New Salem, in Search of Abraham Lincoln

Statue of Abraham Lincoln as surveyor at New Salem, Illinois

New Salem, Sunday, July 31st, 2017

From the Michael J. Howlett building in downtown Springfield (part of which stands on the site of the Ninian Edwards house where Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln were married and where Mary died), I head northwest on highway 97 to New Salem Historic Park. This is the site of New Salem, the small frontier commercial village which played no small role in Lincoln’s life as a young man striking out on his own. It’s a pleasant drive through farmland with homes and farm buildings and gas stations and tiny general stores scattered here and there. In a little under half an hour, I reach a wooded area, and soon after that, take the turnout to my left to New Salem. I stop for a snack at the little cafe offering a modest selection of hot dogs, nachos, sandwiches, and other things that take the edge off but don’t suffice as a meal. The park’s visitor center buildings are all closed because the air conditioning system isn’t working. I don’t blame them at all for not opening up: it feels very much like a summer day in the Midwest, hot and humid, and I imagine a full day indoors would get stuffy and miserable. But the park itself is open to roam, so I do.

I find that some of the volunteer interpreters are not deterred today by the heat or the lack of an air-conditioned space to retreat to. Two men in early-to-mid 19th-century costume roam the park under shady, battered straw hats, recounting the history of New Salem and anecdotes from Lincoln’s life here. Some kind soul(s) placed large coolers here and there filled with ice water as well. It’s a lovely place to wander, and I take my time exploring. Though I visit all of them, there are so many structures that I’ll just show and tell of the ones that have some connection to Lincoln. The park contains 22 reconstructed and one original building from the New Salem of Lincoln’s time. The reconstructions are based on the findings from archaeological digs, on descriptions of the town from former residents, and on other representations of buildings, furniture, and tools from the same time period. Most of the buildings, as far as could be determined, are built on or near the original foundations. Many of the furnishings, equipment, dishes, and more are from that time period, too, collected locally.

Lincoln’s first sight of New Salem was from the Sangamon River, which powered the little town’s gristmill and sawmill. On that day in April 1831, to be more precise, he was in the river: barefoot, hatless, and soaked to the skin, working frantically to dislodge Denton Offutt’s flatboat from where it had gotten stuck going over the dam. Lincoln had helped build the flatboat whose cargo of bacon and grain, en route to New Orleans, was in danger of going overboard. His efforts to save the boat and cargo succeeded, and Offutt, impressed and relieved, offered Lincoln the management of the new general store he planned to build for New Salem. It took Offutt longer the get the store up and running than he planned, but eventually, it did open in September of that same year, and Lincoln did run it after all.

Henry Onstot’s cabin, right, and cooper shop, left, New Salem, Illinois. The cooper shop is the only original building from New Salem; the rest have been reconstructed

Interior of the Onstot cooper shop where Lincoln would retreat and light a fire to read by.

Henry Onstot, whose house is the first I visit, was the area cooper, maker of barrels and other implements that required the same wood-steaming and bending techniques. His cooper’s shop next door is the only original building that still stands in New Salem. After the village was abandoned in 1840, Onstat moved his business, building and all, to nearby Petersburg. The building was returned to New Salem in 1922, not long after the park was opened to the public by the State of Illinois. Sixteen years earlier, in 1906, William Randolph Hearst purchased the site and surrounding lands and donated it to the Old Salem Chautauqua Association, who had invited him to speak and had sparked his interest in the site and its history. (Chautauqua is an adult education movement founded in the 1870’s, named for the New York lake near which the first meeting was held.) The Association, in turn, donated it to the state. This building is the only thing on this site that Lincoln was sure to have touched. William Herndon, Lincoln’s future law partner and biographer, tells us that Lincoln frequently would retreat to the cooper shop to read by the light of the fire he’d build using the leftover barrel-making materials.

The Trent brothers’ residence behind Henry Onstot’s house and cooper shop, New Salem, Illinois. Alexander Trent served with Lincoln in the Black Hawk War in 1832, and the next year, he and his brother Martin took over the Lincoln-Berry store.

A view of Lincoln’s New Salem, Illinois

The doorway to Jack Kelso’s place, New Salem, Illinois

I visit the Trent brothers’ house next, then the Kelso-Miller house. The Kelso-Miller house is a sort of duplex sometimes called a ‘dogtrot house’. The front doors face one another across an unwalled roofed and floored passage between the two halves. Jack Kelso, who New Salem historian Benjamin Platt Thomas describes as ‘a lazy dreamer’ and ‘the village philosopher,’ was a hunter, trapper, fisher, and odd-jobber. He loved Shakespeare and Robert Burns and could recite from them at length, to the surprise and delight of many. Lincoln became a lifelong fan of both.

Especially during his early years here, Lincoln, who never owned a house in New Salem, would board with them. It amazes me that Kelso and his wife could host Lincoln: the tiny size of this place makes it difficult to imagine that it could hold three cooking, eating, sleeping people, especially given the girth of Kelso and the height of Lincoln.

The interior of Jack Kelso’s residence; there’s not much more of this one-room house than what you can see here. Can you imagine three adults staying in this tiny place?

Kelso-Miller building, New Salem, Illinois. The Kelsos’ place is to the left, the Millers’ is to the right. Miller’s blacksmith shop can be seen at the far right and in the two photos to follow

Joshua Miller was the village blacksmith and wagon-builder. His wife and Kelso’s were sisters. Unlike Kelso, Miller was not a bit lazy. His skills were in high demand in the growing village so he was kept constantly busy. Now that Miller was here, the villages’ horses could remain properly shod; the doors and windows could have metal fittings instead of wood ones; plenty of wagons would have been needed to carry grain to and from the gristmill, and would require regular maintenance and repair as well.

Exterior (left) and interior (right) of Joshua Miller’s blacksmith shop, New Salem

Interior of Mentor Graham’s schoolhouse. It also served as a church on Sundays.

Nxt, I visit the schoolhouse. Mentor Graham, the schoolmaster, was among those impressed by Lincoln’s ability, attentiveness to detail, and friendly concern for his neighbors and customers. According to New Salem historian Thomas, Graham assisted him in his continuing self-education, finding him a ready, apt, and diligent student. He helped Lincoln learn surveying as well, often working with Lincoln late into the night doing and checking calculations. Yet another biographer, Michael Burlingame, disputes the story that Graham was much of a help to Lincoln educationally, despite Graham’s and Lincoln’s friend Robert Rutledge’s claims. According to many of his former pupils, Graham had very poor math skills and was, in fact, a poor teacher overall. He had barely passed his teaching certification exams. Lincoln and Graham must have gotten along well enough, in any case: Lincoln boarded with his family for six months. If Graham’s former pupils spoke the truth, however, Lincoln likely mastered the skill of surveying on his own.

Mentor Graham’s schoolhouse, exterior view. It was originally located about a half mile southwest of the site of this reproduction.

A reproduction of the house of Isaac Guliher, or Golliher

First location of the Berry-Lincoln store in New Salem, from late 1832 to January 1833

Next, I stop by the house of Isaac Guliher or Golliher, variously spelled in my sources. His only significance in this account is that he also served with Lincoln in the Black Hawk War, one of the little troop that’s described in Thomas’ history of New Salem as “…a hard-looking set of men, unkempt and unshaved” who “made war on the pigs and chickens,” and one of whom replied “go to the devil” when Lincoln gave his first command. Though Lincoln was very proud of being elected their captain, it sounds as if would have been a tough job.

Two buildings past the house of Isaac Guliher stands a little pointy-roofed shop. The Berry-Lincoln store building, the first of its two locations, looks very like most of the other buildings here, sturdy but modest, strictly utilitarian with its rough-hewn log structure, pointed shake roof, and small door and windows. In 1832, Lincoln entered into partnership with William Berry, buying out James and J. Rowan Herndon’s share of the general store. Lincoln, as usual, was broke. The modest compensation he received for his service in the Black Hawk War that spring and early summer wouldn’t go far. He paid his share with a promissory note, as he did for his share of the stock he and Berry purchased from a defunct local store. The store was never very busy so Lincoln read quite a bit. In his New Salem years, he mostly read Shakespeare, Burns, and the Bible, as well as law books, Kirkham’s Grammar, and other practical books. Other than poetry and Shakespeare, he didn’t read much literature, in which he had little interest.

The store limped along and, to save it, Berry decided to apply for a license to sell liquor in small quantities, which made it effectively a tavern as well. This didn’t suit Lincoln, who didn’t drink and saw the ill effects on those who did. He released his interest in the store in April of 1833. Once again, Lincoln was broke, and this time, in debt. He became an odd-jobber again like his friend Kelso, but not a lazy one. He split rails, worked on the farms, in the mill, and tended Sam Hill’s store, and when he got the chance, took any jobs he could get relating to voting, politics, and the law. In May, thanks to one of his very numerous friends, he was appointed to the job of village postmaster. It paid poorly but it was a social job, suitable for this friendly and often gregarious young man, and it gave him access to all the newspapers coming through the post. Since it was only a part-time job, this again gave him some time to read and study, though his odd-jobbing continued. A friend had recommended he try for the job of assistant to the newly appointed county surveyor John Calhoun. That job, coupled with his postmaster’s salary, should give him enough to live on. So he borrowed Calhoun’s books and learned surveying, took the job, and from January 1834 to late 1836, he made a success of it. But when his debts began to come due from the failed partnership with Berry and other speculations, what he was earning turned out, yet again, not to be nearly enough.

