461. John Armstrong (William H. Herndon Interview)
Jno Armstrong —
Says — that some few days before Lincoln delivered his house divided against itself Speech he called his friends together, in the Library Room in the State house in the city of Springfield, for the purpose of getting their opinion of the policy of delivering that Speech — the Speech delivered on the 17th day of June AD 1858. There were some Eight or twelve friends met. After seating them at the round table
575he read that clause or section of his Speech which reads — a house divided against itself cannot stand. &c.: he read it slowly & cautiously so as to let Each man fully understand it. After he had finished the reading he asked the opinions of his friends as to its wisdom or polity. Every Man among them Condemned the speech in Substance & Spirit and Especially that Section quoted above: they unanimously declared that the whole Speech was too far in advance of the times and they all Condemned that Section or part of his Speech already quoted as unwise & impolitic, if not false. Wm H Herndon sat still while they were giving their respective opinions of its unwisdom & impolicy; he sprang to his feet & said Lincoln By — God — deliver it just as it reads. If it is in advance of the times let us — you & I if no one Else — lift the people to the level of this Speech now & higher hereafter. The Speech is true — wise & politic; and will succeed — now or in the future. Nay it will aid you — if it will not make you president of the United States."
Mr Lincoln sat still a short moment — rose from his chair — walked backwards & forwards in the Hall — stopt & said — "Friends: I have thought about this matter a great deal — have weighed the question well from all corners; and am thoroughly Convinced the time has come when it should be uttered & if it must be that I must go down because of this speech then let me go down linked to truth — die in the advocacy of what is right & just. This nation cannot live on injustice — a house divided against itself cannot stand &c — say again & again." This was Spoken with some degree of emotion — the effects of his love of truth & sorrow from the disagreement of his friends with himself.
W H Herndon heard this speech read some days before this in his & Lincoln's office. Mr Herndon then approved the speech & urged Mr Lincoln to deliver it — See Hollands life of Lincoln at page [blank space] where the facts are correctly stated — quote it — or State the facts as therein
In a few days after the speech had been delivered a gentleman — Doct Long, came into Lincoln's office and said — "well, Lincoln that foolish speech of yours will kill you — will defeat you in this Contest — and probably for all offices for all time to come — am sorry — very sorry. I wish it was wiped out of existence — Don't you now wish so." Mr Lincoln was intently writing while the Doct was loudly lamenting. Lincoln stopped — raised up his spectacles — put the pen down — looked at the Doct one Moment with a peculiar look of insulted dignity — sorrow for a timid soul, & contempt of his weakness — Said — "Well Doct — , If I had to draw a pen across and erase my whole life from Existence & all I did; and I had one poor gift or choice left, as to what I should Save from the wreck, I should choose that speech and leave it to the world unerased." Mr Lincoln met with many cold shoulders for some time — nay during the whole canvass with Douglas. In the times & hours & moments of debates — you could hear from all quarters in the crowd, Republicans say — "D__n that fool speech; it will be the cause of the death of Lincoln and the republican party — such folly — such non sense! Is Lincoln crazy,? D__n it."
Huntington Library: LN368
This interview seems to have been sent to Ward Hill Lamon in WHH's letter of February 19, 1870. On February 25, WHH wrote to Lamon: "I sent you some days since more at the request of Jno Armstrong than of myself a short account of what I had to say on Lincoln's house divided against itself speech — should not have sent it for the same reason that I have refused — failed to say more — write more to you — namely I do not wish to be considered a blow — boast — or fool who wishes to be noticed &c. &c." (Lamon Papers, Huntingon Library).