Mark R.D. Jones

Lincoln on Liberty, 1864

Excerpted from a speech given by Abraham Lincoln
Address at the Maryland State Fair for U.S. Soldier Relief (Baltimore Sanitary Fair)
April 18, 1864
Maryland Institute Hall
Baltimore, Maryland, United States.

“The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatable things, called by the same name——liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatable names——liberty and tyranny.

“The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails to-day among us human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty. Hence we behold the processes by which thousands are daily passing from under the yoke of bondage, hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty. Recently, as it seems, the people of Maryland have been doing something to define liberty; and thanks to them that, in what they have done, the wolf’s dictionary, has been repudiated.[1]

The 1864 Maryland State Fair for U.S. Soldier Relief, more commonly known as the Baltimore Sanitary Fair, took place from April 18 to May 2, 1864. It was was one of many fundraising events for the United States Sanitary Commission, a private organization chartered by Congress in 1861 to raise funds and care for wounded soldiers.[2] Legislation creating the United States Sanitary Commission was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on June 18, 1861. The Sanitary Commission was disbanded in May of 1866. Much of the money raised by the Sanitary Commission was by means of fairs, some of which became national events, and lasted for weeks. During its existence the Sanitary Commission received $4,924,480.99 in money and the value of about $15,000,000 in supplies.[3] The Sanitary Commission worked in partnership with the Christian Commission, a private association founded November 1861 by members of the New York City Young Men’s Christian Association. The Christian Commission ceased activities on January 1, 1866.[4] Both organizations were models for the establishment and mission of the American Red Cross, which was founded in 1881.

[1] Teaching American History
Also: Abraham Lincoln: “Address at Sanitary Fair in Baltimore: A Lecture on Liberty,” April 18, 1864. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
University of California Santa Barbara
[2] “A Fair to Remember” Maryland State Archives
The Gettysburg Address. Albert H. Small Documents Gallelry. The Smithsonian
[3] “The Sanitary Commission and Other Relief Agencies” Civil War Home (article drawing upon “The Photographic History of the Civil War” by Holland Thompson)
[4] History of the U.S. Christian Commission. Todd Hein. (2007)
U.S. Christian Commission Northwestern Branch Inc.


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