“Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.” (Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States)
Ever heard of the Cooper Union Speech? It’s the most important speech that very few people have ever heard of. This speech was delivered by Abraham Lincoln on February 27, 1860, at Cooper Union (a private college in Manhattan) in New York City. After facing defeat of his bid for Senate in 1858, Lincoln then pursued the Presidency. This speech is thought to have cemented his legitimacy for the Republican nomination at the convention that was to be held in May of that year.
This speech, one of his longest (7,000 words) elaborated his views on slavery by affirming that he wished for it to be abolished and claimed that the Founding Fathers of our nation would agree with this position. In the next day’s New York Tribune, editor Horace Greeley hailed the speech as “one of the most happiest and most convincing political arguments ever made in this City.”
Lincoln went on to win the Presidency and in so doing, held a position to embark on his desire to abolish slavery. “I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I cannot remember when I did not so think, and feel.” he once said. And yet, how would he end it? And if he was successful, what would become of the 4 million slaves that would then be liberated? Lincoln used his Commander-in-Chief of the Army status to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, effective January 1, 1863. That Proclamation changed the status of slaves, to free men and women. Those who wouldn’t comply, would face repercussions. And the rest of the story is well known…many southern territories did not comply, and the Civil War ensued. The War lasted from April 12, 1861 to May 9, 1865. Week by week, the Northern Army advanced, freeing slaves along the way. The last slaves to be set free were in Texas on June 19, 1865, (Juneteenth) which became a federal holiday in 2021.
Between 620,000 and 750,000 soldiers died in the war, all for a cause held by Lincoln. The cause of freedom and equality for all.
What if Lincoln never gave that speech? The one that likely very few of us even know about. The one that cemented his Republican nomination and ultimately won him the Presidency. This speech ended up giving him the platform to express his convictions. In hindsight, his convictions were spot on. But what if you were a slave owner? And you were willing to fight for your rights to own a slave? Crazy to think about, but it was the real issue of the moment.
If those soldiers wouldn’t have executed the Commander-in-Chief’s orders, would slavery have existed for another decade? Another generation? If not Lincoln, then who? Questions too difficult for me to process. But one thing I’m convinced of…Lincoln was right. Abolishing slavery was the moral duty of the day.
What about you? What were you put on this earth to do? What are your 7,000 words, that if expressed, could change the course of history…of humankind. Are you afraid? Do you feel too small? Too unimportant? Don’t hold a political office? Do you not have enough Likes or Impressions or Follows or Views or Snaps or Self-Esteem?
It starts with a word. The first word of my book, the hardest to write. I knew many thousand more words would follow, and I wasn’t sure I was ready for the emotional journey on which I was about to embark. And it was emotional, and trying, and hard, and strenuous, and…worth it.
Lincoln started with a speech, and ended slavery.
He didn’t have a Twitter handle, but he did have a belief.
Your purpose, your legacy, can start the same way.
…it can start today.