Abraham Lincoln remarked on those slaves who had the wit not to throw in with John Brown that even “with all their ignorance, [they] saw plainly enough” that the schemes of this crazy white man were bound to fail. They were not lettered or educated, but they were creatures with the capacity to reflect about the ground of their own well-being. They did not deserve then to be annexed to the purposes of other men without their consent. In that quick grasp of the scene Lincoln could condense the understanding of those “rights” that flow by “nature” to those beings who can reason about the things that are good or bad, right or wrong. That understanding not only supplied the principle of “government by the consent of the governed,”...


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