When Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln went at it through seven debates in a race for the Illinois Senate seat, the main topic of the time was slavery in the Union. Douglas argued that the people of a state have the right to form their own laws, that democracy is based on that very principle, one called popular sovereignty. Thus, if the people of a state choose to allow slavery then the will of the people should be respected. Lincoln, however, disagreed. His view was that the Union could not stand being divided among states that allowed slavery and those that did not. This was a point of great contention at the time and it threatened to become violent as it eventually did. Lincoln, in my view, was a wise man. He understood human nature and he spoke about it with great eloquence.
"If slavery did not now exist among them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist amongst us, we should not instantly give it up. This I believe of the masses North and South. Doubtless there are individuals on both sides, who would not hold slaves under any circumstances; and others who would gladly introduce slavery anew, if it were out of existence."
Lincoln argued that any new states entering the Union should not be permitted to allow slavery; he did not want to fight the Southern states over their right to slavery. He felt that since the slave trade itself had been outlawed, it made no sense to allow slavery's existence to grow beyond its current area, even if the people of the newly formed state did so desire it. A good many people were troubled by this line of reasoning. If people in any one region must submit to the will of another, where does the power lay? Why can a state not govern itself and under what circumstances can one state force another to conform? The flip side is the question: how can one state let its partner maintain a stance that it is morally obligated to oppose? What is the federal power to do when the problem is not in its jurisdiction (as slavery was not generally considered to be at the time)? Is it sound judgment to seize federal jurisdiction where none was previously for the sake of cohesion within the Union?
It required the American Civil War to ultimately settle the question but it did not quell the problem entirely. To this day, issues of race continue to be an albatross around the American neck.
This past election day, eleven states voted to limit marriage to one woman and one man. Eight of those states also prohibited any civil-union or partnership between same-sex couples. These measures were not given the clear majority of 51-49 as Mr. Bush has won for himself. These measures soared into the stratosphere with 75-25 or 66-33 victories (with the exception of Oregon, 57-43).
That, my friends, is the sound of history repeating itself.