Saturday, October 25, 2008

Davis through Ecelbarger's enthusiastic eyes

Lincoln buffs in Bloomington, Ill. had a real treat earlier this year when Gary Ecelbarger, author of The Great Comeback: How Abraham Lincoln Beat the Odds to Win the 1860 Republican Nomination, spoke at the McLean County Museum of History (Sept. 11). The event was jointly sponsored by The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission of McLean County and the David Davis Mansion Foundation.

Ecelbarger talked about “The role of David Davis in Lincoln’s nomination.” Anyone who lives in McLean County long enough and gets involved in its history circles will learn that the David Davis connection to Lincoln was long-lived and strong. They’ll learn early on that Davis was a big man and always had his own bed when he rode the circuit with Lincoln. They’ll learn a lot more about the connection between the two as time goes on. I know. I have.

Ecelbarger shared information I’d never heard before, though, and he’d be proud to know that I took one important number away with me – 233 – the number of votes it took for Lincoln to cinch the 1860 Republican presidential nomination. The speaker made sure to drive those digits home throughout his lecture.

I was impressed by two things – Ecelbarger’s energetic enthusiasm and his vast knowledge of names, dates, and the politicking that had to happen for Lincoln’s destiny as our president to come to be.

Ecelbarger is a magnificent storyteller, entertaining as only one passionate about his subject can. He takes his listeners on a journey through the Lincoln/Davis relationship and keeps them spellbound as he moves through the process which led to the crucial number of votes in the Chicago convention wigwam.

In Lincoln lore, one January date always stands out – that fatal first when the courtship with Mary Todd went awry and Lincoln slipped into his great melancholy.

After hearing Ecelbarger, I’ll now always have another January image etched in my mind, one in 1859 which I’ll dub the snowy sixth. I’ll see the picture Ecelbarger painted of Lincoln and the others holed up in the then State Library in the basement of the Old State Capitol. Lincoln, fresh on the heels of defeat after losing his second senate race, is not afraid to speak up and say “I can do it” when his name is overlooked as a candidate for the presidency.

Ecelbarger’s lecture was suspense-filled, entertaining and informative. Though I have not yet read the book I bought and had autographed that night, I’m sure it’s more of the same. I’m looking forward to reading it, and I feel confident in telling my readers you’ll want to read it, too. And if you want a great way to spend an hour or two, watch for an opportunity to hear him speak in a community near you.
© Copyright 2008 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

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