Springfield, Illinois, In Search of Abraham Lincoln, Part 2

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield, Illinois. The Museum is to the left, the Library is to the right

Springfield, Illinois, Saturday, July 29th, 2017, continued

After my visit to the Lincoln Tomb at the Oak Ridge Cemetery and a quick stop to drop off my luggage at the room where I’ll be staying, I continue my Springfield journey downtown at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, 112 N. Sixth St. It’s a large complex, the two public buildings each stretching the length of one city block along N. Sixth. It has a very late-1990’s – early 2000’s style, neither particularly handsome nor offensive in my view, just… generic. I associate it with municipal buildings such as city halls, libraries, and large post offices, perhaps because so many were built in this general style in my native California throughout my teens and my early adulthood.

I start with the Museum at the northeast corner of N. Sixth and E. Jefferson. After passing through the foyer and security entrance, I step into a large central room, with very tall ceilings and a life-size family grouping of the Lincoln family. I find I’ve neglected to take pictures of this, I think because I don’t like the sculptures much. For the most part, I don’t care for sculptures that attempt to recreate historical figures in a hyper-realistic way. These ones look like giant dolls: the hair looks like cheap wigs; the postures are stiff and slightly unnatural; and the face paint is a little off, like not-quite-successful funeral-parlor makeup. This one of those sorts of things like playing the bagpipe or the violin, I think: you need to get it just right or the result is unpleasant. The overall effect of these figures, to me, is a little creepy and more than a little campy.

‘Satire on Slavery’ exhibit featuring ‘Fragment on Pro-Slavery Theology’. In these 1858 notes, Abraham Lincoln mocked pro-slavery arguments. On exhibit at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, Springfield

Still, overall, I like the museum well enough, and I do enjoy most of the life-size, walk-through dioramas of imagined scenes from Abraham Lincoln’s life. The figures within them look better in the low light and they are surrounded by original and recreated interiors, structures, and artifacts of interest, so they are properly illustrative and educational for a museum. They do also have something of an amusement park quality but, hearing the reactions of the visiting children and the discussions following their questions, they appear to be effective in sparking interest in Lincoln’s history.

‘President Abraham Lincoln is blamed for the Civil War’s huge human toll and for deflecting the issue with his notorious storytelling in this 1864 cartoon by Joseph E. Baker.’ – Image and its caption courtesy of the Library of Congress. I don’t remember that a reproduction of this particular cartoon is displayed in the ALPM, but it’s representative of the sort of cartoons on display in the Whispering Room exhibit. As you may know, or may remember from one of my earlier accounts, Lincoln was notorious, for good or ill, for his penchant for storytelling

Pocket compass and sundial which belonged to Abraham Lincoln’s grandfather of the same name. He was a Revolutionary War captain and moved from Virginia to Lincoln’s native Kentucky in 1782. ALPL&M, Springfield

There’s one exhibit hall which I find particularly creative and interesting: it’s covered with reproductions satirical political cartoons critical of Lincoln’s real and fabricated opinions and policies. It’s an effective way to reveal the political issues and contrasting beliefs of the time, and the ways in which our nation was so deeply divided, just as we are deeply divided now. Comedy and satire, then as now, are two of the most efficient ways of communicating the nuances of issues that otherwise can be difficult to clearly explain. I did hear one grandmother use this as a teaching moment to tell her grandchild that, see, it’s not nice to make fun of presidents, just like people are making fun of Donald Trump today! I think she may have missed the point of the exhibit a little.

I also find many of the original artifacts on exhibit particularly interesting and I wish there was more space dedicated to the exhibit of these than to dioramas. There’s a tiny and delicate looking pocket sundial and compass set belonging to Captain Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln’s grandfather. They must not have been so delicate, however, since they traveled with him from Virginia to Kentucky in 1782, quite a rugged trek in those days.

Original front door key and deed of sale of the Lincoln family home in Springfield, on display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum

An original plaster model by Gutzon Borglum for his 1908 marble bust of Lincoln is also on display. The bronze bust of Lincoln at the Lincoln Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield and the other smaller one in Peoria Heights are also derived from this plaster cast. As you can see, and as the accompanying placard in the museum describes, Borglum left the left side of Lincoln’s face unfinished and without an ear. He explained that he thought the right side of Lincoln’s face was fully developed and much more expressive while the left side was ‘immature.’ However, when he sculpted Lincoln into the Mt. Rushmore National Monument, Lincoln’s head is positioned so that the left side of his face is more readily seen. But there as here, his left ear is unsculpted. I wonder how long it took Borglum to decide where to place Lincoln’s head among the others on Mt. Rushmore, given that he preferred the right side of his face. In Borglum’s original model for Mt Rushmore, the left side of Lincoln’s face is fully sculpted, ear and all. But Mt. Rushmore is unfinished. It was even less finished when Borglum died, but his son, whom he named Lincoln, by the way, completed the sculpture to the point we see today. I also wonder if Lincoln Borglum decided not to finish carving the left side of Lincoln’s face based on this plaster cast and on his father’s remarks.

Plaster cast by Gutzon Borglum for 1908 marble bust now in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building. On display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum

After touring the Museum, I cross the street and step into the Library to see if there are any more interesting artifacts on exhibit. There are only a few, and none that I find that are directly linked to Lincoln. The Library’s soon to close, so I’ll return another time to explore it more fully and to get some writing done.

Old State Capitol Building at 6th and Adams Streets, Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln had many associations with this building and its predecessor, a brick courthouse in the center of the square which was torn down to make room for this one

I head south for one block, turn right, and enter the Greek Revival Old State House to my left. It’s a handsome, classical Doric-order building in natural, textured cream and pinkish-tan stone with a smoothly painted off-white tall, narrow, red-roofed dome that looks as if it’s been stuck on top without concern as to whether it will match or not. Nevertheless, the effect is good: it all works together, somehow. It was mainly built between 1837-1840, completed in 1851, and then reconstructed in the 1960’s. It stands by itself among a large grassy lawn and gardens in the public square bordered by E. Washington St, S. 6th St, E. Adams St, and S. 5th St.

Parts of the structure we see here today are original, but much of it had been changed drastically over the years: in 1899, the entire building was raised to insert a new ground floor underneath, and a new dome replaced the old to better harmonize with the building’s changed proportions. The building had quickly become too small to accommodate the staff and the public in this rapidly growing state capital. Even with the addition of another floor, the administrative needs of the city outgrew the old state house and it was moved to a grand new capital building. In 1876, this building became the Sangamon County Courthouse. In the subsequent years, the building survived every successive move in and out of the various county bodies that had been assigned to it. It was the scene of so many great historic moments, especially those associated with the life and death of Lincoln, that all motions to tear it down were firmly opposed and defeated. Finally, in the 1960’s, the historic value of the building was fully realized in a complete restoration. What I see here today is a faithful manifestation of the original design and decor; examinations of old photos reveal that both the interior and exteriors appear almost exactly as they did in Lincoln’s time.

Old State House, Springfield, Sangamon County, Illinois, by Clark Bullard for the Historic American Buildings Survey, July 13, 1935. Public domain via the Library of Congress. Notice the ground floor and larger dome that had been added in 1899-1900.

Lincoln had many connections with this site, in the 1831 red-brick courthouse that stood in the middle of the square, and in the state house built here over its former location. In 1901, historian Henry Douglas Giger wrote:

‘The brick court house stood in the middle of the square, and was completed in 1831 at a cost of $6,841.00. It was a two‐story square, brick building, with a hip roof, and cupalo on top, similar to the court houses peculiar to the Mississippi valley at that period, and from the time it was built all the business of the town centered around the square, and the old town on Jefferson street began to decay. The row of small shops on the east end of the north side of the square was called “Chicken Row.” In the fall of 1835 a young man fresh from the prim and dignified courts of New York arrived in Springfield. He wandered into the brick building standing in the center of the square, and saw the judge on his bench with his chair tilted back, his heels higher than his head, a cob pipe in his mouth, his hair all awry, and before him stood a small dark man with long black hair pleading his case. Attentively listening sprawled a long sombre form on the low platform used for the judge’s rostrum. The room was filled with men laughing and smoking. The judge was Stephen T. Logan, acknowledged to be the greatest lawyer Illinois has ever produced. The little man was Stephen A. Douglas the “Little Giant,” and the form on the floor was that of Abraham Lincoln, destined in the years to come to be the two foremost characters in the most formidable crisis the Union ever knew.’

Six years after this scene that Giger described took place, Lincoln would become Logan’s law partner. More on that to come. And as you know, Lincoln’s public debates with the ‘Little Giant’ Douglas 19 and then again 23 years later would catapult him to the national stage. Lincoln attended many court sessions in the old brick courthouse that stood here while he was studying to become a lawyer in the mid-1830’s. After he earned his law license in September of 1836, Lincoln would have argued his early cases here, and then in the larger, grander brick courthouse that was built in 1845 across the street where the building at 104 N. 6th St stands now. That was the county courthouse until it moved back here to its original location in the public square in January of 1876. That second brick courthouse was torn down shortly after that.

Lincoln likely visited that first brick courthouse which stood on this site a few years before he heard Logan argue that 1835 case. On March 26th, 1832, there was a celebration for the successful voyage of the steamer Talisman up the Sangamon River, while Lincoln was running his first political campaign for state legislator when he was 23 years old (he lost that one). He was a shop clerk at the time, with less than one year of formal education, and he hopped on board to pilot the Talisman through this section of the river. Lincoln was an experienced boatman at this point and knew this river well.

Interior of the Hall of Representatives, Old State House, Springfield, Illinois

On October 3rd and 4th, 1854, Lincoln and Douglas held their first debate here at the State House in the Hall of Representatives. It was not a scheduled debate. Douglas was on a cross country campaign to garner public support for his Kansas-Nebraska Act, co-drafted with President Franklin Pierce, which effectively overturned the Missouri Compromise. The 1820 Compromise prohibited slavery in all new territories and states north of the 36°30′ parallel except for Missouri. The 1854 Act would leave the issue up to the individual states and territories to decide for themselves. Douglas, as we’ve seen, defended the Act as an instantiation of popular sovereignty on the principle that people have the right to govern themselves. Lincoln, by his own account, was drawn back into politics by the passage of the Act and his opposition to Douglas’ arguments and tried many times to schedule a public debate with Douglas, but the proud Senator refused to share a stage with this homegrown lawyer and minor ex-politician.

Douglas was originally scheduled to speak outdoors at the Illinois County Fair on October 3rd, but the speech was moved indoors because of the rain. After he delivered his speech in the Hall of Representatives, Lincoln loudly announced that Douglas’ speech would be answered in this same hall the next day, and Douglas could respond if he chose to do so. Douglas apparently felt he had no choice this time, and he appeared on the stage the next day. Lincoln’s three-hour speech on October 4th covered most of the same ground as his Peoria speech delivered two weeks later. It was an effective speech on this occasion, and much more so when he delivered a refined version on the front portico of the old Peoria courthouse on October 16, 1854.

As I was growing up and even still today, I often heard that the Civil War was not really about slavery, it was about states’ rights. The South just wanted to stand up for the right of the people to govern themselves, it was said. It was not just Southern sympathizers and states’-rights proponents who perpetuated this idea, very many American historians did as well. As a child and a young adult, I accepted that received wisdom. But it’s quite clear from the texts of the Lincoln and Douglas debates and from the history of the public controversy surrounding the Dred Scott case, the Missouri Compromise, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, that this was not the case at all. It’s so clear that it’s not, in fact, that I still wonder why anyone believed it then or believes it now. Fortunately, most historians no longer accept that view.

Abraham Lincoln, September 1858, photographer unknown

A key reason why all of these compromises and acts failed to avert the Civil War was that Southern states were often in favor of allowing new territories and states to allow slavery if they chose, but they were not at all in favor of states deciding for themselves whether slaves taken into their territories automatically became free, or of states deciding for themselves whether to enforce federal fugitive slave laws. So, the Southern claim to be on the side of ‘states rights’ was selective, limited to allowing, protecting, and promoting slavery, and nothing else. Otherwise, they insisted that it was the duty of the federal government to protect slave-property rights of Southerners in all states and to enforce fugitive slave laws in free states as well. In short, it was all about slavery, and Douglas’ doctrine of popular sovereignty came to be recognized as the non-solution it was. Lincoln’s election to the Presidency was the signal that the federal government was not going to enforce the right of slaveowners to own human beings against antislavery laws in free states. Therefore, most Southern states seceded from the Union.

Lincoln, having made a careful study and examination of the issues and history of race-based slavery in the United States, knew very well that no number of compromises and acts would effectively resolve the inevitable conflicts between free and slave states. The principles of liberty that the North and hypocritically, the South called upon to defend the rights of their states to defend or counteract slavery were incompatible with that institution. Since that same desire for liberty appears to be a constant in human nature, slaves would always escape to freedom in the North, inevitably leading to those same old fugitive-slave-law-conflicts between the states. And at that time, there was no reason to believe that slavery would just die out anytime soon, given the Dred Scott decision, the compromises that pleased no one for very long, and the constant expansion of the country that kept disrupting the balance of political power between slave and free states. So, at the State House, in the Hall of Representatives where he first confronted Douglas face to face, candidate-for-state-senator Lincoln delivered his famous ‘House Divided Speech‘ on June 16, 1858, in which he clearly and succinctly made that case. He lost the race for the Senate seat to Douglas, but in this case as it so often happened in his political career, Lincoln lost the battle but won the war. Douglas’ platform lost popularity as Lincoln’s reputation grew, and just two and a half years later, Lincoln was elected President of the United States.

