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Children Recite Abraham Lincoln's 'House Divided'


Ford's Theatre, a lovely brick building here in Washington, D.C., is the place where President Abraham Lincoln was shot. Ford's Theatre is also a place that brings his words to life. Each year, Ford's Theatre in D.C. holds the Lincoln Oratory Festival, where kids recite Lincoln's speeches.


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: Good morning. We're representing Sela Public Charter School, and the speech that we're going to be doing today is the "House Divided" speech, and it was taking place on June 16, 1858, in Springfield, Ill.

INSKEEP: June 16 - today is the anniversary of the "House Divided" speech. The students performed that Lincoln speech at the festival early this year before the pandemic spread. In 1858, Lincoln was a candidate for Senate in Illinois, and the nation was divided over the issue of slavery. Supporters were trying to expand areas where slavery would be allowed. Lincoln was slowly being radicalized against it.


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: Mr. President, gentlemen of the convention.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #3: If we could just know where we are and whither we appear to be tending, we could all better judge what to do and how to do it.


At Ford's Theatre, students recited a Bible verse that Lincoln chose as the focus of his speech. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #4: A house divided against itself cannot stand.

KING: The students repeated his words. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. He didn't think the country would fall but that it would become all one thing or all the other.


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #5: We shall not fail. If we stand firm, we shall not fail.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #5: Wise councils may accelerate or mistakes delay it, but sooner or later...

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Victory is sure to come.


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Sooner or later, victory is sure to come. Those are students from Washington, D.C.'s Sela Public Charter School reciting "House Divided" from Abraham Lincoln.

INSKEEP: Love the unanimous last line there. Now, two years after that speech, in 1858, Abraham Lincoln was elected president, an event that helped to bring on the Civil War because of his and his party's opposition to slavery. In his inaugural speech in 1861, Lincoln appealed to the mystic chords of memory, shared American experiences that he said should bring the country together.

(SOUNDBITE OF DORENA SONG, "THE MORNING BUS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.