Homepage of "Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, & Other Highlights of Lincoln, IL"

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A Long-Range Plan to Brand the First Lincoln Namesake City as the Second City of Abraham Lincoln Statues

The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration in Lincoln, Illinois

Abraham Lincoln and the Historic Postville Courthouse,
including a William Maxwell connection to the Postville Courthouse

About Henry Ford and the Postville Courthouse, the Story of the Postville Courthouse Replica,
Tantivy, & the Postville Park Neighborhood in the
Route 66 Era


The Rise of Abraham Lincoln and His History and Heritage in His First Namesake Town,
also the founding of Lincoln College, the plot to steal Lincoln's body, and memories of Lincoln College and the Rustic Tavern-Inn

Introduction to the Social & Economic History of Lincoln, Illinois,
including poetry by William Childress & commentary by Federal Judge Bob Goebel & Illinois Appellate Court Judge Jim Knecht

"Social Consciousness in William Maxwell's Writings Based on Lincoln, Illinois" (an article published in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, winter 2005-06

Peeking Behind the Wizard's Screen: William Maxwell's Literary Art as Revealed by a Study of the Black Characters in Billie Dyer and Other Stories

Introduction to the Railroad & Route 66 Heritage of Lincoln, Illinois

The Living Railroad Heritage of Lincoln, Illinois: on Track as a Symbol of the "Usable Past"


Route 66 Overview Map of Lincoln with 42 Sites, Descriptions, & Photos

The Hensons of Business Route 66

The Wilsons of Business
Route 66
including the Wilson Grocery & Shell Station

Route 66 Map & Photos Showing Lincoln Memorial Park
(former Chautauqua site),
the Historic Cemeteries, & Nearby Sites

Route 66 Map & Photos Showing Salt Creek & Cemetery Hill,
the highway bridges, GM&O bridge, Madigan State Park, the old dam (with photos & Leigh's memoir of "shooting the rapids" over the old dam), & the Ernie Edwards' Pig-Hip Restaurant Museum in Broadwell

The Historic Logan County Courthouse, Past & Present

Route 66 Map with 51 Sites in the Business & Courthouse Square Historic District,
including locations of historical markers
(on the National Register of Historic Places)

Vintage Scenes of the Business & Courthouse Square Historic District

The Foley House:  A Monument to Civic Leadership
(on the National Register of Historic Places)

Agriculture in
the Route 66 Era

Arts & Entertainment Heritage,
including the Lincoln Theatre Roy Rogers' Riders Club of the 1950s

Business Heritage

Cars, Trucks & Gas Stations of the Route 66 Era

including the hometown churches of Author William Maxwell & Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr

Factories, Past and Present

Food Stores of
the Route 66 Era


Hospitals, Past and Present

Hotels & Restaurants of the Railroad & Route 66 Eras

Lincoln Developmental Center
(Lincoln State School & Colony in the Route 66 era), plus
debunking the myth of Lincoln, Illinois, choosing the Asylum over the University of Illinois

Mining Coal, Limestone, & Sand & Gravel; Lincoln Lakes; & Utilities


Museums & Parks, including the Lincoln College Museum and its Abraham Lincoln Collection, plus the Heritage-in-Flight Museum

with Distinction

News Media in the Route 66 Era

The Odd Fellows' Children's Home


Memories of the 1900 Lincoln Community High School,
including Fred Blanford's dramatic account of the lost marble fountain of youth

A Tribute to the Historians and Advocates of Lincoln, Illinois

Watering Holes of the Route 66 Era

The Historic 1953 Centennial Celebration of Lincoln, Illinois

The Festive 2003 Sesqui-centennial Celebration of Lincoln, Illinois,
including photos of LCHS Class of 1960 dignitaries & the Blanfords

Why Did the State Police Raid Lincoln, Illinois, on October 11, 1950?

The Gambling Raids in Lincoln and Logan County, Illinois,
During the Late Route 66 Era (1950-1960)


Pages in this section tell about Leigh Henson's Lincoln years, moving away, revisits, and career:

About Lincoln, Illinois;
This Web Site; & Me

A Tribute to Lincolnite Edward Darold Henson: World War II U.S. Army Veteran of the Battles for Normandy and the Hedgerows; Brittany and Brest; and the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge)

For Remembrance, Understanding, & Fun: Lincoln Community High School Mid-20th-Century Alums' Internet Community
(a Web site and email exchange devoted to collaborative memoir and the sharing of photos related to Lincoln, Illinois)

Leigh Henson's Pilgrimage to Lincoln, Illinois, on
July 12, 2001

Leigh Henson's Review of Dr. Burkhardt's William Maxwell Biography

Leigh Henson's Review of Ernie Edwards' biography, Pig-Hips on Route 66, by William Kaszynski

Leigh Henson's Review of Jan Schumacher's Glimpses of Lincoln, Illinois

Teach Local Authors: Considering the Literature of Lincoln, Illinois

Web Site About
Leigh Henson's Professional Life


Pages in this section are about the writing, memorabilia, and Web sites of other Lincolnites:

A Tribute to Bill and Phyllis Stigall:
Exemplary Faculty of Lincoln College at Mid-Twentieth Century

A Tribute to the Krotzes of Lincoln, Illinois

A Tribute to Robert Wilson (LCHS '46): Author of Young in Illinois, Movies Editor of December Magazine, Friend and Colleague of December Press Publisher Curt Johnson, and Correspondent with William Maxwell

Brad Dye (LCHS '60): His Lincoln, Illinois, Web Site,
including photos of many churches

Dave Armbrust's Memorabilia of Lincoln, Illinois

J. Richard
(JR) Fikuart
(LCHS '65):
he Fikuarts of Lincoln, Illinois, including their connections to the William Maxwell family and three generations of family fun at Lincoln Lakes

Jerry Gibson (LCHS '60): Lincoln, Illinois, Memoirs & Other Stories

Dave Johnson (LCHS '56): His Web Site for the Lincoln Community High School Class of 1956

Sportswriter David Kindred: Memoir of His Grandmother Lena & Her West Side Tavern on Sangamon Street in the Route 66 Era

Judge Jim Knecht
(LCHS '62): Memoir and Short Story, "Other People's Money," Set in Hickey's Billiards on Chicago Street in the Route 66 Era

William A. "Bill" Krueger (LCHS '52): Information for His Books About Murders in Lincoln

Norm Schroeder (LCHS '60): Short Stories

Stan Stringer Writes About His Family, Mark Holland, and Lincoln, Illinois

Thomas Walsh: Anecdotes Relating to This Legendary Attorney from Lincoln by Attorney Fred Blanford & Judge Jim Knecht

Leon Zeter (LCHS '53): His Web Site for the
Lincoln Community High School Class of 1953
including announcements of LCHS class reunions

(Post yours there.)


Highway Sign of
the Times:

The Route 66
Association of Illinois

The Illinois State Historical Society

Illinois Tourism Site:
Enjoy Illinois



Lincoln, Douglas, Circuses, and Satire

D. Leigh Henson

 Springfield, Missouri, March 22, 2022. This pictorial research report tells a story about the interrelationship of local, state, and national 19-century American history and heritage involving two of our most important politicians. In 1858 Democrat Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois ran for reelection to the US Senate, and his Republican opponent was Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln and his Illinois Republican friends suggested joint debates for the campaign, Douglas was annoyed at the idea of giving his little-known opponent publicity by accepting the challenge to share the debate stage. "And James Sheahan's Chicago Times echoed Douglas's annoyance by running an editorial asking Judd [Illinois Republican Committee chairman] why he didn't look up the managers of the 'two very good circuses and menageries traveling through the state' and persuade them, rather than Douglas, 'to include a speech from Lincoln in their performances'" (Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates That Defined America [New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008], 91). Yet Douglas was fearful of the bad publicity he would suffer if he did not accept the challenge of joint debates. Douglas reluctantly agreed to debate in the seven congressional districts where his opponent and he had not yet then spoken.


     The Chicago Times's editorial suggestion that Lincoln could get audiences by performing with circuses was a sarcasm that ironically came to life in a manner of speaking and became a small but telling facet of the 1858 Illinois US Senate campaign. During the 1858 Illinois Senate race, circuses played a direct or indirect role in the candidates' appearances on July 16 at Bloomington, on July 17 at Lincoln, on September 4 at Lincoln, on September 8 for Douglas at Carlinville and for Lincoln at Hillsboro, and on October 15 for both candidates at Alton, site of the final joint debate. Preeminent Lincoln historians give high praise to Lincoln's Alton speech. Michael Burlingame calls it "certainly Lincoln's finest rhetorical hour" (Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, 2 vols. [Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008], 1:540). Most likely Lincoln's Alton speech was the core of the speech he delivered miles away the next day at his first namesake town at a large Republican rally. There was no circus in town that day, and he delivered his speech from the steps of the main entrance to the Logan County Courthouse, where he practiced law on the Eighth Judicial Circuit. In May 1860 the Illinois Republican Party met in Decatur to nominate Lincoln for president, and he briefly addressed the convention under a circus tent rented for the occasion.


