Recollection by Julian M. Sturtevant, House Divided Speech, June 16, 1858

    Source citation
    Julian M. Sturtevant, An Autobiography (Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1896), 290-292.
    Date Certainty
    Adapted by Ben Lyman, Dickinson College
    The following transcript has been adapted from An Autobiography (1896).

    The most important conflict in which Mr. Lincoln was ever engaged in this state was a series of debates between him and Mr Douglas, in 1858. Many consider his speech delivered near the beginning of that contest in the representatives' hall at Springfield, the greatest effort of his life. With great pleasure I recall its impressive opening. Outside were the noisy demonstrations of a great Democratic parade. The room was filled to its utmost capacity with grave and thoughtful men. I shall never forget my emotions as the tall form of our leader rose before us and he gave utterance to the memorable words: "A house divided against itself can not 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 that it will cease to be divided. It will become all the 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 until it shall become alike lawful in all the states old as well as new, North as well as South." This was new doctrine for the latitude of Springfield, yet never did a statesman choose the ground he was to stand upon more wisely or define it more boldly, or defend it more irresistably. I know that some of the old-time abolitionists present were startled and alarmed at the frankness of Mr. Lincoln's position. One of them intimately known to myself, one of Mr. Lincoln's greatest admirers, sought an interview with him the next day and entreated him to modify his language, assuring him that on the issue he had made our defeat was inevitable. Mr. Lincoln heard him with respectful attention, but replied with kindly firmness, " I will not change one word. I have rewritten that paragraph again and again. It precisely expresses the position on which I will make the fight." It was not long before the doubter fully concurred in the wisdom of the decision. There is reason to believe that Mr. Douglas himself was entirely confident that on that issue Mr. Lincoln could be easily and utterly routed. Mr. Douglas was no judge of the power of truth, while Mr. Lincoln fully believed in his heart that no arts of a demagogue could stand before it.

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