On this day, June 16, 1858, newly nominated senatorial candidate Abraham Lincoln addresses the Illinois Republican Convention in Springfield and warns that the nation faces a crisis that could destroy the Union. Lincoln paraphrased a passage from the New Testament: “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
The southern states relied on an economy and lifestyle dependent upon the cheap labor provided by African-American slaves, the North opposed slavery on moral grounds. The northern states also considered industrialization and manufacturing the key to America’s economic future, not farming. For his part, Lincoln believed slavery was immoral and was wholly incompatible with the principles of the Declaration of Independence embodied in the phrase “all men are created equal.”
After Lincoln’s speech, several of his friends expressed dismay at its “radical” content. Leonard Swett, a lawyer and friend of Lincoln’s, later wrote that Lincoln’s talk of using federal power to end slavery was “unfortunate and inappropriate,” although Swett admitted that in retrospect Lincoln was ultimately correct. At the time, the people of Illinois ultimately agreed with Swett: Lincoln lost the close Senate race of 1858 to the more moderate Stephen Douglas, who advocated states’ sovereignty. Lincoln’s eloquent speech, though, earned him national attention and his strong showing in the polls encouraged the people to back his ultimately successful bid for the presidency in 1860.
Today, you only have to turn on the needs to see we are once again a nation divided.