Lincoln’s Farewell Address

This blog post is a part of our bicentennial celebration. During the month of January, we’re taking a closer look at one of Illinois’s iconic residents: Abraham Lincoln.

On a rainy February morning in 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln gave his last speech in Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln arrived at the Great Western Railroad Depot in the early morning for his departure to Washington D.C. There he shook hands with those waiting inside. Shortly before 8:00 AM, he walked through a crowd out to his train car and addressed them for the last time. His speech was impromptu and rather short, but thoroughly expressed his sadness at having to leave the people of Springfield. The speech reads as such:

“My friends, no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.”[1]

In his speech, Lincoln recognized the difficulties he would face while in office, and reflected on the turbulent state of the country at the time. He was aware that he may not ever make it back to Springfield because of the controversy surrounding his election. Indeed, this was the last time Abraham Lincoln would be in Springfield alive. The whole event only took about 30 minutes and his speech came to be known as “Lincoln’s Farewell Address.”

Once he departed, Lincoln was asked to put his speech into writing. After writing the first few lines with a shaky hand, he passed the task over to his personal secretary, John Nicolay. Today, the Depot stands restored as a museum for the public.

Lincoln's Farewell Address [2]

[1] Lincoln, Abraham. Lincoln’s Farewell Address. Champaign, Ill: Project Gutenberg, undated. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed January 19, 2018).

[2] Lincoln, Abraham. Farewell Address to Springfield. Holograph manuscript, February 11, 1861. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (086). Digital ID# al0086. 

[3] Header image: The Great Western Railroad Depot. Photo taken by Benjamin Halpern. 

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