Report of Speech at Bloomington, Illinois, 12 September 18541
For the Pantagraph.
Messrs.[Messieurs] Editors:— I was highly interested with Hon. A. Lincoln’s speech in the Court House, on the evening of the 12th.2 He recommends that the people should unite energetically for the restoration of the Missouri Compromise, but enjoined upon them not to oppose the Fugitive Slave Law, which would be repelling wrong with wrong. It was a compromise, and as citizens we were bound to stand up to it, and enforce it. Afterwards he added: “I own, if I were called upon by a Marshal, to assist in catching a fugitive slave, I should suggest to him that others could run a great deal faster than I could.”3 Does this inability to run, to force a fellow being back into unjust servitude, lie in his legs, which are long enough and strong onough— or in his heart, which beats with genuine sympathy, true, good, and conscientious feelings? He reminded me of the anecdote of the country boy who was commencing the age that he wanted to appear genteel among the girls. His father bought him a pair of new shoes. They were coarse, rough made, ill shapen, brogan concerns, and rather large for his feet at that. Bill tried on the shoes, and complained bitterly that they pinched him. His father examined them on his feet, and felt of them, and it was with difficulty that he could find a place where they touched his feet at all. Bill kept grunting with the hurt all the while, and wearing a rueful face. At last, the old man, out of patience, as he could find no cause for the fuss, said: “Bill, where do those shoes pinch you?” “O dear, father,” replied Bill, “they pinch me dreadfully here,” putting his hand on the region of his heart. Mr. Lincoln will put on the Fugitive Slave Law shoes— he wants we all should— talks that it is his duty to wear them— still they pinch his heart so that he cannot run in them. It is so with me; those shoes would pinch me so they would deafen me— I could not hear the command of the Marshal— those shoes would pinch me blind;— I could not see to get in the way of a man fleeing to obtain his inalienable rights, “liberty and the pursuit of happiness;” those shoes would make my corns hurt so that I could not run.
He said he would go in for sustaining any Fugitive Slave Law, that did not expose a free negro to any more danger of being carried into slavery, than our present criminal laws do an innocent person to the danger of being hung. But can this be said of the present Fugitive Slave Law, withholding in the manner it does, the writ habeas corpus, and the right of trial by jury, from the person accused of being a runaway slave?4 The fact is it does not; and we may just as well “face the music” first as last, with regard to what we must expect as to the operations of the present law.
There are unprincipled scoundrels enough, who, for the gain, will try to kidnap free negroes into slavery under this law, or any law that is liable to be abused. And it is the constant vigilance of people at the north that is one safeguard against free negroes being dragged into servitude. And whilst we have also fanatics that would oppose a negro being returned to his master, and the law as it is now aggravates the difficulties. And whether it is right or wrong, we shall have trouble as long as the law stands as it is now, and we must expect it. Would it not be better then to amend this law by calm deliberation, so that it shall protect the free negro, and remove this cause of complaint and angry feelings; and at the same time allow to the southern slave-holder his just rights?
A Hearer.
1The Whig Weekly Pantagraph published this report of Abraham Lincoln’s speech as a letter to the editors from “A Hearer” along with an additional unsigned report of the same speech.
Weekly Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL), 20 September 1854, 1:4.
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.
3This quote is attributed to Lincoln. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 included the provision that “all good citizens are hereby commanded to aid and assist in the prompt and efficient execution of this law, whenever their services may be required.”
“An Act to Amend, and Supplementary to, the Act Entitled “An Act Respecting Fugitives from Justice, and Persons Escaping from the Service of their Masters,” Approved February Twelfth, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety-Three,” 18 September 1850, Statutes at Large of the United States 9 (1862):463.
4Instead of a trial by jury, the Fugitive Slave Act allowed slave owners or their agents to seize the people they claimed to be runaway enslaved persons and transport them from free states to slave states with as little as an affidavit or deposition before local officials. The people who were captured as supposed fugitive slaves were not permitted to testify on their own behalf.
“An Act to Amend, and Supplementary to, the Act Entitled “An Act Respecting Fugitives from Justice, and Persons Escaping from the Service of their Masters,” Approved February Twelfth, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety-Three,” 18 September 1850, Statutes at Large of the United States 9 (1862):463.

Copy of Printed Document, 1 page(s), Weekly Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL), 20 September 1854, 1:4.