Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Lincoln at Cooper Union

Sam Waterston, the actor, will read Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech (Feb 27, 1860) in its entirety this Wednesday--all 7,715 words of it. He will read it in the same hall from the same (short) podium that Lincoln used. This seems to have come about because of the publication of Harold Holzer’s Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech that Made Abraham Lincoln President. A pretty good story, that doesn’t mislead the reader much on the importance of the speech. It is true that Lincoln’s speech was a stunning success--it was restrained, intricate, and scolarly--wherein he made clear to a national (i.e., Eastern, sophisticated) audiance that Steve Douglas’ policy deniying that the Federal government had authority over the expansion of slavery was the radical departure from both the principles and the habit of the Founders. Lincoln said that slavery for the Framers was "marked...as an evil not to be extended." In short, he argued that it was the Southerners who were extremists, while the Republicans should avoid "passion and ill temper."

Here is the whole speech, and the last two sentences:

"Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored—contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man—such as a policy of ’don’t care’ on a question about which all true men do care—such as Union appeals beseeching true Union men to yield to Disunionists, reversing the divine rule, and calling, not the sinners, but the righteous to repentance—such as invocations to Washington, imploring men to unsay what Washington said, and undo what Washington did.

Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT."

Discussions - 3 Comments

Peter - thank you for this link in addition to the Gaddis, Lewis, etc. - very useful articles & insights! Any word on whether Watterson’s reading will be broadcast on PBS or other venue? I can only see Patrick Henry debate religious freedom with Thomas Jefferson down here in Williamsburg! To all other readers - read Lincoln!

Tony, I do not know if it will be broadcast, sorry. I’ll try to find out.

Peter, I beat you to the punch. Ken Masugi on the Claremont blog announced that it will be aired on C-SPAN2 May 23rd at 6 p.m.

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