LEWISTOWN, IL

INTRODUCTION TO LEWISTOWN (city website)

THE COURTHOUSE AND LINCOLN’S SPEECH THERE
On August 17, 1858 while running for Senate against Stephen A. Douglas, Abraham Lincoln made a dramatic speech (the day after Douglas spoke) against slavery by referencing what is now, probably, the most cited phrase of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Lincoln stood between two pillars of the Lewistown courthouse and argued that the Declaration of Independence was a “fountain” to which we ought to return and that this fountain ought to encompass America’s enslaved population as a matter and issue of Humanity. He challenged to Douglas (then a presiding judge in this circuit ) to issue an anti-slavery statement, which, as we all know, he did not.

This is the courthouse as it was when Lincoln stood between its pillars and gave this speech. Lewistown was and is the county seat, explaining the grandeur of the courthouse. The pillars were transferred to Oak Hill Cemetery when the courthouse burned in 1894. By that time the Civil War had been fought and Lincoln had been assassinated. The columns assumed a new significance.

http://www.9thjudicial.org/Fulton/fulton-history.html (1838-1894)

LEWISTOWN WITH INDEPENDENT IDEAS AND IDEALS DURING THE CIVIL WAR

The Civil War correspondence between William and Jane Standard stands out for conveying the complexity of the motives and experiences of Union soldiers and their families. [They] were antiwar Copperheads. Their attitudes toward Abraham Lincoln, “Black Republicans,” and especially African Americans contravene the notion of Union soldiers going “to war to champion republican government or to wipe out slavery … Jane’s often bitter letters illuminate the alienation of women left alone and the impact on a small community.” Yet William enlisted “in the 103rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment in October 1862 [and] participated in General Sherman’s Siege of Vicksburg, the Battles of Missionary Ridge and Atlanta, and the March to the Sea. At the war’s end he proudly marched in the Grand Review of the Armies in the national capital. Meanwhile, he expressed enthusiasm for stealing and foraging … and unhappiness with his service.” Jane wrote, suggesting he desert or be captured and paroled.” Dr. Roberts’ book “illustrates the Union military’s assimilation of resentful Northern men to support a long, grueling, and, after 1862, revolutionary war on the South.”

THE COURTHOUSE PILLARS AT OAK HILL CEMETERY

These are the columns between which Lincoln stood in 1858. The ensemble was created at Oak Hill Cemetery after the old courthouse burned in 1894. Notwithstanding the ambivalence of the Standards (see above), by this time the victorious Union story was sanctified. In addition to the columns referencing Lincoln’s abolitionism, the canon identifies the Grand Army of the Republic and the semi-circle enclosing wall is inscribed “IN MEMORY OF OUR PATRIOT DEAD MDCCCLXI-MDCCCLXV.” The explanatory panel includes what is known of Lincoln’s 1858 speech.

CIVIL WAR DISCORD CONTINUED IN LEWISTOWN IN 1931
It is fascinating that Oak Hill Cemetery – “The Hill” – a beautiful rural cemetery in the town of Lewistown and celebrated as the inspiration for Edgar Lee Masters’ acclaimed epic narrative poem, Spoon River Anthology, is also a venue for insightful discussion about the continuing legacy of Abraham Lincoln. In addition to the didactic panels explaining the poem and where to find the graves of many of real-life individuals upon whom Masters’ drew, and in addition to the Civil War tableau, the cemetery also includes a panel about Masters’ more controversial work: his non-hagiographic biography of Abraham Lincoln.   

OAK HILL CEMETERY AND EDGAR LEE MASTERS’ SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY

NOTWITHSTANDING THE OPINION OF THEIR FAVORITE SON, LEWISTOWN EULOGIZED LINCOLN IN PUBLIC ART
The contradictions in Lewistown are fascinating and animated by places that can be visited. Ten years after the publication of Masters’ critical biography of Lincoln, the town embraced the mural “Lewistown Milestones”, painted by Ida Abelman in 1941 for the United States Post Office in Lewistown. It features Lincoln as the central historic figure for the community. It was one of many New Deal art projects sponsored during the Great Depression. (Source: Jimmy Emerson, DVM, www.flickr.com/photos/auvet/4601511678, May 8, 2010).

Although Lewistown (overall) appears to have embraced abolition and Lincoln, there was social conflict over those who were not “native born.” In terms of the coal miners of Fulton County the issue does not appear to have played out racially but as ethnic bias. Below we show an undated newpaper article referring to a problem in Lewistown (the article is on display in the Illinois Coal Museum in Gillespie – missing words have been reconstructing as best as possible).