Posts Tagged ‘Abraham Lincoln visits Five Points’

When Abe Lincoln visited the city’s worst slum

October 15, 2010

February 27, 1860 was the date Lincoln delivered his famous speech at Cooper Union, explaining his position on slavery—and wowing New Yorkers who were not so familiar with this Republican presidential candidate from the Midwest.

The afternoon before, however, he spoke in front of a very different audience: destitute children who lived at the Five Points House of Industry.

At the time, Five Points was Manhattan’s most crime-ridden, impoverished slum. The House of Industry was a charity that mainly housed and assisted poor and orphaned kids.

[Photo of Lincoln—taken by Mathew Brady the day before he visited Five Points]

“As Lincoln peeked in on one of the Sunday School classes, a teacher asked the tall, skinny lawyer to say a few words to his students,” writes Tyler Anbinder, author of Five Points.

“Lincoln at first declined, insisting he could offer no words of advice to such destitute children. But his companion, Illinois congressman Elihu B. Washburne, insisted tht Lincoln speak, suggesting that he describe the hard times of his own youth.

“Lincoln reluctantly consented, telling the students, as Washburne later recalled, that ‘I had been poor; that I remembered when my toes stuck out through my broken shoes in the winter; when my arms were out at the elbows; when I shivered with the cold.

“‘And I told them there was only one rule. That was, always do the very best you can . . . if they would follow that rule, they would get along somehow.’

“By now, Lincoln’s eyes had filled with tears, and he could not continue.”