Berry-Lincoln store, interior view, New Salem, Illinois

Lincoln the Ranger by Fred M. Torrey, portraying Lincoln as a soldier in the Black Hawk War, at the Lincoln Tomb, Springfield, Illinois

When it the time to elect state legislators began to come around in 1834, Lincoln’s friends encouraged him to run again. He first ran for that office in 1832, and his platform had included state investment in making the Sangamon River more navigable instead of putting in a much more expensive railroad line. He knew the river well, having been a flatboat pilot on it, and he knew just where it needed to be straightened, cleared, and dammed to get the goods flowing cheaply and easily to market. He also promoted public education, the lack thereof which had caused him so much frustration, and limits on predatory lending practices. Lincoln didn’t win the race, but made a respectable showing for a very young man of no means who had only been there about a year. In 1834, however, things were different. He had been a local businessman and postmaster, and his education and circle of friends had both increased. Among those who most encouraged Lincoln to run again was the justice of the peace Bowling Green.

So run he did, and he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives on August 4th, 1834. Lincoln would be reelected to that office four times, serving as state legislator from 1834-1842.

During his 1834 run for office, Lincoln would develop his interest and education in the law. John Todd Stuart, who served with Lincoln in the Black Hawk War, also ran for state legislature in 1832 and won. He would eventually become Lincoln’s first law partner, took an active interest in his prospects and loaned him his law books. Lincoln’s friend and mentor Bowling Green (what a name!) also recognized that Lincoln’s sharp mind took right to his legal studies. As justice of the peace, Green allowed Lincoln to comment on his court cases, which in turn led to many turning to Lincoln for advice and assistance drafting legal documents.

Rutledge Tavern, New Salem, Illinois, 2017

Rutledge Tavern kitchen

Almost three-quarters of the way down the main street, I take the right turn to that leads to the Rutledge Tavern. Its proprietor, James Rutledge, was one of the founders of New Salem in 1828. Rutledge was one of those who encouraged Lincoln to run for state legislator. This one and a half-story structure first served as the Rutledges’ home, but when the town began to grow, it was converted into a tavern or inn, with a low sleeping area overhead and a public dining room. This was one of the places where Lincoln regularly lodged and ate his meals.

In his biography of Lincoln, Herndon made much of a story that Ann Rutledge, James Rutledge’s daughter, was not only the first, but also the true love of Lincoln’s life. They certainly would have seen each other frequently, and as a petite, pretty, and plump young woman, she likely would have caught his eye (all of the women Lincoln is known to have courted or loved were curvy). Ann died in 1835, probably of typhoid, when she was only 22 years old; Abraham was 26. There are many stories of a courtship between Ann and Abraham, and of a tentative engagement contingent on an earlier beau’s reneging on his own promise. Some of the stories of their love affair claim that Lincoln wept by her deathbed, others that Lincoln was so distraught after her death that his friends kept suicide watch over him. Yet these stories are fragmentary, hearsay, and recalled many years or decades after the fact. It’s a sweet story, but we may never know how much of it is true. We must keep in mind that Herndon pushed the story within a larger narrative of Lincoln as a man who had lost in love, ending up with a difficult woman unworthy of him. As I have written previously, it appears to me that his portrayal of Mary Todd and her relationship with Lincoln is slanted based on Herndon’s personal dislike of her, and is not a balanced assessment. In any case, Ann and Abraham almost certainly shared an attraction and possibly love, and Abraham was certainly grieved by the early death of the sweet and pretty innkeeper’s daughter.

Rutledge Tavern, interior view, New Salem, Illinois

I return to the main road and straight ahead of me, across the street, I find a large milled limber structure with a nice shady porch. This is the second location of Berry and Lincoln’s general store.

Second Berry-Lincoln store, image credit Learning Abe website. (The photo I took of the outside of the shop is missing, I must have accidentally deleted it.) Lincoln and Berry moved the business here in January of 1833 when this larger, nicer-looking lumber building came available

Second Berry-Lincoln store, interior view. The building had been owned previously by John MacNamar, the absent fiancée of Ann Rutledge, Lincoln’s storied first love

Next, I spot a large sign in a grassy area followed by a series of smaller signs in a row leading toward the Sangamon River below the bluff. I read the sign and find that this is an archaeological site that has not be reconstructed.

Archaeology Walk in New Salem, Illinois. The sign reads: ‘The reconstructed buildings at New Salem are based on archaeological excavations conducted in the 1930’s. In 1994, two archaeological sites were discovered in this field which were missed by the 1930’s researchers. Unlike most of the other sites in this village, no deed records exist for these sites, and there are no stories of the families who lived here. Only a single hand drawn map, published by R.J. Onstot (son of Henry Onstot) in 1909, pictures houses in this location, but they are mysteriously unlabeled…’ The path here follows the old roadbed that ran across here. Many of the places associated with Lincoln in and around New Salem have not been reconstructed here, including Bowling Green’s and the Abells’ homes about a mile north of here

It reminds me that there are many inhabitants of New Salem who Lincoln befriended, did business with, and lived with whose homes have not been reconstructed. For example, Lincoln lived with his friend Bowling Green’s neighbors Bennett and Elizabeth Abell for a time. Lincoln would regularly borrow books from them and Elizabeth, especially, thought he showed promise. She took such a liking to him that she introduced him to her sister, Mary Owens, in 1833, as a potential beau. They courted briefly a time but, despite Elizabeth’s eagerness that they marry, their relationship didn’t work out. Years later, she wrote to Lincoln’s law partner and biographer William Herndon that though she thought Lincoln a good man, nevertheless, he was ‘deficient in those little links which make up the chain of a woman’s happiness.’ She broke off the relationship; Lincoln, apparently, regretted ever getting involved and had written her letters hinting that they’d be better off without each other

J. Rowan Herndon residence, New Salem, Illinois.

I continue east along the main road, and to my right, I see the Herndon brothers’ house. One of them, J. Rowan Herndon, was married to Mentor Graham’s sister Elizabeth, and Lincoln lived with them for a time. Herndon was Berry’s original partner in the general store but since they didn’t get along, Herndon sold his share to Lincoln on credit. In 1833, Herndon accidentally shot and killed his wide when he was preparing to go out hunting. He left town to escape the rumors that he killed his wife on purpose, but it was no good: the rumors followed him for the rest of his life. Lincoln moved to Graham’s house when Rowan left.

Denton Offutt Store, New Salem, Illinois.

Continuing onto the last little road which veers off to the left from the main road, I find the first store Lincoln worked in when he moved to New Salem. It was from Offutt’s flatboat that Lincoln first saw New Salem, and it was Offutt’s promise of a job managing his new store that caused Lincoln to move here in 1831. So this humble little store is the one that brought Lincoln to this place so formative to his life and education. It’s not much to look at, but it brings home to me anew how amazing Lincoln’s story really is.

Perhaps it was the fact that New Salem was both a tiny frontier village and a commercial community reaching hard beyond itself, seeking to become a hub of skilled trade and interstate commerce, that Lincoln found it such an effective springboard. From 1831 – 1837, this close-knit and ambitious village nurtured an uneducated, awkward, poor farm-boy into a canny lawyer, a political powerhouse, and a great moral leader, perhaps the greatest President the United States will ever see.

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Sources and inspiration:

Abraham Lincoln Online: Lincoln Early Life Timeline, Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic SiteLincoln Timelines and Highlights, and Pre-Presidential Political Timeline

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

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

The Chautauqua Movement‘, Chautauqua Trail website

Denton Offutt.’ from Kentucky’s Abraham Lincoln by the Kentucky Historical Society

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

Gannett, Lewis. ‘”Overwhelming Evidence” of a Lincoln-Ann Rutledge Romance?: Reexamining Rutledge Family Reminiscences.’ Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Volume 26, Issue 1, Winter 2005, pp. 28-41.

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

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

Lincoln’s New Salem‘, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency website

Lincoln’s New Salem.’ In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Lincoln’s New Salem 1830-1837‘, National Park Service website

New Salem: Virtual Tour, Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site website

Nicolay, John George. An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln: John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2006

Shenk, Joshua Wolf. ‘The Suicide Poem‘, The New Yorker, June 14, 2004

Simon, John Y. ‘Abraham Lincoln and Ann Rutledge, Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association,
Volume 11, Issue 1, 1990, pp. 13-33

Thomas, Benjamin Platt. Lincoln’s New Salem. Springfield, Ill.: The Abraham Lincoln Association, 1934; republished Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Library, 2006.

Trenholm, Sandra. ‘Abraham Lincoln, Mary Owens, and the Accidental Engagement.’ The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History website

Enlightenment Scotland: Adam Smith’s Grave at Canongate Kirkyard

Canongate Kirk on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland

Here in Edinburgh, where I’ve returned to University to earn my Master’s degree, I love to visit sites and monuments associated with the Enlightenment. As a lover of philosophy, the rich intellectual history of this city first brought me here: I followed (and still do) in the footsteps of David Hume for my first traveling philosophy/history of ideas series for O.P. I think it’s high time I share more of my explorations with you!

I’ll start with my visit yesterday afternoon to the great moral philosopher and economist Adam Smith‘s grave in Canongate Kirkyard on the Royal Mile. The lovely Kirk of the Canongate was built form 1688-1691, and is quite different in style than the other buildings on the Royal Mile. The graveyard behind it, however, is very like many others to be found behind kirks all over and around this great city, and includes the gravesites of many great Scots.

Canongate Kirkyard on the Royal Mile with Adam Smith’s grave center-left, Edinburgh, Scotland

Adam Smith’s grave in Canongate Kirkyard on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland. Many of Adam Smith’s moral and political theories, and his ideas on trade and economics, were developed from the ideas of his great friend and mentor David Hume.

Canongate Kirk on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland

List of famous people buried at Canongate Kirkyard on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland

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!

