What Lincoln Said in His Final Speech

What Lincoln Said in His Final Speech

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

With the fall of Petersburg and Richmond, and Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox, Washington was consumed by celebration. On the evening of April 10, 1865, a crowd of some 3,000 people gathered outside the White House, hoping for some rousing words from their president. In response to their cries of “Speech!” Lincoln demurred, saying he would deliver an address the following evening, after he had adequate time to prepare. As consolation, he issued a special request for the Marine band. “I have always thought ‘Dixie’ one of the best tunes I have ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it.” As the crowd laughed and cheered, Lincoln added, “It is good to show the rebels that with us they will be free to hear it again.”

With Union victory on the horizon, the president’s mood was somber, even as the capital’s joyful hubbub swirled below him. According to what he told his wife and others close to him, disturbing dreams visited Lincoln in the early spring of 1865. In one, he encountered a large group of soldiers and citizens in mourning before a shrouded figure in the East Room of the White House. When he asked one of the soldiers who the corpse belonged to, the man replied “The President…he was killed by an assassin!” In another of Lincoln’s dreams, he was on a ship moving rapidly through the water towards a vast and unknown shore. Having had similar dreams on the eves of Antietam, Gettysburg and Vicksburg, Lincoln apparently considered this one a good omen, believing it a sign that Confederate General Joe Johnston would soon surrender to William T. Sherman in North Carolina.

Lincoln’s speech on the evening of Tuesday, April 11—one of the rare formal addresses he delivered during his presidency—would reflect his uneasy state of mind. A cheering, singing crowd of hundreds gathered on the White House lawn, with rolls of intense applause greeting Lincoln’s appearance at the window of the second-floor balcony in the North Portico. The president waited several minutes for the din to subside; his friend, the journalist Noah Brooks, then held up a single candle to illuminate Lincoln’s prepared text.

Lincoln had prepared this speech carefully. Though he began on a joyful note—“We meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart. The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond and the surrender of the principal insurgent army, give hope of a righteous and speedy peace”—and promised a day of “national thanksgiving” he proceeded directly to a reminder that the nation now faced a task “fraught with great difficulty,” that of “re-inauguration of the national authority—reconstruction.”

The formerly jubilant crowd fell silent as Lincoln delivered his remarks, which were far from the celebratory address they had expected. Most of Lincoln’s speech dealt with specifics about the recently established free-state government in Louisiana, which Lincoln hoped could serve as a model for other former Confederate states during Reconstruction. Critics (especially Radical Republicans) were attacking Louisiana’s government, especially because it didn’t extend the right to vote to blacks.

While Lincoln conceded problems with Louisiana’s government, he went on to point out that its new constitution outlawed slavery, granted economic independence to blacks and allowed for public schools for both races. It also empowered the state legislature to enfranchise blacks, if it chose to do so. Lincoln argued that even though Louisiana had not yet exercised its right to enfranchise blacks, it had pledged its loyalty to the Union, and would provide a crucial vote in favor of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery. Wasn’t it better to work with such a government to improve it, rather than destroy the work that had already been done?

Though Lincoln’s speech that night was not especially inspired—especially compared with his transcendent second inaugural address the previous month—it was important. For the first time he publicly expressed his support for limited black suffrage, which he had previously discussed only in private. As he put it: “It is unsatisfactory to some that the elective franchise is not given to the colored man. I would myself prefer that it were now conferred on the very intelligent, and on those who serve our cause as soldiers.”

After concluding with the strange warning that he might be on the verge of making “some new announcement to the people of the South,” Lincoln withdrew, leaving many in the audience disappointed. The speech wouldn’t go over well with Lincoln’s critics, either: Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, the leading Radical, claimed the president was only promoting “confusion and uncertainty in the future—with hot controversy.”

As it turned out, Lincoln wouldn’t get the chance to put more of his Reconstruction policies into effect. One member of the crowd outside the White House that night was the handsome young actor John Wilkes Booth, who snarled to his companion about Lincoln’s address: “That means n—- citizenship! Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make.”

Lincoln on Slavery

Abraham Lincoln is often referred to as "The Great Emancipator" and yet, he did not publicly call for emancipation throughout his entire life. Lincoln began his public career by claiming that he was "antislavery" -- against slavery's expansion, but not calling for immediate emancipation. However, the man who began as "antislavery" eventually issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in those states that were in rebellion. He vigorously supported the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery throughout the United States, and, in the last speech of his life, he recommended extending the vote to African Americans.

This brief study of Lincoln's writings on slavery contains examples of Lincoln's views on slavery. It also shows one of his greatest strengths: his ability to change as it relates to his public stance on slavery.

We are deeply indebted to the work of the Abraham Lincoln Association in collecting Lincoln's writings and publishing them as the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. It was from this monumental work that these selections were taken. The roman numerals and numbers at the end of each section refer to the volume and page of the Collected Works.

March 3, 1837

At the age of 28, while serving in the Illinois General Assembly, Lincoln made one of his first public declarations against slavery.

The following protest was presented to the House, which was read and ordered to be spread on the journals, to wit:

"Resolutions upon the subject of domestic slavery having passed both branches of the General Assembly at its present session, the undersigned hereby protest against the passage of the same.

They believe that the institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy but that the promulgation of abolition doctrines tends rather to increase than to abate its evils.

They believe that the Congress of the United States has no power, under the constitution, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the different States.

They believe that the Congress of the United States has the power, under the constitution, to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia but that that power ought not to be exercised unless at the request of the people of said District.

The difference between these opinions and those contained in the said resolutions, is their reason for entering this protest."

Dan Stone,
A. Lincoln,
Representatives from the county of Sangamon

July 1, 1854: Fragment on Slavery

Lincoln often encountered views supporting slavery. In this fragment, he countered the arguments that slavery was justified based on color and intellect.

If A. can prove, however conclusively, that he may, of right, enslave B. -- why may not B. snatch the same argument, and prove equally, that he may enslave A?--

You say A. is white, and B. is black. It is color, then the lighter, having the right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with a fairer skin than your own.

You do not mean color exactly?--You mean the whites are intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and, therefore have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with an intellect superior to your own.

But, say you, it is a question of interest and, if you can make it your interest, you have the right to enslave another. Very well. And if he can make it his interest, he has the right to enslave you.

October 16, 1854: Speech at Peoria, Illinois

Lincoln, in a speech at Peoria, attacked slavery on the grounds that its existence within the United States made American democracy appear hyprocritical in the eyes of the world. However, he also confessed his uncertainty as how to end slavery where it then existed, because he believed that neither colonolization nor racial equality were practical.

I can not but hate [the declared indifference for slavery's spread]. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world -- enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites -- causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty -- criticising [sic] the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.

Before proceeding, let me say I think I have no prejudice against the Southern people. They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist amongst 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. We know that some southern men do free their slaves, go north, and become tip-top abolitionists while some northern ones go south, and become most cruel slave-masters.

When southern people tell us they are no more responsible for the origin of slavery, than we I acknowledge the fact. When it is said that the institution exists and that it is very difficult to get rid of it, in any satisfactory way, I can understand and appreciate the saying. I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself. If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia, -- to their own native land. But a moment's reflection would convince me, that whatever of high hope, (as I think there is) there may be in this, in the long run, its sudden execution is impossible. If they were all landed there in a day, they would all perish in the next ten days and there are not surplus shipping and surplus money enough in the world to carry them there in many times ten days. What then? Free them all, and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite certain that this betters their condition? I think I would not hold one in slavery, at any rate yet the point is not clear enough for me to denounce people upon. What next? Free them, and make them politically and socially, our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not.

August 24, 1855

In a letter to his friend Joshua Speed, Lincoln freely expressed his hatred of slavery but he did not recommend immediate emancipation.

You know I dislike slavery and you fully admit the abstract wrong of it. So far there is no cause of difference. But you say that sooner than yield your legal right to the slave -- especially at the bidding of those who are not themselves interested, you would see the Union dissolved. I am not aware that any one is bidding you to yield that right very certainly I am not. I leave that matter entirely to yourself. I also acknowledge your rights and my obligations, under the constitution, in regard to your slaves. I confess I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down, and caught, and carried back to their stripes, and unrewarded toils but I bite my lip and keep quiet. In 1841 you and I had together a tedious low-water trip, on a Steam Boat from Louisville to St. Louis. You may remember, as I well do, that from Louisville to the mouth of the Ohio there were, on board, ten or a dozen slaves, shackled together with irons. That sight was a continual torment to me and I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio, or any other slave-border. It is hardly fair to you to assume, that I have no interest in a thing which has, and continually exercises, the power of making me miserable. You ought rather to appreciate how much the great body of the Northern people do crucify their feelings, in order to maintain their loyalty to the constitution and the Union.

