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

Speech at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania [1]

February 15, 1861

Mayor Wilson and Citizens of Pennsylvania: I most cordially thank his Honor Mayor Wilson, and the citizens of Pittsburg generally for this flattering reception. It is [2] the more grateful, because I know that, while it is not given to me alone, but to the cause which I represent, yet it is given under circumstances which clearly prove to me that there is good will and sincere feeling at the bottom of it.

And here, fellow citizens, I may remark that in every short address I have made to the people, and in every crowd through which I have passed of late, some allusion has been made to the present distracted condition of the country. It is naturally expected that I should say something upon this subject, but to touch upon it all would involve an elaborate discussion of a great many questions and circumstances, would require more time than I can at present command, and would perhaps unnecessarily commit me upon matters which have not yet fully developed themselves. [Immense cheering, and cries of ``good!'' ``that's right!'']

The condition of the country, fellow-citizens, is an extraordinary one, and fills the mind of every patriot with anxiety and solicitude. My intention is to give this subject all the consideration which I possibly can before I speak fully and definitely in regard to it---so that, when I do speak, I may be as nearly right as possible. And when I do speak, fellow-citizens, I hope to say nothing in opposition to the spirit of the Consititution, contrary to the integrity of the Union, or which will in any way prove inimical to the liberties of the people or to the peace of the whole country. And, furthermore,Page  211 when the time arrives for me to speak on this great subject, I hope to say nothing which will disappoint the reasonable expectations of any man, or disappoint the people generally throughout the country, especially if their expectations have been based upon anything which I may have heretofore said.

Notwithstanding the troubles across the river, [the speaker pointing southwardly, and smiling] there is really no crisis, springing from anything in the government itself. In plain words, there is really no crisis except an artificial one! What is there now to warrant the condition of affairs presented by our friends ``over the river?'' Take even their own view of the questions involved, and there is nothing to justify the course which they are pursuing. I repeat it, then---there is no crisis, excepting such a one as may be gotten up at any time by designing politicians. [3] My advice, then, under such circumstances, is to keep cool. If the great American people will only keep their temper, on both sides of the line, the troubles will come to an end, and the question which now distracts the country will be settled just as surely as all other difficulties of like character which have originated in this government have been adjusted. Let the people on both sides keep their self-possession, and just as other clouds have cleared away in due time, so will this, and this great nation shall continue to prosper as heretofore. But, fellow citizens, I have spoken longer on this subject than I had intended in the outset---and I shall say no more at present.

Fellow citizens, as this is the first opportunity [4] which I have had to address a Pennsylvania assemblage, it seems a fitting time to indulge in a few remarks upon the important question of a tariff---a subject of great magnitude, and one which is attended with many difficulties, owing to the great variety of interests which it involves. So long as direct taxation for the support of government is not resorted to, a tariff is necessary. The tariff is to the government what a meal is to the family; but, while this is admitted, it still becomes necessary to modify and change its operations according to new interests and new circumstances. So far there is little difference of opinion among politicians, but the question as to how far imposts may be adjusted for the protection of home industry, gives rise to various views and objections. I must confess that I do not understand this subject in all its multiform bearings, but I promise you that I will give it my closest attention, and endeavor to comprehend it more fully. And here I may remark that the ChicagoPage  212 platform contains a plank upon this subject, which I think should be regarded as law for the incoming administration. In fact, this question, as well as all other subjects embodied in that platform, should not be varied from what we gave the people to understand would be our policy when we obtained their votes. Permit me, fellow citizens, to read the tariff plank of the Chicago platform, or rather, to have it read in your hearing by one who has younger eyes than I have.

Mr. Lincoln's private Secretary then read section twelfth of the Chicago platform, as follows:

That, while providing revenue for the support of the General Government by duties upon imposts, sound policy requires such an adjustment of the imposts as to encourage the development of the industrial interest of the whole country, and we commend that policy of national exchanges which secures to the working men liberal wages, to agriculture remunerating prices, to mechanics and manufacturers an adequate reward for their skill, labor and enterprise, and to the nation commercial prosperity and independence.

Mr. Lincoln continued---Now, fellow-citizens, I must confess that there are shades of difference in construing even this plank of the platform. But I am not now intending to discuss these differences, but merely to give you some general ideas upon this subject. I have long thought that if there be any article of necessity which can be produced at home with as little or nearly the same labor as abroad, it would be better to protect that article. Labor is the true standard of value. If a bar of iron, got out of the mines of England, and a bar of iron taken from the mines of Pennsylvania, be produced at the same cost, it follows that if the English bar be shipped from Manchester to Pittsburg, and the American bar from Pittsburg to Manchester, the cost of carriage is appreciably lost. [Laughter.] If we had no iron here, then we should encourage its shipment from foreign countries; but not when we can make it as cheaply in our own country. This brings us back to our first proposition, that if any article can be produced at home with nearly the same cost as abroad, the carriage is lost labor.

