Lincoln came to NYC in February 1860, when he was still something of a hayseed politician still unknown in the biggest city in America. Invited by the Young Men’s Republican Union to deliver an address at the Coopers Union auditorium, there he gave a speech on the political and moral need to abolish slavery that was so powerful it is credited with helping secure his election as President.
But the day before before he gave that speech, he was invited to visit the Five Points area in NYC considered by some to be the worst slum in the world. One of his guides was the Reverend Samuel B Halliday who helped run the Five Points House of Industry, a charitable institution that housed and taught homeless and abused children from the area to help them establish themselves in life without resort to prostitution or crime.
As it was a Sunday the children were all at Sunday School and he was invited to address the children. He hung back but then encouraged by a companion to share the experiences of his own life, he told the children of his own hard times when very young and urged them to always do the very best they could, as that was the way forward.
Then he stopped speaking overcome by the plight of these children which brought tears to his eyes. Their obvious poverty was beyond anything he had seen before.
The people associated with this incident never forgot about it. The Reverend Halliday sent him a book after he was elected President with before and after photographs of children who had been helped by the House of Industry.
The Sunday school teacher whose class he came into, wrote eloquently of the his powerful speech to the children and how much it meant to them. After her account was published the story was then used by his poiltical friends to add to the anecdotes about the greatness of Lincoln, especially in his concern for people who were downtrodden.