My Granddaughter, Me, and "Abraman" Lincoln
No, no, no, that’s not a typo on our 16th President’s name in the title. That’s what my little four-year old granddaughter calls him. She’s been able to recognize "Abraman" Lincoln since last year when we went to Springfield, Illinois. Last year she got to play in Mr. Lincoln’s leaves at his home in Springfield. This year she got to stand next to his statue and see how tall he really was.
My son’s family and I went to Alton, Illinois, the site of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates on October 15, 1858. Alton sits on the confluence of three rivers, the Mississippi, the Illinois, and the Missouri. In 1995 the city made the site of the debates the Lincoln Douglas Square. It’s located at the intersection of Broadway and Market Streets just across the street from the beautiful 4,600 cable-stay Clark suspension bridge going west into Missouri. The site of the debates was in front of City Hall, however, the building was destroyed by fire in 1923. As you look at the photo of the statue, notice the stone wall behind Lincoln and Douglas. That is the east wall of City Hall, and it was saved to be part of the Square.
In 1837 pre-Civil War Alton, Elijah Parish Lovejoy, an abolitionist and newspaper editor, was killed while protecting his presses from a pro-slavery mob. Mr. Lovejoy’s press was thrown in the river.
Alton had a history during the Civil War. It was a hotbed of politics as well as the site of a Confederate Prison. The prison, previously closed in 1860, was re-opened per Union General Henry Halleck, and the first prisoners were detained there on February 9, 1862. 11,764 Confederates passed through the gates of Alton prison in the next three years.
Seven debates were held in each of the Congressional districts of Illinois between Lincoln and Douglas. The main issue of the debates was whether or not slavery would be allowed in the new territories of the U.S. At first Lincoln was a sort of a political groupie as he would appear at Stephen Douglas’ speeches and then speak after Douglas was finished. He became well known around the country by doing this. Later he challenged Douglas to a series of debates and Douglas accepted. There were debates in Ottawa (9,000 spectators), Freeport (15,000), Jonesboro (1,500), Charleston (15,000), Galesburg (15,000), Quincy (15,000), and the last one in Alton, Illinois. The spectators arrived by foot, on horseback, carriage, wagons, steamers, and the railroad. The charge for a roundtrip steamboat ride from St. Louis was $1.00. The Chicago and Alton Railroad offered half-price fares from Springfield and other locations. Around 5,000 people attended the Alton debate. This was the first debate that Mrs. Lincoln and their son Robert attended.
The National Park Service has the whole text of the Alton debate on the internet. Here are some of Lincoln’s more interesting statements:
“First, in regard to his doctrine that this Government was in violation of the law of God, which says that a house divided against itself cannot stand, I repudiated it as a slander upon the immortal framers of our Constitution.”
“We had slaves among us, we could not get our Constitution unless we permitted them to remain in slavery, we could not secure the good we did secure if we grasped for more; and having by necessity submitted to that much, it does not destroy the principle that is the charter of our liberties. Let the charter remain as our standard.”
“I shall very readily agree with him that it would be foolish for us to insist upon having a cranberry law here, in Illinois, where we have no cranberries, because they have a cranberry law in Indiana, where they have cranberries. I should insist that it would be exceedingly wrong in us to deny to Virginia the right to enact oyster laws where they have oysters, because we want no such laws here.”
“And I understand as well as Judge Douglas, or any body else, that these mutual accommodations are the cements which bind together the different parts of this Union that instead of being a thing to “divide the house” – figuratively expressing the union – they tend to sustain it; they are the props of the house tending always to hold it up.”
“There was never a party in the history of this country, and there probably never will be, of sufficient strength to disturb the general peace of the country. Parties themselves may be divided and quarrel on minor questions, yet it extends not beyond the parties themselves.”
“There are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings.”
I don’t know about you but I can hear Mr. Lincoln in my mind saying those words in his folksy way of talking. After Alton we drove down the Great River Road to Pere Marquette Park passing great white cliffs on the way. I tried to get my granddaughter to believe there were Indians up on the cliffs looking down at us but she didn’t buy it.