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.
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.
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.