Springfield, Illinois, in Search of Abraham Lincoln, Part 5

Downstairs hallway in the Lincoln Home with the Lincolns’ original hatstand – but no, not Abe’s original hat

Springfield, Illinois, Saturday, July 30th, 2017

I sleep in then linger over a continental breakfast-of-sorts in my rented room as I catch up on some rest, writing, and research. When I finally bestir myself in earnest, I head over to D’arcy’s Pint to enjoy a local delicacy for lunch. My brother John lived in Springfield for a time some years ago and told me I must eat a horseshoe while I’m in town. The internet tells me that this gastropub is the best place to enjoy this decadent regional take on the open-face sandwich, so here I am. I order a full-size one with the works, spicy, and a pint to wash it down with. They bring me a small mountain on a plate composed of Texas toast, french fries, ground meats, chopped tomatoes and other veggies, and cheese sauce, the spiciness added at the discretion of the diner from the little cup of (mildly) hot sauce on the side. It’s tasty enough, I can’t deny, and the cheese sauce is very good and appears to be homemade, not at all like the waxy bright yellow kind that comes from a can or jar. But it’s not the tastiest thing I’ve ever eaten: it’s really starchy. Potatoes and bread in one dish? Hmmm. Still, it’s plenty good enough to pack up the other half to eat later. The physically-demanding, hiking-heavy portion of my journey is far enough behind me now that I just can’t digest a heavy meal of this size all at once.

The Lincoln Home at the corner of Eighth and Jackson Streets, Springfield, Illinois. Abraham Lincoln planted the elm tree at the left.

Feeling pleasantly languorous, I return to the Lincoln Home Historic Site. The house where Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln, and their children lived from 1844 to 1861 stands at 413 S 8th St. It’s the only house where Lincoln lived that’s still standing except for the White House.  I park in front of the Visitor Center at 426 S 7th Street and buy my ticket for the next available tour. In the intervening forty-five minutes or so before my tour starts, I wander through the exhibits in the small museum/bookshop of the visitor center and obtain a little more information for the rest of my Illinois trip. There’s lots of great stuff here.

Another view of the exterior of the Lincolns’ home in Springfield, Illinois

A view of the front parlor at the Lincoln Home, Springfield, Illinois.

A few minutes before our scheduled time, I meet the little tour group outside on a bench on the grass-edged wide walkway leading from the Visitor Center to the Lincoln Home. It sits among a very tidy little neighborhood of historic homes from around the Lincolns’ time here. Houses from later periods were not preserved, and a few stand empty and neatly painted, but not yet restored. Since the only activity at the streets and houses here are visitors strolling and gazing, guided and informed by the signs erected in front of some of the homes and other points of interest, it feels more like a nice outdoor museum or park than a neighborhood.

The Lincoln Home dining room

The Lincoln Home living room, with a closeup of Mary Todd Lincoln’s sewing table at the right

A view of the Lincolns’ extra-long four-poster bed in their bedroom at the Lincoln Home. It was the best shot I could get given I had to wait for the crowd to pass, then had only a few seconds before they ushered me along.

The Lincoln Home is a two-story house and, with the additions that the Lincolns added over the years, a decent size for a household of two adults and three children. Mary bore four sons; as you may remember, Robert was born the year before they moved here. Sadly, little Eddie died just short of four years old in 1850. He was the Lincolns’ second child and the first to be born in this house. Almost ten months after Eddie’s death, William was born, followed by Thomas, called Tad, in 1853.

The house originally consisted of just the front two-story section, tall but narrow, and this part feels as small today as I’m sure it did for the growing Lincoln family. It may seem roomier if I was here without my fellow visitors all herded together to one side of each room by the guardrail. Still, everything seems just a few steps away. The relatively small rooms would be practical for the time: they were easier and cheaper to keep warm in winter, hard to do since double-pane windows weren’t a thing yet. And since they had no modern appliances, the smaller rooms would have made cleaning the house more manageable as well.

We wind our way upstairs to the bedrooms. Each has its own wallpaper pattern, which modern tastes would generally find too ‘busy’, but these patterns were very French and therefore, very fashionable. It was very important to Mary that her homes be stylish enough to welcome and impress visitors even from the highest and wealthiest social classes. She continued this practice of elaborate home decorating at the White House, and she was reviled by many, and still is, for being an irresponsible, image-obsessed spendthrift.

One of the children’s’ bedrooms on the upper floor of the Lincoln Home

But I don’t believe that Mary Todd’s insistence on style and elegance was the simple result of vanity or thirst for luxury. One of the things that originally drew Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln to one another was their love of politics, and Mary, like Abraham, was ambitious; he on his own behalf, she mostly on his, since he was the only one who could engage actively in politics. She, like Abraham, was practical, and a woman’s sphere of influence then was in the home and in the entertainment of guests. She knew that her husband was more likely to be respected and admired as a political leader if he lived in homes that displayed taste, culture, and yes, money, since that was emblematic of responsibility, ability, and power. She was only one of the many First Ladies who recognized this and who likewise put a lot of energy and money into making the White House a symbol of national pride and success. But she, I believe, has been the most reviled for it.

After viewing the upper floor and its bedrooms, we return to the ground floor and pass through the little kitchen. I think I would find it inconveniently small, but Mary was a petite woman, so perhaps that helped. At least everything was in easy reach! She did most of the household cooking, a new feature of her life once she married Abraham.

The cozy little kitchen in the Lincoln Home

Many considered their courtship and marriage a poor fit: Mary had grown up with all of the advantages of wealth while Abraham very much did not. But she, like many others once they got to know him, was impressed enough with his intelligence and character that his long background of debt and poverty didn’t seem to deter her much. But married life with Abraham was not always so easy for Mary. It wasn’t just that she had to learn to cook and to perform many of the household duties that the team of domestics at her parents’ house used to take care of. Over time, as Abraham became a more financially successful lawyer and then politician, they enjoyed a much more comfortable middle-class lifestyle and Mary had money to spend on her household and personal effects again. But Abraham was notoriously ‘deficient in those little links which make up the chain of a woman’s happiness,’ as one of his prior sweethearts observed, and often much less demonstrative of his feelings than Mary would wish.

Mary Todd Lincoln, ca 1860 – 1865, Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, public domain via the Library of Congress

Yet especially during the early and middle years of their marriage, despite Lincoln’s law partner and eventual biographer William H. Herndon‘s many negative portrayals, the couple were very loving, respectful, and supportive of one another. Yes, they quarreled at times; both of them were moody, willful people. When angered, Mary would vent her frustrations but Abraham would bottle his up and withdraw, which, no doubt, sometimes made matters worse. Abraham may have had to put up with a lot sometimes, but at least for much of their marriage, Mary had to put up with more. She had a lot more character and a lot less selfishness and vanity than Herndon and many others later gave her credit for. After all, this was a woman who gave up a life of ease and wealth to marry an awkward-with-women, undemonstrative, unromantic, funny-looking guy of little means and few signs of promise besides his intelligence and charisma. She ended up with a faithful and hardworking but often absentee husband and father as he went out on the law circuit sometimes for weeks at a time, laying most of the household burdens on her shoulders. Their children were hard to deal with too: Mary and Abraham could not agree on a consistent method of discipline so they mostly gave it up, to the dismay of Lincoln’s colleagues at his law office and the White House since he’d sometimes bring his rambunctious kids to work.

Later on, the heartbreak of losing two of her children by the time she left the White House and the strain of public life took their toll on Mary. Mary was outspoken and decisive, and Victorian America was not yet accepting of such overt displays of will and opinion by women, especially by the First Lady, expected to be a model of decorum, of womanly modesty and restraint. But Mary would have none of it, and she made many enemies with her cutting wit, sarcasm, and displays of temper. She stood up for herself, not always gracefully, and this did not make her popular. Mary’s emotions, her depressions and passionate outbursts, became more volatile and frequent over time, and the Lincolns’ relationship was often more severely strained than ever. But although they had very different ways of expressing themselves, Mary and Abraham shared the sources of their pain and remained as supportive of one another as they knew how to be, and loyal to one another, for the rest of their lives.

Site of Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s second home on 4th St just north of Adams, Springfield, IL 2017 Amy Cools

We complete the tour of the house and I zigzag north and west, returning to central downtown Springfield. I had confirmed the location of a few more sites in my research this morning, and in books and maps I found at the Lincoln Home Visitor Center while I was waiting for the tour to begin. The next site I visit is on 4th St, just north of Adams St, on the east side. There’s only a parking lot here now, where used to stand a modest three-room frame house. Search as I may, there seems to be no photo of the house, or, as the historical plaque at the site describes it, cottage. The Lincolns and their infant son Robert moved here in the fall of 1843. They didn’t want to raise their children in a bustling hotel, though the Globe Tavern was a nice enough place for a young couple, so they moved into the best home they could afford until Lincoln’s practice began bringing in enough money again for something better. They were here only about a year before they moved into their permanent home on 8th St.

Lincoln was still paying off old debts, and as you may remember from the last installment of my Lincoln story, his law partner at the time, Stephen T. Logan, was a little tightfisted with the practice’s money. But as Lincoln became better known and more in demand; with a little help from Mary’s father, who liked Abraham despite the fact that he couldn’t yet provide his daughter a more comfortable lifestyle; and with Lincoln’s new senior partnership with Herndon in late 1844, they felt able to afford the 8th St house that same winter.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield, Illinois. The Library building stands on the site of Mr. and Mrs. Simeon Francis’ home, where Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd renewed their courtship.

