat of a Freesoiler” (1856)
5. Excerpt of Majority Decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford (March 6, 1857)
6. Frederick Douglass “The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro” (July 5, 1852)
7. William Henry Seward’s “On the Irrepressible Conflict” (October 25, 1858)
8. Alexander Stephen’s “Cornerstone Speech” (March 21, 1861)
9. Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” (November 19, 1863)
Document 1: [excerpt] Daniel Webster on Liberty and Union (1830)
Responding to South Carolina Senator Robert Hayne’s argument that states had the power
to protect their liberties by resisting federal laws they deemed unconstitutional,
Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster defended the supremacy of the Union over
individual states. Although Webster did not plan his speech beforehand, it is generally
considered one of the greatest speeches ever delivered on the floor of the US Senate.
….I say, the right of a state to annul a law of Congress cannot be maintained but on the ground of the inalienable
right of man to resist oppression; that is to say, upon the ground of revolution. I admit that there is an ultimate
violent remedy, above the Constitution and in defiance of the Constitution, which may be resorted to when a
revolution is to be justified. But I do not admit that, under the Constitution and in conformity with it, there is any
mode in which a state government, as a member of the Union, can interfere and stop the progress of the general
government, by force of her own laws, under any circumstance whatever…
This absurdity (for it seems no less) arises from a misconception as to the origin of this government and its true
character. It is, sir, the people’s Constitution, the people’s government, made for the people, made by the people, and
answerable to the people. The people of the United States have declared that this Constitution shall be the supreme
law. We must either admit the proposition or dispute their authority. The states are, unquestionably, sovereign, so far
as their sovereignty is not affected by this supreme law. But the state legislatures, as political bodies, however
sovereign, are yet not sovereign over the people. So far as the people have given power to the general government,
so far the grant is unquestionably good, and the government holds of the people and not of the state governments.
We are all agents of the same supreme power, the people. The general government and the state governments derive
their authority from the same source. Neither can, in relation to the other, be called primary, though one is definite
and restricted, and the other general and residuary. The national government possesses those powers, which it can be
shown the people have conferred on it, and no more. All the rest belongs to the state governments, or to the people
themselves. So far as the people have restrained state sovereignty, by the expression of their will, in the Constitution
of the United States, so far, it must be admitted, state sovereignty is effectually controlled….
I must now beg to ask, sir, whence is this supposed right of the states derived? Where do they find the power to
interfere with the laws of the Union? Sir, the opinion which the honorable gentleman maintains is a notion founded
in a total misapprehension, in my judgment, of the origin of this government, and of the foundation on which it
stands. I hold it to be a popular government, erected by the people; those who administer it, responsible to the
people; and itself capable of being amended and modified, just as the people may choose it should be. It is as
popular, just as truly emanating from the people, as the state governments. It is created for one purpose; the state
governments for another. It has its own powers; they have theirs. There is no more authority with them to arrest the
operation of a law of Congress than with Congress to arrest the operation of their laws.
We are here to administer a Constitution emanating immediately from the people, and trusted by them to our
administration. It is not the creature of the state governments….
This government, sir, is the independent offspring of the popular will. It is not the creature of state legislatures; nay,
more, if the whole truth must be told, the people brought it into existence, established it, and have hitherto supported
it for the very purpose, among others, of imposing certain salutary restraints on state sovereignties. The states cannot
now make war; they cannot contract alliances they cannot make, each for itself, separate regulations of commerce;
they cannot lay imposts; they cannot coin money. If this Constitution, Sir, be the creature of state legislatures, it
must be admitted that it has obtained a strange control over the volitions of its creators.
The people, then, sir, erected this government. They gave it a Constitution, and in that Constitution they have
enumerated the powers which they bestow on it. They have made it a limited government. They have defined its
authority. They have restrained it to the exercise of such powers as are granted; and all others, they declare, are
reserved to the states or the people. But, sir, they have not stopped here. If they had, they would have accomplished
but half their work. No definition can be so clear as to avoid possibility of doubt; no limitation so precise as to
exclude all uncertainty. Who, then, shall construe this grant of the people? Who shall interpret their will, where it
may be supposed they have left it doubtful? With whom do they repose this ultimate right of deciding on the powers
of the government? Sir, they have settled all this in the fullest manner. They have left it with the government itself,
in its appropriate branches….
The Constitution has itself pointed out, ordained, and established that authority. How has it accomplished this great
and essential end? By declaring, sir, that “the Constitution, and the laws of the United States made in pursuance
thereof, shall be the supreme law of the land, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary
This, sir, was the first great step. By this, the supremacy of the Constitution and laws of the United States is
declared. The people so will it. No state law is to be valid which comes in conflict with the Constitution, or any law
of the United States passed in pursuance of it. But who shall decide this question of interference? To whom lies the
last appeal? This, sir, the Constitution itself decides also, by declaring, “that the judicial power shall extend to all
cases arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States.” These two provisions cover the whole ground.
They are, in truth, the keystone of the arch! With these it is a government; without them it is a confederation. In
pursuance of these clear and express provisions, Congress established, at its very first session, in the judicial act, a
mode for carrying them into full effect, and for bringing all questions of constitutional power to the final decision of
the Supreme Court. It then, sir, became a government. It then had the means of self-protection; and but for this, it
would, in all probability, have been now among things which are past….
Sir, I deny this power of state legislatures altogether. It cannot stand the test of examination. Gentlemen may say
that, in an extreme case, a state government might protect the people from intolerable oppression. Sir, in such a case,
the people might protect themselves, without the aid of the state governments. Such a case warrants revolution. It
must make, when it comes, a law for itself. A nullifying act of a state legislature cannot alter the case, nor make
resistance any more lawful….
The people have preserved this, their own chosen Constitution, for forty years and have seen their happiness,
prosperity, and renown grow with its growth, and strengthen with its strength. They are now, generally, strongly
attached to it. Overthrown by direct assault, it cannot be; evaded, undermined, nullified it will not be if we, and
those who shall succeed us here, as agents and representatives of the people, shall conscientiously and vigilantly
discharge the two great branches of our public trust, faithfully to preserve and wisely to administer it….
