James A Briggs.

The authentic account of Hon. Abraham Lincoln being invited to give an address in Cooper institute online

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M Jlutbentic Jlccount


Hon. Abraham Lincoln

Being Invited to give an Address in

Cooper Institute, N. Y.

February 27, I860

Together with Mr. Bryant's Introduction and

Mr. Lincoln's Speech






• 6^5

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(From The New York Evening Post, August 16, 1867)

To the Editor of The Evening Post :

In October, 1859, Messrs. Joseph H. Richards, J. M.
Petting-ill, and S. W. Tubbs called on me at the office
of the Ohio State Agency, 25 William Street, and
requested me to write to the Hon. Thomas Corwin of
Ohio, and the Hon. Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, and
invite them to lecture in a course of lectures these
young gentlemen proposed for the winter in Plymouth
Church, Brooklyn.

I wrote the letters as requested, and offered as com-
pensation for each lecture, as I was authorized, the
sum of $200. The proposition to lecture was accepted
by Messrs. Corwin and Lincoln. Mr. Corwin delivered
his lecture in Plymouth Church, as he was on his way
to Washington to attend Congress ; Mr. Lincoln could
not lecture until late in the season, and the proposition
was agreed to by the gentlemen named, and accepted
by Mr. Lincoln, as the following letter will show:

Narrative of James A. Briggs, Esq.

Danville, Illinois, November 13, 1859.
"James A. Beiggs, Esq.

"Deak Sir: Yonrs of the 1st inst., closing with my
proposition for compromise, was dnly received. I will
be on hand, and in due time will notify you of the exact
day. I believe, after all, I shall make a political speech
of it. You have no objection!

"I would like to know in advance, whether I am also
to speak in New York.

"Very, very glad your election went right.
"Yours truly,

A. LiiSrcoLN.

"P. S. — I am here at court, but my address is still
at Springfield, 111."

In due time Mr. Lincoln wrote me that he would
deliver the lecture, a political one, on the evening of
the 27th of February, 1860. This was rather late in
the season for a lecture, and the young gentlemen who
were responsible were doubtful about its success, as
the expenses were large. It was stipulated that the
lecture was to be in Plymouth Church, Brooklyn; I
requested and urged that the lecture should be deliv-
ered at the Cooper Institute. They were fearful it
would not pay expenses — $350. I thought it would.

In order to relieve Messrs, Richards, Pettingill, and
Tubbs of all responsibility, I called upon some of the
officers of "The Young Men's Republican Union," and
proposed that they should take Mr. Lincoln, and that
the lecture should be delivered under their auspices.
Tliey respectfully declined.

I next called upon Mr. Simeon Draper, then presi-
dent of "The Draper Republican Union Club of New
York," and proposed to him that his "Union" take
Mr. Lincoln and the lecture, and assume the responsi-
])Hity of tlie expenses. Mr. Draper and his friends

Narrative of James A. Briggs, Esq.

declined, and Mr. Lincoln was left on the hands of
''the original Jacobs."

After considerable discussion, it was agreed on the
part of the young gentlemen that the lecture should be
delivered in the Cooper Institute, if I would agree to
share one-fourth of the expenses, if the sale of the
tickets (25 cents) for the lecture did not meet the out-
lay. To this I assented, and the lecture was advertised
to be delivered in the Cooper Institute, on the evening
of the 27th of February.

Mr. Lincoln read the notice of the lecture in the
papers, and, v^dthout any knowledge of the arrange-
ment, was somewhat surprised to learn that he was
first to make his appearance before a New York audi-
ence, instead of a Plymouth Church audience. A notice
of the proposed lecture appeared in the New York
papers, and the Times spoke of him ''as a lawyer who
had some local reputation in Illinois."

At my personal solicitation Mh. William Cuij.ei^
Bkyant presided as chairman of the meeting, and
introduced Mr. Ijincoln for the first time to a New York

The lecture was a wonderful success; it has become
a part of the history of the country. Its remarkable
ability was everywhere acknowledged, and after the
27th of Februarv the name of Mr. Lincoln was a
familiar one to all the people of the East. After Mr.
Tjincoln closed his lecture, Mr. David Dudley Field,
Mr. James W. Nye, Mr. Horace Greeley, and myself
were called out by the audience and made short
speeches. I remember of saying then, "One of three
R-Antlemen will be our standard-bearer in the presi-
dential contest of this year: the distinguished Senator
of New York, Mr. Seward; the late able and accom-
plished Governor of Ohio, Mr. Chase ; or the 'Unknown
Knifrht' who entered the political lists against the Bois
Guilbert of Democracy on the prairies of Illinois in

Narrative of James A. Briggs, Esq.

