Though we already learned that Lincoln’s formative years were spent in Indiana, Illinois claims him as their native son. And, they seem to want to tell you about it in every city, at every highway overpass, in every restaurant and above almost every urinal in the state. But hey, if you think it works for you – like girls with those ridiculously oversized sunglasses at dusk – just go for it.
But, to understand why Lincoln is so beloved in Indiana and Illinois, you must understand the circumstances of his presidency and his murder.
I’m prone to exaggeration in these entries, but the more I’ve learned about President Lincoln, the more I’ve come to admire him and his legacy. Public school history does not go far enough in expressing the impact of Lincoln’s presidency on the United States.
As we visited a few sites in Indiana, we discussed “Which president had the biggest impact?” At the time this was a difficult question. Was it FDR’s social reforms that helped us out of the depression, his actions during WWII? Could it have been Eisenhower’s development of the highway system? What about George Washington as the leader of the Revolution and as the first figurehead of our independent government?
After visiting a few sites in Illinois, it became clear that only one president lays claim to the most impactful legacy. Abraham Lincoln’s entire presidency was engulfed with the Civil War. Following his election and prior to him taking office, seven states succeeded from the Union, and only 9 days after General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant. Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.
During that time, Lincoln experienced the only succession in our government’s history and five years of horrifying battle losses (over 1 million American casualties), a reelection campaign (that he won), as well as the death of his beloved 11-year-old son.
A historian friend once told me that all the research and all the first-hand reports that have been gathered are sometimes unable to capture the impact of the few great men in our country’s history. At the time he said that sometimes it appears that these men are greater than their time, that they are “handpicked” to guide us through history. Men like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr. and I think most impressively Abraham Lincoln.
Following his death, U.S. Grant called Lincoln “”Incontestably the greatest man I ever knew.”
After visiting any of these Illinois sites we realized that the gravity of his life, the impact of his presidency and the legacy his guidance are equal to none. Here are a few of the highlights:
Lincoln’s Presidential Museum/Library (If you only have time for one – THIS is it!)