Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas portrayals and a speech by the National Park Service’s Lincoln Home historian the evening of October 11 will celebrate Quincy’s observance of the 160th anniversary of what some local historians call the city’s greatest day.
On October 13, 1858, the Lincoln-Douglas debate in Quincy drew more than 12,000 people from three states to Quincy’s Washington Park. That sixth of the seven debates was for Lincoln the “turning point” in his campaign to win Douglas’s U.S. senate seat. It was in Quincy that Lincoln “took off the gloves” in his contest with Douglas.
Sponsored by the city’s Lincoln-Douglas Debate Advisory Board, the October 11 event will be held in the History Museum at 332 Maine Street—just southwest of the debate site—and will be open to the public at no charge. A reception with the presenters will begin at 6:30 p.m. and their presentations will follow at 7 p.m.
National Park Service Ranger Tim Townsend, a Lincoln scholar and author, will give the program keynote address, which he has entitled, “’A blind man can see where the President’s heart is:’ The Compassion of Abraham Lincoln.” Townsend will work from little-known instances in Lincoln’s life that reveal his character, including correspondences and discussions Lincoln did not intend for public view.
Re-enactors George Buss and Gary Declue will portray Lincoln and Douglas in a conversation about their views of the debates. Buss and Declue are well known to Quincy for their re-enactments. Buss is from Freeport, which was the second of the seven locations at which Lincoln and Douglas debated in 1858. Buss is considered by many historians as the most authentic and authoritative Lincoln re-enactor. “Like Lincoln,” one historian wrote, “Buss is six feet four inches tall, wears size 14 boots, and is as skinny as if he lived on Lincoln’s ‘homeopathic soup. . .made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had starved to death.’”
Townsend is chief of interpretation and historian at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield. With bachelors and masters degrees in history, Townsend has served the Park Service at the U.S. Grant Home in Galena and at state historic sites, the Vachel Lindsay Home and Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices in Springfield. In addition to leading several initiatives at the Lincoln Home, Townsend has developed several online programs, including “Journey to Greatness: Character Lessons from the Past,” and the “Spirit of Lincoln Youth Leadership Academy.” His “Illinois Freedom Project” presents the story of African Americans in Illinois from French colonial slavery in south wester Illinois through the early Great Migration period in Chicago. Townsend wrote the Lincoln Home portion of the ‘book, “Abraham Lincoln: A Living Legacy.” His most recent work was “His Truth is Marching On: Martin Luther King, Jr’s Dream of Freedom.”
A retired educator, Buss tours nationally as President Lincoln and has been selected to present Lincoln’s revered “Gettysburg Address” each November at the Civil War battlefield and cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. An educator with bachelors and masters degrees, Buss retired recently as program manager for AVID, a national non-profit initiative to teach educators how to improve college readiness for students, particularly the traditionally underrepresented.
Equally recognized for his portrayals of U.S. Senator Douglas, Gary Declue of Quincy, chairman emeritus of John Wood Community College’s Fine Arts Department, has been honored for his re-creations of the 19th century’s “Little Giant.” Declue earned national attention for his portrayal of Douglas in C-SPAN’s sesquicentennial commemoration of the sixth debate in Quincy. He has continued re-enacting Douglas, who was a resident of Quincy when he was elected to Congress in 1843, his start in national politics. Declue holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees and was recognized by Culver Stockton College, his alma mater, for his leadership in the development of John Wood Community College’s fine arts department.
The Lincoln-Douglas Debate Advisory Board was created by the city of Quincy in 2008 to sponsor events that focus on the Lincoln-Douglas debate in the western Illinois community. The board’s “Debate Interpretive Center” is situated directly across from the debate site at 128 N. Fifth St. in Quincy. It is open to the public free of charge during business hours on weekdays.