Abraham Lincoln and Southern Illinois

Illinois Congressman-elect Abraham Lincoln at age 37, from the Library of Congress

Abraham Lincoln grew up in Indiana and moved with his family to Illinois as a young man in 1830. He later drew upon his frontier origins to establish common ground with southern Illinoisans opposed to his political views, claiming, “I am a part of this people.”

Two years after arriving in Illinois, Lincoln served as an Illinois Militia volunteer captain during the Black Hawk War (April 6 – August 27, 1832). Although he never participated in combat, he helped bury the dead following two of the battles.

Following the war, Lincoln studied law at New Salem and developed his political network, winning election to the Illinois legislature in 1834, where he spearheaded transfer of the state capital from Vandalia to Springfield. During his first three terms in the legislature, Lincoln became acquainted with prominent politicians in southern Illinois, including John A. Logan’s father Dr. John Logan, for whom Lincoln proposed naming a county. Lincoln canvassed southern Illinois while serving as a presidential elector for William Henry Harrison in 1840.

Lincoln forged connections with southern Illinois in spite of the fact that he was known as a Whig. The Whig party rose in opposition to Jacksonian Democrats, developing policies by 1840 that included tariff protection and a national banking system. After serving four terms in the state legislature, Lincoln focused on his law practice, honing his skill in debate and public speaking. In 1846, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Whig, along with six Democrats. That same year, political rival Stephen A. Douglas was elected to the U.S. Senate.

Competing with the incumbent Douglas in the U.S. Senate election of 1858, Lincoln engaged in a series of seven debates across southern Illinois addressing the question of enslavement in the western territories. While politically supported Douglas beat Lincoln in the Senate contest, the debates drew wide regional attendance and national interest, setting the stage for Lincoln’s victory in the presidential election of 1860.


Harris, Gibson William. 1903, November. My recollections of Abraham Lincoln. Woman's Home Companion. 9-11. https://archive.org/details/myrecollectionso00harr.

Smith, George Washington, and John Y. Simon. 1993. When Lincoln came to Egypt. Herrin, Ill: Crossfire Press.