Picture of Abraham Lincoln’s lying-in-state canopy in the Hall of Representatives, Old State House, Springfield

Lincoln’s Funeral at the Old State Capitol 1865. Springfield, Illinois. Courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

Almost seven years later, in 1865, Lincoln’s assassinated body lay in state here in the Hall of Representatives. He was no longer the fiery, energetic lawyer and politician seen in this Hall on so many occasions. Lincoln had guided the country through the most horrific war the States had ever seen, freed the slaves (at least on paper; race-based slavery de facto would not be ended until black codes, convict leasing, and other like practices were outlawed well into the twentieth century), saved the Union, and lost a beloved son. He had suffered much and therefore aged much in the few intervening years. I like to think he did not die in vain, but I’m not quite sure what that phrase means. Lincoln could have achieved what he did and not died, and therefore could have achieved much more, so his death was a great waste of potential as well as a great injustice. It’s true that he went from being a hero to many to being a martyr to even more, and many who were doubtful about his legacy became so no longer. The great Frederick Douglass was one of those. And it’s true that his perceived martyrdom went on to inspire many more people to do good in their own lives.

When researching this piece, I discover that our first black President, Barack Obama, chose to announce his candidacy for President here at the Old State Capitol building in February of 2007. I think it’s quite fitting.

To be continued…

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Sources and inspiration:

Abraham Lincoln Online: Lincoln Timelines and Highlights

Allen, Eric. ‘Creating Cartoons: Art and Controversy.’ Library of Congress Blog, June 2, 2015

Brink, McCormick & Co. ‘Springfield Township, Springfield City.‘ from Atlas of Sangamon County, 1874.

Carwardine, Richard. Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power. New York: Random House, 2003

Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995

Giger, Henry Douglas. ‘The Story of the Sangamon County Court House.’ Via the Sangamon County Circuit Clerk website, originally published Apr 29, 1901

Herndon, William H. and Jesse W. Weik. Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life. 1889

History of Sangamon County, Illinois; Together with Sketches of its Cities, Villages and Townships … Portraits of Prominent Persons, and Biographies of Representative Citizens. Chicago: Interstate Publishing Co.,  1881

Jackson, Nicholas. ‘Picture of the Day: Mount Rushmore as Originally Planned‘. The Atlantic, May 16, 2011

Lehrman, Lewis E. Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.

Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Illinois. Website, National Park Service

Looking for Lincoln: various historical/informational placards throughout the Springfield, Illinois and surrounding areas about the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln at their associated sites

Old State Capitol (Sangamon County Courthouse).’ Historic Sites Survey, prepared by Stephen Lissandrello for the National Park Service, Apr 28, 1975

MacLean, Maggie. ‘Elizabeth Todd Edwards: Sister of Mary Todd Lincoln.’ Civil War Women blog, Jul 28, 2013

Sangamon County Courthouse (Old State Capitol).‘ National Park Service Historic Site nomination paper, prepared by Charles  Shedd, Sep 14, 1961

Athens and Springfield, Illinois, Part 1, In Search of Abraham Lincoln

E. Hargrave and Main Streets in Athens, Illinois

Journal: Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, Illinois, Monday morning, July 31, 2017

Here I am in the handsomely designed, nicely lit, spacious reading room of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. I don’t at this moment require any research materials from the collection, but as I often do, if I find myself with access to a grand space dedicated to the acquisition, preservation, and dissemination of knowledge, such as the Reading Room of the Library of Congress’ Jefferson Building or the National Library of Scotland, I feel the urge to go inside and do some thinking and writing just because I can. So here I am.

On Saturday evening, a sudden weariness and blueness of mood took me by surprise, and for the first time since I left home two weeks ago, I suddenly felt lonely. I realized I had been traveling at an unrelenting pace and it was time to rest. So over the weekend, I did a lot of strolling and lazing between bouts of purposeful touring and research. I watched Allied, a World War II romantic tragedy starring Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt, and enjoyed it very much. I talked to family and friends on the phone, sometimes while walking through grassy parks under tall green trees whose resident cicadas made quite a racket. I wrote postcards, and drank beer, and feasted on a delicious local specialty called a horseshoe, an artery-clogging concoction made from Texas toast, french fries, a sprinkling of vegetables if you so choose (I chose yes), and ground meat topped with a sort of cheese sauce similar to that on a Welsh rarebit. I ordered mine spicy, so it came with hot sauce to pour over it.

So here I am this morning, rested, happy, reconnected with my loved ones and my sense of adventure, planning my itinerary for the rest of today and the next. I’m also thinking about the many things I’ve learned and seen here in and around Springfield…

Abraham Lincoln’s Long Nine Museum, also known as the Rogers’ Building, Athens, Illinois. It used to house the post office and general store, both of which Lincoln somewhat frequently visited through much of the 1830’s

Athens, Illinois, Saturday, July 29th, 2017

I drive to Springfield from Peoria, about an hour south, and on the way, I notice a highway sign indicating the exit for an Abraham Lincoln historic site. As I did for the last one to Galesburg, I decide to take this Lincoln detour. A series of signs lead me through lovely green farmlands and tidy business establishments and houses to Athens’ old Main Street neighborhood where there are several sites associated with the life and political career of Lincoln. I park at E. Hargrave and Main, near the brick building at the corner with the ‘Old Milwaukee’ sign, and cross the street to a Looking for Lincoln placard with a Lincoln site map.

Historical placards for the Rogers Building – Abraham Lincoln Long Nine Museum, Athens, Illinois

Lincoln never lived here in Athens but he did visit, many times; he lived near here in New Salem, more about that later. Athens was a larger, more bustling community than New Salem, and mail delivery was more consistent, too. Lincoln was New Salem’s postmaster from 1833 to 1836, and he came to Athens to pick up the mail occasionally when the Sangamon River, which runs between here and New Salem, was in flood and prevented its delivery.

The post office in Athens, at this time, was located here in the white clapboard Rogers Building on Main St at Jefferson. This building now houses the Abraham Lincoln Long Nine Museum, which is closed as I peer through its windows.Some years after Lincoln’s stint as the New Salem Postmaster, he and the other eight members of the Illinois State Legislature were honored here with a celebratory dinner in the upstairs banquet room on August 3rd, 1837. The dinner celebrated their success in getting the capital of Illinois moved from Vandalia to the more bustling Springfield. This iteration of the Legislature, nicknamed the ‘Long Nine’ because of their average height of 6 feet, included Ninian W. Edwards, the husband of his future wife Mary Todd’s sister Elizabeth. Ninian and Elizabeth will re-enter my story later on during my Springfield journey.

Detail of Looking for Lincoln placard showing a 1870’s tintype of the Rogers Building. As you can see, the buildings, front and back, look essentially the same today, sans chimneys.

I continue south on Main St, cross Madison, then continue about one-third of the long block between Madison and Little Streets. The fourth house on the left is at 400 Main St, the site of the home of Robert Wilson, one of Lincoln’s fellow Long Nine legislators, according to the Looking for Lincoln map. Lincoln stayed here at Wilson’s place on many occasions when he was in town, even borrowing a horse from Mrs. Wilson in 1836 while on campaign. Perhaps Wilson, as a fellow ‘long’ man, had a bed that Lincoln could fit in!

Robert Wilson used to live at this site where Abraham Lincoln would stay sometimes while in Athens, according to the Looking for Lincoln map. This house doesn’t look original to me, I’m supposing the map marks the site, not the building.

In any case, as well as serving in the legislature together, they were fellow political campaigners and remained friends for a long time. During the Civil War, he joined the Union Army, then Lincoln gave him an appointment as a paymaster. In those days, it was common practice for Presidents and their administrations to grant government appointments to friends and political supporters. Hopefully, these appointees would have appropriate experience, but this was entirely up to the discretion of the one doing the appointing. At times, Lincoln did appoint people he believed had the experience and/or ability for the position; at other times, he traded desirable appointments political favors. As the Steven Spielberg film Lincoln accurately portrays, this was a key tactic that Lincoln used for getting enough votes to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, legally abolishing slavery throughout the U.S.. After the Civil War and the new depths of corruption in the administration of Lincoln’s next elected successor, his General-in-Chief of the Union Army Ulysses S. Grant, the civil service was reformed so that, at least ostensibly, appointees were given the jobs solely based on merit and relevant experience.

One more thing: Wilson, in his 1866 description of Lincoln’s thought processes, made me aware of the word ratiocination. Nice. I like learning new words that are fun to say aloud.

Banks Hall’s Tavern site on the northwest corner of Mill and Jefferson Sts in Athens, Illinois. The house which stands here today retains parts of the original tavern, which was a remodeled frame house built by Abner Banks Hall’s father.

I double back on Main St and turn left on Jefferson St to my next destination at Jefferson and Mill. On the northwest corner, there’s a blue clapboard two-story house with white trim. This house incorporates the old Banks Hall’s Tavern, where Lincoln stayed and ate sometimes. The proprietors were Abner Banks Hall and Helen Jennett Francis Hall. Helen was Simeon Francis’ niece, and Simeon Francis came to have many close connections with Lincoln. I’ll return to that story when I’m in Springfield.

Banks Hall’s Tavern was the best place to get a bite to eat on that part of the stage route between Beardstown, New Salem, and Springfield. Perhaps he stayed here when he was a local surveyor as well; he surveyed the new Sangamon Town Road, which angled to meet Main St from the south and west, in 1834. He had become a surveyor as a likely way to supplement his meager living as a postmaster. His first two runs for political office had failed, his militia service had been brief and relatively uneventful, and his first foray into business as a shop owner had failed and left him in debt. Surveying was a skilled trade but one that could be self-taught for free, so thus Lincoln did. But he didn’t remain a surveyor for long. The pay was still not that great and his debts were substantial, so he began to teach himself law and again ran for state legislator. This time, he won a seat.

Lincoln Tomb, Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois

I know that if I continue in the direction I was going, I would get to New Salem before long. However, the day’s getting on and I want to make some good progress exploring Springfield and gathering more information there first, so I pick up the car and continue south.

Springfield, Illinois, Saturday, July 29th, 2017

After about a 20 minute drive, I reach my first Springfield destination: the Lincoln Tomb. I wind through the hilly cemetery with its granite monuments and headstones almost white in the summer sun, and park the car. I round the showy, castellated old caretaker’s building and cross the lawn.

I find that the Lincoln Tomb is absolutely lovely. It’s just about the most elegant, grand while neither overblown or fussy monument one could wish for. There are monumental sculptures surrounding the central towering obelisk which include fighting men, a rearing horse, and Lincoln himself, charged with drama and historical moment. The statues are well spaced and there’s not too many so the ones that are here stand out and invite study. Taste and restraint rule here as much as the desire to do great honor to the man buried below.

Gutzon Borglum’s portrait bust of Lincoln at the Lincoln Tomb, Oak Ridge Cemetery

There’s a bronze version of the same Gutzon Borglum portrait bust of Lincoln that I saw in Peoria Heights. This one’s larger, and its nose is shiny. I guess people rub it for luck; a giggling family was doing this very thing as I arrive. There’s a statue of David Hume with a shiny big toe on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland, and it shines for the same reason. For some reason, I feel very differently about the Lincoln nose-rubbing than I do of the Hume toe-rubbing. The statue of Hume is on a public street, while Lincoln’s bust is at his tomb in a cemetery. The moment I see those kids jumping up, egged on by their mom with the dad taking pictures, I feel disturbed, even a little offended. My father’s strict injunctions against unruly and disrespectful behavior in the presence of the dead and other solemn places remain deeply instilled in me, I suppose. I feel like scolding them. It also feels disrespectful to mess around with the image of someone’s face, rather than a toe or a sleeve, especially when it serves to disfigure it in some way. It gives Lincoln’s bronze portrait the clownish look of a cartoon image of a drunk with a shiny red nose. Apparently, however, many thousands of my fellow citizens feel differently than I do about this.

Floor plaque showing layout of the Lincoln Tomb and the sculptures with their names and artists, Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois

I open the front door, which is a single one the size of an ordinary interior door, presumably because such a relatively small entrance is easy to guard against grave robbers, and enter. Yes, grave robbers. At least one attempt has been made to steal Lincoln’s body before, and history is rife with grave-robbing of the tombs of the rich, powerful, and honored dead. When Lincoln’s remains were moved to their final resting place in 1901, ten feet below the Tomb’s central chamber in a concrete-and-steel reinforced vault, the portion of the coffin lid that would cover the head and shoulders was cut open. After a brief view of the face to confirm identity, which was still recognizable after all those decades, the coffin was resealed.

