Skip to main content

Walking Broadway with Abraham Lincoln: The Visit to New York for the Cooper Union Speech

Anyone who has ever traveled to a large unfamiliar city for the purpose of an important job interview and who might be a little anxious about the big job talk itself and what to wear and meeting new people should be able to imagine themselves in Abraham Lincoln's shoes as he strolled up Broadway on the afternoon of February 27, 1860. Imagine, too, if you look a little different than most people, tall and gangly in this case, a tad nervous about your appearance and somewhat concerned that you'll come off as a little too country in a crowded city of sophisticates. And add to this, a forecast of rain and snow in a city of already filthy and slushy streets. I actually experienced this very thing myself a few years ago, but I wasn't trying to impress people that I might make a good candidate for the Presidency of the United States of America.


Lincoln, who was relatively unknown to New Yorkers at this time and not yet the official nominee of the young Republican Party, worked hard finishing his speech, the one he was to deliver that night at Cooper Union. He arrived in New York two days before, finding his way by himself to Astor House, John Jacob Astor's hotel on Broadway between Vesey and Barclay Streets. The hotel, just across the street from City Hall, was a beautiful five-story Greek Revival building with gaslights and bathing facilities on each floor. On Sunday morning, Lincoln took the ferry over to Brooklyn to Plymouth Church to hear Henry Ward Beecher preach from the pulpit. Though invited to visit with locals after the service, he explained he needed to go back to the hotel and work on his speech.

On Monday, some supporters greeted Lincoln at the hotel and persuaded him to come along for a stroll up Broadway. Among the establishments he visited was the Know Great Hat and Cap Establishment at Broad and Fulton Street, and according to George Haven Putnam, a contemporary writer, there he received a free silk top hat. Afterward, the entourage took Lincoln to Mathew Brady's temporary studio at 643 Broadway (updated source) to get his picture taken. The handsome three-quarter-length picture, showing an almost painfully thin (look at those sunken cheekbones!) Lincoln, became a favorite collectible carte de visite and is known, even by Abe himself, to have contributed to the Illinois politician's popularity.

The speech later that night went well. The vast hall of Cooper Union, constructed just the year before, was filled with 1500 people, each paying twenty-five cents, although the hall wasn't full. Lincoln gave a nuanced historical speech about the intention of the Founding Fathers regarding the extension of slavery into the territories. In the hour-long speech that's mostly dull and unquotable, he argued that most of the framers of the Constitution supported the right of Congress to regulate slavery in the territories. The audience members, many of them influential in the press, thought Lincoln, although very awkward in appearance and speech, was onto something. The New York Times ran the text of the speech on its front page the next day.

After the speech, two members of the Young Men's Central Republican Union escorted Lincoln to their club, the Athenaeum (on the site of the present-day building at 110 Fifth Avenue) for an informal supper. After dinner, he and Charles C. Nott set out on foot for the long walk down Broadway to the hotel. Nott noticed that Lincoln was having difficulty walking and asked him, "Are you lame, Mr. Lincoln?" Lincoln replied that he had on new boots and that they hurt him. They then boarded a street car. Nott got off at the stop near his house, leaving Lincoln to ride alone back to Astor House.

"The impression left on his companion's mind as he gave a last glance at him in the street car was that he seemed sad and lonely and when it was too late, when the car was beyond call, he blamed himself for not accompanying Mr. Lincoln to the Astor House — not because he was a distinguished stranger, but because he seemed a sad and lonely man." *

When you find yourself walking on lower Broadway and your shoes hurt, you may want to keep this story in mind.

Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President (Simon & Schuster Lincoln Library)* cited in George Haven Putnam, Abraham Lincoln: The People’s Leader in the Struggle for National Existence, p. 217 (Account of Charles Nott). I've cobbled together this account from a variety of sources, including the excellent website, Mr. Lincoln and New York, and from Harold Holzer's informative account in Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President.

Images of Cooper Union (East 7th St. to Astor Place) and lower Broadway by Walking Off the Big Apple. Picture of Abraham Lincoln by Mathew Brady. A few days later, Brady's portrait was published on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar with the caption, “Hon. Abram [sic] Lincoln, of Illinois, Republican Candidate for President.”

