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Determining the Facts

Reading 2: Excerpts from Key Lincoln Speeches

Below are excerpts of four speeches that Lincoln researched, wrote, rewrote, practiced, and finally presented while he lived in Springfield. Words and text that Lincoln emphasized in his original text are shown here in bold.

Excerpt from Lincoln's "House Divided" Speech at Springfield, Illinois, June, 16, 1858.
Abraham Lincoln delivered this speech upon his acceptance of the Republican Party's nomination to run against Stephen A. Douglas for the United States Senate.

'A house divided against itself cannot stand.'

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

It will become all one thing, or all the other.

Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new -- North as well as South.

from The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln
Roy P. Basler, Editor, Vol. II, pp. 461-462

Excerpts from Lincoln's Address at Cooper Institute, New York City, February 27, 1860.
Lincoln was invited to New York City to give a speech before the Young Men's Central Republican Union of New York and used the opportunity to criticize the expansion of slavery. Lincoln understood the importance of this speech and spent a considerable amount of time researching and crafting his remarks which paid off. This speech introduced Lincoln to eastern audiences and further expanded his fame.

Let all who believe that 'our fathers, who framed the Government under which we live, understood this question just as well, and even better, than we do now,' speak as they spoke, and act as they acted upon it. This is all Republicans ask -- all Republicans desire -- in relation to slavery. As those fathers marked it, so let it be again marked, as an evil not to be extended, but to be tolerated and protected only because of and so far as is actual presence among us makes that toleration and protection a necessity. Let all the guaranties those fathers gave it, be, not grudgingly, but fully and fairly maintained.

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.

from The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln
Roy P. Basler, Editor, Vol. III, pp. 535, 543, 546-47, 550

Excerpts from Lincoln's First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861.
In his inaugural address, Lincoln tried to avoid civil war and reassure the southern states that he had never advocated the removal of slavery where it existed, but rather was opposed only to the expansion of slavery.

One section of our country believes slavery is right, and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong, and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute.

In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to 'preserve, protect, and defend' it. I am loathe to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

from The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln
Roy P. Basler, Editor, Vol. IV, pp. 262-63, 268-69, 271

Questions for Reading 2

1. What connection can you make between these four speeches?

2. What is Abraham Lincoln's position on the expansion of slavery?

3. How do these speeches reflect Abraham Lincoln's attitude about democracy? What is your evidence?

4. Why did Lincoln work so hard to appeal to the southern states in this First Inaugural Address?

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