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(1858) Abraham Lincoln, “A House Divided”

On June 16, 1858, only three hours after he received the Republican nomination for the United States Senate from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln gave his A House Divided speech, perhaps the most famous oration from an anti-slavery politician delivered before the U.S. Civil War.  That speech appears below:

MR. PRESIDENT, AND GENTLEMEN OF THE CONVENTION. We are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation.

Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented.

In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed.

A house divided against itself cannot stand.

I believe this Government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved-I do not expect the house to fall-but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

It will become all one thing or all the other.

Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new-North as well as South.

Have we no tendency to the latter condition?

Let anyone who doubts carefully contemplate that now almost complete legal combination-piece of machinery, so as to speak-compounded of the Nebraska doctrine and the Dred Scott decision…

The new year of 1854 found slavery excluded from more than half the States by State constitutions, and from most of the national territory by congressional prohibition. Four days later commenced the struggle which ended in repealing that congressional prohibition. This opened all the national territory to slavery, and was the first point gained.

But, so far, Congress only had acted, and an indorsement by the people, real or apparent, was indispensable, to save the point already gained and give chance for

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National Trust for Historic Preservation