Learning Lincoln On-line

FROM-- SET TWO, CIVIL WAR STUDIES

Topic Twenty-four: Abraham Lincoln, His Politics, Speeches and Debating

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POLITICS & STUMP SPEAKING

Visit National Park Service for a Listing of 1860's Politicians

Statue of Abraham Lincoln's First Political Speech on a stump at Decatur, Illinois

. . . During the1860 presidential race, Stephen Douglas, an erstwhile furniture craftsman, was campaigning in New Hampshire when a heckler interrupted him: “A-abe Lincoln, the r-rail-splitter!” The erstwhile furniture craftsman responded: “Yes, they call my friend Lincoln the rail-splitter. He has probably split as many rails as I have made secretary and bureau cases. I’ve met him at the bar, I’ve met him on the stump, and I want to say to you, my friend, that he’s a hard man to get up against.” 

. . . As a young boy, the young Abraham would listen intently to the Baptist preacher, telling all that they were sinners, and that repentance was needed.  He heard the words of local men in "great" speeches of concerns of the neighborhood in Indiana and later in Illinois.  Abraham was always a story teller and entertainer, . . . but, he always tried to apply his knowledge of moral lessons, honesty, truth and the "right way," to his speeches, even as a boy.  He learned to speak much as the old master painters learned to paint--by copying the masters before, learning their style, and then developing his own style. 

. . . Abraham's education was informal.  He learned to read, write and cipher through brief introductions by "wizzards" of the country--the one room blab schools of pioneer days.  He learned to read well by practicing.  He read Aesop's Fables, the Bible, and other great books available to him in his pioneer environment.  He also was a student of the original Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  Many of his presidential great speeches would quote from these Founding Fathers documents.

. . . As a boy, the young Lincoln would entertain his friends with great speeches and sermons from by standing on a stump.  This is where the words "Stump Speeches," maybe come from.  He would give his first adult age speech in Decatur, Illinois, while living in nearby New Salem.  The young Abraham would use very dramatic body movements such as swooping down and arising quickly, as to almost startle the audience.  He would continue these methods even into the presidency.  His first political platform was especially concerned about  improvement of the river waterways, particularly the Sangamon River.  He also would base his earliest political platform on river and canal development.  By the 1850's, the railroads would enter Illinois, and river transportation was no longer an important topic.

. . . In all of his earliest speeches, he did not speak as an abolitionist (anti-slavery) politician.  In his 1858 "House Divided" speech at the state capitol in Springfield, he would state his concern that the spread of slavery, and institution itself was causing a great division in our country.

. . . After being elected President, he would realize the truth in his "House Divided" speech, and the country did split. 

. . . The young Lincoln could fire up a speech without a lot of preparation.  He did prefer to write out his important speeches, but could speak extemporaneously on a subject brought up on the spot.

HE LEARNED BY SPEAKING OFF OF A STUMP, AND CONSIDERED ALL OF HIS LATER SPEECHES AS IMPORTANT FOR "ALL" TO UNDERSTAND.  HE USED LANGUAGE NECESSARY TO GET THE MESSAGE ACROSS, WHETHER TO AN ILLITERATE PIONEER SPECTATOR OR TO AN AMBASSADOR FROM ANOTHER COUNTRY.

 

Speak from a Stump!  Speak from a Stump!    
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