Lincoln’s Lewiston Speech, August 17, 1858. Chicago “Press and Tribune.”
THE FREEPORT DOCTRINE
[Sidenote] Lincoln-Douglas Debates, p. 68.
What has thus far been quoted has been less to illustrate the leading lines of discussion, than to explain more fully the main historical incident of the debates. In the first joint discussion at Ottawa, in the northern or anti-slavery part of Illinois, Douglas read a series of strong anti-slavery resolutions which he erroneously alleged Lincoln had taken part in framing and passing. He said: “My object in reading these resolutions was to put the question to Abraham Lincoln this day whether he now stands and will stand by each article in that creed and carry it out.... I ask Abraham Lincoln to answer these questions in order that when I trot him down to lower Egypt I may put the same questions to him."
[Sidenote] Lincoln-Douglas Debates, p. 87.
In preparing a powerful appeal to local prejudice, Douglas doubtless knew he was handling a two-edged sword; but we shall see that he little appreciated the skill with which his antagonist would wield the weapon he was placing in his hands. At their second joint meeting, at Freeport, also in northern Illinois, Lincoln, who now had the opening speech, said, referring to Douglas’s speech at Ottawa: “I do him no injustice in saying that he occupied at least half of his reply in dealing with me as though I had refused to answer his interrogatories. I now propose that I will answer any of the interrogatories, upon condition that he will answer questions from me not exceeding the same number. I give him an opportunity to respond. The judge remains silent. I now say that I will answer his interrogatories, whether he answers mine or not; and that after I have done so, I shall propound mine to him.”
Lincoln then read his answers to the seven questions which, had been asked him, and proposed four in return, the second one of which ran as follows: “Can the people of a United States Territory, in any lawful way, against the wish of any citizen of the United States, exclude slavery from its limits, prior to the formation of a State constitution?"
To comprehend the full force of this interrogatory, the reader must recall the fact that the “popular sovereignty” of the Nebraska bill was couched in vague language, and qualified with the proviso that it was “subject to the Constitution.” The caucus which framed this phraseology agreed, as a compromise between Northern and Southern Democrats, that the courts should interpret and define the constitutional limitations, by which all should abide. The Dred Scott decision declared in terms that Congress could not prohibit slavery in Territories nor authorize a Territorial Legislature to do so. The Dred Scott decision had thus annihilated “popular sovereignty,” Would Douglas admit his blunder in law, and his error in statesmanship?