1858, and unhorsed him — Abraham Lincohi." Some
friends joked me after the meeting as not being a
''good prophet." The lecture was over — all the
expenses were paid, and I was handed by the gentle-
men interested the sum of $4.25 as my share of the
profits, as they would have called on me if there had
been a deficiency in the receipts to meet the expenses.

Immediately after the lecture, Mr. Lincoln went to
Exeter, N. H., to visit his son Robert, then at school
there, and I sent him a check for $200. Mr. Tubbs
informed me a few weeks ago that after the check was
paid at the Park Bank he tore it up ; but that he would
give $200 for the check if it could be restored with the
endorsement of "A. Lincoln," as it was made payable
to the order of Mr. Lincoln.

After the return of Mr. Lincoln to New York from
the East, where he had made several speeches, he said
to me, *'I have seen what all the New York papers
said about that thing of mine in the Cooper Institute,
with the exception of the New York Evening Post, and
I would like to know what Mr. Bryant thought of it;"
and he then added, ''It is worth a visit from Spring-
field, Illinois, to New York to make the acquaintance
of such a man as William Cullen Beyant." At Mr.
Ijincoln's request, I sent him a copy of the Evening
Post \y\i\\ a notice of his lecture.

On returning from Mr. Beecher's Church, on Sun-
day, in company with Mr. Lincoln, as wo were passing
the post-office, I remarked to him, "Mr. Lincoln, I
wiftli vou would take particular notice of what a dark
and dismal place we have here for a post-office, and
I do it for this reason: I think your chance for being
llio next Prosident is eoual to that of any man in the
country. When you are President will you recommend
an appropriation of a million of dollars for a suitable «

location for a post-office in this city?" With a signifi- |

Narrative of James A. Briggs, Esq.

cant gesture Mr. Lincoln remarked, "I will make a
note of that."

On going np Broadway with Mr. Lincoln in the eve-
ning, from the Astor House, to hear the Rev. Dr. E. H.
Chapin, he said to me, "When I was East several
gentlemen made about the same remarks to me that
you did to-day about the Presidency; they thought
my chances were about equal to the best."

James A. Briggs.

P. S. — The writers of Mr. Lincoln's Biography have
tilings considerably mixed about Mr. Lincoln going
to the Five Points Mission School, at the Five Points,
in New York, that he found his way there alone, etc.,
etc. Mr. Lincoln went there in the afternoon with his
old friend, Hiram Barney, Esq., and after Mr. B. had
informed Mr. Barlow, the Superintendent, who the
stranger with him was, Mr. Barlow requested Mr. Lin-
coln to speak to the children, which he did. I met Mr.
Lincoln at Mr. Barney's at tea, just after this pleasant,
and to him strange, visit at the Five Points Mission

J. A. B.





(From The New York Tril)une, February 28, 18G0)

Mr. Bryant on taking the chair said:

"My friends, it is a grateful office that I perform in
introducing to you at this time an eminent citizen of
the West, whom you know, or whom you have known
hitlierto only by fame, but who has consented to
address a New York assemblage this evening. The
Great West, my friends, is a potent auxiliary in the
l)attle we are iigliting for Freedom against Slavery;
in behalf of civilization against barbarism; for the
occupation of some of the finest regions of our con-
tinent, on which the settlers are now building their
cabins. I see a higher and a wiser agency than that
of man in the causes that have filled with a hardy
population the vast and fertile region which forms
the western parts of the valley of the Mississippi, a
race of men who are not ashamed to till their acres
Willi their own hands, and who would be ashamed to
subsist by the labor of the slave. (Cheers). These
children of th(' West, my friends, form a living bul-
wark against tlie advances of Shivery, and from them
is recruited the vanguard of the armies of Liberty.
(Applause). One of them will appear before you this

Introduction hij William Cullcn Bryant

evening. I present to you a gallant soldier of the
political campaign of 1856, who then rendered good
service to the Republican cause, and who was since,
the champion of that cause in the struggle which took
place two 3^ears later for the supremacy in the Legis-
lature of Illinois, who took the field then against
Douglas, and who would have then won victory but
for the unjust apportionment laws of the state which
allowed a minority of the people to elect the majority
of the Legislature. I have only, my friends, to^ pro-
nounce the name of Abeaham Lincoln of Illinois.
(Loud cheering). I have only to pronounce his name
to secure your profoundest attention." (Continued
applause and three cheers for Abraham Lincoln).




