Happy Birthday, John Jones!

John Jones, portrait by Mosher & Baldwin, 1882, courtesy of the Chicago History Museum

When I visited Springfield, Illinois this summer, I found a very interesting plaque at the Old State House downtown. It told the story of John Jones and his activism against Illinois’s Black Laws, a set of legal codes that pertained only to black people, and, as you likely and immediately supposed,  were terribly oppressive. Such laws have a long history in the United States and as long as they’ve been around, lovers of justice have been around to fight them. John Jones was one such person.

Born on November 3rd, 1816 to an American black mother and German white father, Jones had to make his own way early in the world. Jones’ mother did not trust his father to do right by his son so she apprenticed him to a tailor when he was very young. The resourceful Jones taught himself to read and write and, having learned what he needed to, he released himself from the tailor’s service by age 27. He then obtained official free papers for himself and his wife, née Mary Jane Richardson, and secured their freedom to live and travel by posting a $1,000 bond in 1844. While he and his wife were both born free, they had to worry about the numerous ‘fugitive’ slave catchers and kidnappers prowling around, all too happy to capture as many black persons as they could get ahold of, passing them off as escaped slaves in exchange for a substantial payoff.

The Joneses moved to Chicago from Alton, Illinois in 1845, where there was an established community of black entrepreneurs and therefore, more opportunities for families such as theirs. Jones worked hard and savvily, building up a very successful tailoring business and amassing an impressive fortune within just a few years. The Joneses used their success to help their fellow black citizens, making their home one of the key Chicago stops on the Underground Railroad. Jones poured much of his money and time into civil rights activism, working for the abolitionist cause and to overturn the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the already decades-old Black Laws of Illinois, sometimes with his fellow autodidact and activist Frederick Douglass. For the rest of his life, Jones was a prominent intellectual, moral, religious, and political leader in the black community of Chicago and beyond.

Learn more about the courageous civil rights leader John Jones at:

John Jones (1816–1879): Activist, politician, tailor, entrepreneur  ~ by Jessie Carney Smith for Encyclopedia.com

Jones, John ~ by Cynthia Wilson for Blackpast.org

Historical placard for John Jones, Old State House, Springfield, Illinois

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!

Photobook: Frederick Douglass and Edinburgh, Old and New

Detail of Edinburgh Old and New by David Octavius Hill, 1847, photo by Amy Cools at the Hill & Adamson photography Exhibit at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, September 2017. In this view, the Firth of Forth is in the background, Calton Hill is at the right, Princes Street runs along the center at an angle with the Scott Monument at the center, and the Scottish National Gallery is at left, as seen from Edinburgh Castle.

Frederick Douglass wrote to William White on July 30th, 1846

‘I am now in Edinburgh. It is the capital of Scotland – and it is justly regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. I never saw one with which for beauty, elegance, and grandeur to compare it… The Monument to Sir Walter Scott – on Princes Street, is just one conglomeration of architectural beauties. The Calton Hill – Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat give the city advantages over any city I have visited in this or in your country.’

The Scott Monument was finished just two years before Douglass’ visit. I walk near or among all of these places that Douglass writes of no less than several times a week. Oh, the wonder of it! – In the Main Reading Room of the National Library of Scotland with The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series III: Correspondence. Volume 1: 1842-1852, ed. John R. McKivigan.

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!

New Podcast Episode: To the Great Plains and Illinois I Go, in Search of Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Abraham Lincoln, and Other American Histories

Roosevelt Arch at the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Photo: January 2017 by Amy Cools

Listen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

Hello, friends of Ordinary Philosophy!

From time to time, I take a trip to some corner of the globe, to explore the lives and ideas of great thinkers in the places where they lived and worked. For this series, I follow in the footsteps of thinkers who are no longer alive, since those who are still telling their own stories. But those who are no longer alive in the body live on in the ideas that they pass on, and in the example they provide for us to follow.

I’m pleased and excited to announce my seventh philosophical-historical adventure: an almost three-week road trip through the Great Plains and on to Illinois. I’ll fly from Chicago to Scotland on August 9th: I’ll be pursuing a master’s degree in the history of ideas at the University of Edinburgh starting this fall. In the meantime, I’m overjoyed to have this window of time to explore parts of my country which I’ve never seen, and to learn as much as I can along the way…. Read the written version here

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!

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

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

Peoria, Illinois, July 28th, 2017, continued

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

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

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

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

Presidents Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frederick Douglass, ca. 1870 (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

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

On this day Douglass said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sources and inspiration:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peoria, Illinois, July 28th, 2017, continued

~ Dedicated to Shannon Harrod Reyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rouse’s Hall, image courtesy of Peoria Public Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sources and inspiration:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peoria, Illinois, July 28th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Ingersoll statue in Glen Oak Park, Peoria, Illinois

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sources and inspiration:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois, July 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sources and inspiration:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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