Abraham Lincoln spent a considerable amount of time in Chicago which was the most rapidly growing part of Illinois. He worked on numerous legal cases in the City, and was nominated for the Presidency in Chicago.
Judge David Davis recalled that after former Congressman Lincoln had returned to Illinois from Washington, Grant "Goodrich of Chicago proposed to him to open a law office in Chicago & go into partnership with him. Goodrich had an Extensive - a good practice there. Lincoln refused to accept - gave as a reason that he tended to Consumption - That if he went to Chicago that he would have to sit down and Study hard - That it would Kill him."1 But July and December appearances in Chicago courts became almost as much a regular part of Mr. Lincoln's legal work as his spring and fall tours of Illinois's Eighth Judicial Circuit and his appeals work before the Illinois Supreme Court.
Mr. Lincoln's friends included some of the top members of the Chicago bar - Isaac N. Arnold, Grant Goodrich, Norman B. Judd, Ebenezer Peck, and - he also knew some of the city's top journalists including Joseph Medill, Charles H. Ray, Charles Wilson, and Horace White. Mr. Lincoln socialized frequently at the homes of Arnold, Judd and Peck and even helped bankroll Judd's business investments. When Republican State Chairman Judd arranged for the 1860 Republican National Convention to be held Chicago, Mr. Lincoln's friends were in a position to help promote his candidacy. Chicago residents, who had often listened to his speeches, were in a position to cheer.
That convention took place only 13 years after Mr. Lincoln first visited the city. In July 1847, Congressman-elect Lincoln attended the Rivers and Harbors Convention in Chicago as part of a three-member delegation from Sangamon County. As Lincoln biographer William E. Barton wrote: "The River and Harbor convention of 1847 grew out of the veto of the River and Harbor Bill, on August 3, 1846, by President James K. Polk, That bill had contained appropriations of $15,000 for the harbor of Buffalo, $20,000 for Cleveland, $40,000 for the St. Clair flats, $80,000 for Milwaukee, Racine, Chicago, and other nearby ports, and sums for other lake harbors.
Future Illinois congressman Elihu B. Washburne recalled that "Mr. Lincoln was simply a looker on, and took no leading part in the convention. His dress and personal appearance on that occasion could not well be forgotten...One afternoon, several of us sat on the sidewalk under the balcony of the Sherman House, and among the number was the accomplished scholar and unrivaled orator, Lisle Smith. He suddenly interrupted the conversation by exclaiming, 'There is Lincoln on the other side of the street. Just look at "Old Abe".' And from that time we all called him 'Old Abe'. No one who saw him can forget his personal appearance at that time. Tall, angular and awkward, he had on a short-waisted, thin swallow-tail coat, a short vest of the same material, thin pantaloons, scarcely coming to his ankles, a straw hat and a pair of brogans with woolen socks."
The convention was Mr. Lincoln's first exposure to such luminaries at New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, future Attorney General Edward Bates, and future House Speaker Schuyler Colfax. Mr. Lincoln also saw future Massachusetts Congressman Anson Burlingame and Ohio Senator Thomas Corwin, both of whom held diplomatic posts under the Lincoln presidency. Mr. Lincoln's big day came on Tuesday, July 6. After New York attorney David Dudley Field, speaking on behalf of the Polk Administration, delivered an address opposing federal aid to only public works projects consistent with the Constitution, Mr. Lincoln was called upon to give a Whig response. The New York Tribune reported that he "spoke briefly and happily in reply to Mr. Field." The convention adjourned on Wednesday and Mr. Lincoln left Chicago on Thursday.
More than a year later, on October 5, 1848 while returning from a series of speaking engagements in Massachusetts, Mr. Lincoln and his family stopped at Chicago's Sherman House The lame duck congressman was apparently recruited to speak at a rally for Whig presidential candidate Zachary Taylor to be held the next night. Although scheduled for the county courthouse, so many people showed up that the rally was moved to the nearby square instead. The Chicago Journal reported that Mr. Lincoln's two-hour speech was "one of the very best we have heard or read, since the opening of the campaign."
The Chicago Commercial Appeal reported: "Mr. Lincoln's speech occupied about two hours, which time he devoted to a most earnest, candidate and logical examination of the great questions involved in the present Presidential canvass. He clearly and conclusively showed that the defeat of Gen. Taylor would be a verdict of the American people, against any restriction or restraint to the extension and perpetuation of slavery in newly acquired territory. In this he resorted to no special pleading, but with well arranged and pertinent facts, and sincere arguments he fully demonstrated it. During his speech he introduced several humorous, but very appropriate illustrations." Attorney Stephen A. Hurlbut, a future Civil War general, spoke after Mr. Lincoln. The next morning, the Lincolns departed for Springfield.
After returning to his Illinois law practice in 1849, Mr. Lincoln regularly came to Chicago for sittings of the U.S. District Court. Like most prominent attorneys and politicians, Mr. Lincoln usually stayed at the Tremont Hotel when in Chicago. Attorney Henry C. Whitney called it "the mecca in those days; and thither, all political pilgrims came..." One of Chicago's most prominent politicians, John Wentworth with whom Mr. Lincoln had served in Congress, lived there. Mr. Lincoln spent more than two weeks in the city in July 1850 attending to a patent infringement trial. While there, President Zachary Taylor died and Mr. Lincoln was invited to deliver a eulogy, which he did on Thursday, July 25 - just before Mr. Lincoln won the Hoyt patent-infringement trial and before he left Chicago for Springfield.