“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Decatur in Macon County, Illinois — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)

The Railsplitter Candidate

Looking for Lincoln

The Railsplitter Candidate Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Bill Pfingsten, June 8, 2012
1. The Railsplitter Candidate Marker
The City of Decatur was chosen as the site for the 1860 Republican State Convention with Abraham Lincoln as the most prominent Republican present. As the convention delegates were beginning to take their first, formal balloting, Richard Oglesby, future three-term Illinois Governor, one term United States Senator, and citizen of Decatur, asked that the convention members allow an "old Democrat" to come and present something to the Convention. John Hanks, the "old Democrat" (and a second cousin of Lincoln), and one Isaac Jennings, walked in, carrying fence rails with a banner that read:
"Abraham Lincoln"
"The Rail Candidate for President
in 1860"
"Two rails from a lot of 3,000 made in
1830 by John hanks and Abe Lincoln
Whose father was the first pioneer in
Macon County."

Abraham Lincoln was called upon to make a comment about the fence rails in which he states: "I cannot say whether I made those rails or not, but I am quite sure that I have made a great many just as good!" Thus, "The Railsplitter Candidate" was born.

Shortly before the Republican

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Richard Oglesby and John Hanks traveled to the old Lincoln home near the Sangamon River west of Decatur in rural Macon County. There they obtained two fence rails to be used for the "Railsplitter" demonstration. Hanks verified the rails were genuine by "whittling" them. Lafayette Whitley, who was a boy at the time claimed," father would not have let them have them if he had known how the election was going, for he was a staunch Democrat."

The use of political imagery and symbols was nothing new in American politics. William Henry Harrison had used it to great benefit in his "Log Cabin and Hard Cider" presidential campaign of 1840. Other imagery featuring American Indians, laborers, flags, and political figures (George Washington was a favorite) helped to convey a particular political message to the largely uneducated voters. The use of the "Railsplitter" image conveyed to the voting public a sense of a common, hard-working man of the people who was without "nobility" or deception. by coupling this profile with technological advancements in the graphic arts, campaigners applied the "Railsplitter" icon to everything from medals to envelopes and glassware to stationery - which helped propel Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency. Even today, the "Railsplitter" image is a common one encountered by the public.
Topics and series. This

The Railsplitter Candidate Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Bill Pfingsten, June 8, 2012
2. The Railsplitter Candidate Marker
historical marker is listed in this topic list: Government & Politics. In addition, it is included in the Former U.S. Presidents: #09 William Henry Harrison, the Former U.S. Presidents: #16 Abraham Lincoln, and the Looking for Lincoln series lists. A significant historical year for this entry is 1860.
Location. 39° 50.526′ N, 88° 57.267′ W. Marker is in Decatur, Illinois, in Macon County. Marker is at the intersection of South Park Street and North Water Street on South Park Street. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Decatur IL 62523, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Finding the Biggest Man (within shouting distance of this marker); Wake Up, Lincoln! (within shouting distance of this marker); Choosing a President (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Lincoln's Legacy (about 300 feet away); Birthplace of the Grand Army of the Republic (about 300 feet away); The Transfer House (about 300 feet away); Abraham Lincoln's First Political Speech (about 400 feet away); Lincoln's First Speech (about 400 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Decatur.
Credits. This page was last revised on August 2, 2020. It was originally submitted on June 29, 2012, by Bill Pfingsten of Bel Air, Maryland. This page has been viewed 568 times since then and 51 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on June 29, 2012, by Bill Pfingsten of Bel Air, Maryland.

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Dec. 1, 2023