Comments

Anonymous said…
This is such a cool thing to be able to do. If walking the streets of New York wasn't rewarding enough, knowing the history behind each step is so, so valuable. Thanks!
Anonymous said…
oh great story, thanks once again.
As I don't want my new boots to hurt me next month, I started wearing them today ;)
Teri Tynes said…
Merci, Pascale.
Tinky said…
I loved this one--and I know the feeling with the boots! In my extreme youth I wore high heels running around New York, but now that my youth is less extreme I'm with Pascale and try to wear moderate footwear.

Happy Lincoln's Birthday!

Popular posts from this blog

Museums in New York Open on Mondays

Please see this post for current announcements of reopenings . Please consult the museum websites for changes in days and hours. UPDATED September 23, 2020 Advance tickets required for many museum reopenings. Please check museum websites for details. • The  Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)  reopened to the public on  August 27 , with new hours for the first month, through September 27: from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday to the public; and from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.  on Mondays for MoMA members on ly. Admission will be free to all visitors Tuesday through Sunday, through September 27, made possible by UNIQLO. See this  new post on WOTBA for a sense of the experience attending the museum . •  New-York Historical Society  reopened on  August 14  with an outdoor exhibition, "Hope Wanted: New York City Under Quarantine,” in the rear courtyard. The exhibit by activist Kevin Powell and photographer Kay Hickman will highlight how New Yorkers weathered the quarantine

25 Things To Do Near the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

(updated 2016) The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) at 11 W. 53rd Street is near many other New York City attractions, so before or after a trip to the museum, a short walk in any direction could easily take in additional experiences. Drawing a square on a map with the museum at the center, a shape bounded by 58th Street to the north and 48th Street to the south, with 7th Avenue to the west and Park Avenue to the east, proves the point of the area's cultural richness. (A map follows the list below.) While well-known sightseeing stops fall with these boundaries, most notably Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the great swath of famous Fifth Avenue stores, cultural visitors may also want to check out places such as the Austrian Cultural Forum, the 57th Street galleries, the Onassis Cultural Center, and the Municipal Art Society. The image above shows an intriguing glimpse of the tops of two Beaux-Arts buildings through an opening of the wall inside MoMA's scu

25 Things to Do Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art

(updated) Sitting on the steps in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of those iconic things to do in New York City. On a sunny day, the wide steps can become crowded with the young and old, the tourist and the resident. It's tempting to stay awhile and soak in the sun and the sights. Everyone has reasons for lingering there, with one being the shared pleasure of people watching along this expansive stretch of Fifth Avenue, a painting come to life. Certainly, just getting off one's feet for a moment is welcome, especially if the previous hours involved walking through the entirety of art history from prehistoric to the contemporary. The entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue The Metropolitan Museum of Art should be a singular pilgrimage, uninterrupted by feeble attempts to take in more exhibitions along Museum Mile. Pity the poor visitor who tries "to do" multiple museum exhibitions in one day, albeit ambitious, noble, and uplift

25 Things to Do Near the American Museum of Natural History

After visiting the American Museum of Natural History, explore attractions on the Upper West Side or in Central Park. Visitors to New York often run around from one major tourist site to the next, sometimes from one side of the city to the other, and in the process, exhaust themselves thoroughly. Ambitious itineraries often include something like coffee in the Village in the morning, lunch near MoMA, a couple of hours in the museum, a ride on the Staten Island Ferry in the afternoon, cocktails at the midtown hotel, a quick dinner, and then a Broadway show. It's a wonder people don't pass out at the theater. While sitting on the steps of the American Museum of History, consider exploring the Upper West Side and nearby sites of interest in Central Park. There's a better way to plan a New York trip. Consider grouping attractions together geographically. Several posts on this site address this recommended approach. The Wild West of the Tecumseh Playground Groupin

Taking a Constitutional Walk

A long time ago individuals going out for a walk, especially to get fresh air and exercise, often referred to the activity as "taking a constitutional walk." The word "constitutional" refers to one's constitution or physical makeup, so a constitutional walk was considered beneficial to one's overall wellbeing. (Or, as some would prefer to call it, "wellness.") The phrase is more common in British literature than in American letters. As early as the mid-nineteenth century, many American commentators expressed concern that their countrymen were falling into lazy and unhealthy habits. Newspaper columnists and editorial writers urged their readers to take up the practice of the "constitutional" walk. One such essay, " Walking as an Exercise," originally printed in the Philadelphia Gazette and reprinted in New England Farmer , Volume 11, 1859, urges the people of farm areas to take up walking. City dwellers seemed to have the

