The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7

I still suppose that, while the political drama being enacted in this
country at this time is rapidly shifting its scenes–forbidding an
anticipation with any degree of certainty to-day of what we shall see
to-morrow–it is peculiarly fitting that I should see it all, up to
the last minute, before I should take ground that I might be
disposed, by the shifting of the scenes afterward, also to shift. I
have said several times upon this journey, and I now repeat it to
you, that when the time does come, I shall then take the ground that
I think is right–right for the North, for the South, for the East,
for the West, for the whole country. And in doing so I hope to feel
no necessity pressing upon me to say anything in conflict with the
Constitution, in conflict with the continued union of these States,
in conflict with the perpetuation of the liberties of this people, or
anything in conflict with anything whatever that I have ever given
you reason to expect from me. And now, my friends, have I said
enough? [Loud cries of “No, no !” and’ Three cheers for LINCOLN!”] Now, my friends, there appears to be a difference of opinion between
you and me, and I really feel called upon to decide the question

FEBRUARY 20, 1861

Mr. MAYOR:–It is with feelings of deep gratitude that I make my
acknowledgments for the reception that has been given me in the great
commercial city of New York. I cannot but remember that it is done
by the people who do not, by a large majority, agree with me in
political sentiment. It is the more grateful to me because in this I
see that for the great principles of our Government the people are
pretty nearly or quite unanimous. In regard to the difficulties that
confront us at this time, and of which you have seen fit to speak so
becomingly and so justly, I can only say I agree with the sentiments
expressed. In my devotion to the Union I hope I am behind no man in
the nation. As to my wisdom in conducting affairs so as to tend to
the preservation of the Union, I fear too great confidence may have
been placed in me. I am sure I bring a heart devoted to the work.
There is nothing that could ever bring me to consent–willingly to
consent–to the destruction of this Union (in which not only the
great city of New York, but the whole country, has acquired its
greatness), unless it would be that thing for which the Union itself
was made. I understand that the ship is made for the carrying and
preservation of the cargo; and so long as the ship is safe with the
cargo, it shall not be abandoned. This Union shall never be
abandoned, unless the possibility of its existence shall cease to
exist without the necessity of throwing passengers and cargo
overboard. So long, then, as it is possible that the prosperity and
liberties of this people can be preserved within this Union, it shall
be my purpose at all tunes to preserve it. And now, Mr. Mayor,
renewing my thanks for this cordial reception, allow me to come to a


FEBRUARY 21, 1860

thank you briefly for this very kind reception given me, not
personally, but as the temporary representative of the majesty of the
nation. To the kindness of your hearts, and of the hearts of your
brethren in your State, I should be very proud to respond, but I
shall not have strength to address you or other assemblages at
length, even if I had the time to do so. I appear before you,
therefore, for little else than to greet you, and to briefly say
farewell. You have done me the very high honor to present your
reception courtesies to me through your great man a man with whom it
is an honor to be associated anywhere, and in owning whom no State
can be poor. He has said enough, and by the saying of it suggested
enough, to require a response of an hour, well considered. I could
not in an hour make a worthy response to it. I therefore, ladies and
gentlemen of New Jersey, content myself with saying, most heartily do
I indorse all the sentiments he has expressed. Allow me, most
gratefully, to bid you farewell.


FEBRUARY 21, 1861.

MR. MAYOR:–I thank you for this reception at the city of Newark.
With regard to the great work of which you speak, I will say that I
bring to it a heart filled with love for my country, and an honest
desire to do what is right. I am sure, however, that I have not the
ability to do anything unaided of God, and that without His support
and that of this free, happy, prosperous, and intelligent people, no
man can succeed in doing that the importance of which we all
comprehend. Again thanking you for the reception you have given me,
I will now bid you farewell, and proceed upon my journey.


FEBRUARY 21, 1861

I have been invited by your representatives to the Legislature to
visit this the capital of your honored State, and in acknowledging
their kind invitation, compelled to respond to the welcome of the
presiding officers of each body, and I suppose they intended I should
speak to you through them, as they are the representatives of all of
you; and if I were to speak again here, I should only have to repeat
in a great measure much that I have said, which would be disgusting
to my friends around me who have met here. I have no speech to make,
but merely appear to see you and let you look at me; and as to the
latter I think I have greatly the best of the bargain. My friends,
allow me to bid you farewell.


FEBRUARY 21, 1861

JERSEY:–I am very grateful to you for the honorable reception of
which I have been the object. I cannot but remember the place that
New Jersey holds in our early history. In the Revolutionary struggle
few of the States among the Old Thirteen had more of the battle-
fields of the country within their limits than New Jersey. May I be
pardoned if, upon this occasion, I mention that away back in my
childhood, the earliest days of my being able to read, I got hold of
a small book, such a one as few of the younger members have ever seen
Weems’s Life of Washington. I remember all the accounts there given
of the battle-fields and struggles for the liberties of the country;
and none fixed themselves upon my imagination so deeply as the
struggle here at Trenton, New Jersey. The crossing of the river, the
contest with the Hessians, the great hardships endured at that time,
all fixed themselves on my memory more than any single Revolutionary
event; and you all know, for you have all been boys, how these early
impressions last longer than any others. I recollect thinking then,
boy even though I was, that there must have been something more than
common that these men struggled for. I am exceedingly anxious that
that thing that something even more than national independence, that
something that held out a great promise to all the people of the
world to all time to come–I am exceedingly anxious that this Union,
the Constitution, and the liberties of the people shall be
perpetuated in accordance with the original idea for which that
struggle was made; and I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be a
humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this his
almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great
struggle. You give me this reception, as I understand, without
distinction of party. I learn that this body is composed of a
majority of gentlemen who, in the exercise of their best judgment in
the choice of a chief magistrate, did not think I was the man. I
understand, nevertheless, that they come forward here to greet me as
the constitutionally elected President of the United States–as
citizens of the United States to meet the man who, for the time
being, is the representative of the majesty of the nation–united by
the single purpose to perpetuate the Constitution, the union, and the
liberties of the people. As such, I accept this reception more
gratefully than I could do did I believe it were tendered to me as an