Delivered at the Cooper Institute
Monday. Feb. 27, 1860

Mr. President and Fellow-Citizens of New York:
The facts with which I shall deal this evening are
mainly old and familiar; nor is there anything new
in the general use I shall make of them. If there shall
be any novelty, it will be in the mode of presenting the
facts, and the inferences and observations following
that presentation.

In his speech last aiitmnn, at Columbus, Ohio, as
reported in "The Neiv York Times," Senator Douglas
said :

''Our fathers, when they framed the Government
under which we live, understood this question just as
well, and even better, than we do now."

I fully indorse this, and I adopt it as a text for this
discourse. I so adopt it because it furnishes a precise
and an agreed starting point for a discussion between
Uojiublicans and that wing of Democracy headed by
Senator Doughis. It simply leaves the inquiry:
''What was the understanding those fathers had of
llie (juestion mentioned F"

Wliat is the frame of Government under which we


Speech of Abraham Lincoln

The answer must be: "The Constitution of the
United States." That Constitution consists of the
original, framed in 1787 (and under which the present
Government first went into operation), and twelve sub-
sequently framed amendments, the first ten of which
were framed in 1789.

Who were our fathers that framed the Constitu-
tion^ I suppose the "thirty-nine" who signed the
orio-inal instrument may be fairly called our fathers
whS framed that part of the present Government. It
is almost exactlv true to say they framed it, and it is
altogether true to say they fairly represented the
opinion and sentiment of the whole nation at that
time. Their names, being famihar to nearly all, and
accessible to quite all, need not now be repeated. _

I take these "thirtv-nine," for the present, as being
"our fathers who framed the Government under which

we live. ' '

What is the question which, according to the text,
those fathers understood just as well, and even better
than we do now!

It is this: Does the proper division ot local trom
federal authoritv, or anything in the Constitution, for-
bid our Federal Government to control as to slavery
in our Federal Territories!

Upon this, Douglas holds the affirmative, and Kepub-
licans the negative. This affirmative and denial form
an issue; and this issue— this question— is precisely
what the text declares our fathers understood better

than w^e. , . , . ,,

Let us now inquire whether the "thirty-mne, oi
anv of them, ever acted upon this question; and it
they did, how they acted upon it— how they expressed
that better understanding.

In 1784— three years before the Constitution— the
United States then owning the Northwestern Terri-
torv and no other-the Congress of the Confederation

Speech of Ahraliam Lincoln

liad before tliem tlie question of proliibiting slavery in
that Territory; and four of the ''thirty-nine" who
afterward framed the Constitution were in that Con-
gress, and voted on that question. Of these, Roger
Slierman, Thomas Mifflin, and Hugh WiUiamson voted
for the prohibition — thus showing that, in their under-
standing, no line dividing local from federal authority,
nor anything else, properly forbade the Federal Gov-
ernment to control as to slavery in federal territory.
The other of the four — James McHenry — voted against
the prohibition, showing that, for some cause, he
thought it improper to vote for it.

In 1787, still before the Constitution, but while the
Convention was in session framing it, and while the
Northwestern Territory still was the only territory
owned by the United States — the same question of
prohibiting slavery in the territory again came before
the Congress of the Confederation; and three more
of the "thirty-nine" who afterward signed the Con-
stitution, were in that Congress and voted on the ques-
tion. They were William Blount, William Few and
Abraham Baldwin ; and they all voted for the prohibi-
tion — thus showing that, in their understanding, no
line dividing local from federal authority nor anything
else, properly forbids the Federal Groverinnent to con-
trol as to slavery in federal territory. This time the
prohibition became a law, being part of what is now
well known as the Ordinance of '87.

