Printing and Publicizing the Speech
"The gray-bearded poet-editor of the Evening Post introduced Lincoln to the Cooper Institute audience Monday night. Greeley was seated on the stage, ready to say a few words after Lincoln finished. When Lincoln walked to the front of the stage, he looked down on men busy with pads and pencils in the first row. They were the reporters for the leading New York newspapers," wrote Robert S. Harper in Lincoln and the Press. Greeley biographer William Harlan Hale wrote that Greeley was chagrined that it was William Cullen "Bryant, and not he himself, who had first seen this star. An ex-Democrat — and the editor of an evening paper, too — had beaten him. But at least Greeley would try to beat the rest of the press with the story. He advanced on Lincoln the moment his speech was finished, asking him for manuscript of his address. He got it and hurried back to the office, ordering that it be run in full."1
After dinner with some young Republican sponsors of the event, Mr. Lincoln went to the Tribune to read the typeset text of his speech. The Tribune proof-reader, Amos J. Cummings, had just received the proofs when Mr. Lincoln arrived. Mr. Lincoln drew up a chair next to the 18-year-old Cummings. After putting on his glasses, Mr. Lincoln made corrections and then waited to read the corrected text as well."Lincoln appeared to much interested in what was going on about him and made some remark to Cummings of the midnight life in a great newspaper office," wrote Harper. "After Lincoln read the revised proof, he thanked Cummings and said good night to him. According to Cummings, Lincoln left the original manuscript of his speech lying on the table, and it was tossed into the wastepaper bin."2
"Four New York newspapers printed the entire text the next day," noted historian William Lee Miller. And that was not to be the only audience for this address. It would be printed as a pamphlet by the Young Men's Central Republican Union, with exhaustive notes by two members that Lincoln himself thought 'exceedingly valuable.' It would be printed in pamphlet form more quickly also by the New York Tribune, the Chicago Tribune, and, at Lincoln's instigation, back home by the Illinois State Journal. Lincoln write to an associate naming three places the pamphlet was available."3 Mr. Lincoln wrote a Republican colleague: "Pamphlet copies of my late speech at Cooper Institute, N.Y. can be had at the office of the New York Tribune; at the Republican Club Room at Washington, and at the Illinois Journal at this place. At which place they are cheapest, I do not certainly know."4
The impact of the Cooper Union event was suggested when two days after the speech, James Briggs wrote: "Enclosed please find "check" for $200. I would that it were $200,000. for you are worthy of it. You 'hit the nail on the head' here; & long, very long will your speech be remembered in this City. It did great good, it was so [weaved?] & linked with truth, that it convinced men. I hope you will return this way home. Come, do not fail to come here on your way to Ill. Just write me a day or two before you come, & dinner will be ready, & we will have a good time. Do not fail to make about five speeches in Connecticut. You have a special call there, & a duty to perform.5
Charles C. Nott and Cephas Brainard spent weeks researching the background and footnotes for the speech. Francis Fisher Browne alluded to this publicity process which culminated in a heavily annotated edition: "This speech made Mr. Lincoln known throughout the country, and undoubtedly did more than anything else to secure him the nomination for the Presidency. Aside from its extensive republication in the newspapers, various editions of it appeared in pamphlet form, one of the best of which was issued by Messrs. C. C. Nott and Brainard, who appended to their edition an estimate of the speech that is well worth reprinting here: 'No one who has not actually attempted to verify its details can understand the patient research and historical labor which it embodies. The history of our earlier politics is scattered through numerous journals, statutes, pamphlets, and letters; and these are defective in completeness and accuracy of statement, and in indexes and tables of contents. Neither can anyone who has not travelled over this precise ground appreciate the accuracy of every trivial detail, or the self-denying impartiality with which Mr. Lincoln has turned from the testimony of 'the fathers' on the general question of slavery to present the single question which he discusses. From the first line to the last, from his premises to his conclusion, he travels with a swift, unerring directness which no logician ever excelled, — and argument complete and full, without the affectation of learning, and without the stiffness which usually accompanies dates and details. A single easy, simple sentence of plain Anglo-Saxon words contains a chapter of history that, in some instances, has taken days of labor to verify, and must have cost the author months of investigation to acquire; and though the public should justly estimate the labor bestowed on the facts which are state, they cannot estimate the greater labor involved on those which are omitted — how many pages have been read — how many works examined — what numerous statutes, resolutions, speeches, letters, and biographies have been looked through. Commencing with this address as a political pamphlet, the reader will leave it as an historical work — brief, complete, profound, impartial, truthful — which will survive the time and the occasion that called it forth, and be esteemed hereafter no less for its intrinsic worth than for its unpretending modesty.'"6 Nott wrote Mr. Lincoln on May 23, 1860.
I enclose a copy of your address in New York.
Mr. Lincoln replied a week later with very specific instructions to Charles C. Nott and Cephas Brainard on the style and substance of the speech. His letter reflected the painstaking detail with which he had crafted it:
Yours of the 23d, accompanied by a copy of the speech delivered by me at the Cooper Institute, and upon which you have made some notes for emendations, was received some days ago — Of course I would not object to, but would be pleased rather, with a more perfect edition of that speech.