Lincoln in Monmouth after "The Debate"


by Terry Hogan


Most of us are familiar with the Lincoln and Douglas Debate, held at Knox College in Galesburg on October 7, 1858. The debate was held at Old Main on the Knox Campus. Old Main is the only remaining historic site of the seven debates that would help determine who would be Illinois' senator. The debate was the fifth of seven debates between Abe Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. Lincoln lost the senatorial election to Douglas, but the debates thrust the relatively unknown Lincoln on to the national political stage. With the proliferation of the telegraph and the interest in the slave question, the debate received national and quick coverage. The telegraph line was the CNN of the 1850's.  


There is a very strong argument to be made that without those debates, Lincoln would not have had the subsequent opportunities to position himself for the Republican nomination for President in 1860. The seven debates, each scheduled for a mind-numbing three hours, gave Lincoln the opportunity to shine on "prime time". Even though Lincoln was sent to the Senate, his debate skills, relying on a firm legal style of oral argument, resulted in Lincoln being invited to speak at various locations in the East. With each speech, the lanky, and homely man who had been viewed as a sectionalist politician, became more and more recognized as a national figure.   


There is much written about Douglas's arrival by special train at Galesburg and Lincoln's comparatively low-key arrival, via Knoxville. There is also much written and described about the content of the debate held at Knox, although the content and presentations appeared to have been filtered by the reporter's political perspective. Just as eye witnesses see events differently, so did those early reporters who attended the debate. In the absence of tape recorders and electronic sound systems to amplify voices, and in the political bias generally carried by newspapers, it is not surprising that printed accounts of what was said, how it was received, and who "won the debate" varied widely.


Nonetheless, the purpose of this brief article is to address a much more narrow question. One that had not occurred to me, and perhaps not to you. Where did Lincoln go and what did he do in the next few days following the Galesburg debate?


According to an April 1896 article by Ida M. Tarbell, Abraham Lincoln that appeared in the McClure's Magazine, Lincoln traveled to Monmouth. On October 11, four days after the Galesburg debate, Lincoln made a speech in Monmouth. Following the speech, the well known Galesburg photographer, Harrison, took a photo of Lincoln in Monmouth. The photo was an ambrotype. According to the Tarbell article, the photo, which was reproduced in the McClure's Magazine, was owned by Mrs. W. J. Thomson of Monmouth. The ambrotype shows a clean-shaven Lincoln with a face unlined by worry that would come with the Civil War. It also shows a relatively good looking Lincoln with carefully combed hair. His face was fuller than it would be in photos taken in 1860, suggesting the loss of weight. The ambrotype was reported to have been "hitherto unpublished" according to the McClure's caption below the photograph.


I do not know where in Monmouth Lincoln spoke, nor do I know where specifically Harrison took the photo of Lincoln or how it was arranged. In 1860, it would have been a significant investment of time for Harrison to travel to Monmouth to take the photo. Thus, it seems likely that some sort of agreement had been reached with Lincoln before Harrison made the trip to Monmouth.


I would guess that some of the local historians in Monmouth would know about Lincoln's speech in Monmouth, and perhaps it is also available in the Knox College archives of Lincoln materials. But I do not have access to either.


If somebody has the details about Lincoln's speech in Monmouth, I would enjoy hearing from them, via The Zephyr.  As I read more and more about Lincoln, I find a number of threads that tie Lincoln to Galesburg and Monmouth that go well beyond the debate.  It would be interesting to put a little more flesh on the bare bone facts presented in this brief article.