Lincoln and the Logic of Slavery

One of the many interesting aspects of Abraham Lincoln is how often he wrote down notes that he had no intention of using in public but that he prepared to aid in clarifying his own thinking.  One such note on the logic of slavery was written around April 1, 1854:

If A. can prove, however conclusively, that he may, of right, enslave B.—why may not B. snatch the same argument, and prove equally, that he may enslave A?—You say A. is white, and B. is black. It is color, then; the lighter, having the right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with a fairer skin than your own.

You do not mean color exactly?—You mean the whites are intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and, therefore have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with an intellect superior to your own.

But, say you, it is a question of interest; and, if you can make it your interest, you have the right to enslave another. Very well. And if he can make it his interest, he has the right to enslave you.

At the core of Lincoln’s political creed was the Declaration of Independence and the statement contained therein that “all men are created equal”.  Lincoln’s exercise above in formal logic is a reflection of this bedrock belief of his.  Lincoln returned to this theme at the end of his life in a brief address to an Indiana regiment in Washington on March 17, 1865:    “When I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.”

Published in: on January 20, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Lincoln and the Logic of Slavery  
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