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Three Versions of Lincoln's Farewell AddressOne of Abraham Lincoln's most beloved short speeches, the Farewell Address was given on February 11, 1861, the day he left his hometown for Washington. The scene was the Great Western railroad depot, now a restored private office with a public exhibit area. The three most reliable texts from that cold day are found in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler. You will find explanatory remarks below, following each version.
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 the 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.
This is the official version which President-elect Lincoln wrote after his train pulled away from the Springfield station, and it reveals how he wanted this effort to be remembered.
The original manuscript at the Library of Congress shows the first part of the pencil-written remarks in Lincoln's handwriting; the remainder is in the handwriting of John Nicolay, his secretary, who took down what Lincoln dictated. The effects of the moving train are easy to see in the distorted characters.
Compared to Versions B and C, this one displays how Lincoln edited his remarks to make them more memorable and newspaper-worthy. It also offers the most optimistic view of the future while raising serious doubts about his possible return. Compared side-by-side, it is considerably shorter and more concise than C, which may be the most accurate contemporaneous version.
Although the Farewell Address was an impromptu effort, all of its versions indicate that Lincoln had given thought to the momentous scene and what it symbolized to him: the breaking of ties to familiar people and places, the immense struggle which loomed in Washington, the need for prayer and guidance, and the uncertainty of his return.
No one not in my position can appreciate the sadness I feel at this parting. To this people I owe all that I am. Here I have lived more than a quarter of a century; here my children were born, and here one of them lies buried. I know not how soon I shall see you again. A duty devolves upon me which is, perhaps, greater than that which has devolved upon any other man since the days of Washington. He never would have succeeded except for the aid of Divine Providence, upon which he at all times relied. I feel that I cannot succeed without the same Divine aid which sustained him, and on the same Almighty Being I place my reliance for support, and I hope you, my friends, will all pray that I may receive that Divine assistance without which I cannot succeed, but with which success is certain. Again I bid you an affectionate farewell.
This version appeared as a broadside after Lincoln's death in April 1865. Except for small punctuation differences, it is identical to the text in the February 23, 1861 edition of Harper's Weekly.
The Harper's editor provided an introduction to the speech: "On Monday, 11th, at eight A.M., President Lincoln left Springfield. After exchanging a parting salutation with his wife, he took his stand on the platform, removed his hat, and asking silence, spoke as follows to the multitude that stood in respectful silence and with their heads uncovered:"
At the end of the speech, the Harper's account adds this: "[Loud applause, and cries of "We will pray for you !"]
"Toward the conclusion of his remarks himself and audience were moved to tears. His exhortation to pray elicited choked exclamations of "We will do it, we will do it!" As he turned to enter the cars three cheers were given, and a few seconds afterward the train moved slowly out of the sight of the silent gathering."
No one who has never been placed in a like position, can understand my feelings at this hour, nor the oppressive sadness I feel at this parting. For more than a quarter of a century I have lived among you, and during all that time I have received nothing but kindness at your hands. Here I have lived from my youth until now I am an old man. Here the most sacred ties of earth were assumed; here all my children were born; and here one of them lies buried. To you, dear friends, I owe all that I have, all that I am. All the strange, chequered past seems to crowd now upon my mind. To-day I leave you; I go to assume a task more difficult than that which devolved upon General Washington. Unless the great God who assisted him, shall be with and aid me, I shall not fail, I shall succeed. Let us all pray that the God of our fathers may not forsake us now. To him I commend you all -- permit me to ask that with equal security and faith, you all will invoke His wisdom and guidance for me. With these few words I must leave you -- for how long I know not. Friends, one and all, I must now bid you an affectionate farewell.
The source of this version is the February 12, 1861 edition of the Illinois State Journal, a Springfield newspaper. It is probably the most accurate of the three versions. Compared to Version A it clearly rambles, but it also offers the most emotional content, for as the Journal noted, "It was 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. 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. When he said, with the earnestness of a sudden inspiration of feeling, that with God's help he should not fail, there was an uncontrollable burst of applause."
"At precisely eight o'clock, city time, the train moved off, bearing our honored townsman, our noble chief, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, to the scenes of his future labors, and, as we firmly believe, of his glorious triumph. God bless honest ABRAHAM LINCOLN!"
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