Throwback Thursday: Abraham Lincoln’s Trip to Boston

His 1848 visit to the city affected his views on slavery.

In honor of Abraham Lincoln’s 206th birthday, we’ll throw it back to his 1848 visit to Boston, a trip that introduced him, in a small way, to Massachusetts voters and forced him to examine his views on slavery.

Though Lincoln’s first ancestors in America settled in Massachusetts, Abraham didn’t make his first visit to Boston until he was 39, a freshman congressman from Illinois. As president, he reflected on the trip to a dinner party, saying, “I went with hayseed in my hair to learn deportment in the most cultivated State in the Union.” He was there to campaign for Zachary Taylor, the Whig candidate for president and a slaveholder. Taylor faced a third-party challenge from Martin Van Buren, a member of the Free Soil Party, which arose to protest the expansion of slavery into the territories. Abolitionist sentiment in Boston was high, but Lincoln argued in a series of stump speeches that a vote for Van Buren would strengthen the Democratic candidate, who more strongly supported expansion of slavery.

On Lincoln’s final night in Boston, he spoke alongside former New York governor William H. Seward, his future rival and secretary of state. Seward spoke at length about slavery, predicting it would be eradicated in his lifetime. Afterward, Lincoln told him, “I have been thinking about what you said in your speech. I reckon you are right. We have got to deal with this slavery question, and got to give more attention to it hereafter than we have been doing.” In 1860, he told Seward, “Twelve years ago you told me that this cause would be successful, and ever since I have believed that it would be.” That was the year Lincoln won his presidential election, spurring the South’s secession, a civil war, and eventually, the emancipation of the slaves.

Happy birthday, Old Abe.