Abraham Lincoln liked to speak of himself as a “Western free state man,” and no wonder, since virtually all but the last forty-eight months of his life were lived on the western side of the Appalachians. He did not visit New York City until he was thirty-nine years old, and, even then, it was just to pass through. (He was on his way to New England to deliver a series of speeches on behalf of Zachary Taylor’s campaign for the presidency in 1848). Nevertheless, New York played a key role in making Lincoln president because of the terrific impact made on the East Coast leadership of the young Republican party by his electrifying speech at New York City’s Cooper Institute on February 27, 1860. Lincoln liked to joke that, along with the striking portrait photograph shot by Matthew Brady the same day, the Cooper Union speech “made me president.”

It was only partly a...


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