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

Speech to Germans at Cincinnati, Ohio [1]

February 12, 1861

[Commercial Version]

MR. CHAIRMAN: I thank you and those whom you represent, for the compliment you have paid me, by tendering me this address. In so far as there is an allusion to our present national difficulties, which expresses, as you have said, the views of the gentlemen present, I shall have to beg pardon for not entering fully upon the questions, which the address you have now read, suggests.

Page  202I deem it my duty---a duty which I owe to my constituents---to you, gentlemen, that I should wait until the last moment, for a development of the present national difficulties, before I express myself decidedly what course I shall pursue. I hope, then, not to be false to anything that you have to expect of me.

I agree with you, Mr. Chairman, that the working men are the basis of all governments, for the plain reason that they are the most numerous, and as you added that those were the sentiments of the gentlemen present, representing not only the working class, but citizens of other callings than those of the mechanic, I am happy to concur with you in these sentiments, not only of the native born citizens, but also of the Germans and foreigners from other countries.

Mr. Chairman, I hold that while man exists, it is his duty to improve not only his own condition, but to assist in ameliorating mankind; and therefore, without entering upon the details of the question, I will simply say, that I am for those means which will give the greatest good to the greatest number.

In regard to the Homestead Law, I have to say that in so far as the Government lands can be disposed of, I am in favor of cutting up the wild lands into parcels, so that every poor man may have a home.

In regard to the Germans and foreigners, I esteem them no better than other people, nor any worse. [Cries of good.] It is not my nature, when I see a people borne down by the weight of their shackles---the oppression of tyranny---to make their life more bitter by heaping upon them greater burdens; but rather would I do all in my power to raise the yoke, than to add anything that would tend to crush them.

Inasmuch as our country is extensive and new, and the countries of Europe are densely populated, if there are any abroad who desire to make this the land of their adoption, it is not in my heart to throw aught in their way, to prevent them from coming to the United States.

Mr. Chairman, and Gentlemen, I will bid you an affectionate farewell.

[Gazette Version]

Mr. Chairman: I thank you and those you represent, for the compliment paid me by the tender of this address. In so far as there is an allusion to our present national difficulties, and the suggestion of the views of the gentlemen who present this address, I beg you will excuse me from entering particularly upon it. I deem it due to myself and the whole country, in the present extraordinaryPage  203 condition of the country and of public opinion, that I should wait and see the last development of public opinion before I give my views or express myself at the time of the inauguration. [Cheers.] I hope at that time to be false to nothing you have been taught to expect of me. [Cheers.]

I agree with you, Mr. Chairman, and with the address of your constituents, in the declaration that working men are the basis of all governments. That remark is due to them more than to any other class, for the reason that there are more of them than of any other class. And as your address is presented to me not only on behalf of workingmen, but especially of Germans, I may say a word as to classes. I hold the value of life is to improve one's condition. Whatever is calculated to advance the condition of the honest, struggling laboring man, so far as my judgment will enable me to judge of a correct thing. I am for that thing.

An allusion has been made to the Homestead Law. I think it worthy of consideration, and that the wild lands of the country should be distributed so that every man should have the means and opportunity of benefitting his condition. [Cheers.] I have said I do not desire to enter into details, nor will I.

In regard to Germans and foreigners, I esteem foreigners no better than other people, nor any worse. [Laughter and cheers.] They are all of the great family of men, and if there is one shackle upon any of them, it would be far better to lift the load from them than to pile additional loads upon them. [Cheers.] And inasmuch as the continent of America is comparatively a new country, and the other countries of the world are old countries, there is more room here, comparatively speaking, than there is there; and if they can better their condition by leaving their old homes, there is nothing in my heart to forbid them coming; and I bid them all God speed. [Cheers.]

Again, gentlemen, thanking you for your address, I bid you good night.

Annotation

[1]   Cincinnati Daily Commercial and Daily Gazette, February 13, 1861. Since the two versions vary considerably, both are reproduced. Brackets in the text are from the sources. Lincoln spoke in reply to a speech by Frederick Oberkline (the Gazette gives ``Oberkleine''), chairman of a committee representing eighteen German industrial associations that called in a body to pay their respects.