I have not allowed myself, sir, to look beyond the Union, to see what might he hidden in the dark recess behind. I
have not coolly weighed the chances of preserving liberty when the bonds that unite us together shall be broken
asunder. I have not accustomed myself to hang over the precipice of disunion, to see whether, with my short sight, I
can fathom the depth of the abyss below; nor could I regard him as a safe counselor in the affairs in this government
whose thoughts should be mainly bent on considering, not how the Union may be best preserved but how tolerable
might be the condition of the people when it should be broken up and destroyed. While the Union lasts, we have
high, exciting, gratifying prospects spread out before us, for us and our children. Beyond that I seek not to penetrate
God grant that in my day, at least, that curtain may not rise! God grant that on my vision never may be opened what
lies behind! When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining
on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union; on states dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a
land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood! Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather
behold the gorgeous ensign of the republic, now known and honored throughout the earth, still full high advanced,
its arms and trophies streaming in their original luster, not a stripe erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured,
bearing for its motto, no such miserable interrogatory as “What is all this worth?” nor those other words of delusion
and folly, “Liberty first and Union afterwards”; but everywhere, spread all over in characters of living light, blazing
on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land, and in every wind under the whole heavens, that
other sentiment, dear to every true American heart-Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!
Document 2: South Carolina’s Ordinance of Nullification (1832)
In direct response to President Andrew Jackson and the Tariff of 1832, South Carolina
held a special convention on November 24, 1832 that resulted in the following document.
This ordinance represents South Carolina’s official position on the power of a state
government to nullify federal laws it deemed unconstitutional.
An ordinance to nullify certain acts of the Congress of the United States, purporting to be
laws laying duties and imposts on the importation of foreign commodities.
Whereas the Congress of the United States by various acts, purporting to be acts laying duties and imposts on
foreign imports, but in reality intended for the protection of domestic manufactures and the giving of bounties to
classes and individuals engaged in particular employments, at the expense and to the injury and oppression of other
classes and individuals, and by wholly exempting from taxation certain foreign commodities, such as are not
produced or manufactured in the United States, to afford a pretext for imposing higher and excessive duties on
articles similar to those intended to be protected, bath exceeded its just powers under the constitution, which confers
on it no authority to afford such protection, and bath violated the true meaning and intent of the constitution, which
provides for equality in imposing the burdens of taxation upon the several States and portions of the confederacy:
And whereas the said Congress, exceeding its just power to impose taxes and collect revenue for the purpose of
effecting and accomplishing the specific objects and purposes which the constitution of the United States authorizes
it to effect and accomplish, hath raised and collected unnecessary revenue for objects unauthorized by the
We, therefore, the people of the State of South Carolina, in convention assembled, do declare and ordain and it is
hereby declared and ordained, that the several acts and parts of acts of the Congress of the United States, purporting
to be laws for the imposing of duties and imposts on the importation of foreign commodities, and now having actual
operation and effect within the United States, and, more especially, an act entitled “An act in alteration of the several
acts imposing duties on imports,” approved on the nineteenth day of May, one thousand eight hundred and twentyeight
and also an act entitled “An act to alter and amend the several acts imposing duties on imports,” approved on
the fourteenth day of July, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-two, are unauthorized by the constitution of the
United States, and violate the true meaning and intent thereof and are null, void, and no law, nor binding upon this
State, its officers or citizens; and all promises, contracts, and obligations, made or entered into, or to be made or
entered into, with purpose to secure the duties imposed by said acts, and all judicial proceedings which shall be
hereafter had in affirmance thereof, are and shall be held utterly null and void.
And it is further ordained, that it shall not be lawful for any of the constituted authorities, whether of this State or of
the United States, to enforce the payment of duties imposed by the said acts within the limits of this State; but it
shall be the duty of the legislature to adopt such measures and pass such acts as may be necessary to give full effect
to this ordinance, and to prevent the enforcement and arrest the operation of the said acts and parts of acts of the
Congress of the United States within the limits of this State, from and after the first day of February next, and the
duties of all other constituted authorities, and of all persons residing or being within the limits of this State, and they
are hereby required and enjoined to obey and give effect to this ordinance, and such acts and measures of the
legislature as may be passed or adopted in obedience thereto.
And it is further ordained, that in no case of law or equity, decided in the courts of this State, wherein shall be drawn
in question the authority of this ordinance, or the validity of such act or acts of the legislature as may be passed for
the purpose of giving effect thereto, or the validity of the aforesaid acts of Congress, imposing duties, shall any
appeal be taken or allowed to the Supreme Court of the United States, nor shall any copy of the record be permitted
or allowed for that purpose; and if any such appeal shall be attempted to be taken, the courts of this State shall
proceed to execute and enforce their judgments according to the laws and usages of the State, without reference to
such attempted appeal, and the person or persons attempting to take such appeal may be dealt with as for a contempt
of the court.
And it is further ordained, that all persons now holding any office of honor, profit, or trust, civil or military, under
this State (members of the legislature excepted), shall, within such time, and in such manner as the legislature shall
prescribe, take an oath well and truly to obey, execute, and enforce this ordinance, and such act or acts of the
legislature as may be passed in pursuance thereof, according to the true intent and meaning of the same, and on the
neglect or omission of any such person or persons so to do, his or their office or offices shall be forthwith vacated,
and shall be filled up as if such person or persons were dead or had resigned; and no person hereafter elected to any
office of honor, profit, or trust, civil or military (members of the legislature excepted), shall, until the legislature
shall otherwise provide and direct, enter on the execution of his office, or be he any respect competent to discharge
the duties thereof until he shall, in like manner, have taken a similar oath; and no juror shall be impaneled in any of
the courts of this State, in any cause in which shall be in question this ordinance, or any act of the legislature passed
in pursuance thereof, unless he shall first, in addition to the usual oath, have taken an oath that he will well and truly
obey, execute, and enforce this ordinance, and such act or acts of the legislature as may be passed to carry the same
into operation and effect, according to the true intent and meaning thereof.
And we, the people of South Carolina, to the end that it may be fully understood by the government of the United
States, and the people of the co-States, that we are determined to maintain this our ordinance and declaration, at
every hazard, do further declare that we will not submit to the application of force on the part of the federal
government, to reduce this State to obedience, but that we will consider the passage, by Congress, of any act
authorizing the employment of a military or naval force against the State of South Carolina, her constitutional
authorities or citizens; or any act abolishing or closing the ports of this State, or any of them, or otherwise
obstructing the free ingress and egress of vessels to and from the said ports, or any other act on the part of the
federal government, to coerce the State, shut up her ports, destroy or harass her commerce or to enforce the acts
hereby declared to be null and void, otherwise than through the civil tribunals of the country, as inconsistent with the
longer continuance of South Carolina in the Union; and that the people of this State will henceforth hold themselves
absolved from all further obligation to maintain or preserve their political connection with the people of the other
States; and will forthwith proceed to organize a separate government, and do all other acts and things which
sovereign and independent States may of right do.
