Happy Birthday Abraham Lincoln: Looking Back At His Only Michigan Speech in Kalamazoo
Today, February 12, is the day we celebrate the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America. Despite being born and raised in nearby Illinois, Lincoln only made one known appearance in Michigan. That speech came in 1856, four years before he swept the northern vote (including Michigan) to win the presidency. Lincoln spoke at Bronson Park in Kalamazoo in 1856, at a time when there were around 10,000 residents of the growing community that found itself between Chicago and Detroit on most major transportation routes. The Republican party was still young, and Lincoln was appearing in support of presidential candidate John C. Fremont. His full speech can be found at http://abrahamlincolnsclassroom.org/abraham-lincoln-state-by-state/abraham-lincoln-and-michigan/#mich, and shows that he already was pushing for an end to slavery. Another fun fact is that Lincoln is credited as first coining the term “Michigander” during an 1848 speech against long-time Michigan governor Lewis Cass. Combining Michigan and gander was meant to make Cass seem foolish like a goose, as he was at the time running on a platform of popular sovereignty for new states, where they would be able to decide for themselves if they would allow slavery.
Bronson Park today is described as a tranquil green space with statues, a fountain, a stage and many trees and benches. It lies in the heart of downtown Kalamazoo close to many of the remaining buildings from the early days of the city.
A Michigan historical marker was placed in the park in 1957, letting all future generations know of the significance of Lincoln’s visit. The text reads as follows:
On August 27, 1856, here in this park, Abraham Lincoln, then an obscure lawyer spoke to a rally for John Fremont, the Republican presidential nominee. This was the only time that Lincoln addressed an audience in Michigan. The event was almost unnoticed in the press. Some Republicans felt the speaker was too conservative on the antislavery issue. Four years later Michigan’s vote helped put Lincoln into the White House.
If you wish to visit, Bronson Park is located one block south of M-43 in downtown Kalamazoo, and is bordered by S. Park St., W. South St., S. Rose St. and Academy St.