Today marks the 206th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, which also makes it the 150th anniversary of his last birthday in 1865. Not coincidentally, it is also the 150th anniversary of Henry Highland Garnet’s landmark sermon/speech in the House of Representatives (extended excerpt available here), in which he exhorted Congress to "Emancipate, Enfranchise, Educate.”
To commemorate the recent passage by the House of the Thirteenth Amendment on January 31st, the House chaplin, with support of congressional Republicans and the Administration, invited Henry Highland Garnet to be the first African-American to deliver a Sunday sermon in the House to a general audience (apparently a common use of the chamber when the House was not in session), and to do so on Lincoln’s birthday.
Garnet was in many ways an unusual choice for this role. He had been a leader of what is often described as the black nationalist wing of the abolition movement. In 1843 he had famously called for slave rebellion and praised Denmark Vesey and Nathanial (Nat) Turner. And he had been a founder of the antebellum emigrationist movement.
The fact that he was invited to deliver this speech shows just how far things had moved by 1865. The war had affirmed Garnet’s violent resistance position and obviated the immediate need for emigration. Garnet had worked to establish black army units and recruit black soldiers. He was also serving as minister at the Fifteenth Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. Accompanied by his church's choir (which was considered one of the best in the country), Garnet spoke to a standing-room audience. By all accounts they rocked the House.