Sunday, June 16, 2013


June 16, 2013


Springfield, Illinois (JFK+50) ABRAHAM LINCOLN gave his famous "House Divided " speech to a thousand delegates at the close of the Illinois State Republican Convention 155 years ago today, June 16, 1858, here in Springfield.

Quoting from the THE HOLY BIBLE (Mark, Chapter 3, Verse 25): "And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand,"  Mr. Lincoln said:

"A house divided against itself cannot stand.  This government cannot remain half-slave and half-free."

While most people today associate that quote with Lincoln, they may not realize that he was not the first politician or American writer to make reference to it.

During the debate on the Compromise of 1850 in the Senate of the United States, SAM HOUSTON used these words...

"A nation divided against itself cannot stand."

And in 1776, THOMAS PAINE wrote in Common Sense in reference to the British monarchy...

"This hath all the distinctions of a house divided against itself."

I would argue, also, that most people who associate the quote exclusively with Lincoln, are not even remotely aware that in the "House Divided" speech, the future president of the United States warned that the nation was just "one (Supreme Court) decision away" from slavery becoming the law of the land.

Abraham Lincoln in 1860
Photo by Matthew Brady

Mr. Lincoln said...

"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."

Lincoln continued...

"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 the course of ultimate extinction, or its advocates will push it forward til it shall become lawful in all the States."

Mr. Lincoln's speech placed him in direct opposition to his Democratic opponent in the coming general election, incumbent Senator Stephen A. Douglas.*

*Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861) was born in Brandon, Vermont.  He studied law and moved to Illinois where he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1843 and the U.S. Senate in 1846.  After losing the presidency to Lincoln in 1860, he opposed secession and supported Lincoln's call for troops to defend the Union.  Douglas died of typhoid fever.

                Statue of Stephen A. Douglas
                              by Lily Tolpo
             Debate Square, Freeport, Illinois
                 Photo by IvoShandor (2007)

Senator Douglas, a national figure for years, advocated "popular sovereignty," or the right of the people of each territory to vote slavery up or down by majority.

Lincoln said...

"We are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated...of putting an end to slavery agitation (but) that agitation has not only NOT ceased, but has constantly augmented."

Mr. Lincoln reminded his fellow Republicans that in 1854 slavery was ILLEGAL in more than HALF of the States of the Union as well as in MOST of the western territories.

But, Lincoln also reminded them that by virtue of passage of the KANSAS-NEBRASKA ACT of 1854, proposed by Senator Douglas, slavery was an open question in ALL THE TERRITORIES.

And in reference to the recent decision in which the Supreme Court ruled slaves were not citizens and could not sue for their freedom or anything else in the court system, Lincoln said...

"The reputed author of the Nebraska bill (Senator Douglas) finds an early occasion to make a speech...endorsing the Dred Scott decision."

I would argue further that most people today who associate "House Divided" with Abraham Lincoln have no clue that in that speech he advocated the overthrow of the "present political dynasty."

Lincoln said...

"(One Supreme Court) decision is all that SLAVERY now lacks of being lawful in ALL the States...unless the power of the present political dynasty shall be met and overthrown."

Lincoln continued...

"That is what we have to do.  How best can we do it?"

Abraham Lincoln said that his general election opponent, Senator Douglas, "don't care anything about" opposing the advancement of slavery and while Lincoln recognized Douglas's "great ability," he said that he was "clearly...not with us (and) does not promise to be."

The future 16th President of the United States concluded his "House Divided" speech with this promise...

"We shall not fail--if we stand firm.  Sooner or later the victory is sure to come."**


"Life and Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 4," ed. Marion Mills Miller,

**Abraham Lincoln lost his bid to unseat Senator Douglas in the general election.  The final vote in the Illinois Legislature was 54 to 46 in favor of Douglas.  In 1860, however, Lincoln would get another chance against Douglas, this time for the Presidency of the United States.