Lincoln Stands Behind “House Divided” Speech

Friday, December 7, 1860

Abraham Lincoln, on June 16, 1858, delivered one of the most famous speeches in American history. From then on, it was known as “The House Divided Speech.” This speech would become a foundation for his debates against Stephen Douglas for the Illinois Senate race (which Douglas won).

The “house” was the nation and the dividing factor was slavery. Things had changed little in the past two and a half years. Little for the better, anyway.

It was on this day that Lincoln honored the request of a local Springfield hardware merchant who wrote asking for an excerpt of the speech.

“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 continually augmented. I believe it will not cease till 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 course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward till it will become alike lawful in all the States old as well as new—North as well as South.”

The foregoing, in pencil, in my own hand, is a copy of an extract of a speech of mine delivered June 16. 1858, which I now state at the request of Mr. E. B. Pease. A. LINCOLN

Dec. 7. 1860.


Though Buchanan apparently knew nothing of this, Secretary of War, John B. Floyd ordered Major Don Carlos Buell to deliver a message to Major Anderson commanding the forts in Charleston Harbor. This was a delicate message. Buell had to forgo paper and commit the command to memory.

Anderson was, of course, to do everything in his power not to bring on violence; however, he was also to relay that “the duty to maintaining defensively the authority of the Government was distinctly affirmed.”

This maintained President Buchanan’s idea of delaying any bloodshed for as long as possible, but also reaffirmed that Anderson was to defend the forts if it came down to it.1

  1. Mostly from Allegiance by David Deizer, Harcourt, 2001. []
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Lincoln Stands Behind “House Divided” Speech by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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