Honest Abe and N.H.

It’s been 150 years since he visited — time to celebrate.It was February 29, 1860, when Abraham Lincoln stepped off the train in Exeter. He had come to see his son, Robert Todd, who was studying at Phillips Exeter Academy. By the time he left, though, his time in New Hampshire would become much more — a giant step on the path to the presidency.

Along with the visit to Bob, as Lincoln called his son, he had speeches set up in Exeter, Dover, Concord and Manchester — all part of his plan to get eastern audiences familiar with him and his political platform, especially his stand against the expansion of slavery. Just days earlier in New York City, he had delivered his now-famous Cooper Union speech on that topic, a speech said to have “made Lincoln president.”

But there are those who say Lincoln’s visit to New Hampshire was also critical in that quest. Richard Schubart, a Bates-Russell Distinquished Faculty Professor at Phillips Exeter, is one of them: “When Lincoln gave his talks in New Hampshire, he electrified the crowds with his stand on slavery and the sheer power of his words. That attracted more audiences and critical financial support out of the East.” Plus, Schubart says, the N.H. delegation to the convention played a leading role in swinging the nomination to Lincoln. The state was second to vote on the first ballot and its enthusiastic support of Lincoln started an unstoppable bandwagon.

Exeter, which still looks much as it did in Lincoln’s day, will hold a sesquicentennial celebration of the Lincoln visit on March 6. It starts with walking tours of Lincoln-related spots and a talk by Schubart and Mike Pride, who recently updated and reintroduced the 1929 book, “Abraham Lincoln in New Hampshire.”

The day ends with a band concert of Civil War music using Civil War-era instruments and a re-enactment of Lincoln’s rousing March 3 speech at the Exeter Town Hall by well-known Lincoln presenter, Steve Wood.

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