Abraham Lincoln to John L. Scripps, 23 June 18581
Jno L. Scripps, Esq[Esquire]My dear Sir
Your kind note of yesterday is duly received– I am much flattered by the estimate you place on my late speech; and yet I am much mortified that any part of it should be construed so differently from any thing intended by me–2 The language "place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in course of ultimate extinction" I used deliberately, not dreaming then, nor believing now, that it arrests, or intimates, any power or purpose, to interfere with slavery in the States where it exists– But, to not cavil about language, I declare that whether this ^the clause^ used by me, will bear such construction or not, I never so intended it– I have declared a thousand times, and now repeat that,^ in my opinion^ neither the General Government, nor any other power outside of the slave states, can constitutionally or rightfully interfere with slaves or slavery where it already exists– I believe that whenever the effort to spread slavery into the new territories, by whatever means, and into the free states themselves, by Supreme Court decisions, shall be fairly headed off, the institution will then be in course of ultimate extinction; and by the language me
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and I meant only this–
I do not intend this for publication; but still you may show it to any one you think fit– I think I shall, as you suggest, take some early occasion to publicly repeat the declaration I have already so often made as before stated–3
Yours very trulyA. Lincoln
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SPR[INGFIELD] Ill.[Illinois]
John L. Scripps, EsqChicagoIllinois
1Abraham Lincoln wrote and signed this letter, including the delivery address.
2Lincoln is referring to his "House Divided Speech," which he gave at the Illinois Republican State Convention held on June 16, 1858, in Springfield.
John L. Scripps mentioned in his letter to Lincoln of June 22 that some of his Kentucky friends took issue with Lincoln's now-famous comment, "I believe this Government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved— I don't expect the house to fall— but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as newNorth as well as South" They believed that Lincoln's words foretold a war on slavery by the Republican Party .
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life ((Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 457-65; Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 17 June 1858, 2:5, 6; Report of Speech at Springfield, Illinois; Report of Speech at Springfield, Illinois; Fragment of A House Divided: Speech at Springfield, Illinois; Report of Speech at Springfield, Illinois.
3Delegates to the Illinois Republican State Convention had nominated Lincoln as Republican candidate from Illinois for the U.S. Senate. In the summer and fall of 1858, he crisscrossed Illinois delivering speeches and campaigning on behalf of Republican candidates for the Illinois General Assembly. At this time the Illinois General Assembly elected the state’s representatives in the U.S. Senate, thus the outcome of races for the Illinois House of Representatives and Illinois Senate were of importance to Lincoln’s campaign.
Lincoln continued to articulate this position on slavery in the South throughout his electoral campaign and in a series of debates with Stephen A. Douglas, the Democratic Party candidate and incumbent. In an account of the first debate on August 21, 1858, Lincoln said, "I will say here, while upon this subject, that I have no purpose directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists." In an account of the third debate on September 15, 1858, Lincoln stated, "I hold myself under constitutional obligations to allow the people in all the States without interference, direct or indirect, to do exactly as they please, and I deny that I have any inclination to interfere with them, even if there were no such constitutional obligation." He made similar arguments in the fifth, sixth, and seventh debates. Lincoln would lose to Douglas, but the senatorial campaign and debates brought Lincoln national recognition and increased standing within the Republican Party. See the 1858 Illinois Republican Convention; 1858 Federal Election
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life , 1:457-85, 556-57; Allen C. Guelzo, “House Divided: Lincoln, Douglas, and the Political Landscape of 1858,” The Journal of American History 94 (September 2007), 392, 416-17; Paul M. Angle, ed., The Complete Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 285-402.

Autograph Letter Signed, 4 page(s), Lincoln Collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL).