Tuesday, June 17, 2008

As True as Ever

(I started this post over the weekend and then forgot to finish it. My apologies to our 16th President.)

In any event, and with much thanks and credit to Wikipedia...

Yesterday marked the 150th anniversary of one of the most famous speeches in our country's history.

On June 16, 1858, upon accepting the Illinois Republican Party's nomination for United States Senator, Abraham Lincoln delivered his "House Divided" speech at the Old State Capitol.

The most well-known passage of the speech is:

"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."

In this one speech, Lincoln put a fine point on the danger posed to the very existence of the Union by the fractious debate over slavery. And while it should be noted that notwithstanding the poignancy of the speech, Lincoln wound up losing the election to Stephan A. Douglas, this speech, and the debates with Douglas that followed, helped set the stage for Lincoln's eventual rise to the Presidency of the United States.

There are a couple of very interesting aspects of the speech that I wasn't aware of until doing a little bit of homework for this post.

It turns out that the quotation "A house divided against itself cannot stand" is taken from Matthew 12:25: "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand".

Also, it is worth noting that while today's candidates are often raked over the coals for incorporating the thoughts or words of other elected officials, that Lincoln was not the first politician to make use of the "house divided" line.

Eight years before Lincoln's speech, Sam Houston proclaimed during the Senate debate on the Compromise of 1850 that, wait for it, "A nation divided against itself cannot stand".

In any event, I think that it is safe to say that the timing and context of Lincoln's invocation of the line helped crystallize just how much was at stake for our country at the time. And ironically, if Lincoln were to look at Illinois state government today, the same concept just might run through his mind.


At June 17, 2008 at 4:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a long-time elected official and leader of the Whig Party, one of the things I admire most about Lincoln was his willingness to break with the old and help start a completely new political party--the Republican Party. I think that Lincoln would be disgusted with the unfair and unequal treatment that new parties receive under Illinois election laws today.


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