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The Cooper Union Address

April 28, 2016

The Gettysburg Address and the 2nd Inaugural are displayed on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.  The concluding sentence of the former speaks of “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”  The close of the latter admonished the nation to act “with malice toward none.”  Both speeches give us Lincoln at his best.  They show his mastery of language and the depth of his soul.  However, neither speech would have been written if Lincoln had not been elected in the first place, and before that could happen, he had to be nominated by the Republican Party.  To that end he gave a lengthy, seldom quoted speech to 1,500 antislavery New Yorkers at Cooper Union.

The date was February 27, 1860.  Lincoln began by mentioning something Democrat Stephen Douglas had said during the autumn of 1859.

“Senator Douglas said: ‘Our fathers, when they framed the Government under which we live, understood this question just as well, and even better than we do now.’”

What was this question which the fathers understood at least as well as mid-nineteenth century Americans?  Lincoln defined the question: “Does the proper division of local from federal authority, or anything in the Constitution, forbid our Federal Government to control as to slavery in our federal territories?”

Douglas had answered this question in the affirmative.  Lincoln would now present an argument, ten times longer than the 2nd Inaugural and 28 times longer than the Gettysburg Address, giving a common sense argument which proved Douglas wrong.

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