I do oppose the extension of slavery, because my judgment and feelings so prompt me and I am under no obligation to the contrary.

July 10, 1858: Speech at Chicago, Illinois

In this speech at Chicago, Lincoln reiterated his hatred of slavery and also his belief that it should not be touched where it then existed.

I have always hated slavery, I think as much as any Abolitionist. I have been an Old Line Whig. I have always hated it, but I have always been quiet about it until this new era of the introduction of the Nebraska Bill began. I always believed that everybody was against it, and that it was in course of ultimate extinction.

I have said a hundred times, and I have now no inclination to take it back, that I believe there is no right, and ought to be no inclination in the people of the free States to enter into the slave States, and interfere with the question of slavery at all.

August 1, 1858[?: Definition of Democracy

This is perhaps Lincoln's most succinct description of his beliefs on democracy and slavery.

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.

October 7, 1858: Fifth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas, Galesburg, Illinois

In 1858, the Republican Party sought to unseat one of the nation's most powerful United States Senators, Stephen Douglas. To oppose him, they nominated Abraham Lincoln. The resulting Lincoln-Douglas debates gave each candidate ample opportunity to publicly express his opinions on slavery. During the fifth debate, Lincoln claimed that slavery ran counter to American democratic principles because the Declaration of Independence's phrase - "all men are created equal" applied to African-Americans.

Judge Douglas, and whoever like him teaches that the negro has no share, humble though it may be, in the Declaration of Independence, is going back to the era of our liberty and independence, and so far as in him lies, muzzling the cannon that thunders its annual joyous return that he is blowing out the moral lights around us when he contends that whoever wants slaves has a right to hold them that he is penetrating, so far as lies in his power, the human soul, and eradicating the light of reason and the love of liberty, when he is in every possible way preparing the public mind, by his vast influence, for making the institution of slavery perpetual and national.

October 13, 1858: Sixth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas, Quincy, Illinois

In the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Douglas maintained that the Founding Fathers established this nation half-slave and half-free in the belief that it would always be so. Lincoln argued that the Founding Fathers considered slavery wrong, and firmly expected it to die a natural death.

I wish to return Judge Douglas my profound thanks for his public annunciation here to-day, to be put on record, that his system of policy in regard to the institution of slavery contemplates that it shall last forever. We are getting a little nearer the true issue of this controversy, and I am profoundly grateful for this one sentence. Judge Douglas asks you "why cannot the institution of slavery, or rather, why cannot the nation, part slave and part free, continue as our fathers made it forever?" In the first place, I insist that our fathers did not make this nation half slave and half free, or part slave and part free. I insist that they found the institution of slavery existing here. They did not make it so, but they left it so because they knew of no way to get rid of it at that time. When Judge Douglas undertakes to say that as a matter of choice the fathers of the government made this nation part slave and part free, he assumes what is historically a falsehood. More than that when the fathers of the government cut off the source of slavery by the abolition of the slave trade, and adopted a system of restricting it from the new Territories where it had not existed, I maintain that they placed it where they understood, and all sensible men understood, it was in the course of ultimate extinction and when Judge Douglas asks me why it cannot continue as our fathers made it, I ask him why he and his friends could not let it remain as our fathers made it?

October 15, 1858: Seventh and Last Debate with Stephen A. Douglas, Alton, Illinois

To some Americans, the phrase "all men are created equal" applied only to some. To Lincoln, it applied to all.

And when this new principle [that African Americans were not covered by the phrase "all men are created equal"] -- this new proposition that no human being ever thought of three years ago, -- is brought forward, I combat it as having an evil tendency, if not an evil design I combat it as having a tendency to dehumanize the negro -- to take away from him the right of ever striving to be a man. I combat it as being one of the thousand things constantly done in these days to prepare the public mind to make property, and nothing but property of the negro in all the States of the Union.

. I have never sought to apply these principles to the old States for the purpose of abolishing slavery in those States. It is nothing but a miserable perversion of what I have said, to assume that I have declared Missouri, or any other slave State shall emancipate her slaves. I have proposed no such thing.

October 15, 1858: Seventh and Last Debate with Stephen A. Douglas, Alton, Illinois

In the final Lincoln-Douglas debate, Lincoln claimed that the issues over which the two candidates had sparred, were not just issues of his time, rather, Lincoln believed that these debates were small battles in the larger war between individual rights and the divine right of kings.

That is the real issue. That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles -- right and wrong -- throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, "You work and toil and earn bread, and I'll eat it." No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.

October 18, 1858: Letter to James N. Brown

Some feared that Lincoln was recommending social and political equality between the races. Writing to James N. Brown, Lincoln discounted this belief although seven years later, he would embrace this hope in the last speech of his life.

I do not perceive how I can express myself, more plainly, than I have done in the foregoing extracts. In four of them I have expressly disclaimed all intention to bring about social and political equality between the white and black races, and, in all the rest, I have done the same thing by clear implication.

I have made it equally plain that I think the negro is included in the word "men" used in the Declaration of Independence.

I believe the declara[tion] that "all men are created equal" is the great fundamental principle upon which our free institutions rest that negro slavery is violative of that principle but that, by our frame of government, that principle has not been made one of legal obligation that by our frame of government, the States which have slavery are to retain it, or surrender it at their own pleasure and that all others -- individuals, free-states and national government -- are constitutionally bound to leave them alone about it.

I believe our government was thus framed because of the necessity springing from the actual presence of slavery, when it was framed.

That such necessity does not exist in the teritories[sic], where slavery is not present.

. It does not follow that social and political equality between whites and blacks, must be incorporated, because slavery must not.

March 1, 1859: Speech at Chicago, Illinois

I do not wish to be misunderstood upon this subject of slavery in this country. I suppose it may long exist, and perhaps the best way for it to come to an end peaceably is for it to exist for a length of time. But I say that the spread and strengthening and perpetuation of it is an entirely different proposition. There we should in every way resist it as a wrong, treating it as a wrong, with the fixed idea that it must and will come to an end.

April 6, 1859: Letter to Henry L. Pierce

This is a world of compensations and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves and, under a just God, can not long retain it.

September 17, 1859: Speech at Cincinnati, Ohio

I think Slavery is wrong, morally, and politically. I desire that it should be no further spread in these United States, and I should not object if it should gradually terminate in the whole Union.

I say that we must not interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists, because the constitution forbids it, and the general welfare does not require us to do so.

We must prevent the revival of the African slave trade and the enacting by Congress of a territorial slave code.

September 17, 1859: Fragment on Free Labor

We know, Southern men declare that their slaves are better off than hired laborers amongst us. How little they know, whereof they speak! There is no permanent class of hired laborers amongst us.

Free labor has the inspiration of hope pure slavery has no hope. The power of hope upon human exertion, and happiness, is wonderful. The slave-master himself has a conception of it and hence the system of tasks among slaves. The slave whom you can not drive with the lash to break seventy-five pounds of hemp in a day, if you will task him to break a hundred, and promise him pay for all he does over, he will break you a hundred and fifty. You have substituted hope, for the rod.

February 1, 1861: Letter To William H. Seward

I say now, however, as I have all the while said, that on the territorial question -- that is, the question of extending slavery under the national auspices, -- I am inflexible. I am for no compromise which assists or permits the extension of the institution on soil owned by the nation. And any trick by which the nation is to acquire territory, and then allow some local authority to spread slavery over it, is as obnoxious as any other.

April 11, 1865: Last Public Address

In Lincoln's last public address, he recommended extending the right to vote to the African Americans who had fought for the Union. This expressed his belief that African Americans should be granted full political equality.

It is also unsatisfactory to some that the elective franchise is not given to the colored man. I would myself prefer that it were now conferred on the very intelligent, and on those who serve our cause as soldiers.