Done in convention at Columbia, the twenty-fourth day of November, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight
hundred and thirty-two, and in the fifty-seventh year of the Declaration of the Independence of the United States of
Document 3: What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander (1851)
A pro-Southern political cartoon in the wake of northern criticism of the Fugitive Slave Act
in the Compromise of 1850.
Left hand panel titled “North”: (Figures & Dialogue from left to right)
Federal Marshall “Whew! I think I’d better make myself scarce!”
Mr. Palmetto (slaveholder) “How are you Mr. Pumpkindoodle, I’ve come here to take that fugitive slave who
belongs to me, according to the provisions of the U.S. law! Officer do your duty!”
Mr. Pumpkindoodle (abolitionist) “What! seize my African brother! never! I dont recognize any U.S. law! I have
a higher law, a law of my own__here Pompey take this pistol and resist to the death! if he attempts to take you!”
Pompey (slave) “Ye yes sa! I’ll try, cause brudders [antislavery senator from New York William H.] Seward and
[abolitionist William Lloyd] Garrison says its all right; and so does Parson Squash! But I’m mighty feared.__”
Right hand panel titled “South”: (Figures and Dialogue from right to left)
Mr. Pumpkindoodle (abolitionist) “Look here Mr. Palmetto them ‘ere goods is mine! They’ve been stole from me,
and if you dont give ’em up, I’ll take the law of the land on you!” (He is referring to the stacked bolts of fabric on the
counter labeled “”Bay State Shawls,” “Cotton Shirting,” “Domestic Prints,” “Amoskeag Ticks,” “Lowels Negro
Cloth” and “Hamilton Long Cloth.”)
Mr. Palmetto (slaveholder) “Ah really my dear sir! They are fugitives from you, are they? As to the law of the
land, I have a higher law of my own, and possession is nine points in the law__ I cant cotton to you__ Kick out the
Cesar (slave) “Of course Massa__ De dam Bobolitionist is the wus enemy we poor niggers have got.__”
Document 4: Forcing Slavery Down the Throat of a Freesoiler (1856)
A political cartoon published in the wake of the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act featuring the
four nominees for the Democratic Party ticket for the 1856 presidential election.
Labeled Figures (left to right): Senator Stephen Douglas, President Franklin Pierce, James
Buchanan, and Lewis Cass who were all running to be the Democratic Party nominee for
president in the 1856 election.
Document 5: [excerpt] Dred Scott v. Sanford Majority Decision (1857)
Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney’s 7-2 Majority Decision in the case of Dred Scott v.
Sanford (March 6, 1857) not only denied Dred Scott his freedom but established that any
person of African descent, enslaved or free, could not be a citizen of the United States.
Taney’s decision also nullified the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Scott, a Missouri slave,
traveled to Illinois (a free state), and then to Wisconsin (a free territory) with his owner,
John Emerson. After returning to Missouri, Emerson died, and Scott attempted to
purchase his freedom from Emerson’s widow, who refused the sale. Scott and his wife then
attempted to sue for their freedom on the grounds that their residence in the free state and
territory had emancipated them. The Court saw otherwise, and delivered what is
considered to be the worst decision in US Supreme Court history.
This is certainly a very serious question, and one that now for the first time has been brought for decision before this
court. But it is brought here by those who have a right to bring it, and it is our duty to meet it and decide it.
The question is simply this: Can a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, and sold as slaves,
become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the constitution of the United
States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guaranteed by that instrument to
the citizen? One of which rights is the privilege of suing in a court of the United States in the cases specified in the
It will be observed, that the plea applies to that class of persons only whose ancestors were negroes of the African
race, and imported into this country, and sold and held as slaves. The only matter in issue before the court, therefore,
is, whether the descendants of such slaves, when they shall be emancipated, or who are born of parents who had
become free before their birth, are citizens of a State, in the sense in which the word citizen is used in the
constitution of the United States.
The situation of this population was altogether unlike that of the Indian race. . . . Indian governments were regarded
and treated as foreign governments, as much so as if an ocean had separated the red man from the white; and their
freedom has constantly been acknowledged, from the time of the first emigration to the English colonies to the
present day, by the different governments which succeeded each other.
The words “people of the United States” and “citizens” are synonymous terms, and mean the same thing. They both
describe the political body who, according to our republican institutions, form the sovereignty, and who hold the
power and conduct the government through their representatives. They are what we familiarly call the “sovereign
people,” and every citizen is one of this people, and a constituent member of this sovereignty. The question before
us is, whether the class of persons described in the plea in abatement compose a portion of this people, and are
constituent members of this sovereignty? We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not
intended to be included, under the word “citizen” in the constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and
privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States.
It is not the province of the court to decide upon the justice or injustice, the policy or impolicy, of these laws. The
decision of that question belonged to the political or law-making power; to those who formed the sovereignty and
framed the constitution The duty of the court is, to interpret the instrument they have framed. . . .
. . . we must not confound the rights of citizenship which a State may confer within its own limits, and the rights of
citizenship as a member of the Union. It does not by any means follow, because he has all the rights and privileges
of a citizen of a state, that he must be a citizen of the United States.
It is true, every person, and every class and description of persons, who were at the time of the adoption of the
constitution recognized as citizens in the several states, became also citizens of this new political body; but none
other; it was formed by them, and for them and their posterity, but for no one else. . . . .
It becomes necessary, therefore, to determine who were citizens of the several States when the constitution was
adopted. . . .
In the opinion of the court, the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the declaration of
independence, show, that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves, nor their descendants,
whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in
the general words used in that memorable instrument.
They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to
associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which
the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his
benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit
could be made by it. This opinion was at that time fixed and universal in the civilized portion of the white race. . . .
