The Greatest Trial

The Greatest Trial: Lincoln, Newport, and the Civil War

Abraham Lincoln never visited Newport, although he did speak in Providence and Woonsocket following his famous Cooper Union speech in New York in February, 1860. Unlike many public figures of his day, the Great Emancipator never enjoyed Newport’s seaside charms. Nevertheless his influence resonated along Narragansett Bay through his election, the trauma of the Civil War, and his early death at the hands of an assassin.

Lincoln had appeared suddenly on the political scene. As late as March 1860 the short list of presidential candidates suggested by the Newport Mercury did not include the tall lawyer from Illinois. Despite summer residents who were noted abolitionists, Newport remained politically conservative, due in part to its longstanding Southern connections. Lincoln ultimately won the election in Newport, but by one of the slimmest margins in the state. 

The Civil War, triggered in part by Lincoln’s election, imposed itself on the community through the hundreds of sons that answered his call for volunteers and the women who nursed the wounded and provided aid for their soldiers in the field. Despite the lukewarm support for his election, Lincoln was deeply mourned in Newport. In just over four years, Lincoln had been transformed from an unknown into a timeless American icon.  

Rhode Island Regiment Stationery, 1861
Newport Historical Society Collection