Abraham Lincoln in Illinois
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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August 28, 1838

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On August 6, 1838, the 29-year-old Lincoln was elected to his third term as a state representative. This document served as a certification of his election. It was signed by Charles Matheny, one of the early settlers of Springfield and the first president of its board of trustees.

Lincoln was one of seventeen candidates who ran for the Illinois House from Sangamon County. The top seven candidates were elected. Six of the elected legislators were Whigs and one was a Democrat. Lincoln received the most votes of the seventeen candidates and he felt so confident that he would be reelected that he spent much of his time campaigning for his law partner, John Todd Stuart, who was running for Congress. Stuart narrowly defeated Lincoln's future rival, Stephen Douglas, in that race.

Lincoln's third term would be his last in Vandalia, as the previous legislature had voted to move the state capital to Springfield. He was the leader of the Whig Party of the House and was their choice for the Speaker of the House but he lost to the Democratic candidate, William L. D. Ewing, who had served for seventeen days as Illinois' fifth governor.

Despite this setback Lincoln had a very busy session. It was during this term that he was at the height of his influence as a state legislator. Along with being the Whig Party leader, he served on fourteen committees, including the powerful Finance Committee and the Committee on Counties. Although it was becoming apparent that the internal improvements plan passed the previous session was bankrupting the state, the legislature refused to curtail the program. Lincoln did address one controversial issue during the session: writing and passing legislation that divided Sangamon County into four separate counties.

Points to Consider

Why would a party leader work harder for another candidate than himself?

Why do you think the legislature refused to curtail the internal improvements program despite the state's indebtedness?

What might be some reasons why state elections in 1838 were held in August and not November?

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