The Bates House in Indianapolis (1853)

Indiana State Sentinel, February 20, 1861. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Abraham Lincoln’s Whistle Stop Tour from Illinois to Washington D.C.

The president-elect, Abraham Lincoln, began his journey on February 11, 1861 from Springfield, IL to Washington D.C.  One of his first stops on his way to Washington D.C. was Indianapolis, where he made the following uncharacteristically candid speech from the second story balcony of the Bates House.

The Bates House
The Bates house, one of the first hotels in downtown Indianapolis, was established in 1853 and is famous for the first major policy statement given by President Abraham Lincoln to 45,000 on lookers from the hotel balcony. In 1903, The Bates House was turned into The Claypool, a bustling hotel famous for its lobby, which was reportedly the largest in the country, and its grand size of 450 guest rooms, each with its own private bath, a new phenomenon of the time. Many celebrities and presidents stayed at the Claypool, including William Howard Taft, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. The site of the former Bates House is now the Embassy Suites in Indianapolis.

“Fellow-Citizens of the State of Indiana: I am here to thank you much for this magnificent welcome, and still more for the very generous support given by your State to that political cause which I think is the true and just cause of the whole country and the whole world. Solomon says, “There is a time to keep silence;” and when men wrangle by the mouth with no certainty that they mean the same thing while using the same word, it perhaps were as well if they would keep silence.

The words “coercion” and “invasion ” are much used in these days, and often with some temper and hot blood. Let us make sure, if we can, that we do not misunderstand the meaning of those who use them. Let us get the exact definitions of these words, not from dictionaries, but from the men themselves, who certainly deprecate the things they would represent by the use of the words. What, then, is “coercion?” What is “invasion?”–Would the marching of an army into South Carolina, without the consent of her people, and with hostile intent towards them, be invasion? I certainly think it would be “coercion,” also, if the South Carolinians were forced to submit.

But if the United States should merely hold and retake its own forts and other property, and collect the duties on foreign importations, or even withhold the mails from places where they were habitually violated, would any or all these things be “invasion” or “coercion?” Do our professed lovers of the Union, but who spitefully resolve that they will resist coercion and invasion, understand that such things as these on the part of the United States would be coercion or invasion of a State? If so, their idea of means to preserve the object of their great affection would seem to be exceedingly thin and airy. If sick, the little pills of the homeopathist would be much too large for it to swallow.–In their view the Union, as a family relation, would seem to be no regular marriage, but rather a sort of “free love” arrangement, to be maintained on passional attraction.

By the way, in what consists the special sacredness of a State? I speak not of the position assigned to a State in the Union by the Constitution, for that by the bond we all recognize. That position, however, a State cannot carry out of the Union with it. I speak of that assumed primary right of a State to rule all which is less than itself. If a State and a county, in a given case, should be equal in extent of territory and equal in number of inhabitants, in what, as a matter of principle, is the State better than the county? Would an exchange of names be an exchange of rights? Upon principle, on what rightful principle may a State, being no more than one-fiftieth part of the nation in soil and population, break up the nation and then coerce a proportionably larger sub-division of itself in the most arbitrary way? What mysterious right to play tyrant is conferred on a district of country with its people by merely calling it a State?

Fellow-citizens, I am not asserting anything. I am merely asking questions for you to consider. And now allow me to bid you farewell.”