Lincoln in 1855: Slavery will never end peacefully

Abraham Lincoln was a realist. At a time when many in the country, including most politicians, were desperately seeking a way to keep the slavery issue under wraps, Lincoln had already recognized that the South’s “peculiar institution” wasn’t going to just shrivel up and blow away on its own.

Lincoln sitting-WikiC, Mathew Brady pubdom

Abraham Lincoln

That’s what Lincoln wrote in a letter to a friend in 1855. Judge George Robertson was a former Congressman from Kentucky who had represented Lincoln in a family-related legal proceeding. Although Robertson was a slaveowner, he thought that slavery would one day disappear. But he didn’t expect or desire it to happen anytime soon. In fact, when Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862, Robertson vehemently opposed it. He wanted fugitive slaves in Kentucky returned to their owners, and when one of his own ran away to a Union army camp and was not returned, he sued. That sequence of events put something of a strain on his relationship with Lincoln.

But in 1855 their relationship was still intact, and Robertson sent Lincoln copies of his writings and speeches concerning slavery. Lincoln’s reply shows that even then, six years before Ft. Sumter, he saw clearly that slavery would not end without a fight. Here’s Lincoln’s letter:

Springfield, Illinois, August 15, 1855
Hon: Geo. Robertson
Lexington, Ky

My Dear Sir:

The volume you left for me has been received. I am really grateful for the honor of your kind remembrance, as well as for the book. The partial reading I have already given it, has afforded me much of both pleasure and instruction. It was new to me that the exact question which led to the Missouri compromise, had arisen before it arose in regard to Missouri; and that you had taken so prominent a part in it. Your short, but able and patriotic speech upon that occasion, has not been improved upon since, by those holding the same views; and, with all the lights you then had, the views you took appear to me as very reasonable.

You are not a friend of slavery in the abstract. In that speech you spoke of “the peaceful extinction of slavery” and used other expressions indicating your belief that the thing was, at some time, to have an end. Since then we have had thirty six years of experience; and this experience has demonstrated, I think, that there is no peaceful extinction of slavery in prospect for us. The signal failure of Henry Clay, and other good and great men, in 1849, to effect any thing in favor of gradual emancipation in Kentucky, together with a thousand other signs, extinguishes that hope utterly. On the question of liberty, as a principle, we are not what we have been. When we were the political slaves of King George, and wanted to be free, we called the maxim that “all men are created equal” a self evident truth; but now when we have grown fat, and have lost all dread of being slaves ourselves, we have become so greedy to be masters that we call the same maxim “a self evident lie” The fourth of July has not quite dwindled away; it is still a great day—for burning fire-crackers!!!

That spirit which desired the peaceful extinction of slavery, has itself become extinct, with the occasion, and the men of the Revolution. Under the impulse of that occasion, nearly half the states adopted systems of emancipation at once; and it is a significant fact, that not a single state has done the like since. So far as peaceful, voluntary emancipation is concerned, the condition of the negro slave in America, scarcely less terrible to the contemplation of a free mind, is now as fixed, and hopeless of change for the better, as that of the lost souls of the finally impenitent. The Autocrat of all the Russias will resign his crown, and proclaim his subjects free republicans sooner than will our American masters voluntarily give up their slaves.

Our political problem now is “Can we, as a nation, continue together permanently — forever — half slave, and half free?” The problem is too mighty for me. May God, in his mercy, superintend the solution.

Your much obliged friend, and humble servant

A. Lincoln

Ron Franklin


About RonElFran

Ron Franklin is pastor of Covenant Community Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
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One Response to Lincoln in 1855: Slavery will never end peacefully

  1. ALready Southern leaders were killing — and bragging of it — to spread slavery, and calling it a war to spread slavery, before LIncoln even ran for Senate. Why this escapes popular attention is beyond me. It’s kinda mentioned, euphemistically, as “Trouble in Kansas” and “Border Ruffians” as if it were a dispute between two groups of unreasonable people.

    Actually lit was killing and terrorizing — using US troops, and hired men, to do the killing and terrorizing. When US troops would not openly kill and invade peaceful towns, Jeff Davis and David Rice Atchison had to hire others. Virtually all those doing the killing and terrorizing were hired — there were almost no people living in Kansas, citizens of Kansas, who even wanted slavery, much less were willing to kill to spread it.

    The actors — those doing the killing and bragging of it — were not from Kansas. US Senator ATchison, the leader of the killing sprees, was from Missouri, He left the Senate after he got Kansas Nebraska Act passed.

    People really need to learn who David Rice Atchison was, and his leadership in the killing sprees. HE bragged of them at the time, and he was a US Senator, that became officially “General of Law and Order in Kansas Territories” under Jefferson Davis.

    His business partner was Stephen A Douglas.

    People also should know, Stephen A DOuglas bragged repeatedly that blacks were not human beings, for purposes of the law, and that the words “All men are created equal” was struck down by the Dred Scott decision. Douglas had a lot of company in bragging that blacks are sub human or inferior. The Dred Scott court actually stated that specifically — calling blacks “inferior beings” nine times in the decision, and ruling that blacks are NOT persons for purposes of the Constitution, but property. PROPERTY, no different that a dog or a bucket of slop.

    Jefferson Davis quoted the Dred Scott decision in his justification to send Atchison to Kansas — where he bragged of killing and terrorizing Not just to spread slavery, Atchison bragged he was there to stop anyone from speaking against slavery. And he tried to.

    Lincoln spoke about Kansas, as did everyone else. Charles Sumner was beaten almost to death on the floor of the Senate, for speaking about Atchison by name. Atchison didn’t want people in Kansas to speak against slavery either — as he made very clear, when he boasted to his men about it.

    Atchison over played his hand, eventually Kansas citizen did fight back, though at first they just ran away from the paid killers. When John Brown had enough, he fought back, and then so did others. John Brown is shown as a lunatic — actually he turned the other cheek so many times he had whiplash, but eventually he did fight back, and he fought Atchison’s men. Frederick DOuglass spoke of this. Brown only fought back, when all else failed, when turning to the President (Pierce at the time) got people arrested. If you complained to authorities, rather than help, they arrested people who disobeyed Atchison’s orders to not even speak against slavery.

    Brown and others were in a box. They could not vote against slavery — Atchison made it illegal to even speak about it, or gather to vote against it. If you were against slavery, you had to either leave Kansas — and many did — or sign a card that said you were for slavery!! If you did not sign the card, you were arrested. This is how extreme it got in KS. The government was “bogus” Atchison just made his own government up, and made it a law to be in KS and speak against slavery.

    We are not taught these horrible things — but John Brown and Frederick Douglass had to live them. We do a disservice to men like that, by glossing over the vile truth of what happened to spread slavery. For some reason, our US text books have adopted the excuses and double talk used by slave owners and slave supporting politicians at the time

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