The “House Divided Against Itself” Speech

Lincoln gained prominence at the national level only after his nomination as Republican candidate for senate in 1858 to contest against Douglas from Illinois. His speech at Springfield, Illinois on June 16, 1858 remains an important milestone in the history of United States as he mainly raised the issue of slavery in the territories foe the first time as a political leader and set an impetus for the abolition of slavery that pushed the American nation toward Civil War. In this speech, Lincoln opposed slavery mainly on moral grounds.

He stressed on the need for cherished American ideals of fraternity, equality and democracy but he was of the view that these ideals are for all. National could not be separated into two halves where one half would be enjoying the fruits of democracy while would be negated their due rights.  He did not support the idea of popular sovereignty with regard to slavery. Lincoln held the view that;

“a house divided against itself cannot stand.

I believe this government can not endure permanently half free. I do not expect the house to fall -but I do expect it will cease to be divided. I will become one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the states, old as well new-North as well as South”

Though Lincoln could not win the election to the Senate, he gained nationwide publicity and the future was with him.

Emergence of Lincoln was the most important factor that gave a new turn to the sectional conflict. Lincoln’s views on slavery were well known. But all credit goes to Lincoln who set an impetus for the constitutional abolition of slavery.

This speech by Lincoln is an epitome of the North political ideals. It is a manifestation of deepened conflict between South and North and shows a wide chasm between the political ideals of North and South. These differences further widened when Lincoln having anti-slavery views was nominated and elected as Presidents. Southern states were quite aware of the abolitionist trends as shown in this speech of Lincoln that they threatened secession if Lincoln was elected President.

This speech is also important in the context that Lincoln fulfilled his dreams as anticipated in this speech. He enabled the nation to be united and not to be divided in two unequal halves. He freed the other half as well. It goes to his credit that he successfully steered the country through the difficult times and preserved the Union. But Lincoln did not believe in abolishing slavery by one stroke, as he did, but by through a gradual and lengthy process.

But Northerners’ stanch demand for abolition of slavery forced Lincoln to proclaim on September 22, 1862 in his capacity of Commander-in-chief of the army that “on the first day of January A.D. 1863, all persons held as slaves within any state or a designated part of a state the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and for ever free.”

By this Proclamation of Emancipation slavery was not abolished from all over United States because the proclamation was only to apply to the rebellious states of South. The slavery in other areas was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. But all credit goes to Lincoln who set an impetus for the constitutional abolition of slavery.

So this speech was a manifestation of Lincoln’s ideals in particular and ultimate principle underlying American democracy in general and he realized his ideals although American nation suffered from bloody Civil War as negative effect of it.