Abraham Lincoln

After the Speech

It was a snowy, cold night outside when Mr. Lincoln spoke at Cooper Union. But inside the lecture hall, the response was warm. Historian Benjamin Thomas wrote: "as the intense figure on the rostrum uttered [the] stirring peroration, men and women rose to their feet, shouting, waving hats and handkerchiefs, in a long-sustained ovation. Men rushed to the platform to grasp the speaker's hand. Charged with deep emotion, the crowd was slow to disperse. Seldom had a visitor made such a profound impression on a New York audience." Harry Houston Peckham, biographer of William Cullen Bryant, wrote: "Before Lincoln had been speaking five minutes the only unhappy Republicans in the vast auditorium must have been the friends and supporters of William H. Seward. Not one cheap joke or anecdote did Lincoln tell. Not one solecism did he commit. And if his voice was somewhat nasal and his presence a bit ungraceful, these defects were more than offset by eloquence, moral earnestness, even dignity. His diction and phraseology were not merely correct; there were positively masterful."1

One journalist commented that "No man ever before made such an impression on his first appeal to a New York audience."2 It was a night to celebrate. According to Charles C. Nott: "After the address had been delivered, Mr. Lincoln was taken by two members of the Young Men's Central Republican Union — Mr. Hiram Barney, afterward Collector of the Port of New York, and Mr. [Charles C.] Nott, one of the subsequent editors of the address — to their club, the Athenaeum, where a very simple supper was ordered, and five or six Republican members of the club who chanced to be in the building were invited in. The supper was informal — as informal as anything could be; the conversation was easy and familiar; the prospects of the Republican party in the coming struggle were talked over, and so little was it supposed by the gentlemen who had not heard the address that Mr. Lincoln could possibly be the candidate that one of them, Mr. Charles W. Eliott, asked, artlessly: 'Mr. Lincoln, what candidate do you really think would be most likely to carry Illinois?' Mr. Lincoln answered by illustration: 'Illinois is a peculiar State, in three parts. In northern Illinois, Mr. Seward would have a larger majority than I could get. In middle Illinois, I think I could call out a larger vote than Mr. Seward. In southern Illinois, it would make no difference who was the candidate.' This answer was taken to be merely illustrative by everybody except, perhaps, Mr. Barney and Mr. Nott, each of whom, it subsequently appeared, had particularly noted Mr. Lincoln's reply."3

Andrew Freeman wrote in Abraham Lincoln Goes to New York: "The club, famous for wit and conviviality, was for 'gentlemen of literary tastes.' Among them were Chester A. Arthur, a lawyer who became the twenty-first President of the United States; Charles P. Daley, a jurist, later president of the American Geographical Society; Edwin L. Godkin, then correspondent of the London Daily News who founded The Nation in 1865; Bryant, [George] Bancroft, [James] Briggs, [Joseph] Choate, David Dudley Field and George Palmer Putnam."4 According to Nott:
"The little party broke up. Mr. Lincoln had been cordially received, but certainly had not been flattered.; The others shook him by the hand and, as they put on their overcoats, said: 'Mr. Nott is going down town and he will show you the way to the Astor House.' Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Nott started on foot, but the latter observing that Mr. Lincoln was apparently walking with some difficulty said,'Are you lame, Mr. Lincoln?' He replied that he had on new boots and they hurt him. The two gentlemen then boarded a street car. When they reached the place where Mr. Nott would leave the car on his way home, he shook Mr. Lincoln by the hand and, bidding him good-bye, told him that this car would carry him to the side door of the Astor House. Mr. Lincoln went on alone, the only occupant of the car. The next time he came to New York, he rode down Broadway to the Astor House standing erect in an open barouche drawn by four white horses. He bowed to the patriotic thousands in the street, on the sidewalks, in the windows, on the house-tops, and they cheered him as the lawfully elected President of the United States and bade him go on and, with God's help, save the Union.

"His companion in the street car has often wondered since then what Mr. Lincoln thought about during the remainder of his ride that night to the Astor House. The Cooper Institute had, owing to a snow-storm, not been full, and its intelligent, respectable, non-partisan audience had not rung out enthusiastic applause like a concourse of Western auditors magnetized by their own enthusiasm....

"The impression left on his companion's mind as he gave a last glance at him in the street car was that he seemed sad and lonely and when it was too late, when the car was beyond call, he blamed himself for not accompanying Mr. Lincoln to the Astor House — not because he was a distinguished stranger, but because he seemed a sad and lonely man."5

What Mr. Lincoln accomplished was "a superb political move for an unannounced presidential aspirant. Appearing in Seward's home state, sponsored by a group largely loyal to [Salmon P.] Chase, Lincoln shrewdly made no reference to either of these Republican rivals for the nominations. Recognizing that if the Republicans were going toe win in 1860 they needed the support of men who had voted for Fillmore in the previous election, Lincoln in his Cooper Union addressed stressed his conservatism."6

Under a headline: "A Speech Delivered At The Cooper Institute Last Evening By Abraham Lincoln of Illinois." The New York Times reported: "There was a very large meeting of Republicans at Cooper Institute last night to listen to that noted political exhorter and prairie orator, Abe Lincoln. The speaker, as soon as he appeared on the platform, was vehemently cheered, and during the delivery of his address frequently applauded."7 Fortunately, other newspapers were not so parsimonious in their praise. Mr. Lincoln's speech drew strong editorial support from the man who had introduced him. William Cullen Bryant wrote in the New York Evening Post:
When we have such a speech as that of Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois, delivered at the Cooper Institute last evening to a crowded, deeply interested and enthusiastic audience, we are tempted to wish that our columns were indefinitely elastic.

