Friday, February 27, 2015



New York City (JFK+50) One hundred and fifty-five years ago today, February 27, 1860, Abraham Lincoln, not yet the nominee of the Republican Party for President of the United States, spoke at the Cooper Union in Manhattan here in New York City to 1500 of his party's elite.

Mr. Lincoln's appearance was sponsored by the Young Men's Republican Union at the Cooper Institute.

Harold Holzer describes Lincoln's address as "learned, witty and exquisitely reasoned" and as...

"Lincoln's watershed, the event that transformed him from a regional leader to a national phenomenon."

Mr. Holzer adds that Lincoln's speech...

"electrified his elite audience and...reverberated in newspapers and pamphlets that reached thousands of Republican voters across the Nation."

Abraham Lincoln
February 27, 1860, New York City
Photograph by Matthew Brady
Library of Congress Image

Mr. Lincoln framed his address around the following statement by Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, made in Columbus, Ohio in the fall of 1959, regarding the question of federal power to control slavery in the territories...

"Our fathers, when they framed the Government under which we live understood this."

Lincoln poses the question...

"What was the understanding those fathers had of the question mentioned?"

In other words, is there anything in the Constitution or in the division of local from federal powers that prohibits the Federal Government from controlling slavery in the territories?

In answering that question, Mr. Lincoln examines the views of 39 of the signers of the United States Constitution and determines that, "a clear majority," 21 believed Congress SHOULD control slavery in the territories.

Lincoln cites signers Roger Sherman, Thomas Mifflin, Hugh Williamson, William Blount and William Few as voting FOR the prohibition of slavery in the Northwest Territory.

He also says that in 1789 the Congress voted unanimously for the Ordinance of 1787 with Thomas Fitzsimmons proposing it and President George Washington signing it into law (both Founding Fathers).

Mr. Lincoln goes on to point out that 16 other signers of the Constitution, including Virginia's James Madison ,'Father of the Constitution', voted for the law.

Lincoln also quotes Thomas Jefferson, who was not at a participant in the Constitutional Convention, as saying...

"It is still in our power to direct the process of emancipation...peaceably, and in such slow degrees...that the evil will wear off...."

While Lincoln acknowledges emancipation, at the time, to be a decision to be made by the individual sovereign states, he says....

"The Federal Government...we insist has the power of restraining the extension of the institution (of slavery)."

Nevertheless, Mr. Lincoln called upon his fellow Republicans to be willing to work with the Southern people and their representatives to resolve their differences peaceably.

Lincoln ended his Copper Union address, one of his longest speeches, with these words...

"Let us have faith that right makes might and in that faith let us dare to do our duty."


Cooper Union Address, National Park Service,

"Lincoln at Cooper Union:  The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President," by Harold Holzer, Simon and Schuster Lincoln Library, New York, 2006.

Cooper Union Foundation Building
Photograph by David Shankbone
July 2007