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Robert McNamara

Newspaper Sunday: Lincoln at Cooper Union

By February 24, 2013

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With so much attention focused on "Lincoln" at the Oscars, let's take a look back to when the real Lincoln became a star on a very big stage.

At the end of February 1860, after spending three days taking trains from Illinois, the new political voice from the West arrived in New York City, where he had been invited to make a speech.

Abraham Lincoln sensed the importance of the occasion. He had spent months doing research to write what has become known as the Cooper Union Address. And by marshaling historical facts, Lincoln argued that Congress had always maintained the right to regulate slavery, and could thereby prevent its spread into new states and territories.

The speech was solid, but the public's reaction transcended any legal reasoning. Lincoln became an overnight sensation.

"We present herewith a very full and accurate report of this Speech," said the next morning's New York Tribune. "Yet the tones, the gesture, the kindling eye and the mirth provoking look, defy the reporter's skill. The vast assemblage frequently rang with cheers and shouts of applause, which were prolonged and intensified at the close."

That one appearance on a New York stage had put Lincoln on the road to the White House.

Note: The links below lead to excerpts of newspaper articles. On the excerpt page, you can click the "persistent link" to view the entire page of the newspaper.

  • New York Tribune, February 27, 1860: On the day of the speech, the New York Tribune, published by Republican Party supporter Horace Greeley, encouraged New Yorkers to attend.
  • New York Tribune, February 28, 1860: The verdict on the day after the speech: "Mr. Lincoln is one of Nature's orators..."
  • New York Tribune, February 28, 1860: Nearly an entire page of the New York Tribune was devoted to carrying the text of Lincoln's speech.
  • Cleveland Morning Leader, March 1, 1860: In Ohio it was noted that Lincoln's New York appearance demonstrated the emergence of the West as a political force, especially in the battle against slavery.
  • Burlington Free Press, March 9, 1860: A "Letter From New York" published in Vermont vividly described the excitement of the crowd arriving to hear Lincoln speak: "The audience numbered over two thousand, and the rush at the opening of the doors was tremendous. I have never had the fortune — or misfortune — to be in such a rush in my life."


Photograph: Lincoln by Mathew Brady, while in New York City in late February 1860/Library of Congress

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