Abraham Lincoln and Macomb
Date: 26 August 1858 in Macomb, IL
Black and white cameo photograph of Abraham Lincoln in 1858 looking directly into the camera. The ambrotype image was taken five days after the first Lincoln-Douglas Debate and a day before the second Debate.
During his tour of the state debating Stephen Douglas, senate hopeful Abraham Lincoln made two significant stops in Macomb, IL. During one of those stops, Lincoln, after much discussion with Joseph Medill and James K. Magie upon strategies for the debates, came to a conclusion that not only changed the course of his political career, but the history of the United States and fate of mankind.
The following is a chronology leading up to and after each of Mr. Lincoln’s visits:
Tuesday, August 24, 1858 Galesburg, IL and En route to Augusta, IL.
Lincoln, on a stopover en route to Augusta, arrives in Galesburg at about 3:30 in the afternoon on the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad. He makes “a few remarks” before a crowd of approximately a thousand people who gather at the Bancroft House. Lincoln apologizes that the short length of his stay in Galesburg does not allow him enough “time to make anything of a speech.”
– Chicago Daily Press and Tribune (IL), 26 August 1858, 2:3.
Wednesday, August 25, 1858 Augusta, IL and Macomb, IL
In the morning, the Republican Party holds a nominating convention at the Presbyterian Church in Augusta. The convention adjourns, and an audience of approximately 1,200 people gathers at “a beautiful grove in the suburbs of the town” to hear Lincoln deliver a speech. Lincoln begins speaking at around two o’clock in the afternoon, focusing his remarks on the slavery issue. In spite of the rainy weather, most of the audience stays to listen to the two-hour speech, “even the ladies, of whom there were a large number present, kept their seats till the speech was finished.”
In the evening, Lincoln speaks to an audience that fills the Macomb courthouse. A newspaper reports that Lincoln delivers his remarks in a relaxed manner, and that “his speech was more like an earnest conversation with his Old Whig friends.”
Thursday, August 26, 1858 Macomb, IL and Amboy, IL
Lincoln checks out of Randolph House Hotel at Macomb in morning. Randolph Hotel Room Book.
Before leaving town, T. P. Pearson, photographer, makes ambrotype of him. ISLA—Statement of Jacob Thompson.
The same photographic print of the Macomb ambrotype is in the collection of the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield. On the back of the Lincoln Home print is the following inscription, which supports Magie’s recollection:
From a photograph loaned by W. J. Franklin of Macomb, Illinois, and taken in 1866 from an ambrotype made in 1858 in Macomb.
This likeness of Abraham Lincoln is a faithful copy of an original ambrotype, now in possession of James K. Magic [Magie]. It was taken August 25, 1858, by Mr. T. P. Pierson, [sic] at Macomb, in this State, and is believed to be of anterior date to any other likeness of Mr. Lincoln ever brought before the public.
Mr. Magie happened to remain over night at Macomb, at the same hotel with Mr. Lincoln, and the next morning took a walk about town, and upon Mr. Magie’s invitation they stepped into Mr. Pierson’s establishment, and the ambrotype of which this is a copy was the result.
Mr. Lincoln, upon entering, looked at the camera as though he was unfamiliar with such an instrument, and then remarked: ‘Well, do you want to take a shot at me with that thing?’ He was shown to a glass [mirror], where he was told to ‘fix up,’ but declined, saying it would not be much of a likeness if he fixed up any. The old neighbors and acquaintances of Mr. Lincoln in Illinois, upon seeing this picture, are apt to exclaim: ‘There! that’s the best likeness of Mr. Lincoln that I ever saw!’ The dress he wore in this picture is the same in which he made his famous canvass with Senator Douglas.”
This inscription was written by J. C. Power, now dead, but for many years custodian of the Lincoln monument in Springfield.”
-The Early Life of Abraham Lincoln, by Ida M. Tarbell and J. McCan Davis, New York: S.S. McClure, 1896.
