— Looking for Lincoln —
Photo Text - Upper Section
Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, young attorneys who had faced each other earlier in Livingston County's first court case, later the same day debated political issues at this very site. At the Old Settlers' meeting held in Fairbury in 1877, Judge W. G. McDowell, said of it; "They spoke in the street, or rather open prairie, from the top of a dry goods box. Judge David Davis of Bloomington was also there as one of the prominent attorneys. The judge and all attorneys came across country from Springfield and Bloomington in buggies and on horseback. Circuit court seldom lasted over one or two days at each term. . . ."
Upper Marker Text
There was much excitement when the first regular term
of circuit court in Livingston County began on May 18, 1840. Pontiac at the time was sparsely inhabited, just a handful of houses on the untamed prairie. But farmland was being settled, and many of these hearty pioneers joined those called as jurors to make the tedious trek to Pontiac for the two-day trial session. They listened attentively as thirty-one-year-old Abraham Lincoln and twenty-seven-year-old Stephen A. Douglas debated issues of the day. Little could they realize they were witnessing the birth of an historical era where two thoughtful men would grow in their opposing belief on the morality of slavery and their ability to persuade others to accept those beliefs. As they gathered that evening by the river site, they could not have possibly envisioned that just eighteen years in the future, 1858, these same two men would be vying to represent Illinois in the United States Senate, and in 1860 would be the Republican and Democrat candidates for the presidency of the United States. Nor could they have foretold that the Lincoln-Douglas Debates would continue to be studied and enacted by historians in centuries to come.
In 1840 jurors retired
to this spot by the Vermilion River and deliberated a case they had heard in the small, makeshift courtroom in Henry Weed's cabin. Abraham Lincoln was serving as attorney for William Popejoy, Jr. Popejoy was seeking $2,000 in damages, claiming Isaac Wilson had publicly accused him of stealing meat from Sarah McDowell. Wilson pleaded not guilty, but later withdrew his plea, confessed judgment, and Popejoy remitted the amount. This wasn't the first time that the two men faced off. Earlier, Wilson allowed Popejoy to ride his horse from Money Creek to Bloomington and back. Popejoy agreed to care for, feed, shod the horse, and to pay Wilson $1, but failed to take care of the horse, and the horse died. Wilson sued for $300, though the jury only awarded $70.25 in damages. Popejoy retained Lincoln and Wilson retained Stephen A. Douglas for both cases.