On February 27, 1860, Abraham Lincoln stood before a simple wooden lectern in New York City’s Cooper Union and delivered one of the most consequential speeches of his life. He offered a ringing condemnation of slavery, an unapologetic appeal to the righteous position of the free states, and a clear-eyed assessment of the dark and dangerous years ahead.
When the tall prairie lawyer began this speech, he was to many little more than a failed candidate for the U.S. Senate. By the end of his 56-minute oration before New York’s GOP grandees, Lincoln was on track to win the 1860 Republican presidential nomination.
For Lincoln, and the Republican Party of his day, there was no moral compromise to be sought or attained on slavery. It was wrong. It was evil. It was un-American. By the acts and deeds of the Founding Fathers, the federal government had the authority to, at the very least, forbid the spread of involuntary servitude, whether the South liked it or not. Lincoln sought not to mollify the South or to compromise with the culture of slaveholding, but to draw a clear line.
Today, the United States faces a different threat, and as in Lincoln’s day, it is a threat not from abroad, but from within. The Republican Party, which some of us still hope to reform and which others have left, no longer deals in principle, morality, or the pursuit of the common welfare. It is no longer a party driven by a commitment to the rule of law, the preservation of individual liberty, or adherence to the Constitution.