Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President

by Harold Holzer

Hardcover, 2004




New York : Simon & Schuster, 2004.


Lincoln at Cooper Unionexplores Lincoln's most influential and widely reported pre-presidential address -- an extraordinary appeal by the western politician to the eastern elite that propelled him toward the Republican nomination for president. Delivered in New York in February 1860, the Cooper Union speech dispelled doubts about Lincoln's suitability for the presidency, and reassured conservatives of his moderation while reaffirming his opposition to slavery to Republican progressives.Award-winning Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer places Lincoln and his speech in the context of the times -- an era of racism, politicized journalism, and public oratory as entertainment -- and shows how the candidate framed the speech as an opportunity to continue his famous "debates" with his archrival Democrat Stephen A. Douglas on the question of slavery.The Cooper Union speech, which was carefully researched by Lincoln and refers often to the Founders and authors of the Constitution, is an antislavery lecture, capped by a ringing warning to would-be secessionists in the South. It reaches its climax with the assurance that "right makes might." Long held, inaccurately, to be an appeal to the conservatives, Holzer presents Lincoln's speech as a masterly combination of scholarship, a brief for equality and democracy, and a rallying cry to the country and the Republican party.Holzer describes the enormous risk Lincoln took by appearing in New York, where he exposed himself to the country's most critical audience and took on Republican senator William Henry Seward of New York, the front-runner, in his own backyard. Then he recounts the brilliant and innovative public relations campaign, as Lincoln took the speech "on the road" in his successful quest for the presidency.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member wildbill
First let me say that the author does justify writing another book about Abraham Lincoln. Plus, he makes a good argument that this speech helped to make Lincoln president. More important he provides good evidence that without this speech and everything that grew out of it Lincoln would not even have been nominated.
The author makes good use of the different sources available in telling the story in chronological fashion. The use of letters, newspaper headlines and quoted dialog provide a variety that gives some pace to narrative history that some authors make dull. There are even photographs beginning with the the one taken by Matthew Brady the day of the speech. I enjoyed learning history by reading a small part of the biography of Abraham Lincoln. The more I learn about him the more I see him as a remarkable person. After the speech was given the sponsor group published a footnoted version of his speech. It took two people three weeks to thoroughly duplicate the research that Lincoln had put into his speech.
Reading the book I had the feeling that Lincoln was consciously running for President the whole time. He deliberately wrote a scholarly speech debunking his image as a western rube. Even though he began the speech by saying "Mr. Cheermen" in a high squeaky voice by the end he had connected with his audience and his voice was full and bold.
All of the audience, except the hardcore democrats, were amazed and moved by the speech. It was published in all of the newspapers and sold as a pamphlet for many years. Lincoln went on to speak twelve times in fourteen days throughout New England using the same speech and turned down many requests so that he could get back to Springfield. Lincoln definitely accomplished his goal of improving his political standing.
The author's portrayal of 19th century America included all of the aspects of daily life, riding for days on a train with no sleeping accommodations, getting covered with mud from the streets. I learned that Lincoln was a temperance man and 80% of the white males, the only voters, voted in the Presidential election of 1860.
I enjoyed the book and recommend it for someone who has done some reading in this area. It was informative and entertaining. This is a well written account of a critical event in the election of 1860 and I would look for other books by this author.
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LibraryThing member msaucier818
A surprisingly great read about the narrow topic of Abraham Lincoln's speech at Cooper Union in 1860. The book is very well written, and does a great job of telling the story of Lincoln, the country, and the politics of the time period. The book gives the reader great details about life at the time and how Lincoln was as a person, but not too much detail was any of it was simply filler. The speech itself plays center stage, and the close look at it is well worth the read. Overall a fantastic book that I learned a great deal from reading.… (more)



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