Remarks by David H. Leroy, former Lt. Governor and Attorney General on the occasion of the Idaho Day Ceremonies before the Idaho State Senate, March 3, 2016.
At 4:30 in the afternoon, Friday, April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln is sitting in the Presidential Office on the second floor of the Executive Mansion in Washington, D. C. Seated at the end of a long oak table on which he had signed the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier, Lincoln turns slightly to his right and gazes out the window across a grassy expanse at the stump at the Washington Monument, only one-third constructed.
Seated across the table is William Wallace, the Delegate to Congress from Idaho Territory. Wallace is speaking about politics in Idaho.
Abraham Lincoln has 15 hours to live.
Lincoln Knew Idaho in 1848, as a Congressman, when he voted three times to exclude slavery from the Oregon Country which would one day include our State.
Lincoln Knew Idaho in 1849, as an office seeker, when he was offered and declined the governorship of Oregon Territory which then covered this area.
Lincoln Knew Idaho in 1858, as a debater against Douglas, when he urged that the land and the people here should remain “Forever Free.”
Lincoln Knew Idaho, but he does not know that he has only 15 hours to live.
Lincoln Knew how Idaho got its name in 1862, for he attended the meeting held in Wallace’s residence when it was chosen.
Lincoln Knew that the Idaho Bill almost did not pass on March 3, 1863 when the Senate nearly ran out of time to vote as midnight approached.
Lincoln Knew Idaho as he signed the legislation creating Idaho Territory at 4 in the morning on March 4, 1863. What a Territory it was – some 310,000 square miles — an area larger than Texas, spanning from Washington to the Dakotas, from Canada to Utah.
As Wallace speaks, Lincoln knows the 15 men, some his closest political allies and associates, whom he appointed to Idaho territorial offices.
Lincoln knows the detail of our territorial organization, for he reported to Congress in his annual messages of 1863 and 1864 about our rich mineral wealth, great distances, and Indian hostilities.
Lincoln knows Idaho best through the man across the table – William Wallace, the former Governor of Idaho Territory, now elected by its people to be their Delegate to Congress.
They have been friends since the 1840’s. Lincoln knows Wallace so well he calls him by the nickname, “Old Idaho”.
With 15 hours to live, Lincoln is listening to Wallace explain the need to fill a vacant position on the Idaho Supreme Court and in the U.S. Marshall’s post.
Wallace slides two recommendation letters across the table, and on one Lincoln writes nearly the last written communication of his life:
“Let the within appointment be made. April 14, 1865 A. Lincoln”
Concluding the interview, Lincoln tells Wallace to come back on Monday to receive the commissions as wished. Standing, Lincoln then moves around his table, approaches Wallace, pats him on the shoulder and says, “Old Idaho, how would you and Mrs. Wallace like to come to Ford’s Theater with Mary and me tonight? We are going to see a play called Our American Cousin.”
As they parted, Lincoln has 15 hours to live, the Chief Executive moving toward history and his iconic status as America’s greatest president.
Wallace merely went home, to attend his sick wife and to the agony of wondering, for the next 14 years, what might have happened had he been present in the theater box that night.
Lincoln’s future plan to visit the West, California and perhaps even Idaho, after he completed his second term also was lost that night.
So too was William Wallace’s dream to finish his service in Congress, to move home to Idaho, build a residence on two lots of land which he had acquired in Boise City and live out his days among the neighborly pioneers who then walked the streets which surround where this Capitol building sits now.
Idaho celebrates its relationship with Lincoln in its public places and its public spaces, like this Senate Chamber.
The oldest Lincoln statue in the Western U.S. sits just 100 yards in front of this building.
The largest public room in this Capitol is called the Lincoln Auditorium.
The most significant museum exhibit in the world celebrating Lincoln and the Rocky Mountain West can be found at our Idaho Archives Building on Old Penitentiary Road.
The sixth or seventh largest statue of Lincoln in the nation, some 13 feet tall if the seated figure stood erect, is located in Julia Davis Park, adjacent to Boise’s Black History Museum.
Finally, we celebrate Idaho Day, annually each March 4th, to remember the event 154 years ago, when Lincoln took his pen in hand and with the strokes of his signature, created Idaho Territory.
As we today know Lincoln, be assured,with certainty, Lincoln Knew Idaho Too.