Making a Run For It
February 27, 1860: Abraham Lincoln speaks at Cooper Union in New York City. The Illinois lawyer has already served in the Illinois House of Representatives from 1834-1842 and as a member of the US House of Representatives from Illinois’ 7th District from 1847-1849. During the 1830s, Lincoln was a Whig Party leader and it was as a Whig that he went to Congress. He promoted a rapid modernization of the economy through banks, tariffs, and railroads. His opposition to the Mexican-American War was unpopular and he did not run for a second term. He left politics and returned to his law practice in Springfield. He helped to build up the new Republican party in 1854. He lost his bid for a US Senate seat when he was unable to beat Democrat Stephen A Douglas in that race.
As he made his bid for President of the United States, he held his ground on the non-expansion of slavery. He was not yet the Republican nominee since the convention was not held until May. The speech he gave on this day is considered by some to be one of his most important speeches and they argue it may have been responsible for his gaining the nomination. The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art was established in 1859 at Cooper Square in the East Village of Manhattan. The founder of the school believed education should be accessible to all who qualify regardless of their race, religion, sex, or wealth/social status. In that regard, it was the perfect venue for Lincoln’s speech.
It is one of Lincoln’s longest speeches and runs to more than 7,000 words. (The Gettysburg address is 268 words.) There are not many quotes remembered from this speech but because it was so carefully researched and crafted, and because of the forceful argument Lincoln put forth, it was very effective. The write up in the New York Tribune stated it was “one of the most happiest and most convincing political arguments ever made in this City … No man ever made such an impression on his first appeal to a New-York audience.”
The speech was broken into three basic parts with each building to the conclusion. In the first part, Lincoln spoke of the Founding Fathers and the legal positions they supported on the question of slavery in the territories. This was a special response and clarification to Stephen Douglas’s position from the lost Senate seat race. The second part addressed voters in the Southern states and clarified issued between Republicans and Democrats and argued the Republican Party’s position was the conservative one. The last section addressed Republicans. He advised fellow Republicans to use level-headed thinking and cool actions rather than passionate outbursts. The speech worked.
If any man at this day sincerely believes that a proper division of local from federal authority, or any part of the Constitution, forbids the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the federal territories, he is right to say so, and to enforce his position by all truthful evidence and fair argument which he can. But he has no right to mislead others, who have less access to history, and less leisure to study it, into the false belief that “our fathers who framed the Government under which we live” were of the same opinion – thus substituting falsehood and deception for truthful evidence and fair argument.
Human action can be modified to some extent, but human nature cannot be changed. There is a judgment and a feeling against slavery in this nation, which cast at least a million and a half of votes.
An inspection of the Constitution will show that the right of property in a slave is not “distinctly and expressly affirmed” in it.
Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it. – Abraham Lincoln, Cooper Union speech
Also on this day: Party in New Orleans! – In 1827, Mardi Gras was celebrated in New Orleans for the first time.
Andersonville – In 1864, the Confederacy’s POW camp at Andersonville opened.
The Lord and the Luddites – In 1812, George Gordon Byron spoke out in the House of Lords.
Suffrage – In 1922, Leser V. Garnett was decided by the US Supreme Court.
Carbon Fourteen – In 1940, the carbon isotope was discovered.