Learning Lincoln On-line

Topic Sets to Study Abraham Lincoln His Life and Before the Civil War

CONTENTS SET C:

Topic One-hundred-three:  Abraham Lincoln in Shelby County, Illinois

 
ABRAHAM LINCOLN TRAVELS ON  THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT:  SHELBYVILLE LAWYER FRIENDS AT SHELBYVILLE, ILLINOIS (SHELBY COUNTY
 
The Lincoln-Thornton Debate Event June 15, 1856--  The Robert Root Painting Depiction
The Lincoln-Thornton
Debate Event
Shelbyville, Illinois + Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln at Shelbyville on the 8th Circuit

    Along the banks of the Kaskaskia River lies a small community by the name of Shelbyville.  Shelbyville was not included as a site on the Lincoln Heritage Trail, but there are big questions as to whether it might not have been the actual way the Thomas Lincoln traveled to nearby Decatur (Macon County)

    Many facts and details we will never know, as the Lincolns did not document their every movements.  We must rely on as many "Primary" historical resources as possible.  It looks like there are two opinions about the route of the Lincolns.

    Regardless, Shelbyville has a rich Lincoln tradition.  The first courthouse (was south of the present one) was the site of many trials by lawyer Abraham Lincoln on the 8th Circuit.  In addition, Abraham the lawyer, had a debate of sorts with lawyer friend and companion, Anthony Thornton.

    The content of the 1856 debate (Lincoln spoke for 3 hours, and his opponent very little) is not really known, but Lincoln was working for his new Republican Party, and no doubt he discussed the pertinent issues of the time, including possibly the expansion of slavery, development of transportation routes on the rivers, or whatever was important for people of Shelby County in 1856.

    Linda Hughes in Timely Message article on-line gives a few more details about the debate:

The Shelby County Republican Party extended an invitation to Lincoln for a friendly debate with Thornton, who said in his 1896 autobiography, “Slavery, and intimately connected with it, the Nebraska Bill, was the principal question for discussion.” The invitation was one of about 50 that Lincoln received as a candidate for presidential elector, according to Homer H. Cooper in “The Lincoln-Thornton Debate of 1856 at Shelbyville,” published in the Journal of the Illinois Historical Society, Vol. 10. “Thornton was to speak to an audience almost wholly biased to his views, and Lincoln faced the task of convincing jurors with their minds already made up,” Cooper wrote. At that time, Shelby County held no more than 16 Republicans.

     In his opening remarks to his three-hour long talk, Lincoln referred to his friendship with the local lawyer. “I rarely arise to address my countrymen on any question of importance without experiencing conflicting emotions within me. I experience such at this hour as I have never experienced before. It is a matter of great regret that I have so learned, so able, and so eloquent a man.”

Thornton said later, “[Lincoln] spoke so very long that I became apprehensive as to any effort I might make to a wearied crowd.” Yet Thornton always spoke highly of his friend, of his fairness and honesty — his purity.

When visiting Shelbyville be sure to go into the present courthouse and see the beautiful and historical Robert Marshall Root painting of the Lincoln-Thornton Debate, 1855.

1

The Robert Root Depiction of the 
Lincoln-Thornton Debate (Shelby County Courthouse)

A BIT OF LINCOLN HISTORY AT THE SHELBY COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
& GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY, LOCATED IN THE OLD SHELBY COUNTY JAIL
 

Two Thornton era chairs on display with a Lincoln life-sizeportrait.  This displays the scale of a regular chair with the 6'4" Lincoln.

The Shelby County Historical and Genealogical Society, located near the courthouse in Shelbyville, Il has a unique Lincoln room with several objects including Anthony Thornton furniture, a full-page article with Dennis Hanks being interviewed.  It is located in the old brick county jail building.

2
The Old Shelby County Courthouse, located close to

The Lincoln era Shelby County Courthouse where Abraham, the lawyer would regularly visit on the 8th Circuit.  The current courthouse was built in the later 19th century.  Abraham Lincoln re-entered politics about the time of the debate, in 1856.  This would not be a debate as we know, but mostly long statements by each side.

 



One of the chairs that was located in the Anthony Thornton home.  Thornton was a prominent lawyer and politician in the 1840's-50's.  A young lawyer by the name of Abraham Lincoln would often stay with the Thornton's while on the 8th Circuit at Shelbyville.

 


A very ornate Thornton home chair on display in the museum.  Perhaps lawyer Abe Lincoln sat in one of the chairs while visiting with the Thornton's.


A photograph of an older Anthony Thornton

Robert Root, Shelby Artist Page

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