Man Of Words
Historian Josh Cain delves into Abraham Lincoln’s historic 1859 visit to Dayton and his speech at the Montgomery County Courthouse.
February 2014 Issue
Lincoln in Ohio
Our state helped shape Abraham Lincoln’s road to the presidency. Starting this month, Urbana University takes a closer look at the man who preserved the nation during its most difficult days.
Upon arriving in Dayton on Sept. 17, 1859, Abraham Lincoln checked into the Phillips House Hotel with his wife to prepare for his speech outside the Montgomery County Courthouse.
At the time, he was an Illinois lawyer who had lost his bid for the U.S. Senate nearly a year earlier. But Lincoln’s ideas, which he had discussed in depth during a series of public debates against his Senate challenger Stephen A. Douglas in 1858, prompted Ohio Republicans to ask him to campaign for the party here in the lead-up to that fall’s elections.
Lincoln’s 1859 trip through Dayton has always been of interest to Josh Cain, a local historian who will speak about the visit during a lecture at Urbana University on March 18. Cain’s talk is based on Lloyd Ostendorf’s 1959 book “Mr. Lincoln Came to Dayton,” which provided a meticulous account of the day by detailing personal encounters and the places the future president went.
We talked to Cain about Lincoln’s 1859 visit and the role it played in his path to the presidency, which he was elected to 14 months later.
What brought Lincoln to Dayton and how much time did he spend there?
He was actually only in Dayton for about 4 to 5 hours, so it wasn’t the longest day. [Stephen A.] Douglas had visited Dayton just a few days before Lincoln and it was considered a significant stop for southwest Ohio especially, but Ohio in general. [Lincoln] gave about an hour-and-a-half speech at the courthouse and met with several Dayton businessmen and dignitaries. His speech was very much like most of his speeches were during the campaign, talking about how the U.S., he thought, intended to eventually become slave-free based on what he interpreted the forefathers put into the Constitution.
Why was Dayton an important stop for Lincoln?
Dayton was considered for a long time to be very progressive; a lot of great thinkers came to the Dayton area to meet with other great thinkers. It was an important stop for Lincoln to reach out to these individuals. ... It gives a true example of the people he was trying to speak to and his overall campaign.
Your talk is based on the 1959 book “Mr. Lincoln Came to Dayton.” How did you find this book and why did you find it so interesting?
It is a book we used to carry in our museum store at Dayton History [the Dayton historical society]. The author, Lloyd Ostendorf, had his first connection with Dayton and this day through a Bible that has been in his family for generations. His ancestor got this Bible from a woman named Annie Harris, who actually had Lincoln sign the Bible the day he came to Dayton, and it had been passed down through the family. [Ostendorf] then did all of this research, collecting information from newspapers and family stories. … He put together this very detailed book, including all of the viewpoints on what Lincoln was talking about and the individuals he met with.
What fascinates you most about Lincoln as a man and as a leader?
The thing that draws me most to Lincoln and his story always has been the misconceptions that go along with Lincoln; things like the fact that he thought slavery was bad. Really, at one point, he was considering going either way. Early on, he just wanted the United States to be one entire unit. … To see how he handled the politics and the war is very interesting. Because of Lincoln’s humble personality, [he was seen] as a person first and then as a leader, so he didn’t seem like a distant figure they couldn’t trust.
What do you hope people take away from your talk?
I hope to get across how people in Dayton viewed [Lincoln]. Most people in Dayton were in favor of Lincoln’s ideas, but they did also think they were kind of radical; people were skeptical because these were unique ways of thinking, but they understood where he was coming from. … I want them to learn more about Lincoln as a person, but also more about Dayton as a city at that point, specifically how the political views have changed and not changed over time.
Rule of Law
A traveling exhibition coming to Urbana University Feb. 8 examines how the U.S. Constitution helped Lincoln save the nation.
While Lincoln’s eloquence and bold demeanor are often credited for holding the United States together, a traveling exhibit coming to the Swedenborg Memorial Library this month examines how he used the powers of the Constitution to preserve the Union.
The National Constitution Center exhibit has been traveling to libraries throughout the nation since 2009. “Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War” opens Feb. 8 and will remain on display through March 21. “The exhibit allows visitors to consider the impact Lincoln had and the social issues he faced in a new way,” says library director Julie McDaniel.
Featuring historical images and documents, the exhibit is separated into three different subjects that stood at the forefront of Lincoln’s time in office: secession, slavery and civil liberties. The exhibit invites visitors to use clues to solve an electronic jigsaw puzzle and play an actual 1862 board game called “The Secession Game,” before presenting them with a parting question: Has America lived up to the ideals Lincoln fought for — equality, freedom and democracy?
“Visitors to the exhibit will be able to write their responses … that will then be displayed in our library,” explains
McDaniel, who collaborated with local historians, university faculty and other librarians in creating a lineup of programs that highlight Lincoln’s ties to our state to coincide with the exhibit.
“We wanted to establish a local Ohio angle that would be weaved throughout the exhibit,” McDaniel explains. “It really became a community project.” 579 College Way, Urbana 43078, 937/484-1335, urbana.edu
All events held at Urbana University’s Swedenborg Memorial Library unless noted. For a complete schedule of Lincoln events and more information, visit
Family Day with the Exhibit: Celebrate President’s Day with activities for the family. 2–4 p.m.
Lincoln and Photography: Sylvia Wirsing Bryant discusses Lincoln’s use of photography during his campaign and presidency. Noon.
The Long and Short of It: Lincoln’s Relationship with Alexander Stephens: Randall Buchman discusses Lincoln’s surprisingly friendly relationship with Confederate vice president Alexander Stephens. 2 p.m.
Feb. 28–March 1:
Blackbox Theatre Presents: Our American Cousin: Students present scenes from and commentary about “Our American Cousin,” the play Lincoln was watching when he was assassinated. The Hub, 8 p.m.
The Day Lincoln Spent in Dayton: Josh Cain presents a talk based on the book Mr. Lincoln Came to Dayton
Lincoln is closely associated with his home state of Illinois and his birth state of Kentucky, but Ohio played a significant role in his road to the White House, according to historian Randall Buchman. We asked Buchman, who will discuss Lincoln’s unlikely friendship with Confederate vice president Alexander Stephens on Feb. 23, to share a few of his insights.
An Incredible Hoax:
Based on an anonymous dispatch the newsroom received, the Sandusky Daily Commercial Register reported Nov. 6, 1858, that a convention in Mansfield had been the first to publicly nominate Lincoln as a candidate for president of the United States. There was only one problem. “This story was a hoax,” Buchman says. “No convention or meeting ever happened, but the story had an impact on the Midwest and, eventually, the nation. It was Ohio that spread Lincoln’s name.”
A Memorable Campaign:
Lincoln’s popularity within the Republican Party grew following his support of Ohio gubernatorial candidate, William Dennison Jr., in 1859. “Lincoln’s work in this campaign impressed the Ohio Republican Party so much it picked up the cost of publishing the Lincoln–Douglas debates in their entirety; what we would call a bestseller today,” says Buchman. The transcripts of the seven 1858 debates between Lincoln and his U.S. Senate seat challenger introduced the Illinois Republican to a wider audience than ever before.
The Ohio Effect:
The Ohio of 150 years ago isn’t so much different than today when it comes to electing a president. In 1859, Lincoln gave several speeches to Ohio Republicans in the lead-up to his nomination as his party’s candidate. “Ohio, never directly, but indirectly, played a major role in the sequence of events that led to the nomination of Lincoln,” Buchman says. In 1860, Lincoln carried Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania — the three states with the most electoral votes at the time — and won the presidency.