The treasury of the nation is in such a low condition at present that this subject now demands the attention of Congress, and will demand the immediate consideration of the new Administration. The tariff bill now before Congress may or may not pass at the present session. I confess I do not understand the precise provisions of this bill, and I do not know whether it can be passed by the present Congress or not. It may or may not become the law of the land---but if it does, that will be an end of the matter until a modificationPage  213 can be effected, should it be deemed necessary. If it does not pass (and the latest advices I have are to the effect that it is still pending) the next Congress will have to give it their earliest attention.

According to my political education, I am inclined to believe that the people in the various sections of the country should have their own views carried out through their representatives in Congress, and if the consideration of the Tariff bill should be postponed until the next session of the National Legislature, no subject should engage your representatives more closely than that of a tariff. And if I have any recommendation to make, it will be that every man who is called upon to serve the people in a representative capacity, should study this whole subject thoroughly, as I intend to do myself, looking to all the varied interests of our common country, so that when the time for action arrives adequate protection can be extended to the coal and iron of Pennsylvania, the corn of Illinois, and the ``reapers of Chicago.'' Permit me to express the hope that this important subject may receive such consideration at the hands of your representatives, that the interests of no part of the country may be overlooked, but that all sections may share in common the benefits of a just and equitable tariff. [Applause.]

But I am trespassing upon your patience---[cries of ``no!'' ``no!'' ``Go on---we'll listen!''] and must bring my remarks to a close. Thanking you most cordially for the kind reception which you have extended me, I bid you all adieu. [Enthusiastic applause.]

[Manuscript Prepared for the Pittsburgh Speech] [5]

For the first time I now have the honor to appear before a Pennsylvania audience. [6]

It is often said that the tariff is the specialty of Pennsylvania. Assuming that direct taxation is not to be adopted, the tariff question must be as durable as the government itself. It is a question of national house-keeping. It is to the government what replenishing the meal-tub is to the family. Ever-varying circumstances will require frequent modifications, as to amounts needed, and sources of supply. So far there is little difference of opinion among the people. It is as to whether, and how far, duties on imports, shall be adjusted to favor home production in the home market, that controversy begins. One party insists that such adjustment oppresses one class for the advantage of another; while the other party arguesPage  214 that with all its incidents, and in the long run, all classes are benefitted. In the Chicago Platform there is a plank upon this subject, which should be a general law, to the incoming administration. We should do neither more nor less than we gave the people reason to believe we would, when they gave us their votes. That plank is as I now read.

[The 12th plank of the Chicago platform was here read.] [7]

As with all general propositions, doubtless there will be shades of difference in construing this. I have, by no means, a thoroughly matured judgment upon this subject---especially as to details. Some general ideas are about all. I have long thought that to produce any necessary article at home, which can be made of as good quality, and with as little labor at home as abroad, would better be made at home, at least by the difference of the carrying from abroad. In such case, the carrying is demonstrably a dead loss of labor. For instance, labor being the true standard of value, is it not plain, that if equal labor get a bar of rail-road iron out of a mine in England, and another out of a mine in Pennsylvania, each can be laid down in a track at home, cheaper than they could exchange countries, at least by the cost of carriage. If there be a present cause why one can be both made and carried, cheaper, in money price, than the other can be made without carrying, that cause is an unnatural, and injurious one, and ought, gradually, if not rapidly, to be removed. [8]

The condition of the Treasury at this time would seem to render an early revision of the tariff indispensable. The Morrill bill, now pending before congress, may, or may not become a law. I am not posted as to it's particular provisions; but if they are generally satisfactory, and the bill shall now pass, there will be an end for the present. If, however, it shall not pass, I suppose the whole subject will be one of the most pressing and important, for the next congress. By the constitution, the executive may recommend measures which he may think proper; and he may veto those he thinks improper; and it is supposed he may add to these, certain indirect influences to affect the action of congress. My political education strongly inclines me against a very free use of any of these means, by the Executive, to control the legislation of the country. As a rule, I think it better that congress should originate, as well as perfect its measures, without external bias. I therefore would rather recommend to every gentleman who knows he is toPage  215 be a member of the next congress, to take an enlarged view, and post himself thoroughly so as to contribute his part to such an adjustment of the tariff, as shall produce a sufficient revenue, and in in [sic] its other bearings, so far as possible, be just and equal to all sections of the country & classes of the people.


[1]   Pittsburgh Dispatch, February 16, 1861. The Dispatch version has been selected in preference to that of the New York Tribune of the same date because it more closely parallels the incomplete manuscript in that portion of the speech and because it sounds more like Lincoln throughout. In some instances, however, where the Dispatch reporter seems to have missed a phrase, the Tribune variant is given in a footnote. The New York Herald, February 16, gives the same version as the Tribune and follows it with a shorter version taken from Lincoln's manuscript. The manuscript, preserved in the Lincoln Papers, is here printed following the Dispatch version. All brackets are in the source. Lincoln was introduced by Mayor George Wilson.

[2]   Tribune reads ``I am,'' probably correctly.

[3]   Tribune reads ``by turbulent men, aided by designing politicians.''

[4]   Compare the remainder of the speech with the prepared manuscript, infra.

[5]   AD, DLC-RTL.

[6]   This sentence has been crossed out, but the Dispatch version corroborates its inclusion.

[7]   Not in Lincoln's handwriting.

[8]   The remainder of the manuscript is in pencil and was probably written later than the first portion.