Lincoln's early views on slavery and the law
(ed. note: Actually, the Southern states wanted it both ways, they wanted to be free from Northern "insensibilities" whilst demanding that the federal government protect their interests. They steadfastly refused to concede that the rights guaranteed to individuals in the first Ten Amendments were superior, or even equal, to the rights of the states. Kind of like buying a bag of mixed nuts, but only willing to pay for the hazelnuts.)
What is interesting is that two legislators, Daniel Stone and our own Abraham Lincoln, protested these resolutions and entered into the record their own version of them.
The rub between the two sets of resolutions is that, while the Legislature's resolutions condoned slavery unconditionally, Lincoln and Stone modified those same resolutions as a qualified acknowledgement of respect for the law as it stood and the then-current lack of federal jurisdiction over slavery. The differences, while minor by today's standards, speak volumes.
The State Legislature Resolutions:
Resolved by the General Assembly of the State of Illinois, That we highly disapprove of the formation of abolition societies, and of the doctrines promulgated by them.
Resolved, That the right of property in slaves, is sacred to the slave-holding States by the Federal Constitution, and that they cannot be deprived of that right without their consent.
Resolved, That the General Government cannot abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, against the consent of the citizens of said District without a manifest breach of good faith.
As protested and modified by Lincoln and Stone (note: These were a dissenting viewpoint. The resolutions stood.):
The following protest was presented to the House, which was read and ordered to be spread on the journals, to wit:
Resolutions upon the subject of domestic slavery having passed both branches of the General Assembly at its present session, the undersigned hereby protest against the passage of the same.
They believe that the institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy; but that the promulgation of abolition doctrines tends rather to increase than to abate its evils.
They believe that the Congress of the United States has no power, under the constitution, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the different States.
They believe that the Congress of the United States has the power, under the constitution, to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia; but that that power ought not to be exercised unless at the request of the people of said District.
The difference between these opinions and those contained in the said resolutions, is their reason for entering this protest.''
Representatives from the county of Sangamon.
In January of the following year, Lincoln address a Lyceum organization and obliquely referenced the issue again. In his speech, a diatribe against recent mob lynchings in Mississippi and Missouri, as well as an incident in Illinois, Lincoln fervently preached obedience to the current law and to defend and protect the union. It is clear Lincoln's stance on the issue of slavery in his early career was strictly a legalistic one. But reading Lincoln fully, it would be hard to argue that Lincoln had even an ounce of affection for that institution.
...increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgement of Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice.
When men take it in their heads to day, to hang gamblers, or burn murderers, they should recollect, that, in the confusion usually attending such transactions, they will be as likely to hang or burn some one, who is neither a gambler nor a murderer as one who is; and that, acting upon the example they set, the mob of to-morrow, may, and probably will, hang or burn some of them, by the very same mistake.
Thus, then, by the operation of this mobocratic spirit, which all must admit, is now abroad in the land, the strongest bulwark of any Government, and particularly of those constituted like ours, may effectually be broken down and destroyed---I mean the attachment of the People.
The question recurs ``how shall we fortify against it?'' The answer is simple. Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others. As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor;---let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the character [charter?] of his own, and his children's liberty. Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap---let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges;---let it be written in Primmers, spelling books, and in Almanacs;---let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.
When I so pressingly urge a strict observance of all the laws, let me not be understood as saying there are no bad laws, nor that grievances may not arise, for the redress of which, no legal provisions have been made. I mean to say no such thing. But I do mean to say, that, although bad laws, if they exist, should be repealed as soon as possible, still while they continue in force, for the sake of example, they should be religiously observed.
There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law. In any case that arises, as for instance, the promulgation of abolitionism, one of two positions is necessarily true; that is, the thing is right within itself, and therefore deserves the protection of all law and all good citizens; or, it is wrong, and therefore proper to be prohibited by legal enactments; and in neither case, is the interposition of mob law, either necessary, justifiable, or excusable.
I think that answers any confusion about Lincoln's apparently equivocal attitude towards slavery.