Then I return to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. On my first day here, I missed the sign that indicated that the Library stands on the house site of Eliza and Simeon Francis; the sign is across the street on the sidewalk next to the business building and PNC bank parking lot. Simeon Francis was the editor of Sangamo Journal and had become close friends with Lincoln in this capacity. Lincoln was a regular contributor to the editorial page through much of the 1830’s. After Mary Todd moved to town in 1839, she and Eliza Francis became close friends as well. Within the first year of their courtship, Lincoln panicked and broke off his engagement with Mary Todd on New Year’s Day, 1841 (what a day to choose, Lincoln!), and they didn’t speak much for a while.

Close-ups from the Looking for Lincoln sign for the Francis home site

But they shared so many acquaintances, friends, and interests that they were inevitably brought together again, especially by their friend Eliza. They were reconciled in the house that once stood here the next year and met regularly here to renew their courtship in secret. They didn’t want their relationship to be the subject of gossip and public speculation as to the reasons for the breakup and the renewal of their relationship. I’m guessing this may have been caution especially on Mary’s part: she was pretty head over heels for this guy; her family didn’t approve of him as a match for her however much they may have liked him personally; and she had observed how the normally gregarious and social Lincoln became awkward, shy, and skittish in the presence of most women. But when they were alone, Abraham and Mary got along excellently and had much to talk about. It all went so well this time around that Abraham and Mary Todd were married on November 4th, 1842.

Site of the old Baptist Church at the southwest corner of 7th & Adams Sts where the Young Men’s Lyceum was held. Lincoln delivered his famous Lyceum Address here on January 27th, 1838.

I continue two blocks south and one block east to the northwest corner of 7th and Adams Sts. There’s a ‘Looking for Lincoln’ sign here on E Adams which points out the site across the street.

The Young Men’s Lyceum used to meet here at the old Baptist Church from 1838-1840. Early on during their tenure here, on January 27th, 1938, Lincoln addressed the young men with a speech titled The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions. Now known as the Lyceum Address, Lincoln spoke against the ‘mobocracy’ which he feared was becoming too common a substitution for reasoned debate and institutional reform in American life. The rancor between abolitionist and pro-slavery sympathizers was growing, breaking out in increasing numbers of violent episodes. The Lyceum Address revolves around the lynching of Francis McIntosh, a young freeman of mixed-African and European descent, who was lynched in St. Louis less than two years before Lincoln’s address here.

Lovejoy on the lynching of McIntosh in The Observer, May 5, 1835

McIntosh was working on a steamboat that docked in St Louis, and on his way to visit his girlfriend, he stumbled upon two policemen pursuing another man who had been in a drunken brawl. McIntosh did not obey the policeman’s shouted orders for his to help them catch the man. Like the average American of African descent, free or enslaved, McIntosh was very likely not in the habit of mixing himself up in any circumstance that involved police or government officials, for the simple reason that very few of them had any interest in dispensing justice to people like himself, especially in slave states like Missouri. The drunk man got away and McIntosh was arrested instead. When the police officers threatened him with five years in jail, in a slave state, remember, McIntosh panicked. He grabbed a knife and fled, killing one officer and wounding the other. He was caught and jailed again. A mob gathered, broke him out, chained him to a tree, and burned him alive. At first McIntosh begged for someone from the crowd, anyone, to shoot him and release him from his torture; when no one was willing to show even this level of mercy, he prayed and sang hymns until the pain and the flames silenced him for good.

Abolitionist minister and editor of The Observer Elijah Lovejoy picked up the story and, contrary to most of the press, condemned this episode as an episode of wickedness and lawlessness. Proslavery sympathizers ran a sabotage campaign against his St Louis press until he was forced to move across the Missouri River to Alton. But he was not safe there, either, and on November 7, 1837, a mob attacked the warehouse where he had hidden his press in a vain attempt at safety. They shot into the warehouse while Lovejoy and his supporters were inside. Forced to defend themselves, they shot back, wounding some members of the mob and killing one. In revenge, the mob tried to burn down the warehouse with the men still inside it, and Lovejoy was shot to death when he emerged to stop them. As was the case with McIntosh, the judge voiced his support for the mob and no-one was convicted of the murder.

Lincoln feared that his beloved country would devolve from an enlightened union of states founded on principles of reason and reverence for the rule of law into an association weakened and fractured by the same ideological intolerance and strife which marked old Europe. He did not fear that any European, or Asian, or African nation, or any other foreign power, could destroy the United States: he recognized that in this, the only thing Americans had to fear was themselves. Lincoln’s fear was prescient: Bleeding Kansas was still twenty-six years away, the Civil War thirty-three. When he delivered this speech, Lincoln was just short of 29 years old. He had been first elected a state legislator less than four years before and had been a practicing lawyer for less than a year. While ambitious for high office, I doubt that even Lincoln’s prophetic skills could help him foresee that he would be leading his nation to the ‘new birth of freedom’ he spoke of in his even more famous 1863 Gettysburg Address, with strengthened political institutions that could, it was hoped, better serve a government ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’ – but all the people this time around. We’re still working on it.

The Gettysburg Address on the Wills House wall in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; photo taken during my visit there in 2016

The foyer of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, Illinois

It’s early evening, and those leftovers are sounding pretty good right now. The last places I’d like to follow Lincoln here in Springfield will be open tomorrow, so I return to my lodging.

Springfield, Illinois, Sunday, July 31st, 2017

I begin my day at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and get a little writing done. I would love to dig into the archives here, which now include the Robert Ingersoll Papers, but I’m itching to get back on the road. I have this big comfy rental car (a free upgrade since the first one broke down) and only a certain number of road trip days left before I leave the U.S. for a while. But I’ll certainly be back here again.

A five minute’s drive north from the Library takes me to the Edwards Place Historic Home, now owned and operated by the Springfield Art Association. I enter the visitor center to the right of the house, and though I don’t have anything scheduled, a woman on staff there was kind enough to take me on a one-on-one tour. My timing is lucky: before long it will be closed to the public for restoration, at least until May 2018. As it is, I get to see some of the rooms decorated and ready for the public complete with nice carpet, wallpaper, artifacts original to the family and to the time period, as well as other rooms and passageways in various stages of disrepair, construction, and deconstruction. I see layers of plaster, wood, wallpaper, and paint peeled and cut away, little doorways into its history. Particularly revealing to me, familiar with vintage and antique textiles, I recognize various attempts at recreating the house’s antebellum history more or less successfully in the wallpapers, with 1990’s, 1960’s-1970’s, 1920’s, and other eras’ ideas of what wallpaper from the time would look like.  None of it looks at all like the Edwards’ own wallpaper peeking out from where bits of it had escaped the remodelers’ scrapers.

Edwards Place Historical Home, Springfield, Illinois

A view inside the Edwards Place Historical Home before planned restoration

The house was originally built in 1833 and expanded to its current grand dimensions after Benjamin and Helen Dodge Edwards bought the house in 1843. Benjamin Edwards was the brother of Mary Todd’s sister Elizabeth’s husband Ninian, named for the Edward brothers’ father. When Mary Todd moved to town in 1840 and settled in with her older sister Elizabeth, Mary and Helen became good friends. When Helen and her husband moved to this house three years later, Mary and her new husband Abraham were regular guests.

As Springfield Art Association says on their website, the

‘Edwards Place was a center for social activity in Springfield. Prominent citizens and politicians such as Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas, David Davis, and numerous governors, judges, lawyers, and politicians were entertained at lavish dinner parties and the grounds played host to many summer picnics and political rallies…. Although the Lincolns did not court or marry here, Edwards Place is currently home to the “courting couch” on which Lincoln and Mary Todd sat during the early days of their romance, originally the property of Ninian Edwards.’

The Lincolns’ courting couch at Edwards Place Historical Home, Springfield, Illinois

The website’s article points out that I made the same mistake many people do: I mixed up the Edwards houses. This Edwards house, which currently houses the famous black horsehair couch where Abraham and Mary courted, is not the same house where that couch originally was, where the Lincolns originally courted and were married. These Edwards moved into this house the year after the Lincolns were married. The other Edwards house site, where Ninian and Elizabeth Edwards welcomed Elizabeth’s younger sister Mary into their home in 1840, is where the Michael J. Howlett building now stands. That’s downtown near where I just came from. Well, no matter. It’s only a five-minute or so backtrack.

Michael J. Howlett Building, Springfield, Illinois

I find a parking spot near the Michael J. Howlett building–not easy to do since its a workday–and look for a plaque or marker. There’s sure to be one since it’s the site of such significance in Lincoln’s life. I don’t see one at first, so I visit the Illinois State Archive, the next building to the west of the Howlett building. The man at the front desk there doesn’t know of such a thing but hazards a few guesses. However, before I go on that little goose chase, the man looking after the state employee parking lot passes by. I tell him what I’m looking for, and he knows right off. Of course! He spends his days out here where it’s likely to be found. I follow his directions: if you start from the Howlett building sign on E Edwards St, head north on the driveway towards the Illinois State Capitol Building following the west side of the Howlett building. Turn right at the corner of the building, then look low on the outer wall of the accessible ramp. That’s why I missed it: it’s well below eye level, and not on a structure, or rather, the part of the structure, that I expected it to be on.