Statue of Lincoln in the center of the antechamber at the Lincoln Tomb, a copy of the statue at his Washington, D.C. memorial

I step into a marble-lined, oval room with a bronze sculpture of Lincoln on a pedestal in the center, a smaller version of the Lincoln Memorial statue in Washington, D.C.. There are many such bronze statues throughout the tomb, smaller versions of larger statues in various places. They are placed in alcoves in corridors that surround the central square room. The burial chamber is in the interrupted-oval room at the north end of the structure, which is above Lincoln’s actual burial vault. A red granite symbolic empty tomb for Lincoln, called a cenotaph, stands in the center. Crypts behind the south wall of this chamber holds the remains of his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, and three of his sons, Edward, William, and Thomas (called Tad). Lincoln’s oldest son Robert wanted to be buried here as well, but his wife decided otherwise. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, as he served briefly in the Union Army and then as the 35th Secretary of War under Presidents James Garfield and Chester A. Arthur. Lincoln’s only grandson, Abraham Lincoln II (called Jack), was originally buried here, but he was re-interred in Arlington National Cemetery after his father’s death.

Four sculptures from the Lincoln Tomb, Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois

Four more sculptures from the Lincoln Tomb, Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois

The Tomb is as beautiful inside as it is outside, with a very different feel. Outside, the pale granite gleams, and the monument’s structures and sculptures tower and rise. Inside, the marble and granite and bronze glow gently in the lowly-lit rooms, the golden honey atmosphere at least as much a result of the lights as it is of the materials. I suspect the warm tone of these electric lights was chosen to reflect the quality of light of the gas lamps and candles that lit interiors in Lincoln’s time. The mood is warm despite the cold stones and metal, and the place feels close and solemn: it wraps around you just as it does around itself, just as a shroud does the departed. No one rubs any of the facsimiles of Lincoln’s nose in here, though as you can see from the photos, they do rub the toes of his boots.

Abraham Lincoln’s red granite cenotaph in the burial chamber of the Lincoln Tomb, Oak Ridge Cemetery

Receiving vault at the north foot of the Lincoln Tomb, the first resting place of Lincoln at Oak Ridge Cemetery, from May to December 1865

I pay my respects and look long at the sculptures and the architecture details, then re-emerge to the hot summer day. Down the hill to the north of the Tomb, there are two more structures of interest. At the north foot of the Tomb’s hill, there’s a pedimented marble vault with an iron gate. This was the initial resting place of Lincoln at Oak Ridge Cemetary in May of 1865, along with the remains of his son William, who had died in 1862, during Lincoln’s first term in office. The caskets remained here, under guard, until December of that year, until they were interred in a temporary vault partway up the ridge towards the Tomb here today. Lincoln, William, and his two other deceased sons were reburied within the unfinished Tomb in 1871.

Tower holding the large white stone slab upon which Abraham Lincoln’s casket first rested at Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois

The other is a castellated tower across the path from the receiving vault. It holds the original large flat stone, mounted upright and engraved, upon which Lincoln and his son William’s caskets were placed for the many months they awaited their temporary resting place on the ridge. The tower was built in 1900, the year before Lincoln’s casket was opened to confirm the presence of his remains, then re-interred in its permanent, secure resting place deep beneath the floor of the Tomb’s burial chamber.

As I leave Oak Ridge Cemetery, I wind among the lots before I find the way out. It’s a pretty and peaceful place and I would linger if I were a less restless traveler.

I continue south towards downtown Springfield and head for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. I see so many interesting things here that I want to tell you about. Since this tale has already grown somewhat lengthy, I’ll continue the tale of my day’s explorations in my next installment of my explorations following the life and ideas of Lincoln in Springfield. Stay tuned!

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

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Sources and inspiration:

Abraham Lincoln Long Nine Museum website: Walking Tour Map and Lincoln’s Connection

Abraham Lincoln OnlineLincoln Timelines and Highlights and Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site

Brink, McCormick & Co. ‘Springfield Township, Springfield City.‘ from Atlas of Sangamon County, 1874.

Carwardine, Richard. Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power. New York: Random House, 2003

Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995

Herndon, William H. and Jesse W. Weik. Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life. 1889

History of Sangamon County, Illinois; Together with Sketches of its Cities, Villages and Townships … Portraits of Prominent Persons, and Biographies of Representative Citizens. Chicago: Interstate Publishing Co.,  1881

Illinois Ancestors.orgAbner Banks Hall and The Grandfathers Vol.I, The Hall and Overstreet Families

Lehrman, Lewis E. Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.

Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Illinois. National Park Service website

Looking for Lincoln: various historical/informational placards throughout the Springfield, Illinois and surrounding areas about the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln at their associated sites

MacLean, Maggie. ‘Elizabeth Todd Edwards: Sister of Mary Todd Lincoln.’ Civil War Women blog, Jul 28, 2013

Robert L. Wilson (1805-1880)‘ from Mr. Lincoln & Friends: The Politicians by The Lehrman Institute

Robertson, Peggy. ‘The Plot To Steal Lincoln’s Body.’ American Heritage, April/May 1982

Robert Todd Lincoln‘ In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Rogers, Colonel Matthew Building/Abraham Lincoln Long Nine Museum.‘ National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. Prepared by John R. Ede, Oct 1, 2004

Strange History Brought to Light‘ and ‘…And His Face Was Chalky White’ by Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt, Life Magazine, Feb 15, 1963

Peoria, Illinois, In Search of Robert G. Ingersoll, Frederick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln, Part 3

A page from Ernest East’s Abraham Lincoln Sees Peoria, published in 1939, in the collection of the Local History Room, Peoria Public Library

Peoria, Illinois, July 28th, 2017, continued

From the 200 block of N Jefferson Ave between Hamilton Blvd and Fayette St, I zigzag my way south past Courtyard Square. According to Lewis Lehrman’s Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point, ‘Douglas and Lincoln probably stayed at Peoria House… at the corner of Adams and Hamilton Streets.’ Peoria House was a popular place for visitors to stay until it was destroyed by fire in 1896. According to Peoria Historical Society, it was replaced in 1908 by the grand Hotel Mayer, which, in turn, would burn down on 1963, when a drunken guest’s bedding caught fire and spread. The site is now occupied by a large Caterpillar office building.

Ernest East, however, writes in his Abraham Lincoln Sees Peoria that Lincoln definitely was a regular guest here. A contemporary newspaper report about one of these occasions, on March 27th, 1857, said ‘Hon. Abraham Lincoln is in our city and stopped at Peoria House. Mr L., it will borne in mind, is to be our next United States Senator. The people have decreed it–the next legislature will have only to ratify their nomination.’ The Peoria Republican proved overconfident, however. Though the Republicans won the popular vote, senators were then elected by the legislature, and due to some last minute political wrangling, Lincoln’s political sparring partner Stephen A. Douglas was awarded the office instead.

Mayer Hotel, 1907 to 1963, built at old Peoria House site at Adams and Hamilton, Peoria, Illinois

Lincoln had served one term in Congress, from 1848-1849. This was his highest office before being elected as President in 1860, almost twelve years later. As with my musings on my visit to Galesburg, Barack Obama comes to mind often when I think of the historical and political issues connected to Lincoln. After all, Obama’s presidency is, in some part, Lincoln’s legacy too. Obama was also elected President after serving as United States Senator, in his case serving seven years in Congress, as opposed to Lincoln’s less than two with a several year gap between. Nevertheless, I remember many people complaining that Obama was unqualified, with far too little political experience. I don’t remember ever hearing this about Lincoln, though I’m certain this was a big issue for many voters at the time. Lincoln did, however, have a good deal of experience in the state legislature, and like Obama after him, was very well educated in the law. The proof’s in the pudding, I suppose, and the leadership abilities that Lincoln demonstrated throughout his Presidency had made us forget, so many years later, that he was not a seasoned statesman when he entered that office. We have yet to see how Obama’s legacy will fare with the test of time beyond the historical importance of the fact that an African-American was elected to two terms as President. I believe it will hold up fairly well, despite the unremitting and I think, unpardonably nasty opposition to every single one of his policy objectives while he was in office. And Obama’s grace and dignity under fire are beyond reproach. He certainly kept to the moral high ground.

Presidents Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln

Many readers might object to my characterization of Obama’s presidency as in any way a part of Lincoln’s legacy. After all, wasn’t Lincoln a racist and only a reluctant abolitionist? I reply, yes, both of those things are true, but the story is much more complicated. It’s also true that Lincoln evolved over time, in his heart as well as in his mind, and the evidence shows he came to believe that abolition was not only politically the best thing to do, but also the only morally right thing to do. Remember that Frederick Douglass met him, personally, on multiple occasions when Lincoln was President, and he came away from each of those meetings convinced that Lincoln was personally free from racial prejudice. Douglass was not a man to be fooled: he was a longtime and fierce critic of Lincoln’s, both before and after these meetings.

And remember too, that for all his imperfections, Lincoln was the lead man in actually getting that crucial, terribly stressful job of legally abolishing slavery done, facing down the vehement opposition to it at great cost to his own physical and mental health. Obama also went through this sort of political and moral transformation. He had initially opposed legal marriage equality for gay couples based primarily on his own religious beliefs. Nevertheless, what he learned in the process of leading this diverse nation of free people was sufficient to change his mind. Obama eventually offered his strong public support for the right of gay people to marry. He also nominated progressive justices to the Supreme Court who were more likely to consider marriage equality cases as matters of equal protection rather than matters of tradition. Which they did in 2015’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which effectively legalized gay marriage, based on the grounds that denying it to gay couples violated 14th amendment guarantees of due process and equal protection. I hope that one day I’ll write about the first United States Presidency of a gay person being, in part, Obama’s legacy as well.

Caterpillar AB building at Adams and Hamilton, on the site of the old Peoria House and then the old Meyer Hotel in turn, opposite Courthouse Square in Peoria, Illinois. Abraham Lincoln stayed here many times, and Stephen A. Douglas may have stayed here as well.

Robert G. Ingersoll first moved here in 1857 as a young lawyer with his brother Ebon Clark Ingersoll, also a lawyer, who eventually became a congressman. They opened a law office at 4 Adams St ‘opposite the courthouse, on the second floor of a two-story frame house reached by an exterior staircase,’ according to his biographer Edward Garstin Smith. Today, the section of Adams St that’s across from Courthouse Square is entirely occupied by that huge Caterpillar office building, pictured above, that also covers the old Meyer Hotel site.

According to local historian Norman Kelly, the young Bob Ingersoll and about ten of his friends got themselves arrested in September of 1857, that first year. They had set a bonfire in the middle of Main Street, singing songs around it at two in the morning. Perhaps Ingersoll was just a little too excited about his new home! In any case, after they had sobered up, Ingersoll requested a trial where he would represent the whole bunch of carousers, including himself. He conquered the jury’s hearts and minds with his combination of impressive legal knowledge and droll humor, promising that he and his buddies would perform a rousing rendition of that same song for them if the jury would acquit… with the understanding that the acquittal would be in accordance with the evidence and the law, of course. An acquittal did follow, but the account doesn’t reveal whether the jury got their concert. I imagine they did.

According to a letter to his brother John in February of 1858, Ingersoll slept at the law offices and boarded at ‘the finest hotel in the city;’ Ebon and his wife lived elsewhere. So, for the most part, 5 Adams Street was Ingersoll’s first home in Peoria.

Caterpillar welcome center, at the southeast corner of Main and Washington, on the site of the Ingersoll law office from 1873-1875

I walk one block south and west and stop at the southeast corner of Main and Washington Streets, where Ingersoll moved his law practice in 1873, three years after his tenure as Attorney General of Illinois and before he moved his solo practice to his home in 1876. His office was on the second floor of the Second National Bank building, which became the Peoria National Bank. Ingersoll had spent the intervening years making a living on the lecture circuit, in which he was very successful, and campaigning for Republican candidates for office.

The Clinton House was built in 1837 as a two-story brick hotel at Adams and Fulton Streets. It was destroyed by fire in 1853, and Schipper and Block department store was built on the site in about 1879. The name was changed to Block & Kuhl in 1914. Local History and Genealogy Collection, Peoria Public Library, Peoria, Illinois

Adams and Fulton Sts detail, Insurance Maps of Peoria, Sanborn 1927, Local History and Geneology Room, Peoria Public Library

I double back on Main one block north, then head left on SW Adams another block. The old Clinton House used to stand at Fulton and Adams Streets. The conversation I had with Chris Farris at the Local History and Geneology Department earlier today led me to the white terra cotta glazed two-story department store building that used to be Newberry’s. Therefore, I take photos of that location. However, the more I dig, the more I discover that can’t be the site. A closer reading of the Abraham Lincoln Sees Peoria account of Lincoln’s visit to the Clinton House, and double-checking the 1927 Sanborn map against postcards of the Clinton House and the Block & Kuhl Department Store that was built on the site, reveal that the Block & Kuhl department store, and thus the Clinton House, stood on the other side of the street. The old Chase Bank Building stands there now.

