Summary of Speech at Olney, Illinois, 20 September 18561
Correspondence of the Republican.Olney, Ill., September 22, 1856.
The greatest political gathering ever seen in Southern Illinois was assembled here on the 20th.3 Delegations from all the surrounding counties and from Indiana, with banners and music were in attendance.4 Douglas, Richardson, Ficklin and many other Democratic champions, including Dennis, Preston, &c.[etc.], were on the ground. The Black Republicans were represented by Trumbull, Lincoln, Peck of Chicago, and Taylor frome somewhere. The Fremont men who had seen fit to appoint their meeting at the same time and place made a proposition, in writing to the Democratic Committee to divide the time, to which not the slightest attention was paid— they not having sufficient capital to enter into partnership on equal terms.
Hon. C. H. Constable, elector at large for the State, took the stand in a grove, and after one of the most effective and beautiful speeches, introduced Senator Douglas, who amidst the most deafening cheers from more than five thousand voices bowed his acknowledgment, and spoke over two hours. Those who had heard him often pronounced his speech one of his finest efforts. At the close the excitement and enthusiasm passed all bounds. He went to Vincennes that night where he made a speech, and started for Galena next day. At about 2 o’clock Trumbull commenced speaking outside the Court House, and notwithstanding the Democratic speaking was through for the day, not one hundred and fifty listened to him at any time. He stood there hoarse and excited— with that attenuated form, that intellectual face, that sardonic smile, which looked as cold as moonshine— with no more warmth than a frog or a mummy, pleading for “bleeding Kansas.” Not a cheer was raised— it was a “house of mourning.”
Abe Lincoln tried his best to get up steam, but with all his tact in that line, it was a dead failure. But about thirty listened. Said he, “I am an old one; if twelve of you will sit down and look at me, I will talk to you, if not, I will desist.” The twelve sat down, he spoke a few minutes, and throwing up his hands in disgust and despair, said— “Oh, I can’t interest this crowd,” and left the stand.5
1This summary appeared in the September 24, 1856 edition of the Daily Missouri Republican in St. Louis.
2“Egypt” was a popular nickname for Southern Illinois.
George W. Smith, When Lincoln Came to Egypt (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2016), xvii.
3In the 1856 Federal Election, Republicans nominated John C. Fremont as their first presidential candidate, while Democrats nominated James Buchanan. The American Party, in its final participation in a presidential election, nominated Millard Fillmore. Between July and November 1856, Lincoln crisscrossed Illinois canvassing on behalf of Republican Party candidates for political office. He delivered over fifty speeches in support of the Republican cause.
Another description of the event reads as follows: “Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas both spoke in Olney at political rallies on Saturday, September 20, 1856. Douglas spoke in a grove near town and Lincoln in the courthouse. Douglas left Springfield Friday and at Vandalia met Lincoln, Dick Taylor and his fellow Democrat, William A. Richardson. They took a train for Olney in the evening. At Olney Lincoln met the other two Republican orators, Senator Lyman Trumbull and Ebenezer Peck of Chicago. The Republicans challenged the Democrats to a joint discussion, but met with refusal.”
“At 8 a.m. people began assembling in town, delegations coming from all quarters with flags, banners and music, and according to the only two newspaper accounts of the meeting, which happen to be both Democratic, all the banners bore the names of ‘Buchanan and Breckinridge.’ Not a single Republican banner for ‘Fremont and Dayton’ was to be seen. This account was typical of the political reporting of the day, not only in the Missouri Republican and the Chicago Times, which describe the meeting, but in all papers.”
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:425-33; Cong. Record, 86th Cong., 1st Sess., Appendix, 5369-70 (1959).
4Olney, located in Richland County, was surrounded by the counties of Lawrence, Crawford, Jasper, Clay, Wayne, Edwards, and Wabash.
Webster's New Geographical Dictionary (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1988), 889; Origin and Evolution of Illinois Counties (Springfield: Illinois Secretary of State, 2023), 59.
5Southern Illinois proved to be difficult territory for Lincoln and other Republican speakers, as that part of Illinois would go overwhelmingly for Buchanan in the presidential election. Richland County gave Buchanan 62.1 percent of the vote, and the surrounding counties, with the exception of Edwards and Wabash, which went for Fillmore, gave Buchanan strong majorities.
Arthur Charles Cole, The Era of the Civil War 1848-1870, vol. 3 of The Centennial History of Illinois (Springfield: Illinois Centennial Commission, 1919), 151; Howard W. Allen and Vincent A. Lacey, eds., Illinois Elections, 1818-1990 (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992), 136-37.
Copy of Printed Document, 1 page(s), Daily Missouri Republican (St. Louis), 24 September 1856, 2:2.