Springfield, Illinois, was founded in 1821 when Zachariah Peter, William Drennan, and Rivers Cormack drove a stake in the ground at a place described when the transaction was recorded as “a point in the prairie near John Kelly’s field on the water of Spring Creek.” By 1837, due in large part to the political maneuverings of a young politician named Abraham Lincoln, Springfield became the State Capital. From that point the City’s history, and indeed its future, has been and will always be inexorably tied to this famous American.
Before moving to Springfield in 1837, Lincoln lived in the nearby New Salem, a thriving village on the banks of the Sangamon River. Lured by reports of rich black soil, the Lincoln family moved to the banks of the Sangamon River, a few miles from Decatur. Lincoln spent a year living with his family, but after a trip down the Mississippi, left and drifted back to New Salem. From 1830 -37, a young Abraham Lincoln tried his hand at a number of endeavors. He clerked in Denton Offutt’s store, ran for the state legislature and lost, became a storekeeper, postmaster, a surveyor, and a law student. In 1834 he was elected to the legislature on his second try. It was during this term in office that he influenced the placement of the State Capital in Springfield.
On April 15, 1837, Lincoln left New Salem to live in the flourishing new state capital. He began practicing law with John T. Stuart, a prominent Springfield attorney. In all, Lincoln had three partners. William Herndon, his last, eventually became his biographer. During the 25 years that Lincoln practiced in Illinois, he spent many days riding the Eighth Judicial Circuit and practicing in county court houses all around central Illinois. Law eventually brought Lincoln a substantial income and provided a status and visibility that contributed to his success in politics.
In 1840, Lincoln met Mary Todd, a Kentucky belle who was then living with her sister in Springfield. After a stormy, sporadic courtship, the couple was married by the Rev. Charles Dresser in 1842, and settled down together at the Globe Tavern. The Lincoln’s first son, Robert Todd, was born on August 1, 1843. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to a more suitable three-room cottage. The next spring, Lincoln bought Rev. Dresser’s home on the corner of Eighth and Jackson streets for $1,200 cash and a small lot worth $300. The Lincolns occupied this brown frame house, the only home they ever owned, for 17 years. It is here that three of their four sons were born and one died.
From 1847-49 Lincoln served in Congress, but an unpopular position on the Mexican War caused him to be passed over for renomination. Upon returning to Springfield, he dedicated himself to enhancing an already successful law practice. But as the issue of slavery began to grow, Lincoln emerged again as a political figure. In 1858, Lincoln challenged Steven A. Douglas for his Senate seat. For three months, the candidates debated the subject of popular sovereignty. Although Lincoln lost the election, the debates brought him wide attention and he was now a national figure under serious consideration for the Republican presidential nomination.
At this time there was a split in the Democratic Party and the winner of the Republican nomination for the Presidency was sure to be the next President. Lincoln received that nomination on the third ballot at the Chicago convention in May of 1860. He was elected President on November 6th of that year.
On February 11, 1861, Lincoln stood on a platform at the Great Western Depot.
In a voice filled with emotion, he shared his affection for the city in which he had lived,
worked and raised a family. Standing on the rain-swept platform he said, “My friends – No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my
feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born and one is buried...To His care I am commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.”
He left Springfield on that day, never to return in his lifetime.