Summary of Speech at Bloomington, Illinois, 12 September 18561
Friday night, a large Republican meeting was held in Major’s Hall— a considerable number of ladies present among the rest. Hon. A. Lincoln addressed the audience in a speech of great eloquence and power. He showed up the position of the Fillmore party in fine style, both as to its prospects of success, and as to the propriety of supporting a candidate whose greatest recommendation, as urged by his supporters themselves, is that he is neutral upon the one only great political question of the times.2 He pointed out in regular succession, the several steps taken by the Administration in regard to slavery in the Territories, from the repeal of the Missouri Compromise down to the latest Border Ruffian invasion of Kansas, and the inevitable tendency of each and all of them to effect the spread of slavery over that country; showed the official endorsement of the Administration by the Democratic party in the Cincinnati Convention, and the openly avowed position of the Southern wing of the party on the subject of slavery-extension; contrasting all this with the assertion of our Northern Democratic speakers, that they are not in favor of the extension of slavery, with a clearness and force we have never heard excelled, and which must have made the honest Democrats, if any such there were present, feel as if they had received an eye-opener.3
1This summary is excerpted from a longer, unsigned article in the Bloomington Pantagraph describing several American Party, Democratic and Republican meetings held in Bloomington around this time. No other account of this speech by Abraham Lincoln has been located.
Lincoln was in Bloomington by September 9, 1856 to attend the McLean County Circuit Court. In addition to this speech, he spoke again at Major’s Hall in the city on the evening of September 16, 1856, responding critically to speeches given at a Bloomington Democratic meeting earlier that day. Lincoln had left Bloomington by September 17, when he gave a speech in Urbana.
From July 1856 onwards, Lincoln gave over fifty speeches across Illinois in support of Republican presidential candidate John C. Fremont and to rally the disparate elements of the emerging Republican Party. See the 1856 Federal Election.
The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 9 September 1856,; 16 September 1856,; 17 September 1856,; The Weekly Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL), 24 September 1856, 2:2; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:425-33.
2In addition to speaking critically about American Party presidential candidate Millard Fillmore, Lincoln was around this time sending form letters to Fillmore supporters arguing that Fillmore had little chance of winning the 1856 election and urging them to join in support of Fremont in order to defeat Democratic candidate James Buchanan.
The great political question upon which Fillmore maintained relative neutrality in the 1856 election was the expansion of slavery to the territories. Fillmore instead focused on the preservation of the union, denouncing Democrats for reawakening sectionalism by introducing the Kansas-Nebraska Act and Republicans for inflaming the issue.
Abraham Lincoln to Thomas Hull; Abraham Lincoln to Edward Lawrence; Abraham Lincoln to Harrison Maltby; Abraham Lincoln to William Ryan; Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 973.
3The platform adopted by the 1856 Democratic National Convention in Cincinnati included an endorsement of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the principle of popular sovereignty. While Stephen A. Douglas had invited southern support of the Kansas-Nebraska Act by the offer of popular sovereignty as a potential means for undoing the limitations on slavery imposed by the Missouri Compromise, he was one such northern Democrat who argued that under popular sovereignty territories were actually more likely to choose to be free states. In the 1856 election, Republicans sought to exploit the disillusion of northern voters with this failed promise of northern Democrats by highlighting the events of Bleeding Kansas.
Following this account of Lincoln’s speech, the Weekly Pantagraph states that T. Lyle Dickey also gave brief remarks at the Republican meeting.
Buchanan defeated Fremont and Fillmore in the presidential election of 1856. Buchanan captured Illinois with 44.1 percent of the vote to 40.2 percent for Fremont and 15.7 for Fillmore. In McLean County, of which Bloomington was the county seat, Fremont garnered 48.2 percent of the vote to 37.7 percent for Buchanan and 14.1 percent for Fillmore.
Official Proceedings of the National Democratic Convention, Held in Cincinnati. June 2-6, 1856 (Cincinnati: Enquirer, 1856), 26; David M. Potter and Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), 170-76; Michael F. Holt, The Political Crisis of the 1850s (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1978), 186-87, 191-92; Howard W. Allen and Vincent A. Lacey, eds., Illinois Elections, 1818-1990 (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992), 10, 136; Philip G. Auchampaugh, “Campaign of 1856,” Dictionary of American History, rev. ed. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1976), 1:420-21 Webster's New Geographical Dictionary (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1988), 153.

Copy of Printed Document, 1 page(s), Weekly Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL), 17 September 1856, 2:2.