Anti-Slavery Speech

Lincoln’s anti-slavery speech at Major’s Hall

Lincoln Parking Deck, former site of Major’s Hall

Location notes: Southwest corner of Front & East streets – 40.478618, -88.992842

Major’s Hall was a significant spot in Abraham Lincoln’s political career and the founding of the Illinois Republican Party. One could make a strong case that the single most important event in local history — at least from a national perspective — was Abraham Lincoln’s keynote address before some 1,100 delegates and supporters of the “State Convention of the Anti-Nebraska Party of Illinois.” Members of this “Anti-Nebraska Party” were there to oppose the Kansas-Nebraska Act and its threat to spread slavery into northern territories. Disparate Anti-Nebraska groups — abolitionists, anti-slavery Whigs like Lincoln, disaffected Democrats, German immigrants, and even nativist “Know Nothings” — fused to form the Republican Party and halt slavery’s westward extension.

That evening in late May 1856, at Major’s Hall on Front Street, Lincoln became the unassailable leader and moral voice in this new political movement. More than one observer called it the finest speech of his life. And since there was no known transcription of what he said, it became known as Lincoln’s “Lost Speech.”

Despite claims of it being “lost,” newspapers reported on what Lincoln said.  He challenged the slave states and threats of succession, saying that the United States should be preserved.  “The Union must be preserved in the purity of its principles as well as in its integrity of its territorial parts.”  Lincoln’s national principles were based on the Declaration of Independence and its famous line that “all men are created equal.”  Almost foretelling the Civil War, Lincoln concluded his speech with the statement, “We won’t go out of the Union, and you sha’nt!”   

Major’s Hall was located at the southwest corner of Front and Main streets. The three-story brick building housed retail and other small businesses with a large open hall on the third floor. The Illinois Normal School, today’s Illinois State University, held its first classes here from 1857 until “Old Main” was completed in Normal in 1861.

On November 18, 1872, a fire ravaged the building, destroying the historic third floor hall. The building was restored with just two floors. In February 1959 the building was demolished for ground level parking. In October 1962 plaques were dedicated commemorating the building’s history. Those plaques are now mounted at the southwest corner of Front and East streets.

For additional U.S. Civil War stops, visit Jesse Fell & Abraham Lincoln and The Snow Brothers. Or use our map feature to customize your personal Social Justice Walking Tour through downtown Bloomington.