Apr 27, 2005

The Prelude to War

In the summer of 1858 the nation had found itself deeply divided and polarized on the issue of not simply slavery as we are many times led to believe, but rather the "morality of slavery" and of a state's and people's right to choose their own destiny. The freedom to decide on their own what was moral and what was immoral.

The Dred Scott Decision in 1857 just a year earlier was fresh on the minds of everyone had only added more fuel on the fire and helped to further polarize and divide the nation. Abraham Lincoln's opposition to the Supreme Court's decision would later help to lead to his defeat for the election of senator of Illinois.

As so as the nation was rapidly growing and the Western lands were being opened up, the issue of whether or not a newly admitted state would become a slave state or not became of paramount importance. Up until this time, the issue had been determined to be a state issue that did not concern the Federal government, but the balance of power was in danger of shifting and had become divisive.

In the fall of 1858 both Abraham Lincoln and Steven Douglas would hold a series of five debates across the state of Illinois. Abraham Lincoln considered slavery to be immoral. Steven Douglas while he condoned slavery and did not consider it immoral and felt that the issue should be left to the states to decide.

"I desire to know whether Mr. Lincoln today stands as he did in 1854, in favor of the unconditional repeal of the fugitive slave law. I desire him to answer whether he stands pledged to-day, as he did in 1854, against the admission of any more slave States into the Union, even if the people want them. I want to know whether he stands pledged against the admission of a new State into the Union with such a Constitution as the people of that State may see fit to make. ("That's ot;" "put it at him.") I want to know whether he stands today pledged to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. I desire him to answer whether he stands pledged to the prohibition of the slave trade between the different States. ("He does.") I desire to know whether he stands pledged to prohibit slavery in all the territories of the United States, North as well as South of the Missouri Compromise line, ("Kansas too.") I desire him to answer whether he is opposed to the acquisition of any more territory unless slavery is prohibited therein. I want his answer to these questions."

Lincoln-Douglas Debates - First Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Ottawa, Illinois August 21, 1858, Mr. Douglas' Speech

Abraham Lincoln would go on to answer all of the questions presented by Steven A. Douglas in the fall of 1858 in each and every debate. His answers and his reasoning for his answers can be found throughout the transcripts of the debates. The core argument of the debates was never about slavery, but rather about morality.

"Judge Douglas declares that if any community wants slavery they have a right to have it. He can say that logically, if he says that there is no wrong in slavery; but if you admit that there is a wrong in it, he cannot logically say that anybody has a right to do wrong."

The Writings of Abraham Lincoln V04 Page 18

Abraham Lincoln would lose the election for senator of Illinois to Steven Douglas, but he would go on later to become elected the President of the United States in 1860.

In essence, his election would be the spark that began the Civil War.

Looking back, how profound those few words of Abraham Lincoln ring out today. That no one has a right to do wrong. Abraham Lincoln, a man of principle, would be considered a fundamentalist and his adversary Steven Douglas a relativist.

The issues that divide our nation today are the same issues that divided us back then. Not issues of slavery nor the contemporary issues we face now of euthanasia and homosexuality that ultimately divide us, but the overall issue of morality. Of what is right and what is wrong.

The battles are being fought out now as they were then. In words, in newspapers, in bars and taverns and even in our nation's courts. Today with the advent of the internet, things move much faster and the prelude to war is being argued, fought and debated in cyberspace as well.

Despite the intensity of our debates and our arguments, deep in our hearts we all know that victory will never come in the courtroom. The day approaches when once again the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of patriots. Despite all of our wishes and desires, we cannot escape history.

"...but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came."

Abraham Lincoln, 2nd Inaugural Address, 4 March 1865

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