Abraham Lincoln in Illinois
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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December 16, 1842

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The General Assembly established a library for the state in 1839 and placed it under the jurisdiction of the governor and the justices of the Supreme Court. In 1842 the General Assembly divided the library. The justices kept control over the reports of court decisions and legal treatises for a Supreme Court Library and the secretary of state received control of the rest of the collection for the creation of an Illinois State Library. Both libraries were located in the new state capitol. As part of the 1842 act, the secretary of state became the state librarian, a title the secretary holds to this day.

The Register of Books Loaned to Members of the Legislature, Officers and Members of the Illinois State Government is the earliest known record of the State Library. On Friday, December 16, 1842, one day after the Act requiring the creation of the library register went into effect, Abraham Lincoln borrowed The Revised Laws of New York, Volume 1st, thus becoming the first person to check out a book under this new law. Because he was no longer a member of the legislature, he signed the name of his law partner, State Representative S.T. Logan.

Abraham Lincoln's formal use of the Illinois State Library was documented in this Register on several other occasions. In 1854, Lincoln spent many evenings researching and analyzing material related to Stephen Douglas' position of opening more western territories to slavery. On Wednesday afternoon, October 4, Lincoln spoke at the capitol for three hours while Douglas interrupted from the side. Lincoln also used many of this library's sources when composing his famous "Cooper Union" speech, where he rebutted the idea that the founding fathers had supported slavery. That speech helped him capture the Republican presidential nomination. On November 13, 1860, one week after his election as president, Lincoln borrowed the two volumes of The Statesman's Manual, an 1849 set that contained the inaugural addresses and special messages of Presidents Washington through Polk.

Still a vital part of state and local government, today anyone can check out materials from the Illinois State Library. The current library building is named after Gwendolyn Brooks, the state's third poet laureate.

Points to Consider

What do you think are the differences in the State Library in 1839 and today?

Why do libraries need to keep records of who checks out materials?

Why would state government need to operate its own library?

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