Lincoln’s doings December 2, 1859

     The next day he rode to Atchison, and spoke again with telling effect.  lt will be remembered that up to this time Mr. Lincoln had visited none but “country towns.”  At no place did his audience exceed 200;  but his speeches were always as clear, elaborate, logical and eloquent as when he appeared in your mighty metropolis, in an institute thronged with intellect, grace, and power.  He paid the kindest deference to all inquiries and seemed fortified by any interruptions that indicated interest in his “talk,” as he was pleased to term his able and eloquent efforts. “I never stop to inquire,” said Mr Lincoln, “To accomplish a little good is more gratifying to me than to receive empty applause.”  It was in this spirit he met the farmer and mechanics of Kansas, and they returned for it the homage of interest, affection, and confidence.

Leavenworth correspondence of The New York Tribune, August 30, 1860.

     From Doniphan Lincoln was driven by Howard Nesbit in a two-horse carriage to Atchinson, seven miles away.  According to local tradition, the weather continued very cold, and Nesbit placed a lighted lantern under the buffalo robes to help keep Lincoln comfortable.  Judge Nathan Price accompanied Nesbit and Lincoln to Atchison.  They reached there late in the afternoon and went to the Massasoit House which stood at Second and Main streets.

     Word had reached Atchison, and preparations had been made to get out a large crowd to hear Lincoln.  A brass band paraded the streets advertising the meeting that night at 8 o’clock.  The largest auditorium in the town was the Methodist Church which stood near the corner of Fifth and Parallel streets, where a stone marker stands today commemorating Atchison’s most distinguished opportunity.  The use of the Methodist Church could not be readily obtained, as many Methodists believed slavery compatible with Christianity and later they were the only religious group in Atchison that separated into “North” and “South” over the war.  Finally all objections were overruled and permission granted Lincoln to speak.  After he reached the church, whither he was escorted by the brass band that had advertised his coming, he asked for a glass of water.  Mrs. Hill who lived “on the corner nearest the church brought a pitcher of water and one of her best cup: out of which Lincoln drank.  After Lincoln became President Mrs. Hill cherished this cup until her death.

     The church was crowded and many people stood up around the sides of the auditorium.  The Hon. Samuel C. Pomeroy, later one of the first United States Senators from Kansas, introduced Lincoln.  Pomeroy was an ardent supporter of Seward and was persuaded to introduce Lincoln only because he was mayor of Atchison.  To show his displeasure he had a paper in his hand during the introduction and referred to it to remember Lincoln’s name.  Everybody was tense in Atchison the night of December 2, 1859, because word had come that John Brown had been hanged that afternoon.  Lincoln felt the spirit of the crowd and “fitted his speech into the atmosphere.”  It was his opportunity and he “warned those who might become guilty of being disloyal to the government, ‘If you are guilty of treason, we will hang you as you have hanged old John Brown this afternoon.'”  One in Lincoln’s audience reported that the speech was “the most logical and vigorous” he had ever heard from a Republican orator.  Years later another said, “I shall never forget how Lincoln looked, standing in the little box of a pulpit with his strange ungraceful gestures as he leaned over, seeming with his long arms almost as if he could touch his hearers upon the back benches.”

     The most valuable report on Lincoln’s visit to Atchison, however, is preserved in the “Reminiscences of Franklin G. Adams”:

     I had first seen Mr. Lincoln and heard him talk in Atchison in 1859.  He was not then popularly known in Kansas.  He was known to be a candidate for the nomination in 1860 as president.  The people of Kansas were for Wm. H. Seward.  Seward had fought our battles in the United States senate.  He was the idol of our people;  yet Lincoln was greatly admired for his noble defense of our free-state cause in his great debate with Douglas in 1858.  In Atchison we appointed a committee to receive him and to provide a place for his address in the evening.  He was taken to our best hotel, the Massasoit House, and a good many of the citizens came into the hotel office to shake hands with him and to hear him talk!  He was soon started, with his chair tipped up, and among the first to engage in conversation with him was Col. P. T. Abell, the head and brain of the proslavery party in our town and largely in the territory.  Both had been Kentuckians.  Abell knew many citizens of Illinois who had moved there from Kentucky.  The two immediately found mutual acquaintance about whom they could converse, and Lincoln began to tell stories, relating incidents in the lives of Illinois Kentuckians.