North (back) of the Michael J. Howlett building where the Edwards house site historical plaque is set low in the on the ramp wall

Mary Todd Lincoln returned to this house many years after her years in Springfield as a vivacious debutante, fiancée, wife of a lawyer and congressman, mother of a brood of wild young boys, and new First Lady. Her sister Elizabeth discovered that her oldest son Robert had her committed to an insane asylum in 1875 and was dismayed. Mary had lost her husband and three of her sons and had increasingly had a terrible time after each one. She may have struggled with what today we might call a mental illness, but since emotional issues were so poorly understood by the medical establishment at the time (as they are, in many ways, in our time) and there was no one to give a qualified assessment at the time, I won’t repeat modern diagnostic speculations here. Robert and Mary had not gotten along for a long time, and we can’t know for sure if he thought she really needed to be committed or if he was just wanted to get her out of the way and out of the bank accounts. She had adopted many unsettling habits, such as consulting spiritualists and alternating heavy spending on trifles she never used with eccentric miserly behavior, fearing poverty despite her generous government pension. Mary was able to get herself released from the asylum into the care of Elizabeth. She lived here for a time then moved to France for awhile until her health significantly declined, then returned to live with Elizabeth. She died here on July 16th, 1882.

Edwards House site historical plaque on the north (back) side of the Michael J. Howlett building

Having visited all the sites on my list as well as a few I discovered during this journey, I continue on from Springfield to one more very important place associated with Lincoln’s life and ideas, and then arrive at another amazing place this evening. Stay tuned!

*Listen to the podcast version here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

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!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sources and inspiration:

Abraham Lincoln Online: Edwards PlaceLincoln Family TimelineLincoln Legal Career Timeline, Lincoln Timelines and Highlights, and Lyceum Address

Andreasen, Bryon C. Looking for Lincoln in Illinois: Lincoln’s Springfield. Southern Illinois University Press, 2015

Baker, Jean H. ‘Mary Todd Lincoln: Managing Home, Husband, and Children.Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Volume 11, Issue 1, 1990, pp. 1-12

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

Central Springfield Historic District‘ National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Prepared by Nicholas P. Kalogeresis for the National Park Service.

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

Edwards Place Historical Home website and page on the Springfield Art Association website

Graham, Beckett and Susan Vollenweider. ‘Mary Todd Lincoln,’ Parts One and Two. The History Chicks podcast

Gourevitch, Philip. ‘Abraham Lincoln Warned Us About Donald Trump‘. The New Yorker, March 15, 2016

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

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

Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Illinois, website by the 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

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

Nicolay, John George. An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln: John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2006

Simon, Paul. Freedom’s Champion-Elijah Lovejoy. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2004

Wright, John Aaron. Discovering African American St. Louis: A Guide to Historic Sites. St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society Press, 2002

Springfield, Illinois, in Search of Abraham Lincoln, Part 4

Site of Stuart & Lincoln law office at Hoffman’s Row, Springfield, Illinois

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

I leave the Myers Building at the former site of Joshua Fry Speed’s store and Abraham Lincoln’s last law office on S 5th Street, and head north, crossing E Washington St, and continue halfway up the block. On my left (west), at 109 N 5th St / NW Old State Capitol Plaza, is a historical marker for the Stuart & Lincoln Law Office. John Todd Stuart was Lincoln’s first law partner, the man from whom he borrowed the law books he needed for his legal training, and his future wife Mary Todd’s first cousin. Lincoln received his license to practice law two years after he began his studies, and joined Stuart’s law practice as a junior partner in April of 1837. He was living over Speed’s store, having moved here to Springfield to embark on his legal career, so he walked more or less the same route to get to work as I walk today from the Myers Building.

Sculpture of Lincoln as a soldier in the Black Hawk War at the Lincoln Tomb, Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois

Stuart and Lincoln met in 1832 during the Black Hawk War and were friends and colleagues for many years after that. They served together in the same battalion, and their acquaintance turned to friendship when they both campaigned for, and served in, the Illinois State legislature in 1834. Stuart was only two years old than Lincoln, but like his cousin Mary Todd, he was the educated, sophisticated offspring of a well-to-do Kentucky family. So, he assigned himself a paternalistic role in their relationship. Perhaps it was this attitude that caused their friendship to erode once Lincoln eclipsed him in his success as a lawyer and then as a politician. They did not agree politically: Stuart was a Democrat sympathetic to the slaveowners’ cause, and as we all well know, Lincoln was most decidedly neither. But as the example of Joshua Speed demonstrates, Lincoln was ready and able to remain friends with political opponents. As many who knew them both well attest, Stuart was jealous of Lincoln, and at least one friend believed that Stuart even grew to hate him.

But during the years of their friendship, Stuart did much for Lincoln. He recognized Lincoln’s ability, despite his rough appearance and manners, and liked him personally. Stuart encouraged the precocious young entrepreneur and fellow budding politician to study law, a field that suited Lincoln’s natural abilities as well as the traditional field from which successful politicians so often emerged in those days. And after Lincoln received his law license and completed his last term in the Illinois State Legislature, Stuart accepted Lincoln as a junior law partner. Lincoln’s education in the law continued in Stuart’s practice. He observed Stuart closely and read his legal papers carefully, and during his first years as a lawyer, modeled his own legal practice and language on Stuart’s.

Clipping from Sangamo Journal, Mar 27, 1840 describing location of Stuart & Lincoln office, via the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America

Stuart & Lincoln’s office was also directly over a Sangamon County courtroom. The County occupied Hoffman’s Row starting in 1837, the same year that Lincoln joined Stuart’s practice here, until the first proper Greek-revival Sangamon County Courthouse was completed in 1845. As Lincoln was wont to do, he took advantage of this opportunity to learn by observation. There was a trap door in the floor of their office which communicated with the courtroom below, so Lincoln could easily hear the proceedings. As his later law partner and biographer William Herndon observed, Lincoln was not such an avid reader in the years succeeding his youth and early adulthood as he had once been. It seems Lincoln had become more of a listener.

Photo showing Hoffman’s Row, Springfield, IL 1859. Stuart & Lincoln’s office was located on the third floor from 1837-1841; many years later, Lincoln & Herndon’s office moved here after their tenure at the Tinsley Building. Photo from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library; ‘X marks the spot’ and photo caption by the University of Chicago Libraries

John T. Stuart, Brady’s National Photographic Portrait Galleries, Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection, Allen County Public Library

During my research, I’m rather amused to learn that Stuart was once bitten by Stephen A. Douglas, now most famed for the series of debates between him and Lincoln which so well encapsulated the issues which were tearing the Union apart in the years leading up to the Civil War. Stuart and Douglas were also political rivals, both Democrats, so their political battles took place in the primaries. For the most part, their debates were civil, but on one occasion in the 1838 congressional race, Douglas said something that really enraged Stuart. So the tall Stuart picked up ‘The Little Giant’ and carried him around in front of the crowd. As you may remember, Douglas may not have been tall, but neither was he slim, so Stuart must have been fairly strong. Douglas repaid the insult by biting Stuart’s thumb so severely that infection later set in, and it took some time for that painful wound to heal.

During that healing time, as well as during much of the time Stuart was busy with politics, Lincoln took on more and more of their practices’ legal matters as well as the paperwork. I suppose that the jealous Stuart later regretted giving Lincoln that opportunity to master the skills that helped him eclipse Stuart’s own success later on. On one occasion, Stuart said to a friend, ‘…I believe I am going to live to posterity only as the man who advised Mr. Lincoln to study law and lent him his law books. It is a little humiliating that a man who has served his country in Congress and in his State, should have no further claim to remembrance than that, but I believe it will be so.’ It’s easy to understand, perhaps even forgive, Stuart’s developing antipathy towards his one-time protegee, given he believed Lincoln’s reputation obscured, even erased, his own hard-earned one. Stuart and Lincoln did keep in contact over the years and outwardly, their relationship remained cordial; Stuart visited the Lincolns at the White House on several occasions, as friend and as family. But according to some of those who knew both men, Stuart undermined and opposed Lincoln’s policies when he had the opportunity to do so covertly.

Building on the east side of North 5th St at former site of Logan & Lincoln law office, Springfield, Illinois

To visit the next site on my list, all I need to do is swing on my heels and head directly across the street. The large modular office building that I face stands on the site where the first Logan & Lincoln law office was located.

In April of 1841, Lincoln and Stuart dissolved their partnership, apparently over their political differences, and Lincoln joined Stephen T. Logan’s law practice. Their joint practice lasted three and a half years, until October of 1844. As you may remember from an earlier installment of this Springfield account, Logan was a circuit judge for a time, from 1835-1837, while Lincoln was still preparing to become a lawyer. Logan gave up his judgeship because it paid too little, and redirected all his efforts to making his practice successful and lucrative.

Stephen T. Logan, from the Helm and Todd Family Photographs and Papers at the Kentucky Digital Library

As Logan tells it, Lincoln showed promise very early. Despite his awkward and messy appearance in his too-short pants and coat, rough shirt, and tousled hair, Lincoln displayed the same ‘superior’ and ‘peculiar’ way of putting things, notable for its ‘individuality,’ that would characterize his public speaking throughout his career as a lawyer, a politician, and as President. Since the time Logan met Lincoln in 1832, the same year that Logan moved to Illinois from Kentucky, he acted as friend, mentor, promoter, and colleague. In some ways, they were political and legal rivals, but unlike Stuart, Logan did not let this interfere with his friendship with or political support for Lincoln. Lincoln reciprocated Logan’s ability to maintain a respectful friendship by keeping the personal and the professional separate, and, as President, repaid Logan’s personal integrity by awarding Logan with unsought but desired appointments.