The question of federal control of slavery in the
territories, seems not to have been directly before the
Convention which framed the original Constitution;
and hence it is not n^corded that the "thirty-nine" or
any of them, while engaged on that instrument,
expressed any opinion on that precise question.

In 1789, by the first Congress which sat under the
Constitution, an act was passed to enforce the Ordi-
n.'uico of '87, iiif'lndiiig 1he prohibition of slavery in

Speech of Abraham Lincoln

the Northwestern Territory, The bill for this act was
reported by one of the " thirt3^-nine, " Thomas Fitz-
simmons, then a member of the House of Representa-
tives from Pennsylvania. It went throno-h all its
sta.^-es without a word of opposition, and finally passed
both branches without yeas and nays, which is equiva-
lent to an unanimous passage. In this Congress there
were sixteen of the ''thirty -nine" fathers wiio framed
the original Constitution. They w^ere John Langdon,
Nicholas Gilman, Wm. S. Johnson, Roger Sherman,
Robert Morris, Thos. Fitzsimmons, William Few,
Abraham Baldwin, Rufus King, William Patterson,
(reorge Clymer, Richard Bassett, George Read, Pierce
Butler, Daniel Carroll, James Madison.

This shows that, in their understanding, no line
di'sndinsr local from federal authority, nor anything
in the Constitution, pronerly forbade Congress to pro-
hibit slavery in the fed'^ral territory; else both their
fidelity to correct principle, and their oath to support
the Constitution, would have constrained them to
opnose the prohibition.

Airain, George Washington, another of the "thirty-
nine," was then President of the United States, and,
as such, approved and signed the bill, thus completing
its validitv as a law, and thus shomng that, in his
understanding, no line dividing: local from federal
authority, nor anything in the Constitution, forbade
the Federal Government to control as to slavery in
federal territorv.

No g-reat while after the adoption of the original
Constitution, North Carolina ceded to the Federal
Government thp country now constituting the State of
Tennessee ; and a few years later Georgia ceded that
which now constitutes the States of Mississippi and
Alabama. In both deeds of cession it was made a con-
dition bv the cediner States that the Federal Govern-
ment should not prohibit slavery in the ceded country.

Speech of Abraham Lincoln

Besides this, slavery was tlien actually in the ceded
country. Under these circumstances, Congress, on
taking" charge of these countries, did not absolutely
prohibit slavery with them. But they did interfere
with it — take control of it — even there, to a certain
extent. In 1798, Congress organized the Territory of
Mississippi. In the act of organization they prohibited
the bringing of slaves into the Territory, from any
place without the United States, by fine, and giving
freedom to slaves so brought. This act passed both
branches of Congress without yeas and nays. In that
Congress were three of the " thirty -nine " wdio framed
the original Constitution. They were John Langdon,
George Read and Abraham Baldwin. They all, prob-
ably, voted for it. Certainly they would have placed
their opposition to it upon record, if, in their under-
standing, any line dividing local from federal author-
ity, or anything in the Constitation, properly forbade
the Federal Government to control as to slavery in
federal territory.

In 1803, the Federal Government purchased the
Louisiana country. Our former territorial acquisi-
tions came from certain of our own States; but this
Louisiana country was acquired from a foreign nation.
In 1804, Congress gave a territorial organization to
that part of it which now constitutes the State of
Louisiana. New Orleans, lying within that part, was
an old and comparatively large city. There were other
considerable towns and settlements, and slavery was
extensively and thoroughly intermingled with the
people. Congress did not, in the Territorial Act, pro-
hi])it slavery; but they did interfere with it — take
control of it — in a more marked and extensive v>'ay
than they did in the case of Mississippi. The sub-
stance of the provision therein made, in relation to
slaves, was:

First. That no slave should be imported into the

Speech of Abraham Lincoln

territory from foreign parts.

Second. That no slave should be carried into it
who had been imported into the United States since
the first day of May, 1798.

Third. That no slave shonld be carried into it
except by the owner, and for his own nse as a settler;
the penalty in all the cases being a fine npon the viola-
tor of the law, and freedom to the slave.

This act also was passed without yeas and nays. In
the Congress which passed it, there were two of the
* ' thirty-nine. ' ' They were Abraham Baldwin and Jon-
athan Dayton. As stated in the case of Mississippi,
it is probable they voted for it. They would not have
allowed it to pass without recording their opposition
to it, if, in their understanding, it violated either the
line proper dividing local from federal authority or
any provision of the Constitution.

