“Who Will Stand By the Declaration of Independence?” American Sentinel 14, 4, pp. 51-53.

THE Tribune of this city, January 9, sets forth the meaning of the Declaration of Independence, as follows:—

“It is a favorite notion now to quote the words, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,’ as if these embodied a law of application to all inhabitants alike. But of the men who signed the Declaration there were many who held slaves, and these slaves were governed without their consent…. It was never the intention to assert that the negroes or the savage race must give consent before just government should be established over them….

“The Declaration of Independence was a formal notice that inhabitants of the colonies consented no longer to British rule. It declared their right to withdraw consent when government became subversive of their rights and openly appealed to the god of battles. The consent of the governed was then withdrawn in the colonies, and from that time it was held that Great Britain had no longer just right to govern here. That is precisely the meaning of the language.”

That identical argument, in substance and almost in words, was made just forty years ago. And it was as popular then as it is now. This argument was then sanctioned even by the great authority of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Forty years ago also this argument was thoroughly answered. The answer was made by Abraham Lincoln, and is good for all time. It is well that the people can have Abraham Lincoln’s answer to these denials of the Declaration that are made to-day. Read Tribune for Douglas, and here is Abraham Lincoln’s answer to the Tribunes argument:—

“I think the authors of that noble instrument [the Declaration of Independence] intended to include all men; but they did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal—equal with ‘certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ This they said, and this they meant. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact, they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant to declare simply the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit.

“They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to; constantly labored for; and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated; and thereby constantly spreading the deepening its influence and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere.

“The assertion that ‘all men are created equal,’ was of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain; and it was placed in the Declaration, not for that but for future use. Its authors meant it to be, as thank God, it is now proving itself, a stumbling block to all those who, in after times, might seek to turn a free people back into the hateful paths of despotism. They knew the proneness of prosperity to breed tyrants, and they meant when such should reappear in this fair land and commence their vocation, they should find left for them at least one hard nut to crack.

“I have now briefly expressed my view of the meaning and object of that part of the Declaration of Independence which declares that ‘all men are created equal.’

“Now let us hear Judge Douglas’s view of the same subject, as I find it in the printed report of his late speech. Here it is:—

“‘No man can vindicate the character, motives, and conduct of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, except upon the hypothesis that they referred to the white race alone, and not to the African, when they do declared all men to have been created equal—that they were speaking of British subjects on this continent being equal to British subjects born and residing in Great Britain—that they were entitled to the same inalienable rights, and among them were enumerated life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Declaration was adopted for the purpose of justifying the colonists in the eyes of the civilized world in withdrawing their allegiance from the British crown and dissolving their connection with the mother country.’

“My good friends, read that carefully over some leisure hour, and ponder well upon it—see what a mere wreck—mangled ruin, it makes of our once glorious Declaration.

“‘They were speaking of British subjects on this continent being equal to British subjects born and residing [52] in Great Britain!’ Why, according to this, not only negroes, but white people outside of Great Britain and America were not spoken of in that instrument. The English, Irish, and Scotch, along with white Americans, were included to be sure; but the French, Germans, and other white people of the world are all gone to plot along with the Judge’s inferior races.

“I had thought the Declaration promised something better than the condition of British subjects; but no, it only meant that we should be equal to them in their own oppressed and unequal condition! According to that, it gave no promise that, having kicked off the king and lords of Great Britain, we should not at once be saddled with a king and lords of our own in these United States.

“I had thought the Declaration contemplated the progressive improvement in the condition of all men everywhere; but no, it merely ‘was adopted for the purpose of justifying the colonists in the eyes of the civilized world in withdrawing their allegiance from the British crown, and dissolving their connection with the mother country.’ Why, that object having been effected some eighty years ago, the Declaration is of no practical use now—mere rubbish—old wadding left to rot on the battlefield after the victory is won.

“I understand you are preparing to celebrate the ‘Fourth” to-morrow week. What for? The doings of that day had no reference to the present; and quite half of you are not even descendants of those who were referred to at that day. But I suppose you will celebrate; and will even go so far as to read the Declaration. Suppose, after you read it once in the old-fashioned way, you read it once more with Judge Douglas’s version. It will then run thus: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all British subjects who were on this continent eighty-one years ago, were created equal to all British subjects born and then residing in Great Britain.’

“And now I appeal to all—to Democrats as well as others—are you really willing that the Declaration shall thus be frittered away,—thus left no more at most than an interesting memorial of the dead past—thus shorn of its vitality and practical value, and left without the germ or even the suggestion of the individual rights of man in it?

“These Fourth of July gatherings I suppose have their uses. If you will indulge me, I will state what I suppose to be some of them.

“We are now a mighty nation; we are thirty, or about thirty [now (1899) about eighty] millions of people, and we own and inhabit about one-fifteenth part of the dry land of the whole earth. We run our memory back over the pages of history for about eighty-two [a hundred and twenty-three] years, and we discover that we were then a very small people in point of numbers, vastly inferior to what we are now, with a vastly less extent of country, with vastly less of everything we deem desirable among men; we look upon the change as exceedingly advantageous to us and to our posterity, and we fix upon something that happened away back, as in some way or other connected with this rise of prosperity.

