House Divided”: Speech at Springfield, Illinois 
June 16, 1858
The Speech, immediately
succeeding, was delivered, June 16, 1858 at Springfield Illinois, at the close
of the Republican State convention held at that time and place; and by which
convention Mr. Lincoln had been named as their candidate for U. S. Senator.
Senator Douglas was not
Mr. PRESIDENT and Gentlemen of
the Convention. 
If we could first know where we are, and whither we
are tending, we could then better judge what to do,
and how to do it.
We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident
promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation.
Under the operation of that
policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but
has constantly augmented.
opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed.
``A house divided against
itself cannot stand.''
I believe this government
cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.
I do not expect the Union to
be dissolved---I do not expect the house to fall---but I do expect it will
cease to be divided.
It will become all one thing, or all the
Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of
it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in
course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will
push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all
the States, old as well as new---North
as well as South.
Have we no tendency to the latter condition?
Let any one who doubts,
carefully contemplate that now almost complete legal combination---piece of machinery so to speak---compounded of the Nebraska
doctrine, and the Dred Scott decision. Let him consider not only what work the machinery is adapted to do, and how well adapted; but also, let him study the history of its construction, and trace, if he can, or
rather fail, if he can, to trace the evidences of
design, and concert of action, among its chief bosses, from the beginning.
But, so far, Congress only, had acted; and an indorsement
by the people, real or apparent, was indispensable,
to save the point already gained, and give chance
The new year of 1854 found
slavery excluded from more than half the States by State Constitutions, and
from most of the national territory by Congressional prohibition.
Four days later, commenced the
struggle, which ended in repealing that Congressional prohibition.
This opened all the national
territory to slavery; and was the first point gained.
This necessity had not been
overlooked; but had been provided for, as well as might be, in the notable
argument of ``squatter sovereignty,'' otherwise
called ``sacred right of self government,'' which
latter phrase, though expressive of the only rightful basis of any government,
was so perverted in this attempted use of it as to amount to just this: That if
any one man, choose to enslave another,
no third man shall be allowed to object.
That argument was incorporated
into the Nebraska bill itself, in the language which follows: ``It being the true intent and meaning of this act not to legislate
slavery into any Territory or state, nor to exclude it therefrom; but to leave
the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic
institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United
Then opened the roar of loose
declamation in favor of ``Squatter Sovereignty,'' and ``Sacred right of self
``But,'' said opposition
members, ``let us be more specific---let us amend the bill so as to expressly declare that the people
of the territory may exclude slavery.'' ``Not we,''
said the friends of the measure; and down they voted the amendment.
While the Nebraska bill was
passing through congress, a law case, involving the
question of a negroe's freedom, by reason of his owner having voluntarily taken
him first into a free state and then a territory covered by the congressional
prohibition, and held him as a slave, for a long time in each, was passing
through the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Missouri; and both Nebraska
bill and law suit were brought to a decision in the same month of May, 1854.
The negroe's name was ``Dred Scott,'' which name now designates the decision
finally made in the case.
Before the then next Presidential election, the law case came to, and was argued in the
Supreme Court of the United States; but the decision
of it was deferred until after the election. Still, before the election, Senator Trumbull, on the floor of the
Senate, requests the leading advocate of the Nebraska bill to state his opinion whether the people of a territory can
constitutionally exclude slavery from their limits; and the latter answers,
``That is a question for the Supreme Court.''
The election came. Mr.
Buchanan was elected, and the indorsement, such as
it was, secured. That was the second point gained.
The indorsement, however, fell short of a clear popular majority by nearly four
hundred thousand votes, and so, perhaps, was not overwhelmingly reliable and
President, in his last annual message, as impressively as possible echoed back upon the people the weight
and authority of the indorsement.
The Supreme Court met again; did not announce their decision, but ordered a
The Presidential inauguration
came, and still no decision of the court; but the incoming
President, in his inaugural address, fervently exhorted the people to abide by
the forthcoming decision, whatever it might be.
