July 11, 2010


The first N.H. primary?: New research shows how a little-noticed series of speeches by Lincoln in the Granite State changed the course of history (Mike Pride, July 11, 2010, Boston Globe)

ON MARCH 1, 1860, Abraham Lincoln boarded a northbound train in Lawrence. In one of the cars he met Frederick Smyth, who was headed for New Hampshire. That evening, back home for a Republican rally in Manchester, Smyth surprised his listeners — and possibly the speaker himself — by introducing Abraham Lincoln as “the next president of the United States.’’ [...]

[L]incoln’s 1860 visit turned out to be a prototype for the primary. After delivering four speeches in three days in New Hampshire, meeting powerful people and average folk alike, his reward was a bounce that helped him become president.

Fresh from laying out his anti-slavery views to an eastern audience at New York City’s Cooper Union, Lincoln ostensibly came to New Hampshire to visit his eldest son. Robert Todd Lincoln had flunked the Harvard College entrance exams and was studying at Phillips Academy in Exeter to improve his chances of passing them.

When state Republican leaders heard that Lincoln was coming, they scrambled to put his time to good use. The annual state election was scheduled on March 13, town meeting day. Lincoln had never been to New Hampshire before, but his 1858 debates with Stephen A. Douglas in the US Senate race in Illinois had made him a political celebrity. He was an ideal guest speaker for rallies to get out the Republican vote.

Lincoln accepted four invitations. He spoke in Concord and Manchester on March 1, in Dover the next day and in Exeter the next.

HISTORIANS HAVE long been divided about whether Lincoln had, at that point, already decided to run for president. Lincoln’s trip to New Hampshire suggests that he had.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 11, 2010 12:04 PM
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