Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 2.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.

Speech at Chicago, Illinois [1]

October 27, 1854

. . . . His speech of last evening was as thorough an exposition of the Nebraska iniquity as has ever been made, and his eloquence greatly impressed all his hearers, but it was manifest, as he frequently remarked that ``he could not help feeling foolish in answering arguments which were no arguments at all.'' He could not help feeling silly in beating the air before an intelligent audience. It is a fruitless job to pound dry sand, under the delusion that it is a rock. The laborer may get his eyes full, but the sand is just as sandy as it was before.

. . . . He said that he had heard Mr. Douglas argue half an hour to show that there was a necessity of territorial organization in Nebraska and Kansas, as though it was the main point of all his efforts, and as though somebody was actually going to dispute him. It was a great trick among some public speakers to hurl a naked absurdity at his audience, with such confidence that they should be puzzled to know if the speaker didn't see some point of great magnitude in it which entirely escaped their observation. A neatly varnished sophism would be readily penetrated, but a great, rough non sequitur was sometimes twice as dangerous as a well polished fallacy.

In reference to a certain beast who inhabits a neighboring State, the democracy of which State sends him to the Senate, of course, Mr. L. said ``there was one man in Congress, John Pettit, [2] who had no difficulty in seeing that our Declaration of Independence was a `self-evident lie.' More than this, he had no hesitation in saying so in a public debate in Washington. The Declaration of Independence was a `self-evident lie.' What would have happened ifPage  284 he had said it in old Independence Hall? The door-keeper would have taken him by the throat and stopped his rascally breath awhile, and then have hurled him into the street.''


[1]   Chicago Daily Journal, October 30, 1854. The report deals at length with Lincoln's character and rise to prominence, but only the passages which report his speech are here reproduced. This is the only report located which tells much of the contents of the speech.

[2]   Senator from Indiana.