“The Jonesboro debate is so significant, in my estimation, and genuinely worthy of commemoration. As opposed to various legends and traditions of Lincoln’s visits to Southernmost Illinois, Abraham Lincoln actually slept two nights in a house still standing in Anna, and debated splendidly in Jonesboro. What a distinction!” Dr. John Y. Simon, SIUC, April 6, 2007
“I intend to trot you down to Jonesboro,” Sen. Stephen A. Douglas told Abraham Lincoln in a speech in September 1858 at Joliet
Lincoln came to Jonesboro and repudiated the accusations of Douglas that he was afraid to venture into Southern Illinois, the region referred to as Egypt. “Did the Judge talk of trotting me down to Egypt to scare me to death? Why, I know this people better than he does . . . . I am a part of this people.” Lincoln won the hearts, if not the minds, of the people of Egypt with those words.
The little town of Jonesboro, Illinois was an important place in the early history of Illinois. Not only did it provide many of the first prominent legislators, lawyers, and judges and a Lt. Governor in the state’s history, but it was the site of the 3rd debate between Sen. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln in 1858.
Sen. Douglas and his wife arrived in Cairo on a riverboat the day before the debate. They were royally entertained with a dinner party and ball. The next morning, Douglas departed Cairo on the Illinois Central Railroad for Anna with six cars of passengers and a flat car which carried a small brass cannon, fired as the train passed through the small communities along the way. The Jonesboro band then accompanied the Douglas procession the short mile to Jonesboro.
One of the few Republicans in the county, David L. Phillips of Anna, met Mr. Lincoln in Centralia the day before the debate and accompanied him to Anna on the Illinois Central Railroad. When they arrived at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, no one met them at the train. They spent some time in Phillips’ office on Main St. and then probably made the leisurely walk from the depot to the Phillips home, which still stands at 511 South Main St. in Anna. There Lincoln would be a guest for the next two days.
After the evening meal, Lincoln, Phillips, and Phillips’ 11-year-old son Judson, went to the Union House on the Jonesboro Square to visit with the newspaper reporters from Chicago. That night the group sat in front of the hotel to watch Donati’s comet. Lincoln and Phillips and the boy then returned to Anna, where Lincoln spent the night in the Phillips home.
The next morning, the three went for a carriage ride through the county. As they drove, Lincoln told funny stories and kept the group in a constant uproar of laughter. They traveled west from Anna, passed the fairgrounds to see the site of the debate, then to the Indian camp on Dutch Creek, where the Cherokee had camped by the thousands waiting for the ice to thaw on the Mississippi during the Trail of Tears march 20 years earlier. They then went on to the “alluvial plains of the Mississippi”. At one point Lincoln asked them to stop so he could get out of the carriage and get a better view. Judson Phillips recalled that, Lincoln, who was 6 feet 4 inches tall, “had a hard time getting his long legs out of the carriage and I laughed at his predicament.”