Chase Bank Building, photo by Dave Zalaznik, use courtesy of Peoria Journal Star, Illinois

Former Chase Bank Building which stands at the former site of Clinton House and then the Block & Kuhl department store, photo by Dave Zalaznik, use courtesy of Peoria Journal Star

Aerial view of Adams and Fulton with the ‘The Big White Store’ Block & Kuhl, once Schipper & Block, now the site of the old Chase Bank Building and once the site of the old Clinton House, Peoria IL, Local History & Geneology Collection, Peoria Public Library

Selection from the Peoria Register and North-Western Gazetteer, February 15, 1840, p 3, Library of Congress

More digging for details of the Clinton House and Lincoln’s visit here uncovers a newspaper announcement of the re-opening of Clinton Hall to the public under John King’s management. The Peoria Register and North-Western Gazetteer published this on February 15th, 1840, but the announcement includes an earlier date: November 16, 1839. Therefore, King had already been running the house for nearly 3 months when Lincoln and 120 other men dined here on February 10, 1840. The dinner followed a rally for Whig presidential candidate William Henry Harrison on February 10th, 1840, at which Lincoln spoke.

Lincoln was a committed Whig before he joined the Republican Party, formed 14 years after the Harrison rally. As a Whig, he supported protectionist policies such as high tariffs on imported goods, intended to boost American wages and industry. Today, this sort of policy is more likely to be found on the Democratic side of the political aisle, but not always. Bernie Sanders’s platform, in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, included many protectionist policies, but our current Republican president Donal Trump has also advocated slapping high taxes on imports. I wonder what Lincoln would think now, given the additional economic evidence from the past 150-plus years. I don’t believe, myself, that protectionism helps labor in the long run, neither here nor abroad: it blocks access to goods that people need and want and keeps too many out of the work force. Such tariffs are based on the idea that the marketplace is a zero-sum game, like trying to make and share a pie when only one size tin is available. In reality, however, the more people who can and do participate in making the pie, there’s no market-imposed limits to the size. (There are ecological limits, but that’s another story.) It takes regulation, not tariffs, to ensure that a few greedy gobblers don’t keep others from enjoying the bounty too.

Robert Ingersoll as a Civil War commander, early 1860’s

I pass through the Fulton Street Plaza, where the street narrows to form a walking path through a small park between Adams St and Jefferson Ave, and head back along Main St.

There are three addresses on Main Street that I seek, but the given addresses don’t match the old atlases I have access to, nor are there specified landmarks except a mention of proximity to the Courthouse: 1) In 1861, Robert and Ebon Ingersoll moved their law office from the one they had opened at 4 Adams St in 1857 to 55 Main St, 2) In 1865, now a married man, a Civil War veteran, and a father of two, Ingersoll’s office moved again to 45 Main St when city attorney S.D. Puterbaugh joined the practice; Ebon had left in 1864 to enter Congress, where he would serve for 7 years, and 3) in 1868, Ingersoll moved the office to 46 Main St when he took on another law partner, Eugene McCune, the city prosecutor. I don’t have a story right now in connection with these particular locations, but I may as well share these facts since I’ve obtained them, in case they may be useful to another doing historical research.

Civic Center from N William Kumpf Blvd, near site of old AME Episcopal Church, Peoria, Illinois

Frederick Douglass, ca. 1870 (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

I make my way next to a site that used to be at Fifth and Monson, but both those streets have disappeared under the vast pavement of the Peoria Civic Center on N William Kumpf Blvd. Somewhere under all this asphalt and the sprawling concrete sports and events edifice used to stand the Ward Chapel African Methodist Church. Douglass spoke here in Peoria for the last time on February 7th, 1870 to this congregation and their guests. The address he delivered on that occasion is titled ‘Our Composite Nationality.’ The membership of all races in one great human family was among Douglass’ favorite themes, and this conviction drove Douglass’ work as a champion for many human rights causes: for the rights of Chinese and other foreign-born immigrants and citizens; for universal suffrage; for freedom of thought and religion; for improved conditions and wages for laboring people; for providing education to the disadvantaged; for just treatment of  Native Americans; for prosecuting lynchers; and for many, many more.

On this day Douglass said,

‘I am told there is objection to this mixing of races. We do not know what the original race was. It does not matter whether there was one Adam, a dozen Adams or 500 Adams. ‘A man’s a man for a’ that.’ [I love this inclusion of a line of Scottish poetry. I’m planning a series about Douglass here in Scotland while I’m living here for the next year.] I begin with manhood. Smiles and tears have no nationality. My two eyes tell me I have a right to see, my two hands, that I have a right to work. Almond eyes are not solely peculiar to the Chinaman. Hues of skin not confined to one race… I close, as I began, in hopes for the republic. Let us rejoice in a common sympathy a nd a common nationality supporting each other in peace and war, and to the security of a common country.’

Hear, hear, Mr. Douglass. We could really use you here today. Many carry on your fight for social justice but few with your power, eloquence, and wisdom. (And handsome face.)

Facing the northeast corner of Globe and Hamilton, former site of the Tabernacle, Peoria

The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, July 24, 1899, out of W. Virginia, from Chronicling America, Library of Congress

My last stop of the day is half a mile north on my way back to my hotel room, so I pick it up the car from where it’s parked near the Peoria Public Library, and drive uphill towards the big OSF Saint Francis Medical Center. When I arrive, I find a brand new parking lot and medical building at the northeast corner of Hamilton Blvd and Globe St, the UnityPoint Health Methodist Ambulatory Surgery building. It’s so new that Google Maps still shows nothing at the site but freshly leveled dirt and huge pipes ready to go into the ground.

This was the site of the Tabernacle, a huge octagonal multi-purpose structure built in 1894. A memorial service was held here for Ingersoll on July 24th, 1899 three days after his death. He was not buried in Peoria; he had moved to Washington D.C. in 1878, once again opening a law office with his brother, and then back to his native state of New York in 1885. His ashes were interred in Arlington National Cemetary since he was a Civil War veteran. But Ingersoll was among Peoria’s most famous and treasured adopted sons, having lived there for a little over 20 years. So, it was wise to hold his memorial service in such a large space.

Looking back at Peoria’s downtown skyline from this rise, I’m treated to a lovely view. What a nice location for the city to pay tribute to one of its beloved former citizens.

View of downtown Peoria from near the former site of the Tabernacle at Hamilton and Globe

One more thing: Lincoln spoke briefly but memorably once at the Main St Presbyterian Church in the summer of 1844. I dig and dig but have the hardest time locating the location of that church. There was a very tiny congregation of Presbyterians co-founded by Lincoln’s good friends Lucy and Moses Pettengill in 1834 who, by the way, ran an important stop on the Underground Railroad from their home on Liberty and Jefferson. This Presbyterian congregation split into two: New School and Old School. Each one moved and changed named multiple times, especially the second one, so I don’t ever succeed in obtaining a photo of the 1844 New School Main Street church which Lincoln spoke at. But I do find a description of the location in East’s biography: the church was ‘situated on the lot above the alley adjoining the present Alliance Life Company building.’ The then-present Alliance Life Company building is the now-present Commerce Bank building, which is my second stop of the afternoon in search of the site of Rouse’s Hall where Frederick Douglass spoke on at least three occasions. I find no map which shows the location of that old alley, but it’s somewhere near where that long low 1960’s concrete building is in the photo above.

Commerce Bank, once the Alliance Life Company Building, Peoria, Illinois

Lincoln’s speaking appearance was an impromptu one this time: he was in town for a court appearance when he was persuaded to debate Colonel William May. May was a lawyer and former Congressman who started out as a fellow Whig, switched to run for Congress as a Democrat, switched back again to support Whig William Henry Harrison, and was a Democrat again by the time Lincoln accepted this debate. Why Lincoln did, I don’t know. The terms of the debate were so circumscribed, including a ban on discussing May’s political career, that it doesn’t sound like an enticing opportunity to me, given the plentiful fodder that May’s checkered history would provide for a vigorous and entertaining exchange.

Apparently, Lincoln thought so too. May, who was also a respected debater, used the latter portion of his time to rip apart the Whig party, comparing it to a liberty pole that looked nice from the outside but had actually been weakly spliced together from disparate elements, with dry rot leaving a gaping hole in the center. After May had left that door wide open for him, Lincoln couldn’t help but walk through it. He stood up and responded ‘Why, Colonel, that is the hole you left when you crawled out of the Whig party.’ After Lincoln followed with the suggestion that the hole be filled up so May couldn’t crawl back in, the crowd started laughing and arguing, the Whigs delighted, the Democrats angry that Lincoln had violated the terms of the debate. He acknowledged the latter and apologized, I think insincerely, since he remarked that the opportunity was just too good to resist. The hubbub did not die down, and the debate meeting broke up.

See? I told you before that Lincoln was a funny man.

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

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Sources and inspiration:

Ballance, Charles. The History of Peoria, Illinois. Peoria: N.C. Nason, 1870.

Blassingame, J. (Ed.). The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. 4 volumes, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1979-1999

Carwardine, Richard. Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power. New York: Random House, 2003

Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995

Douglass, Frederick. The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, 1881.

East, Ernest E. Abraham Lincoln Sees Peoria: An Historical and Pictorial Record of Seventeen Visits from 1832 to 1858. Peoria, 1939

Garrett, Romeo B. Famous First Facts About Negroes. New York: Arno Press, 1972

Garrett, Romeo B. The Negro in Peoria, 1973 (manuscript is in the Peoria Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Collection)

Herndon, William H. and Jesse W. Weik. Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life. 1889

Hoffman, R. Joseph. ‘Robert Ingersoll: God and Man in Peoria‘. The Oxonian, Nov 13, 2011

Hubbell, John T., James W. Geary, and Jon L. Wakelyn. Biographical Dictionary of the Union: Northern Leaders of the Civil War. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995

Kelly. John. ‘Robert Ingersoll, the ‘Great Agnostic’.’ The Washington Post, Aug 11, 2012

Kelly, Norm. ‘Peoria’s Own Robert Ingersoll‘, Peoria Magazines website, Feb 2016

Leyland, Marilyn. ‘Frederick Douglass and Peoria’s Black History‘, Peoria Magazines website, Feb 2005

Lehrman, Lewis E. Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.

Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Illinois. Website, National Park Service

Peoria Register and North-Western Gazetteer, February 15, 1840, page 3. Library of Congress

Peoria Speech, October 16, 1854‘. Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Illinois website, National Park Service

Smith, Edward Garstin. The Life and Reminiscences of Robert G. Ingersoll. New York: The National Weekly Publishing Co, 1904

Wakefield, Elizabeth Ingersoll, ed. The Letters of Robert Ingersoll. New York: Philosophical Library, 1951

The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, W. Virginia, July 24th, 1899. From Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress

Peoria, Illinois, In Search of Robert G. Ingersoll, Frederick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln, Part 2

Etching of the old Peoria County Courthouse on a granite wall at the new one, Peoria, IL. It shows the portico from which Lincoln delivered his famed Peoria Speech of October 16th, 1854

Peoria, Illinois, July 28th, 2017, continued

~ Dedicated to Shannon Harrod Reyes

I leave the library and begin my afternoon’s site searches at the Peoria County Courthouse. Abraham Lincoln visited this courthouse many times over the years, on some occasions in his capacity as a lawyer and other times in association with his political career. There’s a statue of Lincoln here commemorating a particularly notable occasion: his delivery of a speech from the front portico of the old courthouse on October 16, 1854. This speech was composed and delivered in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, co-authored by Stephen A. Douglas. The Peoria Speech, as it’s now known, was part of a series that took place during that legislative election season where Douglas and Lincoln addressed and rebutted each other’s arguments, sometimes during the same event, sometimes separately. Their exchange would be revived four years later, notably in the series of seven formal debates of 1858. Douglas won that year’s Senate election with 54% of the vote, but Lincoln distinguished himself so well in that campaign season that he won the larger prize two years later. He was elected President in 1860, handily defeating his closest rival Douglas with a 10%+ lead.

The Peoria County Courthouse as it appears today, Peoria, Illinois

It was this 1854 speech delivered here in Peoria, however, that’s widely credited with first putting Lincoln on the political map in a big way. Lincoln had mostly withdrawn from politics, having served many years in the Illinois state legislature but only winning one term in higher office in 1846 in the United States House of Representatives. The furor over the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise and opened the door to the expansion of slavery, drove Lincoln back into politics, by his own account. He had always been rather reticent about the slavery issue, concerned that too much controversy over it would destabilize the country. The recent passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was only one of the many major events that revealed the controversy was unavoidable.

The Trial of John Brown by Horace Pippin, 1942 at the De Young Museum, San Francisco, CA. John Brown was one of those who led abolitionists into Kansas territory to combat pro-slavery advocates, and in the process, indiscriminately killed pro-slavery settlers. He led the unsuccessful raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859 and was executed for treason.

For one thing, Kansas-Nebraska Act’s underlying political doctrine of popular sovereignty, where the states could decide on the legalization of slavery themselves by vote, led to such extreme regional disputes as Bleeding Kansas. People flooded into the territory (Kansas was not yet a state) to push the vote one way or another through violence as well as numbers. Those on the pro-slavery side wanted to preserve the political power of the slave states and to be able to settle in Kansas with their slaves if they so chose. Those opposing slavery forces wanted to keep slavery out of Kansas as a matter of principle and, more often, to make it a place where people could make a new life for themselves without having to compete with slaves for jobs and with wealthy slave-plantation owners for land.

