– How Lincoln handled the slavery issue.


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Seeking the truth can be a delicate matter fraught with pitfalls. It may interfere with another’s political agenda or personal gains. Besides, people do not necessarily want to know the truth. Most are quite comfortable hiding within their shell minding their own business, and not wanting to get involved with the outside world. Today, it is more important to be politically correct than seek the truth, something which may lead to a person being ostracized for possessing an inquisitive mind. I have run afoul of this on more than one occasion, not just in my consulting practice but in nonprofits as well. When I dare ask a question or point out an indiscretion, I am often accused of being a troublemaker. Such is the price you will likely pay. The questions though must be asked, and only a handful of people are willing to risk injury to their integrity, but they are desperate for finding the answer. One such person was Abraham Lincoln who wrestled with the question of slavery.

In the book, “The Impending Crisis,” author David M. Potter, Ph.D. discusses the events leading up to the Civil War from 1848-1861. Potter was a renown history professor who won the 1977 Pulitzer Prize for this book. As a professor, the writing is very tight. It doesn’t ramble, and there is a great deal of thought in each sentence.

Potter’s description of the legendary Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 (Aug 21-Oct 15) reveals the true nature of the debates, not how it is popularly depicted. To many, the debates are considered the benchmark for political campaigns, but this is where the truth is sacrificed to legend. In reality, there had never been such a series of political debates like this before or after.

The debates were organized as part of the campaign for Senator from Illinois. Stephen Douglas, “The Little Giant,” represented the Democratic Party and was the incumbent. Prior to the election, he made a name for himself in the fight over the confirmation of the Kansas Constitution which would have allowed slavery. The story is long, but basically the pro-slavery forces of Kansas drafted the constitution with the slavery amendment included. In short, the Constitution was not a true representation of the will of the people of Kansas, or as Douglas referred to it as “popular sovereignty” meaning the people should decide. By defeating the Kansas Constitution, Douglas made many allies with northerners, including Republicans who considered drafting him as their candidate. Although not as renowned as Douglas, the Republicans elected Lincoln as their candidate.

Douglas was originally skeptical of sharing the spotlight with a lesser known candidate. The debates would only give Lincoln more exposure. Nonetheless, an agreement was forged to a series of seven debates to discuss the slavery issue which was at the heart of the division between North and South. The debates were cordial and mixed with humor, more importantly though, this was an in-depth intellectual process addressing a single issue which is something the country had never witnessed. Both Lincoln and Douglas presented themselves as learned men. To their audience, this was a fascinating game of mental gymnastics, and people would travel from miles away to see them.

Whereas the politicians had carefully dodged the issue of slavery over the years, going back as far as the Declaration of Independence, now the issue would be discussed openly and frankly. To Douglas, the issue was not about slavery, but of “popular sovereignty,” allowing each state to make their own decision. Lincoln instead dared to grasp the bull by the horns and ask the hard questions (from the Potter book):

“I…contemplate slavery as a moral, social, and political evil: If slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong. I cannot remember when I did not so think, and feel.”

“Where will it stop? If one man says it does not mean a Negro (as Douglas said) why may not another say it does not mean some other man?… Let us discard all this quibbling about this man or the other man – this race and that race and the other race being inferior, and therefore they must be placed in an inferior position…Let us discard all these things and unite as one people throughout this land until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal.”

Lincoln’s handlers advised him not to ask Douglas point-blank about his views on slavery, as it would likely cost him the Senate race. To which Lincoln allegedly responded, “Gentlemen, I am killing larger game. If Douglas answers, he can never be President, and the battle of 1860 (presidential election year) is worth a hundred of this.”

While Douglas talked about “popular sovereignty,” Lincoln correctly saw this as an issue of humanity. Was the Negro human or not? Even among the free states of the North, the Negro was considered an inferior race. They may have been free in the north but they were not allowed to vote, sit in a jury, or marry outside their race. It was Lincoln though, who forced the issue of their humanity. His famous “House Divided” speech at the Illinois Republican Convention of June 1858 also showed his resolve to get to the point (see following excerpt):

“We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation.

Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented.

In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not 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 the 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 new — North as well as South.”

Please remember, nobody had the audacity to bring this subject to the forefront, and Lincoln’s handlers again advised him not to use it, but he responded by saying, “The time has come when these sentiments should be uttered, and if it is decreed that I should go down linked to the truth – let me die in the advocacy of what is just and right.”

Lincoln’s thirst for the truth should be inspiring to us all and motivate us to keep searching for such light. However, it is particularly disheartening to find intellectual curiosity abandoned in this age of personal technology where vasts amount of information are available at our fingertips.

As expected, Douglas went on to be re-elected to his Senate seat in 1858, but Lincoln captured the presidency in 1860 thanks in large part to his ability to confront and dissect a problem. If anything, Lincoln reminds us of the difficulties and pitfalls involved with seeking the truth. Prior to this, our forefathers were content to avoid the subject and offered awkward compromises which simply delayed the inevitable. Lincoln seized the moment to put the truth in front of the people, regardless of how ugly it may have been. He well understood the issue of slavery was a ticking time bomb, something no politician dared to address.

Throughout my personal and professional lives, I have also had the unpleasant duty to point out the truth to others, which was received frostily. Nonetheless, I still seek the truth. After all, I am killing larger game.

I’ll just have to remember not to attend any plays at Ford’s Theater.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Copyright © 2015 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.


LAST TIME:  WHY DO WE TOLERATE INCOMPETENCE?  – Have we become too apathetic to fight back?

Listen to Tim on WJTN-AM (News Talk 1240) “The Town Square” with host John Siggins (Mon, Wed, Fri, 12:30-3:00pm Eastern); WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; and KIT-AM 1280 in Yakima, Washington “The Morning News” with hosts Dave Ettl & Lance Tormey (weekdays. 6:00-9:00am Pacific). Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube.

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