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Lincoln’s Election, Southern Secession: 1860 to April 1861

1860

What did Lincoln say to the audience of 1,500 at the Cooper Union?

Like the Western lawyer he was, Lincoln moved slowly and deliberately; it was never his way to rush an argument or proposition. Without using the precise term “founding fathers,” Lincoln spoke at length on the beliefs of the men who had written the Constitution in 1787. Working his way cautiously, and employing a selective use of the evidence, Lincoln pointed in the direction of freedom. The founding fathers had not been in favor of slavery, he declared, but had recognized its existence as a necessary evil in the young republic. And even though he might personally be opposed to slavery, Lincoln did not believe that he, the chief executive, the Congress, or even the Supreme Court could wipe out slavery where it currently existed. Nothing in the Constitution granted such powers to any of the three branches of government. Lincoln then addressed the Southern states directly:

“You consider yourselves a reasonable and a just people; and I consider that in the general qualities of reason and justice you are not inferior to any other people. Still, when you speak of us Republicans, you do so only to denounce us as reptiles, or, at the best, as no better than outlaws. You will grant a hearing to pirates or murderers, but nothing like it to ‘Black Republicans.’”



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