We give both of these laws in the words used by the respective legislative bodies, because the language in which
they are framed, as well as the provisions contained in them, show, too plainly to be misunderstood, the degraded
condition of this unhappy race. They were still in force when the revolution began, and are a faithful index to the
state of feeling towards the class of persons of whom they speak. . . . They show that a perpetual and impassible
barrier was intended to be erected between the white race and the one which they had reduced to slavery, and
governed as subjects with absolute and despotic power . . . that intermarriages between white persons and negroes or
mulattoes were regarded as unnatural and immoral, and punished as crimes, not only in the parties, but in the person
who joined them in marriage. And no distinction in this respect was made between the free negro or mulatto and the
slave, but this stigma, of the deepest degradation, was fixed upon the whole race.
. . . But it is too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no
part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration; for if the language, as understood in that day, would
embrace them, the conduct of the distinguished men who framed the declaration of independence would have been
utterly and flagrantly inconsistent with the principles they asserted; and instead of the sympathy of mankind, to
which they so confidently appealed, they would have deserved and received universal rebuke and reprobation.
And upon a full and careful consideration of the subject, the court is of opinion, that, upon the facts stated in the plea
in abatement, Dred Scott was not a citizen of Missouri within the meaning of the constitution of the United States,
and not entitled as such to sue in its courts and, consequently, that the circuit court had no jurisdiction of the case,
and that the judgment on the plea in abatement is erroneous.
In the case before us, we have already decided that the circuit court erred in deciding that it had jurisdiction upon the
facts admitted by the pleadings. And it appears that, in the further progress of the case, it acted upon the erroneous
principle it had decided on the pleadings, and gave judgment for the defendant, where, upon the facts admitted in the
exception, it had no jurisdiction.
The plaintiff was a negro slave, belonging to Dr. Emerson, who was a surgeon in the army of the United States. In
the year 1834, he took the plaintiff from the State of Missouri to the military post at Rock Island, in the State of
Illinois, and held him there as a slave until the month of April or May, 1836. At the time last mentioned, said Dr.
Emerson removed the plaintiff from said military post at Rock Island to the military post at Fort Snelling, situate on
the west bank of the Mississippi river, in the territory known as upper Louisiana . . . situate north of the latitude of
thirty-six degrees thirty minutes north, and north of the State of Missouri. . . .
In considering this part of the controversy, two questions arise: 1. Was he, together with his family, free in Missouri
by reason of the stay in the territory of the United States herein before mentioned? And 2. If they were not, is Scott
himself free by reason of his removal to Rock Island, in the State of Illinois, as stated in the above admissions?
. . . Thus the rights of property are united with the rights of person, and placed on the same ground by the fifth
amendment to the constitution, which provides that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, and property, without
due process of law. And an act of congress which deprives a citizen of the United States of his liberty or property,
merely because he came himself or brought his property into a particular territory of the United States, and who had
committed no offense against the laws, could hardly be dignified with the name of due process of law.
. . . And if the constitution recognizes the right of property of the master in a slave, and makes no distinction
between that description of property and other property owned by a citizen, no tribunal, acting under the authority of
the United States, whether it be legislative, executive, or judicial, has a right to draw such a distinction, or deny to it
the benefit of the provisions and guarantees which have been provided for the protection of private property against
the encroachments of the government.
Upon these considerations, it is the opinion of the court that the act of congress which prohibited a citizen from
holding and owning property of this kind in the territory of the United States north of the line therein mentioned, is
not warranted by the constitution, and is therefore void; and that neither Dred Scott himself, nor any of his family,
were made free by being carried into this territory. . . .
Document 6: “The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro” (1852)
Former slave Frederick Douglass spent much of the 1850s traveling on speaking tours
throughout the North championing the cause of abolitionism. Enslaved in Maryland,
Douglass escaped slavery in 1838 after several failed attempts. Once free, Douglass became
a social reformer, orator, and noted abolitionist. People who read his published work and
heard Douglass speak were often shocked that he was a former slave, as many believed
slaves lacked the basic intellect needed to deliver thoughtful arguments on slavery.
Following is his most famous speech delivered on July 5, 1852 in Rochester, New York.
Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of
Independence were brave men. They were great men, too-great enough to give frame to a great age. It does not often
happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to
view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than
admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended
for, I will unite with you to honor their memory….
…Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I
represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice,
embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble
offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from
your independence to us?
Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these
questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold, that a nation’s
sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully
acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish, that would not give his voice to swell the
hallelujahs of a nation’s jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a
case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the “lame man leap as an hart.”
But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within
the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The
blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common.-The rich inheritance of justice, liberty,
prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought
light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I
must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in
joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to
speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example
of a nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that
nation in irrevocable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon
the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who
wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a
strange land? If I forget thee, 0 Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my
tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.”
Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and
grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do
not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may
my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with
the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and
the world. My subject, then, fellow-citizens, is American slavery. I shall see this day and its popular characteristics
from the slave’s point of view. Standing there identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do
not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me
than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the
conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America.is false to the past, false to the present, and
solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this
occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of
the constitution and the Bible which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce,
with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery Ñ the great sin and shame of
America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse”; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one
word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder,
shall not confess to be right and just.
But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, “It is just in this circumstance that you and your brother
abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, an denounce less;
would you persuade more, and rebuke less; your cause would be much more likely to succeed.” But, I submit, where
all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what
branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man?
That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slaveholders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of
laws for their government. They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are
seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia which, if committed by a black man (no matter how ignorant he be),
subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like
punishment. What is this but the acknowledgment that the slave is a moral, intellectual, and responsible being? The
manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute books are covered with enactments
forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or to write. When you can point to any
such laws in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the
dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles
that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, then will I argue with you that the slave is a man!
For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the Negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are
ploughing, planting, and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building
ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and ciphering,
acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors,
orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in
California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hill-side, living, moving, acting,
thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping
the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove
that we are men!
Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have
already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for Republicans? Is it to be settled
by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of
the principle of justice, hard to be understood? How should I look to-day, in the presence of Americans, dividing,
and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom? speaking of it relatively and
positively, negatively and affirmatively. To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and to offer an insult to your
understanding. There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.
What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to
keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to
load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out
their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a
system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employment for
my time and strength than such arguments would imply.
What, then, remains to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish it; that our doctors of
divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the thought. That which is inhuman, cannot be divine! Who can reason
on such a proposition? They that can, may; I cannot. The time for such argument is passed.
