Lincoln's Footprints in the Senate

As Prepared for Delivery

The Abraham Lincoln Association Banquet

Springfield, Illinois

I want to thank Tom Schwartz for that generous introduction.  Good evening, Abraham Lincoln Association President Bob Lenz, members of the association’s board of directors, distinguished guests and scholars.


The first time I ran for the United States Senate, in 1996, my opponent and I agreed to take part in a Lincoln-Douglas style debate in Charleston.  Except for the length, it was disconcertingly authentic – right down to the spirited audience within arm’s length of the speakers.  When my son introduced me, he got as far as “Dick Durbin is my dad,” when someone in the front yelled, “He’s a crook!”

A bigger surprise was the fact that seated behind us on stage was a row of Lincoln impersonators in every shape and size.  Let me tell you, even more unnerving than seeing a lineup of Lincolns behind you is looking out and seeing a roomful of eminent Lincoln scholars before you.  Your work has helped me to better understand our greatest President.  Tonight, I want to talk about the one and only Lincoln topic about which I may know more than you:  What it is like for me to walk in Lincoln’s footsteps in the United States Senate.


There never was a Senator Abraham Lincoln, but that was not for lack of trying.  Lincoln ran for the U.S. Senate twice:  in 1854 and again in 1858.  His second losing bid for the Senate, against Stephen Douglas, turned out to be the nation’s gain, as the historic Lincoln-Douglas debates over slavery propelled Lincoln to national prominence and helped make him the Republican Party’s presidential nominee just two years later.  In that race, he finally defeated Senator Douglas.


My love for Lincoln stems partly from his early record of electoral failure.  As some of you know, I lost three races before I finally won my first election in 1982 to the U.S. House of Representatives, succeeding a Lincoln scholar who has become a good friend, Paul Findley.  I spent a dozen years in the House representing many of the same communities that Lincoln represented, including our shared adopted hometown of Springfield.


Lincoln in the House

I’m reminded of Lincoln’s years in the U.S. Capitol whenever I walk through Statuary Hall and see the small bronze marker on the floor indicating where he sat when that room was the House chamber.  His desk was way in the back with the other freshmen, desk number 191. 


Lincoln was at that desk in February 1848 when Congressman and former President John Quincy Adams, known as “Old Man Eloquent” for his anti-slavery speeches, suffered a stroke while seated at his desk.  Adams was carried into the nearby offices of the House Speaker, where he died two days later.  Lincoln served on the committee that organized his funeral.

It was from his desk in the old House chamber that Lincoln offered his famous “Spot Resolutions,” questioning the constitutionality of the Mexican-American War and demanding to know the very spot where the hostilities began.  Those resolutions earned him few friends at home.  One newspaper branded him with the derisive nickname “Spotty Lincoln.”  Others denounced him as a “traitor.”  The Chicago Times claimed that Lincoln “made himself ridiculous and odious in giving aid and comfort to the Mexican enemy.”


Unlike most of his contemporaries in Congress, Lincoln brought his family to Washington with him.  Congressman Lincoln, his wife Mary, and their two small sons – 3 ½-year old Robert and 1-year old Eddie -- lived in a single,large room in Mrs. Ann Spriggs’ boarding house where the Library of Congress now stands, just across the street from the Capitol. 

The Lincoln boys were notoriously spirited, or, in modern parlance, “undisciplined,” and the other boarders were apparently not disappointed when Mary decided after about a year that she and the children would move to stay with her father in Lexington, Kentucky, for the remainder of her husband’s term. 

Lonely after their departure, Lincoln spent a good deal of time reading.  He also liked to join other boarding house residents in the alleyway of James Casparis, on A Street SE, behind Mrs. Spriggs’ house, where they would spend the evenings bowling.  He was, we’re told, a “very awkward bowler,” who played with “great zest and spirit” nonetheless, and whose entertaining jokes and stories often drew a crowd.


It was during his House years that Lincoln first came face-to-face with the reality of human slavery.  Slave markets and slave pens dotted the National Capitol Mall.  Indeed, the slave auctions were so close to the Capitol, that “the voices of patriotic representatives boasting of freedom and equality, and the rattling of the poor slave’s chains, almost commingled,” recalled Solomon Northup, a freedman who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Washington, D.C. in the 1840s.


