Historically Yours : Lincoln At Cooper Union

On February 25, 1860, Henry C. Bowen was gloomy in his New York office when he first laid eyes on Abraham Lincoln. Bowen had read about the superb political fight Lincoln had waged two years earlier in his Illinois Senatorial race in a losing battle with America’s premier politician, Senator Stephen Douglas. Lincoln was ow being discussed as a possible Republican Party candidate for president. Bowe invite Lincoln to lecture in New York and scheduled the event at a church in Brooklyn. The event drew such widespread interest that Bowen switched the site to the larger and more prestigious Cooper Union Hall. Bowen recalled, “In the first view of him, there came to me the disheartening and appalling, thought of the great throng which I had been so instrumental in inducing to me to hear Lincoln.” Lincoln had received Bowen’s invitation I October 1859, It gave the struggling candidate the opportunity to bring his message to the New York, home of the most prominent Republican in the country, Willian H. Seward. At the time of the invitation, Lincoln was “absolutely without money…for even household purposes”. He traveled often alone in an open buggy, speaking against slavery to far-flung crowds in Kansas, Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana.

Historian Noah Brooks, in his 1888 biography of Lincoln, quoted an eyewitness to Lincoln’s speech on February 27: “When Lincoln rose to speak, I was greatly disappointed. He was tall – oh, how tall and so angular and awkward that I had, for an instant, a feeling of pity for so ungainly a man. His clothes were travel-stained, ill-fitting and badly wrinkled. He began in a low tone of voice – as if he were used to speaking out-doors and was afraid of speaking too loud. He said “Mr. Cheerman”, instead of “Mr. Chairman,” and he employed many other old-fashioned words. I said to myself: “Old fellow, you won’t do; its all very well for the wild west, but this will never do in New York.” But pretty soon he began to get into his subject; he straightened up, made regular and graceful gestures: his face lighted with an inward fire; the whole man was transfigured. I forgot his clothes, his personal appearance and his individual peculiarities. Presently, forgetting myself, I was on my feet with the rest, yelling like a wild Indian, cheering this wonderful man. When he reached a climax, the thunders of applause were terrific. It was a great speech. When I came out of the hall, my face glowing with excitement and my frame all a-quiver, a friend, with his eyes aglow, asked me what I thought of Abe Lincoln. I said:” He’s the greatest man since St. Paul”

Sources: National Park Services, Lincoln Home, National Historic Site, “The Cooper Union Address: The Making of a Candidate,”: Wikipedia, “Cooper Union Speech,”: The Cooper Union, “Abraham Lincoln at the Cooper Union,”: Lincoln’s Writings: The Multi – Media Edition, ”Cooper Union Speech (February 27, 1860),”: Mr. Lincoln and New York, “Cooper Union Speech,”: National Park Service, etc., “Summary of Lincoln’s Arguments at Cooper Union.

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