Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln and Henry Clay Whitney on revolutions, Lincoln’s “Lost Speech,” and memory

Be not deceived. Revolutions do not go backward.
Abraham Lincoln in a speech delivered at the first Republican Party State Convention of Illinois (Bloomington, Illinois: May 29, 1856). Transcribed from notes and reconstructed from memory by Henry Clay Whitney (1896). Published as “Lincoln’s Lost Speech” in McClure’s Magazine, Volume 7, Number 4, (New York: S. S. McClure Company, September 1896), p. 324.

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"Be not deceived. Revolutions do not go backward."





My belief is that, after Mr. Lincoln cooled down, he was rather pleased that his speech had not been reported, as it was too radical in expression on the slavery question for the digestion of central and southern Illinois at that time, and that he preferred to let it stand as a remembrance in the minds of his audience. But be that as it may, the effect of it was such on his hearers that he bounded to the leadership of the new Republican party of Illinois, and no man afterwards ever thought of disputing that position with him. On that occasion he planted the seed which germinated into a Presidential candidacy and that gave him the nomination over [William H.] Seward at the Chicago convention of 1860, which placed him in the Presidential chair, there to complete his predestined work of destroying slavery and making freedom universal, but yielding his life as a sacrifice for the glorious deeds.
Joseph Medill in a letter solicited by McClure’s Magazine Editor Ida M. Tarbell confirming the veracity of H. C. Whitney’s transcription of Lincoln’s speech (Chicago, Illinois: May 15, 1896). Published in McClure’s Magazine, Volume 7, Number 4, (New York: S. S. McClure Company, September 1896), p. 322.

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"My belief is that, after Mr. Lincoln cooled down"





[Ida M.] Tarbell’s weakness, as with other biographers who specialized in reminiscences, lay in her credulity. She was too willing to believe good stories… She…put her authority behind Whitney’s reconstruction of Lincoln’s so-called Lost Speech of 1856. This speech in Bloomington at the birth of the Republican party in Illinois had a legendary reputation. Lincoln spoke “like a giant inspired.” So powerful was his oratory that the reporters, as if hypnotized, laid down their pencils, and when it was over no one could recall what had been said. They simply reported the fact of the speech to their newspapers. Whitney had heard the speech and coolly taken notes from which he now, forty years later, reconstructed it. He sent his handiwork to Joseph Medill of the Chicago Tribune, who had been one of the enthralled reporters, and Medill vouched for its closeness to the original. Tarbell, who had interviewed Medill in Chicago, was carried away by the discovery. She wrote a newspaper article about it in June 1896, and “Lincoln’s Lost Speech” appeared in McClure’s some months later. In its contents the speech resembled others Lincoln made during these years. It may be identified by the peroration as Whitney gave it: “We will say to the Southern disunionists, we won’t go out of the Union, and you shan’t!!” Many knowledgeable persons greeted Whitney’s version of the Lost Speech with skepticism. [John George] Nicolay thought it devoid of Lincoln’s style and pronounced it a forgery. Robert Lincoln concurred. A generation later the Lincoln scholar Paul M. Angle, while regretting the embarrassment to Ida Tarbell, exposed it as the “fabrication” of a scamp.[23]
Merrill D. Peterson in Lincoln in American Memory, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 154.

Noah Brooks on Abraham Lincoln’s character

Lincoln was a close observer of nature, as well as of men. He used natural objects to complete his similes. Into the wonderful alembic of his mind everything was received, to be brought forth again as aphorism, parable, or trenchant saying. In woodcraft, for example, he was deeply skilled, his habit of close observation leading him to detect curious facts which escaped the notice of most men. Riding through a wood in Virginia, he observed a vine which wrapped a tree in its luxuriant growth. “Yes,” he said, “that is very beautful; but that vine is like certain habits of men; it decorates the ruin that it makes.” At another time, when we were in Virginia together, just after a fall of snow, I found him standing on the stump of a tree, looking out over the landscape. He called attention to various subtle features of the view, and said, among other things, that he liked the trees best when they were not in leaf, as their anatomy could then be studied. And he bade me look at the delicate yet firm outline of the leafless tree against the sky. Then, pointing to the fine net-work of shadows cast on the snow by the branches and twigs, he said that that was the profile of the tree. The very next day, somebody was discussing with him the difference between character and reputation, when he said,—with a look at me, as if to remind me of what he had been talking about the day before,—perhaps a man’s character was like a tree, and his reputation like its shadow; the shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.
Noah Brooks in “Lincoln’s Imagination” published in Scribners Monthly: An Illustrated Magazine For the People, Vol. 18, May 1879 to October 1879, (New York: Press of Francis Hart & Company on behalf of Scribner & Company, 1879), p. 586. Thanks to Lee Graves for the pointer to this quotation in his Thought For The Day email of February 12th, 2010.

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"Lincoln was a close observer of nature"

Abraham Lincoln on the Declaration of Independence

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"