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

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In 1846, Abraham Lincoln ran for United States Congress as a Whig candidate. He defeated Democrat Peter Cartwright and served one term. This document is a page from the official election returns housed at the Illinois State Archives.

There were seven congressional districts in Illinois at the time and the seventh district was the only one with a Whig majority. As such, several Whig politicians wanted the opportunity to run for Congress from this district. The leading Whig politicians struck a deal that rotated the party's nomination among them. In 1842, Whigs nominated John J. Hardin and in 1844 they nominated Edward Baker. Both candidates won their election and served one term. In 1846, it was Lincoln's turn and Stephen T. Logan, Lincoln's former law partner, ran in 1848.

Cartwright was a well-known Methodist minister who strongly supported the ideas of former president Andrew Jackson. At one point he made religion an issue in the campaign, questioning Lincoln's commitment to Christianity. Although Lincoln admitted that he was not a follower of any one church, Cartwright's charges did not hurt Lincoln, who won the election with fifty-six percent of the vote. Elihu Wolcott of the short-lived Liberty Party received two percent of the total vote. This party was formed in 1839 to promote the abolition of slavery by political means.

In Congress, Lincoln wrote but never introduced an amendment to a bill that would have abolished slavery in the District of Columbia, which, as the nation's capital, was under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Lincoln opposed the Mexican War, which had been begun by Democrat President James Polk. That opposition was unpopular in his home district and hurt the Whig Party. In 1848, the Whigs nominated Logan for Congress, but he lost the seat in a close election.

For Lincoln, after one term in Congress and four terms in the state legislature, it appeared as if his political career in the overwhelmingly Democratic state had ended.

Points to Consider

How many congressional districts does Illinois have today?

Why was the Seventh Congressional District nomination so prized by the Whigs?

In which counties did Lincoln receive the highest percentage of votes? In which counties did he do the worst?

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