LINCOLN RARELY VISITED WISCONSIN, BUT STILL ENJOYED SUPPORT
By Tom Emery
(Continued from Current Stories page) -
A modest crowd of less than 300 attended the speech the next afternoon, and one newspaper described Lincoln as “dignified and impressive.” However, one onlooker recalled “no noticeable rhetoric in the address and no effort of oratory in its delivery. It was plain speech of a plain man to plain men.”
That evening at his Milwaukee hotel, Lincoln delivered an impromptu address on the slavery issue. One account reported Lincoln standing on “the top of the radiator,” while another placed the future President on “an empty dry goods box.”
On the afternoon of October 1, Lincoln spoke before a packed crowd in a hall in Beloit, where one supporter described his address as “the clearest and most conclusive vindication of Republican principles.” Some in the crowd persuaded him to come to Janesville for another speech that evening.
Lincoln agreed and arrived by carriage at the 26-room mansion of Janesville abolitionist William Tallman, where enough guests left beds in short supply. A Tallman family nephew, Lucien Hanks, was facing a night on a couch when Lincoln cheerfully offered, “he’s not a very big fellow and won’t take up much room. Let him sleep with me. I think we’ll get along famously, don’t you.”
Those words were not prophetic. Decades later, Hanks recalled that Lincoln “was restless, jerking about violent, the subconscious effect probably of his vigorous speech but an hour or so before.” Lincoln awoke the next morning, requested help in finding his boots, and walked downstairs to breakfast. Later that day, he attended church with the Tallmans.
In the 1860 Presidential campaign, Wisconsin initially supported William Seward for the Republican nomination. But Lincoln earned the nod at the national convention in Chicago that May, and Carl Schurz, the influential German-American lawyer from Milwaukee, threw his support to the “Railsplitter.”
In an era when Presidential candidates rarely traveled, Lincoln did not visit Wisconsin during the campaign. He carried Wisconsin by 21,000 votes, a larger margin than in his home state of Illinois, and won 47 of 58 counties. He prevailed by less than 16,000 in his re-election bid four years later, thanks in part to the vote of the soldiers, who were solidly pro-Lincoln.
Throughout his Presidency, Lincoln had to deal with some strong-willed Wisconsinites, as was the case with other states. Schurz badgered him for a major appointment, knowing that Republicans feared losing their base of German-American support. Cordelia Harvey, widow of the governor and the state’s top battlefield angel, visited the White House to demand help from Lincoln as well.
While Wisconsin went for Lincoln in both elections, there was plenty of dissent. Edward Ryan, a Milwaukee lawyer and the state’s top Democrat, told a crowd in 1863 that Lincoln was bent on forming “a military despotism” and that the President was “a weak, vain, amiable man…totally unfit” for the office.
Similarly, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was not welcomed universally in Wisconsin. The Green Bay Advocate called it a “rash act…one of a series of imbecile and disastrous steps.” In the La Crosse Democrat, Marcus Mills Pomeroy wrote, with usual shrillness, that “we are willing to fight till death for the common good of a common people…but will not be forced into a fight to free the slaves.”
Lincoln’s death by assassination capped a roller-coaster of emotion in the final week of the war in Wisconsin and elsewhere. A Menasha resident wrote that news of Robert E. Lee’s surrender on April 9, 1865 was met with “the blowing of horns, the clanging of bells, the firing of anvils.”
After Lincoln died six days later, that Menasha resident noted the “marked contrast with the joy of the hour…there were faces blanched with grief and fear…it seemed the greatest calamity of all had befallen us.”
Tom Emery is a freelance writer and historical researcher from Carlinville, Ill. He may be reached at 217-710-8392 or email@example.com.