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    An historic relic of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates

    Stephen A. Douglas: 1858 Silk Presentation Banner. Here at Heritage, we handle a lot of historic items. The term is so loosely applied that it sometimes becomes meaningless. This political artifact is, however, "truly historic", rising to a level few items attain. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates that took place took in the fall of 1858 pitted incumbent Senator Stephen A. Douglas against his long-time rival, Springfield lawyer Abraham Lincoln. The momentous issue of slavery and its extension into the territories dominated the seven meetings. Transcripts of the arguments and partisan reporting gave readers across the country a window into the intense political rivalry of two titans, a rivalry that would lead, two years later, to the election of Abraham Lincoln and the ensuing civil war. The debates were without precedent and have acquired a legendary mystique. Part of the romance lies in that fact that the debates produced very little in the way of material culture. Illinois voters did not vote directly for either candidate, nor for a slate of electors. Rather, the contest was decided by the state legislature. Though Republican candidates received a plurality of votes, the Democrats gained a majority in the legislature and elected Douglas to another term. Despite the loss, Lincoln did not give in to depression. The close finish gave him and his supporters enough encouragement to seek and gain the Republican nomination for President in Chicago in May 1860.

    As stated, very few items emanating from the debates have survived. No campaign buttons or medals were produced. Flags and bunting were used to decorate the speaker platforms. A flag used at the Freeport debate is known, as well as a flag used at Galesburg, although the provenance associated with that flag only dates back to 1936. Partisans produced hundreds of "cartoon" banners for display and it is fun reading the contemporary newspaper accounts of them, but none survive.

    It was common practice in pre-Civil War America for voters to present elaborate banners to their favorite candidates, either given in-person or sent as gifts. These banners were made by the most talented seamstresses and artists within the community. We are proud to offer one such banner, presented to Stephen Douglas on October 7, 1858, at Galesburg, Illinois, prior to the start of his debate with Lincoln held on the grounds of Knox College. Its presentation is documented in newspaper accounts of the time. According to family lore, it was held up at the debate by a 15-year old law student named Powell. Research provided to us by Knox College indicates this likely was Harvey Rowell of Galesburg, enrolled from 1858 to 1862, or it may have been Jonathan Rowell of Stouts Grove, a student from 1858 to 1859.

    Galesburg also hosted Lombard University. Republican students from Lombard presented two banners to candidate Lincoln, one of which still exists, owned by the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka. Democratic students presented their own banner to Douglas and, up until now, it was considered lost. Drawing upon two contemporary newspaper accounts, we describe the event: "Shortly after ten o'clock Douglas arrived by train from Monmouth. Mr. Douglas was escorted to the Bancroft House... The welcoming delegation included three military companies and a group of students from Lombard University who presented a banner inscribed: 'From the Democracy of Lombard University to Stephen A. Douglas." The banner was a 'true circle' of silk, with a beautifully embroidered wreath within... A well-prepared but somewhat fulsome address was made on its delivery by George Elwell, who was followed by two young ladies, each with a symbolic address... Mr. Douglas responded with great felicity and his friends were well satisfied with their part of the performance... Mr. Douglas was then escorted to the Bonney House."

    28" x 28" silk and wool banner consisting of two panels with a horizontal seam across the middle. A woolen wreath is embroidered thereon, encircling the printed inscription in rust-red ink: "From the Democracy/ Of/ Lombard University/ To/ Stephen A. Douglas." The banner is glued around the edges to a paper board. There is some loss at the corners, some loss and thinning to the lettering and scattered stains, as shown. The colors are strong. Rarity and historical importance transcend condition in an item of this nature. Fortunately for us, the young law student who was its "standard-bearer" that eventful day preserved it for future generations. It is a remarkable survivor. "The Galesburg Democrat" of October 9, 1858, reporting on the event, related: "The crowd was immense notwithstanding the heavy rains of the day previous, and the sudden change during the night to a fiercely blowing, cutting wind which lasted during the whole day, ripping and tearing banners and sending signs pellmell all over town." It now joins the Kansas State Historical Society Lincoln banner as one of only two known "debate trophies" specifically tied to one of the participants.

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    Auction Dates
    September, 2016
    17th Saturday
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