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

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November 24, 1840

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The twelfth session of the Illinois House met for the first time on November 23, 1840. The next day, the House elected its officers. Former Illinois Governor William L. D. Ewing, a Democrat from Vandalia, defeated Abraham Lincoln for Speaker, 46 to 36. It was the second time Ewing had defeated Lincoln for Speaker. Immediately following the vote, in a gracious move from the leader of the Whig Party, Lincoln wrote and moved for passage of this resolution, informing the Senate that the House had organized and elected its officers.

It can be argued that the highlight of Ewing's political career was defeating Lincoln twice for Speaker. However, he had one of the more unusual political careers in Illinois history.

A lawyer by training, Ewing came to Illinois around 1818. He was appointed to various governmental positions and also served in the Black Hawk War. In 1826 and 1828 he was appointed clerk of the Illinois House. In 1830 he ran for state representative and not only won the election but was made Speaker of the House. Two years later he won office as state senator. He became Speaker pro tempore of the Senate and, as the highest-ranking senator, he became acting Lt. Governor following the resignation of Zadok Casey. When Governor John Reynolds resigned to enter Congress, Ewing became the state's fifth governor. He served for the last seventeen days of Reynolds' term and then went back to the state Senate.

In 1835, Abraham Lincoln worked for Ewing's selection as United States senator to fill out the term of Elias Kent Kane, who had died. Lincoln supported Ewing because he knew a Whig couldn't win and he wanted a weak Democrat who could be beaten when the term expired. Sure enough, two years later Ewing lost the Senate seat but he lost it to another Democrat.

Following his defeat for the U. S. Senate, Ewing served two more terms in the Illinois House. Both terms he was selected as Speaker, defeating Lincoln. This meant that in his four terms in the Illinois General Assembly, three in the House and one in the Senate, he was always selected as the leader of his chamber. After his last term in the House, he was again appointed clerk of the House. He later was appointed state auditor, the job he was holding when he died in 1846.

Points to Consider

Why would Lincoln work to have Ewing elected as United States senator?

Why do you think that once a person is elected to office, they tend to be reelected several times, even for other offices? Can you give other examples of this happening?

Why do you think Ewing was always selected as leader of his chamber during his four terms in the General Assembly?

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