Lincoln made several stops in Peoria

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Wednesday marked the 150th anniversary of the death of President Abraham Lincoln, the day after he was shot by John Wilkes Booth while attending a play with his wife at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.

Below are synopses of the different times Lincoln visited Peoria, all before he was elected president.

1832: The Black Hawk War is over.  Quite a few men from Peoria chased Black Hawk around as members of the Illinois Militia. Once Black Hawk and his people entered Illinois most folks assumed it was with the intention to wage war. Finally Black Hawk was taken prisoner and his tribe defeated at Bad Axe on the Mississippi.

A Peoria Indian named Nomaque was an escaped local Indian who joined Black Hawk after he ran away from Peoria. He’d been convicted of killing a Frenchman here and while returning home, some Peoria soldiers ran across Nomaque. He was severely wounded… they simply “shot him out of pity;” so said the local newspapers.

Lincoln, a captain in the Illinois Militia, was on his way back to New Salem when he and his companion were victims of horse thieves, so they walked south into Peoria. He walked down Main Street in Peoria and stopped at the river.

They bought a canoe and continued their journey towards Pekin on the Illinois River. My personal view is, how would anyone have known it was Abraham Lincoln?  I don’t think he would have had a press agent with him,  do you?

1840: Lincoln was in Peoria to speak on behalf of William Henry Harrison. It was a well-attended rally and Harrison became our 9th President. He died in office the 32nd day of his administration from pneumonia.

1844: Lincoln came to Peoria to speak to the members of the Henry Clay Club. Clay was running for president in 1844 but lost the election. He did become the Secretary of State. Lincoln said of Henry Clay: “He is my ideal of a great man.”

1844: Lincoln debated John C. Calhoun here in Peoria.  Calhoun was the seventh Vice President of the United States. Calhoun was a highly successful politician from South Carolina.

1844: Lincoln came to Peoria to be part of the Whig Convention. Lincoln was the leader of the Whig Party that supported the supremacy of the Congress over the Presidency. The party only lasted two decades and was aligned with the Whigs of 1776.

1844: Lincoln, a lawyer, came to Peoria twice more in 1844 on legal business.  He filed papers and argued on behalf of the plaintiff in the famous divorce case of Aquilla Wren vs. Clarissa Wren. That case went to the Illinois Supreme Court concerning alimony and other divorce decrees.

1847:  Lincoln stopped in Peoria for four hours returning from a trip to Chicago on his way home. He had several friends here and apparently the visit was strictly social.

1848: Lincoln stopped in Peoria to support and make a speech on behalf of Zachary Taylor. Taylor was America’s 12th president, 1849-1850. Sadly he died during his 16th month as our president. 

Taylor was an Army General during the Mexican War and an American hero.  He was a reluctant candidate but Whig members like Abe Lincoln convinced him to run.

1852: Abe Lincoln came to Peoria to speak on behalf of General Winfield Scott, a beloved general that served 53 years in the Army. Lincoln came here to support Scottfor president. In fact, with Lincoln’s encouragement, The Party “dumped” Millard Fillmore to nominate Scott for President.

Scott lost.

1854: Lincoln came to Peoria by horseback to debate Stephen Douglas, “The Little Giant,” here at our courthouse. This was not one of the seven famous debates between those two presidential candidates in 1858.

Most of their debates centered on slavery and the Missouri Compromise, which was argued here in 1854. There is a statue of Lincoln where he appears to be pointing to the ground marking a “Line in the sand.” It is located at the entranceway of the Peoria County Courthouse.

1858: Two days before his famous debate with Douglas, Lincoln stayed overnight in Peoria. One of our local newspapers said in an editorial: “Long Abe will mount his high heeled shoes and take on ‘The Little  Demagogue.’”   

Lincoln was quoted as saying, “Come what may I will keep my faith with friend or foe.”

1858: Also in 1858, Lincoln stayed overnight in Peoria on his way to Pekin.

1858: On Oct. 5, 1858 Lincoln stayed overnight here at the Peoria House, staying in room 16. Lincoln never returned to Peoria.

Lincoln came to Peoria a total of 17 times, according to Lincoln scholars, including multiple times during the year 1844.

There were a lot of different opinions of Lincoln, especially in the bitter rivalries of local newspapers. One editor called Mr. Lincoln a “Two dollar orator and a third-rate lawyer.”

When Lincoln came here in 1854 to debate Douglas he rode in alone on horseback. Douglas was met by a crowd of at least 500 people and a marching band. 

Lincoln lost the election here in Peoria. However, this city and this county genuinely mourned the death of President Abraham Lincoln. Well over 15,000 books were written about ‘Old Abe.’

Norm Kelly is a Peoria historian and author of hundreds of articles about Peoria, many of which are online. He can be reached at

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