Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A House Divided - Abraham Lincoln Tells It Like It Is

Today in 1858, Illinois candidate for Senate Abraham Lincoln said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson compete in my mind for the title of the best presidential writer, and this 1858 speech by Lincoln showed his prowess at turning a powerful phrase. The metaphor of a house divided was a perfect description for the contentious antebellum years. Half of the country believed slavery was protected in our nation’s Constitution, and were growing increasingly hostile to any threat to its “peculiar institution.” Meanwhile, the North was growing impatient at what it believed to be the increased demands of the South to not only continue the institution of slavery, but to allow its spread to the western territories. Lincoln’s prediction that this kind of national tension could not last with both sides refusing to alter its position would prove tragically accurate when he was elected to the presidency in 1860.
He was able to gain the nomination in part from the national notoriety he earned in the 1858 Senate race in which he famous debated his Democratic opponent Stephen Douglas on numerous occasions. He delivered his “House Divided” address on the day he accepted the Republican nomination for the United States Senate in Springfield, Illinois. The image of a “House Divided,” united Republicans across the country who feared the debate over slavery would lead to disunion. While this “House Divided” speech has become one of Lincoln’s most famous, the metaphor was not his own. The language comes originally from the Book of Matthew, “ Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” Lincoln was also not the first to allude to this biblical passage in commenting on the American political landscape. During the Senate debate on the Compromise of 1850, Sam Houston also referenced the Book of Matthew, “A nation divided against itself cannot stand.” While Lincoln may not have originated the line or its use in comparison to American politics, he had the keen sense to shape words and phrases that were worthy of the historical moment.
To read the speech in its entirety, click here, or visit the Presidential History page of my site.

[Image via rhapsodyinbooks]

No comments:

Post a Comment