     This report tells the peculiar story of the candidates' use of circuses as campaign strategy. In this story we learn about their audiences, the relationship between circus celebrities and the candidates, the relationship between the candidates and sculptor Leonard Volk, and newspaper treatments of their campaign and Douglas's rhetoric in particular. As it turned out, Lincoln lost this election (the second time he failed to gain a US Senate seat), but his rhetorical performances earned favorable publicity, enabling him to rise from state to national politics, eventually leading to the presidency.


     In 1858 Douglas conducted an aggressive reelection campaign to defend his leadership in passing the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which was highly controversial because it allowed for slavery extension in areas previously prohibited by the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Douglas was also defending himself against criticism by President Buchanan because Douglas and the President, a fellow Democrat, had conflicting views on how popular sovereignty was carried out in a recent Kansas vote on  the proslavery Lecompton Constitution. Popular sovereignty was the term for the ambiguous policy of allowing territories and local communities to allow or disallow slavery through legislation and police action. Thus, in theory popular sovereignty had the potential to solve the problem of slavery agitation that was dividing the Union.


     As the candidates worked their circuitous way from one debate site to another, they delivered stump speeches in many communities. Most of the seven debates each attracted thousands of attendees. Historians writing about the Lincoln-Douglas debates and related stump speeches of this campaign explain that those events had a circus-like atmosphere. Attendees came from city, town, and country for both entertainment and information about the hot topic of slavery, forming raucous crowds that enjoyed the pageantry of parades, bands, and Shakespearean participatory theater. Alcohol consumption contributed to the over-excitement of some. Some debate and stump speech attendees engaged in verbal exchanges with the speakers and/or threw things at them. Audiences for most of the many stump speeches were much smaller than the audiences of the debates. By the time of the 1858 Illinois US Senate race, circuses were an important part of America's festivities, and this research-based, pictorial report explains that first Douglas then Lincoln tried to increase stump speech audiences by speaking in communities where circuses were performing. Many locals surely welcomed an opportunity to be entertained the same day by a circus and accomplished political speakers.


     As early as 1854 Lincoln and Douglas must have sensed that they could exploit local festivities to attract an audience. In October that year Lincoln planned to speak immediately after Douglas at Springfield and Peoria as they debated the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which Douglas sponsored and which opened new territories to slavery. At Springfield the debaters were scheduled to speak at the state fair, and a circus was performing at the edge of the fairgrounds, on the west side of the city. The state fair audiences most likely would have included circus attendees. Bad weather, however, forced Douglas to speak in the statehouse on October 3, with Lincoln speaking there the next day. On October 16 Lincoln delivered essentially the same speech at Peoria. That speech became known as the Peoria speech, and it presents the main antislavery arguments that underpin Lincoln's second political career and rise to the presidency. Ref.: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jala/2629860.0030.204/--new-records-of-the-lincoln-douglas-debate-at-the-1854?rgn=main;view=fulltext.


      Most 19th-century American newspapers were partisan, often expressing unflattering comparison of an oppositional political speaker to circus acts and performers. “The debates were imagined by audience, speakers, and media alike as a form of popular amusement much like that of Barnum [entertainment-circus entrepreneur P.T. Barnum]---part of a capacious entertainment industry that relied on theatrics and corporeal oddity [exaggerating physical features] to draw crowds” (Gillian Silverman, "'The Best Circus in Town': Embodied Theatrics in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates," American Literary History 21, no.4 [Winter 2009], 766). Partisan newspaper reporters exploited Lincoln's and Douglas's contrasting physical features--Lincoln at 6'4" with ungainly arms and legs, Douglas a foot shorter. According to Professor Silverman, "What is most significant about these [newspaper] depictions of Lincoln and Douglas is the singular focus on the eccentric bodies and bodily functions of the two politicians" (p. 758), and her article well supports that thesis. Yet the two newspaper lengthy satires of Douglas's stump speech in Lincoln, Illinois, on September 4, 1858, by the pro-Republican Chicago Press & Tribune and Springfield's pro-Republican Illinois State Journal clearly emphasize Douglas's positions and policies, not his physical traits (both satires are quoted in full later in this essay).

Lincoln, Douglas, and the Circus in Lincoln, Illinois, July 17, 1858

     In July 1858 Douglas's reelection campaign began with a speech at Chicago, which Lincoln answered there with his own speech, and from there Douglas's train traveled to Springfield, with stops along the way for stump speeches. The Little Giant's train included a booming cannon that announced his arrival. Circuses performed at Bloomington on July 16 and on July 17 at Lincoln--his first namesake town--during Douglas's scheduled stops. A circus was also at Lincoln on September 4th, when Douglas spoke in the circus tent. Abraham Lincoln witnessed those July and September speeches.

     The Lincoln Log says Lincoln traveled from Springfield to Bloomington to hear Douglas speak on the evening of July 16, but Lincoln declined to speak. The next day after Douglas's train departed from Bloomington, the first stop was Atlanta, and Douglas spoke there. Locals urged Lincoln to speak, but again he declined. The Lincoln Log made no mention of the train stopping at Lincoln on July 17 (http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1858-07-17&r=L0NhbGVuZGFyWWVhci5hc3B4P3llYXI9MTg1OCZyPUwwTmhiR1Z1WkdGeUxtRnpjSGc9), but four other sources refer to that stop. Reports in the Daily Pantagraph, Illinois State Journal, and Illinois State Register mention that Lincoln was on the train with Douglas and that it stopped midday at Lincoln. Those reports neither confirm nor deny that Lincoln spoke at his first namesake town—not surprising because the trip was all about Douglas, not Lincoln.

     There is scant information about Lincoln speaking in his first namesake town just prior to the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Lawrence B. Stringer's History of Logan County, Illinois, 1911, says that “during that campaign, Douglas held a meeting at Lincoln and it is likely that very early in the campaign, Lincoln made a speech at Lincoln. A number of old settlers are positive that Lincoln spoke here quite early that year, but no newspaper notice of same can be found” (p. 223). The only other source mentioning a speech by Lincoln at Lincoln is a reminiscent account by sculptor Leonard Wells Volk (1828–1895) published in an 1881 issue of the Century Magazine, and that article was reprinted in a 1915 issue of the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society. Volk wrote that he was on the train that took Douglas from Chicago to Springfield with a stop in Bloomington, where Douglas was scheduled to speak on the evening of July 16. Volk said Lincoln was in Bloomington to witness that speech. Volk then wrote: “The next day we all stopped at the town of Lincoln, where short speeches were made by the contestants [emphasis mine], and dinner was served at the hotel [Lincoln House], after which and as Mr. Lincoln came out on the plank walk in front, I was formally presented to him.” Volk wrote that he asked Lincoln to sit for a bust sometime in Chicago, and Lincoln agreed. The first sitting took place at Chicago in April 1860. Volk famously created the only life masks of Lincoln, and Volk's sculptures of Lincoln are renowned worldwide. For an account of Volk's Lincoln sculpture, see https://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jala/2629860.0041.204/--animal-himself-tracing-the-volk-lincoln-sculptures-part-i?keywords=...;rgn=main;view=fulltext.

     Apparently by coincidence, a circus---Dan Rice's Great Show---also arrived in Lincoln, Illinois, on July 17, 1858, having traveled from Bloomington. Entrepreneur/performer Dan Rice (1823--1900), a well-known speaker and circus clown, became a fan of Stephen Douglas. Later Rice fabricated a friendship with Lincoln during his presidency. “On July 17, Rice and Douglas both arrived in Lincoln, Illinois. The crowd that gathered at the train station to greet Douglas had half an eye cocked for the arrival of Rice's circus. Reports don't say whether the two men met, though it would have been a natural opportunity for both to increase their publicity. Rice did become an ardent advocate for the Little Giant. In any case, Rice drew the same rowdy, involved audiences and used the same oratorical techniques as the Little Giant and his challenger, the little-known local lawyer. Both politicians used the same slangwhanging style that Rice employed, and both also told ribald jokes. Lincoln had studied classical speeches [emphasis mine; I have published on this subject in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association and continue to research it for additional publication], but a description of him on the stump also fit Rice in the ring: He employed a 'free-wheeling, raucous brand of personal oratory. In the seven debates, Lincoln and Douglas gave alternating speeches punctuated by humor and stories while surrounded by enthusiastic crowds that hung on their every word and interjected constantly with cries of 'That is so!' or 'Hit him again!'" (David Carlyon, PhD., Dan Rice: The Most Famous Man You've Never Heard Of [Cambridge, MA: PublicAffairs/Perseus Books Group, 2001], 250--51). Note: Lincoln said he did not use anecdotes in debate speeches very much because of the seriousness of such an occasion.

