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"Lincoln's Lost Speech"
THE Republican party was first organized in Illinois on May 29th, 1856, at a State convention held in Bloomington. It was here that Abraham Lincoln made the speech which definitely severed his relations with the Whigs and allied him to the new organization. For two years previous he had been slowly working toward this change. The failure of his political ambitions in the summer of 1849 had decided him henceforth to devote himself to the law. For nearly six years he had kept this resolution. Then, in the spring of 1854, the passage by Congress of the Kansas-Nebraska bill repealing the Missouri Compromise of 1820, and establishing the principle of popular sovereignty, had so aroused him that he flung himself again into politics.
Elected to the legislature in the fall of 1854, Lincoln had resigned in order to contest the vacant seat in the United States Senate. He showed in this campaign how much more important he considered it to insure legislation against slavery extension than to elect one of his own party; for when he found that the bal
* Copyright. 1896, by Sarah A. Whitney.
ance of power in the legislature which was to elect the senator was held by five anti-Nebraska Democrats, he persuaded his supporters to go over to the five, whom he knew to be of the same mind as himself in regard to the extension of slavery, rather than to allow a combination on a man who would oppose the measure but lukewarmly.
When, in the spring of 1856, the Illinois opponents of slavery extension had sufficient strength to form another branch of the now rapidly growing Republican party, Lincoln was ready to join them. The speech he made at the first convention was long known in Illinois as Lincoln's Lost Speech," a name given it because the reporters were so carried away by his eloquence that they forgot to take notes and could give no report to their papers. As Lincoln himself refused to try to write it out, it was supposed to have been, in fact, a "lost speech."
It seems, however, that though the reporters, under the effect of Lincoln's eloquence, all lost their heads, there was at least one auditor who had enough control to pursue his usual habit of making notes of the speeches he heard. This was a young lawyer on the same circuit as Lincoln, Mr. H. C. Whitney. For some three weeks before the convention, Lincoln and Whitney had been attending court at Danville. They had discussed the political situation in the State carefully, and to Whitney, Lincoln had
stated his convictions and determinations. Knowing as he did that Lincoln had not written out his speech, Whitney went to the convention intending to take notes. Fortunately, he had a cool enough head to keep to his purpose. These notes Whitney kept for many years, always intending to write them out, but never attending to it, until in 1896 McClure's Magazine learned that he had them, and persuaded him to carry out his intention. Mr. Whitney does not claim that he has made a perfect report. He does claim, however, that the argument is correct, and that in many cases the expressions are exact.
The speech has been submitted to several of those who were at the Bloomington convention, among others to Mr. Joseph Medill, editor of the Chicago Tribune, who says:
Mr. Medill's Letter
Chicago, May 15, 1896.
EDITOR MCCLURE'S MAGAZINE,
NEW YORK CITY :
DEAR SIR: You invited my attention recently to H. C. Whitney's report of the great radical “anti-Nebraska” speech of Mr. Lincoln, delivered in Bloomington, May 29th, 1856, before the first Republican State Convention of Illinois; and, as I was present as a delegate and heard it, you ask me to state how accurately, accord
ing to my best recollection, it is reproduced in this report.
I have carefully and reflectively read it, and taking into account that Mr. Whitney did not take down the speech stenographically, but only took notes, and afterward wrote them out in full, he has reproduced with remarkable accuracy what Mr. Lincoln said, largely in his identical language and partly in synonymous terms. The report is close enough in thought and word to recail the wonderful speech delivered forty years ago with vivid freshness. No one was expecting a great speech at the time. We all knew that he could say something worthy of the occasion, but nobody anticipated such a Demosthenean outburst of oratory. There was great political excitement at the time in Illinois and all over the old Northwest, growing out of the efforts of the South to introduce slavery into Kansas and Nebraska. The free-soil men were highly wrought up in opposition, and Mr. Lincoln partook of their feelings.
I am unable to point out those sentences and parts of the reported speech which vary most in phraseology from the precise language he used, because there is an approximation of his words in every part of it. The ideas uttered are all there. The sequence of argument is accurately given. The invectives hurled at pro-slavery aggression are not exaggerated in the report of the speech. Some portions of the argument citing pro-slavery aggressions seem rather more