Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point
by Lewis E. Lehrman
Getting Right with the Declaration of Independence
Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point explains how Lincoln’s speech at Peoria on October 16, 1854 was the turning point in the development of his antislavery campaign and his political career and thought. Here, Lincoln detailed his opposition to slavery’s extension and his determination to defend America’s Founding document from those who denied that the Declaration of Independence applied to black Americans.
Students of Abraham Lincoln know the canon of his major speeches — from his Lyceum Speech of 1838 to his “Final Remarks” delivered from a White House window, days before he was murdered in 1865. Less well-known are the two extraordinary speeches given at Springfield and Peoria two weeks apart in 1854. They marked Mr. Lincoln’s reentry into the politics of Illinois and, as he could not know, his preparation for the Presidency in 1861. These Lincoln addresses catapulted him into the debates over slavery which dominated Illinois and national politics for the rest of the decade. Lincoln delivered the substance of these arguments several times — certainly in Springfield on October 4, 1854, for which there are only press reports. A longer version came twelve days later in Peoria. To understand President Abraham Lincoln, one must understand the Peoria speech of October 16, 1854. It forms the foundation of his politics and principles, in the 1850s and in his Presidency.