Lincoln Memorial Inscriptions

The inscription glows behind the statue at night. NPSPhoto

Directly behind the statue of Abraham Lincoln inside the memorial chamber an inscription reads:

The Speeches
In addition to the inscription behind the Lincoln statue, two of Lincolns most famous speeches are inscribed on the north and south walls of the Lincoln Memorial.

Ranger Reflections: The Gettysburg Address

Listen to a brief reflection on the famous speech by Park Ranger Michael Kelly.

The Gettysburg Address

The address delivered by President Abraham Lincoln at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery, Gettysburg, Pa. on November 19, 1863. This recording was narrated by Lincoln actor Jim Getty.

Lincoln's March 4, 1865 Second Inaugural Address was selected for the north chamber of the memorial. This speech, delivered just one month before the conclusion of the Civil War, creates the policy for reuniting the divided states. The reelected president firmly believed that the northern states should welcome their southern sisters and brothers back into the Union with open arms. But the feeling among many northerners at the end of the Civil War was anger toward the South for having left the Union. Lincoln's willingness to show compassion to the southern people, "…with malice towards none charity for all," helped quell the hostility among northerners.

Ranger Reflections: The Second Inaugural Address

Listen to a brief reflection on Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address and be reminded of how Lincoln concludes the address by asking the people of the Union to put aside their bitterness and to be compassionate in order that the nation might heal and have lasting peace.

The Second Inaugural

On March 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln took his second oath of office as president of the United States. The address he gave on the occasion is engraved on the north wall of the Lincoln Memorial. The version is recorded by Lincoln actor Jim Getty.

Lincoln’s Farewell Address

On a rainy February morning in 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln gave his last speech in Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln arrived at the Great Western Railroad Depot in the early morning for his departure to Washington D.C. There he shook hands with those waiting inside. Shortly before 8:00 AM, he walked through a crowd out to his train car and addressed them for the last time. His speech was impromptu and rather short, but thoroughly expressed his sadness at having to leave the people of Springfield. The speech reads as such:

“My friends, no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.”[1]

In his speech, Lincoln recognized the difficulties he would face while in office, and reflected on the turbulent state of the country at the time. He was aware that he may not ever make it back to Springfield because of the controversy surrounding his election. Indeed, this was the last time Abraham Lincoln would be in Springfield alive. The whole event only took about 30 minutes and his speech came to be known as “Lincoln’s Farewell Address.”

Once he departed, Lincoln was asked to put his speech into writing. After writing the first few lines with a shaky hand, he passed the task over to his personal secretary, John Nicolay. Today, the Depot stands restored as a museum for the public.


[1] Lincoln, Abraham. Lincoln’s Farewell Address. Champaign, Ill: Project Gutenberg, undated. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed January 19, 2018).


Lincoln's Lost Speech was given at the since demolished building at the corner of East and Front Streets in downtown Bloomington, Illinois, known as Major's Hall on May 29, 1856. [1] Lincoln gave the speech at the Anti-Nebraska Bloomington Convention that culminated with the founding of the state Republican Party. [1]

There are no known transcripts or written accounts of the Lost Speech, other than a brief summary in the local press. Eyewitnesses have offered snippets of some of Lincoln's content that day. William Herndon asserted that some of Lincoln's House Divided Speech was not based on new concepts at the time of its delivery. He wrote that Lincoln's "house divided against itself cannot stand" originated with the famous Bloomington speech of 1856. [2] Editor of the Chicago Tribune Joseph Medill claimed that Chicago lawyer Henry Clay Whitney's transcript of the speech was accurate Whitney's version was later debunked. [3] [4]

It is thought that the speech was a strongly worded derision of slavery. [5] [ unreliable source? ] It is known that Lincoln's condemnation of the expansion of slavery was strong. [6]

The traditional reason given for the lack of any written recollection of the Lost Speech is that Lincoln's skilled and powerful oration had mesmerized every person in attendance. Reporters were said to have laid down their pencils and neglected note taking, as if hypnotized by Lincoln's words. When the speech ended no notes existed, so media reports of the day simply recorded the fact that the speech had been delivered. [4]

There is evidence in Herndon's recollections that the fact that the speech was "lost" may not have been an accident. So strongly worded was Lincoln's oration [7] that others in attendance feared the words might lead to a crumbling of the Union and that Lincoln consented to suspending "its repetition" for the duration of the 1856 campaign. [2]

In 1896, Chicago attorney Henry Clay Whitney published his account of the speech in an issue of McClure's Magazine. [8] [9] Whitney claimed he had taken notes during the speech and based his version of the speech upon those notes. [9] Initially, Whitney's version was given some credibility. Ida Tarbell sought out Joseph Medill, who was present at the Lost Speech, and he claimed that Whitney's version displayed "remarkable accuracy". [3]

Tarbell was unwittingly carried away by the story, but others were skeptical. Former Lincoln private secretary John George Nicolay declared Whitney's version devoid of Lincoln's style and a fraud. [4] Robert Lincoln, Abraham's son, agreed with Nicolay's assessment. [4] In 1900, the McLean County Historical Society [10] declared their skepticism. [11] In modern times, Lincoln researcher and Director of the Chicago Historical Society Paul M. Angle exposed Whitney's version of the speech and his claims of its validity as a "fabrication". [4]

Lincoln's Lost Speech was famous, with a status considered legendary by the time Tarbell became enamored with Whitney's version of it. [4] [ when? ] Lincoln was said to have spoken "like a giant inspired" and the tale of how the speech came to be lost was well known. [4] Many who attended the speech considered it the greatest of Lincoln's life. [12] Given at the first state convention, which essentially founded the Illinois Republican Party, the speech thrust Lincoln into the national political limelight. [6] [12]

Evidence for The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln

The Emancipation Proclamation. This document's reach was more narrow than it is generally remembered today. (National Archives)

Lincoln the "Rail Splitter." A story book image of Abraham Lincoln was created to promote his humble origins. (Library of Congress)

“T he illustrious Honest Old Abe has continued during the last week to make a fool of himself and to mortify and shame the intelligent people of this great nation. His speeches have demonstrated the fact that although originally a Herculean rail splitter and more lately a whimsical story teller and side splitter, he is no more capable of becoming a statesman, nay, even a moderate one, than the braying ass can become a noble lion. People now marvel how it came to pass that Mr. Lincoln should have been selected as the representative man of any party. His weak, wishy-washy, namby-pamby efforts, imbecile in matter, disgusting in manner, have made us the laughing stock of the whole world. The European powers will despise us because we have no better material out of which to make a President. The truth is, Lincoln is only a moderate lawyer and in the larger cities of the Union could pass for no more than a facetious pettifogger. Take him from his vocation and he loses even these small characteristics and indulges in simple twaddle which would disgrace a well bred school boy.”

Written as Abraham Lincoln approached Washington by train for his 1861 presidential inauguration, this tirade was not the rant of a fire-eating secessionist editor in Richmond or New Orleans. It was the declaration of the Salem Advocate, a newspaper printed in Lincoln's home ground of central Illinois. The Advocate had plenty of company among Northern opinion makers. The editor of Massachusetts's influential Springfield Republican, Samuel Bowles, despaired in a letter to a friend the same week, "Lincoln is a 'simple Susan.'"

The most esteemed orator in America, Edward Everett, wrote in his diary: "He is evidently a person of very inferior cast of character, wholly unequal to the crisis." From Washington, Congressman Charles Francis Adams wrote, "His speeches have fallen like a wet blanket here. They put to flight all notions of greatness." Then, at the end of his journey a few days later, Lincoln was forced to sneak into the capital on a secret midnight train to avoid assassination, disguised in a soft felt hat, a muffler and a short bobtailed coat.

Flag from 1860 election. (Library of Congress)

After Lincoln's unseemly arrival, the contempt in the nation's reaction was so widespread, so vicious and so personal that it marks this episode as the historic low point of presidential prestige in the United States. Even the Northern press winced at the president's undignified start. Vanity Fair observed, "By the advice of weak men, who should straddle through life in petticoats instead of disgracing such manly garments as pantaloons and coats, the President-elect disguises himself after the manner of heroes in two-shilling novels, and rides secretly, in the deep night, from Harrisburg to Washington." The Brooklyn Eagle, in a column titled "Mr. Lincoln's Flight by Moonlight Alone," suggested the president deserved "the deepest disgrace that the crushing indignation of a whole people can inflict." The New York Tribune joked darkly, "Mr. Lincoln may live a hundred years without having so good a chance to die."

