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Robert Marshall Root, Shelby County Artist:  A Lincoln Connection


An Early Lincoln Political Debate
The Lincoln-Thornton Debate, Shelbyville, Illinois Courthouse, 1855, painted by Robert Root, 1918 

Robert Root's depiction of the Lincoln-Thornton debate which helped to 
launch Lincoln’s national political career.


. . .  telling the story of this mysterious "debate" of sorts, and the life and times of Robert Root, painter of two major Illinois Lincoln pictures

Photo by Howard Taylor taken at the Debate Re-enactment, 2002

. . . Abraham Lincoln was a frequent visitor to Shelbyville. His first debate against Anthony Thornton, which culminated in his successful rise to the Presidency, was held at the original Courthouse in June, 1855.  Not a lot is known about the content of this debate, as there were no reporters to transcribe the words spoken.  It is known that Lincoln spoke the majority of the time.  The subject matter of the time was matters related to river transportation improvement, slavery in the territories, and the platform of the new Republican party, arising from the defunct Whig party. 
It was not a true debate, such as occurred in the 1858 debates between Lincoln and Douglas, but evidently did help the Republicans in gaining more Shelby votes in the upcoming election. 
Photo and caption from "Lake Shelbyville--Always in Season Vacation Guide, 2002"
Shelbyville Tourism Visitors Center on Rte. 16, east of Courthouse

             Robert Root (1864-1937) is best known for his 1918 painting of the Lincoln-Douglas debate held in Charleston, Illinois, in 1858. This painting is in the Governor's Office in Springfield. A large-scale color reproduction is exhibited at the new Lincoln-Douglas Debate Museum in Charleston.  Root studied at the Cooper Union Art School, New York City, Washington University School of Fine Arts in St. Louis, and the Academé Julien in Paris, France. In the early 1890s he returned to live in Shelbyville.


Root made his living primarily from portraits, like that of Eastern Illinois University's  first president, Livingston C. Lord, on view in Eastern Illinois University's Old Main. Two portraits are included in the Tarble exhibition. But he was also an Impressionist style landscape painter.. In the 1920's Root joined Coles County's Paul Sargent as the two non-Indiana members of the Brown County Artists Association. 


Other examples of Root's work are classic style relief sculptures in the Chautauqua building in the Shelbyville park.

Eastern Illinois University Tarble Arts Center has a collection of Robert Root Paintings 

Examples of Root art include:  The Debate painting at Springfield,  Shelbyville,  Bas-Relief Sculptures in the Chautauqua at Shelbyville,  and Eastern Illinois University owned paintings. 
Root paintings are in many homes and places in the United States, and the importance of this 19th Century Impressionist style painter is growing.