New Salem, Illinois
Land of Lincoln

The State of Illinois calls itself the Land of Lincoln. Illinois is proud of being the location where the sixteenth president of the United States spent most of his adult life. Abraham Lincoln is one of our most admired and honored Presidents, both for his excellent service to the nation during the Civil War and because he came from America’s frontier and rose to our nation’s highest office without all of the advantages of a college education, social background and family wealth. Some historians go as far as to say, that although young Abe possessed all of the talents necessary for politics, it was the land of Illinois and the sturdy pioneer life there in the 1830’s that forged Lincoln into one of our nation’s greatest presidents.
The reconstructed village of New Salem, where Lincoln spent his early adulthood, is located about 20 miles northwest of Springfield, Illinois. The six years that Abe spent in New Salem formed a turning point in his career. From the gangling youngster who came to the village in July 1831 with no definite objectives, he became a man of purpose as he embarked upon a career of law and statesmanship. He never owned a home in New Salem, but he engaged in a variety of activities there. He clerked in a grocery store, split rails, enlisted in the Black Hawk War, served as postmaster and deputy surveyor, failed in business, and was elected to the Illinois General Assembly in 1834 and 1836 after an unsuccessful try in 1832.
The community of New Salem, located on top of a bluff above the Sangamon River, was thriving when Lincoln settled there. The tide of immigration had been west to Illinois and Missouri and north into Michigan. If there was a country prepared especially for settlers, it was the Illinois land along the Sangamon River. There were wild hogs, wild turkeys, deer, game of every kind that gave food for the families and valuable meat for the St. Louis market some 100 miles to the south. Then there were bees. It was a bee hunter’s paradise, and honey was one of the best crops. New Salem had a population of a hundred people and had, scattered up and down it one long street, between twenty and twenty-five log cabins. Visiting this restored village today, one gets the feeling of what the Village of Poland, Ohio, must have looked like at its beginning. As you walk down the main street you see a cooper shop, a blacksmith shop, and a tavern. On the edge of the river is a saw and grist mill similar to what Fowler’s mill might have looked like when it was first constructed on Yellow Creek. Abraham Lincoln was 21 years old when he came to Illinois and for the next 30 years made that state his home. He left Springfield in 1861 never to return alive.

Gettysburg Address

“That These Dead Shall Not
Have Died in Vain”

These nine words from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address were taken from Reverend Mason Weems’s Life of General Washington. (See Feb. 2003 Special Report of the Riverside Review) The story goes that Lincoln had borrowed the book from a nearby farmer and had read it nightly for months. One night, after a torrential rainstorm, Lincoln discovered that water had seeped between the logs of his home and destroyed the book. One page, however, in this ruined book was still legible. It was the last page showing a woodcut of General Washington kneeling before a monument marked “Valley Forge.” Underneath the woodcut were the words: “That these dead shall not have died in vain.” These nine words became permanently etched into the mind of twelve-year-old Lincoln. Forty years later, he would use these very words on November 19, 1863 at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, when dedicating its battlefield cemetery. (It has been reported that young Lincoln cleared an acre of woods to pay for his neighbor’s ruined book.)