     Dan Rice's Great Show performed in Bloomington just before traveling by train to Lincoln on July 17, as Douglas and Lincoln did. Again in the first week of September Lincoln would ride the train from Chicago to Springfield for the same purpose, with another circus-related stop in Lincoln, as explained later. 


     Throughout his long circus career, Dan Rice performed with the circus he owned, with other circuses, and at other venues. His diverse abilities included animal training. His circus once advertised "the tight rope elephant," "the tame rhinoceros," "the trick camel," "the talking horse," "the comic mules," "the tandem manage mares" (Carlyon, 229). His two trick horses, first Excelsior and then Excelsior Jr., were the stars of the show. After Excelsior Jr. died in 1878, Rice "honored his last great animal attraction with stories about a mile-long funeral procession and that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow [allegedly] confided that Excelsior made him believe in a heaven for horses" (Carlyon, 379). Rice named one of his other trick horses for his political hero, Stephen A. Douglas. Rice's abilities included acting, clowning, singing, and public speaking that featured jokes and anecdotes. Rice was married three times, and two of his wives were circus performers. Rice's ambition and celebrity led him to run for US president in 1868.

     Sources: poster image at left: https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_325266. Image at right: https://historyofyesterday.com/the-rich-clown-who-ran-for-u-s-president-and-died-penniless-ef7422ff123a. More information about Dan Rice appears later in this essay. See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Rice.

     From inside the book jacket, about the author, Dr. David Carlyon: "After graduating from Clown College, David Carlyon toured three years with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. He has worked as an actor, director, playwright and university professor. He was in the Army, has a Ph.D. in Theatre from Northwestern University, and holds a Berkeley law degree." Front and back of book jacket:

     Dr. Carlyon's book is both scholarly and readable. Book "parts" and chapters: PART 1: A Perfect Rush (1823--1847): 1. Home, Sweet Home; 2. Go West, Young Man; 3. Learned Pig, Learning Dan; 4. "Circus"; 5. Clown to the Ring. PART 2: One Horse Show (1848--1852): 6. Spalding and Spicey Rice; 7. Reading, Not Acting Clown; 8. Foreclosure; 9. One-Horse Story; 10. Like a Phoenix; 11. Alternating Ringmasters; 12. Curses! Foiled Again. PART 3: The Great American Humorist (1853--1856): 13. The Barnum of New Orleans; 14. See the Elephant; 15. People's Choice; 16. $100,000; 17. Bearded in His Den; 18. Dan Rice's Great Show; 19. Servis [sic] Rendered; 20. Hey, Rube! PART 4: Something Higher (1856--1860): 21. Cabinet of Curiosities; 22. Genius for Fun; 23. Excelsior! 24. Daniel McLaren; 25. Grammatical Assassin? 26.The End? 27. Ring Cycle. PART 5: The People's [US presidential] Candidate (1860--1867): 28. House Divided; 29. Southern Sympathy; 30. Union, Alias Peace; 31. A Muted Voice; 32. "Colonel" Rice; 33. Rice for President. PART 6: Reverse of Success (1868--1883): 34. Folly to Fight; 35. Paris Pavilion; 36. Is Life Worth Living? PART 7: Old Uncle Dan (1884--1900): 37. More Fun Than You Can Count; 38. Snake Oil; 39. Honest Abe's Uncle Sam. Notes, bibliography, permissions, and index. 506 pages.      

     On July 17, 1858, Dan Rice probably saw Douglas, Lincoln, and Leonard Volk, in Lincoln, Illinois; and in later years Rice would often express allegiance to Douglas's political views but falsely invent a friendship with Lincoln as president, as noted later in this essay.

     The following map, adapted from Google Earth, shows the locations of the first railroad depot (used by Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, and famous others), the present Amtrak depot, the 19th-century Lincoln House (hotel), and circus performances in 19th-century Lincoln, including those of July 17 and September 4, 1858. During my early 1950s childhood in Lincoln, circuses unloaded at the freight depot of the GM&O railroad at Sangamon and Pekin Streets, and performed on the eastern outskirts of town at the site of the present Lincoln Community High School. 


     Above photo adapted from Raymond N. Dooley and Ethel Welch, eds., The Namesake Town: A Centennial History of Lincoln, Illinois
(Lincoln, Illinois: Feldman Print Shop, 1953), p. 17.


     In 1971 the late Lloyd Ostendorf, a renowned Lincoln historian, Lincoln photo expert, and artist, created a drawing of Lincoln speaking at Lincoln in front of the Lincoln House hotel, which was a half block east of the train station at Broadway and Chicago Streets. Ostendorf dated that speech July 13, 1858, but cited no source for that date. In the drawing below at Lincoln's right are Leonard Volk (in beret with tassle) and Stephen Douglas. A bearded Robert Latham, one of the three founders of the first Lincoln namesake town, appears behind Lincoln on his left. Circus owner/performer Dan Rice could also have been included, but Ostendorf probably had never heard of him.

     Ostendorf's depiction of Volk wearing an artsy beret is accurate, because a photo later in this essay shows him wearing one. The drawings by Lincoln historian Lloyd Ostendorf published in this project are part of a collection kindly given to me several years ago by Lincoln historian Professor Ron J. Keller of Lincoln College.

     The most complete history of the Lincoln House is a 24-paragraph article by the renowned Lincoln expert the late James T. Hickey in the centennial edition of the Lincoln Evening Courier, Wednesday, August 26, 1953, p. 8. Hickey's research for this article included news stories published in the Lincoln Herald. The original Lincoln House was built in 1854 by the town founders (John D. Gillett, Virgil Hickox, and Robert Latham). Fire destroyed the original Lincoln House on April 10, 1870. The picture below shows the second Lincoln House, built in 1875 by John D. Gillett. Hickey writes, "It was in this [the original Lincoln House] hotel that Abraham Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas, Judge David Davis, Ward H. Lamon, Leonard Sweat, Richard Yates, and many other famous men of that day stayed while in Lincoln." Hickey quotes a justice of the peace contemporary of Lincoln in reporting a story of Lincoln in which he was approached in the Lincoln Hotel by friends of a man indicted for murder.  Lincoln was "convinced their friend was justified in his act, took the case, secured an acquittal and charged them $15 for a fee."




annotated screen capture of Google Earth view, 2019

     At mid-20th century Alvey's Drug Store was in this corner building and was the unofficial headquarters of the Logan County Republican Party. Its muckety-mucks exchanged countless stories there. Mr. Lincoln would have been at home, and he could still have walked across the street to catch a train back to Springfield. For information and photos of Alvey's and GOP pols, access and scroll https://findinglincolnillinois.com/business.html.

     Stephen Douglas was a benefactor of Leonard Volk, a relative: "In 1855, Douglas was instrumental in sending Volk to Rome, where the latter attended 'the finest school for advancement in the Art of Sculpture in the world.' Douglas continued to subsidize Volk during the rest of the decade" (Robert W. Johanssen, Stephen A. Douglas [New York: Oxford University Press, 1973], 466). Besides the bust of Douglas seen in the photo below, Volk created a full-length statue of Douglas, which stands in the Old State Capitol at Springfield, Illinois. The statue's missing thumb was explained by the late Lincoln historian James T. Hickey (whose Lincoln course I took at Lincoln College, 1960-61): https://sangamoncountyhistory.org/wp/?p=6891.

     Leonard Volk lived and worked in Chicago, and below at left is a cropped version of a well-known photo of him (wearing a beret with tassle) with his busts of Lincoln and Douglas. Photo source: https://chicagology.com/biographies/volk/. It took me a while to learn that Volk had also sculpted a bust of Dan Rice--and to find a photo of it, which I used to create the composite below. In the early 1860s Dan Rice's fame may have led Volk to sculpt his bust. The busts of Lincoln and Rice, also then famous, were displayed together at Chicago's Sanitary Fair of 1865 to raise money for wounded veterans of the Civil War (Carlyon, 330). Rice came to possess this bust. Source of photo of Volk's bust of Dan Rice: https://www.bgc.bard.edu/exhibitions/exhibitions/19/circus-and-the-city-new. Volk was also co-owner of a Chicago company that sold imported marble: https://chicagology.com/prefire/prefire159/.



