Abe Lincoln History


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Address at Independence Hall


South facade of Independence Hall
An inaugural journey speech which refers to the Declaration of Independence.

Independence Hall is where both the United States Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were debated and adopted. It is now the centerpiece of Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

For Abe Lincoln the inaugural journey began in Springfield on February 11 and ended in Washington D. C. on February 23, 1861. In between the train made numerous stops and President-elect Lincoln spoke at many of the stops. one of the more memorable stops occurred at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on George Washington's birthday, February 22.
 
On Abraham Lincoln's inaugural journey to Washington as president-elect, he stopped in Philadelphia at the site where the Declaration of Independence had been signed. One of the most famous statements in the speech was, "I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence." This hall also was the place where Lincoln's body lay in state after his assassination in 1865, one of many stops his funeral train made before he was laid to rest in Springfield, Illinois.

Introduction

On the anniversary of George Washington’s birth, February 22, 1861—after he had been elected President but before he was inaugurated (March 4), and before the Confederate firing on Fort Sumter that began the Civil War (April 12)—Abraham Lincoln (1809–65) delivered this impromptu address at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In the speech, Lincoln credits the principles enunciated in the Declaration as the source of “all the political sentiments I entertain,” and for which he was determined to live and govern and, if necessary, to die.

What, in particular, was so important to him? What would it mean, in fact, to live by the principles in the Declaration of Independence? Why would Lincoln not accept saving the country by giving up on those principles? Why does Lincoln regard the American principle of equal liberty and opportunity as a gift of “hope to the world for all future time”?

Address at Independence Hall Speech

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
February 22, 1861

Mr. Cuyler:

I am filled with deep emotion at finding myself standing here, in this 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 the present distracted condition of the 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. I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. I have often pondered over the dangers which were incurred by the men who assembled here, and framed and adopted 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. 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 motherland; but that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world, for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weight would be lifted from the shoulders of all men. This is a sentiment embodied in the 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 cannot 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 surrender it.

Now, in my view of the present aspect of affairs, there need be no bloodshed and war. There is no necessity for it. I am not in favor of such a course, and I may say, in advance, that there will be no bloodshed unless it be forced upon the Government, and then it will be compelled to act in self-defence.

My friends, this is wholly an unexpected speech, and I did not expect to be called upon to say a word when I came here. I supposed it was merely to do something toward raising the flag. I may, therefore, have said something indiscreet. (Cries of "No, no") I have said nothing but what I am willing to live by and, if it be the pleasure of Almighty God, die by.

Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler et al.

 
 
Abe Lincoln History