Summary of Speech at Chicago, Illinois, 27 October 18541
MR. LINCOLN’S SPEECH.
On last night Hon. Abram Lincoln, a distinguished and able statesman and orator of this State, spoke on the Kansas Nebraska bill to the citizens of thi[s] place, at North Market Hall. Although the notice that he would speak was given merely through the papers, the fame and reputation of the orator and the absorbing interest yet felt here on this subject, drew together a large and intelligent audience. The Hall was filled, and the speaker listened to with attention and approbation.2
His speech of last evening was as thorough an exposition of the Nebraska iniquity as has ever been made, and his eloquence greatly impressed all his hearers, but it was manifest, as he frequently remarked that “he could not help feeling foolish in answering arguments which were no arguments at all.”3 He could not help feeling silly in beating the air before an intelligent audience. It is a fruitless job to pound dry sand, under the delusion that it is a rock. The laborer may get his eyes full, but the sand is just as sandy as it was before.
It is not at all important that we should give a report of his arguments of Friday evening— Our readers, those of them who are not already conv[i]nced, are not open to conviction, and it is useless to waste any strength upon them. One or two of Mr. Lincoln’s points, however, we cannot help referring to. He said that he had heard Mr. Douglas argue half an hour to show that there was a necessity of territorial organization in Nebraska and Kansas, as though it was the main point of all his efforts, and as though somebody was actually going to dispute him. It was a great trick among some public speakers to hurl a naked absurdity at his audience, with such confidence that they should be puzzled to know if the speaker didn’t see some point of great magnitude in it which entirely escaped their observation. A neatly varnished sophism would be readily penetrated, but a great, rough non sequit[u]r was sometimes twice as dangerous, as a well polished fallacy.
In reference to a certain beast who inhabits a neighboring State, the democracy of which State sends him to the Senate, of course, Mr. L. said “there was one man in Congress, John Pettit, who had no difficulty in seeing that our Declaration of Independence was a ‘self-evident lie.’— More than this, he had no hesitation in saying so in a public debate in Washington. The Declaration of Independence was a “self-evident lie.” What would have happened if he had said it in old Independence Hall? The door-keeper would have taken him by the throat and stopped his rascally breath awhile, and then have hurled him into the street.”4
Mr. Lincoln con[t]inued his speech until a little after ten o’clock, and returned to Urbanna the next morning, where he was obliged to attend Court.5
We hope Mr. Lincoln will come among us often. His great thoughts, his straight-forward honesty, his commanding eloquence and his unassuming integrity of purpose will make him friends in Chicago who will trust him and believe him as long as the principles of liberty are maintained and cherished in our midst.6
1The editors followed Roy P. Basler, editor of The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, and transcribed only the portions of this newspaper article that report the content of Abraham Lincoln’s speech. The full original article is shown in the image. Excerpted quotes that are attributed to Lincoln are noted individually below. The original speech in Lincoln’s hand has not been located.
Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 2:283-84.
2Richard L. Wilson and Horace White had requested that Lincoln come to Chicago to speak on the Kansas-Nebraska Act and in support of anti-Nebraska candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1854 congressional elections .
4This quote is also attributed to Lincoln.
Lincoln was referring to a key point of a speech that John Pettit of Indiana gave in the U.S. Senate during that body’s debate of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Pettit had argued that, in crafting the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson had never intended the phrase “all men are created equal” to apply to slaves. In a play upon Jefferson’s concept of self-evident truths, Pettit declared the notion a “self-evident lie,” asserting that “it is not true that even all persons of the same race are created equal.”
Cong. Globe, 33rd Cong., 1st Sess., Appendix, 214 (1854).
5Lincoln returned to Urbana, Illinois on Saturday, October 28, but did not attend court at the Champaign County Circuit Court. He instead traveled on through Decatur, Jacksonville, and Naples October 29-31 before arriving in Quincy, Illinois about November 1. There he gave another speech on the Kansas-Nebraska Act at Kendall’s Hall. Lincoln was back home in Springfield, Illinois by November 7.
The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 28 October 1854, http://thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1854-10-28; 29 October 1854, http://thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1854-10-29; 30 October 1854, http://thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1854-10-30; 31 October 1854, http://thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1854-10-31; 1 November 1854, http://thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1854-11-01; 7 November 1854, http://thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1854-11-07.
6Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and its effective repeal of the Missouri Compromise reawakened Lincoln’s passion for politics, and he threw himself into opposing the act, crisscrossing Illinois to deliver speeches against the legislation and to rebut Stephen A. Douglas’ views on popular sovereignty. He even traveled in Douglas’ wake for a time in both September and October 1854, as much as his legal work permitted, giving lengthy speeches in reply to Douglas. Lincoln also spoke in support of anti-Nebraska candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives. Lincoln also allowed himself to become a candidate for the Illinois General Assembly (albeit unwillingly at first). As the election campaign reached its climax, his name began to circulate as a possible nominee for one of the state’s U.S. Senate seats. See 1854 Federal Election.
David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 167-78, 185; Autobiography of Abraham Lincoln Written for John L. Scripps; William H. Randolph to Abraham Lincoln; Abraham Lincoln to Joseph Gillespie; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:392, 401-2.
Copy of Printed Document, 1 page(s), Chicago Daily Journal, (Chicago, IL), 30 October 1854, 2:2.