Abraham Lincoln

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.

We (the Young Men's Rep. Union) design to publish a new edition in larger type and better form, with such notes and references as will best attract raders seeking information. Have you any memoranda of your investigations which you would approve of inserting?

You and your Western friends, I think, underrate this speech. It has produced a greater effect here than any other single speech. It is the real platform in the Eastern States, and must carry the conservative element in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Therefore I desire that it should be as nearly perfect as may be. Most of the emendations are trivial and do not affect the substance — all are merely suggested for your judgment.

I cannot help adding that this speech is an extraordinary example of condensed English. After some experience in criticising for Reviews, I find hardly anything to touch and nothing to omit. It is the only one I know of which I cannot shorten and — like a good arch — moving one word tumbles a whole sentence down.

Finally, it being a bad and foolish thing for a candidate to write letters, and you having doubtless more to do of that than is pleasant or profitable, we will not add to your burden in that regard, but if you will let any friend who has nothing to do, advise us as to your wishes, in this or any other matter, we will try to carry them out.7

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.

I did not preserve memoranda of my investigations; and I could not now re-examine, and make notes, without an expenditure of time which I cannot bestow upon it — some of your notes I do not understand.

So far as it intended merely to improve in grammar, and elegance of composition. I am quite agreed; but I do not wish the sense changed, or modified, to a hair's breadth. And you, not having studied the particular points so closely as I have, can not be quite sure that you do not change the sense when you do not intend it. For instance, in a note at bottom of first page, you proposed to substitute 'Democrats' for 'Douglas.' But what I am saying there is true of Douglas, and is not true of 'Democrats' generally; so that the proposed substitution would be a very considerable blunder. Your proposed insertion of 'residences' though it would do little or no harm, is not at all necessary to the sense I was trying to convey. On page 5 your proposed grammatical change would certainly do no harm. The "impudently absurd" I stick to. The striking out 'he' and inserting 'we' turns the sense exactly wrong. The striking out 'upon it' leaves the sense too general and incomplete. The sense is "act as they acted upon that question"—not as they acted generally.

After considering your proposed changes on page 7, I do not think them material, but I am willing to defer to you in relation to them.

On page 9, striking out "to us" is probably right. The word "lawyer's" I wish retained. The word "Courts" struck out twice, I wish reduced to "Court" and retained. 'Court' as a collection more properly governs the plural "have" as I understand. "The" preceding "Court," in the latter case, must also be retained. The words "quite," "as," and "or" on the same page, I wish retained. The italicizing, and quotation marking, I have no objection to.

As to the note at bottom, I do not think any too much is admitted. What you propose on page 11 is right. I return your copy of the speech, together with one printed here, under my own hasty supervising. That at New York was printed without any supervision by me. If you conclude to publish a new edition, allow me to see the proof-sheets.8


  1. William Harlan Hale, Horace Greeley: Voice of the People, p. 214.
  2. Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, p. 45.
  3. William Lee Miller, Lincoln’s Virtues, p. 384.
  4. Reinhard H. Luthin, The First Lincoln Campaign, p. 81.
  5. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from James A. Briggs to Abraham Lincoln1, February 29, 1860 CWAL, Volume III, 554-55.).
  6. Francis Fisher Browne, The Every-Day Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 317-318.
  7. Henry Rankin, Abraham Lincoln, p. 256-257.
  8. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume IV, p. 58 (Letter to Charles C. Nott, May 31, 1860).

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