"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN
Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.
LINCOLN, Abraham (Hodgenville, KY, Feb. 12, 1809-- Washington, D. C., Apr. 15, 1865) The Honorable Abraham Lincoln, attorney for the ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD, visited Dubuque, Iowa from the evening of Saturday, July 16th until the morning of Monday, July 18th, 1859. (1) Lincoln was in Dubuque with Illinois State Auditor Jesse K. Dubois, leading a statewide inspection tour of the Illinois Central Railroad lines and properties related to an approaching Illinois Supreme Court case, People v. Illinois Central Railroad. The law suit was over the appropriate assessment value for the property of the Illinois Central for state taxation purposes. (2)
Lincoln was accompanied by representatives of the state on behalf of the People, as well as representatives of the railroad, including Lincoln himself. Their tour brought them to the northern terminus of the Illinois Central Railroad in Dunleith (present-day East Dubuque), Illinois to inspect the railroad’s wharf and terminal facilities and the freight house and grain elevator located there. (3)
Joining Lincoln on the trip was his wife Mary Todd, and two youngest sons, William (Willie) and Thomas (Tad). Also on the trip were one of the Lincoln's closest friends, frequent vacation partners, and Springfield neighbor, Mr. and Mrs. Jesse K. Dubois, and their family. Dubois was the Illinois State Auditor and was bringing suit against the railroad in People v. Illinois Central Railroad. Also joining the party on behalf of the state delegation were Stephen T. Logan and family; former State Auditor Thomas H. Campbell and family; Secretary of State O. M. Hatch and family; Secretary of the Treasury William H. Butler; and John Moore, a director and trustee for the Illinois Central Railroad. Lincoln along with Dubois, Hatch, Butler and Logan were all close friends and founding members of the Illinois Republican Party in the mid-1850s. (4)
The party was traveling the state of Illinois in a private locomotive with an executive car provided by the Illinois Central Railroad. The Lincoln party stayed the nights of July 16th and 17th at the JULIEN HOUSE at 2nd and Main Streets in Dubuque. It is unknown what the Lincolns or the others in their travel party did while in Dubuque. But it is not hard to image Lincoln telling Willy and Tad stories of his days as a captain in the BLACK HAWK WAR as the locomotive rolled through the rock cuts and high bluffs of northwestern Illinois between Freeport and Galena. He may have recounted the day in 1856 he gave a speech to a large crowd from the second floor balcony of Galena’s DeSoto House. (5)
It is not known for sure, but there is a strong probability Lincoln planned to stop in Dubuque for more than just a weekend layover. In all likelihood, he wanted the state and railroad officials to meet with the railroad engineer for the Dubuque & Pacific Railroad, Roswell B. MASON, along with his long-time associate Benjamin B. PROVOOST. Mason served as the engineer-in-chief for the construction of the Illinois Central Railroad from 1851-1856, before resigning upon its completion and moving to Dubuque to build the DUBUQUE AND PACIFIC RAILROAD, stretching from the MISSISSIPPI RIVER to Dyersville, Iowa. Provoost was an assistant engineer under Mason responsible for building the Illinois Central from Eldina, Illinois near La Salle, to Dunleith. He followed Mason to Dubuque and to the Dubuque & Pacific Railroad after the completion of the Illinois Central in 1856. (6)
Mason would go on to be one of Lincoln's key witnesses in the November 1859 proceedings in the People v. Illinois Central Railroad. Mason was also a key witness for Lincoln in the 1857 case Hurd v. Rock Island Bridge Company, regarding the steamboat "Effie Afton", which hit and damaged the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River, between Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa. Mason would have met Lincoln, Dubois and the other officials in the Dubuque offices of either Mason, Bishop and Company, the Dubuque & Pacific Railroad Company, or their lawyer Platt SMITH, all three located in the Julien Theater Building on the northwest corner of 5th and Locust streets. (7)
After spending a day and a half in Dubuque, Lincoln and the travel party crossed the Mississippi River by ferry boat on Monday, July 18th, boarded their private train waiting in Dunleith, and headed east to Chicago on the next leg of their nine day journey across the Illinois Central Railroad. (8)
Written by John T. Pregler
1. The Dubuque Herald 19 July 1859, p. 3
2. Brown, Charles L. "Abraham Lincoln and the Illinois Central Railroad, 1857-1860." Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society June 1943: 121-163.
3. "Assessment of the Illinois Central Road." Chicago Tribune 20 July 1859: p. 1
4. Pregler, John T. "Mr. Lincoln for the Defense - Riding the Illinois Central - Dunleith and Dubuque Bound." July 2018. The Lens of History. Internet. July 2018.
5. Dubuque Herald