At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the
nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and
stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm,
the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must
be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes
against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the
year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your
boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and
heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow
mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity,
are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would
disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are
the people of the United States, at this very hour.
Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel
through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the
everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy,
America reigns without a rival….
…Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the
nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation which must inevitably work the downfall of
“The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with
hope. While drawing encouragement from “the Declaration of Independence,” the great principles it contains, and
the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not
now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the
surrounding world and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference. The time was when such
could be done. Long established customs of hurtful character could formerly fence themselves in, and do their evil
work with social impunity. Knowledge was then confined and enjoyed by the privileged few, and the multitude
walked on in mental darkness. But a change has now come over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires
have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is
penetrating the darkest corners of the globe. It makes its pathway over and under the sea, as well as on the earth.
Wind, steam, and lightning are its chartered agents. Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From Boston
to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated. – Thoughts expressed on one side of the
Atlantic are distinctly heard on the other….
Document 7: “On the Irrepressible Conflict” (1858)
A leading voice of the early Republican Party, New York Senator William Henry Seward
delivered the following speech in Rochester, New York on October 25, 1858. Seward would
later serve as Secretary of State under Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson.
. . . .The main subject, then, is whether the Democratic party deserves to retain the confidence of the American
people. In attempting to prove it unworthy, I think that I am not actuated by prejudices against that party, or by
prepossessions in favor of its adversary; for I have learned, by some experience, that virtue and patriotism, vice and
selfishness, are found in all parties, and that they differ less in their motives than in the policies they pursue.
Our country is a theatre, which exhibits, in full operation, two radically different political systems; the one resting on
the basis of servile or slave labor, the other on voluntary labor of freemen. The laborers who are enslaved are all
negroes, or persons more or less purely of African derivation. But this is only accidental. The principle of the system
is, that labor in every society, by whomsoever performed, is necessarily unintellectual, grovelling and base; and that
the laborer, equally for his own good and for the welfare of the State, ought to be enslaved. The white laboring man,
whether native or foreigner, is not enslaved, only because he cannot, as yet, be reduced to bondage.
You need not be told now that the slave system is the older of the two, and that once it was universal. The
emancipation of our own ancestors, Caucasians and Europeans as they were, hardly dates beyond a period of five
hundred years. The great melioration of human society which modern times exhibits is mainly due to the incomplete
substitution of the system of voluntary labor for the one of servile labor, which has already taken place. This African
slave system is one which, in its origin and in its growth, has been altogether foreign from the habits of the races
which colonized these States, and established civilization here. It was introduced on this continent as an engine of
conquest, and for the establishment of monarchical power, by the Portuguese and the Spaniards, and was rapidly
extended by them all over South America, Central America, Louisiana, and Mexico. Its legitimate fruits are seen in
the poverty, imbecility, and anarchy which now pervade all Portuguese and Spanish America. The free-labor system
is of German extraction, and it was established in our country by emigrants from Sweden, Holland, Germany, Great
Britain, and Ireland. We justly ascribe to its influences the strength, wealth, greatness, intelligence, and freedom,
which the whole American people now enjoy. One of the chief elements of the value of human life is freedom in the
pursuit of happiness. The slave system is not only intolerable, unjust, and inhuman, toward the laborer, whom, only
because he is a laborer, it loads down with chains and converts into merchandise, but is scarcely less severe upon the
freeman, to whom, only because he is a laborer from necessity, it denies facilities for employment, and whom it
expels from the community because it cannot enslave and convert into merchandise also. It is necessarily
improvident and ruinous, because, as a general truth, communities prosper and flourish, or droop and decline, in just
the degree that they practise or neglect to practise the primary duties of justice and humanity. The free-labor system
conforms to the divine law of equality, which is written in the hearts and consciences of man, and therefore is
always and everywhere beneficent.
The slave system is one of constant danger, distrust, suspicion, and watchfulness. It debases those whose toil alone
can produce wealth and resources for defence, to the lowest degree of which human nature is capable, to guard
against mutiny and insurrection, and thus wastes energies which otherwise might be employed in national
development and aggrandizement. The free-labor system educates all alike, and by opening all the fields of
industrial employment and all the departments of authority, to the unchecked and equal rivalry of all classes of men,
at once secures universal contentment, and brings into the highest possible activity all the physical, moral, and social
energies of the whole state. In states where the slave system prevails, the masters, directly or indirectly, secure all
political power, and constitute a ruling aristocracy. In states where the free-labor system prevails, universal suffrage
necessarily obtains, and the state inevitably becomes, sooner or later, a republic or democracy.
. . . . Hitherto, the two systems have existed in different States, but side by side within the American Union. This has
happened because the Union is a confederation of States. But in another aspect the United States constitute only one
nation. Increase of population, which is filling the States out to their very borders, together with a new and extended
network of railroads and other avenues,, and an internal commerce which daily becomes more intimate, is rapidly
bringing the States into a higher and more perfect social unity or consolidation. Thus, these antagonistic systems are
continually coming into closer contact, and collision results.
Shall I tell you what this collision means? They who think that it is accidental, unnecessary, the work of interested
or fanatical agitators, and therefor ephemeral, mistake the case altogether. It is an irrepressible conflict between
opposing and enduring forces, and it means that the United States must and will, sooner or later, become either
entirely a slaveholding nation, or entirely a free-labor nation. . . . It is the failure to apprehend this great truth that
induces so many unsuccessful attempts at final compromises between the slave and free States, and it is the
existence of this great fact that renders all such pretended compromises, when made, vain and ephemeral. Startling
as this saying may appear to you, fellow-citizens, it is by no means an original or even a modern one. Our
forefathers knew it to be true, and unanimously acted upon it when they framed the constitution of the United States.
