Lincoln in Kansas - Part 2
"I Think I Would Go to Kansas"
Abraham Lincoln was already a national figure when he came to Kansas in 1859. This was one year after his famous debates with Stephen Douglas, when both were running for a U.S. Senate post from Illinois.
Lincoln's supporters invited him to visit Kansas because of his political influence. They hoped his presence would boost their chances in the territorial elections.
Why did Lincoln accept the invitation to Kansas?
- He was testing the political waters leading up to the 1860 presidential election.
- Kansas was a national story due to violent clashes between anti- and proslavery supporters.
- Lincoln was interested in building contacts for his law firm and his campaign.
Although it was brief, Lincoln's visit to Kansas came at an important time in the nation's history. Tensions were high over the issue of slavery. All eyes were on Kansas because of the violent clashes between anti- and proslavery supporters.
To learn more about Lincoln's Kansas trip, click on the map (top, left) and the links below.
November 30, 1859 - Lincoln arrives at the St. Joseph, Missouri, train station. He crosses the Missouri River by ferry and enters the town of Elwood. In the evening he delivers a speech at the Great Western Hotel condemning the institution of slavery.
December 2, 1859 - Lincoln is driven to Atchison where, that evening, he addresses a large crowd at the Methodist Church for two hours and 20 minutes. News is received of abolitionist John Brown's execution earlier in the day.
December 3, 1859 - A brass band and local dignitaries greet Lincoln in Leavenworth. Speaking at Stockton Hall, he repeats that slavery is wrong but says, "we are not trying to destroy it. The peace of society, and the structure of our government both require that we should let it alone" in states where it already existed.
December 4, 1859 - Lincoln visits a distant relative, Mrs. Mark Delahay, and her husband at their Leavenworth home.
December 5, 1859 - Lincoln's final speech in Kansas occurs at Leavenworth. He mentions the election for state officers under the Wyandotte Constitution that would occur the following day.
Lincoln spoke on the steps of Leavenworth's Planters House hotel (center, right), torn down in the mid-20th century. Most of the buildings Lincoln visited in Kansas have long since disappeared. A house in Troy may be the only surviving structure from his trip to Kansas.
Kansas left a favorable impression on Lincoln. The following year, he wrote to a young lawyer seeking advice on where to practice:
"If I went West, I think I would go to Kansas—to Leavenworth, or Atchison. Both these are, and will continue to be fine growing places."
—Abraham Lincoln, March 17, 1860
Lincoln's visit to Kansas coincided with the hanging of John Brown in Virginia. Earlier in the year, Brown had been in Kansas fighting for the abolition of slavery. His violent methods were controversial. After Kansas, Brown went to Harpers Ferry where he raided a federal arsenal. He was hanged for treason in Virginia on December 2, 1859, the very day Lincoln was speaking in Kansas.
Lincoln's comments on this pivotal national event reflect his belief that the slavery question could be solved peacefully. This was just 16 months before the Civil War began.
"We have a means provided for the expression of our belief in regard to slavery—it is through the ballot box--the peaceful method provided by the Constitution. John Brown has shown great courage, rare unselfishness . . . But no man, north or south, can approve of violence and crime."
--Abraham Lincoln, Elwood, Kansas, November 30, 1859
As Lincoln spoke in Atchison the evening Brown was hanged, he was asked about secession. Lincoln declared secession would be treason, and said, "If they [southerners] attempt to put their threats into execution we will hang them as they have hanged old John Brown today."
Lincoln in Kansas is an online exhibit developed by the Kansas Museum of History.
- The Back Story - The Lincoln Douglas debates
- I Think I Would Go to Kansas - Lincoln's 1859 Kansas trip
- Rail Splitter of the West - Presidential campaigns
- The War President - Civil War years
- He Is In Glory - The assassination and its aftermath
- How Well Do You Know Abraham Lincoln? - Take our fun quiz
Contact us at KansasMuseum@kshs.org