HOME
        TheInfoList






Abraham Lincoln in May 1858

The House Divided Speech was an address given by Abraham Lincoln, later President of the United States, on June 16, 1858, at what was then the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, after he had accepted the Illinois Republican Party's nomination as that state's US senator. The nomination of Lincoln was the final item of business at the convention, which then broke for dinner, meeting again at 8 PM. "The evening session was mainly devoted to speeches",[1] but the only speaker was Lincoln, whose address closed the convention, save for resolutions of thanks to the city of Springfield and others. His address was immediately published in full by newspapers,[2][3][4] as a pamphlet,[5] and in the published Proceedings of the convention.[6] It was the launching point of his unsuccessful campaign for the Senatorial seat held by Stephen A. Douglas; the campaign would climax with the Lincoln–Douglas debates. When Lincoln collected and published his debates with Douglas as part of his 1860 Presidential campaign, he prefixed them with relevant prior speeches. The "House Divided" speech opens the volume.[7]

Lincoln's remarks in Springfield depict the danger of slavery-based disunion, and it rallied Republicans across the North. Along with the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address, the speech became one of the best-known of his career. It begins with the following words, which became the best-known passage of the speech:[8]

"A house divided against itself, cannot stand."

I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

It will become all one thing or all the other.

Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.[6]:9

Lincoln's goals were to differentiate himself from Douglas — the incumbent — and to voice a prophecy publicly. Douglas had long advocated popular sovereignty, under which the settlers in each new territory would decide their own status as a slave or free state; he had repeatedly asserted that the proper application of popular sovereignty would prevent slavery-induced conflict and would allow Northern and Southern states to resume their peaceful coexistence. Lincoln, however, responded that the Dred Scott decision had closed the door on Douglas's preferred option, leaving the Union with only two remaining outcomes: the country would inevitably become either all slave or all free. Now that the North and the South had

The House Divided Speech was an address given by Abraham Lincoln, later President of the United States, on June 16, 1858, at what was then the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, after he had accepted the Illinois Republican Party's nomination as that state's US senator. The nomination of Lincoln was the final item of business at the convention, which then broke for dinner, meeting again at 8 PM. "The evening session was mainly devoted to speeches",[1] but the only speaker was Lincoln, whose address closed the convention, save for resolutions of thanks to the city of Springfield and others. His address was immediately published in full by newspapers,[2][3][4] as a pamphlet,[5] and in the published Proceedings of the convention.[6] It was the launching point of his unsuccessful campaign for the Senatorial seat held by Stephen A. Douglas; the campaign would climax with the Lincoln–Douglas debates. When Lincoln collected and published his debates with Douglas as part of his 1860 Presidential campaign, he prefixed them with relevant prior speeches. The "House Divided" speech opens the volume.[7]

Lincoln's remarks in Springfield depict the danger of slavery-based disunion, and it rallied Republicans across the North. Along with the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address, the speech became one of the best-known of his career. It begins with the following words, which became the best-known passage of the speech:[8]

slavery-based disunion, and it rallied Republicans across the North. Along with the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address, the speech became one of the best-known of his career. It begins with the following words, which became the best-known passage of the speech:[8]

"A house divided against itself, cannot stand."

I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be d

I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

It will become all one thing or all the other.

Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.[6]:9

Lincoln's goals were to differentiate himself from Douglas — the incumbent — and to voice a prophecy publicly. Douglas had long advocated popular sovereignty, under which the settlers in each new territory would decide their own status as a slave or free state; he had repeatedly asserted that the proper application of popular sovereignty would prevent slavery-induced conflict and would allow Northern and Southern states to resume their peaceful coexistence. Lincoln, however, responded that the Dred Scott decision had closed the door on Douglas's preferred option, leaving the Union with only two remaining outcomes: the country would inevitably become either all slave or all free. Now that the North and the South had come to hold distinct opinions in the question of slavery, and now the issue had come to permeate every other political question, the Union would soon no longer be able to function.

The nearest approach to the point of declaring the power of a state over slavery, is made by Judge Nelson. He approaches it more than once, using the precise idea, and almost the language too, of the Nebraska Act. On one occasion his exact language is, "except in cases where the power is restrained by the Constitution of the United States, the law of the State is supreme over the subject of slavery within its jurisdiction." In what cases the power of the states is so restrained by the U.S. Constitution, is left an open question, precisely as the same question, as to the restraint on the power of the territories was left open in the Nebraska Act. Put that and that together, and we have another nice little niche, which we may, ere long, see filled with another Supreme Court decision, declaring that the Constitution of the United States does not permit a state to exclude slavery from its limits. And this may especially be expected if the doctrine of "care not whether slavery be voted down or voted up" shall gain upon the public mind sufficiently to give promise that such a decision can be maintained when made.

  • Such a decision is all that slavery now lacks of being alike lawful in all the States. Welcome, or unwelcome, such decision is probably coming, and will soon be upon us, unless the power of the present political dynasty shall be met and overthrown. We shall lie down pleasantly dreaming that the people of Missouri are on the verge of making their State free, and we shall awake to the reality instead that the Supreme Court has made Illinois a slave state.

Prior mentions of "a house divided"

Early Christians:

  • The expression "a house divided against itself" appears twice in the Bible. In the Gospel of Mark 3:25, Jesus states, "And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand." That is in response to the scribes' claim that "by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils."[9] In the Gospel of Matthew 12:25, "Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto him, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand" (King James version).
  • Saint Augustine, in his Confessions (Book 8, Chapter 8) describes his conversion experience as being "a house divided against itself."

It also appears in widely-read English writers:

  • Thomas Hobbes, in his 1651 Leviathan (Chapter 18), states that "a kingdom divided in itself cannot stand."
  • In Thomas Paine's 1776 Common Sense, he describes the composition of the English constitution "hath all the distinctions of a house divided against itself. ... "

In the United States:

  • During the War of 1812 a line appeared in a letter from Abigail Adams to Mercy Otis Warren: "... A house divided upon itself - and upon that foundation do our enemies build their hopes of subduing us."[10]
  • Felix Walker, in his speech for Buncombe, on the Missouri Compromise, said, "And we have the word of truth for it, that a house divided against itself cannot stand."[11]
  • The "house divided" phrase had been used by Lincoln himself in another context in 1843.[12]
  • Famously, eight years before Lincoln's speech, during the Senate debate on the Compromise of 1850, Sam Houston had proclaimed: "A nation divided against itself cannot stand."

However and most relevantly, the expression was used repeatedly earlier in 1858 in discussions of the situation in Kansas, where slavery was the central issue.

See also

References