Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 4.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.

Speech from the Balcony of the Bates House at Indianapolis, Indiana [1]

February 11, 1861

It is not possible, in my journey to the national capital, to address assemblies like this which may do me the great honor to meet me as you have done, but very briefly. I should be entirely worn out if I were to attempt it. I appear before you now to thank you for this very magnificent welcome which you have given me, and still more for the very generous support which your State recentlyPage  195 gave to the political cause of the whole country, and the whole world. [Applause.] Solomon has said, that there is a time to keep silence. [Renewed and deafening applause.] * * * * * [2] We know certain that they mean the same thing while using the same words now, and it perhaps would be as well if they would keep silence.

The words ``coercion'' and ``invasion'' are in great use about these days. Suppose we were simply to try if we can, and ascertain what, is the meaning of these words. Let us get, if we can, the exact definitions of these words---not from dictionaries, but from the men who constantly repeat them---what things they mean to express by the words. What, then, is ``coercion''? What is ``invasion''? Would the marching of an army into South California, for instance, without the consent of her people, and in hostility against them, be coercion or invasion? I very frankly say, I think it would be invasion, and it would be coercion too, if the people of that country were forced to submit. But if the Government, for instance, but simply insists upon holding its own forts, or retaking those forts which belong to it,---[cheers,]---or the enforcement of the laws of the United States in the collection of duties upon foreign importations,---[renewed cheers,]---or even the withdrawal of the mails from those portions of the country where the mails themselves are habitually violated; would any or all of these things be coercion? Do the lovers of the Union contend that they will resist coercion or invasion of any State, understanding that any or all of these would be coercing or invading a State? If they do, then it occurs to me that the means for the preservation of the Union they so greatly love, in their own estimation, is of a very thin and airy character. [Applause.] If sick, they would consider the little pills of the homeopathist as already too large for them to swallow. In their view, the Union, as a family relation, would not be anything like a regular marriage at all, but only as a sort of free-love arrangement,---[laughter,]---to be maintained on what that sect calls passionate attraction. [Continued laughter.] But, my friends, enough of this.

What is the particular sacredness of a State? I speak not of that position which is given to a State in and by the Constitution of the United States, for that all of us agree to---we abide by; but that position assumed, that a State can carry with it out of the Union that which it holds in sacredness by virtue of its connection with the Union. I am speaking of that assumed right of a State, as a primary principle, that the Constitution should rule all that is less than itself, and ruin all that is bigger than itself. [Laughter.] But,

Page  196I ask, wherein does consist that right? If a State, in one instance, and a county in another, should be equal in extent of territory, and equal in the number of people, wherein is that State any better than the county? Can a change of name change the right? By what principle of original right is it that one-fiftieth or one-ninetieth of a great nation, by calling themselves a State, have the right to break up and ruin that nation as a matter of original principle? Now, I ask the question---I am not deciding anything---[laughter,]---and with the request that you will think somewhat upon that subject and decide for yourselves, if you choose, when you get ready,---where is the mysterious, original right, from principle, for a certain district of country with inhabitants, by merely being called a State, to play tyrant over all its own citizens, and deny the authority of everything greater than itself. [Laughter.] I say I am deciding nothing, but simply giving something for you to reflect upon; and, with having said this much, and having declared, in the start, that I will make no long speeches, I thank you again for this magnificent welcome, and bid you an affectionate farewell. [Cheers.]


[1]   Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, February 12, 1861. Although the text printed in the Indianapolis Journal, February 12, Cincinnati Daily Commercial and New York Tribune, February 13, purports to have been revised by Lincoln, it omits colorful sentences and even necessary phrases undoubtedly spoken by Lincoln. Space scarcely justifies inclusion of both versions, and on the ground that Lincoln's revision, if made, must have been exceedingly hurried, the editors have chosen the Sentinel text as the better of the two.

[2]   Asterisks are in the original. No other report supplies the omitted passage, which was apparently lost by the reporter in the cheering.