Then, in a few days, came the
The reputed author of the
Nebraska bill finds an early occasion to make a speech at this capitol
indorsing the Dred Scott Decision, and vehemently denouncing all opposition to
The new President, too, seizes
the early occasion of the Silliman letter to indorse
and strongly construe that decision, and to express
his astonishment that any different view had ever
At length a squabble springs
up between the President and the author of the Nebraska bill, on the mere question of fact, whether
the Lecompton constitution was or was not, in any just sense, made by the
people of Kansas; and in that squabble the latter declares that all he wants is
a fair vote for the people, and that he cares not
whether slavery be voted down or voted up. I do not understand his declaration that he cares not
whether slavery be voted down or voted up, to be intended by him other than as
an apt definition of the policy
he would impress upon the public mind---the principle
for which he declares he has suffered much, and is ready to suffer to the end.
And well may he cling to that
principle. If he has any parental feeling, well may he cling to it. That
principle, is the only shred left of his original
Nebraska doctrine. Under the Dred Scott decision, ``squatter sovereignty''
squatted out of existence, tumbled down like temporary scaffolding---like the
mould at the foundry served through one blast and fell back into loose
sand---helped to carry an election, and then was kicked to the winds. His late joint struggle with the Republicans, against the Lecompton
Constitution, involves nothing of the original Nebraska doctrine. That struggle
was made on a point, the right of a people to make their own constitution, upon
which he and the Republicans have never differed.
The several points of the Dred
Scott decision, in connection with Senator Douglas' ``care not'' policy,
constitute the piece of machinery, in its present
state of advancement. This was the third point gained. 
points of that machinery are:
First, that no negro slave,
imported as such from Africa, and no descendant of such slave can ever be a citizen of any State, in the sense of that term as used in
the Constitution of the United States.
This point is made in order to
deprive the negro, in every possible event, of the benefit of this provision of
the United States Constitution, which declares that---
``The citizens of each State
shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several
Secondly, that ``subject to
the Constitution of the United States,'' neither Congress
nor a Territorial Legislature can exclude slavery
from any United States territory.
This point is made in order
that individual men may fill up the territories with
slaves, without danger of losing them as property, and thus to enhance the
chances of permanency to the institution through all
Thirdly, that whether the
holding a negro in actual slavery in a free State, makes him free, as against
the holder, the United States courts will not decide, but will leave to be
decided by the courts of any slave State the negro may be forced into by the
This point is made, not to be
pressed immediately; but, if acquiesced in for a
while, and apparently indorsed by the people at an
election, then to sustain the logical conclusion
that what Dred
Scott's master might lawfully
do with Dred Scott, in the free State of Illinois, every other master may
lawfully do with any other one, or one thousand slaves, in Illinois, or in any other free State.
Auxiliary to all this, and
working hand in hand with it, the Nebraska doctrine, or what is left of it, is
to educate and mould
public opinion, at least Northern public opinion, to
not care whether slavery is voted down or voted up.
This shows exactly where we
now are; and partially
also, whither we are tending.
It will throw additional light
on the latter, to go back, and run the mind over the string of historical facts
already stated. Several things will now appear less dark and mysterious than they
did when they were transpiring. The people were to
be left ``perfectly free'' ``subject only to the Constitution.'' What the Constitution had to do with it, outsiders could not then see. Plainly enough now,
it was an exactly fitted niche, for the Dred Scott
decision to afterwards come in, and declare the perfect
freedom of the people, to be just no freedom at all.
Why was the amendment,
expressly declaring the right of the people to exclude slavery, voted down?
Plainly enough now, the adoption of it, would have
spoiled the niche for the Dred Scott decision.
Why was the court decision
held up? Why, even a Senator's individual opinion withheld, till after the Presidential election? Plainly enough now, the speaking out then
would have damaged the ``perfectly free'' argument
upon which the election was to be carried.
Why the outgoing
President's felicitation on the indorsement? Why the delay of a reargument? Why
the incoming President's advance exhortation in
favor of the decision?
