Lincoln to the Citizens of Indiana Historic Marker
Backstory and Context
Lincoln’s Childhood in Indiana
Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809 in Kentucky, a slave state. At the family farm in Sinking Spring and then later Knob Creek, Lincoln would learn the values of farm life while going to school from the age of 6.
By 1816, however, Lincoln’s father, Thomas Lincoln, decided to move to Indiana because of the issue of slavery as well as land title issues. The family arrived in Little Pigeon Creek (Spencer County) in December of 1816. Little Abe sporadically attended school and was mostly self-educated. Friends and family, however, stated that he was a very studious boy.
One of the most influential moments of Lincoln’s childhood was his flatboat trip down the Mississippi to New Orleans. Abe and Allen Gentry, the son of a store owner near the Lincoln family farmstead, built the flatboat and were tasked with transporting produce and meat for $8 a month. Historians state that during his experiences in New Orleans, Lincoln most likely witnessed his first slave auction. By the age of 21 in 1830, Abe Lincoln and his family moved to Illinois.
Return to Indiana in 1844 and 1859
Abraham wouldn’t return to Indiana until 1844. At the time, Lincoln had served in the Illinois House of Representatives as a Whig representative. In 1844, the Whigs of Rockport in Spencer County, Indiana, invited him to speak to a large crowd about the issue of protective tariffs. This speech, among others, cemented a growing popular opinion of Lincoln as a popular leader.
After visiting his old farmstead as well as the graves of his mother and sister, Lincoln wouldn’t return again for another 15 years. This time, in 1859, Lincoln was speaking in front of a large crowd regarding a variety of republican issues. Lincoln opened the speech saying, “Fellow Citizens of the State of Indiana,” which indicated his recognition of his Indiana roots. A part of the speech, which he delivered in 3rd person, is detailed here:
“He now, for the first time in his life, appeared before a large audience in Indiana. Appearing at the capital of this now great State, and traveling through a good portion of it in coming from Cincinnati, had combined to revive his recollection of the earlier years of his life. Away back in the fall of 1816, when he was in his eighth year, his father brought him over from the neighboring State of Kentucky, and settled in the State of Indiana, and he grew up to his present enormous height on our own good soil of Indiana.
The scenes he passed through today are wonderfully different from the first scenes he witnessed in the State of Indiana, where he was raised, in Spencer County, on the Ohio river. There was an unbroken wilderness there then, and an axe was put in his hand; and with the trees and logs and grubs he fought until he reached his twentieth year.”
Speech in Lafayette, 1861
Lincoln’s subsequent visit to Indiana occurred in 1861 when he was the president elect. Following the election, Lincoln would begin his famous trek from Springfield, Illinois to the inauguration in Washington D.C. His first stop was in Lafayette, Indiana, where he delivered the following speech:
“Fellow citizens. We have seen great changes within the recollection of some of us who are the older. When I first came to the west, some 44 or 45 years ago, at sundown you had completed a journey of some 30 miles which you had commenced at sunrise, and thought you had done well. Now only six hours have elapsed since I left my home in Illinois where I was surrounded by a large concourse of my fellow citizens, almost all of whom I could recognize, and I find myself far from home surrounded by the thousands I now see before me, who are strangers to me.
Still we are bound together, I trust in christianity, civilization and patriotism, and are attached to our country and our whole country. While some of us may differ in political opinions, still we are all united in one feeling for the Union. We all believe in the maintenance of the Union, of every star and every stripe of the glorious flag, and permit me to express the sentiment that upon the union of the States, there shall be between us no difference. My friends, I meet many friends at every place on my journey, and I should weary myself should I talk at length, therefore permit me to bid you an affectionate farewell.”
Speeches in Indianapolis, 1861
After stopping in Thorntown and Lebanon, Lincoln arrived in Indianapolis on Monday, February 11th, 1861. At the Lafayette and Indianapolis Railroads’ crossing at the intersection of Missouri and Washington streets, Lincoln gave a speech to the people of Indiana. This speech included:
“Governor Morton and Fellow Citizens of the State of Indiana:
Most heartily do I thank you for this magnificent reception, and while I cannot take to myself any share of the compliment thus paid, more than that which pertains to a mere instrument, an accidental instrument, perhaps I should say, of a great cause, I yet must look upon it as a most magnificent reception, and as such, most heartily do I thank you for it.
You have been pleased to address yourselves to me chiefly in behalf of this glorious Union in which we live, in all of which you have my hearty sympathy, and, as far as may be within my power, will have, one and inseparably, my hearty consideration. While I do not expect, upon this occasion, or on any occasion, till after I get to Washington, to attempt any lengthy speech, I will only say that to the salvation of this Union there needs but one single thing---the hearts of a people like yours. When the people rise in masses in behalf of the Union and the liberties of their country, truly may it be said, "The gates of hell shall not prevail against them."