It seems that the main thing that ever came between them to a significant degree was money, with the possible exception of Logan’s rather high-handed style of running his law practice. Lincoln did chafe at times under Logan’s blunt and demanding manner, but Lincoln also considered this partnership a challenge and an opportunity to increase his still limited knowledge of the law. He certainly did rise to the challenge. Logan’s account of Lincoln’s reading habits during his years as a lawyer match Stuart’s and Herndon’s: Lincoln had let go of his old habit of steady book-reading. In his years studying and practicing law, Lincoln turned to learning by observation, by listening to cases as they were argued in court and by closely studying the cases that his law partners prepared, and through practice, by carefully and rigorously preparing for his own. Over time, according to Logan, Lincoln’s method proved itself effective, and he became a ‘formidable’ lawyer in his own right. He never became as knowledgeable about the law as the restlessly intelligent, well-read Logan, but he was often more effective. Lincoln was certainly more successful and effective than Logan politically. Unlike Logan, Lincoln was charismatic and ‘seemed to put himself at once on an equality with everybody,’ and was a popular man as a result. Many of Lincoln’s political races were won on this account alone; his very wide circle of friends and acquaintances would vote for him against their own party just because of the high regard they held him in personally.

Clipping from Sangamo Journal, Feb 18, 1842 describing location of Lincoln & Logan office, via Library of Congress’ Chronicling America

But to return to the subject of the dissolution of the Logan & Lincoln practice: the official reason that Logan gave for it was his wish to partner exclusively with his now-grown son David instead. But some who knew both men and their personalities attribute the end of their partnership primarily to Logan’s tightfistedness with money, which was a hardship for Lincoln. He had a new family to support and was probably still paying off some of his old debts incurred from his failed entrepreneurial efforts in New Salem. Secondly, Lincoln had gained a new confidence with his increasing success and knowledge as a lawyer. This, combined with his ambitious instincts, led to his desire to take the lead in his practice. So, as discussed in the previous installment of this Springfield account, Lincoln took on a young and inexperienced but bright and promising partner, just as Stuart and Logan had done with him. For any conflict they may have had as law partners, Lincoln retained his respect and regard for Logan, and they remained friends both publicly and privately for life.

Union Station and the park before it, with a sculpture of Abraham Lincoln sitting on a park bench to the left.

I continue my journey north towards Union Station, heading north on 5th St about a block and a half and then through the park south and in front of the station. The station and the park occupy the whole block bounded by 5th and 6th Sts to the west and east, and Washington and Jefferson Sts to the north and south. There are various plaques scattered around the building recounting interesting tidbits about Springfield history, but the station building itself is closed for the day. It’s no longer a train station: it’s been incorporated into the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum complex and serves as a visitor center and venue for special exhibits.

Acts of Intolerance by Preston Jackson, a commemorative sculpture for the 1908 Springfield Race Riots

Historical plaque for the 1908 Springfield Race Riot and Preston Jackson’s memorial sculpture

As I wander around the building and park, seeing what there is to see outside, my attention is caught by two sculptures, placed side by side at an angle, their shapes reminiscent of two giant, stylized, square-sided bottles, with images of people and objects over their surfaces in high relief. I read the large bronze plaque accompanying the sculptures, and learn that they are entitled Acts of Intolerance, a two-part sculpture commemorating the Springfield Race Riots of 1908. I’ve been noticing sites commemorating events and people related to the race riots all over downtown, and I’m glad to learn more about the story here since my curiosity has been aroused repeatedly throughout the day.

The shapes of the sculpture’s two parts, in fact, echo the shape of a burned-out home’s two remaining walls and chimneys in a photograph taken in the aftermath of the riot. This was only one of the multitude of homes and shops of Springfield’s black population that had been damaged or destroyed. The riot started on Friday evening, when the sheriff refused to release two black men, one jailed for the murder of a white man who caught him trying to assault his daughter, and another accused of attempted rape, to the justice of a gathering mob. (The second of these was later proved to be wrongly accused so as to divert blame from a white man.)

When they discovered that the sheriff had secreted the men away to a secure location, the mob decided to turn their rage on the entire black population of Springfield, shouting curses on the day that Lincoln freed their people from slavery. They lynched two black men. One was an elderly barber named Scott Burton, tortured and killed for daring to try and defend himself from the mob who were shooting at him and burning down his home. The other was 84-year-old William Donegan, strung up, his throat, body,and limbs sliced for the perceived crime of having been married for over 30 years to a white woman. There were tales of white heroism too, of which Lincoln, turning over in his grave, would surely have been comforted to hear. One was Henry Loper, who had his restaurant and car destroyed for daring to drive the accused black men to safety. Another was prohibitionist presidential candidate Eugene Chafin, who shielded a black man with his own body, his face badly bruised from the stones thrown by the crowd at the Court House Square.

Photograph showing the remains of a home in the aftermath of the 1908 Springfield Race Riot

Historian James L. Crouthamel writes that the mob

 

‘wrecked almost every building on Washington, Jefferson, and Madison Streets between Eighth and Twelfth Streets. It appears that the mob leaders were careful in destroying only homes and businesses which were either owned by Negroes or served a Negro clientele. (White handkerchiefs marked the homes and businesses of whites, and these were left untouched in the midst of the general destruction.)’

Around two thousand black people were driven from town, terrorized, their homes and means of making a living destroyed.

Although about 150 people were arrested for taking part in the riots, all escaped conviction and punishment except two: Kate Howard, who committed suicide by poison on her way to jail, and Roy Young, who confessed and was convicted of burglary, arson, and rioting. On the whole, sadly, the citizens of Springfield showed little remorse for their behavior, editorializing that the black people of Springfield brought it all on themselves. The press hailed Kate Howard as a ‘new Joan of Arc‘ for the role she played in attacking Loper’s restaurant and in lynching Burton. They certainly did no justice to the memory of their most famous and beloved citizen Lincoln.

The Lincoln Depot at 930 E Monroe St, Springfield, Illinois

Great Western Depot historical placard, which includes a photo of the depot more or less how it appeared in Lincoln’s time.

The last Lincoln site I visit for the day is the Great Western Railroad Depot, now called the Lincoln Depot. Since I’m heading back to my lodging directly afterwards, I take the car which I had parked near Union Station earlier today and zigzag a few blocks southeast to get here. This railroad station, at 930 E Monroe and the railroad tracks, is the site of Lincoln’s ‘Farewell Address’ to the city of Springfield. On February 11, 1861, Lincoln left for Washington, DC for his first inauguration as President. That morning, he delivered a speech of farewell to the city he had begun life in as a lonely and broke young man and was about to leave as a father, husband, successful lawyer, congressman, and President-Elect.

The Lincoln Depot is one of the few original buildings in Springfield to survive to this day to actually host Lincoln, though it’s quite altered. The red brick building was restored following a 1968 fire. The originally very small, one-story structure became the larger two-story structure we see here today around 1900. Though is it very much altered, it retains its original general shape and style, even to the curved metal supports for the roof.

Lincoln delivered a very moving speech that day, which moved very many in the sizable crowd to tears. We don’t have Lincoln’s original written text for this address, but several newspapers printed it, each with slight to moderate variations. One version is inscribed on a plaque in the Lincoln Tomb:

Abraham Lincoln Farewell to Springfield Address on a plaque at the Lincoln Tomb, Springfield, Illinois

It was understood and expected by all that Lincoln would return one day, including Lincoln himself. He did indeed return, but not in the way that anyone hoped or expected.

I’ll return to downtown Springfield tomorrow to visit a few more places on my itinerary. Stay tuned!

*Listen to the podcast version here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

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!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sources and inspiration:

Abraham Lincoln Online: Lincoln Family TimelineLincoln Legal Career Timeline,  Lincoln Timelines and Highlights, and Three Versions of Lincoln’s Farewell Address

Andreasen, Bryon C. Looking for Lincoln in Illinois: Lincoln’s Springfield. Southern Illinois University Press, 2015

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

Brown, Caroline Owsley. ‘Springfield Society Before the Civil War.’ Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984), vol. 15, no. 1/2, 1922, pp. 477–500. JSTOR

Burlingame, Michael, ed. An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln: John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays. Southern Illinois University Press, Jan 2006

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

Central Springfield Historic District‘ National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Prepared by Nicholas P. Kalogeresis for the National Park Service.

Crouthamel, James L. ‘The Springfield Race Riot of 1908.’ The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 45, No. 3 (Jul., 1960), pp. 164-181

Deming, Henry Champion. ‘Eulogy of Abraham Lincoln: before the General Assembly of Connecticut, at Allyn Hall, Hartford, Thursday, June 8th, 1865.’ Hartford: A.N. Clark & Co. State Printers, 1985

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

Elijah Iles‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

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

Hart, Dick. ‘Lincoln’s Springfield: Hotels and Taverns.’ Lincoln’s Springfield blog

Havlik, Robert J. ‘Abraham Lincoln and the Reverend Dr. James Smith: Lincoln’s Presbyterian Experience in Springfield.Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1998-) Vol. 92, No. 3, A Lincoln Issue (Autumn, 1999), pp. 222-237

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, Springfield: Tinsley Building. Excerpts from newspapers and other sources compiled by the Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1993

John Todd Stuart,’ Sangamon Link: History of Sangamon County, Illinois, Oct 6, 2013.

Lehrman Institute articles ‘The Lawyers: John Todd Stuart (1807-1885)‘ and ‘Stephen Trigg Logan’ from Mr. Lincoln and Friends, and Visitors from Congress: John Todd Stuart (1807-1885) from Mr. Lincoln’s White House

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

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

Memorials of the Life and Character of Stephen T. Logan‘ by Stuart, John T.; Edwards, Benjamin S.; Cullom, Shelby; Davis, David et al. From Lincoln/Net by Northern Illinois University Libraries

Nicolay, John George. An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln: John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2006

Springfield Race Riot‘, in the Encyclopædia Britannica

Yu, Karlson. ‘Springfield Race Riot, 1908.’ BlackPast.org

Springfield, Illinois, in Search of Abraham Lincoln, Part 3

1880’s Italianate building at the former site of the American House Hotel at 6th and Adams, Springfield, Illinois, renovated and restored by its current occupants, Delano Law Offices

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

After my visit to the Old State House, I notice one of those Looking for Lincoln historical placards on a building to my left as I walk towards my next destination. It’s an attractive three-story red and yellow brick Italianate building from the later 1800’s, too late to be from Lincoln’s time. I draw near and read the placard and the small house-shaped bronze plaque near it.

