Galesburg, IL

The Legacy of Lincoln in Galesburg

Anita Durairaj

Photo by Clark Van Der Beken on Unsplash

I was an undergraduate at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois many years ago. My first memory of arriving in Galesburg was passing through rows and rows of cornfields as we were driving in from Chicago.

Galesburg is classified as a city in Knox County, Illinois. However, I always wondered why it was considered to be a city when it felt more like a small town. As of 2010, the population is listed as 32,195. I can’t imagine that it would have increased much more than that in 2021.

When I was considering the locations of the colleges I would attend, Galesburg was touted as being a city of great historical importance. It was partly the history of Galesburg that swayed my decision to attend college there.

Here is a brief rundown of the most important historical aspects of Galesburg, Illinois.

Abraham Lincoln’s Visit

Abraham Lincoln visited Galesburg in 1858 for the fifth Lincoln-Douglas debate.

The Lincoln-Douglas debates were a series of debates between two candidates for the US Senate. The two candidates were Abraham Lincoln of the Republican Party and U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas of the Democratic Party.

Lincoln and Douglas decided to hold the debates in each of Illinois’s congressional districts and Galesburg was the site of the fifth debate. More importantly, the fifth debate was held at my undergraduate institution, Knox College.

The Old Main building of Knox College is the actual site of the debate and I have fond memories of having some of my classes in Old Main.

On October 7, 1858, both Douglas and Lincoln debated in front of an audience of more than 15,000 people. It was supposed to be a windy day but the audience was focused on the most important topic of the time — slavery.

The debate was whether slavery would be permitted in any new states formed from the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican Cession which included Texas and Louisiana.

The debates lasted three hours and the format of the debate was that one candidate would first speak for 60 minutes. The second candidate would then speak for 90 minutes followed by the first candidate again giving a 30-minute rejoinder.

When Senator Douglas appeared on the stand, he was greeted by cheers from the audience. His stance was that the Declaration of Independence was only written for white men and thus applied only to whites. On the other hand, Lincoln’s stance was that the Declaration of Independence applied to all men.

The Controversy

Lincoln is known for freeing the slaves but in terms of his actual beliefs, he wasn’t much different than Senator Douglas.

Here are Lincoln’s words on the issue of the equality of black and white men.

I will say then, that I am not nor never have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races; that I am not nor never have been in favor of making voters of the free negroes, or jurors, or qualifying them to hold office, or having them to marry with white people.- Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln was called out for taking both sides. On the one hand, he espoused equality, and then, on the other hand, he would declare that there was a superior and inferior race of men.

Historians have always believed that Lincoln did want to free their slaves for their betterment but that did not mean he considered them to be equal to white people.

Although Lincoln’s beliefs may be somewhat controversial today, the city of Galesburg is proud to have hosted Lincoln. The historical aspect remains significant even today. That being said, I hope I get a chance to visit Galesburg again.

Sources: Knox College, Wikipedia, National Park Service (

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Trained with a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Cincinnati, I write unique and interesting articles focused on science, history, and current events.


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