     Rice was a decades-long fan of Stephen Douglas; however, Rice attempted to enhance his reputation fifteen years after Lincoln's death by fabricating a friendship between the two: "The fable grew to become the most important of all the stories, more prominent than any facts of Rice's life [emphasis mine]. For greater plausibility, Rice postdated the connection, adding Lincoln to a half-century old story from Sketches [of Dan Rice, The Publisher's Weekly, 1843], of a backwoods horse race in Illinois, where charlatans tried to get him drunk so they could cheat him. Now Abe entered the story as the race's honest judge.)" Rice's first biographer, Maria Ward Brown, included that fiction as fact in her The Life of Dan Rice (1901). In another fictitious anecdote, Lincoln sits on a trunk in Rice's dressing room, "his long legs stretched out in the small space, while Mary Lincoln tries to maintain her dignity in the background." In another [story], "Abe has sent a carriage to bring Dan to the White House, to get his friend's sense of the country's mood" (Carlyon, 408--409). Apparently Rice's stories of friendship with Lincoln were widely accepted. Perhaps Lincoln would have been amused. "The culminating element in Rice's patriotic elevation, albeit a claim he did not make himself, was that he had been the model for Uncle Sam" (Carlyon, 410).

     On August 21, the date of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate, at Ottawa, the Ottawa Free Trader echoed the earlier sarcasm of the Chicago Times that Lincoln could get audiences from circus attendees: "Circus--Spalding and Rogers' Grand Circus to be here a week from today. As Lovejoy [the abolitionist Owen Lovejoy, a political friend of Lincoln] and Lincoln find it difficult to get large audiences to hear them speak, could they not make arrangements to travel with this circus as a side show?"

Lincoln, Douglas, and the Circus in Lincoln, Illinois, September 4, 1858

     In the first week of September 1858 Lincoln and Douglas were in Bloomington to speak, as Lincoln continued to monitor his opponent. According to The Lincoln Log, Abraham Lincoln was there as a guest of Judge David Davis. On September 4 Lincoln was a passenger on the train taking Douglas south to Lincoln, Illinois, and Springfield.    

     The Bloomington Pantagraph edition of September 8, 1858, began with reference to a Chicago Press & Tribune satire of Stephen A. Douglas that had been published in anticipation of his circus-tent speech at Lincoln, Illinois, on September 4, 1858. The Pantagraph followed that reference with a reproduced advertisement for Douglas's speech that was published in the August 28th edition of the Logan County Democrat, and that edition featured an advertisement for the Spalding & Rogers New Orleans Circus that would also appear in Lincoln on September 4th. A main attraction of that circus was a "40 horse wagon." According to a source cited later in this essay, Douglas planned to appear in Lincoln on the same date as the circus because it assured him of a sizable audience.

     The September 8th edition of the Pantagraph included the full text of the Chicago Press & Tribune's satire of Douglas's upcoming circus-tent speech at Lincoln, and that full text appears later in this essay. The Spalding and Rogers Circus was prominent. Dan Rice had performed with this circus in the 1840s before establishing his own circus. About the founder of this circus and its history: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilbert_R._Spalding.

Source: https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Gilbert_R._Spalding

     Note: At mid-19th century, circuses mainly traveled by train, but the Spalding and Rogers Circus also had a "floating palace," and it visited Peoria, Illinois, on the Illinois River in this period: https://www.peoriamagazines.com/ps/2017/10/17/circus-central-illinois. Description of the "floating palace": "On 5 July 1852, a most amazing sight, the Spalding & Rogers Floating Palace, was moored at the foot of Cincinnati’s Main Street. This unique boat was the venue that day for four circus performances. The Enquirer of 7 July expressed the opinion that the Floating Palace’s receipts exceeded the aggregate total of all other amusements in the city. The massive circus barge was built over the previous year in Newport, Kentucky, at a cost of $42,000. The Floating Palace was 250 feet long and 60 feet wide, a craft large enough to contain a full-size 40-foot circus ring and to seat more than 3000 patrons. After nearly a decade plying the Ohio & Mississippi rivers, including regular stops at Cincinnati, the Floating Palace was commandeered by the Confederates and was converted into a floating hospital for the duration of the Civil War." Source: https://handeaux.tumblr.com/post/117078700412/the-floating-palace-on-the-ohio-river-on-5-july.

     Abraham Lincoln's close observation of Stephen Douglas on September 4, 1858, had to be one of the most important experiences for Abraham Lincoln in the city named for and by him in 1853, the year before his famous return to national politics. In his chapter, "Abraham Lincoln" (History of Logan County, Illinois, 1911), historian-Judge Lawrence Stringer provides an account of the activities of Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln on September 4, 1858. That date fell between the debates at Freeport (8-27) and Jonesboro (9-18). Stringer says the occasion of the speech in Lincoln, Illinois, was part of a day-long Douglas rally leading up to a "monster demonstration" (Stringer's circus-evoking term) for Douglas in Springfield, Illinois. Douglas, of course, would have taken special pleasure in speaking in the namesake town of his senatorial campaign opponent. Below are Lloyd Ostendorf's depictions of Douglas and Lincoln at the train depot at Lincoln, Illinois, and Lincoln listening to Douglas speak in the circus tent.


     The noted Lincoln historian Paul M. Angle describes Douglas's circus tent speech in Lincoln:

     In describing Abraham Lincoln on the day of Douglas's speech, Lawrence Stringer relies on the reminiscent eyewitness account of S. Linn Beidler of Mt. Pulaski. As reported in the Lincoln Herald of February 17, 1885, Stringer quotes: "I [Beidler] was among the thousands who attended the great meeting in Lincoln to hear Douglas. The meeting was held in a circus tent. A circus was in town, at the time, and the Douglas adherents had hired the tent, for use for Douglas's speech, the speech coming after the afternoon circus performance. The tent was pitched on the triangular lot, now located near St. Patrick's Catholic Church [many decades later renamed the Holy Family Catholic Church] and occupied by the cement works [Shoup's at mid-20th century, since demolished]. The crowds drawn by the circus and by the Douglas demonstration together, made of the day, quite an event and the new town was full of people. The procession which escorted Douglas from the Lincoln House to the tent was conspicuous for a float, containing thirty-two young ladies from Mt. Pulaski, each with flag with the name of a state of the union upon it" (Stringer, 224).



     Beidler's account also claims that Douglas was "bold, defiant" (no explanation, however, of what Douglas actually said). Beidler says that afterward on the train to Springfield he introduced himself to Lincoln and conversed in a friendly way about their mutual acquaintances in Mt. Pulaski (where Lincoln had also practiced law in the Logan County Courthouse from 1848 to 1856, when that town was the county seat before it was moved back to Lincoln, Illinois) (Stringer, 225).

     The events of "Douglas's Day" in Lincoln, Illinois, show that Abraham Lincoln was so politically ambitious, clever, and thick-skinned that he could insert himself into his opponent's day-long, exuberant rally at the risk of whatever abuse his opponent's supporters might be capable of. Lincoln did so with the determination to remain passive and silent, hoping to find something he could use at a later opportunity (Lincoln's law partner, William H. Herndon, once said anyone who took Lincoln for a fool would one day find himself in a ditch).

     The Bloomington Daily Pantagraph edition of September 8th published the pro-Republican Chicago Press & Tribune's satire of Douglas's anticipated circus-tent speech in full (copied below) but did not specify the date of its publication in the Chicago Press & Tribune. Apparently, the Democrats had arranged for Douglas to speak between the morning and evening performances of the circus, using it to attract a large crowd.

     The Chicago newspaper's satire projects Douglas as part of the circus: "Where Judge Douglas is classed we are not informed. Whether he is among the 'riders,' 'acrobats,' 'gymnasts,' 'voltigeurs,' 'equilibrists,' 'calisthenists,' or one of the three clowns, the [circus] bill leaves us in blissful ignorance. Whether he is to assist Madame Anna Church in 'trundling a wheelbarrow to the sky,' 'with a lady weighing not more than 125 pounds,' or whether he is to play the part of one of the 'quadrupedal celebrities,' 'Bucephalus,' 'Pegasus,' 'Aristook,' 'Big Thunder,' 'Telegraph,' or 'Wildfire:' whether he comes in the Pantomime or Spectacle; or whether as a jester, or grotesque and comic gymnast, whether in 'pad,' 'entree,' 'dancing,' 'trick' or 'war,' we have no means of telling; but the bill assures us that the performance will be 'all under one tent,' and that 'Judge Douglas, the nation's favorite,' will be thar."

     "Judge Douglas will not thank us, perhaps, for attempting to interfere with his arrangements for getting a crowd to listen to his dull platitudes about niggers [sic], nigger equality and amalgamation; but if he will permit our advice, we should say the role of a Posture-Maker will become him best. We will, at the risk of incurring the displeasure of the manager, give our ideas of such additions to the programme as his accession to the Company makes necessary.