Known almost exclusively by his got-up nickname "The Railsplitter," Lincoln had won the 1860 election in November with 39.8 percent of the popular vote. This absurdly low total was partly due to the fact that four candidates were on the ballot, but it remains the poorest showing by any winning presidential candidate in American history. In fact, Lincoln received a smaller percentage of the popular vote than nearly all the losers of two-party presidential elections. Immediately, however, even this scant total dropped in the panic of the Secession Winter, as seven Southern states left the Union and worried Northerners repented their votes for the Illinoisan.

At the time he was sworn in, Lincoln's "approval rating" can be estimated by examining wintertime Republican losses in local elections in Brooklyn, Cincinnati, Cleveland and St. Louis, and state elections in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island by the observations of Henry Adams (of the presidential Adamses) that "not a third of the House" supported him and by the published reckoning of the New York Herald that only 1 million of the 4.7 million who voted in November were still with him. All these indications put his support in the nation at about 25 percent — roughly equivalent to the lowest approval ratings recorded by modern-day polling.

How could a man elected president in November be so reviled in February? The insults heaped on Lincoln after his arrival in Washington were not the result of anything he himself had done or left undone. He was a man without a history, a man almost no one knew. Because he was a blank slate, Americans, at the climax of a national crisis 30 years in coming, projected onto him everything they saw wrong with the country. To the opinion makers in the cities of the East, he was a weakling, inadequate to the needs of the democracy. To the hostile masses in the South, he was an interloper, a Caesar who represented a deadly threat to the young republic. To millions on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, he was not a statesman but merely a standard bearer for a vast, corrupt political system.

Lincoln had never administered anything larger than a two-person law office, and historians have often excused his mismanagement of the war effort during his first eighteen months in office as a period of growing into his job. It was the Emancipation Proclamation in September of 1862, according to the modern view, that signals the disappearance of the novice Railsplitter and marks the emergence of the ultimate statesman — the Great Emancipator.

This, however, was not the view at the time. The Chicago Times, for example, branded the Emancipation Proclamation "a monstrous usurpation, a criminal wrong, and an act of national suicide." An editorial in Columbus, Ohio's The Crisis asked, "Is not this a Death Blow to the Hope of Union?" and declared, "We have no doubt that this Proclamation seals the fate of this Union as it was and the Constitution as it is.… The time is brief when we shall have a DICTATOR PROCLAIMED, for the Proclamation can never be carried out except under the iron rule of the worst kind of despotism."

Lincoln Chased Out of the White House by Liberty Wielding the Head of a Slave. Newspapers Continued to lambast Lincoln throughout the war. (Library of Congress)

While the Northern press howled, angry letters piled up on Lincoln's desk and spilled onto the floor. William O. Stoddard, the secretary in charge of reading Lincoln's mail, wrote: "[Dictator] is what the Opposition press and orators of all sizes are calling him. Witness, also, the litter on the floor and the heaped-up wastebaskets. There is no telling how many editors and how many other penmen within these past few days have undertaken to assure him that this is a war for the Union only, and that they never gave him any authority to run it as an Abolition war. They never, never told him that he might set the negroes free, and, now that he has done so, or futilely pretended to do so, he is a more unconstitutional tyrant and a more odious dictator than ever he was before. They tell him, however, that his …. venomous blow at the sacred liberty of white men to own black men is mere brutum fulmen [empty threat], and a dead letter and a poison which will not work. They tell him many other things, and, among them, they tell him that the army will fight no more, and that the hosts of the Union will indignantly disband rather than be sacrificed upon the bloody altar of fanatical Abolitionism."

Indeed, there were enough angry letters home from soldiers to give color to the rumors of military revolt hinted at by Stoddard. A New York Herald correspondent attached to the Army of the Potomac felt its temper and feared for the Republic:

"The army is dissatisfied and the air is thick with revolution. God knows what will be the consequence, but at present matters look dark indeed, and there is large promise of a fearful revolution which will sweep before it not only the administration but popular government."

Less than two months later, in the midterm election of 1862, Northerners handed down their judgment on the Emancipator. It was a condemnation, a thumping Republican defeat — what the New York Times called "a vote of want of confidence" in Abraham Lincoln. The middle states that had swept the Railsplitter into the presidency in 1860 — Illinois, Indiana, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania — had now deserted him. All of them sent new Democratic majorities to Congress. To them was added New Jersey, which was a Republican donnybrook. In all, the number of Democrats in the House almost doubled, from 44 to 75, cutting the Republican majority from 70 percent to 55 percent. Heartsick at the Republicans' ruin, Alexander McClure of Pennsylvania wrote, "I could not conceive it possible for Lincoln to successfully administer the government and prosecute the war with the six most important loyal States declaring against him at the polls."

The Emancipation Proclamation. This document's reach was more narrow than it is generally remembered today. (National Archives)

When the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863, Lincoln was pilloried again in the Northern press, and desertions by disgusted soldiers climbed into the thousands. Seeing no slaves freed, even abolitionists were soured by the Proclamation's impotence. As the cold, hard rains of winter announced the approach of the third year of the war's unimaginable sorrow, Lincoln was isolated and alone. Congressman A. G. Riddle of Ohio wrote that, in late February, the "criticism, reflection, reproach, and condemnation" of Lincoln in Congress was so complete that there were only two men in the House who defended him: Isaac Arnold of Illinois and Riddle himself. Author and lawyer Richard Henry Dana, after a visit to Washington in February 1863, reported to Charles Francis Adams:

"As to the politics of Washington, the most striking thing is the absence of personal loyalty to the President. It does not exist. He has no admirers, no enthusiastic supporters, none to bet on his head. If a Republican convention were to be held to-morrow, he would not get the vote of a State."

Suddenly, warnings were everywhere that, just as Lincoln's election had sparked the secession of the South out of fear that he would abolish slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation would spark the secession of the Old Northwest — the states of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio — now that the fear had been made real. Army recruitment came to a halt in those states. In response, Congress rushed through the Draft Law, the first federal conscription act in the history of the nation. To many, the appearance of United States enrollers going from house to house was visible proof that the tentacles of Lincoln's government were curling around every American.

The popular revolt, when it reached its violent culmination, came not in the Northwest but in the nation's largest metropolis. In July 1863, in the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Draft Law, riots broke out in New York City, a conflagration that, aside from the Civil War itself, was the largest insurgency in American history. Meade's victory over Lee at Gettysburg and Grant's capture of Vicksburg in the summer of 1863 stopped the erosion of Lincoln's popular support that had climaxed with the riots, but Northerners maintained a wait-and-see attitude until the spring campaigns of 1864. When spring came, the horrible carnage of Grant's Overland Campaign in the wildernesses of Virginia sent Lincoln's popularity again into eclipse.

Campaign Medal, Election 1860. Division in the Democratic ranks helped win Lincoln the White House. (Library of Congress)

Lincoln secured his renomination at the party convention in early June 1864, but there was no enthusiasm for him he won by using the spoils system practice of stacking the party convention with appointees — delegates who owed their jobs to him. Attorney General Edward Bates noted in his diary, "The Baltimore Convention … has surprised and mortified me greatly. It did indeed nominate Mr. Lincoln, but … as if the object were to defeat their own nomination. They were all (nearly) instructed to vote for Mr. Lincoln, but many of them hated to do it …." The Chicago Times sneered that Lincoln could lay his hand on the shoulder of any one of the "wire-pullers and bottle-washers" in the convention hall and say, "This man is the creature of my will." James Gordon Bennett, in the columns of the New York Herald, declared, "The politicians have again chosen this Presidential pigmy as their nominee."

Things got worse over the election summer. There was the embarrassment of the near-capture of Washington in July 1864 by a rebel detachment under Lt. Gen. Jubal Early. The price of gold soared as speculators betted against a Union victory. Seeing Lincoln wounded, the Radical Republicans went in for the kill — on August 5, the New York Tribune devoted two columns to a sensational Radical declaration, known as the Wade-Davis Manifesto, that charged their own nominee with "grave Executive usurpation" and "a studied outrage on the legislative authority." It was the fiercest, most public challenge to Lincoln's — or, for that matter, any president's — authority ever issued by members of his own party. With the appearance of this surely fatal blow, everyone considered Lincoln a beaten man, including the president himself. The Democratic New York World savored the spectacle of the Lincoln's demise, reprinting an editorial from the Richmond Examiner: "The fact … begins to shine out clear," it announced, "that Abraham Lincoln is lost that he will never be President again.… The obscene ape of Illinois is about to be deposed from the Washington purple, and the White House will echo to his little jokes no more."

