Why President Lincoln Matters To Idahoans
Scholars often look to Abraham Lincoln as one of the most important figures in American history. Memorials to the famous president continue almost 150 years after he was killed, including last year’s blockbuster film bearing his name.
Monday, Idaho memorialized Lincoln with a special ceremony, commemorating the sesquicentennial of the day he signed the bill designating the Idaho Territory.
One of the highlights for the crowd gathered outside the Statehouse was Steve Holgate. Holgate is a Lincoln portrayer, and he wrote a speech in the voice of the deceased president to commemorate the anniversary.
“We are gathered here today in this year of our Lord 1863, to note the formation of a new territory – the territory of Idaho,” Holgate said.
"The establishment of this territory is not an end in itself, but an interim step in the establishment of a new state that will in the foreseeable future take its place within our union," he continued.
Holgate is not the only person convinced of a strong Lincoln-Idaho connection. Dave Leroy, Idaho’s former attorney general, has studied Lincoln for the last 25 years. He was master of ceremonies at yesterday's event.
Leroy says the day Lincoln signed the bill designating the Idaho Territory was an important day for the embattled country.
“Lincoln the master strategist used Idaho territory to block the further expansion of slavery into the West," Leroy said. "And he used the mineral wealth of the Idaho territory to help win the Civil War. The gold and the silver here was shipped off to San Francisco to be minted into coinage to buy the guns and pay the soldiers to win the Civil War.”
For a short time, the Idaho Territory included Montana and Wyoming. It would be another 27 years before Idaho became a state.
Although the president never visited the territory, Leroy says that more than any other state in the union, Idaho is intrinsically linked to the famous president.
“Where Lincoln mentioned Idaho Territory in his addresses to the Congress in 1863 and 1864, where he was present at a meeting where the name Idaho was selected, where he lobbied the bill and stayed up until 4:30 in the morning to sign it – I think we’ve got a pretty good case,” said Leroy.
That case was made permanent during Monday’s ceremony. An auditorium at the Statehouse was dedicated in Lincoln’s honor, and a bronze plaque and portrait of the president were unveiled.
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