The Marx Brothers in New York: Interlude - On Groucho Walking

This special new series about the Marx Brothers in New York continues this week, following the brothers into a career in Broadway and into the movies, but first I would like to take a little time to discuss Groucho's peculiar way of walking. Sometimes described as a "lope" or "stoop," Groucho's silly and often lecherous walk became just as an important part of his persona as his glasses, eyebrows, cigar and greasepaint moustache. He didn't walk this walk all the time, but as you recall from the films, Groucho would often bend his knees and lean forward as he proceeded from point A to point B. To imitate Groucho properly at a costume party, it's important to get this part down. • Groucho explained that it was simply a bit of inspired improvisation. From the book Hello, I Must Be Going by Charlotte Chandler, he says, "I was just kidding around one day, and I started to walk funny. The audience liked it, so I kept it in."(pps. 153-154) Chand

Visiting New York on a Monday

Mondays are OK. Let's have a look at some of the museums open Mondays - • American Museum of Natural History • Jewish Museum • Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) • National Museum of the American Indian • Neue Galerie • Guggenheim Museum • South Street Seaport Museum Any of these museums could be paired with a nearby restaurant or bar, making a complete full afternoon or day in New York. Monday is especially good for a museum visit, because the crowds tend to be thinner, and restaurants, too, tend to be less busy than on a weekend. A fun museum and bistro walk on the Upper West Side would be a combination of the American Museum of Natural History and the nearby Cafe Lalo on W. 83rd St. I also would suggest a pairing of the Neue Galerie with a nearby cafe, but the two cafes inside the musuem are so good, why go anywhere else? Image above: The Guggenheim on left and Beaux-Arts townhouse on right. View from E. 88th St. by Walking Off the Big Apple.

From Penn Station to New York Landmarks: Measuring Walking Distance and Time in Manhattan

(revised 2017) How long does it take to walk from Penn Station/Madison Square Garden to well-known destinations in Manhattan? What are the best walking routes ? What if I don't want to see anything in particular but just want to walk around? In addition to the thousands of working commuters from the surrounding area, especially from New Jersey and Long Island who arrive at Penn Station via New Jersey Transit or the Long Island Rail Road, many people arrive at the station just to spend time in The City. Some have questions. Furthermore, a sporting event may have brought you to Madison Square Garden (above Penn Station), and you want to check out what the city offers near the event. This post if for you.  The map below should help you measure walking distances and times from the station to well-known destinations in Manhattan - Bryant Park , the Metropolitan Museum of Art , the Empire State Building , Times Square , Rockefeller Center , Washington Square Park , the High Line

The High Line and Chelsea Market: A Good Pairing for a Walk

(revised 2017) The advent of spring, with its signs of growth and rebirth, is apparent both on the High Line , where volunteers are cutting away the old growth to reveal fresh blooms, and inside the Chelsea Market, where new tenants are revitalizing the space. A walk to take in both can become an exploration of bounty and surprise, a sensual walk of adventure and sustenance. A good pairing for a walk: The High Line and Chelsea Market Walking the High Line for a round trip from Gansevoort to W. 30th and then back again adds up to a healthy 2-mile walk. Regular walkers of the elevated park look for an excuse to go there. Especially delightful is showing off the park, a model of its kind, to visitors from out of town. A stroll through Chelsea Market. Time check. If you haven't stopped into Chelsea Market lately, you may want to take a detour from the High Line at the stairs on W. 16th St. and walk through the market for a quick assessment or a sampling. Among the sampli

A New York Spring Calendar: Blooming Times and Seasonal Events

See the UPDATED 2018 CALENDAR HERE . Updated for 2017 . At this time of year, thoughts turn to spring. Let's spring forward to blooming times, the best locations for witnessing spring's beginnings, and springtime events in the big city. While the occasional snow could blow through the city, we're just weeks now from callery pears in bloom and opening day at the ballpark. In The Ramble, Central Park. mid-April Blooming Times •  Central Park Conservancy's website  lists blooming times within the park. During the month of March we begin to see crocus, daffodils, forsythia, snowdrops, witch-hazel, and hellebores. Species tulips will emerge in several places, but the Shakespeare Garden and Conservatory Garden are particularly good places to catch the beginning of Spring blooms. Central Park near E. 72nd St., saucer magnolia, typically end of March. •  Citywide Blooming Calendar from New York City Department of Parks & Recreation April is u