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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Abraham Lincoln’s 1864 four-page; handwritten Victory Speech; sold for $3.44 million. Photo courtesy of Christie's, NY.
Two days after he was elected to his second term on Nov. 10, 1864, Abraham Lincoln stood at the White House window in Washington, D.C., getting ready to address 1,500 well wishers on the lawn below.

Lincoln wrote his victory speech spontaneously after his unexpected win. He decided he needed to say more than a simple thank you. The speech was his way of shining a light on the possibility of ending the Civil War, the end of racial injustice and the beginning of a national truce.

The canons roared outside the White House. The crowd waved torches, lanterns, and banners, and the band played martial music. Lincoln’s young son Tad ran from window to window inside soaking in the grandness of it all.

Lincoln defeated Democrat George B. McClellan in the election. The President got 212 of 233 electoral votes and 55 percent of the popular vote.

When Lincoln appeared in the window over the north portico at the start of his victory speech the crowd erupted. He began reading as a secretary behind him held a candle up so he could see.

“Not very graceful,” Lincoln joked. “But I am growing old enough not to care much for the manner of doing things.”

Talking about the Civil War, Lincoln was philosophical. “Human nature will not change,” he said. “In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak, and as strong; as silly and as wise; as bad and good.”

The Civil War was not going well. Costing $2 million a day, people were war weary and Lincoln’s re-election was anything but certain. Even as the war raged Lincoln stressed the importance of holding the 1864 vote. “We cannot have free government without elections,” he said.

Lincoln pondered “Whether any government, not too strong for the liberties of its people, can be strong enough to maintain its own existence, in great emergencies.” Ultimately, he called upon his fellow Americans to “re-unite in a common effort, to save our country.”

The original four-page hand written victory speech was written on large heavy sheets of white paper marked with pale blue lines. Chris Coover, a senior specialist in books and manuscripts at Christie’s in New York, said it was one of only two speeches handwritten by Lincoln that are now owned privately.

This is the first time the manuscript has been offered for sale. It was part of Lincoln’s papers until 1916. His son, Robert Todd Lincoln, gave the document to Representative John A. Dwight of New York as a way to say thank you for his help in securing congressional financing for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

Dwight’s widow later gave the manuscript to the Southworth Library Association in Dryden, N.Y., which sold it. The winner was an anonymous bidder.

The 1864 victory speech is one of Lincoln’s most important addresses. John Hay, Lincoln’s secretary and biographer called it “one of the weightiest and wisest of all his discourses.”

The speech sold on Feb. 12, for $3.44 million at Christie’s, New York, the most ever for an American historical document. The auction came a week ahead of the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth. Proceeds from the sale will contribute to the construction of an addition to the Southworth Library Association’s historical library building.

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