In the historic November 10, 1864 re-election speech at the White House, Lincoln spoke of whether or not a country could be “strong enough to maintain its existence in great emergencies.” He spoke eloquently of the power of democracy, even during times of strife. “We can not have free government without election,” he wrote, noting that “a people’s government can sustain a national election in the midst of a great Civil War.” Lincoln, who had pushed for the abolition of slavery, spent his presidency trying to unite a divided nation. In his call to his countrymen he said, “May I ask those who have not differences with me to join with me in this same spirit toward those who have” and to “re-unite in a common effort to save our country.”
Perhaps these very words have been read by and reflected upon by President-elect Obama, who, facing the challenges of a war in Iraq and a nation suffering from a colossal economic crisis, has also called for unity among Americans. Like Lincoln, who believed so strongly in the power of democracy, Obama goes forward with a similar inspirational message of hope that our country must unite in the face of adversity to find solutions to the internal strife that threatens the security of all Americans.
It is particularly poignant as we celebrate both the inauguration of the first African-American president, and Abraham Lincoln’s February 12, 1809 bicentennial birthday, that the original draft of the great emancipator’s re-election speech, penned in his own hand, will be offered for sale by Christie’s New York on February 12.
In March 2002, the Forbes Collection of American Historical Documents sold an autographed manuscript of Lincoln’s last address as president, delivered from the window of the White House on April 11, 1865. That treasured item, which sold for $3,086,000, still holds the world auction record for any American handwritten historical document.
The re-election speech being sold in February is estimated to achieve in excess of $3 million. Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, presented the manuscript to Rep. John A. Dwight of New York to thank him for his efforts to secure funding for the construction of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. In 1926, Dwight’s widow gave it to the Southworth Library Association in Dryden, N.Y., located in New York’s Finger Lakes region. Proceeds from the sale will go toward a new wing for the library. According to the library’s website, the document has been displayed only once, during the 1976 bicentennial celebration.
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