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New Book Explores Lincoln’s Close Ties To ISU

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On April 14, 1865, Lincoln signed legislation creating the U.S. Secret Service. That evening, he was shot at Ford’s Theatre. ";

A new book studying the connections Abraham Lincoln had to Illinois State University is drawing rave reviews.

Historian Tom Emery and ISU alum Carl Kasten created the 280-page book, “Abraham Lincoln and the Heritage of Illinois State University,” that uncovers the untold stories of Lincoln at ISU.

Lincoln served as counsel to the state’s Board of Education.

“Lincoln wrote the guarantee for the university, which secured funding. In doing so, he really ensured the university would be in Bloomington,” said Emery. “There was competition in other cities, mainly Peoria, to be the home of the university. The fact that Lincoln wrote the guarantee, securing funding, was a critical step in making sure the university would be in Bloomington where it’s been for 164 years.” 

Emery said he suspects he wrote the guarantee as a political favor for friends. 

“Some of Lincoln’s closest and most influential associates in Illinois were from Bloomington. The Bloomington area had an untold impact on Lincoln’s pre-presidency,” said Emery. “He was very close friends with Jesse Fell, who was one of the movers and shakers of early Bloomington. His brother-in-law, Ninian Edwards Jr., was the president of the Board of Education. It’s been speculated, and I believe this to be true, the university was the creation of Lincoln’s political friends and he did this basically as a favor to his political friends.”

One of Lincoln's close political allies was William Saunders. The ISU Quad was designed by Saunders, who also designed Oak Ridge Cemetery (in Springfield, where Lincoln is buried) and the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

“We know that Lincoln was with Saunders at the White House, two nights before he delivered the Gettysburg address, to overview ... the plans for the proposed national cemetery. We believe that Saunders and Lincoln may have met sometime before that,” said Emery. “Lincoln was a very frequent visitor to Bloomington and often visited his good friend Fell. So they may have met there. We know for certain, they were well acquainted enough for Saunders to be invited to the White House just two nights before (he) delivered his legendary speech.”

Lincoln also delivered his legendary “Lost Speech” at the first Republican State Convention in 1856 at Major’s Hall, the site of the first classes at Illinois State after the university’s founding a year later. 

“The Lost Speech kept the audience so spellbound, no one—literally—thought to take notes,” said Emery. “That’s why it is called the Lost Speech. There’s only one or two small accounts of that speech that exist today. Those who were there believed it was his best.” 

In addition to Illinois State, the book covers much more of Bloomington-Normal and McLean County as a whole. Emery said behind Springfield, his hometown, the city in Illinois that most influenced his political career and his rise to greatness was Bloomington. 

Emery said the Lost Speech established him as a statewide leader. A few weeks later, the speech acted as a springboard to gain support from Republicans for his vice president nomination, Hannibal Hamlin of Maine. 

The book may launch more studies that will uncover even more about the 16th president. 

ISU President Larry Dietz praised Emery’s “tireless research” to show a “clear and compelling” bond between Lincoln and the university. Dietz added Emery’s work “to tell the whole story of ISU’s founding is not only crucial for the university but our entire community.”

Dr. Wayne Temple, who has been called “the greatest living Lincoln scholar” and is a world renown scholar from Springfield, said  the new book will have tremendous impact. 

“We’ve been told by experts that this is going to be a significant contribution to Lincoln studies because nothing like this has ever been done before. We were amazed more had not been done on Lincoln’s connections at Illinois State, period. Because of all the fine historians that cover the university,” said Emery. “There is still a lot of Lincoln that needs to be covered.” 

Emery said he has heard that everything’s already been written on Lincoln. 

“That just is not true. There are a lot of new topics that need to be covered,” said Emery. “This just happened to be one of those things that people overlooked in the past 155 years since Lincoln’s death. I was fortunate Mr. Kasten wanted me to do this and it was just such an honor to be a part of the great school of Illinois State.”

Both Emery and Kasten live in Carlinville, 112 miles south of Bloomington-Normal.

“At first, we thought it would be around 100 pages,” said Kasten, a retired attorney. “But Tom kept uncovering more material, and it kept growing. I cannot believe how much information went into this book.”

As he uncovered more and more, three times longer than the original book draft, Emery felt thrilled to break so much new ground.

Emery said if Lincoln were to revisit ISU, he’d be shocked at the growth. 

“The university had humble beginnings in its early days, and had only seven faculty, which was not unusual for a major university, but it was very much a fledgling school. It was really only 8 years old at the time Lincoln died. The university community supported Lincoln in great detail just before the Civil War and after the war. If he were alive today, he’d look at the sparkling, beautiful buildings and I think he'd be awestruck.”

The book is expected to hit Bloomington-Normal bookstores shortly.

Copies of “Abraham Lincoln and the Heritage of Illinois State University” also are available directly through Kasten, who is directing net proceeds to the ISU Alumni Scholarship Fund and the university’s Pre-Law Fund.

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