Lincoln-Douglas Debates and Politics in the Mid-19th Century
To the Editor of the Freeport Press:
I am writing today to express my strong support for Abraham Lincoln's candidacy in the upcoming Senatorial elections. There are many reasons why I have decided to vote for a Republican -- going against my life-long commitment to the Democratic Party -- not the least of which is the way in which Lincoln stood up to the demagoguery of Mr. Douglas. While Lincoln showed great skill at oratory, Douglas' dirty tactics and his obsession with the idea that Negroes are less than human have contributed to my decision in this election.
In fact, when Douglass loudly asserted that Republicans who supported an end to slavery were something akin to demons, I was outraged. When Douglas said he would "…nail it [Republican platforms] upon the back of every Black Republican in the state," he alienated me, my friends, and many thoughtful, intelligent Illinois citizens. The arrogance and use of slander and intimidation by Douglas was shamefully rude and inflammatory.
Meanwhile, please indulge me while I explain more fully why I am voting for a Republican in this election. It should be noted that the Republican party has only been in existence for a few years, but the platform opposes slavery and opposes the Fugitive Slave Law, and hence, I am going to vote for Lincoln and support his (what some would call) 'radical' candidacy.
My support for Lincoln is not based entirely upon his performance at Freeport -- not at all. In fact Lincoln's handling of the questions, and his intelligent approach to controversy -- showing that he was a thoughtful, sensitive man, who deeply cares about the future of Illinois and of the United States -- was just the tipping point for me. I had been leaning towards voting for a candidate who would speak out against slavery, or who would at least support the gradual elimination of slavery in every state in this country.
Also, I have been an opponent of the Fugitive Slave Law since it was initially discussed in Congress, and since it has been made law I have grown increasingly negative towards this unfair legislation. Why would a slave owner in Georgia have the right to come into Illinois, or into Wisconsin, just north of Freeport, or to send a bounty hunter into our state, to capture a negro who had managed to escape the tyranny and oppression that slave owner had visited upon him?
Why would northern states tolerate a law that allows slave owners to essentially take the law into their own hands by kidnapping a negro who had managed to escape and had managed to come to a place where he or she was welcomed, given a job, and allowed to start a new life? I have read news accounts of how United States Marshalls have aided slave owners by helping to kidnap negroes who made it to Illinois or Wisconsin.
I am certainly not alone in my revulsion for the Fugitive Slave law, which has caused violence and unrest throughout the Midwest and beyond. For example, a hundred miles north of us in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a bounty hunter entered a restaurant and dragged a negro by his head and neck out into the street. Supposedly the negro was a runaway slave. After dragging the negro out into the street, the bounty hunter, a burly, beastly strong man, chained his prisoner and began to drag him away.
But word quickly spread in the city that a bounty hunter had come to seize a man washing dishes in a restaurant -- a man who happened to be a negro -- and a large group of white citizens quickly gathered on the street and beat the bounty hunter so severely he passed away a few days later from the vicious attack. The chains were removed from the negro and he returned to the kitchen, where he was gainfully employed. Shortly thereafter, the Wisconsin legislature passed a law banning bounty hunters from coming into the state, with stiff penalties for those individuals who tried to ply their trade.
In our neighboring state of Indiana, bounty agents arrested a negro who had run away about twenty years earlier, and had, meantime, made a new life for himself. As his wife and children…