Here are five highlights from the journeys of Abraham Lincoln in New England. Lincoln made two trips to New England, in September 1848 and February 1860. Both were widely covered, though he was far more famous in 1860.
Cooper-Union Fallout. The day after his famed Cooper-Union speech in New York, Lincoln stopped in Providence, R.I. At the Cooper-Union speech Lincoln had carefully articulated his view on why the Federal government should stop the spread of slavery into the westward states. Further, he riled his opponents, with the clear declaration that “[No] part of the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government to control slavery in the federal territories.” He left the city in a frenzy as newspapers fell over themselves to praise him or attack him. Lincoln spoke on February 28, 1860 at Providence, the day following the speech, in an impromptu speech at Railroad Hall at the train station. Fifteen hundred cheering supporters attended and he used the critical newspaper coverage both for humor and to reiterate his arguments.
Son Failing College Exams. One of the reasons, and perhaps the main reason, Lincoln traveled to New Hampshire in 1860 was to visit his son Robert, who was then studying at Phillips Exeter Academy to pass his entrance exams for Harvard College, which he had previously failed. Robert was cramming and Lincoln was visiting to offer encouragement. However, Lincoln’s Cooper-Union speech had been so widely covered people clamored to hear him. He spoke 11 time on the trip, many of them unscheduled stops.
Lincoln Had a Common Touch. Though an able debater and lawyer, Lincoln had the politician’s gift for never losing his ability to relate to working men. During his trip to New Hampshire in February of 1860 Amoskeag Mill manager Ezekiel Straw gave Abraham Lincoln a tour of the mill. He introduced the candidate to the workers. One of the mill workers hesitated to shake his hand, saying it was dirty from his work. “Young man,” said Lincoln, ““the “the hand of honest toil is never too grimy for Abe Lincoln to grasp.”
Toured Massachusetts as a Minor Congressman. Abraham Lincoln first visited Massachusetts in 1848 on a tour of the state to promote Whig candidates. The visit lasted from September 12 to 21, 1848. The Free Soil party – a single-issue party formed to oppose the expansion of slavery in the western states – was making inroads against the Whigs in the contest with the Democrats that year, and Lincoln was on the road promoting Zachary Taylor, the eventual winner. Thirteen years after giving a speech at Worcester, Lincoln was asked by a visitor to Washington from Massachusetts if he remembered the trip. Characteristically he used the moment to spread some flattery. He said he recalled that “with hayseed in my hair I went to Massachusetts, the most cultured State in the Union, to take a few lessons in deportment. That was a grand dinner — a superb dinner; by far the finest I ever saw in my life.”
Skipped Massachusetts in 1860. On his 1860 trip to New England, Lincoln did not speak in Massachusetts, stopping only in Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire. But he was tempted. Lincoln was invited to visit Springfield in the summer of 1860, but his advisers talked him out of coming. At that time it was considered unseemly for presidential candidates to campaign on their own behalf. Lincoln’s Democratic opponent Stephen Douglas, fearing a Lincoln victory, had taken to the campaign trail in a move that was regarded as desperate and un-presidential. Republican National Secretary George Fogg wrote to Lincoln: “You could not go to Springfield without your journey being in some measure a political ovation. As such, it would relieve Douglas of the charge of being the only stump candidate for the Presidency. It would also be construed by the Democratic papers into evidence of Republican alarm. In this view, it might ‘hurt.’ Everything east I believe is well. The election is ours now. The triumph is ours.”
And he was right, Lincoln went on to win the presidency, though with only 39 percent of the popular vote.
Thanks to Abraham Lincoln’s Classroom, which has lots more about the president.