Macon County, Illinois
a part of  US Genealogy Express


Pages  63 thru 69 




THOUGH Abraham Lincoln left Macon county in the spring of 1831, and never afterwards made it his home, Decatur has other claims on him.

After Lincoln was admitted to the bar in 1837, he was in Decatur often on law cases, and it was in Decatur that his name first was submitted as a candidate for the presidency of the United States.

One case in which he appeared - of interest became it was heard in the old log court house - was the ex-parte case of John Lowry, administrator, at the May term of court in 1838.  John Hanks was on the jury at that time.

Lincoln's reply in the case, in his own handwriting, is among the papers now on file at the Macon county court house.

The answer of Abraham Lincoln, guardian ad litem in case number A-156 (John Lowry), written and signed by Lincoln, and filed in the circuit court of Macon county, June 5, 1838.

At the time this case was heard, in May, 1838, Macon county was building its new brick court house.


The new building was not finished until in June, and was accepted by the county June 20, so there is no doubt but that the old log court house was still in sue when the Lowry case came up.  This statement is made because some writers have tried to prove that Lincoln never had any law practice here in the old log court house, the building now standing in Fairview park.


While traveling the eighth judicial circuit, Lincoln was often in Decatur, it being customary for lawyers to follow the court from county to county.

The Macon house, at the corner of Prairie and Franklin streets was his stopping place.  Because the Macon house was a better class of hostelry than they found in many of the towns they visited, the attorneys always enjoyed their stay in Decatur.  In fact, it is said that they prolonged the business of the court in order to remain here longer.

Court week was always a big week.  The town was filled to overflowing with visitors.  Lawyers, their clients and witnesses naturally would be here, but there was also the usual following of peddlers, show men, gamblers and mere curiosity seekers.  Gay social events were arranged for that week.  There was always something doing when court week came.

It was while traveling the circuit that Lincoln heard and told so many of the stories which made him so entertaining and so popular.  His kindness, honesty and courtesy to everyone did as much, however, to win him friends.

Among many incidents about Lincoln told by Mrs. Jane Martin Johns is the one about his helping with her piano.  She was living at the Macon hotel when her piano came, the first in Decatur.  She asked the landlord whom she could get to help carry it in.  He said:

"Court will be out soon and the lawyers will come to dinner.  We can get them to help".

Soon they came, one a tall, slim, muscular man wearing a heavy gray shawl as men wore then.  That was Lincoln.

With others he took hold and helped carry in and set up the piano.

"Now," he said, "perhaps this lady will play for us."  She did so.

Lincoln was honored by the Illinois newspaper editors when they met in Decatur, Feb. 22, 1856, and took the first steps toward the organization of the Republican party in Illinois.  This meeting had been called for the purpose of organizing the Anti-Nebraska bill forces.  It was held at the Cassell house (on the site of the St. Nicholas), and after the meeting a banquet was held, at which Lincoln made the principal speech.


Though none of the memorable series of Lincoln-Douglas debates series of debates, and only a short time before the election.  Douglas was here first and Lincoln a few days afterwards.  Lincoln appeared to be utterly worn out by his hard work during the campaign, and his voice was so weak that he could hardly be heard across the hall.

Previous to this, probably in the year 1858, Lincoln spoke in Powers hall, and Douglas spoke at the furniture factory.  On one occasion that year the two men had a debate in Imboden's grove, according to some of the old time residents.


Lincoln received his greatest ovation in Macon county on May 10, 1860, when the state Republican convention was in session in the Wigwam, on State street, and his name was put forth for the first time as a candidate for the presidency.  His nomination came at the national convention held a short time afterwards in Chicago.


The Wigwam was a temporary structure, with canvas roof, built especially for this convention, for Decatur had no building adequate to accommodate the crowd the convention would bring.  It fronted on South Park street, and was about 100 feet by 70 feet in size.  The stand was at the south side and the roof was so low that the heads of men as tall as Lincoln nearly touched it.  The seats were made of planks.  D. C. Shockley was the contractor who erected the building.  It cold accommodate 900 persons.


Republicans from all over the state assembled on that memorable day to nominate a candidate for governor, but spent most of their time in talking possible presidential candidates.

Some days before the meeting Richard J. Oglesby had conceived the idea of using some catchy expression in his plan to bring the name of Lincoln before the convention.  In an effort to find something suitable, he asked John Hanks one day what kind of work "Abe used to be good at."

"Not much of anything but dreaming,"  Hanks replied, "but he did help me once to split a lot of rails."

So Oglesby's idea of the "railsplitter" candidate was born.  Together he and John Hanks went to the clearing south of Harristown where Lincoln and Hanks had split rails years before.  They brought back with them two walnut rails, identified by Hanks as some of the rails the two men had made.

