Lincoln on a Railroad to Presidency

After having resided successfully and allocating significant importance to the city via means of personal life and career decisions, Abraham Lincoln along with his family: his wife, Mary Todd and son, were memorialized within the limitations of an entire city, a city now inhabited by well over 200,000 people. Prior to being elected for the presidency, Lincoln had acquired and attained status as an accomplished lawyer in association with the politics of the Whig party and later became a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, his career thus developed and gained most tangibility in Springfield, Illinois. Due to such reasoning, Springfield is well-known as the Land of Lincoln, as it is expected that his memory should permeate that location and more specific sites within, such as the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, and more isolated within this descant, the Great Western Depot.

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November 6, 1860– Lincoln is elected as the President of the United States.

Lincolns last speech

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Though not as momentous as his Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln delivered a succinct, yet enduring speech at the Great Western Railroad Depot in Springfield. This “Farewell Speech” given on February 11, 1861, was not meant to attend to a multitudinous crowd- but for those who had interacted with Lincoln and his family as they made their home in Illinois. The railroad depot, if obvious enough was intermediary for travels and while also being a physical location for possible beginnings and final destinations for those traveling by train, it was also a symbolic representation for the beginning or settling down of one’s life. In context of Lincoln, his presence at the Great Western Railroad Depot on February 11, 1861, was one marking the beginning of his presidential journey heading way to Washington D.C. For the comparatively-speaking brief address of Lincoln meant only for his intimate entourage and ready journalists, there have been three versions that have been propagated since.

The prevailing version is indicated below and has been made readily available by the Library of Congress, it is also the official version that had been written by Lincoln himself.

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“My friends, No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe every thing. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you and be every where for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care      commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.” [2]

Another version that has been circulating subsequently, and has been acknowledged to be almost fully identical to the excerpt that had appeared in the February 23, 1861 edition of Harper’s Weekly attending to the speech.

 “My Friends:

No one not in my position can appreciate the sadness I feel at this parting. To this people I owe all that I am. Here I have lived more than a quarter of a century; here my children were born, and here one of them lies buried. I know not how soon I shall see you again. A duty devolves upon me which is, perhaps, greater than that which has devolved upon any other man since the days of Washington. He never would have succeeded except for the aid of Divine Providence, upon which he at all times relied. I feel that I cannot succeed without the same Divine aid which sustained him, and on the same Almighty Being I place my reliance for support, and I hope you, my friends, will all pray that I may receive that Divine assistance without which I cannot succeed, but with which success is certain. Again I bid you an affectionate farewell.” [2]

As the first version was by Lincoln’s hand, the extemporaneous circumstances of the speech itself has caused for discrepancies in what was written and what was spoken. It has been determined that this adaptation of the farewell speech is the most accurate.

 “Friends,

No one who has never been placed in a like position, can understand my feelings at this hour, nor the oppressive sadness I feel at this parting. For more than a quarter of a century I have lived among you, and during all that time I have received nothing but kindness at your hands. Here I have lived from my youth until now I am an old man. Here the most sacred ties of earth were assumed; here all my children were born; and here one of them lies buried. To you, dear friends, I owe all that I have, all that I am. All the strange, chequered past seems to crowd now upon my mind. To-day I leave you; I go to assume a task more difficult than that which devolved upon General Washington. Unless the great God who assisted him, shall be with and aid me, I shall not fail, I shall succeed. Let us all pray that the God of our fathers may not forsake us now. To him I commend you all — permit me to ask that with equal security and faith, you all will invoke His wisdom and guidance for me. With these few words I must leave you — for how long I know not. Friends, one and all, I must now bid you an affectionate farewell.” [2]

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There is commonality among all three versions: the emotion emanated by Lincoln, the sentiment of the audience affected, and the implications of Lincoln’s difficulty in separating himself from a place that had held such prominence in his life in order to no longer just display his political leadership to Illinois, but to the entire nation from his new residence in Washington D.C. Located at the end of each rendition: “I bid you an affectionate farewell.” Regarding how Lincoln has been remembered by his personality or as a politician, the collective memory of the United States has established him as inarguably respectable and inspirational. Lincoln having expressed moving sentimentality towards Springfield, allowed that city to embody and become the emotions he had for the place. Later as tourists, more so families than individual tourists, arrived to explore the Lincoln memory, they were expected to attribute a deeper meaning to Springfield in accordance with Lincoln and his encounters during his residence in Illinois.

