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Lincoln at Cooper Union - February 27, 1860

Photo of Abraham Lincoln taken February 27, 1860 in New York City by Mathew Brady, the day of his famous Cooper Union speech.

The Cooper Union Speech, or Address, was delivered by Abraham Lincoln on February 27, 1860, at Cooper Union, in New York City. Lincoln was not yet the Republican nominee for the presidency, as the convention was scheduled for May. It is considered one of his most important speeches. Some have argued it was responsible for making him President. In the speech, Lincoln elaborated his views on slavery, affirming that he did not wish it to be expanded into the western territories and claiming that the Founding Fathers would agree with this position. The journalist Robert J. McNamara wrote, "Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech was one of his longest, at more than 7,000 words. And it is not one of his speeches with passages that are often quoted. Yet, due to the careful research and Lincoln's forceful argument, it was stunningly effective." Horace Greeley's New York Tribune hailed it as "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

Lincoln's speech has three major parts, each building towards his conclusion. The first part concerns the founders and the legal positions they supported on the question of slavery in the territories. The second part is addressed to the voters of the southern states, clarifying the issues between Republicans and Democrats, arguing that the Republican position on slavery is the 'conservative' policy. The final section is addressed to Republicans.

In the first section, in response to a statement by Stephen Douglas, Lincoln asks rhetorically "What is the frame of government under which we live?" and answers that it "must be: 'The Constitution of the United States.'" From there he begins his reasoning on why the federal government can regulate slavery in the federal territories (those that were not states), especially resting on the character of the founders, and how they thought of slavery:

The sum of the whole is, that of our thirty-nine fathers who framed the original Constitution, twenty-one – a clear majority of the whole – certainly understood that no proper division of local from federal authority, nor any part of the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government to control slavery in the federal territories...

In the second part, in which he creates a prosopopoeia by creating a mock debate between Republicans and the South, Lincoln denies that Republicans are a "sectional" party, only representing interests in the Northern part of the country, and help incite slave rebellions. He rebukes the Southern accusation that Republicans helped John Brown by saying "John Brown was no Republican; and you have failed to implicate a single Republican in his Harper's Ferry enterprise." He addressed the single-mindedness of the Southerners, saying:

Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events.

He also tried to show that the Southern demand to secede from the Union if a Republican were to be elected president was like armed robbery: "the threat of destruction to the Union, to extort my vote, can scarcely be distinguished in principle" from that of a robber.

The third section, addressed to fellow Republicans, encourages level-headed thinking and cool actions, doing "nothing through passion and ill temper."

We must not only let them alone, but we must somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no success. In all our platforms and speeches we have constantly protested our purpose to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them.

Lincoln states that the only thing that will convince the Southerners is to "cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right" and to support all their runaway slave laws and the expansion of slavery. He ends by saying that Republicans, if they cannot end slavery where it exists, must fight through their votes to prevent its expansion. He ends with a call to duty:

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.


Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer called the Cooper Union address “Lincoln’s watershed, the event that transformed him from a regional leader into a national phenomenon. Here the politician known as frontier debater and chronic jokester introduced a new oratorical style: informed by history, suffused with moral certainty, and marked by lawyerly precision.”

Text Credit: Wikipedia - Cooper Union Speech; Holzer quote: "The Speech That Made The Man". (American Heritage Magazine. Winter 2010. Volume 59, Issue 4).

Photo credit: Matthew Brady


Abraham Lincoln: The Man

Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois.

Abraham Lincoln: The Man (also called Standing Lincoln) is a larger-than-life size (12-foot (3.7 m))  bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States. The original statue is in Lincoln Park in Chicago, and several replicas have been installed in other places around the world. Completed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1887, it has been described as the most important sculpture of Lincoln from the 19th century. At the time, the New York Evening Post called it “the most important achievement American sculpture has yet produced.” Abraham Lincoln II, Lincoln's only grandson, was present, among a crowd of 10,000, at the unveiling. The artist also created the Seated Lincoln sculpture in Chicago's Grant Park.

The sculpture depicts a contemplative Lincoln rising from a chair, about to give a speech. It is set upon a pedestal and, in Chicago, an exedra designed by architect Stanford White. Chicago businessman Eli Bates (1806–1881) provided $40,000 in his will for the statue. Saint-Gaudens was specially selected for the commission after a design competition failed to produce a winning artist. Saint-Gaudens, who revered the President, had seen Lincoln at the time of his inauguration, and later viewed Lincoln's body lying in state. For his design, the artist also relied on a life mask and hand casts made of Lincoln in 1860 by Leonard W. Volk.

The sculpture's naturalism influenced a generation of artists. The monument was also a favorite of Hull House founder Jane  Addams, who once wrote, "I walked the wearisome way from Hull-House to Lincoln Park ... in order to look at and gain magnanimous counsel from the statue." Journalist Andrew Ferguson  discusses the statue at length in his book Land of Lincoln, writing that the statue presents "a sort of world-weariness that seems almost kind". The City of Chicago awarded the monument landmark status on December 12, 2001. It is located near the Chicago History Museum and North Avenue.

Replicas of the statue stand at Lincoln Tomb in Springfield, Illinois; Parque Lincoln in Mexico City; and Parliament Square in London. The Parliament Square statue was given to Britain in July 1920. The American Ambassador made a formal presentation at Central Hall, Westminster, where Prime Minister David Lloyd George accepted the gift on behalf of the people of Britain; after a procession to Parliament Square, the statue was unveiled by Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught.

Parliament Square, London, England.

Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons: Andrew Horne (Lincoln Park); Sir James (London). 

Text Credit: Wikipedia - Abraham Lincoln: The Man.

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