This building stands at the southeast corner of 6th and Adams, on the former site of the American House Hotel. It was the largest hotel in Illinois, admired for its huge size and praised for its lavish, exotic, ‘Turkish’ interior design. Despite its reputation and the fact that it was the hotel of choice for dignitaries and the better-off, there doesn’t seem to be any easy-to-find photos of it. There’s one on the placard of the Old State House with the plain white walls of the three-story, rather plain Hotel in the distance, but that’s about it. I can find no photos of its splendiferous interior either. It stood here from 1838-1870, a little too long ago for me to find a postcard image of it, my tried and true source type for images of historic buildings.

Battle of Stillman’s Run Site in Stillman Valley, Illinois, USA, by Ben Jacobson, 2007, via Wikimedia Commons

The American House Hotel was built by Captain Elijah Iles (who was also buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery), who also had the distinction of being the owner of the oldest house that still stands in Springfield and of being Abraham Lincoln’s commander in the Black Hawk War. Lincoln was also elected captain in that war for a time, of which he was very proud, but the lanky 23-year old youth never saw combat. He did, however, help to bury some of the men who did and died for it. There’s a monument at the site of the Battle of Stillman’s Run that memorializes the men who died and that particular man who helped bury them. I find the words on the monument rather interesting: ‘The presence of the soldier, statesman, martyr Abraham Lincoln assisting in the burial of these honored dead has made this spot more sacred.’ Lincoln himself said in his address at the battlefield of Gettysburg ‘…We can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.’ So if Lincoln saw the words on this monument, he would likely look at them askance. But as the Stillman Run’s monument says, Lincoln is himself among the slain, slain in another struggle perhaps, but no less a patriotic one. So it seems he does qualify as a consecrator of sacred ground, too, according to the terms he laid out in the Gettysburg Address.

Looking for Lincoln placard at the former site of the American House Hotel at 6th and Adams, Springfield, Illinois

Lincoln may have visited the American House Hotel on at least two occasions, though there’s no evidence that I could find, again, besides local lore repeated in blogs and in the Looking for Lincoln book and placard. One purported occasion was the November 1838 grand opening dinner, which served 200 people. The other was the time that former president Martin Van Buren came to Springfield for a visit in June of 1842. Van Buren was on tour seeking to revive his political career. According to that legend, Lincoln was called upon to help welcome and entertain Van Buren while he was visiting his cousin in the vicinity of nearby Rochester, Illinois. He spent a day there tickling Van Buren and company’s ribs with his jokes and anecdotes. (See what I did there? That’s my own little joke, leaving the sentence constructed that way so that you’re left with the weird mental image of Van Buren being tickled.) The next day, the tradition goes, Lincoln escorted him to the Hotel.

The Tinsley Building, aka the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office Historic Site, Springfield, Illinois. You can just see the Old State House in the background to the right. It’s currently closed for renovations, but historically it’s been open for tours.

I turn towards the destination I was initially headed for: the Tinsley Building, now called the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office State Historic Site, right across the street. This large, handsome Greek-Revival red brick building was built in 1840-1841 at the southwest corner of 6th and Adams Streets. S.M. Tinsley & Co’s retail business occupied part of the two lower floors, which were also occupied by the U.S. Post Office (1st floor) and the U.S. Federal Court (2nd floor). The third floor was rented out as offices.

William Henry Herndon, 1818-1891, halftone reproduction of photoprint by L.C. Handy Studios, Library of Congress

When this mixed-use building was only about three years old, Lincoln and his senior law partner Stephen T. Logan moved their successful practice to the grander accommodations in the Tinsley Building’s large third-floor front office. Their joint practice here only lasted from the summer of 1843 to early winter of 1844, when Logan opted to practice with his son instead. Lincoln kept the large front office while the Logans moved to another in the same building, and he offered a partnership to William H. Herndon, a relatively inexperienced but intelligent, studious young lawyer. Herndon jumped at the chance since by this time Lincoln was very well known and respected. In fact, many were surprised at Lincoln’s choice: at this point, Lincoln could have had his pick of many distinguished local lawyers. But Lincoln wanted to be the senior partner this time. As Herndon and many others described him, Lincoln had great confidence in his own abilities and his own unique way of doing things. So it’s no surprise in that regard that Lincoln preferred to take the lead role this time around.

Two views of the Lincoln-Herndon Historic Site / Tinsley Building

Lincoln and Herndon knew each other for a long time. Herndon’s father Abner G. Herndon was one of the Long Nine, the 1836-37 Illinois State Legislature which was responsible for moving the state capital to Springfield. Lincoln was twenty-seven, young Herndon seventeen when Lincoln became one of his father’s co-legislators. After the legislature adjourned that spring, Lincoln moved to Springfield on April 15th, 1837, and lived for a time in Joshua Speed’s room over his store. Herndon roomed with them for a time, too, and worked for Speed as a clerk. While Lincoln was serving in the legislature, he was also teaching himself law and had obtained his license the previous fall. Lincoln came to Springfield to establish a practice and inquired about the cost of a bed, a mattress, and their accouterments. He couldn’t afford the named priced so Speed offered to let him share his bed and room upstairs since Lincoln didn’t have a home yet either. The awkward, unrefined, autodidact, perennially broke Lincoln and the handsome, cultivated, well-educated son of wealthy parents Speed became very close friends. I’ll return to that story soon.

Lincoln the Circuit Rider by Fred M. Torrey, 1930, bronze sculpture at the Lincoln Tomb in Springfield, Illinois

Herndon and Lincoln also became very good friends, Lincoln with a fatherly affection, Herndon admiringly. Their partnership was successful and harmonious, despite the fact that neither of them were orderly with their paperwork or tidy in their office. Perhaps their harmoniousness was enhanced by the fact that Lincoln was often away ‘riding the circuit.’ Most practitioners of law, in order to make a sufficient living, found it necessary to travel throughout their judicial district to argue and hear local cases. Lincoln was the public face of Lincoln & Herndon, meeting with clients, arguing their cases in court, and writing the most important legal documents. Herndon did the research, wrote the minor documents, ran the errands, and did whatever other odd tasks which arose. Lincoln, however, insisted on dividing all of the practice’s income equally between the two of them.

Their Tinsley building office was somewhat sparsely furnished, the tables covered with green oilcloth and strewn with papers and books, mostly Herndon’s. Lincoln, famously, frequently had his nose buried in a book when he was a boy. According to Herndon and to my surprise, however, Lincoln read far less often in his adulthood. In fact, wrote Herndon, ‘Lincoln… read less and thought more than any man in his sphere in America.’ What Lincoln did read, however, he remembered. It seems, then, that Lincoln’s considerable ability was based at least as much as what he did with what he read than with the amount. He enriched and expanded the knowledge gained from what he did read with the greater amount of time he spent in thinking, in writing, and in conversation.

First Street Presbyterian Church at S 7th St and E Capitol Ave, Springfield, Illinois. The Lincoln’s pew from the church’s location in their time is preserved here.

I zigzag southwest a couple of blocks to the First Presbyterian Church at 321 S. Seventh St at E. Capitol Ave. The Lincolns attended services at First Presbyterian from about 1850 to 1860, when the Lincolns left for Washington, D.C. But there are two details to note. One, they never attended services at this exact church, since it was built two years after Mary died, but this church does contain and preserve their original pew from the old location. Two, though Mary formally joined the congregation out of enthusiasm for its new minister, Reverend Dr. James Smith, Abraham never did. Lincoln paid the yearly rent for the pew, attended at times with his family, and became good friends with Smith, but he did not join.

Lincoln’s religiosity has been a subject of much debate during his lifetime and up to the present day. Atheists, agnostics, and deists often emphasize the strong skepticism he evinced during his younger years and his admiration for Thomas Paine, who was notorious for his Age of Reason attack on Christianity and all organized religion. Lincoln rarely alluded to Christ in word or in writing, or to God in any denominational sense, and he was unwilling to join any church. In fact, he never did. His friend, law partner, and later biographer Herndon also emphasized Lincoln’s freethinking ways, to the dismay and anger of many of his friends, family, and supporters. On the other hand, Christians often emphasize his frequent Biblical quotations, the fact that he did go to church with his family somewhat regularly when his schedule allowed, his regular allusions to God in letters and especially in public speeches, and his frequent Biblical quotes. He also seemed to become much more religiously inclined in his later years.

So each of these groups likes to claim the great Lincoln as one of their own, each minimizing evidence from the other side of the argument or dismissing it altogether. The truth is, Lincoln was very private about his religious beliefs. I think this is because one, he was a canny and ambitious politician in a religious age, so he was loath to make overt statements of unorthodoxy or of strict adherence to one particular creed and thus hurt his chances of election to public office; second, though he did not ascribe to any particular creed, he often had feelings that were generally considered religious and over the years, he increasingly felt the need for religious comfort and became convinced of the truth of some religious arguments; and third, he was a private man about his inner life generally, and it’s clear he believed that matters of conscience and belief belonged to this category. Because he was private about his religious convictions, because he was a complex and subtle thinker, and because his views changed over time, I think it’s a mistake to try and fix Lincoln in any category of belief, with the possible exception of ‘freethinker.’ Though ‘freethinker’ has connotations of hostility to religion to some, the term’s literal meaning, and the way it was used more then, most closely reflects what we do know about Lincoln’s beliefs, and can include the ways this changed over time. Freethinker can encompass Lincoln’s early skepticism, his religious questioning, and his later status as a religious believer who nevertheless refused to align himself with any system of religious orthodoxy as a matter of principle.