In afternoon he goes to Amboy where he makes short speech and stays night. ISLA—Letter of Charles E. Ives, 7 February 1927.
Friday, August 27, 1858 Freeport, IL
U.S. senatorial candidates Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas are in Freeport, Illinois, where they meet in their second joint debate. Douglas charges, “[Lincoln] will not tell you distinctly whether he will vote for or against the admission of any more slave States.” Lincoln rebuts, “I do not ask for the vote of any one who supposes that I have secret purposes or pledges that I dare not speak out.” Lincoln encourages voters to “Go for” the candidate whose “views” are “in accordance with your feelings.”
Tuesday, October 12, 1858 Macomb, IL
[Lincoln’s name and that of C. R. Hume, candidate for legislature, appear in Randolph Hotel room book under date of October 13, 1858. They likely spend night.]
Monday, October 25, 1858 Macomb, IL
Lincoln arrives at about noon, and a cheering crowd accompanies him to the Randolph House, a hotel owned by William Harrison Randolph, a local businessman and a former state legislator. At two o’clock, on the courthouse square, Lincoln speaks before a crowd of more than four thousand people, “who stood there in the mud, and fog, and drizzle through his whole speech.”
Tuesday, October 26, 1858 Macomb, IL and Vermont, IL
During part of day Lincoln rests at Randolph House. Hotel charges the $2.50 bill for his room to the Lincoln Club. Later Col. Thomas Hamer drives him to Vermont.
ISLA—Randolph House room book; Statement of Jacob Thompson, 12 November 1926.
…(t)he second debate at Freeport was to bring about a situation that affected the whole future course of the campaign, influenced the national situation, and had a good deal to do with the ultimate defeat of Douglas and the alienation of the South.
Medill traveled on the special train of seventeen cars that carried Lincoln and the Republicans to Freeport. On the way Lincoln showed him a set of questions which he had prepared for Douglas. Medill agreed that these were all good except the second, which he said would give Douglas an advantage. According to Herndon’s biography of Lincoln (Albert and Charles Boni edition, page 335) this famous second question was:
“Can the people of the United States Territory, in any lawful way, against the wish of any citizen of the United States, exclude slavery from its limits prior to the formation of a state constitution? “
Medill knew that Douglas would reply affirmatively, thus strengthening his new hold on the antislavery sentiment in the state, perhaps enough to win the election. He was right in this, for Douglas did win the election.
Medill on that day felt so strongly that Lincoln was making a mistake that he told Judd and Washburne of Lincoln’s intention and they all tried to talk him out of it in a conference at the hotel before the debate. But Lincoln would not be moved. How far he was looking ahead at this time will never be known, but the following recollection by Medill is significant:
Two or three days after the election of 1860, learning that the active workers of the Republican party of the state were calling on Mr. Lincoln in Springfield to congratulate him, I concluded to make the same pilgrimage and went down. I walked up to where Mr. Lincoln was holding his levee in the office of Secretary of State. He bent his head down to my ear and said in low tones something like this: “Do you recollect the argument we had on the way to Freeport two years ago on my question that I was going to ask Judge Douglas about the power of squatters to exclude slavery from territories? “And I replied that I recollected it very well.
“Now,” said he, “don’t you think I was right in putting that question to him? “I said, “Yes, Mr. Lincoln, you were, and we were both right. Douglas’ reply to that question undoubtedly hurt him badly for the Presidency but it reelected him to the Senate at that time as I feared it would.” Lincoln then gave a broad smile and said — “Now I have won the place that he was playing for.”
Source: The Chicago Tribune: Its First Hundred Years
True to Lincoln’s prediction, Douglas won the senate seat, but it paved the way to Lincoln’s Republican party nomination for president. He went on to defeat Douglas, along with two other contenders becoming the first US president, ever before or after, to guide this nation through a Civil War, preserve the Union and bring an end to slavery, earning him the distinction of one of the greatest American presidents.