These things look like the cautious patting
and petting a spirited horse, preparatory to
mounting him, when it is dreaded that he may give the rider a fall.
And why the hasty after
indorsements of the decision by the President and others?
We can not absolutely know that all these exact adaptations are the result of
preconcert. But when we see a lot of framed timbers, different portions of
which we know have been gotten out at different times and places and by
different workmen---Stephen, Franklin, Roger and James, 
for instance---and when we see these timbers joined together, and see they
exactly make the frame of a house or a mill, all the tenons and mortices
exactly fitting, and all the lengths and proportions of the different pieces
exactly adapted to their respective places, and not a piece too many or too
few---not omitting even scaffolding---or, if a single piece be lacking, we can
see the place in the frame exactly fitted and prepared to yet bring such piece
in---in such a case, we find it impossible to not believe that Stephen and Franklin and Roger and James all
understood one another from the beginning, and all worked upon a common plan or draft drawn up before
the first lick was struck.
It should not be overlooked
that, by the Nebraska bill, the people of a State as
well as Territory, were to be left ``perfectly free'' ``subject only to the
Why mention a State? They were legislating for territories,
and not for or about
States. Certainly the people of a State are and ought to be subject to the Constitution of the United
States; but why is mention of this lugged into this
merely territorial law? Why are the people of a territory and the people of a state
therein lumped together, and their relation to the
Constitution therein treated as being precisely the
While the opinion of the Court, by Chief Justice Taney, in the Dred Scott case,
and the separate opinions of all the concurring Judges, expressly declare that
the Constitution of the United States neither permits Congress nor a
Territorial legislature to exclude slavery from any United States territory,
they all omit to declare whether or not the same
Constitution permits a state, or the people of a
State, to exclude it.
was a mere omission; but who can be quite sure, if McLean or Curtis 
had sought to get into the opinion a declaration of unlimited power in the
people of a state to exclude slavery from their
limits, just as Chase and Macy 
sought to get such declaration, in behalf of the people of a territory, into
the Nebraska bill---I ask, who can be quite sure
that it would not have been voted down, in the one case, as it had been in the
The nearest approach to the
point of declaring the power of a State over slavery, is made by Judge Nelson. 
He approaches it more than once, using the precise idea, and almost the language too, of the Nebraska act. On one
occasion his exact language is, ``except in cases where the power is restrained
by the Constitution of the United States, the law of the State is supreme over
the subject of slavery within its jurisdiction.''
In what cases
the power of the states is so restrained by the U.S.
Constitution, is left an open question, precisely as the same question, as to the
restraint on the power of the territories was left
open in the Nebraska act. Put that and that together, and we have another nice little niche,
which we may, ere long, see filled with another Supreme Court decision,
declaring that the Constitution of the United States does not permit a state to exclude slavery from its limits.
And this may especially be
expected if the doctrine of ``care not whether slavery be voted down or voted up,'' shall gain
upon the public mind sufficiently to give promise that such a decision can be
maintained when made.
Such a decision is all that
slavery now lacks of being alike lawful in all the States.
Welcome or unwelcome, such
decision is probably coming, and will soon be upon
us, unless the power of the present political dynasty shall be met and
We shall lie
down pleasantly dreaming that the people of Missouri
are on the verge of making their State free; and we
shall awake to the reality,
instead, that the Supreme Court has made Illinois a slave State.
To meet and overthrow the
power of that dynasty, is the work now before all those who would prevent that
That is what
we have to do.
can we best do it?
There are those who denounce
us openly to their own
friends, and yet whisper us softly, that Senator Douglas is the aptest
instrument there is, with which to effect that object. They
do not tell us, nor has he
told us, that he wishes any such object to be
effected. They wish us to infer all, from the facts,
that he now has a little quarrel with the present head of the dynasty; and that
he has regularly voted with us, on a single point, upon which, he and we, have
They remind us that he is a very great man, and
that the largest of us are very small ones. Let this
be granted. But ``a living dog is better than a dead lion.'' Judge Douglas, if not a dead
lion for this work, is at least a caged and toothless one. How
can he oppose the advances of slavery? He don't care
anything about it. His avowed mission is impressing
the ``public heart'' to care nothing about it.
