Linking Idaho to Abraham Lincoln’s four greatest speeches, David H. Leroy – former Idaho lieutenant governor/attorney general who has collected 1,500 historic Lincoln-related items – said the nation’s leaders in Washington would be wise to study and respect the U.S. Constitution as did America’s 16th president.
Lincoln signed the bill creating the Idaho Territory on March 4, 1863, effectively blocking the spread of slavery to the West during the Civil War. Idaho’s gold and silver mines, in turn, helped finance the Union’s war against the Confederacy.
Lincoln appointed Idaho’s first three territorial judges, including Samuel Parks who had practiced law in the same Illinois courts as Lincoln. The Republican president mentioned the Idaho Territory in his State of the Union addresses to Congress in 1863 and 1864 and approved the name “Idaho” for the territory.
Leroy told the City Club of Idaho Falls that those in the federal government’s executive and legislative branches need to focus on their constitutionally defined roles as the nation once again finds itself divided.
Speaking at the club’s June 13 annual dinner about Lincoln and the birth of Idaho, Leroy said individual rights and the concept of privacy need to be jealously guarded. In response to a question, he urged elected officials to comply with the oaths they take to uphold and defend the Constitution, which underwent a severe crisis during the Civil War.
A Republican and practicing attorney in Boise, Leroy served as Idaho’s 28th attorney general from 1979 to 1983. He was the Gem State’s 36th lieutenant governor from 1983 to 1987 and unsuccessfully ran for governor against Cecil Andrus in 1986. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush appointed him U.S. nuclear waste negotiator, a position he held for three years.
Leroy chaired the 2009 Idaho Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. When the Idaho History Center in Boise opens a “Lincoln Legacy” exhibit in September, it will permanently display books, letters, photos, relics, paintings, cartoons, statuary and campaign items donated from the extensive collection of Leroy and his wife Nancy.
“After 45 years traveling the breadth and length of the land, I suggest to people that Idaho more than any other state is related to Abraham Lincoln,” Leroy said, even more so than Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana.
In 1913, a University of Oxford vice chancellor in Great Britain listed the three greatest speeches ever given in the history of the English language. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address were two of the three, Leroy noted.
In February 1860, Lincoln delivered his Cooper Union speech to a capacity crowd of 1,500 in New York and noted that 21 of the 39 signers of the Constitution believed Congress should control slavery in the territories and not allow it to spread. At the time, the nation was in danger of splitting apart.
“What is the frame of government under which we live? The answer must be: ‘The Constitution of the United States.’ That Constitution consists of the original, framed in 1787, (and under which the present government first went into operation,) and 12 subsequently framed amendments, the first ten of which were framed in 1789.”
David Leroy, center, converses with David Adler, left, and C. Timothy Hopkins at a City Club of Idaho Falls function.
He concluded that speech by saying, “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it.” His speech electrified the audience and built momentum for his nomination as the Republican Party’s presidential candidate.
If not for a man with future Idaho ties, however, that speech easily could have bombed miserably, and history would have changed, Leroy said. The basement auditorium was not well-designed for public speaking. Large pillars blocked views, and its ceiling was low.
Lincoln, who stood 6 feet 4 inches, initially came across as ungainly and awkward. “He was an odd looking duck,” Leroy said, noting he also had a high pitched voice with a western twang.
At first, Lincoln was nervous, didn’t project his voice and poorly enunciated words, losing the crowd. Mason Brayman, an Illinois attorney and friend of Lincoln, stood in the back and raised a hat on a cane to encourage Lincoln, whose voice then became loud and his eyes animated.
Following the speech, the crowd leapt to its feet in enthusiastic approval, ensuring his party’s presidential nomination three months later. Leroy said 150,000 copies of that speech were widely circulated, making Lincoln a national phenomenon. On July 24, 1876, U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant nominated Brayman as Idaho territorial governor, a position he held for four years.
On Feb. 11, 1861, Lincoln gave a brief, emotional farewell address to friends and neighbors at the Great Western Depot in Springfield, Ill., prior to traveling to Washington to assume the presidency. It, too, is considered one of his most important speeches.
“My friends, no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance, I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.”
Fred Dubois, a son of Lincoln’s Springfield friend, Jesse Dubois, was 10 when Lincoln gave his farewell address. He often played with Lincoln’s young sons and lived across the street from the family. In 1880, Fred moved to the Idaho Territory with his brother Jesse, a doctor.
In 1882, Dubois was appointed U.S. marshal for the Idaho Territory. He launched a successful campaign to disenfranchise Mormon voters in the territory on grounds they broke the law by practicing polygamy. After Idaho became a state in July 1890, Dubois served as a Republican U.S. senator for six years.
After he was defeated, he returned to his Blackfoot alfalfa farm. He was re-elected to the U.S. Senate in 1900 and switched to the Democratic Party in 1901. He remains the only person in Idaho history to serve in Congress as both a Republican and a Democrat.
Ward Hill Lamon was Lincoln’s bodyguard when the president delivered his most famous speech – the two-minute Gettysburg Address — on Nov. 19, 1863, at the Pennsylvania battleground where Union armies decisively defeated Confederate troops 4½ months earlier. Lincoln appointed Lamon U.S. marshal of the District of Columbia shortly after his inauguration in 1861.
On assignment in Richmond, Va., to oversee the surrender of Confederate troops, Lamon was not in Washington on the night of April 14, 1865, when Lincoln was assassinated. He was “absolutely disconsolate” upon learning of Lincoln’s death, Leroy said. After the assassination, Lamon accompanied the funeral procession to Springfield.
Leroy noted that after Lamon resigned his U.S. marshal post in 1865, he approached President Andrew Johnson and asked to be appointed governor of the Idaho Territory. Lincoln’s successor declined to do so.
William H. Wallace, first governor of the Idaho Territory, attended Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865, at the Capitol.
Lincoln concluded that magnanimous speech by saying: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
Six weeks after the speech on Friday afternoon, April 14, Wallace personally
asked Lincoln at the White House to appoint him to fill a vacancy on the Idaho Supreme Court.
Lincoln told Wallace to return on Monday and he would have the appointment. He also invited Wallace and his wife to accompany the Lincolns to Ford’s Theatre that evening, but Wallace declined. The rest is history.
Ethan Huffman and his mother Carol Huffman discuss historic Lincoln-related items from David Leroy’s collection.Share on Facebook