Before he moved into the White House, Abraham Lincoln came to New England twice. Newspapers reported extensively on Abraham Lincoln in New England both in September 1848 and in February 1860, though he had far more fame on his second visit.
Here are five facts about Abraham Lincoln in New England.
The day after his famed Cooper-Union speech in New York on Feb. 27, 1860, Lincoln stopped in Providence.
At Cooper-Union, Lincoln had carefully articulated his view on why the federal government should stop the spread of slavery into the western states. Further, he riled his opponents. He declared, “[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. The next day, Feb. 28, 1860, he gave an impromptu speech at Railroad Hall in the Providence train station.
Fifteen hundred cheering supporters attended. 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 February 1860 was to visit his son Robert.
Robert was then studying at Phillips Exeter Academy to pass his entrance exams for Harvard College. But he’d failed them previously. Lincoln came to encourage his son as he crammed for his exams.
However, Lincoln’s Cooper-Union speech had been so widely covered people clamored to hear him. He spoke 11 times on the trip, many of them at unscheduled train stops.
Lincoln Had a Common Touch
Though an able debater and lawyer, Lincoln had the politician’s gift for relating to working men.
During his trip to New England in February of 1860, Lincoln stopped in Manchester, N.H. 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 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 Sept. 12-21, 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. Lincoln took to the road to promote Zachary Taylor, the eventual winner.
Thirteen years after giving a speech at Worcester, a visitor to Washington from Massachusetts asked Lincoln if he remembered the trip. Characteristically, Lincoln 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. He stopped only in Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire.
But the Bay State tempted him. Lincoln received an invitation to visit Springfield in the summer of 1860, but his advisers talked him out of it. 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 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. This story about Abraham Lincoln in New England was updated in 2021.