Local historians offer panel
discussion on life of A. Lincoln
in Logan County    
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[AUG. 28, 2003]  The Johnston Center stage at Lincoln College filled once more this summer with men just as knowledgeable as those represented in Lincoln Community Theatre's production of "1776" a few weeks ago. Men of history took the floor and shared their wealth of Lincoln knowledge with a crowd that was hungry for more.  [See pictures here]

Ron Keller, a Lincoln College instructor, as well as director and curator of the Lincoln College museum, served as moderator of this lively discussion Monday evening.

Paul Beaver, professor of history emeritus at LC, presented a lively discussion on the life of Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln and Logan County. Dr. Beaver spoke for about an hour, outlining the chronology of Lincoln's life in central Illinois.

In his discussion about "the greatest man who ever walked in this state," Beaver told the crowd of nearly 300 how Lincoln began his work as a storekeeper, a postmaster, a surveyor, a lawyer, a legislator, a senator and finally became president of the United States.

Beaver informed the crowd that in 1830, Logan as we know it did not exist, but was part of a greater Sangamon County. Lincoln had lived with his family in Harristown, then Charleston, before moving to New Salem as an adult.

Mr. Lincoln was asked to study surveying in New Salem and eventually took the position of deputy surveyor for Sangamon County. During this time, he surveyed several areas for towns, including two in what is now the Logan County area. The settlements of Albany, near Rocky Ford, and Musick's Ferry near Middletown, did not ever come into existence.

Another interesting fact is that Middletown probably got its name from being nearly midway on the stagecoach route between Springfield and Peoria (aka Fort Clark). Dr. John L. Deskins took advantage of this location to establish the Middletown Stagecoach Inn, still in existence today. This nine-room inn, large for its time, often housed Mr. Lincoln as he traveled his judicial circuits. Its size probably accommodated out-of-towners who were attending local horse racing events. It is the only remaining wooden stagecoach inn still standing in Illinois today.

Later, Dr. Deskins shrewdly left Middletown and built the Deskins Inn near the railroad tracks in Postville. This inn served as a courthouse for Mr. Lincoln prior to the building of the Postville Courthouse.

During his time as deputy surveyor, Mr. Lincoln surveyed and established three other settlements: Middletown in 1832, Postville in 1835 and Mount Pulaski in 1836. According to Beaver, Mr. Lincoln became chairman on the committee for establishing new counties in Illinois. It was determined at that time that every county seat should be within a day's horseback riding distance. Because Sangamon County was so large, it was broken down further into Dane (now Christian), Menard and Logan counties. Mr. Lincoln named Logan County for his friend Stephen Logan.

Postville was then named the Logan County seat and became part of the 8th Judicial Circuit. When Mr. Lincoln became a law partner with John Todd Stuart in Springfield in the late 1830s, he often traveled this circuit with other lawyers and the judges. At times, he served as acting judge in the absence of the circuit judge. Mr. Lincoln often played "town ball" in Postville Park.

In 1848, the Postville Courthouse could no longer accommodate the 8th Judicial Circuit, and court was moved to the Mount Pulaski Courthouse. Shortly after this, Mr. Lincoln was elected to Congress as a member of the Whig Party. He served for two years and returned to his law practice in Springfield in 1850, again riding the 8th Circuit and hearing cases in Mount Pulaski, the Logan County seat at that time.

As a member of the Whig Party, Mr. Lincoln opposed the pending Civil War. However, the specter of war was about to descend upon the country.

In 1853, the city of Lincoln was founded, largely due to its prime location upon the railway built between Chicago and St. Louis. Virgil Hickox, a shrewd businessman as proprietor of the Chicago railroad and head of the Democratic Party, notified John Gillett about the location of railroad depots. The land that is now downtown Lincoln was surveyed in February 1853.

Shortly after that, a bill was passed to move the Logan County seat from Mount Pulaski to Lincoln, though it had not yet been named such. The official purchase of 90 lots was made from a family in Pennsylvania on Aug. 27, 1853, for the sum of $1,300.

Since Mr. Lincoln had done the legal work to plat the land, Robert Latham and John Gillett decided to name the city after Lincoln. Beaver stated that, though Mr. Lincoln was a modest man, he knew that the city of Lincoln would take off because of its optimal location on the railroad. The 90 lots were sold off individually for a total of $6,000.

Mr. Lincoln christened the new city with the legendary juice of a locally sold watermelon.

"Mr. Lincoln's world got a lot darker after that," Beaver went on, mesmerizing the crowd. With 3.5 million slaves being held in the South, a "fire barrel in the night" was about to explode.

