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Report of Speech at Bloomington, Illinois, 12 September 18541
Lincoln’s Speech.
We had the satisfaction last evening of listening to an address by Hon. A. Lincoln, on the subject that is engaging the attention of the free men of the Union more than any political question that has been agitated for some time, viz: The Nebraska Bill.2 The speech was clear and unanswerable, for it was a plain statement of facts, and of sound, strong argument; it was eloquent, for he spoke the deep convictions of truth from a heart warmed with the love of his country, and the love of freedom. The address was not only instsuctive, and his argument against the Nebraska outrage unanswerable, but it was spiced with remarks that were diverting, and at the same time gave a deeper felt conviction of the weight of sober argument, for the speaker was Hon. A. Lincoln.
The speech was judiciously timed and admirably calculated to do good, by portraying the nature, and developing the design of the Nebraska Bill, without arousing any ill feellng in the breasts of the Northern men against the Southern brethren. Should we attempt to give a compendium of the speech, we should [not be?] able to do that, the cause or the speaker, justice.
He first declared that the Southern slaveholders were neither better, nor worse than we of the North, and that we of the North were no better than they. If we were situated as they are, we should act and feel as they do; and if they were situated as they are, we should act and feel as they do; and we never ought to lose sight of this fact in discussing the subject. With slavery as existing in the slave States at the time of the formation of the Union, he had nothing to do. There was a vast difference between tolerating it there, and protecting the slaveholder in the rights granted him by the Constitution, and extending slavery over a territory already free, and uncontaminated with the institution. When our federal compact was made, almost all of the valley of the Mississippi belonged to the French, not us; and what little territory we had belonged to different States; Virginia owning almost all of what now constitutes the State of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Thomas Jefferson, being a Virginian, proposed the cession of this territory to the general government, and in carrying out the measure, had the clause especially inserted, that slavery should never be introduced into it.3 Kentucky belonged also to Virginia, but was settled as a part of the State of Virginia, so that slavery was carried there by the first settlers from Virginia, and was admitted into the Union with the institution as existing there. Tennessee belonged to North Carolina, and was settled by emigrants from that State, and was afterwards admitted into the Union as Kentucky was. Alabama was settled from South Carolina and admitted in a similar manner. Thus three slave States were made from territories that belonged to individual slaveholding States.
Jefferson saw the necessity of our government possessing the whole valley of the Mississippi; and though he acknowledged that our Constitution made no provision for the purchasing of territory, yet he thought that the exigency of the case would justify the measure, and the purchase was made. When the lower part of this territory comprising the State of Louisiana, wished to be admitted, the institution of slavery having existed there long before the territory was bought, and she was admitted with the institution without any opposition, as a right that belonged to her citizens.
There was an old French settlement in St. Louis and vicinity, with slaves; and that territory comprising what is now the State of Missouri, was settled in part by Slaveholders. And when that territory, according to the law, gave notice that they should apply for admission into the Union, the North voted that she should not be admitted unless she framed a State Constitution excluding involuntary servitude, and they were the majority. Neither the North nor the South would yield, and the discussion became angry and endangered the peace of the Union. A compromise was made by agreeing that all territory bought of the French, north of °36, ′3, should be free, which secured the whole of Nebraska, Iowa and Minesota to freedom, and left the ballance of the French purchase south of the line to come in as free or not, as they might choose to frame their state Constitution.
Missouri chose to come in a slave-state, and was so admitted, as was afterwards Arkansas, according to the compromise. And afterwards, when first the Democrats and afterwards the Whigs held their conventions at Baltimore, in forming their platforms they both declared that compromise to be a “finality,” as to the subject of slavery, and the question of slave territory was by agreement settled forever.4
There was no more agitation of the subject till near the close of our war with Mexico, when three millions were appropriated with the design that the President might purchase territory of Mexico, which resulted in our obtaining possesion of California, New Mexico, and Utah.5 This was new territory, with which Jefferson’s provision and the Missouri Compromise had nothing to do. The gold in California led to such a rush of immigration that that territory soon became filled with the requisite number of inhabitants, and they formed a Constitution, and requested an admission into the Union. But the south objected because her constitution excluded slavery. This gave rise to the “Wilmot proviso,” no more slave territory; next the “Omnibus bill,” and finally what are called the “compromise measures of 1850,” which comprised among other things the following:
1st. The “fugitive slave law,” which was a concession on the part of the North to the South.
2d. California was admitted as a free State, called a concession of the South to the North.
3d. It was left with New Mexico, and Utah to decide when they became States, whether they would be free or not. This was supposed by the North to settle the question of slavery in this new territory, as the question with regard to the former territories had been settled forever.
