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Constitution Day: Lincoln's Greatest Speech Americans Have Never Heard

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
September 19, 2022 3:00 am

Constitution Day: Lincoln's Greatest Speech Americans Have Never Heard

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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September 19, 2022 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Vince Benedetto, founder of Bold Gold Media Group, tells the story of the Cooper Union address-the greatest speech of Lincoln's that Americans have never heard, and the speech that made him President.

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Without further delay, here's Vince with the story. It was early winter in 1860, and the country was at an inflection point that makes today's division seem trivial. It wasn't merely slavery that was on trial. Not quite two decades shy of our first centennial, the founding fathers' vision itself hung in the balance. A growing segment of America's population were claiming that the authors of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were fighting to advance the lives of only white men. The founders, a growing chorus of revisionists maintained, had no room in this new nation for black people. But one man took it upon himself to write the definitive response to these long, simmering claims.

Though the world knows his Gettysburg Address, it was Abraham Lincoln's speech at a new technical college in New York City that helped propel him to national prominence. In the mid-19th century, a large number of Americans, particularly those in the southern states, advanced an argument that our founding fathers never intended to end slavery or provide equality to anyone other than those born with white skin. They also accused Americans in favor of restricting or abolishing slavery of betraying the founders' intention. Lincoln knew both of those claims to be false and set about proving it in his Cooper Union Address.

His challenge was daunting because the founding fathers were themselves a large group of individuals with divergent views. Could we truly know their intentions regarding slavery and race? If they wanted to exclude black people, they surely would have written or said as much. If Thomas Jefferson, when he wrote the sacred words, we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.

Meant for only those words to apply to just white men? Why didn't he write it that way? Lincoln knew Jefferson was a man of precision when it came to choosing his words. So much so that Lincoln, in 1859, said this of Jefferson and the Declaration. All honor to Jefferson, to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth applicable to all men in all times, and so to embalm it there that today, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling block to the very harbingers of reappearing tyranny and oppression. Lincoln understood that if the Declaration's only purpose was to make the case for separation from England, it didn't require the bold language of liberty and equality in its preamble.

It could have simply listed the grievances against the tyrannical king. Even prior, in 1857, Lincoln, in his condemnation of the Supreme Court's infamous Dred Scott decision, wrote this about the founders' intentions. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet that they were about to confer it immediately upon them.

In fact, they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all and revered by all, constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere. Far from being hypocrites, Lincoln believed our founders were forward-thinking visionaries. With all of that as background, Lincoln began his address by asking a question. He then went about building an airtight case in defense of the founders, using a tool he'd use as a prominent trial lawyer, evidence. Lincoln prepared for months, with his primary source being Jonathan Elliott's multi-volume Debates on the Federal Constitution.

He scoured the official record of the proceedings of Congress. Like a detective, Lincoln followed the founders' actions to determine whether, after they affixed their names to parchment, they endeavored to limit or abolish slavery, or contribute to its preservation and expansion. He started by taking the audience back to 1784, to life under the Articles of Confederation, three years before the Constitutional Convention. The issue at hand was land in possession of the federal government, known as the Northwestern Territory. And you've been listening to Vince Benedetto giving a rendering of the story we wrote about the Cooper Union Address that Lincoln delivered in 1860 in New York at the aforementioned Technical College that had literally just been minted.

He didn't give this speech at Columbia or Harvard or Yale, but the new forward-thinking university dedicated to technology by the industrialist Peter Cooper. When we come back, what happens next? What is Lincoln's case? What is the case for the founders, the real case?

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It was memorialized on September 17th, 1787. And my goodness, we today still have the longest running, oldest Constitution in the world. Telling the story is Vince Benedetto, the founder, president, and CEO of Bold Gold Media Group from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Vince is also an Air Force Academy graduate. When we last left off, Vince was telling us about Lincoln's desire to present the founders as forward-thinking visionaries on the question of slavery, rather than, as some were saying, wrong about the fact that all men were created equal. Let's return to the story.

Here again is Vince Benedetto. He started by taking the audience back to 1784, to life under the Articles of Confederation, three years before the Constitutional Convention. The issue at hand was land in possession of the federal government known as the Northwestern Territory. Four of the eventual signers of the Constitution were present, and three of the four voted to prohibit slavery in the new territory.

In their understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor anything else, properly forbade the federal government to control as to slavery in federal territory. Three years later, the issue again came before the Confederation Congress. Two more of the eventual signers of the future Constitution were present.

