Lincoln delivered this famous speech when accepting the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate from Illinois on 16 June of 1858.
In the ‘House Divided Speech’, Lincoln first clearly stated his own stance that “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.” With this statement he indicated his idea that “popular sovereignty” advocated by his opponent Stephen Douglas was not feasible to prevent people from striving for either the extension or extinction of slavery, and would therefore lead to the division of the nation. Next he analysed the recent pro-slavery events and pointed out that all that had happened was a conspiracy premeditated by the Democratic Party. Then he predicted the upcoming crisis that the Supreme Court might further decide to prohibit the States to exclude slavery from its current limits, which would give a way for slavery to spread all over the country. After alarming his supporters of this danger, he appealed to people’s resistance against the presently predominant slave power and people’s trust upon the Republican Party to achieve the foreseeable victory.
According to Richard Norton Smith from the George Mason University, when Lincoln’s friends became aware of the content of the speech they tried to talk Lincoln out of it saying that it was too radical, and that it would cost him. Although Lincoln was defeated by Douglas his speech drew national attention to himself and was put forward as the leader of the Republican party in 1860.
The best-known passage of the speech is:
A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.
Given that it was the late 1850’s what was said in this speech was morally courageous. Many Americans may have privately had similar thoughts but were not going to say anything.
The House Divided Speech was a precursor to his later (successful) presidential campaign of 1860.