Abraham Lincoln on the Declaration of Independence

Harper's Weekly, (March 9th, 1861), cover, detail

Abraham Lincoln raising a 34-star flag at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on February 22nd, 1861
Harper's Weekly, (March 9th, 1861), cover, detail
Image credit: Son of the South

On [February 22nd, 1861], Mr. Lincoln visited the old Independence Hall, from which was originally issued the [United States] Declaration of Independence. He was received in a cordial speech by Mr. Theodore Cuyler, to which he made the following response:—

Mr. Cuyler:—I am filled with deep emotion at finding myself standing here in this place, where were collected together the wisdom, the patriotism, the devotion to principle from which sprang the institutions under which we live. You have kindly suggested to me that in my hands is the task of restoring peace to the present distracted condition of the country. I can say in return, sir, that all the political sentiments I entertain have been drawn, so far as I have been able to draw them, from the sentiments which originated in and were given to the world from this hall. I have never had a feeling, politically, that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. I have often pondered over the dangers which were incurred by the men who assembled here, and framed and adopted that Declaration of Independence. I have pondered over the toils that were endured by the officers and soldiers of the army who achieved that independence. I have often inquired of myself what great principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy so long together. It was not the mere matter of the separation of the Colonies from the mother-land, but that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world, for all future time. [Great applause.] It was that which gave promise that in due time the weight would be lifted from the shoulders of all men. This is the sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Now, my friends, can this country be saved upon that basis? If it can, I will consider myself one of the happiest men in the world if I can help to save it. If it cannot be saved upon that principle, it will be truly awful. But if this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle, I was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it. [Applause.] Now, in my view of the present aspect of affairs, there need be no bloodshed or war. There is no necessity for it. I am not in favor of such a course; and I may say in advance that there will be no bloodshed unless it be forced upon the Government, and then it will be compelled to act in self-defence. [Applause.]

My friends, this is wholly an unexpected speech, and I did not expect to be called upon to say a word when I came here. I supposed it was merely to do something towards raising the flag—I may, therefore, have said something indiscreet. [Cries of “No, No.”] I have said nothing but what I am willing to live by, and, if it be the pleasure of Almighty God, die by.
Henry Jarvis Raymond and Francis Bicknell Carpenter in The life and public services of Abraham Lincoln: Together with his state papers, including his speeches, addresses, messages, letters, and proclamations, and the closing scenes connected with his life and death. To which are added anecdotes and personal reminiscences of President Lincoln, (New York: Derby and Miller, 1865), p. 154. Also available in Osborn H. Oldroyd‘s The Poets’ Lincoln: tributes in verse to the martyred President, (Boston: The Chapple Publishing Company, 1915), p. 67. Compare Philadelphia Inquirer transcription published February 23rd, 1861.

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"On the 21st, Mr. Lincoln visited the old Independence Hall"
Abraham Lincoln Posted on behalf of Abraham Lincoln on Friday, February 12th, 2010 under Quotations.

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