What had been the general attitude toward slavery of the man who issued the Emancipation Proclamation ? What did Lincoln think about slavery before he became a public character?
We need not hear him say, as he often said, that he ” always hated slavery,” the words of a man slow to censure and not a man of hate. It was Abraham Lincoln who pronounced the completest judgment against slavery ever put in words. “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” “I cannot remember,” he says, “when I did not so think and feel.”
Was it the intuition of a spirited child born into a system that degraded white poverty even more than it degraded the negro, or did it begin with the flatboat trip to New Orleans, when slavery, witness John Hanks, “ran its iron into him ” at the first sight of the lash and
the auction-block ? His nearest friend and biographer gives credit to the story, curious and suggestive if true, that he then and there said to his companions, with an imprecation that rarely issued from his lips, “Boys, if I ever get a chance to hit that thing, I ’11 hit it hard.” A forgotten lecture, produced by the young Lincoln in his twenties, declares the freeing of slaves to be one of the highest objects of human achievement. What put this into the head of the backwoods youth in a pro-slavery community? The burning of a negro by a St.Louis mob stirred him to one of his earliest speeches —on Liberty, the subject always uppermost in his mind — a speech that has the added interest of showing that Lincoln, like Webster, began with a grandiloquent manner, imitated from the spread-eagle oratory
of the period, before he developed his own inimitable style.
If Abraham Lincoln ever uttered a word in extenuation of slavery, the fact has not appeared in history. It needs not his words to show how he felt toward such a system. His whole life, now open to the world, was an all-embracing sympathy with the oppressed and down-trodden that beat in every pulsation of his heart. To hate slavery was in his blood. It was a law of his being.