It’s the centerpiece of Knox College in Galesburg. Turns out, Old Main also set the table for Abraham Lincoln.
Old Main is the last standing building from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates. It was there that self-educated Lincoln climbed out a window to speak.
“Lincoln said such a Lincoln-like thing,” said Dr. Doug Wilson. “At last, I’ve gone through college.”
These days, you’ll find Dr. Wilson and Dr. Rod Davis at Old Main.
“Oh, it’s a certain matter of pride,” Dr. Davis said. “A matter of pride that this is the place.”
They’re Lincoln scholars and colleagues. They’re retired Knox College professors and authors of four books about Honest Abe. It’s where they preside over the Lincoln Studies Center.
“He’s a very interesting man,” Dr. Wilson said. “He’s not easy to figure out.”
Lincoln’s complex personality makes the debate at Knox College on October 7, 1858, even more fascinating. Thousands of spectators braved a chilly, windy day to hear lengthy orations.
Lincoln saved the moment to speak out against slavery. Moments in Galesburg that changed history and intrigued these scholars.
“A large percentage of these speeches had never been accurately recorded,” said Dr. Wilson.
While Lincoln actually lost that election, it set the stage for his successful presidential bid just two years later. And it forged a Knox-Lincoln connection for the ages.
That connection continues at Knox College. Students walk by the spot where Lincoln’s words paved the way to the presidency.
“We’ll do what we can to keep the connection, for sure,” said Dr. Davis.
Contemporary politicians could learn something by revisiting the style of our 16th president.
“He learned that you don’t demonize your opponents,” Dr. Wilson concluded. “They’re people just like you.”
On this Presidents’ Day, lessons from Lincoln that ring true today.