Report of Speech at a Republican Banquet, Chicago, Illinois, 10 December 18561
The Republican Banquet.2
The following is the concluding portion of Mr. Lincoln’s able speech, at the Republican Banquet, at Chicago, on Wednesday evening. We are under obligations to Mr. L. for a verbatim report:—3
We have another annual Presidential Message.4 Like a rejected lover, making merry at the wedding of his rival, the President felicitates hugely over the late Presidestial election. He considers the result a signal triumph of good principles and good men, and a very pointed rebuke of bad ones. He says the people did it. He forgets that the “people,” as he complacently calls only those who voted for Buchaaan, are in a minority of the whole people, by about four hundred thousand voters— one full tenth of all the voters.5Remembering this, he might perceive that the “Rebuke” may not be quite as durable as he seems to think— that the majority may not choose to remain permanently rebuked by that minority.
The President thinks the great body of us Fremonters, being ardently attached to liberty, in the abstract, were duped by a few wicked and designing men. There is a slight difference of opinion on this. We think he, being ardently attached to the hope of a second term, in the concrete, was duped by men who had liberty every way. He is in the cat’s paw. By much dragging of chestnuts from the fire for others to eat, his claws are burnt off to the gristle, and he is thrown aside as unfit for further use.6 As the fool said to King Lear, when his daughters had turned him out of doors. “He’s a shelled pea’s cod.7
So far as the President charges us “with a desire to change the domestic institutions of existing States;” and of “doing every thing in our power to deprive the Constitution and the the laws of moral authority,’ for the whole party, on belief, and for myself, on knowledge I pronounce the charge an unmixed, and unmitigated falsehood.8
Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion, can change the government, practically just so much. Public opinion, or any subject, always has a “central idea,” from which all its minor thoughts radiate. That “central idea” in our political public opinion, at the beginning was, and until recently has continued to be, “the equality of men.”9 And although it was always submitted patiently to whatever of inequality there seemed to be as matter of actual necessity, its constant working has been a steady progress towards the practical equality of all men. The late Presidential election was a struggle, by one party, to discard that central idea, and to substitute for it the opposite idea that slavery is right, in the abstract, the workings of which, as a central idea, may be the perpetuity of human slavery, and its extension to all countries and colors. Less than a year ago, the Richmond Enquirer, an avowed advocate of slavery, regardless of color, in order to favor his views, invented the phrase, “State equality,” and now the President, in his Message, adopts the Enquirer’s catch-phrase, telling us the people “have asserted the constitutional equality of each and all of the States of the Union as States.”10 The President flatters himself that the new central idea is completely inaugurated; and so, indeed, it is, so far as the mere fact of a Presidential election can inaugurate it. To us it is left to know that the majority of the people have not yet declared for it, and to hope that they never will.
All of us who did not vote for Mr. Buchanan, taken together, are a majority of four hundred thousand. But, in the late contest we were divided between Fremont and Fillmore.11 Can we not come together, for the future. Let every one who really believes, and is resolved, that free society is not, and shall not be, a failure, and who can conscientiously declare that in the past contest he has done only what he thought best— let every such one have charity to believe that every other one can say as much. Thus let bygones be bygones. Let past differences, as nothing be; and with steady eye on the real issue, let us reinaugurate the good old “central ideas” of the Republic. We can do it. The human heart is with us— God is with us. We shall again be able not to declare, that “all States as States, are equal,” nor yet that “all citizens as citizens are equal,” but to renew the broader, better declaration, including both these and much more, that “all men are created equal.”
1On December 16, 1856, the Daily Illinois State Journal published this report of a speech that Abraham Lincoln delivered on December 10. The original speech in Lincoln’s hand has not been located; however, the Journal notes that Lincoln provided a “verbatim report” of his remarks for printing.
The Daily Democratic Press also published a report of Lincoln’s speech in its December 11 issue.
The Daily Democratic Press (Chicago, IL), 11 December 1856, 2:2.
2The banquet was organized by the Illinois Republicans’ Banquet Committee to celebrate the Republican Party’s victories in Illinois in the 1856 Federal Election. The party swept the races for every state office. The Democratic Party, however, won the presidency. In Illinois, James Buchanan won 44.1 percent of the total vote to Republican presidential candidate John C. Fremont’s 40.2 percent and American Party presidential candidate Millard Fillmore’s 15.7 percent.
