Abraham Lincoln’s adult life was centered around Springfield, Ill., but his path to the presidency had its roots in Belleville, Ill. Two trips to Belleville stumping for presidential candidates in 1840 and 1856 put him in the path of Gustave Koerner. Koerner also heard Lincoln argue before him 50 times as an Illinois Supreme Court justice. The friendship that developed led the men to establish the anti-slavery plank in the Republican platform and delivered the 1860 presidential nomination to Lincoln.
On Jan. 27, 1838, Lincoln filed a claim for $1,500 on behalf of clients in a civil suit in Madison County Circuit Court. The document is now housed in the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville archives. View an image of the claim
Restored law offices used by Lincoln from 1843 to 1852. Lincoln’s partner, William Herndon, maintained the practice during Lincoln’s stint as a U.S. representative from 1847 to 1849. Visit the site
4. Lincoln’s law office
9. Lincoln legal filing
On April 11, 1840, Lincoln spoke in Belleville for Whig presidential candidate William Henry Harrison. This was the first time Gustave Koerner saw the young lawyer and fledgling politician.
Rep. Abraham Lincoln, in 1846
On June 16, 1858, Lincoln addressed the Illinois Republican convention regarding the Supreme Court decision in the Dred Scott case, declaring that Scott remained a slave regardless of whether he was in a free state. “‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.” Lincoln served as a state representative in the old Illinois capitol building, used it as his 1860 presidential campaign headquarters and lay in state there May 3-4, 1865, after his assassination.
Read the speech
10. Lincoln first
3. House divided
William Henry Harrison
On Feb. 11, 1861, President-elect Lincoln bade a warm farewell to 1,000 of his friends and neighbors gathered at the Great Western Railway depot. “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.” See the original speech
5. Lincoln’s farewell
Lawyer Gustave Koerner first saw Lincoln when the young lawyer campaigned for the Whig presidential candidate in 1840. That same decade Koerner was serving on the Illinois Supreme Court and got to know Lincoln during appearances before the court. Koerner and Lincoln became friends, forging the anti-slavery platform of the Republican Party during Lincoln's presidential campaign. Lincoln appointed Koerner ambassador to Spain, and Koerner would serve as a pallbearer after Lincoln’s assassination.
Read about the men
President-elect Abraham Lincoln, 1861
The only home the Lincolns would own was purchased in 1844 for $1,500. They remained there until 1860, when they moved to the White House. Mary Todd Lincoln never returned to the home after the president’s death. Learn more about the house
11. House of
6. Lincoln’s home
On Oct. 18, 1856, Lincoln gave a speech from the balcony of the John Scheel home at 208 S. Illinois St. Scheel, an influential politician and businessman, invited Lincoln to stay at his home when the future president visited to campaign for the new Republican Party’s first presidential candidate, John C. Fremont. Read news of Lincoln’s visit
12. Lincoln’s second
Historical photo of the balcony
at the John Scheel house
Click the locations on the map to the right to begin your exploration
On Sept. 15, 1858, Lincoln debated Stephen A. Douglas deep in the heart of Southern Illinois, a heavily Democratic area with former slave state residents. Douglas accused Lincoln of changing his message depending on which part of the state he was addressing. Read full text of the debate
13. Third Lincoln-Douglas debate
The final debate for U.S. Senate between Lincoln and incumbent Stephen A. Douglas was Oct. 15, 1858, across from Alton City Hall. A crowd of 5,000 listened to the three-hour debate, which drew national attention as Douglas staked out his state’s rights position and attacked Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech. Lincoln argued that the nation could not survive as half slave and half free. Read the full text of the debate
A 1958 postal stamp commemorates
the 100th anniversary of
the Lincoln-Douglas debates
7. Seventh Lincoln-Douglas debate
Lincoln spent six years as a young adult in New Salem that proved to be a turning point. He studied law here while working as a store clerk and rail splitter. He also ran for state representatives, failed at that and at running a business, then was elected representative in 1834 and 1836. Learn about the historic site
1. New Salem
This portrait of
was taken two weeks
before the final
A 2009 postal stamp commemoratesAbraham Lincoln’s years as a rail splitter.
The current tomb was dedicated in 1874. A smaller receiving tomb behind the monument was initially used for Lincoln’s public funeral on May 4, 1865. The body was moved repeatedly after Lincoln’s death, including being hidden for a time beneath debris after two Chicago men tried to steal it and hold it for ransom. Visit tomb website
On Sept. 22, 1842, Lincoln was a state lawmaker when he was challenged to a duel by Illinois Auditor James Shields over anonymous letters published in a Springfield newspaper. Lincoln choose broad swords as the weapon, and they met just across the Mississippi River from Alton. While Shields initially refused friends’ efforts to negotiate a peaceful resolution, he changed his mind when Lincoln cut an overhead willow with his sword and Shields realized that the tall man’s reach would be his end.
Read more about the duel
2. Lincoln’s tomb
8. Lincoln’s duel
On June 16, 1858, Lincoln addressed the Illinois Republican convention regarding the Supreme Court decision in the Dred Scott case, declaring that Scott remained a slave regardless of whether he was in a free state. “‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.” Lincoln served as a state representative in the old Illinois capitol building, used it as his 1860 presidential campaign headquarters and lay in state there May 3-4, 1865, after his assassination. Read the speech