Monday, June 16, 2008

A House Divided 150 Years Later

Abraham Lincoln, 1858

Today marks the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's "House Divided Speech." Springfield continues its celebration today with a number of events scheduled:

All Day: Traveling exhibit, Confronting Democracy's Boundaries: The Lincoln-Douglas Debates Traveling Exhibit, Old State Capitol.

10-11 am: "Researching Lincoln & Douglas at the Presidential Library." Outreach program for the general public highlighting the Library's research materials for Stephen A. Douglas & Lincoln-Douglas Debates, featuring Glenna Schroeder-Lein from the Manuscripts Division, Mary Michals from the A/V Division, and Lincoln Curator James Cornelius, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. CPDUs offered.

11-2:30 pm: Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Education Department. Half-day Teachers' Workshop on Lincoln & Douglas and related topics: Lunch & Workshop in Presidential Library Classroom with Allen Guelzo. Teachers who come early can also attend the Research program at 10 am. CPDUs offered. Cost: $10.00.

1-3 pm: Lincoln and Douglas performers George Buss and Tim Connors mingle with visitors, Old State Capitol.

2 pm: Lincoln and Douglas Debate Performance, Old State Capitol's Representative Hall.

5:30 pm: Special Performance—"House Divided Speech" Sesquicentennial Commemoration featuring historical readings by Lincoln-Douglas performers George Buss and Tim Connors with running historical commentary by award-winning historian Allen Guelzo; Representative Hall. Cost: $8.00.

I thought we might spend a moment this morning placing the speech into context.

Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas was up for re-election in 1858. He had a national reputation, dating back more than a decade. Whoever the upstart Republican Party decided to nominate would certainly face an uphill struggle.

Nontheless, Republicans met in the state capitol in Springfield on June 16, 1858 to announce their nominee, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln's "House Divided Speech" was his formal acceptance speech. The speech not only set the tone for the campaign, but it captured headlines in both Republican and Democrat papers across the state, as well as the nation.

The real highlight of the speech, at least to me, is the elaborate "conspiracy theory" Lincoln unravels. Not only was Senator Douglas complicit in a scheme to nationalize slavery, but Lincoln also implicated the current and former president of the United States, as well as the Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court!

For the next several months, whether on the stump or in the seven debates against Douglas across the state, Lincoln elaborated on his conspiracy theory.

In the end, Lincoln did not capture a seat in the Senate, but I think he captured the imaginations of citizens across the state, as well as the nation. Some became passionate Lincoln supporters, while others became staunch Lincoln opponents.

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