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Watch now: Desk used by Lincoln to write first inaugural goes on display

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The desk used by President Abraham Lincoln to write his first inaugural address will be on display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum for at least six months after being restored. READ MORE HERE.

SPRINGFIELD — After winning the 1860 election, President-elect Abraham Lincoln sat down at a merchant's desk in the backroom of his brother-in-law's downtown Springfield store to write one of the most important speeches he'd ever deliver. 

In this private setting came the words of his first inaugural address, in which he would appeal to the "better angels" of a bitterly divided nation on the eve of civil war, writing that "we are not enemies, but friends."

Starting Thursday, the recently restored desk Lincoln used to write the famous speech will be on display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum for at least six months.

The desk will anchor a new exhibit, called "Lincoln's Life in Letters," the library side of the building that will highlight some of the former president's most interesting and important writings. 

Lincoln First Inaugural desk

Starting Thursday, the recently restored desk Lincoln used to write his First Inaugural Address will be on display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum for the next six months.

"The desk really fits in because it makes real and tangible the sort of everyday things that Lincoln used," said Christina Shutt, executive director of the ALPLM. "I mean, at its core, it's still a desk. But at that desk, Lincoln wrote one of the most significant speeches he would ever write in his political career."

The desk belonged to Clark Moulton Smith, who was married to Mary Todd Lincoln's younger sister, Ann.

When Lincoln was elected president, he needed a quiet place to work on his speech, and Smith offered use of the desk in an empty room in his store. 

With the stakes as high as they were, Lincoln did not follow his typical speechwriting process, said Lincoln Historian Christian McWhirter. 

"That was one of the most careful speeches he ever wrote," McWhirter said. "When Lincoln is getting that speech ready and preparing for the presidency, the country is literally splitting apart. Most of the things Lincoln wrote, he just wrote it himself. He didn't have a speechwriter."

"This speech, not only does he take his time to write it, he researches it using books from the state library and borrowed from his friends," he continues. "He also shows other people the speech and gets them to edit it for him and he incorporates some of those edits, which is not something Lincoln typically did."

Lincoln left Springfield for Washington in January 1861. He would never sit at the desk again, returning to his adopted hometown in a coffin following his assassination in 1865. 

The desk would remain in the Smith family for nearly a century before being sold by their daughter, Minnie Smith Johnson, to the Illinois State Historical Society for $500 in 1953. The society is now a part of the ALPLM.

It was on display at the Old State Capitol Historic Site for many years. But it was recently retrieved by the museum and sent up to Chicago-based Third Coast Conservation to undergo a six month, $6,340 restoration. 

According to the museum, the work restores the desk, which dates to about 1855, to its original look, removing some modern finishes like nails and wood that were added on during a restoration project in 1958. 

The desk and exhibit are on the library side of the campus, which does not charge for entry. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

After the six month display, the desk will be moved to the ALPLM's vault, where it will be protected from unnecessary wear and tear.

"One of the things that really stands out to me today about Lincoln's first inaugural address is his calls for unity," Shutt said. "So this desk in many ways symbolizes that call for unity, that reminder that we are not enemies, but friends, as Lincoln says so well. So that's really what I hope the desk will inspire in people as they come and view it."





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