Lincoln on Race and Slavery

By Henry Louis Gates Jr.; Donald Yacovone et al. | Go to book overview

39

Address at the Cooper institute, New York City:
CW, 3:522–550

In early 1860, following a string of successful speeches in the Midwest, Lincoln quietly initiated his campaign for president. Before he could openly challenge a party leader like William H. Seward, Lincoln began building momentum and expanding his influence. In December 1859, he published a brief autobiography. Then, in February 1860, he enthusiastically accepted an invitation to lecture at Henry Ward Beecher's Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, New York, a center of abolitionism. He purchased a new black suit (one hundred dollars at the local tailors, Woods & Heckle) and carefully researched and prepared what would become the speech of his career. However, upon arriving in New York, Lincoln learned that sponsorship of the event had been assumed by the Young Men's Central Republican Union, whose members included the not-so-young poet William Cullen Bryant and the graybeard abolitionist Horace Greeley, men intent on denying Seward the presidential nomination. They also moved the event from Brooklyn to the Cooper Union in Manhattan, the famed tuition-free school for adult education where conservative antislavery men Frank Blair from Missouri and Cassius Clay from Kentucky already had spoken. The speech proved a smashing success and appeared in the New York Tribune, the Chicago Press and Tribune, the Detroit Tribune, the Albany Evening Journal, and as a separate pamphlet. Lincoln had been well known in Republican circles, but national attention had focused largely on Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates as the party's possible presidential nominees. After the Cooper Institute address, Lincoln emerged as one of Seward's main rivals. The speech avoided the usual harsh racial commentary and focused entirely on the challenge posed by the South to the Union. The nationalist appeal proved effective and memorable. For the circumstances of Lincoln's famous address, see: David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (London: Jonathan Cape, 1995).

-193-

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