ILLINOIS STATE ARCHIVES
Abraham Lincoln in Illinois
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
A BILL FOR AN ACT AUTHORIZING THE PURCHASE OF A HOUSE FOR THE USE OF THE GOVERNOR
January 24, 1840
Lincoln wrote and introduced this bill to buy a house for the governor in 1840. Lincoln had been largely responsible for moving the state capital to Springfield and he was a large hometown booster. A permanent house for the governor would help insure that the seat of state government would permanently stay in Springfield.
According to the book Old Illinois Houses, shortly after the capital moved to Springfield the state had purchased a building at the corner of Eighth and Market (now Capitol) Streets for use as the governor's home. That building was located just one block north of the future home of Lincoln. The book At Home with Illinois Governors described the house as a "cramped structure that once housed the offices of the Illinois Board of Public Works."
Lincoln undoubtedly pictured something more grandiose for the governor. His bill called for spending $8,000, not an inconsiderable amount in 1840, to purchase a house and lot. Lincoln bought his middle class home in 1844 for $1,500. On the floor of the House of Representatives, there was an attempt to amend Lincoln's bill to call for spending $10,000. Neither that amendment, nor Lincoln's original bill, passed the House.
It was not until 1853 that the General Assembly took action on the governor's mansion. That year, it voted to appropriate $15,000 to build a mansion in Springfield for the governor. Two years later, it appropriated another $16,000 for this purpose. The total of $31,000 spent for the mansion would be the equivalent of approximately $700,000 in today's dollars.
The new mansion opened in 1856 with Democrat Joel Matteson becoming the first Illinois governor to live there. Still used today, the mansion is the third oldest, continuously-used governor's mansion in the nation. After 1857, when Republican Governor William Bissell was inaugurated, Lincoln became a frequent visitor to the mansion, which was located three blocks from his home.
Points to Consider
Why would Lincoln want to spend money for a mansion for the Governor?
Why was it felt that the governor's house should be a mansion?
What might be some reasons that spending on the mansion was delayed until 1853?