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Abraham Lincoln in New Haven

“The Wildest Scene” Richard Hegel, Historian, City of New Haven Floyd M. Shumway, Former Director, New Haven Colony Historical Society By the beginning of 1860 it had become clear that the forthcoming presidential election was going to be dramatic and that its outcome could have vast impact on the future of the United States. Abraham Lincoln had become the leading Republican in the Midwest, but he was not particularly well-known elsewhere, so it seemed wise to have him broaden his political base prior to the nominating convention by bringing his message to other parts of the nation. Consequently, he came to New York, where he spoke at Cooper Union on February 27, and then he began a tour of New England with an appearance here in New Haven on March 6. It was arranged that, while he was in New Haven, Lincoln would stay with James F. Babcock, the editor of the Daily Palladium and that his address would be delivered at Union Hall, which was located on the second floor at 75 Union Street, near the corner of Chapel. He had never previously visited New Haven, but the writings of Leonard Bacon, the minister of Center Church, had helped him develop his antipathy toward slavery. Close to one thousand people turned out to hear what Babcock’s newspaper called “one of the most effective and eloquent speakers in the United States,” but not all of them were able to get into the auditorium. “Union Hall,” the Palladium reported, “was crowded long before the hour appointed for Mr. Lincoln’s address. The hall was literally jammed. Every seat was packed full.” Lincoln’s talk stressed, of course, the importance of the antislavery movement within the Republican party. “No other national question,” he stated, “can even get a hearing just at present. For, whether we will or not, the question of Slavery is the question, the all-absorbing topic of the day.” He pleaded for mutual understanding and forbearance by both the North and South, but he made his own position clear by stressing his support of free labor over slave labor. As Lincoln concluded his address, there was, according to the newspaper account, “the wildest scene of enthusiasm and excitement that has been in New Haven for years.” After considerable cheering, a procession accompanied by a band led the speaker to Babcock’s house, where “a crowd not less than one thousand in number collected, and repeatedly cheered Mr. Lincoln as he bade farewell to the citizens of New Haven.” On May 16 the Republicans convened in Chicago, and on the third ballot Abraham Lincoln became his party’s candidate for president. Although he had been relatively a dark horse, divisions within the other parties made him the front runner, and as everyone knows, he did win in November. He received only forty percent of the popular vote, but he got fifty-nine percent of the electoral vote by sweeping the eighteen free states. He received fifty-nine percent of the popular vote in Connecticut, and he won in New Haven, too, although it was then, as it is now, a Democratic city.

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