Campaign Medal, Election 1864. Four years in office had visibly aged Lincoln. (Library of Congress)

In late August, however, the Democrats nominated George McClellan on a platform that declared, "The War Is a Failure. Peace Now!" Suddenly, as bad as Lincoln may have seemed for many Republicans, he could never be as bad as McClellan. The general who battled the Republicans more fiercely than he ever had the rebels now peddled peace at any price. And then, on September 3, only three days after the Chicago convention adjourned, a second, even more amazing deliverance arrived at the White House in the form of a telegram from Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman in Georgia: "Atlanta is ours and fairly won."

Its six simple words translated a military victory in Georgia into a political miracle unequalled in American history. Senator Zachary Chandler called it "the most extraordinary change in publick opinion here that ever was known within a week." Lincoln's friend A.K. McClure sketched the election year in a stroke when he wrote, "There was no time between January of 1864 and September 3 of the same year when McClellan would not have defeated Lincoln for President." On September 4, the tide was, incredibly, reversed. The providential fall of Atlanta was followed by more Union victories in the Shenandoah Valley during September and October, and Republicans unified around Lincoln in time to win a huge electoral triumph in November: 212 electoral votes to 21.

The popular vote for Lincoln, however, was disappointing. After four years in the presidency, even in the spread-eagle patriotism of a civil war, Lincoln had only barely improved his popular showing in the North, from the 54 percent who voted for the unknown Railsplitter in 1860 to the 55 percent who voted for the Great Emancipator in 1864, when the war was almost won. In nine states — Connecticut, Maine, Michigan,

Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Vermont — his percentage of the vote actually went down. Lincoln lost in all the big cities, including a trouncing of 78,746 to 36,673 in New York. In the key states of New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, with their 80 electoral votes, only one half a percentage point separated Lincoln and McClellan. A shift of 38,111 votes in a few selected states, less than 1 percent of the popular vote, would have elected McClellan.

Martyred Lincoln. Alfred Waud sketched the president lying in state. (Library of Congress)

After Sherman's capture of Atlanta, a New York Republican had predicted, "No man was ever elected to an important office who will get so many unwilling and indifferent votes as L[incoln]. The cause takes the man along." Even after his reelection, plenty of Republicans were skeptical of Lincoln's contribution to the victory. According to Ohio Rep. Lewis D. Campbell, "Nothing but the undying attachment of our people to the Union has saved us from terrible disaster. Mr. Lincoln's popularity had nothing to do with it." Rep. Henry Winter Davis insisted that people had voted for Lincoln only "to keep out worse people — keeping their hands on the pit of the stomach the while!" He called Lincoln's reelection "the subordination of disgust to the necessities of a crisis." Of the seven presidential elections he had participated in, said Rep. George Julian, "I remember none in which the element of personal enthusiasm had a smaller share."

And now hatred of Lincoln developed a new, deadlier character, as dissenting Northerners and ground-under-heel Southerners woke to the awful dawn of four more years of Lincoln's "abuses." This short period culminated in Lincoln's assassination on April 14, 1865. It was only with his death that Lincoln's popularity soared. Lincoln was slain on Good Friday, and pastors who had for four years criticized Lincoln from their pulpits rewrote their Easter Sunday sermons to remember him as an American Moses who brought his people out of slavery but was not allowed to cross over into the Promised Land. Secretary of War Stanton arranged a funeral procession for Lincoln's body on a continental scale, with the slain president now a Republican martyr to freedom, traversing in reverse his train journey from Springfield to the nation's capital four years earlier. Seeing Lincoln's body in his casket, with soldiers in blue standing guard, hundreds of thousands of Northerners forgot their earlier distrust and took away instead an indelible sentimental image of patriotic sacrifice, one that cemented the dominance of the Republican Party for the rest of their lives and their children's.

Last Public Address - Abe Lincoln

We meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart. The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, and the surrender of the principal insurgent army, give hope of a righteous and speedy peace whose joyous expression can not be restrained. In the midst of this, however, He, from Whom all blessings flow, must not be forgotten. A call for a national thanksgiving is being prepared, and will be duly promulgated. Nor must those whose harder part gives us the cause of rejoicing, be overlooked. Their honors must not be parcelled out with others. I myself, was near the front, and had the high pleasure of transmitting much of the good news to you but no part of the honor, for plan or execution, is mine. To Gen. Grant, his skillful officers, and brave men, all belongs. The gallant Navy stood ready, but was not in reach to take active part.

By these recent successes the re-inauguration of the national authority--reconstruction--which has had a large share of thought from the first, is pressed much more closely upon our attention. It is fraught with great difficulty. Unlike the case of a war between independent nations, there is no authorized organ for us to treat with. No one man has authority to give up the rebellion for any other man. We simply must begin with, and mould from, disorganized and discordant elements. Nor is it a small additional embarrassment that we, the loyal people, differ among ourselves as to the mode, manner, and means of reconstruction.

As a general rule, I abstain from reading the reports of attacks upon myself, wishing not to be provoked by that to which I can not properly offer an answer. In spite of this precaution, however, it comes to my knowledge that I am much censured for supposed agency in setting up, and seeking to sustain, the new State Government of Louisiana. In this I have done just so much as, and no more than, the public knows. In the Annual Message of Dec. 1863 and accompanying Proclamation, I presented a plan of rec-construction (as the phrase goes) which, I promised, if adopted by any State, should be acceptable to, and sustained by, the Executive government of the nation. I distinctly stated that this was not only the plan which might possible be acceptable and I also distinctly protested that the Executive claimed no right to say when, or whether members should be admitted to seats in Congress from such States. This plan was, in advance, submitted to the then Cabinet, and distinctly approved by every member of it. One of them suggested that I should then, and in that connection, apply the Emancipation Proclamation to the theretofore excepted parts of Virginia and Louisiana that I should drop the suggestion about apprenticeship for free-people, and I should omit the protest against my own power, in regard to the admission of members to Congress but even he approved every part and parcel of the plan which has since been employed or touched by the action of Louisiana. The new constitution of Louisiana, declaring emancipation for the whole State, practically applies the Proclamation to the part previously excepted. It does not adopt apprenticeship for freed-people and it is silent, as it could not well be otherwise, about the admission of members to Congress., So that, as it applies to Louisiana, every member of the Cabinet fully approved the plan. The Message went to Congress, and I received many commendations of the plan, written and verbal and not a single objection to it, from any professed emancipationist, came to my knowledge until after the news reached Washington that the people of Louisiana had begun to move in accordance with it. From July 1862, I had corresponded with different persons, supposed to be interested, seeking a reconstruction of a State government for Louisiana. When the Message of 1863, with the plan before mentioned, reached New-Orleans, Gen. Banks wrote me that he was confident the people, with his military co-operation, would reconstruct, substantially on that plan. I write him, and some of them to try it they tried it, and the result is known. Such only has been my agency in getting up the Louisiana government. As to sustaining it, my promise is out, as before stated. But, as bad promises are better broken than kept, I shall treat this as a bad promise, and break it, whenever I shall be convinced that keeping it is adverse to the public interest. But I have not yet been so convinced.

I have been shown a letter on this subject, supposed to be an able one, in which the writer expresses regret that my mind has not seemed to be definitely fixed on the question whether the seceded States, so called, are in the Union or out of it. It would perhaps, add astonishment to his regret, were he to learn that since I have found professed Union men endeavoring to make that question, I have purposely forborne any public expression upon it. As appears to me that question has not been, nor yet is, a practically material one, and that any discussion of it, while it thus remains practically immaterial, could have no effect other than the mischievous one of dividing our friends. As yet, whatever it may hereafter become, that question is bad, as the basis of a controversy, and good for nothing at all--a merely pernicious abstraction.

