by David H. Leroy, President, The Idaho Lincoln Institute and Chairman, Idaho Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission

Family anecdote turned Idaho history records, as Arthur Hart wrote in “The Boiseans at Home,” that George Whitfield Russell “was especially proud of his horses, and during the 1860 Chicago presidential campaign, he had the honor of driving candidate Abraham Lincoln in a parade behind his finest clayback team.”  In 1862, the family left Illinois for Oregon, eventually ending up in Boise in August of 1864.  However, the Lincoln campaign connection came West too, as: “they drove the same horses that pulled Lincoln.  According to Russell, they were the finest animals in the entire caravan.”

One detail in this well-told tale has apparently been misreported over the years: Between May 18, 1860, when he was nominated and the election of November 6, 1860, contemporary reports of Lincoln’s whereabouts day by day indicate that he did not participate in any parade as a presidential candidate.  Instead, in the tradition of the era, Nominee Lincoln stayed home in Springfield and met delegations of supporters on his “front porch” and in his parlor.

Can the Russell story still be true?  Absolutely, if one adopts the entirely likely assumption that the correct campaign parade occurred in 1858 when Lincoln ran for the Senate, not during the 1860 presidential race.  In fact, still available details strengthen the likelihood that the event happened exactly as described, but two years earlier.

* George Russell is buried in Morris Hill Cemetery in Boise

* His siblings and other relatives are buried in the Russell Cemetery, near Gilson, Knox County, Illinois.

* Gilson is 6 ½ miles Southeast of Knoxville, Illinois, making it probable that George’s residence in 1858 was either in Knoxville or on an agricultural property in the surrounding area.

* On the afternoon of October 6, 1858, Lincoln arrived by train in Knoxville during a violent storm to stay at the Old Hebard House Inn.  He was wearing “a big gray shawl,” a “rusty stovepipe hat” and carrying a carpetbag.  That evening a crowd assembled at the hotel, a brass band serenaded Lincoln and he gave a short, humorous speech to the assemblage to the light of a lantern from the porch of the Inn.

* The next morning, Lincoln was transported by a parade of buggies, floats carrying banners and farmers in hayracks and wagons comprising a cavalculde of 1200 to 1500 persons some nine miles West to Galesburg, where the fifth Lincoln-Douglas Debate was to take place.  This is likely the campaign parade in which George drove Lincoln.  On arrival they paraded west along the principal street through the town to the public square, then south, then east and north. Shortly before noon, he was taken to the home of Judge Henry R. Sanderson, north of the town square.  As the local Republican committee chairman, the Judge gave Lincoln an official greeting, T.G. Frost made a speech and the party’s ladies presented an embroidered campaign banner in his support.

* At two o’clock, both Lincoln and Douglas were escorted to the site of the debate at Knox College.  Both candidates are reportedly transported there “in four horse carriages driven abreast.”  This description is consistent with the Russell Clayback team.  With up to 20,000 people in attendance, the Galesburg debate turned out to have the largest crowd of any of the 1858 Senate events.  Obviously, members of the Knox County Russell family would have been among that number.

It is uncertain when or how the “presidential campaign” reference first entered the printed stories of George Russell’s pioneer history.  For example, his obituary in the Idaho Daily Statesman of December 6, 1901 describes his living in Illinois between 1856 and 1862, his crossing the plains to Oregon and his removal to Boise with his family in 1864.  However, no reference to his horses or the Lincoln anecdote is contained in the two columns.  However, by the publication in 1914 of French’s History of Idaho, Russell’s biography therein contained the 1860 campaign story, with the additional detail that there were “four large clayback horses,” which later comprised “the finest equipped outfit” in the wagon train coming West.  The inclusion of numerous other details of George’s life in the French biography make it appear likely that his children or close friends retold such anecdotes and specifics as they could recollect of the family history to French.

Since his wife had died in 1902, it is unlikely that Mary, whom George had married in 1856, was directly consulted as a source for this text.  Thus, next generation individuals could have easily confused the 1858 and 1860 campaigns of half a century before, especially as the earlier unsuccessful run for the Senate would have been less well recollected by Idahoans.