We have made room for Mr. Lincoln's speech notwithstanding the pressure of other matters, and our readers will see that it was well worthy of the deep attention with which it was heard. That part of it in which the speaker places the republican party on the very ground occupied by the framers of our constitution and fathers of our republic, strikes us as particularly forcible.

In this great controversy the Republicans are the real conservative party. They simply adhere to a policy which had its origin with George Washington of Virginia, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Abraham Baldwin of Georgia, Alexander Hamilton of New York, and other men from other states worthy to be named with them.

It is remarkable how perfectly all the eminent statesmen of that age were agreed upon the great question of slavery in the territories. They never though of erecting the slaveholding class into an oligarchy which was to control the political administration of the country, dictate to the judiciary, and invade and occupy the new regions possessed by the confederation. They regarded it — and this fully appears from authentic and undisputed records — by a consent next to unanimous, as a class which was never to exist beyond the limits of the old thirteen states.

At that time the slave holders were content to await, within the limits they occupied, the hour, which Washington, himself one of their number, benevolent and liberal-minded as he was, hoped was not far distant, when our republic should present to the world the spectacle of 'a confederacy of free states.'

All the clamor about northern aggression, all the menaces of a dissolution of the Union, have only this grievance as their cause, that we think as Washington thought, hope as he hoped, and act as he acted; and they have only this object in view — to force us from the course he approved and which our conscience approves still, and to compel us to adopt a new policy, new measures, new views of the meaning of the constitution, opening the gates of the territories of the barbarian institution which our fathers intended should wither into decreptitude, and pass to its dissolution within its original limits.

All this may not be new, but it is most logically and convincingly stated in the speech — and it is wonderful how much a truth gains by a certain mastery of clear and impressive statement. But the consequences to which Mr. Lincoln follows out the demands of these arrogant innovators give an air of novelty to the closing part of his argument.

What they require of us is not only a surrender of our long-cherished notions of constitutional rights, inherited from our ancestors and theirs; not only a renunciation of the freedom of speech, but a hypocritical confession of doctrines which revolt both our understanding and our conscience, a confession extorted by the argument of the highwayman, the threat of violence and murder. There is to be no peace with the South till the slaveholders shall have forced us to say that slavery is right — not merely to admit it by silence, but to shout the accursed doctrine with all the strength of our lungs.

With the renunciation of the creed of liberty must come the reconsideration and rejection of our free constitutions. Every one of the constitutions of the free states puts the stigma of public abhorrence upon slavery, and is an offense and an insult to the slaveholder. They who cannot submit to allow the natural lawfulness of slavery to be questioned in public debate, or in the discussions of the press, certainly will not tolerate the more solemn declaration of the right of all men to freedom embodied and proclaimed in the state constitutions of the North and West. One by one these state constitutions must be given up, torn to pieces, and trampled under foot at the bidding of the preachers of the new political gospel.8

Still, wrote Andrew A. Freeman in Abraham Lincoln Goes to New York wrote: "The editorial comment was not as impressive as the news coverage. The Herald had nothing to say. The Times, in a summary of the speech, called him 'that noted political exhorter and prairie orator, Abe Lincoln of Illinois.' The Tribune's editorial, although brief, bristled with praise."9 The New York Tribune editorialized:
The Speech of Abraham Lincoln at the Cooper Institute last evening was one of the happiest and most convincing political arguments ever made in the City, and was addressed to a crowded and most appreciating audience. Since the days of Clay and Webster, no man has spoken to a larger assemblage of the intellect and mental culture of our City. Mr. Lincoln is one of Nature's orators, using his rare power solely and effectively to elucidate and to convince, though their inevitable effect is to delight and electrify as well. We present herewith a very full and accurate report of this Speech; yet the tones, the gestures, the kindling eve and the mirth-provoking look, defy the reporter's skill. The vast assemblage frequently range with cheers and shouts of applause, which were prolonged and intensified at the close. No man ever before made such an impression on his first appeal to a New-York audience.

Mr. Lincoln speaks for the Republican cause tonight at Providence, R.I., and it is hoped that he will find time to speak once or more in Connecticut before he sets his face homeward.

We shall soon issue his Speech of last night in pamphlet form for cheap circulation.10


  1. Harry Houston Peckham, Gotham Yankee: A Biography of William Cullen Bryant, p. 146.
  2. Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie and the War Years, p. 165.
  3. George Haven Putnam, Abraham Lincoln: The People’s Leader in the Struggle for National Existence, p. 217 (Account of Charles Nott).
  4. Andrew A. Freeman, Abraham Lincoln Goes to New York, p. 89.
  5. George Haven Putnam, Abraham Lincoln: The People’s Leader in the Struggle for National Existence, p. 217 (Account of Charles Nott).
  6. David Herbert Donald, Lincoln Reconsidered, p. 240.
  7. Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, p. 45.
  8. Herbert Mitgang, editor, Lincoln as They Saw Him, p. 156-158 (New York Evening Post, February 28, 1861).
  9. Andrew A. Freeman, Abraham Lincoln Goes to New York, p. 95.
  10. Herbert Mitgang, editor, Lincoln as They Saw Him, p. 158.

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