Lawrence B. Stringer

Source: Stringer, History of Logan County, Illinois, 1911

S. Linn Beidler

Source: Stringer, History of Logan County, 1911

I. Douglas as a Democrat.--- In this character, which the Judge has not lately assumed, he will be seen in the act of deifying the Missouri Compromise and pushing aside the 'ruthless hand' that would destroy it. This used to be received with thunders of applause.

II. Douglas Destroying the Missouri Compromise (with the view of the White House in the distance).--- In this act, the exact opposition of the first, the Judge has won great distinction. It is tragic to the last degree.

III. Douglas inventing squatter sovereignty.--- This is as fine a representation of a well known fiction as was ever got up on any stage. The Judge is seen in the pangs of labor with the great idea.

IV. Douglas repudiating squatter sovereignty.--- Squatters seen flying from their homes followed by a big African gentleman, who bears the label 'Dred Scott' on his back.

V. Douglas paying homage to Dred Scott.--- Copy of one of the Judge's historical attitudes assumed at Springfield in June 1857, when he performed before the Grand Jury of the State--Distant view of the Federal Court in bane, with Buchanan in close confab with Taney--Ghost of Calhoun raises at the conclusion of the act.

VI. Douglas repudiating Dred Scott.--- Reproduction of a recent scene at Freeport [second debate], in which the judge played a second part--The Senate House discovered afar off, and the way thither blocked up by a crowd of angry people, who persist in turning him back. (In this piece the action is terrific.)

VII. Douglas Eviscerating the Toombs Bill.--- Copied after the celebrated act. 'Brutus condemning his own son to death'---Douglas armed with scissors and pen, is putting Popular Sovereignty to death by striking out the submission clause. (This has been received with great applause by the Black Republican crowds.)

VIII. Douglas Reconciling Dred Scott and Popular Sovereignty.--- A feat that is without parallel in the magician's art, far surpassing the difficulty of mixing oil and water of the breeding of white black birds. (In this astonishing performance Douglas stands unequaled and unapproachable. Except the last act this is the chief feature of the performance. It alone is worth the price of admission.) [This passage slams Douglas's contradictory position that on the one hand he supports the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision that allowed slaves as property to be taken into new territories but on the other hand maintaining that local legislation and police action could prevent that.]

     The whole to conclude with the celebrated laughter-provoking, side-splitting after-piece entitled


     IX. Douglas Bringing Lincoln to His Milk!--- Wherein Douglas appears as a milk maid with pail and stool. (The scene is depicted just at the moment that Lincoln kicks him and his milking arrangements 'higher nor a kite.')"

     The Logan County Democrat does not tell us whether the engagement of the 'Nation's Favorite' by the circus manager is for the season or only accidental and temporary. We take it that he will not 'draw' as a permanent thing. His popularity is waning. He has appeared so often and in so many and opposite characters that he has lost his power over the crowds which he once amused. No man can be comedian, tragedian, pantomimist, and buffoon, and win success. But we shall not fail to chronicle his progress, be the engagement long or short. Go it Circus! Go it Douglas!"


      The September 8th edition of Springfield's Illinois State Journal also carried a pro-Lincoln satirical account of Douglas's circus-tent speech in Lincoln submitted by a reporter on the day of the speech and revealing more details about the arrangement, including Douglas's maneuver to trap an audience. This satire is posted here in full:

     "A number of Springfield's citizens visited this place [Lincoln, Illinois] today, to see the grand performance of ponies, horses, men and--giants. The latter was certainly a ludicrous one-horse affair. What they saw I will more particularly relate.

     PREPARATION AND GRAND ENTREE. Most of the morning gave evidence of a slim attendance. 'a solitary horseman' only being occasionally seen winding his way into town--tie up and liquor. At nine a freight train brought down the Atlanta cannon and four gunners with red flannel shirts. A round or two from this other brass piece of Douglas made it exciting. The circus soon arrived; so did the organ grinders and patent medicine peddlers. Here was excitement. But the enthusiasm was to come yet, and it did, in the shape of quite a company of ladies on horseback, with their beaux and brothers, and eighteen wagons from Pulaski township. This enthusiasm, or the chance of a cheap ride, caused numbers to volunteer and fill two cars to bring down Douglas and his two baggage carriers from Atlanta; which was accomplished--the train down. A wheezy band of music also accompanied the train down. Some powder was burned on the arrival of the two cars, and little Dug [sic] actually walked up to the tavern, and graciously bowed and bowed to the ruby landlord.

     DOUGLAS INSPECTS THE COURTHOUSE. One old Democrat who, seeing a fitness in things, hadn't Douglas's cunning, said he wouldn't vote for D. if he spoke in a circus tent; and seats and tables were arranged at the Court House. Douglas, his baggage carriers and the committee visited and examined these, and pronounced them unfit, as nobody would leave the other amusements to hear him here. The seats and tables were upset, therefore, and incontinently kicked aside.

     SECRET ARRANGEMENT WITH THE CIRCUS. The same parties, with Douglas, at noon, visited the circus. D. knew his partnership there to be a lucky one, and he immediately arranged for the long wagon which hauls the baggage of Charley Walters, the two-horse rider of the Motley brothers, balancers, etc., to be prepared for him to stand or fall upon. It was to be wheeled into the ring, and before the people could get out with their wives and babies, he and his friends should enter, block up the passage and commence his performance.

     FIRST ACT---THE SUBJUGATION. Of course by this maneuver a number of Republicans were forced to remain. One of them, restless, spoke out his sentiments, when Douglas and others hushed him up--he had no rights there that Democrats were bound to respect [this phrasing echoes that of the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision that proclaimed "blacks had no rights which white men were bound to respect"]. A dozen or more infants, heated and suffocated in their mothers' arms for want of air and water, were not to be intimidated, but squalled out lustily during this performance.

     DOUGLAS IN TWO ACTS--HERCULES LIBBY [a female circus performer known for her weight-lifting ability]. At the very commencement of the speech, the same old charges of falsehood, liar, defamer, being applied to Judge Trumbull [Republican US senator of Illinois], in which Douglas entirely misstated the case and was called to account by a gentleman for his misquotations, Douglas imagined himself the Hercules Libby of the circus--a perfect modern Atlas . . . demanding of his Democratic friends to 'put out this man' and that his meeting should not be disturbed; nor were his nerves quieted until the man was clear out of his sight. Here was fairness, candor, and dignity for you! Oh, how different from Lincoln's course towards those blackguards whom Douglas hires to disturb his speaking.

     Those who now saw Douglas perform in his grand, two-horse act [a political cartoon appears later in this essay that depicts Douglas riding the two contrary horses of the Dred Scott decision and popular sovereignty], and who had previously read and understood the charge [of chicanery] made against him by Senator Trumbull, were more than over convinced that the little dodger is well named--that he is indeed a dishonest, tricky, and treacherous demagogue; that he showed it in basely betraying popular sovereignty in the matter of the Toombs Bill [congressional legislation that Trumbull accused Douglas of modifying to proslavery advantage], and more clearly now in the gross manner in which he endeavors to smooth it over. His attempt to explain away was most lame and miserable, yet done with all the assurance and seeming truthfulness of a sainted martyr. He alleged that until two years ago no question was made relative to submitting a constitution [in Kansas] to the people's vote [to establish statehood for Kansas]. He then went off into other matters, creating mist, and entirely forgetting to answer the real charges against him. This was one of his afternoon feats, which entirely eclipsed anything done this morning by [Henry] Magilton, the voltigeur [bareback horse-riding sharpshooter], but it is thought and rumored he will be lame for life for his fall from his black pony. So lame was his defense that an old Democrat  cried out---'Ah Douglas come view the ground where you must shortly lie.'

     DOUGLAS AS DILLY FAY, THE JESTER. But Douglas' imitations of Dilly Fay, the clown, are the best of his circus performances. He is great when it comes to fun. He is terribly annoyed that Lincoln should be after his place--just as if Douglas had any place more than Lincoln, except as the people grant it. Then Lincoln's charge of the conspiracy of Douglas and others [Democratic conspiracy to nationalize slavery that Lincoln alleged in the House Divided speech, July 16, 1858], with the majority of the Supreme Court Judges, to extend slavery all over the country and its free territories. Here was fun. He was sorry L. had so charged him, for they had always been friends, and L. was known to be a good man and a gentleman. He did at first suppose it [Lincoln's conspiracy accusation against the Democratic leaders] a joke; but as it was proving a dear joke to the 'little joker,' he must somehow twist and turn its point. And to see him do so was as amusing as to see Dilly Fay running from the open-mouthed pony, except that was only for fun, while the former was in dead earnest, yet creating fun to others. He begged the dear people (for whom he was always ready to sacrifice himself) not to believe a word of it. Why, says he, I've been in this state 25 years; don't that fact prove I wouldn't begin to do anything wrong? Just think of it a moment, gentlemen---25 years have I have been holding or seeking office in Illinois; ain't I to be believed rather than Lincoln who has only been here 27 [sic] years?

