Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others.

As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own, and his children's liberty.

Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap; let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and Let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

While ever a state of feeling, such as this, shall universally, or even, very generally prevail throughout the nation, vain will be every effort, and fruitless every attempt, to subvert our national freedom.

- Abraham Lincoln, January 27, 1838
  Address Before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Looking back at Lincoln: On February 22, 1861

On this day in 1861, Lincoln gave the following powerful speech before a crowd in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Philly was one of the final stops on the whistle-stop train trip from Springfield, Illinois to Washington D.C. where the president-elect would finally be inaugurated on March 4th.

This speech contains a number of gems that are often quoted out of this original context.

"I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence"

and the haunting

"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 to surrender it."
It is eerie to hear Lincoln speak of being assassinated. It is possible, as the footnote below suggests, that Lincoln had already heard rumors of assassination plots that might be carried out as he traveled the following day through Baltimore, Maryland.

It was impossible at that time to reach Washington by train without traveling through Maryland - a slave state with strong Southern sympathies. Not only was Lincoln unsure of the welcome he would receive in Baltimore, but there was some question as to whether his train would even arrive in the city without being sabotaged.

February 22, 1861

Mr. CUYLER:---I am filled with deep emotion at finding myself standing here in the 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 our distracted 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, and were given to the world from this hall in which we stand. I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. (Great cheering.) I have often pondered over the dangers which were incurred by the men who assembled here and adopted [2] 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. (Applause.) 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 something in that Declaration giving liberty, [3] not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time. (Great applause.) It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance. (Cheers.) This is the sentiment embodied in that 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 can't 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 to surrender it. [4] (Applause.)

Now, in my view of the present aspect of affairs, there is no need of bloodshed and war. There is no necessity for it. I am not in favor of such a course, and I may say in advance, there will be no blood shed unless it be forced upon the Government. The Government will not use force unless force is used against it. [5] (Prolonged applause and cries of ``That's the proper sentiment.'')

My friends, this is a wholly unprepared speech. I did not expect to be called upon to say a word when I came here---I supposed I was merely to do something towards raising a flag. I may, therefore, have said something indiscreet, (cries of ``no, no''), but I have said nothing but what I am willing to live by, and, in [6] the pleasure of Almighty God, die by.


[1] Philadelphia Inquirer, February 23, 1861. Important variations of the text in the New York Tribune are given in footnotes. Lincoln was welcomed by Theodore L. Cuyler, president of the Select Council of Philadelphia.

[2] New York Tribune reads, ``and framed and adopted.''

[3] Tribune reads, ``but that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty.''

[4] Lincoln's allusion may have been suggested by the warning which he had received of a plot to assassinate him when the presidential train passed through Baltimore.

[5] Tribune reads in place of this sentence, ``. . . , and then it will be compelled to act in self-defense.''

[6] Tribune reads, ``and if it be the pleasure.''

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