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As of today, the Great Western Depot is more privatized than it is exhibitory to the public. The site in a way was rectified yet kept with aspects of residual memory. That is to say that the location that was rectified, was put back to some use despite its historical contextual meaning. Yet there still remains the commemorative efforts to acknowledge the Great Western Depot as a more prominent location for one of Lincoln’s speeches as he had symbolically and physically made Springfield, and more exactly that Great Western Depot, the beginning of his presidential journey. Because of that sort of acknowledgment, the place still calls on tourism for the sought out commemoration of Lincoln and his farewell speech.

In order to keep that space and allow its physical presence to be transcendent of Lincoln and the memory of his speech, there have been multiple transfers of ownership of the depot. Below is the timeline recording those transfers:

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1960s: A local group within Springfield purchase the Depot in an effort to maintain it as a historic site. [1]

1977: Copley Press bought the Depot and Sandamon State University operated a part of the museum. [1]

1980: Copley Press begins the sole operator of the Depot [1]

2012: The Depot sold to Pinky Noll, the wife of Jon Noll- a late descendant of William Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner when he was elected for presidency. (Find more about the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices at https://livinglincoln.web.unc.edu/?s=lincoln-herndon) [1]

After Lincoln’s farewell speech, ownership went from being a local effort to being proprietary to a late descendant of a man who was most likely among the close colleagues that Lincoln’s speech had been intended for. [1] Due to that coexistence of ownership within the Depot’s timeline, the collective and more personal memory are brought together. Again, initiating the idea of personal and more politically-concerned aspects associating with one another to form the memory of Lincoln as a politician that was attentive to the formalities of politics as well as reached out to the emotions of his constituents and those interactions surpassing him after death.

Currently, within the proximity of the station, the speech is performed in front of touring families and Lincoln enthusiasts. While it is obvious that these recounts are not fully representative or fully capable of inducing the emotional and motivational atmosphere of the Depot on February 11, 1861, actors are responsible for being the living memory of Lincoln and enacting his personality. The speech that was written and what was actually said the day of, are evident of the dedication Lincoln gave to his country. The qualms about his efficiency as president that he had calmed through faith in God led to two perceptions of Lincoln. His acknowledgment as a common and simple man, a characteristic that has been highly praised, and his identity as a Christian man who knows he is not all capable. His humble character is well presented in his farewell speech and its existence demonstrated through the still-standing Depot and the performances acquiesce an honorable withstanding collective memory of the late president of the United States.

Literature Sources:

[1]”The Lincoln Depot.” The Lincoln Depot. Web. 2 Apr. 2015. <http://www.lincolndepot.org/>.

[2]”Three Versions of Abraham Lincoln’s Farewell Address.” Three Versions of Abraham Lincoln’s Farewell Address. Web. 3 Apr. 2015. <http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/ farewell3.htm>.

Media Sources: 

[3]”Abraham Lincoln’s Farewell Address Sesquicentennial.” New Page 1. Web. 4 Apr. 2015. <http://www.mtpulaskiil.com/mtpulaskiilWEBsite/ABELincoln/2011/FarewellAddress/FarewellAddress.htm>.

[4]”Lincoln Depot in Springfield, Illinois  –  Travel Photos by Galen R Frysinger, Sheboygan, Wisconsin.” Lincoln Depot in Springfield, Illinois – Travel Photos by Galen R Frysinger, Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Web. 4 Apr. 2015. <http://www.galenfrysinger.com/springfield_train_station.htm>.

[5]”Lincoln’s Farewell (Memory): American Treasures of the Library of Congress.” Lincoln’s Farewell  (Memory): American Treasures of the Library of Congress. Web. 3 Apr. 2015. <http://www.loc.gov/ exhibits/treasures/trm059.html>.

[6]Lincoln Home National Historic SitePhone: 217-391-3221. “Springfield, Illinois.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. Web. 4 Apr. 2015. <http://www.nps.gov/liho/springfield-inaugural-journey.htm>.

[7]”One Hundred Fifty Years Ago Today.” : February 2011. Web. 3 Apr. 2015. <http://wbts-calendar.blogspot.com/2011_02_01_archive.html>.

[8]United States. National Park Service. “Great Western Depot.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. Web. 4 Apr. 2015. <http://www.nps.gov/liho/great-western-depot.htm>.

 

Word Count (excluding speech insertions): ~1067