     BACK UPON TWO HORSES AGAIN. 'Audacity' and 'mendacity' are favorite and chaste words used by Douglas on two horses in charging upon Trumbull, so entirely in his excitement of the chase does he forget the courtesy of a gentleman and United States senator. Extremely audacious indeed is it in Trumbull to intimate such a little matter and prove it too, as Douglas' leaving out a clause in Toombs' bill, which would otherwise have submitted a matter to the people who were interested therein [Kansas citizens voting on a constitution and Kansas as a slave state or not]. (And any boy can see that Douglas thus did, if he will examine the files of the Congressional Globe). Douglas rode the black locofoco [Democratic] horse very well, I confess, but when he attempted to stand with his toe on the old white Whig charger, he fell flat on his black [sic]. It was an artful maneuver, but the rider was too short, and the horse kicked up. He said he once fought the Whigs hard and cunningly, and it can be added basely and meanly, on certain issues which had all passed away; but as they were the same on the slavery question (a base lie) he could not see why either should now get off the plank they found themselves together upon. Do not Webster and Clay turn in their graves? I observed that one effect of this speech was to determine old Whigs and all Republicans to go home and organize for the fight for Lincoln, now and ever the plain, true, and consistent leader and preacher of principles to which they are and have been wedded. Logan County is all right against the little dodger, and for honest Abe. Springfield."

     Note: The eye-witness writer of the preceding account suggests that Douglas's decision to move his speaking venue from the Logan County Courthouse in downtown Lincoln to the circus site a few blocks away was impromptu, but according to the Daily Illinois State Journal of Springfield, September 9, "The truth is, Douglas was advertised ten days beforehand to speak at the circus." Additionally, the writer of the preceding eyewitness account does not report seeing Abraham Lincoln there to hear the speech, as Beidler had written--not surprising because Beidler had indicated that Lincoln did not attraction attention there and then.

     After its appearance at Lincoln, the Spalding & Rogers New Orleans Circus played in Springfield, Illinois, September 6 (Richard Hart, Circuses in Lincoln's Springfield, 69). The Lincoln Log says he was then in Monticello for a rally and speech. 

     In the race for the Senate of 1858, Abraham Lincoln did not allow his opponent to have the advantage of an unanswered political speech in his first namesake town. Candidate Lincoln delivered a two-hour political speech on the steps of the main entrance to the Logan County Courthouse on October 16, 1858--the very day after the last Lincoln-Douglas debate, at Alton. For my research on Lincoln's post-debate stump speech in Lincoln, Illinois, access it directly on this secure webpage: https://findinglincolnillinois.com/alincoln-lincolnil.html#1858lincolnilstumpspeech. I researched that event, finding that newspaper reports used the word monster to describe that rally. The use of that word evokes the circus-associated theme of physical oddity. Using that research, I wrote a playscript about the event that was used to reenact the event on October 16, 2008, as the central component of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration in Lincoln, Illinois. Here is a link to my pictorial account (PDF) of the reenactment, news reports, and the playscript of the reenactment, including Mr. Lincoln's speech as I envisioned it: https://findinglincolnillinois.com/bicentennial/1858re-enactment.pdf. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwZAXvmbytc. Photo album: https://photos.google.com/share/AF1QipNu1GjsurWSY3syiym8kmw9fTOAojFvKtngm_iueVUqJzEqgod1BKbLAj6ys4Ws9g?key=M3prQ0FCTFloeEl3VVJMMFVhdTZfTnVhaVdrdHRR

Douglas's and Lincoln's Circus-Related Speeches, September 8, 1858

     In the days immediately following Douglas's circus tent speech at Lincoln, both candidates took advantage of circus goers in other communities. The rivals were winding their way to the third debate at the far southern Illinois ("Egypt") hamlet of Jonesboro. According to a short report titled "Douglas in the Ring" in the September 9th edition of the Daily Illinois State Journal, "Douglas is still following Spalding's Circus. He appeared at Carlinville [south of Springfield] yesterday simultaneously with the big show and put his celebrated trick horse 'Popular Sovereignty' through his accustomed paces." Joseph E. ("J.E.") Warner was the manager of the Spalding Circus, and he may have used his observation of Douglas on this occasion to fabricate a circus-related story involving both Lincoln and Douglas, as explained later. 

     Also on September 8th Lincoln spoke for two hours while standing on a circus wagon under a rain-drummed circus tent in Hillsboro, Illinois, as reported in The Lincoln Log September 9, 1858. The account of Lincoln's speech under the circus tent at Hillsboro published in the pro-Republican Illinois State Journal on September 15th says the audience was enthusiastic despite getting soaked from the rain. The account mentions Douglas's purchase of a local newspaper; it would promote his cause. In 1859 Lincoln secretly bought a German-language newspaper in Springfield to promote the Republican cause.

     S. Linn Beidler's reminiscent eyewitness account of Douglas's circus-tent speech at Lincoln cited above is credible, but another reminiscent account of a different circus-related campaign event following the speech at Lincoln is not. (Sidebar: I am thankful for Lincoln historian Richard "Dick" Hart's research that led me to discover that inaccurate reminiscent account. Mr. Hart, a Springfield attorney and Lincoln activist, has scrupulously documented the many circuses that played in Lincoln's Springfield, and Mr. Hart suggests that Abraham Lincoln could have seen a circus there as early as 1833, credibly suggesting that Lincoln probably "loved the circus. It brought him great joy. That love and joy perhaps originated in his morose personality's need for humor and entertainment. The circus allowed him to escape the sad and oppressive dreary realities of life. I believe that Lincoln likely not only attended many of the 50 circuses noted here [in Mr. Hart's research, self-published in 2013], but that he shared his love of the circus and children by taking his boys and neighborhood children to the circus."

Ref.: https://abrahamlincolnassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Circuses-In-Lincoln%E2%80%99s-Springfield.pdf)

     The faulty reminiscent account was written by Joseph E. "J.E." Warner; he inaccurately identifies the circus-related speech event as one of the Lincoln-Douglas joint debates: "J.E. Warner was manager of the Spalding & Rogers Show in 1858. In a series of articles that he wrote for the Detroit Saturday Night in February 1914, he described how the circus tent had been engaged by the political committees for the Lincoln-Douglas debates." (Warner also spent time as manager of Dan Rice's circus.) Warner identified Hillsboro as the location, but no joint debates were held at Hillsboro, and the candidates had agreed not to speak at the same time and place. As indicated above, Douglas was in Carlinville on September 8 while Lincoln was then in Hillsboro. Those locations are about 30 miles apart, and it would have been impossible for Douglas to speak at Carlinville then travel to Hillsboro to speak or vice versa. An historical marker at Hillsboro says that Douglas had spoken there in August, with no mention that Lincoln was there then.

     Hugo H. Zeiter describes Warner's account: "At short notice, the committees decided against the use of the tent because a local newspaper had ridiculed Douglas for making his first speech in a circus tent. The Lincoln-Douglas speeches were held in a grove, and, when the speeches were not finished by two o'clock as had been agreed, Warner had the 40-horse feature driven through the grove to lure people to the circus. The wagon used on that occasion was an immense cage containing a woman surrounded by a dozen pythons and anacondas, driven by one man who was probably J.W. Paul. Atop the wagon sat a brass band." Source: Hugo H. Zeiter, "Through the Years with the 40-Hitch," The Carriage Journal 10, no. 4 (Spring 1973), 144.

     The American Circus Anthology gives a more detailed report of Warner's apocryphal account of Douglas and Lincoln speaking at Hillsboro, including the wrong date: "Abraham Lincoln was to give a speech in Hillsboro, Illinois, on September 9. This, too, was a circus date, and Warner had arranged with the local Republican committee to use the tent. However, after the comments on Douglas's use of the facility, the locals said, 'No tents for us. . . . We've arranged to hold our meeting in the grove."

     Zeiter continues, "The grove was about half-a-mile beyond the circus lot and everyone---six or eight thousand people---passed the circus on their way to hear Lincoln. Warner had received the committee's promise to begin the program at noon, and they said it would finish at two p.m. 'The speaking was delayed half-an-hour,' Warner reported, 'and I listened to Mr. Lincoln for a while, and then went to the tents to prepare for the crowd. A few minutes before two o'clock, the feature of our parade was drawn up to the grove, ready to allure the crowd to the tents when the speaking closed. It was an immense cage containing a woman surrounded by a dozen large pythons and anacondas, drawn by forty horses driven by a single man (Major Derth). Atop the cage sat a big band."