In all the trying positions in which I shall be placed, and doubtless I shall be placed in many trying ones, my reliance will be placed upon you and the people of the United States---and I wish you to remember now and forever, that it is your business, and not mine; that if the union of these States, and the liberties of this people, shall be lost, it is but little to any one man of fifty-two years of age, but a great deal to the thirty millions of people who inhabit these United States, and to their posterity in all coming time. It is your business to rise up and preserve the Union and liberty, for yourselves, and not for me. I desire they shall be constitutionally preserved.
I, as already intimated, am but an accidental instrument, temporary, and to serve but for a limited time, but I appeal to you again to constantly bear in mind that with you, and not with politicians, not with Presidents, not with office-seekers, but with you, is the question, "Shall the Union and shall the liberties of this country be preserved to the latest generation?’"
Later that evening, speaking from the balcony of the Bates House hotel to a crowd ranging between 10,000 and 45,000 people (press estimates), Lincoln delivered what some historians consider to be his first major policy speech. The speech is transcribed here:
“It is not possible, in my journey to the national capital, to address assemblies like this which may do me the great honor to meet me as you have done, but very briefly. I should be entirely worn out if I were to attempt it. I appear before you now to thank you for this very magnificent welcome which you have given me, and still more for the very generous support which your State recently gave to the political cause of the whole country, and the whole world.
Solomon has said, that there is a time to keep silence. We know certain that they mean the same thing while using the same words now, and it perhaps would be as well if they would keep silence.
The words "coercion" and "invasion" are in great use about these days. Suppose we were simply to try if we can, and ascertain what, is the meaning of these words. Let us get, if we can, the exact definitions of these words- --not from dictionaries, but from the men who constantly repeat them---what things they mean to express by the words. What, then, is "coercion’"? What is "invasion"? Would the marching of an army into South California, for instance, without the consent of her people, and in hostility against them, be coercion or invasion? I very frankly say, I think it would be invasion, and it would be coercion too, if the people of that country were forced to submit.
But if the Government, for instance, but simply insists upon holding its own forts, or retaking those forts which belong to it,--or the enforcement of the laws of the United States in the collection of duties upon foreign importations,--or even the withdrawal of the mails from those portions of the country where the mails themselves are habitually violated; would any or all of these things be coercion?
Do the lovers of the Union contend that they will resist coercion or invasion of any State, understanding that any or all of these would be coercing or invading a State? If they do, then it occurs to me that the means for the preservation of the Union they so greatly love, in their own estimation, is of a very thin and airy character.
If sick, they would consider the little pills of the homeopathist as already too large for them to swallow. In their view, the Union, as a family relation, would not be anything like a regular marriage at all, but only as a sort of free-love arrangement,--to be maintained on what that sect calls passionate attraction. But, my friends, enough of this.
What is the particular sacredness of a State? I speak not of that position which is given to a State in and by the Constitution of the United States, for that all of us agree to---we abide by; but that position assumed, that a State can carry with it out of the Union that which it holds in sacredness by virtue of its connection with the Union. I am speaking of that assumed right of a State, as a primary principle, that the Constitution should rule all that is less than itself, and ruin all that is bigger than itself. But, I ask, wherein does consist that right? If a State, in one instance, and a county in another, should be equal in extent of territory, and equal in the number of people, wherein is that State any better than the county? Can a change of name change the right? By what principle of original right is it that one-fiftieth or one-ninetieth of a great nation, by calling themselves a State, have the right to break up and ruin that nation as a matter of original principle?
Now, I ask the question---I am not deciding anything--and with the request that you will think somewhat upon that subject and decide for yourselves, if you choose, when you get ready,---where is the mysterious, original right, from principle, for a certain district of country with inhabitants, by merely being called a State, to play tyrant over all its own citizens, and deny the authority of everything greater than itself. I say I am deciding nothing, but simply giving something for you to reflect upon; and, with having said this much, and having declared, in the start, that I will make no long speeches, I thank you again for this magnificent welcome, and bid you an affectionate farewell.”
The Lincoln Funeral Train
By March of 1861, Lincoln officially took the oath to become the 16th President of the United States. His last trip to Indiana occurred four years later under morose circumstances. Two weeks following Lincoln’s assassination, on April 30th, 1865, the funeral train carrying Lincoln’s coffin arrived in Indianapolis at 7am. The Indianapolis Journal estimates that between 8am and 10pm, when the casket was placed in the Indiana State House, nearly 50,000 people came to mourn.1
Inscription on the Historical Marker
Lincoln to the Citizens of Indiana
“. . . it is your business . . . if the Union of these States, and the liberties of this people, shall be lost. . . . It is your business to rise up and preserve the Union. . . .”
From speech by President-elect Abraham Lincoln at intersection of Washington and Missouri Streets, Indianapolis, February 11, 1861.2