Today, June 16, 1858: Abraham Lincoln’s ‘House Divided’ Speech

On April 15, 1809, Abraham Lincoln was born in Hodgenville, Kentucky.

On March 9, 1832, Abraham Lincoln, at the young age of only 23, made his first recorded speech for his campaign for the Illinois House of Representatives. He spoke to the residents of Sangamo County.

On August 6, 1832, Lincoln lost his first bid for political office.

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On August 4, 1834, Lincoln won his first political election and a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives.

On August 1, 1836, Lincoln won re-election to the Illinois House.

On August 6, 1838, Lincoln won bid for third term in Illinois House

On December 3, 1839, Lincoln lost his bid for the position of Speaker of the House in the Illinois House.

On June 24, 1839, Lincoln won election to the Springfield town council.

October 7, 1839, Lincoln attended his first Whip Party state convention and gains additional political notoriety.

On August 3, 1840, Lincoln won his fourth term in the Illinois House.

On May 1, 1843, Lincoln attended a district Whig Party convention in Pekin, Illinois.

On May 1, 1846, Lincoln became the Whig Party nominee for the Seventh Congressional District from Illinois to the US House of Representatives.

On August 3, 1846, Lincoln elected to the US House of Representatives as a member of the Whig Party.

From 1846 to 1854, the Whig Party began to splinter over the issue of slavery. The death blow to the Whig Party came with the introduction of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The act was designed to replace the Missouri Compromise and allow western territories wanting admittance to the Union to decide for themselves whether they wanted to be a free or slave state. Whig politicians were not able to stop the legislation and their party fractured.

A number of anti-slavery Whig members began meeting in February 1854 to discuss forming their own political party that stood firm against slavery.

On March 20, 1854, key anti-slave members of the Whig Party met in Ripon, Wisconsin and made the decision to formally create the Republican Party as the party to oppose slavery. They chose the name ‘Republican’ referencing back to the Democratic-Republican Party of Thomas Jefferson. They also chose the name because they wanted to commit to the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in which they believed slavery as a violation of those rights.

In 1856, John Fremont was the first Republican to run for the presidency. Although he won 11 of the 16 northern states, he carried none of the southern states, losing the election to his Democratic challenger James Buchanan.

On March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney issued the majority decision of the court in the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford. Taney, a steadfast pro-slavery southerner, explained that since Scott was a black person and that blacks could not be citizens of the United States that Scott had no legal basis for filing his lawsuit. The Dredd Scott case was about a former slave who lived a number of years in the free state of Illinois and free territory of Wisconsin, who filed a court case seeking freedom for his wife and himself. The decision of the high court affected Lincoln and helped to solidify his views against slavery.

On this day, June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln addressed the Illinois Republican Convention in Springfield. In his speech, he referred to Dredd Scott and the Supreme Court’s decision. In his now famous address, Lincoln quoted Jesus in Matthew 3:25 which reads:

“And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”

Jesus was responding to accusations that he was of Satan when he told them that the House of Satan divided against himself could not stand. Lincoln used the verse to refer to America’s division over slavery. He opened up his address to the more than 1,000 attendees saying:

“Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention.

If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it.

We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation.

Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented.

In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed.

‘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 alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South…”

At the time of the speech, Lincoln was the Whig Party candidate in the race for the US Senate. His opponent was Stephen Douglas, the Democratic incumbent. A number of Lincoln’s friends and supporters were dismayed over his speech. They referred to it as radical and that his reference to the use of force possibly being necessary to resolve the division was very ‘unfortunate and inappropriate.’ One such friend was Leonard Swett who later on admitted that Lincoln was proven right in his statement.

After his speech, Lincoln debated Douglas seven times in the now famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates. After Lincoln’s house divided speech and the debates, Douglas won re-election in a close election.

However, Lincoln’s political career did not end there as two years later he won the Republican nomination for president and went on to win the White House.



Sources for the above includes: Abraham Lincoln Address to 1858 Illinois State Republican Convention; Today, March 20, 1854: The Republican Party Was Established; Today, March 6, 1857: SCOTUS Rules Blacks Cannot be US Citizens; Lincoln Warns That America Is Becoming A “House Divided”; House Divided Speech; The “House Divided” Speech, ca. 1857–1858; The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858; Pre-Presidential Political Timeline; First Political Announcement.




Dave Jolly

R.L. David Jolly holds a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Biology – Population Genetics. He has worked in a number of fields, giving him a broad perspective on life, business, economics and politics. He is a very conservative Christian, husband, father and grandfather who cares deeply for his Savior, family and the future of our troubled nation.

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