Guest Essayist: Brenda Hafera, Finance and Events Co-Ordinator at the Matthew J. Ryan Center For the Study of Free Institutions and the Public Good at Villanova University

“No former effort in the line of speech-making had cost Lincoln so much time and thought as this one.”  Considering the nuances and rhetoric of Lincoln’s speeches in the Lincoln-Douglas debates, it is perhaps shocking that law partner William Herndon was referring to the Cooper Union Address.  Lincoln meticulously poured over dusty parchment for several months in preparation for this speech.  His painstaking research included the examination of six volumes of Debates on the Federal Constitution by Elliott, the official records of the proceedings of Congress, the Congressional Globe, American history books, and other sources.  He traced the actual legislative votes of thirty-nine of the Constitution’s signers to determine how they later acted on the question of slavery to prove that the Founders did indeed intend for slavery to become extinct. Read more

With an eye to the Republican presidential nomination of 1860, Lincoln campaigned vigorously across the North. Responding to Stephen Douglas’s “Dividing Line” speech, he used this address to claim the mantle of America’s Founders for the Republican Party. Employing original research on the anti-slavery views of “our fathers,” Lincoln cast himself as a conservative. The speech caught the attention of the Eastern political establishment, while at the same time distinguishing him from the radical abolitionists.

February 27, 1860

…But enough! Let all who believe that “our fathers, who framed the Government under which we live, understood this question just as well, and even better, than we do now,” speak as they spoke, and act as they acted upon it.  Read more