The Daily Democratic Press (Chicago, IL), 11 December 1856, 2:2; 13 December 1856, 2:3; Howard W. Allen and Vincent A. Lacey, eds., Illinois Elections, 1818-1990 (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992), 10; Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 20 November 1856, 2:2.
3If Lincoln mailed the editors of the Daily Illinois State Journal a copy of his address, that correspondence has not been located.
4Lincoln references President Franklin Pierce’s annual message to Congress, which he delivered on December 2, 1856.
Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 5 December 1856, 2:2-6, 3:1.
5Lincoln is discussing the outcome of the election of 1856’s popular vote. Buchanan won a total of 1,838,169 popular votes to Fremont’s 1,341,264 votes and Fillmore’s 874,534 votes, giving Buchanan just 377,629 less votes than Fremont and Fillmore combined. One-tenth of the total number of popular votes cast was 405,397.
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed., History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-1968 (New York: Chelsea House, 1971), 2:1094.
6In Aesop’s fable “The Monkey, The Cat, and The Chestnuts,” a monkey takes a sleeping kitten and forcibly uses its paw to retrieve chestnuts roasting in the fire, burns the kitten’s paw badly in the process, eats all of the chestnuts, and proclaims that the kitten deserved such treatment for the slothful, sleepy life it leads. The moral is that “some men care not what abuses they put upon others” in order to achieve “their own ends and purposes.”
Aesop, Æsop's Fables (Glasgow: J. and M. Robertson, 1794), 133-34.
7This is an allusion to a line from Shakespeare’s King Lear. By calling Lear “a shelled peascod,” the fool declared Lear impotent—much like an empty peapod.
William Shakespeare, King Lear (ca. 1606), Act 1, Scene 4, Line 205.
8In his address to the U.S. Congress, President Pierce accused the Republican Party of merely pretending to desire the limitation of slavery. He argued they instead actually desired “revolutionary” change that would violate the rights of existing states and “undermine the fabric of the Union.”
Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 5 December 1856, 2:2.
9Lincoln references the phrase “all men are created equal” from the United States Declaration of Independence.
Thomas Jefferson et al, July 4, Copy of Declaration of Independence 07-04 1776.
10The Richmond Enquirer used the phrase “state equality” at least as early as the spring of 1856. In the paper’s March 11 edition, the editors argued that if the Democratic Party succeeded in electing a Democrat as president in the 1856 federal election, it would also succeed in “maintaining the affirmative of the great issue of State equality.”
Article four, sections three and four of the U.S. Constitution stipulate that all states within the Union are formed and admitted to the Union on equal terms and guaranteed the same rights to a republican form of government, protection against invasion, and protection against domestic violence. Southern Democrats in particular touted the concept of equality of states in the years leading up to the Civil War, asserting that the North sought to infringe upon the southern states’ equal rights as they related to the institution of slavery. Pierce used this argument in his December 2 address to Congress when he declared that, through their election of Buchanan to the presidency, the people of the United States had asserted state equality.
Richmond Enquirer (VA), 11 March 1856, 2:1; U.S. Const. art. IV, § 3-4; Robert C. Childers, “Popular Sovereignty, Slavery in the Territories, and the South, 1785-1860,” (PhD diss., Louisiana State University, 2010), 144, 319; Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 5 December 1856, 2:2.
11During the election campaign of 1856 many in the Illinois Republican Party, including Lincoln, were anxious to convince supporters of Fillmore to unite with Republicans in order to defeat Buchanan. In a letter-writing campaign to some in Illinois that he believed supported Fillmore, Lincoln argued that Fillmore stood no chance of success in Illinois and that therefore Fillmore supporters should cast their ballots for Fremont rather than waste a vote on Fillmore. Ultimately, however, Illinois Republicans failed to bring enough Fillmore supporters to their side.
Thomas F. Schwartz, “Lincoln, Form Letters, and Fillmore Men,” Illinois Historical Journal 78 (Spring 1985), 69; Abraham Lincoln to James Berdan; Abraham Lincoln to Thomas Hull; Abraham Lincoln to Edward Lawrence; Abraham Lincoln to William Ryan; Abraham Lincoln to Harrison Maltby; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:433.

Printed Document, 1 page(s), Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 16 December 1856, 2:3.