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‘Long Nine’ left colorful, though mixed, legacy in Lincoln Lore

One of the legendary alliances of early Illinois politics is the “Long Nine,” a group of nine lawmakers, including a young Abraham Lincoln, that were known for their above-average height. The Long Nine are also remembered for their efforts to move the state capital from Vandalia to Springfield.

The Long Nine have become an indelible part of state lore, and are honored at a museum in Athens, north of Springfield. The group, however, was only together for a short time, and few had lengthy or distinguished political careers individually. Their legacy in Illinois history is also mixed.

The nickname was borrowed from a large naval gun of the era, but was applied to the nine men’s collective height, a reported 54 feet. The group – all Whigs – was comprised of seven House members and two senators elected in 1836 to represent Sangamon County in the General Assembly.

A 27-year-old Lincoln, in his second term in the House, was one of the representatives. He is considered the leader of the group, and, obviously, went further in politics than any of the rest. Another representative was Ninian Wirt Edwards, who had served for five months as Illinois Attorney General in 1834-35.

The son of the territorial governor and third chief executive in state history, Ninian won election in 1836 to the first of six terms in the Illinois legislature, including two terms as state senator from 1844-48. His wife was the sister of Mary Todd, Lincoln’s future wife. The Lincolns were married in the Edwards’ Springfield home in 1842, though Ninian later became a Democrat and supported Stephen A. Douglas against Lincoln in the 1860 election.

They were joined by attorney Robert Wilson of Athens, then a part of Sangamon County. Menard County, the town’s current home, was not founded until 1839. Wilson, a Pennsylvania native, later moved to Whiteside County in Northwestern Illinois, where he served as circuit clerk, recorder, and probate judge.

Appointed a paymaster in the Civil War by President Lincoln, he had moved to Illinois only three years before his election and had loaned Lincoln a horse for the future President’s first ride on the legal circuit.

John Dawson, whose name now graces a small town in Sangamon County, was in the third of four career terms in the Illinois House. A Virginia native and veteran of the War of 1812, Dawson, 45, was the oldest of the Long Nine. He was the father of ten children and was a member of the 1848 state constitutional convention.

Kentucky-born William Elkin, a Black Hawk War veteran in the second of three terms in the House, was the father of 12 children. He was elected to two terms as Sangamon County sheriff following his time in the legislature, and was appointed register of the Springfield land office by Lincoln in 1861.

Andrew McCormick, who weighed nearly 300 pounds, only served one additional term in the Illinois House. A Tennessee native, he was a stone mason in Springfield. The seventh Sangamon representative, Daniel Stone, was a college-educated attorney from Vermont who was in his only term in the legislature.

The rest of the Long Nine were two state senators, Job Fletcher and Archer Herndon. Fletcher, a Virginia native, had served a term in the House from 1826-28 and was in the second of four straight terms in the Upper House. Herndon had run the first regular tavern in the city of Springfield and was also in the second of four consecutive Senate terms. He was the father of Lincoln’s future law partner and controversial biographer, William.

The Long Nine were part of the Tenth General Assembly, which is considered one of the greatest in Illinois history, with the likes of Lincoln, Douglas, and an array of future governors and Congressmen.

The legacy of the Tenth G.A., including Lincoln and the Long Nine, is checkered. That body enthusiastically voted for internal improvements, a sweeping project to build infrastructure across Illinois that collapsed amid a severe lack of finances.The resulting debt haunted Illinois throughout the decade.

However, the Long Nine were the driving forces for the relocation of the seat of Illinois government from Vandalia to Springfield. In legislative voting on Jan. 28, 1837, Springfield prevailed on the fourth ballot, and on the Fourth of July in 1839, the property of the state arrived in the new capital city.

Some writers have asserted that Lincoln and the Long Nine cut some sort of back-room deal to gain approval of the capital move to Springfield. That claim that has been discounted by credible modern scholars.

Though the Long Nine is the stuff of legend, the group was only together for a few months, as Stone resigned in July 1837 to become a judge. Wilson also never served in the legislature again, and Lincoln was the only one of the nine to serve in the U.S. Congress.

The story of the Long Nine, however, has endured and is now a celebrated part of Lincoln’s pre-Presidential years. The Long Nine Museum, which interprets the story of the group, is a popular tourist attraction in downtown Athens.

TOM EMERY is a freelance writer and historical researcher from Carlinville, Ill. He may be reached at 217-710-8392 or ilcivilwar@yahoo.com.

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