Secondly, while attractive to many from both sides at first glance, the principle of popular sovereignty revealed its weaknesses over time and proved deadly to Douglas’ political career. Abolitionists and other free state citizens did not want to abide by fugitive slave laws which required that free states return escaped slaves, and did not want to protect the right of visitors to own slaves within their borders. They saw this as an imposition of slavery into territories that abolished it. Slave states regarded the refusal to return escaped slaves as an attack on their property rights, and an unfair limit on their right to travel freely from state to state. Popular sovereignty turned out to harm, not help, the cause of preserving the Union.

Statue of Abraham Lincoln outside the Peoria County Courthouse commemorating his Oct 16, 1854 speech here

The Peoria speech was Lincoln’s second public delivery of his first detailed and straightforward denunciation of slavery on moral grounds. While the speech did not promote the national abolition of slavery, Lincoln made the historical case that Thomas Jefferson was a reluctant slave-owner caught up in a social institution that he abhorred, but like slave-owners of Lincoln’s day, he felt trapped in it. So, Jefferson hoped and planned for its gradual dissolution. He used his influence to make sure the Northwest Ordinances of 1787 and ’89 banned slavery in all new territories of the United States, shifting the balance of political power away from the slave states and towards those states whose prosperity resulted from the industry of free people. Lincoln argued that continuing to prevent the spread of slavery was the only way to realize Jefferson’s hope while doing what was politically possible to assuage the evils of slavery until it faded away. Though we, with Frederick Douglass, might be scornful of and impatient with Lincoln’s apparent have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too attitude towards slavery as a terrible moral evil but allowable in the South if it held the Union together, the speech contains the outline of the basic moral principles underlying Lincoln’s increasingly anti-slavery platform as his Presidency and the Civil War progressed.

The version of the Peoria speech that’s come down to us was transcribed by Lincoln himself for publication in Springfield’s Illinois Daily Journal, in seven issues on October 21, then the 23th-28th, 1854. This is lucky for us, as few transcripts of that series of exchanges between Douglas and Lincoln. Lincoln had delivered the first version of this speech in Springfield and had clarified and refined it, as well as making a few changes to tailor it to the Peoria crowd.

Commerce Bank at the approximate site of old Rouse’s Hall at Main St and Jefferson Ave, Peoria.

Frederick Douglass ambrotype, 1856, by an unknown photographer, image public domain via Wikimedia Commons. He spoke in Peoria in Rouse’s Hall about three years after this picture was taken.

Then I head to Jefferson and Main, to the site of Rouse’s Hall. Douglass lectured here on February 25th, 1859, and according to the Peoria Daily Transcript newspaper, his speech was so well received that Douglass decided to add a follow-up one a few days later. The Transcript reported that ‘appreciative and intelligent’ audience braved the weather in large numbers to hear this famous orator speak.

In the first speech, Douglass presented his argument that all human races had a common origin, supporting his views with ‘history, philosophy, and science’. He was not making a Darwinian case since On the Origin of Species would not be published until the fall of that same year. The Transcript also reported that the speech included an argument about slavery which ‘he had not yet exhausted,’ so presumably Douglass was presenting the larger case that since all human beings belong to a common natural family, there can be no claims of superiority that would justify one branch of this family to oppress another.

In their notice of the second speech scheduled for March 1st, the Transcript predicted that the crowd would be even larger, given the enthusiasm of the audience during the last one and the fact that this one was better advertised. They also confirmed that Douglass revealed the true ‘heinousness of Slavery’ by showing how black and white people belonged to the same human family, with the same ‘inherent faculties of the soul.’ Douglass, proclaimed the Transcript, was living proof that natural genius is to be found in all races in equal measure, and all it takes for the black race to achieve its potential is to improve those faculties is to enjoy equal access to all that culture has to offer. One of the ways for his fellow black citizens to do so, Douglass said, was self-improvement: since they were not given equal chances to improve themselves, they must take this chance into their own hands as far as possible until legal and social equality was achieved.

Writing about ‘Our Recent Western Tour’ in Douglass’ Monthly, published the next month of April, 1859, Douglass spoke optimistically of the future, based on the mostly warm welcome he and his fellow speakers had received during the tour. In years past, he had often been subject to humiliation and rude treatment by audience members and people of the towns he traveled to. This time, he wrote, they were usually treated with courtesy, respect, and friendship, and the number of committed abolitionists seemed to be ever-increasing. As Douglass wrote, ‘We think a Negro lecturer an excellent thermometer of the state of public opinion on the subject of slavery…’ Though he found the overall temperature warming, he still encountered some chill between-times, as the next story will reveal.

Rouse’s Hall, image courtesy of Peoria Public Library

Robert Ingersoll in 1868. This photo would have been taken around the time that Frederick Douglass would have called on him in Peoria, when Ingersoll was about 35 years old, a married father of two, and the Attorney General of Illinois.

This also happens to be one of my favorite stories about Ingersoll. It likely occurred during one of Frederick Douglass’ return visits here for a 1867 speech at Rouse’s Hall. This year is consistent with Douglass’ account: it must have happened in the late 1860’s since Douglass wrote it was ‘a dozen years ago or more’ in his final biography, 1881’s The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. For all of the Transcript’s glowing review of his speeches and the audience’s enthusiasm, Douglass recalled finding little welcome offstage here on his first visit, so he dreaded going back. Perhaps he wouldn’t even be able to find a hotel that would accommodate him at all! Douglass mentioned this to a friend who he was staying with in Elmwood, a previous stop on his speaking tour. This friend said to him, ‘I know a man in Peoria, should the hotels be closed against you there, who would gladly open his doors to you – a man who would receive you at any hour of the night, and in any weather, and that man is Robert J. Ingersoll.’ (He got the middle initial wrong.) Douglass expressed concern about disturbing his family and was glad he didn’t have to, since the ‘best hotel’ gave him a room. But he was intrigued his friend’s description of Ingersoll’s hospitable and unbiased personality, and about his ‘infidel’ views (quotes are Douglass’ own, presumably tongue in cheek. Douglass was a religious skeptic in many ways himself). So Douglass went to call on the Ingersoll family at home the nest morning. Douglass went on to describe the warmth of his welcome in fulsome terms, and to point out that this ‘infidel’ gave him a more Christian welcome than anyone who would define themselves that way ever had. His impression of Ingersoll’s face with its expression of ‘real living human sunshine’, I notice as I reread Douglass’ story, accords with the one I write in the first part of this account: ‘He has the face of a ready and kindly friend.’

In that March 6th, 1867 speech at Rouse’s Hall, Douglass spoke of the temperature dropping once again, The Civil War had ended just under two years before, and the North had not yet sorted out what they perceived as ‘the negro problem.’ Even many of the most ardent Abolitionists were not ready to accept black people as equal members of their own communities. Like Lincoln had for most of his life, they considered slavery wrong but didn’t think that black and white people were fully if at all compatible as friends, coworkers, fellow politicians, and so on; certainly not as romantic partners. And many still thought condescendingly of freed black people as some kind of amorphous mass of downtrodden creatures that should be humbly grateful for the new freedoms that were bestowed on them, and therefore not demand too much. Douglass, rightly, rejected this view. Black people had fought, and fought hard, for their own freedom, and those who fought with them, while brave and often motivated by sincerely held moral beliefs, were also acting in their own interests. The test of whether the emancipation of the black race was a true one, consistent with our American principles laid out in our founding documents, was to see how well the United States protected the rights of black people from there on out.

Parking lot where Robert Ingersoll’s mansion and then the National Hotel used to stand, at the north corner of Jefferson Ave and Hamilton St, kitty-corner from the Peoria County Courthouse

Period view of Robert Ingersoll’s grand house at Jefferson and Hamilton, image from the Robert Ingersoll Birthplace Museum webpage

In 1876, Robert Ingersoll took his law practice solo, and moved his office into his third and final Peoria home at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Hamilton Street. The Ingersoll family lived here until they returned to New York in 1877. All three locations of Ingersoll’s homes, by the way, are taken from Edward Garstin Smith’s The Life and Reminiscences of Robert G. Ingersoll. Smith provides street corners and some landmarks, but since he gives us no street numbers, doesn’t specify north, south, east, and west, and most of the landmarks have changed, I don’t always know just where to photograph. He does tell us that the National Hotel was later built on the site of this home, and Ingersoll’s ‘splendid mansion,’ a four-story affair, was ‘moved to the side of the lot’ of the hotel. Then, with further digging, I find an old postcard of the National Hotel site on the Local History and Genealogy Collection of the Peoria Public Library’s website. Once again, they come through admirably!

Peoria National Hotel postcard, pre-1911, courtesy of US Genealogy Express. This hotel was built on the site of the Ingersoll family’s third and final home in Peoria.

Another image of the New National Hotel at the former site of Robert G. Ingersoll’s home at the northeast corner of Jefferson & Hamilton. It was built 1883 and razed in 1970, having suffered a fire. It’s now a parking lot. Local History and Genealogy Collection, Peoria Public Library, Peoria, Illinois

Corner of Main and Jefferson, Peoria, IL, pre-WWI, Local History and Geneology Collection, Peoria Public Library, IL.

The first home of Ingersoll in Peoria, which he rented, was in the 100 block of North Jefferson Ave, between Main St and Hamilton Blvd., and at the time Smith wrote his biography of Ingersoll, the site was occupied by the YMCA building. This site would likely be across the street from the Courthouse square; it’s my understanding that no other buildings ever occupied the square, based on all the old photos and atlases I could find of Peoria. That would place it somewhere near the Rouse’s Hall site, perhaps to the north of it where the tall building next to Commerce Bank is now. (See the Commerce Bank at Main St and Jefferson Ave photo above.)

N Jefferson Ave between Hamilton & Fayette, Ingersoll's house stood about where the 1st building on left does now 2017 Amy Cools

N. Jefferson Ave between Hamilton and Fayette. Ingersoll’s second house in Peoria stood about where the first building on left does now

Ingersoll’s second home, which he also rented, was on North Jefferson Ave as well, on the 200 block between Hamilton and Fayette. It was still standing when Smith wrote his biography in 1904. This may be where Ingersoll lived when he met and married his wife, and perhaps where they lived when their daughters were born; Smith doesn’t provide a timeline for their moves between each house. Ingersoll married Eva Amelia Parker in February 1862, and his daughters Eva Robert Ingersoll and Maud Robert Ingersoll were born in 1863 and 1864, respectively. So he had already completed his time of service in the Civil War then he settled down to make a family with Eva.

As I’ve written before, Ingersoll was a dedicated family man. He spoke eloquently and movingly of the joys of family life. It was a home filled with love and mutual respect, by all accounts. No wonder Ingersoll’s face almost invariably looks so amiable and friendly in photos! There’s a card I discover among the digital archives from the Robert Ingersoll papers in the collection of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library which includes a photograph of Ingersoll cuddling two of his grandchildren over a poem he wrote titled, simply, ‘Love.’ I’ll leave you with this as I end this part of my account of my day in Peoria, and I’ll pick up the rest of the tale very soon….

Farrell, C. P., “Robert Ingersoll, Love,” Chronicling Illinois, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

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Sources and inspiration:

Blassingame, J. (Ed.). The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. 4 volumes, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1979-1999

Carwardine, Richard. Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power. New York: Random House, 2003

Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995

Douglass, Frederick. The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, 1881.

East, Ernest E. Abraham Lincoln Sees Peoria: An Historical and Pictorial Record of Seventeen Visits from 1832 to 1858. Peoria, 1939

Electoral history of Abraham Lincoln‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Foner, Philip S. The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Vol. II. New York: International Publishers, 1950.

Garrett, Romeo B. Famous First Facts About Negroes. New York: Arno Press, 1972

Garrett, Romeo B. The Negro in Peoria, 1973 (manuscript is in the Peoria Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Collection)

Herndon, William H. and Jesse W. Weik. Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life. 1889

Hoffman, R. Joseph. ‘Robert Ingersoll: God and Man in Peoria‘. The Oxonian, Nov 13, 2011

Insurance Maps of Peoria, Volume 1. Sanborn Map Company of New York, 1927. (Showing the street numbers before they changed in 1958)

Kelly, Norm. ‘The Hall That Rouse Built‘, Peoria Magazines website, Feb 2015

Kelly, Norm. ‘Peoria’s Own Robert Ingersoll‘, Peoria Magazines website, Feb 2016

Leyland, Marilyn. ‘Frederick Douglass and Peoria’s Black History‘, Peoria Magazines website, Feb 2005

Lehrman, Lewis E. Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.