     I was on the committee to provide a place for the Lincoln meeting that evening. Judge P. P. Wilcox was a member of the committee.  The best audience room in town was that of the Methodist church.  Our committee hunted up the trustees, and Wilcox says he had considerable difficulty in gaining consent to have a political meeting in a church.  I scarcely remember how it was, but Wilcox says we met with such a rebuff and refusal that he lost his patience, and it took the best I could do in the way of persuasion to get the church, which we did.  I still remember the appearance of Mr. Lincoln as he walked up the aisle on entering the church and took his place on the pulpit stand.  He was awkward and forbidding, but it required but a few words for him to dispel the unfavorable impression, and he was listened to with the deepest of interest by every member of the audience.

     I have mentioned the attachment of the people of Kansas for Wm. H. Seward.  Our own local paper, the Atchison Champion , of which John A. Martin was the editor, made no mention of Mr. Lincoln’s presence in Atchison at that time.  Martin was wrapped up in Seward and could not brook the thought of any encouragement or countenance given by the people of Atchison to a rival candidate .

     Others who heard Lincoln in Atchison were General Benjamin F. Stringfellow, one of the most violent proslavery leaders in Atchison County and in the entire Territory.  John J. Ingalls was another Atchison citizen who was destined later to gain fame as a statesman and poet.  Frank A. Root, Kansas pioneer and historian, was also there, as was John A. Martin, later governor of Kansas. Ingalls, Adams, and Root all later took great pleasure in retelling Lincoln’s Atchison visit.  Lincoln spoke two hours and twenty minutes, and his audience grew more enthusiastic as he continued.  He felt this was his opportunity, for if he gained Atchison he would win the Kansas delegates from Seward.  But he failed to win Kansas.  The important “free” newspapers remained loyal to Seward.  It is notable that John A. Martin, editor of the Atchison Champion, the most influential “free” newspaper in the Territory, suppressed the story of Lincoln’s speech in Atchison and even the fact that he was there.  Martin had political ambitions and believed Seward would be the Republican choice for President.  His loyalty to Seward was great enough to cause him to keep Atchison out of American history and to give the glory of the great speech to Cooper Union.

     Lincoln spent the night in the Massasoit House at Atchison wondering what impression he had made.  He was a keen politician, but Atchison made him wonder.

Charles Arthur Hawley.

     then Atchison. B. F. Stringfellow in the audience. John A. Martin used to say that Stringfellow called it the greatest antislavery speech he ever heard.

D. W. Wilder.

     From there he drove to Atchison and spoke in the pioneer Methodist church at Fifth and parallel streets.  A brass band paraded the streets and drummed up a crowd for him and escorted him to the church which was so packed he could scarcely wedge his way in.”  I still remember the appearance of Mr. Lincoln as he walked up the aisle of the church,” wrote Franklin G. Adams. “He was awkward and forbidding, but it required only a few words for him to dispell the unfavorable impression.”  He spoke for two hours and twenty minuts and before he had finished he had completely won his audience.

A. B. Macdonald, The Kansas City Star, Sunday, February 10,1929.

     “It was at Atchison that Abraham Lincoln, on his first visit to Kansas, spoke to a crowded house on “The Issues of the Day,” December 2, 1859, the date that old John Brown was executed in Virginia.  Lincoln spoke in the Methodist church, which then stood on the hill at the comer of Fifth and Parallel streets.  The little church was a frame building, dedicated in May, 1859, and overlooked a considerable portion of the city.  The house afterwards became quite historic, for during the early part of the Civil war, the patriotic Rev. Milton Mahin, a staunch Union man, from Indiana, in a patriotic speech, soon after the Civil war broke out, had the nerve, and was the first minister of the Gospel in Atchison, to raise the Stars and Stripes over his house of worship.”    

Frank A. Root in his admirable book, “The Overland Stage to California,” published in 1901.