An historic debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas took place at what is now the site of the U.S. Forest Service’s Lincoln Memorial Picnic Grounds in Jonesboro. Statues of the two men stand at the site.

Unforgettable moments in Illinois history noted

Union County connections

During 2018, the State of Illinois, Union County and the City of Jonesboro all commemorated their bicentennials. 

On Dec. 3, 1818, Illinois became the 21st state in the union.

Unforgettable moments in the state’s history were highlighted in the Illinois Top 200 initiative of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, The (Springfield) State Journal-Register and the Illinois Bicentennial Commission. 

Some of the unforgettable moments in the state’s history have a Union County connection – most notably, the historic Lincoln-Douglas debate which took place in Jonesboro.

Events of deep sorrow and tremendous joy – the funeral of Abraham Lincoln and the Chicago Cubs’ 2016 World Series victory – top the list of unforgettable moments chosen by voters in the final Illinois Top 200 category of 2018.

They were followed by Illinois becoming the first state to ratify the constitutional amendment ending slavery and by Lewis and Clark starting their famous expedition to the west. 

The historic 1858 series of debates between Lincoln and Stephen Douglas came in at No. 5 in the online voting.

Lincoln’s 1865 assassination shocked the whole country, but the loss was especially painful in his home state. 

Hundreds of thousands of people filed by his casket when he lay in state in Chicago and Springfield. Others lined up alongside railroad tracks to see the car carrying his body to its final resting place in Springfield.

Lincoln came to Union County in 1858 for a U.S. Senate campaign debate with Stephen A. Douglas.

Lincoln did not have a lot of support in Union County. He was a Republican. Douglas was a Democrat.

“Jonesboro was the debate farthest south,” local historian and author Darrel Dexter wrote in the book titled “A House Divided: Union County Illinois, 1818-1865,” which was published in 1994.

“Lincoln felt the political contest in Union County and other parts of Southern Illinois, which was almost solidly Democratic, was between the two factions of that party and he had no chance of changing many voters’ minds by coming to Jonesboro.” 

Dexter recalled that about 1,400 people attended the debate in Jonesboro. The turnout was “the smallest crowd for all the debates.” Many of those who attended were not even from Union County.

The second spot on the list of unforgettable moments in Illinois history went to the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series after a record-breaking 108 years of disappointment and frustration. 

The celebration afterward brought millions of people together. 

The World Series championship was welcomed by the many Chicago Cubs fans in Union County. The county is a hotbed of Cubs fans – and supporters of their arch rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals.

“The range of events on this list is incredible. It includes expanded civil rights, exploration of the continent and the atom, and two great moments in Lincoln’s life,” said Alan Lowe, executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, in talking about the unforgettable events in the state’s history.

“Of course, it also includes tragedies like Lincoln’s death, but all of it is part of the state’s fascinating history.”

The Top 200 project allowed the people of Illinois to vote on the state’s most inspiring leaders, greatest inventions, top businesses and much more. 

By choosing a top 10 in 20 different categories, voters produced a list of the 200 most amazing things about Illinois, just in time for the state’s 200th birthday on Dec. 3.

Here are the most unforgettable moments chosen in online voting: 

Mourning Lincoln

Nobody knew Abraham Lincoln better than his fellow Illinoisans. 

When he was killed in April of 1865, the state went into mourning and then welcomed him back to rest forever in Springfield’s Oak Ridge Cemetery.

“Even in Union County, where his name had been often cursed there was shock and mourning for the man who had led the country through the Civil War,” Darrel Dexter wrote. 

Victorious Cubs

When the Cubs finally managed to win a World Series in 2016, much of the state went wild. 

Millions (just how many millions is a subject of debate) lined the parade route or gathered at Grant Park for the official celebration.

Ending Slavery

President Lincoln and his congressional allies passed the 13th Amendment on Jan. 31, 1865. 

The very next day, Illinois became the first state to ratify the amendment, which officially ended slavery. 

Lewis and Clark

The Lewis and Clark expedition began from a base in Illinois. 

The explorers spent the winter of 1803-1804 near Wood River, where they prepared their troops and equipment, and then started west on May 14, 1804.

Before the expedition arrived in Wood River, it passed by what is now Union County. 

A large plaque recalling the expedition’s visit to the area stands along Illinois Route 3 in Ware.

The plaque reads: “Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and their party passed this place on their way west. Here they crossed the river to visit Cape Girardeau. The next day they were relieved to find Nathaniel Pryor, a recruit who had gone hunting two days earlier but never returned. On November 24, 1803, they camped on a rocky sandbar nearby.”

In his journal entry for Nov. 24, 1803, Lewis noted that as the expedition set off that morning “Pryor the man who had been absent and lost for the last two days hailed, we passed the river and took him in    he was much fatiequed with his wandering and somewhat indisposed.” (The entry appears in a digital version of “The Journals of Lewis and Clark,” which is maintained by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. 

Lincoln-Douglas Debates

When Lincoln faced Stephen Douglas in an 1858 Senate race, they held seven debates around the state. The debates put Lincoln on the path to the White House and set a new standard for political discourse.

Women Voting

In 1913 Illinois became the first state east of the Mississippi River to let women vote. But it was a limited right at first. 

Women could vote for president and for local offices but not for state offices or Congress.

Obama Elected

Barack Obama addressed the nation from Grant Park after winning the presidency. Some 240,000 people attended, and millions more watched on TV. For friends and foes alike, it was a remarkable moment.

Obama paid a visit to the Illinois Veterans Home in Anna before he was president.

World’s Fair, Chicago

The World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus arriving in the Americas. 

The event was a huge success, with a profound influence on architecture, the arts and Chicago’s image.

The famed Kirkpatrick Pottery in Anna created a pig flask to commemorate the world’s fair.

The Nuclear Age

Chicago Pile-1, the world’s first nuclear reactor, went into operation on Dec. 2, 1942. It produced about half a watt for less than five minutes but paved the way for the atomic bomb and nuclear power plants.

(tie) Blagojevich Arrested

On Dec. 9, 2008, Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested for extortion, demanding campaign donations in exchange for state services and trying to sell a U.S. Senate seat. He was removed from office on Jan. 29. 

(tie) Native Americans Leave 

Unable to stop a flood of settlers, the Ottawa, Ojibwe and Potawatomi gave up all their Illinois land in the 1833 Treaty of Chicago. They performed one last war dance two years later, then left for good.

The nominees which did not make the top 10 included: 

The 1968 Democratic National Convention, Al Capone being convicted of tax evasion, the “Black Sox” scandal, the 1894 Pullman strike, Mormons being driven out of Illinois in 1846, Illinois voters rejecting slavery, the “Liberty Bell of the West” ringing in Kaskaskia, the strange flood in downtown Chicago and Harold Washington being elected mayor of Chicago. 

The Gazette-Democrat

112 Lafayette St.
Anna, Illinois 62906
Office Number: (618) 833-2158

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