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Lincoln and Chicago

February 12, 1903 — Second Annual Dinner, Chicago Society of New York, Delmonico’s, New York City


Lincoln described the extemporaneous speaker as a man who mounted the platform with eyes shining and left the consequences with God. It has been my experience that the consequences were always up to me.

I have spent five years of my life in close association with Lincoln, in studying his speeches and his life and with him I have never known an hour of boredom. He is the only man dead, and perhaps living, of whom that can be said.

Lincoln never pretended to be what he was not. This was true of his attitude toward society. For instance, he never learned how to wear his clothes right. We hear of his baggy trousers and ill fitting coat. A distinguished citizen of Massachusetts, who had been appointed by President Lincoln to a foreign embassy, spent an hour with him, and as a result of that hour entered in his journal the item that President Lincoln wore yarn socks.

Just think of a man who could spend a whole hour with such a prince of men and find nothing in the interview worthy of recording but the fact that he wore yarn socks. 

Lincoln was always anxious to do the right thing, always insisted on conforming to the law of nations and of morality. It is impossible to conceive of Lincoln’s breaking the international law, even for the sake of digging a canal. With him everything had to stand the test of investigation. He lost an election to the United States senate because of his loyalty to the right thing.

Lincoln’s characteristic was real goodness. No the gouges which inspires preaching on Sunday only, but the seven-day-a -week goodness, based on love for his fellow men and a quick sympathy with all that was worthy in the world . . . 

Chicago did not begin to get acquainted with Lincoln nor Lincoln with Chicago until about 1850. At this period Lincoln’s political career came to an end in his judgment and he decided to devote himself henceforth entirely to law. Naturally he sought a wider field for his practice and formed relations with the largest city within his reach — Chicago, He became a counsel for the Illinois Central.

It was while Lincoln was making his way in legal circles in Chicago that he began to turn his attention again to political matters. Chicago was in the travail of the Kansas-Nebraska excitement. In all this discussion Lincoln was taking the deepest interest. He talked about it incessantly, and everybody between Chicago and Cairo noticed it, and a good many were impatient at him. Chicago men were the first to recognize that Lincoln was thinking in the right direction, and the whole radical body in the town sought his advice at every turn when they came from the republican party in Illinois and they did their utmost to persuade Lincoln to go with them.

It was a hard choice for Lincoln to make. Men of his fiber hate to bolt. The day came when that party was to be formed. In spite of the persuasions of his whig friends he was there, far back in the house, taking no part in the proceedings. The meeting went slowly. It needed somebody to put the breath of life into it. Finally some one raised a cry for Lincoln. It was repeated again and again until finally he came to the platform. His face was pale. His eyes were big with the fire of resolve. He knew he had come to the parting of the ways. The effect of that speech every one knows. It is tradition in Illinois today.

In studying the outside influences which shaped the career of Abraham Lincoln, I have always been impressed with the place the city of Chicago took among them, and I confess I have frequently wondered why Chicago, which has never been modest in claiming her dues, should never have taken more pains to insist on her part in his making.

When Lincoln was defeated in the race for the senate Chicago did not dismiss him. She kept him constantly in sight, and frequently he spoke to her — more frequently than anywhere else. She was too convinced of his worth, and she made up her mind that he should be the candidate for president of the United States in 1860.

With the help of Lincoln’s friends over the state they set such a current into circulation that the whole country had accepted the idea before the convention met in 1860 that Lincoln was Ilinois’ candidate.

Their cleverest maneuver undoubtedly was in securing the convention for Chicago — and what didn’t Chicago do for Lincoln when the convention met there! She strung her streets with banners bearing his name, she gathered all the prairies within her call, she marched and cheered and made music for him night and day, and when the convention met they drowned every name but the name of Lincoln until it seemed to the audience that the heavens called for Lincoln.



Source: Chicago Tribune, 13 February 1903, p. 4.


Also: Daily Utah State Journal (Ogden, Utah), April 5, 1904, p. 2.