Both voted to prevent slavery in the Northwest Territory. Soon afterward, during the first Congress under our new Constitution, Lincoln reveals... The bill for this act was reported by one of the 39, Thomas Fitzsimmons, then a member of the House of Representatives from Pennsylvania.

It went through all its stages without a word of opposition, and finally passed both branches without yeas and nays, which is equivalent to a unanimous passage. In this Congress, there were 16 of the 39 fathers who framed the original Constitution. George Washington, another one of the 39, was then President of the United States and, as such, approved and signed the bill.

During Jefferson's presidency, the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 was a big deal. Two constitutional signers, Lincoln noted, were present in that Congress as the government further restricted slavery. Lincoln moved to the Missouri Question of 1819 and 1820 with two signers of the Constitution in Congress. One voted to prohibit slavery and one voted against prohibition. By Lincoln's calculations, 23 of the 39 signers of the Constitution had a voting record on the issue of slavery. Of the 23, 21, an overwhelming majority, voted to prohibit or limit the expansion of slavery. Of the remaining 16 signers with no voting record, Lincoln's research revealed strong anti-slavery sentiments. If we should look into their acts and declarations on those other phrases, as the foreign slave trade and the morality and policy of slavery generally, it would appear to us that on the direct question of federal control of slavery in federal territories, the 16, if they had acted at all, would probably have acted just as the 23 did. Among that 16 were several of the most noted anti-slavery men of those times, as Dr. Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and Gouverneur Morris. Well, there was not one known to have been otherwise unless it may be John Rutledge of South Carolina.

Lincoln was just getting started. But what about the argument that preventing slavery violated slave owners' property rights under the Fifth Amendment, or the rights of states under the Tenth? Lincoln's argument was devastating.

It is surely safe to assume that the 39 framers of the original Constitution, and the 76 members of Congress, which framed the amendments thereto, taken together, do certainly include those who may be fairly called our fathers who framed the government under which we live. In so assuming, I defy any man to show that any one of them ever, in his whole life, declared that in his understanding, any proper division of local from federal authority, or any part of the Constitution, forbade the federal government to control as to slavery in the federal territories. Lincoln, with those words, destroyed the notion that our founders intended for slavery to expand in America.

Further, the notion that they did not intend for the federal government to use its power under the Constitution to prevent such expansion was false. A Congress that voted concurrently to prevent slavery in the new lands of America, and for the Bill of Rights, decimated the Southerners' claims. Lincoln demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that our founders attacked slavery as a moral wrong. Neither the word slave or slavery is to be found in the Constitution, nor the word property even, in any connection with the language alluding to the things slave or slavery.

This was done intentionally, Lincoln noted, to exclude from the Constitution the idea that there could be property in man. Though a product of compromises and consensus, Lincoln surmised the Constitution and the Declaration were designed to be great freedom documents and weapons against tyranny. A great 20th century visionary concurred with Lincoln.

On July 4th, 1965, a Southern preacher delivered an important sermon in his home church in Atlanta. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., he preached, Never before in the history of the world has a socio-political document expressed in such profound, eloquent, and unequivocal language the dignity and the worth of human personality. We can and should debate how we apply the founders' vision to our modern society, but for anyone interested in the founders' intention on slavery and race, read Lincoln's Cooper Union address. The man who prosecuted the war with the Southern states and emancipated the slaves made the most authoritative case in American history.

It remains as true today as it was when he made it in 1860. And that is why Abraham Lincoln's Cooper Union address is his greatest speech that Americans have never heard. It's the speech that made Lincoln president. It's the speech that saved America once.

And it's the speech that can save us again. And a terrific job on the editing, production, and storytelling by Monty Montgomery. And a special thanks to Vince Benedetto, the founder, president, and CEO of Bold Gold Media Group from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. And he's also an Air Force Academy graduate. And no, not a PhD in history, knows as much about history as any PhD and has a passion for this material. And a special thanks to Newsweek for allowing us to perform the piece that Vince and I wrote there. It's available at Newsweek.com. And by the way, all of our histories are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College who teach all the things that matter in life and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses. Indeed, I learned more about the Constitution taking their Constitution 101 course than I did with three years at the University of Virginia School of Law.

It is that good. Every family, every kid in this country should know the story of the Constitution. And of course, the Cooper Union speech says it all, debunking the argument that our founders, even in contextual history, were for slavery.

It's simply not true. The story of Lincoln's Cooper Union speech here on Our American Story. I know pet grooming, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They're small business owners, too, so they know how to help you best. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-25 15:06:04 / 2023-01-25 15:14:42 / 9

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