American Abolitionists and Antislavery Activists:
Conscience of the Nation

Updated February 14, 2017

l to r: Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips

Updated May 3, 2015

Lincoln Speech at Cooper Institute, New York City, February 27, 1860

Address at Cooper Institute, New York City [excerpts]

February 27, 1860

MR. PRESIDENT AND FELLOW-CITIZENS OF NEW-YORK:---The facts with which I shall deal this evening are mainly old and familiar; nor is there anything new in the general use I shall make of them. If there shall be any novelty, it will be in the mode of presenting the facts, and the inferences and observations following that presentation.[1]

[…] This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly---done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated---we must place ourselves avowedly with them. Senator Douglas's new sedition law must be enacted and enforced, suppressing all declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our Free State constitutions. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us.[2] […]

I am also aware they have not, as yet, in terms, demanded the overthrow of our Free-State Constitutions. Yet those Constitutions declare the wrong of slavery, with more solemn emphasis, than do all other sayings against it; and when all these other sayings shall have been silenced, the overthrow of these Constitutions will be demanded, and nothing be left to resist the demand.[3]

[…] 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 nationality---its universality; if it is wrong, they cannot justly insist upon its extension---its 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 belabored---contrivances 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 did.

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.[4]


Source:  Basler, Collected Works, Vol. III, pp. 522-550.  [Downloaded 5/3/15 from]


[1] Basler, Collected Works, Vol. III, p. 523.

[2] Basler, Collected Works, Vol. III, pp. 547-548.

[3] Basler, Collected Works, Vol. III, p. 548.

[4] Basler, Collected Works, Vol. III, pp. 549-550.