During his final year in the House, with the encouragement of another of Mrs. Spriggs’ boarders, the abolitionist statesman and Ohio Congressman Joshua Giddings, Lincoln introduced a bill to end slavery in the District of Columbia. The measure failed.  But 13 years later, President Lincoln would sign this measure into law, the first legislative step toward emancipation for all Americans held in bondage.

Lincoln in the Senate

When we think of Lincoln in Washington, it is usually those House years or, more likely, his White House years that come to mind.  But Abraham Lincoln also left a mark in the United States Senate.  In fact, I can’t walk far in the Capitol without encountering a place where Lincoln walked before me, a place where he sat to sign bills, a place where he stood to address the nation, or to rest at the end of his labors. 


The floors in my Whip Office and much of the Capitol are covered in brightly colored and elaborately patterned encaustic tiles that were manufactured by the firm of Minton, Hollis & Company in Staffordshire, England and installed in the new Senate wing of the Capitol between 1856 and 1859.  In some of the less traveled halls, these Minton tiles are as vivid today as they were 150 years ago, when Lincoln walked the Capitol hallways.  In other areas, the millions of visitors to the Capitol each year have worn a trail, erasing the patterns.  I think of Lincoln often as I walk on those historic tiles, following in his footsteps.


On the first floor on the Senate side of the Capitol, I pass the Old Supreme Court chamber, where in 1849, as a Congressman, Lincoln argued – and lost -- his one and only case before the U.S. Supreme Court.  The ruling was handed down by Chief Justice Taney, author of the infamous Dred Scott decision.  A dozen years later, of course, the tables would turn as the old Chief Justice administered the oath of office to the new President from Illinois.


Fifty feet away from the Old Supreme Court chamber, in the Capitol Crypt, is the massive bust of Lincoln’s head, carved by Gutzon Borglum, famous for his Mount Rushmore images.


Passing through the new Capitol Visitors Center, I see displayed the solemn black catafalque on which Lincoln’s casket rested during his state funeral in the Capitol.  In July 2009, that catafalque was moved to the Senate chamber to bear the casket of Senator Robert Byrd, the longest-serving member of Congress in our nation’s history.


Images of Lincoln 

One cannot help but feel watched as he walks through the Capitol today.  Every few feet is another bust, another statue, another painting memorializing the pantheon of Americans who have served our nation.  And more than almost any other individual, one finds the watchful gaze of the Great Emancipator.


Healy’s Lincoln: Study for the Peacemakers 

In my office in the Capitol hangs a massive portrait of Lincoln by George Peter Alexander Healy. Robert Todd Lincoln told a friend, “I have never seen a portrait of my father which is to be compared with it in any way.”  


It is a study for “The Peacemakers,” Healy’s larger group portrait of Lincoln and his military commanders near the end of the war.  Healy is believed to have done his original life sketches for the larger work at the White House in 1864. Identical copies hang in the State Dining Room at the White House, at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum here in Springfield, and at the Newberry Library in Chicago.


The copy in my office, on loan from the Chicago History Museum, just returned from an exhibit in Moscow celebrating the unusual friendship between Lincoln, the President who abolished slavery, and Alexander II, the czar who ended serfdom – a friendship that proved crucial during our Civil War.


Freeman Thorp’s Lincoln

Some of you have seen another oil painting of Lincoln, which hangs above my desk in the Capitol.  It was painted by Freeman Thorp, an Ohio artist who had an even greater gift for timing than for painting.


On February 15, 1861, Thorp was at the train station in his hometown of Geneva, Ohio, waiting to see Lincoln’s inaugural train pass by, when mechanical problems forced the train to make an unscheduled stop.  Grabbing his pencil and a piece of cardboard, the 17-year-old Thorp inched to within 10 feet of the President-elect and drew.  His sketches from that day, believed to be the only likenesses drawn of Lincoln from life during his inaugural journey to Washington, now belong to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.


A little over two years later, another twist of fate would place Freeman – then a Union soldier – just feet from President Lincoln as he delivered his immortal Gettysburg Address.


In 1879, in an artist’s studio in the U.S. Capitol, a few feet from where my office is now, Thorp combined his sketches and notes from those historic events, along with photographs and interviews with others who knew Lincoln, and began to paint the oil portrait that now hangs in my office.  He continued revising it for 41 years, until 1920, when he sold it to the Joint Committee on the Library for $2,000.


