Abraham Lincoln Knew How to Milk a Metaphor

kid afraid of snakeI could go on quoting Abraham Lincoln all day long, for he was one of the finest writers of his or any time. Here’s one very special quote, where Lincoln uses the metaphor of a snake to make distinctions between slavery itself being bad, versus policies to limit slavery to the south, versus policies to prevent slavery from expanding into new US territories.

If I saw a venomous snake crawling in the road, any man would say I may seize the nearest stick and kill it. But if I found that snake in bed with my children that would be another question. I might hurt the children more than the snake, and it might bite them.

In other words, slavery is bad, but ending slavery in the South might harm unintended victims.

Much more, if I found it in bed with my neighbor’s children, and I had found myself by a solemn oath not to meddle with his children under any circumstances, it would become me to let that particular mode of getting rid of the gentleman alone.

In other words, once they signed on to the Constitution, Northerners became duty-bound to leave slavery alone in the south.

But if there was a bed newly made up, to which the children were to be taken, and it was proposed to take a batch of young snakes and put them there with them, I take it no man would say there was any question how I ought to decide.

And that is the reasoning by which Lincoln concluded that slavery should not be expanded into new territories, a position the south could not tolerate, because Southerners saw such a policy as the beginning of the end of slavery in their lands. What a brilliant way to frame the argument.

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