Learning Lincoln On-line
Abraham Lincoln in Shelby County, Illinois
ABRAHAM LINCOLN TRAVELS ON THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT: SHELBYVILLE LAWYER FRIENDS AT SHELBYVILLE, ILLINOIS (SHELBY COUNTY
The Lincoln-Thornton Debate Event June 15, 1856-- The Robert Root Painting Depiction
Along the banks of the Kaskaskia River lies a small community by the name of Shelbyville. Shelbyville was not included as a site on the Lincoln Heritage Trail, but there are big questions as to whether it might not have been the actual way the Thomas Lincoln traveled to nearby Decatur (Macon County)
Many facts and details we will never know, as the Lincolns did not document their every movements. We must rely on as many "Primary" historical resources as possible. It looks like there are two opinions about the route of the Lincolns.
Regardless, Shelbyville has a rich Lincoln tradition. The first courthouse (was south of the present one) was the site of many trials by lawyer Abraham Lincoln on the 8th Circuit. In addition, Abraham the lawyer, had a debate of sorts with lawyer friend and companion, Anthony Thornton.
The content of the 1856 debate (Lincoln spoke for 3 hours, and his opponent very little) is not really known, but Lincoln was working for his new Republican Party, and no doubt he discussed the pertinent issues of the time, including possibly the expansion of slavery, development of transportation routes on the rivers, or whatever was important for people of Shelby County in 1856.
Linda Hughes in Timely Message article on-line gives a few more details about the debate:
The Shelby County Republican Party extended an invitation to Lincoln for a friendly debate with Thornton, who said in his 1896 autobiography, “Slavery, and intimately connected with it, the Nebraska Bill, was the principal question for discussion.” The invitation was one of about 50 that Lincoln received as a candidate for presidential elector, according to Homer H. Cooper in “The Lincoln-Thornton Debate of 1856 at Shelbyville,” published in the Journal of the Illinois Historical Society, Vol. 10. “Thornton was to speak to an audience almost wholly biased to his views, and Lincoln faced the task of convincing jurors with their minds already made up,” Cooper wrote. At that time, Shelby County held no more than 16 Republicans.
In his opening remarks to his three-hour long talk, Lincoln referred to his friendship with the local lawyer. “I rarely arise to address my countrymen on any question of importance without experiencing conflicting emotions within me. I experience such at this hour as I have never experienced before. It is a matter of great regret that I have so learned, so able, and so eloquent a man.”
Thornton said later, “[Lincoln] spoke so very long that I became apprehensive as to any effort I might make to a wearied crowd.” Yet Thornton always spoke highly of his friend, of his fairness and honesty — his purity.
When visiting Shelbyville be sure to go into the present courthouse and see the beautiful and historical Robert Marshall Root painting of the Lincoln-Thornton Debate, 1855.
The Robert Root
Depiction of the
A BIT OF LINCOLN HISTORY AT THE SHELBY COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
& GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY, LOCATED IN THE OLD SHELBY COUNTY JAIL