Lincoln’s Visit to KS Territory in 1859

(Deb) So Frank you don’t really remember when Lincoln visited Kansas, right? (Frank) No, it was, it was….yea. (Deb) I don’t either. Michael’s sitting over there, I know he thinks we both do, yea… (Frank) Well you know the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe. You know the railroads opened up the west in America and Lincoln did travel here. (Deb) He did. He came. Took the railroad as far as St. Joe and then the railroad had not yet reached Kansas. Didn’t until after the war. But of course, the railroad was big business. And Lincoln was a railroad lawyer. We don’t think of him, you know you and I were talking earlier about his being folksy and the storyteller. He was also a corporate lawyer. And we don’t think of him quite that way. But he was. And so part of his visit to Kansas obviously involved the expansion of the railroad. That was everything. Nineteenth century, everything is about expanding the railroad and crossing the country. And he was smack dab in the middle of that too. (Frank) Yea. Well, and he did say and you’ll see that in this story, if I moved west, I’d move to Kansas. (Deb) He obviously was impressed with it when he was here. (Frank) Yes, he was. (Deb) He really was. I think that’s nice for us to remember. It’s a nice legacy for Kansas, that he was actually here and made some important speeches here. And had such a fondness for the state and fondness for the troops from Kansas. And yea, so that’s a pretty good endorsement. (Frank) Yea, so let’s take a look. It was not big news when the folksy attorney Abraham Lincoln visited the Kansas Territory in 1859. There were no trains in KT and Lincoln crossed the Missouri River at St. Joseph by ferry and arrived in Elwood on November 30. The thriving community was home to the Great Western Hotel where Lincoln spoke that evening. His topic was not new. The Lincoln and Douglas Debates just months before had made national headlines, and the press exposure was helpful to Lincoln. At that time, he was not nearly as well known as his famously short rival, Senator Stephen Douglas. The pair had taken different sides on the slavery issue and Lincoln continued his condemnation of the evil institution while visiting the Kansas Territory. Lincoln would speak in Doniphan, Atchison, Leavenworth, and Troy. Ironically, his stage in Leavenworth at Stockton Hall would be visited only a couple of years later by famed Shakespearean actor, John Wilkes Booth. It was bitterly cold during Lincoln’s visit. Mary did not accompany him. While in Leavenworth, Lincoln stayed with cousins, the Delahays. Artifacts from that visit are on display at the Frontier Army Museum at Fort Leavenworth. Cousin Julia Delahay would go on to marry Thomas Osborn. Perhaps it was this family connection that helped Osborn obtain a presidential appointment. In 1863, “Cousin” Lincoln would appoint Osborn to be U.S. Marshal in Topeka. Years later, Osborn was elected governor, making Lincoln’s cousin, Julia, first lady of Kansas. December 2, 1859, John Brown, Old Osawatomie, was hanged in Virginia following the raid on Harpers Ferry. News of the execution reached Lincoln and he commented to the press that Brown had shown “great courage, rare unselfishness,” but did not sanction his actions. “Old John Brown has just been executed for treason against the state. We cannot object,” Lincoln said, “even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed, and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.” The story of Kansas and Lincoln is so entwined. It was February 22, 1861, as President-elect that Lincoln was on his way to Washington. He stopped in Philadelphia and raised the first flag with the 34th star for Kansas in front of Independence Hall. As the flag was hoisted, it unfurled in the wind, a beautiful site. Lincoln hoped it was a good omen — for him, for Kansas, for the nation.

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