A view Lincoln knew

Old State Capitol witnessed many historical events


Even though the citizens of Vandalia built a new capitol building in 1837 it was not enough to prevent Springfield becoming the state’s capital city.

Some legislators wanted to move the capital away from Vandalia in favor of a more central location. In 1833, Illinois voters had the opportunity to choose between keeping Vandalia or moving the capital to Jacksonville, Springfield, Peoria, Alton or a site more centrally located but without an established town as the location for the state’s government.

Alton garnered a slim majority but after a procedural problem was discovered a second vote in the legislature occurred. Abraham Lincoln and his fellow legislators from Sangamon County pushed Springfield through on this vote.

Construction of a new capitol building in Springfield started in 1837 with the goal to be ready for the legislature in 1840.

The structure was made of limestone quarried from nearby Sugar Creek and hauled to the building site. It was the first Illinois capitol building of real significance and was laid out by architect John Rague. This fifth building for the Illinois capitol actually had room for all needed offices and meeting rooms for a state government.

While looking at the unique columns in the front of the Greek Revival style building, the visible red streaks give testament to the iron found in the limestone. It is an attractive building with its different colors of limestone and a rotunda with a red domed roof. It is located on a three-acre plot of ground with an antique iron fence surrounding the landscaped courtyard.

The main floor has offices on one side for the auditor (state treasurer) and secretary of state with a large state library between them. Across the hall is the supreme court space, a smaller library for state officials and needed committee rooms and offices.

In the center of the main floor is an impressive stairway that leads upward in all four directions with the interior of the large rotunda visible above the stairways. The second floor was laid out with Representative Chamber on the west side and the Senate Chamber on the east side. Also on the second story are the offices of the governor and attorney general.

The building was completely reconstructed in the 1960s and was recognized as a National Historic landmark. This building, when occupied, was so much more than the first capitol building at Kaskaskia which the state did not own, but rented for $4 a day.

A good many politicians served in the capitol building, but it is probably Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas who are best known. Douglas was an Illinois State representative and sat on the Illinois State Supreme Court. He was known as the “Little Giant” because of his small stature but great oratory skills. He went on to serve in the U.S. House and Senate and even ran for president, but was defeated by Abraham Lincoln of the new Republican Party.

Of course, Lincoln is the most important man associated with the history of the Old State Capitol. He served in the state legislature, tried cases in the Illinois Supreme Court and gave his famous House Divided Speech there June 16, 1858, as the Republican candidate for the U. S. Senate. He was defeated by Douglas, but this noteworthy presentation helped him in his effort to become president of our country. The Lincoln-Douglas debates also were influential in that effort.

Lincoln’s final laying in state after his death was in this building for Illinoisans to honor him. A replica of his stovepipe hat is found in the library here and his signature while signing out for a loaned book for Stephen Trigg Logan is found in the same room. Logan was a law partner and an Illinois circuit judge.

Just across the street from the capitol building is where Lincoln’s law office was. At one time it read Lincoln-Herndon law offices, but now it can be recognized as the front of a business labeled S. M. Tinsley & Co. wholesale dry goods. It is just a stone’s throw from the old capitol building, but a strong reminder that Lincoln was an essential distinguished citizen and leader of our country from Springfield.