Lincoln Draws the Line’, Peoria, IL – posted by KG1960 on Waymarking.com

Lincoln, Abraham. ‘Peoria Speech, October 16, 1854.’ via the National Park Service’s Lincoln Home National Historic Site website and ‘Abraham Lincoln’s speech at Peoria, Illinois: [Oct. 16, 1854] in reply to Senator Douglas‘. Seven numbers of the Illinois Daily Journal, Springfield, Oct. 21, 23-28, 1854. [Peoria, Ill.: E. J. Jacob]

Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Illinois. Website, National Park Service

MacMillan, Lois. ‘Close Reading: Speech at Peoria, October 16, 1854‘, published at Quora: Understanding Lincoln

Peck, Graham. ‘New Records of the Lincoln-Douglas Debate at the 1854 Illinois State Fair: The Missouri Republican and the Missouri Democrat‘. Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Volume 30, Issue 2, Summer 2009, pp. 25-80

Peoria Speech, October 16, 1854‘. Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Illinois website, National Park Service

Smith, Edward Garstin. The Life and Reminiscences of Robert G. Ingersoll. New York: The National Weekly Publishing Co, 1904

Wakefield, Elizabeth Ingersoll, ed. The Letters of Robert Ingersoll. New York: Philosophical Library, 1951

The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, W. Virginia, July 24th, 1899. From Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress

Peoria, Illinois, In Search of Robert G. Ingersoll, Frederick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln, Part 1

Abraham Lincoln portrait head, cast of Gutzon Borglum model for Mount Rushmore at Tower Park, Peoria Heights. Other versions of this sculpture are at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, the Lincoln Tomb, and the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

Peoria, Illinois, July 28th, 2017

I awake in a spotlessly clean, perfectly comfortable, aggressively unimaginative Motel 6 hotel room on the north end of Peoria, Illinois. I’ve noticed that Motel 6’s are much better than they used to be when I was a child and young adult, at least in terms of cleanliness and amenities. They were never glamorous, but they now have less character. For many years, for example, the beds sported these wonderfully colorful blankets printed with stylized images of famous cities and landscape features all over the United States. Now, the rooms and draperies are beige highlighted with rust-orange, furnished with the plainest of midcentury-style designs, angular objects only occasionally relieved by a sleek curve here and there.

My term for this sort of accommodation is ‘people storage’: strictly utilitarian, uninspired, and uninspiring. Perhaps that’s a good thing for my purposes: I fled the room as soon as I could to place myself in a more interesting environment. Still, I’m irritated as I so often am with modern architecture and interior design. Why have we stopped bothering to go on artistic flights of fancy, then directing the inspirations found there towards making these beautiful?

Abraham Lincoln portrait head near the Gold Star Memorial at Tower Park, Peoria Heights, IL

My first destination is a quick stop to see a bust of Abraham Lincoln at Tower Park in Peoria Heights, IL. It’s a cast bronze derived from a plaster model by sculptor Gutzon Borglum for his most famous work, the Mount Rushmore National Memorial sculpture in the Black Hills. Here, it’s mounted on a grooved stony concrete pedestal near a Gold Star Memorial dedicated to the families of slain soldiers. I’ll be visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield soon so I’ll see the original plaster cast there. More about this sculpture to follow.

Courthouse Square, Peoria, Illinois, ca. 1845. Peoria Public Library. Peoria would have looked like this for most of the years Lincoln visited. It had grown and changed quite a bit, however, by the time Robert Ingersoll moved here in 1857 and Frederick Douglass spoke here for the first time in 1859.

Lincoln was a regular visitor to Peoria, first visiting in 1832 to buy a canoe on the way home to New Salem from serving briefly as a captain the Black Hawk War (his election to this position by the men of his company was among the proudest moments of his life), and many more times throughout his legal and political career. His first campaign speech was also in Peoria, in 1840, during a Whig rally for Presidential candidate William Henry Harrison. There’s no record of what he said there that day, but many accounts of his early speeches describe a man initially hesitant and shy, whose eloquence increased as his confidence did. Peoria is the site of one of his greatest oratorical triumphs; I’ll tell the story once I reach the site where it occurred.

Plaque at the base of a flagpole dedicated to veterans in Glen Oak Park, Peoria, Illinois. Glen Oak Park is at the site of Camp Lyon, a Union recruitment and training camp for the Civil War

My second destination is pretty Glen Oak Park, lush with trees and large green lawns. I enter the park via the west entrance at Prospect Road and McClure Ave and park under the trees along the large oval central green. It’s hot and humid today, but there’s just a little breeze in addition to the plentiful shade, which helps a lot. There are two things that bring me here, both associated with the life of one man.

Robert G. Ingersoll, 1833 – 1899 was a colonel in the Civil War, a lawyer, a politician, and most famously, an orator. Born in Dresden, New York, he lived in Peoria from 1857-1877. Ingersoll was often called ‘The Great Agnostic’ for his trenchant and eloquent critiques of religion. He was also an abolitionist, women’s rights advocate, and promoter of the memory of Thomas Paine as a great American hero. Thomas Paine made a clear and eloquent case for the cause of American independence from Britain in his best-selling 1776 pamphlet Common Sense, then as the Revolutionary war struggled on, helped inspire patriotism and perseverance with his The American Crisis series. Paine’s once-stellar reputation suffered over time, especially after his publication of The Age of Reason, an attack on orthodox religion, and his vociferous criticism of diplomat Silas Deane and George Washington.

Ingersoll agreed with Paine’s criticism of Washington. He thought that Paine was right to be aggrieved with Washington’s decision to do nothing to deliver him from his captivity and sentence of death by the radical French Revolutionaries under Robespierre. After all, Paine was condemned for opposing the execution of King Louis XVI, who had been an ally of the American Revolution and who had provided invaluable aid to Washington in the war. Paine also criticized Washington’s support for the institution of a state church in Virginia, which, of course, Ingersoll would oppose as well. Ingersoll used his own eloquence to help rescue Paine’s memory from disrepute and reinstate him as one of the moral and intellectual founders of the United States of America. Lincoln shared Ingersoll’s enthusiasm for Paine: in his twenties, he wrote an essay defending Paine’s freethinking and his deism. Lincoln was a religious skeptic himself, a nonbeliever as a young man who became a non-denominational theist over time.

The only known image of Ingersoll addressing an audience, Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Note the Thomas Paine banner hanging above Ingersoll.

Lincoln held similar sentiments to Ingersoll about Paine. In his twenties, he wrote an essay defending Paine and his deism, which his friend burned so that it could never be found and published. Lincoln had political ambitions already, and his friend, probably correctly, predicted it could derail any run for office he might take. Then, as now, real or at least assumed religious belief is a prerequisite for a successful political career, despite our legal commitments to freedom of conscience and belief. Lincoln was a religious skeptic himself, a nonbeliever as a young man who became a non-denominational believer over time. God entered his writings and discourse ever more often throughout the years though tellingly, not so for Jesus Christ specifically. Lincoln preferred, for the most part, to keep the particulars of his religious beliefs private.

Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll in his uniform, early 1860’s

The West gate of Glen Oak Park is the approximate site of Camp Lyon, where Ingersoll was commissioned as colonel of Union Army in 1861 and where he raised his Union regiment. His first experience in battle was in the Battle of Shiloh, a particularly bloody engagement and a Union victory. He conducted himself well and was commended for his excellent service in many battles during the next year and a half. He resigned on June 30th, 1863; he had been captured then placed in charge of a camp of paroled prisoners who could not fight as a condition of their parole unless they were exchanged for Confederate prisoners. This system of conditional parole and prisoner exchange was common practice at the time, I’m guessing because it saved a lot of money and resources for both sides in feeding and housing prisoners. Ingersoll waited for months for an exchange to happen so he could return to active service, but this exchange never came. So, he went home. Ingersoll thought he could be more returning to his law practice and entering politics than continuing to wait around for something that might never happen.

While he was still in the field, Ingersoll wrote some very compelling, descriptive accounts of the battle, as did his fellow soldier who fought at the battle of Shiloh, Ambrose Bierce. Ingersoll’s contemporary accounts were in letters to his brother; Bierce’s account ‘What I Saw of Shiloh’ was written when he had become an experienced writer, published in 1881. If you haven’t read Bierce’s Shiloh account, I very, very highly recommend it. Bierce was a journalist and prolific writer in many genres. He’s also the author of The Devil’s Dictionary and many other wonderful and skeptical satirical works, I think sometimes on the level of as well as in the spirit of Voltaire. He was a great admirer of Ingersoll, as was poet Walt Whitman, who was also Ingersoll’s personal friend. I’ll return to Ingersoll and Whitman’s relationship in the next installment of my Ingersoll account. Bierce included Ingersoll in his delightfully irreverent poetic definition of the term Decalogue:

Thou shalt no God but me adore:
’Twere too expensive to have more.
No images nor idols make
For Robert Ingersoll to break.
Take not God’s name in vain; select
A time when it will have effect.
Work not on Sabbath days at all,
But go to see the teams play ball.
Honor thy parents. That creates
For life insurance lower rates.
Kill not, abet not those who kill;
Thou shalt not pay thy butcher’s bill.
Kiss not thy neighbor’s wife, unless
Thine own thy neighbor doth caress.
Don’t steal; thou’lt never thus compete
Successfully in business. Cheat.
Bear not false witness— that is low—
But “hear ’tis rumored so and so.”
Covet thou naught that thou hast not
By hook or crook, or somehow, got.

Robert Ingersoll statue in Glen Oak Park, Peoria, Illinois

Plaque on the sculpture of Robert G. Ingersoll at Glen Oak Park, Peoria, Illinois

I continue south and a little east through the park on winding paths and roads, past playgrounds, fields, and a lagoon. I’m headed toward the statue and monument to Ingersoll near the southernmost end of the park at Abington Street and Perry Avenue.

It’s a handsome statue, portraying Ingersoll in his maturer years as a portly man with a very round belly. As far as I could tell from photos, Ingersoll was never particularly slim, though he was more so when he was younger and I think when he was in his last year or so, based on facial portraits. His fleshiness gave him a very youthful look for most of his life, and I think a cheerful one. Especially then, being on the fatter side indicated that you led a happy life of plenty. The face of his statue, tilted slightly downwards, appears more serious than any photo I’ve seen of him in his later years. This, with his arms-akimbo stance, can at first glance seem an almost stern portrayal, as if he’s looking at you or something just beyond you reprovingly. But after studying the sculpture, I think it’s meant to convey Ingersoll in deep thought, perhaps walking back and forth with his hands on his hips as so many of us do when we’re working out some problem in our own minds, or when trying to recall some important fact or idea. Most photos of Ingersoll show him with a little smile on his lips, highlighted by his somewhat dimpled mouth and cheeks. He has the face of a ready and kindly friend.

Bradley & Rulofson, “Robert Green Ingersoll,” Chronicling Illinois, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

I drive next to Peoria Historical Society’s Flanagan House Museum at 942 NE Glen Oak Ave. I had emailed their office yesterday in hopes of making an appointment but haven’t heard back yet. My research revealed that they have a portrait of Ingersoll on display. Since it’s close enough to being on my way to my next destination, I swing by to see if someone happens to be around. No such luck.

I continue on to the Local History and Genealogy Collection at the Peoria Public Library, 107 NE Monroe street. There’s a manuscript there by Romeo B. Garrett called The Negro in Peoria, I believe the only or one of very, very few copies, in which I’m seeking more details than I have about Frederick Douglass’ visits to Peoria. This manuscript served as Garrett’s doctoral dissertation, I believe. Dr. Garrett was the first African-American professor at Bradley University.

The people who work in this collection are very helpful, particularly Chris Farris, who is there most of the time I am. I find nearly everything I’m seeking and more that I didn’t know to look for. Thank you, Chris, for all the help and interesting conversation! You’re the best.

I spend several fascinating hours here and discover much about Ingersoll, Lincoln, and Douglass in Peoria. My time in this city is a rich one, and I visit so many places linked to interesting stories that I’ll break this up into a two- or three-parter. The next will begin with the sites I visit once I leave the library. To be continued…

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

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Sources and inspiration:

Bierce, Ambrose. ‘What I Saw of Shiloh.’ 1881

Blassingame, J. (Ed.). The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. 4 volumes, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1979-1999

Burlingame, Michael. Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume 1. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, November 2012

Bust of Lincoln – Peoria Heights, IL – Abraham Lincoln‘, posted by NoLemon on Waymarking.com

Carwardine, Richard. Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power. New York: Random House, 2003

Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995

Douglass, Frederick. The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, 1881.

Garrett, Romeo B. The Negro in Peoria, 1973 (manuscript is in the Peoria Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Collection)

Herndon, William H. and Jesse W. Weik. Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life. 1889

History of Dr. Romeo B. Garrett.‘ Bradley University website.

Hoffman, R. Joseph. ‘Robert Ingersoll: God and Man in Peoria‘. The Oxonian, Nov 13, 2011

Jacoby, Susan. The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought. New Naven: Yale University Press, 2013.

Kelly, Norm. ‘Peoria’s Own Robert Ingersoll‘, Peoria Magazines website, Feb 2016

Leyland, Marilyn. ‘Frederick Douglass and Peoria’s Black History‘, Peoria Magazines website, Feb 2005

Lehrman, Lewis E. Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.

Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Illinois. Website, National Park Service

Mcmillan, Brad. ‘Lincoln’s Strong Ties to the Peoria Area‘, Peoria Magazines website, Feb 2012

Nelson, Craig. Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations. New York: Viking Penguin, 2006.