In 1819-20, came and passed the Missouri question.
Many votes were taken, by yeas and nays, in both
branches of Co'Ugress, upon the various phases of the
general question. Two of the ''thirty-nine" — Rufus
King and Charles Pinckney — were members of that
Congress. Mr. King steadily voted for slavery pro-
hibition and against all compromises, while Mr. Pinck-
ney as steadily voted against slavery prohibition and
against all compromises. By this Mr. King showed
that, in his understanding, no line dividing local from
federal authority, nor anything in the Constitution,
T\^as violated by Congress prohibiting slavery in fed-
eral territory; while Mr. Pinckney, by his votes,
shov.'ed that in his understanding there was some suffi-
cient reason for opposing such prohibition in that ease.

The cases I have mentioned are the only acts of the
"thirty-nine," or of any of them, upon the direct issue,
which I have been able to discover.

To enumerate the persons who thus acted, as being
four in 1784, three in 1787, seventeen in 1789, three in

Speech of Abrahmn Lincoln

1798, two in 1804, and two in 1819-20— there would be
thirtj-^-one of them. But this would be counting John
Langdon, Roger Sherman, William Few, Rufus King,
and George Read, each twice, and Abraham Baldwin
four times. The true number of those of the "thirty-
nine" whom I have shown to have acted upon the ques-
tion, wdiicli, by the text they understood better than
we, is twenty-three, leaving sixteen not shown to have
acted upon it in any way.

Here, then, we have twenty-three out of our "thirty-
nine ' ' fathers who framed the Government under which
we live, who have, upon their official responsibility and
their corporal oaths, acted upon the very question
which the text affirms they "understood just as well,
and even better than we do now;" and twenty-one of
them — a clear majority of the whole "thirty-nine" —
so acting upon it as to make them guilty of gross polit-
ical impropriety, and wailful perjury, if, in their
understanding, any proper division between local and
federal authority, or anything in the Constitution they
had made themselves, and sworn to support, forbade
the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the
federal territories. Thus the twenty-one acted; and,
as actions speak louder than words, so actions under
such responsibility speak still louder.

Two of tlie twenty-three voted against Congres-
sional prohibition of slavery in the federal territories,
in the instances in which they acted upon the question.
But for what reasons they so voted is not known. They
may have done so because they thought a proper di^d-
sion of local from federal authority, or some provision
or principle of the Constitution, stood in the way;
or they may, without any such question, have voted
?i gainst the prohil)ition, on what appeared to them to
be sufficient grounds of expediency. No one who has
sworii to support tlie Constitution, can conscientiously
vote for wliat he understands to be an unconstitutional

Speech of Abraham Lincoln

measure, however expedient he may think it ; but one
may and ought to vote against a measure wliich he
deems constitutional, if, at the same time, he deems it
inexpedient. It, therefore, would be unsafe to set
down even the two who voted against the prohibition,
as having done so because, in their understanding, any
proper division of local from federal authority, or any-
thing in the Constitution, forbade the Federal Govern-
ment to control as to slavery in federal territory.

The remaining sixteen of the "thirty-nine," so far
as I have discovered, have left no record of their
understanding upon the direct question of federal con-
trol of slavery in the federal territories. But there is
much reason to believe that their understanding upon
that question would not have appeared different from
that of their twenty-three compeers, had it been mani-
fested at all.

For the purpose of adhering rigidly to the text, I
have purposely omitted whatever understanding may
have been manifested, by any person, however distin-
guished, other than the thirty-nine fathers who framed
the original Constitution; and, for the same reason,
I have also omitted whatever understanding may have
been manifested by any of the " thirt^^-nine " even, on
any other phase of the general question of slavery.
If we should look into their acts and declarations on
those other phases, as the foreign slave-trade, and the
morality and policy of slavery generally, it would
appear to us that on the direct question of federal con-
trol of slavery in federal territories, the sixteen, if
they had acted at all, would probably have acted just
as the twenty-three did. Among that sixteen were
several of the most noted anti-slavery men of those
times — as Dr. Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and

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Online LibraryJames A BriggsThe authentic account of Hon. Abraham Lincoln being invited to give an address in Cooper institute → online text (page 1 of 3)