Lincoln at Cooper Union explores Lincolns 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 Lincolns 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 Lincolns 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 countrys 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.