The Eternal Struggle

In 1848, ten years before the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, the people of Illinois voted to amend the state constitution to exclude free blacks all right of entry into the state. The amendment was carried by a margin of 70 percent, 90 percent in some communities.

As Gary Ellis points out in Lincoln at Gettysburg, “Lincoln knew it was useless to promote the abolitionist position in Illinois.” The people of the state were hopelessly prejudiced against blacks.

“Lincoln tried to use one prejudice against another,” Ellis writes. “There was, in Americans, a prejudgment in favor of anything biblical. There was, also, antimonarchical bias. Lincoln put the biblical text [“By the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread”] in an American context of antimonarchism:

“That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between two principles — right or wrong — throughout the world.

“They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time and will ever continue to struggle.

“The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, ‘You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.’

“No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.”