Farewell Address (February 11, 1861)

Contributing Editors for this page include Michelle Grasso and Brenda Klawonn

Ranking

#64 on the list of 150 Most Teachable Lincoln Documents

Annotated Transcript

“My friends—No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting.”

On This Date

HD Daily Report, February 11, 1861

The Lincoln Log, February 11, 1861

Close Readings

Michelle Grasso, “Understanding Lincoln” blog post (via Quora), October 1, 2013

Posted at YouTube by Brenda Klawonn, Understanding Lincoln participant, Fall 2013

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How Historians Interpret

“Trembling with suppressed emotion and radiating profound sadness, he slowly and distinctly delivered his eloquent remarks: ‘My friends—No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feelings of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe every thing. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before my greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being, who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him, who can go with me, and remain with you and be every where for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend, I bid you an affectionate farewell.’ ‘We will do it; we will do it,’ responded many in the crowd, who, like the speaker, had tears in their eyes. An editor of the Illinois State Journal called it ‘a most impressive scene. We have known Mr. Lincoln for many years; we have heard him speak upon a hundred different occasions; but we never saw him so profoundly affected, nor did he ever utter an address which seemed to us so full of simple and touching eloquence, so exactly adapted to the occasion, so worth of the man and the hour. Although it was raining fast when he began to speak, every hat was lifted, and every head bent forward to catch the last words of the departing chief.’ The New York World commented that nothing ‘could have been more appropriate and touching,’ while the Chicago Press and Tribune accurately predicted that it ‘will become a part of the national history.’ Lincoln’s friend, Chicago Congressman Isaac N. Arnold, told his House colleagues that there was ‘not a more simple, touching, and beautiful speech in the English language.’ After Lincoln took leave of his family and entered the car, the crowd gave three cheers and then stood silent as the train slowly pulled away.”

—Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume 1 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012).

“It was raining now, but the Illinois Journal reporting the event, said ‘every hat was lifted, and every head bent forward to catch the last words of the departing chief,’ and as he finished ‘there was an uncontrollable burst of applause.’ A young observer wrote in his diary that day that an ‘audible good bye & God speed followed him as the train disappeared.’ The Journal called it ‘a most impressive scene. We have known Mr. Lincoln for many years; we have heard him speak upon a hundred different occasions; but we never saw him so profoundly affected nor did he ever utter an address, which seemed to us as full of simple and touching eloquence, so exactly adopted to the occasion, so worthy of the man and the hour.’”

—John C. Waugh, One Man Great Enough: Abraham Lincoln’s Road to Civil War (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007).

 

NOTE TO READERS

This page is under construction and will be developed further by students in the new “Understanding Lincoln” online course sponsored by the House Divided Project at Dickinson College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. To find out more about the course and to see some of our videotaped class sessions, including virtual field trips to Ford’s Theatre and Gettysburg, please visit our Livestream page at http://new.livestream.com/gilderlehrman/lincoln

 

Searchable Text

February 11, 1861
My friends—No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe every thing. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being, who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him, who can go with me, and remain with you and be every where for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell
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