They regarded the existence of the servile system in so many of the States with sorrow and shame, which they
openly confessed, and they looked upon the collision between them, which was then just revealing itself, and which
we are now accustomed to deplore, with favor and hope. They knew that one or the other system must exclusively
Unlike too many of those who in modem time invoke their authority, they had a choice between the two. They
preferred the system of free labor, and they determined to organize the government, and so direct its activity, that
that system should surely and certainly prevail. For this purpose, and no other, they based the whole structure of the
government broadly on the principle that all men are created equal, and therefore free – little dreaming that, within
the short period of one hundred years, their descendants would bear to be told by any orator, however popular, that
the utterance of that principle was merely a rhetorical rhapsody; or by any judge, however venerated, that it was
attended by mental reservation, which rendered it hypocritical and false. By the ordinance of 1787 they dedicated all
of the national domain not yet polluted by slavery to free labor immediately, thenceforth and forever; while by the
new constitution and laws they invited foreign free labor from all lands under the sun, and interdicted the
importation of African slave labor, at all times, in all places, and under all circumstances whatsoever. It is true that
they necessarily and wisely modified this policy of freedom by leaving it to the several States, affected as they were
by different circumstances, to abolish slavery in their own way and at their own pleasure, instead of confiding that
duty to Congress; and that they secured to the slave States, while yet retaining the system of slavery, a three-fifths
representation of slaves in the federal government, until they should find themselves able to relinquish it with safety.
But the very nature of these modifications fortifies my position, that the fathers knew that the two systems could not
endure within the Union, and expected within a short period slavery would disappear forever. Moreover, in order
that these modifications might not altogether defeat their grand design of a republic maintaining universal equality,
they provided that two thirds of the States might amend the constitution. . . .
It is not to be denied, however, that thus far the course of that contest has not been according to their humane
anticipations and wishes. In the field of federal politics, slavery, deriving unlooked-for advantages from commercial
changes, and energies unforeseen from the facilities of combination between members of the slaveholding class and
between that class and other property classes, early rallied, and has at length made a stand, not merely to retain its
original defensive position, but to extend its sway throughout the whole Union. It is certain that the slaveholding
class of American citizens indulge this high ambition, and that they derive encouragement for it from the rapid and
effective political successes which they have already obtained. The plan of operation is this: By continued
appliances of patronage and threats of disunion, they will keep a majority favorable to these designs in the Senate,
where each State has an equal representation. Through that majority they will defeat, as they best can, the admission
of free States and secure the admission of slave States. Under the protection of the judiciary, they will, on the
principle of the Dred Scott case, carry slavery into all the territories of the United States now existing and hereafter
to be organized. By the action of the President and Senate, using the treaty-making power, they will annex foreign
slaveholding States. In a favorable conjuncture they will induce Congress to repeal the act of 1808 which prohibits
the foreign slave trade, and so they will import from Africa, at a cost of only twenty dollars a head, slaves enough to
fill up the interior of the continent. Thus relatively increasing the number of slave States, they will allow no
amendment to the constitution prejudicial to their interest; and so, having permanently established their power, they
expect the federal judiciary to nullify all State laws which shall interfere with internal or foreign commerce in
slaves. When the free States shall be sufficiently demoralized to tolerate these designs, they reasonably conclude
that slavery will be accepted by those States themselves. I shall not stop to show how speedy or how complete
would be the ruin which the accomplishment of these slaveholding schemes would bring upon the country. For one,
I should not remain in the country to test the sad experiment. Having spent my manhood, though not my whole life,
in a free State, no aristocracy of any kind, much less an aristocracy of slaveholders, shall ever make the laws of the
land in which I shall be content to live. Having seen the society around me universally engaged in agriculture,
manufactures, and trade, which were innocent and beneficent, I shall never be a denizen of a State where men and
women are reared as cattle, and bought and sold as merchandise. When that evil day shall come, and all further
effort at resistance shall be impossible, then, if there shall be no better hope for redemption than I can now foresee, I
shall say with Franklin, while looking abroad over the whole earth for a new and more congenial home, “Where
liberty dwells, there is my country.” You will tell me that these fears are extravagant and chimerical. I answer, they
are so; but they are so only because the designs of the slaveholders must and can be defeated. But it is only the
possibility of defeat that renders them so. They cannot be defeated by inactivity. There is no escape from them
compatible with non-resistance. How, then, and in what way, shall the necessary resistance be made,? There is only
one way. The Democratic party must be permanently dislodged from the government. The reason is, that the
Democratic party is inextricably committed to the designs of the slaveholders, which I have described. Let me be
well understood. I do not charge that the Democratic candidates for public office now before the people are pledged
to-much less that the Democratic masses who support them really adopt-those atrocious and dangerous designs.
Candidates may, and generally do, mean to act justly, wisely, and patriotically, when they shall be elected; but they
become the ministers and servants, not the dictators, of the power which elects them. The policy which a party shall
pursue at a future period is only gradually developed, depending on the occurrence of events never fully foreknown.
The motives of men, whether acting as electors or in any other capacity, are generally pure. Nevertheless, it is not
more true that ” hell is paved with good intentions,” than it is that earth is covered with wrecks resulting from
innocent and amiable motives.
The very constitution of the Democratic party commits it to execute all the designs of the slaveholders, whatever
they may be. It is not a party of the whole Union, of all the free States and of all the slave States; nor yet is it a party
of the free States in the North and in the Northwest; but it is a sectional and local party, having practically its seat
within the slave States, and counting its constituency chiefly and almost exclusively there. Of all its representatives
in Congress and in the electoral colleges, two-thirds uniformly come from these States. Its great element of strength
lies in the vote of the slaveholders, augmented by the representation of three-fifths of the slaves. Deprive the
Democratic party of this strength, and it would be a helpless and hopeless minority, incapable of continued
organization. The Democratic party, being thus local and sectional, acquires new strength from the admission of
ever new slave State, and loses relatively by the admission of every new free State into the Union.
A party is, in one sense, a joint stock association, in which those who contribute most direct the action and
management of the concern. The slaveholders contributing in an overwhelming proportion to the capital strength of
the Democratic party, they necessarily dictate and prescribe its policy. The inevitable caucus system enables them to
do so with a show of fairness and justice. If it were possible to conceive for a moment that the Democratic party
should disobey the behests of the slaveholders, we should then see a withdrawal of the slaveholders, which would
leave the party to perish. The portion of the party which is found in the free States is a mere appendage, convenient
to modify its sectional character, without impairing its sectional constitution, and is less effective in regulating its
movements than the nebulous tail of the corset is in determining the appointed, though apparently eccentric, course
of the fiery sphere from which it emanates.
