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Lincoln in 1858

The House Divided Speech was an address given by "Abraham Lincoln (who would later become "President of the United States) on June 16, 1858, at what was then the "Illinois State Capitol in "Springfield, upon accepting the "Illinois Republican Party's nomination as that state's United States senator. The speech became the launching point for his unsuccessful campaign for the "Senate seat held by "Stephen A. Douglas; this campaign would climax with the "Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858.

Lincoln's remarks in Springfield created an image of the danger of "slavery-based "disunion, and it rallied Republicans across the "North. Along with the "Gettysburg Address and his "second inaugural address, this became one of the best-known speeches of his career.

The best-known passage of the speech is:[1]

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 lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.

Lincoln's goals with this speech were, firstly, to differentiate himself from Douglas, the incumbent; and secondly, to publicly voice a "prophecy for the future. Douglas had long advocated "popular sovereignty, under which the settlers in each new territory decided their own status as a slave or free state; he had repeatedly asserted that the proper application of popular sovereignty would end slavery-induced conflict, and would allow northern and southern states to resume their peaceful coexistence. Lincoln, however, responded that the "Dred Scott decision had closed the door on Douglas's preferred option and left the Union with only two remaining outcomes: the United States would inevitably become either all slave, or all free. Now that the North and the South had come to hold distinct opinions in the question of slavery, and now that this issue had come to permeate every other political question, the time would soon come when the Union would no longer be able to function.


Lincoln's argumentation[edit]

the present political dynasty shall be met and overthrown. We shall lie down pleasantly dreaming that the people of Missouri are on the verge of making their State free, and we shall awake to the reality instead that the Supreme Court has made Illinois a slave

Origins of the phrase "House Divided"[edit]

In the "Gospel of Mark 3:25, "Jesus states, "And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand", in response to the scribes' claim that "by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils."[2]

Also, in the "Gospel of Matthew 12:25, KJV:

25 And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto him, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand:

"Saint Augustine, in his book "Confessions (Book 8, Chapter 8) describes his conversion experience as being "a house divided against itself."

"Thomas Hobbes, in his 1651 "Leviathan (Chapter 18), stated that, "a kingdom divided in itself cannot stand."

In "Thomas Paine's 1776 "Common Sense, his description of the composition of Monarchy, "this hath all the distinctions of a house divided against itself . . ."

During the "War of 1812 a line appeared in a letter from "Abigail Adams to "Mercy Otis Warren: "... A house divided upon itself - and upon that foundation do our enemies build their hopes of subduing us."[3]

The "house divided" phrase had been used by Lincoln himself in another context in 1843.[4]

Famously, eight years before Lincoln's speech, during the Senate debate on the "Compromise of 1850, "Sam Houston had proclaimed: "A nation divided against itself cannot stand."

Reverse of 2009 "Lincoln Penny, depicting him at what is now known as the "Old State Capitol.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Foner, Eric (2010). The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. pp. 99–100. "ISBN "978-0-393-06618-0. 
  2. ^ "Mark 3:25". Bible Gateway. 
  3. ^ David Kennedy, Lizabeth Cohen, Thomas Bailey: The American Pageant: Volume I: To 1877, p. 253.
  4. ^ Address to the people of Illinois, in Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, I, p. 315

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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