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It was on this date 163 years ago that Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the most memorable, and important, speeches in American history. "A house divided against itself cannot stand," Lincoln told an audience of Republicans gathered at the Illinois state capitol.

"I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free," Lincoln added. "It will become all one thing or all the other."

The "house divided" imagery came from the New Testament, as Lincoln's audience would have known in a more biblically literate age. A familiar touchstone to 19th century Americans, that passage from the Gospel of Matthew had been used by pivotal political figures ranging from Abigail Adams to Sam Houston.

Lincoln was speaking as the 1858 Illinois Senate nominee of a nascent political party forged to end human bondage and extend human liberty. Prominent Republicans today would tell you they still believe in those principles, and I do not doubt their sincerity. Still, in our more secular political environment (and at another time of hyper-partisanship), it seems that our two dominant political parties operate on the working assumption that a "house divided" is precisely what they seek -- and is what keeps their activists happy and the political donations flowing.

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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