We all agree that the seceded States, so called, are out of their proper practical relation with the Union and that the sole object of the government, civil and military, in regard to those States, is to again get them into that proper practical relation. I believe it is not only possible, but in fact, easier, to do this, without deciding, or even considering, whether these states have even been out of the Union, that with it. Finding themselves safely at home, it would be utterly immaterial whether they had ever been abroad. Let us all join in doing the acts necessary to restoring the proper practical relations between these states and the Union and each forever after, innocently indulge his own opinion whether, in doing the acts, he brought the States from without, into the Union, or only gave them proper assistance, they never having been out of it.

The amount of constituency, so to to [sic] speak, on which the new Louisiana government rests, would be more satisfactory to all, if it contained fifty, thirty, or even twenty thousand, instead of only about twelve thousand, as it does. It is also unsatisfactory to some that the elective franchise is not given to the colored man. I would myself prefer that is were now conferred on the very intelligent, and on those who serve our cause as soldiers. Still the question is not whether the Louisiana government, as it stands, is quite all that is desirable. The question is "Will it be wiser to take it as it is, and help to improve it or to reject, and disperse it?" "Can Louisiana be brought into proper practical relation with the Union sooner by sustaining, or by discarding her new State Government?"

Some twelve thousand voters in the heretofore slave-state of Louisiana have sworn allegiance to the Union, assumed to be the rightful political power of the State, held elections, organized a State government, adopted a free-state constitution, giving the benefit of public schools equally to black and white, and empowering the Legislature to confer the elective franchise upon the colored man. Their Legislature has already voted to ratify the constitutional amendment recently passed by Congress, abolishing slavery throughout the nation. These twelve thousand persons are thus fully committed to the Union, and to perpetual freedom in the state--committed to the very things, and nearly all the things the nation wants--and they ask the nations recognition, and it's assistance to make good their committal. Now, if we reject, and spurn them, we do our utmost to disorganize and disperse them. We in effect say to the white men "You are worthless, or worse--we will neither help you, nor be helped by you." To the blacks we say "This cup of liberty which these, your old masters, hold to your lips, we will dash from you, and leave you to the chances of gathering the spilled and scattered contents in some vague and undefined when, where, and how." If this course, discouraging and paralyzing both white and black, has any tendency to bring Louisiana into proper practical relations with the Union, I have so far, been unable to perceive it. If, on the contrary, we recognize, and sustain the new government of Louisiana the converse of all this is made true. We encourage the hearts, and nerve the arms of the twelve thousand to adhere to their work, and argue for it, and proselyte for it, and fight for it, and feed it, and grow it, and ripen it to a complete success. The colored man too, in seeing all united for him, is inspired with vigilance, and energy, and daring, to the same end. Grant that he desires the elective franchise, will he not attain it sooner by saving the already advanced steps toward it, than by running backward over them? Concede that the new government of Louisiana is only to what it should be as the egg is to the fowl, we shall sooner have the fowl by hatching the egg than by smashing it? Again, if we reject Louisiana, we also reject one vote in favor of the proposed amendment to the national constitution. To meet this proposition, it has been argued that no more than three fourths of those States which have not attempted secession are necessary to validly ratify the amendment. I do not commit myself against this, further than to say that such a ratification would be questionable, and sure to be persistently questioned while a ratification by three fourths of all the States would be unquestioned and unquestionable.

I repeat the question. "Can Louisiana be brought into proper practical relation with the Union sooner by sustaining or by discarding her new State Government?

What has been said of Louisiana will apply generally to other States. And yet so great peculiarities pertain to each state and such important and sudden changes occur in the same state and, withal, so new and unprecedented is the whole case, that no exclusive, and inflexible plan can safely be prescribed as to details and collaterals. Such exclusive, and inflexible plan, would surely become a new entanglement. Important principles may, and must be inflexible.

In the present "situation" as the phrase goes, it may be my duty to make some new announcement to the people of the South. I am considering, and shall not fail to act, when satisfied that action will be proper.

Candidate Lincoln

Lincoln was an unlikely presidential candidate. Although he had served four terms in the Illinois House of Representatives, his experience in national politics was limited to one term in Congress (1846-1848) and two unsuccessful bids for a seat in the U.S. Senate (1854 and 1858).

Many were surprised when the dark horse candidate came from behind to win the Republican nomination away from several better known front-runners. Yet Lincoln went on to win the general election on November 6, 1860, in a nation bitterly divided along sectional lines. His name did not even appear on the ballot in nine Southern states.

Four years later, in the months leading up the 1864 presidential election, it was widely believed that Lincoln would be a one-term president. The public was exhausted by more than three years of war, and vocal contingents of both the Democratic and Republican parties were promoting the idea of a negotiated peace with the Confederacy, especially in the face of Union army defeats during the spring and summer. It was only after the successful conclusion of General William T. Sherman&rsquos Atlanta campaign, and gains made by General Grant&rsquos army in September, that public sentiment began to turn in Lincoln&rsquos favor. Lincoln won election again, this time by a wide popular and electoral margin.

Lincoln&rsquos oratorical skills are legendary. His mastery of language, and his rhetorical use of ridicule, logic, and humor, made him a formidable opponent in debate. This manuscript in Lincoln&rsquos hand preserves the final portion of the last speech he made during his unsuccessful Senate campaign in 1858.

Gift of Nicholas H. and Marguerite Lilly Noyes

Lincoln delivered his well-received Cooper Union speech in New York City on February 27, 1860. Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer has called this address &ldquothe speech that made Lincoln President.&rdquo

This cartoon reflects the political chaos following in the wake of Lincoln&rsquos nomination as the Republican candidate for President. Many assumed that New York Senator William Seward would win his party&rsquos nomination. Seward is shown being thrown overboard from the Republican barge by other party leaders, while he cries out, &ldquoI built this boat and I alone can save it.&rdquo Lincoln, at the rudder, declares, &ldquoI&rsquoll take the helm. I&rsquove steered a flat boat before.&rdquo

William P. Stein Memorial Endowment

Much of what we know about Lincoln&rsquos personal history comes from this campaign autobiography, published in 1860. The upper cover is labeled the &ldquoWigwam Edition&rdquo after the Wigwam Center at Chicago, the site of the Republican convention. The lithographic portrait of Lincoln on the front cover was sketched from a Mathew Brady photograph taken while Lincoln was in New York for his Cooper Union Address.

Multiple subsequent printings of Lincoln&rsquos biography appeared during the 1860 campaign, including this one, printed in Boston by Thayer & Eldridge.

Gift of Gail and Stephen Rudin

Gift of Gail and Stephen Rudin

Gift of Gail and Stephen Rudin

This political song book was sold for a dime to help rally Republican supporters around their candidate. The party faithful could belt out such timeless tunes as &ldquoHonest Abe of the West,&rdquo &ldquoHigh Old Abe Shall Win,&rdquo &ldquoShout for the Prairie King&rdquo and &ldquoWe Will Vote for Old Abe Lincoln.&rdquo The Wide Awakes was a campaign organization supporting the Republican Party during the 1860 election.

Gift of Gail and Stephen Rudin

Susan H. Douglas Collection of Political Americana

Gift of Gail and Stephen Rudin

This image is one of the only known photographs to capture Lincoln in the act of reading his second inaugural speech. John Wilkes Booth, his future assassin, was also present at the inauguration.

Lincoln speech on slavery and the American Dream, 1858

Through the 1830s and 1840s, Abraham Lincoln&rsquos primary political focus was on economic issues. However, the escalating debate over slavery in the 1850s, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act in particular, compelled Lincoln to change his emphasis.

In this manuscript, a fragment from one of Lincoln&rsquos speeches during the 1858 Illinois Senate race against Stephen Douglas, Lincoln advances the fundamental truth to which all creatures are entitled, declaring that even a slave kept in ignorance "does constantly know that he is wronged." And he uses economic logic against slavery, arguing that in freedom "the weak . . . grow stronger, the ignorant, wiser and all better, and happier together." Lincoln also says of those who strive "to prove slavery a very good thing, we never hear of the man who wishes to take the good of it, by being a slave himself."

In these twenty-seven lines, Lincoln invokes the nation&rsquos founding principles to stress the injustice of slavery, and in the course defines the American Dream, declaring, "Most governments have been based, practically, on the denial of the equal rights of men, as I have, in part, stated them ours began, by affirming those rights."

