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Collection Spotlight

The Lincoln Chair

Abraham Lincoln used this chair on October 16, 1854, during the Lincoln-Douglas debates in Peoria, Illinois. Six years before he would run for President (1860), Lincoln was the Republican candidate running for the U. S. Senate. His platform included strong opposition to the growth of slavery, contending it should not be allowed in the territories and new states. Stephen Douglas, the Democratic candidate opposing him, felt that each new U.S. territory should decide for itself if slavery would be allowed. Douglas won the senate seat.

Interestingly, the speech from Peoria, where this chair is from, is one of the few that was recorded and printed in a newspaper. One reporter stated Douglas interrupted Lincoln at least four times.

There were no stenographers on hand for the 1854 Lincoln-Douglas debates, unlike the 1858 debates. It was common practice for newspapers to report only on the speech of their favored candidate and present only criticisms of the other’s speech. In the 1858 debates, when there were stenographers recording the speeches, errors would be corrected from the favored candidate’s speech, while the other candidate’s speech was left unedited.  

Throughout the debates, Lincoln and Douglas seem to have used the same speech, with slight changes. Of course, it didn’t matter much since newspapers were not printing their speeches; audiences did not know they were hearing a repeat speech.

Lincoln lost the election that followed the 1854 debates, but he also solidified his place as the leading anti-slavery voice among Illinois politicians, and through these debates, honed the arguments that would carry his political career to the national level and the presidency.

The Lincoln chair was donated to the Dubuque County Historical Society in 1975. It was given by the great-great niece of J.B. Prarner, then-editor of the Peoria Journal, who bought chair after the debates.

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