Oglesby's next move was to have a  banner fastened to these two rails.  On the banner were the words:

"Abraham Lincoln, the Railsplitter candidate for President in 1860.  Two rails from a lot of 3,000 made in 1830 by John Hanks and Abe Lincoln.  Whose father was the first pioneer in Macon count."  (The last was untrue)

After the convention had opened, Oglesby arose and announced that an old Democrat wanted to make a contribution to the convention.

At once every one was interested.  Just then John Hanks and Isaac Jennings came in carrying the banner.  The assembly went wild.

John M. Palmer jumped to his feet with a resolution declaring that Lincoln was the first choice of the Republican party in Illinois for the presidency and instructing the delegates to the Chicago convention to use all honorable means to secure the nomination, and to cast the vote of the state as a unit for him.


The resolution was adopted, and pandemonium reigned.  Men jumped up and down in their excitement.  Yells and cheers filled the air.  Hats, canes, books, anything one could lay hands on, were tossed to the roof.  The cheering literally raised the roof - or rather lowered it - for part of the awning fell.  The Wigwam was almost a wreck.

"Lincoln", "Lincoln," the people shouted.  A committee had to be sent to find him.

He was located in the Peake jewelry store lying on a couch asleep.  He was rushed over to the Wigwam.  Then there was another demonstration.  When asked if he split those rails, Lincoln replied:

"Gentlemen, John and I did split some rails down there.  I do not know if these are the identical rails or not, but I do know I have made a heap better ones and could do it again."

Thus Lincoln was started again from Macon county "on his way," this tie to a larger and never-to-be-forgotten career.  From henceforth, he belonged, not to any city or any county or any state, but to the nation.


After his election as president of the United States Abraham Lincoln came through Decatur twice.

One time was on Jan. 30, 1861, when he was on his way to Charleston to visit his stepmother before he left for Washington to assume his duties as the nation's head.  As they passed the vicinity of Harristown, Lincoln remarked to his companions, Judge David Davis and Judge Edmund Bates, about having made enough rails in that vicinity to fence about ten acres of ground.

"That was about thirty years ago," he said, "and it is hardly to be expected that I could identify any of the rails now".

On his way to Washington Lincoln again passed through Decatur.  That was in February, 1861, and it proved to be his last visit to this city.

John Quinlan, in an interview published in The Decatur Review, Aug. 26, 1900, said, in speaking of the last time Lincoln was in Decatur:

"It was about the last of February, 1861, and Lincoln was on his way to Washington to be inaugurated.  The train stopped here a few minutes.  The engine was elaborately decorated.  Lincoln came out and made a short speech from the platform.  There were perhaps 300 or 400 people at the depot.  Among them were J. R. Gorin, James Milikin, and I think Lowber Burrows and John Ullrich.

"I stood within about 15 feet of Mr. Lincoln and heard distinctly.  He appeared sad and depressed and his speech had a melancholy tone.  He seemed to feel that he was telling his friends goodbye with the Chances against his ever returning.  He spoke of the possible danger of his long trip to Washington.  He spoke of the most eventful years of his life having had spent in Illinois and went away with the aspect of a man who was very sorry he had to go.  The next time I saw him was when I attended this funeral.


Decatur and Macon county have marked in various ways the points of interest connected with Lincoln's life here, and have honored im in other ways.

On the West drug store building is a tablet noting the fact that Lincoln passed that way when he came to Decatur.

A boulder was placed to mark the spot near the Sangamon river in Harristown township where the Lincoln cabin stood.  It was not on the exact site, however.

The map shows the roads by which the Lincoln cabin site and the boulder can be reached.  The boulder which was placed by Stephen Decatur chapter, D. A. R., is about a quarter of a mile from the spot now accepted as the site.  There is no road connecting those two spots.

Figures on the map show the following:

1 - Private road to site of boulder.
2 - Farm house on Dipper land.  The boulder is four feet north of this house.
3 - Farm house on Whitley land reached by private road from main road.
4 - Old Whitley dam.  Remains of dam still to be seen when water is low.
5 - Abandoned road (once a public road).
6 - Site of old ford across river, washed out years ago.
7 - Bridge over Sangamon.  This is the only bridge across the river in that neighborhood.

The roads marked with small squares are gravel roads.

A temporary marker now stands on the Lincoln cabin site.  It is a piece of tin fastened to a post.  On the tin is inscribed "Lincoln cabin site, 1830".

A marker stands on the Art Institute grounds on West Main street to show the way Lincoln traveled on the eighth judicial circuit.

On the old court house, now standing in Fairview park, is a tablet telling that Lincoln practiced law there.

On the rear of the Millikin bank building is a tablet marking the location of the Wigwam, where Lincoln was suggested as a candidate for president.  Lincoln square, Lincoln theater, Lincoln Avenue, Lincoln park, Lincoln School, are all named for him.

In  the public library is the Jane Hamand collection of Lincolnania which includes the Kirkham grammer from which Abraham Lincoln studied with Ann Rutledge.




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This Webpage has been created by Sharon Wick exclusively for US Genealogy Express  2008 - Submitters retain all copyrights

This Webpage created by Sharon Wick 2003