     'Two o'clock came. Mr. Lincoln seemed no nearer his conclusion than when he began. I must have the crowd,' I demanded of the master of ceremonies.

     'Oh, give us a few more minutes,' he begged.

     'I'll give you ten.'

     "Watch in hand, I waited. When the time was up, the rail-splitter was still rending the air with his eloquence. Evidently, he was just becoming seriously and earnestly interested in his subject. If our show was to get any of these people, it must get them before sundown. I stepped to the road and waved my hand. The woman shook up the serpents. The band struck up a lively air. The procession moved, and only the committee and a few personal friends were left to hear the eloquent peroration for which Abe Lincoln was famous." Source: https://www.classic.circushistory.org/Thayer/Thayer2i.htm. J.E. Warner certainly "did not let the facts get in the way of a good story." Unlike some Lincoln lore, J.E. Warner's story has no factual basis. Warner and Dan Rice--two tricky circus men well acquainted with one another--fabricating connections with the Great Man in order to gain fame by association. Historical markers for Joseph E. Warner at https://www.flickr.com/photos/lugnut215/48865024517.

 Circus Elements at the Last Two Lincoln-Douglas Debates

     The sixth debate was held on October 13 at Quincy's town square, known as Washington Park, where seating had been rented from the Levi J. North National Circus, but before the debate began the seating collapsed. "There were a number of minor injuries, but the speaking went on": https://www.classic.circushistory.org/Thayer/Thayer2i.htm

     On October 15, the date of the last Lincoln-Douglas debate, at Alton, the Mabie & Crosby's French and American Circus was in town. The seven debates were scheduled in July, and no evidence suggests that any consideration was given to whether a circus might be in the communities on the dates of the debates or whether the Mabie & Crosby Circus scheduled an appearance at Alton on the debate date to take advantage of the attending crowd. The circus advertisement in the Alton Daily Courier of October 8 indicated performance times of 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., but the notice in that paper on the day of the debate indicates the circus moved its first performance up to 11:00 a.m. to allow the public to attend both events. Tony Pastor, who performed with the Mabie & Crosby Circus, was a singing clown, like Dan Rice. During the Civil War, Pastor performed in support of the Union cause. Afterward he owned and operated theaters in New York.

     In May 1860 at Decatur, the Illinois Republican Party met in a temporary structure ("wigwam") and nominated Abraham Lincoln as its presidential candidate. "A tent 100 feet wide and 70 feet deep was procured from a local circus company to house the crowd," https://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMCEM1_Lincoln_Nomination_Convention_Wigwam_markers_Decatur_IL. This convention originated the designation of Lincoln as the railsplitter candidate, creating a frenzied demand for the rails he allegedly split soon after arriving in Illinois. Lincoln attended and spoke briefly, as reported in the New York Tribune: "He stated that, some thirty years ago, then just emigrating to the State, he stopped with his mother's family, for one season, in what is now Macon County; that he built a cabin, split rails, and cultivated a small farm down on the Sangamon River, some six or eight miles from Decatur. These [the couple of rails presented at the convenion], he was informed, were taken from that fence; but, whether they were or not, he had mauled many and many better ones since he had grown to manhood. The cheers were renewed with the same vigor when he concluded his remarks," https://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/lincoln4/1:38?rgn=div1;view=fulltext.

Lincoln and Douglas in Circus-Themed Political Cartoons

     Nineteenth-century circuses sometimes featured weird boxing matches, for example, between tall, skinny men and short, plump ones, and between men and such animals as kangaroos and bears. One source says following cartoon, artist and original publisher unknown, depicts the rivals in the 1858 Illinois US Senate race.

Sources: https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/lincoln-douglas-debates and https://www.mrlincolnswhitehouse.org/residents-visitors/visitors-from-congress/visitors-congress-stephen-douglas-1813-1861/stephen-a-douglas/al_sd3a10511r_large/.

     Professor Gillian Silverman explains that the above 1860 political cartoon reveals the ongoing rivalry of Lincoln and Douglas seen in the 1858 US Senate race for it "draws attention to the same issues of spectatorship, hyper-corporeality, and physical confrontation in the senatorial debates. . . . The awkward enlargements of the two men's heads (in contrast to the normal proportionality of the spectators around them) and the exaggeration of their distinctive bodily peculiarities (Lincoln is shown with elongated limbs, Douglas with short, thick trunk) are intended to highlight the freakish nature of the spectacle. Moreover, the presence of alcohol in the ring (the black man who is Lincoln's 'second' is shown holding a liquor bottle as is the Irishman who backs Douglas) is a commentary on the bacchanalian excess that characterized the debates and other contests between the two men ["other contests," not specified]. In the background a third political candidate [in the1860 presidential race], John Breckinridge, is shown thumbing his nose at the theatrics of his opponents but attracting little attention. The Lincoln-Douglas contest, the cartoon implies, captured widespread interest because of its ability to present political differences through scenes of masculine corporeal confrontation." Note: The cartoon does not reveal political differences. That is, if you knew nothing of the historical context or the identities of the figures, you would have no idea of their political differences.

     Professor Silverman's interpretation continues: "The rise of a mass society bent on entertainment and particularly on the observation of eccentric bodies was a direct outgrowth of the increasing domestic enclosure of middle-class life in the mid-nineteenth century. 'In public,' writes Richard Sennett, 'people, especially males, hoped at least to witness what life was like outside the rigidities of the propriety they experience in the family [Richard Broadhead, Culture of Letters: Scenes of Reading and Writing in Nineteenth-Century America (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1993), 66]. . . . Thus, hoards of Americans flocked to see the great battle between 'the dwarf' and 'the tall sucker' in part because it offered a limited opportunity for unrestricted collective pleasure."

     This commentary overlooks the fact that the American public at mid-nineteenth century was fascinated by the political differences between Lincoln and Douglas: their physical differences were more of a sideshow than the main attraction, and literary satires were arguably more thorough at revealing those political differences than cartoons. Lincoln well understood the public's fascination with politics, and he worked much harder and more effectively at editing and publishing his prepresidential speeches and other political compositions than Douglas did.

     The following cartoon, published during the 1860 presidential campaign, depicts Douglas riding two seemingly incompatible kinds of horses: one representing the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision, which allowed slaves to be taken into new territories, and the other representing popular sovereignty, which maintained local legislation and police action could prevent that. The cartoon lampoons Douglas for the precarious trick of trying to ride these contrary animals simultaneously. The caption includes Douglas admitting that he won't be able to pull off the stunt. Source: The Rail Splitter (Chicago), October 6, 1860, 1, artist unknown. https://elections.harpweek.com/1860/cartoon-1860-large.asp?UniqueID=36&Year=1860


     Each of the 1860 and 1864 presidential campaigns had at least one political cartoon depicting Lincoln as Charles Blondin, then a famous highwire performer; and as cited later for the 1864 cartoon, Lincoln commented on him. The cartoon below by Jacob Dallas(?) appeared in Harper's Weekly, August 25, 1860. HarpWeek.com, the source of this image, explains: "The stunt that Lincoln—in the guise of Blondin—performs in this Harper’s Weekly cartoon refers to the time when Blondin carried his 136-lb. agent, Henry Colcord, on his back while crossing Niagara Falls on a tightrope. The cartoon may also allude to a crossing in which Blondin appeared as an enchained Liberian slave. In the artist’s view, the Republican Party’s stance on slavery is a burden on Lincoln’s shoulders as he tries to win the presidential election. The US Constitution, however, is Lincoln’s balancing rod that keeps him steady and allows him to reach his goal." The source of this image provides more details about some of Blondin's performances: https://elections.harpweek.com/1860/cartoon-1860-medium.asp?UniqueID=12&Year=1860.



     Frank Leslie's Budget of Fun published the following cartoon on September 1, 1864, in relation to the presidential race between Lincoln and General George McClellan. The cartoonist is unknown. The cartoon depicts Lincoln as Charles Blondin, the famous highwire performer, and according to Wikipedia, Lincoln knew about him: "During the run-up to the 1864 United States presidential election, Abraham Lincoln compared himself to 'Blondin on the tightrope, with all that was valuable to America in the wheelbarrow he was pushing before him.' A political cartoon in Frank Leslie's Budget of Fun took up this quotation on 1 September 1864 depicting Lincoln on a tightrope, pushing a wheelbarrow and carrying two men on his back—Navy Secretary Gideon Welles and War Secretary Edwin Stanton—while 'John Bull,' Napoleon III, Jefferson Davis (representing England, France, and the Confederacy, respectively), and Generals Grant, Lee and Sherman (representing the military) looked on, among others." Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Blondin.

