The Republican party of Illinois had been greatly encouraged and strengthened by its success in electing the State officers in the previous autumn; and as their recognized leader and champion, Lincoln made a reply to this speech some two weeks later, June 26, 1857, also at Springfield. Though embracing other topics, the question of the hour, the Dred Scott decision, was nevertheless its chief subject. The extracts here presented from it will give the reader some idea of its power of statement and eloquence:
And now [said Mr. Lincoln] as to the Dred Scott decision. That decision declares two propositions—first, that a negro cannot sue in the United States courts; and secondly, that Congress cannot prohibit slavery in the Territories. It was made by a divided court—dividing differently on the different points. Judge Douglas does not discuss the merits of the decision, and in that respect I shall follow his example, believing I could no more improve on McLean and Curtis, than he could on Taney. He denounces all who question the correctness of that decision, as offering violent resistance to it. But who resists it? Who has, in spite of the decision, declared Dred Scott free, and resisted the authority of his master over him? Judicial decisions have two uses—first, to absolutely determine the case decided, and, secondly, to indicate to the public how other similar cases will be decided when they arise. For the latter use they are called “precedents” and “authorities.” We believe as much as Judge Douglas (perhaps more) in obedience to and respect for the judicial department of government. We think its decisions on constitutional questions, when fully settled, should control, not only the particular cases decided, but the general policy of the country, subject to be disturbed only by amendments of the Constitution as provided in that instrument itself. More than this would be revolution.