“We find a race of men living in that day whom we claim as our fathers and grandfathers; they were iron men; they fought for the principle that they were contending for; and we understood that by what they then did it has followed that the degree of prosperity which we now enjoy has come to us. We hold this annual celebration to remind ourselves of all the good done in the process of time, of how it was done and who did it, and how we are historically connected with it; and we are from these meetings in better humor with ourselves; we feel more attached the one to the other, and more firmly bound to the country we inhabit. In every way we are better men in the age and race and country in which we live, for these celebrations.

“But after we have done all this we have not yet reached the whole. There is something else connected with it. We have—besides these men descended by blood from our ancestors—among us, perhaps half our people, who are not descendants at all of these men; they are men who have come form Europe,—German, Irish, French, and Scandinavian,—men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are a part of us; but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence, they find that those old men say that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal;’ and then they feel that that moral sentiment, taught in that day, evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them and that they have the right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh, of the men who wrote that Declaration [loud and long continued applause]: and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty loving men together; that ill link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world. [Applause.]

“Now, sirs, for the purpose of squaring things with this idea … that the Declaration of Independence did not mean anything at all, we have Judge Douglas giving his exposition of what the Declaration of Independence means, and we have him saying that the people of America are equal to the people of England! According to his construction, you Germans are not connected with it. Now, I ask you in all soberness, if all these things, if indulged in, if ratified, if confirmed and indorsed, if taught to our children and repeated to them, do not tend to rub out the sentiment of liberty in the country, and to transform this Government in a government of some other form?

“Those arguments that are made, that the inferior race are to be treated with as much allowance as they are capable of enjoying; that as much is to be done for them as their condition will allow,—What are these arguments? They are the arguments that kings have made for the enslaving of the people in all ages of the world. You will find that all the arguments in favor of Kingcraft were of this class; they always bestrode the necks of the people, not that they wanted to do it, but because the people were better off for being ridden. That is their argument, and this argument of the judge is the same old serpent that says, You work, and I eat; you toil, and I will enjoy the fruit of it.

“Turn it in whatever way you will, whether it comes [53] from the mouth of a king as an excuse for enslaving the people of his country, or from the mouth of men of one race as a reason, or from the mouth of men of one race as a reason for enslaving the men of another race, it is all the same old serpent; and I hold, if that course of argumentation that is made for the purpose of convincing the public mind that we should not care about this, should be granted, it does not stop with the negro. I should like to know if, taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle, and making exceptions to it, where will it stop? If one man says it does not mean a negro, why not another say it does not mean some other man? If that declaration is not the truth, let us get the statute book, in which we find it, and tear it out! Who is so bold as to do it? If it is not true, let us tear it out! [Cries of ‘No, no.’] Let us stick to it, then; let us stand firmly by it, then.

“It may be argued that there are certain conditions that make necessities and impose them upon us; and to the extent that a necessity is imposed upon a man, he must submit to it. I think that was the condition in which we found ourselves when we established this Government. We had slaves among us, we could not get our Constitution unless we permitted them to remain in slavery, we could not secure the good we did secure if we grasped for more; but having by necessity submitted to that much, it does not destroy the principle, that is, the charter of our liberties. Let that charter stand as our standard.

“My friend has said to me that I am a poor hand to quote scripture. I will try it again, however. It is said in one of the admonitions of our Lord, ‘As your Father in heaven is perfect, be ye also perfect.’ The Saviour, I suppose, did not expect that any human creature could be perfect as the Father in heaven; but he said, ‘As your Father in heaven is perfect, be ye also perfect.’ He set that up as a standard; and he who did most toward reaching that standard, attained the highest degree of moral perfection. So I say in relation to the principle that all men are created equal, let it be as nearly reached as we can. If we cannot give freedom to every creature, let us do nothing that will impose slavery upon any other creature. Let us then turn this Government back into the channel in which the framers of the Constitution originally placed it.

“I adhere to the Declaration of Independence. If Judge Douglas and his friends are not willing to stand by it, let them come up and amend it. Let them make it read that all men are created equal except negroes. Let us have it decided whether the Declaration of Independence, in this blessed year of 1858 [and 1899] shall be thus amended.

“In his construction of the Declaration last year, he said it only meant that Americans in America were equal to Englishmen in England. Then, when I pointed out to him that by that rule he excludes the Germans, the Irish, the Portuguese, and all the other people who have come among us since the Revolution, he reconstructs his construction. In his last speech he tells it meant Europeans. I press him a little further, and ask him if it meant to include Russians in Asia; or does he mean to exclude that vast population from the principles of our Declaration of Independence? … Who shall say, I am the superior, and you are the inferior?” A. T. J. [53]

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