Looking for Lincoln

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City Connection to Lincoln

Pontiac’s historic connections to Abraham Lincoln date back to Lincoln’s early days as a young lawyer traveling the 8th Judicial District (see map below). Lincoln visited Pontiac many times, represented a number of local citizens in legal actions, and made connections here that helped him to rise to prominence in state and national politics.

To locate our Lincoln sites, pick up a Lincoln Tour brochure at one of our museums, or download and print a copy of the Abraham Lincoln Tour brochure
1860 portrait of Abraham Lincoln

At the time Livingston County was organized, it was placed in the First Judicial Circuit, but the judge sitting in that circuit did not have time to come to Pon­tiac. In 1839, we were placed in the Eighth circuit. At the old settlers' meeting held in 1877, Judge W.G. McDowell said, 

"The first regular term of circuit court was held in the spring of 1840, in the Weed log house, and that the jury held its deliberations on a lot of saw-logs which lay on the banks of the river." McDowell further said that "the first trial by jury in the circuit court was between Isaac Wilson and Nathan Popejoy, in which Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas were attorneys, after which they spoke on the political issues of the day. . . . They spoke in the street, or rather open prairie, from the top of a dry-­goods box. The late Judge David Davis of Bloomington was also there as one of the prominent attorneys. The judge and all attorneys came across the country from Springfield and Bloom­ington in buggies and on horseback. Circuit court seldom lasted over one or two days at each term, and yet all the cases were disposed of."  

On July 31, 1858, the first Republican organization in Pontiac was started with the intention of promoting Abraham Lincoln in the upcoming Senatorial election. Taking the name, the Lincoln Republican Club, the organization grew into a locally powerful group of men. Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln's major opponent in the contest, spoke in Pontiac to his supporters on August 19th of that same year.  

Although Lincoln did not succeed in gaining the senate seat, his popularity in the area, as well as in the nation, grew as a result of that political contest. In April of 1860, in preparation for the Presidential campaign, the Republicans of Livingston County met in convention at Pontiac. Among the many resolutions passed by the convention was this:
      "Resolved, That Abraham Lincoln is the choice of this convention for President of the United States."

During the 1860 Presidential campaign, the Republican leaders in Pontiac formed another political action group, the "Wide-Awakes". Their uniform consisted of a black cap and black cape made of oil cloth. Each member of the group on parade carried a torch, painted red, on the staff of which, directly under the lamp, hung a small American flag with the pictures of Lincoln and Hamlin printed thereon. The company in Pontiac numbered one hundred strong, and were composed of men ranging in age from 21 to 35 years. They met regularly for drill and were put through their evolutions by Captain H.B. Reed, who had arrived in Pontiac in 1859, and Wallace Lord, who, previous to his coming to Pontiac, was a member of the famous Ellsworth Zouaves of Chicago. When the war broke out, every member of this company, with the exception of six, volunteered and went to the front. 

During the 1860 campaign, the Wide Awakes often contested with the local Democratic party group, the "Ever Readys" here in Pontiac." There were competing parades, speeches, and rallies, and an occasional fist fight, but in general, the demonstrations were quite noisy, but peaceful. The Republican group attracted attention to their cause by erecting a 115 feet tall "Lincoln and Hamlin Pole" on the grounds of the county court house. Surrounded by split rails, the pole flew large flags with the names of Lincoln and Hamlin emblazoned upon them.  Although Lincoln had much support here, it is important to note that in the 1860 election, Lincoln won Livingston County by a narrow majority of only 387 out of the 2,563 votes cast in the county.

We are proud of our Lincoln heritage and invite visitors to learn more about the humble prairie lawyer who rose to become one of our nation’s most important and admired Presidents.

Looking for Lincoln Story Exhibits

The exhibits include:

First Known Photograph of Lincoln - 1846

First known photo of Abraham Lincoln taken in 1846

Last Photograph Taken of Lincoln - April 10, 1865

Last known portrait of Lincoln taken April 10, 1865
Map of Lincoln's 8th Judicial Circuit Prior to 1847