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"A House Divided" Speech - "a House Divided" Speech

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Abraham Lincoln, June 16, 1858

In 1856 ABRAHAM LINCOLN, an Illinois lawyer and politician, left the WHIG PARTY over the issue of SLAVERY and joined the newly-formed, antislavery REPUBLICAN PARTY. Lincoln was outraged at the KANSAS-NEBRASKA ACT of 1854 and the Dred Scott decision. He was particularly displeased with Senator STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS (D-Ill.) for championing the popular sovereignty doctrine, which allowed territories to decide whether to be free or slave states. The Dred Scott case suggested that there was no legal way to prevent slavery in the North as well.

The Republicans chose Lincoln as their candidate in the 1858 Illinois senatorial race against Douglas. The campaign was marked by a series of seven brilliant debates between the two contenders. Lincoln advocated loyalty to the Union, regarded slavery as unjust, and was opposed to any further expansion of slavery. He opened his campaign on June 16, 1858, with the declaration "'A house divided against itself cannot stand.' I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free." His speech attacked the morality and legitimacy of popular sovereignty and warned that whether slavery could be permitted in the North was still an open question.

Lincoln lost the election due to an unfavorable APPORTIONMENT of legislative seats in Illinois. At that time U.S. senators were elected by a vote of the state legislature. Though Lincoln garnered more popular votes, the legislators chose to reelect Douglas. Despite the loss, Lincoln's firm antislavery position had enhanced his national reputation and helped him win election as president in 1860.

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