First Presbyterian Church, Springfield, Illinois, at the southeast corner of Third and Washington, Springfield, Illinois, which the Lincolns attended from 1850-1860.

In his published eulogy for Lincoln, U.S. Representative Henry Champion Deming wrote: ‘[Lincoln] said, he had never united himself to any church, because he found difficulty in giving his assent, without mental reservation, to the long complicated statements of Christian doctrine, which characterize their Articles of belief and Confessions of Faith. “When any church,” he continued, “will inscribe over its altar, as its sole qualification for membership the Saviour’s condensed statement of the substance of both law and Gospel, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself, that church I will join with all my heart and all my soul.”‘ Presumably, since there was no such established church which had a formal membership, he never joined one.

I zigzag a little farther southeast to a particularly significant site to get the lay of the land, so to speak. It’s early evening and open hours are ended, so I’ll be returning tomorrow for a proper visit. I’ll wait to tell you all about it in that account.

Former site of the Globe Tavern, Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s first home together, at about 306 E Adams St, Springfield, Illinois

I head northwest, this time zigzagging a little haphazardly, to E Adams between 3rd and 4th Sts. On the north side of E Adams, at 315 where a parking lot is now, is the former site of the Globe Tavern. This is the first place the newlywed Lincolns lived in Springfield. They moved in on their wedding night on November 4th, 1842, and lived there until May 2nd, 1844. Their first son, Robert, was born here almost exactly nine months after their wedding, on August 1st, 1843.

It was a very nice tavern, and contrary to the common view that these accommodations would have been too humble for Mary Todd’s accustomed lifestyle, it was the first place that many newlyweds in her family stayed. According to the journal article ‘The Lincoln’s Globe Tavern’ by James T. Hickey and his co-authors,

In starting their married life at the Globe Tavern, the Lincolns were in fact following a precedent set by other members of Mary Lincoln’s family. John Todd Stuart, her cousin and Lincoln’s first law partner, had taken his bride there in November, 1837; Dr. William S. Wallace and Mary’s sister Frances also lived there after their marriage, on May 21st, 1839. The Wallaces stayed there more than three years, and it was into their recently vacated rooms that the Lincolns moved. These rooms were in the addition that fronted on Adams Street.

The Globe Tavern, former residence of the Lincolns and Robert Lincoln’s birthplace, photo by S.M. Fassett 1865, Library of Congress

Myers Building at former site of J. Speed’s store & Lincoln’s last law office, Springfield, Illinois

I head next to the Myers Building at the southwest corner of E Washington and S 5th Streets. In April 1837, Lincoln moved to Springfield. The legislative session had ended and Lincoln was ready to get going on practicing law, for which he’d been preparing the last two and a half years. He arrived here at A.Y. Ellis & Co’s store to inquire about the cost of a bed and its trappings. The clerk he found there ready to help him was not his old New Salem friend Ellis he had come to see, it was Ellis’ business partner, Joshua Fry Speed. Speed must have seen something he liked in Lincoln, and besides, there was a housing shortage in Springfield. So he offered to let Lincoln share his bed and his room upstairs. Lincoln accepted with alacrity and settled right in, and Lincoln and Speed became the closest of friends over the next almost-four years until Speed moved back to his native Kentucky in January of 1841. For a while, these two close friends stayed in contact, especially about their respective uncertain love lives, and then they mostly fell out of touch until Lincoln became the Republican Presidential nominee. Speed, the son of slaveowners and a conservative Louisville Democrat, wrote a warm letter of congratulations to Lincoln when he was elected President, and placed himself firmly on the side of his dear old friend. He worked with Lincoln and others to make sure that Kentucky, a border state split between Union and pro-slavery factions, was not lost to the Confederacy.

Buildings which included Joshua Fry Speed and Abner Y. Ellis’ grocery store on the ground floor. Speed, Lincoln, and Herndon’s living quarters were in a second-floor front room (with another man, Charles Hurst) and later, the second Lincoln & Herndon office was in a second floor rear room, at S. 5th St / SW Old State Capitol Plaza and E. Washington St, Springfield, IL. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Louisville, by the way, was the native town of my grandfather, within whom that old battle was still raging. Though I had never seen it manifested in the way he interacted with people, I had always been convinced of his entrenched and intractable racism because of his political and social views. I was convinced, that is, until I beheld the tenderness and affection with which he held and regarded his black great-grandson, just as he did with all the other kids in our large extended family. That’s when I became convinced that the racism I had perceived for so long was an ingrained habit, a cultural residue that could not overcome his natural kindliness and deep sense of family. I like to think that it was just so with Lincoln, except that for him, his ascendency to the Presidency made the entire nation, in a very important sense, his family, black, white, and all.

To be continued…

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Sources and inspiration:

Abraham Lincoln Online: The Gettysburg Address and Lincoln Timelines and Highlights

Andreasen, Bryon C. Looking for Lincoln in Illinois: Lincoln’s Springfield. Southern Illinois University Press, 2015

Bakke, Dave. ‘Springfield Man [Randy von Liski] Focuses Photo Hobby on Classic Barbershops.’ The State Journal-Register, Oct 15, 2010

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

Central Springfield Historic District‘ National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Prepared by Nicholas P. Kalogeresis for the National Park Service.

Deming, Henry Champion. ‘Eulogy of Abraham Lincoln: before the General Assembly of Connecticut, at Allyn Hall, Hartford, Thursday, June 8th, 1865.’ Hartford: A.N. Clark & Co. State Printers, 1985

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

Elijah Iles‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Hart, Dick. ‘Lincoln’s Springfield: Hotels and Taverns.’ Lincoln’s Springfield blog

Havlik, Robert J. ‘Abraham Lincoln and the Reverend Dr. James Smith: Lincoln’s Presbyterian Experience in Springfield.Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1998-) Vol. 92, No. 3, A Lincoln Issue (Autumn, 1999), pp. 222-237

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, Springfield: Tinsley Building. Excerpts from newspapers and other sources compiled by the Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1993

Joshua Fry Speed: Lincoln’s Confidential Agent in Kentucky.The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Vol. 52, No. 179 (April, 1954), pp. 99-110

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

The Lincolns’ Globe Tavern: A Study in Tracing the History of a Nineteenth-Century Building‘, by James T. Hickey, George W. Spotswood, C. G. Saunders and Sarah Beck, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984) Vol. 56, No. 4 (Winter, 1963), pp. 629-653

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

Martin Van Buren meets Abraham Lincoln.SangamonLink: History of Sangamon County, Illinois, Apr 13, 2013

Temple, Wayne C. ‘Herndon on Lincoln: An Unknown Interview with a List of Books in the Lincoln & Herndon Law Office.Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1998-) Vol. 98, No. 1/2 (Spring – Summer, 2005), pp. 34-50

von Liski, Randy. ‘Commercial Building (American House hotel site), 200 S. 6th Street, Springfield, Illinois.‘ My Old Postcards Flickr page

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, at 112 N. Sixth St. It’s a large complex, the two public buildings each stretching the length of one city block along N. Sixth St. 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, branch libraries, and large post offices, perhaps because so many were built in this general style in my native California throughout my teens and 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 sculptural 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 is one of those sorts of things like playing the bagpipes 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’re surrounded by original and recreated interiors, structures, and artifacts of interest, so they’re 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 very 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 here 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 left 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 on Mt. Rushmore it remains 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 has been changed drastically over the years: in 1899, the entire building was raised up 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 on the square, 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 cupala 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 describes 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 taken as a 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 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 that’s quite fitting.

To be continued

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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 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 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.

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 map on the Looking for Lincoln placard. 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, Wilson 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 for 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 Lincoln 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. Lincoln’s 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 driving earlier, 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 nor 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 is 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 a little disturbed, even a little offended. My father’s strict injunctions against unruly and disrespectful behavior in the presence of the dead and in 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. The rubbing 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 had 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, called a cenotaph, stands in the center. Crypts behind the south wall of this chamber hold 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’s 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 bronze 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 Cemetery 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 in 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 be 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, which was 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-year service 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 experienced 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, in my view. 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 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.

Next, I seek the site of a building that stood near the old Mayer Hotel site a century after Lincoln stayed there. Robert G. Ingersoll first moved here to Peoria 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 he lived here. 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 like to 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, that law office on 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, which was 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’ 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 workforce. 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 and 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 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 moved 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 here 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 site 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 so, 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.

*Listen to the podcast version here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

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!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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 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 naturally. 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 21st, then the 23rd-28th, 1854. This is lucky for us as few transcripts of that series of exchanges between Douglas and Lincoln survive. 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 audience.

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. Frederick 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 oppressing 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 and improve their 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 their chances 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 Robert Ingersoll. It likely occurred during one of Frederick Douglass’ return visits here for an 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 autobiography, 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 (these 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 next 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 wrote 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, of course, 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

*Listen to the podcast version here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

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!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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 landscapes 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 things 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. 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 he visited 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, who lived from 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 critiques of religion. He was also an abolitionist, a women’s rights advocate, and a promoter of the memory of Thomas Paine as a great American hero. Thomas Paine had 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 of President 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 by the French revolutionaries 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 during the war. Paine also criticized Washington’s support for the institution of a state church in Virginia, which, of course, was the kind of thing 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.

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 make. Then, as now, real or at least assumed religious belief was 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 belief 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 a colonel of the Union Army in 1861 and where he raised his 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 useful 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 appeared 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 a 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 a future 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 at 107 NE Monroe street. There’s a manuscript here 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…

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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