Fragment on Slavery and Democracy

Image: Abraham Lincoln. Calvin Jackson (October 1, 1858) Library of Congress,
What underlying principle makes slavery incompatible with democracy? What is wrong with wanting to be a master and why would Lincoln not want to be one? How does this fragment presume the Golden Rule, “so in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12)? Can you provide historical evidence of democracy and slavery coexisting?
Did Lincoln’s efforts to promote emigration of African Americans contradict what he said here about democracy? Did democracy require social equality among blacks and whites (compare Speech at Chicago, Illinois and Lincoln-Douglas Debates)? Did it require that African Americans be given the vote (See Last Public Address)?

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Lincoln had a penchant for writing down ideas, thoughts, and arguments on scraps of paper, some of which he stored in his top hat. Many of these undated fragments were discovered after his death and do not have an assigned date. This fragment reveals the clear incompatibility in Lincoln’s mind between democracy and slavery: If “all men are created equal,” then no one has a right to rule another without that other’s consent. The master-slave relationship is thus antithetical to rule by consent among equal human beings.

—Joseph R. Fornieri and David Tucker

Source: The Writings of Abraham Lincoln, vol. 7, ed. Arthur Brooks Lapsley (New York: Lamb Publishing, 1906), 389.

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.

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