Newspapers played a major role in the political world during the late 1800s compared to today, where television and the internet rule the political landscape. Then, newspapers were the only method of mass distribution of speeches and were the only real source of events happening around the people. As we all know, Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th president of the United States in 1860. However, before election day Lincoln had to transform the perception of himself from being a political nobody that lived in the roughed up state of Illinois to being “Honest-Abe”, the statesman and great orator. When Lincoln came to New York to speak at the Cooper Institute (now known as Cooper Union) in February, 1860, he showed the Republican audience present that he was indeed a magnificent orator and very intelligent. The spectators may have seen Lincoln and gave him support, but the rest of the country was still in the dark about the man Lincoln truly was. They turned to their trusted newspapers (there were hundreds in New York alone) to get a glimpse into the political landscape. Although few people heard Lincoln’s speech in person, many read it the next few days since a copy of the speech was published in basically ever newspaper. Here are a few highlights from the papers following the address:
From the New York Tribune: “Mr. Lincoln is one of nature’s orators, using his rare powers solely to elucidate and convince, though their inevitable effect is to delight and electrify as well. We present herewith a very full and accurate report of this speech: yet the tones, the gestures, the kindling eye, and the mirth-provoking look defy the reporter’s skill. The vast assemblage frequently rang with cheers and shouts of applause, which were prolonged and intensified at the close. No man ever before made such an impression on his first appeal to a New York audience.”
The New York Evening Post headlined: FRAMERS OF THE CONSTITUTION IN FAVOR OF SLAVERY PROHIBITION.
And here is a comment from Lincoln about his fondness and appreciation for the impact newspapers (in this instance William Cullen Bryant and the editor of the New York Evening Post) had on his campaign:
“I have seen what all the New York papers said about that thing of mine in the Cooper Institute with the exception of the New York Evening Post and I would like to know what Mr. Bryant thought of it… It is worth a visit from Springfield Illinois, to New York to make the acquaintance of such a man as William Cullen Bryant.”
By visiting New York, Lincoln took his first major step to becoming president of the United States.