. . . . The history of the Democratic party commits it to the policy of slavery. It has been the Democratic party, and
no other agency, which has carried that policy up to its present alarming culmination. Without stopping to ascertain,
critically, the origin of the present Democratic party, we may concede its claim to date from the era of good feeling
which occurred under the administration of President Monroe. At that time, in this State, and about that time in
many others of the free States, the Democratic party deliberately disfranchised the free colored or African citizen,
and it has pertinaciously continued this disfranchisement ever since. This was an effective aid to slavery; for, while
the slaveholder votes for his slaves against freedom, the freed slave in the free States is prohibited from voting
against slavery. In 1824 the democracy resisted the election of John Quincy Adams-himself before that time an
acceptable Democrat and in 1828 it expelled him from the presidency and put a slaveholder in his place, although
the office had been filled by slaveholders thirty-two out of forty years.
. . . . Such is the Democratic party. It has no policy, state or federal, for finance, or trade, or manufacture, or
commerce, or education, or internal improvements, or for the protection or even the security of civil or religious
liberty. It is positive and uncompromising in the interest of slavery-negative, compromising, and vacillating, in
regard to everything else. It boasts its love of equality, and wastes its strength, and even its life, in fortifying the only
aristocracy known in the land. It professes fraternity, and, so often as slavery requires, allies itself with proscription.
It magnifies itself for conquests in foreign lands, but it sends the national eagle forth always with chains, and not the
olive branch, in his fangs.
This dark record shows you, fellow-citizens, what I was unwilling to announce at an earlier stage of this argument,
that of the whole nefarious schedule of slaveholding designs which I have submitted to you, the Democratic party
has left only one yet to be consummated-the abrogation of the law which forbids the African slave-trade.
I know-few, I think, know better than I-the resources and energies of the Democratic party, which is identical with
the slave power. I do ample justice to its traditional popularity. I know further-few, I think, know better than I-the
difficulties and disadvantages of organizing a new political force, like the Republican party, and the obstacles it
must encounter in laboring without prestige and without patronage. But, understanding all this, I know that the
Democratic party must go down, and that the Republican party must rise into its place. The Democratic party
derived its strength, originally, from its adoption of the principles of equal and exact justice to all men. So long as it
practised this principle faithfully it was invulnerable. It became vulnerable when it renounced the principle, and
since that time it has maintained itself, not by virtue of its own strength, or even of its traditional merits, but because
there as yet had appeared in the political field no other party that had the conscience and the courage to take up, and
avow, and practise the life-inspiring principle which the Democratic party had surrendered. At last, the Republican
party has appeared. It avows, now, as the Republican party of 1800 did, in one word, its faith and its works, ” Equal
and exact justice to all men.” Even when it first entered the field, only half organized, it struck a blow which only
just failed to secure complete and triumphant victory. In this, its second campaign, it has already won advantages
which render that triumph now both easy and certain.
The secret of its assured success lies in that very characteristic which, in the mouth of scoffers, constitutes its great
and lasting imbecility and reproach. It lies in the fact that it is a party of one idea; but that is a noble one-an idea that
fills and expands all generous souls; the idea of equality-the equality of all men before human tribunals and human
laws, as they all are equal before the divine tribunal and divine laws.
I know, and you know, that a revolution has begun. I know, and all the world knows, that revolutions never go
backward. Twenty, senators and a hundred representatives proclaim boldly in Congress to-day sentiments and
opinions and principles of freedom which hardly so many men, even in this free State, dared to utter in their own
homes twenty years ago. While the government of the United States, under the conduct of the Democratic party, has
been all that time surrendering one plain and castle after another to slavery, the people of the United States have
been no less steadily and perseveringly gathering together the forces with which to recover back again all the fields
and all the castles which have been lost, and to confound and overthrow, by one decisive blow, the betrayers of the
constitution and freedom forever.
Document 8: “Cornerstone Speech” (1861)
Shortly after being elected as Vice President of the Confederate States of America or
Confederacy, Alexander Hamilton Stephens returned to his home state of Georgia where
he delivered what became known as the “Cornerstone Speech” in Savannah, Georgia on
March 21, 1861.
Savannah, Georgia, as reported in the Savannah Republican
At half past seven o’clock on Thursday evening, the largest audience ever assembled at the Athenaeum was in the
house, waiting most impatiently for the appearance of the orator of the evening, Hon. A. H. Stephens, VicePresident
of the Confederate States of America. …
MR. STEPHENS rose and spoke as follows: …
… We are passing through one of the greatest revolutions in the annals of the world. Seven States have within the
last three months thrown off an old government and formed a new. This revolution has been signally marked, up to
this time, by the fact of its having been accomplished without the loss of a single drop of blood. [Applause.]
This new constitution, or form of government, constitutes the subject to which your attention will be partly invited.
In reference to it, I make this first general remark. It amply secures all our ancient rights, franchises, and liberties.
All the great principles of Magna Charta are retained in it. No citizen is deprived of life, liberty, or property, but by
the judgment of his peers under the laws of the land. The great principle of religious liberty, which was the honor
and pride of the old constitution, is still maintained and secured. All the essentials of the old constitution, which
have endeared it to the hearts of the American people, have been preserved and perpetuated. … So, taking the whole
new constitution, I have no hesitancy in giving it as my judgment that it is decidedly better than the old. [Applause.]
.…But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other —
though last, not least. The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar
institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization.
This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated
this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a
realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be
doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of
the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was
wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the
general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would
be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that
time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence
no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common
sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the
equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the
“storm came and the wind blew.”
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests upon
the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is
his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world,
based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its
development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who
hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of
the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors,
with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind
— from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many
instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics; their
conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is
entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be
logical and just — but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a
gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives,
with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that
it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the
principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a
principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon
his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our
institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a
principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with
him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made
In the conflict thus far, success has been on our side, complete throughout the length and breadth of the Confederate
States. It is upon this, as I have stated, our social fabric is firmly planted; and I cannot permit myself to doubt the
ultimate success of a full recognition of this principle throughout the civilized and enlightened world.
As I have stated, the truth of this principle may be slow in development, as all truths are and ever have been, in the
various branches of science. It was so with the principles announced by Galileo — it was so with Adam Smith and
his principles of political economy. It was so with Harvey and his theory of the circulation of the blood. It is stated
that not a single one of the medical profession, living at the time of the announcement of the truths made by him,
admitted them. Now, they are universally acknowledged. May we not, therefore, look with confidence to the
ultimate universal acknowledgement of the truths upon which our system rests? It is the first government ever
instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the
materials of human society. Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and
serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system
commits no such violation of nature’s laws. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are
equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against
Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings,
lays the foundation with the proper material — the granite; then comes the brick or the marble. The substratum of
our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience, we know that it is best, not only for the
superior but for the inferior race, that it should be so. It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator.