A leading Douglas Democratic
newspaper thinks Douglas' superior talent will be needed to resist the revival
of the African slave trade.
Does Douglas believe an effort
to revive that trade is approaching? He has not said so. Does he really think so? But if it is, how can he resist it? For
years he has labored to prove it a sacred right of
white men to take negro slaves into the new territories. Can he possibly show
that it is less a sacred right to buy them where they can be bought cheapest? And,
unquestionably they can be bought cheaper in Africa
than in Virginia.
He has done all in his power
to reduce the whole question of slavery to one of a mere right
of property; and as such, how can he oppose
the foreign slave trade---how can he refuse that trade in that ``property''
shall be ``perfectly free''---unless he does it as a protection
to the home production? And as the home producers
will probably not ask the protection, he will be
wholly without a ground of opposition.
Senator Douglas holds, we
know, that a man may rightfully be wiser to-day than
he was yesterday---that he may rightfully change when he finds himself wrong.
But, can we for that reason,
run ahead, and infer that he will
make any particular change, of which he, himself, has given no intimation? Can
we safely base our action
upon any such vague inference?
Now, as ever, I wish to not misrepresent Judge Douglas' position,
question his motives, or do ought that can be
personally offensive to him.
ever, he and we can come together on principle
so that our great cause may have assistance from his great ability, I hope to have interposed no
But clearly, he is not now with us---he does not pretend
to be---he does not promise to ever
Our cause, then, must be
intrusted to, and conducted by its own undoubted friends---those whose hands
are free, whose hearts are in the work---who do care
for the result.
Two years ago the Republicans
of the nation mustered over thirteen hundred thousand strong.
We did this under the single
impulse of resistance to a common danger, with every external circumstance
discordant, and even, hostile elements, we
gathered from the four winds, and formed and fought
the battle through, under the constant hot fire of a disciplined, proud, and
Did we brave all then, 
to falter now?---now---when
that same enemy is wavering, dissevered and
The result is not doubtful. We
shall not fail---if we stand firm, we shall not fail. Wise
may accelerate or mistakes delay it, but, sooner or later the victory is sure to come.
Illinois State Journal, June 18, 1858, and Debates
Scrapbook, ORB. The basic Journal text, which
followed Lincoln's original manuscript in paragraphing and use of italics and
received his passing attention at least in proof, has been collated with the
Chicago Daily Tribune text (June 19, 1858) chosen by
Lincoln for inclusion in the debates scrapbook which he sent to George M.
Parsons of the Republican Central Executive Committee (see Lincoln to Parsons,
December 19, 1859) for use in preparing the Follett, Foster and Company edition
of the Debates. The debates scrapbook, in the
Barrett Collection, is a large folio into which Lincoln pasted clippings of the
several speeches made by himself and by Stephen A. Douglas which were to make
up the Debates. Corrections appear in the margins in
Lincoln's handwriting, and a prefatory statement, also in Lincoln's hand,
precedes the text of the speech. Lincoln's corrections have been incorporated
in the text and designated by a footnote. Variations in spelling between the
two texts have been resolved in favor of common usage, with exceptions
Lincoln's preface written in the debates scrapbook.
In Tribune, not in Journal.
Sentence inserted by Lincoln in debates scrapbook.
Stephen A. Douglas, Franklin Pierce, Roger B. Taney, James Buchanan.
Justices John McLean and Benjamin R. Curtis.
Senator Salmon P. Chase of Ohio and Representative Daniel Macy of Indiana.
Justice Samuel Nelson.
``Then'' in Journal; ``them'' in Tribune, corrected by Lincoln to ``then''.
Tribune has ``counsels.''
``Mistakes'' in Journal; ``mistake'' in Tribune, corrected by Lincoln to ``mistakes.''
Source: Basler, Collected
Works, Vol. II, pp. 461-469. [Downloaded
5/3/15 from http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/]