A full transcript is available.


[evi-]dent truth. Made so plain by our good Father in Heaven, that all feel and understand it, even down to brutes and creeping insects. The ant, who has toiled and dragged a crumb to his nest, will furiously defend the fruit of his labor, against whatever robber assails him. So plain, that the most dumb and stupid slave that ever toiled for a master, does constantly know that he is wronged. So plain that no one, high or low, ever does mistake it, except in a plainly selfish way for although volume upon volume is written to prove slavery a very good thing, we never hear of the man who wishes to take the good of it, by being a slave himself.

Most governments have been based, practically, on the denial of the equal rights of men, as I have, in part, stated them ours began, by affirming those rights. They said, some men are too ignorant, and vicious, to share in government. Possibly so, said we and, by your system, you would always keep them ignorant and vicious. We proposed to give all a chance and we expected the weak to grow stronger, the ignorant, wiser and all better, and happier together.

We made the experiment and the fruit is before us. Look at it. Think of it. Look at it, in its aggregate grandeur, of extent of country, and numbers of population, of ship, and steamboat, and rail-

What Lincoln Said in His Final Speech - HISTORY

Such a man the times have demanded, and such, in the providence of God was given us. But he is gone. Let us strive to deserve, as far as mortals may, the continued care of Divine Providence, trusting that, in future national emergencies, He will not fail to provide us the instruments of safety and security.
Eulogy on Henry Clay, July 6, 1852 (CWAL II:132)

Near eighty years ago we began by declaring that all men are created equal but now from that beginning we have run down to the other declaration, that for SOME men to enslave OTHERS is a "sacred right of self-government." These principles can not stand together. They are as opposite as God and mammon and whoever holds to the one, must despise the other.
Speech at Peoria, Illinois, on October 16, 1854 (CWAL II: 275)

[regarding Stephen Douglas]: He says I have a proneness for quoting scripture. If I should do so now, it occurs that perhaps he places himself somewhat upon the ground of the parable of the lost sheep which went astray upon the mountains, and when the owner of the hundred sheep found the one that was lost, and threw it upon his shoulders, and came home rejoicing, it was said that there was more rejoicing over the one sheep that was lost and had been found, than over the ninety and nine in the fold. [Great cheering, renewed cheering.] The application is made by the Saviour in this parable, thus, "Verily I say unto you, there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, than over ninety and nine just persons that need no repentence. [Cheering.] And now, if the Judge claims the benefit of his parable, let him repent. [Vociferous applause.] Let him not come up here and say: I am the only just person and you are the ninety-nine sinners! Repentence, before forgiveness is a provision of the Christian system, and on that condition alone will the Republicans grant his forgiveness. [Laughter and cheers.]
Speech at Springfield, Illinois, on July 17, 1858 (CWAL II:510)

[regarding the framers of the Declaration of Independence]: These communities, by their representatives in old Independence Hall, said to the whole world of men: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." This was their majestic interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures. [Applause.] Yes, gentlemen, to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows. They grasped not only the whole race of man then living, but they reached forward and seized upon the farthest posterity. They erected a beacon to guide their children and their children's children, and the countless myriads who should inhabit the earth in other ages. Wise statesmen as they were, they knew the tendency of prosperity to breed tyrants, and so they established these great self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man, some faction, some interest, should set up the doctrine that none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, their posterity might look up again to the Declaration of Independence and take courage to renew the battle which their fathers began -- so that truth, and justice, and mercy, and all the humane and Christian virtues might not be extinguished from the land so that no man would hereafter dare to limit and circumscribe the great principles on which the temple of liberty was being built.
Speech at Lewistown, Illinois, on August 17, 1858 (CWAL II:546)

Certainly there is no contending against the Will of God but still there is some difficulty in ascertaining, and applying it, to particular cases.
Fragment on Pro-Slavery Theology ca. October 1, 1858 (CWAL III:204)

The Bible says somewhere that we are desperately selfish. I think we would have discovered that fact without the Bible.
Debate at Alton, Illinois, on October 15, 1858 (CWAL III:310)

Judge Douglas ought to remember when he is endeavoring to force this policy upon the American people that while he is put up in that way a good many are not. He ought to remember that there was once in this country a man by the name of Thomas Jefferson, supposed to be a Democrat -- a man whose principles and policy are not very prevalent amongst Democrats to-day, it is true but that man did not take exactly this view of the insignificance of the element of slavery which our friend Judge Douglas does. In contemplation of this thing, we all know he was led to exclaim, "I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just!" We know how he looked upon it when he thus expressed himself. There was danger to this country -- danger of the avenging justice of God in that little unimportant popular sovereignty question of Judge Douglas. He supposed there was a question of God's eternal justice wrapped up in the enslaving of any race of men, or any man, and that those who did so braved the arm of Jehovah -- that when a nation thus dared the Almighty every friend of that nation had cause to dread His wrath. Choose ye between Jefferson and Douglas as to what is the true view of this element among us.
Speech at Columbus, Ohio, on September 16, 1859 (CWAL III:410)

The good old maxims of the Bible are applicable, and truly applicable to human affairs, and in this as in other things, we may say here that he who is not for us is against us he would gathereth not with us scattereth.
Speech at Cincinnati, Ohio, on September 17, 1859 (CWAL III:462)

I think that if anything can be proved by natural theology, it is that slavery is morally wrong. God gave man a mouth to receive bread, hands to feed it, and his hand has a right to carry bread to his mouth without controversy.
Speech at Hartford, Conn., on March 5, 1860 (CWAL IV: 3)

Remembering that Peter denied his Lord with an oath, after most solemnly protesting that he never would, I will not swear I will make no committals but I do think I will not.
Letter to Lyman Trumbull on June 5, 1860 (CWAL IV:71)

Trusting in Him, who can go with me, and remain with you and be every where for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.
Farewell Address on February 11, 1861 (CWAL IV:190)

I turn, then, and look to the American people and to that God who has never forsaken them.
Address to the Ohio Legislature on February 13, 1861 (CWAL IV: 204)

Partial List of Quotations During the Presidency

We must remember that the people of all the States are entitled to all the privileges and immunities of the citizen of the several States. We should bear this in mind, and act in such a way as to say nothing insulting or irritating. I would inculcate this idea, so that we may not, like Pharisees, set ourselves up to be better than other people.
Reply to a Pennsylvania Delegation on March 5, 1861 (CWAL IV:274)

And having thus chosen our course, without guile, and with pure purpose, let us renew our trust in God, and go forward without fear, and with manly hearts.
Message to Congress in Special Session on July 4, 1861 (CWAL IV:441)

The President responded very impressively, saying that he was deeply sensible of his need of Divine assistance. He had sometime thought that perhaps he might be an instrument in God's hands of accomplishing a great work and he certainly was not unwilling to be. Perhaps, however, God's way of accomplishing the end which the memorialists have in view may be different from theirs.
Remarks to a Delegation of Progressive Friends on June 20, 1862 (CWAL V:279)

The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God can not be for and against the same thing at the same time.
Meditation on the Divine Will ca. September 2, 1862 (CWAL V:403)

The subject presented in the memorial is one upon which I have thought much for weeks past, and I may even say for months. I am approached with the most opposite opinions and advice, and that by religious men, who are equally certain that they represent the Divine will. I am sure that either the one or the other class is mistaken in the belief, and perhaps in some respects both. I hope it will not be irreverent for me to say that if it is probable that God would reveal his will to others, on a point so connected with my duty, it might be supposed he would reveal it directly to me for, unless I am more deceived in myself than I often am, it is my earnest desire to know the will of Providence in this matter. And if I can learn what it is I will do it! These are not, however, the days of miracles, and I suppose it will be granted that I am not to expect a direct revelation. I must study the plain physical facts of the case, ascertain what is possible and learn what appears to be wise and right. The subject is difficult, and good men do not agree.
Reply to Chicago Christians on September 13, 1862 (CWAL V:420)