It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of his ordinances, or to question them. For his own purposes, he has made
one race to differ from another, as he has made “one star to differ from another star in glory.”
The great objects of humanity are best attained when there is conformity to his laws and decrees, in the formation of
governments as well as in all things else. Our Confederacy is founded upon principles in strict conformity with these
laws. This stone which was rejected by the first builders “is become the chief of the corner” — the real “cornerstone”
— in our new edifice. [Applause.]
I have been asked, what of the future? It has been apprehended by some that we would have arrayed against us the
civilized world. I care not who or how many they may be against us, when we stand upon the eternal principles of
truth, if we are true to ourselves and the principles for which we contend, we are obliged to and must triumph.
Thousands of people who begin to understand these truths are not yet completely out of the shell; they do not see
them in their length and breadth. We hear much of the civilization and Christianization of the barbarous tribes of
Africa. In my judgment, those ends will never be attained, but by first teaching them the lesson taught to Adam, that
“in the sweat of his brow he should eat his bread,” [applause,] and teaching them to work, and feed, and clothe
But to return to the question of the future. What is to be the result of this revolution? …
Our growth, by accessions from other States, will depend greatly upon whether we present to the world, as I trust we
shall, a better government than that to which neighbouring States belong. If we do this, North Carolina, Tennessee,
and Arkansas cannot hesitate long; neither can Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri. They will necessarily gravitate to
us by an imperious law. We made ample provision in our constitution for the admission of other States; it is more
guarded, and wisely so, I think, than the old constitution on the same subject, but not too guarded to receive them as
fast as it may be proper. Looking to the distant future, and, perhaps, not very far distant either, it is not beyond the
range of possibility, and even probability, that all the great States of the north-west will gravitate this way, as well as
Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, etc. Should they do so, our doors are wide enough to receive them, but
not until they are ready to assimilate with us in principle?
The process of disintegration in the old Union may be expected to go on with almost absolute certainty if we pursue
the right course. We are now the nucleus of a growing power which, if we are true to ourselves, our destiny, and
high mission, will become the controlling power on this continent. To what extent accessions will go on in the
process of time, or where it will end, the future will determine. So far as it concerns States of the old Union, this
process will be upon no such principles of reconstruction as now spoken of, but upon reorganization and new
assimilation. [Loud applause.] Such are some of the glimpses of the future as I catch them. …
As to whether we shall have war with our late confederates, or whether all matters of differences between us shall be
amicably settled, I can only say that the prospect for a peaceful adjustment is better, so far as I am informed that it
The prospect of war is, at least, not so threatening as it has been. The idea of coercion shadowed forth in President
Lincoln’s inaugural, seems not to be followed up thus far so vigorously as was expected. Fort Sumter, it is believed,
will soon be evacuated. What course will be pursued toward Fort Pickens, and the other forts on the gulf is not so
well understood. It is to be greatly desired that all of them should be surrendered. Our object is peace, not only with
the North but with the world. All matters relating to the public property, public liabilities of the Union when we
were members of it, we are ready and willing to adjust and settle upon the principles of right, equity, and good faith.
War can be of no more benefit to the North than to us. Whether the intention of evacuating Fort Sumter is to be
received as an evidence of a desire for a peaceful solution of our difficulties with the United States, or the result of
necessity, I will not undertake to say. I would fain hope the former. Rumours are afloat, however, that it is the result
of necessity. All I can say to you, therefore, on that point is, keep your armour bright and your powder dry. …
Document 9: Gettysburg Address (1863)
On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln consecrated the battlefield at
Gettysburg with arguably one of the greatest (and shortest) speeches in American History.
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and
dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether
that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that
war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives,
that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot
dedicate, we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled
here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember
what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the
unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated
to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for
which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have
died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by
the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
The path to the American Civil War was long and arduous. The “peculiar institution” known as
slavery was present at the creation of the republic and steeped into the very fabric of the
Constitution through the Three Fifths Clause. This intimacy translated into every question about
slavery’s role and future in this country into discussions and quarrels over the fundamental
nature of our government and the meanings of liberty and democracy. These documents trace the
philosophical trails of political, economic, social, and cultural sectionalism that ultimately
erupted into full scale civil war.
Based upon your reading of these selected primary documents and incorporating such
secondary sources as your textbook and notes, I would like you to answer the following 5
Questions. Please provide specific examples from these documents that support your
1) Under what grounds does Daniel Webster (Document #1) oppose the ability of a state to
nullify federal laws, also known as the Doctrine of Nullification? What justifications does South
Carolina (Document #2) employ to defend their decision to nullify federal laws? In comparing
these two primary documents, whose arguments regarding the concept of nullification are most
persuasive to you and why?
2) In examining the 1851 political cartoon (Document #3), how are Southerners arguing against
Northern protests of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act? To what extent does this image relate to the
issues raised regarding nullification in Documents #1 and #2? How does the 1856 political
cartoon (Document #4) relate to the issues arising from the Kansas-Nebraska Act? To what
extent did slavery complicate the process and politics of westward expansion in the 1840s and
3) How did the Dred Scott Decision (Document #5) support the doctrine of nullification and
limit the ability of the federal government to restrict the expansion of slavery? What position did
this Supreme Court decision assign people of African descent in the United States of America?
What inconsistencies does Frederick Douglass (Document #6) identify with the founding
principles of the nation and the current status of people of African descent within it? In what
ways does the Dred Scott Decision confirm and/or challenge Douglass’ arguments?
4) What is the “irrepressible conflict” according to William H. Seward (Document #7) and how
does he specifically define the two sides involved? How does Alexander Stephens (Document
#8) define the Confederacy and why does he believe secession is justified and necessary? How
does President Lincoln (Document #9) frame the Civil War an effort to restore the Union as a
5) In thinking about these primary documents and what you have learned in your course, should
states have the power to nullify federal laws if they disagree with them? Why or why not? As
part of your response, provide a specific case or issue (political, economic, social, or cultural)
within the United States from the end of the Civil War until the present day where you could
imagine a scenario in which nullification could play out and reflect upon both the positive and
negative consequences of such action.