“My friends—No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being, who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him, who can go with me, and remain with you and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.”—Abraham Lincoln, “Farewell Address at Springfield, Illinois,” February 11, 1861, in Lincoln: Selected Speeches and Writings (Library of America edition, 1992)
Abraham Lincoln, his biographers tell us, was not a great extemporaneous speaker; he had to work and work for hours to get phrases just right. This particular speech, given straight from the heart, from the back of a train taking him to the White House, was about as close as he got. But even in this case, as soon as he was done, he sat down and polished what he had just delivered until it took the media-ready form it is here.
Nevertheless, it is so poignant—and so filled with the (correct) premonition that he would never return—that it has earned its own, just place among his memorable addresses.