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Abraham Lincoln In Madison County, Illinois

Madison County ILGenWeb Coordinator - Beverly Bauser


 SEPTEMBER 22, 1842 - THE LINCOLN - SHIELDS DUELAbraham Lincoln - c. 1846

Abraham Lincoln wrote a series of letters to the Sangamon Journal, keenly satirizing the young James Shields, auditor of the State of Illinois on the Democratic ticket. Shields dress, his "dudish" manners, and his self-proclaimed status as a "ladies man," drew down ridicule from others. After reading the letters in the newspaper, Shields fumed, which only encouraged their continuance. Mary Todd, future wife of Abraham Lincoln, and Julia Jayne sent a poem to the Sangamon Journal, which pictured Shields as receiving a proposal of marriage from "Aunt Rebecca." Another poem followed, which celebrated the wedding. Shields went to the editor of the Journal in rage, demanding to know the name of his tormentor. The editor went to Lincoln, who was unwilling that Todd and Jayne be revealed. Lincoln ordered that his name be given as the author. Shortly after, Lincoln received a letter from Shields, demanding an apology. Lincoln replied that he could give the note no attention, because Shields had not first asked if he really was the author of the poem. Shields wrote again, but Lincoln replied he would receive nothing but a withdrawal of the first note, or a challenge. The challenge came, was accepted, and Lincoln picked
broadswords as the weapons to be used. They selected the place of their duel - on Sunflower Island, directly across from Alton. To read the full story of the Lincoln - Shields Duel, please click here.

James Shields was born May 10, 1806 in Ireland. He immigrated to the United States in 1826. He was briefly a sailor, and spent time in Quebec before settling in Kaskaskia, Illinois, where he studied and practiced law. In 1836, he was elected to the Illinois HOuse of Representatives, and later as State Auditor. It was during this time period that Shields received the ridicule of Lincoln. Afterwards, Lincoln and Shields became friends. Shields was appointed to the Illinois Supreme Court in 1845, and then became Commissioner of the U. S. General Land Office. At the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, he left the land office to take an appointment as Brigadier General of Volunteers. He served with distinction, and was twice wounded. In 1848, he was appointed as the first Governor of the Oregon Territory, which he declined. After serving as Senator from Illinois, he moved to Minnesota and founded the town of Shieldsville. He then served as a Senator from Minnesota. During the Civil War, he served once again, and fought at the Battle of Kernstown. Shields resigned his commission shortly thereafter, and settled in Missouri, where he served as a Senator from Missouri. He died in 1879.




On October 8, 1856, a large political rally was held in Alton during the 1856 Presidential election campaign. Abraham Lincoln, then an attorney and member of the Republican Party, arrived in Alton to give a speech for Presidential Republican candidate, John C. Fremont. He spoke to a large audience in front of the Presbyterian Church at the southeast corner of Broadway and Market Street (this later became the Laura Building), and returned to Springfield on the evening train. To read more regarding the political rally, please click here.




During the hotly contested senatorial campaign against Stephen A. Douglas, Abraham Lincoln made a third trip to Madison County in September 1858. Lincoln arrived in Alton on Friday, September 10, and then traveled to Edwardsville on the 11th. He met with local Republican Party officials at the home of Matthew Gillespie, brother of Joseph Gillespie. The men went to the Marshall House, formerly known as Haskett's Tavern, where they ate a noon-time meal. After the meal, Joseph Gillespie arranged for a band and a small parade to escort Lincoln to the courthouse for his 1 p.m. speech. One eyewitness reported that the parade was a "poor showing," while another recalled running alongside the small procession yelling racial slurs at Lincoln. After the speech, the Alton Weekly Courier reported that Lincoln's speech received "loud applause." Lincoln moved on to Highland, where he gave another speech that evening. On Sunday, September 12, Lincoln left Madison County and traveled to Greenville, where he delivered a two-hour address the next day.




On October 15, 1858, the seventh debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, for the Illinois Senate seat, was held in Alton, Illinois. In July 1858, Lincoln challenged Douglas to a series of debates, which were held throughout the State. Douglas was an incumbent Democrat, and Lincoln was a former Whig, turned Republican. At around 1:00 p.m., approximately 5,000 citizens gathered at the northeast corner of the Alton City Hall, where a large stand, decorated in patriotic bunting, had been erected. Seating was provided for the ladies. The Chicago and Alton Railroad provided half-priced train fare for the event, while others came by steamboat, horse, or by foot. Lincoln and Douglas had arrived by steamboat, coming down from Quincy, Illinois, before daybreak. Lincoln received friends at the Franklin House on State Street, while Douglas received friends at the Alton House on Front Street. A military company paraded through the streets, accompanied by a band. Excitement was in the air, and people walked up and down the streets of Alton, cheering on their favorite candidate, while businesses were decorated with banners of their chosen party. Although Lincoln lost the Senatorial election to Douglas, he gained a wide reputation through his speeches, and went on to become the 16th President of the United States in 1861.  Click here to read in detail the newspaper articles of the debate.

                                                  Lincoln - Douglas Debate, Alton, Illinois

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