Stephen Douglas and the Freeport Doctrine
Digital History ID 368
The debates reached a climax at Freeport on August 27, 1858. There, Lincoln asked Douglas to reconcile the Dred Scott decision, which allowed slaveowners to take slavery into the western territories, with popular sovereignty. Could the residents of a territory "in any lawful way" exclude slavery prior to statehood? Douglas replied that the residents of a territory could exclude slavery by refusing to pass laws protecting slaveholders' property rights. "Slavery cannot exist a day or an hour anywhere," he declared, "unless it is supported by local police regulations." Any way he answered, Douglas was certain to alienate northern free soilers or proslavery southerners.
What the Southern Papers Say. The Louisville Journal on Douglas and Lincoln--Opinion of the Home Organ of Henry Clay.
The Louisville Journal has received Douglas['s] Freeport speech, and to the Senator's new averment that slavery may be kept out of the Territories by the refusal of the local Legislatures to pass laws for its protection, in spite of the authoritative mandate of the Constitution and the Supreme Court, thus replies:
...According to Senator Douglas, the Territorial Legislatures, though prohibited by the Constitution from abolishing slavery within their respective jurisdictions, may lawfully abstain from enforcing the rights of slaveholders, and so extinguish the institution by voluntary neglect. In other words, Senator Douglas contends that the Territorial Legislatures may lawfully evade the Constitution by deliberately omitting to protect the rights which it establishes. He holds that the people of the Territories may lawfully abolish slavery indirectly, though the Constitution forbids them to abolish it or prohibit it directly. It is impossible to conceive of squatter sovereignty in a more contemptible shape than this. It is the scurviest possible form of the scurviest of all possible heresies. A refinement, moreover, is added to the enormity of the fact that the Dred Scott Decision, to which Senator Douglas constantly parades his allegiance expressly precludes the whole thing. The opinion of the Court in that case denies the right of Territorial Legislatures to refuse protection to slavery as distinctly as it denies the right to abolish or prohibit it.... Senator Douglas in publicly espousing it [the doctrine that territories can exclude slavery by refusing to pass legislation protecting the institution], goes several lengths beyond the most intense and passionate Republicans in the whole North. He rushes in where Mr. Lincoln and his colleagues scorn to tread.... If slavery is to be prohibited in the Territories by legislation at all, let it be done by the people of the United States, and not by the first handful of nomadic settlers in the Territories themselves.... Abolition itself as respects the Territories, has never, in its highest fury, assumed such radical ground as Douglas took in his Freeport speech. [The abolitionist William Lloyd] Garrison, with all his fanatical and demoniacal hatred of slavery, has never in his whole life uttered an opinion at once so insulting and injurious to the South. The force of unscrupulous Northern demagogism seems spent in this last expedient of the unscrupulous little demagogue of Illinois....
Source: Facts for the People... The Political Record of Stephen A. Douglas
Copyright 2021 Digital History