     The caption of the cartoon explains that Lincoln felt pressure from leaders with diverse views on how he should conduct affairs of state, especially the Civil War: "Mr. Lincoln said recently that he was like Blondin on the tightrope, with all that was valuable in American, the Union, in a barrow. Some of the spectators cried, 'A little faster, Mr. Lincoln.' Another said, 'A little slower, Mr. Lincoln.' A third said, 'Straighten your back a little more.' Others shouted, 'Stoop a little lower.' Others cried, 'A little more to the South.' Some, 'A little more North.' What would be thought, if, when Blondin was in the performance of his dangerous task, the spectators bothered him with advice, and even went so far as to shake the rope? So with me---keep quiet, and I'll wheel my barrow across." Source:  https://elections.harpweek.com/1864/cartoon-1864-medium.asp?UniqueID=43&Year=1864.


     More of HarpWeek.com's explanation: "This cartoon . . . reminded voters of the difficult task President Abraham Lincoln had in securing the Union. He is depicted as acrobat Charles Blondin, who was famous for his daring tightrope-walks across Niagara Falls. Here, the commander-in-chief combines two of Blondin’s feats: pushing a wheelbarrow and carrying another man on his back. In this case, it is two men: Navy Secretary Gideon Welles on Lincoln’s shoulders and War Secretary Edwin Stanton on Welles’s shoulders. Salmon Chase, who resigned as treasury secretary in June, tumbles off the back of Stanton. In the front row of the theater box on the left are Union Generals Ulysses S. Grant (left) and William T. Sherman (right). Between them, in the back row, may be General Philip Sheridan. In the front row of the theater box on the right are Confederate General Robert E. Lee (left) and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. In the row behind them may be Confederate General James Longstreet. In the right foreground are John Bull, the personification of Great Britain, and Napoleon III, the French emperor. Neither of their countries recognized the Confederacy as an independent nation despite diplomatic entreaties from the Confederate government."

     The preceding cartoons relating to President Lincoln and circuses are a sampling of such depictions. For more, access Richard Hart's Circuses in Lincoln's Springfield, 9--18: https://abrahamlincolnassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Circuses-In-Lincoln%E2%80%99s-Springfield.pdf. That source includes information about circuses in relation to the Lincoln family during their time in the White House, including Mr. Lincoln's meetings and correspondence with such circus celebrities as the dwarf General Tom Thumb, his family, and P.T. Barnum. Of course, President Lincoln was the subject of many political cartoons unrelated to circuses, and for various examples, visit https://www.history.com/news/abraham-lincoln-political-cartoons.


     Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas were masterful political strategists and speakers in debate and on the stump. The events and the texts of the debate speeches have been accounted for in greater detail than the stump speeches, so S. Linn Beidler's eyewitness account of Douglas's circus-tent speech of September 4, 1858, provides useful insight into the candidates' campaign behavior. Both were mindful of their audiences, connecting with them personally and adapting arguments to them. Douglas's September speech in Lincoln, Illinois, was likely the first time he captured an audience of circus attendees. Abraham Lincoln must have seen the advantage of appropriating such an audience, for he spoke under a circus tent at Hillsboro just four days after observing Douglas's circus-tent speech; and Douglas's experience at Lincoln must have been encouraging, for on the same day on which Lincoln spoke at Hillsboro, Douglas spoke at a circus venue in Carlinville. Apparently these three speeches and the last joint debate were the only ones in which audience size might have been increased because a circus was in town. Douglas chose the debate sites in July to be in each of the seven congressional districts where the candidates had not yet spoken, and there is no evidence that Douglas chose communities for debate sites because circuses were scheduled to be at them on the debate dates. Whether the Mabie & Crosby's French and American Circus planned to appear at Alton on October 15 because its owners hoped to attract attendees from the final joint debate crowd is unknown.

     Lincoln's and Douglas's circus-tent speeches enabled pro-Republican newspaper reporters to write fresh satire to express their political biases. These satires poke fun of Douglas as a clown and trick performer for his alleged sneaky maneuvering in the Toombs Bill legislative process and his contradictory track record of first endorsing the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (congressional legislation forbidding slavery in new territories) before working to invalidate that legislation (accomplished with the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, which Douglas shaped and guided through Congress). The satires also fault Douglas for the "trick" of both endorsing the Dred Scott decision that allowed slavery in new territories and then disallowing it through local legislation and police action (his version of popular sovereignty). These newspaper accounts illustrate satire as originally conceived by Greek and Roman writers, for their criticism alleges that Douglas is morally deficient: his chicanery in the Senate reveals low character, his contradictory positions and policies betray hypocrisy, and his rhetoric aims to deceive. After the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, political cartoonists continued to use circus-themed satire to highlight vulnerability in the rivals' positions and policies.

     Footnote: The origin of the elephant as the mascot of the Republican Party may or may not trace to its formation in the 1850s, https://www.wpr.org/how-did-us-political-parties-get-their-mascots and https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/political-animals-republican-elephants-and-democratic-donkeys-89241754/. Political cartoons have presented the Republican elephant as a circus animal. Suggestion: Do a Google image search with this phrase: GOP+elephant+circus. For many examples of historical cartoons in this vein at the Library of Congress, access https://www.loc.gov/collections/cartoon-drawings/?q=GOP elephant.


Other Online Publications by D. Leigh Henson Relating to Lincoln the Town, Lincoln the Writer, and Lincoln Memorials

Note: Each link opens in a new browser window.

About Henry Ford and the Postville Courthouse, the Story of the Postville Courthouse Replica, Tantivy, & the Postville Park Neighborhood in the
Route 66 Era

Abraham Lincoln and the Historic Postville Courthouse, including a William Maxwell connection to it

A Long-Range Plan to Brand the First Lincoln Namesake City as the Second City of Abraham Lincoln Statues

A Tribute to the Historians and Advocates of Lincoln, Illinois, including Paul J. Beaver, Raymond N. Dooley, James T. Hickey, and Lawrence B. Stringer

Classical Rhetoric as a Lens for Reading the Key Speeches of Lincoln’s Political Rise, 1852–1856, article in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association (peer-reviewed), 2014

Inventing Lincoln: Approaches to His Rhetoric, a critical analysis of how his biographers and communication specialists have interpreted his speeches and other compositions

"Lincoln at Lincoln: Abraham Lincoln Rallies Logan County, Illinois, in His First Namesake Town on October 16, 1858," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (Lincoln Bicentennial Issue, 1809--2009 [peer reviewed]) 101, nos. 3--4 (Fall/Winter 2008): 356--392. Full access at https://www.jstor.org/stable/40204745.

"Max Bachman's Lincolns," including photos of his various Lincoln statues and busts, http://findinglincolnillinois.com/abestatueplan/bachmanslincolns12-12.pdf

Rediscovering the Identity of the Sculptor Who Created the Beheaded, Buried Lincoln Statue in Lincoln Park, Springfield, IL

Rediscovering the Replica of the Lincoln Statue That Joseph Petarde Created and Donated to Peoria's Kingman Primary School

Review of Lincoln in Private by Ronald C. "Ron" White

The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration of Lincoln, Illinois

The Five Lincoln Memorial Trees of Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, 1850s to the Present

The Question of Whether Abraham Lincoln Practiced Law in the Christian Church of Lincoln, Illinois, https://findinglincolnillinois.com/questionoflincolnpracticinglawinchurch.html.

The Reenactment of Abraham Lincoln's1858 Political Rally and Speech in Lincoln, Illinois: His First Namesake City, including the research-based playscript, https://findinglincolnillinois.com/bicentennial/1858re-enactment.pdf. Related video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwZAXvmbytc.

Related photo album: https://photos.google.com/share/AF1QipNu1GjsurWSY3syiym8kmw9fTOAojFvKtngm_iueVUqJzEqgod1BKbLAj6ys4Ws9g?key=M3prQ0FCTFloeEl3VVJMMFVhdTZfTnVhaVdrdHRR

The Research-based, Creative Process of Designing the Head of the Statue Lincoln Rallies the People, in Lincoln, Illinois

The Rise of Abraham Lincoln and His History and Heritage in His First Namesake Town, including the speeches he gave there, the founding of Lincoln College, the plot to steal Lincoln's body, and memories of Lincoln College and the Rustic Tavern-Inn

The Town Abraham Lincoln Warned: The Living Namesake Heritage of Lincoln, IL

Henson's curriculum vitae (cv) cites other subjects of his research and publication: https://findinglincolnillinois.com/DLHensoncv7-20.pdf.

In progress (2017 to the present): analysis and critical commentary on 30+ of Abraham Lincoln's compositions that explain his rhetorical struggle and rise to the presidency (in peer review and revision, 2021--2022)



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