1858 Illinois Republican Convention

Place: Springfield, Illinois

The 1858 Illinois Republican Convention was the first state convention of the Republican Party in Illinois. On April 22, 1858, the Republican State Central Committee, by virtue of authority vested in it by the 1856 Anti-Nebraska Convention in Bloomington, called on the various counties to select delegates to meet in convention at the State House in Springfield. The primary purpose of the gathering was to select candidates for state treasurer and superintendent of public instruction and to further develop the Republican organization in the state. Delegates gathered at the hall of the Illinois House of Representatives, nominated candidates for these two positions, and adopted a platform, that, similar to the resolutions adopted at the 1856 Illinois Anti-Nebraska Convention, contained several antislavery positions. In this declaration of principles the members of the Illinois Republican Party reaffirmed their devotion to the U.S. Constitution and to Union. They stated their belief in the rights of states and pledged not to interfere with the institution of slavery in states where it already existed. In addition, they asserted that it was the duty of the federal government to reform the system for disposing of public land to secure such land to settlers rather than to speculators or corporations. The resolutions included a demand for improved transportation to support commerce and free labor, and a denunciation of the Buchanan administration for attempting to extend slavery to the territories. Further resolutions denounced the Lecompton Constitution as counter to the will of the people of Kansas Territory, and condemned the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court in relation to their arguments in the Dred Scott decision. In the view of the Illinois Republican Party, these justices had subverted the power of the U.S. Congress to regulate territories by arguing that the U.S. Constitution extended slavery to the territories. In contrast, the party platform celebrated a decision by the Illinois Supreme Court which declared slavery repugnant to the constitution of Illinois and declared all people within the jurisdiction of the state to be free. Following the adoption of this declaration of principles drafted by the committee on resolutions, convention delegates also unanimously adopted a resolution submitted by Charles L. Wilson nominating Abraham Lincoln as their candidate to supplant Stephen A. Douglas as U.S. Senator from Illinois. The convention is perhaps best known for Lincoln’s acceptance speech—popularly known as the “House Divided” speech.

Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:457-66; Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 17 June 1858, 2:2-6.