Among the many invitations to deliver addresses which Lincoln received in the fall of 1859, was one from a committee asking him to lecture in Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, in a course then in progress there, designed for popular entertainment. “I wrote,” said Lincoln, “that I could do it in February, provided they would take a political speech, if I could find time to get up no other.” “Your letter was duly received and handed over to the committee,” was the response, “and they accept your compromise. You may lecture at the time you mention, and they will pay you $200. I think they will arrange for a lecture in New York also, and pay you $200 for that.”
[Sidenote] C.C. Nott to Lincoln, February 9, 1860. MS.
Financial obstacles, or other reasons, brought about the transfer of the engagement to a new committee, and the invitation was repeated in a new form: “The Young Men’s Central Republican Union of this city [New York] very earnestly desire that you should deliver what I may term a political lecture during the ensuing month. The peculiarities of the case are these: A series of lectures has been determined upon. The first was delivered by Mr. Blair, of St. Louis, a short time ago; the second will be in a few days, by Mr. Cassius M. Clay, and the third we would prefer to have from you rather than any other person. Of the audience I should add that it is not that of an ordinary political meeting. These lectures have been contrived to call out our better, but busier citizens, who never attend political meetings. A large part of the audience will consist of ladies.”
[Sidenote] Lincoln to McNeill, April 6,
1860. Lamon, “Life of
Lincoln.” p. 441.
Lincoln, however, remained under the impression that the lecture was to be given in Brooklyn, and only learned after he reached New York to fulfill his engagement that he was to speak in the Cooper Institute. When, on the evening of February 27, 1860, he stood before his audience, he saw not only a well-filled house, but an assemblage of listeners in which were many whom, by reason of his own modest estimate of himself, he would have been rather inclined to ask advice from than to offer instruction to. William Cullen Bryant presided over the meeting; David Dudley Field escorted the speaker to the platform; ex-Governor John A. King, Horace Greeley, James W. Nye, James A. Briggs, Cephas Brainerd, Charles C. Nott, Hiram Barney, and others sat among the invited guests. “Since the days of Clay and Webster,” said the “Tribune” next morning, “no man has spoken to a larger assemblage of the intellect and mental culture of our city.” Of course the presence of such a gathering was no mere accident. Not only had Lincoln’s name for nearly two years found constant mention in the newspapers, but both friendly and hostile comment had coupled it with the two ranking political leaders in the free-States—Seward and Douglas. The representative men of New York were naturally eager