18. "AND THIS, TOO, SHALL PASS AWAY"
Few sentences in the English language can equal in
majesty and grandeur of thought and simplicity of expression the
following words of Lincoln.
It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise
men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be
true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the
words, "And this, too, shall pass away." How much it expresses! How
chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of
affliction! "And this, too, shall pass away." And yet, let us hope, it
is not quite true. Let us hope, rather, that by the best cultivation of
the physical world beneath and around us, and the intellectual and moral
world within us, we shall secure an individual, social, and political
prosperity and happiness, whose course shall be onward and upward, and
which, while the earth endures, shall not pass away.
LINCOLN, ANNUAL ADDRESS BEFORE THE WISCONSIN
STATE AGRICULTURAL SOCIETY, SEPTEMBER 30, 1859.
19. AT COOPER INSTITUTE
In October 1859, Lincoln received an invitation to
speak at Henry Ward Beecher's church in Brooklyn. He replied that he
could give a speech in February if it could be on a political subject.
This was agreed to. On Monday evening, February 27, 1860, a committee
waited on Lincoln at his New York hotel to accompany him to Cooper
Institute, which had replaced Plymouth Church as the place of the
meeting. They found Lincoln dressed in a sleek shining new suit of black
covered with creases and wrinkles. The committee conducted Lincoln to
the hall and ushered him to the platform. Here he found the most
cultivated men and women of the city awaiting him. An immense audience
filled the hall. No less a person than William Cullen Bryant introduced
him. It is doubtful if Lincoln ever prepared another speech as carefully
as the one he gave that night. Herndon has testified to the great effort
Lincoln spent upon it. Before delivering this address he was known in
the East chiefly as a rather obscure western lawyer who had gained some
prestige a little over a year earlier in the debates with Douglas during
the Illinois senatorial contest. The day after the address Horace
Greeley's New York Tribune said of him, "No man ever before made
such an impression on his first appeal to a New York audience." This
speech put within Lincoln's grasp a chance for the Presidency. His
closing words are given below.
If slavery is right, all words, acts, laws, and
constitutions against it are themselves wrong, and should be silenced
and swept away. If it is right, we cannot justly object to its
nationalityits universality; if it is wrong, they cannot justly
insist upon its extensionits enlargement. All they ask we could
readily grant, if we thought slavery right; all we ask they could as
readily grant, if they thought it wrong. Their thinking it right and our
thinking it wrong is the precise fact upon which depends the whole
controversy. Thinking it right, as they do, they are not to blame for
desiring its full recognition as being right; but thinking it wrong, as
we do, can we yield to them? Can we cast our votes with their view, and
against our own? In view of our moral, social, and political
responsibilities, can we do this?
Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to
let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity
arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our
votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the national Territories,
and to overrun us here in these free States? If our sense of duty forbids
this, then let us stand by our duty fearlessly and effectively. Let
us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we
are so industriously plied and belaboredcontrivances such as
groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong: vain as
the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man;
such as a policy of "don't care" on a question about which all true men
do care; such as Union appeals beseeching true Union men to yield to
Disunionists, reversing the divine rule, and calling, not the sinners,
but the righteous to repentance; such as invocations to Washington,
imploring men to unsay what Washington said and undo what Washington
Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false
accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction
to the government, nor of dungeons to ourselves. 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.
LINCOLN ADDRESS AT COOPER INSTITUTE,
NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 27, 1860.