NPR FOR THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When You Can’t

Abraham_Lincoln_boombox.jpgFRESH AIR

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In 1854, Sen. Stephen Douglas forced the Kansas-Nebraska Act through Congress. The bill, which repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, also opened up a good portion of the Midwest to the possible expansion of slavery. Douglas’ political rival, former Illinois Congressman Abraham Lincoln, was enraged by the bill. He scheduled three public speeches in the fall of 1854, in response. The longest of those speeches — known as the Peoria Speech — took three hours to deliver. In it, Lincoln aired his grievances over Douglas’ bill and outlined his moral, economic, political and legal arguments against slavery. But like many Americans, Lincoln was unsure what to do once slavery ended. “Lincoln said during the Civil War that he had always seen slavery as unjust. He said he couldn’t remember when he didn’t think that way — and there’s no reason to doubt the accuracy or sincerity of that statement,” explains historian Eric Foner. “The problem arises with the next question: What do you do with slavery, given that it’s unjust? Lincoln took a very long time to try to figure out exactly what steps ought to be taken.” Foner traces the evolution of Lincoln’s thoughts on slavery in The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. He explains how Lincoln’s changing thoughts about slavery — and the role of freed slaves — mirrored America’s own transformation. In the Peoria speech, Lincoln said that slavery was wrong, Foner says, and then admitted that he didn’t know what should be done about it, even contemplating “free[ing] all the slaves, and send[ing] them to Liberia — to their own native land.” MORE

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