On June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln gave an address in Springfield, Illinois, accepting the Illinois Republican Party’s nomination to be its candidate for the U.S. Senate. Near the speech’s outset, he uttered what has become one of the most famous phrases in American history: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Lincoln was drawing on the words of Jesus in the Bible: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand” (Matthew 12:25 kjv). He knew his audience would understand his meaning: slavery and freedom were incompatible. The institution of slavery was a fatal flaw in the American republic. Either the United States must eventually rid itself of slavery and become a truly free nation, or slavery would take hold in every state.
||“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.
I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided.
It will become all one thing or all the other.
Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new – North as well as South.
Lincoln was unsuccessful in his Senate bid, but the “House Divided” speech helped put him on the national stage. It accurately predicted that the antagonism between North and South over slavery “will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed.”