A House Divided: Lincoln's Speech at Cooper Union I

Program Information

Series: A Moment in Time
Duration: 00:03:59
Year Produced: 2010
Description:

On February 27, 1860, a little known candidate from the Midwest delivered a speech in Manhattan. It propelled him into the White House. History knows it as Abraham Lincoln’s “Cooper Union Speech.”

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Transcript

Lead: One hundred and fifty years ago, the Republic was facing its greatest crisis. This continuing series examines the American Civil War. It is "A House Divided."

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: On February 27, 1860, a little known candidate from the Midwest delivered a speech in Manhattan. It propelled him into the White House. History knows it as Abraham Lincoln’s “Cooper Union Speech.” In October 1859, attorney and former Congressman Abraham Lincoln received a telegram at his home in Springfield, Illinois from a group of Republican supporters. They invited him to speak at Henry Ward Beecher’s Plymouth Chapel in Brooklyn, New York. Lincoln was ambitious to win the nomination of the Republicans for President of the United States at their convention in May 1860. He was very much aware that he was not well-known and quickly snatched this opportunity for national exposure.

As he prepared the speech he was aware that it could make or break him as a candidate. The subject: slavery. For years, this great unfinished business of the founders had ripped at the national fabric, complicating all other matters and poisoning relations between the regions. After many compromises in prior decades, the issue was once again reaching a crescendo level, threatening to divide the republic. Lincoln prepared for months and meticulously researched voting records, writings, and known views on slavery among the 39 framers of the Constitution. He concluded in the speech that a majority--some 21 of the founding fathers--intended that Congress indeed should have the power to regulate the spread of slavery into the western territories. He pointed out that no part of the Constitution forbade that and methodically countered other pro-slavery arguments including that of his great Illinois rival Senator Stephen Douglas, “popular sovereignty.”

He had new a new dark suit tailored for him, at the cost of $100, and traveled for three days on five trains before arriving in New York, two days before the speech.

Next Time: Image politics.

Research by Ann Johnson, at the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.