Abraham Lincoln was a man dedicated to equal rights and was opposed to the expansion of slavery in the United States. At a Heritage Foundation event, Lewis E. Lehrman, member of the Advisory Committee of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, and author of Lincoln at Peoria examined Lincoln’s Peoria speech and the historical context in which Lincoln delivered it. The Heritage Foundation’s mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values and a strong national defense.
Lincoln believed the nation should return to the founding fathers’ principles that were in the 1776 Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence states “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Lehrman said “the Peoria speech was a turning point for American history.” The Peoria speech, which was three hours and ten minutes long was made in Peoria, Illinois on October 16, 1854. In the speech Lincoln argued his case against the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, introduced by Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas, created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. The Act repealed the Missouri Compromise, which outlawed slavery and allowed for popular sovereignty which permitted settlers in those territories to determine if they would allow slavery within their boundaries.
Lehrman said “Lincoln’s arguments in his Peoria speech proclaimed that slavery was morally wrong, a monstrous injustice and that the Kansas-Nebraska Act was a radical policy that opened new territory to slavery and the Kansas-Nebraska Act made slavery more national.”
Lincoln also believed the Dred Scott case in March 1857 was a way to make slavery national and rejected the ruling. In the case the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that people of African descent imported into the United States and held as slaves, or their descendants whether or not they were slaves, were not legal persons and could never be citizens of the United States, and that the United States Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories.
Lincoln’s Peoria speech which stated his beliefs for equal rights and his opposition to slavery sparked the Lincoln-Douglas debates. The Lincoln-Douglas debates were seven debates between Lincoln and Douglas. The main issue in all seven debates was slavery.
Lehrman said, “Lincoln believed there could be no Union without emancipation.” In September 1862 the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in territories not already under Union control. As the Union armies advanced south, more slaves were liberated until all of them in Confederate territory were freed. This was a controversial decision at the time because it committed the Union to ending slavery.
Lehrman stated, “In April 1865 the 13th amendment to the constitution freed slaves in all of America.” The 13th amendment officially abolished and continues to prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude. Former slaves born before 1804 could still be legally held as apprentices, a condition equivalent to slavery.
Lehrman said “the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, is the most recent legacy of what Lincoln stood for.”
As the anniversary of Lincoln’s 200th birthday approaches let’s remember the man who fought for equality for everyone.