A Constitutional Moral or Local Issue
Furthermore, Lincoln charged Douglas with being part of secret cabal to extend slavery to the free states. He boldly announced that slavery was simply immoral and had to be dealt with forthrightly by the U.S. Congress. For Lincoln, slavery violated the fundamental assertion of the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal. He argued that its continued existence and support in the nation ran counter to the wishes of the Founding Fathers. Ultimately, only the power of the federal government could resolve the issue by extinguishing slavery from the nation. Although Lincoln contended that there existed no constitutional way of interfering with slavery where it presently existed, he believed that it should not be allowed to expand westward. For him, the matter was a question of right and wrong, with Douglas indifferent to a moral wrong.
Douglas met the challenge by trying to portray Lincoln as a radical abolitionist. He disagreed with Lincolns claim that the Founding Fathers had opposed slavery, pointing out that many of them, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, had owned slaves. He played down the moral issue in favor of his commitment to a Jacksonian egalitarianism for white Americans, saying that the power to decide about the existence of slavery should be left to each community and on the local level. And he argued that slavery in any case would never survive outside of the South for simple economic reasons. Douglas asserted in his Freeport Doctrine (delivered at Freeport, Illinois) that the people could keep slavery out of their territories. Despite the Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court, which defended the property rights of slaveowners, Douglas claimed that local communities could decide for themselves to not pass local police laws to preserve the institution of slavery and not to protect slaveowners. He warned the nation not to try to judge political issues on moral grounds lest emotions spill over into civil war. Ultimately, Douglas argued that the issue came down to conflicting ideologies a view of the nation as a confederacy of sovereign and equal states versus a federalist empire of consolidated states. He accused Lincoln of being an abolitionist at heart, and a dangerous fanatic whose policies would result in racial consolidation and racial equality. In doing so, Douglas appealed shamelessly to the race prejudice of Illinois voters.