The day Lincoln came to Meriden

The day Lincoln came to Meriden

My colleague Glenn Richter has a way of posting interesting things on Facebook. So I keep an eye out for his posts and have him to thank for reminding me that Wednesday was the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Lincoln was not the featured speaker at the Nov. 19, 1863 dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. His short speech followed a two-hour speech by the main speaker, Edward Everett. But Lincoln’s speech is the one that made history.

Lincoln was seeking the Republican nomination for the presidency when he came to Meriden on March 7, 1860. His visit to Meriden came a few days after he had delivered the now-famous speech at The Cooper Union, in New York City, in which he’d argued against the expansion of slavery into the territories.

Lincoln was at the time considered a long shot for the presidency, and scholars now consider the Cooper Union speech to have made him a serious contender.

He continued to speak against slavery when he came to Hartford and then New Haven. He wasn’t supposed to come to Meriden, but after he arrived in New Haven Cephas B. Rogers was, as he told the Morning Record in 1909, “anxious that Meriden should have an opportunity of hearing him.”

Following the Civil War, Rogers and his brothers turned C. Rogers & Brothers into a world-renowned manufacturer of cutlery. The company was sold to the International Silver Co. in 1903 when the brothers retired.

“Mr Lincoln was my ideal of a statesman,” Rogers told the newspaper. “I consider him one of the greatest men the world has ever produced.”

Rogers was the only Meriden resident on board the train that took Lincoln to Meriden. It stopped to pick up passengers in North Haven and Wallingford.

Among those boarding was a farmer Rogers knew, and he asked him if he wanted to meet Lincoln. They found the future president in a middle car, where Lincoln had taken off his shoes and was warming his feet near a stove.

“I said, ‘Mr. Lincoln, I want to introduce you to one of North Haven’s sons of the soil, Mr. Barnes,” Rogers recalled in 1909. “Mr. Lincoln reached up his long, bony hand and said, ‘Mr. Barnes, you look old enough to be father of the soil, instead of its son.’ ”

About 300 people came to Meriden town hall to hear Lincoln, following a torch-light parade up the hill from the railroad station. A half a century later, an eyewitness told the Record that Lincoln had a way of using language that even a child could understand.

My research a few years ago found no transcript of Lincoln’s speech in Meriden, but it likely was similar to the speech he delivered in New Haven, in which he’d compared the issue of slavery and the territories to snakes in bed with children. If he’d found snakes in the bed with a neighbor’s children and had promised the neighbor he would not interfere, he would be honor bound not to interfere. But if it was a new bed, a plan to put snakes in bed with children would be a different story.

The building where Lincoln spoke was demolished in 1889 after being declared unsafe. The building that replaced it was destroyed by fire in 1904, and replaced by today’s City Hall.
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