I found Abraham Lincoln on the Illinois College campus in Jacksonville, Illinois. It was simple to locate the national park passport cancellation stamp in Tanner Hall. However, it took some research to dig up the connection between the first university in Illinois and the 16th president of the United States. Abraham did not attend Illinois College. In fact, he didn’t attend any school. As a child he taught himself to read with less than a year of formal schooling. So why did I find him at Illinois College?
About the same time that Illinois College was conducting its first classes in 1830, a young adult Abe arrived in New Salem, about 30 miles from the school. Lincoln developed close friendships with six of the Illinois College students including David Rutledge. David had a sister, Ann, who fell in love and became engaged to young Abe. Abe was set up to attend IC when Ann suddenly and sadly died from typhoid fever. Devastated, Lincoln slipped into a dark suicidal depression. By the time he emerged, the opportunity to attend a formal school was gone.
Another important friendship from Illinois College included Richard Yates. Yates was equivalent to Abe’s campaign manager when Lincoln ran for president of the United States and later Yates became governor of Illinois during the Civil War. Yates was invaluable as a political ally and advisor to Abraham Lincoln.
Perhaps the closest friendship with an Illinois College alumni was his relationship with William Herndon. Although Abraham did not know Herndon during Herndon’s years at IC, they became colleagues and partners in a law office in Springfield, Illinois. They remained partners until Lincoln left for the White House in 1861.
Illinois College is on a lovely, landscaped campus. The private liberal arts university is a perfect setting to contemplate what would the U.S. be like if Abe had married Ann and received the education he so desired. Would he have become president of the United States and Ann the First Lady instead of Mary? I like to think so. Surely it was destiny.