Lincoln’s note to himself on Slavery, July 1, 1854
Lincoln served one term in Congress from 1847-1849. He was defeated for reelection in part due to his questioning of president Polk ‘s war on Mexico– which Lincoln’s constituents did support. This brief note shows how he develops his political positions by first presenting his opponent’s point of view. And then rebutting it.
If A. can prove, however conclusively, that he may, of right, enslave B.—why may not B. snatch the same argument, and prove equally, that he may enslave A.? You say A. is white, and B. is black. It is color, then; the lighter, having the the right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule, you are to be a slave to the first man you meet, with a fairer skin than your own.
You do not mean color exactly?–You mean whites are intellectually the superiors to blacks, and therefore have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with an intellect superior to your own.
But say you, it is a question of interest; and if you can make it your interest, you the right to enslave another. Very well. And if he can make it his interest, he has the right to enslave you.
This note is from a lecture by Dr. Ronald C. White (BA, UCLA; PhD Princeton University) an independent scholar and authority on Abraham Lincoln. He is the author of Lincoln in Private: What His Most Personal Reflections Tell Us about Our Greatest President.
His book is based on 111 private notes Lincoln wrote to himself which provide insights into his personal, religious and intellectual journey as a politician and statesmen.
Lincoln’s words are timeless. They were transformative when first prepared. The logic is still profound today.
Ronald White’s complete lecture can be heard here.