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JSTOR helps people discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please contact email@example.com. ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND ROCK ISLAND COUNTY. By J. B. Oakleaf. There has been considerable controversy in Rock Is- land County, through the press and by historians and old settlers, as to whether or not Abraham Lincoln ever visited Rock Island County subsequent to his services in the Black Hawk War. He was sworn into the service of the regular army in Rock Island County, having come up with the balance of the volunteers from Beardstown to the camp of General Atkinson below the mouth of the Rock River. He was here two days, and then the army went in search of Black Hawk, leaving the mouth of Rock River for Dixon Ferry. Rock Island was a strong Whig County and always supported the Whig party, and when Abraham Lincoln became prominent in matters political, he could always count on the votes from Rock Island County, but why he never found it convenient to come to Rock Island Cotmty, history does not record. If you will look at the map, you will find that Rock Island County is a hard place to reach from Springfield, or from any other point in the central part of the state, and equally hard to reach from the northwestern part of the state, there being no direct lines of travel. People going from the central or southern parts of the state to the northwestern part of the state would invariably go by steamboat or stage route to Peoria and from thence to the northwest, and Rock Island County was always passed by people going from one point of the state to another for the reason that it was out of the way. Even at this day we are equally handicapped, having no direct route to Springfield. We have to go either by way of Peoria or Beardstown or by way of Chapin on the Wabash railroad. 202 203 The writer has made a thorough investigation to ascertain whether or not Abraham Lincoln ever visited the county. Mr. Phil Mitchell, of Rock Island, a mem- ber of our Historical Society and a man well versed in local history, feels confident that Abraham Lincoln was here at one time, being in Rock Island on the same day that Stephen A. Douglas happened to be there, Mr* Mitchell being an ardent admirer of Douglas and his brother an ardent admirer of Lincoln. Mr. Phil Mitchell heard Douglas speak and then after that he feels certain he heard Lincoln the same day, and he has searched the newspapers of that time but has been unable to find a single mention of Lincoln having been in this county. Abraham Lincoln surveyed the Town of Albany, on the Mississippi River, in Whiteside Coimty, about thirty miles above Moline, and, no doubt, came up from the lower part of the state, reaching Albany on the steam- boat, and it may be that while the boat was loading and unloading at Rock Island, he may have gone ashore, but if he did so, the fact has not been recorded. But that was a long time before Abraham Lincoln was known outside of his own immediate community, Although Mr. Lincoln never visited Rock Island County during any of his campaigns, or while campaigning for the cause he represented, there is much in Rock Island history that connects it with Abraham Lincoln. It was in this County that Dred Scott, the negro, was living at the time he was a servant of Dr. Emerson, a surgeon at Fort Armstrong, and it was on account of Dred Scott's resi- dence here and in Minnesota that he based his claim of be- ing a citizen, and the celebrated decision of Judge Taney placed in the hands of Abraham Lincoln a weapon of un- told value in representing his ideas of negro slavery and freedom. Then, again, it was in Rock Island County that the Mississippi was first spanned by a bridge, and Abraham Lincoln was one of the counsel employed by the bridge company to resist the suit brought by the St. Louis Cham- ber of Commerce to declare the bridge an obstruction to 204 navigation. Mr. Lincoln was successful in defending the interest of the bridge company, and, through his suc- cessful defense of the interest of the bridge company, re- ceived his first large fee as a lawyer, and Rock Island County can rightfully claim that it contributed largely to Lincoln's fame as a successful lawyer. There are those who now contend that Lincoln cer- tainly must have been in this county at the time of, or prior to, the suit, which was in September, 1857, for the reason that it would have been impossible for him to have made such an excellent argument as to the effect of the current of the river had he not personally made his own observations. He expected to be in Rock Island, for in August, 1857, he wrote to U. S. Senator William Grimes as follows : ^ ^ Dear Sir:— Yours of the 14th is received and I am much obliged for the legal information you give. You can scarcely be more anxious than I that the next election in Iowa should result in favor of the Republicans. I lost nearly all the working-part of last year giving my time to the canvass, and I am altogether too poor to lose two years together. I am engaged in a suit in the United States Court at Chicago in which the Rock Island Bridge Company is a party. The trial is to commence on the 8th of Sep- tember and probably will last two or three weeks. Dur- ing the trial it is not improbable that all hands will come over and take a look at the bridge and if it were possible to make it hit right I could then speak at Davenport. My courts go right on without cessa- tion until late in November. Write me again, point- ing out the more striking points of difference between your old and new constitutions, and also whether the Democratic and Republican party lines were drawn in the adoption of it, and which were for and which 205 were against it. If, by possibility, I could get over among you it might be of some advantage to know these things in advance. Yours very truly, A. Lincoln." But no one has been able to find any mention in the Rock Island or Davenport papers of any speech that Lincoln made in either place at that or any other time. It is true he made an excellent argument, and on reading it now one would surely believe that Lincoln made his own observations as to the effects of the current of the river. But, in reading Mr. Wallace's famous book, Ben Hur, one would surely believe that Mr. Wallace had been to the Holy Land, but the fact is he never set foot in the Holy Land prior to writing that book. One of the best authorities the writer has for believing that Abraham Lincoln did not come to Rock Island at the time of trying the bridge suit is a letter which he received from O. P. Wharton, who died in May last in California, and in the next Quarterly the writer will pre- sent an article on Oliver P. Wharton, upon whose death Mr. Paul Selby becomes the sole survivor of the ** Decatur Convention.** In August, 1907, in reply to an inquiry from the writer as to whether or not he knew of Lincoln's presence in Rock Island County at the time of the bridge suit, Mr. Wharton stated that he was then the publisher of the Rock Island Advertiser, a strong Whig paper, and he was the Secretary of the meeting at the time of the laying of the comer stone of the draw pier of the bridge, and that he was also a witness in the case, his deposition having been taken for that purpose. Mr. Joseph Knox was local counsel for the Bridge Company and Mr. Whar- ton stated that if Lincoln had come to Rock Island he would have known of the fact, and was positive that Mr. Lincoln did not visit Rock Island. It is now for those who hold the affirmative to prove that Abraham Lincoln was in Rock Island subsequent to 206 the Black Hawk War, for it is impossible to prove a nega- tive. Daniel Webster, at the time Lincoln was in Congress, had become interested in lands in Rock Island County, and, according to Ben Perley Poore, Mr. Webster was a client of Mr. Lincoln, having employed Mr. Lincoln to give his opinion on a question of title, and Mr. Webster states that all Lincoln charged him was ten dollars. Evi- dently the question was not a very weighty one and I presume Lincoln answered it offhand. So in summing up, we of Rock Island County, feel proud that we had something to do in bringing Lincoln before the people. It was upon the petition of citizens of Rock Island County that Governor Reynolds issued a call for volunteers, of whom Lincoln became one, and to Rock Island County belongs the honor of his military experience. Mr. Lincoln was also attorney for several who attempted to preempt land on Rock Island, now the seat of the Govern- ment Arsenal, being the island lying between Davenport and the Cities of Moline and Rock Island, and, in writing to Mr. Brackett on the 18th of May, 1857, Lincoln says: *'One of your letters had one dollar in it and another ten. I paid two to the Registrar and pocketed the other nine.'' This may not be interesting to the readers of the Quart- erly, but the writer can assure them that he would be pleased if some one could come forward with the proof to show that Abraham Lincoln had visited Rock Island County subsequent to his services in the Black Hawk War.