Honest Abe Made History in New York

Abraham Lincoln, whose 200th birthday we celebrate today, had a special relationship with New York.
Referring to the speech he made at Cooper Union and the portrait of him taken here by photographer Matthew Brady, Lincoln said: ''Brady and the Cooper Institute made me President.''
On the day Lincoln first set eyes on this city, the nation was seething. The issue was slavery and the south was threatening to secede. ''On the afternoon of February 25, 1860, historian Edward Ellis writes, ''an odd and ugly man stepped ashore from a ferry at Cortlandt  Street. His furrowed face and weatherworn look and his ungainly clothes and loose-jointed gait seemed to mark him as a Westerner.''
He was wearing a tall, beaver hat and his ill-fitting suit hung in wrinkles. He carried a carpetbag with his belongings.
The visit to New York was vital to Lincoln's political ambitions. A battle was raging within the recently formed Republican Party for its presidential nomination. Lincoln had come to New York to court members of the political establishment and get their blessings for his candidacy.
He was met by members of the Young Men's Republican Club, took a room at the Astor House; and then went over to Brooklyn to hear a sermon by Henry Ward Beecher. The next day, a Monday, he bought a new silk hat at the famous Knox Great Hat and Cap Establishment at Broadway and Fulton Street and, later, visited Brady's studio, where he posed for a photograph familiar to later generations, standing with his left hand resting on a book...a sad look in his eyes.
The suit he took out of the carpetbag was rumpled. He seemed uncomfortable if not nervous as he entered Cooper Union that night, where 1500 people had turned out despite a snowstorm. His voice was high-pitched and cracked as he spoke so softly at first that some people yelled: ''Louder!’’ But, then, as he looked out at this audience that included major leaders of the city, he grew more comfortable and spoke out with passion about the issue that was dividing the nation.
''Even though much provoked, '' he declared, ''let us do nothing through passion and ill temper. Even though the southern people will not so much as listen to us, let us calmly consider their demands."  And he went on to spell out his conviction that slavery cannot be allowed to spread into the nation's new territories.
But the lines that live in history were: ''Let us have the faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it.''
The auditorium at Cooper Union resounded with cheers. 
It wasn't a complete triumph. The Mayor of New York, Fernando Wood, and some major business leaders believed that the end of the fedral union was inevitable. Mayor Wood even argued that the city should consider seceding from the union too. But, while the city would be torn by draft riots during the coming Civil War and many New Yorkers were unsympathetic to the union cause, Lincoln's speech at Cooper Union was a turning point in the presidential campaign of 1860 and a significant moment in American history.
As historian Harold Holzer told me: ‘‘It can truly be said that Lincoln was made in New York.  His political career took flight only when he triumphed at Cooper Union and his speech was reprinted in five New York daily newspapers and republished in a best-selling pamphlet and when he posed for Brady -- a pose that launched a thousand engravings and lithographs and virtually did the campaigning for him during the presidential race when Lincoln himself, true to tradition, stayed home and said nothing.''        
Lincoln and New York, a combination that made history.      

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