The corrected reference to the 1858 campaign becomes even more likely with the additional French reported detail that George had “four clayback horses.”  The contemporary description of Lincoln being driven to the Galesburg debate in a “four horse carriage” reinforces the possibility that those horses were the Russell clayback team, especially when coupled with other known details of the Know County locale, the farmer’s parade to Galesburg and the fine Illinois team that came across the prairie to Boise. Thus, the George Russell campaign story can be both validated and corrected, even at this late date.

What Would Abraham Lincoln Say to Donald Trump?


Since 1989, each outgoing American president has left a private letter of comments and advice in the Oval Office for their incoming successor.  What a treasure trove of history the Nation would have if this tradition had started with George Washington, instead of Ronald Reagan.  Even better it would be, if a far-past presidents of unique and relevant experience could whisper in the ear of a future Chief Executive in challenging times.

Abraham Lincoln in 1861, elected with under 40% of the vote, inherited a politically divided Union.  He was pushed into a Civil War with domestic terrorists, propelled toward budget deficits and faced a balky Congress and a conflicted Supreme Court.

Donald Trump in 2017, chosen by 46% of the ballots, faces the political division of civil unrest, a war with international insurgents, spiraling spending, a Congress which has too long delayed solving critical issues and a deadlocked Supreme Court.

To be sure, today’s contrast between Red States blockaded on both East and West by Blue States is not comparable to yesterday’s catastrophic secession of Slave States in the South. Further, Lincoln and Trump are very different men.  One, at age 70, has a fine college education and no political experience.  The other, then 51, was a former state legislator and congressman with first grade level formal schooling.

The times too are vastly different.  Modem communication for Trump is instantaneous on the internet.  For Lincoln, it was the telegraph.  It took Lincoln 13 days to journey from Springfield to Washington by rail as President-elect.  Mr.   Trump flew from New York in less than an hour.

Nevertheless, Lincoln 16 may well have valuable insights for Trump 45 to prevent the current culture clash from erupting into a second civil war.  Knowing that California may be on the verge of declaring itself a “sanctuary state,” Lincoln may well have written:



Dear Donald:

Though I left the Executive Mansion a Century and a half ago, custom permits me to leave a word of advice.  The same gap of time between us permits you to freely disregard it.

You are a builder, I merely a lawyer.  I suspect that your administration will commence with a flurry of reconstruction.

Strong cabinet appointments are a necessity.  One might say I relied upon a team of rivals.  I am certain that your choices, like mine, will be swiftly confirmed by the Senate.

I faced and surmounted a great Civil War.  Circumstances have forced upon you a great civil unrest.  Let not criticism deter you from a required path.

Prioritize the nation’s needs, but be flexible, strategic.  My only purpose was to save the Union.  I would have freed some, all or none of the slaves to do that. In time, I accomplished both freedom and union.

Let Congress legislate, but fear not the issuance of Executive Orders.  My edicts were the essence of saving a Nation: Draft calls to muster troops, suspending habeas corpus to preserve the peace, emancipation to win the war.

Take care to guard the Constitution – ultimately it, and the Declaration of lndependence which enables it – are our gift to the world and ourselves.

If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author.  As a Nation of free men we will live forever, or die by suicide.

Issue not any proclamation in haste or heat of anger.  While a bird may “tweet” with impunity, a President must preside, most often, above the fray.  My custom of placing my “hot” letters in a desk drawer, “Never Sent,” “Never Signed,” served the country well.

Finally, keep faith – keep your promises made to the electorate.  We Republicans are a new and ever emerging party and must build, not dissipate the base.  Remember always, this is a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

Your Truly,

A. Lincoln

SPEAKER – Dave Leroy, President and Founder of the Idaho Lincoln Institute, is scheduling a limited number of speaking engagements to share Abraham Lincoln’s wisdom and how these timeless principles are important to embrace at this pivotal time in our Nation’s history. Please go to this link to learn more about having Dave speak at your event.

