Arts & Life

The Speech That Made Lincoln President

Cooper Union Speech Is Credited with Winning Over Skeptics

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Listen: Excerpt of Sam Waterston performing Lincoln's 1860 Cooper Union speech.

Lincoln posed for famed photographer Mathew Brady the day of his Cooper Union address. Known as the Cooper Union portrait, it is one of the few full-length photographs of Lincoln before he became president. Corbis hide caption

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Cover of Harold Holzer's book, Lincoln at Cooper Union.

Cover of Harold Holzer's book, Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech that Made Abraham Lincoln President. Simon & Schuster hide caption

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When Abraham Lincoln ran for president, he didn't campaign on his own behalf. That was deemed unseemly in the political climate of the 1860s. Instead, other speakers hit the hustings to tout the man from Springfield, Ill.

But before his nomination in 1860, Lincoln did make several public appearances. And in February of that year, he gave a speech in New York City that cleared an important obstacle to the presidency. His performance at Cooper Union on Feb. 27 convinced New York Republicans that Lincoln, a Westerner with no formal education, could speak as well as anyone in the East, and was a better candidate for the presidency than New York's own Sen. William Henry Seward.

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NPR's Robert Siegel talks with scholar Harold Holzer about his new book, Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President.



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