19. Lincoln's House Journal Entry on Slavery (1837)
Background: In 1837, abolitionist activity helped the anti-slavery movement gain support in the North. Pro-slavery forces in the South and their Northern allies pushed back by advocating that Northern state legislatures take a formal stand against abolitionists. In January, pro-slavery members in the General Assembly pushed legislation entitled "Resolutions on the Subject of Domestic Slavery." The resolution disapproved of abolitionists and stated that the U.S. Constitution guaranteed the right to own slaves. The state Senate passed the resolution unanimously while the House passed it 77 to 6. Although he was not an abolitionist and, in fact, found them too extreme, Abraham Lincoln was one of the six to vote against the resolution.
The Document: Following the passage of the pro-slavery resolution, Representatives Abraham Lincoln and Dan Stone, both from Sangamon County, introduced a protest to it. In the protest, they argued that the institution of slavery was founded in "injustice and bad policy." However, they also denounce abolitionists as inflaming slavery's "evils." They also agree with the resolution that Congress constitutionally did not have the power to interfere with slavery in the states, although they add that Congress does have the authority to restrict slavery in the District of Columbia, an area of federal, not state jurisdiction. The resolution and protest documents reflect what little sentiment there was in 1837 Illinois against slavery. During his 1860 campaign for president, Lincoln wrote in a campaign autobiography that the protest he and Stone filed still defined his position on the slavery question.
Note: There is no written copy of the protest filed by Lincoln and Stone. The attached document with the protest language is taken from the 1837 House Journal. This document is available from the Illinois State Archives as part of General Assembly Record Series 600.201, "House Journal."