I am glad of this interview, and glad to know that I have your sympathy and prayers. We are indeed going through a great trial -- a fiery trial. In the very responsible position in which I happen to be placed, being a humble instrument in the hands of our Heavenly Father, as I am, and as we all are, to work out his great purposes, I have desired that all my works and acts may be according to his will, and that it might be so, I have sought his aid -- but if after endeavoring to do my best in the light which he affords me, I find my efforts fail, I must believe that for some purpose unknown to me, He wills it otherwise. If I had had my way, this war would never have been commenced If I had been allowed my way this war would have been ended before this, but we find it still continues and we must believe that He permits it for some wise purpose of his own, mysterious and unknown to us and though with our limited understandings we may not be able to comprehend it, yet we cannot but believe, that he who made the world still governs it.
Reply to Eliza Gurney on October 26, 1862 (CWAL V:478)

And while it has not pleased the Almighty to bless us with a return of peace, we can but press on, guided by the best light He gives, trusting that in His own good time, and wise way, all will yet be well.
Annual Message to Congress on December 1, 1862 (CWAL V:518)

But I must add that the U.S. government must not, as by this order, undertake to run the churches. When an individual, in a church or out of it, becomes dangerous to the public interest, he must be checked but let the churches, as such take care of themselves. It will not do for the U.S. to appoint Trustees, Supervisors, or other agents for the churches.
Letter to Samuel Curtis on January 2, 1863 (CWAL VI:34)

Relying, as I do, upon the Almighty Power, and encouraged as I am by these resolutions which you have just read, with the support which I receive from Christian men, I shall not hesitate to use all the means at my control to secure the termination of this rebellion, and will hope for success.
Reply to Members of the Presbyterian General Assembly on June 2, 1863 (CWAL VI:245)

I am very glad indeed to see you to-night, and yet I will not say I thank you for this call, but I do most sincerely thank Almighty God for the occasion on which you have called.
Response to a Serenade on July 7, 1863 (CWAL VI:319)

Let us diligently apply the means, never doubting that a just God, in his own good time, will give us the rightful result.
Letter to James Conkling on August 26, 1863 (CWAL VI:410)

Nevertheless, amid the greatest difficulties of my Administration, when I could not see any other resort, I would place my whole reliance on God, knowing that all would go well, and that He would decide for the right.
Remarks to Baltimore Presbyterian Synod on October 24, 1863 (CWAL VI:536)

Submitted to the Sec. of War. On principle I dislike an oath which requires a man to swear he has not done wrong. It rejects the Christian principle of forgiveness on terms of repentance. I think it is enough if the man does no wrong hereafter.
Note to Edwin Stanton on February 5, 1864 (CWAL VII:169)

I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me. Now, at the end of three years struggle the nation's condition is not what either party, or any man devised, or expected. God alone can claim it. Whither it is tending seems plain. If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God.
Letter to Albert G. Hodges on April 4, 1864 (CWAL VII:282)

The petition of persons under eighteen, praying that I would free all slave children, and the heading of which petition it appears you wrote, was handed me a few days since by Senator Sumner. Please tell these little people I am very glad their young hearts are so full of just and generous sympathy, and that, while I have not the power to grant all they ask, I trust they will remember that God has, and that, as it seems, He wills to do it.
Letter to Mrs. Horace Mann on April 5, 1864 (CWAL VII:287)

At the beginning of the war, and for some time, the use of colored troops was not contemplated and how the change of purpose was wrought, I will not now take time to explain. Upon a clear conviction of duty I resolved to turn that element of strength to account and I am responsible for it to the American people, to the christian world, to history, and on my final account to God.
Address at Baltimore Sanitary Fair on April 18, 1864 (CWAL VII:302)

While we are grateful to all the brave men and officers for the events of the past few days, we should, above all, be very grateful to Almighty God, who gives us victory.
Response to a Serenade on May 9, 1864 (CWAL VII:334)

God bless the Methodist Church -- bless all the churches -- and blessed be God, Who, in this our great trial, giveth us the churches.
Response to Methodists on May 18, 1864 (CWAL VII:351)

To read in the Bible, as the word of God himself, that "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, ["] and to preach there-from that, "In the sweat of other mans faces shalt thou eat bread," to my mind can scarcely be reconciled with honest sincerity.
Reply to Delegation of Baptists on May 30, 1864 (CWAL VII:368)

We accepted this war for an object, a worthy object, and the war will end when that object is attained. Under God, I hope it never will until that time.
Speech at Philadelphia Sanitary Fair on June 16, 1864 (CWAL VII:395)

I am much indebted to the good christian people of the country for their constant prayers and consolations and to no one of them, more than to yourself. The purposes of the Almighty are perfect, and must prevail, though we erring mortals may fail to accurately perceive them in advance. We hoped for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this but God knows best, and has ruled otherwise. We shall yet acknowledge His wisdom and our own error therein. Meanwhile we must work earnestly in the best light He gives us, trusting that so working still conduces to the great ends He ordains. Surely He intends some great good to follow this mighty convulsion, which no mortal could make, and no mortal could stay.
Letter to Eliza Gurney on September 4, 1864 (CWAL VII:535)

In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man's welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.
Reply to Loyal Colored People of Baltimore upon Presentation of a Bible on September 7, 1864 (CWAL VII:542)

God bless the soldiers and seamen, with all their brave commanders.
Response to a Serenade on October 19, 1864 (CWAL VIII:53)

While I am deeply sensible to the high compliment of a re-election and duly grateful, as I trust, to Almighty God for having directed my countrymen to a right conclusion, as I think, for their own good, it adds nothing to my satisfaction that any other man may be disappointed or pained by the result.
Response to a Serenade on November 10, 1864 (CWAL VIII:101)

On thursday of last week, two ladies from Tennessee came before the President asking the release of their husbands held as prisoners of war at Johnson's Island. They were put off till friday, when they came again and were again put off to saturday. At each of the interviews one of the ladies urged that her husband was a religious man. On saturday the President ordered the release of the prisoners, and then said to this lady "You say your husband is a religious man tell him when you meet him, that I say I am not much of a judge of religion, but that, in my opinion, the religion that sets men to rebel and fight against their government, because, as they think, that government does not sufficiently help some men to eat their bread on the sweat of other men's faces, is not the sort of religion upon which people can get to heaven!"
Story Written for Noah Brooks ca. December 6, 1864 (CWAL VIII:154)

Fondly do we hope -- fervently do we pray -- that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether."
Second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865 (CWAL VIII:333)

Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them. To deny it, however, in this case, is to deny that there is a God governing the world. It is a truth which I thought needed to be told and as whatever of humilation there is in it, falls most directly on myself, I thought others might afford for me to tell it.
Letter to Thurlow Weed on March 15, 1865 (CWAL VIII:356)

The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, and the surrender of the principal insurgent army, give hope of a righteous and speedy peace whose joyous expression can not be restrained. In the midst of this, however, He, from Whom all blessings flow, must not be forgotten. A call for a national thanksgiving is being prepared, and will be duly promulgated.
Last Public Address on April 11, 1865 (CWAL VIII:399)

Lincoln's writings are in the public domain this introduction, photo and quotation collection © 2020 Abraham Lincoln Online.
All rights reserved. Privacy Policy

Abraham Lincoln, "Final Emancipation Proclamation" (January 1, 1863): Further Consideration of the "Central Act" of Lincoln's Presidency

Lincoln once said of the Emancipation Proclamation that "as affairs have turned, it is the central act of my administration and the great event of the nineteenth century." This remark came after the House of Representatives finally approved the Thirteenth Amendment in January 1865 (the Senate had passed it in April 1864), an amendment Lincoln worked hard to get passed. Although Lincoln has been referred to as the Great Emancipator, some question if the Emancipation Proclamation was even a legitimate exercise of presidential authority. Moreover, given that the Proclamation came a year and a half after the war had begun, and after Lincoln had revoked two emancipation declarations by his generals, others wonder if Lincoln's decision to liberate American slaves was more a reluctant decision than a sincere strike against the peculiar institution. Students can begin to answer these questions by reading the complete text of Lincoln's "Final Emancipation Proclamation" and answering additional questions about the Proclamation and how it compares with Lincoln's aim in the Gettysburg Address.

Have students read the full text of Abraham Lincoln's "Final Emancipation Proclamation" and answer the questions that follow below, which are available in worksheet form on pages 13-14 of the Text Document. A link to the text of the Emancipation Proclamation can be found at the EDSITEment-reviewed site The Gettysburg Address of the National Archives. The full text of the Emancipation Proclamation is also included in the Text Document on pages 11-12, and can be printed out for student use.