What was at political stake for Lincoln in the Cooper Union speech?
For Lincoln, the Cooper Union speech carried with it the political stake of definition at a time where strict lines were being carved in the American political landscape. Lincoln recognized the dialogue in the nation being one in which intensity of partisanship marked all of its participants. The Southern states' leadership had made it abundantly clear that they would not negotiate from their position of slavery. They also made it clear that Lincoln's election would cause them to secede. Douglas had tried to mark out a position of pragmatism, in which Northerners felt that they had to negotiate with the unrelenting South. Lincoln used the Cooper Union speech to clearly make the stand that his point of view against slavery and preservation of the Union was Constitutionally sanctioned. He used this bulwark of Constitutional support to both contrast himself with Douglas, arguing that his position was more in line with the values of the nation and that in attempting to negotiate with the South, America was being extorted. Lincoln parallels the South with "a highway man" who utters "murder." In all of this, Lincoln is able to clearly define the Republican party, something that appealed to the Republicans as a contrast to Douglas' timidity with the Democrat affiliation. It is here where Lincoln was able to recognize the political capital at stake in the speech. In being able to define what it is to be a Republican through the issue of slavery and Constitutionality, Lincoln was able to recognize that he became the brand, or the face, of the Republican party. In this, Lincoln put much at stake in that he was able to squarely make himself identifiable with a political party that refused to negotiate on the Southern demands and draw a distinct line that would end up ensuring that one way or another, the schism within America at the time would be permanently solved.
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