The matter with regard to slavery was now settled, and no disturbance could be raised except by tearing up some of the Compromises with regard to the territory where it was already settled. The South had got all they claimed, and all the territory south of the compromise line had been appropriated to slavery; they had gotten and eaten their half of the loaf of bread; but all the other half had not been eaten yet; there was the extensive territory of Nebraska secured to freedom, that had not been settled yet. And the slave-holding power attempted to snatch that away. So on Jan.[January] 4, 1854, Douglas introduced the famous Nebraska Bill, which was so constructed before its passage as to repeal the Missouri Compromise, and open all of the territory to the introduction of slavery. It was done without the consent of the people, and against their wishes, for if the matter had been put to vote before the people directly, whether that should be made a slave territory, they would have indignantly voted it down. But it was got up unexpectedly by the people, hurried through, and now they were called upon to sanction it.
They ought to make a strong expression against the imposition; that would prevent the consummation of the scheme. The people were the sovereigns, and the representatives their servants, and it was time to make them sensisible of this truly Democratic principle. They could get the Compromise restored. They were tol[d] that they could not because the Senate was Nebraska, and would be for years. Then fill the lower House with true Anti-Nebraska members, and that would be an expression of the sentiment of the people. And furthermore that expression would be heeded by the Senate. If this State should instruct Douglas to vote for the repeal of the Nebraska Bill, he must do it, for “the doctrine of instructions” was a part of his political creed.6 And he was not certain [he] would not be glad to vote its repeal anyhow, if it wou[ld ] help him fairly out of the scrape. It was so with other [Se]nators; they will be sure to improve the first oppor[tunity] to vote its repeal. The people could get it repealed, if they resolved to do it.
We have not [spa]ce to give the Speaker’s lucid arguments against the bill. They were irresistible. If [the?] “Little Giant” had been there, he would have felt all [the?] truth of that first half of the appellation, and reall[y] that he was the cont[rary] of the latter half.
1The Whig Weekly Pantagraph published this report of Abraham Lincoln’s speech along with another report of this speech that took the form of a letter to the editors from “A Hearer.”
Weekly Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL), 20 September 1854, 1:2.
2Lincoln spoke on September 12, 1854 in Bloomington at a German Anti-Nebraska meeting. Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and its effective repeal of the Missouri Compromise reawakened Lincoln’s passion for politics, and he threw himself into the congressional election campaign in the fall of 1854, crisscrossing Illinois to deliver speeches against the Kansas-Nebraska Act and in support of anti-Nebraska candidates. Lincoln had arrived in Bloomington on this or the preceding day from Springfield to attend to legal business on the Eighth Judicial Circuit. He remained in Bloomington to appear in several cases at the McLean County Circuit Court and gave another speech in the city on September 26, 1854. Lincoln was in Metamora by September 28 to attend the Woodford County Circuit Court for several days and returned to Springfield by October 3.
3As a member of the Confederation Congress in 1784, Thomas Jefferson drafted a deed of conveyance by which Virginia ceded the land it had claimed northwest of the Ohio River. Following the Confederation Congress’s acceptance of Virginia’s cession, it passed the Land Ordinance of 1784 to codify how this and similar territorial cessions would be organized and governed. Jefferson’s draft of the ordinance included the condition that after 1800 slavery would be outlawed in these territories except as punishment for crimes, but this provision was removed by amendment during congressional debate.
Julian P. Boyd et al, eds, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1952), 6:576-80, 608, 611-12.
4Both the Democratic Party and the Whig Party held their national conventions in Baltimore during the presidential election of 1844. The Democrats made the immediate annexation of Texas and the re-occupation of Oregon part of their platform. The Democrats nominated James K. Polk for president. The Whigs opposed the annexation of Texas in order to avoid sectional strife over the question of expanding slavery, and so selected Henry Clay as their nominee.
Thomas Hudson McKee, The National Conventions and Platforms of all Political Parties 1789 to 1901, 4th ed. (Baltimore: Friedenwald, 1901), 47-51; Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 168-72.
5In March 1847, Congress passed the so-called Three Million Bill-legislation appropriating $3 million to allow President Polk to conclude a peace treaty with Mexico. The United States would eventually pay Mexico $15 million for this territory under terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
“An Act Making Further Appropriation to Bring the Existing War with Mexico to a Speedy and Honorable Conclusion,” 3 March 1847, Statutes at Large of the United States 9 (1862):174.
6The doctrine or right of instruction held that the will of the people should guide the actions of their elected representatives, regardless of what that representative might themself believe. Guided by this doctrine, Stephen A. Douglas had been forced to vote in favor of the extensive internal improvements championed by Lincoln in the 1836-37 session of the Illinois General Assembly despite his personal opposition to the scale of the projects.
Reg Ankrom, Stephen A. Douglas: The Political Apprenticeship, 1833-1843 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015), 87-90, 96-97.

Copy of Printed Document, 1 page(s), Weekly Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL), 20 September 1854, 1:2.