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Happy birthday, Abraham Lincoln! Remembering his historic speech on the steps of Dayton’s Old Courthouse


Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is a good time to remember a visit he made to the Montgomery County Courthouse in 1859.

Lincoln, who had lost a bid for the U.S. Senate the year before to Stephen A. Douglas, arrived in Dayton a few days after his Senate rival had visited.

The Illinois lawyer, who was traveling from Columbus to Cincinnati, accepted an invitation from the Dayton Republicans to follow on the heels of the Douglas visit, according to the 1959 book “Mr. Lincoln Came to Dayton” by Lloyd Ostendorf. Lincoln felt it was important to continue the debate over slavery expansion with Douglas.

 

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“Hon. Abe Lincoln of Illinois will speak in Dayton at the Courthouse on Saturday at 1 ½ o’clock; let the people attend,” read a telegraph alerting Dayton newspapers to the stop.

Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, arrived by train at Dayton’s Union Station on Sept. 17, 1859.

They were picked up at the station in a plain two-seat spring wagon by Dayton banker Valentine Winters’ servant, Jerdon Anderson, a former slave, according to Ostendorf’s narrative.

Lincoln reportedly wired ahead that he “did not want any show or pomp – just wanted to be one of the people.”

The party would only be in town for part of the day before traveling to Cincinnati for an evening speech. They checked into the Phillips House located across the street from the Courthouse to spruce up before the speech.

Ostendorf’s book details a visit Lincoln made to a photographic studio before his speech. Local party officials escorted him to T.W. Cridland’s work space on Third Street, where the photographer made a daguerreotype of a beardless Lincoln.

At the Courthouse, Lincoln reportedly spoke while standing on a box on the curb facing the front of the Courthouse.

Competing newspapers documented the event in two different scenarios.

The editor of the Dayton Daily Empire, a Democratic daily newspaper, wrote: “Mr. Lincoln is a tall, spare man, dark complexioned with a pleasant countenance, and a long, slender round head. He is not a very pleasant speaker. He cannot long retain a Dayton audience. The people look at him, listen a few minutes and then walk off.”

The Daily Dayton Journal, a Republican newspaper, described the speech this way: “Old Abe ...brought a large crowd of people to the appointed place and for nearly two hours the speaker was listened to with the utmost attention. Mr. Lincoln is one of the 'self-made' men; having, without the advantages of education, risen to the proud preeminence which he now occupies in his own state and in the United States.”


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