Peoria City‘ from Peoria County Atlas 1873, Illinois. Published by A. T. Andreas in 1873, posted in Historic Map Works

Peoria Speech, October 16, 1854‘. Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Illinois website, National Park Service

Robert Ingersoll Collection. From Chronicling Illinois, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

Robert Green Ingersoll Family Papers, 1854-1970 (bio)Chronicling Illinois, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

Simon, Paul. Lincoln’s Preparation for Greatness: The Illinois Legislative Years. University of Illinois Press, 1971

Smith, Edward Garstin. The Life and Reminiscences of Robert G. Ingersoll. New York: The National Weekly Publishing Co, 1904

Swaim, Don. ‘The Blasphemer Robert G. Ingersoll and Why He Mattered to Ambrose Bierce.’ 2012, Donswaim.com

Wakefield, Elizabeth Ingersoll, ed. The Letters of Robert Ingersoll. New York: Philosophical Library, 1951

The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, W. Virginia, July 24th, 1899. From Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress

Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois – Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas Debate

Knox College, George Davis Hall at E. South and S. Cherry Streets, Galesburg, Illinois

Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois, July 27, 2017

After exploring Fort Robinson for a couple of hours yesterday morning, I washed my face, changed my clothes, ate a hearty cooked breakfast in the restaurant in the main lodge, and drove east across Nebraska.

The drive was beautiful, vast blue-blue-blue skies with towering puffy clouds and occasional gray ones that blew through and dropped a little rain on the way. Rainbows faded in and out of view. The green and gold fields sometimes laid flat and sometimes rolled over gentle slopes and undulations. The road ran straight and wound among them accordingly. Tidy farmhouses were scattered across the land, and silos and grain elevators rose high near little town clusters, some full of quiet life on this warm summer afternoon, some nearly or entirely abandoned and decayed. I drove through the early evening until I decided I could no longer do without a nice shower and a proper bed. So I found a little hotel in Missouri Valley, Iowa and got a good night’s rest. I linger until nearly noon to finish writing up and publishing one of my pieces for this series.

Looking through the windshield on Highway 20, headed east through Nebraska farmland, 2017 Amy Cools

Lincoln Douglass debate plaques on Old Main, Knox College. The debate plaque on the bottom engages in a bit of romanticism: the words could not echo ‘from these walls’ since it was held outside. Perhaps they could have echoed from the outer east wall, but ‘blowing’ is the key word here: the chilly wind that day would have likely rendered any echo inaudible.

I continue east towards Peoria, and about an hour before I reach that city, I spot a highway sign for an Abraham Lincoln historical site in Galesburg, Illinois. I turn off the highway and follow the signs to Knox College.

Knox College was chartered in 1837 by the Illinois state legislature while Lincoln was a member. It was founded by New York minister George Washington Gale and a group of fellow idealists and reformers. They were, among other things, dedicated to training people in self-sufficiency and the practical arts, to opposing slavery, and to providing women with a full education. So the twenty-one-year-old college no doubt enthusiastically welcomed the rising young anti-slavery politician already widely known for his unique combination of eloquence and broad knowledge, and his awkward, homespun, frontier appearance. He was engaged in a series of seven debates with the well-dressed, polished, canny career politician Stephen A. Douglas, who Lincoln was hoping to replace as Illinois Senator in the 1859 election. (At this time, senators were still elected into office by the state legislatures rather than by popular vote.)

The fifth debate of the series was held here at Knox College on October 7, 1858, on the east lawn of the newly constructed Main building, now called Old Main. Plaques of Lincoln and Douglas are placed on the east wall of the Old Main to commemorate the event. This building, in fact, is the only remaining original building associated with these famous Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Old Main, Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois. The east lawn, where Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglass debated, is on the right side of this building, to the left looking at the photo. You can see the two tall plaques commemorating the debate on either side of the side door

Abraham Lincoln plaque on the east wall of Old Main, Knox College

Since it was a cold and blustery fall day, the debate was moved from an open lawn to a spot at the side of the Old Main building where the stage was sheltered from the wind; it couldn’t be moved inside because there were 10,000-20,000 people there, depending on which newspaper account you read. All agree that the audience was enormous.

Lincoln climbed through a window to reach the debate platform and as he did, he reportedly quipped ‘Well, at least I’ve gone through college.’ We tend to think of him as a somber man, ever dignified, ever noble in his comportment. He has attained such a mythical status as a moral leader and shepherd of our nation through our most severe national crisis, and his image in photographs, portraits, and sculpture are almost as invariably solemn, stately, unsmiling, his face often drawn with sorrow, as he appears in our collective imagination. But, he was actually quite playful and even goofy sometimes, a joker and teller of humorous, sometimes bawdy stories. If you’ve watched the excellent Steven Spielberg movie Lincoln, you’ve seen that delightful scene where he tells a naughty joke about a painting of George Washington and an outhouse. In case you want to know how the joke goes, well, I’m not going to tell you. Not because I mind telling naughty jokes (I love ’em!) but because if you’ve seen the film, you likely remember it, and if you haven’t, it’s high time you did, and I hope your curiosity becomes one more incentive to do so.

Lincoln-Douglas debate plaques on either side of the door in the east wall of Old Main, Knox College

As they debated here, one of the main points on which Douglas attacked Lincoln was his alleged sectionalism. He argued that the Republican party platform was all about appealing to extremist adherents to regional political doctrines that the Northerners subscribed to, but not the South. But he, Douglas claimed, was the true believer in a universal principle: popular sovereignty. The states and all new territories that were admitted to the Union should each vote on whether to allow slavery within their own borders. After all, wasn’t the United States founded on the idea that people had the right to govern themselves? And, it was sectionalists like Lincoln who were worsening the growing pains of our nation. The national debate over slavery was dividing the nation ever more sharply was new territories were added, and with each new addition, North and South worried anew over the resulting balance of power between free and slave slaves.

Stephen Douglas plaque on the east wall of Old Main, Knox College

Lincoln, however, turned this argument right back on Douglas. Lincoln argued that slavery was wrong while admitting that the Constitution allowed for it to continue in the South where it had already existed. He further argued that the law must be obeyed as it stood. But he also believed that some of the slave-owning founders of our nation, including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, as well all of the non-slave-owning founders, believed that slavery was a moral evil and hoped it would die out or be abolished over time. Lincoln pointed out unlike the founders, Douglas refused to take a moral stand on slavery; he insisted it should be a matter of popular sovereignty, up to the states to decide for themselves. In short, Douglas believed that sectional interests should decide the matter. Lincoln pressed Douglas on this point throughout the debates, especially at Knox: either slavery is right or it is wrong, and as such, it should not simply be up to local popular vote. After all, this was a moral matter about the human rights such as those enumerated in the Bill of Rights. It was not merely a practical matter of ‘domestic affairs’ as Douglas put it, such as apportioning funds for regional projects, administering local public institutions, or community policing.

Now, of course, we would press Lincoln today just as he pressed Douglas on this point: if slavery was as wrong as Lincoln said it was for the reasons he said it was, then it would be intolerable anywhere it existed. Lincoln, in this, was as inconsistent as he accused Douglas of being. Slavery consisted of the imprisonment of the innocent, rape, child abduction, forced labor, wage theft, torture, even murder: all incompatible with the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence. Now Lincoln knew this, and pointed out in an earlier speech, ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.’ Yet, very much a border state man of his time, it took him a long time to reconcile the complex socioeconomic issues surrounding slavery with the convictions of his reason and conscience. He may have been willing to allow slavery to continue if that’s what it took to preserve the Union, but as he himself more than hinted at, this would be futile anyway. Either slavery would dissolve away on its own, which the Missouri Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1954, and the Dred Scott decision of 1857 made appear a more distant and unlikely outcome than ever; or, it needed to be abolished. It would take Lincoln quite some time to fully evolve in the courage of his convictions and work to stop slavery everywhere it existed.

Abraham Lincoln’s walking stick, Mary Todd Lincoln’s gift to Frederick Douglass at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Washington, D.C. Lincoln and Douglass were often at odds on matters of policy but became friends and allies during the Civil War. Douglass was unsparing in both praise and criticism of Lincoln as he believed it was deserved. Lincoln had the integrity to not let this interfere with his cordial treatment of Douglass, including his warm welcome of Douglass at the reception following his second inauguration.

The argument that we should have allowed slavery to continue in the South in the expectation that it would gradually fade away on its own, to preserve the Union and avert the terrible and bloody Civil War, has always appeared to me at least extremely odd, if not morally repugnant. It especially disturbs me when I hear otherwise reasonable people make it, especially those who I otherwise admire and respect. After all, as I point out above and as I’ll repeat, slavery was imprisonment of the innocent, forced labor, destruction of families, and wage theft, and rife with rape, child abduction, torture, and murder, institutionalized with the blessing of the slave states. If slaveowners were kind to their slaves as far as the institution would allow, this rested entirely on their own good will. Even where laws existed to protect slaves from the worst abuses, such as murder, rape, and egregious physical punishment, enforcement of these laws were rare, and the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision effectively erased the right for wronged black people, free as well as slave, to take their cases to court. To drive this point home, Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote in his majority opinion that black people ‘had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.’ And slave families were necessarily torn apart on a regular basis since most slaveowners could not afford to maintain growing slave populations as they increased through childbirth. Would anyone seriously advocate, in any other case, that we should permit rape, and murder, and torture, and tearing children from their families, and systematic imprisonment of the innocent to continue unabated in order to avoid war? Aren’t these the very sort of things that the only wars we call just are fought to prevent?

Lincoln was awarded Knox College’s first honorary degree in 1860. Barack Obama was accorded that same honor in 2005, and I think Knox College’s progressive founders would be proud. Though Lincoln sometimes revealed that he had as many racial prejudices as a typical man of his time, opposing slavery but not believing that black and white people were fully equal or could live together in harmony, his thoughts and feelings in these matters this seemed to change. As the Civil War went on and he was forced to confront issues of race head-on, he demonstrated growth in his understanding of the evils not only of slavery but of racism generally. So much so, in fact, that when Frederick Douglass met Lincoln in person, he had a very positive impression of him, though Douglass had been his long-time, often severe critic. They still did not agree on many matters of policy, but Douglass was impressed with Lincoln’s courteous treatment of him and his apparent lack of interpersonal racial prejudice. So I think that Abraham Lincoln, after getting used to the idea and observing the proof that it was slavery, not biology, that created the cultural gulf between white and black people, would also be proud that Obama is a fellow honoree and a fellow president, and of his own contributions to making that possible.

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

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Sources and inspiration:

Carwardine, Richard. Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power. New York: Random House, 2003

Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995

Fifth Debate – Galesburg, October 7‘. History of the 1858 Debates: Lincoln-Douglas Debate Communities, from Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition website

Galesburg, Knox College, October 7, 1858.’ Mr. Lincoln and Freedom by The Lehrman Institute

Herndon, William H. and Jesse W. Weik. Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life. 1889

Holzer, Harold. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates: The First Complete, Unexpurgated Text. New York: Fordham University Press, 2004

Knox College & Lincoln‘ from Lincoln Studies Center: About Knox, Knox College website

Knox College Circular & Plan‘ from About Knox: Our History, Knox College website

Oakes, James. The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007

Scott V. Sandford | 1857‘. Landmark Cases: Historic Supreme Court Decisions, C-SPAN’s 12-part history series produced in cooperation with the National Constitution Center

Fort Robinson, Nebraska, in Search of Crazy Horse

Portrait of Crazy Horse, Tasunke Witko in Lakota, fresco on the interior wall of Wounded Knee museum, Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota

Fort Robinson, Nebraska, July 26th, 2017

I wake up at Fort Robinson, just a little ways east of the village of Harrison in northwest Nebraska. I drove here last night from Wounded Knee, which takes about one hour and forty-five minutes. I camped out in the backseat of the car, where I continue to keep my sleeping bag, camp pad, and coats ready to make a cozy nest, in a parking lot behind one of the museum’s lodges. It’s a soft pinkish-blue morning, a little warm with a cool breeze blowing. It rained a little last night and everything feels fresh and clean, except me. I’ll soon find a place to wash my face, brush my teeth, and change into clean clothes. But right now, all I want to do is stretch my legs, drink my little thermos of coffee, and go out exploring in this calm and lovely early summer morning.

I drive the car around the fort, getting a good look at the layout and buildings until I see what I seek: a historical marker near apparent early fort buildings from the eighteenth century. I park. The grounds are lovely and well-maintained, and so are the buildings, from these rough log structures to the tidy clapboard ones painted white and green to the large lodges, halls, and offices of brick, adobe, and stone. This fort was in use more or less constantly, from its founding as Camp Robinson in 1874 as a military security outpost for the second Red Cloud Agency, to its reassignment as a training ground and quartermaster remount depot, breeding, training, and caring for up to 12,000 mules and horses at any given time prior to and for the duration of World War II. It was the regimental headquarters for the two African American black regiments in the then-segregated U.S. Army, first the Ninth Cavalry, then the Tenth, from 1887 to 1907. From 1885 to 1916, in fact, most of the troops stationed here were black.

