Abraham Lincoln's Speech in Cleveland, Ohio on February 15, 1861

Steve DiMatteo History

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Portrait

After winning the 1860 presidential election, Abraham Lincoln made a barnstorming trip through the United States as he made his way to Washington, D.C. 

This included a stay in Cleveland, Ohio from February 15-16, 1861, the only time he visited the city in life, as his coffin did travel through the city again following his assassination.

As you can see in the speech below, the uneasy political climate and boiling tensions between the North and South already weighed heavily on Lincoln's thoughts - by this time, six states (Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas) had seceded from the Union. It was obvious by this point full-on conflict was an inevitability, and Lincoln was using every opportunity to gather support for the United States government.

Lincoln's Cleveland speech is relatively short, as he had just arrived from Pittsburgh by train at about 4:30 in the afternoon on the 15th. The president-elect and his son Robert Todd were greeted in the city by a long procession of residents and a local military escort made up of the Light Dragoons, the Cleveland Light Artillery, and the Cleveland Grays. Their open carriage made its way to Public Square and eventually the Weddell House, where Lincoln addressed the crowd from the hotel balcony.

Abraham Lincoln's Speech in Cleveland, Ohio (February 15, 1861)

Mr. Chairman and Fellow-Citizens [sic] of Cleveland: We have been marching about two miles through snow rain, and deep mud. The large numbers that have turned out under these circumstances testify that you are in earnest about something or other. But do I think so meanly of you as to suppose that that earnestness is about me personally. I would be doing you injustice to suppose it was. You have assembled to testify your respects to the Union, and the Constitution and the laws. And here let me state that it is with you, the people, to advance the great cause of the Union and the Constitution, and not with any one man. It rests with you alone. This fact is strongly impressed on my mind at present. 

In a community like this, whose appearance, testifies to their intelligence, I am convinced that the cause of liberty and the Union can never be in danger. Frequent allusion is made to the excitement at present existing in our national politics, and it is as well that I should also allude to it here. I think that there is no occasion for any excitement. The crisis, as it is called, is altogether an artificial crisis. In all parts of the nation there are differences of opinion on politics. There are differences of opinion even here. You did not all vote for the person who now addresses you.

What is happening now will not hurt those who are further away from here. Have they not all their rights now as they ever have had. Do not they have their fugitive slaves returned now as ever? Have they not the same Constitution that they have lived under for seventy-odd years. Have they not a position as citizens of this common country, and have we any power to change that position? [Cries of "No"]

What, then, is the matter with them? Why all this excitement? Why all these complaints? As I said before, this crisis is all artificial! It has no foundation in fact. It was not "argued up," as the saying is, and cannot therefore be argued down. 

Let it alone, and it will go down of itself. [Laughter] You must be content with but a few words from me. I am very much fatigued, and have spoken so much that I am already hoarse. I thank you for the cordial and magnificent reception you have given me

I understand that this reception is intended not only by my own party supporters, but by men of all parties. This is as it should be. If Judge Douglas had been elected, and had been here, on his way to Washington, as I am to-night [sic], the Repubicans should have joined his supporters in welcoming him, just as his friends have joined with mine to-night [sic]. If all do not join now to save the good old ship of the Union on this voyage, nobody will have a chance to pilot her on another voyage. I conclude by thanking all present for the devotion they have shown to the cause of the Union.

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