On our drive home from Iowa (the most westward we went) last week, my parents obliged my nerdiness and stopped at Washington Square in Ottawa, Illinois. It's a gorgeous park now, but on August 21 (my birthday!), 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas verbally battled in the first of a series of seven slavery-centered debates in the race for a seat in the Senate.
Modern-day Washington Square has a gorgeous fountain
with Lincoln and Douglas statues in the middle. It's definitely the greatest fountain I've ever seen. What I found amusing was how Lincoln is up front, very "Come to me, my people," and Douglas is all "Harrumph!" behind him. I do love Lincoln, but we sure do make him out to be quite godlike, don't we? Lincoln is probably built up even moreso than George Washington, which I think is really saying a lot. In a world of socially-enforced ethical absolutes, it seems if you went up against Lincoln, you are now portrayed as the bad guy. I'm not saying that Lincoln isn't worthy of the praise and image he is given, just that it seems to me that those History has looked upon favorably (or even relatively unfavorably in Douglas's case) can never be portrayed as simply human in art. I suppose it could be debated as to whether this is a good or a bad thing, or even whether it is true.
Across the street from the park, a mural portraying the debate is painted on the side of a building, Douglas in the background looking rather filled with jealousy at Lincoln's eloquence.
Washington Square also contains a very weather-worn Civil War monument. The writing on it is illegible and the faces of the figures carved onto it have disappeared. Unfortunate. From what I remember, it was erected quite shortly after the war, so it's been exposed to the elements for quite a long time now.
In summary, I like Washington Square. A lot. It's a very beautiful park with beautiful monuments and statues. I definitely would recommend a visit to anyone with an interest in 19th century politics... unfortunately I don't know very many people to whom this applies.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T.S. Eliot
Welcome to Ten Roads! This blog is intended to be a place for me to share my (generally Civil War-related) thoughts and experiences. I try to update once a week at the very least. All comments and readers are greatly appreciated!