FEBRUARY 21, 1861

MR. SPEAKER AND GENTLEMEN: I have just enjoyed the honor of a
reception by the other branch of this Legislature, and I return to
you and them my thanks for the reception which the people of New
Jersey have given through their chosen representatives to me as the
representative, for the time being, of the majesty of the people of
the United States. I appropriate to myself very little of the
demonstrations of respect with which I have been greeted. I think
little should be given to any man, but that it should be a
manifestation of adherence to the Union and the Constitution.
I understand myself to be received here by the representatives of the
people of New Jersey, a majority of whom differ in opinion from those
with whom I have acted. This manifestation is therefore to be
regarded by me as expressing their devotion to the Union, the
Constitution, and the liberties of the people.

You, Mr. Speaker, have well said that this is a time when the bravest
and wisest look with doubt and awe upon the aspect presented by our
national affairs. Under these circumstances you will readily see why
I should not speak in detail of the course I shall deem it best to
pursue. It is proper that I should avail myself of all the
information and all the time at my command, in order that when the
time arrives in which I must speak officially, I shall be able to
take the ground which I deem best and safest, and from which I may
have no occasion to swerve. I shall endeavor to take the ground I
deem most just to the North, the East, the West, the South, and the
whole country. I shall take it, I hope, in good temper, certainly
with no malice toward, any section. I shall do all that may be in my
power to promote a peaceful settlement of all our difficulties. The
man does not live who is more devoted to peace than I am, none who
would do more to preserve it, but it may be necessary to put the foot
down firmly. And if I do my duty and do right, you will sustain me,
will you not? [Loud cheers, and cries of “Yes, yes; we will.”] Received as I am by the members of a Legislature the majority of whom
do not agree with me in political sentiments, I trust that I may have
their assistance in piloting the ship of state through this voyage,
surrounded by perils as it is; for if it should suffer wreck now,
there will be no pilot ever needed for another voyage.

Gentlemen, I have already spoken longer than I intended, and must beg
leave to stop here.

FEBRUARY 21, 1861

to make no lengthy speech, but to thank you for this reception. The
reception you have given me to-night is not to me, the man, the
individual, but to the man who temporarily represents, or should
represent, the majesty of the nation. It is true, as your worthy
mayor has said, that there is great anxiety amongst the citizens of
the United States at this time. I deem it a happy circumstance that
this dissatisfied portion of our fellow-citizens does not point us to
anything in which they are being injured or about to be injured; for
which reason I have felt all the while justified in concluding that
the crisis, the panic, the anxiety of the country at this time is
artificial. If there be those who differ with me upon this subject,
they have not pointed out the substantial difficulty that exists.
I do not mean to say that an artificial panic may not do considerable
harm; that it has done such I do not deny. The hope that has been
expressed by your mayor, that I may be able to restore peace,
harmony, and prosperity to the country, is most worthy of him; and
most happy, indeed, will I be if I shall be able to verify and fulfil
that hope. I promise you that I bring to the work a sincere heart.
Whether I will bring a head equal to that heart will be for future
times to determine. It were useless for me to speak of details of
plans now; I shall speak officially next Monday week, if ever. If I
should not speak then, it were useless for me to do so now. If I do
speak then, it is useless for me to do so now. When I do speak, I
shall take such ground as I deem best calculated to restore peace,
harmony, and prosperity to the country, and tend to the perpetuity of
the nation and the liberty of these States and these people. Your
worthy mayor has expressed the wish, in which I join with him, that
it were convenient for me to remain in your city long enough to
consult your merchants and manufacturers; or, as it were, to listen
to those breathings rising within the consecrated walls wherein the
Constitution of the United States and, I will add, the Declaration of
Independence, were originally framed and adopted. I assure you and
your mayor that I had hoped on this occasion, and upon all occasions
during my life, that I shall do nothing inconsistent with the
teachings of these holy and most sacred walls. I have never asked
anything that does not breathe from those walls. All my political
warfare has been in favor of the teachings that come forth from these
sacred walls. May my right hand forget its cunning and my tongue
cleave to the roof of my mouth if ever I prove false to those
teachings. Fellow-citizens, I have addressed you longer than I
expected to do, and now allow me to bid you goodnight.


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
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 the confederacy so long together.
It was not the mere matter of 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 the sentiment embodied in the
Declaration of Independence. Now, my friends, can the 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 or 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 is forced upon the Government, and then it will
be compelled to act in self-defence.

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