H-Net Review: Neumann on Fraker, 'Looking for Lincoln in Illinois: A Guide to Lincoln's Eighth Judicial Circuit' (x-h-fedhist)

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Guy C. Fraker
Ellen Neumann

Neumann on Fraker, 'Looking for Lincoln in Illinois: A Guide to Lincoln's Eighth Judicial Circuit'

Guy C. Fraker. Looking for Lincoln in Illinois: A Guide to Lincoln's Eighth Judicial Circuit. Looking for Lincoln Series. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2017. Illustrations. 152 pp. $21.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8093-3616-6.

Reviewed by Ellen Neumann (Independent Scholar) Published on H-FedHist (July, 2018) Commissioned by Caryn E. Neumann (Miami University of Ohio Regionals)

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=51801

Abraham Lincoln won the Republican nomination for president because of the skills and connections that he gained as an attorney in east central Illinois. Guy C. Fraker, author of Lincoln’s Ladder to the Presidency: The Eighth Judicial Circuit (2012), has created a lavishly illustrated guide to sites in the Circuit that were important to Lincoln.

Lincoln entered legal practice in 1837 and the Eighth Judicial Circuit was formed two years later. He became one of the few attorneys who traveled to all the counties in the ten-thousand-square-mile Circuit. Illinois was “mostly tall grass prairie” and “raw frontier” when he began. The arrival of the railroads brought “population and institutional maturity” (p. 1). The Circuit shaped Lincoln “as he spent his entire adult life before ascending to the presidency in this area” (p. 2).

Fraker’s impressive guide includes photographs of courthouses where Lincoln practiced and the people whom he encountered. Hotels along the Circuit had poor food, which pushed Lincoln and other attorneys to often stay with friends who opened their homes for a few nights. When forced to stay at an inn, Lincoln often regaled his colleagues with his famous collection of jokes and stories. These friends and colleagues supported Lincoln’s political ambitions and financed his campaigns.

Fraker’s coverage of the town of Lincoln is typical. “The railroad from Alton to Chicago reached Logan County in 1853.” Men who “purchased land where the railroad would have to stop for water” hired Lincoln to pass a bill through the Illinois legislature to move the county seat to their newly acquired holdings (p. 42) . Lincoln urged the men to name the town, and, with his reluctant approval, they picked Lincoln. The depot where Lincoln christened the town remains but the hotel where he stayed, on the southeast corner of Kickapoo and Broadway, has since been demolished. The town contains several Lincoln statues, a storyboard commemorating one of his 1858 speeches, and the courthouse where he tried cases.  

Fraker’s guide is essential for anyone planning a Lincoln-themed road trip and should be a model for anyone who is considering the production of a similar book. The photographs in this guide are simply amazing. Fraker has found images that match what Lincoln saw. By following his directions, complete with GPS coordinates, tourists can travel the roads that Lincoln did and get the same sense of isolation that enabled Lincoln to hone his thoughts about the politics of the mid-nineteenth century. This slim tome is part of the Looking for Lincoln series of guides published by Southern Illinois University Press with assistance by the Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition. The area covered, the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area, became part of the National Park Service in 2008. If Fraker’s guide is typical of the series, the other two books, Looking for Lincoln in Illinois: Lincoln and Mormon Country (2015) and Looking for Lincoln in Illinois: Lincoln’s Springfield (2015), both by Bryon C. Andreason, are worth searching out.      

Citation: Ellen Neumann. Review of Fraker, Guy C., Looking for Lincoln in Illinois: A Guide to Lincoln's Eighth Judicial Circuit. H-FedHist, H-Net Reviews. July, 2018. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=51801

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