Today, just below Thorp’s painting, I keep my mother’s naturalization papers, my constant reminder of our heritage of a nation of immigrants.  I like to think that Lincoln, who bravely opposed the “Know Nothing” anti-immigrant voices of his own time, would approve.


First Inaugural

In the six decades between 1800, when the capitol moved to Washington, and 1860, the number of states in the Union nearly doubled, to 33.  To put that in perspective, that would be like America expanding from 50 to 100 states in the years since JFK.



When Lincoln returned to Washington as President-elect in March 1861, work was not yet finished on the new wings of the Capitol, built to accommodate all the new senators and representatives.  The Capitol building was surrounded by work sheds and bustling with craftsmen and laborers.


On his first inaugural day, Lincoln rode to the Capitol in an open carriage with outgoing President James Buchanan, who turned to him and said, “If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man.”


Upon reaching the Capitol, Lincoln went first to the Senate chamber to witness the swearing-in of his vice president, Maine Senator Hannibal Hamlin.  In those days, the vice president gave his own inaugural address, comfortably indoors, to the senators over whose debates he would preside.  Wouldn’t Joe Biden like that – a vice presidential inaugural address!


Presidents, then as now, delivered their inaugural address outside.  On that blustery day, as he took the oath as America’s 16th President, Abraham Lincoln faced a far more ominous threat than cold.  Rumors of assassination plots, of Southern plans to seize the capitol and prevent Lincoln’s inaugural, had put the Army on high alert.  Washington looked like an armed camp. 


Lincoln was visibly nervous.  When he reached the inaugural stand, a newspaper reporter, Benjamin Perley Poore, noticed that he seemed perplexed about what to do with his new silk hat and gold-headed cane.  He put the cane under the table in front of him, but the hat appeared too good to place on the rough boards of the inaugural platform. 


Seeing his predicament, Lincoln’s old rival, Stephen Douglas, graciously “took the shining hat from its bothered owner and held it” as Lincoln appealed for national unity – proof that civility can endure even in times of terrible political stress and division.  That strikes me as a timely lesson for us today.


Stephen Douglas:  Loss of an Ally

Stephen Douglas had long differed with Lincoln on the issue of slavery, but after the election he had given the new President his pledge of support.  And when Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter just weeks into Lincoln’s presidency, Douglas’ loyalty was never in doubt.  He traveled across the Midwest making speeches to rally Northern Democrats to support the Republican president.  Addressing the Illinois State Legislature here in Springfield, he said, “You all know that I am a very good partisan fighter in partisan times.  And I trust you will find me equally a good patriot when the country is in danger.”  The legislators gave him a standing ovation.


Sadly, barely a month later, Douglas died at the Tremont House in Chicago, worn out at the age of 48 from his strenuous efforts.  His death cost Lincoln an important ally in the Senate. It would not be the last such loss.  


Soldiers Encamped in the Capitol

In Lincoln’s day, when a President was inaugurated, the Senate met for about a week, just long enough to confirm members of the President’s cabinet, and then adjourned until December.  Lincoln changed that.  On April 15, 1861, three days after the attack on Fort Sumter, he summoned Congress back for an emergency session to begin on the 4th of July.  He also issued a proclamation calling up 75,000 volunteers to protect the capital and put down the insurrection.  The enlistments were to last 90 days.  They assumed the rebellion would be over by then.


As troops began pouring into Washington, a problem arose:  Where to house them?  Since the new House and Senate chambers would be empty until July, a decision was made to turn the vacant halls into temporary bivouacs.  Volunteers from Pennsylvania arrived first, on April 18, and were quartered in the House chamber. On that first night in the Capitol, the troops looked up to see the tall and unmistakable figure of President Lincoln enter the chamber and gave him a rousing reception. 


The following day, volunteers arrived from Massachusetts after a much harder journey.  Pro-secessionist mobs had attacked the troops in Baltimore and several soldiers and rioters had been killed in the melee.  Arriving at the Capitol bloodied and exhausted, the Massachusetts volunteers were quartered in the Senate chamber, where most fell immediately to the floor to sleep, while their wounded comrades were cared for in the nearby Supreme Court chamber.  The next morning, the volunteers were jolted awake by a fife and drum reveille in the Senate chamber, and mustered out on the lawn to be inducted into the United States Army.  I sometimes wonder if reviving that fife and drum reveille might help pick up the pace in today’s Senate.  Couldn’t hurt, right?


