Lincoln first saw Independence Hall in 1848 when he was a congressman. Beginning in 1852, in speech after speech, Lincoln hammered away at slavery and inequality with Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence. These concepts echoed throughout Lincoln’s speeches in the 1850s in the Midwest, in 1860 in New York City, and from 1861 to 1865, in Washington, D. C., and in Pennsylvania.
● In the midst of a national secession crisis, on February 15, 1861, in a speech from the balcony of the Monongahela House Hotel in Pittsburgh, President-elect Lincoln said that he was not yet ready to publicly discuss the issue of disunion, but when the time came, he would have as his objectives the preservation of the Constitution, the liberties of the people, the integrity of the Union, and the peace of the entire nation.
● On Washington’s Birthday, February 22, 1861, in Philadelphia, Lincoln spoke inside Independence Hall in the room where Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence. In this extemporaneous speech, Lincoln said that he was filled with emotion “standing here in the place where were collected together the wisdom, the patriotism, the devotion to principle, from which sprang the institutions under which we live.” “I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence.” Unknown to his listeners, Lincoln had been told eight hours earlier that an assassination plot awaited him in Baltimore: “I have often pondered over the dangers which were incurred by the men who assembled here and adopted that Declaration of Independence - I have pondered over the toils that were endured by the officers and soldiers of the army, who achieved that Independence.” Lincoln told his listeners that the “great principle” that had kept the nation together since its founding was “something in that Declaration giving liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance. This is the sentiment embodied in that Declaration of Independence.” Lincoln pledged his life to Declaration’s bold assertion of equality of all mankind: “If this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle - I was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than to surrender it…. I have said nothing but what I am willing to live by, and, in the pleasure of Almighty God, die by.”
● Later that day, Lincoln spoke to Pennsylvania’s General Assembly in Harrisburg. He noted, “I for the first time appear at the Capitol of the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, upon the birthday of the Father of his Country.” And he told the legislators that his words inside Independence Hall earlier that morning were “the feelings that had been really the feelings of my whole life.”
● After two years of war, Lincoln was ready to provide the nation with his vision of struggle and sacrifice for a free people in search of equality, life, liberty, and happiness. Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863, and he came back to the Founding Fathers and the words of Thomas Jefferson. The President told the nation that the present conflict would decide whether a nation that the Founding Fathers had dedicated to liberty and equality could “long endure.” He urged his listeners and the nation to “be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced…. that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
● On June 16-17, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln attended the Great Central Fair in Logan Square, Philadelphia. Sponsored by the Sanitary Commission, it was the largest such fair held in the United States and raised over $1,000,000 for the Union cause.
● Lincoln’s body lay in state in Independence Hall, April 22-24, 1865. Newspapers reprinted sections of Lincoln’s 1861 speech in which he pledged his life to liberty and equality. City fathers memorialized Lincoln’s life by placing the Liberty Bell at the head of his casket. More than 120,000 mourners passed by the slain president and the bell’s inscription: “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”