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As one of Abraham Lincoln's earliest published speeches, this address has been much scrutinized and debated by historians, who see broad implications for his later public policies.
Lincoln was 28 years old at the time he gave this speech and had recently moved from a struggling pioneer village to Springfield, Illinois.
In the Mississippi case, they first commenced by hanging the regular gamblers; a set of men, certainly not following for a livelihood, a very useful, or very honest occupation; but one which, so far from being forbidden by the laws, was actually licensed by an act of the Legislature, passed but a single year before. His story is very short; and is, perhaps, the most highly tragic, if anything of its length, that has ever been witnessed in real life.
Next, negroes, suspected of conspiring to raise an insurrection, were caught up and hanged in all parts of the State: then, white men, supposed to be leagued with the negroes; and finally, strangers, from neighboring States, going thither on business, were, in many instances subjected to the same fate. A mulatto man, by the name of Mc Intosh, was seized in the street, dragged to the suburbs of the city, chained to a tree, and actually burned to death; and all within a single hour from the time he had been a freeman, attending to his own business, and at peace with the world.
Abstractly considered, the hanging of the gamblers at Vicksburg, was of but little consequence.
We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them--they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors.
Their's was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and through themselves, us, of this goodly land; and to uprear upon its hills and its valleys, a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; 'tis ours only, to transmit these, the former, unprofaned by the foot of an invader; the latter, undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation, to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know.
This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform. --At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? -- Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? --All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.
At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected?
I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.