When they weren’t drilling on the Capitol lawn, the soldiers carried on mock debates in the Senate chamber, and enacted their own “laws.”  One overly enthusiastic Union man shoved his bayonet into the side of the desk once occupied by Jefferson Davis, the former Mississippi Senator turned President of the Confederacy.  The desk was spared by a Senate doorkeeper who reminded the man that he had been sent to Washington to protect government property, not to destroy it.  These days, Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran sits at that desk and will proudly show you the mahogany patch that covers the hole gouged out by that soldier’s bayonet.


Sitting at my own desk in the Senate chamber, I sometimes think of the Civil War soldiers who sat at those same desks and pray that our generation will be worthy of their sacrifice.


Senator Baker of Oregon: Another Key Ally Lost

During the Civil War, some senators raised regiments from their states and served as military officers.  Among them was Edward Dickinson Baker.  Some of you may recall the excellent presentation by the late Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon before this association in 1984, outlining the life of Edward Baker.


Baker represented his adopted state of Oregon in the U.S. Senate, but he lived most of his life in Illinois.  He and Lincoln were old friends from the days when they both were attorneys here in Springfield.  When Baker resigned his seat in Congress to lead his men in the Mexican-American War, Lincoln succeeded him in Congress.  Lincoln so admired Baker that he named his second son Eddie in his friend’s honor.


In October 1861, seven months into Lincoln’s presidency, Edward Baker was killed while leading his regiment in a disastrous encounter at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, 30 miles south of Washington.  This time, Lincoln had lost not just an ally in the Senate but a dear friend.  Six weeks later, the gaunt and grieving President attended a memorial service for his fallen friend in the Senate chamber and wept audibly.


The Other Illinois Senators

Stephen Douglas’ seat was filled first by Orville Browning, a Quincy Republican and longtime Lincoln friend, who was close to both the President and the First Lady.  In 1863, however, a Democratic-controlled state legislature elected to fill Douglas’ old seat with William Richardson, an ally of the Ohio “Peace Democrat” and Lincoln critic Clement Vallandingham.


Illinois’ other Senate seat, meanwhile, was occupied by Lyman Trumball, who, although a Republican, was often harshly critical of what he regarded as Lincoln’s timidity in rooting out slavery.  For most of his Presidency, when Lincoln sought new allies to replace those he had lost, he had to look beyond his fellow Illinoisans.


“Blessed with a Sense of Humor”

Edward Baker’s death at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff came three months to the day after the First Battle of Bull Run.  Both engagements had been disastrous for the Union.


In response, Congress created a Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War that would look over President Lincoln’s shoulder for the rest of the conflict. The activities of that committee remain a source of controversy among historians, some of whom condemn what they regard as the committee’s “interference” in the war.  If Lincoln was annoyed by the Joint Committee, however, he did not let on.  He never attempted to lecture the committee on the separation of powers – even as its members lectured him.


His equanimity may have reflected his appreciation for Congress’ constitutional authority to declare war and its responsibility to fund the nation’s defense.  Or, as one historian suggests, it may have been simply that Lincoln was “blessed with a sense of humor certain members of the committee lacked.”  That is not uncommon with committees, believe me.


Dramatic Reading in Senate Chamber

President Lincoln abhorred the carnage of the war and often looked for any reasonable excuse to commute the death sentences of soldiers condemned for desertion or even lesser infractionsOne old friend said that Lincoln was “tender-hearted as a girl” in such cases.


On January 19, 1863, the President and Mrs. Lincoln came to the Senate Chamber to hear a dramatic reading of a poem about one such soldier.  “The Sleeping Sentinel” tells the story of William Scott, a soldier from Vermont, who fell asleep while on guard duty, and was sentenced to die.  It reaches its dramatic climax as Scott is awaiting death by firing squad.


            Then suddenly was heard the sounds of steed and wheels approach,

            And rolling through a cloud of dust, appeared a stately coach.

            On, past the guards, and through the fields, its rapid course was bent,

            Till, halting, ‘mid the lines was seen the nation’s President!


            He came to save that stricken soul, now waking from despair;

            And from a thousand voices rose a sound which rent the air!

            The pardoned soldier understood the tones of jubilee,           

            And bounding from his fetters, blessed the hand that made him free!


