Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My Mississippi Manifest Destiny: Jonesboro, site of the third Lincoln-Douglas Debate

After leaving Cairo, Illinois--quite shell shocked after seeing the decay and rubble there--my next stop--and final one--of my blog-o-vacation was Jonesboro. My spirits picked up as I drove through Anna, a town of 5,000 in Union County also with an unhappy racial history. Black were not allowed on the streets after sunset for many years--it was a sundown town. Today Anna has few black residents.

Just to the west of Anna--the municipalities are so close together they should be called twin-towns--is Jonesboro, it's population is 1,800. Unlike decaying Cairo, Jonesboro and Anna hum with activity and commerce. The countryside surrounding the villages is quite charming--rolling hills reminiscent of western Tennessee.

Jonesboro, which is farther south than Richmond, Virgina, was the site of the third Lincoln-Douglas Debate. First some history: Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas were political rivals beginning in the 1830s. Although four years younger than Lincoln, Douglas' political advancement was quicker, and by 1858, Democrat Douglas was running for re-election to the US Senate. Lincoln was the standard bearer of the upstart Republican Party and Douglas' opponent that year. As a Whig, Lincoln served one term in the House of Representatives. He was a dove regarding the Mexican War, and was in the political wilderness for a few years because of that stand.

After joint appearances in their hometowns--Lincoln's Springfield and Douglas' Chicago, the candidates agreed to debate in a town in each of the remaining congressional districts in Illinois. This is the sesquicentennial year of the debates, the first was held in the northern Illinois town of Ottawa--on August 21.

Jonesboro was third, its debate was held on September 15.

At the center of Jonesboro, now and probably then, is a circular drive--which is a rarity in Illinois. The circle is called Public Square, and there is a sign there stating "Walk Where Lincoln Walked." To do that, you walk north on Main Street for about a mile to Lincoln Memorial Park--where the debate took place. I was pressed for time, so I drove. In the center of the park is the the town's Lincoln and Douglas monument; it was officially dedicated last month. Tiny Jonesboro is the last of the seven debate cities to place statues marking the historic event.

The statues are life-size. At six feet four inches, Lincoln is tall even by today's standards. Douglas is a foot shorter--his head is that of a taller man.

Jonesboro will celebrate the sesquicentennial during the weekend of September 12-14, when the Lincoln and Douglas Reunion comes to town. It just might be the biggest thing to hit Jonesboro in 150 years.

Except for my summary post, this is the last entry of My Missisippi Manifest Destiny. Click here for my previous post, which has all of my prior observations about my trip to the Magnolia State--along with a few detours.

Related posts:

Thirty hours in Lincoln's Springfield, Illinois
"Closed Today" signs coming to many Illinois Lincoln sites
Abraham Lincoln birthplace site
Abraham Lincoln birthplace site's log cabin
"My earliest recollection is of the Knob Creek place"
I found this bit of history in downtown Chicago today
Book review: Andrew Ferguson's "Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe's America"
My Mississippi Manifest Destiny--Lincoln and Kentucky
Stephen A. Douglas Tomb in Chicago

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1 comment:

Jim Roper said...

Great reads as always.