The Missouri Compromise, or Clay's Compromise of 1850, ruled that no slavery was allowed in states north of Missouri. However, it did not mention the new territories of New Mexico and Arizona. The conflict continued as the South pushed to take slavery into new territories. Abolitionists and Underground Railroad helpers were under fire by slave catchers.

Beaver noted an episode that occurred in Broadwell in which a runaway slave had been working as a blacksmith. This slave was captured and carried away by slave catchers.


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Opposition between the North and the South continued to grow as Harriet Beecher Stowe published "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in 1852. This powerful book polarized the country.

Later, Mr. Lincoln had the opportunity to meet with Stowe. He leaned down and said to her, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war."

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was "the point of no return" for war. The Kansas-Nebraska Act was a bill that became law on May 30, 1854, by which the U.S. Congress established the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. By 1854 the organization of the vast Platte and Kansas River countries west of Iowa and Missouri was overdue. As an isolated issue, territorial organization of this area was no problem. It was, however, irrevocably bound to the bitter sectional controversy over the extension of slavery into the territories and was further complicated by conflict over the location of the projected transcontinental railroad. Under no circumstances did pro-slavery congressmen want a free territory (Kansas) west of Missouri. Because the West was expanding rapidly, territorial organization, despite these difficulties, could no longer be postponed. The bill that Stephen Douglas, chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories, reported in January 1854 contained the provision that the question of slavery should be left to the decision of the territorial settlers themselves.

Mr. Lincoln joined the U.S. Senate in 1855. According to Beaver, President Buchanan, a Democrat, did nothing to address the slavery issue.

In 1857, the Dred Scott decision opened the entire West up to the possibility of slavery. The decision stated that slaves were nothing more than property and could be taken with settlers to the new territories. The North didn't want slavery in the new territories because rich plantation owners would dominate the land and squelch the economy and employment opportunities for settlers.

The new Republican Party, with Mr. Lincoln leading it on, built its foundation on the mission of no slavery in the territories. The Lincoln-Douglas debates began as both candidates fought for the U.S. Senate position, and Lincoln delivered the famous "House Divided" speech on June 16, 1858.

After losing the election, Mr. Lincoln returned to his law practice in Illinois. In the summer of 1860, he began campaigning for the U.S. presidency, with a clever slogan about his being a "railsplitter." As he campaigned on the back of a train, this namesake city saw him alive for the last time in 1860.

Beaver noted that in the Civil War 329 men from Logan County died, among the nation's total of 500,000 soldiers lost.

Following Lincoln's assassination, a two-week funeral train passed through Lincoln, and a memorial service was held at the depot on May 3, 1865, one day prior to the final funeral in Springfield.

Beaver noted that the laborers completing work on the University Hall building at the Lincoln College campus left early to travel to Springfield for the funeral service.

Finally, Beaver asked that the city of Lincoln "continue to bring honor to his name." "Lincoln was one of us."

Following Dr. Beaver's account of President Lincoln's life in Logan County, the panel of historians was given time to discuss their research. Dr. Wayne Temple, chief deputy archivist at the Illinois State Archives, spoke further on the Middletown Stagecoach Inn, and its connection with Mr. Lincoln.

Dr. Mark Plummer, professor emeritus at ISU, spoke of the connection between Mr. Lincoln and John Oglesby.

The final panelist, Paul Gleason, who is an instructor of history at Lincoln College and assistant director of the LC Museum, spoke of the "chronology of tragedies that beset Lincoln." He also discussed the Beecher Bibles and his attendance at the last eight presidential inaugurations.

Though the evening ran long, the crowd stayed put, posing several questions to the panel of experts. Dr. Temple dominated the discussion with his witty answers and wealth of little-known information.

Dr. Temple even conceded, "I'm so old, that many days I think I knew Lincoln." His intimate knowledge of all things Lincoln seems to support this statement.

The evening drew to a close as the sesquicentennial committee, chaired by Mayor Beth Davis, served a lovely reception. Available for sale was Beaver and Gleason's sought-after publication on 150 years of Lincoln history, still hot off the presses. Also for sale were several publications by both Beaver and Temple. Temple told the crowd that, at the last minute, he had contacted his publisher about bringing out "a few books" to the panel discussion. Temple's books, all on the life and times of Mr. Lincoln, went faster than the garlic shrimp at the serving table.

Historians and the listeners alike left the college campus with greater knowledge and respect for our 16th president.

As Gleason stated, "(Mr.) Lincoln became a symbol of hope for other people. His main goal was to save the nation and keeping it from being torn asunder."

  [Patricia Rankin]

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