I have seen tragic, comic, and even farcical moments in the Senate, but I can’t think of a comparable time when a President has been so entertained on the Senate floor.  Coming just weeks after the bloody Battle of Fredericksburg, in which 17,000 soldiers on both sides perished, that evening must have been a welcome respite for the beleaguered Lincoln.


A Strong and Activist President 

Some members of Congress, including radical abolitionists within his own party, criticized Lincoln as a weak commander in chief.  History, I believe, has shown those critics to be mistaken.  After all those states’ rights senators seceded, the President and remaining Unionist senators, liberated from the slavery debate, seized the opportunity to pass important bills that had been stalemated for years.  Such monumental laws as the National Banking Act, the Homestead Act, the Morrill Land-Grant College Act, and the Pacific Railroad Act enabled America to lay a foundation for a new economy, even as we struggled to preserve the old Union.


Lincoln and the President’s Room

There is a magnificent room just off the Senate Chamber known as the President’s Room.  I have attended many meetings there.  It is one of the most historic rooms in the Capitol.  It was in this room that President Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act, outlawing slavery in the capital city, in April 1862.


It was here that Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders watched President Lyndon Johnson sign the Voting Rights Act in August 1965, prohibiting discrimination at the polls, 100 years after Lincoln’s death. And it was in this room on January 20, 2009, that a newly inaugurated President Barack Obama signed his first official documents as President of the United States.


Incidentally, it was also the room assigned to Chief Justice Rehnquist when he presided over the Clinton impeachment trial.  Rehnquist parked a desk in the middle of the room and left the door wide open.  He was entertained by Senators who dropped in unannounced – obviously a different work environment than the Supreme Court across the way.


Lee’s Request for a Peace Conference

In Lincoln’s day – indeed, until well into the 20th century -- congressional terms ended on March 4, the same day a new Congress was sworn in.  The outgoing Congress often worked long into the night on March 3rd passing scores of end-of-session bills and the chief executive often spent much of that final night in the President’s Room signing and vetoing these last-minute bills.


That is what President Lincoln was doing on March 3, 1865, when word reached him from General Ulysses Grant that the Confederate General Robert E. Lee was seeking a peace conference to negotiate an end to the war.  After conferring with Secretary of War Stanton and Secretary of State Seward, Lincoln sent word back to General Grant that he was not to meet with Lee, “unless it be for the capitulation of General Lee’s Army.”


Second Inaugural Address

The following day – March 4, 1865 – Lincoln returned to the Capitol for his second inauguration.  Once again, he went first to our Senate chamber to witness the inauguration, this time, of a new vice president, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee. Johnson has been the only southern senator to remain in the Senate when his state seceded in 1861.  In recognition of that loyalty to the Union, Lincoln had made him war governor of Tennessee and then brought the Democratic Johnson onto his National Union ticket in 1864.


Regrettably, Johnson arrived at the Capitol ill and quickly downed several glasses of whiskey to fortify himself before delivering a rambling address that one onlooker described as an “incoherent harangue.”  The spectacle embarrassed Lincoln.  Witnesses said the President’s face showed “unutterable sorrow.” 


Lincoln then left the Senate chamber for the last time and walked to the East Front of the Capitol to deliver his majestic Second Inaugural Address.  In it, he looked forward to the end of the war and explained more fully, why he had declined Lee’s request for a negotiated settlement. “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in.

Lincoln’s features, a friend noted, were “haggard with care, tempest tossed and weather-beaten.”   But with the nightmare of the Civil War nearly over, the city was joyous and confident. For the first time, African-American troops marched in the inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue and blacks mingled with the inaugural crowd on the Capitol lawn.


The Dome as a Symbol of Unity and Freedom

Today, you can see the table that Lincoln used for his second inauguration in the Capitol Visitor Center.  It is made from cast iron left over from the construction of the new dome. 


An unfinished dome had served as the backdrop at Lincoln’s first inauguration.  Early in his Presidency, Lincoln had defied critics who argued that work on the dome should be halted and the cast iron used for armaments.  He insisted that work on the dome and the new wings of the Capitol continue as a sign that the union would endure.  Now, at his second inauguration, the finished dome appeared to confirm his faith.


