Knox/Lombard banners fly for Lincoln in 1858

Tom Wilson

The 150th anniversary of the famed Lincoln/Douglas Debate at Knox College will be celebrated during 2008. A multitude of “Star-Spangled” banners supporting both Abe Lincoln and Stephen Douglas were in evidence before and during the historical debate.

When Lincoln was escorted to the home of former Galesburg Mayor Henry Sanderson, a beautiful banner prepared by the ladies of Galesburg was given to Abe by Miss Ada Hurd with the inscription, “Presented to the Hon. A. Lincoln by the Republican Ladies of Galesburg, Oct. 7, 1858.” Very descriptive banners were in evidence from supporters from Wataga, Henderson and Monmouth.

The principal banner in behalf of Douglas near the debate stand was a very large blue one with the inscription in favor of Douglas and Popular Sovereignty. Hanging immediately above the speakers’ stand was a prominent banner bearing the inscription, “Knox College For Lincoln.”

Lombard College students gave it to Abraham Lincoln, Abe gave it to a close friend, Mark Delahay of Kansas, and 100 years after the debate the State Historical Society of Kansas gave it on permanent loan to Knox College. That is the peculiar history of a garish satin banner with red lettering spelling out, “To Abraham Lincoln: The Champion of Liberty,” presented to Lincoln by a delegation of Lombard College students. The blue cloth on the reverse side has a hand-embroidered bald eagle and the motto, “E Pluribus Unum” and 32 gold stars, representing the states of the union. The overall size, ringed by a silk fringe, measures 3-by-4 feet.

Lincoln kept the gift from Lombard students among his personal effects at his Springfield home until the months before his election as president of the United States. Lincoln presumably gave the Lombard banner to his friend Delahay to be used in Kansas during Abe’s presidential campaign. When Delahay passed away in 1879, his widow presented the banner to the Kansas State Historical Society to be displayed in its Topeka museum.

In 1914, Laura Lavinia Pike McConnell, a graduate of Lombard, arranged for artists and photographers to make a facsimile of the original banner displayed in Kansas so the students and citizens of Galesburg could see what the banner looked like. The original banner was returned to Knox College for the celebration of the 100th Anniversary in 1958, because of the efforts of Kansas resident O.C. Holcomb, who formerly lived in Galesburg.

So far as is known, the Lombard College Lincoln banner may be the only debate artifact still in existence. Fortunately, area residents can observe the historical banner on the second floor of the Seymour Library on the Knox College campus.

Happy birthday, Carl!

One of Galesburg’s favorite and most famous sons, Carl Sandburg will have his 130th birthday celebrated Sunday. As the community celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Lincoln/Douglas debates and the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, we duly note that Carl Sandburg contributed much to the remembrances of President Lincoln. Happy birthday, Carl Sandburg!

Tom Wilson is a local historian. Write to him at or at The Register-Mail, 140 S. Prairie St., Galesburg, IL 61401.