"We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses."
Abraham Lincoln has a major influence on the McLean County area. Many know about Lincoln's impact on the country; he was the 16th President of the United States of America and issued the Emancipation Proclamation to help free slaves. Few know about what he did right here in Bloomington-Normal. Lincoln's roots lie in Illinois. He had a major role in the law aspect of McLean County in the late 1800s. This page will detail the history of Lincoln and the legacy he has left.
Historical Lincoln in McLean
Bloomington played an important role in Abraham Lincoln’s career early on. Lincoln was a traveling attorney in the earlier years of his life. Many of Lincoln’s court cases took place here as well as some of his most important confrontations with Stephen A. Douglas. Douglas was a politician from Illinois and was the designer of the Kansas–Nebraska Act. He was the Democratic Party nominee for President in the 1860 election that lost to Lincoln. Some of the most prominent court confrontations between Lincoln and Douglas were over the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Kansas-Nebraska Act was the act of letting the people of Kansas and Nebraska decide if they want slavery in their state or not. Lincoln also debated against Douglas in terms of politics for many different political positions and issues.
Illinois State University Impact
Illinois State University was founded as a teacher training school in 1857. This was two years after state legislation passed the Free School Act. Judge and future Supreme Court Justice, David Davis, and local businessman Jesse W. Fell had profound support in the university. Friend of Davis and Fell, Abraham Lincoln was the attorney selected by the Board of Education to help secure the school's funding. Without Lincoln's help, the university may not exist at all. Illinois State Normal University was the original name of the university. Normal was the name given, not because of its location, which had not been named Normal yet, but after its primary mission to be a normal school. Classes were initially held in downtown Bloomington, in the space of Major's Hall, which was the site of Lincoln's "Lost Speech". In 1865, the school moved to its current campus and village name of North Bloomington was changed to "Normal", named after the university. In 1965, the name of ISU was changed to Illinois State University of Normal and then to Illinois State University in 1968.
Abraham Lincoln's gave a speech, which is now called “Lincoln’s Lost Speech” at Major’s Hall in Bloomington (previously at the corner of East and Front Street) on May 29, 1856. The speech was given at the Anti-Nebraska convention and addressed his strong disapproval of slavery. The reasons for why it was “lost” are not clear. There are no notes from reporters of his speech and only a mention of his speech was given in the newspaper. Some say reporters were so engaged by Lincoln’s words that they forgot to take notes, while others claim his words were so controversial, media reports could not be given. But what is clear is that what Lincoln said during his speech was very moving and gave him a huge boost in his campaign.
Lincoln’s last speech, and last visit, in Bloomington was given on his presidential run. The town of Bloomington continued to show tremendous support for Lincoln through his presidency and boosted about him to the country. His assassination was shocking to the community and caused lots of mourning. His life was honored and remembered by all.
The town of Lincoln was named after President Abraham Lincoln, but was the only one in the United States to name it before his presidency. Lincoln practiced law from 1847 to 1859 in this Illinois town. Lincoln assisted in the creation of the town and got railroads laid through in order to found the town. He asked to come to the ceremony and while in attendance, Lincoln discovered the town was being named after him.
Lincoln College is located in Lincoln, Illinois and is also named after Abraham Lincoln. More information about the college can be found here.
Famous Local Friends of Lincoln
Many of Lincoln's friends lived in Bloomington such as David Davis, Leonard Swett, Jesse W. Fell. They played a major role in Lincoln's winning of the Republican presidential nomination in 1860 and also had an impact on the Bloomington community. Jesse Fell was a businessman in Bloomington. He opened the first law offices in the town and was the founder of many universities, cities, and counties of Illinois. He also began the first newspaper for the community. David Davis was an Illinois Senator and a Supreme Court Judge. He was the closest of friends with Lincoln and was campaign manager for Lincoln when he ran for President in 1860. His mansion in Bloomington is now a state museum. Asahel Gridley was a politician and lawyer in town. He moved from New York when he was 21 and worked with Lincoln. He became the state's first millionaire. Leonard Swett was a lawyer in town as well. Lincoln became such good friends with these men after coming back to Springfield after serving in the House of Representatives and deciding to become a traveling attorney. These men were apart of the 8th Judicial Circuit, the one that came to Bloomington. He became close to them because of the long periods of time they would spend together, the support they had for each other, and all the fun times they made despite the stress of the occupation. They all continued to become friends even though their paths took different routes because of the great bonds they had made.
McLean County Museum of History
The McLean County Museum of History is located in downtown Bloomington. This museum stands on the former location of the McLean County Courthouse, the same courthouse that Lincoln had many cases in. Going to the museum is like walking where the famous Abraham Lincoln once stood. The museum does have much information about the Old Courthouse and Abraham Lincoln's life in McLean County. The museum is open Monday through Saturday and is $5 or less for everyone. The hours vary by day as does the admission price. Parking is free on the street around the museum, but only for 90 minutes. Otherwise, parking is $1 per hour during the week in the Lincoln Parking Deck. Most of the city buses also have a drop off near the museum. There are a total of 11 Looking for Lincoln exhibit panels in downtown Bloomington, giving more information about Lincoln in McLean County.
Lincoln Lookout- Lincoln in Our Community
Harney Statue at the McLean County Museum of History
On the lawn of the McLean County Museum of History sits a bench with Abraham Lincoln. The bench allows visitors to feel like they are sitting right next to the 16th President of the United States. This location is significant because Lincoln himself tried many cases in the McLean County Courthouse which once existed from 1836 to 1868 on the current spot of the McLean County Museum of History in downtown Bloomington. The bronze bench was dedicated on the 150th anniversary of Bloomington-Normal in the summer of 2000.
Lincoln also owned land in Bloomington. He owned two lots from 1851 to 1856. The two lots are off of Jefferson and McLean Street in Bloomington on the northwest end. Many believe Abraham Lincoln was planning to stay in Bloomington until he sold the lot and bought another lot in Lincoln, Illinois.
There have been three United States Presidents that were elected while living in Illinois: Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and Barack Obama. Ronald Reagan was elected in California but was actually the only U.S. President that was born and raised in Illinois. Despite this, Illinois honors Lincoln as "Illinois Favorite Son". Illinois official state slogan is Land of Lincoln. Illinois license plates display the face of Lincoln as well as the slogan Land of Lincoln. This has not changed since 1954.