Speech at Chicago, Illinois

1858.  Lincoln is on the campaign trail, running for the US Senate to replace Illinois incumbent senator Stephen Douglas. The speech below was transcribed live by a correspondent from the Chicago Democrat and published the next day (with Lincoln’s amendments as found in his scrapbook).  We’ll see a few more speeches like this one over the coming weeks, and starting in August: the Lincoln-Douglas debates!

See June 16.

July 10, 1858

The succeeding speech was delivered by Mr. Lincoln, on Saturday Evening, July 10, 1858, at Chicago, Illinois.

Senator Douglas was not present.

My Fellow Citizens:—On yesterday evening, upon the occasion of the reception given to Senator Douglas, I was furnished with a seat very convenient for hearing him, and was otherwise very courteously treated by him and his friends, and for which I thank him and them. During the course of his remarks my name was mentioned in such a way, as I suppose renders it at least not improper that I should make some sort of reply to him. I shall not attempt to follow him in the precise order in which he addressed the assembled multitude upon that occasion, though I shall perhaps do so in the main.


There was one question to which he asked the attention of the crowd, which I deem of somewhat less importance—at least of propriety for me to dwell upon—than the others, which he brought in near the close of his speech, and which I think it would not be entirely proper for me to omit attending to, and yet if I were not to give some attention to it now, I should probably forget it altogether. [Applause]. While I am upon this subject, allow me to say that I do not intend to indulge in that inconvenient mode sometimes adopted in public speaking, of reading from documents; but I shall depart from that rule so far as to read a little scrap from his speech, which notices this first topic of which I shall speak—that is, provided I can find it in the paper. (Examines the Press and Tribune of this morning). A voice—“Get out your specs.”

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To Joseph Medill


J Medill, Esq                            Springfield,
My dear Sir                            June 25 1858

Your note of the 23rd. did not reach me till last evening. The Times article I saw yesterday morning. I will give you a brief history of facts, upon which you may rely with entire confidence, and from which you can frame such articles or paragraphs as you see fit.

I was in Congress but a single term. I was a candidate when the Mexican war broke out—and I then took the ground, which I never varied from, that the Administration had done wrong in getting us into the war, but that the Officers and soldiers who went to the field must be supplied and sustained at all events. I was elected the first Monday of August 1846, but, in regular course, only took my seat December 6, 1847. In the interval all the battles had been fought, and the war was substantially ended, though our army was still in Mexico, and the treaty of peace was not finally concluded till May 30. 1848. Col. E. D. Baker had been elected to congress from the same district, for the regular term next preceding mine; but having gone to Mexico himself, and having resigned his seat in Congress, a man by the name of John Henry, was elected to fill Baker’s vacancy, and so came into congress before I did. On the 23rd. day of February 1847 (the very day I believe, Col. John Hardin was killed at Buena Vista, and certainly more than nine months before I took a seat in congress) a bill corresponding with great accuracy to that mentioned by the Times, passed the House of Representatives, and John Henry voted against it, as may be seen in the Journal of that session at pages 406-7. The bill became a law; and is found in the U.S. Statutes at Large—Vol. 9. page 149.

This I suppose is the real origin of the Times’ attack upon me. In its’ blind rage to assail me, it has seized on a vague recollection of Henry’s vote, and appropriated it to me. I scarcely think any one is quite vile enough to make such a charge in such terms, without some slight belief in the truth of it.

Henry was my personal and political friend; and, as I thought, a very good man; and when I first learned of that vote, I well remember how astounded and mortified I was. This very bill, voted against by Henry, passed into a law, and made the appropriations for the year ending June 30. 1848—extending a full month beyond the actual and formal ending of the war. When I came into congress, money was needed to meet the appropriations made, and to be made; and accordingly on the 17th. day of Feb. 1848, a bill to borrow 18.500 000. passed the House of Representatives, for which I voted, as will appear by the Journal of that session page 426, 427. The act itself, reduced to 16.000 000 (I suppose in the Senate) is found in U.S. Statutes at Large Vol. 9- 217.

Again, on the 8th. of March 1848, a bill passed the House of Representatives, for which I voted, as may be seen by the Journal 520-521 [.] It passed into a law, and is found in U.S. Statutes at Large Page 215 and forward. The last section of the act, on page 217—contains an appropriation of 800 000. for clothing the volunteers.

It is impossible to refer to all the votes I gave but the above I think are sufficient as specimens; and you may safely deny that I ever gave any vote for withholding any supplies whatever, from officers or soldiers of the Mexican war. I have examined the Journals a good deal; and besides I can not be mistaken; for I had my eye always upon it. I must close to get this into the mail.

Yours very truly


To Lyman Trumbull


Hon. Lyman Trumbull                    Springfield,
My dear Sir:                     June 23, 1858

Your letter of the 16th. reached me only yesterday. We had already seen, by Telegraph, a report of Douglas’ general onslaught upon every body but himself.  I have this morning seen the Washington Union, in which I think the Judge is rather worsted in regard to that onslaught.

In relation to the charge of an alliance between the Republicans and Buchanan men in this state, if being rather pleased to see a division in the ranks of the democracy, and not doing anything to prevent it, be such alliance, then there is such alliance—at least that is true of me. But if it be intended to charge that there is any alliance by which there is to be any concession of principle on either side, or furnishing of the sinews, or partition of offices, or swopping of votes, to any extent; or the doing of anything, great or small, on the one side, for a consideration, express or implied, on the other, no such thing is true so far as I know or believe.

Before this reaches you, you will have seen the proceedings of our Republican State Convention. It was really a grand affair, and was, in all respects, all that our friends could desire.

The resolution in effect nominating me for Senator I suppose was passed more for the object of closing down upon this everlasting croaking about Wentworth, than anything else.

The signs look reasonably well. Our State ticket, I think, will be elected without much difficulty. But, with the advantages they have of us, we shall be very hard run to carry the Legislature.

We shall greet your return home with great pleasure.

Yours very truly


To John L. Scripps

1858. see June 16.

Jno. L. Scripps, Esq                        Springfield,
My dear Sir                                      June 23, 1858

Your kind note of yesterday is duly received. I am much flattered by the estimate you place on my late speech; and yet I am much mortified that any part of it should be construed so differently from any thing intended by me. The language, “place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in course of ultimate extinction,” I used deliberately, not dreaming then, nor believing now, that it asserts, or intimates, any power or purpose, to interfere with slavery in the States where it exists. But, to not cavil about language, I declare that whether the clause used by me, will bear such construction or not, I never so intended it. I have declared a thousand times, and now repeat that, in my opinion, neither the General Government, nor any other power outside of the slave states, can constitutionally or rightfully interfere with slaves or slavery where it already exists. I believe that whenever the effort to spread slavery into the new teritories, by whatever means, and into the free states themselves, by Supreme court decisions, shall be fairly headed off, the institution will then be in course of ultimate extinction; and by the language used I meant only this.

I do not intend this for publication; but still you may show it to any one you think fit. I think I shall, as you suggest, take some early occasion to publicly repeat the declaration I have already so often made as before stated.

Yours very truly


“A House Divided” Speech at Springfield, Illinois

Back to 1858.

June 16, 1858

The Speech, immediately succeeding, was delivered, June 16, 1858 at Springfield Illinois, at the close of the Republican State convention held at that time and place; and by which convention Mr. Lincoln had been named as their candidate for U. S. Senator.

Senator Douglas was not present.

Mr. PRESIDENT and Gentlemen of the Convention.

If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it.

We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation.

Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented.

In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

It will become all one thing, or all the other.

Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new—North as well as South.

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