Two years earlier, a skilled ironworker named Phillip Reid had overseen the bronzing of the towering Statue of Freedom that tops the dome.  At Lincoln’s first inauguration, Phillip Reid, like many of the workers who built the Capitol and the White House, was enslaved.  Now, as Lincoln began his second term, Reid was a freedman, his bondage ended two years earlier when Lincoln signed the bill ending slavery in the nation’s capital.


“Did You Notice that Sunburst?”

Reporter Noah Brooks, a friend of the Lincolns, saw what many others attending the second inaugural remarked about.  He wrote that “just as Lincoln stepped forward to take the oath of office, the sun, which has been obscured by rain clouds, burst forth in splendor.”


Lincoln saw it, too.  The next day, he asked Brooks, “Did you notice that sunburst?  It made my heart jump.”


Vinnie Ream’s Statue and Nelson Mandela

When I walk into the Capitol Rotunda, I pass a handsome statute of Lincoln carved by a young woman named Vinnie Ream, another of the artists allowed into the White House to make life sketches of the President.  Vinnie Ream sculpted her marble Lincoln at the astonishingly young age of 18.  She remains the youngest artist and the only woman ever commissioned by the U.S. Senate to create a statue and her Lincoln remains a highlight among the Rotunda’s jewels.


I was in the Rotunda in 1997 to see Nelson Mandela awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor Congress can bestow on a civilian.  On that day, the dark, bronze bust of Martin Luther King Jr., had been moved from the other side of the Rotunda so that Lincoln and King appeared to preside together over the ceremony.


It was an overcast afternoon, but as President Mandela started to speak, rays of sunlight began to pour into the Rotunda. They illuminated the base of the statues first and rose gradually until, by the time President Mandela finished speaking, both Lincoln and King were bathed in bright sunlight.  With a little imagination, you could almost hear Lincoln asking again, “Did you notice that sunburst?  It made my heart jump.”


First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation

I want to tell you about one more painting before I close.  This is “The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation,” by Francis Bicknell Carpenter.  It hangs in the West Staircase of the Capitol just outside my office.  I see it many times every day on my way to and from the Senate floor. 


Like Lincoln, Francis Bicknell Carpenter believed that the Emancipation Proclamation was the greatest act of Lincoln’s presidency.  For six months in 1864, Lincoln allowed him to work out of the White House, painting the president and his cabinet officers as they appeared when Lincoln first read them the historic decree.  Lincoln took a great interest in Carpenter’s work and pronounced the finished canvas “absolutely perfect.”


A dozen years after the Great Emancipator’s death, a wealthy New York philanthropist purchased the painting from Carpenter for $25,000 and donated it to the Senate.  Her gift was unveiled in the House chamber during a joint session of Congress on Lincoln’s birthday, 1878 – 133 years ago tonight.  The presentation ceremony featured two special orators. 


The first was Congressman and Civil War veteran James Garfield, who would become America’s second martyred President.  I commend Candice Millard’s new book, “Destiny of the Republic,” which gives us a great account of Garfield and his last days. 


The other speaker was an old friend of the slain President from the days the two had served together in the House, Alexander H. Stephens.  The war had pulled the two men far apart, with Stephens serving as vice president of the Confederate States.  With the guns of war now silent, Stephens –pale, emaciated, too weak to stand – said he had believed it was his duty to support his state when it seceded but he had never lost hope that a new union would one day emerge, and that the achievements of the reunited states would exceed anything yet accomplished by America.  He ended by saying, “All of this is possible if the hearts of the people are right.  It is my earnest wish to see it.”


Immediately, the old man was surrounded by well-wishers.  Among them, extending his hand in congratulations was the Marshall of the District of Columbia, the great abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass.  At times when agreement and unity of purpose seem elusive, I draw inspiration from that image of reconciliation.  Like Alexander Stephens, I believe that the achievements of a reunited States can indeed exceed the glories of our past.

As I said, there never was a Senator Lincoln.  But I – and all of the 1,480 men and women who have been honored to serve in the Senate since Congressman Lincoln strode the halls of Congress -- walk in his footsteps.  And disappointed as Lincoln must have been to have lost his own Senate race, it was all for the best.  For had Lincoln won that race in 1858, it seems unlikely that he could have achieved the Presidency just two short years later, when America needed his unique genius in order to survive.


After all, can anyone imagine a lawyer from Illinois being elected President of the United States after serving less than a full term in the U.S. Senate?