Buffalo Soldiers historical monument at Fort Robinson, Nebraska

Crazy Horse was among the most revered war leaders of the Oglala Lakota and their allies in the Great Sioux War of 1876-1877. He had long been successful at resisting white settlers’ and the U.S. Army’s attempts to force him onto a reservation or to adopt their ways. He was one of the bold young warriors who led a contingent of soldiers into an ambush near Fort Phil Kearny, Wyoming. This 1866 engagement, called the Fight of the Hundred in the Hand by the Lakota and the Fetterman Fight by the United States, was the worst defeat of the U.S. Army by Native Americans until the Battle of the Little Bighorn ten years later. 81 U.S. troops from Fort Phil Kearny and a few civilians lost their lives here. This battle was the culmination of a series of skirmishes and raids on unwelcome white settlers and forts such as this one set up to protect them.

Fort Robinson historical sign and reconstructed buildings from the 1870’s

For a long time previously, white and Native American people traded with one another and enjoyed mostly good relations on the Great Plains. However, settlers began flooding in in ever great numbers, disrupting buffalo migrations, depleting game, clearing timber, and putting up fences. At a certain point, the white presence came to be seen as a menace to the way of life that Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and those who followed them believed was divinely and wisely arranged. Why resort to grubbing in the soil and putting up fences when Wakan Tanka, the Creator or Great Spirit, had given the people such rich herds of game, which, together with the rich stands of timber and plentiful flowing water, provided all the nourishment, clothing, and shelter one could need, on vast swaths of beautiful land where the people could roam as freely as the animals? The Bozeman Trail, which cut across this good land, was a major route for these white settlers and for a time, they passed through it mostly unmolested. But when the trickle became a flood, the situation changed from a matter of hospitality and mutual benefit to one of survival. Would any reasonable person continue to welcome guests once they’ve begun to ransack their home, raid their fridge, take their most prized possessions to sell, and block their passage from room to room?

Reconstruction of the old guardhouse with marker for Crazy Horse’s death, Fort Robinson

Crazy Horse was having none of it. Like Sitting Bull, he distrusted white people and disdained their way of life. It seemed stunted to him, caged, lacking soul and nobility. Unlike Sitting Bull, he made no concessions to white ways until forced to do so for the survival of his band; even then, he did the absolute minimum necessary. We don’t know what he looked like since he refused to have his picture taken; he was unimpressed with most white-made goods and would accept no bribes; he absolutely refused to visit Washington, D.C. as his fellow great chiefs had done because, as he observed, the experience changed them. They were dazzled and bewitched by what they saw, so they lost their independent spirit, their sense of who they were.

Red Cloud at Red Cloud Agency near Fort Robinson

Perhaps this touched a nerve: Red Cloud and Spotted Tail, two chiefs who had once been among the greatest warrior defenders of the Lakota ways but who had adopted many white ways, grew jealous of the power and influence Crazy Horse enjoyed because of his steadfast independence. They remained great leaders of their people and had come to believe that the best way to preserve the lives of their people while preserving as much of their culture as they could was to work with the U.S. government. Nevertheless, it was a hard decision to make, and I’m sure they did so with a great degree of ambivalence. So, Crazy Horse’s recalcitrance must have been that much harder to take. They treated him with suspicion and took the U.S. Army’s side against him. Even his great friend who had fought at his side at the Little Bighorn, Little Big Man, had switched loyalties. He had visited Washington, too. He was one of those that assisted in the attempt to confine Crazy Horse the day he was killed.

Crazy Horse wasn’t only an independent spirit when it came to white ways. He was very unusual within Oglala Lakota society. He was a reserved man in a gregarious culture; he dressed simply at all times, when warbonnets, elaborate jewelry, and other showy regalia were the usual garb of warriors in battle; he didn’t scalp the enemies he killed; he didn’t take a wife until he was in his thirties when most of his fellows had started a family by age twenty; though he fought bravely and ferociously, he was also methodical in battle, planning his moves carefully and stopping to shoot accurately when a whirlwind, showy style of fighting was more customary; he spoke little of his own exploits when tales of personal heroism were the usual topic of conversation after a good fight. But his fame grew because the daring and magnificence of his exploits made him an irresistible topic of conversation for others.

The Fetterman fight and the Battle of the Little Bighorn were spectacular victories for Crazy Horse and his warriors, but he would never again enjoy that level of success in battle against the white invaders. His last fight with the U.S. Army was at the Battle of Wolf Mountains, which began when the soldiers attacked his band in the dead of winter.  Much of the fighting, in fact, occurred during a blizzard. The army decided to end the fighting, once and for all, to make an additional show of invincible strength by showing that they were willing and able to pursue the war even in the most extreme weather. The fighting was fierce and, though there was no decisive winner, the Lakota and Cheyenne’s losses were heavy. The camp, too, was suffering greatly from hunger and the intense cold. Crazy Horse was defeated, finally, not in battle, but by observing the suffering of his people. He, like so many great chiefs before him, surrendered so that his people, if they could not enjoy liberty, could at least survive.

Stones placed in formation near the Crazy Horse Monument and guardhouse. It appears to be an unfinished memorial: when doing research for this piece, I found an article from 2015 which discussed plans for a new memorial for Crazy Horse and his entire band, 899 lovers of freedom who were forced to surrender here in 1877. The outer stones to mark four cardinal directions are in place, though they are not the massive ones described in the article, and the central stone has another smaller one beside it for offerings. The concrete walkways and large plaques containing the names of the people are not in place. Perhaps this simplified version was put in place as the often long, tedious, sometimes indefinite fundraising efforts for the more elaborate one continue.

Crazy Horse led his people to the Red Cloud Agency next to Fort Robinson and surrendered there on May 5th, 1877. For the next few months, rumor, gossip, accusations, negotiations, and whispers of plot and conspiracy whirled while Crazy Horse retreated ever further into himself. He was a man of action, not words, and he was impatient with all this hubbub. He had lost his only child, his beloved daughter They Are Afraid Of Her, about four years before, and her mother, his wife Black Shawl, was suffering from tuberculosis. He wanted nothing to be left alone as much as possible so long as he could not fight nor be free. But the rumors that Crazy Horse was plotting to assassinate General George Crook and start another war intensified, and Crook was determined to have him arrested, even assassinated if need be. Later inquiries showed that the rumors were unfounded, that there was no evidence that Crazy Horse planned to do otherwise than keep his word not to fight the whites anymore. Jealousy, infighting, betrayal, and poor translations, both accidental and deliberate, all contributed to the drama.

Left: Adjutant’s office, where Crazy Horse died, to the left of the guardhouse where he was stabbed; all of these buildings are reconstructions based on written records, photographs, and archaeological evidence. So you can see the actual distance between the adjutant’s office from which Crazy Horse walked to the guardhouse. Right: interior of the adjutant’s office with informational sign

The rumors got so bad that Crazy Horse feared that he would be executed or, worse, arrested and removed to some distant land of the whites away from his people, so on September 4th, 1877, he wrapped up his sick wife, and he and a few friends fled to his old friend Spotted Tail’s agency about forty miles east. He sought protection and advice as to what the whites were thinking, and he didn’t think this would betray his promise, of surrender. After all, he was going to an agency. Nevertheless, Lieutenant Jesse M. Lee was ordered to retrieve Crazy Horse, and he escorted him back to Fort Robinson the next morning. They went first to the adjutant’s office.

Stone monument, dedicated in 1934, near the site where Crazy Horse was bayoneted. I placed this little spray of sage here, picked in Deep Ravine at the Little Bighorn Battlefield from which Crazy Horse led his charge to split Custer’s forces. This maneuver was key to the successful outcome of the at battle. You can see that the morning breeze is about to waft the sprig away

Crazy Horse understood that he was to have a chance to talk things over with U.S. Army officials and clear things up. Lee was pretty sure of his innocence regarding all those rumors of plots, conspiracies, and warmongering, and promised Crazy Horse an interview with the white authorities which he didn’t have the authority to arrange. Lee hoped he could persuade the higher-ups to talk to Crazy Horse before deciding his fate, but it was not to be. Unequivocal orders came down for Crazy Horse’s immediate arrest instead. When Crazy Horse was led from the adjutant’s office into the guardhouse, he showed no sign of resistance, walking hand in hand with the captain. But when he stepped in the door, he saw the bars of the prison, and he realized this was a trap: there would be no talks, only imprisonment and then, who knows? So Crazy Horse pushed himself out the door, and as soldiers and his old friend Little Big Man tried to restrain him, he pulled out his knife and slashed Little Big Man’s arm. Another soldier near the guardhouse lowered his bayonet at the ready, and when the opportunity came, he lunged and stabbed. The blade pierced Crazy Horse’ side and into his kidney, and he fell.

After some controversy over what to do (put Crazy Horse in prison as he was, now in his death struggle? Leave him lying where he was as his friends began to hear the news and gather in anger?), he was carried back to the adjutant’s office on the red blanket he had been wearing. He refused the white man’s cot offered to him and asked to be placed on the floor instead. Crazy Horse was given morphine to ease his intense pain and he died, after lingering for long and painful hours, in the presence of his father and stepfather. He spoke forgiving words for most involved with his death except Little Big Man, who had, it seemed, not only betrayed Crazy Horse but all of his people.

Working model at the Visitor Center for the Crazy Horse Memorial, Black Hills, South Dakota. When asked once where his lands were now that the Lakota were being driven out, Crazy Horse answered, ‘My lands are where my dead lie buried’.

Crazy Horse has become one of the most widely revered Native Americans in history, if not the most. Many recognize similarities in the life and death story of Jesus Christ to that of Crazy Horse: each was called by the supernatural to be a deliverer of his people, each beheld visions and went out to the wilderness to seek them; each was warned by the supernatural of the nature and manner of death but boldly continued his mission nonetheless; each refused to be tempted away from his purpose by a vision of earthly reward and the sight of a glorious city; each was a loner and dreamer but also a charismatic leader; each called on his people to eschew a life of promised ease and comfort to follow him on a harder road; each preferred simplicity in dress and humility in comportment; each died, falsely accused and betrayed by a friend, with a stab wound in his side. These themes resonate in our American culture generally, in which Christianity plays such a significant formative role. There are so many great Native Americans that we remember and admire but perhaps Crazy Horse remains preeminent in our collective memory for these perceived Christlike qualities. In a strictly historical sense, these similarities are exaggerated and perhaps unwarranted, but in a cultural and spiritual sense, they stand out to us because of their resonance with our most cherished beliefs and values. Native American communities too, many of whom have adopted Christianity and especially those doctrines which echo their traditional faith, perceive Crazy Horse as everything from a stalwart warrior to a messianic figure, a great symbol of hope, deliverance, traditional virtue, and spiritual renewal for their beleaguered peoples.

Crazy Horse Memorial in progress, Black Hills, South Dakota

One last thing: three days ago, I climbed Black Elk Peak in the Black Hills, South Dakota. Sylvan Lake is nearby, and I had stopped there at a lakeside hotel to seek recommendations for the best hike to the top. One of the routes departs from the short of Sylvan Lake, but not the longer, more scenic one which I had chosen. As a teen, Crazy Horse went to Sylvan Lake with his father on a vision quest, one of the most important in his life, in which he was instructed how to paint his body with hailstones and his face with lightning for battle; to dress simply and wear his hair flowing down; to take no scalps; and generally to live a life of bravery and modest virtue. I wanted to find the exact place he went, but it would take a level of meticulous research and mapping that I had run out of time to do before I left. When I return to the Black Hills, I will make a point of seeking out that place.

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Sources and inspiration:

Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1970

Buecker, Thomas R. ‘Final Days of Crazy Horse,’ Friends Of The Little Bighorn Battlefield website

Connell, Evan S. Son of the Morning Star. London: Macmillan, 1984

Cozzens, Peter. The Earth is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West. New York: Knopf, 2016

Crazy Horse.’ In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Fort Robinson and Red Cloud Agency National Historic Landmark Nomination for the National Register of Historic Places. Prepared by Steven Lissandrello and Sarah J. Pearce, Historic Sites Survey, National Park Service / Rocky Mountain Region National Park Service, Sep 27, 1976/Jul 20, 1983

Fort Robinson History‘. Nebraska State Historical Society website

Jackson, Joe. Black Elk: The Life of an American Visionary. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016

Marquis, Thomas Bailey. Wooden Leg: A Warrior Who Fought Custer, 1931

Marshall, Joseph III. The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History. New York: Viking, 2004

Neihardt, John G. Black Elk Speaks, 1932

Pearson, Jeffey V. ‘Nelson A. Miles, Crazy Horse, and the Battle of Wolf Mountains‘. From Montana, The Magazine of Western History, 51 (Winter 2001), 53-67; presented courtesy of the Montana Historical Society

Powers, Thomas. The Killing Of Crazy Horse. New York: Knopf, 2010

Rose, Christina. ‘Native History: Crazy Horse Fights Final Battle,’ Indian Country Today, Jan 8, 2014

Rose, Christina. ‘New Fort Robinson Memorial Will Honor Crazy Horse and His Band,’ Indian Country Today, Jul 27, 2015

Schubert, Frank “Mickey”. ‘Fort Robinson, Nebraska (1874-1916)‘ Black Past website

Sites and Structures Maintained by the Nebraska State Historical Society‘. Nebraska State Historical Society website