IDAHO STATESMAN: After election, time to allow our ‘better angels’ to ‘now come together’

The Idaho Statesman Editorial referenced and quoted Abraham Lincoln…

President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address came as the nation was on the brink of civil war. We, fortunately, do not face civil war, but rather are on the brink of a new beginning. Yet we can learn from Lincoln’s words and do our part to foster unity as we move forward:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”


Full Editorial…

As printed in The Idaho Statesman on 11/12/2016

Though we are not asking anyone to forget or even forgive the unfortunate acrimony that surfaced during the long and contentious race for the White House, we hope all Idahoans and Americans understand it is time to move on and do what is best for our nation.

President-elect Donald Trump said as much Wednesday morning when delivering a gracious and inclusive speech after his victory. His opponent, Hillary Clinton, continued that patriotic and conciliatory tone Wednesday afternoon in her moving concession. Before detailing her personal disappointment, Clinton said: “Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead.”

President Barack Obama followed that theme Thursday during his meeting with Trump, emphasizing that the caustic partisan edge of campaign politics must give way to the agenda of preserving and protecting our union: “We must now come together, and work together.”

“Now come together” is a fitting guidepost in the interim as our leaders work through the transition of power and our nation attempts to heal — or at least put into perspective — some of the wounds of the campaign.

After wishing his bitter GOP rival, Trump, success as president Thursday, Ohio Gov. John Kasich called the statements of Obama and Clinton “inspirational” because they placed country above politics, a winning path to the future over the ditches that would mire us in defeat. We could not agree more.

It is a matter of record that the Idaho Statesman Editorial Board preferred Clinton in a nearly unanimous endorsement — and unanimously shunned Trump for a variety of reasons. But the people in Idaho and throughout the country had the final word at the polls Tuesday, selecting Trump as our 45th president.

We honor the people’s choice above all, it is the American way. The office of president deserves our ongoing respect — and the person who occupies it our support, especially between now and the Jan. 20 inauguration, when the whole world, including our allies and enemies, observes this transition.

We have no illusions: Trump will disappoint you and us with a policy decision we don’t like. All presidents do. But we understand leadership is about making thoughtful decisions that benefit the body, though not every appendage at first might agree.

But before we get to the point of exercising our duty to scrutinize those presidential decisions in the give-and-take of governing, Trump and his team deserve our good will and the benefit of the doubt in order to establish a foundation.

We support anyone’s right to peaceful protests, dissent and to express disappointment about the election results. But we equally denounce the violence of those acting out against a new president who was duly elected, and who has yet to even take the oath of office.

President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address came as the nation was on the brink of civil war. We, fortunately, do not face civil war, but rather are on the brink of a new beginning. Yet we can learn from Lincoln’s words and do our part to foster unity as we move forward:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Unsigned Editorial Board opinions express the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idaho

Lincoln on Amending the Constitution

“I wish now to submit a few remarks on the general proposition of amending the Constitution. As a general rule, I think we would much better let it alone. No slight occasion should tempt us to touch it. Better not take the first step, which may lead to a habit of altering it. Better, rather, habituate ourselves to think of it as unalterable. It can scarcely be made better than it is. New provisions would introduce new difficulties, and thus create and increase appetite for further change. No, sir; let it stand as it is. New hands have never touched it. The men who made it have done their work, and have passed away. Who shall improve on what they did?”

Speech in Congress, June 20, 1848

“Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained for it is the only safeguard of our liberties. And not to Democrats alone do I make this appeal, but to all who love these great and true principles.”

Speech at Kalamazoo, August 27, 1856


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Lincoln on American Exceptionalism

“It may be affirmed without extravagance that the free institutions we enjoy have developed the powers and improved the condition of our whole people, beyond any example in the world. Of this we now have a striking, and an impressive illustration.”

First Message to Congress, July 4, 1861


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Lincoln on Balancing the Budget

“I would not borrow money. I am against an overwhelming, crushing system. Suppose, that at each session, congress shall first determine how much money can, for that year, be spared for improvements; then apportion that sum to the most important objects.”

Speech in Congress, June 20, 1848

“As an individual who undertakes to live by borrowing soon finds his original means devoured by interest, and next to no one left to borrow from, so it must be with a government.”

Whig Circular, March 4, 1843


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Lincoln on “Career” Politicians

“If ever American society and the United States Government are demoralized and overthrown, it will come from the voracious desire for office, this wriggle to live without toil, work, and labor, from which I am not free myself.”

Attributed, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, by Ward Lamon


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